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.
The infamous Ave Maria-Jackson Lab deal in Collier County, Florida, by all appearances, is dead. At least for now.
But the ebb and flow of scams and corruption in Florida’s history would lead many to expect that this deal, or a similar one, will resurface.
There is no question that Collier County citizens will keep a close eye on the decisions being made from this point forward, by the three county commissioners who stood behind the maneuvering of the Jackson Lab deal– Commissioners Fred Coyle (Chairman), Donna Fiala and James Coletta– until they indulge us with their departure.
The JAX Deal
Jackson is a non-profit genetics lab based in Maine. The lab is also known as JAX.
By Friday morning, January 14, “the deal” for Jackson Lab — that is to say, the proposal for millions of taxpayer dollars from the state and county, the commercial rezoning and the free land in Ave Maria (offered by Barron Collier Companies) had all come to a screeching halt– after a lengthy and expensive legal and financial experiment in trying to lure the lab to Eastern Collier County.
But, Commissioner Fred Coyle, an ardent supporter of the scandalous Jackson Lab taxpayer proposal, had not even been notified directly by Barron Collier Companies that the free land for the Jackson Lab in Ave Maria had been yanked.
Meanwhile, Jackson Lab officials had announced that they were approaching Tampa and Sarasota as less hostile territories, compared to Collier County– while simultaneously repackaging their taxpayer deal in Tallahassee for Florida’s new governor, Rick Scott.
This is how it was described by Chuck Hewett, VP and Chief Operating Officer of the Jackson Lab:
“I think it is fair to say we see a much higher risk of failure in Collier County due to all sorts of political challenges and interventions that have accumulated over the last five or six months.” — Naples Daily News, January 12, 2011.
“…political challenges and interventions?”
Could Chuck Hewett possibly be referring to all the lawsuits and public protests in Collier County over the outrageous request for millions of taxpayer dollars– in exchange for the ‘smoke and mirrors’ Jackson Lab deal, which never showed taxpayers any signs of authentic and transparent economic development?
These lawsuits, as well as an army of persistent and courageous opponents will be waiting, should the infamous Jackson Lab proposal be reintroduced in Collier County.
“A gift of God”?
On December 14, Blake Gable of Barron Collier Companies, whose long job title is, President of Real Estate and Minerals Project Manager for the Development of the Town of Ave Maria, was enthusiastically promoting the Jackson Lab project, as a panelist during an Ave Maria Town Hall Meeting about the Jackson Lab. Mike Hyde, VP for the Jackson Lab’s Advancement and External Relations, was also a panelist at that meeting. Hyde’s job was to keep pushing the Ave Maria-Jackson Lab idea, as part of his “external relations” agenda.
The third panelist was Professor Michael Waldstein, who covered the subject of “ethics”. Dr. Waldstein is employed by Ave Maria University and he is a resident in the town. Waldstein shared his initial reaction to the Ave Maria-Jackson Lab project, as follows:
“Fantastic! This is a gift of God. This is an answer to prayer“.
“A gift of God”?
I don’t think so.
This was to be a gift of millions of taxpayer dollars for what appears to be a scam.
Nothing ethical about that.
“Go Ahead with It“
Barron Collier Companies is in partnership with Thomas S. Monaghan in the development of Ave Maria, a town in rural Eastern Collier County, where the Jackson Lab has been hoping to set up shop. The Monaghan-Barron Collier partnership operates under the name of Ave Maria Development, LLLP.
Monaghan, a Catholic, is the former pizza king-turned Chancellor of Ave Maria University. It was Monaghan who made the land available for the Jackson Lab, and gave the “Go ahead with it”— a highly controversial move, given that the Jackson Lab is also involved in the world of Human Embryonic Stem Cell (HESC) Research, by holding workshops and providing resources for HESC research. The Catholic Church considers HESC research a grave crime against innocent human life.
Monaghan has stayed in the shadows of the Jackson Lab debate, and did not show up at the Ave Maria Town Hall Meeting on December 14, in spite of being the town’s most talked-about figure– at times due to idiosyncracies and controversies surrounding his Ave Maria experiment. Apparently, he preferred having Blake Gable handle the peddling of the Jackson Lab project. I can see why.
It is amazing, however, that Monaghan– who so actively promoted Ave Maria as a “Catholic town” (the overwhelming majority of residents in Ave Maria are Catholics) will not personally participate in public discussions about significant changes affecting the property of those who came to live in his well-advertised “City of God”.
“It does not spoil my day”— or does it?
The office of the Collier County Board of County Commissioners is located in Naples– approximately 40 miles from Monaghan’s “City of God”.
Let’s take a look at Commissioner Fred Coyle’s tone and reaction on Friday, January 14, as he responds to a citizen’s comment via electronic correspondence, while the news was spreading that the Jackson Lab deal had fallen apart.
It all started with an e-mail sent by Mary Storto to all five County Commissioners. Mary Storto, a Naples resident, has been an outspoken and active opponent of the Jackson Lab taxpayer proposal. In her e-mail, Ms. Storto references a commentary that had appeared that morning in a weekly publication called Collier Citizen:
Public Record [Comments appear in brackets]:
From: MaryStorto [E-MAIL OMITTED FOR PRIVACY]
Sent: Friday, January 14, 2011 9:26 AM
To: CoyleFred; ColettaJim; FialaDonna; HillerGeorgia; HenningTom
Subject: Mark Strain’s theory on JAZ [JAX]
I think JAX would have a better chance if certain commissioners stopped acting as “lobbyists” for JAX and started acting honestly and intelligently in the best interests of their constituency.
