Speakers challenge rules on candidate eligibility
By Greg Ellison
(March 17, 2022) Granting more time for consideration or voting no for a host of proposed bylaw changes were the main messages residents sent to the Ocean Pines Board of Directors during a town hall on Saturday.
Communications Advisory Committee Chair Cheryl Jacobs moderated the hybrid meeting held at the Golf Clubhouse that was intended to solicit public comments.
The directors have spearheaded a comprehensive review of the bylaws, which were last revised in 2008.
Saturday’s gathering was preceded by a special board meeting in early February when more than 30 changes were weighed and approved for inclusion on a referendum ballot.
Among the suggested revisions are several from Director Frank Daly regarding board candidate requirements and verification processes.
Daly had originally recommended prohibiting anyone with a felony conviction within 10 years of the filing date from running for director, while also proposing to ban their spouses from running as well.
During the board meeting on Feb. 7, Daly withdrew the spouse line, and agreed to amend the 10-year period for prohibiting board candidates with felony convictions to five years after restitution and probation are completed.
First to the microphone was former Bayside Gazette publisher Elaine Brady, who brought up the legal parameters that must be met for criminal background checks.
“Unlike property records, criminal records are actually governed by federal law to obtain and use them,” she said.
Brady said to obtain arrest records, board candidates would have to be fingerprinted and provide notarized release of information for each state in which they have lived in the past five years.
“Candidates will also have to sign an FBI release, as all information provided has to be certified by the federal criminal justice department information system for states to release … what most people know as a ‘rap sheet,’” she said.
Further, Brady said criminal background information could not be shared with anyone but the individual in question.
Also, using the background information to embarrass, harass or cause harm to reputation or livelihood could be a criminal offense.
“It is not considered just idle gossip,” she said.
Brady recommended current board members complete background checks prior to subjecting future candidates to the process, while also questioning the relevancy of a felon provision.
“If this is voted on, I think the author should take into consideration that this isn’t even necessary,” she said. “Board members have no access to funds, nor can any one individual … make a financial decision that would harm the association.”
Echoing Brady was Director Rick Farr who said background checks are complex.
“If running background checks for a [business or HOA], there has to be consent of an individual for … release of information,” he said.
Farr said comparable regulations are included in the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
“It’s a slippery slope when you’re dealing with background checks of an individual,” he said.
Farr also noted legalities exist for how background information is stored and disseminated.
“As an executive in human resources, I am the administrator for pulling background checks for where I work,” he said. “I am the sole source [and] that information stays with me.”
Farr said divulging details with anyone but the person in question is not permitted and all information has to be destroyed within five days.
By contrast, Farr said running a personal background is a different animal.
“That’s not a thorough, reliable background check,” he said.
Former board member Slobodan Trendic said the bylaws represent a vital legal document for the association.
“The board has lost two recent lawsuits during which the bylaws were heavily scrutinized,” he said.
Trendic said while it would be reasonable to conclude that bylaws warranted attention, questions exist if the proposed changes would solve issues or add complexity.
“If the board moves forward, I will vote no on all,” he said
Trendic encouraged other association members to follow suit while also recommending delaying the planned referendum to allow more time to refine details.
Pines resident Joe Reynolds backed the approach, while also advising against abstaining, as unreturned ballots would not influence the outcome.
“Nothing we’re doing here is critical to this association,” he said. “I’m with Mr. Trendic, vote no across the board.”
Bylaws and Resolutions Committee Chair Jim Trummel said the group made recent recommendations to change the proposed definition of owner of record.
“The committee recommends that the provisions regarding representatives of corporations, LLCs and partnerships being ineligible for board candidacy or appointment be removed and relocated as disqualified,” he said.
Trummel said Daly had proposed updating the owner of record definition in bylaws section 1.11 as the “person(s) listed on the deed … in Land Records of Worcester County.”
Daly’s proposal also outlines that in instances of property listed under a trust, the owner of record is a trustee(s) or co-trustees.
Lastly, the proposed section 1.11 language states if a corporation, LLC or partnership is listed as owner on a property deed, owner of record would be, “an officer of the corporation, a living person who is a member of the … [LLC] … or a living person who is a partner in the partnership…”
Trummel said committee members vetted the owner of record topic during its meeting on March 4 and concluded the trustee aspect should remain but corporate or partnership elements should be removed.
“Those [corporate] representatives have an inherent conflict of interest,” he said. “Their interest is in the property as the objectives of the entity.”
By contrast, Trummel said individual homeowners typically feel a different obligation to the community than business people.
“They have no personal commitment and are ill-suited on the board,” he said.
In addition to the committee recommendation, Trummel also opposed earlier suggestions to vote no on referendum proposals.
“There are provisions in this proposal that should and need to be clarified,” he said. “Don’t just wipe it all out.”
Association President Colette Horn, noting bylaw revisions have been underway for two years, questioned the perception that the process was being rushed.
“The board has had considerable discussion,” she said. “We have publicized every step of this process.”
While in agreement, Brady noted a number of changes were made more recently.
“Those are the ones with the most problems,” she said.
Daly said the list of bylaw revisions was a mixed bag with some issues dating back years and others arising from recent litigation.
“Yes, there were things added at the last minute, but [those] … typically were items worked on the longest,” he said.
Daly also acknowledged a number of changes were tied to the recent lawsuit filed against the board by then-candidate Farr, after the board ruled that he was ineligible to run. The Worcester County Circuit rejected the board’s arguments and Farr was elected.
“We basically got skewered by a court of law that said our bylaws are in conflict with each other,” Daly said.
Daly said the problem appeared two-fold.
“We don’t have proper procedures to implement the bylaws we have and the procedures that we did have we did a shitty job of following,” he said.
Director Doug Parks, while opposing the “no vote” suggestion, acknowledged there were issues that warrant attention.
“I have been saying we are rushing,” he said.
Parks said by allowing more time, the odds of passing the roughly 30 revisions would be heightened.
“The average person is probably not going to put the scrutiny and the analysis involved in making a decision for all 30,” he said.
Horn questioned if additional time would be effective.
“It negates hundreds of hours of time for many changes that are not controversial,” she said. “It’s extremely disrespectful of our Bylaws and Resolutions Committee, our work group and the individuals who have put these hundreds of hours into studying these bylaws.”
Horn recommended members vote against specific proposals if opposed instead of the whole list.
The association is scheduled to mail homeowners referendum ballots for bylaw changes by March 25 with a voting deadline of April 29.
In a subsequent statement after the meeting on Saturday, the association encouraged members to email any questions regarding bylaw changes or the referendum process to email@example.com.