November December 2022
By Pamela Babcock
©2022 Community Associations Institute
Community association managers, board members, and business partners are rethinking the unthinkable and asking questions about their safety after the tragic Aug. 22 shooting at an Atlanta high-rise.
A resident of 1280 West condominium allegedly shot and killed the community manager, 60-year-old Michael Patrick Shinners, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, and severely injured Michael Horne, the building's chief engineer. The suspect later shot and killed Wesley Freeman, 41, a former work supervisor, in a separate attack across town, police said.
Police arrested and charged Raissa Kengne, 34, with multiple counts of felony murder, aggravated assault, possessing a gun during a felony, and false imprisonment. Authorities have not identified a motive, but the suspect was involved in litigation with her former employer, the condominium, and its management company.
In the wake of the shootings, CAI, its leaders, and members are grappling with whether they need to tighten safety precautions and reassess how they interact with residents, potentially even by shutting the door on a longstanding open-door policy. Managers and board members often face verbal threats, and some say today's growing lack of civility–both in person and electronically–is only making encounters potentially more volatile.
T. PETER KRISTIAN, CMCA, LSM, PCAM, general manager of Hilton Head Plantation Property Owners Association in South Carolina and a CAI past president, says the shootings may be an unfortunate reality in a country with a growing drumbeat of gun violence.
“We have seen people act out in this type of medium more and more," Kristian says. “I don't know if society is starting to get immune to it or used to it, but there's almost this feeling that, 'That's the way things are.' "
Jasmine Hale, a partner with Berding & Weil in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a fellow in CAI's College of Community Association Lawyers (CCAL), says managers are worried about an increase in belligerence from board members, owners, and tenants, and “an ugliness that seems more pitched, and sharp. The shooting makes the ugliness more real because then it's like, well, this could be a potential outcome." Physical attacks with an intent to severely harm or kill managers and board members have been rare over the past 20 years. Among them, two board members were killed in September 2012 in a Louisville, Ky., community; a manager was killed in July 2000 following an acid attack ordered by the board president of a neighboring community in Lauderdaleby- the-Sea, Fla.; and two people, including one board member, were killed in April 2000 at Ventana Lakes, a 55-andolder Phoenix area community.
Scott B. Carpenter, a shareholder and co-managing partner with Carpenter, Hazlewood, Delgado & Bolen in Phoenix, says the Atlanta shootings brought back frightening memories from the Ventana Lakes incident in which Richard Glassel, a disgruntled former resident, stormed a board meeting armed with a rifle and two handguns. Convicted of the murders, he died on death row in 2013. “For many of us who have been around since then, we've never really recovered from this incident," says Carpenter, a CCAL fellow.
He's concerned that any interaction today could lead to violence. “We never really know which owner will come back to the office with an intent to 'get even,'" Carpenter says. “Those were the words Richard Glassel used as he opened fire at Ventana Lakes: 'I'm getting even.'"
In a statement after the 1280 West shooting, Lisa Simmons, president of Beacon Management Services, said they were “reeling with the loss" of Shinners, a dedicated and beloved manager.
“Always with a contagious smile on his face, he was a mentor and a friend, as well as a devoted husband and father. Words cannot express how deeply he will be missed," Simmons said. According to a Sept. 8 WSBTV.com report, Horne had been removed from a ventilator but remained hospitalized. Beacon Management Services has joined several others in setting up GoFundMe sites for both men and their families.
In a statement expressing condolences after the shooting (read more at right), CAI CEO Thomas M. Skiba, CAE, noted that every day, thousands of committed association managers and staff serve essential roles in their community.
“They bring years of financial and management expertise, and they are often communicators, customer service agents, organizational leaders, and all-around problem-solvers," Skiba said. “These professionals are the backbone of communities everywhere. This is a heartbreaking tragedy that should never happen in any town, city, or community."
