What's Wrong with the Harmony CDD?

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Geo

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Oct 23, 2010, 4:17:08 PM10/23/10
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I watched "The Insider" recently. It includes stirring performances by Al
Pacino and Russell Crowe. This movie is an eye opening expose on lying and
cheating by big tobacco. The tobacco companies were finally penalized more
than 200 billion dollars for their monumental and long standing deception of
the public about the dangers of cigarette smoking. The movie is based on a
true story from the mid nineties.

The tobacco story was good, but what really caught my eye was the transcript
of an actual 60 minutes interview. Mike Wallace interviewed Dr. Jeffrey
Wigand, the tobacco company insider depicted in the movie by Russell Crowe.
The 60 minutes interview details how tobacco company lawyers intentionally
falsified meeting minutes to hide the truth about the safety hazards of
cigarettes. Here is the section of the transcript that is most telling:

[voiceover showing Dr. Wigand at computer]

Dr. Wigand says he did not suspect there was anything
wrong until he attended a meeting of scientists who
worked for British American Tobacco companies from
around the world. Dr. Wigand says that his colleagues
talked about working together to develop a safer, a
less hazardous cigarette, a cigarette less likely to
cause disease. But when it came time to write up their
ideas, to create a documentary record of their
discussion, B&W's lawyers intervened.

[in office interview with Wallace]

Wigand: The minutes that came in, they were roughly
about eighteen pages long. I knew what was in the
content. They were rewritten by Kendrick Wells. They
were ...

Wallace: Who is he?

Wigand: Kendrick Wells was one of the staff attorneys
at B&W.

Wallace: And he rewrote the minutes of the meeting?

Wigand: He rewrote the minutes of the meeting. He
edited out the discussions on uh safer cigarette and
basically toned the meeting down ...

Wallace: You're saying that one of the staff attorneys
for B&W here in the United States whose name was ...

Wigand: Kendrick Wells.

Wallace: An attorney, rewrote the minutes of this
research meeting with all of the research heads of BAT
Industries?

Wigand: That's correct.

Wallace: in order to sanitize it, in effect?

Wigand: Sanitize it as well as reduce any type of
exposure associated with discussing a safer cigarette.
When you say you're going to have a safer cigarette,
that now takes everything else that you have available
and say it is unsafe. And that, from a product
liability point of view, gave the lawyers great
concern.

[voiceover footage showing Kendrick Wells walking down
street]

Wallace: Kendrick Wells, the lawyer Dr. Wigand says
deleted materials from the minutes of the scientific
meeting is now the assistant general counsel of B&W.

Why would B&W lawyers like Kendrick Wells be so
concerned?

According to B&W's own confidential files, any
evidence, any documents that show any B&W tobacco
products like Kools or Viceroys might be unsafe, those
documents would have to be produced in court as part of
any lawsuit filed by a smoker or his surviving family.

And according to the lawyers, those documents could be
disastrous for B&W.

[to Wigand in office interview]

For the lawyers to hold ...

Wigand: The lawyers intervene and then they purge
documents. And every time there was a reference to the
word "less hazardous" or "safer."

[voiceover showing Dr. Wigand sitting at his desk]

Wallace: But Dr. Wigand says the lawyers' interference,
their editing and review of his reports, did not stop
him.

Wigand: I started asking more probing questions and I
started digging deeper and deeper.


So what's the point? Am I actually comparing our little group of CDD
supervisors to the multi-billion dollar companies responsible for the deaths
of perhaps millions of people? Not really, but big corruption always starts
with little corruption, right?

Think of it this way. If it's OK for public officials in Harmony to
manipulate public records for the purpose of hiding the developer's misdeeds
and to gloss over the misuse of tax dollars (see
http://tinyurl.com/29pu945 ), what else can we expect from such people when
the stakes are much higher?

I believe that something is wrong with Harmony in general and the Harmony
CDD in particular. IMHO, what is wrong in Harmony is directly related to the
fact that ordinary citizens of our little community are not running things
here.

Obviously, the main thing wrong with the Harmony CDD is that it is still
under the leadership of Bob Evans (aka Robert D. Evans / Lochmere
Development), the dishonest consultant hired by Starwood Capital to run
Harmony. Evans doesn't even live in Osceola county, yet he was hired by
Starwood apparently because he has some prior experience running CDDs.

For those folks new to Harmony (many of the original residents have moved
on), you probably don't remember the first time that we had the displeasure
of meeting Bob Evans. It was at a public meeting held in 2005. This was a
few months after Starwood Capitol purchased Harmony from Jim Lentz for
$75,000,000. Bob Evans was contracted by Starwood to be its public face in
Harmony. His name even appears in the purchase agreement (see
http://tinyurl.com/26xab4o ).

