Farmington Woods Chicago Style Politics

A divisive battle will come to ahead  Thursday (May 10) at the giant Farmington Woods Condo complex in Avon where a minority of the golfers want the whole complex to pay millions of dollars to install a new irrigation system owned by the tax district, which represents the complex.

The following is written by Lee Lagasse is Chairman of FW Resident for Fiscal Responsibility and blogs about this issue at www.farmingtonwoodsinsider.blogspot.com.

On May 10, 2012 residents of Farmington Woods Condominium in Avon will vote on an issue that has this quiet village of 2000 buzzing. After nearly 40 years of defining itself as a golf community, that very definition has them in a quandary: do they continue to support that identity by investing $4M into a golf/clubhouse operation that has made a profit one year in the last ten, has lost $1.3M over the last six and is already projected to lose $125K next year?

After holding Focus Groups in 2011 where residents stated that they “overwhelmingly want the golf operation to be self-supporting”, the board, at a Public Hearing in February of this year, presented residents with a plan to float $4M in bonds to replace the irrigation system on a forty-year old golf course and upgrade the clubhouse with a new entrance, elevator and horse shoe bar. The bonds would increase district taxes 18%.

It was at that hearing that a group, Farmington Woods Residents for Fiscal Responsibility, formed to prevent this 20 year debt sentence from being imposed on residents without the benefit of a long term business plan, cost/benefit analysis or evaluation done to see if the $4M was even worth spending. Instead the board took the liberty of spending $43K on lawyers, architects and a bond broker to design and plan what they wanted: upgrades to a course where 89 resident golfers out of 2000 residents actually take advantage of the amenity that the board says defines this community.

Before you begin reading the details of this story there’s someone else I’d like to introduce you to: a friend of mine who is president of a small condo community in northwest Connecticut. His budget, miniscule relative to ours, always balances, his main goal is to keep fees down and his mission, as he sees it, is to do what is in the best interests of the entire community. I commend him for that, because that’s not always the case.

After reading this column, you’ll come to see that at one Connecticut condominium the board running things places the interests of the community at large in a secondary position to the interests of a small minority. And that minority group likes to think that their activity, golf, defines the community. Welcome to Farmington Woods and Farmington Woods Golf Club.

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’

It was the late 60’s, and Viet Nam was dividing the country. It was hardhats versus hippies, and revolution was in the air. Meanwhile, in quiet Connecticut, folks were California Dreamin’. And who could blame them? A little escapism never hurt anyone: daydreams of warm sun, bikinis, ocean breezes and for some, the lure of year round golf, were irresistible fantasies.

About that time, creative developer and Waterbury native Otto Paparazzo devised a plan to satisfy at least some of that need for escape. He made a decision to develop resort style communities in the state and New England region complete with golf courses, where people could live in a country setting and enjoy California living at least six months out of the year: Heritage Village in Southbury, Heritage Hills in Somers, NY, Oronoque Village in Stratford and Farmington Woods in Avon.

Known for being sensitive to the environment, Paparazzo nevertheless got into a court battle with a grass roots group in Amherst, Massachusetts that did its best to prevent him from building a similar resort style community just east of town. His plan was to construct 2300 housing units complete with the requisite golf course and the convenience of a shopping center. The group ultimately prevailed and in the end his project was reduced to a one hundred unit development called Ice Pond.

In Avon he developed what was originally known as Heritage Woods on hilly terrain partially covered by apple orchards. He hired noted designer Desmond Muirfield to create a golf course that would not only wind its way through the community, but be its architectural focal point and the common thread that defined it as a community. Muirfield was not just an architect, he was a serious student of a variety of subjects and saw things with a vision most people lack.

Things started off well, with the course in the hands of the developer and residents free from the financial burden of running it. They could join the course if they were so inclined or they could choose not to participate and simply enjoy living in a place where the environment had not been sacrificed for the sake of squeezing people in. They could just live and relax in the nature preserve that in the future would be renamed Farmington Woods.

This arrangement proved successful until the mid-80’s when the builder went bankrupt and the bank took over his assets, including the course and clubhouse. Realizing that their business was banking and not golf course management, the bank sold it without giving residents right of first refusal. That act was to change Farmington Woods forever, from a golf community to what I refer to in a previous article as a company town with one product: golf.

