Letter: Resident takes CDD members to court

300-300-LETTERS-EDITORLetter: Resident takes CDD members to court

Steve Morrill
St Johns, FL

Dear Editor:

I would like to call attention to the story of a citizen, taxpayer and St Johns County resident who refused to be intimidated and persecuted by her Community Development District (CDD) for simply asking questions. I will refer to her as “Concerned Citizen”.

After the CDD’s Board of Supervisors issued a $15,000 bonus to one of its employees, Concerned Citizen informed them that it was her belief that the way the bonus action was enacted was a violation of Florida law. The CDD attorney agreed, and the bonus was subsequently repealed by the board.

On a later occasion, Concerned Citizen inquired about how a CDD resident survey was performed, and asked the CDD if all residents received an invitation to complete a survey or just the users of the community recreation center. Concerned Citizen later asked to inspect the CDD documents – all public records – used to develop and analyze the survey.

A CDD employee allegedly informed two of the Supervisors of Concerned Citizen’s records request outside of a public meeting of the Board of Supervisors. Those Supervisors allegedly directed certain CDD staff to develop and send a mass e-mail – that included Concerned Citizen’s name and address – to over 4,500 community residents, informing the e-mail recipients that their personal information had been compromised by Concerned Citizen’s possession of the survey information, and that Concerned Citizen had intentions to use the information in inappropriate ways.

One of the two Supervisors is said to have personally endorsed and approved the wording of the e-mail prior to it being sent. After the e-mail was sent, a CDD employee allegedly responded to inquiries from residents about the mass e-mail alert, describing Concerned Citizen as “litigious”, “a nut job”, “a bully” and implied “it is hard to know what the resident’s intention or motive” might be.

After learning of the mass e-mail sent to residents by the CDD, and the despicable claims made about her by the staff member, Concerned Citizen filed a civil lawsuit against the two Supervisors and the staff member. There is a hearing today and a trial scheduled for October 31, 2013 at 10:45 a.m. before Judge Howard M Maltz.

It will be interesting to see how this trial concludes. Considering the allegations, no one would be surprised if the CDD browbeats and criticizes Concerned Citizen for speaking out for her rights. If it is found the CDD in fact acted unlawfully toward Concerned Citizen, one can only hope the court understands the gravity of the alleged efforts to humiliate, discredit, dissuade and damage the reputation of Concerned Citizen.

However, from a human viewpoint, maybe the most damming effect might be the possibility that some community residents might be led to believe Concerned Citizen is an enemy of her neighbors and thereafter viewed as a societal outcast.

Regardless of the outcome of this lawsuit, what we all may learn from Concerned Citizen’s struggle with the CDD is how the leaders of a CDD – a low tier public entity – and others of power can disrupt and damage the life of an ordinary citizen who did nothing more than attempt to exercise their right to inspect the business documents of an agency they are required to financially support.

One also hopes this lawsuit, brought by a courageous citizen, and no doubt at great personal financial expense, will uncover how some entities that hold some degree of power over us go to great lengths to control information and knowledge, and ultimately power.

If representatives of the Julington Creek Plantation CDD did what Concerned Citizen alleged, they should step down. There is no place in our system of government for anyone who would exercise their power to squelch the voice of a citizen – and particularly the voice of a neighbor.

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