By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
(April 20, 2023) The Ocean Pines Association is bringing its legal business back from the other side of the Chesapeake, as the board of directors on Saturday agreed to award the contract for legal services to Ocean City-based Ayres, Jenkins, Gordy & Almond.
The board had been working with Lerch, Early & Brewer of Bethesda since 2016 after parting ways with another local firm.
In this instance, the board sent a request for proposals to five law firms, two of which, Ayres, Jenkins, Gordy & Almand and the current firm of Lerch, Early & Brewer, responded.
Director Colette Horn raised concerns about changing law firms after reviewing both proposals.
“The current counsel we have gives us a team of HOA specialists whose practices are fully focused on HOA clients,” she said. “Our current general counsel has years of experience with Ocean Pines Association and is well versed in its history of general legal issues, prior litigation, prior and current HR issues, collection issues and the evolution of our governing documents and practices,” she said.
Horn also raised concerns about the possibility of conflicts of interest with the Ayers firm, which represents the Town of Ocean City and has represented board members in the past.
“I’m also concerned about potential conflicts on the issues in which their other local clients’ interests, such as Ocean City, may conflict with ours.
“And I would like to hear, before we sign the contract, their plan on how they would handle such conflicts when and if they arise,” Horn said.
Director Frank Daly said in cases of serious legal issues, the OPA alerts its insurance company, which, in turn recommends top litigators to handle the case. He asked for the contract offering be changed to recognize this.
Association President Doug Parks agreed with Daly, while Director Steve Jacobs, the only lawyer on the board, thought the two were both very high-quality firms.
Jacobs suggested that the two law firms come before the board in an open meeting to discuss what they are ready to do and answer questions from the board.
Parks advocated for a change in firms to provide an opportunity for a fresh approach to things.
“It is in no way a slap in the face to Lerch Early. That firm has done an outstanding job and we were very fortunate for the relationship of the past five years, but I think it is time to take a look at another fresh perspective and move forward with this,” Parks said.
Jacobs moved to postpone the consideration of a new law firm until the board could meet with representatives of the Ayers firm. Jacob’s motion failed, 4-2-1, with Parks, Monica Rakowski, Rick Farr, and Stuart Lakernick opposed. Horn and Jacobs voted in favor and Daly abstained.
In the final motion to approve and award a contract for legal services to the Ocean City firm, the board voted 4-1-2. Parks, Rakowski, Farr and Lakernick voted in favor. Horn opposed. Jacobs and Daly abstained.
During the course of the discussion, Daly emphasized the need for the association to retain the services of a top litigator, mentioning Ayres, Jenkins, Gordy and Almand partner Bruce Bright on more than one occasion.
The directors are or should be familiar with Bright, who has won three cases against the board. The first was in 2020 when he represented former Director Slobodan Trendic, who sued after the board incorrectly rejected a petition calling for a referendum on spending.
The second was in 2022 when he represented current Director Rick Farr, whose candidacy and election was illegally disallowed by the board because of a property ownership dispute.
The third was his success on behalf of former Director Tom Janasek, who was banned from using the amenities for 90 days after an outburst at the Yacht Club.
In other contractual matters, the board approved $20,550 for the irrigation system design for the Golf Club with Hydro Designs Inc.
The board also approved a single source contract not to exceed $19,000 for mosquito control. The control efforts are done in conjunction with Worcester County and the state of Maryland.
The spraying occurs in June, July and August. Horn suggested increasing the number of times the community is sprayed as she has heard from many people that it is not enough to address the problem.
Doug Parks suggested the association approach the county about additional spraying but cautioned that this would probably cost more and would have to be addressed next year as it would impact the budget.