WE OWN IT NOW

I’m going to refer you to the first two parts of this article to fill you in on the details, ( FARMINGTON WOODS: CONDOMINIUM OR COMPANY TOWN? Part 2 – Click here to read Part 1) but what came out of this sale was a lawsuit, a million dollar judgment, the creation of a tax district and finally the floating of a million dollar bond that secured ownership of the course to the group that wanted it most: golfers, both resident and non-resident. Suddenly, all residents, golfers and non-golfers alike, were golf entrepreneurs. As the board likes to say we own it. It belongs to us.

Unfortunately, the 90’s were not that kind to Connecticut homeowners. The collapse of Colonial Realty was, at the time, Connecticut’s banking crisis of 2008; real estate values statewide collapsed with it. It hit Farmington Woods hard. The first type of housing to be affected by price drops is always condos and the last to recover is again, condos. And by the 90’s that drop off in housing demand also affected a small niche in the housing market: golf communities.

As a result, membership at the club dropped and the golf/clubhouse operation that had been purchased with a 20 year bond in 1985 was starting to feel the pinch. The course was squeaking by, but the clubhouse was in bad need of customers. It got so bad that leaders were forced to approach residents with a seemingly innocuous proposal that went like this: since the clubhouse was the focal point of the community and its financial health was suffering, it would be in the best interest of the community to implement a $20 per month minimum in order to shore it up. And let’s not forget, they owned it.

The pitch worked. As a result, the clubhouse now began each year with roughly $200K in up front money before a single steak or burger was cooked and served. Over the next ten years the minimum would increase to $25 and then $30 each month, where it stands today. And with 37% of residents not using the club at all, unused minimums this past year totaled more than $140K. Next year’s preliminary budget for the club had forecast a $25K loss, but after residents complained, a way was found to trim it to break even status: decrease services to residents and hire some employees without benefits.

LOSSES, WHAT LOSSES?

This approach, with its lack of fiscal restraint seems to reflect the attitude of the Chairman of the Clubhouse committee, who in a memo to other committee members, questioned whether there was “really a compelling reason why we should insist on a balanced budget at all” and who “always aimed for a slight loss to a break even policy for the restaurant”. Nice luxury that most restaurants would love to have.

To many, this carefree, almost flippant attitude by a committee chairman and member of the board goes against the obligations of those positions, which include the “prohibition against investing money or property to investments which are speculative or otherwise imprudent.” Considering that residents commit nearly $400K a year to fund clubhouse operations in the form of restaurant minimums they’re playing pretty fast and loose with our money.

I’m going to stop right here and let you tell me what you’ve been thinking all along: “Poor little rich boy living on the golf course with Buffy is complaining when millions are unemployed?” or “If you hate it so much why are you still there? You could say that, you may even want to scream it at me now, but when I tell you the rest of this tale, I think you’ll have second thoughts about what you said.

Yes, Farmington Woods is in upscale Avon in the “valley” as folks like to call it. And it does have some pretty fancy digs in certain neighborhoods. But the majority of the folks living here don’t play golf, didn’t move to the “the Woods” because of the course and live on fixed incomes like social security and the always unpredictable stock market they sunk funds into in the form of 401K’s. These folks moved here because it‘s a beautiful place to live. There is also a large group of young families who moved here for what to them is the most important amenity of all: the excellent school systems of Farmington and Avon.

So, move? Are you kidding? This place is like a resort in the summer. With four pools, nine tennis courts, hiking trails and access to the rails for trails bike paths, it’s like being on vacation while living at home. I’ve seen coyotes walking up my street at night and on my last break from writing this, as I stepped out onto my deck, I was greeted by the red fox that gets my leftover steak bones when I’m eating good. I have seen deer cross my street in broad daylight and can walk with my wife on a trail to Unionville and the local Stop& Shop, returning with groceries in hand. Leave Farmington Woods? No way.

THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS

I’m unapologetically long winded, but my wife tells me I tell a pretty good story. So please keep reading because, as I’ve said on my blog, the devil’s in the details and you
don’t want to miss any of them.

