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June 23, 2010
by Marielena Montesino de Stuart
A very significant event has taken place– and it involves the Town of Ave Maria, Florida.
One year ago the Naples Daily News published a three-part investigative story titled “AVE MARIA: A Town Without A Vote, Now and Forever.“ The story has just been awarded First Place in the Multimedia category by the Florida Society of News Editors. Click HERE to read the Naples Daily News print copy of the announcement.
This First Place recognition given to this story about Ave Maria speaks volumes, and brings further attention to the compelling facts and on-going controversy of this town, which is governed by the Ave Maria Stewardship Community District (AMSCD).
Written by Liam Dillon, who had been assigned to cover the Ave Maria beat, on the ground– the award-winning story, “Ave Maria: A Town Without a Vote, Now and Forever” caused much concern for Barron Collier Cos., (the developer) and Ave Maria Development (Monaghan’s partnership with Barron Collier). This led to a meeting held with the editors of the Naples Daily News on May 11, 2009, where officials of Ave Maria co-developer, Barron Collier Cos., marched in with a strange undated and unsigned memo written on Kenza vanAssenserp’s letterhead– the AMSCD’s attorney. The memo’s opening line reads, “The landowner / developer will not be able to control the election of the District board of supervisors forever.”
On May 16, 2009– Tom Monaghan, Paul Roney, Lamar Gable and Blake Gable– identified by the Naples Daily News as the Ave Maria Development Executive Committee, wrote a rebuttal claiming that “it is a mathematical certainty” that the “residents of Ave Maria will hold the majority of the votes to elect the Board of Supervisors of the Ave Maria Stewardship Community District well before the town builds out.” “It was never and is not now our intent to control the district in perpetuity.”
A very clever reader wrote this brilliant response, on May 18, 2009:
“it is a mathematical certainty” the “residents of Ave Maria will hold the majority of the votes to elect the Board of Supervisors of the Ave Maria Stewardship Community District well before the town builds out.”
Let’s check the math:
Buildout = 11,000 homes. 300 sold so far (some not to residents).
50% = 5,500 homes. Sales are about 1 a month = 12 a year. 5,500/12 = 458 years.
By golly, he’s right. The residents will eventually hold the majority of the Board, in only 458 years. Buildout will take much longer (11,0000/12 = 916 years).
That is indeed a mathematical certainty.
Apologies to Barron Collier and Monaghan are in order. To accuse them of wanting to control the Board forever is just plain unfair.
Naples Daily News Reader Comment – May 18, 2009
The Naples Daily News stood firmly behind Liam Dillon’s story.
In a strange twist, Dillon left the Naples Daily News a short time later. Since his departure, we have not had a Naples Daily News reporter covering the Ave Maria beat, as regularly as he used to cover it, on the ground.
Given the recently reported, alleged threats, by Barron Collier to the local PBS station– just before the premiere of the documentary “Florida: Heaven on Earth? (Click to read about “FLORIDA: Heaven on Earth?”)– one should question what really went on during the May 11, 2009 meeting between the powerful landowners of Ave Maria, and the Naples Daily News editors.
One should also wonder how much is going unreported, as a result of not having the regular, on-the-ground independent eyes of an outside reporter, from a prominent regional newspaper.
It was also a little over one year ago that I began to ask questions through The Chronicles of Ave Maria©:
Being there– but where?
The “now” of Ave Maria– this town “without a vote“– has become increasingly more difficult, as time passes and the reality of this remote location in the Everglades becomes more evident. A resident, who is involved in trying to help the local children with sports activities said, “We’re in the middle of nowhere…” (Naples Daily News (10/07/2009 PDF).
It is sad to see that families who came here filled with hopes and dreams, are losing their homes to foreclosure. At least one property has recently been put on auction (photo).
But– why aren’t people with acquisition power lining up to move to Ave Maria?
County public records show that people are choosing to buy homes in other parts of Collier County. If the middle class has lost acquisition power because of the economy– what about people of means?
With the presence of Ave Maria University, a “championship golf course” and the on-going campaign about the “potential” of this town, why are people who ARE able to buy homes in this economy, not lining up to build, or to buy homes in Ave Maria? This latest FORBES (PDF) report describes Collier County as the #1 relocation spot in the nation for high income families.
