PART TWO - YEARS 2002-2010
Joe Gorman's Reflections On
His 9 Years as POA President
I have been fortunate over these past nine years to see the growth of the POA as a valued advocate for Residents' Rights and as a trusted information source in The Villages. I can't claim all the credit for our accomplishments because many fellow POA members helped to make it happen. So, in many respects, I have been just an observer of fellow residents trying to make The Villages a better place in which to live. I think we succeeded to a great degree. It has been an honor and a privilege to represent my fellow Villagers as your president for these nine years.
Perhaps it is worthwhile to review some of the accomplishments of your POA over these past nine years:
Organizational Comments - First of all, some organizational comments:
Mission Statement and Residents' Bill of Rights - Nine years ago I felt that residents didn't have a good idea of what the POA was or what it stood for. So, we developed the Mission Statement and the Residents' Bill of Rights which we proudly publish in every issue of the Bulletin on page 2. In a nutshell, we stand for Residents' Rights.
The POA and the VHA - Residents on a continuing basis need to understand the difference between the POA and the VHA. Hopefully, we made the distinction. The VHA was started by the developer and it is unlikely that it will ever take a Residents Rights position on any issue that is contrary to the will or interests of the developer. The POA is independent and has no ties to the developer which would compromise our ability to speak out for the best interests of residents.
Budget - The POA budget in 2001 was about $6,000 with negative cash flow. We had about $1,000 in the bank and unpaid bills of about $1,500 in 2002 when I became president. Today the budget stands at about $100,000 with positive cash flow and ample cash reserves in the bank. We are not yet financially secure, but we are in better shape financially than ever.
Bulletin - We computerized the Bulletin in my first year. We expanded it from 4 pages in 2002 pages to the 20 pages we have today. The operation now has a budget of about $70,000 and advertising is covering a larger share of expenses than ever. We made huge strides in attracting advertising to the Bulletin. This alone pays a significant portion of the Bulletin,s expenses.
Membership - At the end of 2001, POA membership stood at about 600, probably stagnant, most likely declining. Now it stands at about 7,000. People seem to recognize and appreciate our efforts on their behalf.
Hall of Fame - We established the Hall of Fame to honor those who went before and made a significant contribution to the POA. We have inducted 16 into the Hall.
Website - A few years into my administration, we made our appearance on the internet with our own website (www.poa4us.org). The Bulletin is displayed there each month and the Archives section displays the Bulletin back to 2002.
Legal Action Fund - We started a Legal Action Fund to give us the flexibility to pursue legal actions when necessary. Villagers made generous contributions. The Fund was a critical resource in 2007 and 2008 when it was used to pay some of the legal expenses in the 2008 Lawsuit settlement with the developer.
Discount Partners - We started this feature of the Bulletin as a way of offering additional benefits to our members. The listing has grown to more than 75 Partners over the years.
Board of Directors - A total of 43 directors helped me with the POA business over the years. Thanks to all of them for their dedication and support. Today, the POA has one of the strongest and most qualified Boards it has ever had. In this respect, I am thankful that I can leave the POA in good hands with Elaine Dreidame as president, Bill Garner as Vice-President, and a top-notch Board.
My Organizational Mentors - Thanks especially to Russ Day for his guidance in my early years. Also, thanks to Win Shook, Carole Kopp, Frank Renner, and Elaine Dreidame.
Accomplishments - Listed below are some of the notable accomplishments of the POA over the nine years. Throughout all of these issues, projects, and accomplishments, we always focused on straight talk and what was best for all Villagers.
The Lawsuit Settlement - Villagers achieved a friendly class action lawsuit settlement with the developer in 2008 valued at $43 million. The key points of the settlement were: Provision for Reserve funds for eventual repair and replacement of our facilities north of Hwy. 466; provision for renovation of the recreation trails north of Hwy 446; creation of the AAC (Amenity Authority Committee) which allows residents elected by residents to make decisions about the expenditure of amenity funds north of Hwy. 466; and payoff of the Paradise Recreation Center renovation debt.
Defeat of the Sumter County Hospital Tax - We opposed the creation of this taxing district which would have taxed Sumter County residents about $200-$300 per home for use by our hospital and also given 20% of the tax off the top to the developer's foundation.
Expansion of the Hospital - After the defeat of the Sumter Hospital Tax, the owner of our hospital, the Leesburg Regional Medical Center, said it would delay construction of the expansion. We called this morally wrong to delay expansion of our life-saving hospital. After a series of hard-hitting stories in the Bulletin, LRMC finally relented and proceeded with the expansion.
Hospital Emergency Room - We noticed continuing poor service and performance in our hospital's ER over the years. We documented over 125 instances of serious problems in the ER. We publicized the problems. In response, LRMC brought in a new CEO of the hospital, a new director of the ER, dedicated more resources and staff to the ER, hired more nurses, established better training programs, and brought in three Villagers to sit on the Board of the hospital's parent organization.
Moffitt Cancer Center - We advocated bringing this cancer center to The Villages for what we believed would be one of the crown jewels in the medical facilities of The Villages. We organized a letter-writing program, researched the demographics, argued for bringing the center here, and voiced our hopes to the appropriate decision-makers.