I moved here in 1999, encouraged when the realtor told me that the golf course was a separate and self-sustaining aspect of the community and that no condo fees went to support it. It was in our condo documents as well. What she didn’t tell me was that the $20 per month restaurant minimum was in reality an assessment made necessary in the early 90’s by the dismal returns on the failing clubhouse operation. And, as the board always says, you can’t have a golf course without a clubhouse.

When 2005 arrived and the 20 year bond was about to be paid off, bringing an extra $100K per year into the budget, it was announced that the district would be making capital improvements to the course to the tune of $68K for things like sand traps and irrigation repair. Unlike the 90’s when people agreed to the newly created restaurant minimums with little resistance, the plan to use most of the $100K for the course wasn’t as easy to sell. Folks had plans for that money, like sidewalks, playgrounds and gyms.

A group was formed, flyers went out, and on voting night residents packed the North Lounge of the clubhouse to hear the final sales pitch for the expenditure and cast their votes on the District budget. In the end, it passed, even though the large turnout should have indicated a victory for the no’s. It was rumored later that resident golfers and their friends had signed a pact to vote yes on the budget. Was it a rumor? Perhaps, but in the end their interests carried the day.

As the end of the first decade of the 21st century came to a close a series of events took place that would leave the community wondering whether Otto Paparazzo’s experiment in California living, this condo golf community inextricably bound to the game and business of golf, was itself, financially viable. They may have even wondered why, when the other two Paparazzo golf communities in Connecticut had sold their courses, relieving themselves of the financial burden of running a golf enterprise, Farmington Woods still owned and operated a golf course at all.

By the time of the banking crisis of 2008 and the resulting housing collapse of 2009, the business of golf was suffering, not just in Connecticut, but worldwide. Rounds were down by almost 10% over a decade and courses were going bankrupt at an astounding rate, making the golf course building boom of the 90’s look like the real estate boom that had brought down some of the largest banks on Wall Street.

As a result, membership at Farmington Woods Golf Club began to decline. Whereas it took 300 members to break even, membership had fallen so far that in 2009 an ad-hoc committee was formed to deal with the problem. In the end they came to the conclusion that golf was indeed suffering and that until membership could sustain the course on its own, the only alternative was to have residents support it with condo fees and taxes until such time as the situation remedied itself. No mention was made of selling the course.

A TEN YEAR PLAN IS LAUNCHED

Then, in 2010, the Farmington Woods Strategic Needs Assessment Sub-Committee was formed and the district/condo president assigned it the task of formulating a 10 Year Long Range Strategic Plan. There had been ten year plans before, but this was the first in many years. Part of the plan was to hold focus groups in order to get input from residents, as well as staff and standing committee members. Three hundred people participated in early 2011 and when they were completed a report was written. The people had spoken.

Then, just as 2012 began, residents received a letter from the president announcing an exciting “investment opportunity”, requiring resident approval, that would be presented in a series of two informational meetings, one Public Hearing and a vote on the measure in March.

At the time, most people were too busy checking credit card bills from their Christmas shopping spree to pay attention to new “investment opportunities” and others were just plain too busy to read it. They should have. It involved a $4M investment, requiring an 18% tax increase over 20 years, to replace the course irrigation system and upgrade the clubhouse with a new entrance, elevator and horse shoe bar.

When my wife attended the initial informational meeting she came home excited. For the first time in her 13 years here, she had heard residents upset with budget proposals speak up and not in a calm manner. People were upset that after holding focus groups, the board simply decided to do what it wanted to do all along: invest money in the course/clubhouse operation with a $4M, 20 year bond, thereby locking residents into ownership of the course until the year 2032.

People also wanted to know who had given the board permission to spend $43K on architects, lawyers and a bond broker without informing residents first. The board’s response was simple and direct: they had every right to spend the money without notifying residents. They had the authority. End of story.

I didn’t attend that first meeting. After 13 years, the futility of trying and failing to have an impact on budgets here can be debilitating. But something or someone lit a spark which led me to write this series, start a blog and turn myself into an internet research machine. Can you guess? I already mentioned that I’m married, so that should be a major clue. Yes, behind every successful neighborhood activist is a “fill in the blank” woman. And I love her. But this hasn’t been easy. For most of my 13 years here I have lived almost invisibly and now I’m the face of a movement. Thanks, Sandra.

