JoCo HOA in turmoil: President summons police to meeting, calls ‘new’ board a ‘cabal’

Police summoned to handle a disturbance. Allegations of fraud and corruption. An attempted coup to overthrow the president.

Unrest in a Third World country?

Not even close. More like a Johnson County HOA.

“It’s just toxic,” said Ellen Hoerle, president of the Lincolnshire Homeowners Association board, which oversees the community near Interstate 35 and Lamar Avenue in Mission. “These people refuse to accept reality.

“I’m sorry, but they have absolutely no business being homeowners, or being homeowners in an association like this.”

Many of the homeowners argue that it’s Hoerle who’s the problem, a bully who doesn’t listen to residents and is trying to force them to spend way too much for repairs on their units. In January, a group of them convened a special meeting and voted to oust her and most of the board members, but Hoerle said the move was invalid because they didn’t follow the HOA bylaws. Now, they say, they’ve got more than enough votes to remove her and plan to take action soon.

In an interview with The Star last week, a defiant Hoerle said she wasn’t worried.

“They gang up on me and tell me I’ve been voted out,” she said. “Basically, their attitude is, ‘Ellen, not only are you supposed to dig your own grave, but you’re supposed to crawl in it.’ They can vote me out as much as they want. But nothing that they’re doing is going to hold up in a court of law.”

The latest developments represent another chapter in the tale of an HOA in turmoil over power struggles and accountability concerns. The issue is one of many The Star has encountered in recent years in exploring the homes association explosion and the problems it has spawned. Today, more than one in five people in the U.S. live in a homeowners or condo association, and more than 60 percent of new housing starts are in HOAs.

In Lincolnshire, things have become so tumultuous that the bank shut down the HOA’s account, the attorney no longer wants to provide legal counsel and finding a new accountant is virtually impossible.

Tensions started escalating in November, when homeowners learned that the HOA was faced with a severe budget shortfall and that Hoerle wanted to require each homeowner to pay a special assessment of $6,500 to fix leaky roofs.

Homeowners were livid about the plan. Some called for more transparency on the seven-member board, complaining that they’d asked to see the HOA’s financial documents but none had been provided.

Hoerle, who has a degree in chemical engineering, took over the board last June after the previous president and property manager left amid concerns about poor accounting practices. Hoerle told homeowners the special assessment was necessary to repair the roofs, gutters and chimney caps on many of the homes. The HOA comprises 33 units in 10 buildings.

The proposal failed on a 3-3 vote at a Nov. 29 board meeting. The following week, Hoerle — who lives in Minnesota but owns a unit occupied by her daughter and two roommates — chastised homeowners for talking to The Star about the issue.

In a lengthy Dec. 7 email, Hoerle listed the numerous things she said she’d done for the HOA and reprimanded homeowners for failing to hold the previous board accountable. That board, she said, had violated multiple HOA bylaws.

Since becoming president June 2, Hoerle told homeowners, she’d had to serve as the HOA’s property manager, establish new bank accounts, rewrite the bylaws, deal with an “incompetent” insurance agent and talk to a lawyer on “dealing with the legal issues related to the former property manager’s alleged mishandling of funds.”

“It’s time for this community to start working together instead of against each other and me,” she told them. “It’s also time for this community to stop taking me for granted.”

Police called

But a group of angry residents decided it was time to remove Hoerle and other board members, and at the special meeting in January thought they had voted to do just that. Hoerle refused to step down, saying the process violated a multitude of HOA bylaws. Among them, she said: some who voted weren’t eligible to do so because they were behind on their $180-a-month HOA dues. She called the election an “insurgency” and a “coup attempt” and announced a board meeting for Feb. 5 to again discuss roof repairs.

At that meeting, held at the Cedar Roe Library in Roeland Park, Hoerle asked for a vote on using money from recent hail damage insurance claims to immediately start replacing roofs. When she named the three buildings that would receive the new roofs, someone noted that the board members owned units in all of those buildings.

“One homeowner stood up and yelled at Ellen, telling her that she had no right to run this meeting,” said Sara Tennyson, who lives in a unit owned by her father. “Ellen told him that he needed to leave or she would call the police. He then tried to get people to vote right then to remove Ellen from her position.”

Hoerle said when she started talking about voting on the repairs, the homeowner told her she was there illegally because she’d been voted out.

“Then he told me I needed to recuse myself because one of the buildings was mine and I was going to benefit,” she said. “Then he said to write down my address, because he wanted to serve me papers. He’s a big man, and he continued to stand right beside me. He was rallying the troops. So I called the police.“

Tennyson said police arrived quickly, but not before the board members voted on the roof repairs.

Hoerle said the officers “called me out into the hallway and asked me what was going on.”

