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Referendum in Ave Maria June 27 Will Determine Process for Choosing AMSCD Board Members

Ave Maria has its own referendum Monday, June 27 and although it won't affect world politics or financial markets, it will decide the way in which supervisors are chosen for the Ave Maria Stewardship Community District. Voting is between noon and 6 p.m. at the Ave Maria Master Association community room in the town center. All residents who are registered to vote with an Ave Maria address may vote, and voting must be done in person.

The basic question is whether to keep the current process, in which votes are determined by land holdings or move to a system where some of the board members are chosen by direct election to serve on the board of the district, a special-purpose body responsible for infrastructure in town such as main roads and bridges, stormwater management, major lakes and irrigation.

The Florida statute creating the town of Ave Maria stipulated that at inception, AMSCD supervisors would be chosen by an election of "landowners" on the basis of one vote for every acre or part acre owned, but the statute also provided for holding popular elections for one or more board positions if residents wished to do so. The June 27 referendum is one step of that process. If residents approve the change, maps would be drawn up that would determine the number of supervisors chosen by direct election, likely just one at first, and a date for the election would be set.

One resident, Tom DiFlorio, already serves on the board. He was elected in 2010 under the "landowner" method in 2010 and will continue to serve on the board until at least until his term expires in late 2017 regardless of which method is adopted. If there is an election it would be for a different seat.

One of those interested in running for a seat if it opens up is attorney Robb Klucik, who spearheaded the petition drive to have the referendum. "As one of the people who has been part of the community since its beginning in the summer of 2007, I am so glad to see we have an opportunity to vote "YES" for self-governance in this referendum," Mr. Klucik said. "As Americans we are happy to embrace representative democracy, especially at this most basic local level."

The referendum will be managed and supervised by the district manager, Todd Wodraska, whose company provides management services to many of the more than 100 special districts in the state of Florida. He said that he has managed similar votes in other districts, the most recent being a district in the Sarasota area that voted about 97 percent in favor of directly-electing the district board.

A "yes" vote Monday will initiate a process and it would be several months before an election could be held.

Following are answers to many of the frequently-asked questions about AMSCD and the election process:

Q: What is the Ave Maria Stewardship Community District and what does its board do?

A: The AMSCD is one of more than 100 special districts in the state of Florida, quasi-governmental bodies established for special purposes. In the case of the AMSCD, the special purpose is to manage the town's infrastructure, including main roads and bridges, stormwater management (including most of the larger lakes in town) and irrigation. It has the authority to construct buildings that would be used for public purposes, although none has yet been proposed.

Q: Who is on the board?

A: The board's size of five members is determined by the Florida statute that created the town of Ave Maria. The five members currently are Thomas Peek, a retired engineer who serves as chairman; Liesa Priddy, a nearby landowner who also serves on the board of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Douglas Baird, a vice-president with the Barron Collier Cos.; Thomas DiFlorio, an Ave Maria resident active in the community; Jay Roth, the manager of the Lutgert Insurance office in the Ave Maria town center. The seat held by Mr. Baird, who is retiring from Barron Collier, is the one designated to be directly elected.

Q: How are board members chosen currently?

A: Members are chosen by "landowners" on the basis of one vote for every acre of land, or part acre, owned in Ave Maria. All homeowners have at least one vote – more if they own more than one residence in town. Because most of the land is still owned by developers, they have determined who would be on the board since its inception.

Q: What does the outcome of a referendum mean?

A: If voters approve the referendum question, a process follows that would lead to holding an election for one or more seats on the board. The first step would be that the district supervisors would, within 30 days of the referendum, direct staff to prepare maps that would show what the Florida statute creating Ave Maria calls "urban areas" of the district. The percentage of current "urban area" relative to the entire district would determine the number of seats to be elected. The statute specifies that one seat is directly elected if less than 25 percent is urban, two seats if the percentage is between 25 and 50 percent, three members if the percentage is between 50 and 70 percent, four members if 70-90 percent and all members above 90 percent. It was the contention of a Naples Daily News article in 2009 that the amount of "urban" area would never be able to exceed 50 percent, and the maps may shed light on this.

Q: When would there be an election?

A: The statute says that an election should be held within six months of the referendum, but it could be longer if the mapping is challenged.

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