I DIDN’T ASK FOR THIS JOB

So I did a couple of days of intensive research, talked to people all over the country and prepared a presentation that I thought would fill my allotted five minutes in front of the committee. But when it came time to address these folks I had to abandon the script and speak from the heart, because when I read the Focus Group Report as part of my research, it was as if someone had intentionally stood it on its head. The priorities just didn’t seem right.

The folks who had given up a Saturday morning to help improve this community and sustain it for the next ten years had said one thing loud and clear: that they overwhelmingly wanted the golf operation to be self-supporting. Instead, what they got was a proposal to spend $4M of their hard earned dollars on an operation that by the board’s own admission had one profitable year in the last decade! So there you have it. Residents spoke, the board listened; not to the majority, but to the minority of 89 resident golfers who enjoy using their own little private country club without pesky “outsiders” and where tee times are never a problem.

If you read the first two parts of this series you’ll notice that I have compared Farmington Woods to other small towns in Connecticut, as well as some of the company towns that existed in the late 19th century. If you’re like my wife, you hate history and wish that I would just get to the point and not beat around the bush trying to compare this place with anything that existed before 2012. But I’m not done with the town analogy just yet; there’s one more place that resembles this one more and more each day and it’s the windy city of Chicago.

Wow, small Connecticut town, company towns and now Chicago? You’re really stretching your allotment of creative license, aren’t you? Why not just tell the story without all these historical and geographic references? I guess it’s because as a teacher I always taught by example. There’s nothing like a concrete example to illustrate an abstract idea. It just works. And in this case, the Chicago analogy seems to fit. Things just don’t seem right here at Farmington Woods; there’s a lot of gossip, rumor and innuendo going around and a lot of people are suspicious.

SOME QUESTIONABLE DECISIONS

Like Chicago, we have our own little history of scandal here at Farmington Woods. In 2009, our General Manager, a man who had held that position for almost twenty years, a man that everyone loved and trusted, was released because a forensic audit had found “irregularities” with Farmington Woods accounts attributable to him. When asked at a meeting whether the amount of misappropriation warranted criminal action, we were told by the president that a decision had been made to move forward. We were now without an accredited general manager.

During the same year the association cut a deal with AT&T to install an untested system called U-verse in Farmington Woods which required 700 residents to sign up for the service. They needed this number to get the special rate. Board influence was applied to the extent that the association allowed AT&T canvassers to go door to door using pressure tactics to convince residents to sign up. What’s wrong with that? We have a strictly enforced no solicitation rule here, but it was ignored for another special interest.

By the time U-verse planted noisy boxes in prominent places on the property, some of which had a history of exploding for no reason at other locations, and folks found that it took a complete day for installation with a return visit almost guaranteed, it was too late. In the end, AT&T repaired the roads that had been torn up during installation by the patch method, while shrubs that had been in place for years were replaced only after residents complained. We were left with a collection of patched roads and buzzing boxes that still keep some folks awake at night.

So who benefited from all this inconvenience? I don’t know if anyone did. But the residents of Farmington Woods have switched back to Comcast in large numbers because of their dissatisfaction with U-verse, while the boxes still buzz at night and the roads look horrible. Oh, we did get to watch HD in more rooms of our houses, which for me was no benefit. I stayed with Comcast.

Then there was the firing of the long time golf pro a few years ago for reasons that have never been explained to residents. That decision has left us with a wrongful termination law suit that will surely have an impact on our fees and taxes when it is finally resolved.

These are what I would call questionable decisions, but what follows is to me, questionable politics.

CHICAGO STYLE POLITICS

Now we all know that Chicago is the poster child for political chicanery and corruption. And I want to make it clear from the beginning that Farmington Woods is no Chicago, not by any stretch of the imagination. But seen through a different lens there is a level of corruption and its cousin, cronyism here. I doubt it’s prosecutable, but it does seem to smell of moral indifference. We have a minority cartel in control here, a group whose special interests have been a priority since the purchase of the course in 1985. They are also the folks who define community here, set the agenda and decide how the money is spent.

At the public hearing for the bond issue a woman asked when and how the board was going to communicate to residents their plan to increase district taxes 18%. The response of the president was this: residents had the opportunity to attend two informational meetings and a public hearing and if they didn’t, well too bad. In other words they fulfilled their obligation to the law in the same manner that a certain coach at Penn State did some years back: just enough to say they did.

