Deep Creek board fires manager Dunn

Article Courtesy of The Sun-Herald

Published July 27, 2005


CHARLOTTE COUNTY -- The new leaders of a Deep Creek community association have fired their manager without severance pay, citing his role in a flawed board election that was recently overturned.

The Section 20 Property Owners Association has already replaced Lee Dunn with Benson's Inc., a Fort Myers firm that specializes in community association management.

Those decisions, which quietly took place last week, were announced Tuesday night to about 300 residents who attended a meeting to learn about recent events in their turbulent association.

In recent years, Section 20 has developed a reputation for raucous meetings and disputed elections. But Tuesday's event, at the Cultural Center of Charlotte County, may signal a trend toward calmer times.

"Probably one of the biggest things we have to be proud of was there wasn't any yelling," said Kim Jakubaitis, the board's new president, at the meeting's end.

The board terminated Dunn's contract on Thursday, about two weeks after a state arbitrator found that the association's December election had been conducted "in bad faith."

Arbitrator Susan Wilkinson Harnden found several faults in the election, including hundreds of ballots that should have been counted, but weren't.

She awarded the election immediately to Jakubaitis, Mike Brown and Michael Della Camera, the candidates who had challenged the original results, and installed them on the five-seat board.

In the days after the arbitrator's ruling, the new board members said they weren't sure how they would handle the issue of Dunn's $45,000-a-year contract, which wasn't set to expire until 2009.

The contract stated that if Dunn were fired without cause, he would be entitled to payment for the remainder of the contract term. If he were fired with cause, he would be entitled to three months' pay.

But attorney Brian Beason, in a legal opinion to the board, found that Dunn had "materially breached his contract" and recommended that the association not pay him any more. He cited the arbitrator's decision, which several times pointed out Dunn's role in the faulty election.

"While it is certainly possible that Mr. Dunn will initiate litigation against the Association as a result of his termination, I believe that there is sufficient evidence to support the Board's decision should it elect to do so," wrote Beason, who represented Jakubaitis in the election challenge and whose firm now represents Section 20.

The manager was suspended with pay on July 13. Dunn, a Deep Creek homeowner, attended the meeting Tuesday but did not speak and declined to comment afterward.

Benson's Inc. will make about $94,000 a year, or $2 a month for each of the association's 3,910 properties. The firm will also handle code enforcement, something that Section 20 has hired employees to do in the past.

The annual contract can be terminated by either side with 30 days' notice.

Jakubaitis said she has wanted all along to hire an outside firm -- not a Deep Creek resident -- to work as the association manager, to avoid possible conflicts of interest. Dunn's predecessor, longtime manager Verna Towne, is also a resident.

One of the new management company's goals is to cut down on litigation expenses. Since October 2003, the association has spent more than $178,000 on legal costs, Jakubaitis reported to the crowd.

About $34,000 went to a firm that defended the election results, she said. The association may also have to reimburse Jakubaitis and her husband, Steven, about $14,000 in legal expenses for their challenge.

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