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Commission on Common Ownership Communities

Minutes of the Monthly Meeting
May 6, 2015

The monthly meeting of the Commission on Common Ownership Communities was called to order at 7:05 pm by Chairperson Rand H. Fishbein.
Present: Commissioners Fishbein, Mays, Coyle, Ethier, Fonoroff, Rahmani, Stone, Weinstein, Winegar, Zajic (10).
Absent: Commissioners Brandes, Cromwell, Dubin, Molloy (4, 1 position vacant).
Also attending: Walter Wilson, Associate County Attorney; Peter Drymalski, CCOC Staff; Eric Friedman, Director, Office of Consumer Protection; Marsha Carter, Administrative Aide, Office of Consumer Protection; Chris Gillis, Office of Councilmember George Leventhal; Susan Farag, Offices of the County Council; Kathy Mitchell, Office of Councilmember Hans Riemer; Tedi Osorio, Office of Nancy Floreen.
            1. MINUTES.  The minutes of the March, 2015, meeting were approved as drafted.  There was no meeting in April.
            2. COMMUNITY FORUM:
            Ms. Osias spoke on behalf of Councilmember Nancy Floreen.  She said Ms. Florren esteems the work of the CCOC and wants to complete the work begun by the Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO), which made several major recommendations for change.  She said the OLO report will be taken up by the Public Safety Committee on June 18, and that although the County’s budget will have been adopted by that time, the Council can still make supplemental appropriations to assist in the improvement of the CCOC.  She added that if the CCOC wants to propose a new law, it should send a letter to the PSC to ask for it.  She recommends working with the OCP Director as much s possible.
            Mr. Gillis spoke for Councilmember George Leventhal.  Mr. Leventhal knows Fiscal Year 2016 will be a busy one for both the Council and the CCOC and he appreciates the input he is getting from the CCOC.
            Ms. Farag stated that the County will have a very difficult and tight budget year due to cutbacks in assistance from the State and a Supreme Court decision that will reduce the County’s income taxes.  She pointed out that OCP has lost 37% of its staff in the last 10 years, and she promised to work both the CCOC and the OCP on budget and staff issues.
            Ms. Mitchell agreed with Ms. Farag on the County’s financial problems.  She cautioned that all County agencies are having trouble obtaining the resources they need.  However, she said the CCOC is getting the attention it deserves and will eventually get the financial support and staffing that it needs, but it won’t happen overnight.
            Mr. Friedman, the OCP Director, promised to work with the CCOC, Ms Farag, and the representatives of the Department of Technology Services (DTS) on the online training class.
            3. STATUS OF CCOC BUDGET:
            Dr. Fishbein summarized the current position of the CCOC.  He said it was a good year for the CCOC’s relationship with the County Council, and that the Council is much better informed of the CCOC’s activities and needs.
            With regards to the online training class, he thanked Commissioner Winegar for the invaluable contributions she has made to the course content.  He added that there are two major needs here:  completion of the course content and graphics, and addition of a computer program that will allow the CCOC to gather and use data on  who must take the course.
            Mr. Stone stated that it was essential to work closely with the County Executive’s office and his representatives, including Mr. Friedman.  The County Executive has made clear that he will oppose any increase in CCOC funding until the CCOC has satisfied him that the dispute resolution program has been reformed.  This includes additional funding, beyond the $41,000 already approved in the budget, for the online training class.
            Ms. Ethier responded that the CCOC is hard at work on developing a list of proposals to improve and simplify the dispute resolution process which she expects to present to the Executive.
            Mr. Friedman claimed that Bill 45-14 did not mandate a specific type of class, and in particular did not mandate an online class.  The Executive has a lot of flexibility as to how the $41,000 will be spent.  He complained that more data could be collected on the existing OCP programs but that Mr. Drymalski is not entering all the data himself in addition to his other work.
            Ms. Ethier suggested that the OCP use volunteers to perform the additional data entry that OCP wants from the CCOC staff.
            Mr. Zajic objected that the only effective way to perform the training required by Bill 45-14 is through an online course, because live classes will take too much time and too many CCOC resources.
            Dr. Fishbein stated that the online class must be interactive, and allow for the testing of the person taking it, and he recommended that the class be created by the University of Maryland, which has practical experience with this type of class while DTS does not.  However, he is willing to work with DTS on the class but the CCOC, not DTS, should be responsible for the content of the class.
            Ms. Ethier then moved that representatives from the CCOC work with the OCP’s representatives to create an online class to meet the requirements of Bill 45-14.  Mr. Coyle seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
