AMSCD Sets June 27 for Referendum on Directly Elections for the Board

Published on Tuesday, 03 May 2016 17:36

A referendum will be held in Ave Maria in June that would let residents determine whether they want to change the process for choosing members of the Ave Maria Stewardship Community District to have direct elections for one or more members of the quasi-governmental board of supervisors.

Since the town's inception, supervisors have been chosen by an election of "landowners" on the basis of one vote for every acre or part acre owned. The Florida statute creating the town of Ave Maria provided for the possibility of holding popular elections for one or more board positions if residents wished to do so, and the board at its May 3 meeting approved holding a referendum on the matter June 27.

Setting a date for the referendum was one of many steps in a process to change the way some of the supervisors are chosen. 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.

Supervisors also voted Tuesday to designate the board seat currently held by Barron Collier executive Douglas Baird, whose term is up in November and who is retiring shortly thereafter, as the one that would be directly elected. A more detailed Q&A on the board structure, the referendum and the process is at the end of this article here.

The May 3 meeting also had a lively discussion on a proposed policy on signs that could be posted on district property. A number of concerns were raised about the potential implications of regulating content of signs and in the end, the board decided to study the matter further and defer any action.

Discussions on a sign policy started earlier this year, when Pulte Homes requested permission to put banners advertising its Avalon Park development on district-owned light poles on the Seton St. bridge between the town center and the Donahue Academy. Other businesses in town also asked to be able to put signs on light poles and the AMSCD decided to look at implications such as safety and liability.

A policy was prepared for consideration at the May 3 meeting that stipulated a procedure for approving signs and also contained a number of provisions on the nature of content that would be permitted. The district's attorney, Jonathan Johnson, noted that there were risks that any regulation of content might be considered a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Mr. Baird and Supervisor Liesa Priddy both said they had problems with permitting signs if the district could not regulate content.

Mr. Johnson said the supervisors had three choices:

1. Adopt a policy that included regulations on content, acknowledging that this was subject to a First Amendment challenge that he said, in his opinion, might have a 30-40 percent chance of prevailing.

2. Adopt a policy that was neutral about the content of any signs.

3. Not permit any private parties – either individuals or organizations – to post signs on district property.

Any action on a sign policy will be left for a future meeting.

The board also approved a draft of its budget for the coming fiscal year, that keeps district assessments on Ave Maria homeowners unchanged. A public meeting on the budget will be held Aug. 2, after which time supervisors will vote on its adoption.

Q and A – Direct election of members of the Ave Maria Stewardship Community District Board of Supervisors.

Following is background and detail on a proposal to directly elect one or more members of the board. A referendum for residents to indicate whether they wish to adopt that method, gradually, will be held June 27, 2016, from noon to 6 p.m., in the community room of the Ave Maria Master Association in the town center. All registered voters can vote, but voting must be done in person.

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, storm water 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 Florida statute. 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.

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.