By contrast, another woman, unconcerned about the increase, wanted to know what the fuss was about a $400 increase in her yearly taxes. According to her it was “just one night in a luxury hotel.” For others, that amount would make a nice donation to their favorite charity.

The end of the meeting was the beginning of Farmington Woods Residents for Fiscal Responsibility. It started with a conversation at the back of the room, at the end of the hearing. It now consists of an incredible collection of folks including three PhD’s, two engineers, three golfers, two attorneys, a leader in the arts community, a physician, a special education teacher, a registered nurse, a regional sales manager, a retired Fortune 500 executive and a host of concerned citizens too numerous to mention.

For the first time in its history, a group has formed at Farmington Woods that has the potential to change the culture here, a culture that has controlled and defined it for 40 years, into something that benefits all residents, not just the chosen few. It won’t be easy, considering that at the end of the hearing a board member, who by Roberts Rule of Order is supposed to remain neutral, told the audience that he was certain they had “enough votes” to pass the bonding proposal.

As you can see, the opposition is formidable. The president of both the association and the tax district has lived here since 1975. She was part of the movement that brought ownership of the course to residents. She has spent many hours, days and years of her life dedicating herself to the community known as Farmington Woods. She is the hagiographic Martha Washington of this little village. And she is respected by many, both those that agree with her and those that don’t.

IT’S NOT 1985 ANY LONGER, DOROTHY

The problem, as our group sees it, is that she and the board live in a world that most of us don’t inhabit any longer: the go-go days of the 80’s. Back in that day, the course had 300 resident members out of 600 units. Today, that number has dwindled to 89 and the future of golf, both here and worldwide is not looking bright. Busy recreational golfers don’t have the four hours it takes to complete 18 holes and the grip it and rip crowd refuses to try to navigate the trees and narrow fairways of our PGA quality course. Golf is in trouble and as the owner of a golf enterprise, the Farmington Woods community faces the prospect of some dark days ahead.

Since I started this endeavor I’ve heard from people all over the country who’ve related stories of their own golf communities in decline. Some are communities where golf is completely supported by resident fees and buyers know this going in, but with only half of unit owners participating in the sport, an upcoming proposal to float a bond for major road repair has the other half of the community questioning priorities. As a recent KPMG report states, “golf communities” have been hit hardest by the recent downturn. And it’s not over yet.

But I’m rambling again. I was talking about Chicago wasn’t I? Remember the woman who asked how the board was going to communicate the 18% increase? Not wanting to embarrass anyone, she approached the president after the meeting to repeat her previous question. The answer she got surprised her: that she was welcome to inform residents herself if she really felt it was necessary. And in this situation, it just seemed the right thing to do: tell residents, some of whom pay little to no attention to village happenings, what the board had planned for them.

One thousand flyers were mailed. A blog was started. People began to contribute both their hard earned dollars and their time. And suddenly a community that had been sleeping for the last 40 years woke up to morning in America, 2012. It was time to redefine the prevailing definition of community at Farmington Woods. As had been happening since the 90’s the demographics had changed. We were no longer a golf community, but a community of retirees on fixed incomes, families whose sole reason for buying here was the excellent school systems of Farmington and Avon, and professionals working nearby at UConn Health Center and ESPN.

The residents of 2012 were not like the residents who were convinced in 1985 to purchase the course and again in the 90’s to cough up twenty bucks a month to a club that they were only asked to join so that they could contribute to its survival. These residents had other things to do and other places to play golf. No one told them when they bought here that the course was their financial responsibility.

Our president says that “realtors lie”. She and the board maintain that this is a “golf community” and insist on defining it that way. And as residents we need to support the course and clubhouse to keep these operations alive. But the residents of Oronoque Village in Stratford, built by the same developer as Farmington Woods in the 70’s, are considered “social members”of Oronoque Country Club the day they close on their unit.. And the monthly minimum they pay for this privilege? Nothing. There are no minimums at Oronoque for residents or golfers.

