Are fliers clarion call or dirty pool?
Villager's political literature disputed by two targeted Sumter commissioners
COURTESY : Daily Commercial
By Bill Koch
Published September 25, 2006


THE VILLAGES - Volunteers occasionally can be seen standing at mail stations in The Villages, handing out one-page fliers on why Sumter County residents should vote out County Commissioners Jim Roberts and Joey Chandler.

"Mistreatment will only stop if you vote out Roberts and Chandler," the fliers state. Villager Henry Cole is listed as the fliers' sponsor.

The literature paints the two Republicans as the culprits behind most of the county's woes and accuses the pair of nixing proposals that would have benefited The Villages.

Roberts and Chandler are accused of being "greedy," changing election procedures, raising taxes, gerrymandering voting districts, ignoring jail overcrowding, missing the collection of tax dollars and letting a state-of-the-art recycling plant fall apart.
Unfortunately, all the information in the literature, titled "Remember One Sumter," is either distorted or false, according to Roberts, Chandler, meeting minutes, county records and local statistics.

"Everything they've reported is provably wrong," Roberts said. "It is more than misleading. It is a flat-out, bold-faced lie."

Both Roberts and Chandler are attempting to distribute rebuttals to Cole's "independent" campaign literature, which urges Villagers to vote for challengers Garry Breeden and Doug Gilpin.

"If you don't have the facts, you create the lies," Roberts said of Cole's politicking. "They don't distribute this stuff in the county because people would know better."

Roberts said Cole hopes to paint the two incumbents in a bad light by repeating false information.

"If you tell a lie enough times, it becomes the truth," Roberts said. "If you look at our records, it's a very, very strong record. We have been exemplary public servants."

Roberts disputes every point in Cole's literature. One item points to the 1994 change in the way commissioners are elected, implying the two commissioners had a hand in the process. Chandler was first elected in 1994 and Roberts first took office in 2000. The change to single-member voting districts was done before either of the two were in office.

About 67 percent of Villagers voted to go to single-member voting districts in 1994. Two years ago, a ballot initiative called One Sumter, launched by now Sumter County Commissioner Dick Hoffman, changed the system back to county-wide voting for county commissioners. One Sumter narrowly gained approval during the low-turnout primary election.

Cole accuses Roberts of "gerrymandering county voting districts effectively disenfranchising Villages residents."

Roberts finds that claim absurd. Following 2003's redistricting of commission districts, The Villages got two commissioners, rather than one - former Commissioner Benny Strickland of Wildwood. Commissioners Mike Francis and Hoffman, who were elected in 2004, both live in The Villages.

Roberts said if Cole is looking for a culprit, he should look to Breeden, who retired as Public Works director two years ago.

Breeden oversaw the design of new district maps and presented them to the board on June 10, 2003.

Cole also charges Roberts with refusing to share gas tax money and removing gates in The Villages.

"They took away your fair share of gasoline tax used for maintaining our roadway right of ways, and also took away your community gate protection," Cole says in his literature.

However, it was Public Works director Tommy Hurst who discovered that the county was paying The Villages a per-mile rate several times higher than the rest of the county to maintain rights of way for roads in the retirement community. Many of those roads were residential and maintained by local homeowners.

Hurst's decision to revamp the system provoked several fiery exchanges, mostly from Villages leaders who claimed the county's "good ol' boys" were treating The Villages as a "cash cow," said Village Community Development District Supervisor Nick Jones.

Village Community Development District Supervisor Seymour Rosenblatt at the time added fuel to the controversy by saying the areas of the county outside The Villages were "hillbilly heaven."

According to minutes from the county commission's July 26, 2005 meeting, Roberts was the one who made the motion to renew the maintenance agreement with The Villages, a fact Cole ignored.

On gas taxes, state law allows for sharing of gas taxes, which are used for road repairs, with municipalities - but not with unincorporated areas or community development districts.

Cole said Roberts and Chandler "let your state-of-the-art solid waste composting facility corrode into junk causing the present solid waste crisis."

On Nov. 18, 2003, Roberts requested from Breeden an accounting of the solid waste facility that had won several technology accolades. The days later, Breeden submitted his resignation letter.

Bushnell City Manager Vince Ruano corroborated Robert's claim that Cole fabricated his comments about nixing a Villages library in favor of building one with county money in Bushnell, where Roberts lives.

"There were no county funds involved in the construction of the Bushnell Public Library," Ruano said in his letter.

Roberts put pressure on the developer prior to construction of The Villages library to adhere to provisions in the development plan, which stipulated library construction.

Cole said he stands by the information in his flier.

"I can't control what they say. I put down what I heard and saw," he said. "That was the understanding we had."

Cole said he didn't want to scrutinize point-by-point the information in the flier. "I guess we have an honest disagreement."