They blabbed. They petitioned. They sued. And now they’re ready to lead the Austin Board of Realtors (ABoR).
In what’s been a whirlwind few months for ABoR, members made their alliances clear at an election held Tuesday by voting in members of a rebel cause to all seven board seats that were up for grabs.
In August, ABoR members Cord Shiflet and Brian Talley were removed from the board of directors for leaking information about a possible merger with the San Antonio Board of Realtors (SABOR), a deal that would have reportedly hinged on ABoR members adopting a controversial app called Centralized Showing Service (CSS).
Since then, the Realtors have formed a coalition and navigated their way through a series of ups and downs, suing ABoR after the board pushed to fill Shiflet and Talley’s seats with board-selected appointees.
A judge ruled in their favor, and a coalition of eight Realtors dubbed “Austin Agents For Change” petitioned to be on the October election ballot and began their campaign to claim the open spots on the board. In preparation for the election, they laid out their mission statement, put forth their objectives, rallied their supporters and won.
How it all started
In February, ABoR and the San Antonio Board of Realtors (SABoR) announced the possibility of a merger, which both associations said was a “proactive response” to the explosive growth that is slowly blending both areas.
Talks of the merger, which were intertwined with the potential mandatory use of CSS, a mobile app that helps agents show homes and has been broadly adopted at SABOR, began heating up.
Shiflet says board members were given explicit permission to survey “our brokers or close friends,” but he and Talley felt rest of the membership deserved the opportunity to be heard in the CSS conversation.
When word got out that Shiflet and Talley had been informally surveying members on this item, ABoR leadership responded by removing the duo from the board on Aug. 2.
ABoR CEO Paul Hilgers, who resigned and will be leaving his post on Dec. 31, told the Austin Business Journal that Shiflet and Talley had violated their fiduciary duties to the board by publicly discussing confidential information and were removed as a consequence. Shiflet, however, argues that it wasn’t confidential since the information was given in an open meeting.
ABoR President Brandy Guthrie further explained the process for Shiflet and Talley’s removal via an Aug. 8 blog post on the ABoR website and tried to address any qualms members had about the future of the Association.
“The decision to remove two members of the Board of Directors was a difficult one to make. These individuals are valued members of our association and respected members of this industry,” Guthrie wrote.
“There was a fundamental disagreement about the fiduciary obligation to the organization that a Director holds and at least three quarters of the Board voted to remove them because they decided it was in the best interest of ABoR and our membership.
“Much of the speculation and commentary on social media about this action is inaccurate and inflammatory, but out of respect for the privacy of all those involved, ABoR is not providing further commentary on this decision,” she added.
Furthermore, Guthrie addressed the possible merger with SABoR and the use of CSS, saying discussions were still in the works and that ABoR wanted as much member input as possible before a final decision was made.
Guthrie did not respond to Inman’s request for further comment by press time.
“I wish I could say I was surprised by the Board’s decision but honestly, I wasn’t,” said Shiflet of his and Talley’s removal.
He added that the ABoR leadership and board of directors has a history of making decisions without the input of members, and that members cannot easily find simple resources like committee minutes and board meeting agendas and minutes.
Suing for the chance to reclaim board seats
The removal of Shiflet and Talley from the board was the beginning of a larger battle that would go all the way to Travis County District Court.
Elections for ABoR’s 16-member board of directors were quickly approaching with five seats up for renewal. Shiflet and Talley’s seats were now open as well, although their original renewal date wasn’t until Oct. 2018.
The ABoR leadership had decided to not to fill Shiflet and Talley’s seats, which the duo and six agents they banded together known as “Austin Agents For Change” (AAFC) didn’t agree with.
In response, Shiflet and fellow AAFC member Jonathan Boatwright filed a lawsuit, claiming that ABoR was violating its own bylaws. They also alleged “a troubling pattern of recent action by the ABoR leadership to perpetuate their terms and hinder fresh ideas and active member involvement.”
Shiflet said the thought process behind filing the lawsuit was simple: “It was time for someone to stand up to our leadership and force them to follow the rules that are put in place for members protection.”
“Our board came out of a closed session meeting passing a series of ‘rules’ that were effectively by-law changes but were buried in ‘rules’ as opposed to by-laws, [thus] allowing them to do it without going to the members to vote,” he added.
On Oct. 5, State District Judge Jan Soife ruled in Shiflet and Talley’s favor, allowing AAFC to run against the five board-selected nominees in the Oct. 18 election.
According to the AAFC website, their primary goal is to “elect Directors who value member input and provide transparency when making decisions which affect the members of our Association.”
The group outlined how they’d achieve their goal with a list of nine objectives, including:
- Detailed meeting agendas before all committee and board of directors meetings
- Live streaming and recording all board of directors meetings
- Revising the board of directors nomination process
- Reconfiguring the ABoR budget to phase out under-utilized programs, facilities and services to lower member dues
Members in an online vote today responded by filling all seven board spots with petitioners, electing Shiflet, Talley, Boatwright and AAFC members Charlotte Lipscomb and Ryan Rodenbeck to serve full terms that will last until 2020. John Crowe and Anne Wheeler of AAFC were also elected to serve partial terms that last until 2019.
Before the results were announced, Shiflet shared his thoughts about the possible outcome, saying there is no such thing as a “bad outcome,” since it’s ultimately all about the members having their say — the very thing he’s been fighting for since the beginning.
“We’ve made the biggest push for change in our board’s history and seem to have a swell of support,” he said.
Now that the election is over, Boatwright says they’re ready to serve on behalf of the ABoR’s nearly 12,000 members and move the association forward.
“Although it has been a long and tumultuous past few months, I think this process has helped the other Directors realize why our members are ready for some changes, and why it makes sense to seek their input for important decisions,” he said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.