“They said, ‘This is a civil matter. We suggest you adjourn the meeting and get an attorney,’” she said.

Cpl. John DeMoss of the Roeland Park Police Department told The Star that officers received a call at 5:51 p.m. regarding a disturbance at the Cedar Roe Library.

“We had two officers respond, and there were no arrests made,” he said, calling the incident “a verbal disagreement.”

The roofs on the board members’ buildings were replaced the following week. Hoerle said she moved the work up a week after learning that someone from the “rogue” HOA board had gone to Commerce Bank on Feb. 9 and tried to freeze the HOA’s account. That same day, she said, a petition was put on her door that said 22 homeowners were in favor of unseating her.

Hoerle said as the roofs were being replaced on Feb. 12, one homeowner harassed the roofing company owner and called the HOA’s insurance company to see if it would stop the claim payments.

Hoerle acknowledged that board members owned units in each of the three buildings that received new roofs but said she got bids from three roofing companies that said those buildings should be the priorities for repairs.

“I wouldn’t have done my roof first if it wasn’t first on the priority list,” she said. “But that’s the way it crumbled. I’m sorry. That’s not my fault.”

Steve Tennyson, Sara’s father, said the roof work was done in a day.

“Most of the residents did not know about it until it was finished,” he said. “I am assuming Ellen plans to pay for it from insurance money but to this day, she will not tell us what that amount is. It really to me seems criminal at this point. This money does not belong to her, and she’s spending it any way she wants.”

When homeowners question Hoerle, he said, “She says we’re delusional and we can’t do a budget and don’t know how to do math.”

Hoerle, who had never been involved with an HOA before buying the unit for her daughter in 2015, says the previous property manager and board are the ones to blame for the financial woes. The property manager had sole control of the HOA’s accounts, Hoerle said, sometimes writing checks to herself for things that couldn’t be accounted for.

“But these homeowners don’t care about any of that anymore,” she told The Star. “I came in and exposed all that, but they just want to blame Ellen for everything. They don’t want to accept that Ellen is doing the best she can and does do things ethically.”

Bank account closed

Meanwhile, Hoerle said, members of the “insurgent board” continued their effort to get Commerce Bank to freeze the HOA’s accounts.

In a Feb. 11 email sent to a bank employee, the new board’s treasurer wrote that members were not asking to have access to the money in the accounts.

“We have only asked that the Home Owners Association money not be spent,” the email said. “I would think that when there is a dispute that the first thing a bank would want to do is make sure that the funds are secure.”

The email went on to say that homeowners were in the process of electing a board “that will do a better job of transparency and record keeping.”

“We still have not voted on a 2019 Budget, which is ridiculous practice for a Not for Profit Corporation,” the email said. “This is what we have been dealing with having Ellen preside as President...We feel very strongly that the bank at least not allow the money that is in the 2 accounts with Lincolnshire Inc. on them be spent by a rogue few, even if at one point we trusted them.”

After a series of phone calls and visits regarding the matter, a frustrated bank official told the HOA to take its business elsewhere.

“The branch manager called and said they needed to close the account,” Hoerle said. “They said it was too risky and there had been too much harassment of the employees — it was getting out of hand.”

Now, Hoerle said, word is spreading about the discord in the HOA. The HOA’s attorney doesn’t want to do work with them anymore, she said, and it’s impossible to find a property manager.

“I tried to get someone to help with the accounting, but she’s also gotten wind of all the controversy,” Hoerle said. “And she said, ‘I can’t help you.‘ She wouldn’t even recommend anybody.”

Hoerle said she’s looking forward to putting her unit up for sale in June after her daughter graduates from medical school. Until then, she said, she has no intention of relinquishing her position as president.

“Who am I going to turn it over to?” she said. “I can’t ethically do that. I have the best interest of the HOA at heart. Most homeowners understand that you have to spend money on your property to maintain it. But these people are completely clueless. And they don’t care about their neighbors.”

The “cabal,” she said, “is playing mind games with me.”

“They’re going to continue to peck at me. They think they can wear me down,” she said. “But I’m just going to sit here and let them try. I have the money. They don’t know where the bank account is, because I had to move it. At this point, I’m going to wait for them to get a court order.”

Steve Tennyson said homeowners need to turn up the pressure and get Hoerle out.

“She’s not going to give up easily,” he said. “Most people would say, ‘So you don’t want me. Goodbye.’ But it’s obvious that she’s going to put up a battle.”

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Judy L. Thomas joined The Star in 1995 and is a member of the investigative team, focusing on watchdog journalism. Over three decades, the Kansas native has covered domestic terrorism, extremist groups and clergy sex abuse. Her stories on Kansas secrecy and religion have been nationally recognized.