SMALL TOWN POLITICS AND QUESTIONABLE VOTING RULES

And now it’s politics time. I like to read about politics, but I’m probably the least political person to ever start a political blog. I guess there are just times and events that make you act. Like the time a woman stood before the committee with tears in her eyes, telling the story of her inability to sell her unit and how increasing taxes by 18% would only make things worse. Or the crowd’s stunned and gasping reaction to the aforementioned comment that the board had done everything required and had no obligation to inform residents who were not able to attend or didn’t read the announcement in the legal section of the paper of the potential of an 18% tax increase.

If you’ll allow me, I’d like to return to my Chicago analogy. A couple of weeks ago the final Public Hearing on the condo/district budget was held. One by one, residents stepped to the microphone to ask one burning question: what are the salaries of the top management of Farmington Woods? By management, I refer to the on-site staff that works with and under the supervision of the board to operate the business of the course/clubhouse, while tending to the business and maintenance of all things Farmington Woods. It’s a big job with big salaries. Payroll for the golf/clubhouse operation alone exceeds $1.1 M.

Unfortunately the answer from the board president, the general manager and the finance chair was the same: it was basically none of our business. When residents, including one who is a working attorney, pressed them on this, they just started making things up. Was there a policy that could be referred to? No one knew. When was it implemented? No one knew that either.

What would essentially be the Town Manager, First Selectman and Finance Chair of a small Connecticut town not only refused to reveal the salaries of these “town” employees, employees paid with resident fees and taxes, they also had no idea where the policy for this decision was located or when it came into effect.

But wait, it gets better. Before the very last informational hearing, held for “snowbirds” who would have missed the chance to vote if it had been held in March as the board planned, a unit owner who lives year round in Florida called to inquire about voting by absentee ballot. Sorry, they said, you have to be here to vote. As if that weren’t bad enough, his brother, who was renting the unit, was told when he called to inquire, that as a renter he could not vote either. The rules say renters can vote if their registered to vote in Avon or Farmington.

After receiving our recent flyer he emailed me to thank us for laying out the voting rules which said that if you are a registered voter in Avon or Farmington you can vote in the District. If it hadn’t been for our flyer, that could have resulted in a double whammy of Chicago style voter suppression. But even there, you can’t suppress them all.

And it wasn’t just these people who couldn’t see the logic in stripping owners of the right to vote simply because they live too far away to be here, or happen to out of town working that day. One persistent resident who kept badgering the main office about this issue finally received a letter from the Association’s counsel, a man who is paid with resident fees, filled with references to Connecticut Statutes, legal mumbo jumbo and twisted logic, but offering no remedy for her predicament. He obviously doesn’t think he works for her. I dedicate this paragraph to him.

And I dedicate this entire piece to the efforts of a woman who in her seventh decade is a living example of the saying “if you want something done, ask a busy person.” We are all grateful for her persistence and willingness to take abuse from those who should be working for her well being and that of all residents. For that we thank you.

WHO’S IN CHARGE HERE?

And that’s how it goes here. The ruling golf cartel hires the management team responsible for the operations of the golf/clubhouse and the entire condominium complex. This group, also known as the board, defines what the community will be, where it will go and how it spends its money. You do get the chance to vote if you own property, but not if you happen to be out of town working that day.

When my friend wrote of her concern, she told the attorney about other tax districts that not only allow absentee ballots, but use actual voting machines. Oronoque Village is one of those places. His adversarial response seemed to imply that they were in fact doing something against the statutes. I’m not a lawyer so I couldn’t follow his lawyerly reasoning. But I am able to identify someone who’s working for someone other than residents here, with his convoluted response and his indifference to her plight. He made it clear with his attitude just who he works for. And it’s not us.

For those of you who got tired of the history lessons in the last column I’m going to do something you’ll probably enjoy. I’m going to jump to the future and talk about how this thing may or may not come down. On May 10th the community gets to vote Yes or No on the bond proposals. We have drawn the attention of the media over the past six weeks or so and AvonPatch.com will be here to cover the vote. A group of concerned residents is signing up volunteers to monitor voting from 6am to 8pm and there is talk of Jimmy Carter flying up to supervise the count. No, just kidding. But some here don’t think that’s a joke.

And why is that you say? If you have to ask you either don’t live in a condo or you live in a condo and like most people don’t know how the budget voting process works. Like folks here, you may not know the difference between a condo budget and a tax district budget.

