Despite Rejection Of Bonding For Farmington Woods’ Golf Course, Golfers Continue To Call Shots At Avon Complex

It has been seven weeks since residents of Farmington Woods Condominium  went to the polls to vote on 20 year bond proposals totaling $4M to replace the golf course irrigation system and upgrade the clubhouse with an elevator and horseshoe bar. The passage of both bonds would have increased district taxes by 18%.

By the time the vote took place on May 10, a group, Farmington Woods Residents for Fiscal Responsibility was formed, a blog was started and thousands of flyers were sent to residents laying out the facts of the situation: that golf/clubhouse operations had one profitable year in the previous decade, that $1.3M had been lost over the previous six years and that it was residents now, who would foot the golf bill indefinitely if things didn’t change. And that there were 79 resident golfers.

The bonds were defeated overwhelmingly: out of an historic 1,023 votes cast the irrigation proposal was voted down 684 to 337, while the clubhouse upgrade lost 826 to 194. The first result was a landslide, the second, a tsunami. Those who worked endless hours to defeat these proposals and return fiscal sanity in the form of reordered priorities were encouraged and looking forward to change at Farmington Woods.

The first change that happened was that our GM, who had held the position for three years resigned at the end of June. CORRECTION: In the original version of this column I reported that our GM had resigned due to the new state law requiring condo GM’s to be certified. I have just been informed this is not the reason. The information that I received regarding his departure was incorrect. We apologize for the error.

But so far, that’s about all that’s changed. The board appointed their own search committee, ignoring requests of many residents to participate, they went ahead with the golf irrigation plan and found $43K in Condo reserves to start the project, even though that amount was not in the budget passed just weeks before.

 They continue to insist that residents own the course, are responsible for its upkeep and that it’s an amenity even though they call it “trespassing” if you dare walk on it at any time of day or night.

And they’ve reposted the dress code for the clubhouse that requires that “men’s shirts should adhere to golf course policy” even though the large majority of residents here don’t belong to the golf club, but are still required to pay a $30 a month assessment for the privilege of eating in the clubhouse restaurant. 37% of them don’t bother.

What follows is a summary of what has changed since the bond vote and what hasn’t.

In the past I’ve compared Farmington Woods to small Connecticut towns, to the outmoded company towns of the 19th century and to Chicago and its political style.

I have come to the realization that none of these comparisons come close to the level of resistance to change demonstrated by the special interests here.

I ended my last article for this publication with the following quote:

“The current board has shown that they are completely out of touch with the interests of the majority of residents here. When they resign we will thank them for their years of service, but we will also thank them for allowing us to move Farmington Woods into the future without them. The residents have spoken. It’s time for a change.”

WE KNOW WHAT YOU WANT

How naïve of me; did I really think that the people who got us in the fiscal shape we’re in now by using condo fees and district taxes to bail out our losing golf/clubhouse operation for the last seven years to the tune of $1.3M were going to fold? Pick up their proverbial clubs and go home? How foolish of me.

Instead, they have gone on the offensive: after the largest voter turnout in Farmington Woods history, 1023 votes cast, overwhelmingly rejected further investment in the golf (67 to 33%) and clubhouse (81 to 19%) operations the boards have decided to go ahead with at least part of their plan in spite of what residents want.

They have chosen this course of action in the face of their own Focus Group results which showed that residents “overwhelmingly” want the golf operation to be self funding. So in spite of the fact that the golf operation is already $300K in the red on the 5th day of the fiscal year, an additional $45.5K has been approved to start the irrigation project that residents turned down in May.

Not to worry, says “In the Woods”, the monthly publication that those same Focus Groups “consider a golf/restaurant newsletter” which they would rather contain “minutes of meetings and current events.” If you read the July issue, in which 12 of 27 pages are devoted to golf/clubhouse “news” you would never know that of 2000 residents only 89 or 5% of them participate in golf and 37% of them never use the clubhouse.

Instead we get assurances by our Condo/Tax District President that “contrary to some of the rumors being circulated, Farmington Woods is not bankrupt and the golf course is not closing. After the defeat of the bond proposal our Public Works Committee started working on a plan to replace the irrigation system on a piecemeal basis.” And according to our Director of Golf that piecemeal basis will cost us $200K a year for eight years.

