Commissioner Cohen Addresses Voting Members

District 1 Hillsborough County Commissioner Harry Cohen was on hand at the Feb. 13 VM meeting to offer updates on infrastructure concerns.

Government Affairs Committee Chair Rick Goldstein introduced Cohen, who began by praising the beauty and highly rated quality of life in Westchase. Moving on to the commission’s priorities, he stated that their annual budget of approximately $9 billion was insufficient to fund all the necessary infrastructure improvements that are needed throughout the county.

He informed the audience that the county commission planned to hold a workshop the following day to revisit the Community Investment Tax (CIT), the 30-year half-cent sales tax that went into effect in the 1990s, to decide whether it will go back on the ballot.

“Reauthorization is a very critical thing for Hillsborough County,” Cohen explained. “It will mean hundreds of millions of dollars for critical infrastructure that is necessary for the community.”

Cohen used the proposed crosswalk in Westchase as an example of the impact the shortage of funds is having. When there’s a community-based request for a project, county staff is tasked with researching its need, cost and potential outcome. Even if officials determine that the project would be beneficial, that doesn’t mean it will be funded, he added.

“In addition to that, we are looking at next year’s budget. If we have any discretionary money, our top priority is fire rescue,” he said. “I think that in recent months, a lot of the emphasis has shifted from affordable housing to the nuts and bolts of road repaving and sidewalk repair. The capital needs are definitely piling up and that’s going to continue to be a challenge for us going forward.”

Cohen also addressed water deficiencies caused by the drought, a massive Public Works project at the foot of the Howard Frankland bridge and the county’s population growth. He informed the VMs of expansion efforts at Tampa International Airport, as he also sits on that board, and answered questions from the VMs regarding expenditure of funds from the last transportation tax.

WCA President Shawn Yesner then asked for a motion to appoint Chelmsford resident Margaret Stephens as an alternate member to the Variance Committee. Goldstein moved to appoint her, and his motion passed unanimously. Goldstein also made a motion to appoint Michele DelSordo as Glenfield’s alternate VM, and all of the VMs voted in favor of it.

Radcliffe VM Eric Holt took the floor to propose video recording all WCA board meetings (and potentially VM meetings as well) moving forward.

“It will create an opportunity to increase homeowner participation and offer members more convenient access to the meetings,” said Holt. “It will create a comprehensive record of our meetings, and will also improve the professionalism and structure of the board meeting itself.”

Residents currently have a statutory right to record the meetings, he continued, and the VMs could use existing technology that would come at little or no cost to the association. Deb Guerino, VM for the Villas of West Park Village, said she thought it would be prudent to run the suggestion by the WCA’s legal counsel to ensure there were no legal ramifications to doing so.

Yesner pointed out that every WCA board meeting and VM meeting have been audio recorded for years. Holt said he was unaware of the audio recordings, and Board Member Jack Maurer asked how long Greenacre kept the recordings. Senior Community Association Manager Debbie Sainz was not present at the meeting, but Charlotte Adams of GPI replied that she didn’t know how long the recordings were kept, nor whether they were kept locally or in the cloud.

The WCA doesn’t currently have its own Zoom account, shared Yesner, and when meetings are conducted via Zoom, the association uses GPIs account. A professional Zoom account costs $149 per year, said Dawn Gingrich, VM for the Bridges.

Holt moved for the VMs to record the WCA board meetings beginning in March 2024, and that those recordings would constitute an official record of the meetings. Kingsford VM Forrest Baumhover seconded the motion for discussion purposes.

Guerino said she was uncomfortable voting in favor of Holt’s motion until someone validated the actual cost and confirmed with Greenacre that they had the necessary technology and storage in place to properly upload the meeting links to the WCA website. She said she would consider approving a motion to investigate the process further.

