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DiSabatino Blames CAO for Uninformed Vote on University Park

MANATEE COUNTY – Former Manatee County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino says the Manatee County Attorney's Office failed to fully inform her before she cast a vote a year ago to create a special taxing district. The move allowed residents of University Park to engage in a process with its developers to purchase the community’s golf club, which developer John Neal had told them would otherwise be cleared for additional development.

Following the vote to create the recreation district (RD), Rich Garrett, a UP resident who opposed the deal, filed suit against both the county and the RD board. He’s made a settlement offer to the county, offering to drop his suit if they amend the charter to give homeowners more say (click here to see the amended charter in Garrett’s settlement offer). The county attorney’s office recommendation to reject Garrett’s offer is an item on the consent agenda of Tuesday’s meeting.

DiSabatino, who seconded the motion to pass the ordinance creating the RD in 2018, emailed Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, whose district the community is located in, asking for her to request that the item be removed from the consent agenda for discussion. In her email, DiSabatino asks commissioners to consider the following questions (edited for clarity and brevity):
  • Does any Commissioner who was sitting on the board in August of 2018 remember hearing anything from the Manatee County Attorney’s Office about adding extra information and extra language beyond what is in the Florida statute, to the ordinance, which would allow and grant the the University Park Recreation District (UPRD) extra powers to levy limited as well as unlimited taxes and fees?
  • Does anyone remember hearing that the BOCC would be allowing the UPRD to levy extra Ad Valorem as well as unlimited Non-Ad Valorem taxes to the residents' tax bills?
  • Does anyone remember hearing that the UPRD could levy liens on the property of anyone residing in UP who does not pay the extra fees and/or assessments in a timely manner, and could immediately begin the foreclosure process for fees not paid?
  • Are commissioners aware that the UPRD Board would have the sole authority to levy extra fees without a majority vote by the residents?
  • Do commissioners realize that only registered voters were allowed to vote? And that not all of the actual property owners were able to vote, because those who do not homestead their properties were not permitted?
  • How is it fair and/or equitable that renters were able to vote yet not the actual owners of these non-homesteaded properties? This is perhaps Taxation without Representation, in my opinion.
  • Does the board realize that the county attorney is briefing all of you, and yet, even though the county attorney’s office was doing all the negotiations with the UPRD, its hired consultant Hank Fishkind, and Pat and John Neal, you, as commissioners, may not have been provided very important information? I know I was not, nor was it discussed before or at the public hearing. Is it not a conflict of interest for the BOCC to even be discussing this with the County Attorney’s Office?
  • Do the commissioners know that Fishkind and the attorneys for the UPRD are benefiting financially by billing and collecting enormous fees that are being charged to all the property owners?
DiSabatino suggested that the county commission hold a shade meeting to discuss having outside legal counsel represent the county in the litigation. She said that she would not have voted for the creation of the UPRD, had she known what she knows today, and believes it was the CAO's failure to fully inform her, falsely representing the RD as something closer to a formality and definitely less powerful than it turned out to be.

"They didn’t just give them the keys to the kingdom," said DiSabatino by phone on Friday. "They gave them almost unlimited power. I believe this was negligence on the part of the county attorney’s office. These people got sold one thing and given another. Now they can’t sell their houses, because no one is buying over there. There are too many unknown costs they could face. These poor people had no idea what they were voting for, and county commissioners should make it right for them."

Manatee County Attorney Mickey Palmer said that because DiSabatino’s claims regarded ongoing litigation, he would have to decline to comment.

Watch the video of the item being discussed and voted on in the August 2, 2018 Manatee County Commission meeting below:



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