The HEA Inc. disputes have been running for over 2 years between two committees, its members and staff. Members of the HEA have been mostly left in the dark and are angry and confused at what has occurred. Following are a series of questions and answers asked by the members …
The HEA is in dispute and can remove the case from NCAT at any time. Your vote sends a message that the members are not OK with its association suing homeschool families. That homeschoolers are not OK with its association spending their funds to persecute others and implicate members in their actions against others.
The legal action through NCAT must be immediately dropped.
At no time has the current HEA committee held talks or negotiated with the supplier. Instead, they are resorting to legal action through NCAT. On the other hand, the contractor has made many attempts to open discussions to bring the website and associated benefits online for the members benefit. Each of these attempts have been met with legal letters of demand, threats and accusations by the HEA Committee.
Members who have been kept in the dark, or been actively misled, have asked the following questions:
Did the 2017 committee finish the HEA website and brand for the members?
Yes, the new brand and website is owned, with full access, by the HEA committee. The website and brand were approved and paid for by the 2017 Committee. It’s design and features are complete and ready for the HEA committee to insert their chosen content and policy changes.
The 2019 committee refuses to take ownership. They will not make the changes necessary to open the site for their members. In essence, they’ve chosen to go against the clear instructions that the 2017 Committee left for an incoming committee on how to release the website that is fully paid for and owned by the association on behalf of its members.
Dissimilarly, the contractor has made many efforts to open discussion to resolve any problems as they feel the membership and association will receive great benefits from having the website launched. Their overriding concern has been to have the website delivered for the benefit of the membership and the association. The 2019 committee has responded by sending legal letters of demand, threats and accusations.
Legal action costs and the 2019 Committee, without regard for due process and the requirement to negotiate before litigation, has chosen to sue Icon Innovations, a homeschooling family owned and operated business, rather than engage in constructive talks to iron out any problems.
This is no different from a land owner who hires an architect to design and build a new home. The landowner has paid in full for complete and totally satisfactory work, and has left the interior decoration decisions for the new homeowner when they sell their property. Yet the new owner, who has the keys and is living in a part of the completed house, refuses to pick out their paint colours, carpeting choices, light fixtures etc and then litigates against the architect wanting a full refund for the costs of the whole house as well as asking for damages and an apology for their own failure to finish the project to their satisfaction.
Members recently became aware that the same lawyer who litigated against the HEA has now been engaged by the HEA committee. The lawyer has sent legal letters authorised by the committee since May this year. No disclosures were made in the minutes at this time. Members demands have led to a disclosure 5 months later. To this date no agreements or contracts have been presented, even though this has been requested. The HEA is spending members funds in legal matters that could have paid the staff legally owed wages or completed their requirements on our new member website.
The HEA says the website does not work! The HEA claim is “Faulty Goods”! Would you like to see your website live to decide for yourselves? This site is ready to go, it’s exciting and will deliver excellent services to members. Services like members control over their own details and subscription. New member only content, member forums (both public and private), new subscription templates so each provider has their own product page to promote their service or offering, new GEO location events; Imagine having an event or promoting your local homeschool fete joined and connected to your local homeschool community!
The blockage is the 2019 Committee’s inexperience and inability to understand what they need to do to publicly launch it. As members you can ask the contractor to make the site live under a different domain.
What legal actions have been taken?
Between July 2018 and April 2019, a group of disgruntled members were responsible for legal action in the Supreme Court of NSW.
The group consisted of two expelled members and two ordinary members. One of the ordinary members, Karen Chegwidden, claimed they were the President of a committee elected in a private zoom meeting on the 5th of May 2018 which they wanted validated as the legal 2018 AGM for HEA Inc. In the event that the court did not validate their first claim, the action included asking the court to appoint the two expelled members, Vivienne Fox and Karleen Gribble, along with Tere Latimer (also a member of the committee they wanted the court to ratify) as the HEA’s Committee to run an SGM to elect an incoming committee.
These disgruntled members called themselves the “Interim Committee’.
Initially, they joined HEA Inc to their claim against two 2017 volunteer committee members and the HEA’s two office administrators. However, when Justice Black ordered that HEA Inc be a Defendant at a Directions Hearing on the 20th of August 2018, the Plaintiffs promptly settled with the people they’d originally named in their case and by October 2018 they were only continuing to claim against HEA Inc.
When the association became a Defendant, the associations insurer was required to engage a legal team to defend it under the terms of the insurance policy. The case continued till April 2019 when the case was settled at court ordered mediation when the insurance company instructed their legal team to settle with the Plaintiffs.
In May 2019, an incoming committee was elected according to consent orders ratified by the Supreme Court of NSW. This newly elected committee comprised the same members who had taken the association to the Supreme Court of NSW in 2018.
Now these same members have lodged a claim in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) against Icon Innovations, a homeschooling family owned and operated company. This action was taken without the 2019 Committee first applying the 2017 committees implementation letter or the many attempts by Icon to resolve the differences. Responses by the HEA have been legal demands and threats. No talks or efforts by the committee have been made to date. Due to the ongoing, direct and hostile threats against the company, its owners and family they can no longer work with any of these members.
