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WCA Board Insists Facilities Manager Improve Communication With Residents

The Sept. 9 meeting of the WCA Board saw directors chide Facilities Manager Kelly Shires for poor communication with the community about recent facility hours reductions.

The board, in turn, was challenged by two residents protesting their recent deed restriction violations after the homeowners went ahead and performed home changes that had been rejected by the Modifications Committee.

Directors initially tackled their consent agenda, which included the Aug. 12 meeting minutes, a request for an estate sale, the association’s amended collection policy, a motion to increase staff wages, and a bid from the Westchase Community Association’s (WCA’s) auditor for next year. At Director Heather Greeley-Hessefort’s request, the estate sale was removed from the consent agenda for separate consideration and the balance of the consent agenda passed 6-0. Director Eric Holt was initially absent but joined the meeting minutes later by phone.

Later returning to the request for an estate sale, Director Greeley-Hessefort questioned whether board approval of estate sales also included folks who were simply downsizing, the reason for the request. She stated she recalled the board rules only contemplated estate sales related to a death. While Director Joaquin Arrillaga concurred, Director Dale Sells stated it was his recollection that both were permitted and offered that the meaning of estate sale differed regionally within the United States. With Director Holt offering his support for the broader interpretation, directors ultimately approved the estate sale request unanimously.

WCA President Shawn Yesner asked for the final draft of the employee handbook to be approved. He stated the association attorney had reviewed the rules and advised it should include language that does not allow supervisor and employee relationships. “Our concern is we have two guards in a relationship and one sets the schedule for the other,” said Yesner. The attorney’s suggested workaround was to have the employees sign a contract acknowledging the relationship or have Facility Manager Kelly Shires review the schedule before it is released. With the latter reassurance, the board unanimously approved the handbook.

After WCA Treasurer Dale Sells reviewed August’s financials, which had revenues up by five percent and expenses down by one percent, he turned to the recent budget drafted in last month’s budget workshop that set a $302 assessment, including an increase to cover higher lifeguard wages to help fill empty positions. “For the last 10 years, the assessment has flirted with $300,” observed Sells, who added the budget saw a thorough review at the Voting Members’ meeting. Directors approved the budget 6-1, with Director Keith Heinemann opposed.

Making her report, Association Manager Debbie Sainz stated the upper portion of the new water bottle filling stations at the pools had to be reordered and would take six weeks to arrive. She added of recent water damage to the WCA office building, “We’re proceeding with the flooring in our office after the water intrusion.” She stated the damaged carpet squares would be replaced by vinyl wood flooring at a cost of $4,830. She added gutter guards would be installed for $1,100. Stating that Davey was going to rake excess mulch from behind the structure, she added, “We’re still getting bids for French drains behind the building.”

When WCA President Yesner asked Shires for an update on how filling empty lifeguard positions was proceeding, Shires responded that both facilities had two days a week when they would still only partially open, with Monday and Wednesdays affected at the Westchase Swim and Tennis Center and Tuesdays and Thursdays affected at the West Park Village facilities. He stated he had nine new hires, including some he trained and certified and one guard who returned with a promised pay increase. He concluded he hoped to fill the missing positions in the following week when drug tests, which he said were taking a week and a half instead of the typical two days, came back.

Director Greeley-Hessefort then took Shires to task about his failure to communicate the facility closures and new hours to the community. “I know I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from residents about the lack of communication. People should not have to show up and find out the pool is closed,” she said. “What are you going to do differently going forward? It’s just not acceptable the lack of communication on this subject.”

Shires stated that he had neither access to Facebook nor the WCA web site. Greeley-Hessefort reminded Shires that his access to the web site was restricted when he accidentally deleted portions of it a few months prior. “I think holding up your hands and saying I have no way to communicate is not acceptable,” she said. “I think there are other ways to do it and I think as Facility Manager, you need to work on communication to the community.” She added Shires could start by getting Facebook.

Shires, however, protested that board members always made the announcements previously. “I haven’t been given the authority to do it.”

