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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Tanglewood residents say board oversteps authority in denying them access to their homes

Updated: Jul 30, 2023


This stone and wood sign at the main entry to Tanglewood Lakes welcomes visitors to the lake development. However, many residents say the property owners association no longer welcomes them. (Photos by Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)


Special Report by Charlene Sims, Journal staff


LA CYGNE – On Monday, July 31 the Sixth District Court is expected to once again pick up on a lawsuit filed on Dec. 27, 2021, asking that the power of Tanglewood Lakes Owners Association (TLOA) be taken over by a neutral third party.


And on Tuesday, Aug. 1, preliminary criminal hearings are expected to take place for a group of property owners there who, on May 18, removed the gates at all three entrances to the lake development. An estimated 40 lake lot owners, past lake lot owners, and their family members allegedly watched or cut hardware and removed the gates to the Tanglewood Lakes maintenance building.


So far, 17 people have been arrested and charged with felonies. All of those arrested have been released on bail, however, there are three arrest warrants still waiting to be served.


Those who took part in the dismantling of the gates, and those who have seen the video recording of the removal, say that the gate incident was not violent and that law enforcement arrived at the end as the gates were removed. After being removed the gates were taken to the maintenance shop at the lake.


Were the actions of those people an act of vandalism as members of the TLOA charge, or as those involved in the incident say, an act of civil disobedience that was justified given the heavy-handed and possible unconstitutional actions of the TLOA board members.


According to Kansas statute, an association has the power to suspend any right or privilege of a unit owner that fails to pay an assessment.


However, it may not:

• Deny a unit owner or other occupant access to the owner’s unit;

• Suspend a unit owner’s right to vote except involving issues of assessment and fees, or

• Withhold services provided to a unit or a unit owner by the association if the effect of withholding the service endangers the health, safety or property of any person.


Pushed too far

There’s always more than one side to every story. The Tanglewood Lakes gate issue is one of those stories. People who have followed news accounts until now may believe that the reason people there have lost access to their gate cards is that they have not paid their annual lake owner association fees.


However, that doesn’t appear to be true in many cases. There are many other reasons that people have lost their gate access. From October 2018 to October 2020, nearly 740 people lost their gate access, according to a 2021 report by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

For the participants of the incident, it was an act of civil disobedience stemming from the culmination of years of being either denied access to their homes, being unable to leave the lake development in their vehicles, or both. According to some residents, they have not had full access to the gates for five years, even after the original issue that caused their access to be revoked was resolved.


The treatment of these residents has impacted many lives. The cancellation of gate access cards to residents has prevented them from going to work, to the doctor, to get groceries and water, attend their grandchildren’s graduation or to care for their sick parents.


During the COVID pandemic, many of those residents say they were not only isolated but physically kept in lockdown when they did not have gate access to leave or to enter their properties. In the Tanglewood community the only way residents can haul water and buy food is to go through those gates.


During the pandemic, Linn County Sheriff Kevin Friend would either come out or send deputies out to open the gates for the residents to get in and out so they could get water and supplies.


In a phone interview, Friend said that it was an issue of humanity versus regulations.


Even before the latest gate incident, many residents have been charged with felonies because they opened the gates by taking them apart to make necessary trips, especially those who have done so to go to work. Others say they have lost their gate card access because they would help a neighbor out by either taking them in and out or allowing them to follow their cars through the gate.


In some cases it has pitted neighbor against neighbor.

Residents must use cards to drive into the Tanglewood development and also to drive out. The TLOA can control access privileges by computer.


TLOA board members expressed frustration at the commission meeting on May 22, with having to repair and replace the gates. They questioned why the sheriff did not stop the destruction and why cases from previous illegal gate openings had been dismissed.


Friend said that by the time he and his deputies had reached Tanglewood, the gates were already down and being moved to the lake’s maintenance building.


The Linn County Attorney’s office, based on videos of the incident, has charged 20 people, most of them for criminal destruction of property, a felony. Other charges include using violence to breach public peace, rioting and interference with a law enforcement officer.


All of those arrested have bailed out of jail but still face the prospect of conviction once their felony cases are tried. According to residents, almost all of those who have been charged with gate issues have never had any criminal record other than those Tanglewood issues.


At the May 22 meeting, Linn County Attorney Burton Harding said that while many of the previous illegal gate opening felony cases had been dismissed because of not being heard in a timely manner during the COVID pandemic, he had refiled some of the charges since the incident on May 18.


TLOA board members and their attorney declined to be interviewed for publication because of the pending civil case.


