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

Published April 16, 2009




Considering the financial problems in many Florida community associations, one should think that financial issues and protection of association assets would be the No. 1 Top Priority on the legislative wish list of the board members of these associations.


If you think so, you are absolutely wrong! Legislators getting many e-mails from board members arguing about wording of staggered terms, emergency powers, using association dues for lobbying and/or the ability to get a bank loan without a membership vote. In the opinion of many board members that would plainly ruin their ability to run their associations.


And the idea of somebody being able to inspect their records, if owners supplied sufficient evidence for an investigation without board members using association dues to avoid the inspection, is in the eyes of some board members an offense against their authority -- in Germany called "Majestaetsbeleidigung!"


We all know for many years that organizations like CALL (Community Association Leadership Lobby) and CAN (Community Advocacy Network) are nothing else but lobbying groups for attorneys, who use willing board members to bolster their numbers. Donna Berger -- the former  CALL lady -- changed over to Katzman Garfinkel Rosenbaum and is now the Executive Director of CAN. Many folks I talked to claim that the reputation of the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff has much improved since Donna Berger left.


Donna Berger has always been known for fighting any owner-friendly legislation that would infringe on the income of the specialized attorneys and would protect owners against abuses of dictatorial boards and waste of money and other financial shenanigans!


So, absolutely no surprise, when Donna Berger in her CAN-Alert dated April 4, 2009 opposed anything that would help unit owners to stop the many problems and the financial bleeding in their associations. It's not about what would help associations survive these miserable economic times, it's about how to keep board members in power, allow them to make important decisions without the input of the owners, whose financial health is at stake.


Florida's community associations are having a real bad time, but it seems the main concern of some board members and their attorneys is staying in power and spending money without accountability.

Here are the main issues Donna Berger is opposing in H 1397:

  • Limit on Expenditures -- Using association funds for lobbying or political campaigns

  • Access to Units -- Regulating access to units except in emergencies

  • Regulation of Meetings -- Holding meetings at inopportune times and locations

  • Safeguards against changes of bylaws by Board Decision

  • Loans and/or Line of Credit requires Vote of Membership

The arguments used against these provisions show clearly why these provisions are opposed. Power and Money!


The proposed provision doesn't disallow anybody to lobby -- or pay for a lobbyist! That surely is everybody's undisputed right. But the provision makes sure that the people who want to lobby have to use their own money -- and not that of their neighbors. You want to lobby for issues dear to your heart or donate for political campaigns -- please write a check from your own account! Owners are sick and tired to see a few board members using association money to lobby against the interest of these same owners, fighting owner-friendly bills! Don't forget: CAN finances most of all expenses from these "donations" made by board members without the knowledge of the owners. Many of these owners don't even know what CAN is, but their money is used to finance this organization that is lobbying against owner-friendly bills! 


We have seen lately much money wasted on lobbying:

More than $100,000 were taken from association funds to lobby for the Palm Aire Special Recreation Tax District, burdening the owners with even more taxes. Now the associations have to levy special assessments to cover budget deficits


Access to units? Too many complaints have been filed from unit owners regarding abuse of key privileges. Things are stolen from units, but no break-in took place. Owners get surprised in their beds by workers early in the morning -- and the list goes on. Access to units has to be regulated in order to stop the abuses -- and straight property theft! Emergencies are one thing -- unannounced  access another!

Meeting times and locations: More and more boards decide to hold meetings at times when owners can't be present. -- or in locations that are difficult to reach! We hear board members complaining about lack of participation by unit owners. Holding meetings at a difficult to reach location in the morning of a workday surely keeps lots of owners from being at the meeting.

Changes of Bylaws: Some boards create sudden changes of bylaws at their whim, without notice and information to the unit owners. 

Loans and/or Line of Credit: Boards have abused the privilege, burdened owners with huge liabilities and financed work that wasn't even needed. It is imperative that unit owners have their say before these kinds of decisions are made! It's the owners' money!

In short: There are many good reasons for trying to enact these provisions. Don't forget: The input and testimony of many unit owners was used to propose these changes to FS 718 in the first place.

On April 10, 2009 Roger Kesselbach, the new president of the Space Coast Condominiums Association, Inc., chimed in with a letter criticizing the provisions of H1397. His proud statement: "We are representing 273 member associations with 20,099 residential units." That many associations and units may be within the Space Coast area, but he surely is not representing all the owners as he makes it sound. Not only are there many unit owners who have never heard of this organization, but quite a few disagree with the policy of this organization. 


Don't forget: The list of speakers at their meetings looks like the list of Who’s Who of the special interest people who are fighting unit owners’ rights!


In his letter that was sent to many board members all over Florida he called these community associations mini-democracies. That surely is far from true!


Actually, the provisions he is fighting are actually trying to turn these associations into democracies, giving the owners more say in how these associations are run. And don't forget that many of the people Kesselbach is associating with claim that the U.S. Constitution is null and void in community associations. Does that mean when entering a community association: "You are leaving the American Zone?"


Not only did he repeat Donna Berger's so-called "flaws", he added a few issues -- issues that deal with elections, accountability of directors and what he calls a "new, armed police force within the division with the full powers of other Florida law enforcement officers and authority to enforce all of the laws of the state of Florida." He must have read too many of Donna Berger's CAN alerts. 

Kesselbach's predecessor, long-term Space Coast emperor Harry Charles, surely did better research before making such statements. Anyway, considering the latest wave of financial shenanigans and known embezzlements, unit owners have to be better protected. It makes no sense if boards are allowed to spend lots of association funds for legal fees trying to hide financial documents! A senior-citizen community in Punta Gorda found out that more than $1.2 million were embezzled from accounts under the supervision of a management company by an employee of this company. And the elderly owners, most of them depending on social security, were forced to pay a special assessment for the "INVESTIGATION.” See: $ 1 MILLION EMBEZZLEMENT -- AND NOTHING HAPPENS


This bill isn't anything Representative Julio Robaina pulled out of his hat like a rabbit. In the last few years financial "mismanagement" has seriously increased and normal law enforcement officers are overburdened with the specialized issues of finances and laws of community associations.


As to the cost: Already paid for by the condo-owners into the Condo Trust fund -- sitting there waiting to be used for the purpose intended!

I will never be able to understand why people who claim to be the "good guys" are against accountability, enforcement and punishment of the "bad guys." If you are not a bank robber, why would you be against laws punishing bank robbers?


And all the dictatorial-minded board members agreed and sent this e-mail to legislators:

Being aware of the letter regarding opposition to HB1397 which you have received from the Space Coast Condominium Association I wish you to know that I fully support their position.  Accordingly, I respectfully urge you to vote against this bill.



It is very obvious that the two sides will never be able to agree on a common solution. That leaves legislators with only two choices:

Should they pass bills that help their constituents in a time when the economy is bankrupting many community associations -- or listen to Donna Berger and the voices of a few board members (PARROTS) supported by attorneys and managers with a financial interest, who like to use other peoples' money to lobby for their private agenda? 


Real community leaders should have their own voice and shouldn't have to rely on being the parrot of a specialized attorney known for twisting facts!


In my opinion it's sad that so-called leaders of our community associations have to rely on the opinion of an attorney with a serious interest in leaving owners unprotected by common-sense-laws and/or a total lack of enforcement! Ever figured that board members may be on the other side of the fence if ousted by election or recall?


It's always easier to fleece owners who are not protected by good laws!

But the best laws are useless without enforcement!


DEMOCRACY (according to Merriam-Webster):

government by the people ; especially : rule of the majority b: a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.