BACKGROUND INFORMATION:  The Jackson Lab is a genetics lab based in Maine, which is also involved in the world of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research (HESC).  Thomas S. Monaghan, Founder and Chancellor of Ave Maria University has given the “go ahead” for the land to be allocated  for this lab in Ave Maria, Florida– the town he promoted as a “Catholic hub”.  Really, folks.

“… it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why the Jackson Lab project makes no moral or financial sense.”

Ave Maria, Florida

Ave Maria, Florida

The Ave Maria-Jackson Lab scandal has been raging for many months in Collier County, Florida.  The infamous “Jackson Lab deal” is a proposal involving the use of millions of taxpayer dollars to bring the controversial genetics Jackson Lab to Ave Maria, a town located in rural Eastern Collier County.

Who Gives Money to The Jackson Lab?

Donors are known for putting their money where their heart is– but, is it the other way around in the case of those who support the Jackson Lab proposal, considering the financial interests that may be at stake in Ave Maria?  As a matter of background information, here is a partial list of Jackson Lab financial supporters.

Do any names look familiar?

Elizabeth Fekete Club – (up to $999.00)

Anonymous (11)
Ms. Martha Abbott
Walter H. Abelmann
Dr. Michael G. Absatz ’77…
Deborah and Joseph Amato
LuAnn and Michael Ballesteros
Commissioner James Coletta (Collier County, Florida)
Ms. Jeannette B. Colford…
Commissioner Donna L. Fiala (Collier County, Florida)
Fiore LLC…
Mr. Nicholas J. Healy (President of Ave Maria University)
Dr. Carol Hermsdorf and Dr. Frank Krasin
Paul C. Hersey…
Jeffrey A. Klatzkow
Mr. James Menucci
Mr. James Merritt…

For a complete list of donors please view the Jackson Lab donor website page, available in PDF).  UPDATE – Dec. 28, 2010:  The names of Collier County Commissioners James Coletta and Donna L. Fiala have been removed from the list of donors on the Jackson Lab website.  Why did they remove their names?  Was there a conflict of interest in the Jackson Lab deal?  SEE ORIGINAL PDF FILE ABOVE.

A scandalous project forced on taxpayers

The controversy surrounding the Jackson Lab is not based on who gives money to that institution– although some of the names that appear on the Jackson Lab donor lists may be raising a few eyebrows.

The Jackson Lab controversy has turned into a public scandal, exposing the aggressive manner in which Eastern Collier County powerful landowners have promoted the Jackson Lab taxpayer proposal, without a clear identifiable benefit to Collier County citizens.  This situation has prompted Tom Henning, one of the Collier County Commissioners,  to call an emergency special meeting to stop what he called “an embarrassment” (available as PDF file here).

The nebulous circumstances surrounding the Jackson Lab proposal is also causing many to view the Ave Maria-Jackson Lab deal with suspicion.  Indeed, some see it as nothing but an aggressive bail out of the Tom Monaghan-Barron Collier Companies’ Ave Maria real estate experiment– which has included the promotion of Ave Maria as everything from– a “Catholic hub” and a “City of God”– to, a town for “Every Lifestyle”– and now, the center of a futuristic “genetics / biomedical cluster.”

If this weren’t about so many lives being affected on so many levels, it could easily be material for a sitcom.

Smoke and Mirrors

The Jackson Lab proposal gained the enthusiastic support of four commissioners, Donna L. Fiala, Fred Coyle, Frank Halas (recently retired) and James Coletta.  Only one dissenting commissioner, Tom Henning, has remained steadfast in support of a referendum, that would allow the voters to decide how their tax money should be spent.  Commissioner Henning is now joined by another voice of reason, Commissioner Georgia Hiller, who is a strong advocate for transparency in economic development.

