King spurs audit on state condo agency

Amelia Island couple complained for years about their association


Article Courtesy of Jacksonville Times Union

Friday, July 30, 2004

TALLAHASSEE -- Senate President Jim King has triggered an audit of a state agency charged with answering complaints about condominium associations, following repeated calls from a couple who live seasonally on Amelia Island.

King, R-Jacksonville, wants a probe into the Division of Land Sales, Condominiums and Mobile Homes, an agency within the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation. King said the letter was in response to concerns first raised by Steve and Judy Comley, part-time Amelia Island residents who had contacted the department repeatedly for help during an eight-year dispute with their condominium association.

Although operational audit requests are fairly routine, King said his office has received multiple complaints about the agency from the public. He stressed the audit is not intended to reveal improprieties but is aimed at determining why the agency is being blamed for non-responsiveness.

"If it's just one person then it can be a case of sour grapes, but when you start to hear it from others, too, there's an obligation to find out what's going on," King said Thursday. "We're going into this without any prejudice or a predetermined conclusion. Every story has another side."

The Comleys won part of their battle this spring after Gov. Jeb Bush in June signed two bills for which Steve Comley had

lobbied extensively. The bills strengthen and safeguard various rights residents have long sought from homeowner and

Senate President     

Jim King          

condominium associations. The couple kept pressing for an investigation into the division, however, unhappy with its response to his complaints.


King's June 23 letter was sent to the state Office of Program Policy, Analysis and Government Accountability, which typically conducts operational and performance audits of agencies. Janice Bush, the agency's general counsel, said an audit will start in late August and should be finished by January.


King's letter represents the second such request in recent years, following a request by former Sen. Ron Silver, a North Miami Beach Democrat, in the late 1990s. It also comes after a special task force chaired by Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, held multiple meetings across the state this winter and received hundreds of complaints about homeowner and condominium associations.


The division has been hobbled by significant manpower cuts in recent years, dropping from 172 full-time employees in 1999 to a current total of 111. However, spokeswoman Meg Shannon said those totals may be partly attributed to a recent structure change within the department.


Peter Dunbar, general counsel at the state Department of Financial Services, said an audit will most likely show the division is simply stressed for manpower.


"I doubt there's any wrongdoing, but there may be a need to re-examine the staffing," said Dunbar, a former state representative who wrote several of Florida's laws regarding condominium and homeowner associations.


King said if an audit determines the agency is indeed understaffed, legislators will consider it when determining staffing needs during next year's budget.


"It would not be a reflection that the Legislature failed, just that it hasn't prioritized needs as correctly as they should have been," he said. "That happens all the time; we're never able to satisfy each agency. And if that is indeed the case, what better way to get information to the Legislature? It's a heck of a lot more effective than one of us simply saying they need more manpower."