The continuing saga of Bendt and public speech in HOAs

Earlier I had reported on Arizona homeowner Bendt who dared speak out and criticize her HOA president and BOD using social media, emails, and pamphlets among other statements. See HOA limited-purpose public directors and officers  and Limited purpose public HOA board; slander; AZ HB 2052. What courage and determination to fight against her HOA president and 2 board members who are attorneys.

 With all respect and encouragement I have supported her fight to defend  herself from accusations of defamation. In her appeal, which she lost, the HOA admitted that the president was a limited-purpose public figure with the acceptance that social media and that the HOA is a public forum;  with protected free speech in regard to matters of members’ concern and HOA governance issues. Bendt protested an election and alleged improper and wrongful acts by the president. The result was  a well calculated, in my view, personal defamation attack on Bendt to avoid the larger, broader aspects that protect members’ criticisms, with certain restraints.

Her defense has now moved on to the AZ Supreme Court, waiting for acceptance of her petition. Roughly less than 10% of supreme court petitions for review are accepted. Good luck to Bendt!  If accepted, then her case is scheduled for oral arguments and a decision in a few months.

 Stay tuned to this case of widespread importance to homeowner rights.

 BTW, homeowner protections contained in AZ HB 2052 are lost as the bill died in Rules committee, which is controlled by the leaders of the majority party.

 For the record, I am not a lawyer nor am I giving legal opinion or advice.

Reorienting the HOA board and its followers

Mentoring: Reorienting HOA board – mission

Review of StarMan Group Mission

    • to establish the climate and culture of the HOA enabling the restoration of the lost constitutional principles of democratic government — individual rights, justice and fair play — for its members within the confines of a private contractual government, and
    • to remove the very strong external influences of the special interest vendors and lobbyists who are the primary causes of this deviation from the general societal norms and values.

In earlier papers I described the Cultural Dynamics[1] of and the domination of HOA-Land[2] by industry “stakeholders” who claim a special interest in your HOA controlled home. I maintained that the Community Associations Institute (CAI) dominates and heavily influences the decisions and functioning of boards (BODs) through its strong influence on state legislatures that adopt biased and unjust laws detrimental to the members. CAI’s effect on the BOD, the members — especially the loyal “followers” — and the public in general stems from 45 years of indoctrination by means of the CAI School of HOA Governance.[3]

This series, “Restructuring the HOA Model of Governance,”[4] offers a plan, conforming to the principles of organizational development,[5] to return HOA-Land to democratic constitutional government and cease being a protected outlaw government functioning outside the Constitution and laws of the land. Having introduced my positions on the role of the BOD in its policymaking capacity and the heavy hand of CAI, I now address the need to reorient the BOD with its huge authoritarian[6] powers that would not be allowed under municipal governments.

“HOAs currently engage in many activities that would be prohibited if they were viewed by the courts as the equivalent of local governments.”[7]

I wrote, “The policy makers have failed to understand that the HOA CC&Rs have crossed over the line between purely property restrictions to establishing unregulated and authoritarian private governments.”

BOD reorientation

Addressing nonprofit organizations, eminent management consultant Peter F. Drucker wrote: “The first job of the leader is to think through and define the mission of the institution. . . . One of the most common mistakes is to make the statement [a series] of good intentions.[8] It has to be operational, otherwise it’s just good intentions. Using my prior example of a large-scale active adult HOA in Arizona, I contrast the mission, goal and values statements that illustrate an effective and productive community.

HOA vision statement: [HOA] is the premier active, age−restricted community in Arizona.

Restructured Vision Statement: To become the premier active, age-restricted community in Arizona.

HOA mission statement: [HOA] provides residents with a high−value community, with resort−style amenities, in which every person can choose to participate and live well, based on their needs and desires. This high standard will maximize our investments and promote our well−being in an active close−knit community.

Restructured Mission Statement: To provide residents with a high-value community with resort-style amenities to maximize our investments.

HOA values statement: In support of our Mission Statement, we hold to these values:

      • We foster relationships built on respect, trust, and effective communications.
      • We listen to understand.
      • We are open−minded, collaborative, and always look for ways to improve our community.
      • We believe in life−long learning and a desire for active well−
      • We are a forward−looking, fiscally−sound community
      • We encourage an environment of empowerment and personal responsibility.

Restructured Values: We believe in a community culture having high standards and principles of conduct and behavior.

These HOA views and attitudes came quite as a surprise considering that it is a $20,000,000 revenue operation, and one would expect it to do better than that. My impression is that they are a prime example of the BOD’s mistake of using lofty, high and mighty statements lacking focus and aimed to give the appearance of good intentions, as Drucker explained above. These HOA statements read very similar to CAI’s propaganda and its advice and training offered by its School of HOA Governance.