To date, the 2019 Committee have only ever sent letters of demand written by a lawyer (the same lawyer they engaged as ordinary members to represent themselves as the HEA committee in the Supreme Court of NSW), threats and accusations to the website developer.
Like the Supreme Court of NSW, NCAT requires negotiation before a case will be heard – it even holds mediation itself. NCAT goes to great lengths in the process of mediation and the requirements for both parties to resolve their issues. NCAT is clear that cases can be removed at any time. The HEA has not spoken to or proposed any mediation or talks with the contractor at any stage. The HEA has ownership and control over the new 2017 website and refuses to implement its changes for the members.
The HEA is misrepresenting the members and has not declared the legal costs or agreements with its lawyer. By preparing a case and hiring a lawyer, the same lawyer used to sue the HEA, to represent the HEA all members are joined in their actions against homeschool families.
What is the best option for HEA Inc. and its members?
The HEA, like any association, is owned by the members and as members we own the final say on what our association does. We believe that the best option to resolve this dispute is for the current committee to immediately withdraw its NCAT case, facilitate the requisitioned SGM, step aside and let a fresh ‘conflict free’ Committee enter into negotiations with Icon Innovations to deliver the website to the members.
The minutes, which are the living and binding word of a committee, and a record for the membership to review what their association is doing in their name, needs to include a declaration of all the actions the association has taken, any conflicts of interests and motions agreed by majority vote. Concerned members cannot see any motion for the retainment of Serje Petrovic as the associations lawyer, no motion to approve a costs agreement between the association and the lawyer, and no motion to approve the spending of membership money to lodge court papers. Moreover, there is no minutes to show that the association has asked for a second opinion to ensure that they are making the best financial decision for the association, or even the correct legal decision on staff wages.
The 2019 Committee is composed of members who were instrumental in forcing HEA volunteers and staff to bear the financial and emotional burden of being dragged through the Supreme Court of NSW. This action was wholly unnecessary and was able to be settled with mediation. It is the same now, with a non-conflicted committee, who work with good will and within the bounds of HEA Inc.’s constitution, the dispute can be resolved quickly with minimum costs to the associations finances and reputation.
In this light, please sign the petition and pass it on to any homeschool friend or HEA member you may know.
Did either of these court cases need to happen at all? Were there other options?
No, The usual protocol for resolving issues that develop within committees is to seek mediation through the Community Justice Centres. The HEA Inc has this written into its constitution. This costs both parties less money, and prevents the courts from having a backlog of cases that could have been resolved without using valuable court resources.
During 2017 relations within the committee had broken down, after many months the entire committee voted to expel the then president as well as a HEA member. These two members did not appeal their expulsion but rather gathered support from within the home educating community. Their campaign attacked the HEA, its staff and members of the 2107 committee.
The 2017 committee had much to complete before the AGM so postponed the AGM in order to finalise the website as well as update various HEA procedures. The supporters of the expelled members petitioned the 2017 committee to hold the postponed AGM. Due to extreme personal pressure on social media, emails and threats of legal action on the committee, its members and staff they began to resign. In their place some HEA volunteers joined in order to complete the previous committees work and prepare for the AGM.
The 2017 committee set a date for the AGM and opened online voting for the election of the 2018 committee. No-one from the 2017 committee nominated for the 2018 committee.
A call was put out to the membership for a suitable member to chair the AGM. On the day of the AGM the disgruntled members sent a legal letter to the chairperson stating that if they chaired the meeting they could be held legally liable. The chairperson contacted the remaining members of the 2017 committee and said he would be unable to chair the AGM. Without a mediator the last two remaining committee members had no choice but to postpone the 2018 AGM. By the following Monday, the last 2 committee members had advised the OFT that the association was in dispute and asked for an administrator to be appointed.
The Admin Staff were left with the assets of the HEA, the ‘keys’, including the members funds by the outgoing committee members. The logic was that the dispute would end quickly and allow the admins to onboard the new committee. The admins had no one of authority to hand the IP to, they continued to operate in caretaker mode, assisting the association, it’s members and suppliers where they could.
The disgruntled group went on to hold their own invalid AGM. Members were invited via a FaceBook group, the full membership were not notified about the change of the online venue. Not all nominees for the 2018 committee were notified and other nominees refused to attend what was to become a rogue meeting of the supporters of the disgruntled group. Elections were held and a committee formed, this committee set about to lobby the admin staff to hand over the ‘keys’ to their claim to be the HEA so they could form a legitimate committee and essentially run the HEA.
In the ensuing weeks many letters of demands and legal letters of threats were sent to the two admin staff. Three formal attempts by the admins to negotiate with the group to hold an SGM so that a valid committee could be elected failed. A further two member led negotiations broke down. All five negotiation had the same result that was achieved in the Supreme Court mediation! The result on the advice of the OFT was for the group to proceed to the Supreme Court of NSW.
No, this did not need to happen. The group were not prepared to sell out the 2 members seeking redemption for their expulsions, whom they had joined in the legal action to seek validity for their election as the new committee.
