Saturday, January 06, 2018

St. Augustine Beach Commissioners Vote 3-2 to Curb Your Free Speech Rights

Tired of criticism of government officials, St. Augustine Beach Vice Mayor MARGARET ENGLAND, newly appointed Commissioner DONALD SAMORA and disgraced ex-Mayor RICHARD BURTT O'BRIEN voted  Saturday January 6, 2018 to limit public comment on agenda items to two minutes.

Their action was in response to newly-appointed Commissioner DONALD SAMORA's attack at his very first meeting last year.  SAMORA was supported for the gig by St. Augustine Vice Mayor TODD DAVID NEVILLE a/k/a "ODD TODD.".

Dissenting were new Mayor Undine Pawlowski George and Commissioner Maggie Kostka.

Commissioners had no factual or legal research -- it was a bare naked violation of First and Ninth Amendment rights.  Every single public comment speaker was against it.

Who benefits? (Cui Bono?

Developers.

Vendors.

Corrupters.

Lobbyists.

Enemies of free speech.

SAMORA must run for office this year if he wants to retain his seat.

Vice Chair MARGARET ENGLAND must run for re-eletion if she wants to retain her seat.

Mayor George must run for re-election if she wants to retain her seat.

The line of candidates opposed to SAMORA and ENGLAND has already formed.

Rosetta Bailey has filed to run against SAMORA (she filed for the seat last year, after Commissioner Sherman Gary Snodgrass told me he would  not run for re-election, and before he resigned.)

ROSETTA BAILEY is running against authoritarian Commissioner DONALD SAMORA

Here's the contact information for St. Augustine Beach Commissioners:



Commission

Portrait of Commissioner Rich O'Brien.Rich O'Brienex-Mayor/Commissioner(904) 814-2080comrobrien@cityofsab.org
Portrait of Commissioner Undine GeorgeUndine GeorgeMayor/Commissioner(904) 687-1492comugeorge@cityofsab.org
Commissioner Don SamoraDon SamoraCommissioner(904) 460-4404comdsamora@cityofsab.org
Portrait of Commissioner Maggie KostkaMaggie KostkaCommissioner(904) 669-5132commkostka@cityofsab.org
Portrait of Commissioner Margaret EnglandMargaret EnglandVice Mayor/ Commissioner(904) 461-3454commengland@cityofsab.org

Sheriff SHOAR's overt acts of retaliation against FDLE agent are unrebutted: NY Times reporter Walt Bogdanich




In response to reporter Jake Martin's December 31, 2017, New York Times reporter Walt Bogdanich wrote the St. Augustine Record, noting that NONE of the facts in Walter Botdanich's articles have ever been challenged or rebutted by Sheriff DAVID SHOAR.  NO retraction was corrected.  SHOAR lives in an  emotional, fact-free zone;


NYT Reporter: Shoar hasn’t asked for retraction

Editor: I noticed that in your paper’s recent list of the most important stories of 2017 (http://bit.ly/2CcytmY), you included my article documenting Sheriff Shoar’s attempt to discredit a state law enforcement officer who had found serious shortcomings with the sheriff’s investigation of the Michelle O’Connell shooting. Sheriff Shoar was understandably not pleased with my report, and you said as much. What you did not say is that the sheriff has never once sought a retraction or cited any errors of fact in the thousands of words I have written about the case.
Readers who may have missed my article, which was based on thousands of pages of previously undisclosed public records and dozens of interviews, can find it at: http://nyti.ms/2lG7Ctg.
Walt Bogdanich
Investigative reporter,
The New York Times
































Monday, January 01, 2018

Sheriff DAVID SHOAR's obstruction of justice -- obvious and ongoing -- is featured in Record's year-end review article




Controversial St. Johns County SHERIFF DAVID BERNARD SHOAR continues to duck questions about obstruction of justice.
(NY Times photo)

SHOAR, who legally changed his name from "HOAR" in 1994, faced increased scrutiny 2013-2017 over the September 2, 2010 Michelle O'Connell homicide.

Will SHOAR/HOAR leave office in 2018? 


