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    Letters to the Editors

    Paying off debts is a matter of responsibility

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 19, 2001

    Re: Association fees may cost couple their home, March 18 story, and More humanity needed with association fees, March 20 editorial.

    It seems as though every few months, your section runs out of hard news to deliver and decides to pick on the hard-working people who live in and operate condominium and homeowner associations.

    In Pinellas County alone, there are probably a quarter-million people who live in a community where the day-to-day operations of local government are not provided by a city or the county, but by their homeowners association. This is a trend that one might call the privatization of government.

    I found your recent reporting on the couple who lost their home to foreclosure particularly compelling. Yes, it is sad. However, it's obvious that even though they had personal hardship, they continued to pay their mortgage, car payment, electricity bill and so forth.

    Your suggested remedy was to have a member of the community association knock on the door to find out whether there was a problem before moving ahead with legal remedies. There are many ways in which people can get into trouble by not paying their bills. If you do not pay your property taxes, your home can be sold, and I do not remember any member of the County Commission being requested to go knock on the door of someone who did not pay their property taxes.

    Would you ask the mayor of Clearwater or a member of the City Commission to ask why someone isn't paying those taxes? How about a member of the school board or a mosquito control district?

    These are not rhetorical questions. The type of government the people lost their home to is the closest to the people. At any time, they could have approached either their board of directors, the attorney or the management company to ask for a payment plan, and the odds are quite good that they would have been granted one. Instead, they chose to ignore many warnings and lost their home, and now your reporter and your editorial staff make out the homeowners association as the bad guy. This is irresponsible and sets a potentially dangerous precedent.

    Most people rightly consider their home their castle. How would you like it if someone knocked on your door when you didn't pay a bill? In fact, that may be a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act if done by anyone other than the board of directors. Those people are fellow homeowners who volunteer their time and service to help operate the community. Are they also expected to face someone they have never met and ask why they are not paying?

    In today's society, the answer behind the closed door is just as likely to be a fist, gun or Doberman as it is someone who has a sad story to tell why they cannot pay their obligations.

    Yes, it is true that there should be some compassion with regard to enforcement of collections. However, your article is simply one of a series of articles that is leading us down a path of lack of individual responsibility for our actions. There are many people who have personal hardships, loss of job and so forth who continue to pay their bills or make arrangements to do so. It is not the duty of the person or entity, governmental or otherwise, to knock on a door to find out why a bill is not being paid.

    The other problem with your reporting is that it tends to influence voters and judges who decide these cases and lends credence to allegations that the directors are nothing but a bunch of "condo commandos" who seek self-aggrandizement and exercise of power. Believe me, most directors would gladly give up their positions in a heartbeat if there were qualified people who worked as hard as they do and were willing to work for the good of all members of the community. The fact of the matter is that it is difficult enough to find people to serve on these boards, and your suggestion simply adds another burden that is totally unnecessary.

    Community associations are ubiquitous, and I would venture to say that there is no home in a new development in which one can avoid being subject to a requirement to be a member of an association, follow its rules and pay assessments to it. Given this, and the fact that government encourages the growth of these types of communities because it allows government to partially get out of the business of governing and still charge those people their full amount of taxes, your reporting should be more understanding and your editorial position should not be so hard against these communities.
    -- Bob Tankel, Dunedin

    It's hard enough to manage condo

    I have been a community association manager (CAM) for 16 years. I find it hard to believe that people who have bought into community associations are shocked by the discovery that they are governed by deed restrictions and other laws. Duh!

    With few exceptions, there should be no surprise as to what a person is getting himself or herself into when buying into a community association. It's all spelled out in the documents and public law. If a copy of the documents is not given to a new owner, they are available in the public records and will turn up in the title search.

    When you buy into such a community, you are entering into a contract with the association -- a contract which can be enforced and foreclosed on.

    When a condo or lot owner does not pay the contractually required dues, that person is stealing from his neighbors, who must pay more money to make up the difference. (And by the way, every association carries a delinquency list, with people routinely risking the loss of their home for the sake of a small association balance.)

