Friday, July 22, 2016

Global Mangrove Conference an Intellectual Feast -- Mangroves Now Grow North of Vilano Beach, in GTM-NERR

For the past five days, some 300 scientists from dozens of nations around the world met in an international scientific conference on mangroves. Organized by the University of Florida, the International Mangroves and Microbenthos Meeting (MMM4) conferees met at Flagler College Lewis Auditorium, shared research and fellowship at Flagler College Gymnasium, and stayed in Flagler College dormitories. They spoke in gnarly and delightful accents from around the world. They toured the UF Whitney Laboratory, Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuerine Research Reserve, took boat tours showing the northern extent of mangroves in St. Johns County, and bussed to North Island State Park and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

I attended sessions on July 21-22 and was impressed with the knowledge, the diversity, the dedication and the dynamism of the conferees, including presenters ranging from age 22 to octogenarians.

Mangrove trees promise to help combat global warming by sequestering carbon in soil.

Mangrove trees promise to help combat global ocean level rise by forming a barrier and raising seashore levels.

Mangrove restoration is being planned.

Mangrove restoration is a part of ambitious "carbon markets" to combat global warming.

Mangrove trees are being planted from airplanes to counter global ocean level rise.

Mangrove trees are under attack in some countries, where development threatens the ecology.

In some countries, scientists have been jailed and harassed for practicing the scientific method without fear or favor.

In some countries, environmental laws protecting mangrove trees are not enforced.

Ironically, the conference was held in Florida, where Governor RICHARD LYNN SCOTT forbids state scientists to refer to global warming.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that: "Mangroves are defined as assemblages of salt tolerant trees and shrubs that grow in the intertidal regions of the tropical and subtropical coastlines. They grow luxuriantly in the places where freshwater mixes with seawater and where sediment is composed of accumulated deposits of mud."

St. Augustine Beach Commissioner ANDREA SAMUELS was dismissive in a meeting on amending Land Development Regulations, talking down to consultants, saying there are no mangrove trees here. As usual, SAMUELS was smug and wrong. When I called out that she was wrong, I was stigmatized for speaking the truth in St. Augustine Beach, whose Commissioners are too often cognitive misers who "know not that they know not," in the immortal words of Senior Special Agent Robert E. Tyndall (Retired).

Mangroves draw scientists to Ancient City
Posted: July 18, 2016 - 11:47pm | Updated: July 18, 2016 - 11:50pm

Catherine Lovelock gives the keynote speech at an international meeting on Mangrove and macrobenthos, held in the Lewis Auditorium on Flagler College's St. Augustine campus, on Monday, July 18, 2016. Lovelock is a professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Queensland in Australia. PETER.WILLOTT@STAUGUSTINE.COM

Northeast Florida’s recent mild winters and steamy summers are nurturing a warm-weather mangrove species proving climate change is real, according to some scientists.

“You can literally see the presence of climate change by looking out the window into our salt marshes,” said Todd Osborne, an assistant professor from the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience.

Osborne is one of hundreds of scientists presenting research on mangrove ecosystems during the fourth Mangrove & Macrobenthos Meeting — or MMM4 — at Flagler College, a science conference held every four years in different locations around the world.

This year, Northeast Florida earned the spotlight.

Osborne said that’s because the area currently represents the northernmost extension for mangrove migration as well as the transition between temperate and tropical zones.

“This was a good place to bring mangrove specialists from all around the world to talk about what we’re seeing,” Osborne said.

More than 30 countries will spend the next week discussing the worldwide expansion of warm-weather mangrove species and what it could mean for coastal ecosystems.

“It’s not a just local phenomenon, it’s global,” Osborne said.

According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, there are more than 50 species of mangroves worldwide. Within the state, the black, white and red mangrove make up an estimated 469,000 acres of mangrove forests vital for coastal well-being.

Zach McKenna, owner and marine naturalist at St. Augustine Eco Tours, said the black mangrove is most common to the area due to its ability to handle cooler temperatures.

But within the past couple of years, McKenna said he’s seen red mangroves — typically native to South Florida and warmer weather — springing up throughout St. Augustine’s marshes.

“The fact that it’s in our backyard when it’s typically a species that doesn’t grow here is indicative of change,” McKenna said.

Speculation abounded among scientists at the conference, some arguing the mangroves could threaten biodiversity in salt marsh ecosystems. Others claimed sea level rise could eliminate all species of mangroves.

