A Sarasota attorney hired by Lighthouse Point resident John Saputo is questioning the Islandside Property Owners Coalition’s (IPOC) limited-liability corporation and how the coalition is funded.
In March 2009, Saputo told The Longboat Observer he would consider legal action if his Islandside homeowners association was using association funds to make contributions to IPOC.
Saputo hired Sarasota attorney Steven Thompson in April, after learning that his association board approved contributions of an unknown amount to IPOC in January.
Thompson, who practices homeowner- and condominium-association law, sent a letter to Lighthouse Point Association attorney Chad McClenathen dated April 8, informing him that he has issue with the fact the Lighthouse Point Association is listed as a managing member of the IPOC limited-liability corporation.
Wrote Thompson: “IPOC is not only opposed to the approval of the expansion of the Longboat Key Club and Resort, but a review of its website and its communications demonstrates involvement in other matters and both direct and thinly disguised indirect support of political candidates and other initiatives.”
Thompson maintains Lighthouse Point has incurred potential liability for its homeowners association and has exposed its members to potential assessments to cover any liability by joining IPOC and using association funds for the support of its activities.
In a letter dated Jan. 7, McClenathen confirmed for the Lighthouse Point Board of Directors that it has the authority to make contributions to IPOC for purposes of supporting the organization’s efforts as long as those efforts “promote the recreation, health, safety or general and social welfare of the residents or serve to conserve and protect the subdivision.”
Lighthouse Point Homeowners Association President Robert Betagole did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story.
Thompson, who is waiting for a response from McClenathen, believes Lighthouse Point’s board overstepped its bounds when the association agreed to become a managing member of IPOC.
Wrote Thompson: “I assume you were not aware that IPOC was supporting other causes such as Florida Constitutional Amendment 4 (Hometown Democracy), organizations like Control Growth Now and political candidates. Participation by the association in such activities and the use of assessments to owners in Lighthouse is, in my opinion, clearly outside the authority of the association board.”
IPOC President Bob White, however, says that Thompson is incorrect in stating that IPOC has supported political candidates and state amendments.
“The coalition has made reference to the Hometown Democracy amendment, but we never said we were supporting it,” White said. “And IPOC has never endorsed candidates. I have personally endorsed candidates, but IPOC has not.”
Thompson points to Lighthouse Point’s Declaration of Covenants to make his contribution argument, which states that common expenses are meant to be used for the operation, management, protection, conservation, maintenance, repair and replacement of the subdivision’s common areas and facilities.
When contacted by The Longboat Observer, Thompson said he’s “never seen anything quite like this before.”
“In this case, the association has joined IPOC and is a managing partner of the LLC, along with other managing partners,” Thompson said. “I don’t think this is permitted or allowed under law.”
Six Islandside homeowners associations are listed as managing members of the IPOC LLC. The other associations include The Sanctuary, L’Ambiance, The Pierre, Longboat Key Towers and Beaches of Longboat Key South.
Thompson, who said IPOC is not obligated to provide him with the contributions it has received from associations within Islandside, said he is considering potential legal action by asking a judge to decide in court if Florida law would prevent or allow an association’s funds to be used in this way.
Saputo said he hired Thompson because he’s worried about his own liability, despite the fact that the association has refunded to him approximately $500 in funds given to IPOC that came from Saputo’s share of Lighthouse Point association dues.
“Unless they (Lighthouse Point Board of Directors) release me as a member of Lighthouse Point, I am still liable because of what they have done,” Saputo said. “They are engaging in activities that are not going to benefit my homeowners association and that appears to be in violation of governing documents.”
White says his coalition has accepted contributions from both Islandside associations and individuals.
“Generally, I believe that any association that has made donations talked with its legal counsel to receive approval to do that first,” White said.
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