2013 HOA of the Year: Ibis POA

Ibis Property Owners Association: Building a Reputation of Quality

by Kathy Danforth

The Ibis POA at Ibis Golf & Country Club in West Palm Beach, led by Association Executive Director/Director of Public Safety Ed Latalladi, has been named the 2013 Homeowner Association of the Year and is the first association to receive this honor a second time. Though they have repeated the distinction, their achievements are new. As the winner of the Disaster Preparedness Initiatives, Florida-Friendly Landscaping™, Trendsetter, and Civic Volunteerism and Advocacy categories for larger communities, as well as a finalist in the Communications and Community division, the association’s management and residents are setting high standards across the spectrum of community living.

Disaster preparedness has long been a focus at Ibis and is a category they also won in 2011. Their 25-officer public safety department provides a high level of safety, security, and emergency preparedness and response, in addition to training others in the community to be prepared to plan for and respond to an emergency. Because the community is located in the far northwest corner of the city, away from primary West Palm Beach emergency facilities, Ibis has felt it imperative to be able to provide residents with immediate assistance until these services can arrive on scene. Ibis Public Safety regularly updates and improves its area threat assessment and disaster plans for both natural and man-made emergencies. Their disaster plan includes response to hazardous material spills and bioterrorism, as well as preparation and response for the more frequently occurring severe weather events and medical emergencies. Public Safety Director Ed Latalladi states, “We have the most comprehensively trained private sector security staff in Florida.” Latalladi explains that in 2012, four Ibis POA staff members from both the Public Safety and Maintenance departments received OSHA Level 5 Incident Command training and earned OSHA’s highest private sector certification for hazardous materials response, while six other POA employees were trained in hazardous material spills and agro-terrorism.

To facilitate emergency response in case of a widespread disaster, Ibis has upgraded their administration building within the community to serve as an Emergency Operations Center.  In the event of an emergency, this facility will house base operations for both Ibis POA and City of West Palm Beach Fire Rescue and Police personnel. Special hurricane shutters were installed, which permits the Public Safety and City Emergency staff to remain inside the building during a severe storm, and a generator to power the entire facility was also installed. Latalladi explains that since the local fire station is not rated for high winds, Ibis’s EOC provides both Ibis POA and city emergency personnel with food, water, temporary sleeping accommodations, and access to Internet and other communications. The on-site presence of fire, rescue, and police personnel greatly improves disaster response capabilities for Ibis and the surrounding communities.

At Ibis, everyone plays a part in disaster preparedness for the community. “Though we are two separate entities, Ibis POA and Ibis Golf & Country Club work closely together for the benefit of its members and residents,” Latalladi states.  “Ibis Public Safety Officers train club employees in CPR/AED/first aid.  Club management and maintenance crews are part of our community’s disaster plan, and after past hurricanes, club generators have provided the means for residents to charge cell phones and use laptops.”

The volunteer Ibis Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) has 110 members who have received CERT training as well as instruction from Ibis’s Public Safety Department. Executive Assistant Jules Kitzerow states, “They have been very helpful in preparing for past hurricanes, including staking stormwater drains so in high water they can be located and cleared.  They perform post-storm door-to-door canvassing to assess needs post-emergency, and also have neighborhood captains to coordinate response.”

“We’ve had multiple times that we’ve activated our plan because of an impending storm, and each time it’s amazing that another idea comes out to improve the plan,” Kitzerow relates. “At the beginning of storm season, we distribute hurricane packets, which include a hang tag with an ‘OK’ bright pink side and a ‘Help’ neon yellow side that can be posted on residents’ front doors. Past storms have taught us what types of equipment to purchase, and we’ve learned the benefit of having a standing contract with rental companies to secure equipment like a front-end loader to be ready to clear roads.”

As winner of the Civic Volunteerism and Advocacy award, Ibis demonstrates that they are doing more than just looking out for themselves. A number of fundraisers to benefit cancer research are held each year, including tennis tournaments, golf tournaments, and boutique sales. “The number of resident volunteers involved in planning events throughout the year is astounding and as a result, larger groups of residents attend,” according to Latalladi. For several years, Ibis has held a Fun Run and Walk on the Saturday after Thanksgiving to benefit Hospice of Palm Beach.  The community annually collects Toys for Tots and gathers clothing and school supplies for a nearby adopted school. The Ibis Wildlife Foundation provides education and various forms of assistance for wildlife and lost pets. Each year the Ibis I-Volunteer Fair is organized by a group of resident volunteers who host, on average, 35 organizations and 300 residents looking for volunteer opportunities.

In 2012, two new service activities were initiated. Ibis held its first Armed Forces Day picnic honoring Wounded Warriors and their families. Approximately 30 guests and veterans in the community were in a parade through the community, including decorated golf carts, fire trucks, police, and reservists. Several hundred residents watched the parade and decorated dogs and themselves, waved flags, and provided music and support to those who served.

Ibis Does Care, a first-ever Halloween food drive, was sparked by hearing of hunger in a local school. “That motivated two gentlemen to take a deeper look into the problem of hunger in our county, and they found out from the Palm Beach County Food Bank that a record number of people were in need of food,” Kitzerow recalls. “These residents believed they could have a fun time making a difference by having trick-or-treat with canned goods. Volunteers decorated their golf carts to promote the event and a grocery story donated about 3000 brown paper bags that were delivered door to door as a visual reminder. We put weekly updates in our e-mail newsletter on two-for-one deals at local stores to remind people to buy one item for their family and one for a donation.”

