[An abridged version of this article appeared in the February 20 edition of The Times. Jump to the questions and answers that weren't included in the print edition.]
Members of the Seven Lakes Land-owners Association [SLLA] gathered on Wednesday, February 4 to meet the six candidates for their Board of Directors.
The candidates were given up to six minutes for introductory remarks on their background and experience, challenges and opportunities facing the Association, and how their talents and skills might help the organization meet those challenges and take advantage of those opportunities.
Afterwards, Seven Lakes Times Editor Greg Hankins, who moderated the event, asked the candidates questions that had been submitted in writing by audience members.
The six candidates, who are vying for four open seats on the Board, include Joy Smith, Bob Racine, Greg Lishawa, Mark Gyure, Dave Hill, and Lawton Baker. Racine and Hill are both current members of the Board.
A young retiree and relatively new resident, Northsider Joy Smith has served both in the US Marine Corps and in the Los Angeles Police Department [LAPD], reaching the rank of sergeant in both organizations. In between, she worked in social services helping homeless families.
Smith recounted a time in the LAPD when she had been appointed lead officer in a team serving a Hispanic community. When community members realized that Smith did not speak Spanish, they protested her appointment.”
“I told them, ‘I’ll give you thirty days,’” Smith said. “If you don’t want me to serve you, to roll my sleeves up and work for you, then I will step down.” I stayed working for that community for six years. And it was the best job I had.”
“I worked directly with the businesses in that community, with the mayor, with the city council. And we did things as small as speed bumps on the road . . . all the way up to how do we get the drug dealer out of the house beside me . . . how do I keep the graffiti off my wall. So, I have covered a gamut of issues in my career.”
Smith is retired at age 52, but is raising two young girls, ages 4 and 12. Noting that Seven Lakes is changing from a primarily retirement community to one with more and more young families, she said, “I hope that you all will see that I am the perfect bridge for this community.”
“I bought here because of what was already here and where I feel like it might go,” she said, explaining her motivation for moving to Seven Lakes North.
“I feel like this is a good volunteer opportunity for me and I am willing to step up and take it,” Smith said. “I am open; I have done it — on a small scale and a large scale; and I am willing to listen.”
Bob Racine, who currently serves as SLLA President, reminded the audience of campaign platform he ran on — with three other candidates — four years ago.
Among their goals were increased transparency, decisions made in open meetings, holding town hall meetings for community input, starting repaving of the roads, reviewing the landscaping contract with Davenport, and reestablishment of needed committees. All of those, Racine said, have been accomplished.
“Two remain outstanding, in my view, and must be continuously addressed,” he said. “Transparency — this is a continuous challenge.” Racine noted that, as President, he has continued to encourage member input at board meetings, despite some pushback against that practice.
“I am committed to listen to these residents and to give them an opportunity to be heard,” he said.
The second item that needs additional work is the Association’s committees, whose “usefulness and effectiveness has been circumvented,” he said.
Turning to new goals, Racine said he will continue to challenge what he called “excessive spending” that aimed to make of Seven Lakes “a showplace with amenities that would dazzle the public.”
“We are middle class working and retired persons seeking to live on limited budgets,” he said.
Racine said he would actively seek to increase the involvement of younger families in community affairs. “We need the involvement of everyone,” he said.
Racine noted that he cares for his two grandchildren every day, giving him a useful perspective on the amenities and their appeal to children.
He cited his experience serving on the Board for four years, serving as President, and on the Judicial and Recreation Committees. He was a town moderator for ten years in New England, and spent his career as an attorney.
Racine said he has an ability to “seek out the facts, analyze them, listen to all parties in a open minded manner, build consensus, and get everyone aboard on a united approach.”
Greg Lishawa said he first visited Seven Lakes thirty years ago, “and fell in love with this place.” He and his wife bought their Northside home in 2006 and became full-time residents in 2011.
Lishawa spent twenty-five years as a police officer with the Finley, OH police department, five of those as a patrolman and twenty in the detective division. He served as a SWAT officer and a hostage negotiator, as well as a union representative.
“This is where my wife and I have retired,” Lishawa said. “I have a vested interest in this community. I feel a civic obligation to get involved rather than to sit back and complain.”
