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Emotions Ran High at the WCA Board Elections

Residents stood for the duration of the WCA board elections as the room temperature rose to uncomfortable levels while the air conditioner struggled to keep pace with the demands of the crowded space.
 
WCA President Ruben Collazo began the Voting Members regular meeting, preceding the election meeting, with a moment of silence in remembrance of 9/11, which was the only time there was silence in the room for the next three hours.
 
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister seemed pleased at the numbers in attendance, stating, “I want to start by thanking everybody for being involved in your community.” 
 
He discussed Westchase’s largest crime issue currently at hand–car hopping–and advised residents that they must always lock their car doors and not to leave purses in their cars in plain sight. Chronister also spoke about the safety of children, saying that deputies were already in every middle school and high school and it was their largest priority. 
 
The final vote for the paint palette guideline for the Reserve at West Park Village was quickly approved with one dissenting vote from Cynde Mercer (Bridges). 
 
In the hopes of deflecting the clearly agitated residents in attendance, Collazo announced that discussion about the proposed Sunshine motion and the Westchase Charitable Foundation’s Tennis Charity Event would be on the agenda for the next Board meeting on Oct. 11. Chris Barrett, publisher of the World of Westchase (WOW), had emailed the Voting Members and Board members requesting that the Westchase Community Association (WCA) adhere to the Florida Sunshine Law, which would restrict any communication about HOA business to happen solely in public forums. Collazo’s suggestion had little impact on those who wanted and expected to be heard as the meeting progressed. 
 
Based on the size of the crowd and number of people who wanted to speak, Voting Members and audience members were given three minutes each to speak in turns. Nancy Sells (Harbor Links/The Estates) was the first Voting Member to speak.
 
She said she was disappointed at some of the generalities being made on the Westchase Facebook page.  She referred to a handout she had distributed that included comments made by Board Member Ashley Wait-Woodcock, which said, “There is this unofficial ‘in crowd’ made up of about the same 12 people that seem to be the only people involved in all of these meetings/committees, etc., making decisions for all of the other 7,000 residents.”
 
Sells explained, “Twelve volunteers were cited but 122 people have volunteered across the community. Could some VMs be more active? Yes, of course.”
 
Sells also said she sent many emails to her residents with little to no response. In regards to the Sunshine Law proposal, she said, “I have no objections to it. I am open to that.”
 
A resident asked, “Does the community get a say in the Sunshine Law? Why aren’t you acting under the Sunshine Law?”
 
Legal counsel John Ellis responded, “There are two areas of the Sunshine Law - Statute 7.20, a number of rules that ensure that business is conducted in an open forum.”
 
He noted that the exceptions to the rules are when the Board is dealing with personnel or litigation. He also explained that the Board meeting takes place any time there is a quorum. The Voting Members also need quorum to discuss community business. Ellis continued, “What I think we are saying is that we shouldn’t have any two members of VMs, Board, Covenants, actually discuss any matter without notice and without being open. The Voting Members can recall any member of the Board of Directors. The Board has heard you and wants to address it.”
 
Mercer spoke next saying that she felt she had been unfairly accused of being a bully by one of the Board members (Wait-Woodcock) when she was running for the board. Mercer said, “I replied that I think you should understand the name of the board she is serving and advised her not to use her personnel email with her business name in it as these are ethical violations.” Mercer concluded, “These weren’t bullying statements and weren’t intended that way but more as friendly advice.” 
 
Closing she said, “I’m unhappy with the situation and the innuendo.”
 
Barbara Dil of Castleford, the next resident to speak, responded to Sell’s statement saying, “I appreciate your efforts for emails but I have been here for 24 years. I was a very involved parent. I listened to the negative comments on Facebook. Never in the 24 years that I’ve lived here have I ever gotten an email from my Voting Member. Residents don’t get good information.”
 
Wait-Woodcock, who had posted a number of statements on the Westchase Neighborhood News Facebook page around the lack of communication, began reading a written statement thanking the VMs and residents in attendance. She spoke about dialogue happening behind closed doors and being transparent and open to the residents. She talked about support of the Sunshine motion and doing a better job with the nomination process. While she read, she broke down in tears and her husband finished reading her statement, which closed by saying that she was there to serve and she was, “Proud to be a member of this board and this community.”
 
Yngre Garcia, who is on the board for the Westchase Charitable Foundation, asked why the charity tennis event could not be discussed at the current meeting since all the board members and VMs were there. Ellis responded that rules governed the board and in order to be discussed, an item must be on an agenda with proper public notice. 
 
