Editorial: Ongoing Drama Surrounding the Removed Commissioners

Oren Miller (left), and Gary Search (right)

The recently removed County Commissioners will soon have their day in court. That will put to rest the charges of perjury and violating the Sunshine Law. While we shouldn’t prejudge the outcome, we should agree that their alleged behavior is not in keeping with the values of The Villages and Sumter County. We deserve better than our local elected officials [allegedly] lying to us. We also deserve better than a “news” site lying and providing cover for the removed Commissioners and their supporters. This site devoted a headline, articles, and free advertising to Reed Panos’ PAC. A quick aside- the hypocrisy from the “news” site is glaringly hilarious. They constantly speak ill of elected officials who they presume are controlled by outside influencers, but they give a pass to the elected officials who are actually supported by the aforementioned PAC. Fair Government for Sumter Inc. is nothing more than a fundraiser for the POA’s chosen candidates. The POA itself is a donor to the PAC, which you can see for yourself on the Florida Department of State website here. This symbiotic relationship is partly to blame for the Commissioner fiasco. The “news” site showed a bias toward the removed Commissioners in 2021 when they wrote a fawning article on three Commissioners receiving their CCC designation.

The news promoted by some in the community, and given credence by some sites, surrounding this issue began in 2020 when it was reported heavily (and dishonestly) on the 25% tax increase issue. They conveniently omitted the facts that for the previous 14 years the Commission held the rollback rate, the financial impact of supporting the County’s infrastructure needs increased, and the Commissioners lowered the overall property tax rate for Villagers. The infrastructure costs – approximately $11 million (half of the 25% tax increase) – were for the maintenance of county roads, specifically Morse and Buena Vista- for which the county was responsible. Sadly the county failed to adequately plan ahead for this maintenance. The impact fees continued to grow year after year, and according to the projections (and in conjunction with the County Regional Road Agreement) were more than adequate. Finally, the bill that property owners received was an amalgamation of county taxes, city taxes, school taxes, SWFWMD, fire assessment, maintenance assessment, and, for some residents, the bond.

Three Commissioners wanted to raise the impact fee to offset the 25% property tax increase, despite the fact that the county administration told them the impact fees could not be used for this purpose. To be clear, the county administration is not the developer. They also ran and won on a platform of lowering taxes, a promise they failed to deliver. In fact, they punted on lowering taxes every time they had the chance. This is not a rehash of history; it is a demonstration of how the “news” site simply gives its spin and personal position when reporting on this story. Nor is this a unwavering defense of the developers – it is simply a statement of the facts.

Sadly, in this ongoing case, all Villagers are the victims because their trust in local government was eroded by people who chose to do wrong, even in the face of what’s right (recall the County Administrator called foul during the February 2021 Commission meeting). As stated earlier, Search and Miller will have their day in court, and the truth will become clear then. As for now the clear truth is that there is no greedy boogeyman trying to line his pockets by removing people he doesn’t like from positions of power, and the “news” site only wants you to believe their narrative. Ultimately this is about right and wrong, not some fairy tale story about the imaginary boogeyman wanting to exert his influence over The Villages.