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Hard feelings linger in Tara feud

EAST MANATEE — The golf course at Tara Golf and Country Club is now closed so a $3.2 million renovation can be completed by next fall.

The clubhouse is also getting a $3.2 million facelift.

But it may take more than a few months to heal the wounds of a divided community.

Some Tara residents stood staunchly behind the renovations but others, led by a “Tara Recall Group,” signed a petition to recall four members of the Tara Golf and Country Club board of directors and have at least some of the renovations halted.

The recall group felt decisions were being made without the support of the total membership, or allowing members to vote on the project.

A state arbitration official recently ruled against the recall of Art Mullins, C. Lee Frederick, Maureen Gee and Cathy Wooley, a decision that enabled the renovations to proceed.

“The arbitrator did rule against the recall,” said Mullins, whose term as president of the Tara Golf and Country Club ended in April because of term limits.

But the ruling left no real winners, some residents said.

“I’m happy the recall did not succeed, and the renovations are going along as scheduled,” said Mark Cooper, a Tara resident. “But I would also like to see the healing process among the members begin. This club was a close-knit community prior to all of this controversy, and I would like to see it become one again. I’m hoping that when everyone returns to Tara next season we can enjoy a new, renovated golf course, a new renovated clubhouse and most of all, the friendship of all the members.”

Joe Stover was among those leading the fight against the renovations. When asked if he thought the community will heal, he said he didn’t know. He is still stunned by the arbitrator’s decision.

“I was very disappointed,” Stover said Wednesday. “We knew we had the votes. Well over 300 people wanted this board replaced. We were very surprised at the verdict. Now, the club is closed. The work is going forward on both the golf course and clubhouse.”

The recall ballots did meet the required number, according to documents from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which provided the arbitrator on the case.

A minimum of 436 ballots from the 870 voters qualified in Tara was required, and the recall committee delivered 466 ballots, arbitrator Tonya S. Chavis reported.

But Chavis found inconsistencies in the ballots and the way they were handled.

One ballot was cast by a non-property owner. Another was not dated. Some didn’t include votes. There were some with incorrect addresses. Not all association members received the recall package, Chavis wrote in her report.

She found people other than the voter made additional remarks on the pages.

She also stated that John Costanzo, a replacement board member, “apparently received, opened, reviewed, and maintained the ballots for some unknown period of time.”

She also ruled that many owners were “pressured” into signing the ballots.

She concluded: “Because of irregularities apparent on the face of the ballots, the ballots are void.”

April is election time at Tara, and the recall group ran two candidates recently.

Costanzo and Graham Bennett both were elected to the seven-person board, Stover said.

“Now we have two members on the board,” Stover said. “We plan to run three candidates next April. It’s too late to do anything about the money spent. But at least members can take control of the club and major decisions will be made by the total membership.”

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.