The rancor that has plagued the Continental Ranch Community Association is building to a crescendo as it prepares for an election that will cede control of the massive Marana homeowners association from developers to its residents.

The association's management mailed ballots last week to 3,777 homeowners in the various Continental Ranch and Sunflower developments, and to the three home building companies and 10 commercial businesses that are eligible voting members of the CRCA.

The results of the election will be announced Oct. 29 at the final meeting of the current board of directors.

But already, some of the 15 candidates running for the new seven member homeowner-controlled board are raising concerns that the election could possibly be rigged by the outgoing, five member, developer-controlled board.

The candidates questioning the proposed election procedures say the developer-controlled board has a vested interest in retaining control because more than 300 homes have yet to be built or sold, and claim the board is trying to stack the race with handpicked residents who favor the developers' policies.

Paula Meade, CRCA board president and a representative for one of Continental Ranch's developers, Pulte Homes, denied anyone has attempted to influence the election.

"My vested interest is that I just want to see things go well." said Meade. "I'm sure there will be challenges to the election, I just want to be sure that those challenges can be verified and that there was not anything ever said or done that would lead anyone to believe that this was a rigged election."

The other members of the board are Alma Newberry, board vice president and also an employee of Pulte; Greg Wexler, treasurer and an agent for developers Southwest Value Partners; and Craig Hunter, board secretary and the lone homeowner representative, who works as a real estate agent.

The candidates concerned about an attempt to fix the election, most of whom have been vocal critics of CRCA's management and the current board, are calling for an independent monitor and other safeguards to ensure a clean vote and no ballots disappear.

"The developers and the people who support them will do whatever it takes to keep their fingers in the pie and a truly independent monitor is the only way to make sure the election is clean," said Elaine Hewitt, who is running in a block with fellow self-described "reform" candidates Tony Cerasani, Marty Ledvina, Andy Peale and Jane Rutt.

Hunter, who is seeking re-election and is running in a block with candidates Bruce Candland, Thom Cope, Ken George, Jan Mann, and Richard Purcella, said he agrees that the election must be safeguarded, but he doesn't believe there has been any attempt to rig the voting.

"That's just the degree of paranoia from a bunch of people who have there own personal agendas and want control of the board," Hunter said. "If the deck was going to be stacked by the board, it would be in my favor, because I think that we've done a pretty good job. And I can tell you, there is no one trying to stack the deck."

The other candidates in the race are Robert Allen, Sharon Dvorkin-Solotky and Gunter Haussler.

At what was often a tumultuous meeting Sept. 26, the board voted to provide $2,500 to the association's election committee to be used to hire an independent election monitor - if the committee chooses to do so.

Mark Lewis, president of Lewis Man-agement Resources, one of two management teams that oversees the CRCA, told an often hostile crowd of 50 residents that while the board can appropriate the money for an auditor, only the election committee can decide if an independent auditor will be used.

The ballots can be mailed back or hand delivered to the association's office but must be received at least 24 hours before the Oct. 29 board meeting, Lewis said. The election is open to all CRCA members, except those who are in arrears on dues or fines.

In an interview last week, Lewis said he expected a decision from the election committee this week, but added he was "fairly confident" it would vote to hire a law or accounting firm to oversee the collection and counting of the ballots.

"It seems pretty obvious that it will end up being a combination of someone being there to physically handle the ballots from the time that the mailman drops them off and going into some kind of locked container; that seemed to be a pretty reasonable solution that everyone bought into. The second part would be that they would actually monitor the counting and sorting of the ballots on the evening of the 28th."

Lewis' management company, along with CRCA Manager Kim DiStefano, who is employed directly by the association, are targets for ouster by the discontented block of candidates that includes Marty Ledvina.

"That's just one of the many longstanding problems that we have had with this current board. Why do we have two management teams?" said Ledvina, a retired administrative law judge for the Arizona Department of Eco-nomic Security. "They never listen to the residents' concerns. We need to just clean the slate and start over with a single management company that will listen to the people who pay their salaries."

Hewitt cited her block's campaign promise to clean house as another potential incentive for the board or management to try and rig the vote.

"They know that if we get in, they're out of here as fast as we can possibly make it happen. There's a lot of money on the line in those (management) contracts," Hewitt said.

Lewis, whose company maintains almost 300 management accounts in Tucson, Phoenix and Las Vegas, said having two management teams is not uncommon and both he and DiStefano have distinctly different areas of responsibility.

DiStefano's resignation was announced at the Sept. 16 meeting. She said she had taken a job with the Rancho Sahuarita development south of Tucson. Lewis said the association's board planned to replace her on an interim basis.

Ledvina has waged a yearlong, and so far unsuccessful, court fight to have the CRCA's finances and Lewis' contract opened to wider scrutiny by the residents.

Meade traces the current rancor between the board and a "faction" of residents to Ledvina's lawsuit.

"They thought they could be privy to the legal records of the association. Associations are totally grounded in legal rules and laws and we have an association attorney that advises us on these things. These people were not ever privy to those records. At that particular juncture, that's when I saw things begin to get out of hand. It became contentious," Meade said.

Ledvina and Hewitt's block also want to do away with the off duty Marana Police Department officers employed by the current board to keep order at meetings, and to move the association's office back to Continental Ranch.

The police were hired and the association's headquarters moved after some CRCA staff said they were threatened by homeowners.

The move of the association office from the clubhouse located on Coachline Drive in the heart of Continental Ranch, to the Ina Corporate Center on Ina Road east of Camino de la Tierra in Casas Adobes, triggered a proposal last year to build a new office and expanded recreation facility in Continental Ranch at a cost of $1.2 million.

The proposal, which would have billed each CRCA member a $400 assessment, was roundly jeered by hundreds of homeowners during the board's last annual meeting in October 2001.

Meade said no other plans have been made to return the office to Continental Ranch because suitable office space could not be found.

Despite the sniping and shouting that has come to dominate recent meetings of the CRCA, Lewis said he did not think that Continental Ranch's contentious election atmosphere was particularly unusual.

"You see that in homeowners associations all over. There's nothing unique in this election, it happens all the time. I think that part of the problem, and I think about this a lot, is that associations by their very nature are responsible for restraining people's behavior. A lot of it is 'put your trash can away, you can't do this, and you must do that.'

"The result is just the odds - you have 3,000 people and every week or every month three or four people get mad at the association, so it doesn't take long before like 5 percent of the people are mad at the association," Lewis said.

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