KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Homeowners are in a bitter, ongoing dispute with the developer of their north Kansas City neighborhood over who has control of the homeowners association.
At stake is who controls more than $300,000 in association fees, who's responsible for the upkeep of the neighborhood and who controls amenities like the pool and clubhouse.
The dispute between those homeowners and homeowners association president James Peterson is so nasty, Peterson felt the need to hire off-duty Clay County sheriff's deputies at the homeowners association's expense to protect him from residents at an April 20 meeting the 41 Action News Investigators tried to attend.
"They've requested you guys don't come in because it's a private meeting and they've reserved the building, it's private property," an off-duty Clay County sheriff's deputy told the 41 Action News Investigators.
The deputy denied entrance to the 41 Action News Investigators and our camera at that April 20 meeting of the Copperleaf Homeowners Association.
Instead, homeowner Chad Elliott shot video of the meeting with his cell phone.
"We're going to have to ask you to step back," Peterson told Elliott at that meeting.
Peterson called the meeting to vote on denying Elliott and other homeowners who've challenged Peterson's authority access to Copperleaf amenities including the pool, clubhouse, and walking paths, even though they still have to pay for it every month.
The 41 Action News Investigators tried asking Peterson's attorney James Kessinger before the meeting started why Peterson was going after people who live there.
"We're happy to give you a statement after the meeting and your pressing me is really pretty rude," Kessinger said.
"I think it's very difficult for him to enforce," said homeowner Mark Andrew. "We really don't recognize him as an official board," he said.
Some homeowners say Peterson wasn't maintaining Copperleaf well and raised homeowners association or HOA fees for no reason.
They say for example, security at the pool is lacking and showed the 41 Action News Investigators a pool door with wires hanging out of it.
"They raise their concerns and then he just doesn't address them," Andrew said.
Frustrated, some homeowners circulated a petition designed to target Peterson's authority. It was signed by more than half the homeowners and a new HOA board was elected.
Andrew was elected president of that new board.
Peterson sued and called it an attempted coup in court documents.
He also points to Andrew's deposition in that lawsuit admitting he took the law into his own hands by trying to take over the HOA from Peterson.
Then Peterson called a March meeting.
It was his first attempt to deny access of Copperleaf amenities to homeowners who challenged him.
When the judge in the lawsuit case ordered him not to hold the meeting or take away homeowners' privileges, Peterson simply dropped the suit and did it anyway at the April 20 meeting.
The 41 Action News Investigators specifically asked Peterson's attorney why the lawsuit was dropped.
"We're not going to stand on camera, you're not going to interview me, you're not going to depose me," James Kessinger said.
The 41 Action News Investigators made multiple attempts to speak to Peterson on camera, but he refused.
Off camera in a 45-minute meeting after the April 20 meeting, Peterson said he has 40 votes for each of eight undeveloped properties he owns for a total of 320 votes.
That total is more votes than if all 300 Copperleaf homeowners voted against him.
"So he moved out of the courtroom and out here into the clubhouse where he can kind of behave like a bully," Andrew said.
But Peterson says other developers do the same thing to protect their interests.
He gave several specific examples of metro neighborhoods where the developer retains control of the HOA until the development is finished.
However, with control of Copperleaf's HOA in dispute, a local bank has frozen the more than $300,000 in homeowners dues so no one can use that money.
The bank has sued to determine which disputed HOA board will get control of the money.
As a result, Peterson says he can't pay his vendors, such as people who mow the grass.
Homeowners tell the 41 Action News Investigators when Peterson's suit was still active, they offered to let the court handle the HOA money, including paying bills.
But Peterson refused.
Instead, Peterson has sent a special assessment to each homeowner for $400 to pay those bills.
The homeowners who are challenging him have received a $3000 special assessment to cover mounting legal costs.