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Dispute simmers long after Pebble Creek lawn replaced

Call it "The Lawn's Revenge."

Two years after a community association ripped up and replaced a withered lawn despite objections from its owner, the board president who ordered the move faces his own possible replacement.

Homeowners are challenging incumbents on the five-member Pebble Creek Homeowners Association board at Thursday's annual election as part of a backlash stemming from the forced removal of that grass. It's the most challengers the board has ever seen since it was created by developers in 1986.

"The lawn dispute started it all," said challenger Kori Billings, who sells medical equipment. "That's when the questions started getting asked."

Pebble Creek is a deed-restricted community of 1,049 homes that grants its association authority to penalize residents for property violations such as chipped paint or unmowed grass.

For the past five years, Michael Carricato has served as president of the homeowners association board, earning a reputation as a tough enforcer of the community's deed restrictions. Even the drought of 2000 was no excuse for a yellow lawn, as 150 owners who received warning letters from Carricato learned.

Two of those homeowners were Edward and Billye Simmons. The association said it had the authority to replace the sod at their Fox Hollow Road home because their lawn's appearance violated the deed requirement that all lawns must be "first class."

After warning the couple over a 16-month span that the lawn needed work, board members approved its removal and replacement in January 2002. The board then billed the couple $2,212 for the work and sued when the Simmonses refused to pay.

The couple countersued, claiming the association overstepped its authority and trespassed, and that the lawn was in relatively good shape. The case is before County Judge Paul Huey, who isn't expected to rule on it until next year.

Regardless of the outcome, the lawsuit has raised questions about how the board spends money, and those asking the questions are Billings and three other candidates _ Sherry Dixon, Thais Forbes and Bob Vega. Another candidate running for the board is Nazi Tayyari.

They wonder if it was appropriate for the board to hire Michael Meggison, a board member at the time, and pay him $2,112 to replace the Simmonses' lawn.

Meggison and Carricato said in February depositions that Meggison didn't vote when the board decided to remove the lawn.

Meggison, who gets paid by the board as the community's maintenance manager but is no longer a board member, said he inspected the lawn before the vote, and told the board that it was in subpar condition. He said he made no recommendation about what the board should do.

Carricato said the board tried getting other contractors to bid on the job of replacing the sod, but the job was too small. The man the board gave the responsibility for finding other contractors? Michael Meggison, who did the job himself after reporting to the board that no other contractors bid on it, Carricato said.

Meggison said he bought sod from a contractor, but said he didn't recall the contractor's name. He said information was lost when his computer's hard drive failed and he wasn't able to "bring everything up."

Edward Simmons says that although the Simmonses were billed for 3,200 square feet of sod, that's not how much was laid down. In an Oct. 19 letter to Pebble Creek residents, Simmons said only 1,532 square feet of his lawn was replaced, leaving more than 1,600 square feet missing.

Meggison said in his deposition that much of the sod "was not of first-class quality" and was thrown out, but he didn't know how much.

Carricato said in an interview Thursday that the Simmonses were charged for all 3,200 square feet because that's how much the association purchased for just that one lawn. He said he didn't know how much sod was missing.

Incomplete records aren't unusual for the Pebble Creek Homeowners Association, said Forbes, a candidate who has been attending meetings since February.

"I've had an increasing level of discomfort about how the board is spending the money," Forbes said. "There needs to be accountability, and we're just not seeing it. This isn't anything personal. It's business. I want to know how they're spending my money."

Homeowners pay an annual fee of $350 to the association, which has a budget of more than $400,000, which it spends mostly on the maintenance of common areas.

When Forbes and the other candidates sought records regarding bids and permits this year, none were available. Forbes said that's not acceptable, especially since those responsibilities are outlined in Meggison's contract.

Meggison got paid $109,217 by the association in 2001, but many of his billing statements for the work he performs are inscrutable.

For instance, in June, Meggison charged the association $2,965 for three items: spreading pine straw, cutting up trees, and leveling dirt mounds. But he doesn't divide up the fee among the three services, making it impossible to determine how much each one cost. When he charged $8,131 for "materials for reclaimed water irrigation system," Meggison didn't explain what materials that included.

"The invoices are being submitted in a way that I would say is unacceptable," Billings said. "There's no documentation on how much labor, equipment and materials are costing. I would never submit an invoice like this."

Carricato acknowledged that the invoices could be more clear.

"There is probably a better way to do it," he said.

But he defends Meggison as the best Pebble Creek can afford. He's available 24 hours a day and he knows the community, Carricato said.

"He's been our contractor for the last seven years," said Carricato, who has been president for the past five years. "He's always given us his very best, and we're happy with the quality of work he has given us."

Carricato said he encourages the challenges to the board, which now includes Linda Oakley-Clancy, John Fletcher and Rick Mainville.. But come Thursday, when homeowners get a chance to choose, he hopes the current board will be reinstated.

"The current board of directors has done a fair and honorable job of making the community look good," Carricato said. "Based on that performance, I think we have a good board."

Billings, one of the challengers, said all she wants is a good board, and she doesn't have to be on it.

"My hope is that even if we're not successful, we're at least challenging the board to be more accountable," Billings said. "Maybe all this pressure will make them be a better board."

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