Dispute among residents simmers - sometimes bubbles over - in Julington Creek
Residents bitterly divided over management of neighborhood's considerable amenities

Article Courtesy of The  Florida Times-Union
By Nate Monroe
Published October 11, 2016


Head south on the Interstate 295 beltway, past the office parks and bug-infested retention ponds on the outskirts of Jacksonville, cross into St. Johns County, turn left onto Davis Pond Boulevard, and enter a suburban oasis.

Damp grass lines the roads in this little burg of more than 5,000 upscale homes, where residents go in search of better schools and safe streets, quietly tucked behind miles of sprawl.

But this prim suburban veneer masks a seething anger brewing among many neighbors here.

A governing board of residents is — not for the first time — bitterly divided over the management of the neighborhood’s considerable amenities, which include pools, tennis courts and recreation and fitness centers.

The fracas already led to the creation of a lengthy investigative report, at the cost of thousands of dollars to the neighborhood residents, on the manager in charge of those amenities — a report the manager says was politically motivated and done to ruin her reputation.

The acrimony has been enough to convince the chairman of the board to step down Tuesday from office, saying in his resignation letter that his tenure has been “marked by a constant stream of hateful remarks and personal attacks coming from those who stood to lose the most from the (neighborhood) no longer catering to them.”

The personal and intense nature of the parochial feud is remarkable.

One morning in early June, the manager showed up to find bubbles pouring out of a fountain — someone had put soap in it — and graffiti spray painted on a sidewalk that targeted her by name: “F--- Angi.” She called the police. (A sheriff’s deputy found a resident who admitted to pouring soap in the fountain but never determined who spray-painted the graffiti, according to a police report.)

“We’re our own little town, and with that we have several factions that hate each other’s guts and want to do anything they can to destroy each other,” said one resident, reflecting on recent events. “Clearly this neighborhood is polarized.”

Welcome to Julington Creek Plantation.

The crux of the dispute centers on Angi Palmieri and her company, Elite Amenities Inc., which the residential board hired in the spring of 2015 to manage the sprawling neighborhood’s many amenities.

In June, the board’s general counsel and staff members decided to begin a confidential investigation into employment complaints lodged against Palmieri during the summer. The general counsel, Jennifer Kilinski, hired an outside law firm to conduct the investigation.

The end result is a 43-page document released in August that amounts to a summary of interviews with former and current employees of the district. It includes a sometimes conflicting — and puzzling — hodgepodge of anecdotes about Palmieri’s management style (the recently unsealed federal indictment against U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and her chief of staff, which was believed to have taken prosecutors at least one year to complete, comes to 53 pages).

The board of residents is set to meet Thursday to discuss the report and could decide to fire Palmieri’s company. To say the meeting has gotten the attention of some residents would be an understatement: Board member Alison Golan said one resident told her there would be a “riot” if Palmieri is not fired.

But it can be hard to draw firm conclusions about Palmieri’s job performance from the report.

For example, one employee said Palmieri was “very unprofessional.” But when asked to explain, “she could not describe in detail why she thought Ms. Palmieri was unprofessional” except that “Ms. Palmieri giggles during meetings and does not present herself in a professional manner.”

The investigator — attorney Lindsay Oyewale of Orlando — found that the most serious allegations of unlawful employment discrimination and retaliation were unsubstantiated, though she said there were “serious concerns with regard to Ms. Palmieri’s threats of reprisal.”

Opinions expressed about Palmieri in the report run the gamut:

  • An employee said Palmieri threatened that her job would be in “jeopardy” if she found out the employee was speaking to anyone about how the district was being managed. The employee then said she “was ultimately unsure if Ms. Palmieri used the word ‘jeopardy.’”

  • Another employee told the investigator complaints about Palmieri were “not grounded.”

  • A former employee complained that Palmieri “never introduced herself to staff” and that after a year Palmieri didn’t know the employee by name. The employee also complained that a close subordinate of Palmieri gave her “the silent treatment.”

  • Another former employee compared Palmieri’s management style to shark birth: “When a baby shark is born, that baby shark is on its own.”

  • Another employee said Palmieri is “the first boss that he ‘likes’” and that “individuals who have taken issue with Ms. Palmieri are simply upset because they ‘did not get their way.’”

The housekeeping manager is frustrated because her employees did not get raises that were approved by the board.

Others complained that Palmieri paid lifeguards out of her own pocket to take shifts at pools at other properties managed by her company.

Some employees said Palmieri ordered them to do work creating medals for a race managed by her husband’s company, Ultimate Racing (Palmieri said the medals were for a charity run in honor of her late father and that it is completely unconnected to her husband’s business).

Out of all this, Oyewale concluded that although there were no legal issues at hand, allegations that Palmieri has mismanaged the district have merit. She said the majority of district staff found Palmieri was “inconsistently on site and is often unavailable to staff” and that the interviews indicate Palmieri “misused staff time by causing staff members to perform tasks unrelated to the (district) and requesting staff members for Elite Amenities’ vendors.”


Palmieri characterized the report as little more than gossip run amok.

