On April 9, 2015 I wrote an article titled “NEW PLAN: Rod Senior building support to relocate Royal Palm trees” in which I described an opportunity that was being discussed that would see Gateway’s Royal Palms being relocated to Stoneybrook and the two entities that govern Gateway and Stoneybrook would share the expense, with each side splitting the cost “50/50”.
Two days later, on April 11, 2015 I wrote an article titled “The curious case of Margaret Fineberg”. In that piece, one of the things that I pointed out was that there is conflict of interest for Fineberg because she sits on both the Gateway CDD board and the Stoneybrook HOA board.
Here’s why there’s a conflict of interest:
In order for the Gateway Services Community Development District to give, move, or destroy those palm trees the Board of Supervisors must vote to do so. Margaret Fineberg is a GSCDD board member and would be one of the people that casts a vote.
Then, in order for Stoneybrook to accept any of the palm trees, the board of the Home Owners Association must vote to take them. Margaret Fineberg is a board member of the Stoneybrook Master HOA and would have a vote there as well.
It doesn’t have to be palm trees. In any transfer of property between the GSCDD and Stoneybrook that must be approved by both boards, Margaret Fineberg would have a conflict of interest.
Not hard to understand.
A few hours after the Fineberg article was published, Stoneybrook Master HOA President Joe Mikulka wrote me an email and said, “I understand that you are concerned about Margaret being on two Boards. In fact while Gary was Chairman he was and may still be on the Master Board at Pelican. Albeit Pelican’s Board is still controlled by WCI. Actually, I am OK with that.”
For the record, I’m okay with that also. This community is too small to restrict people from being on multiple boards. However, if ownership of palm trees are being transferred from Gateway to Pelican Preserve and Supervisor Neubauer is still on the Pelican board – then I would expect him to remove himself from voting too.
It really isn’t hard to understand.
Fast forward to the April 16, 2015 GSCDD meeting of the Board of Supervisors, where Mikulka opted to address the board twice. The first time he offered a bizarre interpretation of road regulations that he already knew to be wrong, but went ahead and presented anyway.
The second time up, he said: “The reason I came up this time was because there were rumors of a secret negotiation or deal going on. And as Rod [Senior] knows, Rod called me one time and we had a conversation and at the end of that conversation I thought it was clear that our job was to try to save the trees and that was job 1 for us. And Rod, as he does, he’s an energetic guy – an ideas guy – and he tried to look out of the box at other alternatives and I respect him for that, he did it. But there’s nothing that he or I were sitting down talking about, negotiating, in fact we haven’t spoken about it since that phone call. Is that correct? (Senior replied: ‘Yes.’) There was nothing going on. Because out of that arose this accusation that there was a board member, one of the Supervisors, who had a conflict of interest. And nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t know where this stuff comes from and who makes it up. But it is made up. There’s nothing to it.”
Well I wouldn’t say there’s nothing to it, Joe.
There was this email from Rod Senior to Joe Mikulka that the Sun has obtained that opens with:
My emails below to Commissioner Pendergrass outlines the 50/50 cost-share proposal, with up to date cost estimates, that I suggested to you in an effort to save the Royal Palms, which I believe to be a common goal.
As we outlined in our April 9 article, the 50/50 cost share proposal was between Stoneybrook and the GSCDD.
There was also a phone call between Mikulka and Senior where I’m pretty sure something along the lines of transferring palms from Gateway to Stoneybrook was discussed.
So that’s at least two things.
But I’ll stop right here and be crystal clear that I don’t think Senior or Mikulka did anything wrong. If Gateway and Stoneybrook can work something out and everyone is happy and the trees get saved – that’s great.
But it circles back to my original point that each of the respective boards would have to vote on the ownership transfer, and since Fineberg is on both boards she cannot properly represent the people of Gateway and the people of Stoneybrook at the same time on the same issue.
That was a week ago and things change. If the door has been shut on the possibility of Stoneybrook taking any of the palms then there’s obviously no longer a conflict of interest. But at the time there was one, and there might come a time again where Stoneybrook may get some of the Royal Palms. In which case Fineberg needs to remove herself from the situation.
It’s really, really, really not that hard to understand.
So I wrote to Mikulka.
I’m paraphrasing but I said … Joe, I saw your speech at the GSCDD meeting. I naturally assume you meant me when you said someone was blabbing about a conflict of interest involving Fineberg, but I don’t know who you’re talking about in terms of saying there are secret negotiations since I haven’t said that. Can you just confirm that it you were referring to me on both those items? And if you want, go back and read the article again and you’ll see I never said anything about secret deals. Maybe you misspoke, which is fine because there’s a lot of emotions involved.
Joe’s reply started out with:
Sorry, but I did not read your article.
Wait. I don’t understand.
He didn’t read my article? He emailed me about it the same day. Then he obviously spoke about it at the GSCDD meeting. So people around him are talking about a conflict of interest involving his friend and fellow Stoneybrook board member Margaret Fineberg, so much so that he feels the need to write to me about it and then address the Board of Supervisors about it five days later – and he’s not the least bit curious as to exactly what was said, so he didn’t even read the article?
I’m having a very hard time accepting that.
But at least he didn’t accuse me of starting the rumors of the secret negotiations.
“The report of negotiation between the Stoneybrook HOA and Gateway Service District was in a TV report. There were so many reports that I cannot recall which network it was,” Mikulka said.
I don’t remember seeing it, but I guess I’ll believe Mikulka that one of the TV stations claimed it.
Were there secret negotiations between Senior and Mikulka? I would say absolutely not. Even the email that was cut and pasted from above had about a half-dozen people (but not me) cc’d on it. Hardly a secret.
Anyway, hopefully for the final time … Just for Joe … If there’s ever going to be a time when the Stoneybrook HOA and the Gateway CDD transfer ownership of any of the palm trees (or anything else) between them then Margaret Fineberg will be in a conflict of interest if she’s a sitting member of both boards.
It looked like that was becoming a possibility. It was definitely being discussed to the point where the costs were researched. Senior presented what he called a “proposal”. And it may still be a possibility in the future. Which is fine!
But if it does happen, Margaret Fineberg should not vote on the topic or be involved in any of the discussions because a conflict of interest would exist.
I hope that Joe understands. If he even reads this article.