Developer Issues Warning


Article Courtesy of The Tampa Tribune


Published November 21, 2007

CORY LAKE ISLES - Developer Gene Thomason last week told residents of his 1,000-home gated community to get ready for a bumpy ride, right before he and his lawyer walked out on them.

The developer-controlled property owners association has threatened to charge homeowners a special assessment to defend itself in a lawsuit brought by seven Cory Lake Isles homeowners over access to association records.

"That's just a tactic to try to divide the community," plaintiff Mark Lee said.

Florida law prohibits builder-controlled associations from assessing residents to pay for lawsuits. The residents aren't suing for money or asking for damages. They want access to financial records to find out how Thomason spent the $4.6 million he collected in homeowners fees during the past five years.

"Some things will come to a head very soon when they file their answer to the complaint," said Mark Basurto, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. "We're going to start the discovery process, and we're going to be asking to see the financial records for Cory Lakes Limited."

The answer is due Monday.

President Jane Taggart told residents the association has complied with the records requests. She said the board doesn't have any other records and never had a written contract with Cory Lakes Limited.

The neighborhood covenants gave the association exclusive authority to assess residents for maintenance and operations of the community, but homeowners were billed by Cory Lakes Limited.

The checks were not deposited into the association's checking account, plaintiff Dan Morford said.

"Even when people wrote checks out to the POA, Gene deposited them directly into the Cory Lakes Limited account," Morford said.

The association has filed dozens of liens against property owners for failing to pay assessments.

Basurto said Thomason and his hand-picked board can't have it both ways.

"To me, that does prove our point," he said.

Morford is one of two residents who applied for an open seat on the community's development district board, which has a written contract with Cory Lakes Limited through 2008.

Thomason also heads the CDD board. The seat became available in October when his son Cory Thomason resigned. The board can appoint a successor but opted to wait until January to decide.

"If I want to call someone and ask them to serve, I can do that," Thomason said.

But he said he hasn't tried to recruit anyone. Lee asked board members to hold an informal election among residents for the position, which has a term that expires in 2010. Residents suggested holding a special election during the January primary. Board member Suzanne Manzi said she would prefer leaving the seat vacant and allowing it to come up for election in November, when three other seats will be open.

However, Florida law requires that the seat be filled by appointment. District Manager John Daugirta said the informal election would ensure that the person getting the seat has support within the community. But Manzi said she wouldn't abide by any election that wasn't run by the Supervisor of Elections Office.

"If you want to do that, I guarantee you I'll steal the election from you," she said. "You don't have everyone in the community."