She said her aim when Elite Amenities was hired in 2015 was to find ways to run the district more efficiently. In some cases, that meant asking employees to button down and take on more work, and in other cases it meant letting some go — tough things to do in any work environment.

Palmieri believes another factor exacerbated the drama. Some of the district employees in place when she took over are Julington Creek residents.

“It makes it very hard politically, personally and professionally to separate yourself when you’re an employee and a resident,” she said. “I feel that has caused a lot of problems we are dealing with now.”

“When things kind of operate status quo and [then] someone comes in and says now we’re going to have to work, that’s not popular,” she said.

Over the summer, Palmieri installed an Elite employee to act as general manager of the district; she had been doing the job herself in the prior year.

Palmieri said she is frustrated the report found no legal issues but nonetheless makes a non-legal conclusion about mismanagement and questioned why the report includes unsubstantiated anecdotes from disgruntled former employees.

She also said the report was quickly posted to a private Facebook group page for Julington Creek residents after its completion in late August.

Kilinski, the district’s general counsel, said she did not want to discuss the substance of the report before the board’s Thursday meeting.

“They’ll weigh the whole record,” she said.

Dan Rogerson, the board chairman, submitted a letter dated Tuesday outlining his reasons for leaving office, citing the highly negative atmosphere surrounding the board. Reached by phone, he declined comment.

“This negatively has worn heavily on staff and board members alike, and I believe it’s not representative of how the larger community feels,” Rogerson wrote in his resignation letter.

The three other board members did not return phone calls or emails.

It’s not clear how much the investigative report will cost district homeowners.

Kilinski said she did not have a final tab from the Orlando law firm that conducted the investigation.

But a separate labor attorney — also hired to handle personnel issues that arose this summer, including work on the investigative report — has done about $11,888 worth of work for the district from June through August, according to an invoice. Among the line-item charges, a little more than $3,000 worth of work directly references work on the investigation.


This would not be the first time the Julington Creek board has ousted a general manager.

In a highly contentious meeting in 2014, the board, fresh with newly elected members, fired Edd Mooney — whose management of the neighborhood amenities and finances had come under fire from some board members and residents. The atmosphere was poisonous.

“When I walked to my car, I was afraid,” said Golan, who voted to terminate Mooney.

What seems to have galvanized wider attention on Palmieri and Elite Amenities this year was a series of pool issues in the summer — there are seven pools across two different complexes in the district. Florida Department of Health inspectors had briefly closed a few of the pools because chemical balances were off.

“We took a hit there as far as some bad publicity,” Palmieri said.

She blamed a bulk of the problems on faulty pool equipment, which the district is fixing.

A Health Department official said all the pools were found in compliance after re-inspections. In order to ease “heightened” concerns from Julington Creek residents, the department also took the unusual step of taking water samples to the St. Johns County Environmental Laboratory, which has told the department the results show “satisfactory” water quality.


Golan said she’s gone back and forth on how to proceed.

“It depends on the day,” she said. “I don’t think Elite has been perfect by any stretch, but they certainly have not done things they have been accused of.”

Craig Wrathell, the district manager — who helps the general manger run the district — said he was keeping comments about Elite and Palmieri to himself until the meeting Thursday.

In an Aug. 28 email to board members, Wrathell said he would recommend at the next meeting that the board drop Elite and hire someone directly to run the district.

“Angi and Elite are a lightning rod for discontent due to ineffectual management,” he wrote.

Palmieri said she hopes the board will weigh the full record — she plans to attend the meeting to defend herself — and notes she has been in business for 11 years and never seen this kind of controversy or problems with her other clients.

“I know that I have supporters … and opponents on the board,” she said. “I would hope that they would base their decision on the facts and not the hearsay.”

Thursday’s meeting will be closely watched by many Julington Creek residents, who say the controversy has had the unfortunate effect of placing a negative spotlight on their neighborhood.

“It’s all nonsense,” said Sam Lansdale, a resident and former board member. “How did we get to this point? I don’t know.”


Julington Creek is a community development district — a special governing entity that after time acts essentially like a homeowners association on steroids, or City Hall Lite.

Created to provide development incentive, state law allows these districts to issue bonds to pay for the construction of public infrastructure and other improvements within a development (like Julington Creek’s recreation center). The debt is paid off by an assessment levied by the district on its residents, payments that appear on annual property-tax bills.

The development is governed by a five-member board that is initially controlled by a developer and eventually turned over to residents, who must win elections to take board seats. Like a city or county government, the districts must comply with state open-record and Sunshine Laws.

More than 600 community development districts operate in the state. With more than 5,000 homes, Julington Creek Plantation is massive by North Florida standards.

The single-family assessment charged to Julington Creek district residents is $726; that does not include any fees paid to the Julington Creek Property Owners’ Association.

The development district setup means the governance of what can be a large community is put in the hands of residents, who can become contentious over relatively minor issues.

But there are upsides.

“Frankly, that’s one of the good aspects of a community development districts,” said state Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, an attorney who does legal work with community development districts.

“This district concept is a good piece of public policy in that it empowers residents to make changes in their community. And it gives them some protections.”