Yesner, however, stated, “This board and future boards don’t want to micromanage the association’s business.” He added it was important for staff to handle. “That and the communication is where we fell down.”

“You need to be proactively communicating,” said Greeley-Hessefort. “You have the authority to update people.”

Director Sells added Shires should work with Sainz to improve communication, “You come up with the best way to get the information out.” He added, “You have the authority to communicate with the community.”

Director Holt added it was the second time the issue had arisen in a year. Part of the problem, he argued, was the board had not identified one formal channel for communication. “I don’t think it should be a social media channel,” he said. “No one should have any opposition to going to our web site and looking.”

Greeley-Hessefort countered, “As a communication professional I disagree with you.” Stating it was common for entities to send the same message across different forums, she said, “You do try to meet people where they are.”

Director Joaquin Arrillaga added, “It is frustrating to me that we don’t communicate,” he said. “People still don’t know if it’s going to be open or not.”

Directors then turned to a number of appeals of deed restriction fines. Two affecting homeowners who made their second appearance in two months became a bit contentious.

Matthew Ring of Harbor Links/The Estates appeared with Harbor Links/The Estates Alternate Terrance Maloney. Director Sells, also chair of the Modifications Committee, informed Ring that the Modifications Committee had approved the painting of his gutters to bring them back into compliance with a prior approval whose color was ignored. He emphasized Ring had to paint the gutters before the October meeting to avoid a fine.

At issue was the fact that Ring did not follow the first Modifications Committee approval. While he had requested black gutters, the Modifications Committee had crossed out his proposed color and replaced it with linen (an off white), required by rules to match his home’s trim. Ring, however, went forward with the installation of the black gutters. When he was cited for the violation, he stated he wished to start a neighborhood-specific guideline change that, if approved by VMs down the road, would enable him to keep the black gutters.

At recent VM meetings, however, VMs expressed support for cracking down on residents who knowingly ignore Modification Committee instructions and then seek forgiveness through the guideline amendment process. With the WCA Attorney also adding that all Westchase homeowners had to be mailed neighborhood-specific guideline notices, VMs decided to minimize mailing costs by considering guideline changes only twice annually, making it a year long process. In the meantime, the attorney advised the association to ensure homeowners comply with existing rules.

Ring protested the change in the process was unfair to him and he should be allowed, like previous homeowners, to keep the violation in place until the previous three-month long guideline amendment process played out. He stated repainting his gutters twice, at a cost of $1,500 each time, would be unreasonable. “My case is being treated very differently,” he said. “I just think it’s not fair.”

Maloney and he then pitched an electronic notification and voting process that, they argued, could expedite the guideline amendment process. Yesner, however, stated the attorney advised that state law required the delivery of paper notices to homeowners. While Yesner committed to exploring improvements in electronic voting with Maloney, that process, he stated, was not relevant to the existing violation.

When Director Sells stated that changes to processes sometimes happen, Ring responded, “That’s bulls—.”

The board stood by its decision to keep the matter tabled until October in anticipation of Ring painting the gutters the approved off-white color.

Next up was John Troncoso of West Park Village. Troncoso had requested a fence for his West Park home and the Modifications Committee initially approved it, which Sells stated was an error. When the Modification deadline for the fence’s installation expired due to material delays, Troncoso put in another Modification Committee request. Acknowledging West Park’s fence guideline was convoluted, Sells stated that was when the committee caught its error. When they denied the second modification request because it violated West Park’s fence rules, Troncoso went ahead and installed the fence anyway. While at August’s meeting he acknowledged receiving the denial, he insisted the project had been started. Subsequently, Troncoso went around West Park Village and sent the association a detailed map of neighborhood fences that he felt were not in compliance with the rules.

Citing a home on Brompton Road, Troncoso said, “As I understand it, that house is in violation of the current rule I’m in violation of.”

“The staff spent a fair amount of time going over the 42 homes you circled on the map,” responded Sells.

