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Election skirmish fractures Spring Hill civic group

As the new president tries to heal wounds, cries of foul resound from the ousted president, whom the board deemed ineligible to run after he won office.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 20, 2002

SPRING HILL -- Dick Keller strode to the microphone Friday evening and glanced around the Spring Hill Civic Association meeting hall.

"I am the new president of the association, and I am a little bit concerned about that right now," Keller said to the 25 members who remained. "The time has come to put the recent politics of the association behind us, move forward under the new board and get to the business that we were elected to do."

Outside, a similar number of members fumed and shouted angrily about how their voting rights had been violated. Brian Moore, who won the election in November but was ousted by the board as ineligible, should have been the group's president, they contended.

"This is a kangaroo court!" Moore yelled as he and his supporters left the hall in protest of Keller's selection as president. "It's undemocratic!"

While the new board took office and pledged to move ahead with reforms and unity, the folks in the parking lot talked about creating a new civic association more closely aligned with their views.

So stood this once-influential organization, which boasted close to 1,800 members only a decade ago, after its tumultuous installation ceremony for 2002. Observers wondered if the rift could heal, or whether it would kill the association once and for all.

Louise Andryusky, a longtime member, called for peace.

"I would really hate to see this organization dissolve because no one can get along with one another. That's a disgrace for people our age," she told the membership. "We need a community out here."

The meeting was anything but that.

After a moment of silence in memory of former association president Jim McLaughlin, outgoing president Bill Fagan offered an angry, defensive speech about how he and his board worked to overhaul the group's finances and take the association in a new direction. Moore and a handful of others did not help, Fagan said, but they willingly criticized and even drove off dedicated volunteers.

"Yes, there's a wolf at the door," he said.

Fagan opened the floor to comments, and immediately some members began to question how the board unilaterally could remove Moore as president.

"We are the people in here now. We want to have a say in this. Not some executive committee," said George McFall. "Let's operate as a group and vote as a group, not have a dictatorship and say, "Dick Keller is going to be your president.' He's not my president! I voted for Brian Moore!"

The room was filled with words on top of words, as members attempted to shout down one another. The association's lawyer, Patricia Barwick, offered explanations.

The official reason for Moore's ouster was that the bylaws do not allow a political office holder to serve on the association's board, and Moore was a member of the Reform Party executive committee. Moore resigned on Jan. 7, but that was not good enough for the board, which held that he was not qualified to hold office on Jan. 1, when his term was to have begun.

But Barwick's words served to only further rile those intent on pushing Moore's presidency. Moore himself accused the board of several bylaws violations.

The atmosphere grew increasingly heated, to the point where Fagan and Moore stood about 15 steps apart, shouting at each other. Fagan threatened to throw Moore out of the room if he did not stop talking.

Fagan then called for a vote whether to conduct a new election or to install the officers as presented. In the end, there would be no new election.

"The issue was simply this," Fagan said afterward. "Brian was not eligible to be the president of the civic association."

In a telephone interview later, Moore called Fagan a tyrant, and said the club that remained behind had indicted itself with its undemocratic behavior.

"I said I will not go to the courts," he said. "I have to rely on public opinion now. . . . In my opinion, it's the death knell of this organization."

Keller said he hoped Moore was wrong.

"I'm sure all these people will cool down," Keller said, adding that he supported many of Moore's ideas and planned to initiate them himself. "He should have just backed down."

The new slate of officers is: Keller, president; Ki Hill, first vice president; Bruce Butler, second vice president; Erin Milam, treasurer; Paul Morales, assistant treasurer; and Grace Morales, recording secretary.

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