The Continental Ranch Community Association elected a slate of seven residents to its first homeowner-controlled board of directors Nov. 29, and the vote was immediately challenged by an opposing bloc of candidates who called the election a fraud.

Residents elected to the new board were Bruce Candland, Thom Cope, Ken George, Jan Mann, Richard Purcella, Larry Schoof and Craig Hunter. The candidates ran as a slate and were generally in favor of continuing the same policies that had been followed by the outgoing board, which consisted of representatives of the community's primary developers and Hunter, who was the sole resident member of the board.

Immediately after the voting results were announced at the association's annual meeting, losing candidate Marty Ledvina presented outgoing Board President Paula Meade of Pulte Homes with a formal challenge to the election results.

Ledvina, who ran in a bloc with fellow candidates Tony Cerasani, Elaine Hewitt, Andy Peale and Jane Rutt, said he believed the election was "rigged to allow residents who were handpicked by the developers to continue the crooked policies of the developers and Lewis Management."

Lewis Management Resources, operated by Mark Lewis, is the association's primary management company which the self-described "reform" candidates wanted to fire.

The challenge, signed by all five of the candidates and drafted by their attorney, Doug John, alleges irregularities that include:

The outgoing board, composed of Hunter, Meade and fellow Pulte employee Alma Newbury and Southwest Value Partners agent Greg Wexler, followed 1994 amendments to the association's, which were invalid at the time of the vote. The challenge claims the board never received a two-thirds vote of approval from association members to amend the covenants that detailed the election procedures.

The election was conducted in a "grossly negligent manner because ballots had no identifying marks which left them vulnerable to reproduction and were generally susceptible to fraud.

Although an independent auditor was hired to oversee the election, ballots were received by the association's management for eight days before the auditor began monitoring the collection of votes.

The outgoing board allowed ineligible members to cast votes. The association's bylaws allow only homeowners who are not delinquent in paying the association's dues or fines to vote in the election. The challenge claims that 124 residents listed as eligible to vote were found to be in arrears.

The outgoing board allowed The Springs Apartments and residents of Pulte's Sunflower development to vote, despite the challenger's protest that The Springs were $90,000 in arrears on dues, and Sunflower recently owed as much as $40,000. The challengers claim the board refused to allow them to examine financial documents that would show if outstanding dues had been paid.

Some members who owned multiple properties did not receive multiple ballots.

That Candland was allowed to remain on the association's nominating committee despite being a candidate for the board. The nominating committee selected all of the candidates who belonged to Candland's slate and rejected four of the five members of the opposing bloc. The opposition had to collect residents' signatures to be put on the ballot as write in candidates. They claim Candland also participated in creating the questions drafted by the nomination committee that were asked of all 15 candidates at two candidate forums.

That George did not submit his application to run for the board by the deadline set by the nominating committee, but was placed on the ballot anyway.

The outgoing board of directors has the power to uphold the challenge or deny it and allow the election results to stand, Lewis told the crowd of about 100 people who showed up at the association meeting last week.

David McEvoy, the association's attorney, said Nov. 1 the board was still considering what to do about the challenge. He refused to comment on the merits of the challenge's allegations until the board renders a decision.

Further complicating matters was the fact that outgoing board members who represented Pulte and Southwest Value Partners controlled hundreds of votes that more than likely made residents' votes a moot point.

"We won the popular vote from the residents. The corporate votes coming from the sitting board is what elected the other slate," Rutt said. "It's proof that this is not a homeowners association. It's still controlled by the developers."

Corporate votes are determined by how much acreage a company holds in the community association's boundaries. Resident members receive one vote for each property owned, while corporate land owners receive eight votes per acre.

Wexler said he happily swung his company's 213 votes to the candidates that were ultimately victorious, and added he allowed the same candidates to erect campaign signs on Southwest Value Partners property in Continental Ranch while refusing permission to the opposing slate.

"Of course that's where our votes went. That's the people we wanted to see get elected. These other people were troublemakers, and I'm convinced some of them just weren't right. Psychological problems and stuff like that," Wexler said after the election.

Meade, in an interview conducted just moments before the results were announced at Lord Of Grace Lutheran Church in Marana, refused to say which way Pulte's 481 votes went.

"It's a secret ballot that we're having, so I'm not going to say if we even cast our votes at all," Meade said.

"If you factor out Pulte, Southwest Value Partners and The Springs, the winners would have been our slate, Thom Cope and Jan Mann," said candidate Elaine Hewitt.

In the final tally, the votes for each candidate were:

Candland, 1,234: Cope, 1,386; George, 1,264; Mann, 1,329; Purcella 1,303; Schoof 1,184 and Hunter, 1,182

Cerasani, 438; Hewitt, 512; Ledvina, 514; Peale 459 and Rutt, 491.

The remaining candidates, who ran independently of the two slates were Sharon Dvorkin-Solotsky, 237 votes and Gunter Haussler, 205 votes. Each candidate had to agree at the Oct. 29 meeting to publicly release their vote tally. Losing independent candidate Bob Allen was absent from the meeting and was not available to grant his permission so his tally has not been released.

The election provoked heated arguments during association meetings, threats of law suits and allegations that campaign signs were destroyed by opposition members.

Off-duty Marana police officers, who are regularly hired by the association to keep order, asked some candidates and their supporters at the Nov. 29 meeting if they were carrying concealed weapons.

After one resident protested it was unfair for the police to single out individuals for questioning, Meade announced over the church's PA system that anyone carrying weapons would have to turn them over to the police for the duration of the meeting.

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