An Opinion By Jan Bergemann

Published August 22, 2005


Here we have the example why our Florida legislators added "Election Monitoring" as a task of the Office of the Condominium Ombudsman when they enacted Senate Bill 1184 in 2004. 


Please note that this is happening in Miami, Florida -- not in one of the countries we are normally laughing at.


Below is the report of the Office of the Condo Ombudsman in regard to the events leading to these serious problems that will hopefully end with a fair election result on August 27. Let's just say one thing: It's the polite version that just states the facts and doesn't go into the not-so-nice details.


Under the line: It's very obvious that the sitting board doesn't want to see fair elections -- because that's all everybody else tries to achieve. If a board is unable to hold a basic election according to the governing rules, they surely shouldn't complain if somebody else takes over. The unit owners in this condominium have the right to elect their board in a fair election. If it turns out that the membership roster of the association used to notify owners of the upcoming election has 62 wrong owners and addresses listed, it shows that minimum 62 owners would have been disenfranchised by not being able to cast their vote. No wonder the turnout at the first attempted election was so low!


The president of the sitting board -- annual elections should have been completed in November of 2004 -- is still trying to avoid having the election conducted on August 27, 2005! 


President Wayne A. Martin has sent e-mails to elected officials, members of the Advisory Council On Condominiums, and various other recipients, blaming the failed elections on the Condo Ombudsman. The board even engaged the law firm of Hyman, Kaplan, Ganguzza, Spector & Mars in an attempt to diminish the involvement of the Condo Ombudsman in the elections.  Now we see belligerent attempts to stop the upcoming elections with wild accusations of impropriety directed at the Office of the Condominium Ombudsman.


I just ask:  WHO sent out the invalid election ballots violating the rules?

WHO used a totally outdated membership roster that disenfranchised 62 unit owners?

It surely wasn't the Ombudsman!

Don't forget: It's nearly time to start the preparations for this year's annual elections.


It is in the meanwhile very obvious why unit owners petitioned the ombudsman to monitor these elections. The board even demanded the names of the unit-owners who dared to sign the petition. Why? To harass them? 


If everything in this association were up to par, the sitting board shouldn't have any reason to fight an election conducted by a neutral entity.  But it seems there is a lot more at stake than just power and seats on the board.  And it becomes more and more obvious that the sitting directors are afraid they may lose in an election where all owners can participate and where the election notices and candidate lists are unbiased, as required by Florida Statutes?


As you can imagine there are a lot of rumors flying around, like conflict of interest and nepotism.  It seems the treasurer, who is doing the books of the association, is related to the owner of the management company.  According to the reports filed with the Division of Corporations, they are sitting together on boards of different businesses.  Nepotism AND conflict of interest?


Most likely there is more than meets the eye!

Florida has had its share of ugly election scandals.  We always look down at Third World Countries and laugh about Banana Republics.  Many of our citizens come from places where fair elections are unknown.  They came to this country hoping for a better place to live.  If we can't even protect them in their homes against election shenanigans, it really is a shame


The ombudsman and his volunteers are trying their best to establish fair elections for condominium associations.  They don't need to waste their valuable time fighting board members who are obviously afraid of losing their power, if elections are held according to the Florida Statutes.  The welfare of many families hinges on good, honest board members.  Lots of money is at stake!


Personally, I have no comprehension of WHY board members would spend money on trying to avoid fair elections.  I appeal to our legislators to support the efforts of the Office of the Condominium Ombudsman to conduct fair elections.  It is time to stop board members who rely on dubious methods to stay in power! 

Report of Condo Ombudsman -- August 21, 2005


            In accordance with the provisions of Sections 718.5012, 718.5012(5) and 718.5012(9) Florida Statutes, and the power and authority of the Office of the Ombudsman, the Annual Election for directors of Heron at the Hammocks Condominium Association will be conducted by the State of Florida, Office of the Condominium Ombudsman on August 27, 2005.

            In March of this year the Office of the Condominium Ombudsman received a Petition for Appointment of an Election Monitor pursuant to Florida Statute Section 718.5012(9) to conduct the election for directors of a condominium in Miami called Heron at the Hammocks. The law firm of Hyman, Kaplan, Ganguzza, Spector & Mars represented the association.

            At the election held on March 30, 2005, the Election Monitor found that the Association, supervised by its attorneys, committed a serious ballot infraction. On the advice of their attorney and suggestion of the Election Monitor, the Board of Directors convened and canceled the election, and planned to have it rescheduled. At that election the Monitor also found that there were a minimum number of ballots cast. This was an indication that the unit owners may not have receive sufficient notice of the election or did not receive voting packets and ballots at all.

Because of these and other unusual circumstances surrounding the election, the Monitor obtained a list of unit owners from the county property appraiser and compared it with the Associationís roster. There were 62 discrepancies that the Board of Administration could not and refused to clarify. To avoid any possible mishandling of the ballots for the second rescheduled election, the Ombudsman directed the Board to designate his office as the entity authorized to receive the ballots pursuant to Florida Administrative Code 61B-23.0021(8) and his authority under Florida Statute Section 718.5012.  The Board of Directors refused.

In an effort to ensure that no election misconduct, interference, or fraud would occur, the Ombudsman wrote to the unit owners and requested that they send their ballots to his office for the Election Monitor to bring to the election. Because of this intervention there were twice as many participants and voters at the second election that was held on April 27, 2005.

At the second election held on April 27, 2005 the legal representative for the Association from the law firm of Hyman and Kaplan canceled the election without the proper authority of the Board of Directors. The attorney claimed that some ballots were returned to the owners undelivered because the Ombudsmanís mailbox was full. Not one ballot was shown to the monitors to substantiate this claim. This was an obvious ruse to avoid an election and perpetuate the current boardís term. The United States Post Office has no policy to return envelopes under the alleged circumstance.

The two attempts by the Board to hold and conduct the annual election after the appointment of an election monitor were postponed because of 1) a ballot impropriety and 2) some illegitimate excuse created by legal counsel. Subsequent to those two attempts the Board of Directors made no attempt or good faith effort to re-schedule the election despite an Order from the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman has learned that some of the directors have business relationships with the Association and it would be in their best interest to continue their control and operation of the Condominium.

Under the power and authority of the Office of the Ombudsman, the Annual Election for directors of the Heron at the Hammocks Condominium Association, Inc., is scheduled for August 27, 2005 at 1:00 p.m. at the Wild Lime Center lobby located at 11450 SW 147th Ave., Miami Fl. 33196.

Recently the President of the Heron Association, Wayne Martin, has complained that the information sheet of one of the candidates, Olga Loero, was not sent out with the election materials. The Office of the Ombudsman received no information sheet from the candidate, Mrs. Loero. Her notice of intent was received and acknowledged and she was sent a letter confirming that she was a candidate and that if she would like to submit a personal information sheet she should provide one. Olga Loero did not submit any information sheet nor has she voiced any complaint. All pertinent election materials and notices have been sent to each and every unit owner.  This has been verified by affidavit of chief election monitor, Valmore Lucier.

The President of the Board of Administration of Heron at the Hammocks continues to try to obstruct a legitimate election for directors. This election should have been completed in November of 2004. The President, himself a candidate for the board, now, one week before the election, also alleges that the notice of the election was not timely posted on the condominium property. This is incorrect. All notices and procedures have been followed for a legitimate election. Additionally a Reminder Notice of Election was mailed on August 19, 2005 to all unit owners in both English and Spanish. The notice provisions required by Florida Statutes have been exceeded.

The election being conducted by the Ombudsman and the State of Florida on August 27th will not be canceled.