By Greg Ellison
(Oct. 15, 2021) In a sharp rebuke of the “highly irregular” election machinations executed by an Ocean Pines Board of Directors majority, Circuit Court Judge Sidney Campen on Wednesday blocked the majority’s plan to hold a new election of directors and ordered all ballots from the summer’s disputed contest to be counted publicly.
That counting, Campen made clear from the bench in Snow Hill, will include ballots cast for Richard Farr, who was disqualified midway through the election by then-association secretary Camilla Rogers.
Farr was deemed an eligible candidate in May at the start of the election but ruled ineligible by Rogers on July 27 after an anonymous phone call questioned his property ownership status through a family trust.
“I don’t want this case to drag out,” the judge said, referring to his pledge in September to fast-track Farr’s legal challenge of his disqualification so the regular election could be concluded.
On Aug. 30, Campen denied Farr’s request for an injunction to prevent the board from proceeding with the election process without him.
Campen ruled then that the board could continue its election work, but added he hoped the directors would do “the right thing.”
Apparently, they did not, in the view of Farr’s attorney, Bruce Bright of Ocean City, who returned to court Wednesday to ask the judge to reconsider his request for injunctive relief.
“We’re not seeking same injunction as before,” Bright told the court, referring to the new election about to get underway.
He said his renewed request followed the board’s 4-3 vote on Sept. 30 to stage a new election without Farr on the ballot.
During the same meeting the board also deadlocked 3-3-on counting previous ballots, preventing any action from occurring.
Bright reminded Campen that during the Aug. 30 hearing the judge had expressed interest in the ballot count taking place.
“Expectations were that Ocean Pines would count and hopefully publish the results,” he said.
Campen said his previous denial of the preliminary injunction was to allow the board to count the votes. He then added, “This new election games the system.”
Three days after the most recent hearing on Sept. 27, the board convened a special meeting and opted to re-stage the contest, saying its purpose was to avoid disenfranchising voters.
Bright also criticized former Director Rogers, who resigned during the board’s Sept. 30 meeting.
“The secretary’s disqualification (of Farr) was facially arbitrary,” he said. “She looked at three words in the bylaws and disregarded everything else.”
Bright said the community’s governing documents give precedence in such matters to the homeowner’s association’s declaration of restrictions.
Bright also said the association was scheduled to mail ballots to property owners for the new election today (Friday).
“We are seeking injunctive relief at a minimum,” he said.
Campen asked if the bylaws allowed the association secretary to revise candidate eligibility status during the course of an election.
“If she had denied early on, we wouldn’t be here,” he said.
Campen also said the bylaws include mechanisms to remove duly elected board members through either a two-thirds directors vote or a referendum.
“Instead, they issued a letter in the middle of the election stating [Farr] was ineligible,” he said.
Campen also took exception to Director Frank Daly’s participation in the majority’s vote to hold a new election, in which he would be one of three candidates vying for two open positions.
“It gives him a lock on getting the position,” he said.
Campen said the recent courses of action pursued by the board were “highly irregular.”
In addition to ordering all ballots counted by the end of this month, Campen scheduled a trial on Nov. 15 to hear arguments on Farr’s eligibility and the board’s election decisions.
“We need to get this case over so the board can move forward,” he said.