Twenty Certified Letters Later…

…can the President of LHCC just pick up the phone, call a homeowner, and say “Oops, we goofed. We’re truly sorry”? Apparently not.

That answer was hidden away in a tab of LHCC’s board book called “For Your Interest.” LHCC directors now bury letters and emails from property owners to the board in this tab instead of reading and discussing them during the open meeting. That’s one way of blocking criticism from making its way to video and onto the internet.

Fortunately for Lake Holiday property owners, this “don’t discuss criticism” technique flopped at the December 27th board meeting.

The first example of this involves homeowner Robert Middleton, whose property was hit with a lien of $1800 for alleged violations of Lake Holiday’s sign prohibitions. A hit of $1800 – ouch! As the board discussed in our Compliance Reporting video (it’s in our video gallery on our Videos page), if Middleton violated any sign prohibition, he didn’t do it on his own property. In that video, GM Ray Sohl said that the signs should have simply been taken down instead of placing liens on Middleton’s property. It’s possible that Middleton himself watched the video and used it to support an argument that the liens should be removed, which is something that the board did not acknowledge at the November meeting. At the December 27th board meeting, shown in the following video, the board finally decided that Middleton is “no longer liable for $1800.” It’s good that LHCC reversed course on this issue.

The board discussed how to communicate this good news to Middleton, who apparently refused to accept several recently-mailed certified letters from LHCC. Ray Sohl described that LHCC has sent 20 certified letters to Middleton over this alleged violation, which apparently turned out to be no violation at all. Perhaps Middleton grew tired of seeing his own money spent to send him certified letters to communicate the message “We are 100% right, you are 100% wrong, so we’ve put an additional lien on your property.” An unsurprising outcome.

Some directors were reluctant to communicate with Middleton directly. In the video the best option developed by LHCC President Wayne Poyer was to put a message in a plain, unmarked envelope addressed by hand. That only seems strange to someone who does not understand that the board prefers to sneak their good news to Middleton to avoid having to acknowledge their error. Director Pat Shields even recommended no further effort to reach out to Middleton, ignoring that LHCC decided to remove the lien. Shields tried to focus attention on Middleton as the culprit, rather than LHCC itself: “He’s played the rules since this whole thing started.”

We have a simple suggestion for LHCC: have a senior official pick up the phone and call the man. Try starting the conversation off with: “Ooops, we goofed. We’ve removed the liens. We’re truly sorry.” Stop trying to shift the focus to Middleton’s alleged wrongdoing and away from the fact that LHCC improperly filed liens. We’re sure a straightforward, sincere apology will go a long way toward addressing any bad feelings Middleton may have.

Ray Sohl supported further efforts to reach out to Middleton for a good reason:

…you want to encourage participation of all members. The more participation you have, the more responsible community you have.

The secretive “For Your Interest” tab also revealed the second example of the unwillingness of LHCC’s leaders to admit a mistake. In our post It’s Not Our Problem Anymore we criticized LHCC’s efforts to wash its hands of helping property owners deal with utility problems. Apparently, LHCC has reversed course on this issue. LHCC Secretary Ken Murphy, a former LHEUC board member, has initiated efforts to communicate with Aqua Virginia and the SCC about utility complaints from Lake Holiday homeowners. Judging from the discussion in the video, complaints continue to roll in. We don’t see entirely smooth sailing, based on Murphy’s comment that he has “yet to identify the person at Aqua who will listen to me.” A little more than 1 year ago, LHCC closed on the sale of LHEUC’s assets for more than $1 million, and Aqua Virginia continues to serve Lake Holiday. Given those facts, one would hope that the board identified some responsible people at Aqua Virginia who would listen. One would also hope the board kept the contact information of those people. Nevertheless, we applaud this long-overdue correction.

Burying these 2 fixes in a section of the board book that is not intended for open discussion shows just how hard it is for LHCC’s leaders to admit they made a mistake. When faced with having to admit its error in putting a lien on Middleton’s property, the board preferred to communicate via cold and impersonal certified letters rather than a simpler and cheaper phone call. The personal phone call is both simpler and more appropriate in this situation.

Lake Holiday property owners are justifiably concerned about utility problems, and the board has tried to distance themselves from these concerns. If the board abandoned that effort and plans to play an active role in resolving these problems, that’s a good thing. The proper response to both our post and the complaints raised by others would have been to publicly acknowledge the mistake and openly commit to a new course.

Stubbornly refusing to admit a mistake sends an “I’m unreasonable” message to the world.

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