Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Trailer Estates stories are about the law

We’ve published several stories in the past month about Trailer Estates, including this one today. The coverage was sparked by some residents after they read the Bradenton Herald's story about Florida’s open records law on Sunshine Sunday.

We've written on the efforts throughout Florida and the United States to hold government accountable. The First Amendment Foundation has one of the best compilations here to guide you through your public records rights.

Trailer Estates' board oversees an annual budget of almost $1 million, and these residents want to know how the board is deciding to spend their money. It’s difficult for us to imagine why anyone would question us checking into this, but not everyone agrees that this is a story worth covering. We’ve had reporters threatened, subscription cancellations threatened, and threats of picketers here at the Herald realized.

Two encouraging developments, as reporter Nick Azzara wrote today: A Sunshine seminar has been scheduled to give elected officials and residents in Trailer Estates a brushup course on the law; and the board is looking for a program to make its records more accessible.



Wally said...

The Trailer Estates story is just another in a long line of typical homeowner associations that hold back from residents on how their hard earned money is spent. HOA boards are just another form of a military junta who believe they need not report to anyone. HOAs (and CDDs) should be abolished by the Florida Legislature. Until that happens, this story will continue to be repeated, except the names will change...

Izod said...

You are so right. Power and Trust play a big role here. Folks who lack ability to govern are elected and it goes straight to their head. Then the abuse of power begins.

Bill said...

The reporters and editor of this newspaper now see the retaliation and intimidation that park residents have endured when using their 1st Amendment Rights to try to correct injustices at Trailer Estates! I think many board members would like to abolish the 1st and 4th amendments to the US Constitution. Having just gotten back from a heritage trip to Bohemia in the Czech Republic I visited the memorial at Lidice. This "big guy with glasses" did have tears in his eyes. You may want to google "Lidice" to see what real retaliation was all about. See what can happen when you don't have freedom to speak!!

Anonymous said...

I think that if most of the trustees would remeber to do what is best for the people of the park we would be alot better off. They think to much about power that they think they got and not about the people that voted them in. Remeber we voted you in and we can vote you out. Need to come up and live in 2008 and not 20 years ago.

Anonymous said...

I think that most of the trustee's need to stop doing thing like they want it done. We would like to see them do it for the people of the park and by the law. Remeber we voted you in and we can vote you out. Some of you need to come up to 2008 and not back 20 years ago. Thing changes and we have to do the same and not use the theme of this is the way we have always done it.

Sharon Denson said...

I certainly agree with Wally, the sad part is that we are not a Homeowner's Association, we just govern as if we were. The majority of our Board of Trustees do not understand that they are a government, chartered by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor.

The majority of the Board members operate as Super Trustees. The workshop that was reported in the Bradenton Herald was not done lawfully. The charter calls for the Board to act for any affirmative action. One Trustee decided to have the workshop and expend the funds or some of the Trustees had a meeting outside of the sunshine. No action has been taken by this Board to approve the expenditure of these funds. The Chairman of the Board set up a committee to write policy and procedures for the park. There was no discussion and she by decree established the committee. This committee has spent funds of the District for the attorney advice and presence with no approval for the expenditures. This is just a sample of how this Board operates. If we complain we are labeled dissidents and our name is smeared all over the park by the majority of the board and their surrogates. The surrogate reports the behavior to the Board of Trustees. This behavior by the surrogates and the majority of the Board of Trustees is unbelievable in this day and time. Let's hope that the only recourse the people have, the press, is forever protected. Thank goodness for the 1st Amendment Foundation. They help protect the Press.

Sharon Denson

kayaker said...

I only hope every error in the operation of TE that can be found, is brought up so we can get things corrected and once again have harmony.


Mary Lou said...

I agree with kayaker. Let's work together to sort out issues, learn about the intentions of the Charter and other laws that govern the park, fix the problems and get on with our lives.