Court action resulted in the group, now the plaintiffs, naming the last 2 committee members + the two admin staff as defendants in their legal case. The 4 defendants were released over several weeks, deemed to have been named incorrectly as defendants and having nothing to answer for. The group then went on to name the HEA as the defendant. So the group claiming to be the HEA committee are now suing the HEA.
No, this did not need to happen. The result of the court action was for them to hold an SGM. This was the exact same action that the 2 admin staff were trying to negotiate with this group exactly 12 months earlier. They could have saved themselves, the HEA, and defendants money, energy and time that will never be replaced.
No they did not need to go to court. The small group of members could have joined the committee, like others did, and resolve their issues internally. They could have allowed the 2018 AGM, been elected with the same committee members that currently stand. They could have approved 5 separate staff and member led negotiations. Each with the same terms and structure mediated in the Supreme Court. All of these options would have lost no time and cost no one the significant costs that have been born to date. And their lawyer would not have made his significant income from the HEA insurer.
Why did the two HEA Staff work for One Year without Pay?
There was no committee but there was an employment contract. The office administration were the workhorse for the association. They were responsible for insuring events, subscriptions, record keeping, membership enquiries, email and postal correspondence. In addition, they were trained in the new systems like Google education and the new website. They were the only bridge ready to train and onboard the incoming committee, as well as the members, on how to use and maintain the new systems.
They held the collective skills and knowledge of the association thus retaining this valuable knowledge for transference to each incoming committee between the yearly cycle of AGM’s and new committees.
The actions of the ordinary members who sued the association prevented a smooth transition between committees that the administrative staff were there to provide.
Without them holding the fort no work could be done. No events insured, no subscriptions, no record keeping, no-one to help members with problems with the website, receive emails, and action emails that didn’t need committee approval-like sending out member requested information. They also were able to disseminate requests from the press for interviews to the homeschool community.
Keep in mind, that it was ordinary members who made a claim in the Supreme Court of NSW against staff who worked for the association they said they represented. However, despite misrepresenting themselves as the 2018 HEA Committee, they never legally achieved that status. They had no legal authority to change the terms of an employment contract set by a legal committee.
They did try to negotiate with the ordinary members, based on the law and the HEA’s constitution, but were met with pure hostility. When these attempts failed, the administrative staff said they would walk away from the job, this in turn was responded to with letters of legal action if they did from the suing members. At other times, they were threatened with legal action if they stayed!
Eventually, the office administrators were claimed against in the Supreme Court of NSW and they had to finance their own legal defence – these costs have never been recovered.
Throughout this whole ordeal, both office administrators have been professional and courteous to all member requests. They supported members, where they could, to the best of their abilities. However, without the authority of a committee, they couldn’t carry out certain pivotal functions like bill payments. They also supported the lawyers who were appointed to defend the HEA doing many hours’ worth of work without a possibility of being reimbursed.
In fact, for most of the period that the HEA was in conflict and without a committee, they worked unpaid. A previous member, who was a signatory to the associations bank account, caused the HEA’s bank accounts to be frozen which had the consequence of cancelling the automatic deductions the previous committee set up to pay the associations bills, including wages.
We think HEA’s office administration staff should be paid as per their contract, not with a unilateral retrospectively changed contract with conditions imposed by the current committee which they negotiated when they were ordinary members and had no legal authority to alter staff employment conditions.
Why have the two HEA staff not been paid when they are legally entitled to be paid?
The same members who took the HEA to court are now the HEA committee, without having declared their obvious conflict of interest. They have made numerous absurd demands, like providing detailed timesheets, that have never been required of any contractors. The HEA must legally pay the wages. To date the HEA committee is refusing to comply using vexatious reasoning.
We think HEA’s office administration staff should be paid as per their contract, not with a unilateral retrospectively changed contract conditions imposed by the current committee.
Mediation through Fair Work Australia attended by Karen Chegwidden acting for the HEA Inc to have the wages paid by the HEA Inc failed. Representation by the person who sued the administrators in this matter is clearly a conflict of interest. The only recourse available to the office administrators is to sue the association. Having been wrongfully sued in 2018, enduring the costs, both personal and financial, neither wish to sue the association: they do not believe homeschoolers should sue homeschoolers, or that the HEA Inc should be used to sue home educating families.
Do you believe that homeschoolers should sue homeschoolers?
Do you believe that the Objects of Association – designed to support homeschoolers, promote home education, and build support networks – includes using membership money to litigate against homeschoolers?
No, it shouldn’t.
The current HEA committee are using HEA membership funds – your annual subscription to the association – to instigate legal action against a homeschooling family owned and operated business right now. Is this how you want HEA money to be spent?
The legal action through NCAT should be immediately dropped.
ENOUGH is ENOUGH.
Please join me and other members and tell the 2019 Committee to stop misusing the legal system to financially ruin homeschoolers and sign our petition.
The people running the HEA have made many decisions that have brought the association into disrepute within the home educating community. Membership has halved: as many as 600 members have not renewed since May 2018.
These people, purporting to represent the HEA without authority during 2018, and now as the 2019 committee, have acted without transparency to the membership.
Let’s get our association back on track and operating professionally, for the betterment of ALL home educating families again. Sign and share the above petition and give ALL members a chance to resolve these disturbing issues.