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:

Amended Complaint - Pages 1 to 221

Amended Complaint - Pages 222 to 480

Amended Complaint - Pages 481 to 642

Amended Complaint - Pages 643 to 765

Amended Complaint - Pages 766 to 880

 

 

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.

 

 Get the facts

Download a copy of the Raydient Complaint 04-09-19 #1 and Raydient Complaint 04-09-19 #2 

 

 

 

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.

  

ENCPA background: 

  • 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:
  • In the initial less-than-300-acre phase of Wildlight, Raydient’s Commitment is to donate 34 acres for County public parks.

 

Learn more about the "ENCPA"


Clarifying the myths about Raydient, here are the facts:

 

Myth #1: Raydient went to Tallahassee to avoid its Commitments.

Fact: Raydient keeps its commitments.

The changes to the State’s sector plan law that were proposed earlier this year in Tallahassee sought to make clear a long standing Florida rule that growth should pay its proportionate fair share based upon its impacts. Every development must be held to this standard.

The changes would not have modified any of Raydient’s Commitments or the Stewardship District Legislation. If the legislation was truly designed to remove existing developer commitments contained in sector plan requirements, why didn’t any of the other 66 Florida counties object?

The legislation was supported by the Associated Industries of Florida, Florida Chamber of Commerce, Association of Florida Community Developers, the Florida Land Council, the Florida Home Builders Association and others to curb abuses by local governments. Notably, the Florida Association of Counties – the group that represents the interests of Florida counties in the legislature – did not oppose the legislation. Nassau County was the only local government to protest.

  • None of Raydient’s Commitments require that Raydient pay the entire cost of building and maintaining public parks.
  • Constructing and maintaining recreational facilities and other public infrastructure is a basic function of government and the reason the County collects impact fees and taxes. The County does this within the ENCPA just as it does everywhere else.
  • It is illegal for the County to require a new development to pay for the County’s past mismanagement or to pay more than its proportionate fair share.

 

Myth #2: Raydient won’t meet with the Nassau County Commission.

Fact: The Nassau County Commission won’t meet with Raydient.

Raydient has repeatedly offered to meet with County officials and they have repeatedly refused the offer. As recently as September 24, 2018, Raydient’s President offered to meet with Commission Chairman Edwards to start a discussion about how Raydient and the County can move forward together. Unfortunately, Commissioner Edwards refused the meeting without explanation. Over the past several years, Raydient met with County officials dozens of times to discuss ENCPA projects and issues and continues to do so.

The problems began in the summer of 2017 when the County for the first time ever demanded that Raydient pay all costs to build and maintain public parks as a condition for an additional development approval. This is far more than any of Raydient’s Commitments or its fair share and is illegal under Florida law. This unsupported demand is the biggest reason for Raydient’s insistence that the next meeting between the Company and the County must be facilitated by a neutral third party familiar with both growth management law and the finances related to the demand.

If the County Commissioners truly want to work together, communicate and solve problems, then why won’t they meet with us at a location that is ideal for working together, communicating and problem solving? The County has said that it will only meet in Commission Chambers. Why do they need to control the agenda, microphone and gavel if they are truly focused on cooperating to solve problems?

Our team agreed to discuss unresolved disagreements in a public workshop in early 2018. Unfortunately, County officials changed the agenda at the last minute in a way that was not designed to reach agreement on funding for public facilities, including recreation. In response, Raydient sent the County a letter stating just that.

  • Over the last several months, Raydient repeatedly offered to collaborate with the County and to participate in a public facilitated meeting to resolve our differences. The County has declined each offer.
  • Raydient is currently funding a study to determine the type, location, cost and potential funding sources for public facilities, including recreation, within the ENCPA. The County has refused to participate in the study unless Raydient agrees now to pay the full cost of any facilities identified in the study, which would be signing a perpetual blank check.

 

Myth #3: The ENCPA caused taxes to rise in Nassau County.

Fact: The tax increase resulted from the County’s poor financial management over many years.

Wildlight has only two families living in it right now. It is not the reason the County is raising taxes.  For many years, the County has approved residential development after residential development without charging appropriate impact fees to mitigate for the growth. Because of that, the County now has needs it can’t pay for and has to find a way to pay for the backlog it created.

  • The ENCPA is a big part of the solution. High-quality businesses coming to Wildlight, including two other corporate headquarters with similar tax impacts as Rayonier’s own headquarters, will help bail Nassau County out of its financial problems by bringing more balance to the tax base. These businesses aren’t coming into Nassau County because they want to see it fail -- they want to see it thrive!
  • Employees in these companies will eat, get gas and buy groceries and other needs here, leaving additional tax dollars in Nassau County’s coffers.
  • As a landowner in Nassau County for more than 80 years, our parent company, Rayonier, is proud to invest in our community. Rayonier built its headquarters on 2.5 acres in Wildlight and the taxes on those 2.5 acres have increased from less than $7 to more than $136,000 per year in Nassau County taxes alone!
  • The Nassau County School District will receive an additional $89,000 each year from just these 2.5 acres on top of the increased County taxes.
  • Residents within the ENCPA will pay taxes in exchange for County services, just like every other Nassau County resident.

