The Continental Ranch Community Association, which last year moved its offices out of Continental Ranch - and clear out of Marana - is considering levying a $400 fee against each of it's more than 3,000 homeowners in order to return to the neighborhood it serves.
The outcry among some homeowners over the proposed fee, which would be used to build a new $1.2 million office for CRCA's staff, is the latest chapter in a year-long tale of discord that has seen threats made against the association's management and board, Marana police officers hired to keep order at association meetings and a lawsuit filed by a former judge demanding to know how the homeowners' dues are being spent.
Members of the community association's board of directors, which is composed of representatives of the several developers building at Continental Ranch, claim the problems are being blown out of proportion by a handful of disgruntled residents and say the $400 assessment will probably not be approved when it is to be considered at the board's annual meeting scheduled for Oct. 22.
"The board of directors, even though it is well within its rights to vote on this special assessment, is not going to do that. This must be a decision made by the community. We are going to take the pulse of the community, if you will, to see how much support there is for this. There may not be a lot of support for this. There may be a tremendous support for it. But we would never presume to trample all over the rights of the citizens out there without knowing that's what they wanted. You may think of the first vote as a taking the pulse vote," said Paula Meade, the association's board president and an executive with Pulte Homes.
Critics of the board and the association's management agree their numbers are few, but say that's because the association is a developer-driven "dictatorship" that goes out of its way to keep homeowners in the dark about its activities.
"It's like the old communist regimes out here," said Anthony Cerasani, one of two homeowners who have been ejected from association advisory boards by Marana police officers hired by CRCA. "Some of the neighborhoods are ready to secede. It's very difficult to get any information out of them at all."
Exactly why the association's management office was moved 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, is another bone of contention.
Meade said the growing management team simply needed more room and no office space was available for lease in Continental Ranch, but she refused to discuss "anything involving threats against the association."
Homeowners leading the insurrection say the management team fled Marana last year because of threats made against the staff.
Board member Greg Wexler, a representative from Continental Ranch developer Southwest Value Partners, confirmed threats were made, but said concerns for the staff's safety played only a minor role in the decision to move.
Paula Smith, a member of the residents advisory committee that is charged with relaying residents' concerns to the board of directors, and a self-described supporter of CRCA's board and management, said flatly the office was moved because of the threats.
"The board of directors was threatened and the on-site (management) personnel were threatened by a homeowner, but you could flip a coin as to whether they were safer staying here or moving miles away. But that was the reason for the decision to move. They discussed it at a meeting."
The hiring of the police officers occurred shortly after the threats, said Marana Police spokesman Tim Brunenkant, who has done a turn of guard duty for the association.
"Well, as to why we were hired, my understanding is that they were concerned about the volatility of the situation out there. It was getting to the point where they were about to start fighting out there," Brunenkant said.
The officers are paid $20 per hour by the association for their services, and also do stints guarding the association's clubhouse and Windmill Park, Brunenkant said.
Cerasani said the association's move to Casas Adobes is a bad deal for the association and is costing residents $1,300 per month for the three-year lease CRCA is locked into at the Ina Road Corporate Center.
Wexler said he did not know the cost of leasing the Ina Road office, but that the lease can be broken if they choose to relocate the office back to Continental Ranch.
Continental Ranch members pay annual dues of $240 to support the association's activities. Fines levied by the association for violations of CRCA's covenants, conditions and restrictions also contribute to its operational expenses. Homeowners are not expected to take over control of the association from the developers until build out, which Wexler estimated is still two to three years down the road.
The lawsuit against CRCA was filed Sept. 24 in Pima County Superior Court by Martial "Marty" Ledvina, an association member and retired administrative law judge who heard cases for the Arizona Department of Economic Security.
Ledvina's suit seeks to force CRCA to release bills charged to the association by CRCA's attorney David McEvoy, McEvoy's contract with the association, as well as the employment contracts and records of payments made to Kim DiStefano, the community manager, and Mark Lewis, owner of Lewis Management Resources, which was hired to run the CRCA.
"I think the lawyer hired by the association is perhaps being overpaid and being used unnecessarily," Ledvina said. "I also want to know why we have to pay the site manager Kim DiStefano's salary - whatever that is, since none of the homeowners seem to know what she makes, while at the same time we are paying Mark Lewis a reported $72,000 per year. Why do we need two property managers?" Ledvina said.
Ledvina's lawsuit seeks the release of the records and reimbursement for his court costs, which he said he expects could run as high as $10,000 to $15,000.
According to court records, Ledvina requested he be allowed to examine the documents at a CRCA meeting May 31. Meade reportedly refused the request, citing attorney-client privilege.
On June 27, Ledvina presented the board with a written request to view the records and was again refused. After several more requests, Ledvina was allowed to view minutes of the 1999 annual meeting and annual and monthly financial reports, but not the contracts or invoices.
Meade and McEvoy refused to comment on the suit. Lewis was out of town on business and could not be reached for comment. A receptionist at the association's office said DiStefano was too busy to a see a reporter who asked for an interview, and failed to return a request for comment by phone.
Wexler said he believed Ledvina has a hidden agenda.
"He wants to be (CRCA's) lawyer and we've refused," Wexler said.
Ledvina, who along with Cerasani is running for a seat on the resident advisory committee and is the other resident to be escorted out of a CRCA meeting by the police, said Wexler's claim is a weapon the association is trying to use against him to prevent him from seeing the association's records.
"What they fail to understand is that I have absolutely no interest in being the association's attorney and couldn't be even if I wanted to. I don't belong to the Bar here. They think because I was a judge I have to be a member of the Arizona Bar, but you only have to be a lawyer to be an administrative law judge, which I was," Ledvina said. " I just want to see those documents, and I will because the law is on my side."
There's no doubt attorneys for the community association have been busy.
A check of records in Pima County Justice Court showed CRCA has filed 33 suits against its residents since 1999.
By way of contrast, the smaller Copper Creek Association filed suit 15 times against its residents since 1999, and the Vistoso Community Association in Rancho Vistoso had one.
Records in the Pima County Recorder's office show CRCA filed 445 documents in its existence. About 394 of those documents are liens against residents, or release of liens, filed by CRCA.
But despite Ledvina's concern over McEvoy's activities, the bulk of those suits and liens filed with the recorder's office were done by Scottsdale attorney James Hazlewood, who said he rarely works for the Continental Ranch association anymore.
"Those were mostly collections on people who failed to pay their assessments or fines. I believe they've turned that work over to a collection agency now," Hazlewood said.
Despite all the turmoil, advisory board member Smith said she believes most residents are happy with the association, although she's against the $400 assessment and would like to see the office return to the neighborhood.
"What are the good things that any homeowner's association does?" Smith asked. "The reason that people move into a community with an association is so that your house is not surrounded by a purple house and a lime green house, so that you don't have your neighbor with four cars that are not running parked in a yard that has four months of dog poop not scooped. Continental Ranch is good at doing what associations do. If you buy in Continental Ranch, you can look around you and say 'nice house.'"
TO FIND OUT MORE
The annual meeting of the Continental Ranch Community Association's Board of Directors is scheduled to be held at 6 p.m Oct. 22 in the cafeteria of Marana High School, 12000 W. Emigh Road. The meeting is expected to include discussion and "advisory votes" on the $400 per member special assessment that could relocate the association's office back to Continental Ranch.