Good year-end article by St. Augustine Record reporter Jake Martin, including 351 words about Sheriff DAVID SHOAR's campaign of intimidation and harassment against FDLE Special Agent Rusty Rodgers.  (Except for line about how SHOAR "didn't have a voice" in article -- SHOAR repeatedly refused New York Times interview requests, 2013-2017.)

Any residual respect for Sheriff David Shoar rapidly dissipated in response to the June 2017 New York Times article about Sheriff Shoar's efforts to prosecute and fire FDLE Special Agent Rusty Ray Rodgers for doing his job "too well" on the Michelle O'Connell shooting investigation.

Sheriff Shoar refuses to be interviewed by internationally respected reporters with critical thinking skills, on the record, including The New York Times, PBS Frontline and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Walt Bogdanich.

Sheriff Shoar's rodomontade, like that of President Donald Trump, masks deep-seated inadequacies, insecurities and potential criminal liability.

Sheriff Shoar obstructed justice, 2010-2017, and has no defense.

Sheriff Shoar's former associates are distancing themselves.

Sheriff Shoar is rarely seen in public any longer.

Sheriff Shoar may resign and be replaced by a Governor Rick Scott appointee.

Thanks to the Times' work, St. Johns County residents now know that government corruption in this one-party Republican oligarchy (the wealthiest per capita income county in Florida), extends to local lawmen covering up a homicide in a deputy's home with the deputy's service weapon, calling it a "suicide" without scientific support, then mounting a four-year campaign of intimidation and harassment directed against the special agent who Shoar selected to do an investigation of Deputy Jeremy Banks.

We now know that Sheriff Shoar has no moral compass. Sheriff Shoar spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in his obstruction of justice scheme, trying to ruin the career of a decorated FDLE investigator.

Until the Time's article, Sheriff Shoar did this with impunity and apparent immunity, as a result of Shoar's relationships with Governor Rick Scott and other members of Shoar's party.

Enough. We look forward to the FBI and U.S. Attorney doing their job in 2018, bringing the Michelle O'Connell and Rusty Rodgers cases to a federal grand jury. Enough corruption in St. Johns County.





Posted December 31, 2017 06:10 am - Updated December 31, 2017 09:34 am
By JAKE MARTIN jake.martin@staugustine.com
YEAR IN REVIEW: 2017 brings Irma, Confederate monuments debate, vagrancy concerns and more


Another year, another storm.

For what seemed like an eternity but what was actually only a week or so in early September, the entire state of Florida watched Hurricane Irma pick up steam in the Atlantic, then in the Caribbean, as it made its way toward the vulnerable peninsula.

Just days before the storm struck, no one could be sure which side of the state it would even make landfall.

Although Hurricane Irma had significantly weakened by the time she made it to St. Johns County, after slamming into the Keys as a Category 4 storm, her track, size and interaction with a nor’easter here meant she still packed a powerful punch. Uncalled for, really.

The hurricane passed much of Northeast Florida to the west, exposing the region to the dangerous northeast quadrant that national meteorologists had been circling and drawing arrows toward all weekend.

Apart from the strong winds and rains of these outer bands, their collisions with the separate storm system coming in from the Atlantic resulted in a number of tornadoes, one of which ripped entire walls and roofs off condos at the Summerhouse Beach & Racquet Club and nearby homes in Crescent Beach.

Swollen creeks and rivers plus heavy rains equaled flooding for many residents along those waterways, especially in Hastings and Flagler Estates.

Many residents in Davis Shores who were just getting back to normal after Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 soon found themselves ripping out baseboards, sweeping muck out of their homes and doing all the other things they didn’t care to relive.

In Vilano Beach and points north, Irma stirred up violent seas that once again undermined a number of homes built along the beach. A fallen house in Vilano Beach — just barely holding on to a tiny piece of sand dune that kept it from tumbling into the ocean — became the defining image for much of the country of Irma’s effects, at least in this corner of the state.

Recovery from Irma, and even from Matthew, continues.

