Spring Hill association battles inertia, itself
By JENNIFER FARRELL, Times Staff Writer
SPRING HILL -- The new president confessed he's not eligible to hold office.
One board member resigned in a huff last month, 12 days before her term began.
Then, a longtime member walked away, disillusioned, worried her involvement was disrupting the organization's potential to move forward.
Now the troubled leadership is squabbling over how to fix a situation that nearly everyone agrees is a mess.
Political intrigue in Tallahassee?
Plot line for a new prime-time drama?
Just the latest chapter in the tumultuous history of the Spring Hill Civic Association, a once-influential group now dwindled to a fraction of its original size, left searching for members and meaning.
For an organization with fewer than 20 active members that has contented itself recently with beautifying the medians on Spring Hill Drive, fixing its clubhouse and throwing parties, the landscape has shifted.
"Oh boy," said board member Dick Keller, who joined last year. "The whole thing has fallen apart."
Now members wonder where it all went wrong.
The answer, of course, depends on whom you ask.
To hear some tell it, Brian Moore is the problem. Elected in November to take over this month for outgoing president Bill Fagan, Moore has a colorful history, with four failed bids to become mayor of Washington, D.C. After running for higher office as an Independent, he became active in the Reform Party and moved to Florida, a state he says is ripe for the rise of a third political party. Last summer, Moore was elected to the Reform Party's state executive committee and served as a delegate at the group's national convention in Nashville.
Problem is, back at the civic association, the bylaws clearly state Moore cannot hold an elected position in the Reform Party and be president of the association at the same time.
Last month, Fagan called on Moore to step down, citing the conflict.
At first, Moore promised to give up the political position before taking office Jan. 1. But after consulting a lawyer over the Christmas holiday, he changed his mind, saying the association board was more than happy to waive other bylaws last fall when they couldn't scare up enough eligible members to form a nominating committee that would pick a slate of candidates.
Moore argues the bylaws are outdated and need revision. Moreover, he says, he was up front from the beginning about his political activism. Moore cannot remember if he told the association he held elected office with the Reform Party, but said he didn't know that was forbidden until last month. Even Fagan admitted he didn't know about the rule until last month.
All of which, Moore says, should be taken into consideration.
"I'm an illegitimate president according to the bylaws, but I'm a legitimate president according to the way the old board set up the situation," he said. "One error has created multiple errors. Now we're in a real jam here."
Others question Moore's motivation and suggest he plans to use the civic association, which drew about 80 members to its last election, as a vehicle for his own political agenda.
Ki Hill, newly elected 1st vice president who also works part time at the association building on Kenlake Avenue, said she and others have worked hard for much of the last year to keep politics out of the civic association.
"How can you represent a whole community and be political or religious?" she said. "There's no reason for people to join if your politics don't agree with theirs."
For years the civic association wielded a good deal of influence, serving as the de facto City Hall in unincorporated Spring Hill. Over the years, its mission drifted, and in September 2000 the group gave up its primary responsibility of enforcing deed restrictions.
Since then, successive presidents have lamented public apathy and vowed to boost membership, to no avail.
But over the last year, several new members signed on, pledging to breathe life into the flagging organization.
Moore, who was recruited by Fagan, counted himself among that group.
He says his position in the Reform Party only became an issue when he started preparing to take charge near the end of the year, circulating a survey among new board members that he said would help determine the group's direction.
The survey created a backlash, with several members interpreting it as the first step toward politics, with questions asking members to rank issues such as government, public safety, recreation and public works as possible topics for future association committees.
Moore said the survey was simply a tool. He accused Fagan of being an absentee president, citing the group's inability to gain access to its own financial or membership records, which the former treasurer kept at home in boxes and refused to relinquish until last month.
Moore criticized organizers of the group's recent Angels On High, saying they flouted the bylaws by spending $1,200 without formal board approval.
Organizers countered they got consensus over the phone and said they made the money back.
Moore also accused Collins Conner, a St. Petersburg Times reporter and a member of the association, of pulling strings behind the scenes to steer the organization.
"Collins has been very involved from the beginning," he said. "She was the power behind the throne during the old guard. . . . Everything was being run through her."
Conner disputes that allegation and announced Thursday she would no longer be involved with the civic association.
"I have resigned from the organization because I don't want to be an issue here," she said. "If there's discomfort at my involvement, then I need to be out of it."
Karen Kraatz, elected 2nd vice president in November, stormed out of a workshop last month where the flap over Moore's presidency first exploded.
"I just don't get it because what do they have power over?" she asked, exasperated. "I sit there and think, "There's something wrong with this picture.' "
What happens next will likely be determined at the group's meeting on Jan. 18, when officers are set to be sworn in.
Moore said he plans to show up, even though several board members claim he cannot take office without stepping down from his position with the Reform Party.
Susan DelNegro, who serves as the group's corresponding secretary called for calm, saying both sides have valid points.
"I'd like to give the new regime a chance, including Brian," she said. "I'd like to let it go for a while, let the smoke clear and see where it goes."
Keller said the group needs to make decisions about its future.
"I think everyone had good intentions, but it just fell apart," he said. "We don't have a direction. We don't know where we're going yet."
Hill, meanwhile, remained optimistic.
"I think we will shake this out," she said. "We have picked up some very good new board members. Time will tell who will be really great and who will be the real leaders."
-- Staff writer Jennifer Farrell covers Spring Hill and can be reached at 848-1432. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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