Lishawa has served on the Security Committee for the past two years.
“I believe the last three boards have gotten it pretty much right,” he said. There was a great need to address our infrastructure. A lot of things were let go for a long time.”
“We need to maintain a high standard of what we have — our roads, our lakes, our dams — while maintaining a high level of financial responsibility. We need to continue to grow this community, to make Seven Lakes a place where people want to live.”
“As a police detective, I had to ask five questions on every case: Who, what, when, where, and how,” Lishawa said. “As a Board member, I will continue to ask those questions, as well as another one: How much?”
“If I don’t know something, I am not afraid to go out and seek the advice of people that know,” Lishawa said. He cited as an example that he would shadow dam inspectors when they visit, in order to educate himself about dams and how they function.
“I will answer people’s phone calls, I will talk with people, I will meet with people,” he said. “I will find out what direction this community wants to go, and I will base all of my decisions on “Who, what, when, where, how, and how much.”
Dave Hill is a native of Knoxville, TN, but grew up in Hickory. After a brief stint at factory work, he enlisted in the Army at age 18.
“It helped me grow up, taught me the nature of the world, other cultures, and so on,” Hill said.
Hill’s last duty station was as an infantryman with the 101st Airborne. He served in Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Afghanistan, and other operations. He said he realized that the military “was where I belonged,” citing the close community among those in service.
Hill retired from the military after 23 years and enrolled in nursing school at the University of Tennessee. He worked at the Veteran’s Administration hospital in Asheville for seven years, retiring after 30 years of government service.
Hill has two adult children and three grandchildren, who he said enjoy the community when they visit.
When he was ready to retire, Hill said, “I looked, and I looked, and I looked, for two years. When I got to Seven Lakes, I didn’t need to look anymore. I found everything here I needed as a retired person.”
Hill called Bob Racine “his mentor.” “Bob knew I wanted to be involved in the community,” Hill said, “and I did. I feel like that is my next step in life. I am retired, this is my home, and you are my family, just like when I was in the military.”
Hill joined the Board in August, taking over as Lakes & Dams Director.
Hill said he offers leaderships skills and skills in teamwork. “We need leaders and we need community participation. I think that I can do that for you.”
Mark Gyure moved to Seven Lakes in 2013. He is retired with thirty years in the US Air Force’s Civil Engineering Squadron, retiring as chief of facility operations, dealing with both maintenance and construction.
He started his own business — Integrated Facility Management Solutions, LLC — twelve years ago. It is focused on energy efficiency and construction and maintenance oversight.
Gyure said he was attracted to the peace and quiet of Seven Lakes, having served at the noisy Andrews Air Force Base as his last duty assignment.
“We are shareholders; we all own a part of this community,” Gyure said. He added that he is disappointed to see litter along Seven Lakes streets.
“We need to foster more of a community feeling that ‘This is ours,’” he said. “The reason that there is a gate at the front entrance is not because we are snobs, but because we want to create, live in, and foster an environment that we all can enjoy.”
He noted that the community is “very hospitable.” “Everyone wants to do something, but the direction needs to be given about what we can do. . . . There is a place for everybody and something for everyone to do. We just need to foster that relationship with the community.”
Making that possible he said, depends on having a long range plan for the community. And an effective long range plan requires a thorough understanding of what community members want.
“I don’t know what people want to do in their leisure time,” Gyure said. “It’s not my agenda — it’s the agenda of 1,503 people who belong to this community as lot owners. It is our job on the board to solicit, through surveys, through open discussion, through community forums, your ideals, your ideas, your long range plans.”
“We know we have roads and buildings to maintain . . . that needs to be lined up in a master plan, so that we know that we are going to get to them in a structured way.”
“As for dollars and cents,” Gyure said, “I’m not one who looks always to be raising dues. There are ways that, by getting the community involved, we can do more, take more responsibility, and ultimately appreciate where we live, by pitching in.”
Lawton Baker and his wife moved to Seven Lakes North in 2010. After a four-year stint in the US Army, Baker began working for Southern Bell Telephone in 1971 and continued through all of that company’s name changes and reorganizations for twenty-seven years, until his position was outsourced. He then worked for ten years for a company that provided outsourced services to the phone company.
