East Linden Estates election embroiled in controversy


Article Courtesy of Hernando Today

Published on June 9, 2006


SPRING HILL — Residents in an upscale Spring Hill neighborhood are divided over a homeowners association election that went awry Monday night.

Some homeowners contend the election for the East Linden Estates board of directors was mishandled.

But they also say the controversy is rooted in the sitting board’s lack of respect for the homeowners they represent.

“It’s a fiefdom,” said Joann Parker, whose husband David ran for one of the seats. “They treat us like children. People are fed up.”

Five of the seven sitting directors, including president Tom Lyons, a former county commissioner, did not return calls to a reporter seeking comment on the issue.

But director Lawrence Rosen, who was up for re-election and who said he was designated to speak for the board, said those complaining residents are “making a mountain out of a molehill.”

“What we’re dealing with are folks who challenge our attorney’s guidance from time to time because they think they know better,” Rosen said.

The dispute that caused the election to descend into a shouting match was over proxy votes and whether those submitted on photocopied forms should be counted.

The election, held at Suncoast Elementary School, was for three of seven directors. Besides Rosen, Lyons and director Julie Roithmeier also were vying to keep their seats.

Parker was joined by challengers Scott Worrall and George Marvella.

The challengers and their supporters, eager to change the face of the board, rallied residents, going door to door to collect proxy votes.

The homeowners association mailed proxy ballots to residents. But East Linden Estates resident Lisa Miner, who supported David Parker, visited many homeowners and several said they either did not receive their proxy form or discarded it.

Miner and others provided photocopies, had the homeowner record their vote and brought them to the meeting.

The board asked three residents to oversee the election Monday. As they counted the ballots, sitting board member Gary Keller watched the counting over the shoulders of the election committee, according to residents present including Miner, who recorded the meeting on audiotape.

A few moments later, as the counting continued, Lyons deemed the election null and void, contending that many of the votes were not valid because they were on photocopied proxies.

Rosen said it’s a necessary rule to prevent fraud and that the board’s attorney, Jeffrey Cario, has agreed. Cario couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.

“They’ve got to be original,” Rosen said. “Otherwise, there’s no validity. I could copy 50 of them, write down the names of 50 different people, and who would know?”

Rosen also said the policy that the proxies must be on “original ELE stationary” was mentioned in the association’s May newsletter. He said the rule has been in practice for years.

“It’s a no-brainer,” he said. “If people weren’t so angry, maybe they would have stopped and thought it over.”

But Miner, Parker and others pointed out the East Linden Estates bylaws do not state that proxies must be on original stationary, and that their proxies had the elements required by law.

According to Florida statute, “a proxy must be dated, must state the date, time, and place of the meeting for which it was given, and must be signed by the authorized person who executed the proxy.”

Miner said the May newsletter did not hit mailboxes until Saturday, just two days before the election, and that residents recall a number of copied proxies being used in last year’s election.

Lyons and Keller should not have interrupted the election, Miner said. Instead, the ballots should have been counted and sealed until the matter of photocopied proxies was resolved.

“They had no business being up there,” said Miner.

Pete Dalcamo was one of the election committee members. He said “a large amount” of proxies app-eared to be photocopies.

Chuck Hoff, one of the election committee members, could not be reached for comment Thursday. The third member, a woman, could not be immediately identified.

It’s unclear who is in possession of the ballots now. Rosen said the board would likely hold another election next month, sending another batch of original proxies to homeowners with a note explaining what occurred at Monday’s meeting.

David Parker and others say they believe Lyons halted the vote count when he realized many of the votes were for his opponents.

“He saw an opportunity to stop a challenge to his power,” he said.

When Parker asked Lyons at the meeting about the proxy issue, Lyons grew agitated and asked Parker to “go outside,” according to accounts and Miner’s tape of the meeting.

Parker and others say they are concerned about Lyons’ history. In 1986, while a member of the Hernando County Comm-ission, Lyons was found guilty of committing perjury in a child support case in Philadelphia.

Lyons told the court he couldn’t pay child support because he paid an aide, which took up much of his commissioner’s salary. The Tampa Tribune learned that the aide didn’t exist, and Lyons later admitted he had made the woman up. Gov. Bob Graham suspended him from his commission post.

“That’s why I don’t trust this guy,” Parker said. “He has a history of not being on the up-and-up.”

Residents say an adversarial tone taints correspondence from the board as they enforce deed restrictions in the 303-home community where property values can approach the half-million dollar mark.

Marvella, one of the challengers who bought his home two years ago, said it’s what prompted him to run.

Marvella said letters to homeowners in violation of deed restrictions, which dictate everything from the condition of lawns to the color of front doors, “start out threatening.”

“We’re all adults here. We’re not 2 years old,” Marvella said. “We don’t need a letter saying if you don’t fix the deficiency, we’re going to put a lien on your house. There is no, ‘Let’s sit down and discuss this.’”

Rosen said the board does try to use a neighborly tone in its requests, but at some point, threatening homeowners with legal action becomes necessary.

“Sometimes it’s the only way we can take action,” he said. “They say, ‘Who are you to tell me what to do?’ It’s this kind of attitude that really frustrates boards.”