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University Park Residents Slam RD Election Set-up

MANATEE COUNTY – Residents of University Park were recently told by Manatee County Commissioners that forming a recreational district–which the BOCC approved August 2–would allow them to take control of their destiny in deciding whether to purchase their community's golf and country club at a price of more than double its appraised value. As tomorrow's election of the RD's board approaches, however, some are feeling as though their destiny is out of their hands entirely.
James Moran, who has been one of the homeowners in vocal opposition of the deal as negotiated, reached out to both Manatee County Supervisor Mike Bennett and Manatee County Attorney Mickey Palmer seeking their intervention in what he saw as a hopelessly flawed election process.
Moran, an attorney by trade, noted that the recreation district charter that was recently drafted and will serve as the authority for tomorrow's election, seems to violate Florida election law. It stipulates that only people who own homes in the district or reside there for at least 183 days can vote–or serve on the board.
Moran's wife, Janna, who also reached out to Bennett, notes that she lives in University Park from November 1 through April 30. That's 181 days a year. She adds that an information sheet titled Some Explanatory Information Regarding the Initial Election, states that the requirement is in accordance with state law, which it is not. Because Mrs. Moran is not on the deed of the couple's home, she points out that while she is eligible to vote in all federal, state and local elections, she can neither run for the board or vote in tomorrow's race.
Mr. Moran further argues that non-US citizens within the RD are being discriminated against in the election by being systematically denied the rights of US citizens. He notes that non-owners–for example, a spouse whose name is not on the deed–cannot vote because, by law, non-citizens are not allowed to stay in the US that long. Consequently, while a non-owner American spouse would be able to vote, a non-owner Canadian spouse would not. Moran adds that while the charter does not preclude a non-US citizen from serving on the board, the process has limited those who serve to those defined as "residents" by that definition.
Moran goes on to complain that a proxy vote that is being allowed does not have any place on its form to indicate that the one signing the proxy resides within the district 183 days or more per year, even though the voting rules require it and that, furthermore, there is no way to verify it anyway. Because the proxy form does not require any identification from the signer or that the signature be notarized or even witnessed, he wonders how one would know if the proxy votes are valid.
As the RD has the authority to tax and indeed plans to issue over $23 million in bonds that the homeowners would be taxed to pay off, he told Bennett he felt that voting should "follow the stringent format of general election voting, not the rules that HOAs or social groups may choose to follow."
Bennett told the Morans that even though he is the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections, he has no authority in this case because it involves a recreation district and the charter doesn't cede it to him. Bennett suggested they contact Manatee County Attorney Mitchell Palmer. Palmer emailed back that his client is the board of county commissioners and that he has "no authority, statutory or otherwise, to intervene."
Palmer suggested they retain counsel and take the matter to Attorney General Pam Bondi. As of press time, they had received no response from the AG's office.


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