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Posted: Tuesday, October 8, 2002 11:00 pm

More than just a typically contentious homeowners' association, the Continental Ranch Community Association is a force in Marana, wielding power that ranges from deciding what color more than 3,500 homeowners can paint their gates to determining who gets elected to the Marana Town Council.

And with the Oct. 28 CRCA Board of Directors election approaching which will transfer complete control of the association from developers to the community's residents, the high stakes are making for a fractious, and often nasty, race.

"Who ever takes over the association is going to be managing a small town - the largest single voice that the town of Marana has. They will also be managing a $1 million a year budget and it has to be done prudently and carefully," said outgoing Board President Paula Meade, who is also an executive with Pulte Homes.

The tightly packed neighborhoods of Continental Ranch, bounded by Cortaro Road on the south, Twin Peaks Road to the north, Interstate 10 on east and the Tucson Mountains to the west, contain 8,441 people, or substantially more than half of Marana's population of 13,556 that was recorded in the 2000 U.S. Census.

In addition to having the lion's share of votes in the town, three of Marana's seven town council members call Continental Ranch home, as do a high percentage of the Marana Planning and Zoning Commission and many of the town's employees.

At a candidate forum Oct. 3, Marana Town Council Member Patti Comerford held up the green and red cards that controlled the candidates time for remarks, and Sue Flayer, vice chair of the Marana Planning and Zoning Commission, drew candidate questions from a sun tea jar and moderated the discussion.

The churlishness afflicting the CRCA was evident at the forum even in the questions put forth to the candidates by the election committee. The question that led to the largest war of words was: "In the past, meetings of the advisory committee and board of directors have occasionally been contentious. Why do you think this has happened and what will you do to eliminate it?"

Candidate Tony Cerasani refused to answer any questions at the forum because he had not been nominated to run by the election committee and instead had to go door-to-door gathering signatures on a petition that placed his name on the ballot.

The election boasts 15 candidates competing for seven seats on the board, with the majority of the candidates having aligned themselves on two slates.

One faction is alleging that the CRCA's $996,681 annual budget is being mishandled and secretly manipulated and the current board is trying to rig the election. They promise to throw out the currently contracted management team and open the financial books to residents.

The other faction says it seeks to restore professionalism and decorum to the often heated association meetings, and is generally supportive of the current developer-controlled board.

Both sides would like to bring the CRCA management office back to Continental Ranch from its current location in Casas Adobes, and a majority on both sides would maintain the current $240 per year assessment members pay. Both factions are divided internally on de-annexing the Sunflower retirement community and two apartment complexes that now hold membership in the CRCA.

The self-styled "reformers" claim their opposing slate is packed with "stooges" serving the developers and Lewis Management Resources, one of the associations' two management teams, which is slated to be paid $70,361 next year for its services. Kim DiStefano, who announced her resignation last week, leads the in-house management team and was paid $32,025 annually, according to the CRCA budget.

The self-proclaimed "professionals" claim the opposing bloc of candidates is composed of "paranoid" individuals who have little understanding of the day-to-day operations of a homeowner's association. The slate is less unanimous in its views than its opposition, but generally supports the status quo and often trumpets the need for strict rules and regulations.

Both sides have bombarded the Northwest EXPLORER with documents seeking to smear the opposition, including court documents that paint one candidate as a slum lord, a 26-year-old transcript of an out-of-state bar hearing that suspended another candidate's privilege to practice law, and scads of papers documenting minor parking tickets and small claims court rulings.

The EXPLORER has refused to identify any of the candidates targeted in the allegations because none of the issues raised have any direct relevancy to the election.

The controversy over protecting the election from fraud partially de-escalated last week after the five-member CRCA election committee agreed to hire an independent auditor.

The auditors, employees of the National Institute of Community Management, will oversee the collection of ballots and the vote count, members of the election committee confirmed last week.

The 15 candidates in the race are:

Robert Allen, a 10-year resident of Continental Ranch who is the head professional at The Links golf club. He is also a member of the Marana Planning and Zoning Commission and a retired Tucson Police Department sergeant.

Bruce Candland, an eight-year resident who is employed as the chief financial officer of a medical group in Tucson. He has served on CRCA's Advisory Committee and Strategic Planning Committee.

Tony Cerasani, who has been a resident for three years, and is retired. He was formerly employed as a supervisor at Hughes Aircraft in California, and as a sergeant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. He currently serves on the CRCA's Advisory Committee.

Thomas Cope, who has been a resident of Sunflower for more than six months. He has worked as an attorney and management consultant and served as the president of two other homeowners' associations.

Sharon Dvorkin-Solotky has lived in the community for almost a year, and has worked as an instructor for two telecommunications companies. She was president of her homeowners' association in Illinois for two years and co-president for more than three years.

Ken George has lived in Continental Ranch since 1998. He is retired from the U.S. Air Force where he served as an officer, and now teaches math at Ironwood Ridge High School.

Gunter Hausler has lived in the community since 1994 and works as an aerospace engineer and manager. He spent three years as a member of a homeowners' association board of directors in California, including one year as president. He is currently a member of CRCA's advisory committee.

Elaine Hewitt has lived in Continental Ranch for more than three years and is retired. She formally was employed in the fields of business management and public affairs for 30 years. She has been involved in three other associations, and currently serves on CRCA's advisory committee.

Craig Hunter has been a resident for six years and has worked in real estate for 17 years. Hunter serves as the sole homeowners' representative on the current CRCA developer-controlled board, and has served two years on its advisory committee, including his current position as the committee's chair. He has also served as covenants committee and publicity committee liaisons.

Marty Ledvina has lived in Continental Ranch for two years and is a retired administrative law judge with the Arizona Department of Economic Security and works as a substitute teacher in the Marana Unified School District. He is currently a member of CRCA's Advisory Committee and liaison to the finance committee.

Jan Mann has been a resident in the community for six years and is a retired nurse from Chicago. She is currently a member of the CRCA Advisory Committee and has served on the elections and publicity committees.

Andrew Peele has lived in Continental Ranch since 1997 and is retired from the U.S. Air Force. He has also worked in the fields of electronic maintenance, real estate, property management and owned an appliance repair business. He served as president of a homeowners' association in Green Valley, and was later hired as the association's property manager. He has also served as CRCA's finance committee chair.

Richard Purcella has been a resident for three years and is retired. He previously worked for Chevron Oil Co. in sales and public relations. He has also owned a Chevron station and two tire stores.

Jane Rutt is a three-year resident and has worked as a payroll manager, a contract administrator, an accounting supervisor and a community volunteer. She been vice president and secretary of a homeowners' association in Alaska, and now serves as a street representative in the CRCA.

Larry Schoof has lived in Continental Ranch since 1999 and is a senior software engineer at Raytheon. He is a current member of the town of Marana's Silverbell Road Corridor Overlay District Committee and serves on committees and teaches Sunday school at Lord of Grace Lutheran Church. He is also involved in the Boy Scouts and Habitat for Humanity.

Candland, Cope, George, Hunter, Mann, Purcella and Schoof are running on the candidate slate that bills themselves as "professionals."

Cerasani, Hewitt, Ledvina, Peale and Rutt are running as a bloc that says it seeks reform in the CRCA.

Allen, Dvorkin-Solotky and Hausler are running independently.

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