The suspect's federal whistleblower lawsuit against accounting firm BDO claimed she noted a “significant deficiency" in an audit that was ignored and accused her condominium of allowing her former employer into her unit to steal things and take information off her computer. It named Beacon Management Services and members of her condominium's board, as well as Shinners and Horne, according to George E. Nowack, Jr., an attorney and cofounder of NowackHoward, the firm hired by an insurance company to represent Beacon Management Services and the condominium.
Nowack, a CAI past president, says his firm had no knowledge of the suspect threatening people prior to the shooting: “She expressed her displeasure, but I don't think anybody was alarmed by her other than the preposterousness of her 407- page complaint."
Coincidentally, about six months before the shooting, Nowack's firm discussed security concerns in its law office, particularly since irate owners in arrears periodically showed up unannounced to pay their balance after their bank accounts were garnished, despite the fact that notices ask them to mail payment to the law firm or management office.
A local security consulting firm provided a report on vulnerabilities at the law firm. Among other things, it recommended setting up a “safe room" and installing significantly stronger electronic locks on the firm's doors. Shortly after the shootings, NowackHoward reinforced its interior glass doors.
Community association board members and managers have become increasingly concerned about gun violence in recent years, according to some industry observers. “Those who are hearing things about guns, even if they are idle threats or just bluster and hyperbolic speech, are taking them very seriously," says Hale.
Kristian has been aware of the dangers of the job for years. When he joined the large-scale, coastal South Carolina community in 2000, he received death threats when the board voted to institute a controversial deer culling program. Several members received dead fish wrapped in newspapers at their homes, a notorious mafia message that the recipient will “sleep with the fishes."
The board implored Kristian to get a concealed weapons permit and carry a gun, which he did for several years. Around 2009, Kristian received additional death threats after fining an owner he says was dealing drugs and engaging prostitutes. He filed charges and got a restraining order. The magistrate, who knew the resident, advised Kristian to carry a gun and to wear a Kevlar vest. Kristian was shocked.
“I said, 'I'm in a community of 4,000- plus properties and 10,000 people, I have to drive around the neighborhood,' " Kristian recalls. “But she said, 'I know, but this individual is not balanced.' " Kristian wore the vest for a while but dropped charges after the man agreed to move out and never buy or rent in the community again. Laurie S. Poole, an attorney and partner with Adams Stirling in San Diego, says managers, employees, and board members should adopt a heightened sense of awareness of unusual behavior or threats.
“This is one of those trust-your-gut moments if somebody in the community has acted in a manner that is concerning," says Poole, 2022 president of the CCAL Board of Governors. Written or verbal threats should be reported to the manager's employer, board, and perhaps even legal counsel.
“That puts an association on notice of a potential risk and the obligation to evaluate and take measures to address that risk," Poole adds. There may be insurance and liability issues to consider if an association is on notice that there was a likelihood of an incident occurring. “You can't be too careful."
Saw Creek Estates Community Association, a sprawling community of about 2,600 single-family homes on 1,920 acres in the Poconos Mountains in Pennsylvania, beefed up security in 2013 after a gunman embroiled in a property dispute opened fire at a municipal meeting a half-hour away, killing three people.
“We started almost immediately having one of our public safety officers at every one of our board meetings and our annual meeting," says Suzanne Mark, a former board president and chair of CAI's Homeowner Leaders Council. “We don't know when somebody could explode, so to speak."
Building managers and board members generally aren't well-equipped to handle contentious situations that turn violent because they typically aren't trained social workers or psychologists. A growing number of police departments have crisis intervention teams of mental health providers who assist on calls involving people with a history of behavioral issues.
Dave Norton, CMCA, AMS, owner and manager of Spectrum Management Associates in Sedona, Ariz., says training for community associations may be available from local law enforcement agencies.
“These situations are complicated and take some training in hazard recognition as well as defusing them," says Norton, who served 33 years with the Phoenix Police Department. Some agencies provide speakers and printed materials to groups. Others offer a citizens' police academy where residents can get in-depth training and do ride-alongs to better understand the issues officers encounter.