Unfortunately, the Jackson Lab proposal has now entered the courtroom battleground– as four different lawsuits have been filed in an attempt to stop, what appears to be a corrupt deal using taxpayer money.   When all is said and done, legal action will surely cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

These circumstances bring four important points to mind, related to the proposed location of the Jackson Lab, in Ave Maria:

  • The Jackson Lab is involved in the controversial world of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research (HESC)– by holding workshops and providing resources for it.  Charles “Chuck” E.  Hewett, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the Jackson Lab, boldly kicked it up a few notches, by announcing on April 10, 2010 to the Naples Daily News, that the Jackson Lab will not rule out actually doing Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research.
  • Many months ago, the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Venice in Florida, published a statement affirming the Roman Catholic Church’s stand against Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research, and publicly opposed the Jackson Lab project, declaring that it cannot be considered authentic economic development.
  • Why would pizza king, Tom Monaghan, provide the land and give the reported  “Go ahead with it” for the Jackson Lab project in Ave Maria?  After all, it was Monaghan– a Catholic, who has stated that he expected “Catholics, serious Catholics” to live in Ave Maria.
  • Could the Jackson Lab “embarrassment” and devastating loss of Collier County taxpayer money have been averted– if the overwhelming Catholic population, including the Catholic faculty members at Ave Maria University, had publicly and categorically opposed– en masse, the Jackson Lab’s move to Ave Maria, months ago?  Why didn’t they publicly express their indignation to Mr. Monaghan, to Nicholas J. Healy, Jr., the president of Ave Maria University, and to Barron Collier Companies– over this controversial proposal, which is affecting the very core of their town?   Or is it that– at the end of the day, except for a small number of pro-lifers who have very recently come forward, most really do want the Jackson Lab in Ave Maria?

The bishop voiced his opposition to the Ave Maria-Jackson Lab project, in defense of innocent human life– and he did so publicly.  The Jackson Lab proposal affects millions of Collier County citizens.  This is why this battle is being fought by so many outside of Ave Maria, in public.  It is not a private matter.  As stated before, the Jackson Lab proposal  is a very serious public scandal, which could have serious consequences on so many levels.

Nine months have passed since the Jackson Lab ordeal began, while the population inside Ave Maria showed no signs of public opposition. Finally, last week, a very small group of residents– who mostly identified themselves as Catholic pro-lifers, offered the first glimmer of hope, by expressing their objections to proposed changes to the Ave Maria master plan, which could eventually accommodate the location for the Jackson Lab.  Their objections to the changes, which included business and financial reasons, were heard by a non-binding advisory planning board in Collier County– which, at the end ruled 7-2 in favor of the changes, with the very noticeable and enthusiastic support of several Ave Maria residents, who spoke during the meeting.

But what goes unreported is the fact that the rest of the overwhelmingly Catholic population in Ave Maria, including the Catholic faculty at the university, did not show up at this public meeting last week– and have not expressed public opposition to the Ave Maria-Jackson Lab project.  While some residents had to work, and others had family obligations– the fact remains that many more should have attended this public meeting.

A ‘Town Hall Meeting’ or a ‘Pro-Jackson Lab Sales Pitch’?

An undisclosed group of “private residents” has organized a “town hall meeting” in Ave Maria.  The only person identified from– what appears to be an anonymous group of organizers, is Carlos A. Figueroa– an outspoken public supporter of the Jackson Lab proposal, who is both a resident of Ave Maria, and a member of the Ave Maria University Board of Regents.

But– what gives these undisclosed “private residents” the right to organize this so-called “town hall meeting”– including the selection of an “expert panel”– without the input of ALL residents?

Are these “private residents” supporters of the Jackson Lab project?

Is this “town hall meeting” simply another sales pitch for the Jackson Lab proposal?

Did these undisclosed “private residents” even care to invite the bishop or the pastor to be in their panel of “experts”?

Why didn’t they include a financial expert that has analyzed the Jackson Lab proposal?  This way, he or she can explain to the residents of Ave Maria that this project is a ‘smoke and mirrors’ scheme to subjugate Collier County taxpayers for decades.

Why are these “private residents” / organizers hiding their identities?  This kind of anonymous activity appears to be part of the social makeup of the town of Ave Maria.

