By Greg Ellison
(Nov. 28, 2019) Former Ocean Pines Association Board member Slobodan Trendic filed suit in Worcester County Circuit Court on Nov. 15 in response to the OPA Board of Directors’ rejection in August of a petition containing more than 800 signatures.
Trendic, who is represented by attorney Bruce Bright, is seeking up to $75,000 in compensatory damages from the association’s board of directors for legal fees following a referendum drive campaign launched in April seeking to amend the OPA bylaws to require the board to conduct a membership vote to approve any single capital expenditure over $1 million.
Bright has filed suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief based on what Trendic argues are legally dubious assertions made by OPA attorney Jeremy Tucker.
Trendic stepped down as a director after abstaining from a vote on April 6 to approve expansions of the police and administration building, as well as the golf clubhouse and cart barn, which combined totaled more than $3 million.
During the OPA homeowners annual meeting on Aug. 10, Trendic presented a pair of petitions. One called for limiting the board’s unauthorized spending authority, and the other sought a referendum on the recently commenced club house project at the Ocean Pines Golf Course.
Tucker’s opinion was issued on Aug. 20, and the next day the board opted to invalidate the latter petition, which contained 743 signatures and failed to meet the required 10 percent of eligible voters at 9.69 percent.
While not contesting that conclusion, Trendic filed suit over the spending limit issue, noting the 808 signatures collected for that drive did, by Tucker’s admission, meet the 10 percent threshold.
Trendic’s suit takes exception with Tucker’s grounds for refusing to recognize the spending limit petition due to the inclusion of the term, “should,” which he reasoned “seeks an opinion” of membership and does not “ask specifically whether they vote to approve the amendment.”
Tucker goes on to purport, “The petition seeks no referendum to amend the bylaws and does not require action by the Board of Directors.”
Within that legal opinion, Trendic’s legal counsel notes that Tucker failed to obtain data regarding past practices.
Tucker’s opinion stated, “I do not know how petitions have been handled in the past. For example, I do not know if every petition that met the signature requirement was allowed to move to referendum regardless of the content of the petition.”
Bright also noted that the day after Tucker’s opinion was issued the board announced its, “ill-considered opinion” to not recognize the 808 validated signatures, while claiming the petition failed to request specific action and would not go to referendum.
Bright contends that, according to OPA bylaw section 4-08, a referendum can be initiated by petition that, “must contain a specific question, proposal, or action suitable for an affirmative or negative response on a ballot.”
Bright argues Tucker’s legal analysis based on the inclusion of the term “should,” is “patently unfounded,” and appears contrived to achieve the board’s desired, but improper, goal of avoiding a referendum vote.
“It distorts and misrepresents the straightforward content of the petition form, which plainly and simply presented an appropriate proposal to be put to referendum vote,” Bright wrote in an Oct. 6 letter to the board and Tucker.
Bright further stated OPA bylaws sec 4-07 and 4-08 only require that a referendum petition “present a question” to be voted on by OPA members.
“The bylaws simply require the requisite number of signatures on a petition asking the board to present the specific proposal for a referendum vote,” Bright wrote.
Lastly, Bright noted OPA board resolution B-07 related to petitions includes a sample petition that incorporates the term “should,” in the same manner as Trendic’s petition.