Villages moves closer to creating new ruling board

COURTESY : Daily Commercial
By Bill Koch
Published January 6, 2007

THE VILLAGES - Stalled plans to establish a new governing authority in The Villages to oversee community-wide decisions will again move forward.

The attorney for the Village Center Community Development District, which is the one of the retirement community's governing arms, put to rest several legal concerns raised last month at a board meeting.

Archie Lowry, the Center District board's attorney, said few of the legal red flags raised by proponents at last month's meeting had merit.

Voters in The Villages last November chose to have a special "authority" created that would supplant some of the Village Center's responsibilities.

The nonbonding referendum was referred to as a "straw ballot" to gauge Villagers' sentiments about changing the way the community is governed in areas north of County Road 466.

"To me non-binding means non-binding. It's the decision of this board to move forward," Lowry told Village Center board supervisors Friday morning.

Proponents of the referendum also questioned at last month's contentious board meeting whether authority board members could hold other public offices.

"Basically, you're not in a dual office because you're in a special district," Lowry said.

Some Villagers said they were concerned about the potential for conflicts of interest from potential members of the new board.

The idea to create a special board arose from the developer after numerous complaints and protests from Villagers who accused the Village Center of having a bias and rubber-stamping developer-friendly issues. Village Center supervisors are elected by the developer and are contractors, employees or associates. Only one of the five lives in The Villages.

Each of the four residential community development district boards, the Village Center board, Lady Lake and Lake County would appoint one member to the new authority.

Lowry said he doesn't expect conflicts of interest to be a concern and said future authority members ought to disclose any "financial interests" before voting on matters.

"You need to disclose and probably not vote," he said.

Village Center board Supervisor Gary Moyer, who helped author the referendum, made the motion at Friday's meeting to contact the other boards and Lady Lake about appointing a representative for the transitional authority board.

Prospective authority members would have to seek a seat on the board in regular elections beginning in 2008.

Last month's meeting following the Nov. 7 vote became heated when several Villagers raised doubts about the developer's and the Village Center's motives and intentions for the authority.

Moyer, who also works for the developer as a vice president, countered by saying the initiative originated with the developer.

"We're fully in support of the authority. We want to do it right," said Moyer, who became red-faced several times during the discussions in early December.

Joe Gorman, president of The Villages Property Owners' Association, said the agreement that forms the authority is unclear on authority members' relationships to the developer.

The Villages has ten resident-based community development districts. Development is complete in the first six and is underway in the rest. Districts 1 through 4 have resident-elected boards while the others still have developer-selected boards. The developer also selects board members for the Village Center and Sumter Landing community development districts, which govern The Villages' commercial areas and direct some community-wide functions. Villagers' monthly amenity fees fund the two commercial-based boards.

Moyer, who also helped draft state legislation on community development districts, said the agreement which binds the seven separate governing boards together cannot be changed at this time.

Moyer said he expects a transitional board to be seated by later this year or early next year.