By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(July 26, 2018) Ocean Pines Board of Directors candidates participating in a forum last Wednesday issued a unified message – civility and transparency by leadership needs to improve and help is on the way.
Last month, five of the seven candidates participated in the only forum sanctioned by Ocean Pines and presented by the association’s election committee.
Last Wednesday, the same five candidates – Frank Daly, Paula Gray, Ted Moroney, Greg Turner and Steve Tuttle – took part in a candidate forum at The Parke, a homeowner’s association within the larger association of Ocean Pines.
Two candidates, Esther Diller and Arie Klapholz, did not attend either forum.
The opening question from moderator Diane McGraw asked candidates how they would address transparency in the wake of surprisingly severe financial loses and accusations of theft and impropriety a year ago.
Daly, answering first, said the current board has held too many closed meetings. He said the board has certain rights, but should tell homeowners the reason for going into closed session.
“That hasn’t happened,” he said.
On theft, Daly said any crimes should be reported to the Worcester County Sheriff and state’s attorney’s office.
“The board of directors of Ocean Pines does not have the ability to forgive sin,” Daly said.
Gray said she is concerned by wildly fluctuating numbers and wondered how much had been stolen and how much, as her grandmother used to say, was labeled as “misspent.”
“That is all past and we have to wait for the results of that forensic audit before we can say, ‘This is how much, this is what we need to do,’” she said. “Right now, the transparency issue is what’s important.”
Gray, too, said the board has the right to go into closed session and privately address certain issues.
“Transparency from now on must be a little different,” she said. “Money has to be spent, but you sleep a lot better if really knew where it went and where it’s going in the future. This travesty is not going to happen again.”
Moroney, the only incumbent in the election, said the biggest issue was “the failure of the board to jump in when we were looking at losses last August of $745,000.”
Since then, he said, a “deep dive” audit was done and auditors were checking to make sure recommendations from the review were put into place. Secondly, he said a forensic audit was well underway.
“As has been stated, if we find impropriety, that is going to go to police,” Moroney said, adding one identified theft was turned over to the Worcester County Bureau of Investigations last year. He said the forensic auditors would speak to that agency this week.
“I think we’re taking the appropriate steps in moving forward, to try to make sure we’re as transparent as we can be, while protecting the interest of the individuals,” he said.
Turner said the only time a closed meeting should occur was “when you talk about a specific employee or employees.”
He said money lost, perhaps $1 million or more, was mind-boggling.
“It just like disappeared,” he said. “It just seems that it’s just ridiculous that we didn’t know about it … You put this money into the pot to be spent and used wisely, and I don’t think that it was.
“We just need to have more openness about everything that’s done here,” Turner continued. “If you do elect me, I will change that.”
Tuttle said he demonstrated transparency through his prior public service in Ocean Pines. In 2016, he organized an unofficial candidate forum at the Ocean Pines library and later that year joined and became chairman of the association election committee.
On the committee, Tuttle helped open up the voting process. His proposals to count votes in public and immediately announce voting totals were adopted by the board.
“I spent the last two years on that committee working to bring transparency to the full voting process,” he said. “So, I think I’ve demonstrated a commitment to transparency that’s very, very important. It is important that [the board] communicate openly and straightforwardly to the membership.”
The candidates were also asked if and how they would work together to move the association forward.
Gray said she was “aghast” by the behavior of some board members over the last year and said many homeowners were ostracized during meetings for asking questions.
“Sometimes you have to get a new team and that’s what we’re all here to be,” she said. “Most of us here have the idea that change is necessary … you don’t want to have to get up in the morning and wonder what’s going on – you want us to do that.
“You just want to know that we’re doing it in good faith for you all and that’s what’s gone astray,” Gray added.
Moroney said the prior board was perhaps “the most dysfunctional board in the history of Ocean Pines.” He was appointed last September, a month after the last election, when former interim general manager and director Brett Hill resigned.
With the exception of the last month or so, Moroney said, “We were pretty good at working together.”
“I think the biggest thing that I’ve brought to this [board] is the ability to reach across the aisle to individuals that others may have a problem with,” he said. “I think I’ve demonstrated that’s part of my main role on the board, going forward.”
Turner said he’s been in Ocean Pines for a long time, adding, “I’m not going to go along with anybody unless I think it’s the right thing to do.”
He said he would use his best judgment and homeowners were welcome to call him any time to discuss issues.
Daly, in the first of at least half a dozen similar references, said the board needed to evoke “an attitude of operational excellence.”
He asked how many times homeowners had been let down because department heads, the general manager and board members did not do what they were supposed to.
“What we need to do … is expect operational excellence in every aspect of this association’s management,” Daly said.
Tuttle invoked gunslingers from the Old West coming into a town and having to check their weapons at the door of a saloon.
“One of the things that the board members have to do is check their egos at the door,” he said. “There’s no place on the board for personal egos and personal agendas. We have to work together as a team, we have to evaluate the issues carefully, do the research that’s required and then vote accordingly.”
Also, Tuttle said, “The press is no place to try our differences.”
“I’m very disappointed with some of the reports that came out in the newspaper recently about some board comments about one another. There’s no place for that,” he said. “The newspaper … is no place to start badmouthing one another or saying negative things about each other. We need to learn to work as adults and not as a kindergarten class.”
The topic of civility was a recurring theme and, as Tuttle said, “should be a given.”
“We have to learn to listen to one another,” he said. “If we can’t work it out, sometimes we have to agree to disagree. But acting in a civil manner towards each other is just absolutely essential.”
Daly repeated one of his taglines of the campaign that board members should “learn to criticize without punching and learn how to accept criticism without crying.”
“Civility is important and also how to ask a question or accept a question without seeing it as an attack,” Gray said.
“Obviously, I think we need to be civil with one another,” Moroney said, adding that could be achieved by getting board members on the same page, from the start, during organizational and orientation meetings.
He also suggested “the new Joe Reynolds rule, which is to refrain from talking badly about other board members in the press.”
“I think if we do that alone, that would be a huge plus moving forward,” Moroney said. “You can disagree on issues, but when it becomes personal … it becomes something that sticks in somebody’s craw from then on.”
Turner said he’s read news reports about ridiculous things happening between board members.
“We’re all grownups,” he said. “You’ve gotta work with people and with their faults and ideologies … that’s a given.”
Candidates agreed, when asked if amenities should break even or be subsidized, that the goal should be to at least break even in all areas.
They also found common ground when asked about purchasing financial management software that more information was needed in order to make a decision.
Asked what each hopes to accomplish, Tuttle said he would work hard on financial management and making the board more accountable and transparent.
Daly also called for better accountability, as well as establishing a five-year strategic plan.
Turner said he would like to see buildings and other assets better maintained.
During the next 12 months, Moroney said he wanted to finish the reserve study, come to a decision on financial management software, pass a balanced budget, and develop a method to fund new capital projects.
Gray said she wanted to improve living conditions in Ocean Pines and develop a plan for the future.
“We are here because Ocean Pines is absolutely a great place to be,” she said. “I’m here to make you realize that this board is your functional tool and that you can approach any of us and all of us without feeling rejection or abuse or neglect.
“We need financial stability, we need a pleasant and nonacrimonious way of interacting with each other … and we can have that. You should expect that from all of us,” Gray added.
Ballots were mailed on July 11 and are due back by Aug. 8. Voters may select up to four candidates.
Votes will be counted and vote totals announced on Aug. 10, and results will be certified during the Aug. 11 annual meeting of membership.
For questions about ballots or the election, contact the Ocean Pines Election Committee at 410-208-3989 or firstname.lastname@example.org.