An Opinion By Jan Bergemann 
President, Cyber Citizens For Justice, Inc. 

Published January 8, 2008


The Bureaus of Compliance of the Division of Florida Land Sales, Condominiums and Mobile Homes seem to have a hate-relationship with elections. Despite the fact that condo elections are pretty well regulated (See: ELECTING THE BOARD) -- contrary to elections in homeowners' associations which resemble elections in Banana Republics -- the Bureaus of Compliance are unable to do their job which is to make sure that these very simple and clear regulations are followed.  We have seen many weird decisions as results of their "investigations" that seem more based on incompetence than on facts! 


Especially the two leading ladies in the Tampa office, Mary-Frances Katona (Investigator Supervisor) and Trudy Toorie (Investigation Specialist) seem to have serious problems understanding the election system -- and the fact that the system was created for a specific reason -- and they come up with the most outrageous findings that seem to lack any common sense.


In 2006 we saw the ruling that allowed an "invented" board meeting to cancel the election -- just the night before the scheduled election. The president realized that he would lose the election and cancelled it. And these two ladies just believed him when he explained that the board -- in a public meeting -- made the decision to postpone the election. The story reads like a sitcom: DBPR Ruling Alleges Meeting That Never Took Place -- The Cove At South Beaches

Actually, that meeting never took place -- according to the other board members!


In 2007 we saw the election disaster in the Harborside Terrace Owners Association, Inc. in Naples. Despite ballots being mark ed, envelopes "missing" and the spouse of the President running for re-election, opening, reading, handling and taking ballots out of the room -- it is anyoneís guess what he did with those ballots -- these two ladies from the Bureau of Compliance couldn't find anything wrong with the "election". No wonder the BODs and CAMs donít comply with the statutes and actually treat them like a joke!

And when the complainant made the proposal to redo the complete election for all board members and for all board positions during the next annual meeting -- it was now almost a year later and the DBPR still had not made a ruling on this complaint -- even Chief John Topa wondered if the complainantís suggestion would be a good solution to the apparent violations as he chimed in: "Is her suggestion workable?  Is it justified by the results of our investigation?"

But Mary-Frances Katona was determined to save face and didnít take what appears to be a hint from her boss (Chief Topa) that this might be a way out of the mess she and Trudy Toorie had created.  So she continued forward with her ruling that the DBPR could do nothing further. Katona and Toorie had most likely never verified that the number of ballots matched the number of inner and outer envelopes which would have proven the case for the complainant.

Even a complaint to Inspector General Ron Russo didn't help the situation, because -- as usual -- he found nothing wrong with the way the Division staff handled the complaint (quote): "As to part one of your complaint regarding the election issues, upon a thorough review of your issues and concerns and after consultation with members of the Division of Florida Land Sales, Condominiums and Mobile Homes, it was determined that the Division and its employees acted properly during their investigation and handling of your complaint.

But it's not only the fact that these investigations last "forever," it's more the fact that key rules are being violated without the Division taking any action  Fair board elections are the basics for the association system to work!

But the Bureaus of Compliance seem to have general problems in understanding the election regulations.

In Orlando Richard Thrawl (Investigator Supervisor) and Steven Maners (Investigator) are struggling with understanding election rules. After finding that an election had to be repeated because of serious flaws, they opined that this second election replaces the annual election for that year -- and the official election as scheduled by governing documents doesn't have to take place. It took quite some convincing to show them the errors of their ways.

The Bureau of Compliance in Fort Lauderdale is in the moment just busy finding an excuse for the fact that an association mailed an illegal enclosure with the second election notice that would normally make the election notification null and void -- minimum according to the rules I have read. But wait for the Bureau of Compliance to find an excuse for board and manager.

The investigators just must stop taking statements ďas gospelĒ or even "documents" given to them to explain away violations and they must stop ignoring sworn testimony provided by complainants. . Boards and so-called professionals know fully well that Division employees are just looking for an excuse to close the investigation and add another file to the statistics used to cover up their unwillingness to do the job they are getting paid to do!

We are always talking about educating board members and owners. Maybe we should start at an even higher level: Educating the folks who are supposed to uphold the statutes and rules governing our associations. But on the other hand, the top executives involved in these cases have been working in their respective positions for many years -- and they still haven't figured out that they are supposed to uphold the law, not find excuses for the shortcomings of board members and so-called professionals! If they haven't learned the basics in the many years they have been on the job, I doubt they'll ever learn. Or maybe they just don't want to learn?