CDD Elections Generate A Buzz


COURTESY : Tampa Tribune
By Laura Kinsler
Published February 27, 2008

NEW TAMPA - With so much excitement building toward a presidential election in the fall, community development district races usually are little more than an afterthought.

That's not so in New Tampa, where homeowners in Live Oak Preserve and Cory Lake Isles will choose their own board supervisors for the first time.

The most dramatic shift could take place in Cory Lake Isles, which has been controlled by developer Gene Thomason since its inception 13 years ago. The community development district board was, for years, a family affair, with Thomason, his wife and son, along with a few hand-picked members meeting in a downtown law office.

Thomason's term ends this year, and he is not expected to seek re-election. Appointees Suzanne Manzi and Roger Brown also face election for the first time. In addition, the board has opted to leave former Supervisor Cory Thomason's seat vacant, meaning the newly elected members could appoint someone to the position.

Property Owners Association President Jane Taggart, whose term expires in 2010, could be the only holdover from the current board.

Live Oak Preserve Phase 1 residents will gain majority control of their community development district CDD with November's election. Engle Homes controller Jeffrey Bloch can be reappointed by the developer, but seats held by Engle executives Rick Feather and Mike Mulvihill will be on the ballot.

The board already has appointed resident Mike Ceparano to the board and has left one seat open. So, residents could hold four of the five seats after November.

The CDD election in Heritage Isles, which transitioned to a homeowner-controlled board in 2006, should generate plenty of buzz. Supervisors Steve Stark, Jack Meehan and Bill Martello face re-election. Stark, the chairman, and Meehan served on the board while it was controlled by developer Lennar, and they often don't see eye-to-eye.

Meehan and Martello voted to hire Dempsey Resort Management, the group that runs Saddlebrook, to turn around Heritage Isles' failing golf course and restaurant. Stark was vehemently opposed and still favors a proposal to lease the restaurant out to a private vendor.

Eight months into its contract, Dempsey's losses are exceeding those of two previous management companies. January is the height of snowbird season, and it should be one of the few months the golf course community operates in the black.

The relationship between Dempsey and board supervisors has deteriorated to the point that food and beverage director Pat Caccio speculated that the group could be fired at any moment. General manager Rich Thiele resigned earlier this month.

"This election in November is going to be a referendum on our decision to hire your company," Stark told Dempsey Vice President Greg Riehle during a contentious meeting.

The Florida Legislature has made it easier than ever for district residents to run for seats on their boards. For the first time, candidates who don't plan to raise or spend money are not required to open bank accounts or file financial reports with the Hillsborough County supervisor of elections.

"They don't have to go through the whole drill of appointing a campaign treasurer and filling out all the forms," elections official Tim Bridge said.

In addition, the qualifying fee was cut to $25. Candidates also may qualify by getting 25 registered voters in the district to sign a petition, which must be submitted to the elections office by May 19.

Arbor Greene resident Adam TanenbaumÖ has filed to run for one of the three seats on his board that is up for election. He would challenge incumbent David Bootcheck.

"The reason I filed is that I plan to raise a little money and campaign for this seat," Tanenbaum said. "I want to treat this like a real election, which it is."

An attorney and father of two young children, Tanenbaum said he filed for Bootcheck's seat because he noticed the incumbent had missed half of the board meetings and both budget hearings.

"These boards control millions of dollars," Tanenbaum said. "Someone needs to be there asking: 'Where is the money going?' and 'Are we getting the best service for our dollars?' We each pay $2,000 a year to the CDD."

The Tampa Palms CDD has three seats up for election. They are held by Bill Shimer, Randy Marlowe and Andy Miller.

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