At Carson’s Scottsdale Estates, a battle royal
Early 20th century Boston Mayor James Curley famously exhorted his followers to vote early and often, advice that might normally land a person in jail. But at the ironically named Scottsdale Estates in Carson, homeowners will have the opportunity to vote twice this month in dueling elections aimed at finally deciding who should be in charge of this working-class community of 3,000.
The dueling elections mark another twist in a long-running and vicious leadership battle over who should control $1.7 million in annual homeowner dues.
Despite its elite-sounding name, Scottsdale Estates is an aging complex of 600 town homes with a reputation for drugs and gangs. The pool has been filled in, some of the parks are off limits, and it has the highest crime rate of any neighborhood in the city.
The elections for the 15-member board are unlikely to end the fighting at Scottsdale Estates, or even decide who should control the complex. They are part of a dispute that has wended its way through the courts and is likely to beat a path there again.
Though a group of dissident residents has been holding meetings and going door to door to persuade people to put the group in charge of the sprawling community, the old guard has flooded homeowners’ mailboxes with campaign fliers filled with invective.
The old guard has attacked city officials they allege are in cahoots with the insurgents to get their hands on government grants meant for Scottsdale. In an unusual move, the city attorney last month sent a letter to Scottsdale saying that the statements were “false, misleading, and defamatory” and threatening legal action.
The old guard is led by Cyd Balque, a Defense Department auditor who has headed a largely unchanged board for about a decade. Her attorney said that although she owns a town house in Scottsdale Estates and an interest in another, she doesn’t live there. She declined to be interviewed but responded in an e-mail, attacking city officials and the dissidents.
The insurgents, led by Woody Rowell, an unemployed accountant with an MBA, say Balque ruled like a despot, resorting to threats and intimidation, and that she neglected repairs.
The dissidents, who alleged that Balque failed to hold annual elections, held their own balloting in October. Claiming victory, they changed the locks on the clubhouse and took over, eventually hiring a professional management firm to run the complex -- a first in at least a decade.
Two months later, a Superior Court judge invalidated the election, put the old board back in power and ordered a new election held by the end of March.
The dissidents filed an appeal, which put the judge’s order on hold and the dissidents back in control -- sort of. Both sides now claim to be the legitimate board.
“It’s a mess and unfortunate that both groups are totally unwilling to enter into any compromise that’s acceptable to the other group,” said Stanley Feldsott, the attorney for Balque’s side.
The dissidents remain in control of the clubhouse, which was protected by armed guards under the old regime; but Balque’s group continues to send letters exhorting homeowners to mail it the $240 monthly dues.
Fred Dorton, the attorney for Rowell’s group, says the dissidents collect most of the dues, and the old board collects the rest.
Shortly after the appeal was filed, Balque withdrew $44,000 from the town house association’s account at Bank of America. “I was a little surprised,” said Feldsott, “because normally the bank would take the position that until you guys settle the fight, we’ll freeze the funds.”
Dorton said he contacted the bank, which he said sent a letter to Balque demanding return of the money.
Feldsott said he told the bank that Balque had spent the money on association expenses and hasn’t heard from the bank since. “It’s not like [the old board] took the money and put it in their pocket,” he said.
But Dorton said Balque owes not only the $44,000 but $15,600 or so more of Scottsdale funds that the old board spent on a five-page ad in the Daily Breeze of Torrance five days after the October coup, along with other unaccounted-for funds.
All of which is just a backdrop for the two elections. Rowell says his group is holding the election Tuesday because association rules state it must be held the second Tuesday in March. Balque said that by holding the election March 30, her group is following the judge’s ruling that the election be held by month’s end.
Rowell’s people have placed their 15 names on both ballots, but none of Balque’s group is running in the dissidents’ election.
A quirk of Scottsdale’s rules is that 301 homeowners must vote for an election to be valid. Although Rowell contends that 250 already have cast votes in his faction’s election, it’s possible that neither election will be official.
Both sides agree that the dispute will wind up back in court.
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