New Poinciana elections bring more controversy

Article Courtesy of The  News Chief

By Mike Ferguson  

Published August 6, 2017


POINCIANA — Controversy and Association of Poinciana Villages elections tend to go hand in hand. That trend continued late into Tuesday night.

All of the results were not in by deadline Tuesday, but the results for Village One were nullified because fewer than 10 percent of the homeowners in the community voted. As a result, the board members who held office prior to February’s voided election will serve another three-year term.


“It looks like we’re definitely going to be filing some more litigation,” said Keith Laytham, a spokesperson for Friends of Poinciana Villages, a civic group that supports homeowners. “We turned out 564 voters, which is more than we’ve ever had since I showed up in 2008.”

Laura Burns, a spokeswoman for APV, said that because a quorum was not reached, the numbers will not be released for the 564 homeowners who showed. That was 33 below the required threshold, she said. The number of homeowners who voted Tuesday exceeded the total number of votes from February (562), even when developer votes are added. Two hundred fifty-two of the votes in February came from Avatar and 200 more came from the Canadian investment company, Fairhomes Properties.

“For them to do this is preposterous,” Laytham said. “It could be somewhere deep down in bowels of the paperwork, but when we were bringing 200 people out, they were happy with that. They’re the sleaziest characters I have ever dealt with. This is absolutely ridiculous.”


Tuesday’s election was held after the results of the Feb. 14 election were voided by arbitrator Terri Leigh Jones in a case filed by Martin Negron, a resident and Village Seven board candidate, against APV. Jones ruled on July 12 that APV was “capricious” in the way that it counted votes for developer Avatar and added that could have suppressed the voter turnout.

Friends of Poinciana Villages members and candidates, from left, Annette Brown-Best, Kimberly Lynch, Victor Destremps and Rudy Vyfhuis hand out information at the Poinciana Community Center during Tuesday's election.

“I have never ever seen this enthusiasm for an HOA election,” Laytham said. “It’s a long fight, and it has cost our people more than $70,000 in legal fees.”

APV is one of the nation’s largest homeowners associations, consisting of almost 27,000 residents and spans parts of Polk and Osceola counties. The community is broken into nine villages, each represented by a five-member board. Each board selects one member to serve on the nine-member APV master board. Elections were held Tuesday for Villages One, Two, Three, Five, Seven and Eight.

According to the APV bylaws, property owners are given one vote per seat open for the village in which he or she lives. For unowned or undeveloped parcels, Avatar is granted a vote for every lot on which a house could be built. Laytham said Avatar should have about 500 votes to cast, but was given more than 10,000 during the last election.

Tom Slaten, a lawyer for APV, said the process for the election was never in question. The only qualm residents had expressed in arbitration, he said, was the vote count, which was set during arbitration. Slaten was unable to give maximum vote allotments for the developer.

“There was no question about the process,” Slaten said. “We haven’t changed any of the processes. It’s transparent. It’s on video tape.”

The complaint put forth by Negron and shared by other members of the community is that Avatar exaggerates its vote count by claiming that more houses can be built on certain parcels than permitted in land-use regulations and that the developer claims votes for parcels on wetlands and other areas designated for conservation.

Friends of Poinciana Villages candidates and sympathizers were encouraged by the turnout, but they were not pleased with the way APV had conducted the election even prior to the results. Jesus Gonzalez, a Village Three candidate, said Tuesday’s election was not well advertised or mentioned in the community newsletter.

Annette Brown-Best, who is part of a lawsuit against APV on similar complaints, said the boxes on the ballot were so small that they almost looked filled in. Brown-Best also said a homeowner with five properties in one village was only given one ballot for the village and someone wrote a “5” in the corner. Brown-Best questioned whether the votes would be counted as five as they should.

“It’s so convoluted,” Brown-Best said. “The people are coming out because they’re fed up. We’re probably going back to court.”

In total, 20 seats were up for election. Winners in Village Two were Fairhomes director Felix Gratopp, Avatar property manager Dan Young and Darrell Rodabaugh.

The next master board meeting is Aug. 15, Slaten said. Each village is expected to appoint a master board member by then.