Before I share with you the remainder of my interview I would like to take the opportunity to thank Michael Stone for leaving a comment yesterday. It seems not many people are prepared put a name to an opinion on this matter, though the activity on HorseShowDiva would suggest there is no shortage of opinions, only of courage. Michael, I would have to review the interview transcript from last year but if you did not tell me the site was too small, either you said it to someone else, or Mark said it, or someone quoted (or misquoted) one of you in a newspaper article. I know I didn’t pull the notion out of my belly button. I don’t understand why you believe my blog is not an ‘appropriate forum’. By definition, a blog, or weblog as it was originally dubbed, is “a web site on which an individual or group of users record opinions, information, etc. on a regular basis.” Wikipedia has a nice explanation that clearly includes the manner in which I am using my blog.
I would welcome the opportunity to ask you and/or Mark a series of questions that would provide an avenue to represent your position and goals. I underestimated your willingness to talk to me ever since you rather uncharitably referred to me as a certain someone’s puppet at a social event last spring. By the way, your comment about ‘two sides to every story’ is exactly what I am seeking. Perhaps you think I am not finding middle ground by interviewing the mayor, but I would love to learn the name of anyone who is both as knowledgeable about the issues and equally or more impartial than he is. (I’m serious about wanting to gain WEP’s point of view, and will be in touch by email after the holidays – feel free to contact me directly any time of course).
Without further ado, here is part two (I made a poem!).
What happened after the hearing and revocation of the master plan? Mark’s attorney filed a for certiorari petition that claimed the council was in error in revoking the master plan, a couple of weeks after we revoked it. Now it’s going through the legal process.
You had a vote this week about whether to defend or let it go to the courts, right? I said let’s let it go to the courts. Two weeks ago on Sunday I spent three hours talking with Mark and my village manager about a settlement. What Mark offered as a settlement offer changed twice between Sunday and Monday. The settlement agreement had more opportunities for Mark than previous settlement agreements. It came to council. Vice Mayor Coates – and I agree with him – said ‘listen. We on council – we in the village – don’t have opportunities to have an open dialogue with Mr. Bellissimo regarding his settlement agreements. We can only say yes we agree to it or we don’t.’ There is no vehicle for public discussion of what Mark, the Jacobs and the village each want. We asked to go through the process again, with another 5.9 hearing where we can hear testimony. Mark didn’t want to do that. Then we asked if we could have a public hearing. We said, ‘let’s get to a point where we can get an agreement in the Sunshine so that everybody knows.’
It seems to me that one of the reasons people just give up on trying to follow this is because there are so many layers and parallel issues. Can you try to explain some of the legal wrangling? I’m not sure if it’s the village’s policy to not defend the village in the cert petition – Mr. Rosenbaum will make a presentation that this council did things inaccurately, because we revoked the master plan. What he’s saying basically is that we revoked the master plan and didn’t have jurisdiction to do so. This is between the village and Mr. Rosenbaum.
And this is what you voted on this week, to let it go through to litigation? No, it’s already going to litigation. My argument was that whether we’ve historically filed responses in the village in a cert petition or not, if they are accusing the village of wrongdoing we should be able to defend ourselves. My questioning to our new attorney Mr. Riedi (who, by the way, has sued successfully represented Wellington with a Big Blue issue with Mr. Straub – he knows the village intimately) was: ‘now that we have a new set of eyes do you think we should defend ourselves and make the presentation to the circuit court that the village did things correctly?’
One thing I’m not clear on at all now is this: what’s going to the courts and who voted how? There was a motion made by Mr. Willhite that we have a new set of eyes and that maybe we should defend ourselves. I seconded it and it died. Mr. Coates went ballistic and said there should be an investigation because it seems like all three of us are always voting as a block.
I heard about that. Weren’t you accused of being in violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law? It went to the ethics commission the next day and they said there’s no violation.
So back to the vote. On Tuesday it was voted not to have the village file its own brief in response to the cert petition. It’s important to understand that the cert petition has nothing to do with the Jacobs’ or Mr. Bellissimo’s law suits against each other. Cert petitions are filed all the time. It’s my understanding that 80 to 90% of them are denied. I’m confident that the courts are going to say the village did the right thing because it was statutorily in our power to revoke the master plan. If the circuit court tells Mark to go back, that the council did right thing, Mark has the opportunity to come back with a new master plan, which we are pleading with him to do. He just won’t do it.
He keeps saying he’s running out of time but he’s the one doing the stalling? You betcha. The dressage season has the ability to go through April 30 right now. They have a temporary permit to do that. My way of thinking as that we have some time. Let’s all get into a room. Let’s get attorneys for the Jacobs and Mr. Bellissimo and say, ‘guys – work this out. We’ll have staff there. Work it out between yourselves because it’s costing this village 50% of its time every day on this one issue. People have more concerns about putting food on their table and meeting their mortgages. They are worrying about crime, schools, and parks. That’s why I got elected – if you look back at my history, they call me the parks and rec guy.