The county is seeking reimbursement for a number of hurricane recovery efforts related to both storms from the Federal Emergency Management Agency through its Public Assistance program. Officials say it will be a years-long process.

In the meantime, it’s a good bet fingers are crossed from the banks of the St. Johns River to what’s left of the Atlantic coastline that next hurricane season will be a little kinder.

Monuments debate

Like other cities throughout the South this year, St. Augustine saw a debate over the future of its Confederate monuments simmer and boil over numerous times.

City Manager John Regan in October asked commissioners to keep one such monument in the Plaza de la Constitucion, but to also add context (to be determined by a committee of citizens). His recommendation came after an August meeting where public comment lasted hours as residents shared their opinions on the monument.

Some said it symbolizes racism, hatred and slavery and should be moved. Others said it’s a memorial to local men who died that should be kept alongside other war memorials as well as tributes to other causes in that same plaza.

The monument was built by the Ladies Memorial Association in the 1870s. A marble plaque on the west face of the monument reads, simply, “Our Dead.” Other marble tablets contain names of the dead and eulogies.

Another monument, to Confederate Gen. William Loring’s service in the Civil War and other conflicts, is in another area of the plaza that is not under city control but under the University of Florida’s.

That monument was installed in 1920 by the Daughters of the Confederacy and bears relief carvings of both the Confederate flag and the American flag. It also refers to Loring as a “distinguished American soldier” whose ability was recognized by three governments. Loring’s ashes are buried on the site, although they’ve been buried elsewhere before, including in New York City, where he died in 1886.

UF officials have said it won’t be until at least spring that they decide what, if anything, to do about the monument.

Ahead of the lighting ceremony in November to kick off the Nights of Lights, the Rev. Ron Rawls of St. Paul AME Church and hundreds of fellow protesters, black and white, marched on the Plaza chanting “Take them down.” But their chants were countered with chants from some in the crowd of “No one cares,” as well as chants from St. Augustine Tea Party members and Three Percenters of “Leave them up.”

Most people, waiting out the unrest on their blankets or in their fold-out chairs with their kids, seemed to want no part of it.

City tackles vagrancy

Residents and business owners this year put the pressure on officials to crack down on panhandling and vagrancy in the downtown area as the city continues to face challenges addressing its homeless population.

“It’s getting worse. It’s not getting better,” Regan said in October. “It’s not lost on the city.”

A Facebook group called the St. Augustine Vagrant Watch Group began documenting instances of local panhandling and vagrancy, with the stated goal being to motivate elected leaders and law enforcement to take action. Officials said they would prefer such documentation be shared directly with them, along with descriptions of what was witnessed and how it affected their experience or their business.

Since 2016, the city has not enforced anti-panhandling laws because of a U.S. District Court decision in Tampa that questioned their constitutionality. Rules against aggressive panhandling still can be enforced, however.

The city is currently considering a rewrite of its panhandling laws. In the meantime, the police department has ramped up its presence in the St. George Street area.

Sheriff back in spotlight

A front-page story published in a Sunday edition of The New York Times in June once again put the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, and its handling of the Michelle O’Connell death investigation, on a national stage.

The story this time around was not about what did or did not happen in a bedroom in the home of deputy Jeremy Banks, where, on Sept. 2, 2010, his girlfriend, the 24-year-old O’Connell, was found dead of a gunshot wound. Instead, in a five-page story just short of 7,000 words, three-time Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Walt Bogdanich focused on what he portrayed as a disinformation campaign waged by Sheriff David Shoar to cast doubt on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s investigation of the case.

At the center of the story was FDLE agent Rusty Rodgers, who was assigned to the case after O’Connell’s family raised concerns about the original investigation, conducted by the Sheriff’s Office, that ultimately concluded the death was a suicide.

Shoar didn’t have a voice in the Times’ story and told The Record the day after he hadn’t read it. He called Bogdanich “one of the most dishonest men I’ve met in my life” and claimed that he refused to look at anything “that had to do with the culpability of Rodgers.”

