Here is what Lakewood Village Trustee said in the comment section under this article on the Turnberry Lakes Special Service Assessment district:
Deliberation over this issue essentially evolved into a Paul Serwatka filibuster – and for very good reason!
I believe very strongly that every member of the Lakewood Village Board, excluding myself, committed a gross injustice to hundreds of Lakewood residents by arbitrarily and capriciously instituting this new SSA.
While there are many residents in other parts of Lakewood who were not affected by this gross injustice, it is imperative to remember that if government can commit injustice to Turnberry area residents today; it can commit injustice for the Gates area or any area tomorrow – an injustice to one must be viewed as an injustice to all.
First and foremost, we need to call this exactly what it is.
THIS IS A 50-YEAR PROPERTY TAX!
For the past 25-years, 597 homes were included in an SSA to maintain the Turnberry lakes.
My home was one of the 597.
This SSA had come to expire and a new mechanism was needed to collect funds to maintain these lakes.
While many residents thought it better to handle it amongst themselves, thereby enabling them to do away with the village, the imposition of a tax, the added expenses (prevailing wage and administrative) and government bureaucracies – there were some, primarily the 77 lake-front lake owners, who preferred to create a new SSA district.
Opposition was raised early on by roughly 300 residents on the outskirts of the district.
These residents were quickly released from the burden of the proposed new SSA district.
My home was among those that were being released and would no longer be responsible for paying.
So, I had no skin in the game.
I was not fighting for myself.
The new, arbitrarily selected, district would be comprised of approximately 293 properties while 77 lake-front homes surround the Turnberry lakes.
These are the lake owners and my understanding is that they have actual ownership of the land up to and under the lakes to the center of the lake.
The TPA came to the village board asking them to institute this new SSA.
The village board told the TPA, specifically, that if they could demonstrate “strong support from the residents” from within this new, arbitrarily selected SSA District that they would move forward in instituting a new SSA.
The TPA came back and informed the village that they had distributed a survey informing residents of the proposed new SSA and asking them to vote YES or NO on supporting it.
They “reported” that they indeed had sufficient support. The following stats were “reported to the village.”
– 293 surveys distributed
– 221 replies received
– 186 “YES” votes
– 84% approval
It was then reported to the trustees as well as to the residents, that “there was support by an overwhelming majority of the residents polled” and a new SSA would be instituted.
(We’ll set aside the fact that the 186 alleged “YES” votes only equate to a 63% approval of all actual property owners in the new, arbitrarily selected district.)
The village then sent out a letter to residents notifying of the following:
– A new SSA district was being instituted.
– This would constitute a TAX on their property and become part of their property tax bill.
– The amount assessed would be calculated using a .15% multiplier against the assessed value of their property
– The amount assessed would increase as their property value increased.
This was cause for alarm for many residents as they said they were never informed of any of this.
On Wednesday, July 8th, I met with 4 residents who contacted me, pleading with me to help them.
They explained to me that they were misinformed by the survey that was provided to them by the TPA and after having voted YES, and then receiving the letter from the village telling them entirely different information, they would never have voted YES.
They then showed me a petition signed by 19 of their neighbors attesting to the fact that they felt misled by the survey and light of the new information provided, no longer wish to vote YES.
The residents then provided me a copy of the initial survey that was provided and voted upon.
I read the survey and quickly ascertained that it, in fact, provided NO SUBSANTIVE INFORMATION WHATSOEVER. It talked of the importance of the lakes to the vitality of the village.
It talked about how the lakes affected everyone’s property values and it talked of the importance of maintaining the lakes.
It then stated that in order to maintain the lakes, they were being asked to contribute to a new SSA. They were told the amount being asked would equate to “approximately $165 on average for each residence.”
And that “the specific amount would be contingent on the assessed value of their home”.
No other facts or data were provided.
Doing the math, we calculated the assessments against nearly 40 of these homes.
The assessments varied in range from $220 to $410 with most being between $250 and $350 – a far cry from the “ $165 average per residence” as reported in the survey.
And knowing, now, that the assessment will be determined using a multiplier against their homes assessed value it is reasonable to assume that these amounts would increase exponentially over 50 years!
Here is the part that I find truly astounding.