 

Myth #4: Wildlight is entitled to a 12% discount in property taxes.

Fact: There is no tax discount.

Raydient committed to the construction of all roads within the ENCPA without the use of any tax dollars from outside the ENCPA. Some of these roads will be donated to the County upon their completion. These County roads benefit all County residents and will be the major roads through the ENCPA (not to be confused with residential streets). To ensure that only future residents of the ENCPA pay for the impacts of their growth ("growth pays for growth"), the County set-up a 12% Tax Increment Financing ("TIF") system to help pay for County transportation facilities within the ENCPA.

This is how County roads are paid for in the ENCPA. First, anyone who builds a building in the ENCPA pays a mobility fee when they get a building permit.  That fee goes toward paying for County roads in the ENCPA.  Because the fee isn’t enough to pay the full cost of construction, the TIF makes up the rest.

For example, before Rayonier built its new headquarters building on 2.5 acres of what was timberlands, it paid less than $7 per year to the County in property taxes for that land. Now that the building is on that same land, it pays more than $136,000 in property taxes per year to the County, in addition to what it pays to the school system and other taxing authorities. Of that, the County continues to receive the original $7 per year, plus $120,561, or 88% of the taxes over the original $7, for any use it determines. The balance of 12%, or $16,439, over the original $7 per year, also known as TIF, will be used to reimburse those who built County roads within the ENCPA. Once these County roads are built and the costs are reimbursed, then all the taxes will go to the County's coffers.

TIF graphic-1

  • 12% TIF along with mobility fees are only used to finance the few main spine roads (as shown in this map), such as a road connecting Chester Road to CR 108 or a future I-95 interchange in the ENCPA, and a trail network. These roads will be built by developers, such as the Nassau School District, Raydient and others, and owned and maintained by the County. 
  • The vast majority of the roads in the ENCPA, such as neighborhood streets and alleyways, will be funded by the developer, owned by the Stewardship District and maintained through fees paid by the residents of Wildlight.

 

Myth #5: The Stewardship District harms County taxpayers

Fact: The Stewardship District benefits County taxpayers

The Stewardship District was created because the County was unwilling to accept ownership and maintenance responsibility for the vast majority of the public infrastructure (public roadways, the more than 12,000-acre Conservation Habitat Network, storm water management systems, trails, etc.). It was created in large part to benefit Nassau County, ease the burden of growth and provide the County with one central board to work with instead of multiple Community Development Districts (“CDD”).

  • Residents of the ENCPA pay mobility fees and taxes to build public infrastructure and also pay Stewardship District fees to maintain it.

Definitions

East Nassau Community Planning Area (“ENCPA”) 

The 24,000-acre ENCPA is the result of the collaboration between Nassau County and Raydient. It is part of the County’s comprehensive plan and provides standards and development rights for the development and conservation of the entire area, including up to 24,000 residential units and 11 million square feet of nonresidential uses. It was approved by the State of Florida and the Board of County Commissioners in 2011.

 

Detailed Specific Area Plan (“DSAP”) 

Detailed Specific Area Plans are an implementation plan of the ENCPA. They grant development rights, establish specific land uses and policies to regulate development in a development order (“DO”). The approximately 4,200-acre DSAP #1 grants rights to build up to 4,038 residential units and 7.1 million square feet of non-residential uses. It was approved by the Board of County Commissioners in June 2013 and amended in May 2015.

 

Wildlight 

Wildlight encompasses approximately 2,900 acres which is a subset of the DSAP #1 lands. Raydient has approval through a Preliminary Development Plan (“PDP”) for the development of the initial phase of Wildlight, on less than 300 acres of developable land. The PDP was approved by Nassau County staff in May 2015 and subsequently amended.

 

East Nassau Stewardship District ("The District") 

The East Nassau Stewardship District (“The District”) is an entity that does not replace County services, does not create a burden or obligation on taxpayers outside the District, or obligate any party to do anything. Rather, the District has the power to undertake the responsibilities the County refused to accept when it approved the ENCPA. All Nassau County laws, regulations, ordinances and permitting processes remain in place and will continue to control the development of lands within the proposed District.

The District can (but is not obligated to) finance, construct and/or maintain public infrastructure through annual special assessments on the land. District infrastructure and facilities are largely accessible to the public and provide a benefit to taxpayers both inside and outside the district.

The District provides one consolidated point of contact to Nassau County for inter-local agreements, mutual cooperation and shared use facilities. It was established in June 2017, through the support of the local Nassau County government, the legislative enactment by the State House and Senate and was signed into law by Governor Rick Scott.

Stay informed!