For the second time this year, Seven Lakes Landowners Association [SLLA] Director Bill Hirsch has resigned.
Responding to comments made by former SLLA President Bob Darr during the public forum period of the Wednesday, October 29 Open Meeting, a visibly angry Hirsch raised his voice, insulted Darr, and then stormed out of the room.
Darr’s remarks focused on proposed upgrades to the fence that surrounds the Association’s horse pasture.
But Hirsch's anger apparently had less to do with Darr's comments regarding the fence and more to do with a series of emails and conversations regarding an October 23 Architectural Review Board [ARB] meeting that dealt, in part, with the stables, and from which Darr believed he had been excluded.
Earlier in the month, during the Monday, October 13 SLLA Board Work Session, the Recreation Committee and the Stable Manager proposed fence improvements that aimed to make the pasture more secure. Horses have escaped through the fence on at least two occasions in the past sixty days.
Stable Manager Amanda Dugan reported, during the Work Session, that the current split rail fence and electric wire were old and in a constant state of disrepair. She recommended the construction of a new electric fence inside the existing split rail fence.
After Duggan's presentation, Hirsch recommended that any fence rehabilitation first be approved by ARB, suggesting that there would be enough time to finalize the fence proposal between the Work Session and the October Open Meeting.
During their October 23 meeting, ARB voted against the concept of a secondary fence around the perimeter of the stable, effectively ruling out the stable manager's recommendation.
Moving too fast?
President Bob Racine began the Wednesday, October 29 Open Meeting meeting by tabling consideration of the pasture fence, which was on the night's agenda.
During the public comment period, Darr, a member of the Recreation Committee, expressed concern about ARB's quick over-ruling of Duggan's recommendation.
“Up until tonight I was not aware that the ARB or facilities group had quite frankly talked to anybody that had knowledge about horses,” Darr told the Board. “One of the problems that I have is that we have a stable manager who has been around horses for a long time and has not been talked to or discussed with relative to her ideas on the fence or the way it is going to look.”
“That internal fence was part of the proposal from the Recreation Committee," Darr continued. “As I understand the rules, that is the proposal, and the ARB denied it. That was their right to do so and I have no problem with that.”
“Except that there seems to be no discussion with the Recreation Committee or the Stable Manager relative to the value of that proposal and what is it going to look like, what it is going to do for us, and what it is going to cost prior to the decision being made to say no, and I have a problem with that,” Darr said. “If you really want to find out how to do stuff, talk to people who actually do and work with that stuff before you make a decision.”
“I agree with the decision to postpone action," Darr said,"because I don’t think the board is ready to make that decision. They haven’t looked at it, kicked around, talked with the stable manager, who I think probably knows more about horses more than anyone in this room and therefore ought to be consulted.”
Once Darr finished his remarks, Hirsch said: “First off, I would like to ask you what sneaky thing you thought the ARB was doing that got you so upset?”
Darr said that he and resident George Temple had attempted to attend the October 23 ARB meeting, and were asked by Hirsch to wait outside. Meetings of all SLLA committees, with the exception of Community Standards, are open to all landowners.
"You told me you had some organization stuff to deal with it, and we felt what you said was ‘get out,’” Darr said.
“How in the world do you get that?” Hirsch asked. “I said we have to look at our past minutes and discuss some organizational stuff. How does that convert to ‘get out?’ Because that is an amazing leap, and I won’t let you sit there and say it."
"Because there is nothing nefarious at the ARB. Frankly, I have had it up to here with you and your suspicions and you’re tipping of windmills. At least Don Quixote had high aspirations. You are just sneak, and I have had enough. You are the most miserable person I have ever met.”
“I have had enough," Hirsch said after additional back and forth. "I have enough of Bob Darr. You are the biggest jerk I have ever met. And you can put that in the paper,” he shouted as he stormed out.
After Hirsch departed, Darr told the board, “You would note in my comments that I never even talked about the ARB meeting being closed or open. I didn’t make that reference at all.”
Some of those who attend the meeting told The Times that Darr had also directed insults in Hirsch's direction, but The Times was unable confirm that from our audio recording of the meeting.