On Thursday, July 9th, I sent an email to village manager, Catherine Peterson asking her to forward, to me, the actual survey that was distributed to residents along with something showing the votes that were tallied.
She replied, informing me that she did not have any of these documents.
She stated “I was just given the figures that generated that quote from one of the TPA reps. I’ve asked for the details, and I’ll let you know as soon as I hear back.”
So, here we are, just days before we are to vote on imposing a 50-YEAR PROPERTY TAX – the entire proposal of which was predicated on the idea that there was “overwhelming support by the residents” – and come to find out the village staff and board had never even seen any documentation of these reported facts!
The next day, Friday, July 10th, I received an email back from village manager, Catherine Peterson informing me that she was in receipt of the surveys and roster of votes and providing me with same.
The survey sent was, in fact, identical to the one shown to me by the concerned residents.
The vote roster consisted of a simple spread sheet with names, addresses and a column for YES or NO.
On Saturday, July 11th, I spent a couple hours knocking on doors of residents who were marked as having voted YES.
I spoke with 18 residents.
16 residents indicated that they too felt misled and in light of the new information provided would not vote YES.
Two residents adamantly stated that they never submitted a survey.
They did NOT vote at all and were upset that they were marked as YES votes.
But, it gets worse, yet.
The night of the village board meeting, as the board’s deliberations turned into a bit of filibuster on my part, I informed the board members of all my findings.
They made clear that my findings were of no consequence to them.
I then posed some very direct questions to members of the board as well as to the village attorney.
Question 1 to board members:
– Have you read the survey that was provided to residents?
To this, they answered that they had “received” the survey
Question 2 to board members
– Do you believe the information provided in the survey was accurate and adequate so as to allow residents to make an informed decision?
To this ALL board members answered that they did not recall what the survey said.
Question 3 to board members
– Have you seen the vote roster or counted the votes?
ALL TRUSTEES stated they never saw a roster of votes.
Question 4 to ALL BOARD MEMBERS, STAFF AND VILLAGE ATTORNEY
– Have any of you actually seen any of the ballots showing that the votes took place and verifying the votes as reported?
The answer by ALL BOARD MEMBERS – ALL STAFF – and THE VILLAGE ATTORNEY HIMSELF was a resounding “NO! We have never seen any ballots or even a vote roster!”
NOT A SINGLE MEMBER OF THE BOARD, THE STAFF OR THE VILLAGE ATTORNEY HAS EVER SEEN A SHRED OF EVIDENCE VERIFYING ANY OF THE ALLEGED VOTES!
THAT SHOULD ABSOLUTELY FRIGHTEN EVERY RESIDENT IN THE ENTIRE VILLAGE!
I then presented three questions to the village attorney.
1. In your professional legal opinion, do you believe the survey, as provided, constitutes reasonable information for residents, with which to provide informed consent?
To this he responded that he had no knowledge of the contents of the survey.
2. In light of:
– the information contained in the survey,
– the information that was spelled out after the survey,
– The absence of actual ballots cast
– The fact that residents today, as well as others not here today expressed not having an understanding of all the facts,
And being that the creation of this entire SSA has been predicated on the notion that there is “Strong support from residents”
. Are you comfortable in advising board members to move forward on creating this SSA?
4. Now knowing all of this, are you, or would you be, comfortable defending the village against any litigation that may arise from moving forward today- with the current perceived consent – we have today?
The Village Attorney responded to these questions by stating that he was perfectly comfortable advising the board to move forward and would be willing to defend the board for free because the entire process of the survey and votes was not a requirement under state law.
While this may be true by the letter of the law, my contention remains that I certainly do not believe that any of this behavior and or any of the actions by any of the board members are in any way reflective of the spirit of responsible, honest government,
And while there was, as expected, quite a bit of hostility, throughout my filibuster, from the 50+ lake owners in attendance. ]]And while some say I went on too long or was too animated in my arguments, I can only say that in my campaign I made a promise to the residents of Lakewood…
I promised I would FIGHT for them!
I promised I would do more than just “vote the right way”- that I would FIGHT!
And I believe this night exemplified that I intend to keep that promise – and that I will NOT falter in the face of adversity!