The problem I have encountered is that bringing up a problem shifts the focus from the problem to the individual bringing it up and the individual is crucified for bringing it up. It is a clever diversion tactic, but the price the Board and the rest of us pay is the keeping of the park in turmoil and never addressing the problem. The first step to fixing a problem is acknowledging that a problem exists. We have not reached that stage yet. Only then, will we be able to use the collective wisdom of ALL park residents to fix the problems and enjoy the unique and wonderful treasure we have.

Anonymous said...

I'm not aware that anyone on the board is paid. These are people of goodwill doing a job that most people flee from. I'm sure that mistakes are occasionally made but I cannot believe they're made with malice aforethought. The abuse of the board members and unproven charges are enough to make many flee from such a position. If those seeking change would only run for a seat on the boark.--Bill

Bill said...

A bigger concern regarding Trailer Estates is where are the oversight government agencies. I know I have written a letter to the board over 3 years ago complaining about sunshine and other violations and nothing seems to change. Where is the local state attorney who is supposed to enforce sunshine violations? The sunshine law has been in effect now for over 40 years. I know the local district attorney in the community where I live most of the year would not tolerate this. He even put on a class rather than fine a local community who violated a similar sunshine law. Now we have to spend $175/hr for an attorney to tell the park what is lawful. It even could be $350/hr because I think the last seminar there were 2 attorneys. I would believe there are less expensive alternatives to educate board members on what the law is. I guess I would even question the billings from the current legal firm. Is it readily known who called for legal advice and were these people authorized to call? Why should TE have to pay for discussions between 2 attorneys from the same firm? Why can the board encumber more legal expense when they are over budget, should not the attorneys tell them that this against the law? If I would fail to pay my park tax, I am sure someone would quote me some statute or ordinance that I am violating!

Mary Lou said...

In response to the comment of "anonymous" about the Board being volunteers, I cannot agree that being unpaid should give public officials license to manage a million dollars of public monies without knowing the applicable laws and governing documents of the park. Anyone who is willing to throw their hat into the ring to run for office, should assume the responsibility of knowing the expectations of public servants (as recited in the oath of office each one takes).

It has been my personal experience that an important attorney opinion that I requested was witheld from me and other residents. Why? Because it agreed with me. The Board, instead, hired another law firm, which has now told the park (a year and a half and about $50,000.00 later), that the charter needs changing to "clarify" things. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to read between the lines and determine that what they are doing now is not in compliance with the charter, as I have asserted. Otherwise, it would not need changing. Had they acknowledged the first legal opinion, and dealt with the problem, we wouldn't have spent all the money we have spent and still not addressed the problem.

I have experienced letters from the Manatee County Attorney's Office being misrepresented and concealed from the public, by somebody on the Board. Why? Because in one case, they wanted the people to think the first letter was written to the park, when in fact, it was a courtesy copy of a letter written to me. The second letter contradicted what was reported to be in the first letter, in the Board Meeting minutes, so the second letter was never publicly acknowledged. The letter from Manatee County Attorney Tedd Williams has not been acknowledged to this day, even though furnished the letter to the park and I requested the minutes be corrected to acknowledge the correspondence.

I believe for these things to happen, there has to be some malace involved. They were not "mistakes". We are all expected to make mistakes from time to time. Deliberately witholding information from property owners, which is contrary to the position of the Board Chairman is not in the best interest of the park, and has cost residents thousands of dollars in attorney fees.

Ther are plenty of qualified people willing to serve on the Board. They are treated so badly, however, for even trying to question some practices of the incumbents, they tend to get discouraged. I wish those Board members that whine about nobody being willing to run for office, would simply step aside and see what happens.

Mary Lou said...

Wally, TE is a local special purpose government, not a Homeowners' Association. It is like the City of Bradenton (a local general purpose government), with a much narrower focus and much less authority. The only purpose of TE is to furnish recreation to the residents of the park. TE had a HOA when the park was owned by the developer. When the park was originally Chartered as a Special Park and Recreation District, the developer still owned the common areas, and the residents paid him for the use. They were purchased the following year by the property owners. HOAs and Special Districts have very different rules and expectations. For one thing, HOAs do not fall under the Sunshine Laws, thus their records are not public.

