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Rebels with a cause

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image More than 100 Kings Point residents gathered to speak last Thursday afternoon.

Residents united to speak in an open forum because, they said, they had been denied the right to speak at the Kings Point Federation Board of Directors March 21 meeting.

By LIA MARTIN

More than a hundred Kings Point residents gathered last week  to protest a decision by the Federation of Kings Point Association directors on a landscaping contract for the community.

Within 48 hours, they became rebels for a cause when they felt their rights had been taken away.

Residents met last Thursday afternoon in the Falcon Watch golf clubhouse parking lot located within the Kings Point development. They arrived in their golf carts and cars and brought lawn chairs to sit on in case they were denied entry to the clubhouse.

They united to speak in an open forum because, they said, they had been denied the right to speak at the Federation Board of Directors March 21 meeting, when the new landscaping contract would be approved or rejected. They said they petitioned, as bylaws required, to speak at the meeting, but their petition was rejected by the board.

Asked to comment on the hiring of a new landscaping company, outgoing Federation director President Eileen Peco told The Observer:

 “Last Friday, March 21, the Federation Member Associations in Kings Point officially approved a new landscaping contract with Mainscape Inc., . . .  effective June 1, 2014. We have communicated this information to the corporate representatives of Mainscape Inc., and they are very excited to begin work at King’s Point.”

Also asked to comment, Federation director Vice President David Wetmore declined; and outgoing Federation director Secretary Jim Haggerty did not respond by press time.

During the rally, it was apparent many were afraid to come forward and speak because, they said, several had received letters from Federation attorney Eric Appleton threatening them with lawsuits if they did not desist from their stance against the Federation.

Resident Tony Bucci said he had received a letter from Appleton four days after he voiced his opinion on a community podcast. Bucci wanted to keep ValleyCrest Lawn and Landscaping because, he said, they were doing a good job the first year of their three-year contract.

He told those gathered that two months ago he asked Federation Vice President Wetmore: “If we did get rid of ValleyCrest, who would we get?” Bucci said Wetmore replied: “We already have a company, a big company.”

Bucci said he thinks that Federation directors at that point already had been thinking of hiring Mainscape.

Karen Jean Renzi, a former Federation Board corporate secretary and former president of the Nantucket 3 neighborhood, said she was surprised when they received a contract last Tuesday night that Kings Point Association presidents would be voting on it as soon as  that Friday.

Renzi said she also wondered why the outgoing Federation directors were making such an important decision on a landscaping contract within such a short time. New directors had already been elected and would be taking office April 1.

Jeanette Smith said she also wondered why the directors leaving would want to push through the contract instead of waiting for the new directors to make a more quantified decision.

Another bone of contention seemed to be the Federation’s recent disbanding of the Lawn, Landscaping and Irrigation Committee. It was served by 15 community volunteers and had been functioning last year.

In fact, said Larry Dagostino, the committee’s chairman for almost six years, the committee was instrumental in researching and then approving offering the contract to ValleyCrest last year.

Now the responsibility to choose the landscaping company lies jointly with the Federation and consultants OLM.

“We give OLM $46,000 a year,” Bucci said. “We had the resources right here free of charge.”

Ron McArthur was concerned about signing a contract with a company, Mainscape, who, he said, seemed too small to handle their community of 5,500 units. He said that he knew that Mainscape had been the landscaping company used by a Lakewood Ranch development and that their contract was not renegotiated.

In a printout handed out to everyone at the rally, Jim Betts of Caloosa Trace in Fort Myers wrote a letter telling of their disappointment with Mainscape. They had just signed a contract with ValleyCrest.

“ValleyCrest is now [the] new landscape company,” the letter said, “and in the first two months of this year we have seen more ValleyCrest employees working here than we saw Mainscape employees in a whole year. They are doing a great job here.”

While Kings Point Federation Association presidents and several residents contend that Kings Point Federation directors are taking power away from them, Federation directors insist that is not so. They say they have done everything they could to retain ValleyCrest.

In an effort to keep Kings Point Federation Member Association presidents and residents in the loop, Federation board directors sent out a written communication on Feb. 28, 2014, in the form of a timeline after ValleyCrest Landscaping terminated its contract with Kings Point, effective June 30.

According to Federation directors, this was the sequence of events leading to the hiring of another landscape company:
    * April 1, 2013, the three-year contract (with ValleyCrest) began.
    * Sept. 2013, Performance inspection showed ValleyCrest did not earn their incentive payment for Section A.
    * Nov. 2013, Inspection showed ValleyCrest did not earn their incentive payment for Section C.
    * ValleyCrest sent a letter to Association Board presidents on Dec. 19, 2013, bypassing the Federation and appealing to the members.
    * Dec. 2013, Federation directors asked ValleyCrest to go into mediation. ValleyCrest declined, but agreed to less formal talks.
    * Jan. 16, 2014, both parties and their attorneys met. ValleyCrest proposed to remove all professional oversight, warranty replacement and incentive payments from the contract.
    * Feb. 12, Federation directors declined.
    *Association presidents received follow-up documentation from Federation directors by Feb. 26.
    * Feb. 27,  Federation directors received a termination letter from ValleyCrest.

Kings Point Federation Member Association presidents convened last Friday to cast the votes for each of their respective communities. In a weighted, ratified playing field, 2,739 voted for Mainscape Landscaping and 2,584 voted against Mainscape — only 155 votes separating the  differing opinions.

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