Vinyl Siding - Sloppy work and installation procedures characterized the building effort of the contractors for homes in The Villages south of Hwy 466 in the 2005-2008 time period. Credit has to go to Ray Micucci and his wife Lori for spearheading the inspection of over 1,500 homes and prodding the work of the warranty department and various contractors to repair the problems.
Activity Policy Reversal - The Center Districts voted to restrict residents from gathering to protest anything. A liability insurance policy for $1 million was also required 30 days in advance of any protest gathering. The POA opposed this action, calling it a violation of our Constitutional Rights of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly, and argued against it in the Bulletin. The Center Districts backed down and rescinded the rule.
Paradise Center - The original recreation center on the east side of Hwy 441/27 was deteriorating and an absolute disgrace. We did a survey, organized residents, pleaded with the VCCDD to renovate the center, advocated renovation in the Bulletin, and were eventually successful in getting this $5 million project off the ground.
IRS/Bonds - We are waiting on this one. But, what we did do was caution restraint rather than wild speculation, and we identified the developer as the only one to benefit financially from the issuance of the bonds as tax exempt. If we get the negative outcome, we trust that the developer will do what is necessary to protect residents from any adverse impact.
Performing Arts Center - We began advocating for this center early in 2010 and gave this idea the publicity it needed which helped secure the support of many Villagers. We presented the facts on the undesirability of the Church on the Square as a performing arts center. We will continue our support until the dream becomes a reality.
Conflict of Interests by District Employees - We documented the fact that some Center District employees were in line to benefit financially from certain dealings with the developer. We viewed this as a conflict of interests. As a result, one Center District employee was re-assigned, and any dealing like this in the future will be scrutinized for any potential conflict of interests problems.
Forgotten $200,000 Billing - Somehow or another, a VCCDD bill to the developer for about $200,000 for expenses related to his use of the Savannah Center was never issued. A POA director, Irving Yedwab, noticed the problem and we publicized the situation in the Bulletin. The developer did pay up once the bill was issued.
Sexual Offended Database - We published the State of Florida Sexual Offender Database for our area in the Bulletin and brought it to our meetings for review. Some opposed this move; but, we felt it appropriate to publicize names and addresses so that residents could judge for themselves how best to react to any nearby offenders.
Purchase of Common Property - The then District Manager also thought it unnecessary to publish details explaining the various common property purchases by the Center Districts from the developer. We analyzed many of these deals and published detailed explanations in the Bulletin. Unfortunately, the District Manager's reluctance to publish details has caused huge misunderstandings on the part of residents which continue to confuse to this day.
Center District Financial Statements - We were the first organization to publish the financial statements of the two Center Districts. Prior to that the District Manager said that it was not important to provide that information for residents. Thankfully, the Center Districts now routinely publish this information and includes it on their website (www.districtgov.org)..
Bob Evans Restaurant - The developer wanted to build a Bob Evans restaurant on the east side of Hwy. 441/27. He used a heavy-handed approach with near-by residents to try to force them to approve a zoning change from residential to commercial. We publicized the issue in the Bulletin and the local opposition to this plan. The developer finally relented and the restaurant was located on Hwy. 466.
Violence on the Squares - We reported in the Bulletin on several instances of violence on the Squares. As a result, Center District administration worked with local law enforcement to provide a heightened law enforcement presence on the Squares.
POA Surveys - We conducted five Surveys through the Bulletin over the years detailing attitudes about life in The Villages. Some of the actions were later addressed by the developer and the Center Districts.
Wind Mitigation - We publicized the details of this state program to save residents literally hundreds of dollars annually on their home insurance for older homes.
Disappointments - Unfortunately, the POA has not succeeded in some endeavors over the years. Here's a listing of some of the more notable:
VHA - One of my hopes over the years was that the POA and the VHA merge to form one property owners' association. If the VHA had been willing to commit to the concept of Residents' Rights we thought there might be a chance of succeeding. We made several approaches to the VHA but were rebuffed each time.
Closing of the Clubs - The developer closed the Silverlake and the Chula Vista clubs over the opposition of the POA. The POA, under the direction of Bill Garner our new Vice President, organized residents to picket the sales office on both Squares trying to prevent the closing of the Chula Vista club. But, we were not successful.
Valuation of Common Property - We always felt that the valuation of the developer's property when sold to the Center Districts was too high and the estimates of operating expenses too low. We asked for a suspension of the sales until a proper valuation formula could be worked out, but the VCCDD never agreed.
Disclosure Reform - We presented Disclosure Reform language to the Florida legislature on several occasions, but this legislation never got anywhere. The details are presented on our website for review.
The Patron Program - We never liked the idea of the LifeLong Learning Center setting up a Patron Program for a fee which allowed Patron members to get a lower charge for classes in Villages facilities. We viewed this as bribery by the well-off to get a lower charge than those not-so-well-off. And, this lower fee was for using Villages facilities that our monthly amenity fee already paid for. We publicized this and tried to get it changed, but we were not successful. Save the Buffalo - Would that we could – but, we couldn't. We tried.
Summary - Well, it's been a great nine years. Actually, ten if you count the partial year in which I was the POA Secretary. We have had some successes and some disappointments. But, I trust that we made a positive impact on the lives and well-being of all residents in The Villages.
I will be up north for the summer, but here for the other months. I still plan to be involved with the POA. I'll see you at the general meetings. In the meantime, please continue to support your POA. And, keep smiling....