Downtown Development Board Election "Comical"
By Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - The Clearwater Downtown Development Board (DDB), an elected body consisting largely of downtown property owners, normally flies under the radar of citizen scrutiny without generating much controversy. The board manages an annual budget of around $400-thousand, derived largely from a special .965-mill tax on downtown properties.
But DDB members who served as the canvassers for the recent election of three board members were in for a surprise when they met at the Supervisor of Elections Office on October 13th to count the votes.
"It was a big shock when it came through," said DDB Vice-Chairman Bob Fernandez. He was referring to a large envelope containing what would be counted as 169 votes, all from a single entity. The total number of votes in recent DDB elections has rarely exceeded 100, less than 20-percent of the eligible downtown parcels.
The source of those 169 votes was identified as Opus South, the bankrupt developer of the Water's Edge condominium complex adjacent to City Hall.
Each unit of the Water's Edge complex qualified as a "parcel" under DDB rules, and each was entitled to a single vote in the election. But because only a few of the Water's Edge units had been sold, the property ownership and DDB voting rights remained with Opus South.
The election results were surprising not only for the number of votes cast, but also because of the outcome. Of the three board members who were elected, two were on the ballot: Charles Lykes with 207 votes, and Thomas Wright with 200 votes. The third seat was won by write-in candidate Jay Polglaze with 169 votes. Fifth place vote getter, DDB incumbent Mike Riordon, called the election outcome "comical."
It was only by a delicate circumstance of timing that Opus/Water's Edge was eligible to vote.
In the final death throes of Opus' bankruptcy, the Water's Edge complex was purchased on October 1 at foreclosure by Wells Fargo Bank. With the sale committed but transfer of title not yet complete, the 169 votes cast by lame duck Water's Edge One LLC were counted on the date of the election, October 13th. On October 16th, title to the property was transferred to Wells Fargo. Had the closing occurred only three days earlier, the Water's Edge votes would not have counted according to DDB Attorney Elise Winters.
Absent the Opus/Water's Edge votes, the third seat would likely have been won by Paris Morfopoulos, a ballot-listed candidate who garnered 24 votes, not write-in candidate Polglaze.
The Water's Edge votes were cast by former Opus South development manager Grant Wood, who had been involved with the property for about three years. While Wood claimed to have done a lot of volunteer work with the Clearwater Downtown Partnership, he said that he had no direct relationship with the DDB, and had never attended any of their meetings.
Wood said, "The folks that I voted for are highly qualified and will bring great energy to downtown Clearwater."
Polglaze said that he decided to seek a seat on the DDB "too late to go through the normal process." As a write-in candidate, Polglaze said, "I lobbied hard and put my name out there."
Polglaze is no newcomer to efforts to redevelop and energize downtown Clearwater. He has been a member of Jazz Force, the muscle behind the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, and has been active in the Clearwater Downtown Partnership and the events they promote. Polglaze said that he met Wood via his involvement with the Downtown Partnership.
Timing was critical in Polglaze's eligibility to serve on the DDB. Board rules require that members be downtown business owners, downtown property owners or have downtown as their principal place of employment according to board attorney Winters.
Polglaze, an employee of the U.S. Postal Service, said that his primary work location had been the Post Office on Belcher Road, outside DDB boundaries, until "five to six weeks ago" when he was transferred to the downtown Post Office; Polglaze could not recall the exact date of his transfer.
Polglaze's elected term begins in December, but he was appointed to fill a vacant seat on the board at the DDB's November 4th meeting and was sworn-in.
In an ironic completion of the curious circle of DDB election events, Polglaze will begin his elected term of office at the DDB's next meeting, to be hosted at the Water's Edge complex at 5:30pm on December 2nd.
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