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Lakernick would be a welcome addition to the board
Commentary by Tom Stauss, Publisher, Ocean Pines PROGRESS

Unless someone steps up in the 11th hour as the fourth candidate to run for the Board of Directors, only three candidates will be running for the two seats on the board to be contested in this summer’s election. It’s hard to believe in a community of this size and number of homes, there’s so little interest among the membership for this volunteer position serving the community.

With advisory committees a traditional feeding ground for potential board candidates, is it really possible that only three candidates, two of whom are incumbents, believe they are worthy of serving? The door is about to close on a fourth candidate. To be included in the summer OPA newsletter, election materials will need to be submitted on or about June 15 or 16, after which the window will be effectively closed because of deadline and production considerations.

Board vice-president Steve Tuttle attributes the dearth of candidates to apathy and the lack of issues that might stir interest in running for the board. Another factor is that, over the years, directors take flak for positions they hold or comments they have made. Serving as a director isn’t for the faint of heart, but then why should it be. Plenty of property owners have weathered the occasional turbulence that comes with the job.

So it certainly was a welcome development when Stuart Lakernick threw his hat in the ring a couple of months ago as a candidate. He’s a low-key, unassuming guy who happens to be the husband of Esther Diller, a director elected two years ago who then had to resign because of a serious health issue that needed attention. By voting for and electing Dr. Lakernick, Ocean Pines property owners would essentially be getting two directors for the price of one, and that’s not a bad deal considering that in about a year of service on the board, Diller proved herself to be an able and perceptive director who, with the good sense of someone who successfully manages multiple businesses, came down on the right side of issues she confronted as a director.

She was a good influence on one of the candidates who is running for reelection this year, Doug Parks, when he needed some subtle nudging to make the right decisions for Ocean Pines.

Lakernick, of course, has to appeal to voters because of his own strengths as a candidate and not rely simply on the goodwill of those who voted for Diller and liked what she did as a director. On that score, he seems like he would be a good fit with the carry-over directors.

Lakernick is not running as a political foe of the current board but as someone who would be a fresh set of eyes on the range of issues that any board has to address. In a published interview back in April, Laker-nick did suggest that the OPA could do a better job of promoting the Ocean Pines golf course both to non-member Ocean Pines residents and outside golfers. Perhaps he could flesh those ideas out in candidate forums scheduled for this campaign season.

More recently, he has emphasized the need for continued focus on drainage issues, commending Amenities and Logistical Operations Director Colby Phillips for her good work in applying for state grant money for drainage improvements.

Of the two candidates other than the three-person slate after Lakernick, Parks is more deserving of reelection. He has demonstrated a bit of thin skin at times, a penchant for pomposity, and often clashed with former director Slobodan Trendic before his resignation from the board over a year ago.

As board president, Parks has on occasion ignored clear instructions in the bylaws regarding process. For no apparent reason, other than personal preference, he didn’t see fit to conduct a formal vote on whether the board would authorize the general manager to apply for the payroll protection program loan that the OPA has received to help it weather the covid-19 shutdown. Yes, he apparently did discuss the matter with his colleagues but he wouldn’t take the 15 minutes needed to conduct an email vote.

Similarly, last year, he signed with no board vote authorizing it a new five-year lease with Seacrets restaurant for two OPA-owned parking lots in Ocean City. Many months later he retroactively asked the board to authorize him to do what he had done without asking. The lease was clearly in the best interests of the OPA, but, again, Parks as OPA president seemed unwilling or incapable of complying with procedures spelled out in the bylaws.

But these were lapses as OPA president rather than as a director. They do not disqualify him from reelection as a director. His positions on issues before the board were usually well thought out and articulated. A recent example: When Director and Treasurer Larry Perrone at the June board meeting suggested that losses in operations this year might result in very large assessment increases next year, Parks reminded Perrone that deficits in the operating fund need not be made up all in one year. Indeed, there is precedent for spreading the pain over multiple years, as Perrone surely knew and should not have needed Parks to point out.

Should Parks win reelection to the board this summer, he would be well advised to give one of his colleagues the opportunity to serve as OPA president by voluntarily bowing out. Whoever would take over the role -- and there are lots of good choices -- should declare his or her intention of adhering strictly to the bylaws when serving as president.

As for the third candidate, Colette Horn, she has volunteered her time for almost three years now as a director and deserves the thanks of the community for that service.

As OPA secretary for much of that time, however, she took a number of wrong-headed positions. She went out of her way to deny former director and acting general manager Brett Hill the opportunity to run again as a candidate for the board, wrongly asserting that he no longer owned property in Ocean Pines when in fact he owned property in partnership that was not evident when the normal search of proof of ownership was conducted. Rather than allow Hill the opportunity to cure the defect, whatever it was exactly or indeed if there was one, she took a hard line and simply said he couldn’t run.

It was an ungenerous and high-handed position that resulted in a lawsuit that Hill eventually dropped because the election was over before the case could be heard.

Similarly, Horn seemingly went out of her way to deny the efforts of Slobodan Trendic and his Start organization to petition the board for a referendum on the question of decreasing board spending authority. Rather than comply with the letter of the bylaws requiring the secretary to issue a statement why he or she denied the petition, she hid behind a legal opinion issued by the OPA attorney that offered an unconvincing argument for why the petition should be denied.

The petition, in fact, followed exactly the format outlined in the OPA bylaws for a petition. But within her discretion as secretary to accept or deny a petition, she opted against the specific wishes of the 800-plus property owners who signed it. She took a technocratic and mean-spirited position on a matter apparently because she could and because she opposed the objectives of the petition signatories.

More recently, she denied any role in formulating an emergency organizational chart for the OPA or discussing it with her colleagues in a closed meeting called for another purpose entirely. Discussing an unannounced topic in closed session is a violation of the spirit if not the letter of the Maryland Homeowners Association Act that governs how an elected board can conduct business in private.

But two of her colleagues said she had indeed introduced and discussed the matter and one director said he may have seen a draft copy of the emergency chart that just happened to overtly disrespect Colby Phillips by relegating her to a box under the director of golf. Horn’s denial seems unconvincing given the testimony of her colleagues.

She also denies that she has ever told anyone that Phillips shouldn’t be considered as a GM candidate in the future because she happens to lack a college degree. But a very informed source told the Progress that he or she heard that statement first-hand from Horn, and so there is legitimate conjecture on whether Horn continues to hold a position she is said to have articulated at one time. If she no longer holds that view, it would be easy enough to issue a very precise statement to that effect. -- Tom Stauss

Uploaded: 6/22/2020