A defining moment for the Community Center
Commentary By Joe Reynolds
Words have meanings. Use a particular word in an informal conversation and the listener will probably know what you mean. Write that same word in a contract, ask five lawyers what it means, and expect five or more different opinions.
Case in point: Ocean Pines lot owners narrowly approved construction of a 29,000 square-foot Community Center at an anticipated cost of $3.9 million in last August’s referendum. The future of the project may hinge on the definition of two words – “anticipated” and “construction.”
When project point man and OPA Director Dan Stachurski first learned the updated estimated cost was just over $6 million in January, the first thing he did was contact OPA general counsel Joe Moore. Moore’s opinion was deemed so important that Stachurski sought his advice perhaps a month prior to informing his board colleagues of the bad news.
Stachurski didn’t tell the OPA Board of Directors until his public presentation during a board meeting on February 15, 2006. Association members and board members listened in disbelief. One local pundit later quipped, “Heather Cook looked like a deer in headlights.” No wonder. Cook, perhaps more than any other board member, had put her heart and soul into bringing a new community center to fruition.
Stachurski came to the meeting prepared, for some unknown reason and at some unknown cost, with drawings and prices for alternative designs and plans. Amidst the long presentation were feeble attempts to blame the cost explosion on hurricanes and gas prices; some swear lunar cycles and sun spots were mentioned.
Adroitly dropped into the muddled mix of intentional information overload was the aforementioned legal opinion from Joe Moore. Amidst the shock of the sticker price, multiple additional design options to consider, and ineffectual spin to explain the price jump, the legal point came from Stachurski’s tongue and floated ever so softly to the floor of the Country Club, like an oak leaf departing a branch on a calm fall morning.
The $3.9 million might legally just be the building, not the “turnkey” cost promised prior to the referendum, Stachurski told the board and audience. In other words, some $800,000 and other associated fees and expenses, parking, lights, roads, furniture, etc. might be added to the $3.9 million and still legally comply with the terms of the referendum.
Stachurski’s comment came from Moore’s January 24, 2006 written advice: “The referendum question by a strict reading of the question is limited to ‘construction’ of the facility. ‘Construction’ is defined by the Random House Dictionary as ‘the act of constructing’ and ‘construct’ is defined as ‘to build by putting together parts.’ Therefore, a strict reading of the referendum question could possibly be limited to the actual cost of building the facility.”
While Stachurski deemed Moore’s opinion important enough to tell association members when dropping the $6 million bomb, he failed to share all of Moore’s advice with the lot owners, a serious breach of faith with the community.
Left unstated were Moore’s words of warning regarding such a strict dictionary definition of the word “construction.” Moore wrote, “However, such a strict and limited definition would surely be criticized as being disingenuous when the purpose of the referendum question was to give the community a cost estimation so as to enable the community to determine whether or not the project was worth the cost.”
Moore understood the purpose of the referendum; Stachurski apparently did not.
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