Bennington VM Russ Crooks asked how many residents had requested access to recordings of the meetings, and said he wanted to know the precise cost and whom it would benefit. Christine Hennes, VM for the Enclave, pointed out that residents who may be contesting or appealing fines may not want their personal business made public in that way. Although the WCA board meetings are open to the public, recording them would provide access to far more residents than currently attend the meetings in person, she added.

Holt withdrew his initial motion, and asked Yesner to put the matter on the March meeting agenda to give Holt time to find answers to the VMs’ questions.

Barry Anderson, VM for the Shires, asked whether voting members could provide as much background as possible before bringing forth topics for discussion. He said that the additional information would allow the VMs time to think through issues more thoroughly. Anderson did not make a motion, but asked to table the discussion until next month’s meeting.

“This is a membership meeting, not a board meeting. The VMs can put whatever they want on the agenda by majority vote,” clarified Yesner. “I have never turned down a request by anybody to add anything to the agenda.”

Chelmsford VM Joanne Maurer then took the floor to address issues surrounding the transition of responsibilities from one VM to the next.

“Every brand-new voting member deserves to hit the ground running, to have all of the tools and all of the information they need,” she said. “I’m brand new. Is there anything that the VMs go by that transfers from old member to new member?”

Some VMs have email lists, and other don’t, and there are generally many inconsistencies from neighborhood to neighborhood, said Yesner. Maurer alluded to having encountered challenges while transitioning into her new role, and asked whether the VMs could do something to codify the process for future VMs.

“This is important to me. I don’t want anyone else to go through what I’m going through,” said Maurer. “I would like to propose that certain Information gets disseminated from outgoing VM to incoming VM. The Facebook page gets passed along. Email threads, email lists. There should be a timeline when these things get handed off. Not more than two weeks after the election should be plenty of time. I’m not here to point fingers, but I feel we can do better.”

Nancy Sells, alternate VM for Harbor Links/The Estates, said the issue of email lists had come up before, and VMs had determined that the lists belong to individuals, and don’t necessarily accompany roles. Yesner reminded the VMs that if residents sign up through the WCA for neighborhood-specific notifications, the ownership of email lists becomes less relevant.

Jones reiterated that the email lists are not the property of the WCA, and Stockbridge Alternate VM Joe Odda said that they need to reevaluate how they’re training residents to become VMs and create a formal orientation system. In the end, the VMs took no formal action on the matter.

Gingrich said she knew that the WCA board could review INSG amendments twice per year, but asked for clarification on the actual timeline. She added that she had spoken to Sainz, who told her that the first guideline amendment review of the calendar year was conducted in January. It wasn’t clear, however, whether the second review was held in June or August, since the VMs don’t meet in July, Gingrich continued.

The INSG amendments need to be submitted to the association manager two months prior to the board meeting during which they would be considered so that legal counsel has an opportunity to review them before the board votes, explained Yesner. He said that he hoped a future board would review all of the governing documents to correct any inconsistencies and to establish appropriate timelines for review.

Yesner then asked Brentford VM and WCA Treasurer Michiel Oostenbrink to take the floor to provide VMs with a brief update on the association’s finances. Oostenbrink said that before he was elected to the board, he didn’t have as strong a grasp on the WCA’s budgetary situation, and he wanted to educate the current VMs so they wouldn’t be surprised when it came time for their budget workshop.

The association went over budget by approximately $155,000 in 2022 and about $173,000 in 2023, Oostenbrink reported. He acknowledged that some of the underlying reasons were unavoidable, but said he thought that the association needed to do a better job of creating a budget and sticking to it. VMs asked how the WCA was able to spend more than was budgeted, and Yesner said that certain expenses, like legal fees, couldn’t be precisely anticipated and sometimes were greater than expected.

Goldstein reminded VMs that Jonathan Ellis of Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP, and Dr. Johnny Wong, executive director of the Hillsborough Transportation Planning Organization (TPO), were scheduled to speak at their March meeting. Oldsmar Mayor Dan Saracki plans to attend the April meeting, and District 65 State Representative Karen Gonzalez Pittman was on the agenda for May, added Goldstein.

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