However, TLOA board member Tate West in a text message said, “If I am mentioned, I don’t mind you stating that I expressed concern about how the civil and criminal cases are being handled in the court.”


As they have run out of options to access their homes, residents whose cards have been suspended have parked along Mills Road between the two gates on the west side of the development. If they are able to step over a knee-high pipe fence to get into the development, they can walk in. Some live quite a distance from the boundary where the pipe fence is.


In 2022, “No Parking” signs were installed along Mills Road.

Friend said that when the county commissioners pass a resolution to place those signs there, he is obligated to enforce the parking ban. However, a search of county minutes finds no commission vote on a resolution that would allow the placement of those signs there.


For the sake of brevity in the remainder of the article, that group of lake lot owners will be called the “residents.” Not all residents are involved in the lawsuit. Also to clarify, except where TLOA members have spoken in public at Linn County Commission meetings, their decision not to be interviewed means the TLOA board perspective is not being fully represented in this article.

Lawsuit against the TLOA

On Monday, July 10, a hearing for a civil lawsuit against the TLOA was held in the Linn County courtroom with District Judge Andrea Purvis presiding.


The civil lawsuit was filed by Charles and Sherri Toynbee, etal. Those additionally listed as plaintiffs are Sabrina Irene Evans, Mark Wilson, Antionette Wilson, Tyler Steck, Jeff Elkins, Jason Phillips, Jessica Owen, James Self, Cindy Bruce, William Towbridge, Bobbie Towbridge, Jeffrey Hart, Carla Riojas, Juan Riojas, Allyn Mackey, and Eva Riojas-Mackey.


The lawsuit says that the plaintiffs are seeking relief and asks that the court make an “Order to Cease and Desist from enforcing the Restrictive Covenant which decayed on October 15, 1990, and to relinquish management authority to a Master appointed by the Court and to submit to an audit by a forensic accountant pending resolution of all jurisdictional issues and determination of all or any illegal actions of Defendant directly resulting in harm to the Plaintiffs. The inferences would include diminishing Plaintiff’s voting rights and violating their Constitutional Rights under Federal Law.”


A request for a temporary injunction was also sought by the plaintiffs so that gate access would be returned to all homeowners who have had their gate cards taken away.


The TLOA attorney Casey Housely asked that the civil suit be dismissed and that the temporary injunction be denied. Two other dismissals have been denied.


John Ivan, the residents’ attorney, told the judge that this wasn’t just some simple case that should be dismissed. He said that besides some criminal cases that he had worked in the past, this had more potential impact on human beings, human lives, peoples’ property and should be taken seriously.


The initial lawsuit was filed in December 2021, but was denied by former Judge Steven Montgomery, who retired in early July.


In an interview with Ivan, he said that he had not been able to find any other situation where it was allowed for people to be either locked out or locked in to their community. He pointed out that it made many people feel like they were imprisoned.

Tanglewood officials rely on cameras like this one at the main entrance. All of the entrances as well as beach areas have cameras, according to residents there.


Impact on residents

At a Linn County Commission meeting on Monday, July 10, nearly two months after all of the gates were removed, Commissioner Jason Hightower told County Attorney Harding that he had heard that there was still destruction of the gates.


Harding replied that the gates were being tampered with, but he was trying to revoke bonds on the people who were already out on bond so that the people who are charged will not be released so they can continue to tamper with them. The tampering in most cases involves removing a chain on a sprocket and replacing it after they go through the opening.


Sheriff Friend said that many of the gate-removal issues occurred early in the morning when people were going to work.


Even those who have removed a bolt to get through have been charged with criminal damage to property.


While only three of the seven TLOA members are full-time residents, impact on the board has been negligible compared to the impact on the residents who have been denied access, according to those residents.


At least one of those residents believes the board members have gained from this process. Several other people had theories about the gains of the board members but fearing retribution did not want their names used.


One person, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution, has said he does not understand the actions of the board members. How a person could treat another person like a prisoner? He questioned whether some large, monied entity was paying them to “clean up” the lake community so they could take it over.


Some believe that this is solely so the board members property will gain value. If so, this may have backfired because, according to one realtor estate agent who also did not want to be identified, Tanglewood Lakes property has a black cloud hanging over it right now.


Another person said that they saw properties foreclosed on by the TLOA for a variety of infractions and charged that the TLOA then sold the properties at a low price to friends and family so they could have 51% control of the board.


The gain of the board members is mentioned in the lawsuit:

“During this period, 2020, a division and transition was occurring. Tanglewood was evolving from a campground and recreational community to one where persons with resources could buy up land and build larger homes. Old time residents were restricted for almost any reason and locked out by deactivating their gate access cards, precluding the access and use of their property.