During the December 7, 2005 public meeting in Harmony, Bob Evans was asked
by a former resident:

Can we count on the monthly support of the developer?
[for the charter school]

Many of you must be thinking "What charter school?" The false promise of the
former charter school drew many early families to Harmony, including mine.

Bob Evans responded in no uncertain terms (hear the audio attachment below):

The developer, being Birchwood, has absolutely no
requirement whatsoever to fund the charter school,
NONE, but they do. ... The development has been a
supporter of the charter school and will continue to do
so. We've demonstrated our support, non-stop. ... The
education of these kids are a priority to us. The
charter school, as I've talked about tonight, is a HUGE
priority on our list of things to do. So that I will
commit to.

A few days later Bob Evans met with the Harmony Charter School board. He
took the unprecedented step of instructing the school board to turn off the
tape recorder used to record public meetings. He then said words to the
effect (not verbatim since we have witnesses rather than a recording, see
http://tinyurl.com/2cjb6w7 ):

There are other ways of obtaining financial support for
the school ... The charter school board should ask
Arthur J. Gallagher for money.

So the developer (Evans / Starwood) was already in the process of dissolving
the school charter when Bob Evans spoke the words "The development has been
a supporter of the charter school and will continue to do so." The charter
school continued to receive money from the developer for a few months. But
when Bob Evans spoke publicly about ongoing support for the charter school,
he was already talking privately about shutting it down. One charter school
board official wrote soon thereafter "The Developer should be ashamed!!!"
(see http://tinyurl.com/245so9h ).

This is the same Bob Evans who just a few months later made a secret
agreement with 6 Harmony residents (including CDD supervisor Kerul Kassel)
giving them free board for their horses in Harmony (to the exclusion of all
others, more than a $60,000 value as of today) in exchange for silence about
the many Harmony issues they had been clamoring publicly about at that time
(see http://tinyurl.com/yenq9qt ).

More recently we have seen the lies of Bob Evans continue unabated.

When asked at a recent Harmony CDD meeting:

Do different rules of order apply to different
meetings? Do different rules apply to different
residents who ask questions?

Evans responded:

No, I think we are pretty fair and balanced.

Yet the public record clearly proves the opposite (the real public record -
the audio recording of the meeting - not the meeting minutes falsified by
Gary Moyer / Severn Trent and then approved by Evans and the Harmony CDD,
again see http://tinyurl.com/29pu945 ).

It is bad enough having someone like Evans running the show in Harmony, but
3 of the 4 residents sitting as supervisors on the Harmony CDD are not much
better.

I made a public records request to these CDD supervisors a few weeks ago. I
wanted to know if they had been responsive to any residents of Harmony since
the election in 2008. I made this request to each individual sitting as a
supervisor since 2008:

Bob Evans
Kerul Kassel
Marl LeMenager
Nancy Snyder

As you may know, public officials are required by Florida law to disclose
their public records to anyone who asks. This is the essence of the Florida
Sunshine Law. You may also know that these same CDD supervisors have made
repeated use of the Florida Sunshine Law during CDD meetings to claim that
they cannot be responsive to residents in an open online forum like this. Of
course that was the opinion offered by the CDD attorney hired by the
developer (Tim Qualls of Young van Assenderp, PA). Yet others like the
attorney for the Osceola School District would disagree. She has offered the
opinion that electronic communications outside of meetings - even between
board members - is perfectly legal and in full accordance with the Sunshine
Law.

These same CDD supervisors who have repeatedly cloaked themselves in the
Florida Sunshine Law to avoid public scrutiny, have also used legal
maneuverings worthy of the sleaziest of tobacco attorneys to suppress public
documents.

How did they respond when asked to share their public records?

Bob Evans:

Evans totally ignored the request no doubt knowing that
the CDD attorney would give him an out.

Kerul Kassel:

Her initial response:

'Thank you for your public records request. For those
records of which I am "the custodian" I look forward to
promptly responding to your request in good faith as
per Florida law (Statute 119.07, subsection C).'

Her final response 9 days later:

"FYI, as of this past Wednesday, September 15, I sent
copies of all email correspondence to the Severn Trent
office as directed by Mr. Qualls [CDD attorney] and
Mrs. Burgress [transcriptionist of the falsified CDD
meeting minutes]."

Notice that Kerul didn't send the documents to me. She
sent them to Gary Moyer et al. Apparently the term
"good faith" means little to Kerul.

Mark LeMenager:

Initial response:

"Your request has been received. I am currently
awaiting counsel's advice as to what will be the
appropriate amount to charge you for the cost of
printing out the hundreds, if not thousands, of pages
of emails and their attachments that you have
requested."

Who prints emails when clicking "Forward" is so easy?
At least LeMenager doesn't try to hide his contempt.
He made his true intentions obvious right from the
start.

Same day:

"Counsel has been appraised of your request. Still
awaiting their response."

