Saturday, October 10, 2020
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The Villages

Local government reform must continue

Scott Fenstermaker

Last fall, the massive Sumter County tax increase finally awakened many Sumter County voters, including myself, as to what had been going on at the County Commission for some years– Developer control of the Commission to the detriment of the residents of Sumter County.  That control began in 2004 when the Developer, who was having problems getting everything he wanted from the Commission, convinced the voters, via his media control and an expensive ad campaign, to pass One Sumter.  Before One Sumter, each County District elected its own Commissioner.  Implementation of One Sumter caused all the Commissioners to be elected in one County wide vote.  This enabled the Developer, through his little clique of Republican Party insiders, to put puppets in all 5 slots on the County Commission.  For details, click on:  https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-xpm-2004-09-01-0409010103-story.html

The result of this Developer control of the County Commission has been two fold:

(a) the Developer has been able to get rubber-stamped okays from the County for the regulations and zoning changes needed to massively expand The Villages (and now needed to stick apartments in the older areas); and

(b) the Developer has been able to offload on to the taxpayers the County infrastructure costs of The Villages massive expansion.

The massive expansion of The Villages.  In fairness, the massive expansion of The Villages has created jobs, but many of those jobs have gone to new arrivals from outside the County or even outside the country– bringing no benefit at all to the great majority of residents of Sumter County, who are retirees.  Indeed, despite the rosy stories in the Developer’s newspaper, the massive expansion of The Villages is bringing most of us only

  • higher taxes,
  • traffic congestion,
  • wear and tear on our roads,
  • food trucks instead of country clubs,
  • crowding at our amenities and businesses,
  • additional sink-hole risk,
  • more strain on a second-rate health-care system and one-star-rated hospital, and
  • an at-risk water supply (remember, we had water rationing a couple of years ago). 

It is also turning our county into a huge Villages sprawl of tract houses on tiny lots and is destroying the “friendliest-home-town” atmosphere that used to exist here.

So, is the massive expansion of The Villages a good thing?  That may be debatable, but two things are clear: (1) Any expansion should be regulated by a County Commission that is independent of the Developer, and (2) The Developer, and not the current residents, should be paying the cost thereof.

The 25 percent tax increase for us and a sweetheart impact fee for the Developer. The massive expansion of The Villages has, in fact, resulted in the necessity of massively increasing the County roads and other County infrastructure (government buildings and equipment, library, parks, etc.).  An independent County Commission would have placed the cost of that infrastructure on the Developer through a fair and reasonable impact fee (a per-house tax that is supposed to pay for the county infrastructure necessitated by the additional house).  But the Developer’s puppet Commissioners did not do that.  Instead they maintained the Developer’s sweetheart impact fee and raised our County property taxes by 25%– thereby  giving the Developer a tax break worth hundreds of millions of dollars at our expense.  This is explained, in more detail, in a short speech that I gave at one of the County Commission hearings on the tax increase last year (which speech I recently discovered has made it way to Youtube, albeit with my name misspelled):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQiReUkH_V4&t=270s )  Not surprisingly, that speech and the speeches of numerous other residents who spoke out at the Commission hearings failed to convince the Developer’s puppets not to increase our taxes.

The emergence and victory of the EMS team.  However, as a result of the tax increase, enraged residents (including myself) worked to try to find and help elect qualified challengers to the Developer’s puppets.  The result of our effort (and objective reporting by villages-new.com) was the emergence of three excellent challengers to the Developer’s puppet Commissioners.  The challengers were vetted and endorsed by the POA, and they became known as the EMS Team:  Craig Estep, Oren Miller, and Gary Search.  The EMS team took on the Developer’s puppets in the Republican primary and trounced them in a landslide victory.

The EMS team did this despite the Developer and his little clique of party insiders’ attempt to keep the Developer’s money train running, at taxpayer expense, by means of:

(a) use of fake candidates, Wahl and Prince, to disenfranchise over 45,000 Democrats and independents, who, under the Florida Constitution, were entitled to vote in the Republican primary;

(b) semi-literate, bizarre emails from Mr. Prince, who is the head of the Republican Club and was a fake candidate for County Commissioner, endorsing the incumbents that he was ostensibly running against;

(c) puff-piece articles in the Developer’s Daily Sun about what a great job the puppets have done; and

(d) contributions to the puppets’ campaign from Developer suppliers and associates and the use of a “hired gun” Tallahassee PAC (called, of all things, Good Government for Florida, Inc.) to skirt campaign-contribution limits and give the Developer’s puppets a huge war chest.  The puppets then gave a lot of the money in their war chest right back to the Developer via ads in the Daily Sun and used much of the rest of it to send out reams of lie-filled and misleading mailers and even to pay for a crazy commercial on Fox News predicting rioting on the streets of The Villages if the puppets lost the election.

Time to finish sanitizing the County Commission.  Now the Developer’s fake candidates, Wahl and Prince, have dropped out of the race, automatically electing Estep and Miller in their respective County Districts.  They will take office November 10.  Nevertheless, to complete the sanitizing of the Commission and to get a majority of Commissioners who will represent ALL the residents of Sumter County, not just the Developer, we need to elect the “S” member of the EMS team (Gary Search) in the November general election–where he faces opposition from an independent candidate.  Although Gary is running in County District 1 as a Republican, all voters can vote for him. The platform of Gary and the rest of the EMS team can be found at www.fg4s.org.  As you can see, it is a platform that can be embraced by voters of both major parties, as well as by independents.  Mail-in ballots are going to be sent out this month.

Gary Search is opposed by an independent candidate (Larry Green) who entered the race for the right reason, at least according to his Facebook page– to oppose the Developer control of the commission. I don’t know Mr. Green, although I do know all three EMS members and can personally vouch for them.

I am convinced, however, that unlike Prince and Wahl, Mr. Green is NOT a fake candidate put on the ballot to disenfranchise Democrats and independents from voting in the Republican primary.  But with Gary’s background, his vetting and endorsement by the POA, his civic involvement, his talking with voters every day during the primary campaign, his work with the other members of the EMS team, his attendance at Commission meetings, and his taking on the Developer’s puppets in the Republican Primary, Gary is clearly the more qualified of the two candidates.  I would hope that Mr. Green, in a show of solidarity with the reform movement, will formally endorse Gary before the election.  For more about Gary and the EMS platform, go to www.fg4s.org and click on Candidates.

Meantime in CDD District 5 (which is distinct from County District 5), Dr. Reed Panos is running for Supervisor as a reform candidate.  Reed is a proven leader, a retired Air Force Colonel with 24-years service.  He has been instrumental in the reform movement to return control of local government to the residents of Sumter County.  He worked with the POA and established and chaired a political action committee (Fair Government for Sumter) that supported Estep, Miller, and Search.  (Reed’s opponent for Supervisor failed to offer his support to the reform movement.)  If elected, Reed will work both for reform and for independence from the Developer at the CDD level of local government.  His bio can be found here:  https://www.voterfocus.com/CampaignFinance/candidate_pr.php?op=cv&e=22&c=sumter&ca=329&rellevel=4&committee=N

Bottom Line.  Mark your calendars to vote for Gary Search and Reed Panos.  Let’s continue the reform movement.

Scott Fenstermaker is a resident of The Villages and a frequent contributor to Villages-News.com.

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