Tonight I went to the Abbey Court HOA meeting about the Human Rights Center. Here's the short version of what happened…
I suppose you've all heard about how the Abbey Court Homeowners' Association (HOA) is giving the Abbey Court Human Rights Center (HRC) the boot. The Human Rights Center is a great community center providing many critical human services within Abbey Court, including mentoring, after school care, tutoring etc. In short, the HOA is arguing that the HRC is in violation of the HOA rules by using their unit for non-residential purposes and kicking them out, under threat of a $300/day fine.
The HOA meeting was tonight at 6pm in Raleigh and was closed to the public, however this afternoon it occurred to me that the non-profit organization I work for owns one of the units at Abbey Court, so I went to the meeting to represent our organization's miniscule rights—and to record the meeting.
Unfortunately there was a car wreck on I-40 (and I got lost to boot), so I arrived a bit late, but still in time for the essential part of the meeting. The Board of Directors (3 people) were seated at a table at the front and in the audience were the HOA's attorney Tina, the owner of 2/3 of Abbey Court Ken Lucas, the husband of one of the board members, Prof Judith Blau (founder of the HRC) and James Farrar (President of the HRC). I pulled out my Flip Video camera and began recording the meeting.
The soft-spoken Dr. Blau was calmly but passionately making her case for the importance of the HRC. The board was listening, but not particularly moved. Dr. Blau acknowledged that the HRC would move in response to the HOA's action, but begged for a 5-month extension to allow time to find a new location for the HRC outside Abbey Court.
After a few minutes the husband of Board Member C noticed me recording the meeting and said in a loud voice: "Are you recording this?" I said "yes." The attorney asked me to turn the camera off, but I refused—stating that I thought it was important to have a record of the proceedings. Suddenly several of them wheeled on me, challenging my right to be in the meeting but I parried, referencing my role representing the owner of one unit at Abbey Court.
The meeting took several twists and turns. President of the Board D, who lives in Chapel Hill, recognized me and acknowledged my right to be at the meeting. He tried to focus the Board on the question of when exactly the HRC would leave Abbey Court. Dr. Blau pleaded again for time to transition out, but Board Member C and her husband were adamant that the HRC's kids activities were too great a source of potential liability.
I jumped in pointing out how the poor management/maintenance of Abbey Court is a greater liability than any of the HRC's work and that the HRC is probably the single most positive force going at Abbey Court. I directly addressed several other concerns about the way the property is run and questioned whether it is fair (to the individuals and organizations who all-told own a third of Abbey Court) that Ken Lucas as majority owner effectively contracts with himself (on our dime) to manage the property. I pointed out how only two days ago there was a serious safety incident that the Town of Carrboro had had to get involved with (having to do with ongoing maintenance issues), and some of the Board Members expressed surprise about this. Their attorney updated them on the situation.
After a lot of discussion about the overall condition of Abbey Court, the management issues, and a good bit of bickering between members of the Board about certain board dynamics problems, the Board returned to the issue at hand, debating whether to give the HRC 60 days or 90 days to get out. I piped up to encourage the Board to be flexible and to give them at least 90 days to find other quarters. After a bit more bickering amongst themselves about some unrelated issues (unrelated to the HRC, that is), President D moved to give the HRC 90 days and Board Member B seconded the motion. The Board voted 2-1, with Board Member C voting no. The Board adjourned after having met for about 45 minutes total. So upshot: No fines if the HRC is out by March 1, 2012.
After the meeting, we all filed out into the hallway and Ken Lucas, Attorney Tina and I discussed a number of the issues I had raised. Although we still disagree about whether the HRC should have been allowed to stay, Ken and I had a reasonably cordial discussion about maintenance issues and crime problems at Abbey Court and we agreed to stay in touch.
While it would have been more satisfying to give Ken and the HOA Board a more frank piece of my mind about the matter, I could see from the start that there was no persuading them to let the HRC stay. I was concerned that telling them off good and proper might cause them to give the HRC zero days to come into compliance. So through most of the meeting I tried to focus primarily on getting as much time as possible to find another location for the HRC. Ninety days is probably the best result we could have hoped for given that their minds were basically closed on the matter and given that the law is almost entirely on their side.
It will be interesting to see what happens next. Ninety days is a big break (as is avoiding the fine!), but it's not really a lot of time to find a new home for the HRC. Stay tuned.