If you think that writing this blog was my idea, think again. It was the brainchild of my wife during the early November power outage when we wondered what had happened to the “disaster plan” that was in place here in the early 2000’s and whatever happened to using the clubhouse generators to provide warmth and comfort to residents?
I did my best to help her forget the idea, but then this $4M bond thing came along and I was recruited for the job. It’s been nothing short of a draining, roller coaster ride of an experience for the last three months. But this isn’t about me, so I’ll go on.
After the victory last Thursday we celebrated on the weekend, all the while knowing that the annual budget vote was coming the following Tuesday night. I guess I wasn’t prepared for the experience: democracy in action one week, a mockery of democratic process the next. There’s a lot to be said about the latter experience; it will be the subject of my next CTwatchdog.com column. After I finish this, I’ll start that.
For now, I want to skip to the end of the meeting when my wife, Joe Caggiano and I went up to speak with Irene Loretto. I actually had a legitimate question for her. Since I had searched through the Governing Ordinance of the Farmington Woods District and couldn’t find any reference to removal of Directors, I assumed she could refer me to it.
I told her that she and four other directors were not doing the work of the majority of residents at Farmington Woods and that she and they needed to go. Her first reaction was a curious look of surprise and then she told me quite firmly not to threaten her. I told her it was not a threat, that we were going to through the process by the book and quite legally.
Then she said something that I found astounding. She told me that she had received an email, as in one email, from a resident who thought we should have another vote on the bond because of all the “misinformation” that had been spread by my group, Residents for Fiscal Responsibility and others.
She really said that. 1,023 residents voted last Thursday. They turned down the two bonds not by a landslide, but by a tsunami. And all it took was ONE email to put doubt on the whole process. At that moment I realized that this issue was not going away. It will come back in some form or another. Just wait. We ended the conversation with mutual smiles and we were on our way.
When I arrived home two things troubled me: her perception that I was threatening her and her remark about the “misinformation” that was spread prior to the bond vote. I’ll deal with the threat accusation first. If being informed as a politician, and make no mistake, this woman is a politician in charge of a Taxing District, that some person or group is seeking your ouster for failure to represent the majority of the taxpayers, then we better cancel all local, state and national elections for the foreseeable future.
Because, in a democracy that's what elections, referendums, petitions and recalls are all about: ridding the community of the people who have captured it for their own purposes. It’s not a threat, but a democratic process, and if she cannot see the distinction, she is taking all this much too personally. She doesn’t see that the majority here, in a time of economic downturn, want the golf operation to sustain itself or the board to come up with a better solution. We own it. We should have some say in what is done with it and how much we are willing to give up in services to keep these two failing operations on life support.
Now my reaction to her first remark, that we had spread “misinformation” prior to the vote. Since Tuesday's meeting, I’ve been tired and lacked the motivation to write. But today I decided to take a look at the letter that Ms. Loretto sent on April 5 for a second time, the one where she states in the first paragraph: “….a great deal of misinformation is being sent around or spoken. Some is being sent without the courage from the sender to even sign it, or admit who the author is.” That person, of course, was me and my group.
The anonymous approach was a guerilla marketing tactic. The next night I appeared with Joe Caggiano on Fox61 News. We had been planning this “coming out” for a month. Of course that didn’t stop a member of the Clubhouse Committee from emailing me to tell me how “gutless” I was. I wonder where he was during the Viet Nam War?
In the end, writing takes motivation, and reading that again not only got me motivated to write, but also to read on. I encourage you to read on too, because if one side wants to start accusing the other of using “misinformation”, that other side should get a chance at rebuttal. And what follows is mine, a paragraph by paragraph dissection of her letter, sent to all residents. I’ve already covered the first paragraph, so let’s see where an analysis of paragraphs 2-11 takes us:
In this paragraph she states that “fortunately we don’t have a debt problem, but we are well aware that additional members are necessary for us to return to a break-even point.” She’s half right here. No, we don’t have the kind of “debt problem” that caused Tumble Brook in Bloomfield to go bankrupt; but that’s because we have a resident base that pays off the debts every year with increasing fees and taxes and reduced services. It’s a zero sum game.You can’t have both.
In paragraph three she states in reaction to the accusation that no cost/benefit analysis or feasibility study was done before spending $43K for architects, lawyers and bond brokers, that their cost/benefit “analysis” was done, not by an outside accountant, but by Farmington Woods accounting staff, “in effect updating part of the 2009 Sub-Committee Study on Golf.” That would be the study that was done mostly by in-house staff who were of course, as objective as they could be, considering they were employed by Farmington Woods.
