Houses of Horror
The Arizona Republic
Tampering with HOA Proxy Votes Alleged
By Edythe Jensen
Dec. 2, 2004
Allegations of voting
irregularities and proxy tampering have some residents in Chandler's Carino
Estates subdivision calling for an outside investigation of a recent homeowners
But it's unclear who or what
oversees such elections in the state's thousands of homeowners associations,
even though their elected boards set fees, levy fines and enforce neighborhood
Jan Fiakas, 53, a Carino Estates resident who lost his bid for re-election to the board last month, said he took evidence of more than 40 altered proxies to the Arizona Attorney General's Office this week. State law, however, doesn't give the office jurisdiction over homeowners association elections, agency spokeswoman Andrea Esquer said.
"The remedy is in civil
court," she said.
Carino Estates is a 721-home
subdivision north of Queen Creek Road, between Alma School Road and Arizona
"I feel like my vote was
stolen," said resident Bob Johnson, 76. Election winner Steve Heiser's name
was written on a proxy signed by Johnson's wife, but Johnson said the couple
didn't write it there and a line on their proxy stated it would be used
"for quorum purposes only," and not to elect board members.
Homeowners associations use
proxies to allow members to vote without being present at a meeting. However,
the Carino Estates proxies were worded to allow signers to submit them "for
quorum purposes only" to legitimize the board election, without giving
proxy holders the right to vote for candidates.
After viewing a copy of the
"quorum purposes only" proxy she signed, resident Barbara Anson, 65,
said the paper had been altered to appoint election winner Joe Skurtovich.
"It's annoying to me that
someone living in my neighborhood would stab me in the back by taking my
vote," she said. "It's an indication of more underhanded things, and
I'm not liking this at all."
Skurtovich's name also appeared
on Nick Phillips' proxy, and he said he didn't write it there.
"We need to have a
revote," said Phillips, 50. Anson, Johnson and Phillips said they were
asked to sign proxies by people going door to door and were assured they
wouldn't be used to elect board candidates.
Board members declined to
respond as individuals but provided a written statement to The Arizona Republic
that said, in part, "In collecting these proxies we did not deceive any
resident, force any resident to assign their proxy to any homeowner, or forge
any homeowner signatures."
Election results provided by
the board show all seven winners had 175 proxy votes. The lowest vote total
required to win was 193; Fiakas got 39 votes, including 11 proxies.
The statement also said that
the association's attorney advised the winners that there are no provisions in
the association's governing documents or state law for the aggrieved candidates
to stop them from taking office.
That legal opinion, obtained by
Fiakas, also said, "It is also my advice that any candidate who believes
that he or she lost the recent election based on fraud or other irregularity
retain an attorney immediately and, if that attorney recommends it, file a
lawsuit to have this matter determined by a judge."
Carino Estates, like most other
homeowners associations, is incorporated. But Arizona Corporation Commission
spokeswoman Heather Murphy said her agency has no regulatory authority over
their elections and said residents must turn to civil court.
Crystal Prentice, Chandler
Neighborhood Programs Administrator, said the city can't step into HOA elections
and often refers association disputes to "Solve It!" a mediation
service based at Chandler-Gilbert Community College. “I’ve heard horror
stories but never known one to happen in our city," she said. Mesa attorney
Charles Maxwell, who represents more than 400 homeowners associations in
Arizona, said allegations like this are rare. He also said wording in proxies
may be confusing, and the easiest remedy to a vote dispute is to hold a new
election. Suing is another option, he said.
Last year, state lawmakers
passed several bills aimed at regulating homeowners associations' powers, but
Maxwell said he wouldn't recommend that the state step into HOA elections.
Fiakas wants a new election and
is pursuing an alternative if the attorney general doesn't take the case. Under
the association's rules, 25 percent of the homeowners can request a special
meeting, and he's already gathering signatures. But he's angry that state laws
don't afford associations more protection.
"Why do we need to hire an attorney to protect our rights?" he said.
Houses of Horror