Conflict clouds board election

in West Boynton gated community


Article Courtesy of Sun Sentinel

By Ushma Patel
Published January 21, 2005


West Boynton Elections are only days away in the gated community of Santa Cruz, and homeowner association president Frank Porta is under fire for financial problems at the 152-unit development.

The seven-member board installed Porta as president mid-year, when Shirley Powell was recalled as president but remained on the board. He promptly switched management companies without a public discussion by the homeowners' board.

Now, Porta and Powell have traded barbs over the management of their community and about each other. The community, which is west of Boynton Beach and off Lawrence Road, will elect seven board members on Thursday. The new board will then choose its officers. Porta is running again, but Powell said she has not decided whether she will run. If she does so, it will be as a write-in candidate, she said.

Powell, 45, said Porta failed to get the board's approval before switching management companies, left dangerous tree stumps around the property and let the community's grass die after lightning hit the electrical box in August, disabling the sprinkler system.

"Since he's been the new president again, he's done nothing," she said. "It doesn't take this long when someone is on top of it."

In hiring the new company, Community Association Services Inc. in Boca Raton, Porta called several board members and said three others agreed with his decision.

"The whole community wanted APM [the former company, Associated Property Management of the Palm Beaches] gone. I had enough votes to get that done," Porta said. Despite several requests by phone for comment, the owner of Associated Property Management could not be reached.

Board member Carol Gordon said she got a call and trusted Porta to make the decision. Neither Powell nor the community vice president Joe McChristian said they received a phone call.

David St. John, a lawyer who represents more than 700 associations, said Porta's actions were unusual but not criminal. In his 20 years of community association law, he's never heard of a board that did not approve hiring a management company.

"Some associations do have very strong presidents. If they act responsibly, the boards give them a lot of freedom," he said.

But "at any time, the board can limit the president's authority in any way it wants to. ... The board is always in charge. That's something that people forget."

Porta said Powell was uninformed and had hired cheap, ineffective contractors that he was replacing. In addition, he said money, materials and contractors were in short supply after the hurricanes.

"She doesn't know what's going on in the community. When she does come out, she walks her dog and makes an inspection and makes frivolous complaints," he said.

Residents and outsiders say the conflict is personal, but the problems are real.

At the entrance off Lawrence Road, part of the gazebo-like structure broken during the hurricanes was in the median in mid-December. Trees cut off at 3 feet or leaning at 45-degree angles were plentiful. Much of the grass was brown and crisp.

Resident Betty Todisco said the buildings have not been pressure washed or painted in the eight years since their construction, even though the board raised maintenance fees at the end of 2003 to do so.

"I have no argument with the assessment, but they got the [increase] with the understanding that things were supposed to be done and they're not," Todisco, 65, said. "The board as a whole should be working on this. One person shouldn't be responsible."

Even if the presidents had wanted to improve the community's appearance, they would not have been able to afford it with the $145 monthly fees.

"You have a community with very low maintenance fees," property manager Patrick Garcia said. "It's a community where it will get worked out, but it's going to take time and money."