I have come to the conclusion that a lot of the basis of the current turmoil is the fact that the Board of Trustees are not familiar with the expectations of operating a Special District, and continue to try to operate as a HOA (in which the residents generally are not entitled to a say in what the Board does) despite becomming a Special District. I don't fault the current board for assuming that past practices were correct. I do fault them for insisting that the past practices have been lawful despite the growing amount of data to the contrary. I do fault them for being unwilling to discuss the issues. I do fault them for insisting on substituting attorneys (that residents pay for)for education and common sense.

The Let's Talk Club that has been so maligned by the establishment, was formed to educate residents about government and to give residents a chance to discuss current park issues and bring forward all sides of the issues so we all can learn from one another.

Bill said...

I cannot buy the argument that just because a board member is unpaid, he/she does not have to treat residents with dignity and respect. I have never been treated so rudely in my life than I was from members of this board when I brought to their attention they were investing some of the reserve fund for the district illegally along with other improper actions. I and also other dissident labeled residents of Trailer Estates have spent countless hours of volunteerism and public service. It is hard to phantom how this cult like society controlled by a dictator can exist in today’s democracy!

Sharon Denson said...

The Trustees are not volunteers. Please read our Charter. You will find that they are elected to govern a special taxing district. We are not a Home Owner's Association.We are not incorporated. To become a Trustee they must circulate a petition and file with the County to be placed on the ballot. They must go through an election and take an oath of office to uphold the laws of Florida. If this board only made a few mistakes, I do not believe that the residents would be unreasonable. We continue to violate the sunshine laws. We are right now in non compliance on a request by a Standing Committee of the Board. This committee is trying to carry out the directives of the Trustees, but their hands have been tied. The Trustees have failed to comply with citing the specific reason for their refusal. (This is Florida Law)
This Board has failed to comply with the record keeping F.S. 257.36(5) and rule 1B-24-003(10), Florida Administrative Code, yet we tell the State of Florida that we are following the law. We are in violation of the Auditing requirements of the State of Florida. We are in violation of FS 849.
We extend the faith and credit of the district to organizations and individuals.
We do not comply with Florida Law when we fail to amend the budget before spending funds. I could go on.
Decisions are made outside of the sunshine. Decisions are made without a vote of the board, just a dictate.
I would encourage all of you that feel this board is following the law to read the charter, bylaws, and deed restrictions. You could also add Florida Statute 189. That is our creation document.
I agree that not everyone wants to serve as a public servant, but those who attempt to serve are lied about by those same individuals who cry because no one wants to run. Maybe a little honesty would go a long way. Maybe telling the residents that the lies being spread are just that lies. The Trustee know that the stories are not true.
Maybe residents who have material information regarding crimes that have been committed in this park should report it to the police instead of spreading it around the park. I am sure the police could do far more with the information than other park residents. I wonder why they don't go to the police with their great knowledge.
The oversight process for this park is the people. When the people are continuously fed false information it is difficult for them to make good decisions. The Trustees are given credibility by virtue of their position. Please find the facts before you are so quick to believe rumors. Inform yourself.
Sharon Denson

Bill said...

I believed it has happened more than once in the lifetime of us retirees that a dictator has incited and inflamed average citizens by using lies and half-truths to make them do despicable acts. My recent visit to Mauhausen and Lidice on heritage tours to the land of my ancestors has made this more vivid for me. Was not the incident at the TE Post Office just another one of those incidents? What is the truth? I know I had problems with certain TE trustees before I ever met these two “wicked sisters” as some residents like to refer to them as. Every time I searched for the real truth, I have found these two sisters to be credible. There was an email sent by an organizer of the post office incident and newspaper picketing recently regarding 2 untrue references about myself. As this email became a public record, I did send an email back to her and also the chairman and 1st vice-chairman of the TE board of trustees that these statements were not true as she had included these 2 trustees in on the original email. I also referenced Manatee Ordinance 1-19 that gives Manatee County the power to come unto your property to control weeds, brush and debris only if they become a health or safety hazard. I believe one of the above mentioned sisters does have a picture of the weeds that were sprayed on her property and the cost of the spraying charged to her. Now I would challenge anyone to prove that these weeds were a health or safety issue. I believe we have all seen much taller weeds around the park that no one has done anything about. Could this have been just retaliation by certain trustees for her speaking out on various unlawful practices of the trustees? What police powers do TE trustees have to come unto your property and how were they granted? I would encourage anyone to research the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution, Article 1 section 12 of the Florida Constitution, and chapter 810 of the Florida Statutes dealing with trespass laws to see if these trustee actions were warranted.

