OCEAN PINES – A special meeting to consider redoing the 2021 board election concluded this week with the resignation of Director Camilla Rogers.
In a special meeting held Thursday, the Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors voted 4-3, with Directors Tom Janasek, Doug Parks and Rogers opposed, to hold a new election of the three eligible candidates – Frank Daly, David Hardy and Stuart Lakernick.
As a result of his disqualification, Rick Farr – whose eligibility status as a candidate in this year’s election remains the subject of ongoing litigation in Worcester County Circuit Court – will not be named in the new ballots being mailed out to association members.
“This could take many, many months and it could be years for the issue to be resolved,” said President Larry Perrone. “I don’t believe we can sit and do nothing.”
In July, Rogers, the association’s secretary, disqualified Farr with just weeks remaining in the 2021 board election after an anonymous tip raised questions about Farr’s homeownership status in the Pines. That same month, the board voted on a motion 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 was not an owner of record, but a successor trustee to the property listed on his candidate application. 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.
The matter is currently being litigated in Worcester County Circuit Court, and a temporary restraining order to halt the board election has since expired, allowing the association to proceed with its election and ballot count.
To that end, a special meeting was held on Thursday to discuss how the association should move forward.
“The purpose of this meeting is for the board to determine where we go from here …,” Perrone said, “discussing whether or not to count the ballots or have a new election.”
Board Considers Multiple Motions
Following public comments, the board kicked off Thursday’s meeting by voting unanimously to rescind its standing motion – passed on July 31 – for the purposes of discussing the possibility of a new election.
Perrone said he was presenting his motion for a new election to the board after hearing from several community members interested in having a new election. He said not only would a new election ensure that all votes are counted, but would allow the association to seat new directors.
Parks, however, also presented his own motion, which called for the association to conduct an official count of the submitted election ballots to include all four of the candidates that were on the ballot, and to designate all votes for Farr as ineligible.
“One solution will cost us expenses and time and the other solution will cost us some embarrassment if we have to unseat a director,” he said. “I’d be far more willing to do that then I would to invest, or in this case arguably waste another $20,000 of the association’s money.”
Much of the discussion Thursday involved hypothetical scenarios and speculation surrounding the outcome of Farr’s case. Parks argued that the association could spend upwards of $20,000 to hold a new election, only for the court to deem Farr eligible as a board candidate. In that situation, he said, the judge could order for yet another election to be held.
“We may get a judgment that says candidate Farr is eligible,” he said. “We have to account for that. I don’t want to flippantly throw in another process and expense because we think we know what the outcome is going to be.”
Director Colette Horn, however, said she favored the idea of a new election.
“I think it weighs a little more heavily in favor of doing the right thing as I see it,” she said.
While she noted that action could set a precedent for future elections, she questioned the validity of the existing election.
“The concern I have is the election that’s been run and the votes that have been cast really are based on what one might consider an invalid election,” she said. “There was tainting of the water in the midst of the election, and people’s minds changed about how they would’ve voted had they had the information that they found out later. And there were fewer choices later in the election.”
Perrone added that counting the existing ballots would be counterproductive.
“I suspect at some point the judge will order that we count the votes,” he said. “However, he has not ordered that we count the votes. He made it clear he was not going to instruct Ocean Pines what to do. In fact, his order just calls for us to preserve the ballots.”
Janasek, however, said he was in favor of Parks’ motion.
“I think doing a whole new election, especially in the midst of all this turmoil, doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “I’m of the philosophy of crap or get off the pot. We’ve been on the pot for way too long. It’s time to count the votes we have, deem the election done.”
Parks noted that the circuit court judge had also hinted that the association should proceed with the ballot count.
“It might be relevant to count them as litigation moves forward …,” he said. “If it goes to further litigation, which might involve a trial, I suspect there will be discovery, and it will come out anyway and be public knowledge.”
For her part, Rogers said she wanted the board to do what was right.
“I feel this overwhelming need to be able to heal this community …,” she said. “I hope whatever we decide to do, that we can move forward.”
After further discussion, the board voted 4-3 in favor of Perrone’s motion to redo the board election.
While the association’s attorney recommended he abstain from voting, Daly – a candidate in this year’s election – said he would support the motion. It should be noted without Daly’s vote, the motion would have failed as a result of a tie.
“In America, the right to vote is sacred,” he said. “Some people choose that right, some people don’t pay attention to it, some people defend it, some have died for it, some people have lost their votes. That’s why we need to run another election, plan and simple.”
With the vote to redo this year’s election, Parks suggested amending his motion to invalidate all votes, but to proceed with counting the existing ballots for the sake of knowing the outcome.
“At the end of the day, what I’m hearing is the membership of Ocean Pines wants to hear the vote count, plan and simple, for informational purposes only,” he said. “I think we owe it to the membership to do that.”
The amended motion ultimately failed with Janasek, Parks and Rogers in favor, and Perrone, Parks and Director Frank Brown opposed. Daly abstained from voting.
Elections Committee Chair Steve Habeger said it would take 7-10 working days to produce and mail new ballots, which will be printed in a different color. He said the ballots should also include a statement from the board explaining the reason for the new election of the three eligible candidates.
“There are members that are not aware of all this turmoil,” he explained.
Rogers Resigns, Cites Threats
At the end of Thursday’s meeting, Rogers shared with attendees that it would be her last, as she had submitted her resignation from the board.
“This has been very difficult for my family,” she said. “Actually, it’s been horrendous.”
Rogers then went on to share the messages and comments she had received from association members following Farr’s disqualification. She noted she couldn’t go to the pool or the grocery store without someone approaching her about the issue, and that threats had been made against her family and her dogs.
“This has really been terrible, and I would ask the community to examine how they treat the board moving forward,” she said. “We’re volunteers, we make mistakes. Mr. Farr has suffered from this whole set of circumstances, and for that I’m very sorry. But I don’t feel the board members need to be condemned.”
Perrone recognized Rogers for her service on the board.
“We know it’s been a tough time …,” he said. “I appreciate everything you’ve done for Ocean Pines.”
A board meeting is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 11 to discuss potential appointees to replace Rogers.