Is it just us or do you also find it disturbing that many area residents – members of The Villages brass included – either won’t wear masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic or don’t seem to have a problem being in large groups where social distancing isn’t possible?
There are so many examples of this cavalier behavior, but we’ll start with Recreation Director John Rohan, who in May defied a policy requiring masks during a presentation to the Amenity Authority Committee at the Savannah Center. Signs notifying residents that masks were required were prominently featured on the doors of the building and a sign was placed at the entrance to the room where the AAC was meeting.
In addition, everyone else at the AAC meeting – including all committee members, the district manager, the AAC’s attorney and the chief of The Villages Public Safety Department – wore masks in compliance with the District-wide policy enacted in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Amazingly, not long after a story about Rohan’s careless attitude toward face coverings appeared in Villages-News.com, the policy on masks was relaxed to being “requested” instead of “required.” We found that extremely disappointing at the end of May when the local area was reporting 772 COVID-19 cases and the state was reporting 52,634. And we find it beyond acceptable today when the local area is reporting more than 47,000 cases and the state has surpassed 1.54 million positive results.
In October 2020, Ken Stoff, who serves as treasurer of The Villages Holding Co., blatantly threw caution to the wind when he attended a Project Wide Advisory Committee without a mask. Stoff serves as the Developer’s handpicked representative on the Brownwood Community Development Board of Supervisors and the group’s PWAC representative.
At that meeting, the eight other PWAC representatives – from Community Development Districts 5 through 12 – all wore masks and had all worn masks consistently over the past several months. District Manager Richard Baier wore a mask and had done so since the onset of the virus. Legal Counsel Kevin Stone also wore a mask, as did nine other District staff employees and six members of the public in the audience.
If that’s not enough, Stoff on Jan. 11 attended his first PWAC meeting since October and, you guessed it, didn’t bother to wear a mask. For the record, of the 32 people at that meeting, Stoff was the only one not wearing a face covering, despite the fact that signs prominently displayed at the Savannah Center made it clear that masks are requested in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Gary Lester, who serves as vice president of community relations for The Villages, also recently defied mask logic when he appeared at a press conference with Gov. Ron DeSantis at a makeshift drive-through COVID-19 vaccination clinic off Wedgewood Lane. Medical staff nearby all wore masks, as did Villagers who were pulling up in their vehicles to get vaccinated.
But even though DeSantis constantly travels across the state and has come in contact with thousands of people – he’s been known to appear at functions like crowded high school football games without a mask – Lester felt the need to stand near him without a face covering. We’re not sure if the sorry attitude displayed by Lester is arrogance or ignorance, but either way we find it extremely disturbing – especially because he comes in contact with other Villages employees and elderly residents – the most at-risk group for COVID-19 – on a daily basis.
Let’s also not forget the rally President Trump held in The Villages in October – one that clearly was blessed by The Villages brass – that saw thousands of people flock to the polo fields. A large number of those Trump supporters weren’t wearing masks, which could qualify that gathering as a possible super-spreader. But the president put The Villages in the national news that day and probably helped the Developer sell a house or two, so if a few people came down with COVID-19, maybe that’s just the cost of doing business.
We’re also quite disgusted by a Jan. 12 packed-house Sumter County Commission meeting where imposing impact fees on the Developer was a possibility. Amazingly, a large collection of construction vehicles – when’s the last time you saw the driver of a cement mixer working at night – grabbed the majority of parking spots at the Everglades Recreation Center as a show of support for the Developer, who ultimately pays their salaries.
Those construction workers and some business owners then crammed the meeting room, sitting shoulder to shoulder. There’s no doubt in our mind that the Developer’s top political hack orchestrated that display, COVID-19 be damned!
A photo of that crowded room that was published on Villages-News.com angered at least one Villager, who identified 18 people who weren’t wearing face coverings. Given what we know about COVID-19, here’s another possibility for super-spreader. But the Developer got what he wanted when commissioners didn’t take action and delayed the vote on the issue, so if a few people end up catching the Coronavirus, that’s apparently acceptable.
As we said earlier, we find the attitudes about COVID-19 prevention measures among some residents and The Villages brass disgraceful to say the least. The virus is killing people at an alarming rate – more than 24,000 fatalities across Florida and 1,000 in the local area since March.
Blatantly avoiding safety measures like face coverings and social distancing shouldn’t be part of the cost of doing business for the Developer. Instead, he and his representatives should be doing everything they can to lead by example and protect the residents who have spent their hard-earned money to call The Villages home.
Wouldn’t it be nice if just for once the Developer and his employees didn’t base their actions on the almighty dollar? If ever there was a time for an attitude shift among that group, it’s now as deadly virus is claiming the lives of seniors at an alarming rate.
Like many of you, we’re not holding our breath to see the Developer gain a conscience and do the right thing, but we can always hope.