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Who runs Harbour Watch?

A new board of directors claims that they do, but the previous regime calls their election "illegal."

By ELENA LESLEY, Times Staff Writer
Published August 2, 2007


TARPON SPRINGS - New leadership seized control of the Harbour Watch homeowners association Tuesday night, marking the regime change by switching the locks.

Just hours after residents cast votes for the three new board directors, a locksmith tinkered with latches at the property manager's office. Board members claimed their new headquarters, carting out files and a computer.

They said their "independence day" had come.

But Mark Robinson, who has run Harbour Watch since acquiring developer's rights in 2000, has a different take on the evening.

"People broke into the property manager's office; they stole a computer and files," he said.

Robinson contends that he still has control of the affluent development and that he will call another election within the next 90 days. An announcement was delivered to each property owner Tuesday saying just that.

The day before, the association's lawyer wrote a letter resigning from his post.

So who, exactly, runs Harbour Watch these days is a little unclear.

As property manager Jackie McMahon said Wednesday morning, "It will probably start getting nasty with all the lawyers."

Tuesday's election was a turning point in a protracted dispute.

The waterfront community, bordered by the Gulf of Mexico and the Anclote River, was founded in 1987. Control of the development changed hands several times, and in 2000 Robinson acquired the authority to run the development and make most important decisions.

Robinson said he wanted to protect Harbour Watch from an outside developer who might build low-quality homes. Those who have opposed him said he wanted developer status to get out of paying monthly dues on most of his properties. Many doubted that he ever acquired developer's rights at all.

A lawsuit filed by a group of residents in 2003 claimed Robinson didn't have the right to be the community's developer and charged other board members with impropriety. Charges against individuals were dismissed, though counts against the association as an entity remain unresolved.

Still convinced Robinson wasn't accountable for the association's more than $400,000 annual budget, a different group of residents organized Tuesday's election.

They said that, according to the development's founding documents, developer control expired 20 years after the first lot sale, or June 29.

But Robinson and his supporters claim that the developer is authorized to extend his control in 10-year increments indefinitely.

"As far as I am concerned, their meeting is illegal," said McMahon, after learning she had been locked out of her office Wednesday. "And they had no right to change the locks."

Meanwhile, the three newly elected directors say all 76 votes out of around 150 built-out lots cast Tuesday night were valid. They say they needed only a quorum, or residents representing 10 percent of the community's property, to take over.

Even some residents who didn't turn out for the election supported the results. Paul McGeough was out of town until Tuesday night, but greeted the news with enthusiasm.

"The neighborhood needs a change; it's pretty much stagnant," he said while doing yard work Wednesday morning. "It could be brilliant here. This could be a great place to live."

Douglas Clifford contributed to this report. Elena Lesley can be reached at elesley@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.