            Mr. Zajic moved that the CCOC adopt the draft of the online training class, as soon as it is prepared by Ms. Winegar, as a working document subject to the approval of the County Attorney, for the preparation of the class with DTS.  The motion was unanimously approved.
            Both Mr. Stone and Dr. Fishbein pointed out that the $41,000 would be paid to DTS under a contractual arrangement.
            Ms. Ethier reminded the CCOC that there was an outstanding complaint from Steven Muse about how his case was handled, but her committee has been too busy responding to the OLO and County Executive to deal with it yet.  Her committee will review and respond to Mr. Muse.
            Mr. Drymalski reported that the CCOC issued a final decision in Lebowitz.v. Arora Hills Condo.  The hearing panel did not issue a ruling on the merits of the complaint, because the homeowner withdrew his complaint.  However, as a prehearing conference, it was clear that the Condominium has violated the law by not giving advance notice of at least one of the Board’s meetings, and the final order required the Board to be trained in the open meetings statute by its attorney.  Mr. Drymalski has the outline of the class and praised it as thorough and as a model for others to follow.
            Mr. Wilson reminded the CCOC that the State’s Open Meetings Act does not apply to committees of the CCOC.
            Mr. Wilson also reported that he filed a brief for the County in the appeal of Baroni v. Avenel.  His brief defended the Fire Marshal’s interpretation of Section 22-98 of the County Code, the hearing panel’s application of that law, and the authority of the CCOC to issue injunctions.
            7. STAFF REPORTS:
            Staff asked for permission to draft a letter to the City of Rockville expressing the CCOC’s strong support for the renewal of the City’s membership in Chapter 10B of the County Code.  The CCOC voted unanimously to approve the action.
            8. COMMITTEE REPORTS:
            The Education Committee had no report. 
            The Legislative Committee had no report.  Mr. Zajic stated that Bill 19-15 is pending before the Council.  This bill would created a standard form lease and regulate addenda to leases, and this might impact the ability of common ownership communities to limit or regulate leases within their borders.  Mr. Wilson replied that the bill does not create any specific lease but delegates that authority to the Director of the Department of Housing and Community Affairs.  The Commission referred this bill to the Legislative Committee for recommendations.
            Staff reported that the Interview Committee (Ms. Ethier, Mr. Zajic) had interviewed 5 candidates and sent its recommendations to the County Executive.  The committee concluded that none of the candidates were qualified to be professional representatives and it asked the Executive to re-advertise the professional vacancy.
            Dr. Fishbein stated that he wished to pursue the goal of finding ways to use attorneys who practice before the CCOC as volunteer panel chairs.  Mr. Friedman gave his opinion that the concept of changing the Ethics law on this point was not worth pursuing, because the CCOC process was too formal, and all disputes that can’t be resolved in mediation should be filed in the court system, not with the CCOC.  Then the CCOC would not need hearing panels or panel chairs.
            Ms. Ethier strongly disagreed with Mr. Friedman’s comments, noting that OCP’s own figures show that the vast majority of all complaints are resolved informally; therefore, the criticism that the CCOC process is somehow too complicated and cumbersome is not borne out by the facts.
            Mr. Wilson noted that the Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs (OLTA), which he also advises, is essentially like the CCOC.  OLTA holds quasi-judicial hearings like the CCOC, but OLTA does not allow discovery.  Violations of OLTA decisions are Class A violations of the County Code, as are violations of CCOC decisions.  The Ethics Commission advised that the CCOC cannot use volunteer panel chairs who practice before the CCOC because such practice violates the County’s restrictions on “outside employment” by County employees, and the Ethics Commission had previously ruled that panel chairs are County employees even though they are not paid a dime.
            Ms. Ethier reported for the Process & Procedures Committee.  It is still reviewing the overall process with an eye to specific recommendations for improvement, but at this time it is recommending:
            1. that mediation be mandatory prior to holding a hearing;
            2. that the CCOC be able to hire a field investigator or mediator who could
            visit the parties early in the case to attempt an informal settlement;
            3. that each party be required to submit its entire case to the hearing panel
            Before the hearing;
            4. that the CCOC enlist volunteers to meet with a party in order to review   and give expert advice on the party’s case;
            5.  that the CCOC schedule cases for hearings between 90 and 120 days
            after taking the case in order to allow time for discovery
            6. that the hearing panels set discovery time lines
            7. that panel chairs hold prehearing conferences in complex cases.
            9. OLD BUSINESS:
            10. NEW BUSINESS:
            11. NEXT MEETING:  The next meeting will be Wednesday,  June 3, and the following meeting will be Wednesday, July 1, 2015.

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