As I said in a pre-election Opinion piece: I would like to acknowledge that the Developer has done a wonderful job in developing The Villages. It is a great place to live. In fact, most of the time, the Developer’s interests coincide with those of the residents. But there are instances when they conflict.
Over the years, there have been several such conflicts. The most notorious occurred about a decade ago, when our amenity facilities started to deteriorate (rats in the Paradise Recreation Center, etc.) In a nutshell, that deterioration occurred because the Developer had overcharged the commercial Community Development District, which the Developer controls, for the amenity facilities that the Developer sold it and thereby had left the CDD financially unable to maintain the facilities. That situation led to a Property Owners’ Association-backed class action suit, which was settled with the Developer agreeing to pay $40 million to keep the amenity system intact.
In most communities, when there is a conflict of interest between residents and a Developer and where the residents are being wronged, the residents could expect support from the local newspaper, local government officials, and their homeowners’ association. But The Villages is not like most communities. The Daily Sun will never help us, since it is owned by the Developer; the local government officials from the county on up are beholding to the Developer as a major donor; and our homeowners’ association is weakened by being split into two groups. One of these groups is the POA, which as indicated above, has consistently backed the residents in disputes with the Developer. The second group is the VHA (misleadingly called The Villages Homeowners Advocate), which was established with the collaboration of the Developer and which consistently supports the Developer.
One area where the Developer had not, until now, asserted his financial power, and which has therefore remained independent of Developer control, are the residential CDDs. Traditionally, the campaigns for those elections have been low-cost affairs, with the candidates for supervisor handing out fliers at the postal stations. However, prior to the recent election, villages-news.com exposed the fact (not reported in the Daily Sun) that the Developer had, apparently for the first time, injected himself into the residential-CDD elections by bankrolling a candidate, Patricia Francis, to the tune of $2,000, in the CDD 6 race.
I do not know Ms. Francis or her opponent, Andrew Curtis. Both candidates seemed qualified. However, Mr. Curtis serves on the board of, and was endorsed by, the Property Owners’ Association. A cynic might suspect that that is why the Developer, who is not known for throwing his own money down the drain, bankrolled Ms. Francis’ campaign.
I don’t live CDD 6, but all Villagers had an interest in that race because of the Developer’s meddling. Now the election is over, and Mr. Curtis won a landslide victory. The voters’ overwhelming defeat of the Developer-bankrolled candidate teaches two lessons:
• The first lesson is a lesson to the Developer: Stay the hell out of elections in all the residential Districts.
• The second lesson is a lesson to residential-CDD candidates: Do not compromise your independence and integrity by accepting the Developer’s money.
Scott Fenstermaker is a resident of the Village of Winifred and a frequent contributor to Villages-News.com.