What Is CALL Really?

A Look From The Other Side!

 

An Opinion By Jan Bergemann 
President, Cyber Citizens For Justice, Inc. 

May 9, 2006

 

Officially, CALL (Community Association Leadership Lobby) is the lobbying arm of Becker & Poliakoff P.A., the largest specialized association law firm in Florida. According to its website, CALL is (quote): "The leading organization working to enhance the quality of life and protect property values for Florida's community association residents." (end quote)

 

I guess that's how they would like to present themselves for public relations purposes.  However, many homeowners and condo owners look at them very differently. Recent events and PR stunts -- like suing the Condo Ombudsman's Office for not timely producing public records -- show a totally different picture. From the other side, it looks more like they are collecting protection money from besieged board members who try to stay in power under all circumstances. 

   

In a recent article of the Daily Business Review, headlined "No Love Lost," the reporter quoted condominium board president MaryAnn Casatelli (Lighthouse Point Plaza Condominium) on various occasions attacking the condo ombudsman's office.  Casatelli took it upon herself to join CALL, paying $200 for the annual membership from her private checking account. At a later board meeting she asked the board for a vote on reimbursing these funds. The board obliged -- see Check Register: 

359 X 03/16/06 03/06 032            Mary Ann Casatelli                          200.00          290

       Inv # 031606            03/16/06 reimburse for "CALL" membership      200.00          301

       LIPP-Lighthouse Point Plaza Con 5218-5218 Taxes-Licenses-Fees    200.00

As you can see, it's accounted for under “Taxes-Licenses-Fees.”  Even inquiring minds have to look twice to find out about it.  Other associations booked it under "Office Expenses"!  Board vote or not -- using association dues to pay for membership in a lobbying group is in my opinion a clear violation of the fiduciary duty of the board president.  I doubt you'll find in the paragraph of the association documents dealing with USE OF FEES something like: "Association dues can be used to pay for membership in a lobbying group that fights owner-friendly legislation."  Next we will see a board president donating association funds to a political candidate!

 

That clearly contradicts the many e-mails from boards and condo owners thanking election monitors for their excellent services.  Complimentary e-mails from board members and unit owners!

 

Since the Florida legislature created the Office of the Condo Ombudsman and with it the election monitors, many condo associations saw a strong increase in number of candidates and election participation of unit owners. 

 

The e-mails to Berger that complained about the election monitors may have come from ousted board members, who for the first time in many years had to face fair elections conducted by election monitors -- and didn't make the cut! Some of them are definitely very unhappy, because new boards are conducting investigations into their financial dealings and it looks like there will even be some indictments.  Even the IRS is involved in one case!

 

Maybe Donna Berger forgot to look at all the filed petitions for election arbitration with the DBPR? There are many cases where attorneys conducting these elections failed to follow proper procedures and/or turned a blind eye on clear violations in order to help sitting board members to win re-election -- board members who guaranteed their retainers.  Many sitting boards seems to violate the election provisions on purpose if they realize that they will not get enough votes for re-election. See: DBPR Ruling Alleges Meeting That Never Took Place -- The Cove At South Beaches .

There are many more examples that show this pattern!

 

Florida's legislature did create the position of election monitors for a reason: Election shenanigans, supported and perpetrated by managers and attorneys, have always been one of the major complaints from condo owners. 

 

Recent elections stirred up lots of controversies, like the one in the Playa Del Mar Condo in Ft. Lauderdale. Attorney, manager and sitting board deterred and detained the officially appointed election monitors. In the meanwhile, the ballot box went out of sight -- who knows what happened -- and the people left in charge "forgot" to sign in the condo owners. Still today nobody knows if there was ever a quorum to hold a meeting. But it seems all was done to protect a sitting board member, who, according to the bylaws, can't even serve on the board since he is not a recorded owner as required. But that doesn't stop Robert Rubinstein, the Becker & Poliakoff P.A. attorney, from defending the position at the expense of the condo owners. See: Bylaws clearly state: Board member must be an owner!

And despite complaints being filed -- the annual meeting was in February  -- the DBPR has failed so far to take any action -- as usual!

 

In another recall dispute in the Maison Grande Condominium in Miami Beach evidence showed that Rosa M. De La Camara, another Becker & Poliakoff P.A. attorney, was aware that a board member served on the board contrary to the bylaws. But, instead of telling the board members that this is not acceptable, she suggests to ignore it for the time being. Please read the e-mail yourself:

   Subj:         board vacancy

Date.        12/29/2005 10:01 00 AM Eastern Standard Time

From:         RDELACAM@becker-poliakoff.com

To:             MAISONGM@aol.com

cc.             CKohli@aol.corn

 

Carmen:

 

This is to confirm our phone conversation today.  You advised me that on Oct 31, the board meeting agenda stated that a vacancy on the board would be filled.  The minutes also confirmed this.  Bobbi Newman had resigned and her position was filled by Angeles.  Rory was appointed as VP, but the "vacant" position was filled by Angeles. It is obvious that Angeles fills Bobbi's seat, not Rory.  Since the minutes are not 100% clear, to clarify this, the board can ratify the prior vote at another meeting.  You can word the motion like this: Motion to ratify a prior vote taken by the board, and for purposes of clarification, that Angeles – was appointed to fill the vacancy an the board created by Bobbi Newman's resignation and she shall serve for the entire term left ,vacant by Bobbi".  Fla Statutes says the new director shall fill the term of the previous director unless the bylaws provide otherwise and your bylaws do not, thus Angeles's term is the full one left vacant by Bobby whatever is left on the 3 years term).

 

I think there was also an issue where the new director does not live here full time and there is a bylaw provision saying that you must reside at MG. at least 9 months of the year.  I know that in the past it has been overlooked but if the opposition choses to file a complaint, we will deal with the enforceability issue then. Until and unless this is done, Angeles serves on the board as Bobbi’s replacement.

 

Rosa M. De La Camara, Esq.

Becker & Poliakoff, P.A.

121 Alhambra Plaza, 10th Floor

Coral Gables, Florida 33134

Phone: (305) 262-4435

Fax: (305) 442-2232

Toll Free (800) 533-4874

rdelacam@becker-poliakoff.com

Many condo owners were under the impression that an attorney retained for the association was supposed to represent the whole association, not just looking out for the personal agenda of a few board members, even if they are the ones signing the retainer agreements. 

 

The newest variation of fixing the election before election monitors are taking over? Remove the election ballots of the owners who are known to oppose the sitting board from the ballot box. It's easy: The unit-numbers on the envelopes betray the voting members. 

 

We all have seen the old movies where the bad guys came into the shops asking for protection money!  Does this remind you?

 

Looking into these examples -- and many more documented arbitration cases -- it seems being a member of CALL gives sitting board members some sort of “protection” against opposing unit owners. It looks like the old guard needs more and more protection, since younger owners are moving into these associations -- younger members with inquiring minds, who don't mind getting involved in association politics, especially when they realize that their financial welfare is at stake!

 

The Question Remains: WHAT IS CALL REALLY ALL ABOUT?


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