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Gazette Editorial

Election case ruling will define ownership

There’s no way to know how Circuit Court Judge Sidney Campen will rule Monday after he weighs arguments over whether the Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors rightfully declared would-be candidate Richard Farr ineligible to run after the election was underway.

At issue is whether a trust’s ownership of real property extends to trust beneficiaries as equitable owners for OPA membership purposes. At the time of his filing to run, Farr did not hold the title to his home — his father’s family trust did — but he was an equitable owner as a trust beneficiary.

The court also will decide which of three authorities — the association’s bylaws, the OPA charter or the declarations of covenants, all of which reference property ownership and association membership — holds the upper legal hand.

Although the judge’s decision on the first question will decide the fate of Farr’s candidacy and, possibly, the composition of the board, his ruling on the second matter could be even more important.

The bylaws represent how OPA members want the association to operate, while the charter and the covenants represent what kind of community Ocean Pines’ original planners wanted it to be.

When the bylaws and the charter or the declarations diverge on specific issues, either purposely or because of oversights and omissions, at least one must have precedence over the other. That’s what the judge is expected to decide.

Should he conclude that the charter, and the covenants based on it, come first in the order of importance, the board and the association’s bylaws committee would have some serious work to do to bring the bylaws in line with the founding documents.

Conversely, if he declares that the bylaws supersede everything else, that would be even more messy, since the founding documents automatically bestow membership on equitable owners, while the current interpretation of the bylaws would deprive them of the right to run for office — and consequently — the right to vote.