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Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: Spiteful POA blind-sided by karma

First, a riddle: What do homeowners’ associations and offensive linemen have in common?

That’s easy. The only time you notice them is when they screw up.

Which brings us to Bayhead Landings, 48 bucolic lots tucked onto the south shore of Lake Hancock in north-central Pasco County, and the homeowners’ association board that manages the community’s affairs. Or used to, anyway. More about that in a moment.

Lately, the Bayhead Landings Property Owners’ Association board has been getting more notice than a blind-side tackle on the Saturday Jadeveon Clowney comes to town.

If they’re not getting whipped for quarterback sacks, they’re being flagged for holding.

Bayhead Landings’ POA board came to our attention originally as the bunch that battled a couple of its constituents over making its meetings wheelchair accessible. Yep. That really happened. And it gets worse. At least, it gets worse before it gets really, really delicious, much in the way of the driver who harassed another motorist before spinning out of control and ramming his truck into a light pole the other day.

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That’s the thing about karma. Sometimes it’s instant. Sometimes it’s delayed. But karma, being one with the universe, will not be denied.

Sort of like Jadeveon Clowney.

Bayhead Landings board meetings had been conducted for years in an undeveloped lot overlooking the lake, and, fastened to tradition like fingers that have encountered Gorilla Glue, its members refused to budge for new neighbor John Whitt, who gets around in a wheelchair. They even refused the use of the Whitts’ screened lanai, which boasts essentially the same view and ambiance, minus the bugs.

It even offers ready cover in event of a sudden weather change. Instead, the board, preferring foolish stubbornness over grace, allowed the Whitts to take them to court, a process that dragged on more than a year, and stacked up piles of attorneys’ fees.

And this is where it gets pretty great.

Ultimately, Judge Linda Babb ruled the federal laws about access did not apply to private organizations, and she ordered the Whitts to cough up $20,000 in legal fees. That still left Bayhead Landings POA in a five-figure hole, and after two special assessments, some of the Whitts’ neighbors had had enough. Three homeowners sued to disband the POA, only to discover the board had been overseeing a defunct organization since it failed to properly renew its covenants in 2010.

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That being the case, as anti-HOA activist Jan Bergemann told the Pasco Tribune’s Laura Kinsler, Babb’s order ought to be invalidated; the POA was kaput before the Whitts went to court. (Insert mocking laugh here.)

This is not meant to be an indictment of all homeowners’ associations, or their boards, or of deed-restricted communities in general.

They are not all horrible, grasping, soul-sapping institutions, despite what you might be led to believe by readers’ comments in any news story involving some combination of the three. Stipulated, deed restrictions limit individual decorating and landscaping choices, and that’s not all bad. You might regard my inspirations as eccentric, or worse. But the essence of deed restrictions is to provide a hedge against excessive whimsy or, in some cases, neighborhood blight. Making certain the regulations everyone agrees to at closing are enforced uniformly is the board’s prickly and oftentimes thankless task. Ask me. I’ve served on a few. None of those boards I’m familiar with, however, would have dared dream of excluding a constituent eager to sit through some dreary board meeting. And they’d have been humiliated to know they’d done something so downright mean and spiteful that it had to be remedied by the Legislature.

But at least the last board members of Bayhead Landings POA will have plenty of time now that they have no more official duties. They can convene, free of constituent concerns, in their regular spot down by Lake Hancock, and reflect on how it all went wrong.

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