By CJ Baker
Via Wyoming News Exchange
POWELL — After a more than yearlong fight with their homeowners’ association over the colors they used to repaint their house, a rural Cody couple has agreed to a new color scheme — and to stop posting signs antagonizing the HOA. Meanwhile, to settle Kelly and Debra Hennessys’ claim that they were unfairly targeted by the Cody Ranchettes Homeowners’ Association, the HOA’s insurer agreed to pay the couple $5,000.
The parties finalized the settlement last month and, at their request, District Court Judge Thomas Rumpke closed the case last week.
The Cody Ranchettes HOA took issue with the four alternating colors that the Hennessys applied to the boards of their cedar-sided residence last year. HOA leaders asked the Hennessys to stop — citing protective covenants that require the subdivision’s homes to generally be painted with a single earth tone — but the couple refused.
“We’ll only modify our meticulously chosen color scheme at the implied or express point of a gun, and rest assured you filthy dirtbags will NEVER drive us out of this community,” Kelly Hennessy wrote in April 2018, one of many missives he sent to the HOA and specific neighbors.
The Cody Ranchettes HOA filed suit in Park County’s District Court a few months later. They asked a judge to order the Hennessys to either submit a new paint scheme to the HOA for approval or restore their home to its original cedar color; the HOA contended the Hennessys’ alternating bands not only violated the subdivision’s restrictions on colors but “diminishe[d] the value of the surrounding properties” on Rolling Hills Drive, east of Cody.
The dispute only intensified after the lawsuit was filed.
The Hennessys — who had tried out roughly a dozen different colors before settling on cafe gray, maroon rust, walnut bark and cinnabark — repainted part of their house a new mixture of grayer colors. The 14-year residents of the subdivision also painted on phrases that included “Wyoming sucks” and “Rural Suburban Fascist Pharisees HOA,” while Kelly Hennessy continued penning inflammatory letters.
In one, he referred to the HOA members as “morons,” “s—heads,” “dips—s,” “bullying louts,” “lowlifes” and “clown college rejects,” while calling the HOA president a “gutless pissant Kool-Aid stand CEO” and another neighbor a “f—ing hypocrite.”
The Hennessys also filed a counterclaim, contending HOA managers had ignored multiple covenant violations and singled them out for persecution.
The Powell Tribune wrote a story about the litigation in early August 2018. After commenters on the Tribune’s Facebook page sympathized with the Hennessys, another HOA member, Diane Dee Champlin, posted more than 140 comments defending the association’s suit against the couple.
“These neighbors signed documents to say they knew the rules when they bought the house. They are now deliberately breaking them and harassing neighbors with tons of threatening letters full of lies. He’s acting like a bully,” she wrote of Kelly Hennessy. Champlin said she believed he “started this ‘paint fight’ on purpose for notoriety and ulterior motives.”
She added in another August 2018 comment that, “I can assure you many, many people have been trying to work this out very quietly & amicably.”
It wasn’t until January — after four days of depositions and a few months before a scheduled trial — that the sides struck a deal.
Jotted down on a piece of yellow notebook paper, the settlement spelled out nine different terms. The first was that the Hennesseys would repaint their home with four new colors: rock bottom, chateau brown, gale force and rojo marron. The colors were to be muted to the point where “the stripes or banding will not be visible from the public roads in the subdivision.” The Hennessys also agreed to remove the lettering and signs from their home and to follow the subdivision’s covenants in the future.
Additionally, both parties agreed not to disparage or defame one another.
But more trouble popped up following the Cody Ranchetttes HOA’s annual meeting in February.
Minutes from the gathering, included in court records, indicate that at least some of the Hennessys’ neighbors expressed concern about getting more letters from the couple. The minutes say the residents were advised to contact the HOA’s manager if they received a letter, and the manager could tell Kelly Hennessy to cease and desist.
“If he does send letters that will be considered harassment, then that will start the clock going that if he continues to send letters we can actually pursue stocking [sic] or harassment charges,” the minutes say.
After the Hennessys saw the minutes, their attorney, Mike Lansing of Casper, suggested the advice to report Hennessy violated the non-disparagement clause of the settlement; in response, HOA attorney Jennifer Jensen of Cody noted an insulting letter Hennessy had sent to his next-door neighbors following the meeting.
In it, Kelly Hennessy called his neighbors “vile despicable traitors, narcs and backstabbers,” asserting they approved the paint job and then complained to HOA leaders.
“Choke on your special assessment, you’re named after its first three letters,” Hennessy wrote.
Meanwhile, turning the broad points of agreement reached in January into a formal settlement document proved difficult.
For instance, the HOA’s attorneys proposed a requirement that the Hennessys’ paint scheme appear to be one color from not only the road but also from neighboring properties; the attorneys also proposed a section requiring the Hennessys to paint a 10 foot by 10 foot test section for a committee’s review before painting the entire house. Lansing said those terms weren’t part of the agreement they’d reached.
The parties brought the dispute to Judge Rumpke, who threatened to find them in contempt of court if they failed to finalize the deal by July 26.
That prompted Hennessy to send another letter in early June — this time to Gov. Mark Gordon.
Hennessy told the governor he and his wife had tried “to beautify and preserve their dwelling in a harsh, unforgiving climate sporting xenophobic redneck fauna who really need to get a life if they were only sufficiently evolved beyond the slugs and cockroaches they’ve become.”
He suggested there was little chance that Gordon would read the letter — saying it would probably be dispatched to the “kook file” — “yet if we can prevent this abomination (rhymes with Obamanation) from happening to even one more family, then the fight was worth it all, just like Thunderball.”
Ultimately, the parties signed the final four-page settlement on July 16 and 17, ending the dispute.
Court records indicate the legal fight was costly for both parties. Hennessy claimed in one letter that he spent upwards of $50,000 while the minutes from the February HOA meeting indicate the group expected to pay $13,000 to $14,000 in legal fees, with their insurer paying another $20,000.
The then-manager of the HOA, Tom Reed, said in an email to members last year that he was sad the dispute had to go to court. Prior to the litigation with the Hennessys, Reed said all of the issues that had arisen in the subdivision over the prior 18 years — about fencing, abandoned cars, proposed swimming pools and color schemes — had been handled through conversations between neighbors.
Under the settlement, the Hennessys have until Aug. 31 to finish painting their home.