His duties included project design, cost analysis, scheduling materials and workforce, and budget.
Baker’s father was career military, which meant a lot of moving around — “ten schools in twelve years.”
“You learn to make friends quickly,” he said.
“We love this place,” he said of Seven Lakes. Noting that his home “is the yellow house in the hollow down here under the dam,” Baker said, “so I am definitely interested in the dam, with all that water up over my head.”
He spent his time in the Army with the Army Security Agency, Baker said, which took him from Massachusetts to Arizona, to Japan.
“The important thing is, to make yourself useful, wherever you live,” he said. “When we moved in here, the first thing we did was get started with West End Presbyterian Church . . . We jumped right in with both feet.”
“If you look at that yellow house down in the hollow, you’ll see that we’ve done a lot of work on it since we came here,” he said. “It needed a lot of TLC. And I think that’s what this community needs, is a lot of TLC, so that we can enjoy it together and be proud of it.”
Question -- What do you think are the three most important issues facing Seven Lakes?
Mark Gyure -- "I think the first one is the roads. That one is being addressed, but I think the plan needs to be a little better articulated to the community."
"Second is the amenities: the pool, the bocce ball courts, and what we can do about the amenities we have — and what new amenities we need."
Third, Gyure said he would like to see "a true priority list of the assets we have."
Greg Lishawa -- "I believe that our infrastructure has been let go for so long that we need to get that fixed to make our community attractive to outside people. Our roads, our lakes, and our dams are also important. We need to rely on the experts to come in and tell us what we need to do and when we need to do it."
"And financial responsibility. We have to be smart with our money. We need to spend it wisely, and we need to keep moving forward."
Bob Racine -- "The first thing is the excessive spending, and we do have a lot of spending coming up. If I need to buy a car, I might want to buy a Lincoln, but I might have to take a Ford. If I can't spend $200,000 for a pool, I might need to spend $100,000. We have to be more careful of our spending."
"The next thing would be involvement of all people, young and old." Racine mentioned that he is trying to get a Boy Scout Eagle Project going that would get young people involved in benefitting the community.
"The next thing is I see a lot of things that need to be done around here that doesn't require a lot of money to be spent, that we can do as a community."
Joy Smith -- "The three things that I think are most important are apathy, lack of personal responsibility, and appreciation of generational knowledge."
"Apathy -- "people of my generation and younger need to be at this meeting. Mom or Dad, one or the other, needs to be at this meeting."
"Lack of personal responsibility -- The stuff that goes out the car window drives me stark raving mad."
"Lack of generational knowledge -- I can't be a neighbor if I don't appreciate what he [indicating Racine] did when he moved here. His generation started this community; my generation gets to benefit from it. And the younger generation is just sitting back on their backside."
Dave Hill -- "We have the best office staff that I have worked with anywhere. They have all kinds of knowledge that doesn't ever get recognized. Go to them and ask questions, and they will lead you in the right direction."
Hill said he gives "a lot of attention to lakes and dams," because he currently chairs that committee. He said the committee members have a wealth of knowledge for the community and management to tap.
Hill encouraged landowners to give the Board input, in order to keep the community headed in the right direction.
Lawton Baker — Baker said he is particularly concerned about the concentration of debris in lake coves. "The lakes are filling up!" he said.
"As you walk around, you see land mines — dog droppings that owners leave behind."
"People ride by and keep their cars clean, by throwing their trash out . . . I think one of the biggest things that we need in here is community pride, and to instill it into those people who are not really taking care of our own community."
Question -- Do you support the proposed $25 dues increase that will be voted on at the annual meeting? Is it a good idea to have small dues increases every year, or should expenses be adjusted to avoid the need for a dues increase?
Greg Lishawa -- "I definitely support the dues increase. On the Security Committee, we just renewed our security contract, and it is now over $200,000. It was a three percent raise from the security company. If we take that $25, it takes the dues from 250 people's homes to pay for that increase."
"Everything is going up, and we have to continue to pay of it. That's where financial responsibility is important."
"Once we get a lot of our projects done, we might be able to take a year or two and not have any dues increases, but we have to remember that, while our retirement checks basically start the same, everything is going up in our community and in the world."