Of the 42, Sells said 26 were in compliance, three were done without Modification Committee approval and would be cited, one homeowner did something different than what Modifications Committee approved, and three were installed by Westchase builders when Westchase’s developer controlled the association. Sells added staff were still investigating two homes. Sells acknowledged that six West Park Villages homes, including the Brompton Drive home, had fences that the Modifications Committee may have approved in error, over the previous 16 years. “The Modifications Committee typically reviews 700-800 modifications,” he said of their annual workload. “We strive to be 100 percent right but I don’t think anyone in this room can say they are.” Reading from the association’s Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions, Sells stated Modifications Committee approval of an item was not a waiver of the association’s continued right to enforce rules.

Arguing the association was not enforcing the rules equally, Troncoso stated they had the fiduciary duty to enforce rules the same for all homeowners. “Why am I being singled out?” he said.

Sells, however, said that the committee didn’t even pay attention to resident names when considering applications.

With the matter escalating, Director Jim Brinker asked Troncoso to wait to see how the board might resolve the issue.

Director Holt then made a motion to waive Troncoso’s $1,000 fine and send a letter to West Park Village homeowners saying existing fences in violation are grandfathered, allowing the enforcement of the rule going forward. “Weighing the situation and exposure, that’s the appropriate thing to do,” he said.

Greeley-Hessefort, however, responded that the motion represented selective enforcement. “What message does that send to people who get denied and still do it anyway?” she said.

Arguing the board had to acknowledge the association made errors, Holt said, “We can’t say yes to some people and no to others.”

His motion failed to pass 3-4, garnering support from only Brinker, Yesner and Holt.

Director Arrillaga directly addressed Troncoso. “If you get a denial from the association, what is the expectation when the association enforces the rule?”

Troncoso responded the association’s fiduciary responsibility was to operate appropriately and fairly.

“I think there’s a difference between not enforcing the rules and making a mistake,” Arrillaga said.

“Not in the eyes of the law,” responded Troncoso.

Yesner, however, weighed in. “No court is going to say that six homes over 16 years is a breach of our fiduciary duty.”

Brinker followed with a motion allowing Troncoso to keep the fence and pay his $1,000 fine.

While Troncoso said it represented a good deal, Greeley-Hessefort again expressed concerns of about successfully enforcing the fence rules in the future if they allowed one.

Brinker’s second motion failed 2-5 only Brinker and Yesner in favor.

Yesner then made a motion to table the fine until the October board meeting so he and the WCA attorney could work with Troncoso and his attorney to resolve the matter.

Arrillaga responded in frustration that a fence was approved for a handful of homes by mistake but one was denied and the homeowner had gone ahead and erected it anyway and now the association was considering accepting it. “Those six fences are going to haunt us down the road for years to come,” he said.

Yesner’s motion, however, passed 6-1, with Greeley-Hessefort opposed. “I’m opposed because he was denied and he went ahead anyway,” she stated.

After voting to reduce other fines of residents who had come into compliance by the typically approved 90 percent, Sells made a motion to rescind a fine on a Tavistock homeowner because they too had corrected the violation. It passed unanimously.

Turning to other business, Yesner presented a resolution the board offered acknowledging the service and loss recently experienced by WOW reporter Marcy Sanford, whose husband passed away unexpectedly. “It’s a resolution that expresses our condolences from the board, its committees and all of Westchase to Marcy and her family.”

The board also unanimously passed a motion authorizing the $4,506 purchase of two defibrillators to replace the facilities’ aging ones.

Yesner closed the meeting by observing elections for three of the board’s seats were coming up on Tuesday, Sept. 14. He singled out Greeley-Hessefort, who stated she would not run again because she might have to move out of Westchase in the near future due to family obligations and didn’t want to take on a commitment she couldn’t keep. “I want to publicly thank and acknowledge Heather not only for her time on the board but also for her outstanding service as vice president to the community,” said Yesner.

Yesner concluded by also thanking Sells and Holt, who are both running for reelection, for their service.

Directors adjourned at 8:34 p.m.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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