Update: On Thursday, Attorney Bruce Bright said Judge Sidney Campen has scheduled a non-evidentiary hearing on Oct. 13 at 1 p.m. to hear arguments for a motion filed on Monday requesting a reconsideration of an earlier denial for a preliminary injunction. Bright said the motion is based on recent developments and decisions rendered by the Ocean Pines Board.
By Greg Ellison
(Oct. 8, 2021) A contentious Ocean Pines Board of Directors meeting last Thursday resulted in a 4-3 vote to re-stage the 2021 election with three candidates — incumbent Frank Daly, Stuart Lakernick and David Hardy.
The split-vote decision creates a new ballot without former candidate Rick Farr, who is suing the association in Worcester Circuit Court after initially being deemed eligible but was later disqualified to run for office.
Association President Larry Perrone, who attended the meeting virtually and told the other directors he might have been exposed to covid-19, introduced the motion to hold the election again.
“We will not be taking comments on the litigation,” he said of the board’s involvement with Farr in court.
Former Director Slobodan Trendic said the situation is unfortunate for all parties, especially association members.
Trendic, noting that the bylaws and other governing documents don’t necessarily agree on candidate eligibility, recommended the board adhere to association governing documents while considering the trio of motions being proposed.
“You’ve got to reflect on your own regulations as opposed to just voting based on your opinion,” he said.
Director Colette Horn said the current election debacle was not previously contemplated.
“There really are no regulations that cover this situation,” she said.
Trendic argued Perrone’s motion to re-do the election violates association bylaws, which would require a minimum of four candidates for the two open seats.
“You’re picking and choosing what you will enforce and what you will not enforce,” he said.
Horn said the bylaws requirement for two more candidates than open positions only applies if there are sufficient eligible members to run.
Perrone noted bylaws grant the board the right to do what is necessary for the good of Ocean Pines.
Pines resident Tom Schwartz also opposed holding the election again.
“You shouldn’t do anything, and you should wait for the current situation to resolve itself,” he said. “Where you’re going at this moment is ahead of the ballgame.”
After voting 7-0 to rescind an earlier motion to count ballots, which was passed on July 30 and amended on Sept. 9, the board aired various perspectives on Perrone’s motion for a new contest.
Director Camilla Rogers, who in her role as association secretary deemed Farr ineligible on July 27 after originally approving his candidacy on May 11, said community feedback on the matter was extensive.
“In all candor, I would like to do the right thing, but I’m confused what the right thing is,” she said.
Observing that the court decision from Judge Sidney Campen could take time, Rogers asked OPA legal counsel Jeremy Tucker what options existed within association bylaws.
Tucker said holding the election anew is standard practice if potential irregularities existed.
“There are no … prefect solutions,” he said. “None of what has transpired is contemplated by the bylaws.”
Director Tom Janasek said the Farr/board litigation could take months to resolve, with an election re-run also taking a comparable period.
“If in meantime if the judge rules Farr eligible, then we just spent $20,000 doing an election that’s moot because at that point we count the old votes,” he said.
Janasek voiced support for a motion from Parks to count all previously cast ballots and deem votes for Farr ineligible.
“It’s time to count the votes we have and deem the election done if Rick is deemed ineligible,” he said.
Janasek said it was shameful how some community members disparaged Rogers and association staff for the unanticipated turn of events.
“Nobody did this on purpose,” he said.
Parks voiced opposition for the election do over based on cost, time and legal aspects at play.
“We already invested money in the first election,” he said.
Parks said it was vital to remember Farr’s litigation is still pending.
“We may get a judgment that says candidate Farr is eligible,” he said. “We need to account for that.”
Horn said both Janasek and Parks are looking to avoid making decisions based on assumptions about the court outcome.
“I feel either option does the same thing,” she said.
Horn expressed concern that re-running the election would establish precedent.
“I’m very loath to set a precedent of that nature,” she said.
Horn suggested the board look at tightening up the candidate validation process to avoid similar situations in the future.
The just concluded board contest should be deemed invalid, Horn said.
“There was kind of a tainting of the water in the midst of the election, so people’s minds changed about how they would have voted,” she said. “There were fewer choices later in the election.”
Horn also acknowledged the court could disagree with the association re-staging the election.
“We all want to do the right thing,” she said. “It’s not easy sitting up here to know what the right thing is because there are competing interests in this community.”
