By Michael E. Miller
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By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
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By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
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Taimira Perez eases herself onto the navy sofa in the living room of her townhouse in Miramar Gardens, a private residential community of predominantly low-income property owners in the city of Miami Gardens, near the border of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Leaning back wearily, the 41-year-old rubs the back of one hand against her temple as Omar, her seven-year-old son, tugs at her free arm, pleading for money to buy firecrackers from the neighbor two houses down. "Pleeeasse, Mom," the child begs. "Just five bucks." His mother looks up at him with a frown. "Omar, I told you I don't want you setting off any more firecrackers in the front yard," she scolds. Within moments, however, she has relented and reaches down into the brown wallet at her feet. She pulls out a twenty and hands it to him. "Bring me the change," she demands, adding with a smile, "you little monster."
But the source of her fatigue isn't Omar. For a woman who seems to relish thumbing her nose at life's curve balls, Perez has a look of defeat about her today. Just a week earlier, on January 8, the board of directors of her development's homeowners association voted to retain Timberlake Management as the property management company for the 331-unit development for another three years. The same night at the same venue, the HOA board of directors for Vista Verde, a neighboring low-income residential development consisting of 180 townhouses, also voted to renew its own contract with Timberlake, a company that manages more than 30 condo and homeowners associations throughout Miami-Dade. "I'm at the point where I want to forget all this drama," she says.
Three five-inch-thick binders sit atop her coffee table, each filled with scores of documents that detail her six-year crusade to remove Timberlake as the property management company for Miramar Gardens and Vista Verde. For years Perez has questioned the circumstances surrounding Timberlake's 1998 arrival in Miramar Gardens and Vista Verde, and she has looked into the financial dealings of Timberlake's owner, Bob Dugger, and his assistant/wife, Rachel, in an effort to discredit the couple. "Rachel has probably put a vodou doll of me inside a boiling pot of water so I can cook, cook, and cook," she says, displaying a gleam of perfect teeth through a grim smile.
A Cuban-American single mother with six kids, Perez accuses the Duggers of mismanaging the finances for both homeowners associations, and of preying on property owners who fall behind on their association fees. As part of her protest, she has refused to pay her $35 monthly association dues since 1998 and is at risk of losing her own home to foreclosure if she and her former husband do not pay more than $6000 in combined association dues and attorney fees to the Miramar Gardens HOA. A defiant Perez says as long as Timberlake remains the management company, she will not pay.
And she believed the tide had finally turned in her favor when Bob Dugger was arrested by the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office last November 26; he faces a felony count of official misconduct and seven misdemeanor charges for allegedly lying on his 2002 public financial statement as well as voting on issues in which he had conflicts of interest during his brief tenure as a North Bay Village city commissioner between 2002 and 2003. Dugger, who was subsequently removed from office by Gov. Jeb Bush, pleaded innocent. His trial, originally set for Monday, March 8, has been postponed to June 7. A month before his arrest, and as accusations were mounting, Perez collected enough signatures to hold a recall vote of her association's board since its members had refused to terminate Timberlake's contract. "I haven't had my attorney do anything with the petition, thinking these morons would have fired Timberlake after he got arrested," she says. Indeed her contempt for Timberlake runs so deep, she waited outside the State Attorney's Office in northwest Miami for Dugger to come out in handcuffs the day of his arrest. "Even if he goes to jail, I'm going to keep after him," she vows. "And the day he is set free, I will go after him again."
Perez is not the only homeowner who has refused to pay monthly association dues in Miramar Gardens and Vista Verde. When Timberlake began billing the homeowners in 1998, only 70 out of 180 property owners in Vista Verde sent in payments. In Miramar Gardens, fewer than half of the 330 townhouse owners paid their dues. In fact the residents only began paying when they realized they could lose their homes to the associations if they didn't. It took Timberlake and the two HOAs more than three years to get a majority of the property owners to pony up. Today 110 Vista Verde owners and 211 Miramar Gardens owners are current on their payments, according to documents produced by Timberlake.
Eloise Nelson, a plump, droopy-eyed woman of 67 with fiery-orange hair, says she and other homeowners learned to pay their dues the hard way: under the threat of foreclosure. On this warm day, she has set up a metal folding chair outside the front door of her Vista Verde townhouse at 20908 NW 39th Ave. Across the street, alongside a boarded-up, burned-out townhouse whose owner died early last year, a group of young men partake unself-consciously of a fat marijuana blunt. She barely seems to notice as she launches into her grievances against Timberlake.