Another thing that the public has not been able to follow is the nature or even number of the lawsuits, because there have been several. For example, what is the nature of this latest law suit brought by members of the Jacobs family? I don’t know. I can tell you the reason I don’t know. It’s because I have too much responsibility not to get involved with the litigation. I’m not a litigator. I’m happy we have a new one and I have the utmost confidence in him. I’m trying to stay out of litigation on purpose. I’m impartial.
Any perception that you aren’t impartial could potentially distract from the real issues? That’s why they’re saying that I’m in Mr. Jacobs’ pocket because he’s got so much money. That is utter nonsense.
That’s definitely what has been plastered all over everywhere. If you look at my campaign contributions, out of $50,000 in contributions the Jacobs family donated $12,000 to my campaign.
So you don’t know what this latest law suit is all about? I don’t. I don’t have any contact with the attorneys. I don’t need to know that. I want to make sure that my village, my council and my staff are acting appropriately. What I do know is that is that we need not to be involved. We have no control of who is suing who.
You indicated that you believe that the solution can only come through litigation. What do you think will be the outcome? I don’t know. The reason I believe the solution is to go to litigation is because quite frankly I’m tired of the subject. I know 95% of the residents are tired of the subject. We have a community center to build. We have a piece of property called K-Park and we are deciding what it wants to be. K-Park is 67 acres on 441 and Stribling. It’s one of the last big pieces. I proposed to Mark that we could trade. If the numbers worked out we would take the Equestrian Village property. We need to move our tennis facility someplace. That would be a perfect location for it. We would give Mark K-Park. I said to Mark, ‘you can build your equestrian village, your hotel, your commercial; there are no height restrictions. He said ‘no’, that he has too much invested in the Equestrian Village property.
Who would pay to move the existing structures? We could work something out if everyone agrees and the council votes in favor. Quite frankly I think the K-Park property is worth more. It’s on 441. It is a better piece of land; he could do whatever he wants. He could build a seven story hotel if he wants to. He’d have no problems with parking, no problems with traffic. It wouldn’t be in the equestrian overlay zone. He could put up a big commercial facility.
How much do you think emotion is playing into this battle? I don’t know about Mr. Jacobs or Mr. Bellissimo, but the emotion for me is only because I’m frustrated that we can’t just do what we’re supposed to be doing in this village. We are spinning our wheels, and this is just a continuation of the election. I believe that the PR campaign on Mark’s side is just to keep hammering away at an issue. And if you say inaccuracies long enough people start to believe them. They have the Equestrian Forum, they have their group of people who I believe are misinformed. I also believe they know they are misinformed.
Part of the problem is that the Jacobs don’t share their motives very well and what I’ve said is that their position has been almost exclusively represented negatively by what Mark says. To a certain degree the same is the case in the other direction. We know more about what the Jacobs think of Mark than we know about what Mark wants. What do you think both sides need to yield in order to go forward? I know Mark for a long time. I remember when he came in overnight from Boston wanting to do things in the village. I remember he had a lot of supporters. I’ve met Mr. Jacobs three times in all the ten years that I’ve been on council. I don’t know what their motivation is. I believe it’s to preserve and protect the equestrian community, and the equestrian overlay district, period.
Would you go so far as to say they want to protect their own neighborhood? I don’t know because to me they own such a big piece of property and they’re pretty far removed. I believe that may be an issue but not the overriding issue.
Do you believe the Jacobs need to change anything about what they are doing? Or do you think mainly they are just trying to make somebody follow the rules and be accountable for his actions? That’s what I’m trying to do and I believe that’s what they’re trying to do. People quote me as saying there is a process. I’m very process oriented. I grew up that way; my corporate career was always process oriented. I knew the rules at my employer, Proctor and Gamble. I knew there was flexibility but I knew there was a framework. I’ve always said there is a process we must follow. I don’t believe the process was followed with the Equestrian Village. Mark even told me he pushed the envelope. I don’t blame him for doing that, I blame staff for giving it, for being permissive.
You have explained to me that you are responsible for just two Wellington village staff members, the attorney and the Village Manager. I read the reports about the attorney Jeff Kurtz being let go. If you were to encapsulate the main reason why he went what would it be? This council – Mr. Willhite – has asked the last four years for his bills. They never got them. We received Mr. Kurtz’s bills for April three weeks ago. He’s six months late. We had to approve a budget amendment to get more money because it wasn’t budgeted. He’s never been forthcoming with giving this council what we want. But it was not one thing. It was many things that led the council to make the change.
How long was he attorney for the village? Ten years. I can tell you why I didn’t want Mr. Kurtz to continue. It had something to do with his billing, and something to do with being proactive to the community.
One of the reasons I wanted to write about this issue is because people are getting sick of it. Whether or not things go the way the Jacobs want, they are losing the public opinion vote. They are starting to really look like villains and they are not helping themselves by refusing to talk to people like me. What I am saying here is that basically you are my second choice! But I do appreciate your willingness to sit down with me and answer these questions today. I call us lunch-meat; we’re in between two pieces of bread and we’re the ones getting eaten up. I’ve been screaming at this village since we got on board to have our own public relations department, to say that this is the village’s position. They won’t do that because if they do it takes the responsibility off the council and puts it on village staff.
So what is the village’s position? We are the new council and we focus on process. We focus on honesty and accountability.