Monday, April 16 - Amended Community Center Lawsuit Filed
OCEAN PINES - Another lawsuit seeking monetary damages has been filed over the Ocean Pines Community Center project.
Ocean Pines resident Marty Clarke filed an amended lawsuit last week asking for damages of roughly $200,000 from the seven members of the Ocean Pines Association (OPA) Board for breach of fiduciary responsibilities.
The Community Center project, as approved two years ago by referendum, was to cost $3.9 million, but by the time construction began, the cost had jumped by $1.5 million, to $5.4 million.
The amended lawsuit contends the board tried to influence the new referendum results by exaggerating the amount of money already spent on the project, which would be wasted if the project is shot down.
'They want the number to be as high as possible to make voting •€˜no' as difficult as possible,' said Clarke.
The cover letter sent out with the referendum ballot this week references $900,000 in expenses.
'That is a lie,' said Clarke. 'The board has not incurred $900,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.'
However, OPA officials claim Clarke is telling only part of the story.
'To draw that conclusion, you'd have to read the sentence and stop in the middle,' said Tom Olson, Ocean Pines general manager.
The sentence in the Board's letter reads, 'You should be aware that the Association has incurred more than $900,000 in out-of-pocket expenses to begin work and meet our contractual obligations with the builders and professionals who have labored on this project.'
According to Olson, the sum includes money already spent and money owed if the project is stopped permanently. He said the out-of-pocket expenses total $352,232.
Clarke expressed doubt over the validity of the penalties associated with scuttling the project in mid-stream.
'It's in some letter they've gotten from Blades [construction company],' said Clarke. 'What's a letter mean?'
As happy as STOP was over the new referendum, the cover letter aroused its ire. The letter urges Ocean Pines property owners to approve the new price tag for the Community Center.
'They're having a referendum. That's the good news. The bad news is they rigged the wording on the cover letter to make it sound as bad as possible,' Clarke said.
Olson said the Board did not act improperly in taking a stand on the project. 'I think people can draw their own conclusions,' he said.
The suit also says that by failing to hold a referendum on the increased cost of the project, the board violated bylaws requiring a community vote on the new cost.
Clarke and other members of Stop Taxing Ocean Pines (STOP) originally called for a new vote, but the petition was rejected.
'We gave them 915 signatures and they blew us off,' Clarke said. 'Then we went to the court and the court slammed them. Now who's right and who's wrong?'
The amended lawsuit could cost the OPA another $200,000, but Clarke said that it would all be donated back to the association, less legal fees and costs.
The suit also urges the court to take a closer look at the referendum, which was triggered by a temporary restraining order on construction issued in March stemming from the original lawsuit. The OPA decided to go ahead with a new referendum then, recognizing that a new vote was inevitable.
'It wants the court to supervise the referendum at this point because they have proved they need adult supervision,' Clarke said.
OPA officials refused to comment on STOP's most recent legal action.'I'm not going to comment. It's an active situation and I'm not going to say a word,' said OPA President Glenn Duffy.