Papa ends fight on disputed Southbridge election

By Albert Amateau

Downtown Express file photo by Charlotte O’Donnell
The Southbridge Towers directors have decided not to hold a second run-off election for a fifth seat on the board despite the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal’s recommendation that the co-op board conduct a new election between two candidates.

The Southbridge board on June 10 voted eight to four to stand by the disputed May 13 run-off in which Warren Green defeated Victor Papa by two votes.

Papa, who had called for a D.H.C.R. review of the original May 5 and 6 election as well as the May 13 run-off, said in a letter to residents last week that in the interest of harmony in the co-op he would not pursue further action to overturn the board’s decision not to hold a second run-off.

The highly politicized election and run-off were marked by missteps, disputes over proxy ballots and irregularities, which the D.H.C.R outlined in a report to the Southbridge board.

“I am aware of the divisive influence the last election caused and can still cause within the Southbridge Towers community,” Papa said in his letter to co-op residents. Nevertheless, he reasserted his conviction that he was the real winner of the May 6 election. Papa, however, said the disharmony in Southbridge was “something we never witnessed before, nor should ever again. Thus I have decided to drop the matter entirely.”

Paul Viggiano, newly elected to the 15-member Southbridge board on May 6 and elected board president soon after, said last week that the D.H.C.R. recommendation was reviewed by the entire board. “We looked at the question of 10 disputed ballots and determined that Warren Green gained two more votes than he had before,” Viggiano said.

“Even producing the worst case scenario, the disputed proxies indicate that [Green] was still the winner by one vote.”

Viggiano noted that the D.H.C.R. recommendation was not an order. Indeed the June 6 opinion signed by Richmond McCurnin, D.H.C.R. assistant commissioner, acknowledged that it was uncertain whether the courts would overturn the board decision on the run-off. “Residential co-operative corporations … are generally allowed to chart their own course and their good faith decisions …are upheld as long as they are not arbitrary or capricious.”

After the Southbridge board notified D.H.C.R. on June 10 that it would not hold a new run-off, McCurnin responded with a short letter that said “we continue to believe that a new run-off conducted by an independent balloting organization, should be held to clearly determine the wishes of the shareholders.” McCurnin, however, said the agency did not believe a new election for all the candidates was necessary.

Viggiano said last week that the board did not respond in writing to the second D.H.C.R. letter, but he reaffirmed the decision not to hold a new run-off.

Paul Hovitz, a member of the board and its election committee and a Papa ally, said last week that he voted in favor of a second run-off along with John Fratta, Anthony Russo, and Joseph Morrone.

“I agreed with D.H.C.R. that there were a number of things that were questionable in the election,” Hovitz said. “But if we went to court for a new run-off, we might also have to re-run the main election and that would be very complicated. It would leave the board five members short until a new election and it would not be good for the co-op.”

Southbridge co-op residents elect five members to the 15-member board of directors each year.


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