State won't probe CA

Attorney general's office declines to act on 5-page complaint

Other remedies urged

Columbia

March 28, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The state attorney general's office will not investigate a complaint accusing the Columbia Association of violating state law in connection with closed-door meetings.

"As a general matter, the Attorney General's Office does not have the authority to involve itself in the governance of homeowners associations," wrote Robert N. McDonald, chief counsel for Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., in response to the five-page complaint. "The Maryland Homeowners Association Act does not assign enforcement authority to this Office."

The complaint, filed last week by longtime Columbia resident Lanny Morrison, accused the association of violating the "spirit and intent" of the Homeowners Association Act and withholding "pertinent and relevant information" about its business.

The complaint was focused on a closed meeting March 9 of the Columbia Association board of directors at which President Deborah O. McCarty was given hiring and firing authority over the association's vice presidents.

Two of the vice presidents are no longer employed by the association.

Morrison, a former chairman of the Columbia Council, said yesterday it is "disconcerting" that a law governing homeowners associations "exists on paper" but is not enforceable by the attorney general's office.

In his response, dated March 24, McDonald suggested that Morrison consult a private lawyer about "legal remedies that may be available to resolve your complaints about the association's board."

McDonald also said some disputes within homeowners groups may be resolved through mediation, if both parties agree.

Morrison, who is running in next month's village elections for the Harper's Choice seat on the council, has since appealed to the state's Howard County delegation to make the homeowners association act more "homeowner-friendly."

"It is quite distressing to learn that a seemingly well-written statute turns out to be hollow because there are no practical mechanisms to enforce it," he wrote to delegation members.

"I prevail upon you to find some way to rectify this before the CA Board of Directors exposes CA to more legal and financial liability, wastes its assets further and continues to abuse its power. This is what the Act was intended to preclude."

Morrison questioned whether homeowners would have the standing to sue their homeowners association, and said the only recourse they may have against a "runaway board of directors" is at the ballot box next month.

"I don't know if there's anything the delegation can do at this late hour in the [legislative] session," Morrison said.

The villages of Harper's Choice, Hickory Ridge, Oakland Mills, Owen Brown, Town Center and Wilde Lake will elect council representatives April 14 and 15. Incumbents Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, the council vice chairwoman, and Vince Marando are running unopposed in Owen Brown and Wilde Lake, respectively.

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