Tempers flare as West Boynton community turns off TV contract

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Ben Wolford

Published July 25, 2012


WEST DELRAY— It started with television outages months ago, and a few residents complained.

Then more and more chimed in. The screens are pixilated, the equipment gets hot, the house smells funny. By Monday afternoon, more than 250 angry residents of Valencia Lakes, west of Boynton Beach, had persuaded the homeowners association board to dash a contract with a new service provider they blame for the problems.

"The next time you make a decision, involve Valencia Lakes because you don't know what you're doing," resident Manny Riskin told the six board members at the head table of a library banquet room here Monday.

The emergency board meeting was an unusually tense manifestation of a relationship familiar to many who live in communities guided by an HOA board. Often there's a strain between residents eager to have a voice and a board obliged to maintain standards.

In Valencia Lakes, a largely elderly community of 696 homes, tempers reached new levels as hundreds crammed into a room at the library and lined the walls to hear how the board would solve their television problems.

"We want this to be a calm as possible," said board president Esther Hersh at the outset, to loud jeers. "It looks like you've all got daggers in your eyes."

Later in the two-hour meeting, at which residents could speak their minds publicly, one man told Hersh to "shut up" when she interrupted him, and another said the board members were "out of their minds."

Residents say Paladin hasn't lived up to any of its promises. When the television goes out, which some residents say happens regularly, it can take the duration of a sitcom to come back on. Worse yet, they say, the wiring that runs through each home in Valencia Lakes may violate county codes.

A Palm Beach County code enforcement official "saw three houses," said Robert Rubinstein, an attorney with the firm Becker and Poliakoff who represents the HOA board. "That was enough to say, 'We have an electrical code violation.'"

Ultimately the board, one shy of its usual seven members, voted 5-1 — with Hersh casting the lone no vote — to terminate its contract with Paladin Broadband Alliance, a move that will likely result in arbitration if the company asserts the termination was wrongful.

Paladin, a South Florida startup, signed a contract with Valencia Lakes in May 2011 to install DirecTV and EarthLink Internet earlier this year. It's executives said they had planned for the long haul.

"No company comes into a community, invests $2 million and expects that community to terminate that contract within four months," Chief Operating Officer Don Smith said. He added that Paladin had sought to remedy technology glitches.

Paladin's CEO, Martin McClancy, stopped short of promising to seek arbitration, saying he hadn't received the termination letter yet. But he said the complaints of Valencia Lakes residents had reached the desk of the president of DirecTV.

"We're going to conform to the bulk contract" — which allows arbitration — "but we're going to do it in the spirit of cooperation," McClancy said. "We want to be their provider."

A few residents who had served on a technology committee that recommended Paladin were sympathetic to the company, saying it wasn't given enough time to sort out the problems.

It's unclear what will happen after Aug. 1, when the community will shut off its Paladin television service.