OPA Board Takes No Action Over Favoritism Claims

OCEAN PINES – Following a special meeting this week, the Ocean Pines Association (OPA) Board of Directors agreed not to act on allegations against the Elections Committee.

On Sunday, the association board met in a special meeting to discuss allegations of bias made by two board candidates against the Ocean Pines Elections Commission and its chairman, Steve Habeger.

While the meeting included a motion to go into closed session to discuss the matter with the OPA attorney, members ultimately voted against it, arguing the board shouldn’t involve itself.

“My feeling is the committee shouldn’t make a statement on the subject matter unless the board believes that there is, or has evaluated whether there is or is not, bias,” OPA attorney Jeremy Tucker told board members this week.

Sunday’s special meeting was held less than a week after board candidates Stuart Lakernick and Richard Farr alleged online that the Elections Committee showed bias and favoritism toward candidate Frank Daly when scheduling its second candidate forum for the 2021 election.

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The event, held on July 13, featured only two participants – Daly and board candidate David Hardy. In separate social media posts, Farr and Lakernick said scheduling conflicts had precluded them from attending Tuesday’s forum. They also argued the committee accommodated Daly’s schedule in planning a second forum, but not their own.

“We were told the second candidate forum had to be rescheduled due to Frank Daly’s wedding anniversary. We had no issue with that,” Lakernick wrote in a Facebook post last week. “However, when alternative dates were offered, myself and Rick Farr had obligations that could not be changed. It is disheartening to see that the candidate forum is still being held without the 2 of us. We do not understand why accommodations were not made for us as were made for Frank Daly.”

When questioned about Lakernick and Farr’s absence from the second candidate forum, Habeger said both candidates declined to participate. In a statement issued July 14, Habeger said the second forum was originally scheduled for June 19. When at least two candidates notified the committee they could not attend, the forum was canceled, and other dates were considered.

“On June 8, Elections Committee (EC) sent the candidates a set of three dates for a second forum,” he wrote. “On Friday, June 18, Stuart Lakernick called me and told me that he did not intend to participate in a future candidate forum.  Stuart cited the low number of people who had viewed the video of the first forum.  As I recall, fewer than 300 people had viewed the forum at that time. On Monday, June 21, Rick Farr sent an email to the EC which said, in part, ‘I have decided that will not be participating the (sic) second candidate forum.’ Both statements of non-participation were clear and unequivocal.”

In a comment late last week, Lakernick said Habeger’s comments did not disclose the entire reason for not attending the forum. He noted he was unable to make the event because of a work-related commitment.

“I did tell Steve that I was not overly concerned about missing this forum since only a handful of people came the last one and only about 400 folks even bothered to view it on YouTube after the fact,” he said. “I also did not understand why we were having a second forum when the interest from the community was so light on the first one. Regardless, I said that date wasn’t workable for me. I never heard anything more.”

Both Daly and Farr did not return interview requests this week. Both, however, have shared their views on oceanpinesforum.com, a website created by association member Joe Reynolds. Farr, who was unable to attend, argued the Elections Committee was “non-neutral” and “very partial to the current board member seeking re-election.”

Daly offered his own comments, adding, “The notion that the committee extended any special consideration to me, or that I requested any special consideration, is a flat out lie designed to do nothing more than impugn the credibility of the Elections Committee.”

In his statement last week, Habeger said all candidates were invited to participate in the second forum, which continued to be held in light of community interest.

“The availability of a suitable location was a severe constraint on producing a second forum,” he said. “An additional scheduling constraint was a goal of the EC to finish forums before mailing the ballots. If OPA members were to mark their ballots immediately upon receipt of the ballot and then a forum causes them to reconsider their votes, the process seems ineffective.”

During Sunday’s special meeting, Directors Doug Park and Tom Janasek voiced their opposition to the meeting, arguing the issues being discussed did not involve the board.

“Us having a closed meeting about the election makes us look like we’re trying to influence the election,” Janasek added. “That’s what it does.”

President Larry Perrone said he disagreed.

“Two candidates accused our Elections Committee chairman and the committee of bias against them in favor of another candidate,” Perrone said. “I disagree with you that this does fall within the purview of the board. The integrity of the elections is of the upmost importance, and we have two candidates questioning the integrity of the elections. So the purpose of this meeting is to discuss whether or not the board should do anything, and if we should what we’re going to do.”

Director Camilla Rogers, board liaison for the Elections Committee, said she spoke to committee members and noted that they did not want the board involved.

“They believe, and I concur, that they want the election to be fair to the public. They are concerned about the public and having a community-based election,” she said. “I think we are overstepping our boundaries by getting involved, and I must advocate for the committee I represent.”

Tucker said the purpose of Sunday’s closed meeting was to discuss the legal implications of any statements made by the board regarding the issue.

“I would be concerned if open statements were made that, if broadcasted out, could be used against to impugn the integrity of the election,” he said.

Horn, however, said the board had no plans to discuss the validity of the election.

“We’re going to be discussing the appropriateness of the board putting out a statement in support of our Elections Committee and our elections process,” she said.

When asked his thoughts on the matter, Tucker opined it should be committee’s responsibility to provide a statement.

“It’s already been done …,” Janasek replied. “That should be enough for us. I don’t know why we need to be involved.”

Daly, however, said Habeger’s statement should be broadcast to the community.

“The charges of bias and favoritism were made specifically against the committee, not against the board … I think the public response to that should come from the committee,” he said. “The only obligation of the association and the board with regards to that is to make sure that public response to those allegations of favoritism and bias be transmitted to as many of our 8,452 homeowners as soon as possible.”

Marketing and Public Relations Director Josh Davis said the statement had been published on the association’s website and social media pages and distributed to homeowners and local media.

After further discussion, Perrone’s motion to go into closed session failed with all seven board members opposed.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.