Two candidates for the Key Colony condominium board are alleging election interference after a unit owner was temporarily disqualified from running for office last month. Although he will remain on the ballot, the episode is raising questions about whether Louisa Conway, the current president and a candidate for reelection, approved sending the disqualification letter involving one of her opponents.
Conway, who ran unsuccessfully for Village Council in November, denied the allegations in a heated condo board meeting Wednesday, saying she has “nothing to hide,” and pointedly disagreed with the association’s lawyer about her role in the disqualification.
During the two-hour meeting, where board members and residents interrupted and spoke over each other repeatedly, the panel voted to keep candidate Michael Polakov on the ballot. The move came after Key Colony attorney Rosa de la Camara revised her opinion about eligibility. She essentially reversed a declaration she made Jan. 26 that Polakov was ineligible because he allegedly had not paid some fees to Emerald Bay, one of the four independent buildings at the complex.
In revising her opinion, de la Camara said Polakov was not delinquent to the larger Key Colony Homeowners’ Association, because all member fees to the larger entity had automatically been paid by the four buildings.
But the election interference allegation centers on just how the initial disqualification decision was made. At the Wednesday meeting, de la Camara described a series of meetings and calls that involved herself, Conway, building manager Katrina Leitner, and Gary Mars, the attorney for Emerald Bay — discussions that the other seven condominium directors said they were not part of.
Two of the candidates competing with Conway said the entire process raised questions about conflict of interest.
“Obviously Louisa wants to stay in power. She obviously doesn’t want Polakov to dethrone her,” said Andrea Ruiz-Urquiola, another candidate challenging Conway for a spot as one of eight directors of the 1,179-unit complex, the island’s largest.
“There’s no question that the candidacy issue has been tainted,” Polakov said Thursday, adding that Conway, Leitner, and de la Camara “seemed to have worked together in whatever manner…to have looked for a way they could deny the candidacy.” He said that Conway “had every reason to recuse herself entirely.”
Emails reviewed by The Independent showed that de la Camara was uneasy with the stance the Association was taking almost immediately after her own Jan. 26th email. The emails were provided on condition of anonymity because the source feared retaliation by the HOA.
In an email to Leitner and Conway the very next day, Jan. 27, de la Camara wrote: “I recommend we rethink this before the ballots are printed. If he challenges this, I am afraid he has solid grounds.”
On Jan. 28, de la Camara again wrote to Conway and Leitner and said she had spoken with Gary Mars, the Emerald Bay attorney about Polakov’s eligibility to run. She also wrote she had consulted with other colleagues at her firm who agreed Polakov should be allowed to remain on the ballot. Despite that, she wrote: “we will not recant our prior notice of delinquency” unless advised by the board to do so.
Conway insisted at Wednesday’s meeting she did not make any decision to remove Polakov and was merely a passive participant listening in to some of the calls.
But de la Camara said she had been given explicit direction –by Conway– to send the letter stating Polakov was ineligible.
“I asked the president if it would be OK for me to send a letter,” de la Camara said on the Zoom meeting with about 50 people dialed in. “And I was told to do so.”
Her flat contradiction of Conway touched off questioning by several board members.
“You didn’t think that was a problem when the president was a candidate in the election? You didn’t think that was something that the entire board should have been a part of?,” board member Matt Bramson asked de La Camara.
“No,” de la Camara replied.
De la Camara declined to be interviewed for this story. Conway and Leitner did not respond to emails to comment. The Wednesday meeting was called by four board members who had concerns about the election process, according to Bramson.
Another board member, David McDanal, said the Polakov letter was another example of what he said was a pattern of legal decisions made without the full board’s approval, citing Conway’s earlier attempt to have the HOA formally oppose the recently approved $100 million resiliency bond referendum and litigation concerning the proposed renovation of the Key Biscayne public library.
“We can’t keep election process quiet and in the dark,” McDanal said. “It looks like a concern of meddling in the election.”
Frances Reaves, the president of the Oceansound Association, took aim at Leitner, who is the district manager for KW, the management company hired to oversee Key Colony.
“Having read everything, this is a conspiracy between you, Louisa, and Rosa because you don’t like the candidate from Emerald Bay who is running against Louisa.”
But some criticized de la Camara’s revised legal opinion and said the Association should have stuck to its guns and barred Polakov’s name from the ballot.
Antonio Camejo, who is also an HOA board member and a member of the Emerald Bay Board, abstained from the vote, but said Polakov was benefitting from a “loophole” in state law and should not continue his candidacy. After the meeting, he sent a WhatsApp message to many Emerald Bay owners decrying the board’s decision and dismissing Polakov’s complaints about building restoration work as part of a “partisan political campaign against our current board.”
For his part, Polakov said he is in a dispute with Emerald Bay over construction delays and water damage in two of his three units. He says he has offered to put unpaid fees into an escrow account but has not yet reached agreement with Emerald Bay.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.