2 days later:

"The District Manager [Gary Moyer], as custodian of the
public records of the district has been notified of
your request. Feel free to contact him directly
regarding it's fulfillment."

Nancy Snyder:

"I am in washington DC on a family medical emergency and
don't know when I will b able to reply to ur request."

I never heard from Nancy again.

Aside from Bob Evans and Mark LeMenager, you get the initial impression from
the ladies that they might actually be sincere in their desire to abide by
the spirit of the Florida Sunshine Law. But alas, it would appear that Kerul
Kassel and Nancy Snyder also acceded to the runaround tactics of the
developer's cronies - Gary Moyer and Tim Qualls.

So what do you suppose was the end result of all this public disclosure? Was
even a single document proffered showing responsiveness to the residents of
Harmony on the part of any of these Harmony CDD supervisors? Is there even
one email showing that these people helped anyone but themselves from their
positions of public responsibility?

Instead of responding openly, honestly and in good faith, these people chose
to hide behind the slithering tactics of the CDD attorney and the CDD
manager:

Please note to date there are 44,209 emails with regard
to the Harmony CDD and your request that we have the
duty to review and assess for exempt content. The
estimated costs for review and production of those
emails are based on the following fee schedule ...
Accordingly, the estimated cost to review and to
provide the requested correspondence is $2520.00.
Please reference the attached memo from Tim Qualls, of
the law firm that represents the Harmony CDD, regarding
legal authority for the applicable service charges.

44,209 emails for $2520! What a joke! As one of the most verbose and
outspoken residents of Harmony I have written but few words privately to any
of these people over the past 2 years. I am sure that the same can be said
of my neighbors [This was confirmed by Steve Berube at the "Meet the
Candidates" session today. He said that in all likelihood the other CDD
supervisors have received little if any CDD related email from residents.
Steve said that I am the only Harmony resident who has communicated with him
by email about CDD matters] Naturally, anyone who really didn't want the
facts to be known could produce thousands of emails including the marketing
spam regularly disseminated by Harmony Development Company.

Of course, considering the dishonesty demonstrated by some of these same
Harmony CDD supervisors during CDD meetings, this master stroke of
disingenuity and runaround comes as no surprise at all.

What did we learn about the true meaning of the Florida Sunshine Law in
Harmony? With the right (or wrong) attorney involved, it means nothing at
all.

If you have any doubt about the long-term repercussions of lying, subterfuge
and secrecy, just look at what happened recently in the little city of Bell,
California. Citizens there were unaware and uninvolved for so long that
their elected officials ended up in jail after misappropriating the city's
tax money (see "Local Corruption Tactics.pdf" below).

Only one Harmony CDD supervisor has ever been responsive in good faith to a
public records request that I am aware of. That would be Steve Berube. I
have asked and he has responded quickly, honestly and with no meandering BS.

So what else is wrong with these Harmony CDD supervisors besides their
avoidance of transparency and accountability? Consider a couple of examples
of their voting record.

The CDD (prior to Steve Berube's involvement) let Bob Evans get away with
steering consideration away from a landscaping company that might have saved
Harmony taxpayers $350,000 over 4 years (see http://tinyurl.com/23c5uxg ).
This resulted in Luke Brothers being awarded the single largest contract in
Harmony. As we can see every day from the pitiable appearance of Harmony
(away from the main roads), this choice forced on us by Bob Evans (and Nancy
Snyder) has proven to be quite a mistake. But ask yourself, how do such
mistakes happen when 2 of the 5 supervisors were actually elected by the
citizens of Harmony?

I believe that the unfortunate selection of Luke Brothers came about first
and foremost because Bob Evans and Nancy Snyder prematurely cut off debate
on the topic of landscape maintenance. Thereafter Luke Brothers was selected
for how it looked on paper compared to the remaining 4 companies still under
consideration. But did any of these CDD supervisors bother to look beyond
the paper? Did any of them get off of their fat asses (or in the case of
LeMenager, pompous ass) and visit even one major site maintained by Luke
Brothers? I don't think so. But isn't that the least you should expect of
the people representing your interests and your hard-earned tax dollars?
This is the definition of due diligence and it was apparently not done for
the single largest contract awarded by these people.

Another example of how the current Harmony CDD votes is illustrated by the
attached photos (see below). Notice how the grass in front of Nancy Snyder's
house looks nicely manicured. Look also at the front of Mark LeMenager's
house and the front of Kerul Kassel's house. Unlike many other areas of
Harmony, their grass is well maintained. Do you know why this grass is so
well maintained? Because these CDD supervisors voted to have Luke Brothers
maintain this grass at taxpayer expense. So while Luke Brothers has serious
problems maintaining more out-of-the-way places in Harmony, they have no
trouble maintaining the grass in front of the homes of these CDD
supervisors.

