CA board accused of breaking homeowners association law

Alliance threatens to take legislative or judicial action

Columbia

September 02, 2004|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

The Alliance for a Better Columbia is accusing the Columbia Association board of violating a number of rules under the Maryland Homeowners Association Act and is threatening to pursue legislative or judicial avenues to make it comply.

Members of the watchdog group have been complaining that the board does not follow the state law that applies to the Columbia Association, the homeowners group that manages the planned community's amenities and collects an annual fee from property owners.

"It seems like one of the basic tenets of any organization is to follow the law," said Alex Hekimian, the alliance's president. "This is not a matter of policy; it's a matter of obeying the law."

The alliance sent a letter to board Chairman Joshua Feldmark on Aug. 20 outlining the group's concerns. Feldmark said the letter is full of accusations but does not explain specific actions the board has taken that lead the alliance to its "guilty verdict." He said he plans to place the matter on the agenda for the board's Oct. 14 meeting.

"I want to be in complete compliance with the Homeowners Association Act, and I think we have been," he said. "Show me how we haven't been, and I'm more than happy to make those adjustments. At this point, it's completely impossible to tell the merits of their arguments."

Columbia Association President Maggie J. Brown said she felt it would be inappropriate for her to comment on the letter because it was addressed to Feldmark.

"I will wait to see how that will be handled," she said.

The watchdog group says the board has violated four rules: giving adequate notice for all meetings; providing a time for property owner comments during most meetings; disclosing the occurrences of closed meetings; and allowing the public to examine all Columbia Association documents.

The alliance wants the association to post each meeting agenda and background information on the association's Web site. The agenda is usually posted the Friday before the twice-monthly Thursday meeting, but no background information is available online.

Hekimian said residents do not get background material until the board discusses a matter during the meeting.

"How are we supposed to go to resident speak-out and talk sensibly if we don't have access to the same information that the board and council has?" he said. "We're talking about nonconfidential things here."

The group is also asking that residents be allowed to testify at all open meetings the board sets instead of just at meetings of the Columbia Council, whose members constitute the board. The alliance said that residents should be able to testify at meetings of the committee that is studying the community's governing structure.

The alliance is also demanding that the association release salary and bonus information for Columbia Association officers for the past five years. The association publicly discloses only Brown's salary.

The alliance is also asking that the board make available a list of all closed meetings dating to January 2002.

"These are all common-sense things. It's doing the right thing for the community," Hekimian said. "Right now, they say, `Thank you for your money,' but even the most basic public information-type of requirements aren't being met."

This year, four board members - led by Barbara Russell, the board's vice chair - accused the board of abusing its ability to meet in closed meetings and inadequately reporting such meetings.

But the board has been responding to such concerns, with the chairman designating a time during each board meeting to declare any closed meetings that had been held or are scheduled.

Russell said some of the alliance's concerns have merit. She said she thinks that residents should be allowed to testify every time the council or board meets and that the association should provide meeting notices and background material for meetings regularly and in a timely manner.

"These people pay a lien. I think that while we are elected to represent people, one of the best ways we know what they want is when they attend our meeting and speak out on agenda items or e-mail and phone us," she said.

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