Here’s what we learned this week – with a crucial election a month away, The Villages Developer and his puppet Sumter County commissioners are running scared.
Ten months ago, those arrogant commissioners rammed a 25 percent tax increase down our throats despite Villagers and other area residents complaining at two long meetings at the Savannah Center. Then, they had the nerve to suggest that very few people actually complained. And they even claimed that it really wasn’t a 25 percent tax increase after all.
That absurd tax hike supposedly was needed to pay for new roads in the Villages of Southern Oaks and repaving Buena Vista and Morse boulevards – a sweetheart deal for The Villages Developer who clearly tells the commissioners when to jump and how high.
But the increase also brought pledges to unseat the commissioners and before long, several candidates had emerged and vowed to challenge the longstanding incumbents – Villagers Don Burgess, Al Butler and Steve Printz – who clearly don’t have the best interests of Sumter County residents at heart.
Of course, we saw the typical Developer move as he had all his cronies make campaign contributions to the three incumbents. A big chunk of that money then paid for ads in his archaic Pravda-like “newspaper” and conveniently ended up in his pocket. Not surprisingly, those sappy ads skirted the tax hike issue and failed to clearly identify Printz, Burgess and Butler as incumbents – a move designed to confuse new voters who weren’t here in September for the tax hike debacle.
Meanwhile, four Villagers threw their hats in the ring and decided to challenge the puppets. Gary Search, Craig Estep, Oren Miller and Daniel Myslakowski stepped up to the plate and said enough is enough. Search, Estep and Miller have said they won’t take contributions from area businesses because they don’t want to be beholden to anyone. And while that meant their campaign war chests would be significantly less than those of the Developer’s puppets.
That’s when a funny-yet-sad thing happened. Pete Wahl and Jerry Prince, two people who are so desperate to kiss the Developer’s ring they’ll sell their souls, entered commission races as write-in – fake – candidates. It was a move that many people believe is an attempt to manipulate Florida election law and exclude 45,000 Democratic and independent voters from casting ballots.
Then, the Developer apparently woke up one morning last week and realized with the election a month away, he’s in real danger of losing control of the commission. Because what happened next is actually comical and absurd – even for this group of manipulators who clearly think they’re smarter than everybody else and wouldn’t know political ethics if they smacked them in the face.
Amazingly, 10 months after hearing the woes of needing a 25 percent tax hike to survive, the county suddenly has a bunch of money and is proposing a tax cut. Supposedly, this magic is possible because the county’s pace of economic growth was higher over the past year than anticipated.
Frankly, we find that hard to believe. Because for starters, the COVID-19 pandemic is still wreaking havoc on the local area and we’ve seen many business temporarily close and unemployment skyrocket. T&D, perhaps one of the Developer’s strongest allies, took COVID-19 bailout money.
Don’t be fooled – this latest unethical maneuver by the commission is nothing more than a shell game. You can bet that if the three incumbents get back in office, they’ll be more sweetheart deals for the Developer. And when the time comes to pay for more infrastructure in the southern portion of his sprawling retirement community, you’ll be pulling out your checkbook faster than the Developer replaces country clubs with food trucks.
That said, make no mistake about it – the Developer and his puppets are running scared. Moves like propping up write-in candidates to cut out 45,000 voters smacks of desperation. Putting pressure on his business associates to donate campaign money to his candidates smacks of ethical issues. And sitting back while residents were forced to absorb a 25 percent tax increase was beyond disgusting and truly showed how little Villagers mean to the Morse family.
But that all could change soon. The challengers in this election are working hard to get their names out there. The incumbents don’t seem to be working nearly as hard, with two of them actually having to buy their way into the election because they couldn’t get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot (they conveniently blamed it on COVID-19, by the way).
At Friday’s budget workshop when Search brought up the 25 percent tax hike, Commissioner Doug Gilpin called it “political hogwash.” Gilpin claimed that an analysis showed that the increase was far less than that. And he said no one in attendance at the meeting had experienced a 25 percent tax cut.
Please. The commission and the Developer can try all day long to hide the injustice they thrust onto Sumter County residents 10 months ago, but it isn’t going to work. They took advantage of Villagers, treated them like they were stupid and raided their wallets to pay for Villages infrastructure. It was wrong then and it’s still wrong – despite the claims of sudden riches in the county coffers.
Frankly, we can’t wait for the August election because we think it’s going to be epic. We believe the Developer will be paying the piper for all the times he took advantage of his residents. And we won’t be surprised if some of those puppet incumbents find themselves on the outside looking in, which given they way they’ve treated their constituents is where they clearly belong.