The October meeting of the Summer Trees West HOA board was a true eye opener for me. Although I wasn’t able to say much or ask many questions because Chairman Joe Richotte banged his gavel non-stop to shut down my interrogation, we did gain a new perspective on how “The Board” operates in the shadows.
“The Board” confirmed that it had least three secret votes since the September meeting, but did not produce a single scrap of paper documenting the votes and could not even confirm the date of secret motions to bestow board president John Lyons with Power of Attorney in the Shaffer matter; to direct the HOA lawyer to send a threatening letter to Hank Springer concerning his since-shuttered websites; and, to spend $6,000 for storm debris removal.
Richotte, who chairs board meetings and also chairs the grounds committee, explained that the $6,000 storm cleanup expenditure was an emergency matter. The HOA’s regular lawn service, Gayle’s, received that money and will receive an additional $6,000 for storm cleanup voted on by the board on Tuesday night.
Pressed about the votes concerning the Shaffer and Springer matters, Richotte confirmed that the board passed around a motion among themselves and never formally met. “It was done through the attorney,” Richotte said, referring to HOA attorney Joel McTague.
McTague’s firm represents the HOA in connection with a lien placed on the Shaffer home at 107 Cypress Pond Road. The lien and a threatened foreclosure action was intended to reclaim legal fees racked up by McTague’s firm because Shaffer began asking a lot of questions about HOA budgeting, finances, HOA monies paid to Richotte in connection with past storm cleanups, and the sale of two pieces of Association land in 2006 and 2007 – one to the City of Port Orange, the other to the developer of the PNC Bank property on Taylor Road.
Shaffer and Richotte have been embroiled in a bitter personal dispute that regularly brings police to their street. It became clear to me last night that the lien on the Shaffer home is an extension of that feud. Richotte said something about Ray Shaffer Jr. in public last night that I will not repeat here because I believe it was slanderous and, since it was made by the chairman of the HOA board at a public meeting, quite reckless.
Richotte and other board members managed to shut Shaffer Jr. up by getting court injunctions and a 250-foot restraining order – effectively barring Shaffer Jr. from Association meetings. They managed to get Hank Springer to shut up by sending him a letter demanding “royalties” and threatening a federal copyright lawsuit for publishing minutes of HOA minutes and snippets of The Town Crier on two websites that have since been shut down.
My next door neighbor and former board president Bob Rhein opined that posting the HOA materials online could damage the Association. But when I pointed out that the materials are already posted on a website maintained by the Association’s bookkeeper for anyone to see, HOA Treasurer Leslie Tucker cut me off (as she did many times even though she has no right to do so).
“Without opinions,” she blurted out.
So there you have it folks. An admission by a member of the Summer Trees West HOA board that the three-page letter sent to Hank Springer demanding “royalties” for posting documents found elsewhere was because “The Board” does not like criticism. Richotte then went on at length about his experience with the Shaffers, and accused Hank Springer of using his websites as a mouthpiece for the Shaffers. (IIn fact, very little about the Shaffer matter was written about on the websites.)
THE ‘NUISANCE’ CLAUSE
The lien on the Shaffer home was filed because the board deemed Ray Shaffer Jr. to be a “nuisance” because he had the audacity to question how the HOA is run and ask questions about whom, if anyone, benefitted from the 2006 and 2007 land sales – which purportedly included a no-interest loan from the HOA to the developer that the board has yet to explain.
Here’s the problem with the Shaffer lien and why it should matter to you.
In my opinion, as a non-lawyer who wrote about and analyzed criminal and civil court actions in 30 of the 50 states for a national media outlet over seven years, a vague bylaw that says a “nuisance” is anything the “The Board” says it is will not withstand judicial review.
The “nuisance” rule is garbage. It is legally meaningless. It is vague and therefore unenforceable. You cannot create a rule that is so vague that it is therefore unenforceable. Any first-year law student will tell you that, yet a lawyer who charges $300-per-hour has “The Board” convinced he can defend the rule.
The Shaffers will get the lien dismissed (and probably counter sue) and all of us will be forced to eat the legal fees and damages that were racked up by the HOA as a result.
How much will the Special Assessment be? Ask “The Board.” They are the ones gambling with your money and not giving you all of the facts.
All of this is happening because Joe Richotte has a bitter feud going with Ray Shaffer Jr. and wants to take his home away from him and his 89-year-old father and forced them to move. He apparently is willing to risk all of our money because he wants to continue to bang his gavel and shut up anyone who dares to question how the board operates.
So far, he and “The Board” have managed to operate the Association in the shadows, mismanage money (you hear about the $2,500 we lost because they didn’t roll over a CD?), lose records required to be kept by law (stolen from the “clubhouse” after Shaffer demanded an audit), and allow the “clubhouse” to be used for decades without insurance or a Certificate of Occupancy.
To all of my neighbors in Summer Trees West, when the final bill comes due for “The Board’s” reckless use of the Association lawyers to settle these petty disputes, please remember that the Springers tried to warn you.
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