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VMs Take Critical Look at Elections and Swim Team Committee

The Dec. 11 Westchase Voting Member meeting began with WCA Attorney Jon Ellis explaining the voting member election process. “The process works really well when nobody wants the job,” he said.

Ellis said that there are two types of proxies, general and limited. A general proxy can be given to someone else to have that person make the decision of how to vote but a limited proxy indicates specifically how the person wants to vote. Currently if a proxy holder is not specifically selected or designated on the card’s top line, it defaults to the voting member. Referring to the recent voting member (VM) election for The Bridges, Ellis said that whether these proxies were submitted or not, it did not affect the election results. “In this situation, the voting member [then Cynde Mercer] decided that she did not want to cast the proxies. The voting member determined that these proxies should not count. In 20 years, we have never had somebody that got proxies and decided not to submit them.”

Prior to The Bridges election, however, the association office had communicated that all ballots brought by challengers without the top line naming them as proxy would not be counted. This left it to the VM to decide whether to cast the ballots under his/her proxy power.

Ellis went on to say that they had made some suggestions to the association for changes to the process, such as a confirmation that if a person is listed as the default proxy, that individual should be willing to cast the proxy as received. He also suggested that the association consider having someone else designated as the default proxy holder, such as the Westchase Community Association (WCA) President, secretary or some third party. Additional suggestions included compelling candidates to declare themselves within a time period and not from the floor as the association currently allows. A secret election could also be used by incorporating confidential ballot envelopes. Ellis said that he would work with the association to change the process but there are costs involved.

VM Mary Griffin (Single Family Homes of West Park Village) said, “We are taking a fairly simple thing and overcomplicating it. We could change the wording a bit and continue. We could change the quorum from 30 percent to 10 percent. Any change to our bylaws must be mailed to every resident at a cost of at least $4,000. I don’t think the proxy was clear.”

After some additional questions about options to change the process, VMs decided to form a committee to discuss, investigate and provide recommendations. VMs Mary Griffin, Eric Holt (Radcliffe), Heather Greeley-Hessefort (Keswick Forest), Russ Crooks (Bennington), Terrance Maloney (Harbor Lakes/The Estates) and Ward Farley (Saville Rowe) as well as Alternates Nancy Sells and Lucas Capuzzo (both from Harbor Links/The Estates) volunteered for the committee.

Griffin then brought up the next agenda item, a discussion about the Swim Team Committee. She and other VMs requested it be placed on the agenda after Harbor Links/The Estates resident Yelena Maloney, a resident, swim team parent, former swim team committee member and spouse of the newly elected Harbor Links/The Estates VM, wrote an email to VMs on Nov. 16 expressing concern about the way the events and communications have occurred around removing former swim coach Alex Richardson and bringing in the replacement vendor, Pipeline Swimming. Griffin said “We all received this email from Yelena Maloney. My question is that you (speaking to Ruben Collazo) as board president will give some assurance that the definition of a committee and the reasons for the committee will be enforced. If this is true,” Griffin added, holding up Maloney’s printed email, “this in total violation of that.”

Griffin added, “If everybody agrees that we address this issue, I want the board itself to re-issue and clarify to the residents what it means to have a committee and that all of them are open [to residents] because in this case, it didn’t happen.”

Griffin was referring to Maloney’s description of a Nov. 12 meeting of the Swim Team Committee at the WCA office building. Maloney’s email stated “About five minutes into the meeting the committee chair announced that the meeting was adjourned and asked everyone to leave. As my husband and other people left the building, the door was physically locked and the meeting continued. They waited around to see if they would be invited back in but they were not and the meeting took place.”

VM Rick Goldstein (Woodbridge), who was the Swim Team Committee Chair, explained that the meeting was cancelled because someone from New Port Richie who was not a resident or a swim parent tried to attend the meeting. He said that Terrance Maloney had then accused him of taking bribes from Pipeline and he had been very taken aback by the confrontation, which is why the committee members had re-entered the building. He said that he just wanted to talk to the other committee members about how taken aback he was but the doors were not locked and after they finished talking, there was a sub association meeting.

VM Terrance Maloney, however, denied making any such statements to Goldstein. Board member and Swim Team Committee member Michele DelSordo, who was also in attendance that night, confirmed that the doors weren’t locked just closed but Maloney could have knocked.

[Editor’s note: Without a deadbolt applied, the WCA Office Building’s doors, when locked, permit those leaving to exit freely but the doors can automatically lock behind them.]

Board Member Ashley Wait, a Swim Team Committee member who attended the Nov. 12 meeting and confirmed after it to WOW that the committee did discuss business after the residents were asked to leave, added, “From my perspective, how the Swim Committee was formed, from what I witnessed and saw, it was prolonged as if people wanted to get [the Pipeline hiring decision] brushed under the carpet. There was a motion to dissolve the committee before it was formed. It was all just bad.”

Collazo said he had spoken with Goldstein about the importance of meetings always being open and Goldstein agreed that reentering the building with the group had been a bad decision.

VM Ralph Caputo (Abbottsford) said, “It doesn’t appear that they had much input from swim team parents. That doesn’t seem to be how we operate.”

