The Truth about Nassau County’s dispute with Raydient
As discussions about the future of how to fund Nassau County’s parks continue in our community, it is important to understand the facts.
Sep 9 UPDATE:
Rayonier filed its second amended complaint against Mike Mullin for his repeated breaches of fiduciary duty to the company. The court dismissed Rayonier’s prior complaint, with instruction to file an amended complaint to address perceived deficiencies. For eight years, Mullin was Rayonier’s lawyer and he and his firm accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to secure development regulations that would allow Rayonier to meet its recreational development obligations through the donation of lands for public use. Mullin was successful, and these standards were adopted into the East Nassau Community Planning Area (“ENCPA”) and Nassau County’s comprehensive plan, paving the way for Rayonier to dedicate almost 12,000 acres within the 24,000 acre ENCPA for public use over the life of the development. Mullin himself developed and negotiated the establishment of these development regulations, and successfully secured the approvals for the ENCPA using only land donations.
When Mullin joined Nassau County, he turned against his former client and worked to undo the very development regulations Rayonier retained and paid him to develop. At the behest of members of the Nassau County Board of Commissioners ("BOCC"), Mullin attacked his former client and the regulations on which Rayonier depended, using his knowledge of Rayonier’s needs in an attempt to extort additional illegal exactions. Rayonier demanded that he stop the violations of his duties to his former client and that the County act to prevent his breaches, but instead, Mullin and the BOCC acted in concert against Rayonier. Rayonier’s complaint seeks injunctions against both Mullin and Nassau County to bring an end to this malicious campaign, an effort that has caused Rayonier millions of dollars in damage and has wrongfully set back the largest and highest quality development under way in Nassau County .
Download a copy of the amended complaint:
Jun 24 UPDATE:
Through the course of limited discovery, including depositions of current and former County employees and the use of third party subpoenas, we (Rayonier + Raydient) have not only obtained further evidence that the County violated Florida’s Public Records Act (including obtaining additional responsive text messages from third parties), but such discovery also revealed that the County Commissioners met privately “outside of the sunshine” and discussed (both in person and through text messages) various ways they could try to pressure and harm Rayonier and Raydient and our development efforts within the County.
Accordingly, Rayonier and Raydient have sought to add a claim against the County for violations of Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law.
Download a copy of the 2019-06-24_Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint
Apr 17 UPDATE:
There have been new developments in the Florida Bar’s consideration of the complaint that Rayonier filed against its former counsel, Michael Mullin.
See the letter received by Rayonier from the Florida Bar
The letter refers to the Florida Bar’s processes and procedures, specifically section entitled "STAGE 5: BOARD OF GOVERNORS REVIEW". To review and understand the Bar’s procedure for investigating and prosecuting disciplinary complaints, click here.
Apr 12 UPDATE:
The Florida Bar has considered Rayonier’s attorney ethics complaint against its former lawyer, Michael Mullin, who is now the County Attorney and County Manager and in those roles is opposing the very projects that he advocated before the County on Rayonier’s behalf. The Bar determined that a Court is better suited to address Rayonier’s complaints against Mr. Mullin, while at the same time cautioning Mr. Mullin with respect to his ongoing ethical obligations. Even before the conclusion of the Bar’s consideration of the matter, Rayonier filed a lawsuit against Mr. Mullin to enforce its legal rights, and Rayonier intends to vigorously pursue those claims.
Mr. Mullin's attorney filed a motion to dismiss the original complaint filed in the case and asserted the original complaint lacked sufficient specificity. While Rayonier disagreed, rather than litigate, the parties agreed that we would prepare and file an amended complaint containing far more specific allegations regarding Mr. Mullin's breaches of fiduciary duty. We did so on April 9, 2019.
Feb 6 UPDATE:
Due to the County’s repeated failure to produce records directly responsive to Rayonier and Raydient’s public records request, Rayonier/Raydient has now filed a lawsuit against Nassau County for violating Florida’s Public Records Act. As outlined in the Complaint, the public records request sought, among other things, text messages sent and received by County officials and County employees relating to County business in relation to Rayonier/Raydient’s development efforts in Nassau County. When questioned about the County’s failure to produce such records, the County provided evasive and misleading responses to Rayonier/Raydient and falsely stated that it was “not aware of any text messages.” The County’s statement has been proven patently false.
Various media outlets have also recently reported a conspiracy by the County to destroy public records. It remains to be seen what other responsive text messages and other records may have been intentionally withheld from production by County Attorney Mike Mullin and others at the County, and which records may have been deleted in violation of Florida law. What has become abundantly clear is that extensive text message records that are responsive to the public records request exist, including group text messages between Mullin, several County commissioners, and other County employees, but these responsive text messages were never produced by the County.
Rayonier/Raydient will investigate these matters thoroughly in the lawsuit as well as this disturbing pattern by the County to conceal government records from the public.
Download a copy of the Raydient Complaint 02-06-19
Feb 6 UPDATE:
Rayonier and Raydient have filed a lawsuit against their former attorney Michael S. Mullin, who now serves as Nassau County’s County Attorney and County Manager.
Over the course of close to a decade, from 2007 to 2015, Mr. Mullin represented Rayonier and its affiliates, including Raydient, as their primary attorney in connection with a large scale, mixed-use land development project within what became the East Nassau Community Planning Area (“ENCPA”). He was Rayonier’s lawyer with respect to all aspects of the County approval and regulatory process relating to the ENCPA and represented Rayonier on a wide range of related matters. In March 2015, Mr. Mullin left private practice in order to become Nassau County’s County Attorney.
