Florida Department of Law Enforcement should investigate why a
condominium owners association meeting last month
erupted into a physical
confrontation with police.
But that scuffle, justified or not, symbolized a broader conflict statewide among condo owners, managers and the board of directors who operates the buildings. On June 9, the Fontainebleau Terrace owners association held an "owners only" meeting at the complex to vote out the incumbent board of directors. The condo association manager, Ray McDonald, attempted to enter the meeting room but was barred by the owners. That's when things got ugly.
McDonald called the Panama City Beach Police. Two officers arrived, including Officer Donnie Nichols, who pushed his way into the room, allegedly knocking down two women, including one who caught the incident on video (which can be viewed online at
) as she tumbled over. The officers proceeded to handcuff and arrest Steven Bell, an owner who had stood in the doorway blocking access to the meeting.
The owners contend that their meeting was clearlv marked "for owners' only" and that they had every right to exclude the association manager, who is hired
by the board of directors whom the
owners were attempting to oust. However, McDonald says they were assembling in a common area of the complex that is open to all and that he called police when Bell refused to let a cleaning person in.
That's a red herring. Surely the room could have been tidied up after the meeting. Clearly, McDonald wanted access to the meeting, which had a bearing on his employment future. The issues are whether the owners had the power to keep the manager out and whether they could have reserved the room for a private function in the first place.
Regardless of which side is right, the actions of Officer Nichols deserve scrutiny. How did a condo dispute wind up looking like a hostage situation? Why did he side with the manager over the owners and then use force to resolve the situation?
Then there's the bigger picture to address. With condo construction booming around the state, legislators should examine whether Florida law strikes the proper balance between the rights of homeowners and association directors. Does a ruling minority have too much power over the majority who live there? Do owners lack adequate avenues of oversight and appeal?
These disputes should be resolved by settled law, not police muscle.