Shoar maintained that Rodgers manufactured and exaggerated evidence during his investigation (claims that are at least partially substantiated by FDLE’s own internal review of Rodger’s conduct in the case) and that he came to the case with the assumption that Banks was guilty of homicide. He came to view Bogdanich’s stories in a similar light.

“Bogdanich, the day he showed up here, already had his stories written and his mind made up on everything,” Shoar said. “The guy’s a narcissist, he’s full of himself, and when he came down here I didn’t kiss his ass.”

If you can stomach a pot of coffee and have a morning to spare, go to http://nyti.ms/2rONQfi to read an online version of the Times’ story, “A Mother’s Death, a Botched Inquiry and a Sheriff at War.”


Hastings dissolution

In November, the people of the Town of Hastings spoke.

Residents there voted overwhelmingly to dismantle their town government and revoke its charter. More than 82 percent of votes, 136, were in favor, while 29 people cast votes against the proposal, according to the St. Johns County Supervisor of Elections.

“I’m OK with it. … I kind of pictured it rolling this way,” Mayor Tom Ward said after the results came in.

The vote came about a year after town commissioners voted to study what dissolution would look like, which was a direct result of residents expressing concerns about water rates and the financial stability and viability of the town.

St. Johns County will take over operations and assume the town’s assets and liabilities by the end of February.

Bathroom policy challenged

In June, Drew Adams, a junior at Allen D. Nease High School, filed a lawsuit against the St. Johns County School District over what he sees as discrimination in being denied access to the male restrooms.

Adams was entering his freshman year at Nease when he let school administrators know that though he was born a girl, he was transgender. Transitioning meant having surgery, taking hormones, using male pronouns and availing himself of the boys bathroom.

For a few weeks, things went fine. But then the school district informed him he was not allowed to use the boys bathroom and told him to use the girls bathroom or a gender-neutral one instead.

The school district’s bathroom policies, which require students use the bathroom of their biological sex, aren’t written anywhere. The only written guidelines don’t explicitly ban students from using the bathroom of their gender identities.

Adams’ lawsuit against the school district comes down to one question: By refusing to let the transgender teen use the boys bathroom, did the district violate his rights? The case has made it all the way to the federal court.

A three-day, non-jury trial began Dec. 11 at the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Jacksonville, with Judge Timothy J. Corrigan presiding.

As Corrigan has said: “What this case is about — what it’s only about is — notwithstanding whatever well-intentioned motives the district has, does the district’s policy nevertheless violate Title IX (education laws) or does it violate the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution?”

Corrigan will tour Nease High School for himself in January; both sides will then file a document summarizing the law, the facts and their positions; oral arguments will be heard in February; and then Corrigan will issue an order. He has said he wants to make a ruling before Drew starts his senior year next fall.

favorite son dies

April saw the passing of historian Michael Gannon, 89, in Gainesville. Gannon was celebrated locally for his role in keeping St. Augustine in the national spotlight as the United States of America’s oldest continually-occupied European settlement.

He was so protective of St. Augustine’s 1565 founding that he often provoked the residents of Jamestown, Virginia, and Plymouth, Massachusetts, with his now famous quote: “By the time Jamestown was founded in 1607 and Plymouth in 1620, St. Augustine was up for urban renewal.”

Among his lasting visible accomplishments in the city was the construction and oversight of the 208-foot Great Cross at Mission Nombre de Dios to celebrate the city’s 400th anniversary in 1965.



2 Comments
Alexander Shiraz · 

It’s shocking the Record doesn’t mention the record breaking protest held in solidarity with the DC Women’s March on January 21, 2017. How could you possibly miss that?
LikeReply14h
Edward Adelbert Slavin · 

This was a local year-end story.
LikeReply26m
Edward Adelbert Slavin · 

Any residual respect for Sheriff David Shoar rapidly dissipated in response to the June 2017 New York Times article about Sheriff Shoar's efforts to prosecute and fire FDLE Special Agent Rusty Ray Rodgers for doing his job "too well" on the Michelle O'Connell shooting investigation.

Sheriff Shoar refuses to be interviewed by internationally respected reporters with critical thinking skills, on the record, including The New York Times, PBS Frontline and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Walt Bogdanich.

