Editor’s note: This is the fourth in an ongoing series about Lakewood Ranch Town Hall.
LAKEWOOD RANCH — Members of Lakewood Ranch’s Inter-District Authority board have thrown their support behind leadership at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall but said nothing specific to indicate how concerns raised about employee morale and other issues — whether real or perceived —would be addressed.
In a prepared statement during the Accounting & Invoice meeting Feb. 16, IDA Chairman Tom Green said he is “fully supportive of our IDA staff” and the community is “very fortunate to have the leadership of (Community Manager) Bob Fernandez and his staff in managing the Lakewood Ranch community.”
Green’s comments came as a follow-up to a meeting last month when Supervisor Glenda Robertson reported, after interviewing more than 20 current and former Town Hall employees, that “at a minimum, communications, morale and employee relationships of the IDA can be improved.”
Green had asked Robertson to conduct the interviews after the IDA became aware of high employee turnover in the property management and operations departments. Additionally, former Town Hall employee Sue Kara in December wrote a letter to the IDA board and other community development district supervisors calling Town Hall a “toxic and dysfunctional environment” and challenging the management practices of Fernandez and Community Association Services Manager Cynthia Wills.
With the support the IDA board last month, Robertson had asked Fernandez to review the IDA’s incentive program for employees, to review and reinforce the training of staff regarding dealing with residents and the public, to review the relationship the IDA has with its human resources consultant, to review the overall layout of Town Hall and the position of staff and to consider changing back to a five-day work week.
Fernandez was supposed to present to the board his plan for addressing those issues at this week’s meeting. However, he was out of town because of a death in the family, board members said.
Green said his comments were made in place of Fernandez’s presentation and his discussions with Fernandez and other Town Hall staff would move things in the right direction.
“I didn’t tell them to do anything,” Green said of his discussions with Town Hall staff since the last board meeting. “It doesn’t need to be a formal plan. It’s an attitude we need to understand.”
Green said he spent nearly a day with Fernandez and other staff members discussing issues and concerns raised about Town Hall in recent months, whether those concerns are real or perceived and how to address them.
“They and I understand that perception is reality regardless of whether we feel that the perception is accurate,” Green said. “This Town Hall is not perfect. The organization is reasonably young and still developing. Bob and his staff and employees try hard to meet everyone’s expectations, but we are realistic in understanding that this goal is impossible to achieve.”
Green cited examples of how the community has grown over the last 10 years to illustrate how much change the community has experienced.
“Change is unsettling whether the change is good or bad,” he said. “It also means that as the community grows and develops everyone is not going to necessarily agree with some of the changes being made. That having been said, I want to assure the residents of Lakewood Ranch that the IDA board and the IDA staff are committed to ensuring that the management of the day-to-day operations and any changes made as we grow and develop are for the benefit of the community as a whole.”
Residents who attended the meeting said they felt the issue had been avoided, and many of the items they had been curious about, such as the hours for Town Hall, were not addressed.
“I was disappointed,” Orchid Island resident Frank Lev said. “I came today expecting to hear a report. We haven’t received a word about it.”
Steve Baron agreed.
“They did their fact-finding and chose not to make it available to the public,” he said. “The residents have the right to know the outcome of a report that comes by the IDA (requiring it) of the Town Hall staff.”
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].