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“Don’t Mess With the Virgin,” Heated Fair Housing Manufactured Home Community Controversy Comes to Conclusion

DontMessWiththeVirginHeatedFairHousingManufacturedHomeCommunityControversyComestoConclusionDailyBusinessNewsMHProNews

It was an issue that began to attract attention close to a year ago.  A controversy erupted between a pre-HUD Code mobile home resident and her resident owned community (ROC). The controversy raised freedom of religious expression and thus fair housing, and other legal issues.  So, it caught fire for months with mainstream news media across, Florida. It spread to numerous media markets, religious websites, and then to other places in the U.S.

The hullabaloo between Millie Francis, her commissioned painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the Bradenton Tropical Palms resident owned community (ROC) achieved its media zenith when the Drudge Report picked it up and linked it.  Because of that platform’s enormous audience, it literally made the issue a global one. A prior report on the issue that summarizes the events and controversies, is linked below.

Puzzling Case of Millie Francis, Where are Religious Liberty, Fair Housing, Resident, and Manufactured Home Organizational Defenders? – manufacturedhomelivingnews.com

Facts are at times uncomfortable. At others times, the realities of life are truly a puzzle. What follows is arguably the single-most covered topic in the mainstream news media involving mobile or manufactured home living at this time.

Mark Young at the Bradenton Herald did the bulk of the mainstream coverage of this topic.  Young’s latest – and likely final report – on this topic is linked here.

Please be advised that I am in the process of finalizing an acceptable settlement to the referenced matter and do not anticipate having to participate in arbitration,” said a letter signed by signed by Mildred “Millie” Francis that was dated March 8, 2019 and sent to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. That agency oversees arbitration cases for the Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes. “It is my understanding that you have received a similar notice from Knox Levine,” said Francis in the document.

The letter was obtained by MHProNews from a source other than Francis, and is linked as a download, here.

Francis concludes her letter to the state agency with, “I’m quite pleased with the outcome.”

MarkYoungPhotoBradentonHeraldUrbanAffairsReporterLinkedInDailyBusinessNewsMHProNews
The first and third paragraphs at the right are Mark Young’s statement or questions, while the large paragraph in the middle was the statement he was receiving comments and reaction to from industry expert, L. A. ‘Tony’ Kovach,

Young said for the Bradenton Herald that, “Attorney Bryan Levine, of Knox Levine, represented the [Bradenton] Tropical Palms …board of directors in trying to force 85-year-old Millie Francis, a devout Catholic, to remove the painting. Levine declined to answer whether a gag order was preventing comment about a possible deal.”

While Francis has not spoken to the Bradenton Herald since a settlement was proposed, she had previously said she planned on putting up an awning from the beginning of the controversy,” wrong Young earlier today.

Association Advocacy to Resolve the Issues?

MHProNews asked the Herald after their report was published, if any manufactured home association was known to have contacted their publication or any of the parties?  MHAction and the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) were among those specifically mentioned in the inquiry.  The paper said that no such contact was made to their knowledge.

Francis had previously informed MHLivingNews – prior to going quiet as the approaching agreement developed – the same thing.  No association or advocacy group had contacted her.

But Francis has significant levels of media contacts, and from the public at large.

That’s yet another example of a resident – in this case, a ROC shareholder – and the industry’s general reputation failed to earn any defense from the purported guardians of such post-production issues. It is an open question how much harm months of negative headlines may have created for home owners and the industry.

 

Don’t Mess with the Virgin

Days prior to what is an apparently confidential settlement agreement, Millie Francis told MHLivingNews, “Don’t mess with the Virgin,” L. A. ‘Tony’ Kovach told the Herald, a colorful statement that is a signature part of the feisty senior’s persona, quoted in their report. “Mrs. Francis did not go into details or elaborate on the meaning of the statement when I called her,” Kovach explained to the Herald.

The Bradenton newspaper described him as L.A. “Tony” Kovach, a manufactured home expert with 25 years in the industry and publisher of two trade publications,” who “has been following the issue closely.”

The saga began about a year ago, “when Francis wanted to replace her front window because security personnel were shining flashlights into her home late at night. Francis received permission to do the work and after replacing the window was inspired while at church to commission an artist to paint Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of Mary’s many titles, on the space.”

By early November, for months, the community’s manager “tried to force Francis to take the painting down, to which she replied, “They’ll have to kill me first,” wrote Young.

By January, community Tampa attorneys Knox and Levine had filed paperwork with the state that announced that Francis “has been sued in this proceeding.” Francis remained defiant, relying on her faith, prayer, and outside help from individuals in other states who had read about the matter.  One of them voluntarily took the lead and began to mediate the case on Francis’ behalf, which has now apparently been resolved.

In such disputes between residents and management, it is common for the parties to agree to a non-disclosure to settle a case,” Kovach told the Herald.Certainly, the Bradenton Tropical Palms, Vanguard, and Knox and Levine wanted this to go away quietly. There were too many problematic issues that pointed back to their management’s handling — or purported mishandling — of the matter with Mrs. Francis from the start.”

Kovach said it was a victory for not just Francis, but for other residents who may face overreach from an overly aggressive manager, who for whatever reason, might be tempted to over-reach their authority. That wasn’t a good look for the industry, especially to prospective community residents and manufactured home buyers.

It also puts a sad chapter to rest with what appears to be as happy an ending for all involved as possible,” Kovach said to the Herald. “Those who negotiated this should feel good about their efforts. For almost a year, this off-and-on dominated the news, including links from the Drudge Report, which made it a global issue.”

VirginMaryOurLadyGuadalupeBradontonHeraldMillieFrancisMobileHomeAwningOverVirginMaryDailyBusinessNewsMHProNews
Millie Francis informed MHLivingNews months ago that the awning was part of her original plan. While an apparent non-disclosure agreement keeps the parties from confirming or denying the details, that awning and Francis’ letter to the state suggest that she obtained what she wanted in the first place. The bottom line? Months of heat, and Francis’ commissioned painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe were preserved. No doubt comments from Nadeen Green, JD, and community owner Brian Gallagher, were useful parts of the settlement mix. Finally, Francis stated desire that ‘the virgin become better known’ has come to pass in a most unique way. 

Lessons Learned?

There are numerous possible takeaways from this episode.

  • One is that a mishandled matter can become problematic news.  That in turn can hurt the interests of residents, industry members, and the home buying public that may get turned off before they get turned on.
  • Another is that thoughtful intervention can help bring a matter to a positive closure. Based upon Francis’ letter, and a photo from the Herald, the indications are that the ROC shareholder apparently obtained what she wanted to accomplish.
  • The power of the media to influence events can’t be overlooked.  Weeks prior to the incident’s conclusion, messages tied to the community and their attorneys indicated that they felt the heat, and wanted to find a solution that didn’t make the matter worse. No doubt the Drudge Report’s linking of the topic raised the pressure on the community, management company, and their attorneys to a high level.

Finally, the issue could have potentially be solved weeks if not months earlier, had industry third parties gotten involved, in an attempt to lower the temperature and find a solution.

For a next step for those who want to see positive post-production engagement on issues that harm the industry’s image  see the linked, related reports below the byline and notices. That’s tonight’s “Industry News, Tips, and Views Pros Can Use,” © where “We Provide, You Decide.” © ## (News, analysis, and commentary.)

 

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