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Foothills HOA Meeting turns heated over election timing

This article is reprinted from the Ahwatukee Foothills News, June 3, 2020

By Paul Maryniak, AFN Executive Editor

Longtime Foothills HOA treasurer Sandy Salvo and President Bill Fautsch listen to members during an in-person meeting last year.

An effort to partially stymie the impact of a special election on changes to the Foothills Community Association charter bylaws backfired when four of its seven board members refused to support longtime HOA President Bill Fautsch.

The dramatic outcome of a debate during the board’s virtual meeting last Wednesday set the stage for a special election this summer before its annual board election.

That special election will be on a set of five proposals – including one setting term limits that, if approved, would sideline board Treasurer Sandy Salvo, a longtime Fautsch ally, from running for reelection to her seventh term.

About 1,200 Foothills Association members had signed the petition for the special election that had been circulated over several months by a group of residents.

The petition lists five measures impacting the associations bylaws.

It would establish an annual update and review of the bylaws; limit board members’ consecutive years of service to no more than two two-year terms; establish a policy for board elections that would include a more complete presentation of candidates’ backgrounds and platforms for member; establish a formal procurement policy to govern the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars for landscaping and other HOA services; and implement electronic voting.

Fautsch, who has said he won’t run again for an office he has held for more than 10 years, did not oppose the special election. But he argued for it to occur on one day and be held after the annual board elections.

He cited the $10,000 cost of elections – an expense largely driven by state law that requires paper ballots – as well as concerns for social distancing if two election meetings attracted large crowds.

“I would be in favor of having the annual meeting and the special meeting at the same time and date,” Fautsch said. “It makes it easier. There’s a savings cost.

“I’m not running again, so there should be no concerns with any of the other members that have been rooting to get me out of this position. So, I think it makes sense that we do the annual meeting and then we have our special meeting after the annual meeting.”

The meeting had been relatively uneventful for the first two hours but quickly heated when the matter of scheduling the two elections came up.

David Randolph, one of the petition drive organizers, noted that the petition had been signed by roughly a quarter of the association’s approximate 4,200 homeowners and commercial members and said Fautsch’s proposal was “defying the will of a huge number of the association’s members.”

Fautsch told him: “I believe, David that you did have roughly 25 percent of the membership voting in favor of it, although a lot of it was through misinformation, lies and deceptions. So, I don’t know that, if the truth were told, that you would have gotten the 25 percent.”

When Randolph countered, “Your comments are not very respectful,” Fautsch replied, “I’m just stating the truth.”

“That, I think, is a matter of perception, Bill,” Randolph shot back.

Some residents also suggested a special election could be avoided if Salvo opted not to run again, noting that the board has made some efforts to address the other four issues in the petition.

Committees of board members and residents have been meeting on those four other proposals, but the board had already rejected term limits – fueling the petition drive.

Board attorney Austin Baillio infuriated some residents when he told Randolph:

“There’s three fourths of the community that either is apathetic to your position or is against your position and the board. Although they do hear and are weighing your position, they also have to take into consideration all the rest of the homeowners in the community.

“But trust me when I say they don’t take this decision lightly that they have discussed the political impacts and the disharmony that decision might cause and yet for the reasons that they’ve articulated tonight, they do feel that having both meetings on the same night is the right thing to do.”

Resident Jim St. Leger told Baillio:

“Let’s look at the historical role for how many people have voted in annual elections. Right prior to the last year or two, the numbers were very, very low. So, I think 25 percent is a large number of people who have stepped forward to sign something, based on what we’ve had in the past.

“The truth is that amendment group – whether you agree with them or not – they got their number of votes required before the annual election and the process should dictate they get to go first.”

“They did what they were chartered to do based on the rules of this organization,” St. Leger continued. “We had a disruption called the coronavirus but now to sort of use that as an excuse to say, ‘Well now we’re going to push you aside and do a simultaneous vote, but you’re going to be second’ – that just feels directly unfair.”

Randolph also disputed the lawyer’s characterization.

“Most often if we go into a neighborhood and we knock on five doors and three of them answer and though they all signed, that doesn’t mean the other two people that weren’t home were any way opposed to this,” he said, adding:

“That just means they weren’t home…I think that any assumption that there is widespread opposition to these reforms is totally misplaced. I think that when the petition election comes, we will see massive support.”

Some board members also expressed uneasiness with Fautsch’s proposal.

Board member Drew Porter, for example, said, “This is taking some courage for me to say, I came into this meeting prepared to vote a certain way. … I’ve heard some well-reasoned arguments from some people I respect tonight and I’m rethinking.”

Salvo, who later abstained from voting on Fautsch’s failed measure, largely kept silent except to say at one point that she felt she was under personal attack by opponents of his move.

But, referring to both Salvo and Fautsch, St. Leger said, “My personal view this is absolutely not about the people. I’ve worked closely with both of them and I’ve enjoyed our time together collaborating on projects, but I’m all about the process…by which we implement the bylaws of the community.”

Fautsch insisted on pressing for a vote – and found only one member supporting him.

“So now we will have to set our special meeting date first and then when we set our annual meeting,” he said afterward.

As they were trying to determine dates, it was suggested there was a legal way to tighten the time between the two elections.

But Fautsch said, “No, I think after hearing everybody speaking, I would like to stay on as long as I possibly can. So, I would like to do it per the guidelines. I wouldn’t support shortening it. I’ll stay on the job until September - October if necessary.”

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