“For collection, a path was marked out at our parking lot; and a team of residents, staff, and food bank workers unloaded donations from cars. People were dressed in Halloween outfits and the food bank employees’ jaws dropped as they saw the constant line of vehicles for 1 ½ hours. We collected 14,000 pounds of food and $5,500 in donations as well!” Kitzerow exclaims. “The involvement and spirit of our residents was incredible, and they truly loved doing it. We can’t wait to do it again next year.”

Ibis also keeps involved in local planning and has been particularly involved in educating the public concerning the negative environmental impact of a proposed route of State Road 7. Latalladi states, “Ibis homeowners value wildlife and the environment, and they feel that a route through the [adjoining] Grassy Waters Preserve, the source of the City’s drinking water for more than 350,000 people, would be very detrimental and place the only source of water for the City of West Palm Beach at risk. The POA’s Community and Governmental Relations Committee has been instrumental in educating the community as well as mobilizing residents to create a “photo” petition against the building of the road, participate in public hearings, and continue to have their voices heard by all governmental entities involved in the proposed project.”

Ibis supports the environment in their own backyard by following Florida-Friendly landscaping principles in its large-scale grounds maintenance.  Sean O’Reilly, who serves as Director of POA Maintenance and Landscape, has earned certifications as a horticulturist and arborist. “Having an in-house expert in these fields provides Ibis with an immediate cost savings over having to call in an outside consultant,” Latalladi points out. Ibis is also a State Licensed Pesticide application entity. Latalladi states, “By having a proprietary fertilization and pest control operation, we realize significant savings over using a contractor.”

Water is conserved by site-specific plantings. “Native plants such as cocoplum and buttonwood have been installed along many of our roadways,” O’Reilly reports. “These plants are extremely drought tolerant and require minimal supplemental fertilization. Recently the POA has purchased and installed over 50 oak trees to form hammocks and native areas, with the hope of creating native areas in which irrigation is not needed once the canopies have spread.” Last year, the association also relocated oak trees to provide a wildlife habitat area.

“Our irrigation system employs both rain sensors and a weather station based evapo-transpiration system that factors in conditions such as humidity, wind, and temperature to determine watering needs,” O`Reilly notes.

O’Reilly states, “The POA has installed 12 gravity-feed fertigation tanks and feeders to serve its perimeter berm irrigation zones. We continually utilize a wetting agent in these tanks to help the plantings on the berm retain moisture. We have noticed an approximate reduction of 20 percent in irrigation cycles for these plantings.”

Contending with invasive species is a continuing project. Non-native species have been removed along 1½ miles of the perimeter and in another five-acre area, and O`Reilly comments, “We eradicate in an area and then monitor for recurrence and treat as needed.” 

A five-mile long ficus hedge has been replaced with areca palms to avoid the ongoing pesticide applications for white flies. Meanwhile, the spiral white fly has made an appearance, but with an expert on staff, the community has been able to address it correctly and promptly. “The spiral white fly creates a sooty mold that’s a nuisance. We provided an informational session for our neighborhood HOA/COA boards on how to correctly identify the problem and treat it. Deep root injection is less invasive for the palm than boring the trunk to treat it,” O`Reilly reports.

Ibis was named a finalist in the Communications and Community category, a function that pulls all the community’s efforts together. Latalladi explains, “We are always looking for the best methods of communication in order to reach our target audience. Generational differences create the need to employ today’s modern communication technology while still preserving some traditional methods enjoyed by a percentage of our residents.”

Kitzerow states, “A large percent of our population uses e-mail and Internet, and a recent survey gave us very positive feedback on our weekly e-mail newsletter. We try to keep it simple and straightforward, with what’s really necessary and helpful for our residents, with a list of articles and hyperlinks at the top. We have e-mail alerts that target specific groups for items that can’t wait.”

“There’s also a portion of our population that is not computer savvy, and others who are into more advanced social media,” Kitzerow comments. “Another aspect that’s so important is to remember that communication is two-way; residents want to know that we are listening to them. Communication also occurs through the Presidents Council, which has representatives from each of the 31 constituent HOAs.”  Kitzerow shares, “When staff members interact with residents, we encourage them to call us with any questions or problems.  Our recent resident survey showed that our community finds our staff members willing to provide assistance.”

“Call Them All” is a phone system which can target a very specific area and is used for urgent items such as a broken water main. Sandwich boards are regularly set up to announce board meetings and special events, while red newsletter boxes are on standby to pull out in case of a power failure. “Having the POA administration building and main Public Safety station under generator power allows us to continue communication with residents in the event of a severe weather event if power is interrupted. If needed, we can revert to printed communications if phone, Internet, or cellular services are inoperable in the community,” Latalladi notes.

Latalladi credits the accomplishments of the Ibis POA to the great dedication and attitude of the front line staff. “Our success is a tribute to the great team effort of our front line staff and is continued by supervisors alike,” Latalladi states. “Our front line equals our bottom line.”

Enthusiasm and dedication in the residents and employees have produced a continuing growth in excellence at Ibis POA. If an issue is important, the community tackles it with energy and high standards. A second round of applause is merited by this well-rounded community that continues to pursue quality service throughout their community!