He said, she said
There is some disagreement among the principal actors about what transpired at the October 23 ARB meeting — and, in particular, about how long Darr and Temple waited outside and whether they should simply have knocked on the door and asked to be admitted.
Darr attended the ARB meeting as an interested member of the Recreation Committee; Temple had been asked by that committee to do some research on electric fencing options.
The Times spoke with or heard from Darr, Hirsch, ARB member Jane Leach, and Community Manager Ray Sohl, who attended portions of the meeting. Temple provided a detailed timeline via email.
The points on which there appear to be general agreement are these:
• Hirsch asked Darr and Temple to remain outside the conference room while the committee handled some preliminary matters.
• The start of the meeting was delayed while members waited for Leach and ARB member Mike Conway to return from an inspection of the pasture fence.
• Leach and Conway briefed the committee on their findings, apparently in an informal session prior to the beginning of the formal meeting. Facilities Director Chuck Leach was on hand for that discussion.
• During that same time period, Jane Leach reported on a trip she made to the NC State University Equine Center on US Highway 1 in Southern Pines to consult with experts there about pasture fence options.
• The doors of the conference room were closed while all of that took place. When Hirsch opened the doors to invite Darr and and Temple into the room, they had left.
Temple reports that he and Darr waited at least 35 minutes.
No secret meeting
During a phone interview following the meeting Hirsch told The Times, “I said we have things to tidy up, and get organized, and that I would call them in when that was done . . . . When we were ready for them [Darr and Temple] and opened the door, they were gone. They weren’t excluded, we just happened to close the door. We customarily close the door so half sentences don’t filter out — and it makes it easier to talk.”
“I want this on the record," Hirsch said. "The ARB went and did their homework. ARB Member Jane Leach went to get an unbiased recommendation and brought it back and said in our ‘secret closed meeting’ that here is what North Carolina State University recommends for horse fences. It was knowledge that we needed before we presented anything. The other half of that was Jane and ARB member Mike went and counted posts and rails that needed to be replaced and the general condition of the fence at the present time.”
“We didn’t have a proposal in front of us to review. All we had were only the discussions that we had heard. And we knew that one that had to do with secondary fence. We decided we could at least give an opinion on that and turned down because of the maintenance issue of a strip of grass that would be inaccessible to mowing.”
'Open Season' in Seven Lakes
Speaking during the public comment portion of the October 29 Open Meeting, Jane Leach objected to the criticism ARB received in the wake of the October 23 meeting.
"If the closed doors were a concern, a simple knock would have been far more productive than the alternative, which included negative e-mail messages, rumors, door to door visits, etc." she said. "Once again the tone of the messages implies that the ARB is misguided and underhanded with an ulterior motive of being 'up to something.'"
"Let’s talk a minute about Seven Lakes," Leach continued. "Our community is aging. Many of our facilities were built in the early 70s with very few upgrades and maintenance over the years. We have many areas that need to be addressed."
"These multiple issues require very intensive prioritizing in order to spend the funds of the community wisely. It is absolutely necessary to follow procedure, protocol, process, and — most importantly — chain of command. Regarding the stable fence, there simply are 'too many cooks in the kitchen.' That leads to chaos and inefficiency."
"As we all know, this is a community based on the sincere efforts of volunteers . . . . Unfortunately, it is 'open season' in Seven Lakes. Some community members are displaying mistrust toward the management, board members, and committee members."
"Our future as a community is in a state of delicate balance," Leach concluded. "If we continue in this direction, we will lose the greatest amenity that any community can have and that is citizens that are willing to give their time for the betterment of all."
Let's get everyone in a room . . .
After Hirsch departed the meeting, longtime resident Jim Allen offered the Board some advice about handling controversies.
"Clearly there is a vast difference to what the facts are in this situation," Allen said. "Wouldn’t be helpful to put everybody that should be involved in a room and iron out the facts, before these the allegations are made in an open meeting when no one sitting here know what the situation is?"
Racine agreed with Allen and said a meeting would be called. That meeting is scheduled for Friday, November 7 at 3:00 pm in the North Clubhouse. It is an open meeting, but the meeting notice indicated that it will include no public comment period.