Lawsuit alleges ‘troubling pattern’ at Austin Board of Realtors

A lawsuit filed by two of its members accuses the Austin Board of Realtors of violating its own election bylaws and alleges “a troubling pattern of recent action” by the organization.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in state District Court in Travis County, stems from the Aug. 2 removal of Cord Shiflet with Moreland Properties and Brian Talley of Regent Property Group from organization’s 16-member board of directors.

The lawsuit alleges the organization is violating its own bylaws by refusing to hold an election for all seven of the currently open board seats in the October election — five seats that are up for renewal, but also Shiflet’s and Talley’s seats.

The board contends that Shiflet’s and Talley’s seats aren’t open for election until October 2018. Not making the two vacant seats available until October 2018 is “representative of a troubling pattern of recent action by the ABoR leadership to perpetuate their terms and hinder fresh ideas and active member involvement,” the lawsuit states.

Shiflet, Talley, Jonathan Boatwright, co-founder of the Realty Austin real estate brokerage, and five other agents, including Charlotte Lipscomb and Anne Wheeler, are currently petitioning the group’s members to get their names on a ballot to run in next month’s election against the candidates put forth by the board’s nominating committee.

Austin attorney Daniel Byrne, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Shiflet and Boatwright, said the lawsuit seeksto delay the election until after a court hearing on the matter. Byrne also is asking a judge to order the board to conduct an election that includes all seven open seats.

Once that takes place, “hopefully we won’t have to pursue the lawsuit anymore and will have an orderly election and everything will be resolved,” Byrne said.

Paul Hilgers, CEO of the Austin Board of Realtors, did not respond to an email seeking comment. The Austin Board of Realtors is a real estate trade association with about 12,000 members.

Shiflet, Talley and Boatwright have used social media to criticize ABoR’s board of directors, who they say are not representing the best interests of the group’s members.

On Wednesday, Shiflet said that in less than two weeks, each of the eight agents seeking to be on the October ballot have obtained more than 1,200 signatures, already more than the 580 apiece that are required.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Shiflet said legal action could be averted if members would email the board’s president and urge the board to allow a vote on all seven seats. With only 16 board seats, Shiflet and others say, the seven seats can mean positive change — or more of the status quo.

“A lawsuit costs all of us money and is not what we want to do…..but the board is playing games and I’m tired of it,” Shiflet wrote.

On Wednesday, Shiflet told the American-Statesman: “It is my hope that members will email the board, encouraging them to stop this madness and do the right thing.”

The lawsuit says Shiflet and Talley are “well-respected” members of the Austin Board of Realtors, and as directors, “they were committed to improving the board’s relationship with its members and increasing transparency and communication.”

“This openness did not sit well with many of the incumbent directors and officers, especially after they took several controversial actions without input of the membership,” the lawsuit says.

On July 19, the board censured Shiflet and Talley “for openly communicating with members” about ABoR business. The censure stemmed from Shiflet and Talley soliciting feedback from members about a board proposal to mandate the use of an app that provides services for showing their listings.

“Not satisfied with merely dressing down their colleagues, on Aug. 2 the board took the further step of removing Shiflet and Talley,” and filling their seats with board-selected appointees, the lawsuit said.

Shiflet and others are also working on a petition to remove some of the current directors, according to a list of grievances outlined on a Facebook page called Austin Agents for Change. A key grievance, Shiflet and others say, is that the board “has been having closed-door meetings about merging with the San Antonio Board of Realtors, without wanting input or consultation from members and without some board of directors having transparency,” according to the Facebook post.

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