One of the answers may lie in what appears to be the confusing identity, as well as the confusing promotion of this town.
First, there was Monaghan– promoting it as a “Catholic hub.” Then came the switch to include “Every Lifestyle…” After January 2008, Barron Collier changed the town’s promotion on its website’s Q&A to “absolutely not” a Catholic town– and “Every Lifestyle…” was emphasized.
Now, let’s think this through, as we examine the contradictions that take place in this town.
Ave Maria: A town named after the Virgin Mary, and the Annunciation that she would conceive Jesus Christ– where “Every Lifestyle…” is embraced.
Ave Maria: A town with Monaghan ‘s huge Catholic church in the middle of it– where “Every Lifestyle…” is embraced.
Ave Maria: Where the overwhelming majority of residents are conservative and Catholic. Why? Because of the sacred religious name given to the town, and the conservative and Catholic public identity that Monaghan promoted– where “Every Lifestyle…” is embraced.
Ave Maria: Where a building is being erected on the Ave Maria University “unabashedly Catholic” campus, honoring Tom Golisano, a billionaire / politician who has given breathtaking financial support to pro-choice institutions, as well as to hard-core, NARAL-endorsed pro-choice politicians.
Ave Maria: A town that embraces “Every Lifestyle…” Well, let’s read some excerpts from a recent interview that Monaghan did for Canada’s Catholic Register (PDF) while visiting Toronto to speak to members of Legatus, Monaghan’s Catholic rich-man’s organization, of self-proclaimed “leaders” [underlining added]:
TORONTO- The culture war between liberal and conservative Catholics in the United States is not a good thing, but it will only end when liberal Catholics embrace conservative principles or leave the Church entirely, says America’s richest and most controversial Catholic philanthropist.
Monaghan has a 70-year plan to remake American Catholicism, all centered on Ave Maria University in Florida. Monaghan is Chancellor and principal benefactor of the university, which anchors a vast real estate development constituting the town of Ave Maria in south-central Florida.” — (Canada’s Catholic Register, May 14, 2010)
In the same article, Monaghan was quoted as follows:
“It’s almost like, in a sense, you had no religion with the so-called liberals.” — Thomas S. Monaghan (Canada’s Catholic Register, May 14, 2010)
Ave Maria: A town, where according to Monaghan’s interview with the Catholic Register above, liberals will have to embrace conservative principles or leave the Church entirely. Well, Benedict XVI recently rejected this idea, during his recent trip to Portugal. How will Monaghan’s intolerant plan work, while the town of Ave Maria, where he is a major investor, embraces “Every Lifestyle…”?
Is anyone taking Monaghan seriously?
Ave Maria: Where both the Chancellor, Tom Monaghan, and the President, Nicholas J. Healy Jr., of the “unabashedly Catholic” Ave Maria University– have both embraced the proposed coming of The Jackson Lab. A lab which holds “workshops” and provides “resources” for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research. A lab employing scientists who try to develop “better contraception methods.” Why is the coming of the Jackson Lab OK? Because the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) said so!
The U.S. Coalition for Life does not agree, and has presented an in-depth analysis of The Jackson Lab, as well as background information on the NCBC. Read the U.S. Coalition for Life analysis, PART 1, PART 2 and PART 3.
Of further interest is the fact that the president of the NCBC received an award from Monaghan’s Legatus — last year, during a tropical soirée in Bermuda. (The Philadelphia Bulletin, February 11, 2009) Read full articlehere.
Ave Maria: Where many Catholic residents travel 40 miles to protest outside of Planned Parenthood in Naples– but choose not to protest outside of the Golisano building, or against the coming of The Jackson Lab– right here, inside Ave Maria.
So– what is the public to make of all these contradictions? For a potential homebuyer– Catholic, non-Catholic, or “Every Lifestyler”– Ave Maria’s current public identity is more confusing and difficult, than trying to figure out the universe.
Could it be that the abandonment of the initial clearly-stated, and well-promoted Catholic public identity– has created a mortal wound in the heart of Ave Maria?
