Residents allegedly uncover HOA holding secret elections after ‘willfully deceiving’ notification practices
By Jaimy Jones
07 November 2016

Sally Solomon and her husband Tedros Teame

The Clayton Woods Homeowners Association was supposed to hold its annual meeting and board member elections Wednesday evening, but at noon that day an email was sent notifying a handful of parties that the election and meeting was cancelled.

Only it wasn't.

The email from property management company, Elite Association Management said, "Please be advised that the meeting for Clayton Woods will not be held for an election this evening. Once the Board of Directors has informed me of a date a notice will be sent accordingly. I ask that you please inform your client."

The email was addressed to Cweren Law Firm, the attorneys representing Sally S. Solomon, resident and member of the Clayton Woods Homeowners Association.

Solomon and her husband, Tedros Teame, would have interpreted that message to mean what most would: That no meeting would take place, nor an election.

But having been involved with this HOA for more than a decade, they knew it was possible that the board was going to conduct some type of business in which they did not want to include the members, or at the very least Solomon and Teame, as that cancellation notice was the only one sent to anyone in the neighborhood.
The couple, with a few other residents of the subdivision nestled just west of Highway 6 near George Bush Park, are frustrated with the lack of transparency by the board and the management company. They showed up to the location where the meeting was supposed to be held that evening, where they found the board of directors, the Elite Management representative, Patricia Ortiz and an attorney who said he represented the HOA.

Teame, who calls the language in the email "willfully deceiving," said that at that meeting the board elected a nominating committee for the upcoming board of directors election - something the couple and other residents have been pleading with the board to do for months. They even sought legal council from Cweren Law Firm to help them after their individual requests were ignored.

"The nominating committee was only done with people they want," Teame said. "They had a phony meeting so they can fulfil the requirement to have a nominating committee that they handpicked."

One resident in attendance said they were told by the board that the attorney they brought to help explain the bylaws, was hired by the HOA - his fees being paid by their dues - but that none of the residents would have access to him other than the board members and the management company.
They all feel that the board of directors and Ortiz don't follow the bylaws of the association.

"When we start to complain we get harassed, all the time, on so many levels," Solomon said.

The couple have lived in their home since 1999, and in that time Solomon said she's seen changes to HOA management, and not for the better.

"We barely have meetings, we barely have elections," she said.
The problems started when Elite Management Company took over operations of the HOA.

She says the property manager, Ortiz, who declined comment when reached for this story except to say she is abiding by her attorney's advice, routinely violates the association's bylaws that state members have the right to form a nominating committee for all elections, election notices must be timely, and challengers to the incumbents should be given enough time to get on the ballot and effectively campaign.

In fact, the election Ortiz was referring to in her cancellation notice was one only a handful of neighbors were even aware of. Solomon and Teame say they received a notice in the mail last Saturday of the election to choose new board members that was supposed to be held the following Wednesday - a four-day notice, when the bylaws state a 10-day notice must be given.

At least three other residents of the neighborhood said they received the notice of the election around the same time, or not at all. They all attribute their knowledge of meetings and elections to Solomon.

Ignored requests
Brian Cweren, one of the attorneys representing Solomon with Cweren Law Firm, has so far only sent demand letters to the management company and board members in a move to give them the opportunity to correct their operations.

"I think in general if people feel there's not due process, a board ought to take a pause and respond to the people," he said.

But, until Wednesday with the notice of the cancelled election, his law firm had not received a response from Ortiz to the two letters sent previously dating back to August of this year.

The third letter from Cweren was sent Monday, Oct. 31, when Solomon alerted her attorney to the election with insufficient notice. The law firm quickly sent the last letter to the board members and Ortiz, stating they were in violation of three of the bylaws: Failure to form a nominating committee, failure to hold a member meeting within 60 days of the election - the last meeting was held Aug. 10 - and failure to give 10 days notice of the voting meeting.

In the letters, Cweren also notes that because of the violations of the notice requirements, Solomon and other residents who want to run for board positions haven't been able to get on the ballot, and the few times they have, they haven't been afforded enough time to effectively campaign against incumbents, some of whom have held their positions for decades.

This is the third time the board of directors election has been postponed due to Solomon's privately funded legal council.

Solomon and her husband are from Eritrea, the East-African country on the border of Sudan, and say that at the meetings they and other residents who have immigrated to the U.S., the majority of whom are U.S. citizens, are often referred to as "foreigners" by Ortiz and President of the Board, Charles Machauer.
"They don't listen to us, Teame said. "If you have an accent, their attitude is 'what do you know.' It's very condescending and disrespectful."

Several other residents who have attended the HOA meetings said they have seen this kind of dismissive attitude from the board and Ortiz toward those from other countries. They both described the meetings as hostile, and one woman said it was a factor in her decision to stop going to the meetings.

Teame is an Operations Manager at the Houstonian Hotel Club & Spa, and has a part-time job at the United Airlines foreign language desk translating Italian for customers. Solomon graduated from University of St. Thomas. She a biologist by training and interested in GMO research, but after her home was broken into twice, she became more concerned with the quality of her neighborhood and its elected officials.

After the burglaries, Solomon was afraid to leave her house, and she and her husband installed security cameras on their home.

She never thought she would need that type of security since she lives in a gated neighborhood, but the gate is often broken and requires repeated pleas with the management company to fix it.

"There's just so much negligence," she said.

There's also an abandoned house that's been an eyesore and a public health risk, according to neighbors for over a year, as the company hasn't responded to the needs of the property.

Neighbors have even started paying out of their own pocket to have the lawn mowed, a service that they say falls under the responsibilities of the HOA.

"The grass is growing, it's full of fungus and the whole neighborhood is scared," said Solomon. "We don't want to go to court ... but we will, we've had it."

Attempts to reach Ortiz's attorney and board members of Clayton Woods Homeowners Association have not been returned at the time of this report.

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