Sharon Denson said...

I just read the letter to the editior for 5/1/08. I find it interesting that the author does not cite any specifics. What was reported to the newspaper by me that was not true. I don't remember anyone crying. No one speaks of unpopular decisions by this board. We speak of unlawful actions. A current example is sending out the audit and budget in the same mailing. I would hope that someone would read the charter, bylaws and sunshine laws and explain how that happened without an public discussion. I would like to know how it works with the language of the charter. I am a firm believer in this charter. I have never advocated changing it. That was done my Trustee, Mary Lou McNulty. I advocate that at least the Trustees read the charter. I think for others in the park, it would give them a lot of information before they blindly follow. It is very sad that our residents simply parrot the views of others without taking the time to find out the basis.
I certainly believe in this persons right to their opinion. I do not agree that an opinion based on hearsay and innuendos is the best basis for an opinion.
The author speaks of the people that do not agree, should run for the board. I think this paper has experienced first hand what happens if you say anything that this board does not approve. We receive the same treatment. It is fortunate that you do not have to live with them.
I am fully aware of the stories that are spread around this park with no basis in fact. A good example is the statements made regarding damage to private property. If in fact anyone had material evidence in an open police investigation, they have an obligation to report it to the police. Why don't you ask those spreading that story if they have reported their evidence to the police.
The vicious rumors will destroy everyone. They harm the ones spreading just as they do the ones they are smearing.
It would be wonderful to see a fair and honest election here at Trailer Estates. It would be great if residents could address concerns and debate the issues.

Mary Lou said...

I wish to complement the Bradenton Herald for the story today on the treasure of a park we have in Trailer Estates. I could not agree more that we should be working together to solve problems rather than line the pockets of attorneys and keep the anxiety level of residents at a high level. The problems I have experienced is that there is a lack of understanding of the laws by those in leadership positions, and there seems to be a fear/inability to tolerate any open discussion of sensitive topics, which is so necessary to solve problems. The solution has been to silence the "dissidents" and bully residents. For instance, at the very same time the trustees were suing a property owner for replacing a fence which had always been encroaching the county right of way, a trustee quietly went to the county and got permission to put a fence in the county right of way in a different location the trustees wanted to put a fence. There was no public discussion of this action and a single trustee signed the agreement with the county, supposedly representing the park. The property owner could have done the same thing and the park attorney told the trustees this. It cost the park $13,000.00 in attorney fees. (The case was sent to mediation, and the property owner, not knowing at the time of the trustee action, agreed to move the fence). The fence was a vast improvement to the looks of the park and it was on encroaching county property, not the property of the park. The county did not care. The property owner went through a lot of extra work and spent money on an attorney. Why can a trustee decide to put a fence in the right of way, but a resident can't? Either the trustees believe that fences should not be encroaching county property or not. They took a different stance when they wanted to do it. That is what causes the discord. We have different rules for different segments of the population.
I have asked for a workshop to discuss why some instructors are paid for out of assessments and some are not (groups have instructors for fitness, arts and crafts, dance, etc.). The request has been ignored. I think it is essential for people to be treated fairly and equally. Apparently,I am in the minority.

sharon denson said...