The Virgin Mary… as “art”
Given that the town’s public Catholic identity has been denied– is the Virgin Mary being promoted merely as “art”?
While Ave Maria’s Catholic public identity is denied and eroded– which leaves its featured star, the Virgin Mary, in an inescapable position “under the bus”– Monaghan’s enormous church and the Virgin Mary (photo) are advertised in the Naples Illustrated – April 2010 issue (photo) — a magazine of luxuries, catering to the very wealthy. Notice how an arrow points to the location of the Ave Maria Foundation for the Arts in La Piazza, which is located inside the town of Ave Maria. Yet, the written advertisement reads as follows [underlining added]:
“The Ave Maria Foundation for the Arts has a new home on the campus of Ave Maria University. They will be located on the main square of La Piazza, next to the visitors center.”
Standing on dangerous grounds
Based on the location of the Ave Maria Foundation for the Arts– how far into the town does the Ave Maria University campus extend? How much of La Piazza retail and residential space is now part of the campus?
How far does Monaghan’s private use, ownership and power extend?
This is an important question– given that Paul Roney, a member of the Ave Maria town government board, and Monaghan’s Chief Financial Officer at AMU, admitted on March 2nd, 2010, on the AMSCD public town government meeting record, that he “reported” a resident to the Ave Maria University’s administration, which resulted in the university threatening the resident with arrest for stepping on campus. As a result of this “reporting”, the resident was also banned from over 900 acres of campus property, for nearly three months.
Because the resident asked questions during a town government meeting held on November 3rd, 2009, concerning compliance of Florida statutes. Questions which were deemed “disruptive.” Questions regarding laws and town government matters– which had absolutely nothing to do with Ave Maria University, a private corporation.
Where in America, other than in Ave Maria, does a citizen attend a local town government meeting– then goes home to find that they are banned from entering the entire campus and property of their local college or university, because of questions they asked about compliance of government statutes? A university campus which has been consistently promoted as part of the benefit of buying a home in this town.
This kind of “control over freedom of movement”, of “turning people in” and “reporting” by government agents, is only found in fascist and communist systems– and indeed, in the Town of Ave Maria.
Could it be that this kind of coordination between a member of Ave Maria’s town government and a private corporation (AMU)– to chill speech, threaten with arrest and control a resident’s freedom of movement, has sent shockwaves– and wounded the heart of Ave Maria?
That resident, is also a Catholic journalist. That ban, kept her out of a controversial press conference that she had formally registered to attend, as a reporter for a major Catholic newspaper. That press conference, was where Ave Maria University’s administration honored Tom Golisano. That ban imposed on her, conveniently served to protect Golisano and the university administration from any scrutiny about Golisano’s long-standing, and breathtaking financial support of the pro-choice world.
That resident and Catholic journalist is this writer.
Ave Maria University and The Jackson Lab
Ave Maria University’s influence over the Town of Ave Maria was very well asserted by the university’s president, Nicholas J. Healy Jr., in his famous quote from The Angelus, titled “University, Town Set Precedent Long Lost in Europe”:
“What kind of university will this be, which will determine the character and ethos of Ave Maria Town?“ — Nicholas J. Healy Jr., President of Ave Maria University
Perhaps the answer to Mr. Healy’s prophetic question, can be found in his own statement to the Naples Daily News on 04/10/2010, as follows:
If they [The Jackson Lab] were to locate here I think there would be very considerable benefits to the entire area,” said Nicholas Healy, president of Ave Maria University. ”They will bring well-paying jobs and so on. It will help real estate in the town.”
While Mr. Healy was making the above statement, in the same article, Charles Hewett VP of The Jackson Laboratory had this to say:
We certainly are very thoughtful about the subject, but not willing to rule out doing human embryonic stem cell research.”
Then of course, there was Monaghan’s now-famous “Go ahead with it” regarding The Jackson Lab, as described by Blake Gable, president of real estate development with Barron Collier Companies, in the Naples Daily News, on 04/10/2010:
Obviously, because Tom [Monaghan] is our partner, when this opportunity was brought to our attention last year, we went to our partner and said, ‘This is what we want to do, is it something you’re comfortable with?’ He went and did his due diligence, researched it, and said, ‘Go ahead with it.’”