Referring to the upcoming Dec. 13 board meeting, Goldstein responded, “We have a report which is going to the board that will answer a lot of questions. Once the report is submitted, it is on the agenda for Thursday night’s board meeting.”

VM Terrance Maloney responded, “I question that report coming out tomorrow and a vote happening Thursday. Can we push out the deadline?”

Collazo said that he had taken note of Maloney’s request that the WCA Board not hold a vote on Thursday. Collazo added they are inviting some parents who are not residents to speak.

Yelena Maloney said incredulously, “So you are going to have Pipeline invite parents to the meeting?”

Yelena Maloney also said they would need more time to get other swim parents to attend and that the majority of swimmers who are residents do not swim at the Westchase pool.

Goldstein said, “That’s not true. We have lots of resident swimmers.”

WOW’s reporter interjected, “That is not true. My kids are Junior Olympic level swimmers who do not swim here. Most of the swimmers who were here before moved to Countryside, where my kids swim.”

The resident numbers have been a source of debate at board meetings. Anti-Pipeline swim parents have argued that the Westchase Pipeline club has benefitted from the recent closure of a nearby YMCA swim team. Pipeline advocates, however, have credited the Pipeline swim club with the increase.

At the WCA’s Aug. 6 budget workshop, which preceded Pipeline's hiring, Association Manager Debbie Sainz stated that of the 80 members of the swim team, eight were Westchase residents. After the Dec. 11 VM meeting, however, WCA Treasurer Shawn Yesner reported, "As of November 2018, we have 75 kids in the swim program. Forty-five of them (60 percent) are non-resident and 30 (40 percent) are resident. While we have a majority of non-residents, this 60/40 split has been pretty consistent since Pipeline took over, and represents a decrease in non-resident and increase in resident swimmers since they took over."

Griffin continued of the swim vendor selection, “It needs to be a more inclusive process. You are setting up problems and bad feelings.”

Referring to a recent allegation by a Westchase Pipeline swimmer and their parents that their child was roughly handled by one of the Pipeline coaches, VM Terrance Maloney asked, “Is the board also considering the allegation of physical abuse?”

Goldstein replied, “We took a lot of time to look into it. The young man sat in the room and explained what happened.”

DelSordo confirmed that they had spoken with the swimmer and his family and had determined it was in the best interest of everyone involved to handle the issue internally between themselves and the swim team. One of the VMs asked, “Are we really considering hiring a vendor with alleged abuse?”

Griffin also asked why Pipeline would have attended board meetings as described in the letter and brought up in the meeting by Yelena Maloney. “I’ve never heard of this before. Why would you have a committee that invites the contractor that they are discussing to hire attend the meeting?”

Goldstein responded several times to ongoing inquiries that the report answered the questions and it was coming out tomorrow. This prompted VMs to ask why they could not get the report sooner. Collazo asked Goldstein, “Can they have it earlier? It’s ready right?”

Goldstein agreed to send it to Collazo, who then sent it out to VMs after the meeting for review. In the interim, VMs wanted to know what the report’s recommendation was. Goldstein responded that it said there were numerous benefits to having a swim team and they were recommending extending the contract with Pipeline Swimming. The interim contract ends Dec. 31.

Several VMs suggested letting the contract with Pipeline expire so that more care and time could be taken to ensure a proper vendor selection. Collazo asked, “Should we be in the swim team business? We can cancel the swim program all together. I’ve thrown this out there many times.”

Griffin asked, “We own these facilities, but we do get compensated?”

Collazo replied, “Minimally.”

Yelena Maloney asked how the swim team vendors were selected for vetting by the committee. Goldstein said that he had gone to the USA Swimming site, put in Westchase’s zip code then researched those that had come up. As he listed those clubs he said, “TBAC was not considered for obvious reasons.”

WOW’s reporter challenged, “Why not TBAC? There are three branches with four coaches each. One of them could have been brought over.”

Referring to the fired coach, Goldstein replied, “Alex was an owner”

WOW reporter countered, “An owner? There is nothing to own. He doesn’t even work for TBAC anymore. He works for GTSA.”

Providing some history, VM Forrest Baumhover (Kingsford), a former WCA director, explained that the deliberations that were done behind closed doors were for personnel issues. He said he had proposed hiring Pipeline as a temporary solution.

VMs agreed to review the report and swim team parents, including non-residents, would also be welcomed to attend Thursday night’s board meeting but any decisions made at that meeting should be postponed until everyone gets a chance to review it.

In other business, VMs quickly gave their final approval to the color palette for two buildings at The Reserve at West Park Village.

VM Eric Holt (Radcliffe) also provided a brief update on the activities of the Westchase Freebooters Krewe. He stated they have been very successful thus far and would continue to be active in the community.

Concluding major action, Document Committee Chair Ed Siler walked VMs through the proposed Westchase-wide guideline changes with few questions from the attendees.

VMs adjourned at 9:22 p.m.

To view Yelena Maloney’s November email to VMs, click here.

To view the Swim Team Committee report, click here.

By Brenda Bennett and Chris Barrett, Publisher

Posted Dec. 13, 2018

The original article has been edited to clarify the WCA office door's locking mechanism. The article was also updated to reflect new swimming team resident numbers offered by the WCA treasurer.

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