I want to welcome one of our Trustees, Mary Lou McNulty to this blog. She read part of one of my comments in the Board of Trustee Meeting this past Monday. She was concerned that I had said that she was talking about changing our Charter. She states that for 9 1/2 years she has been against the changes. It appeared that Mary Lou McNulty felt that I was unfair to her and that I was spreading rumors about her. I am not in Florida so I am not able to go to a meeting and address it, so I will take this opportunity to do so.

A bill for services from Kirk Pinkerton, dated 1/24/07 includes a telephone conference with Mary Lou McNulty. The bill states," Review correspondence from Mary Lou McNulty, telephone conference with Mary Lou McNulty on possible changes to the By Laws and Charter."
If this did not happen, why did we pay the bill?
When Mary Lou McNulty asked me if I knew who posted the attorney's bill on the bulletin board, I told her that I did, it was my husband.(The copy of the bill was removed every day, yet a letter to the board from the same attorney is still on the bulletin board 2/5/07) She told me at the time that we were discussing the matter, that she couldn't remember what happened that morning much less something that long ago. I accepted that. I did find it interesting that on Monday, May 19, 2008 her memory had improved and she explained that the attorney called her and told her that the legislature would be in session and if she wanted to change the charter, this would be a good time to start.

I fail to see how this constitutes my spreading of rumors. I said that she discussed changes to the charter and the document supports my contention. I do not think that there was anything wrong with her discussing the charter with the attorney. I do find it interesting that she does not want to be held accountable for that discussion.
A surrogate of the board published the statements that I had been the one speaking to changes in the charter. She had no basis in fact for her fairy tale. This is fear mongering on the part of surrogates , One of the surrogates claims to be reporting to the board.
I think I have every right to discuss changing the charter if I choose to, just as I feel Mrs. McNulty has that right. I do not back away from what I say or my positions.

I stand by my statements that Mrs. McNulty was speaking to possible changes to the Charter in December of 2006.

Sharon Denson

Tom Featheringill said...

Much has been said and views expressed about the actions of the Board of Trustees at Trailer Estates Mobile Home Park.

At the June 16th meeting, the board accepted by an 8 to 0 vote, a contract for “Records Management”.

This has been a discussion topic in several meetings, and I would bet many of those meetings took place outside of the Sunshine Law.

Never, during any public meeting, was a discussion of the board members as to what the requirements were, as contained in the Florida Statutes. Never, in any public meeting were specifications determined, so as to solicit bidding for the services of record management. The “Acting Chair-person” took the project upon himself to seek bidding from selected companies chosen only by him and without any input from any other board member.

The bidding request was never advertised in the local newspaper soliciting such bids or stipulating the specifications and the desired results there from. The “Acting Chair” presented three bids to the board that he had received, ranging from $4,000.00 to $13,000.00. All because there were no specifications presented to the various companies as to what they were bidding on, or the objectives they were attempting to accomplish. This is not the way to do business as an elected officer of Trailer Estates.

The board, (all nine of the members)should have laid out the specifications and the objectives they were attempting to accomplish, all based on what the Florida Statutes state is required for records retention and for public viewing. After establishing the specifications, the bids then should have been advertised in the Bradenton Herald newspaper and open to anyone who would desire and be qualified to bid on such a project.

The sealed bids would then be received and opened at a public meeting, allowing the board members to then question the bottom three bidders as to how they would accomplish the objective and any other questions that might arise from a board member. A vote would then be taken to accept the lowest and/or best bid deemed most promising to the board for Trailer Estates. That would be the proper means to conduct official business of a government entity. This is why there are so many questions and challenges being made concerning the current board of Trustees. They still act like volunteers, not elected officials.

I must also question the absence of the Chair Person for several months. The original reason was a medical problem. However, she has always been present at a 3 to 4 hour session of BINGO every Wednesday and Sunday night. She had no problem attending the Post Office demonstration in April with her compatriots. If she can do all of that, she should be attending and chairing the meetings as well. If she cannot fulfill her duties as an elected officer of this Board or does not desire to do so, she should do the honest and honorable thing and resign, so someone else can be appointed to the position that can and will attend the meetings with an interest in Trailer Estates.