Is Council turning into tool for attorney with private agenda?

Advisory Council On Condominiums

An Opinion By Jan Bergemann
Published May 24, 2005


Having a great idea doesn’t always give you the result you try to achieve --  especially if an attorney hijacks the Council after his law firm clearly opposed the creation of the Council in the first place!  It seems that this attorney, Joe Adams from the well-known law firm of Becker & Poliakoff, has his own private agenda. Members of this law firm, registered lobbyists, continuously oppose consumer-friendly bills that would help to create a more friendly -- and less expensive -- environment for Florida's unit owners.  


For starters two major rules:

(1) If you're a member of this Council, don't you dare to have an opposing opinion!  Chairman Adams will quickly rule you out of order to shut you up. 

(2) If you're a public speaker, watch that your presentation fits into the agenda of the Council.  Otherwise, you might find in the minutes some statements that have very little to do with the meaning of your presentation.


It seems to me that Joe Adams forgot to read the statutes regarding the Council.


Here is a short history:

The Advisory Council On Condominiums was the result of the 2004 Florida legislative session that enacted Senate Bills 1184 and 2984.  The actual language was adopted from House Bill 1223, a bill sponsored by House Representative Julio Robaina - Miami (R –117), Chairman of the House Select Committee on Condominium Governance.


Mainly, the Council was created to give condo owners a place to voice their concerns and present their suggestions for improvement of the very problematic statutes governing condominiums.  Daily headlines in our media are proof that not all is peaceful and serene in Condo La-La-Land – despite what the service providers try to tell us!


Just a few short sentences describe the function of this Council:

“2)   The functions of the advisory council shall be to:

(a)  Receive, from the public, input regarding issues of concern with respect to condominiums and recommendations for changes in the condominium law. The issues that the council shall consider include, but are not limited to, the rights and responsibilities of the unit owners in relation to the rights and responsibilities of the association.

(b)  Review, evaluate, and advise the division concerning revisions and adoption of rules affecting condominiums.

(c)  Recommend improvements, if needed, in the education programs offered by the division.”


But it seems that attorneys have a hard time reading statutes and bills. In March 2005 Donna Berger, another lobbyist from the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff and executive director of CALL -- the Becker & Poliakoff lobbying group -- scared Florida's condo board members with the announcement that House Bill 1229 includes a provision that limits board directors to a one-year term. And in her dispatch she appealed to every board member in his/her right mind to oppose this "useless" bill. Even though Berger’s dispatch didn’t give real facts, it still achieved its purpose. Many irate board members wrote e-mails to legislators opposing the bill. Purpose achieved -- bill killed -- attorneys happy! Most of these board members had never even attempted to read the bill. They just wrote what they were told. Gullible? 


Now here comes Joe Adams:  Supported by Peter Dunbar, another attorney and registered lobbyist, and some other Council members -- as well members of the Community Associations Institute -- Adams hijacked the council for his own personal agenda.  The Council discussed at length House Bill 1593, a bill obviously pushed by Becker & Poliakoff and Joe Adams.  Under the headline of "Association emergency powers in catastrophic events" it would have given board members and -- listen up -- their agents dictatorial powers.  For good measure, a very important explanation was added:  "authorizes condominium association board to exercise specified emergency powers during emergency created by catastrophic event; provides immunity for acts taken by board in good faith."


But the House Committee on CIVIL JUSTICE on Wednesday, March 30, 2005, saw the writing on the wall and scratched the whole provision, replacing it with this provision: "The Advisory Council on Condominiums is directed to hold public hearings, study available options and proposals, and prepare a report to the Legislature."

Nevertheless, at its meeting the next day the Council tried -- under the leadership of the chairman but without public hearings -- to work on rewording the bill, hoping to make it still palatable to the legislators for this session.  The bill failed, most likely because certain legislators were unhappy about the service providers trying to turn back the clock to re-establish liens and foreclosures for fines in F.S. 720 “Homeowners' Associations.”  Liens and foreclosures for fines had been removed on suggestion of the HOA Task Force during the 2004 session.


During the March 31 meeting two public speakers tried to get the attention of the Council to work on issues interesting to condo-owners. Their presentations found very little interest in the unapproved minutes:


Presentation by Jan Bergemann regarding education and outreach to the public.  Mr. Bergemann encouraged Division to use email capabilities to educate and keep public informed.   Suggested more education to be offered through the web.

Presentation by Ken Hinkle regarding his recommendations for requirement of developer’s performance bonds with warranties. (End Quote)


Even if minutes contain just a summary of the meeting, they should at least be true to the actual events! Please read the actual presentation and compare with the draft of the minutes. I understand summary, but disregarding things said if they don't fit in the private agenda of certain members of the Council shouldn't be the way to deal with it -- especially since condo owners' money is used to conduct these meetings.


A timely written complaint about the wording of these minutes wasn't even forwarded to all members of the Council before they were being asked to approve the minutes.


It seems the PRAVDA had more liberal guidelines when it came to censorship.


Why should public speakers make the effort of going to the meetings and offering their input, if the minutes don't even reflect the meaning of their presentation?


Now the Council attempts to give themselves the right to criticize the Condominium Ombudsman Office.  Couldn't find that part in the statutes describing the functions?  But that move of chairman Adams was foreseeable, since a colleague of his already had stated at a convention of the Community Associations Institute in New Orleans earlier this year: "The ombudsman is a total failure and on his way out!"  That was shortly after Governor Jeb Bush had appointed the Ombudsman to his position.  It seems certain CAI members had already made up their minds before giving the project a fair chance!


The letter from the Ombudsman to the Council obviously rattled some more cages. But instead of looking to get the cooperation of all parties for the betterment of the citizens, it seems the chairman of the Council wants to go on a fault-finding mission.  Some of the following arguments could have easily been avoided if some Council members had taken the time to read the Florida statutes -- like the paragraph about election monitor -- just as an example.


In my opinion, the council has in four meetings not even attempted to follow the legislative intent! For the first time during its meeting in Panama City Beach (Please read Jerry Melvin's report) on May 14, 2005 the Council got some public input from more than just a few people. Let's hope the Council now starts acting on the input of the citizens, as charged by the statutes. There will definitely be lots of input at the next meeting of the Condo Advisory Council in Miami during the second half of June. It is important that the Council holds its meetings in areas with lots of condos in order to get lots of input. That was the whole idea!


Furthermore there have been lots of good suggestions made by Vice Chairman Mark Benson, who listed a lot of items that should be tackled by the Council. There is definitely no shortage of problems in Florida's condo living!


We can just hope that the Council chair reconsiders his ideas and starts doing what he is supposed to do according to the statutes. Let's hope we don't have to wait until October 1, 2005 and hope for different appointed members to do a better job and elect a chairman who is willing to follow the statutes.


After seeing what people can make out of a perfectly good idea, do you still have some humor left? How about this?

The always busy rumor-mill in Tallahassee has it that former speaker Johnnie Byrd appointed Joe Adams to the Council as a revenge to Florida's condo-owners, who didn't want to vote for him in last year's election. Hmmmm -- I wonder about that rumor?