“By locking them out, the purpose arguably was to cause them to move. These actions by the Board were for the purpose of accommodating the change, and unfortunately it allowed the Board to buy up abandoned lots, or lots and residences which could no longer be utilized reasonably at fire sale rates, and often repurchased at auction by a Board member or their families.”


While the TLOA continues to blame the cancelling of card access on people who had not paid their TLOA annual fees, residents who filed the lawsuit have said that was not the reason most of the gate cards were taken away.


Residents say they have had cards taken away for living in travel trailers, not having properly installed holding tanks, owning alpacas or pygmy goats, needing to clean up their property, and even arguing with a board member.


According to the legal papers, in Section 11 of the recently written general rules and regulations state “it shall be a violation for a member, family member or guest to threaten to do bodily harm toward a board member…violations include touching, laying hands upon, using intimidation, angry, rude, insolent language and disrespectful gestures… thus, an argument between a resident over an alleged violation for which no hearing was provided, would constitute a violation and deactivation followed.”


A place for families to live

Tanglewood Lake, a private community, was originally started by Pleasanton physician William J. Justus in 1970 as a place for families to live and have recreational enjoyment.


The original covenants were set up to expire in 1980 but could extend until 1990 at which time they would expire if not approved by 51% of the lot owners. Apparently there is no record of the covenants being approved by 51% of the lot owners since then.


In 1990, the TLOA bought the controlling share of the property. Board members are elected by members who have one vote per lot that they own. Lot owners who are in violation of the written rules – as several of the residents say, unwritten rules – now applied by the current TLOA board cannot vote.


While the area was platted and electricity and phone lines were brought in, water and sewers were not. At the start, there were no gates, just signs saying that it was private property.


Long-time residents say the gates were put in around 1996 when the community was having problems with teenagers from out of the community partying there and someone drowned.


Residents who bought property there when Justus was selling lots received a covenants information sheet. As the properties traded hands from one landowner to another that information was not always passed on.


People continued to buy the lots in the beautiful area and some lived in campers seasonally or full-time. While sometimes the aesthetics of this was uncomfortable for owners who built new homes, people seemed to tolerate each other.


Sometimes the reputation of the Tanglewood community was at question, but families built their lives there in the beautiful landscape.


But something started to go wrong for several residents around 2018 when the newly elected board became more restrictive about people’s activities in the community. Some residents believe that in an effort to “clean up” the lake development, the TLOA started taking away people’s card access to the gates for a variety of so-called infractions of the at question covenants.

One of the gate entrances on the west side of Tanglewood Lakes is chained shut. Area fire departments have keys to this wide entrance to accommodate fire trucks.


The case of Eva Riojas-Mackey

Depending on your view point, Eva Riojas-Mackey is either a lighting rod for TLOA criticism, a scapegoat for their frustrations, or a champion for residents' rights. One of the board members has said he would like to see her in prison.


She is one of the more vocal residents who has questioned decisions made by the TLOA for several years. Before the issues started piling up in 2018, she had attended law school and worked as a paralegal, not realizing that she was going to have to use her knowledge to help family, friends, neighbors and eventually herself.


Riojas-Mackey’s family has owned land and resided at Tanglewood Lakes for many years. She owned two pieces of property there and then inherited two more lots from her aunt. Before taking ownership of those lots, Riojas-Mackey, checked at the Linn County Register of Deeds office to see if there were any liens against those lots. None were registered.


After taking possession, the TLOA charged her $20,000 for back assessments. She was not able to pay and eventually lost not only her card access but her lots. Because she has many family members living there, including her mother, father and uncle – all of whom are disabled – Riojas bought two more lots.


While she was out of town, her house burned down. She said she had a storage container delivered there to put the salvageable items in until she could rebuild. The TLOA told her she could not have the storage container, so they took away her card access five years ago and she still does not have access to her home to this day.


Riojas-Mackey said she is responsible for her disabled family members getting water, food, medicine, and going to doctor’s appointments. Her husband, a veteran, also has to go to work daily.


To leave the lake development, her husband, Allyn Mackey, would remove a bolt and chain that operated the gates and replace them after he went through. He has 25 criminal charges against him for opening and closing the gates and the May 18 incident. According to Riojas-Mackey, before that he had never had a criminal record.


Riojas-Mackey also has been charged with aggravated assault and use of a deadly weapon from an earlier incident. Both of those charges are felonies.


