Story of the Weasel and the Pussycats
(Out to sea with a Florida Homeowners Association)
ANOTHER FLORIDA ELECTION CHAPTER
In the original children’s saga it was an owl that went to sea with a pussycat. This is a different kind of story with different actors. But they are still at sea, so to speak.
Recently, in preparation for an annual meeting at which board members would be elected, both sides of the board began gathering their proxies, but it quickly became obvious to the previous majority (the group of six) that their two candidates might lose, so the president contacted the law firm of Weasel, Slime, and Weasel, P.A., already on retainer to the board, and with their guidance, decided to “cancel” the annual meeting. It is interesting to note that never before in the 30 some years the association has existed, has this meeting ever been canceled or postponed. Furthermore, the bylaws clearly state that this annual meeting shall be held the first Tuesday in February unless that is a legal holiday, then it shall be on the next day not a legal holiday.
In this case, the players are Weasel, Esq., one of your association attorneys, and the Pussycats, who are, well, the saps who thought the bylaws meant anything at all besides a punk to light July 4 firecrackers. Weasel, Esq., showed those neighborhood bumpkins a trick or two, didn’t he? Now you know why people relate so easily to lawyer jokes whose central metaphor is something that travels close to the ground and offers unpleasant surprises.
Weasel, Esq., earned his fee – “Thank you, homeowners, my firm will send you a calendar or something next year” – by repeatedly declaring that our Association bylaws are superseded by Florida State Statutes. The statutes read that annual member meetings can be canceled for emergency situations by a majority of the board. In this case, Weasel was stretching the state statutes to mean that meetings can be canceled by a majority of the board for whatever reason. It appears that the “emergency situation” in this case was a hunch that the president and treasurer would lose. Questions from homeowners about the purple “Homeowner Alert” flyer placed on neighborhood doors were too difficult for the group of six to answer.
During the following meeting the harpies at the end of the table kept screeching, “Smear Tactics!” about the purple flyer, but never offered one word to explain how anything in it was not true. That’s why questions about it were so hard for them to answer. It was all too true.
The group of six dutifully asked each other about canceling the meeting, and even sent a written form (supplied by Weasel, Slime, and Weasel, P.A.) to the other three board members to seek their opinion too. That letter arrived in their mail on January 27, but the past president took the cancellation letter to the printer’s even before that, he was so sure he commanded his six majority votes.
Only after considerable badgering (they can beat up weasels any day) at this meeting did Weasel semi-own up to his firm having written the strange cancellation letter. Weasel, also admitted that “postpone” was a more appropriate word, anyway. The letter, prepared by Weasel, Slime, and Weasel, PA, was a mixture of confusion and anonymity:
(1) The header identified an organization that doesn’t exist – “scrivener’s error,” per Weasel, Esq. Other words for that could be “sloppy legal work,” or “deliberate misdirection” – it costs the same. The printer didn’t do it; he just printed what he got.
(2) No phone numbers were listed, so homeowners couldn’t get further information
(3) No names of the real people responsible for this letter were listed, just “The Board”, yet it purported to be an official announcement “canceling” the annual meeting.
Curiously enough, it bore a 37 cent stamp which was not canceled by the post office??? Another Weasel trick??? I hope everyone saved it and will use it. You paid for it with your dues.
Be assured that your dues paid for this mailing and for Weasel fees. You will also be paying for all the expenses that are coming up in order to do the elections over.
Homeowners got zapped with the ol’ “legal technicality” ploy, compliments of Weasel, Esq. Thankfully, no murderers are running in the streets in this case, but the principle is the same. Weasel kept saying that because of the confusion caused by the letter his firm advised The Board to send out, some homeowners had been disenfranchised, and “Tallahassee looks unfavorably on homeowners being disenfranchised.”
“Only politics,” grinned Weasel, Esq.
A solution was finally reached during the raucous Board meeting, no thanks to Weasel, Esq. Weasel, in effect, presided over the meeting on the side of the group of six, by allowing the defeated members to vote and disallowing the newly elected members. It became clear that he had to take over and be more than a mouthpiece whispering advice to the previous President or the roof was going to come off the Clubhouse. It was also clear that he represented the interests of the group of six and not the homeowners of the Association.
It was agreed, thanks to a magnanimous suggestion to clear the air, from one of the three minority members of the board, that all incumbent board members who had been candidates for re-election would not seek re-election if the elections were done over.
So it was decided, any interested homeowners may declare their intentions to run for the Board of Directors by the end of the next Board meeting on March 10, 2005 and will be able to introduce themselves at that meeting to explain their intentions to homeowners.
New elections were then set for April 5. (April 1 would seem more like it.) So the process begins again. Who is to say the group of six still won’t like the probable outcome and decide to cancel again?
The really important point is that we are a little neighborhood organization with just a small budget, plus clubhouse rental fees. The wrangling and bitterness among board members have become deafening. Bold lies were told in the past by the group of six to obtain votes. Some members have been on the Board so long that they have assumed regal identities; they apparently intend to maintain their seats until the Grim Reaper does his work.
Some solutions appear clear: Change the by-laws to provide for term limits. Limit board membership to two consecutive, two-year terms whenever there are others willing to participate. Make only members of the Association eligible to be on the Board. Also, make it clear that an important job of the board is to increase participation to include a diverse group of homeowners.
Right now some of the Board members hold their heads and moan, “Woe is me. Homeowners don’t care. We have to do everything ourselves. The homeowners don’t appreciate all we do.” They complain that “nobody” shows up for the meetings. Then they portray themselves as long-suffering volunteer heroes, paid such a small sum that nobody else would do the work, just serving the needs of the community.
Actually, they prefer lack of participation, because it assures lack of scrutiny for their actions and continuation in their positions. This assumption of life tenure is just not healthy. While I don’t believe there is actual wrongdoing, there are regular displays of negative attitude towards other community members who may not be giving due honor to the Board members’ “dedication.” Example: a feature of many recent monthly Board meetings is a repetitive recitation by the past President of the many good deeds he has done.
The current majority of six of the Board has been running the community association like a family business. (The Mafia is a family business too.) It needs to stop. Now! The group of six must give up their stranglehold on the affairs of the association or be made to give it up.
Probably the best and cheapest way to do this, is to recall all the directors and start all over again with people who don’t hate anyone who disagrees with them and who don’t feel they “own” the association.
An interested observer