"The dues increase is important, and we need to continue doing it. $25 a year is less than $2 a month for everybody. So I think we need it, but we also need to keep financial responsibility as our main goal, as well.
Bob Racine -- "Under the present circumstances, no."
"If we're talking about money, here's a design for the pool. $200,000. Something that is used ninety days of the year. I don't think it has to be that elaborate, has to be that nice."
Racine said the original proposal for bocce courts had an estimated cost of $20,000. The bocce players themselves installed a court for $1,200-$1,600. "We now have two courts going in for about $8,000."
Racine said one of the clubs to which he belongs offered to buy tables for the association. "Sam's Club had them for sale for $40 and $70. This Association bought them for over $200."
If you can get spending under control, then I will vote for a dues increase."
Lawton Baker -- Baker said he does support the dues increase, "knowing that expenses do go up, but that controlling them is the primary objective. I would hope that a happy median could be found in there, so that we don't have them go up every year."
"If you pick up a cup of Starbucks coffee on the way in, you are going to spend more than that $25 a year. So, I am not concerned about the small increase, but I am concerned about the continuing increase.
Joy Smith -- "I'm not for this dues increase. I just feel, personally, it does set a precedent, because we just paid for one last year."
"I personally would feel, particularly for the younger families — I know now how much children cost — I think it would be easier if we had one every other year."
"I'll pay it, obviously, because I love the community, but I don't agree with it this year."
Dave Hill -- "Having been involved with the Lakes & Dams Committee and the Board, I actually see that things are increasing, and in order for us to have Seven Lakes as we want it, we have to spend money. There is just no way around it."
"Ray [Sohl, Community Manager] is really good about finding the best buy."
Mark Gyure -- "Since the day we purchased our home, the dues here have gone up $125. Being on the Finance Committee, I understand where expenses are going. But, coming from my engineering background, it's not that hard to put matrices together that you can have a rating scale on."
"Because if you are going to have an amenity that costs you $100, and only two people use it in the entire community, we might not think that's all that great. But if it's $10,000 and only two people are using that amenity, maybe it wasn't such a big bang for our buck."
"Before we spend that money we have to be able to measure that, and look at that, before we make a decision. Before you stick a shovel in the ground, you want to make sure the people in the community are behind you, that people are going to use it. And, again, a matrix takes the bias out of it."
Question -- The Board has a pay-as-you-go plan for repaving roads. Would you support having the Association securing a bank loan in order to complete the road resurfacing program prior to complete road failure?
Bob Racine -- "There's an old saying: 'The sins of the family falls on the children.' Our sins were that, for the past twenty years, we didn't save a penny, until we started a segregated fund for road improvements. Therefore we have no money. I was in favor of borrowing, but then I sat in the monthly Finance Committee meetings. I'd have to have a lot more information before I would be for it."
"I know one street I walk on everyday, I'm not sure it will last another ten years."
"We neglected it . . . we have some other expenses coming along . . . we need to start saving. We should have done it twenty years ago. We didn't. We should have reserve fund for many of these items, such as the trucks. We don't. So we now pay the price."
"The way we are going right now, until otherwise proven, I say no loan."
Joy Smith -- "I am absolutely not for making a bank loan for anything like that. The North Side is going through too much transition right now."
"I am truly for pave it, pay for it, pave it, pay for it. I am teaching right now 'If you don't have the money, you don't buy the toy.' We as a community don't have it."
"We're in a transitional time. There are younger families. The houses are definitely going up in value, but let's let it settle first."
Dave Hill -- "I don't support borrowing money. I don understand the concept of wanting to get it done. I believe there are other ways we can discuss and examine."
Mark Gyure -- "I don't support it, primarily because you would be mortgaging all of us as shareholders."
Noting that he had traveled to every state in the Union, save Alaska, Gyure said, "Bad roads are in the eye of the beholder. If you want to see some bad roads, I can show you some bad roads. You can drive across the George Washington Bridge in New York and lose your vehicle in a pothole."
"I believe, if we start collecting funds and applying them to our reserve fund, as we have been doing, our community manager and Facilities Committee can pave the roads that are most in need first. But borrowing? No."
