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

Published April 10, 2013

When reading Donna Berger's CAN ALERT dated April 8 I really got another good laugh looking at her evaluation of CAN's influence on the HOA Reform bills S580 and H7119. It just strengthened my belief that she would make a much better comedian than an attorney.

Berger must be really desperate for some sort of success story considering that she said in her alert: "Thanks to CAN and other reputable groups working with the bill sponsors and committee staff, these bills have undergone a major facelift since first filed and now include good public policy changes."

Does she honestly try to make the claim that CAN is a reputable group? In my opinion it's a lobbying group looking out for the interests of the law firm behind this group.

Let's face it: All but three provisions in today's versions of S580 and H7119 have been supplied by CCFJ and/or its members. We (CCFJ) submitted the initial wording to Senator Alan Hays, that ended in the filing of S580 and S596 -- nobody else. 

CAN wasn't even invited as a presenter to the HOA Workshop in front on the House Business & Professional Regulation Subcommittee on February 20, 2013, the committee that sponsored H7119, the House version of the HOA Reform bill. In her ALERT Berger points to the CAN lobbyist, Diana Ferguson, and her upcoming presentation at the committee hearing. Let's face it: At all prior committee hearings the CAN lobbyist had very little to say -- or even to contribute. She put in appearances, but that was more or less it!

It seems that even legislators are getting sick and tired of the misrepresentations made by CAN members. Remember the infamous presentation of attorney Scott Newsom in front of the Marion County Legislative Delegation? "My name is Scott Newsom and I'm here on behalf of the Community Advocacy Network. We are a non-profit organization that represents over 60,000 homeowner and condominium associations throughout the state. We actually represent the associations and their interests and the legislature has in the last two sessions adopted several provisions that have greatly assisted community associations throughout the state."  

Oh, by the way, Scott Newsom is now working for Becker & Poliakoff. Will he now claim at the next opportunity that CALL is representing over 60,000 homeowner and condominium associations throughout the State? Just for the record: According to knowledgeable sources, the whole State of Florida doesn't house 60,000 homeowners' and condominium associations anybody could represent.

Let's get back to the actual bills: S580 in today's version changed when many of the provisions contained in S596 were added to S 580. Both bills, S 580 and S 596, were originally sponsored by CCFJ, the POHH, a local homeowners' advocacy group from Lady Lake, and attorney Eric Glazer.

H7119, the House companion bill, was created after many options for reforms were discussed at the HOA Workshop. Most provisions in both bills are already the same, others will still be amended. Both bills passed House and Senate Committees with flying colors yesterday and are on the way to their final committee stops!

As I said earlier --  the initial versions of S580 and S596 are the indisputable proof -- there are only three provisions in S580 and/or H7119, that were not in our initial bill proposals. And all three provisions added to the initial senate bills have to be rated in the categories of nonsense or outright dangerous for associations and its paying members. None of the added provisions can be listed as "good public policy" -- because they all would do more harm than good if enacted.

From a provision that would open a barn door for even more HOA election fraud to useless resolution proposals -- that what was added to the bills after the initial filing. And the senate bill contains now a provision that would create another band aid trying to fix the problems created by bills strongly supported by CAN and Donna Berger. Most all the "fixes" she lobbied for in past years turned out to be either useless or they even came back to haunt associations and its paying members. The latest court ruling on that matter: Aventura Management, LLC vs. Spiaggia Ocean Condominium Association, Inc.

We warned about this problem when the initial bills allowing this to happen were discussed in the legislature. " Careful what you wish for was the warning given to board members who listened to specialized attorneys pushing for fast foreclosure for unpaid dues." But gee, who wants to listen when some "lowly" homeowners try to argue with specialized attorneys like Donna Berger?

If what was added to the HOA REFORM BILLS at later stages is in Donna Berger's opinion "good public policy" then we sure know why many associations and its still paying members have so many problems. 

Let's work on the real reforms homeowners and condo owners living in Florida's community associations really need. It's definitely not what Donna Berger sees as "good public policy."

But after all this is said, I'm still not sure if Donna Berger's CAN ALERTS are just her fantasies or self-serving propaganda.