Sheriff Shoar's rodomontade, like that of President Donald Trump, masks deep-seated inadequacies, insecurities and potential criminal liability.

Sheriff Shoar obstructed justice, 2010-2017, and has no defense.

Sheriff Shoar's former associates are distancing themselves.

Sheriff Shoar is rarely seen in public any longer.

Sheriff Shoar may resign and be replaced by a Governor Rick Scott appointee.

Thanks to the Times' work, St. Johns County residents now know that government corruption in this one-party Republican oligarchy (the wealthiest per capita income county in Florida), extends to local lawmen covering up a homicide in a deputy's home with the deputy's service weapon, calling it a "suicide" without scientific support, then mounting a four-year campaign of intimidation and harassment directed against the special agent who Shoar selected to do an investigation of Deputy Jeremy Banks.

We now know that Sheriff Shoar has no moral compass. Sheriff Shoar spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in his obstruction of justice scheme, trying to ruin the career of a decorated FDLE investigator.

Until the Time's article, Sheriff Shoar did this with impunity and apparent immunity, as a result of Shoar's relationships with Governor Rick Scott and other members of Shoar's party.

Enough. We look forward to the FBI and U.S. Attorney doing their job in 2018, bringing the Michelle O'Connell and Rusty Rodgers cases to a federal grand jury. Enough corruption in St. Johns County.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2001 Ed Slavin letter re: City of St. Augustine's loony laws -- unconstitutional anti-artist ordinances (SAR)




Bruce Kevin Bates, twice-prevailing plaintiff in First Amendment litigation against City of St. Augustine, Florida. (HCN).

History has proven us right. Visual artists have won twice in federal court in 2009 and 2016-2017 (Bates v. City of St. Augustine I & II).

Our streets are still "not lively," as Mayor Nancy Shaver said in 2015. Panhandlers have taken the place of buskers.

In 2018, let's restore artists and musicians to their rightful place on St. George Street.


Letter: Let's not repeat history
Edward A. Slavin Jr.
St. Augustine
Published Wednesday, April 18, 2001
St. Augustine Record

Are we condemned to repeat history? In 1964, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led demonstrations against an old St. Augustine ''tradition'' -- ''Jim Crow'' segregation. The demonstrators were right. The city was wrong. History celebrates Dr. King and the civil rights movement.

On April 1, some 100 people demonstrated against the city ordinance persecuting St. George Street artists under penalty of criminal laws. That's equal to 1 percent of the city's registered voters; some elections turn on thinner margins. The ill-advised city and manager ignore ''public opinion'' from visitors and residents alike (March 20). On April 1, The Record called for a negotiated settlement of the artist ordinance before it gets to court. That's wise advice. Losing repeatedly in the courts, the city should ''drop the oyster and leave the wharf.'' Do it now -- before the city's shame is permanently engraved in law books, along with Supreme Court decisions forever placing the stain of human rights violations on Jacksonville and Boca Raton.

Jacksonville's loony laws led to a wonderful U.S. Supreme Court precedent, Papachristou vs. city of Jacksonville, banning unconstitutional ''void-for-vagueness'' laws against ''vagrancy'' (or anything else). Justice William O. Douglas wrote the court's 1972 opinion, a monument to the genius of a free people.

A city of Boca Raton manager sexually harassed a woman lifeguard; Boca burghers unwisely appealed from a small judgment. The result in 1998: the leading Supreme Court precedent on ''hostile working environments.'' After its harasser and co-ed lifeguard locker room made history, Boca removed the lifeguard HQ sign, but not the permanent taint to Boca's name.

Once tour trains operators were harassed. Who's next? St. Augustine's ''historical'' area was long home to ''buskers.'' ''Buskers'' have a legal ''right to exist,'' just like Israel (which only a few terrorists now deny). ''Buskers'' are part of our wonderful town. Shop owners should not look down their noses at buskers, but salute them and celebrate diversity. As JFK said, ''a rising tide lifts all boats.''

