In final LMOA board meeting before vote, tensions remain high

By Heather Michon

The ongoing controversy around embattled Lake Monticello director Donald Polonis was back in the spotlight during the monthly Board of Directors (BOD) meeting on Thursday night (Aug. 21).

Polonis is accused of violating the Lake Monticello Owners Association’s (LMOA’s) social media policy, following anti-LGBTQ+ comments posted to a conservative Facebook group in June. In these comments, he posted an email containing the name and contact information of Lake resident Kelsey Cowger, an act Polonis later apologized for. 

Hundreds of residents later signed an online petition calling for his resignation or removal, leading to a special meeting in late June where the BOD voted to censure Polonis. With Polonis refusing to resign, they also approved an unprecedented special election that could see him ousted from his seat. 

Voting began in mid-August and will end on Sept. 5, with results announced during a special meeting on Sept.12. Under the Virginia Nonstock Corporation Act, it will take at least 2,201 votes for him to be removed. There are 4,633 properties that each get a vote though members who are not in good standing cannot vote, said LMOA Communications Director Marieke Henry. The number of people not in good standing fluctuates.

Thursday’s meeting showed that opinions and emotions were still running high, with the main players in the drama again returning to the podium during public comments.

Polonis has said that his comments about homosexual behavior are rooted in his religious beliefs, citing Bible verses to support his argument. 

But Lake resident and minister Patrick Handleson commented on the difficulties of translating and interpreting certain verses over the centuries. “Reading one verse out of the Bible may not be the best way to understand the message,” said Handleson. 

Alyssa Sellick, wife of LMOA Director Gary Sellick, said their property had been vandalized recently. Rocks were thrown at their mailbox and at their “No Hate at the Lake” yard sign, damaging both.

“And that’s where we’re at, because Director Polonis refuses to resign,” said Sellick. “He knows that without a massive vote of the membership, the likes of which the Lake has never seen before, there’s nothing any of us can do to remove him from it. It’s up to us as a community to show that we are up to the task. There’s no right or wrong here–there’s no two sides. There’s right, and then there’s Director Polonis.”

In her comments, after seeing that Polonis had once again signed up for public comment time, Kelsey Cowger urged the other directors to limit him. “He has a place where he can speak. He doesn’t deserve twice the time to speak and to cut into public time, to have a platform for more hate. So, I would respectfully ask you to make him confine his remarks.” 

Looking beyond the removal campaign, Cowger read into the record a letter she had sent to Fluvanna’s representatives in both Congress and the General Assembly to look into reincorporating the LMOA. “The mandate for removing an HOA director becomes functionally larger than the mandate required for removing a member of Congress,” she read in part. “I urge you to amend the law to regulate HOAs to a more suitable category.”

Beyond that, Cowger said future boards need to “build a board that looks like our community.” She encouraged the board to look at ways they could build a diverse talent pipeline and urged community members to run for seats in future elections.

Cowger’s husband, Matthew Carter, again invited Polonis to meet to discuss their conflict. Carter, who identifies as queer, said Polonis was welcome to come to the church where Carter will be officiating.

“I did not misspeak,” said Carter. “A bisexual man officiating a Christian liturgy, the ancient sung service of conflict. I can promise Mr. Polonius that the holy water will not start to boil at the touch of a queer hand. But he can see and believe that for himself.”

Several times in recent weeks, Carter said he had met with members of the community who hold similar sentiments as Polonis and had come away from each meeting feeling that he had made a connection. “There will always be opportunities to practice tolerance in this world. And you don’t have to agree even on big questions. You just have to have willingness and respect.”

But Carter indicated that the vote in September was not going to be the end of things, saying he and Cowger had gone to Richmond earlier that day to file a discrimination complaint against Polonis under the Fair Housing Act. “Since Mr. Polonis seems to be quite sure that he has done nothing wrong, I expect him to participate fully and willingly in the fact-finding process,” he said to a round of applause from the audience.

In his own public comments, Polonis reiterated his argument that the recall election was a violation of his First Amendment rights of free speech and religion.

“[The] Association’s decision to include my expression of religious belief as a basis for removing me from the Board violates the federal and state fair housing law, exposing the Association to civil liability for religious harassment under Virginia Code 8.01,” he added.

Polonis further accused LMOA of excluding “a rebuttal of their charges against me, even though every question I’ve seen going out to our membership vote has both a pro (for) section and a con (against) section,” and again argued that he did not fall under the association’s social media policy. 

The official report in late June that led to his censure and formed the basis for the recall election, was based on five instances of violating that social media policy. 

“To say I violated a social media policy that doesn’t exist on its own merit opens the Board and Association to some serious litigation issues in light of the first amendment to the US Constitution,” he said.

“If you voted to remove me and upon hearing tonight’s statement, you realize you may have made a mistake, then I encourage you to contact the LMOA office and have your vote changed.  If you haven’t voted, then I ask you vote no for the reasons I’ve listed here today,” he concluded.

Online and in-person voting continues until 5 p.m. on Sept. 5, with the official count announced on Sept. 12.

LMOA Communications Director Marieke Henry said in an email that nobody can change their vote once it has been submitted, “they can only retract it.”   

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