Riojas-Mackey said that she was rushing to get to her parent’s home because her son had been injured in an accident, and a woman stopped her car at the gate as Riojas-Mackey was trying to follow her through. The woman refused to move her car and a fight ensued.


Riojas-Mackey, who has a concealed-carry permit, said that when she got out of her vehicle to confront the woman, her purse fell out of the car and a gun fell out of her purse but that the gun was not used in the altercation. Her concealed-carry permit has not been revoked.


Riojas-Mackey has reached out about these problems to the Linn County Commission, the sheriff’s office, the Kansas Attorney General, television stations, radio stations, newspapers, and a state representative.


The commissioners told her that since Tanglewood Lake was private property, she would have to work it out with them. The Kansas Attorney General’s office has told her that it is up to the Linn County Attorney.


Kansas City television station WDAF Fox 4 ran a story that showed the plight of the residents at Tanglewood, but nothing came from it. According to residents, another television station, KCTV 5, came down and only talked with the TLOA board.


Radio station KMBZ did a podcast with radio personality Dana Wright where she interviewed Friend and concluded that it was a case of the haves versus the have-nots.


According to Riojas-Mackey, even state Rep. Trevor Jacobs (R-Fort Scott) thought the treatment of the residents by TLOA was unconstitutional. She said that Jacobs was one of the only people who actually listened to their concerns.


He came out on Mother’s Day this year and toured the development with them.


When the Linn County Journal asked Jacobs for a comment, he released the following statement:

“On Sunday, May 14, 2023, at the request of some of my constituents, I visited the Tanglewood Lakes neighborhood where they reside. I was given a tour through the community and visited with group of private properties owners and listened as they laid out their concerns. We spoke for a short time before I left. I thanked them for the invitation and for giving me some insight into their issues of concern.”


Riojas-Mackey said the only result of Jacobs’ visit was the TLOA cancelled the only gate card left in the Riojas family, her father Juan Riojas’ card, because they used that gate card to bring Jacobs into the community.


The Linn County Commission recently hired an independent law firm at the request of the TLOA board members to investigate the actions of the county attorney, the sheriff, and the state representative regarding the gate issue at Tanglewood.

Signs outlining some of the rules of Tanglewood Lakes are posted by the main entrance to the development.


Alpacas cancel gate access

The people filing the lawsuit, Charles and Sherri Toynbee have owned land at Tanglewood Lake for 42 years and have lived there for nine years. In 2020, they bought two alpacas which were registered as support animals for Sherri Toynbee. They had the alpacas for several months before they were told that having them was against the TLOA rules.

At that time the covenants allowed people to have house pets and even a horse if they owned an acre of land. The Toynbees have the acre of land, so they thought that there should not be a problem.


The Toynbees were sent a notice by the TLOA to get rid of the alpacas, but they questioned the rule and asked for a hearing from the TLOA regarding accommodation for people with disabilities.


The Toynbees eventually went to the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and filed a complaint.


Their gate access was taken away but they could access the exit with their card. The TLOA then told them that they would be fined $1,000 a day for having the alpacas. They had them placed at an acquaintance’s farm in January 2022 until this could be settled.


They have still not been given card entrance access, and since Rep. Jacobs visit, they have had their exit access taken away as well.


Tammy Bailey, who does not live at Tanglewood, is a family member of one of the plaintiffs. In a letter to the court, she summed up the situation that Tanglewood residents endure:


“Imagine that a local government has placed a road-closed sign about a mile from your home and you cannot access your residence by car. When you complain, you are told that this is legal because you still have non-vehicular access to your home, and you are free to crawl over or through the road-closed sign to walk to your residence on roads similar to those in Tanglewood.


“Now, imagine that you have reached out to everyone to try to remedy this situation, but the situation remains unchanged year after year through the heat and storms of summer and the cold, ice and snow of winter. The only thing that has changed is that no-parking signs are placed on the road leading up to the road-closed sign, and your car has been vandalized several times because you were forced to leave it on the side of the road. This may sound absurd, but this is exactly the situation that many residents of Tanglewood have faced.


“The residents of Tanglewood, many of whom are of limited means, have done everything in their power to remedy the problems at Tanglewood. They have reached out to the local sheriff, district attorney, state representatives, the governor’s office, and the Kansas attorney general. They filed a complaint with the US Housing and Urban Development. Lawsuits such as this one have been filed. They contacted a television station, and that station aired a segment on the problems at Tanglewood. Despite all this, no one has helped them. No one has required TLOA to simply follow the law, such as the one set forth in K.S.A. 58-4608(a)(6).”

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