The Naples Daily News article containing all of the comments by Healy, Gable and Hewett may be read here.
If Mr. Healy’s assertion is correct– that “the university will determine the character and ethos of Ave Maria Town“– how can the university’s “Chastity Club” coexist with “Every Lifestyle…” ? Or with The Jackson Lab– which employs scientists involved in finding “better contraception methods”?
“Every Lifestyle”– is exactly just that.
Then, there is another pending question: Why is it that Ave Maria University is still not able to call itself a “Catholic university”– on its own website?
“What kind of university will this be…” anyway, Mr. Healy?
Can Monaghan’s Human Reproductive Agenda in Ave Maria Co-Exist with The Jackson Lab Scientists, and their quest for “better contraception methods”?
Has Monaghan turned into a public relations nightmare for the identity of this town? Can someone save Monaghan from himself?
Here are more of Monaghan’s famous quotes, including the human reproduction that Ave Maria will have produced by the year 2077:
“I think that this [Ave Maria University] very well could be the single most important effort that has taken place in the Catholic church in this country or in any part of the world to date.” — Tom Monaghan
(May 10, 2008 – Naples Daily News article regarding first graduating class in new campus)
The following is another excerpt from the Naples Daily News article of May 10, 2008:
By 2077, Monaghan said, Ave Maria will have produced 4,000 priests, many of whom, he added, would be bishops, 2,500 nuns, 12,000 Catholic school teachers, 1,500 Catholic school principals and 40,000 “holy, stable Catholic marriages.”
Since, Monaghan added, “those couples won’t be sitting around,” the marriages will produce 150,000 children and 500,000 grandchildren.
Well, those couples may end up sitting around, after all– since now Monaghan and Barron Collier’s vision of Ave Maria is one that may include The Jackson Lab– which has scientists who are involved in researching “better contraception methods” as evidenced in the following Jackson Lab website page http://research.jax.org/faculty/index.html
A Town Without A Vote
While Monaghan continues to advertise in luxury magazines his colossal art projects involving the Virgin Mary, in the Town of Ave Maria– what very much escapes the public’s scrutiny is the obscure Ave Maria town government– which operates under the name of Ave Maria Stewardship Community District (AMSCD).
On June 8th, the AMSCD held a meeting, during which we had another taste of this bizarre taxation-without-representation form of government that the state of Florida has allowed to exist. In Ave Maria, this “special district” is under the control of a board, whose members are elected by the large land owners and developer. The rest of the tax payers/ property owners in the district (the little people) do not have a vote. And when will they ever have one? But the large landowners do not seem to mind the degree of control they enjoy.
Here is an example of how these powerful landowners think, when they assume control over the election of these special district government boards:
“It may seem far in the future that we would be concerned regarding the control of the District with the amount of land we own and the many safeguards we have built into the act but we must remain cognizant of the number of votes we continue to control each time we transfer property. The act allows 1 vote per acre and 1 vote for any fraction of an acre thus as the land is sold and lots are subdivided the total number of votes increases. — Thomas Sansbury, VP Barron Collier Companies
Sansbury’s entire memo may be read HERE
The Florida Department of Consumer Affairs offers this description regarding Special Districts, and how these districts can operate without state agencies having the authority to completely supervise them:
“Who oversees special districts?”
“The primary entity responsible for overseeing a special district is not the state or a county or city, it is the special district’s own governing board. Each governing board member is responsible for ensuring that the district complies with all applicable laws and conducts district business as authorized by its charter. Since special districts are separate units of local government – not state or local programs overseen by another level of government – no single state agency or person has the authority to completely oversee special districts.”
The Ave Maria Stewardship Community District law– is contained in this 61-page document. This law passed in 2004 created Ave Maria’s government, the Ave Maria Stewardship Community District. This law contains the “safeguards” that Sansbury refers to in his memo above. Page 25 describes the size of the special district. Page 28 explains the voter turnover process.(PDF)
In Ave Maria, with so much at stake– this form of government has already manifested its negative side. The following is an excerpt from a Naples Daily News 10/03/08 article:
For almost two years, two representatives from Ave Maria Development have served on both Ave Maria town’s public and private decision-making bodies, sparking concerns about their compliance with state law.
