Community Continues To Face Federal Lawsuit Over Discrimination Claim
BY: ANDREW COLTON | Editor and Publisher
UPDATE: 10:20 p.m. Wednesday, December 23: An email to the Seven Bridges Homeowners Association was transmitted this evening by assistant community manager Jennifer Hall, an employee of Campbell Property Management. The letter makes several erroneous claims about our reporting. We are including relevant parts of the email at this conclusion of this article. Campbell Property Management has still not answered several questions about the alleged election impropriety, posed by BocaNewsNow.com, prior to the publication of this article.
DELRAY BEACH, FL (BocaNewsNow.com) — Emails obtained by BocaNewsNow.com suggest the president of the Seven Bridges Delray Beach Homeowners Association secretly accessed confidential voting information, then used that information to target homeowners who had not yet voted in the association’s election held last week. The community’s property management company then apparently tried to cover it up.
Association elections are serious in Florida, overseen by a division of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
Larry Orbach, with no public explanation provided to homeowners in the high profile 800 house community, resigned his position on the eve of the election, then dropped out of the race.
Emails obtained by BocaNewsNow.com show what could be interpreted as a cover-up that involved Campbell Property Management’s on-site employee, Heidi Womack.
Womack called for a Zoom meeting with the candidates on December 13, 2020 — two days before Election Day – writing:
I will be holding a brief candidate meeting this evening related to the election. The meeting will be held at 8:00 pm tonight on Zoom. Below is the link for the meeting. This is only for candidates.
That led a candidate to email a request for the agenda, to which Womack wrote this:
Subject: Re: Important Candidate Meeting
Warning – External Email (Use Caution)
There is no agenda. This is just information for the candidates.
During the meeting, according to those familiar with the events, Womack told all candidates that Orbach had accessed the community’s allegedly secure online voting system to determine standings in the final days of the race. He allegedly shared that information with some, but not all, of the other candidates.
Emails obtained by BocaNewsNow.com suggest that a conversation ensued about Orbach resigning, then keeping the information about the reason for his resignation private.
Wrote one candidate in an email:
I agree that this letter from Larry removing himself should occur prior to the vote. I realize the difficulty of the position. However sending the letter now allows more leeway in explanation. As time goes by the narrative becomes more difficult.
I would appeal to Larry’s better angels to do the right thing and remove himself now as all the candidates have requested.
A request by another candidate for legal intervention by the community’s attorneys was apparently disregarded. That candidate wrote in an email that Womack, the property manager, told all candidates to “not discuss the information.”
I know you asked everyone to not discuss the information shared tonight on the Zoom call. Sharing what Larry did with the other candidates alone, does not excuse his actions whether they were done unintentionally or not. He knowingly accessed the Simply Voting dashboard which no other candidate has access to, which calls into question what else he knows and what else his is doing with the information.
I do not know exactly what I am going to do at this point, if anything. However, at a minimum, I believe it is appropriate for all of the candidates who wish to participate, to have a zoom call with our outside attorney to better understand what actions might be appropriate, if any. At a minimum, Larry’s actions and behavior call into question the integrity of this election which is not what anyone signed up for. His actions prior to this incident have only served to polarize our community. I believe we need to address whether Larry should step aside which, in my opinion, would restore trust to this election process and, importantly, enable the new board to behave as a more cohesive unit to better serve our community.
The foregoing issues represent my concerns as a candidate believing in fairness and ethics for the benefit of our community. This community will lose if the new board is unable to work as a cohesive unit with a high level of trust and respect for one another.
I hate to put you in the hot seat, however, I believe you are doing all you can to follow the rules and maintain the integrity of the election process. By copying all of the candidates on this email, I am asking them to contact you with any concerns they have regarding these latest events and to let you know if they would like to participate on the zoom call with our HOA attorney. With only two days till the election meeting, I would like to schedule the call ASAP.
Wrote another candidate to Womack, asking for full disclosure to the community:
I had some additional time to think about this and would like to know when Heidi became aware of the issue and how she became aware of the issue and if she spoke with the attorney. I would also like to have the vendor in question meet with us today so we can see the IP logs etc..