The vote for the association budget goes something like this: In order for it to be certified, 51% of residents must cast votes and once that percentage is achieved, all the remaining non-votes of residents count as Yes votes. Cool, huh? In other words, 49% of the 51% could vote No, but because of the law, the remaining possible votes would be counted as Yes’s. And you wonder why your condo budget is never rejected.

That’s some pretty complicated voting, but at least the condo budget can be voted on by proxy. You could be in Miami or Afghanistan for that matter and still cast your vote. But as I said before, to vote in the district you must be here in person. No absentee ballot for you. I would like, at this time, to apologize to my fellow citizens fighting for the principles of our country in foreign lands for the board’s refusal to allow you to participate in the democratic process at Farmington Woods, in your own country.

WINDY CITY POLITICAL TACTICS

And that makes me think of Chicago again. I went to college there. I remember Richard Daley for heaven’s sake. Things could get pretty ugly at times. But I’ve learned that things can get pretty ugly in Farmington Woods as well. When I started this campaign I decided to do it anonymously, as the voice of FarmingtonWoodsInsider.blogspot.com. It was a guerrilla marketing technique.

But it was also an opportunity for the other side to discredit me, my group and what we were trying to do. In the first paragraph of a letter responding to our flyers, the president of the condo/tax district described me as “lacking the courage” to sign the flyers we sent out. Her statement that I lacked courage only motivated this Viet Nam vet to work even harder to get the facts out. The next day I had Fox61 News in my living room listening to our story.

At about the time that my courage was being questioned, I received an email from a member of the clubhouse committee calling me “gutless.” In another email, a district board director told one of our supporters that “Lagasse and his ilk” had never done a thing for the community, while another supporter told me that his wife questioned his involvement with us because someone told her that I had a bad reputation.

Welcome to politics, small town style, I guess. The board has been using scare tactics and fear to get residents to vote in their favor: they have led folks to believe that the course would close without the bonding; real estate values would drop by 10-15% if we turned it into a park; outsiders would invade our community if we sold the course and opened it up to the public. They even started a phone campaign telling people not to bother voting, it’s not going to pass anyway.

But the problem with these kinds of tactics is that they don’t address the issues. And they don’t address the concerns of the hundreds of people who have emailed me to give us encouragement and financial support. They see the problem.They want change. They want out of the golf course business. And they don’t think the board is listening.

Does any of this deter me? Not really. This isn’t a popularity contest and if it were I wouldn’t be concerned about winning. Before all this started I lived a pretty quiet existence here, complaining about yearly tax and fee increases like everyone else. But now I’m the face of a movement that honestly believes that something better can be achieved here and now is the time to begin moving in that direction.

In some ways it’s not even about the 18% increase, though I’d rather have the opportunity to donate that money to the charity of my choice than subsidize a game and a business that is failing and may never recover. I’m certainly not interested in spending it on a night at a luxury hotel or bringing friends to the club, as some have compared the increase to.

It’s interesting to note here that Desmond Muirfield, designer of golf courses, was not an avid golfer himself. In his mind “Golf (was) an invention, not, as some would have it, a divine gift. While we may celebrate the pleasure it brings us, it’s best to remember that we are singing of ourselves when we do so.” I guess he knew golf better than most.

END OF AN ERA, START OF A NEW ONE

When Otto Paparazzo developed communities like Farmington Woods in the seventies he was giving people what he thought they wanted: a home in a resort like setting with the all the amenities required to enjoy the good life. Times were turbulent, people were restless and golf communities were the great California escape that Connecticut residents longed for. It seemed like a great idea in its day.

But it’s not 1971 any more; and it’s not 1985, 1995 or 2005 for that matter. We’ve entered the second decade of the 21st century supporting an enterprise that could at some point in the future have disastrous effects on our little community. It could be a transformational period in the history of Farmington Woods, but not if the board has its way.

In Vietnam, we used to speak of “destroying the village in order to save it.” And now, with its efforts to maintain control of the course and refusal to step into the 21st century and see things with the “new eyes” that the focus groups recommended, the board of our little community could very well destroy the village they are trying to save, leaving it in the same fiscal condition as that one time fantasy land called California. And in 2012, that place, with its financial problems, doesn’t have too many Connecticut residents California Dreamin’.

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