The time is well passed for the BOD to drop CAI as an advisor, as CAM and as its HOA attorney. It’s well passed the time for BOD’s to learn about the effective and healthy council-manager form of local government.[9] Not that public government is perfect but it is far better in upholding the principles of democratic government lost under the adhesive CC&Rs “constitution.”

(Part 2 of the Reorienting HOA BOD will discuss BOD failure to attract member commitment as volunteers).

Notes

[1] George K. Staropoli, HOA-Land Nation Within America, Part 1, “The Cultural Dynamics of HOA-Land” (2019) and High RWA followers can be found in HOA members. (2019).

[2]HOA-Land is a collection of fragmented independent principalities within America, known in general as HOAs, that are separate local private governments not subject to the constitution, and that collectively constitute a nation within the United States”, Defining HOA-LAND: what it is (2017).

[3] George K. Staropoli, Restructuring HOAs: “CAI School and member benefits” pt. 2 (2020) and CAI School faculty advice – managing HOAs (2020).

[4] George K. Staropoli, Restructuring the HOA model,(2019).

[5] See in general, “Organizational Development,” George K. Staropoli, (2019).

[6] Supra n. 1.

[7] Evan McKenzie, Privatopia: Homeowners Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Governments, Yale Univ. Press, 1994.

[8] Peter F. Drucker, Managing the Nonprofit Organization: Principles and Practices, HarperCollins (1990).

[9] See in general, Roger L. Kemp, “Forms of Governance,” Managing America’s Cities: A Handbook for Local Government Productivity, McFarland & Co., (2007). They are: Strong Mayor, Council-Manager, Town Meeting (direct or representative democracy), and Commission.

Protecting HOA political free speech on matters of general community interest

Should matters of concern and interest to the general HOA member-community be protected from suits designed to stifle participation in HOA governance?  Homeowners in HOAs should be protected from these suits, called SLAPP suits, just as the general public is protected in most states that have anti-SLAPP laws.

The question becomes: will the courts hold issues of HOA governance to be a matter of general public interest and concern?  A failure of the courts to do so puts HOA governments solidly into the category of independent principalities, where members are not permitted free speech on community public issues, especially about their governing body, the HOA.

The expected defenses are 1) that HOAs are private, contractual governing bodies not subject to the 14th Amendment protections, which the members have agreed to obey; and disregarding the Ruiz opinion above,  2) the local HOA community cannot be considered as a public body that is interested in and concerned with matters of public interest; it’s a local, private matter.

There are several California cases holding that HOA concerns amount to public speech because it affects the community at large.  The following are anti-SLAPP suits.

“A SLAPP suit (strategic lawsuit against public participation) is a lawsuit brought primarily to chill a party’s constitutional right of petition or free speech. The anti-SLAPP statute was enacted to prevent and deter lawsuits that chill the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for the redress of grievances and provides “an efficient procedural mechanism to obtain an early and inexpensive dismissal of nonmeritorious claims” arising from the exercise of those constitutional rights. . . . . The resident’s front lawn is a public forum for purposes of the First Amendment. . . . Moreover, it is now well established that the anti-SLAPP statute protects private conversations as well as those occurring in a public forum.” (Santa Barbara).

“’Public interest’ within the meaning of the anti-SLAPP statute has been broadly defined to include, in addition to government matters,  ‘private conduct that impacts a broad segment of society and/or that affects a community in a manner similar to that of a governmental entity.’ (Ruiz; according to California statutes).

[My emphasis]

“[W]e hold the trial court properly determined the anti-SLAPP statute applied because the evidence showed the alleged defamatory statements were made “in a place open to the public or in a public forum” and concerned “an issue of public interest. . . .  The two locations where the alleged defamatory statements were made–at the Board meetings and in the Village Voice newsletter [HOA] –were open to the public and constituted “public forums.” Additionally, because each of the allegedly defamatory statements concerned [*11] the manner in which a large residential community would be governed, they concerned “issue[s] of public interest.”  (Damon).

A homeowners association board is in effect ‘a quasi-government entity paralleling in almost every case the powers, duties, and responsibilities of a municipal government’ (citing Cohen v. Kite Hill Community Assn).”  (Damon).

My quick survey of state anti-SLAPP laws shows AZ, IL, HI, GA and MD as having strict laws relating to only issues before the legislature or a law, as petitioning rights.  A host of other states contain the much broader right to file an anti-SLAPP suit for issues of public interest. They are: CA, FL (as of 7/2015), IN, LA, OR, RI, TX, VT, and WA.  Check current status.

Case references:

  1. Santa Barbara Beach Club HOA v. Freeman, 2d Civil No. B212972 (Cal. App. 2nd 2010)
  2. Ruiz v. Harbor View CA, 37 Cal.Rptr.3d 133 (2005)
  3. Damon v. Ocean Hills [an HOA], 102 Cal.Rptr.2d 205 (2000)