HOA critics sweep Dobson Ranch election

Apr. 14—In a two-hour annual meeting last week that was at times tense and other times jovial, members of the embattled Dobson Ranch Homeowners Association elected three board candidates who had been critical of the previous board's handling of financial turmoil over the past three years.

During the meeting, accounting firm Butler Hansen announced the results of this year's fraught election, and critics who supported a failed recall of the previous board of directors emerged triumphant.

But they only represent a minority of seats on the nine-member board.

Holly Prasetio, a key organizer of a failed recall campaign earlier this year, won the most votes in the unofficial tally, 658, then Sam Javelosa, 640, and Brad Bettencourt, 547.

All three backed the recall in February. At a candidate forum last month, they pledged to aid in promoting transparency and restoring financial health to the HOA.

Incumbent board President Nicole Lynam placed a distant fourth with 246 votes.

Established in 1973, Dobson Ranch is one of Arizona's oldest master-planned communities, and it has about 5,000 homes and 15,000 residents.

Residents in public meetings have praised the HOA's diverse mix of residents, public amenities and suburban charm.

Due to financial turmoil over the past year, this year's HOA elections generated an unusual amount of interest, with nine candidates vying for the three open seats.

Prasetio told the Tribune there have been past elections when the HOA struggled to reach a quorum of votes — 10% of the membership. Last week's election got almost double the number needed.

The election and annual meeting had a dramatic backdrop.

Over the last three years, the association's cash assets have dropped over $1 million dollars, and budget and employee cuts have affected some community events and amenities.

In the wake of the financial issues, the HOA has eyed increases to the annual dues — something that helped stoke interest in the association's politics.

A woman in the audience told the Tribune she came to the meeting because she's worried about large assessment increases.

She declined to say who she supported in the election, but said she and her husband live on a fixed income and were concerned that jumps in annual dues could drive them out.

Over the past year, there has been finger-pointing, mistrust and disagreements over how to restore the association's finances.

One member who spoke during the meeting lamented that "the community is very divided right now — hugely divided."

Before the election results were announced, Butler Hansen representatives gave remarks on an audit of last year's books. The company issued a "clean opinion," finding that the HOA's year-end financial report conformed with generally accepted accounting principles.

Accountant Paul Hansen addressed the meeting and said that higher costs for maintenance and repairs due to inflation had challenged many HOAs over the past several years.

"Associations all over the country, quite frankly, are struggling. They really are," he said.

"If you want to make headway toward strengthening your reserves, you have some really tough choices," he added. "You're gonna have to look at a lot of different things to try and maintain your community. You're in a very difficult position."

During the public discussion, there was tension in the air of the nearly full meeting room. Members quibbled over meeting procedures. At one point, two men stepped outside to verbally argue.

After discussion closed, Hansen read the election results, showing that the insurgents had gained a foothold on the board — three of nine seats, one of which is vacant.

Relief at the suspense finally ending filled the room. The winning candidates received a steady stream of handshakes and congratulations.

The new board members only had a few minutes to savor the victory before they took their new seats and convened an official board meeting.

The one item on the agenda was to appoint someone to fill a vacancy created by a resignation last month. For a moment the issue looked like it might tear the new board apart just as it was getting started.

The three new board members wanted to table the decision on a new board member for a future meeting. Incumbents wanted to appoint someone right away, and they seemed inclined to put the former president back on the board, since she was the next-highest vote-getter.

But the new board members and several residents in the audience argued that the election results were a mandate for recall supporters — which didn't include the incumbent president.

"The community decided it's time for some new blood. It doesn't mean anything negative about those of you who are still on the board — you're valuable to the community," one Dobson member in the audience said.

Ultimately, two incumbents were swayed by arguments from the audience to take some time before deciding on an appointment. The decision was moved to a meeting scheduled later this month.

"There's still such a division here, and it needs to be healed before you make decisions about who you're going to add to this group," a resident argued.

The first meeting of the new HOA board ended on a note of unity.

"I think what you'll see — surprisingly, based on the tone — is I think we're going to agree on way more things than we disagree," said incumbent board member Randy Harvey. "We all care about Dobson Ranch."

"That's our common ground," new board member Javelosa added.