The next paragraph should make every reader who has ever owned or operated a business in the real world, the world of the marketplace, where success or failure is determined strictly by the bottom line, gasp. Here she reminds us that “You should remember, that even in these tough times, Golf is contributing over $1M in revenue, and this, of course would all go away without the golf course.” OK, so I’ve got a business I want you to invest in. It brought in a cool $1B last year, unfortunately they fell short of expenses by a quarter billion. And the’re projected to do the same next year. Want to invest?
If you ever get a chance, get yourself a copy of the esteemed 2009 Ad-Hoc Select Committee to Study Golf. You can pick one up at the MA. No, it’s not a Harvard study. I doubt that I would have gotten away with turning something like this in as a term paper even in my undergraduate days. After admitting they haven’t made a profit for 5 of the last 6 years they come to the conclusion that residents should foot the bill for the golf operation whenever membership is too low to fund it.
In her letter she list costs for maintaining open space at $323K. Aside from the fact that it was OK to stick us with bond payments of roughly $360K per year to keep two losing operations alive, the final figure from the report for maintaining open space is highly suspect. Four full-time employees and $15K for keeping God’s green Earth groomed? Please. Of course we’re now being told that we would still need an irrigation system for open space. Been outside at all this week?
I guess the misinformation in this paragraph is really disinformation or perhaps just a matter of definition. When she says that “We all devoutly wish...we could return to the 30-year period that (the course) could still be provided to all of us non-golfers free of charge.” she’s ignoring the fact that for the last 20 years we have all been paying an on-going assessment in the form of restaurant minimums that they wanted to increase to $35 a month this year. And they’ve clearly stated that their goal is to run the restaurant at “a slight loss or break-even policy for the restaurant”even after collecting $400K per year from us to keep it going.
In this paragraph she makes the statement that there is “a one-time closing costs of shutting down all golf operations, which have been estimated at over $100K." Excuse me, but the 2009 Golf Committee estimated that after filling in sand traps there would be a “Net Benefit” of $130K if a conversion were made from a golf course to open space. If you want to check my numbers, go straight to the MA and get a copy of this report. They’re free.
This particular rationale has been used over the years to keep residents fearful of outsiders, especially those outsiders who would come to play golf here if it were open to the public. She states that if the course were open to the public “Farmington Woods would no longer be a private, gated community, but totally open to the public.”
So, the next time you see a delivery truck, contractor, plumber, electrician or a member of a wedding party headed to the club, or for that matter an outside golfer headed up to the club to play in a charity tournament, be sure to contact security at the front gate and have them removed. The reality is there’s only one group here that doesn’t want “outsiders” here and that’s the members of the cozy and always private, golf club.
Sometimes misinformation comes in the form of myth. In this case, I’m referring to the myth that the golf course, despite the fact that it loses money annually and is kept alive by using resident fees and taxes, thereby reducing the actual amount available for upkeep of our community, actually increases property values at Farmington Woods.
And, Irene for one, believes the myth to the extreme. She says that “I personally feel our values would decline 10-15% without the course.” That’s quite a claim, considering that in early 2009 when the economy was much better, of the two realtors that were consulted for the study only one “reluctantly suggested between 5 and 10%”. They both “thought non-golfers bought units here because there was a course or at least groomed open space.”
In this paragraph she claims that “if we close the course a complete assessment of our Club House/Restaurant operations would be necessary. A reduction in that operation would definitely lead to even more fees and taxes to unit owners.” Yeah, if we close this losing operation down it’s going to cost us even more.
But I’m sure some of us would make do by spending our $30 per month minimum somewhere else. Did you know that a study done at “real” country clubs found that even high-end members of exclusive clubs resent having to pay minimums? And did you know that our pseudo-country club now has Section 8 housing? How’s that working out for ya?
OK, last paragraph and it’s short. Can’t be any misinformation here. What’s more, I’d like to be done with this analysis; but unfortunately I’m not. In this final paragraph she says she’s “sure I have not answered absolutely every question you might have (very true, actually), but I’m hoping this information is helpful..”. You be the judge of the veracity of the second part of this sentence. If you can honestly say after reading what I’ve just written that everything in her letter was information and not misinformation/disinformation, I’ll give her a pass and let her have this one.
I’d like to wrap this up by saying that since the night of February 7th, the date of the first informational meeting on the $4M bond, I’ve been studying this issue by reading documents created by the boards and MA, by researching the internet and by talking to experts on this issue from all over the country. My group, Farmington Woods Residents for Fiscal Responsibility has tried to present information clearly, concisely and honestly so that voters could make an informed decision on May 10th. I believe we did that. And the voters spoke. End of story.
It’s time for a change here at Farmington Woods and if the present board refuses to recognize that and offer something other than the status quo, it’s time for a new board.
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