Inside the Castillo? Federal property, not city streets. Colonial Williamsburg? Quite a contrast: no T-shirt shops, hundreds paid to work in costume by a mega-foundation with fat management salaries, high prices charged to enter restored buildings. Williamsburg pushed to charge admission to people walking city streets inside Williamsburg; that effort failed. Williamsburg requires anyone conducting history tours to pass an ''official history'' test (with a loophole for Williamsburg employees but not volunteers). Moonlighting Williamsburg volunteers risk arrest if they lead bus tourists for pay and ''deviate'' from the ''official history'' syllabus (talking about the Civil War?) or fail to report a tourist for violating city, state or federal laws. Sadly, no proud Virginian sued over Williamsburg's hysterical lawmaking and ''official history.''

St. Augustine is more human(e): citizens will not rest while our city violates anyone's rights. Saint Augustine said, ''An unjust law is no law at all.'' Jesus said: ''That which you do to the least of my brothers (and sisters), you do unto me.''

Saturday, December 30, 2017

FLORIDA AG PAM BONDI: Bed Tax Money Can Now Fund Transit (If Tourism-Related)



The late former St. Augustine Mayoral candidate Peter Romano's idea about restoring trolleys -- previously shared by former St. Augustine Mayor Len Weeks -- can now become a reality here in St. Augustine.  Like the trolleys in New Orleans, Memphis, Denver (above).

Read AG Pam Bondi's November 22, 2017 opinion:




Advisory Legal Opinion - AGO 2017-06
Number: AGO 2017-06
Date: November 22, 2017
Subject: Funding transit system with tourist development tax

Mr. Tim Norris
Chairman, Walton County Tourist 
Development Council
25777 US Highway 331 South
Santa Rosa Beach, Florida 32459

RE: COUNTIES – TOURIST DEVELOPMENT TAX – TRANSIT SYSTEM OPERATED BY A PRIVATE COMPANY – whether the county may use revenues received from the tourist development tax to fund a transit system to be operated by a private company. § 125.0104(5)(a)3., Fla. Stat.

Dear Mr. Norris: 

This office has received your inquiry on behalf of the Board of County Commissioners of Walton County, asking the following question:

Whether the county may use proceeds of the tourist development tax under section 125.0104(5)(a)3., Florida Statutes, to fund, in whole or in part, a transit system operated by a private company.

In sum:

Section 125. 0104(5)(a)3., Florida Statutes, which authorizes use of tourist development tax revenues for “an activity, service, venue, or event” when one of its main purposes is to attract tourism, does not encompass funding to operate a transit system in general, but would support funding for specific transportation services that are clearly intended to attract tourism. 

The Local Option Tourist Development Act, section 125.0104, Florida Statutes, authorizes counties to impose a tax on short-term rentals of living quarters or accommodations within the county (with certain exceptions not pertinent here). This office has often stated that “the intent and purpose of the act was to provide for the advancement, generation, growth and promotion of tourism, the enhancement of the tourist industry, and the attraction of conventioneers and tourists from within and without the state to a particular area or county of the state.”[1]

The projects that can be funded by the tourist development tax are enumerated in subsection (5) of the statute.[2] Each is related to the attraction of tourists to the county.[3] You suggest that section 125.0104(5)(a)3., Florida Statutes, provides the specific authority to fund the operation of a transit system. That provision states:

“(a) All tax revenues received pursuant to this section by a county imposing the tourist development tax shall be used by that county for the following purposes only:

* * *

3. To promote and advertise tourism in this state and nationally and internationally; however, if tax revenues are expended for an activity, service, venue, or event, the activity, service, venue, or event must have as one of its main purposes the attraction of tourists as evidenced by the promotion of the activity, service, venue, or event to tourists[.]” (e.s.)

This provision is specifically tailored to authorize funding for the promotion[4] and advertisement of various attractions within the county to tourists.