DEVELOPING A PLAN
Much like the 1280 West shooting, the Ventana Lakes tragedy in Arizona wasn't anticipated either. Although the community had a restraining order against Glassel, he had moved to California, and no one had heard from him for several years. “He had displayed no signs and made no threats in advance of his shooting spree," Carpenter recalls.
Assuming that every owner is capable of explosive anger and handling everyone with kid gloves isn't practical. The key is being impartial and treating people with kindness while expecting compliance from residents, Carpenter says.
Communities can foster a sense of security during difficult times by paying for 24-hour security or having off-duty police officers at board meetings. But many associations find this cost-prohibitive, Carpenter says. Other options include consulting building safety experts who may suggest “safe rooms," installing panic alarm buttons, adding extra surveillance cameras, or even locking the management office door and requiring appointments.
Many experts agree that active-shooter training for management and staff is important. “Generally, associations should calibrate a plan to the threat that exists for that community," Carpenter says. Kristian says he and his staff feel safe in their offices since there are surveillance cameras and the security department, which has seven armed officers, is next door. “Their window is right across from me so they can see what's going on," Kristian says.
A receptionist can summon security by pushing an alarm button on the phone. Kristian says the most important thing he has learned over the years is to teach people to call security or local law enforcement if they see anything suspicious.
“We tell them, 'If you see anything suspicious, no matter what it is, call it in, and we'll check it out,' " Kristian says. “While 99 percent of the time it's nothing, I'm a firm believer that if you take care of the little things, the big things mostly don't happen."
As time passes after the Georgia shootings, Nowack says there's still a great deal of concern among community mangers in the Atlanta area. Some may consider sheltering managers behind locked doors and requiring people to be buzzed in for appointments, but Nowack admits that's no guarantee of safety since someone could confront them coming into or leaving the office. He also worries how that might affect the fabric of a community association and the manager's quality of life, particularly for someone like Shinners, who was committed to his profession and his community.
“Michael was described as the mayor of the building. He was out greeting people all day long," Nowack says. “He was a genuinely good guy. He loved his building. And he loved where he was."
Pamela Babcock is a freelance writer in the New York City area.
©2022 Community Associations Institute. Further reproduction and distribution is prohibited without written consent. For reprints, go to www.caionline.org/reprints.
Community Associations Institute, the CAI Georgia Chapter, and the entire CAI family express our deepest condolences to the victims' families, friends, colleagues, and neighbors of the deadly shooting on Aug. 22 at 1280 West condominium in Atlanta.
We are saddened and shocked as we mourn the loss of our friend, colleague, and dedicated member of the CAI Georgia Chapter. Michael Patrick Shinners, a community association manager with Beacon Management Services in Atlanta, was fatally wounded during the horrifying tragedy.
Mr. Shinners, a longtime CAI member, was passionate about his profession and the chapter. He earned several industry designations from CAI, including the Association Management Specialist (AMS) designation and the Professional Community Association Manager (PCAM) designation, the pinnacle achievement for community association managers that demonstrates the highest level of commitment to the profession. He also earned his Certified Manager of Community Associations (CMCA) credential, administered by the Community Association Managers International Certification Board (CAMICB).
Our thoughts and prayers also are with the chief building engineer injured during the shooting as well as everyone affected by this tragedy.
Every day, thousands of community association managers and staff serve essential roles in their community. They bring years of financial and management expertise, and they are often communicators, customer service agents, organizational leaders, and all-around problem-solvers. These professionals are the backbone of communities everywhere. This is a heartbreaking tragedy that should never happen in any town, city, or community. We believe there are no issues or disagreements between parties in a community that are serious enough or significant enough that they can't be settled peacefully.
We believe that community associations are built to be places of comfort and safety, where neighbors support and help one another, and where residents develop a true sense of belonging. Community Associations Institute will continue to support the CAI Georgia Chapter as well as community association residents, board members, managers, and business partners during this difficult time.
—A statement from Thomas M. Skiba, CAE, CAI's chief executive officer; Jessica Towles, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, president of the CAI Board of Trustees; and Kelley Moon, president of the CAI Georgia Chapter
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