Lawton Baker -- "I am not in favor of borrowing money to do something like this, because we would actually be paying more for it than it originally cost. Not only are we borrowing money, but you are borrowing money from us."
"I'd rather see us prioritize the areas that need it most and hit it the hardest. You can't take care of everything all at once, but you can do what you need to do."
Greg Lishawa — "I'm not in favor of borrowing money. It's my understanding that a plan was put together three years ago, and at that time they paved the worst roads. We're due to pave some more roads this year, so we are are going to take the next worse roads and pave them."
"I live on a cul de sac, so I may not see my road paved for ten years. I'm okay with that. I can still drive down it. It's not the prettiest road, but it does the job, and we don't need to spend the money there right now. So, I think the plan that is is in place will work, but people have to be patient. I don't know of any roads that are going to cave in."
Question -- What actions do you plan to take to increase resident participation in defining and addressing the community's needs?
Lawton Baker -- "I already got in trouble over that one. I already called a lady out over not picking up after her dog. If people don't have any pride in their community, there is not a whole lot you can do about it. I don't know if you can shame them. If they don't take pride in their own property, their own neighborhood, their own neighbors, I don't know what you can do."
Joy Smith -- There's always a community outreach with the Girl Scouts, sororities, fraternities. We all see teenagers walking through the neighborhood. At first I thought, 'Oh no. I wanted to move away from the baggy pants and the odd looks.' Because it bothered me, I actually stopped and started talking to the four teenagers I see quite often on my street, thinking they're the ones that keep kicking my little cardinal over. So I talked with them. I said "Hey, how are you guys?'
"Good. Good, ma'am."
"I heard 'Ma'am'." So I thought, "They're not so bad. I'm not going to get shot at. They're not bad kids. They just need some direction.' So you bring in someone just a little bit older — a college kid. You do a quick invitation at the post office. On this day we're going to do this. Everyone gets donuts and soda. This group is coming in. You bring them together. Not only are they hearing about college, but they are doing something for the community — maybe picking up trash or something."
"You don't have to shame the kids into it, you show them something else, teach them another way."
Bob Racine -- "First we have to make a decision: Do we want volunteerism? We say 'Yes, we do,' but whenever we try to do it, there is always a roadblock.
"I had a Boy Scout who wanted to do a project to get his Eagle. I said, when we get it all together, I'll present it. Less than 36 hours later, the committee had already voted it down. They didn't have all the facts."
"So, first, we have to get volunteerism allowed. If you get eighteen kids working on a project inside our community, that's going to get something started. Hey, look! They're doing something for our community."
"We have brought in Scouts to help older people who can't take care of their property, and they have helped. What we need to do is get the community themselves involved, not just an outside group."
"I see the same people doing the same things time after time: the older folks. Where are the young people? We have to get them involved -- and I think we can do it."
Greg Lishawa -- I believe there is wealth of knowledge in our community, and we do not tap those resources. We all have neighbors who have something to offer, and I think it is a matter of each individual talking to their neighbor and inviting them to bring their ideas to the Open Meeting.
If we go to this neighbor and the next neighbor and the next neighbor, we can snowball it. But there is so much knowledge out here, and it is a matter of each of us tapping that. If each of us talks to two people and they all talk with two people, it would be a snowball effect, and we'd have a lot more people at meetings like this.
Mark Gyure -- "Twice a year at any base we had a community outreach meeting. The first thing we have to determine is who can meet when."
"We have retirees, working folks, part-year residents. So maybe we do a Spring and Fall type cleanup for the entire community. We make it a fun event, provide the chips and hot dogs, get their names in the paper."
"In the big cities, we have a community watch program. Maybe we could have a community commander in each neighborhood that is there to foster those kind of small projects -- picking up litter off the street or helping an elderly neighbor rakes leaves."
Dave Hill -- "One thing that I have come up with . . . this green book that we get with all the rules and regulations ... do you understand it? Bob [Racine] and I were talking about putting together an explanation, for new residents, when they get here: What does this book mean? What can I do? What can't I do? What do I need help with? What do I need to ask permission for?"
"That would make Ray's job a lot easier. And it would help bring the community together."