“Nothing in section 125.0104(5), Florida Statutes, suggests that the tourist development tax is a broad funding source. Rather, the tax revenues are a targeted funding source to directly and primarily promote tourism.”[5] Thus, such revenues cannot be used to fund a public transit system for the citizens of Walton County that would incidentally benefit tourists. Instead, to warrant use of tourist development tax revenues for transportation services under subsection (5)(a)3., there must be a clear and direct relationship between the promotion of tourism and the particular transportation service being offered.[6] Such transportation services should involve routes and schedules addressing the specific needs of tourists, and might include, for example, a shuttle connecting hotels and motels with county tourist attractions.  

Although subsection (5)(a)3. does not restrict services eligible for funding to those which are publicly provided,[7] each qualifying service must clearly enhance the County’s ability to attract tourists, and each must be promoted to tourists in a manner demonstrating that tourism is one of its central purposes. Therefore, before allocating revenues to any transportation service for which funding is sought, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners must make a case-by-case factual determination, based on a consideration of these factors, regarding whether a main purpose of the service is to attract tourists.  

These principles are reflected in prior opinions discussing the use of tourist development funds. In Attorney General Opinion 2000-25, this office was asked about a county’s use of tourist development funds (1) to cosponsor with a private corporation a bass fishing tournament at a county facility, and (2) to sponsor a two-day event at a private racetrack. This office concluded that tourist development funds could not be used to operate or promote a private sports facility, because subsection (5)(a)1. requires that sports facilities be publicly owned to receive tourist development tax dollars. Revenues could be used, however, pursuant to what is now subsection (5)(a)3., for the particular attraction or event being held, so long as the governing body made the legislative determination that one of the main purposes of the event was to attract tourists. 

In an informal opinion provided to Circuit Court Clerk Scott Ellis of Titusville, this office was asked about using tourist development revenues for the day-to-day operations of a “county contracted arts and culture-focused nonprofit entity,” the Brevard Cultural Alliance.[8] Such operations would include salaries of agency personnel, costs of marketing and printing, and insurance and employee benefits. This office concluded that under section 125.0104(5)(a)3., Florida Statutes, tourist development tax revenues could be used for particular events and activities put on by the organization to promote tourism, but not for its daily administrative expenses.  

Therefore, it is my opinion that revenues from a tourist development tax may be used for specific tourist-oriented transportation services based upon a showing that one of the main purposes of each individual service provided is to attract tourists to Walton County.  

Sincerely,

Pam Bondi
Attorney General

PB/tebg
______________________________________________________________________

[1] Op. Att’y Gen. Fla. 83-18 (1983).  See also Ops. Att’y Gen. Fla. 14-02 (2014) and 13-29 (2013).

[2]  See, e.g., Alachua County v. Expedia, Inc., 175 So. 3d 730, 736 (Fla. 2015); Freni v. Collier County, 588 So. 2d 291, 293 (Fla. 2d DCA 1991).

[3] “Tourist” means “a person who participates in trade or recreation activities outside the county of his or her permanent residence or who rents or leases transient accommodations as described in paragraph (3)(a).” §125.0104(2)(b)2., Fla. Stat.

[4] “Promotion” means “marketing or advertising designed to increase tourist-related business activities.” § 125.0104(2)(b)1., Fla. Stat.

[5] Informal Opinion to Hon. Scott Ellis, December 16, 2014.

[6]  See Ops. Att'y Gen. Fla. 15-14 (2015), 14-02 (2014), 12-38 (2012), 10-26 (2010), and 10-09 (2010).

[7] You have indicated that the transit system in question will be operated by a private company. Because Art. VII, § 10 of the Fla. Const. prohibits a county from using its taxing power to aid a private entity, even those projects authorized by § 125.0104, Fla. Stat., must be shown to “serve a paramount public purpose,” with only “incidental benefits” accruing to a private party, to be eligible for funding.  State v. Osceola County, 752 So. 2d 530, 539 (Fla. 1999) (affirming the validation of bonds issued to acquire a convention center from a private entity that would operate the facility, using revenues from a tourist development tax to pay the debt service, finding that “[t]he fact that the proposed project will be operated by a private entity does not negate the public character of the project”).

[8]  See supra, n.5. 



PETER ROMANO prepared a 20 minute video promoting trolleys in St. Augustine