A town hall meeting is a public function.   As such, Ave Maria residents are entitled to know who all the undisclosed “private residents” / organizers  are.  This way, the residents of Ave Maria who are still in a confused state about the Jackson Lab project, can at least thank these benevolent anonymous organizers  for trying so hard– at this late date, to enlighten us all about the Jackson Lab proposal– and for possibly even redefining what it means to be pro-life!

It remains to be seen how many Ave Maria residents and AMU faculty members will attend this “Ave Maria Town Hall Meeting” — which will take place in a coffee house at the center of town, on December 14, from 7:00pm to 8:30pm– interestingly, a few short hours after the Collier County Board of County Commissioners meets to discuss and vote on the rezoning issue affecting Ave Maria.  An issue which could alter the location of the Jackson Lab– or better yet, bring the whole project to a screeching halt.   

UPDATE: Dec. 08, 2010-  Due to an “advertising error” the town of Ave Maria items have been removed from the Dec. 14, 2010 Board of Commissioners’ agenda.

It also remains to be seen how many Ave Maria residents and Ave Maria University faculty members who will attend the Ave Maria Town Hall Meeting, will be willing to unequivocally and publicly oppose the Jackson Lab project– without long drawn out philosophical explanations.  After all, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why the Jackson Lab project makes no moral or financial sense.

If the size of the coffee house is any indication, not many are expected to attend– since such a venue with a  limited capacity could find it difficult to accommodate a very large turnout of the town’s population– not to mention the possibility of a large showing of Ave Maria University students, and other members of the public.  But, will this undisclosed group of “private residents” allow AMU students to attend and express their views?  After all, Ave Maria is promoted as a “university-town”– and one of their professors will be speaking, as noted below.

This town hall meeting will feature an “expert panel” comprised of none other than Mike Hyde, VP for The Jackson Lab’s Advancement and External Relations, and Blake Gable, a supporter of the Jackson Lab project.  Mr. Gable is President of Real Estate and Minerals Project Manager for the development of the Town of Ave Maria.  Dr. Michael Waldstein, a professor of Theology at Ave Maria University, is scheduled to weigh in on the subject of “ethics”–with his expertise on the Gospel of St. John, Gnosticism, St. Thomas Aquinas, John Paul II, Hars Urs von Balthasar, etc.  

With all due respect to Dr. Waldstein and his expertise on theology– the Bishop of the Diocese of Venice is the only expert that we should be listening to, who can objectively speak about “ethics” involving  the Jackson Lab project.  And on that matter, the bishop has already spoken.  Long ago.

One can only hope that the name of our patient and good local bishop will not be used– except to admit that his pastoral guidance and concerns regarding the Jackson Lab have mostly gone ignored, inside Ave Maria.

Someone has to say the truth….

Copyright © Marielena Montesino de Stuart. All Rights Reserved

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The Ave Maria-Jackson Lab Battle: The Erosion of What it Means to be Pro-Life

SCRIPPS Florida:  Hyped Bio-Tech Boom went Bust

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Coyle: No emergency meeting on Jackson Lab, delay could be a positive » Naples Daily News

Marielena Montesino de Stuart

You may read Marielena Montesino de Stuart’s observations and opinions through:

RenewAmerica, USAToday, U.S. Politics Today (a EIN News Service for Political Professionals) Poynter Online, Spero News, The New Liturgical Movement-Poland, The Naples Daily News, Les Femmes-The Truth, Culture War Notes,  ProLife Blogs, The Wanderer, etc.

TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION:  Ave Maria, Florida + The Chronicles of Ave Maria© + Corruption in Florida + Ave Maria University + The Jackson Laboratory + Charles “Chuck” E. Hewett + Collier County Board of County Commissioners + Commissioner Tom Henning + Commissioner Georgia Hiller + Workshops and Resources for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research + Eugenics + Margaret Sanger + Tom Monaghan + Tom Golisano +  Nick Healy + Nicholas J. Healy Jr., President of AMU + Barron Collier Companies + The Ave Maria Stewardship Community District + Bishop Frank J. Dewane + Town of Ave Maria and Agenda 21 (Sustainable Development) + How to identify Agenda 21 (Sustainable Development) in your school, community, county, state.