Watchdog group files complaint against CA board

Association was slow to address grievances, alliance officials say

September 23, 2004|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

The Alliance for a Better Columbia has filed a complaint with the state attorney general's office accusing the Columbia Association board of violating state law regarding open meetings and access to public documents.

The community watchdog group sent a letter Tuesday to the attorney general's consumer protection division complaining that the CA board is not complying with a number of rules under the Maryland Homeowners Association Act. Officials from ABC said they filed their complaint after the homeowners association did not respond to their accusations.

"We have been very, very patient and have hoped that they would respond," said Alex Hekimian, the alliance's president. "However, ABC's board felt that it was now time to pursue external remedies."

The alliance sent a letter to board Chairman Joshua Feldmark on Aug. 20, claiming the board has violated four rules: giving adequate notice for all meetings; providing a time for property owner comments during most meetings; disclosing the occurrence of closed meetings; and allowing the public to examine all Columbia Association documents.

Feldmark responded to Hekimian yesterday in an e-mail and acknowledged he should have replied sooner. He said the matter is scheduled to be on the board's agenda for its Oct. 14 meeting.

"We're going to have a full discussion on the fourteenth and hopefully we'll develop answers," Feldmark said. "And on places where we can improve, hopefully we'll take the initiative to do that improvement."

Feldmark said he believes the board has made "great strides" and is complying with the Homeowners Association Act. The board is as open as it has been during his tenure, Feldmark said, but can still make improvements.

"I'm upset because the better we get, the harsher [ABC's] criticism seems to get," he said.

ABC's requests include: posting each meeting agenda and background information on the association's Web site; allowing residents to testify at all open meetings; releasing salary and bonus information for Columbia Association officers for the past five years; and disclosing all closed meetings dating to January 2002.

"It's difficult for residents to know what's going on," Hekimian said. "Even if they do show up for a meeting, they would have no information on which to base their comments."

Barbara Russell, the board's vice chairwoman, said some of ABC's concerns have been addressed, such as the board documenting closed meetings.

"If they're portraying the board as being unwilling to take on some of these things or address some of these things, that's not accurate," she said.

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