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The Villages
Wednesday, September 27, 2023

It’s time for Villages government to meet in a room that appropriately accommodates residents

The time has come for the District government here in The Villages to right a wrong.

If you’ve ever attended a Community Development District, Project Wide Advisory Committee, Village Center Community Development District or Sumter Landing Community Development District meeting at the District Office in Lake Sumter Landing, then you know exactly what we’re talking about. Because chances are you either had to arrive early to get a seat or you were part of the “standing-room-only” crowd in the stuffy, undersized boardroom where these meetings take place.

Villagers from throughout Florida’s Friendliest Hometown are forced to gather in a room at the District Office in Lake Sumter Landing for government meetings that clearly is too small to accommodate them.

We’re guessing that you were probably at the meeting because you had concerns or were irritated about an issue. So the last thing you wanted to do was worry about finding a place to sit in a cramped room where you’re practically stacked on top of your equally irked neighbors.

Unfortunately, there are many examples of meetings with overflow crowds crammed into the undersized room – many more than we can talk about here. But last week’s CDD 10 meeting immediately comes to mind.

Residents of the Kelsea Villas pack the small meeting room at the District Office at Lake Sumter Landing last week to get some answers about work taking place at a lift station located behind their homes.

Residents of the Kelsea Villas came en masse because they rightly wanted some answers about work taking place at a lift station located behind their homes. These folks, worried about the possibility of a sinkhole causing the issue, had every right to express their views and get some answers. But they shouldn’t have had to deal with the crammed room as well. The District is to be admired for thinking ahead and having Trey Arnett of Arnett Environmental LLC there to answer questions, so there was an inkling that residents were coming to the meeting.

The same can be said for dragon boaters who attended PWAC and Sumter Landing Community Development District board meetings earlier this year to express their displeasure with schedule changes at Lake Sumter. The group from the team This Boat Rocks boasts about 140 members. And when they felt they were being negatively impacted by kayaking, fishing and nature tours that disrupted their practice schedules, they did what citizens in this country are supposed to do – they came to a government meeting to express their views. But do you think the undersized boardroom – one that stifles community participation instead of encouraging it – was large enough to handle these folks who came in upset to begin with? Hardly.

And what an irony when dog owners showed up at PWAC to protest a fence from going up at a green space in The Villages where they enjoy roaming and socializing. Those residents were crammed in that tiny room, shoulder to shoulder, thigh to thigh, in conditions they would never tolerate for their dogs.

Members of the dragon boat team ‘This Boat Rocks’ crammed into the small District Office room for a Project Wide Advisory Committee meeting in April. They came to express concerns about their practice schedule being negatively impacted by kayaking, fishing and nature tours at Lake Sumter.

Another issue with meeting in this tiny boardroom is the fact that many residents have to drive several miles to get there. While some might not think that’s a big deal, we’ll remind everyone that The Villages prides itself on being a golf cart community.

How many times have we heard the song and dance – everything you need a golf-cart ride away? We don’t know about you, but we hardly think that Disneyesque promise was written with the idea of residents being forced to travel several miles from their own communities in vehicles much slower than cars in hot temperatures just to have their voices heard.

Community Development District 2 Supervisor Marty Rothbard recently wandered aloud if his board ought to meet in a much larger room at Savannah Center like CDD 4 does. The suggestion was swiftly pooh-poohed.

CDD 2 Supervisor Marty Rothbard recently wondered aloud if his board ought to meet at Savannah Center to be closer to residents. Not surprisingly, his suggestion was swiftly pooh-poohed.

Along those same lines, wouldn’t it make better sense to hold the frequently stacked-to-the-rafters PWAC meetings at Eisenhower Recreation Center? Again, it would be closer to residents’ homes in a building that could provide ample parking so people won’t have to walk long distances just to express their views. Now that PWAC has taken on additional responsibilities with amenities, the committee meetings will likely draw more residents. And those residents will be traveling to the northernmost location of PWAC’s jurisdiction.

The Eisenhower Recreation Center would be the perfect place to hold Project Wide Advisory Committee meetings.

Fortunately, the local government leaders in CDD 4 in Marion County understand this nonsense. Instead of forcing their residents to drive close to eight miles on busy streets or crowded golf cart paths to get to Lake Sumter Landing, CDD 4 continues to “go rogue” and meet at Savannah Center. CDD 4 residents, concerned about home-wrecking sinkholes, have been stacking those board meetings.

We’d like to see CDD 4 take it a step further by following Supervisor Don Deakin’s suggestion to meet at Mulberry Grove Recreation Center. That facility sits smack dab in the community these residents live in, so it makes perfect sense to meet there on a regular basis.

Once upon a time, many of these meetings were held at Savannah Center and Lake Miona Recreation Center. But previous District Manager Janet Tutt, looking out for paid government staff, convinced supervisors to move the meetings to the District Office above Starbucks at Lake Sumter Landing for the convenience of District staff.

Don’t get us wrong. District staffers work hard and do an excellent job. But with laptops, tablets and smart phones, they are never out of touch, no matter where they are.

Supervisor Don Deakin’s idea of holding Community Development District 4 meetings at Mulberry Grove Recreation Center makes perfect sense. The building is in the district, the meeting rooms are large and there is ample parking.

The District is now being led by Manager Richard Baier, who took over earlier this month and quickly has shown that he is extremely receptive to the needs of the community. So it wouldn’t surprise us at all to see this backward formula appear on his radar and get resolved very soon.

If that happens, it will be a good day for open government. It will encourage even more residents to attend meetings. And it will make a statement that should have been made a long time ago about the importance of holding government meetings near residents’ homes.

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