Candidates who had already declared themselves were then announced: Ruben Collazo, Michele Del Sordo and Keith Heinemann. Four new candidates were then nominated or nominated themselves: Emily Harkins, Bert Seither, James Wimstatt and Shawn Yesner.
 
WCA Director Forrest Baumhover (VM Kingsford/Board Treasurer) who had removed his name from the candidacy was given the floor to speak. In response to Barrett’s request for adherence to the Sunshine Law he launched into an accusation saying, “There is something that the WOW Board did that affected the HOA.” 
 
He said that this year, the Westchase WOW had decided to terminate its relationship with the existing auditor then replaced the auditor with someone who was not able to certify the audit. He continued saying that the replacement firm had a business conflict of interest with the board. “That is a lack of transparency. Where is the outrage in that? Now this has put us at risk. There is no outrage because it wasn’t reported. That reflects the spirit of the Sunshine Law. We expect the same thing of the WOW Board.” 
 
Baumhover then spoke about Sean O’Donnell, President of the Westchase Charitable Foundation and Baumhover’s neighbor, who had not been given the opportunity to speak at the recent Board meeting where the charity tennis tournament was proposed. Baumhover praised O’Donnell’s kindness and actions. In explaining his voting against the WCF’s proposal to again host the charity tennis tournament, Baumhover explained that Eric Pogue had organized the first Westchase open and to his credit had raised money and even reached into his own pocket to donate. Baumhover then said, “Something in my gut tells me that I cannot trust Eric Pogue and I can’t cast a vote for someone I can’t trust.” 
 
In defense of Mercer he said, “I heard Cynde’s version and I heard Ashley’s and to me, that’s not bullying. If that’s a slap in the face, so be it. I’m not here to pick sides. There are people that choose to sit in the comfort of Facebook and throw cheap shots at the people doing the work. That needs to stop. I am all about having an informed dialogue, an exchange of ideas and common understanding.”
 
At this point, various audience members were interjecting comments. Ralph Caputo (Abbottsford) made a motion, which was approved, to allow Barrett to respond to the comments made by Baumhover. Barrett explained that he answers to five WOW Board Members and that he was shocked to see that he was being attacked in the meeting. He said it was the first he had heard of Baumhover’s concerns and that as soon as he had found out that the auditor was not certified and found out that a Board member had ties to the auditor, he immediately called Collazo and Heinemann, who serves as the WCA Board liaison to the WOW Board. He also said that the WOW is a 501c3 nonprofit and that at any point in time, the WCA can request their financials. Speaking to Baumhover he said, “I am shocked to see this behavior. Shame on you. This is an association owned by every single member in this room. Guess how much the WOW takes from them? Zero.” (He noted that the WOW is solely funded by advertisers.)  Barrett then provided a list of donations that had been given to local schools from the WOW and said, “If you think the WOW is the problem, you are not paying attention. I answer to five people. I find [Baumhover’s accusations] very suspicious when I have come to the board and demanded greater openness.” 
 
At this point, questions from the audience were submitted and three were selected by legal counsel John Ellis, property manager Debbie Sainz and nominating committee chair Rick Goldstein. The three questions chosen were:
 
1) What experience have you had with the Florida HOA and with the WCA?
 
2) How do you feel about the adoption of a new Sunshine Policy?
 
3) What do you consider to be the greatest short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (2-10 years) challenges for Westchase?
 
Each candidate was allowed to provide an opening statement. Collazo spoke about his 15 years of experience and accomplishments, including the metal roof committee and the first and only annexation project, saying that there is another annexation coming up this year.  He said he didn’t “do drama.” He spoke of swim parents who thanked him for doing the “right thing” for the swim team in last week’s decision to remove the current swim team and coach.  
 
DelSordo described her experiences with the metal roof committee, serving on the board for the Classic Townhomes of West Park Village, serving on the Government Affairs Committee, being on the board of directors in Carrollwood and her current role of Compliance Officer – “There is no on/off button for ethics.”
 
Heinemann spoke about his long tenure as a volunteer working with four different HOA presidents. He said he had no agenda and no power, which garnered laughter from the audience.
 
Harkins, a newcomer who nominated herself, spoke of her experiences as a race car driver, purchasing a home at 20 years of age and being a Realtor. She said she was eager to preserve the community.
 
Wimsett said he wanted to be involved because he saw red flags of breakdowns in communication and four open seats with four people running. He said he is an attorney specializing in high conflict situations saying, “This is a high conflict situation.”
 
He also said new blood was needed and he was upset that someone wanting to put on an event could not get a minute to speak about it (alluding to the charity tennis event).
 
