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Message stirs a hornet nest

An ominous and anonymous e-mail and letter writing campaign in idyllic Westchase has its residents divided, once again, over the handling of their monthly newsletter, the World of Westchase.

The message, which residents have received from "Mindy Smith," "Kyle Kinko" or "Residents4Truth," has been making the rounds and raising the ire of community members on both sides of the issue.

In the lengthy screed, the author purports that "SEVERAL DISTURBING FACTS WERE UNCOVERED" about WOW as a result of a truncated investigation into the glossy monthly's operations and finances.

The community association formed a fact-finding subcommittee several months ago to look into how WOW was run. Before it completed its work, the subcommittee's time limit expired and the association voted not to extend it.

The message targeted WOW editor and publisher Victoria Tully and her husband, Darrow "Duke" Tully, a former publisher of the Arizona Republic, that state's largest newspaper. The message alludes to Duke Tully's forced resignation from the Republic, after reporters learned he had misled the public about his military record. It also raises questions about Victoria Tully's compensation and expenses.

In addition to sending it electronically, the letter's authors mailed anonymous copies to Westchase residents, some of whom called law enforcement officials in light of the anxiety over anthrax-laden mail.

"I cannot begin to imagine what made you think this was the right time to "inform' residents about issues, any issues, using anonymous letters," Isabel Phifer wrote in a commentary to WOW. "Your insensitivity in sending these letters at this particular time in this manner is unforgivable and beyond comprehension."

Phifer wrote that at least three of her neighbors called police, who "raced to pick up your letter, further putting an undue burden on our already overworked police department."

Emotions boiled over Thursday night at the monthly resident forum.

Former community association board president Bob Argus said the letter was "nothing but a bunch of lies."

Hal Gastler, who with his wife had a hand in starting the community's first newsletter, the Westchase Wire, praised Tully for creating a first-class successor. "I think Victoria has done a wonderful job with the WOW and I'm very proud that what I started has reached such a high level," Gastler said.

After reading the critical letter on a Westchaser.com bulletin board (which deleted the letter around the time of the meeting), Gastler said, "It just lowers the level of debate and discourse to name calling and character assassination. And I don't think that's the way it should be."

Cynthia Mercer, who heads the Westchase Web site committee, wondered aloud how information that was gathered by the WOW subcommittee turned up in the anonymous e-mails.

Former community association vice president Pam Prysner got the e-mail, too, from a Kyle Kinko.

"I can only assume that he's a coward possibly hiding in a cave," Prysner said Thursday. "The World of Westchase has always been the jewel in the crown in this community. I hate to see it dragged through the mud. It's just getting uglier and uglier and uglier."

Not everyone rallied to Victoria Tully's defense.

Steve Ekovich and Alan Kletchka wondered whether there was any truth to the letter's allegations. The men are married to Leigh Ekovich and Maria Kletchka, who own Westchaser.com, which competes with the WOW for advertising dollars.

After reading the e-mail, Ekovich said, "as a businessman, it's very disturbing to me. ... As a businessman, there shouldn't be a person here not questioning the economics."

"What I want to know is, is this information true? Is is correct?" Kletchka asked. "Because if it is correct, the board has a fiduciary responsibility to look into it."

Maybe not. Prysner quoted a letter from association attorney Steve Mezer, who wrote that because of the way the WOW was set up as a nonprofit corporation, "WOW financial records are not subject to access by the WCA." The community association president, however, is entitled to occasional reviews, Mezer also wrote.

Even with the extreme opinions on either side of the issue, some residents staked out the muddled middle ground.

"I just don't get it, folks," said Jay Jenkins of West Park Village. "I just absolutely don't get it. This is why I don't come to these things."

_ Logan D. Mabe can be reached at (813) 226-3464 or at mabesptimes.com.

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