BOND VOTE: AN EXERCISE IN FUTILITY

I have to stop here and ask: Why did we have a bond vote in May, if the board was just going to go ahead and do what they planned anyway? For that matter, why did we have a budget vote a week later and pass a budget that contained none of the above. As one member of the finance committee was heard to say after the 3-3 tie was broken by its Chair, a golfer, “This makes a mockery out of the whole budget process.” And so it does.

But “In the Woods” we have a member and former Chair of the Public Works Committee dismissing the bond vote. “Based on considerable input from unit owners during the entire process leading up to the vote, it became apparent that a majority of unit owners favor keeping the golf course as a golf course, at least for the near term.”

I’m sorry, but the vote held on May 10th in which 684 residents voted no to the bond proposal and 387 voted for it was the closest thing we’ve had to a referendum on the money losing golf operation since I’ve lived here. I’m not buying his anecdotal evidence of resident concerns. . I can cite my own “considerable” input in the form of letters, phone calls and emails if I want to, but we have one quantifiable measure here: the actual vote.

His dismissal is about as convincing as our President’s remark to me after the May budget vote that she received an email from a resident who was concerned about “misinformation” being spread up to the bond vote. I deconstructed that myth on my blog the next day to show it was not my group that was spreading misinformation.

It seems to me that any way the powers that be here can discredit the historic vote that occurred on May 10 they can and will.

WE CREATE OUR OWN “FAIRNESS DOCTRINE”

If you’ve read any of my articles in this publication you know that I started a blog three months ago to fight what myself and a considerable number of others saw as a boondoggle being foisted on residents here. We made a decision to do something about it and decided to produce our own forum: FarmingtonWoodsInsider.blogspot.com. We’ve had 8000 page views since then. But there is another reason for its existence.

In the 80’s we had something called the Fairness Doctrine and perhaps a hundred corporations in control of media in this country. The Fairness Doctrine is gone and media is now in the hands of six giant corporations. If you don’t think that affects the news you get, think again. It’s pretty much all the same infotainment now.

At Farmington Woods, we have one source of information, “In the Woods” delivered monthly. For more in depth information there is a website. But the Fairness Doctrine, even if it were still in effect, would not apply here. So if a Martian landed on the golf course at Farmington Woods and found a copy of our monthly magazine he would assume that all the residents of this village played the game with the sticks and the little balls.

In other words, the words and pictures don’t match the reality. That’s because it’s propaganda, which Wikipedia defines as “a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position.” And the cause that our monthly constantly pushes is that golf is alive and well here at Farmington Woods. The problem with that piece of propaganda is that it is not true.

 THE BOARD GOES ON THE OFFENSIVE

 At the first monthly board meeting held after the May 10th vote it was as if the vote never occurred except for the fact that two different committees proposed hiring a public relations firm to undo the negative effects that the “bad press” had created for Farmington Woods in the run-up to the vote. Never once did it occur to them that trying to float $4M in bonds on already overtaxed residents had anything to do with the negative media attention.

There were, of course, no apologies for spending $43K of resident money to pay architects, bond brokers and attorneys before the bond vote was even held. There were absolutely no signs of contrition. . Instead we had the aforementioned Public Works committee member read a statement reminding us that walking on the course was an act of trespass, a misdemeanor.

That’s right. After getting their hats handed to them on May 10 there was to be no backing down on this night. Wagons were circled and propaganda filled the room: residents owned the course; it’s upkeep was their responsibility; it’s an amenity, but if you’re caught walking on it (without clubs) it’s now classified as a criminal act, trespassing.

Ah yes, amenities. Now there’s a topic that raises blood pressure on both sides of the golf issue here. The boards tell us that even though we’re not members, the golf course is an amenity here. Oddly enough, our condo declaration declares amenities to be “pools, tennis, etc.” Even the Focus Group report separates the Golf and Clubhouse portion from the Amenities section. As usual, the board tries to make it up as they go along, always in their favor of their favorite special interest.

By June’s board meeting, funds had miraculously been found to start the irrigation upgrade which the Director of Golf/Clubhouse said would be the beginning of replacing the whole system. He estimated it would cost around $200K per year for the next eight years. Keep in mind that this year’s shortfall is already $300K and that’s based on inflated membership numbers.

 OUR VERY OWN PRAVDA

 And how did “In the Woods” report these events? They didn’t. If you didn’t attend the board meeting or other committee meetings, including Golf, Finance and Public Works you wouldn’t find it there. What you will find is our leaders again going on the offensive in their efforts to discredit the bond vote and push their agenda.