I like Mike Strain’s theory which I’m attaching herewith.
Sincerely, Mary Storto
But Commissioner Fred Coyle’s formidable support of the Jackson Lab deal (which Ms. Storto refers to as “lobbying”) — so important to the Ave Maria-Barron Collier team, was apparently not enough to keep Coyle from being ignored by Barron Collier Companies, as the deal was falling apart.
The following excerpt from the Naples Daily News describes the situation [comment appears in brackets]:
“Coyle was surprised he was not notified directly by Barron Collier of its decision in light of how heavily involved he had been in the project from the beginning. “It does not spoil my day,” he [Fred Coyle] added. –Naples Daily News, January 14, 2011
The following e-mail response sent by Commissioner Fred Coyle to Mary Storto shows that January 14 may have been, in fact, definitely spoiled for Mr. Coyle by the collapse of the Jackson Lab deal. But most of all, it shows that Mr. Coyle does not understand the expectations of his position as a publicly elected official, whose fundamental duty is to serve Collier County citizens with the highest standards of decorum:
Public Record [Comments appear in brackets]:
From: CoyleFred <FredCoyle@colliergov.net>
To: Mary Storto [E-MAIL ADDRESS OMITTED FOR PRIVACY]
Sent: Fri, January 14, 2011 1:51:50 PM
Subject: Mark Strain’s theory on JAZ [JAX]
Oooohhh isn’t this priceless!!! The woman who has sat through our meetings (sometimes falling asleep) with signs insulting Jackson Labs now wants the project to have a “ better chance”. She wants us to act honestly while she accuses us of being corrupt without the slightest evidence. Her entire letter is a case study in the need to act “intelligently”.
Public record [comments appear in brackets]
From: Mary Storto [E-MAIL OMITTED FOR PRIVACY] To: CoyleFred <FredCoyle@colliergov.net>
Cc: jimcoletta, donnafiala, tomhenning, GeorgiaHiller
Sent: Fri, January 14, 2011 2:47:44 PM
Subject: Re: Mark Strain’s theory on JAX
Oooohhh and aren’t you priceless unable to speak to me directly even though you responded to my personal e-mail address.
I am the woman, Mary Storto, who sat at the commissioners’ meetings and held signs….not insulting Jackson Labs…..only arrogant commissioners who believe in wasting taxpayer monies by financing a totally risky project without even giving taxpayers an opportunity to vote on it.
You, against the advice of your own attorney, chose to put the zoning question of whether three or four commissioner votes were required for something that has traditionally already been set for a major majority to an arbitrator and then proceded to vote positively on it even though Mr. Bell’s [THE JUDGE] decision is not even binding.
I do believe you’re corrupt Mr. Coyle. There certainly must be something in this whole deal for you personally somewhere. I came to this decision because as I sat (sleeping) during other items on the agenda, I observed that many of your decisions were quite rational and fair.
Thus my conclusion that you certainly are not stupid, so you must be corrupt!
Good-bye, Chairman Coyle…
Mr. Coyle, as Chairman of the Collier County Board of County Commissioners, owes an apology to Ms. Storto– and to Collier County citizens, for his unfitting tone in a public written record, in the course of conducting business as a publicly elected official.
Commissioner Coyle also owes an apology to Collier County citizens for shamelessly voting against a referendum for the Jackson Lab proposal, thus denying citizens an honorable and democratic way of deciding how their taxpayer money should be spent.
Furthermore, Commissioner Coyle’s support of an unfair and flawed arbitration process and non-binding ruling, which deprives Eastern Collier County property owners of Equal Protection– is another decision which could cause serious long-term financial and legal damage to Collier County citizens. The arbitration process, including the hearing conducted by Judge Kenneth B. Bell on December 11 and 13, 2010 (also supported by Commissioners Fiala and Coletta) was a prejudicial act which involved a select group of favored powerful developers and large landowners in Eastern Collier County– such as Barron Collier Companies and fellow travelers.
Finally, Commissioner Coyle should resign– if his goal as chairman is to proceed in an intelligent and rational manner. This would set the right example for Ms. Fiala and Mr. Coletta. Otherwise, Mr. Coyle’s presence as a commissioner will be a constant reminder of another embarrassing political experience in Florida’s history.
UPDATE Jan. 20, 2011 – The Naples Daily News ran several polls during the Jackson Lab scandal. Now Collier County citizens are again letting their voices be heard through the following public poll:
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You may contact Marielena Montesino de Stuart by E-Mail: ContactTRCW@aol.com
TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION: The Jackson Lab + Barron Collier Companies + Thomas S. Monaghan + Ave Maria University + Ave Maria, Florida + Collier County, Florida + Eastern Collier County, Florida + Collier Gets to Work Inc + Regional Business Alliance + Economic Development Council of Collier County + Commissioner Fred Coyle + Commissioner Donna Fiala + Commissioner James Coletta + Judge Kenneth B. Bell’s Arbitration Ruling + Chuck Hewett VP Jackson Lab.
You may read Marielena Montesino de Stuart’s observations and opinions through:
RenewAmerica, USAToday, U.S. Politics Today (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.
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