    Community association management is getting to be dangerous. A CAM was murdered in a condo-related acid attack in Miami; a guy killed his neighbor over a garden hose at a Miami Beach condo board meeting.

    We are supposed to be a nation of laws. Henceforth, please do not advocate disobedience to laws, covenants, rules and regulations and obligations that govern community associations.
    -- Tom Klepacki, Clearwater

    If you can't trust police with guns . . .

    Re: Proposal to sell guns to officers on hold, April 7 story.

    Every town has them: those pathetic people who always seem to be out in public ranting about things that make no sense at all. Sadly, there are poor, homeless people on the street, but I'm talking about some of Largo's city commissioners who, according to your April 7 story, contend that the police cannot be trusted with the same guns they now carry. If this had been reported six days earlier, the readers would have thought it was a spoof.

    One of the traditional practices when upgrading handguns issued to police departments is to sell the guns being retired, sometimes to dealers and sometimes to the officers who have carried and cared for them, in order to partially finance the purchase of the replacements. To do so is a fiscal responsibility of elected officials as well as a friendly gesture toward law enforcement.

    For public officials to do otherwise is curious behavior to say the least. In the case of the Largo commissioners, who propose destroying the old guns to keep them off the street and out of the hands of their police force, the behavior is more than curious. It is spiteful, petty, silly and especially sanctimonious.

    The Largo City Commission owes the police department an apology. It owes the entire city an apology, and I hope the voters remember this insult for a long time. Better yet, I hope the bureaucrats in the rest of the county take note of the farce the Largo Commission has made of itself and resist the urge to engage in this sort of juvenile political grandstanding.
    -- Gerry Puterbaugh, Seminole

    Clearwater pummels a small business

    Re: Is boxing night on ropes? March 28 story.

    "Don't even think of starting up a small business in our city!" This exclamation should replace "Welcome" signs that may be posted at the city limits of our beloved Moscow, err, Clearwater.

    As a Clearwater business owner/operator (and patron of anyplace fun), I was appalled after reading about Ted Henderson's dilemma with the city's development review officials. Finally, there is something fun to do in downtown Clearwater for those of us not yet middle-aged, in the form of watching harmless amateur boxing one night a week.

    Now I read that Mr. Henderson failed to obtain the proper permit and will have to shut down his (most likely) biggest moneymaker of the week, during the busiest month of the year, even though it seems as if city officials accept that he thought he permitted accordingly.

    Why can't the city's community development board review this in a more timely fashion than the 60 days it requires and/or let Mr. Henderson conduct business in the meantime?

    I've been to fight night at Club More every night except one since its inception almost two months ago, and have not seen even one (outside-the-ring) fight break out or even seen police called to the premises. Basically, I have not seen anything occur other than a pretty mellow crowd enjoying some cheap entertainment and having fun. No one ever gets hurt badly, and the fighters are always good sportsmen and, on many occasions, are friends even before fighting.

    I was so thrilled to see all new faces voted onto the City Commission and the citizens of Clearwater doing away with any possibilities of any of the "old guard" holding a commission seat. I hope that the new commission can address problems such as the red tape that plagues what should be the simplest of issues, like Mr. Henderson's. Give the small businesses a break, Clearwater.
    -- Eric Spaulding, Dunedin

    How Bermudans conserve water

    As a Bermudan now living in St. Petersburg, I felt the need to clarify a misconception that appeared in one of your letters.

    Saltwater is not used in Bermuda for washing, shaving or showering, nor do we have a desalination plant on the island. However, each household does collect rainwater on its roof, which is then stored in a tank below the house. Each household is responsible for conserving its water supply, which can be especially difficult in times of droughts. If the water runs out, it must be purchased from a supplier at quite a high price per load.

    Needless to say, Bermudans are experts at water conservation!
    -- Meredith Wakefield, St. Petersburg

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