Once a month, high-level officials from Ave Maria Development, made up of representatives from local developer Barron Collier Cos. and associates of Ave Maria University founder Tom Monaghan, make the development’s private decisions in “executive committee” meetings.
Once a month, the five members of the Ave Maria Stewardship Community District also sit down to make decisions about the town.
The district is a government and public agency, unlike Ave Maria Development’s private executive committee.
Governments in Florida are regulated by what’s known as the Government-in-the-Sunshine Law, which requires officials to discuss business and make decisions at public meetings.
Brian Goguen is a vice president for finance at Barron Collier Cos. Paul Roney is the chief financial officer at Ave Maria University. Both serve on the executive committee and also on the district board.
“And they don’t think that’s a problem?” asked Adria Harper, a director at the First Amendment Foundation, a Sunshine Law watchdog group financially supported by the media, including the Daily News.
“They shouldn’t be talking about issues that would foreseeably come before the public board in private,” Harper continued. “It doesn’t matter if they’re holding private meetings in Arby’s. They can’t talk about those things.”
Bob Jarvis, a law ethics professor at Nova Southeastern University, agreed.
“It should trouble your readers that this board was set up this way,” Jarvis said. “Whoever thought this was a good idea should be fired or removed from office.”
Tell that to Kenza vanAssenderp– who thought this “special district” was a great idea for these powerful clients!
The Master Association in Ave Maria has been without a permanent manager since January of this year. Thomas Sansbury, a VP of Barron Collier Cos., stated during the AMSCD meeting on June 8th, that he also acts as president of the Master Association, and that he is now the person in charge of questions and issues concerning the Master Association. It seems that Mr. Sansbury does not consider it a conflict of interest to be serving as a VP of Barron Collier, and as President /Manager of the Ave Maria Master Association.
In addition to the regular property tax paid to the county, homeowners in Ave Maria must pay a Master Association fee, a Neighborhood Association fee, as well as the “special district” tax.
Mr. Paul Roney, as stated above, is Monaghan’s Chief Financial Officer at Ave Maria University, and a member of the town’s governing board. As such, during the June 8th AMSCD meeting, Roney also injected himself in the selection process of the town government’s new auditor! In fact, the whole board jumped into the selection process!
The AMSCD Board dismissed my request that the new auditor’s selection process be done independently. I guess for a fleeting moment, I still thought I lived in America. I had forgotten that as a property owner and tax payer in this district I have no vote– since this is, after all– ” Ave Maria: A Town without a Vote, Now and Forever.”
When things go missing in the dark
For the benefit of the public, here is an UNEDITED audio recording of the June 8, 2010 Ave Maria Stewardship Community District Board Meeting, which I have provided.
“Call the Cops!”
Everyone speaks… but not in Ave Maria
“I live. . . I’m not sure where”
Who are we?
Or– is Ave Maria really a place somewhere– “in the middle of nowhere” — centered around the personality of one man, Thomas S. Monaghan– and his idiosyncratic ways? But that’s a story for another day. . . ♔
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Copyright © Marielena Montesino de Stuart. All rights reserved.
You may also read Marielena Montesino de Stuart’s commentaries through: RenewAmerica, USAToday, Forbes.com, The Dallas Morning News, U.S. Politics Today (an EIN Service for Political Professionals-*) Poynter Online, Spero News, Daily Estimate, The New Liturgical Movement-Poland, The Naples Daily News, Les Femmes-The Truth, Culture War Notes, ProLife Blogs, The Wanderer, The Times of India, etc. Notice to readers
TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION: Ave Maria Florida and First Amendment + Ave Maria University + The Jackson Laboratory + Workshops and Resources for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research + Eugenics + Margaret Sanger + Tom Monaghan + Tom Golisano + Nicholas J. Healy Jr., President of AMU + Barron Collier Companies + The Ave Maria Stewardship Community District.