guest blog by Deborah Goonan
Lots of news in Poinciana the past couple of weeks. As you know, Poinciana HOA, one of the largest in the country with more than 23,000 homes, has been seeing quite a bit of turmoil, particularly in the last 6 months. In April, then Board President Peter Jolly made allegations of financial mismanagement by the management company and millions of dollars missing from assessment reserves. In June, a third attempt to move toward incorporation of Poinciana as a city failed, when the Osceola County Legislative Delegation voted 2-2 on the measure.
In August, residents gathered to protest management company First Services Residential (FSR). That was immediately after the Executive Committee of the Board (including Jolly) met and voted to fire FSR and to transfer $1.6 million in Association funds to a separate bank account. The Executive Committee had the locks changed for the management office. In the meantime the 6 other Board members – 3 of them represented by developer Avatar – held an emergency meeting, voted to rehire FSR and to remove President Jolly and the VP as officers of the Board. Within hours, FSR entered the building in the middle of the night and changed the locks once again.
Because the Board was now split, the matter ended up in court. Yesterday, a Polk County Judge ruled against Jolly and the Executive Committee, reversing their decision to fire FSR and ordering them to return $1.6 million and office equipment they had taken the day they changed the locks on the management office. The new Board President, Dorothy McStay, went on record saying that a recent independent audit indicates no irregularities.
No word at this time, regarding an appeal.
Cynthia Navarro, a resident of Poinciana wrote a letter to the Editor of The Ledger. Regarding a solution to problems in Poinciana, where residents want their right to be heard and for their votes to count, Navarro writes:
The most recent Poinciana Homeowners Association dispute ended in Polk County Circuit Court the day after Poinciana residents were told the county could not help because it was a state issue. More information on this issue may be found at www.prfsc.org website.
This happened because the state of Florida does not provide enforcement capability for Florida Statute 720. That statute provides laws for the running of Florida HOAs such as Poinciana’s. Unfortunately, when it comes to enforcement, the state provides nothing, forcing the members of an association to spend $100,000 or more to address violations of the statute.
As seen in Poinciana, this results in retiree volunteers who serve on HOA boards of directors, taken to court by multi million public corporations in civil litigation. Not unlike David vs. Goliath?
There is a solution provided by the Florida Constitution in Section VIII. It is called Home Rule for Florida Municipal Governments. It provides rights to municipalities that people living in unincorporated communities do not have. It would allow the Poinciana Municipal Government to stand up against the developer-controlled HOA instead of forcing private citizens to bear the burden. It would allow all citizens living in Poinciana to have one person, one vote, as opposed to local elections being decided by developers casting hundreds if not thousands of votes even if they don’t even live in the community as is the case today.
A voter referendum would need to be held to allow Poinciana citizens to decide if they want to establish a municipality. This will require support from the Florida Legislature. This has been tried multiple times for Poinciana with each request being turned down.
Poinciana once again will be asking our legislators for the right to vote on this issue. Hopefully, now they will hear us.