In connection with the ongoing development of the ENCPA, disputes have arisen between Rayonier and the County regarding a number of matters, including the interpretation of the ENCPA framework, the related Mobility Fee Agreement and other existing land use approvals and state and local regulations, as well as disputes relating to construction, funding and maintenance of public infrastructure, such as community and regional park facilities.
The lawsuit alleges that because these disputes relate to the matters on which Mr. Mullin represented Rayonier and involve the very same documents and state and local regulations Mr. Mullin developed on Rayonier’s behalf, Mr. Mullin has conflicts of interest that preclude his involvement in these matters on the County’s behalf. Because Rayonier and Mr. Mullin have been unable to reach a satisfactory resolution of these issues, Rayonier has filed the lawsuit alleging claims for breach of fiduciary duty and requesting that the Court enter an injunction against Mr. Mullin.
Download a copy of the Raydient Complaint 02-05-19
Nov 15 UPDATE:
Regrettably, due to Nassau County’s unlawful actions and inaccurate public statements, Raydient Places + Properties and other Rayonier subsidiaries have sought court intervention to fully protect their property rights. The lawsuit details the history of the County’s improper actions targeted at Raydient and other Rayonier subsidiaries, including the County’s recent enactment of a municipal service taxing unit ordinance over the East Nassau Community Planning Area (ENCPA), as well as the County’s misleading interpretation of the East Nassau Stewardship District Bill.
In accordance with the County’s regulations for residential development, Raydient complied with its proportionate fair share requirements by agreeing that residential builders will pay the County’s standard recreation impact fees, and at buildout, residential developers will have donated more than 700 acres of land to the County for parks and recreation facilities. As part of its basic legal function, the County then has the responsibility to construct and maintain public community and regional park facilities on the donated land.
However, in this case, after Raydient obtained development approvals in the ENCPA, the County coercively attempted to require Raydient and the Stewardship District to additionally fund millions of dollars for the construction and maintenance of public community and regional park facilities. Essentially, requiring Raydient to construct and maintain parks in the ENCPA into perpetuity would be supplanting a function of Nassau County government – a function the County collects property taxes for, as well as impact fees from builders when permits are pulled. This effort by the County was in part driven by the County’s existing parks and recreation deficiencies, which the County has admitted resulted from its own poor planning and fiscal mismanagement. Simply put, what Nassau County has tried to coerce from Raydient over the last couple of years is unprecedented and unlawful.
When Raydient refused to yield to the County’s demands and serve as its bailout, the County retaliated against Raydient by enacting an unlawful municipal services taxing unit ordinance that encompassed only the ENCPA property. This ordinance unfairly requires Raydient and the other property owners within the ENCPA to disproportionately bear the burden of funding the County’s historic parks and recreation deficiencies.
As to the dispute over the interpretation of the Stewardship District Bill, the County has falsely asserted that certain language in the bill obligates Raydient and the Stewardship District to construct and maintain parks and recreation facilities. Either the County misunderstood the bill, or has been creating the false impression to the public that the Stewardship District Bill creates “obligations” that simply do not exist.
Download a copy of the Raydient Complaint 11-13-18
The bottom line is:
- The dispute is about who pays for fixing Nassau County's current backlog of needs for parks and recreation facilities.
- Nassau County's own regulations require the County to construct and maintain its parks and recreation facilities.
- For decades, the County has poorly planned and underfunded all public facilities, including recreation, while approving many thousands of new residential units.
- For many years, Nassau County has collected impact fees that were too low to build the facilities needed due to growth.
- Additionally, the County failed to collect its low impact fees for more than five years and that made the backlog even worse.
- It is illegal for Nassau County to try to force new developments to pay for the County’s existing shortage of public facilities.
The solution is economic development:
- Bring more jobs to Nassau County.
- Bring more non-residential investment to Nassau County.
- Raise the quality and standards of residential development within the County.
- The East Nassau Community Planning Area (“ENCPA”) achieves these goals.
- The 24,000-acre ENCPA is the result of many years of collaboration between Nassau County and Raydient to promote a higher quality of development, create jobs and bring private non-residential investment.
- It was approved by the Board of County Commissioners in 2011, after more than 5 years of planning and many public meetings.
- It includes more than 700 acres of land to be donated for public parks and recreation facilities.
- It includes more than 12,000 donated acres for perpetual conservation in the Conservation Habitat Network – an area almost three quarters the size of Amelia Island and the largest wildlife land conservation effort in Nassau County history!
- Nassau County says Raydient committed to pay for all ENCPA public parks and recreation facilities but cannot produce any record to support that claim.
- The only “Commitments” Raydient made to the County are contained in the ENCPA land use approvals and County regulations and are a matter of public record. These are those Commitments:
- Nassau County 2030 Comprehensive Plan Recreation and Open Space Element and Capital Improvements Element
- East Nassau Community Planning Area - Master Land Use Plan (Object. FL.13, Policies FL.13.01-17)
- East Nassau Community Planning Area - Mobility Fee Agreement (May 2011)
- East Nassau Community Planning Area - Amended Mobility Plan and Fee Agreement (June 2015)
- Detailed Specific Area Plan #1 - Development Order (May 2013)
- Detailed Specific Area Plan #1 - Development Order Amendment (May 2015)
- Detailed Specific Area Plan #1 - Public Facilities Analysis (October 2014)
- Market Street Preliminary Development Plan (Revised November 2017)
- Nassau County Impact Fee Ordinance (Ord. 2016-02)