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Developer meets with residents in private

Some people criticize the informal nature of the meeting, which focused on building plans and lawsuits.

By MICHAEL SANDLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 28, 2000


CORY LAKE ISLES -- Developer Gene Thomason invited some residents to this gated community's beach club this week for an impromptu meeting ostensibly about zoning. A guard at the door kept out reporters.

There was talk of Thomason's latest building plans, but according to some who attended, that wasn't all.

Halfway through the three-hour meeting, Thomason introduced two attorneys. One discussed a lawsuit between Thomason and another resident. The second answered questions about the fact that Thomason's wife gets health insurance from Cory Lake Isles' Community Development District, for which she serves as a board member.

Some wondered if such topics aren't more appropriate for a formal, noticed, open and recorded meeting of the taxing district board.

"I thought the meeting was out of order," said Joseph Caetano, a homeowner who attended the Tuesday meeting. "It wasn't in the right forum. (Thomason was) discussing CDD business. They said they are not violating the Sunshine (Law). I say they are."

Betty Thomason and Judith James, the district's two other board members, did not attend the meeting, so it was not technically an improper meeting of the board. Gene Thomason saw no need for a formal meeting.

The majority of those who did, said later they appreciated the chance to hear from Thomason and didn't mind the informal nature of the meeting.

"A lot of us did not know there was some dissension," said Kathy Bacon, who moved into the community in November 1999. "We got educated and it was helpful."

"These people, their time is valuable, and we don't want to burden them," Thomason said. "I wouldn't include this on an agenda for a CDD meeting. We bring up hardly nothing new, it's all based on nothing new."

Thomason called the meeting after an anonymous resident put fliers in Cory Lake mailboxes criticizing Thomason's plans for nearby development. Thomason responded with the invitations to Tuesday's meeting.

Madeline and Ronald Moos did not get invited but attended anyway. In 1997, they went to court to stop a neighbor from building a house the couple say obstructs their view of the lake. The case awaits a decision from an arbitrator.

The couple walked out shortly after Thomason introduced Diana Fuller, an attorney handling his side of the arbitration.

"They turned this meeting into a personal vendetta," said Madeline Moos. "What is this man afraid of? He's trying to discredit me, he's trying to belittle me.... I can see no reason for this man to bring this up, except to besmirch our character."

Thomason said the couple's case may end up becoming a community issue.

"The (taxing) district will charge them, me and everybody else," Thomason said. "The people here will be responsible for the future costs."

Mark Straley, another attorney for Cory Lake Isles, answered questions about Betty Thomason's health insurance. Thomason has been the chairman of the CDD since 1991. His wife and James have served on the board since 1992. They hold all public meetings at James' law office in Tampa.

- Michael Sandler can be reached at 226-3472 or sandler@sptimes.com.

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