The Sunflower Community Association is in a pickle, literally, with a $65,000 contract signed and ready to go to build a pickleball court that most residents voted against in March.
Boston White, a resident of the retirement community, said the events that led to a signed contract despite residents voting against the project is highly suspect and “unethical.”
The controversy has become intense, with three members of the association board resigning after signing the controversial contract.
One of those resignations came from former board president Susan Page.
While confirming the contract was signed and that she resigned, Page refused any further comment.
According to an undated letter obtained by The Explorer, Page laid out the project being proposed, calling it an “important vote” for residents. In the same letter, Page explained the proposed project would be funded through the Community Improvement Fund, which is an account established to make major improvements to the community without assessments or due increases.
The CIF is funded from money collected when a home is sold in the community. Page estimates the fund generates up to $40,000 per year.
“The memberships – not the board – votes on spending the monies,” Page said. “Ballots from at least a quorum of the membership (193) must be returned, and 51 percent of the votes cast must be yes for the courts to be built.”
Page explained to residents that with Sunflower, 9401 N. Sunflower Park Drive in Marana, being an active adult community, with activities such as tennis, swimming, volleyball and a fitness room, pickleball may be a good addition.
Page said that while pickleball is a fairly new sport, the community’s Pickleball Charter already has 40 members.
Pickleball is an outdoor sport combining different rules of ping-pong, tennis and badminton, using paddles similar to ping-pong. It is played on a badminton-sized net court with tennis-like rules.
White said he and several other residents voted against the court because of its proposed location.
“I think a court like this is going to spoil the landscape in that area,” he said. “It seemed like to me that Susan Page was aggressive in trying to get this built, and the rest of the board just sat there.”
Following the March vote, the proposal failed, with 426 residents voting against it, and 306 voting in favor.
Despite the earlier promise that the court would only be built if residents agreed, the board took a different approach during the April 6 regular meeting.
Board members opted not to follow the election results, instead voting in favor of a one-time special assessment of $47 to pay for court construction.
Residents were notified through an April 12 notice calling for the $47 fee to be paid by May 15.
In the April 12 letter signed by the Sunflower Board of Directors, residents were informed that “the board had hoped to be able to use money from the (CIF) to finance the project, but the proposed use of CIF funds did not pass a vote of the community as required. It is the duty of the board to act in the best interests of the community as a whole. It is the belief of the board that the addition of the pickleball courts will benefit the community mission statement core values, which include: ‘Nurture an environment that allows the enrichment of all the lives in the community; and recognize and act upon the changing needs of the community.’”
White said he couldn’t believe the board ignored the will of the people, doing whatever they wanted. Board member Bonnie Smith voted against the measure, but has not replied to The Explorer’s request for an interview.
The board claims they acted within the rules of the association’s Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions, by following guidelines set forth in sections 10.4 and 10.6.
Section 10.4, Special Assessments, states, “In addition to other authorized assessments, the association may levy a special assessment from time to time to cover unbudgeted expenses in excess of those budgeted subject to the limitations set forth in Section 10.6. Such special assessment may be levied against the entire membership, if for common expenses. Special assessments shall be payable in a manner and at such times determined by the board.”
Section 10.6, Limitations on Increases in Assessments, states, “The board may not impose a special assessment which in the aggregate exceeds 5 percent of the budgeted common expenses for the current fiscal year, without a vote approving such assessment.”
The April 12 letter goes on to state the $47 fee falls below the 5-percent requirement, and a vote of the association is not required.
“Though a one-time assessment was not the board’s first choice, we feel the amount is such that all owners can contribute without tremendous hardship,” the letter stated.
White said the $47 is not the issue. The issue is having to pay a fee for something the majority of residents clearly said they didn’t want.
White was not the only one unhappy with the board, with about 10 members initiating a recall effort. White said enough signatures were gathered and they were moving forward with plans to recall three members of the four-person board.
However, the recall ended up being a non-issue when the three board members in question, including Page, resigned.
White said the resignations appeared to be a good way to end the issue. Then he and other residents learned that the board members on April 15 had signed the $65,000 contract to have the pickleball court built, just three days before they resigned on April 18.
When asked about the sequence of events, Page again refused comment.
In an email dated April 16 obtained by The Explorer, Tom Hewlitt, who was recently appointed interim president of the association, said, “I can’t believe the board of directors voted for a special assessment to build the pickleball courts in the same location we rejected with the CIF-funding vote. We said ‘no’ when there was no additional charge to the homeowner. How can they think we want it there along with a $47 assessment?
“Land around the center is precious as we have very little available. The plans are to position the courts in such a way they eat up a lot of our real estate. This is being done without thinking about long-term planning or the desires of the community,” he continued.
Hewitt ended the email by telling recipients to pass it along to other association members.
Now, the Sunflower Community appears to be in corrective mode. Hewitt and John Teager were appointed to fill two of the three vacant positions.
Because a majority of the board cannot be appointed, the third member will have to be elected. Applications for the vacancy will be taken through May 11.
Bonnie Smith will continue serving as the board’s secretary and treasurer.
In a board update last week, the new members asked for community patience, noting that the contract to build the pickleball court signed by outgoing members has been placed on hold, the $47 assessment fee has been rescinded, and the sport itself will continue to be played on the tennis courts.
In an April 16 email, Hewitt said some good alternatives to building two big courts is to paint pickleball lines on all three tennis courts and get the equipment needed to lower the nets to the proper height.
Another option is to completely convert a tennis court into a pickle ball court.
The third option, offered by Hewitt, is to conduct more research and find a location better suited for construction.
White said he and other residents remain concerned that the signed contract will make them liable to either go ahead with construction, or risk paying other fees associated with canceling the agreement.