While the vast majority of homeowners in Harmony are required to maintain
their own grass (at their own expense in addition to paying CDD taxes),
these CDD supervisors voted to have the grass in front of their own homes
maintained by the CDD at no additional cost to themselves. These are the
same people who have voted repeatedly to use CDD tax dollars to maintain
developer owned golf course ponds. Take a look at the Harmony home in the
last photo below. Can you tell that it isn't owned by a CDD supervisor?

There is only one resident CDD supervisor who doesn't benefit from free
services provided by Luke Brothers at tax payer expense. That would be Steve
Berube. Coincidentally, Steve is also the only CDD supervisor who didn't
vote to award Luke Brothers the landscape maintenance contract (he wasn't on
the board at the time).

Why do you suppose that Steve Berube compares so favorably to these other
CDD supervisors? Why is he the only one who regularly walks around Harmony
noting and then reporting the shoddy work done by Luke Brothers? Why is
Steve the only CDD supervisor who repeatedly brings to light the
shortcomings of Luke Brothers at CDD meetings while other supervisors like
Bob Evans and Kerul Kassel try to shut him up? Why is he the only CDD
supervisor who appears responsive to residents? Why is he the hardest
working man in CDD business? ;o)

Of course no one can know the answers to these questions for sure, but I
have a pretty good idea. I believe that the answer appears in the financial
disclosure documents required for submission by these supervisors. And since
these public records are not under the control of Gary Moyer or Tim Qualls,
they are not so easily suppressed.

First, Bob Evans works for Starwood. His only interest is in serving
Starwood's interests. So anytime he can get the Harmony CDD to pay for
developer owned property maintenance (at taxpayer expense), he is doing his
job. Thus what follows applies to the other 4 CDD supervisors, those who are
supposed to represent Harmony residents since they are also Harmony
residents.

From these financial disclosures one fact shines through like the sun in the
sky: 3 of these 4 people don't work for a living.

There is exactly one CDD supervisor with a full-time job among the 4
residents. Guess who? That would be Steve Berube.

Here are the others:

Nancy Snyder:

From Nancy's disclosure we can see that she owns 4
homes in Harmony and 1 in Rockledge. She has various
other investment income, but no job. Thus, like Bob
Evans and Starwood, Nancy is primarily a real-estate
investor.

Mark LeMenager:

From Mark's disclosure we can see that he also owns
several homes: 2 in Harmony, 1 in Celebration and 1 in
Kissimmee. Besides the equity in these homes and
various other investments, it would appear that Mark's
primary income is from his activities as a landlord
renting one of his homes in Harmony as well as others
elsewhere. So like Nancy, Bob Evans and Starwood, it
would appear that Mark is primarily a real-estate
investor.

Kerul Kassel:

From Kerul's disclosures we can see that contrary to
what many in Harmony have been lead to believe (via
developer solicitations, etc.), according to the
official public record Kerul hasn't actually earned any
money selling books in the 2 years reported nor has she
earned anything from her "coaching" business either,
not one penny. 100% of Kerul's reported income comes
from her investments in equities and commercial
real-estate. Of course one major item missing from
Kerul's financial disclosure is the gift of free horse
boarding from Bob Evans valued at upwards of $60,000.
My guess is that unlike the vast majority of Harmony
residents, Kerul inherited all that she owns. And just
like Nancy, Mark, Bob Evans and Starwood it would
appear that Kerul is primarily a real-estate investor.

The one and only Harmony CDD supervisor who doesn't earn money from
real-estate investments is Steve Berube. Like most Harmony residents, the
only home that he owns is the one that he lives in.

There are a few simple questions that should come to mind about these
supervisors. As real-estate investors rather than as folks who actually work
for a living, do these people really represent most residents of Harmony?

As real-estate investors, when it comes to spending hard-earned tax dollars
aren't these individuals more inclined to vote with the developer like Bob
Evans does (also a real-estate investor) contrary to the best interests of
working residents? (as they have already done)

In my opinion, Harmony needs folks as CDD supervisors who know what it's
like to struggle for a living in today's economy, not people living lives of
leisure who think and act like real-estate investors. As CDD supervisors we
need real working people whose primary interests are spending our tax
dollars wisely and holding the developer accountable.

While real-estate investors care more about profiting from people who may
live in Harmony someday, CDD supervisors should be more concerned about
people who live here today. And they should be fully accountable to these
residents, not the developer.

BobEvans12-07-2005.mp3
Local Corruption Tactics.pdf
Snyder House.jpg
LeMenager House.jpg
Kassel House.jpg
Other House.JPG

Geo

unread,
Oct 25, 2010, 7:33:40 PM10/25/10
to HarmonyFL
*** CORRECTION ***

I wrote:

"Like most Harmony residents, the only home that he owns is the one
that he lives in."

This is an error corrected by Steve today. I learned that he also co-
owns a home in Orlando with his daughter. She lives in it.
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