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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Pines gives up the ghost on Casper

(Feb. 26, 2015) After months of speculation, public debate and untold hundreds of trees sacrificed for print media coverage, the Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors voted last Friday to oust Billy Casper Golf and hire Landscapes Unlimited of Lincoln, Neb. to manage the community golf course.
The measure passed 4-3 during a closed session with Directors Sharyn O’Hare, Bill Cordwell and Tom Terry dissenting.
General Manager Bob Thompson and the golf workgroup, which incudes Terry, board Treasurer Jack Collins and Board President Dave Stevens, will represent the association in drafting a new contract for Landscapes.
The meeting got off to a tense start when resident Joe Reynolds, during public comments, asked whether the meeting could legally go into closed session.
Stevens said the purpose of the closed session was, “a continuation of contract negotiations that have been ongoing between bidders.”
“We have been … going through their proposals, asking for questions and changes,” Stevens said. “Now we’re simply moving to one bidder and proceeding with the same thing until we have a signed contract.”
The contract to build the yacht club, a similar situation Reynolds argued, was done during public session.
“The circumstances, I think, were different. I was there,” Stevens said.
The Maryland Homeowners Association Act, Reynolds said, lists eight reasons for going into closed session.
“Which one of the eight are you using to go into closed session?” he asked.
“I don’t have that list in front of me,” Stevens said.
“How can you list the authority if you don’t know what it is?” Reynolds asked.
Handed the list by Reynolds, Stevens cited article VI under section 4, “Consideration of the terms or conditions of a business transaction in the negotiation stage if the disclosure could adversely affect the economic interests of the homeowners association.”
Undeterred, Reynolds accused the board of having a “lack of transparency.”
“There is no reason to go into a closed session,” he said. “No reason whatsoever. Whether it’s a violation or not, that’d be for lawyers.”
“I think every one of you individually should be thinking about, when you cast your vote, whether you’re complying with at least the spirit of this law,” Reynolds continued. “There is no contract here. There is no risk of adversely affecting the economic interest of our HOA.”
Reynolds went on to suggest the board keep Casper as management for “at least another year.”
“There’s no emergency here,” he said. “I think if we make a change we’re just doing it for the sake of change.”
The board voted 5-2 to go into closed session, with O’Hare and Vice President Marty Clarke voting to keep the meeting open.
An hour and a half later, the directors emerged with the decision to go with Landscape.
After the meeting, Stevens said he believed the board made “the correct decision” in closing the meeting.
During the closed session, Stevens said the board had a roundtable discussion followed by the formal vote.
“I think Landscapes offered a clear difference in direction from what Casper was pursuing,” Stevens said. “They believe that they can build the revenues by keeping a stronger balance of members to outside playing. Casper believes, after their experience here, that you can’t.
“Looking at Casper’s performance, some would say it was definitely on the upswing,” Stevens continued. “Others would say, given how bad the downswing was, it was almost inevitable. I don’t think there’s anybody who can predict the future, but at some point you have to agreed to make a decision and in this case the majority thought a change in a different direction was warranted.”
Stevens called Casper following the meeting to let them know the board’s decision.
“They obviously weren’t happy, but I think they’re professionals,” Stevens said. “From their point of view, they had just started to turn things around when we pulled the rug out from under them. I can understand their viewpoint, but on the other hand we had a decision to make.”
Casper’s contract runs through April 30, and Stevens said the board would honor those terms.
On the fiscal year 2016 budget, which currently projects a $50,000 loss for the course, Stevens said the board was “doing what we have to do.”
“We’re working on an agreement with Landscapes,” Stevens said. “That’s one of the elements obviously, and it’s one of the urgent ones. We’ll see. There’s no way to say exactly what they’ll think, but we let them know what the timeframe was.”
O’Hare, speaking for the minority, said she was disappointed by the outcome of the vote to replace Casper.
“I think decisions were made before they walked into the room,” she said. “Nobody’s opinions were changed during the discussion. I’m extremely disturbed about this decision and I think the bottom line is they just felt they needed a change and I absolutely see no logic in that.”
O’Hare believed Casper was rebounding from poor financial showings during the previous two fiscals years, and trending in a positive direction.
“If anybody can say in business that they don’t need to improve something, they’re lying,” O’Hare said. “Did Casper need to improve? Did they make some mistakes? Of course they did. But I don’t think their performance this year warrants what happened.”
“It’s just a shame in my opinion, but it’s a vote and the other board members felt they knew better,” O’Hare continued. “It didn’t blindside me, but I was disappointed that it came out to that. I was hoping it would be a different way.”