I find it odd on a Sunday night prior to the election this issue would “pop” up and we all need to be certain. I also would like the information shared with the community prior to the vote.
Another candidate wrote this:
I find it very disappointing and disturbing that that one candidate – the incumbent president – has access to information that no other candidate has and can (or did) use it to gain an unfair advantage in an election.
It’s simply not acceptable and throws the integrity of the election process into doubt.
This community has been through enough drama and scandal already and a tainted election would be blood in the water for the sharks within our community and those who love to write negatively about it.
While I personally like Larry and believe him to be a good person, I think his actions in this election process raise more questions than answers regarding his conduct and I am formally requesting that Larry withdraw his name from reelection.
Womack’s only communication with the community about the alleged impropriety was an email in which she announced that Larry Orbach was resigning and removing himself from the race. This email was transmitted on Election Day.
Dear Seven Bridges Homeowners,
I just received the email below from Larry Orbach.
Dear Seven Bridges Residents,
After much thought, I have decided not to continue to serve on our Board. Therefore effective immediately, I am withdrawing my name from my candidacy at this election.
I wish the new Board great success and will make myself available to them for any questions that may arise.
Neither Heidi Womack nor Larry Orbach responded to a request for comment Wednesday morning from BocaNewsNow.com. It was not immediately clear if the election results, recently “certified” by Campbell Property Management, would be thrown out now that this information has become public. All candidates have also been contacted for comment. Whether this rises to the level of intervention from the State of Florida through its Division of Florida Condominiums — part of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation — is unclear. The agency does have jurisdiction over election issues.
Seven Bridges remains a defendant in a $7M Federal Housing Discrimination lawsuit brought by a homeowner who claims she was sanctioned by the Board of Directors for, among other allegations, posting negative comments about the community and Board members on social media. She says she was singled out by the Board for not being Jewish. A Federal Judge this month declined to dismiss the lawsuit. Depositions are underway with a trial date scheduled for March.
UPDATE: 10:20 p.m. Wednesday, December 23, 2020: While Campbell Property Management, which oversees Seven Bridges, never responded to a series of questions posed by BocaNewsNow.com Wednesday morning, assistant community manager Jennifer Hall issued an email to the community this evening. One section included a statement claiming that BocaNewsNow.com reported that the vote count was altered. We did not. Although anyone voting for Larry Orbach was not given a chance to vote for someone else.
On a separate issue: Hall claims that the “old” Board of Directors, overseen by President Larry Orbach, asked attorneys how the Board should handle the election that became problematic due to actions taken by Larry Orbach. Again, Campbell Property Management did not respond to questions posed prior to the publication of this article, nor did Campbell Property Management instruct the Association’s attorneys to contact BocaNewsNow.com to provide a statement or answer questions.
From Hall’s email:
“As with many matters involving the Association, outside counsel was consulted by the old board prior to the close of the election and afterward by the new board to ensure that we were proceeding in a way that complied with election protocols under these circumstances. To clarify an error in the article, the election count was certified by community volunteers and observed by the Association’s attorneys, not by management. There is no question as to the vote count received by each candidate.”
BocaNewsNow.com’s response: A Campbell Property Management representative sat feet away, on a video feed, as people were seen counting votes. Campbell Property Management did not respond to our request for comment.
Campbell Property Management is also placing blame on “Simply Voting,” the electronic (online) voting system, but seemingly not accepting responsibility for the local management of the voting process.
Again, from Hall:
“Upon learning of certain improprieties, all seven candidates requested that Larry withdraw as a candidate for reelection. Given his years of service to the community, the candidates felt that it was only proper to allow Larry to withdraw on his own accord. A troubling issue is that the electronic voting software used in this election, Simply Voting, was supposed to prohibit access to voting results and data during the election process. This was apparently not the case and, while we are looking into how this happened, we will undoubtedly be changing our electronic voting provider to one that ensures that no access to voter information can ever be obtained prior to the close of the voting period.”
Disclosure: BocaNewsNow.com does have an ownership interest in Seven Bridges, but does not consider that interest when determining coverage. Facts always come first.
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