Submitted by Gordon Pelton
I heard a rumor today that Robert Bumgarner, a candidate for the Board, caused the Lake Wildwood Association to spend $50,000 on legal fees last year to prevent the legitimate use by members of the official membership email addresses. In fact, Mr. Bumgarner filed a complaint in Small Claims Court where attorneys are not permitted, seeking to establish the right of members to communicate with one another regarding Association business using the Association’s member email list. Though attorneys are not allowed to participate in Small Claims proceedings, the LWA Board and the General Manager decided to spend large sums of our money on legal advice in order to deny members this right and, thus, control member-to-member communication. The rumor may not be true, but the following reveals some of the real background.
On five separate occasions in 2012, Bob formally applied to the Lake Wildwood General Manager to either permit him to use the LWA membership’s email addresses to communicate with the membership concerning a proposed LWA rule change, or, alternatively, to have the Association distribute his email.
Five times the General Manager denied Bob’s requests (and six times denied a similar request from another member). The General Manager did this even though the Association’s Bylaws, California’s statutes and California legal precedents require that an association such as ours make member addresses (including emails) available for any purpose reasonably related to members’ interests.
The following is how our General Manager phrased one of those denials:
“The Association does not consider your request for a mass electronic communiqué to our Members as a mutually beneficial proposition. The Board is aware of your concerns for communicating the proposed rule change and will continue to inform the Community as they choose is most appropriate.”
Despite such arrogant denials, the administration did provide Bob with all of the 2841 members’ residential and mailing addresses but refused to include email addresses. The cost of communicating by U.S. Mail with 2841 households would exceed $2,000, so email is the only cost-effective means to conduct communications with this large number of members.
Seeking to induce the LWA Board of Directors to permit email communication, Bob took the only option available to him: he filed a Small Claims Court suit, hoping the court’s ruling would convince LWA’s Board to follow the Association’s Bylaws, California’s statutes and California’s case law. The judge, however, entered a non-binding decision in favor of the LWA Board, rejecting the legal precedent established in an earlier Appeals Court decision. The judge in that prior case noted that Post Office Box addresses can be a normal part of mailing addresses and an email address is essentially an electronic Post Office Box. He ruled that email addresses must be included, stating the following:
“…in this day and age of instantaneous electronic transmission of data, a corporation may not insist on a slower and more expensive form of communication when a member requests a form of electronic communication and the corporation has the capability of complying with the request.”
Several highly respected attorneys who are widely experienced in such cases opined that the judge in Bob’s suit erred in rejecting the precedent and that the prior case clearly should have informed the court that email addresses must be included.
Some LWA members don’t want their email or mailing addresses shared. That’s ok; California law protects such members by requiring an association to establish “opt-out” procedures that hide their addresses but still forward messages to them by other means. It’s interesting that when our General Manager later provided Bob with all LWA members’ residential and mailing addresses (sans emails) he did so without first informing members that we had a legal right to opt-out.
But so what? California law or no California law, what’s the problem with members using official LWA email addresses to share information among ourselves? That information might affect property values, the spending of members’ dollars, the peaceful pursuit of our lives in this community or any other LWA matter of common interest?
Maybe someday our Board will allow us to use the official LWA email list. In the meantime, I believe every one of us residents should congratulate Robert Bumgarner for his unselfish dedication to the membership and for endeavoring to achieve a culture of real and authentic democracy here at Lake Wildwood, a culture that values freedom of speech.
Our Board has never explained why it was so important for them to spend perhaps tens of thousands of members’ dollars to thwart Mr. Bumgarner’s effort to do a good thing for our membership.
I ask them now. How much of our money have you spent? And why?