Civil court ruling fuels Sun 'n Lake controversy

Article Courtesy of The Highlands Today
By Joe Seelig
Published November 21, 2010

SEBRING - Factions affected by a civil suit in Sun 'n Lake of Sebring Improvement District had differing interpretations of a judge's ruling that found in favor of the Property Owners Association of Sun 'n Lake of Sebring Inc., regarding the 2009 election.

One side said the Oct. 5 court ruling questioned the legality of 2,022 votes cast by a large landowner, National Recreational Properties Inc., (NRPI), which swayed the course of the 2009 landowners election and reelected Incumbent Supervisor Frank Guglielmi.

The Improvement District's Attorney John McClure said all Circuit Judge Angela Cowden's decision meant was that NRPI could not vote in any future election.

Judge Cowden found in favor of the property owners because NRPI did not respond or plead in the civil action and was therefore in default.

"The clerk of this court entered a default against (NRPI) on March 4, 2010," Cowden wrote in her decision. "When a default is entered against a defendant, the court should take all of the plaintiff's allegations as true."

The civil suit was filed by local attorney Gary Gossett on behalf of the POA on Jan. 16, 2009 and asked the court for its permanent injunctive relief to apply to the Jan. 23, 2009 election as well. But the final ruling came more than a year after the election.

According to McClure, the court's decision was not retroactive to the 2009 election and had no legal affect on anything that's already taken place.

He said he knew of no pending litigation or any court ruling in that regard.

"The court did not rule that any prior election was invalid or that their votes were improperly cast in anyway," he said.

Supervisor Dick Miller, who lost to Guglielmi in 2009, but was elected to a popular seat in November, said Tuesday that he didn't entirely accept McClure's interpretation of the ruling.

"The fact is pretty simple, if proper procedures had been followed the outcome would have been quite different," Miller said. "What we've got here is really a moral or ethical situation.

"I will not attempt to change the legal outcome of the election. If I was in that position I'd have to ask myself on what basis do I serve? The point is you had a supervisor elected who shouldn't have been elected based upon the legalities of that time."

In the lawsuit the POA alleged that a controversy existed between it and NRPI over the mega-landowner's right to cast its more than 2,000 proxy votes in a landowner election.

POA President Larry Stange believed the ruling showed NRPI wasn't legally able to vote because they hadn't paid up their assessments in full.

"NRPI paid one year's assessment, but in order to vote they would have had to pay the furthest back first to get caught up," he said. "So they weren't legal to vote; so we won."

The suit also stated that the district's files were not properly maintained, including three differing versions of an important document regarding NRPI's right to vote, one signed, one partially signed and one unsigned, so the controversy could not be readily resolved.

But, NRPI voted in the January 2009, landowners' election giving its 2,022 votes to Guglielmi.

Therefore, Stange maintained Tuesday, that Guglielmi was not legally elected and should not sit on the board of supervisors.

According to a previous report, in that race Guglielmi received 2,658 votes, and edged out Dick Miller, with his 1,514 votes by a margin of 1,144 votes.

What happens next is up to the board of supervisors, Stange said.

Supervisor Frank Guglielmi said Wednesday that he had no intention of stepping down from the Sun 'n Lake Board of Supervisors. This issue has been going on since 2008, he said.

"Why do they keep pushing this," Guglielmi asked? "What are they trying to achieve? NRPI's votes were legal. They tried to get me off the board, but they're not going to do it. These guys don't want me on the board because it doesn't fit their agenda.

"I'm tired of this nonsense. I was legally elected and I'll never resign. I've got two more years on my term. I'm not going to resign."