Board Elections at Playa Del Mar Condos


Is There More Behind The Scenes?

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

February 27, 2006


I guess it has been a long time coming. The specialized attorneys (specialized in what?) were fighting the Office of the Condo Ombudsman from Day One of its existence. The new Ombudsman, Dr. Virgil Rizzo, already had been badmouthed by some attorneys when he was newly appointed by Governor Jeb Bush -- without even being given a fair chance to show what he intended to accomplish! I guess Rizzo lacked one important requirement to be acknowledged as brethren: A membership in the Community Associations Institute!


Even today CAI members teaching condo classes, paid for from the Condo trust fund, use the opportunity to badmouth the condo ombudsman and make great advertising for their firms -- and get paid for it! Only in Florida? When will the DBPR finally get smart?


The reason for fighting the creation of a condo ombudsman's office by our legislature was very obvious: They don't like somebody in official capacity watching their moves. Too much to hide?


And they sure didn't like election monitors watching the elections. Since many years it's very obvious that board elections in associations are anything but fair.  Actually, the way many of these elections are handled would make any Banana Republic proud. The fact that monitored elections have unseated many long-term board members sure didn't make these attorneys happy. You may ask WHY? It has been said many times before: Recalls of board members and the unseating of long-term  board members in annual elections are often not directed against the sitting board, but against the service providers. Since owners can't fire the unwanted service providers directly, they fire the board members to achieve that goal. If successful, attorneys and managers are the next to go!


We saw attempts to hamper the work of the very successful election monitors. The Chief of the DBPR Arbitration section, Karl Scheuerman, made his attempt to destroy the legislative intent to create fairer elections. See: DBPR RULEMAKING IS DESTROYING LEGISLATIVE INTENT!  When he didn't come through for them -- too much serious opposition -- the attorneys needed to come up with a different tactic to stop these election monitors. 


An election at the Playa Del Mar Condominium Association, Inc. in Fort Lauderdale was the opportunity they chose to challenge the Florida statutes. All was in place to make it a go. This association had election problems before. Last year's election was challenged and the DBPR issued one of their "infamous warning letters” to the association. And there was more at stake than just the election. The sitting board president was running again for office in this election. His problem: According to the County Property Appraiser, that man is not really a member of the association, meaning he can't serve if the bylaws are applied! A so-called “Quit Claim Deed,” used as defense, was never officially recorded. So, should he have been allowed to be an official candidate? I don't think so!


Association attorney Robert Rubinstein from the law firm of Becker and Poliakoff P.A. made his opinion well known. He threw down the gauntlet -- published in the Playa Del Mar newsletter (scanned version): 

"The state has been asked to run the election.  Three people were selected to do so.  However, the association's new attorney is waiting for the resume of the 3 people to ensure that they are certified and qualified.  If the credentials are not established by the time of the annual election, the association's attorney will run the meeting and the 3 individuals from the state will attend as observers."


Actually, about 20% of the unit-owners in Playa Del Mar had signed the valid petition to request an official election monitor -- according to the Florida Statutes 718.5012. The refusal of board and attorney to let these monitors conduct the election was a clear infringement on the rights of these unit-owners! No questions asked!


I always wonder why certain attorneys feel that they are qualified to run elections or check the qualifications of officially appointed election monitors? They have nothing but a license to practice law -- a license issued by the Florida BAR. According to my information, there is no requirement to know how to properly run association board elections to get this license. And considering some of the recent arbitration rulings, it's obvious that some attorneys really have no idea how to run elections -- but charge huge fees for doing so!


Even DBPR Secretary Simone Marstiller considered this demand a violation of the Florida statutes and wrote to Division Chief Michael Cochran (quote): 

"I concur. There is no mechanism for the assn to place additional requirements on the monitor once a monitor has been requested as provided by law.
Mike, pls educate the assn's counsel."

Obviously, Mike Cochran's "education" of Robert Rubinstein didn't go very far.


When the three appointed election monitors showed up at the Ocean Lounge Room, they were stopped and initially not allowed to conduct the election. The attorney and the board members used the help of Keith Tannenbaum, the association manager from The Continental Group, Inc., a huge management company that has been under heavy fire recently -- especially in Miami --  who later as an excuse claimed that these monitors didn't have sufficient identifications. 


Eventually the monitors got to do the election, but not as it was supposed to be according to regulations. The ability of the election monitors to conduct this election was seriously impaired.  


These board members and their attorneys didn't have a court injunction, any other papers -- or -- minimum in my opinion -- a legal leg to stand on to justify their actions. They did it anyway, obviously relying on the fact that so far violations of FS 718 have never really been punished. 


Many people have wondered, why this attorney so brazenly challenged Florida statutes and our Florida government and legislature? Maybe there is more than meets the eye?

Let's try to explain some of the not so obvious connections, which many citizens feel lead to this kind of behavior: The backing by some influential players!


For people not so well informed, here is some background information: 

"CALL" (Community Association Leadership Lobby) a lobbying group of Becker & Poliakoff P.A. and The Continental Group, Inc. have minimum one thing in common -- besides financial interests: Their lobbyist! Travis W. Moore is officially listed as the lobbyist for both these entities -- and the Community Associations Institute, the national trade organization of the association service providers! Travis Moore was, according to information from the office of Representative Carl Domino, the one who handed in the bill proposal which Representative Carl Domino (Palm Beach County) sponsored as HB 391, a bill that would be detrimental to the welfare of homeowners living in associations if enacted -- intended to destroy some of the reforms created by the Florida legislature in 2004 by recommendation of the Governor's HOA Task Force.


Maybe there is another reason why the Playa Del Mar was chosen as the battlefield for this challenge. The Playa Del Mar has two prominent residents: Broward County Circuit Court judges Leroy Moe and Alfred Horowitz. When unit-owners collected signatures for the petition to have an election monitor appointed, Judge Moe refused to sign, giving this explanation (according to the unit-owners): "I don't like Rizzo (there was more) and having an election monitor would give this association a black eye!" Absolutely great opinion from a judge who is supposed to uphold the law of the land! 


No wonder Judge Moe was recently challenged and asked to recuse himself from a law suit between COLONIAL MANOR WEST APARTMENTS CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION, INC. and a unit-owner. This lawsuit alleges that the board president, Judy Stern -- an influential Broward County lobbyist -- has breached her fiduciary duty. Among many other issues: Money collected from unit-owners as a special assessment for repairs and maintenance was used to pay legal fees to the association attorney -- Lee H. Burg and Stuart Zoberg from the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff, P.A. According to condo lawyers a clear NO-NO! The new judge appointed to this case is Judge Alfred Horowitz, Judge Moe's neighbor in Playa Del Mar! Isn't that a miraculous coincidence?

And it may explain why attorney Robert Rubinstein selected the Playa Del Mar election to make the move for many attorneys who hope that "election monitors" quickly disappear again! Gee, who wants fair elections if money is at stake?


Don't you really start wondering why it seems so hard for owners to get fair rulings in lower courts?


Many Florida citizens have asked already:  Who is running the show in Florida -- our government and our elected officials, or some almighty law firms?


This is just my opinion, trying to connect some dots and finding some explanations for these events that defy common sense! Last I heard -- opinions were still allowed -- even if special interest attorneys claim that homeowners signed away their constitutional rights at the gates of these communities!


Maybe some of Florida's more powerful law enforcement agencies -- or the FBI -- should really look behind the scenes.  Or some of the HONEST legislators or government officials, who still try to work for the welfare of their constituents, should start a real investigation?