OCEAN PINES – The Ocean Pines Association will wait until after a Sept. 27 court hearing to count votes in this year’s board election.
In a special meeting Tuesday, the Ocean Pines Association (OPA) Board of Directors agreed to not count returned votes until a hearing is held later this month regarding candidate Rick Farr’s eligibility in the 2021 board election.
Specifically, the board voted to amend a motion passed on July 30 allowing the election process to continue and invalidating all votes reported for Farr.
“We’re going to amend that to include that the board not execute this motion until after the hearing on Sept. 27, to be held in Snow Hill on this case,” President Larry Perrone said.
The board’s decision came after an hour-long closed session to discuss the results of an Aug. 30 circuit court hearing in which Judge Sidney Campen ruled against a preliminary injunction halting the association’s 2021 board election. While the dismissal allowed the association to proceed with counting election ballots, no decision was made regarding Farr’s candidacy, and a separate hearing to discuss the matter will be held on Sept. 27.
“This is a special meeting,” Perrone said this week, “and the purpose of the meeting this morning is for the board to discuss what steps we’re going to take at this point after the hearing results from last Monday in regard to the Farr v. OPA case.”
Last month, Farr’s attorney, Bruce Bright, filed suit in Worcester County Circuit Court seeking a temporary restraining order to halt the 2021 board election until the court could rule on his client’s eligibility as a candidate.
In July, Association Secretary Camilla Rogers disqualified Farr after receiving an anonymous tip about his homeownership status in the Pines. And on July 30, the Board of Directors voted in closed session to proceed with this year’s election and ballot count, but to invalidate all votes for Farr.
According to the association’s bylaws, candidates must be a recorded property owner within Ocean Pines on Jan. 1 of the year in which the election is held. The OPA contends that Farr is not an owner of record, but a successor trustee to the property listed on his candidate application, while Farr’s attorney asserts he has been the “equitable and beneficial owner” of the property since 2000, based on his status as a beneficiary of the Farr Living Trust.
On Aug. 10, Judge Beau Oglesby granted a temporary restraining order prohibiting the association from counting ballots and certifying election results. And on Aug. 19, that order was extended through Aug. 30, the same day as the preliminary injunction hearing.
During public comments at Tuesday’s special meeting, Director Doug Parks told community members he wanted to maintain transparency, but was following the advice of legal counsel to discuss the matter in closed session.
“While it’s certainly not my preference, we certainly need to abide by that requirement,” he said.
Parks added he did not support calls for a new election, as it would cost time and money, but agreed with the Campen’s suggestion that the OPA proceed with counting votes.
“It sounds to me the judge has given us more than a subtle hint,” he said. “My position is … we should count the votes and that we should wait for the judgement on the 27th to take the required action based on that judgment.”
For his part, Director Tom Janasek said he wanted the board to discuss the matter in open session.
“I know counsel wants to go into closed session because of counsel discussion,” he said. “But my opinion is that we as a community have paid for counsel to do this legal work, and we as a community deserve to hear from counsel as to what is going on with this issue and hear the discussion of what the board is going to decide, not just hear the results. So I am against going into closed session for something that completely involves everyone within Ocean Pines, not just a couple people on the board or a couple people running for office.”
Director Colette Horn, however, disagreed.
“The issue here is that there is pending litigation regarding the issue we’ll be discussing and receiving counsel’s advice from,” she said. “That’s what makes it more important that we go into closed session, so that our counsel can speak freely with us and that we can make a decision and come back into open session and conduct our business based on that input.”
A motion to go into closed session passed 5-1, with Janasek opposed and Rogers abstaining.
Following the closed session, the board reconvened in open session and the amended motion from July 30 passed with Perrone, Rogers, Horn and Director Frank Brown in favor and Parks and Janasek opposed. Director Frank Daly, a candidate in this year’s board election, abstained from voting.