Officials must take responsibility for wasting residents’ money on Recreation News

We applaud the Community Development District 2 supervisors who are tired of seeing wads of a money wasted on the weekly Recreation News publications.

Board members on Friday made their thoughts known about the archaic pulp product that’s better suited to line the cages of Fido or Tweety Bird. Supervisors shared their concerns with Amenity Authority Committee Chair Ann Forrester and pressed her to take a hard look at the money – somewhere in the neighborhood of $800,000 annually – being spent on the print edition of the Recreation News, which is distributed each Thursday in the Developer-owned Villages Daily Sun. The AAC foots half the bill for the Recreation News and members already have vowed to take a hard look at the publication in the upcoming budget cycle that begins in March.

Bart Zoellner

Supervisor Bart Zoellner made no bones about his feelings regarding the weekly publication that’s grown significantly in pages and costs over the past several years.

“We are spending tens of thousands of dollars telling residents the same thing all over again,” he said.

Zoellner then picked up his cell phone to illustrate his very accurate point.

“We should have this information at our fingertips,” he said. “Most people are getting their information here. Let’s get into this century. The Recreation News is a waste of paper.”

Zoellner also took it one step further and said what many residents have thought for quite some time – the Recreation News appears to be nothing more than a cash cow for the Developer’s newspaper.

“I hope we are not being unduly influenced by the Daily Sun, which could be losing more than $800,000 year (if they are no longer printing Recreation News),” he said.

Zoellner was certainly not alone in expressing his concerns, as Supervisor Jim Cipollone and Chairman Bryan Lifsey also chimed in. Cipollone made an excellent point when he said it is simply time for some fresh thinking.

“The Daily Sun is half advertising anyway,” he said. “The Recreation News is the only thing without advertising. Maybe that is what is needed.”

Bryan Lifsey

Lifsey has grown so concerned about the big bucks residents are shelling out for the Recreation News – something that appears likely to get even worse as the mega-retirement community continues to grow at a rapid pace – that he prepared a position paper detailing his thoughts. Lifsey said it’s time to deliver on well-defined cost savings for the Recreation News instead of a myriad of promises to look at in the future.

Not surprisingly, CDD 2 supervisors are far from alone in their disgust with the costly Recreation News. This past July, AAC members Carl Bell and Don Deakin made their thoughts quite clear. Bell, known for his love of technology and his uncanny ability to stick to his guns when he believes in something, cited environmental concerns when he declared July 10 that the weekly supplement in The Villages Daily Sun is adding to thousands of “tons of waste.”

In his presentation, Bell cited a somewhat sobering June meeting on solid waste where a representative of Jacobs, the trash hauling company in The Villages, talked about the disappearing market for recycled products and made the prediction that newspapers will no longer be recycled in many communities. He correctly pointed out that it’s time to bring the Recreation News out of the Stone Age and also suggested touch screens for Villagers to use at recreation centers where information would be readily available.

Don Deakin

Deakin, who also has an excellent reputation for sticking to his guns when he believes in something, echoed Bell’s desires. He also told his fellow members of Community Development District 4 that he had seen touch screens in use like those Bell proposed and they work well.

Many Villagers also have shared similar thoughts through Letters to the Editor sent to Villages-News.com:

  • Villages of Lynnhaven resident Shirley Palazzo said she just discards the Recreation News when it arrives on Thursdays;
  • Village of Collier resident Joseph Jelson suggested saving money on the print version of Recreation News could help stabilize amenity fees and partially offset the 25 percent tax increase Sumter County commissioners approved this past September;
  • Village of Duval resident Jan Ihrig asked why the Developer-owned newspaper handles distribution; and
  • Village of Alhambra resident Don Wheatley said if a print version must continue, it should only be done once a month.

Unfortunately, the almighty Developer clearly has no desire to see the more than $800,000 that lines his pockets from the tightly controlled Daily Sun go away anytime soon (remember the 73 percent increase in costs the AAC was hit with in 2017?). After all, the fourth-generation Morse Millennials are busy running different aspects of the community – some would say straight into the ground – and that means there are a whole lot more pockets to line with cash.

Carl Bell
Carl Bell

If you don’t believe that, then consider this – a year and a half ago Bell asked Recreation Director John Rohan about the progress being made in putting Recreation News into an easily accessible online format. Rohan, who is totally beholden to the Developer, suggested it was a “Herculean task” and pretty much swept it under the rug. We’re guessing he wrongly thought Bell would just move onto another topic and forget about the whole issue.

Seriously, John? How long have you known Carl Bell? Do you ever remember him forgetting something he’s passionate about and just moving on? Surely you must know that he won’t stop fighting for answers until the last second of his final term on the AAC ends in 2022.

As we said earlier, we applaud CDD 2 supervisors and everyone else who has expressed their views about the Recreation News becoming an online product. That entire good-old-boy printing arrangement with the quasi-shell-company Daily Sun stinks and at the very least the government-related print job should have been put out to bid on an annual basis.

This kind of shoddy treatment of residents and the abundant willingness of the Developer to take their money at will and deliver crappy service needs to stop. It certainly doesn’t look anything like what Founder Harold Schwartz and his son, Villages architect H. Gary Morse, preached when they were alive. They had their thumbs on the pulse of the community instead of their hands in Villagers’ wallets. And they wouldn’t hesitate to make changes if they were warranted and benefited the majority of their residents.

That said, we encourage everyone to continue the good fight against the skyrocketing costs of printing the Recreation News. It’s high time that the now-sprawling retirement community that once saw Schwartz out shaking hands and chatting with his neighbors should go back to being about the residents instead of living by the mantra that money talks and nothing else matters.