In the article cited above, the former public works chair, after dismissing the results of the bond vote, had the audacity to declare “As pointed out at the May MA Board meeting, anyone purchasing a Unit in FW, by default, becomes an owner of the golf course, as well and, as such, becomes responsible for the maintenance, repair and upkeep of the course the same as any other portions of the Common Element.”

If this is how we are marketing Farmington Woods these days, we may as well start calling it “Caveat Emptorville”. When I moved here in 1999 no one told me about the $100K per year that was going to pay off the bond that purchased the golf course, and my realtor waited until the very end of the process to tell me that there was a $20 per month restaurant assessment as well.

We were told that the golf operation was self-supporting and we accepted the restaurant assessment because it only applied ten months a year. Oddly enough, it wasn’t until I was doing research for this article that I discovered in the bylaws an amendment to “include a separate assessment per Unit Owner as a minimum charge for the fixed costs of operation and overhead of the restaurant in the Clubhouse, against which the costs of meals purchased during such period can be credited.”

 “THERE HAS NEVER BEEN AN ASSESSMENT AT FARMINGTON WOODS”

 In the letter our President sent in January announcing the bond issue, she made the statement that “There has never been an assessment at Farmington Woods, and we shall not ask for one now.” She has also made that statement at public forums. Unfortunately that is not true. The “assessment” mandated in the 1998 amendments to the bylaws is an ongoing one that increased 50% in the first ten years of implementation! Only outrage on the behalf of concerned residents kept it from increasing to $35 this fiscal year.

I understand that the leaders making these statements are looking out for what they perceive as the interests of the Farmington Woods community. Unfortunately, the community that they see is an illusion. It may have existed in the 80’s, but it does not exist now. The membership rules reflect the delusion that the golf operation here is thriving: when total membership reaches 300, outside applicants are placed on a waiting list. With our present membership total of 179, we don’t have to worry about that. But we should worry about 179.

After reading the article by the Public Works Committee member “In the Woods’, I discovered that although board members and leaders here consider it a mandate to keep the golf operation going indefinitely, regardless of cost to residents, there is a clause in the declarations that offered them a way out. Under Restrictions Regarding Golf Facility it clearly states that “nothing in this declaration shall be deemed to restrict the use of the golf course as a Golf Facility.”

In other words, if it gets to be too much of a financial burden you can close it.

I doubt that’s going to happen any time soon. The special interest group that controls Farmington Woods will not let that happen. My pie in the sky request that board members simply go away and allow us to redefine Farmington Woods as a community and release the anchor that is the golf/clubhouse operation from around our necks is simply that. Pie in the sky.

JUST SAY NO TO THE STATUS QUO

There is only one way that the grip of golf is going to be relaxed on the wallets and purses of non-golfing residents of Farmington Woods: the political process. What a revelation you say! Yes, well I said before I was politically naïve. But I’m getting less so. The statements released by our leaders have emboldened many here. The email that I receive tells me that the status quo’s status is about to change.

Just to show you how politically attuned I’ve become I now recognize that we are up against a status quo that’s used to winning. Our current President held that position when I moved here 13 years ago. Since then, it’s been a carousel of the same half dozen people, who end up on either the condo or district boards when their term is up. I’ve been told they screen applicants for board positions and weed out those who may think differently.

But between the bond debacle and the golf deficits that keep rising, the natives are getting restless. In the run-up to the bond vote even “In the Woods” couldn’t screen out the overwhelming majority of letters against the bond proposals. But now we’re back to thank-you notes for great golf tournaments and pleas to ignore the fact that we’re throwing good money after bad and just “roll up our sleeves” to return Farmington Woods to it’s glory days.

I’ve been rolling up my sleeves for some time now keeping this losing operation alive. At this point my hands are busy guarding my wallet from folks that think that it’s 1985, there are 300 full time golfers here, Ronald Reagan is President and golf is king at Farmington Woods. Hasn’t been that way for some time. Won’t be anytime soon. Or ever.

Realistically speaking, it will take new leadership to change the priorities at Farmington Woods; those resignations I called for in my last article aren’t happening anytime soon. But elections are coming in September and October and people are motivated. We’ve had it with the trickle down myth of the course improving property values. That may have been so 27 years ago, but trickle down hasn’t helped the national economy yet. What makes the board think it will work here?

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