Horn said doing the election over leans more heavily to “doing the right thing.”
Parks said costs to count already cast votes would be significantly less than holding another contest.
“One solution will cost us expenses and time,” he said. “Another solution would cost us some embarrassment if we had to unseat a director.”
Parks said “saving face” would be far cheaper than spending up to $20,000 for another election. Janasek also championed the ballot count option.
“We have ballots sitting in a box and my opinion is let’s count them up,” he said. “It’s not easy to get people to run for this board.”
Perrone said financial impacts should not factor into the decision.
“It could be years until the issue is resolved,” he said. “I don’t think we can sit and do nothing.”
Perrone also agreed with Horn that earlier ballots were tainted after Farr’s eligibility came into question. Parks, however, disagreed.
“When Rogers initially qualified Farr, people took that and made a decision,” he said. “Those votes were cast legally.”
Parks said any muddying of the electoral process did not occur until after the contest was nearly completed.
“The election was not tainted from the get-go,” he said. “We made an egregious mistake and we have to correct it.”
Daly opted to vote in favor of holding another election despite being an involved party.
“Some people lost their vote and that’s why we need a new election,” he said.
Janasek then questioned Daly’s call to vote on the motion.
“Should Daly be able to vote on a motion that says he gets to run against one less candidate?” he said.
Tucker said there were no specific legal statues to prevent Daly from voting, but the move would likely be raised in future court proceedings.
“I can’t say you don’t have the right to vote,” he said. “Legally, it’s not the definition of conflict of interest, but my recommendation to Frank given pending litigation is to abstain from voting.”
Rogers expressed conflicting emotions.
“I feel an overwhelming need to heal the community,” she said. “When I can’t walk into the Food Lion without being accosted, there’s something horribly wrong.”
After passing Perrone’s election motion by a 4-3 vote, the board deadlocked 3-3 on Parks’ motion to hold an official ballot count.
Parks said his proposal was an attempt at transparency.
“It’s not the boards’ election, it’s the communities’ election,” he said. “Hiding the outcome, despite the fact there was some questions about eligibility … obfuscates the whole issue,” he said.
Parks said Judge Campen made a “not so subtle hint,” he would like to see votes counted.
“I believe he thinks it is relevant,” he said. “If we continue to withhold this information, we are not acting in the best interest of the association membership.”
Perrone, however, disagreed that Judge Campen ordered votes be counted.
“He made it clear he was not going to instruct Ocean Pines what to do,” he said. “In fact, his order just called for us to preserve the ballots.”
Parks agreed Campen’s order was to retain ballots.
“Probably because it would be relevant to count them as the case moves forward,” he said. “I also suspect if trial goes to discovery it will become public knowledge.”
Horn said the community has expressed a clear preference.
“I’ve heard from many people in the community ... would prefer we re-run with three eligible candidates,” he said. “I’m also hearing loud and clear … that their sentiments have changed, and they want that reflected in the way they vote in a re-run election.”
Parks questioned Horn’s take on public sentiment.
“I’ve talked to people as well and there’s two sentiments that are clear,” he said. “We want this over as soon as possible and don’t care who wins.”
Parks also countered Perrone’s claim regarding ballot counting.
“I didn’t say the judge told us to count the votes, but he hinted the votes probably should be counted,” Parks said. “He said, ‘I can not tell you what to do, it’s your business, but do the right thing.’”
Janasek said the hundreds of residents he’s spoken to have not backed re-staging the election.
“The people I talked to … state they wanted the election ballots counted and the thing over,” he said.
The board voted 3-3 on Parks motion, with Daly abstaining after voting on the previous measures.
Opposing the ballot count motion were Directors Frank Brown, Horn and Perrone.
Tucker said despite the failure to approve the vote count motion, the court has ordered all ballots be preserved in a secure location.
At the conclusion of the meeting Rogers announced her resignation from the board.
“This has been very difficult for my family,” she said.
In addition to being accosted in public, Rogers said angry residents threatened her family and pets.
“I would ask the community to examine how you treat the board moving forward,” she said. “We’re volunteers and we make mistakes.”
The board has scheduled a meeting on Oct. 11 to consider a motion by Horn to remove Janasek, along with a motion from Perrone to enter closed session to discuss potential replacements for Rogers.
Janasek landed on the hotspot because of an email chain that Director Collette Horn deemed offensive following the meeting on Sept. 30.