Yesner explained he has been on the variance committee, coaches Westchase soccer, sponsors the Great West Chase and is a real estate attorney. He said, “I represent homeowners that have disputes. It allows me to look at all of the issues and make a calm and informed decision.”
 
Seither said he was a self-employed entrepreneur and that politics on the news had incited him to come forward. He also offered to help the group with the newer technologies. 
 
During the question-and-answer session, all the candidates spoke about being transparent, increasing communications, traffic and keeping our children safe. 
 
After short closing speeches, O’Donnell was given the opportunity to speak. He said he wasn’t sure why Pogue was called out. “I understand who I am doing business with.  Eric called me and said he wanted to raise some money. All the money went to our Square account. He did an amazing job. When we ran short, he wrote a check. I get that these guys are pissed at him," said O'Donnell, acknowledging the strained relationship between Pogue and the board, but adding, "He’s a good guy.” 
 
Pogue’s wife who was in the audience also spoke in defense of her husband. 
 
Dale Sells said he was changing the subject and spoke about complaints on the Facebook thread (Westchase Neighborhood News). “Every year you get a ballot in the mail and every year every Voting Member has to go get votes.  These meetings are open.  Same thing with the Board meetings.  The same half dozen people come. You don’t see what’s going on unless you go there. If you are going to belly ache, participate. If you are not willing to participate, be quiet.”
 
VM Gerald Pappa (Greens) also complained about going door to door to get votes (for VMs). “I realize many of you are busy. I am busy too; I own two companies. The thing that upsets me, now, we change the voting members term to two years and we can never get people to return their ballots. He complained about the CDD not providing him with the current resident emails for the Greens saying, “Tell the CDD that I’m not going to steal their information.”
 
The final tally was taken with Collazo, DelSordo, Heinemann and Yesner being elected.
 
The meeting adjourned at 9:45 p.m.
 
Editor's note: In the original article, Eric Pogue was described as being Westchase's tennis coach. While he organized the WCF tennis tournament last year, Mr. Pogue is not the community tennis coach. Roberto Calla is Westchase's tennis pro. WOW regrets the error and the article above has been corrected. WOW's editor also clarified Mr. O'Donnell's quote to more accurately convey its nuance.
 
VM Vote Tally for WCA Board Elections

Note: Each VM could vote for up to four candidates.
 

Neighborhood Name

 

Ruben Collazo

 

 

Michele DelSordo

 

Emily Harkins

 

Keith Heinemann

       

 

Bert Seither

 

James Wimsatt

 

Shawn Yesner

Abbotsford

 

1

1

 

 

1

1

Arlington Park – (NO VM)

----

     ----

----

----

----

----

----

Bennington  

1

1

 

1

 

 

1

Berkeley Square  (absent)

----

----

----

----

----

----

----

Brentford

1

1

 

 

1

 

1

Bridges

1

1

 

1

 

 

1

Castleford  

1

1

 

 

1

 

1

Chelmsford

1

1

1

1

 

 

 

Classic Townhomes   

1

1

1

 

 

 

1

Enclave (absent)

----

----

----

----

----

----

----

Glencliff

1

1

 

1

 

 

1

Glenfield  

 

1

1

 

 

1

1

Greens

1

1

 

1

 

 

1

Harbor Links/The Estates

1

1

 

1

 

 

1

Keswick Forest

1

1

 

1

 

 

1

Kingsford  

1

1

 

1

 

 

1

Radcliffe

1

1

 

1

 

 

1

Reserve @ WPV (absent)

----

----

----

----

----

----

----

Saville Rowe  

1

1

 

 

1

 

1

Shires

1

1

 

1

 

 

1

Single Family Homes of WPV

 

1

 

1

 

1

1

Stamford

1

1

1

1

 

 

 

Stockbridge  

 

1

 

1

1

 

1

Townhomes of WPV

1

1

1

1

 

 

 

Traditional TH’s of WPV (absent)

----

----

----

----

----

----

----

Village Green

1

1

 

1

 

 

1

Villas of WPV (absent)

----

----

----

----

----

----

----

Villas of Woodbridge  

1

1

 

1

 

 

1

The Vineyards

1

1

 

1

 

 

1

Woodbay

 

1

1

 

1

 

1

Worthington

1

1

1

 

 

 

1

Wycliff  (NO VM)

----

----

----

----

----

----

----

Totals

20

25

8

17

5

3

22

 

Note: Villages with no votes indicated did not have a VM or Alternate present at the meeting.

By Brenda Bennett

Posted Sept. 13, 2018

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