Heron condo group pulls off fair vote,

despite doubts

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald

By Elaine Ayo

Published September 4, 2005

Three elections and nearly a year later, the Heron at the Hammocks Condominium Association has a new board of directors -- after some help from the state condo ombudsman.

Disagreements between the previous board and condo owners in the 264-unit complex at 14859 SW 104th St. led many to believe it was not possible to have a fair election. Condo owners criticized the former board for not including all voters, while the board said they were.

So they took it to the state ombudsman, Dr. Virgil Rizzo, who works out of Fort Lauderdale.

''They had barely 20 percent of people voting,'' Rizzo said, adding that 60 names on the property appraiser's list were not included in the board's roster of voters.

To get Rizzo to monitor elections, 15 percent of the residents signed the request, said Gail Sharpe, who is on the newly elected board.

After a series of delays, residents elected a new board of five members on Aug. 27. None were incumbents.

''There were over three votes cast for each new board member compared to one vote cast for each of the old board members,'' Sharpe said.

''We feel this is a true reflection of what the unit owners want,'' Sharpe said. ``We needed a fair election that would reflect the will of the unit owners. I think we got it.''

The condo association pays for the cost of having monitors and conducting the election. The ombudsman's office only has authority over condo associations, not homeowners associations.

Cyberspace Citizens for Justice, a statewide group that represents the interests of condo owners, is among the groups petitioning the government for increased legislation dealing with neighborhood associations.

''Laws that protect owners are very lax and very hard to enforce,'' said Jan Bergemann, president of the organization. ``We're trying to form democratic associations and not banana republics.''