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Should Realtor's bankruptcy derail treasurer eligibility?

Christine Hansen is in line to become treasurer and eventual president of Florida Realtors, the powerful organization whose mission is to "advance Florida's real estate industry.'' [Photo courtesy of media.floridarealtors.org]
Published Aug. 8, 2014

With a bankruptcy and pending foreclosure, Christine Hansen would find it nearly impossible to buy a house or get a mortgage.

Yet Hansen, 49, is in line to become treasurer and eventual president of Florida Realtors, the powerful organization whose mission is to "advance Florida's real estate industry.''

Supporters say Hansen's financial problems should not preclude her from serving next year as volunteer treasurer of the 127,000 member organization.

"All candidates are screened, and anyone who moved forward is qualified to move forward,'' said Summer Greene, chairman of the committee that nominated Hansen. "Let's face it, the past six or seven years have provided terrible hardships for people in various professions, including real estate.''

But others wonder why an organization calling itself "the voice of Florida real estate'' would want a high-level officer who has had trouble managing her own real estate business and investments.

"I believe in leadership by example, and I think you have to be financially responsible in your own life before you take on volunteering for another organization,'' said Kathleen Gallagher-McIver, a Winter Springs agent challenging Hansen for the treasurer post.

Directors of Florida Realtors will meet Aug. 17 in Orlando to choose officers for 2015.

The National Association of Realtors faced a similar issue two years ago when Gary Thomas, a California broker, was elected president despite personal and corporate bankruptcies totaling $13.2 million in debts. According to the Orange County Register, some members objected to his appointment, saying his financial woes made him a poor choice to represent the nation's Realtors.

In November, the national association will consider a proposed change that would require candidates for leadership positions to meet certain criteria, such as a prerequisite of no personal bankruptcy or foreclosures in the past seven years.

Florida Realtors, the state's largest trade organization, has no immediate plans to follow suit, despite the situation with Hansen.

However, "I think that's something potentially that all associations will discuss,'' said Dean Asher, an Orlando Realtor and vice chairman of the committee that nominated Hansen.

Hansen, who owns a Century 21 franchise in Broward County, was elected secretary of Florida Realtors in August 2013. Less than two weeks later, she declared bankruptcy with $578,000 in assets and $1.5 million in debts.

Hansen's bankruptcy filing also showed a pending foreclosure on an investment property she owns with an ex-boyfriend and a lawsuit against her by another real estate agent.

The bankruptcy "was a deeply distressing and complex matter that I have been working to resolve for many months,'' Hansen said in an emailed statement to the Tampa Bay Times. "The settlement has been reached. The attorneys are simply working on the language of the settlement so it can be finalized in court."

Last month, a Florida Realtors committee nominated Hansen to be the 2015 treasurer, a volunteer post that does not involve handling money but does include oversight of the organization's annual budget of about $17 million.

From treasurer, officers typically move up to vice president, president-elect and then president of the influential organization. Florida Realtors compiles market data and, through its political action committee, lobbies Congress and the Legislature on real estate-related issues.

Although the nominating committee knew about Hansen's bankruptcy, "from what I understand, all had been resolved,'' Asher said.

The court files shows that although Hansen and the bankruptcy trustee reached a settlement in June, the judge has not yet approved it and her debts have not been discharged.

Because of her position as secretary, Hansen is well known to many Florida Realtors, including Tina Harris, who supports her candidacy.

"You'd be surprised the people foreclosed on and in bankruptcy,'' said Harris, president of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors. "She is going to have more empathy and be able to understand what people who have had a foreclosure and bankruptcy are going through.''

Suzanne Sherer, a Realtor in the Fort Myers area, said she was "disappointed but not bitter'' when she ran against Hansen for secretary last year and lost. Does she think financial problems should bar someone from a top leadership post in Florida Realtors?

"I have always led by example, does that answer your question? If I borrow money from you, I expect to pay it back.''

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.

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