OPINION: Fate of former Carlton Palms property in hands of original owner | Commentary
Orlando Sentinel - 3/11/2019
March 11-- Mar. 11--The Carlton Palms Educational Center, the Lake Jem facility that looked after severely autistic people and those with violent behavior, was forced to close last year, leaving a conundrum.
What do property owners do with a no-frills institutional facility for nearly 300 people out in the middle of nowhere where a company is growing sod and rural neighbors are devoted to peace and quiet?
To make things even more complicated, part of the property was owned by companies controlled by principals of Delaware-based Bellwether, the for-profit business that operated Carlton Palms. Part continues to be held by companies owned by Ken Mazik, who has about a third of downtown Mount Dora storefronts and who sold the Carlton Palms business more than a decade ago to GI Partners, a private equity firm.
Bellwether acquired Carlton Palms from GI Partners, along with two properties it bought from Mazik. He sold the land and buildings to Bellwether companies because "the expectation was that they would be in business for a very, very, very long time," said Harlow Middleton, Mazik's lawyer.
Additionally, more of Mazik's property is on a 10-year lease to Bellwether, whose employees are still working there, he said.
What a tangled mess.
Last month, Bellwether put the two parcels it owned up for sale in an auction, and Mazik paid nearly $1.2 million to get them back, court records show.
Middleton said Mazik, who made his fortune in for-profit businesses that cared for autistic children, bought the property Feb. 14 to "protect" the rest of the land he owns, including a peninsula that stretches into Lake Beauclaire. He said there had been "all kinds of rumors" about what the four other bidder groups might do with the property if they were able to buy it.
Now that Mazik has it, its fate is still up in the air.
"No decision has been made yet," Middleton said. "They are trying to figure out the highest and best use without terrible zoning changes. We're doing our own brainstorming.
"It's beautiful property," Middleton said. "But I can't imagine us ever getting back into that kind of business."
Tax Collector's Office reorganization
Three top managers at the Lake County Tax Collector's office lost their jobs recently in a reorganization by David Jordan, the new tax collector who replaced Bob McKee when he resigned late last year.
Jordan, who took over Nov. 30, had been McKee's second-in-command, and he said he began looking for ways to make the operation less costly while keeping it efficient.
The result was that Jordan eliminated three positions of longtime top employees, including Mark O'Keefe, who he described as a "30-year dear friend and one heck of a gracious man." O'Keefe was the director of motorist services.
Also laid off were Tina Carpenter, who was director of tax services and Sonia Jackson, who ran the Leesburg office.
None of the trio were let go for any fault or misbehavior, Jordan said.
Following McKee would be a tough job. The longtime tax collector used time-and-motion studies to instill efficiency into the operation. But Jordan is showing that he's got his own ideas. That's what is needed in an elected official -- provided the ideas are good ones, and these are.
Jordan said, for example, that a quality review function was being done by a manager.
"It was overkill, so what we're going to do is give a $2,500 stipend to a customer representative who can do this and get the same result," he said.
Savings will be about $500,000, but Jordan said he hopes to establish an intern program with Lake-Sumter State College in which students will be paid to do part-time work at the tax offices while they earn credits.
"We can have students come work in our office at peak times, so if we've got a kid trying to crawl out of a hole, we can give them a professional environment to work in," Jordan said.
Good idea. And the county likely will get an extra $200,000 back at the end of the fiscal year. Hard to complain about that.
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