Kirby Jones, an interpretive naturalist and the office manager at St. Augustine Eco Tours, said she believes it’s too soon to fully understand the impact of the mangroves.

“Of course when you face possible changes to an ecosystem, it could change biodiversity,” Jones said. “But yes, it’s still just speculative.”

Jones simply credited nature for its constant ability to adapt.

“Everything is constantly changing,” she said. “This is just an ever-changing world.”

McKenna said it’s not the first time red mangroves have debuted around Northeast Florida and that a cold snap could eventually kill them off.

He added that although red mangroves have hardly threatened to replace black mangroves, they aren’t exactly struggling to survive either.

“They’re certainly not having a hard time here, but they aren’t growing like they do in South Florida,” McKenna said. “This is all just an indication that things are changing.”

The mangrove conference will continue through Friday and is open to the public, Oral presentations are made in the Flagler auditorium and poster presentations can be found in the Flagler gymnasium.

Mangroves call St. Johns County home
PETER.WILLOTT@STAUGUSTINE.COM Black mangrove trees grow in the salt marsh on the banks of Hospital Creek in St. Augustine on Friday, Feb. 15, 2015.

Posted: February 13, 2015 - 9:14pm | Updated: February 16, 2015 - 10:31am

As St. Johns County has become a popular place to move to, people moving into the county from different parts of the country have just as much of an impact on the environment as the locals.

Gary Raulerson, assistant manager of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, said those moving into the area should be aware of the environment they’re moving into.

“In Florida, wetlands in general are protected, and people should not be filling or otherwise impact a wetland ecosystem without obtaining the proper permits,” he said.

Zach McKenna, an interpretative naturalist and owner of St. Augustine Eco Tours, said the Florida coastal environment is unique because of the vast the mangrove population that have made St. Johns County and its surrounding counties home.

He said mangroves are an important part of Florida’s ecosystem because they provide shelter for various species of birds and fish and act as stabilizers for the coast and protect it from erosion.

“Mangroves are critical for establishing the estuarine habitat that makes this area so unique. They anchor themselves into marsh, and animals like bird and fish, crab and shrimp find shelter in roots,” he said. “Without the mangroves in the area, these estuaries would not be as plentiful or as healthy.”

There are three species of mangroves, black, red, and white, which are all protected under Florida law.

The three species can be found in Northeast Florida.

Raulerson, who is also a mangrove expert, said there approximately 160 acres of mangroves in St. Johns County.

“It is important to understand that all three native species of mangroves are protected under state law,” he said.

Raulerson also said there has been a significant increase in the mangrove population over the past two decades.

“A good scientific theory is that there has been a recent decline in the number of annual hard freezes, resulting in more mangroves surviving each winter, growing bigger, and becoming more resistant to the next freeze because of their larger girth,” he said.

Recently, the Department of Environmental Protection in Jacksonville received complaints from a resident on Anastasia Island saying someone was clearing a patch of black mangroves in the neighborhood.

However, under the 1996 Mangrove Trimming and Preservation Act, no trimming or alterations to mangroves is permitted on publicly owned lands.

In addition, homeowners who have the plant on their property can only trim it if the activity doesn’t result in its removal, defoliation or destruction.

“People have chosen to live here based on its natural beauty,” McKenna said. “The mangroves are important to the ecosystem, and just trimming too much of one mangrove can have disastrous affect on the estuary as a whole, and what people like about this coast will start falling apart.”

The neighbor who called the DEP said the person who was clearing out the mangroves did not know they were a protected species.

According to Russell Simpson, ombudsman for the Northeast District of the DEP, this is common among people in the area.

“Generally speaking, people aren’t aware that they are protected,” he said.

However, both the DEP and the GTMNERR have taken strides to educate the public about the plants.

“The DEP offers training and assistance to help the public understand the regulatory requirements in making alterations to mangroves,” Simpson said.

According to Raulerson, the Research Reserve has hosted presentations to discuss the roles mangroves play in the environment at Marineland, the University of Florida and the State of Reserve.

He also said the coastal training program and education programs stress the importance of mangrove and marsh habitats.

For McKenna, education is the first step in making people aware of their surroundings.

“In order to have good stewards of the environment, there needs to be a well informed public,” he said. “Education is important because it tells the story of the system.

“It’s the story of the relationship between the animals and their environment and how they work together.”

Wm. Rosenstock Stalking Charge Dismissed -- Three Cheers for Judge Charles Tinlin, Thomas Cushman and Mr. Rosenstock!

First Amendment hero William Rosenstock looks on as prosecutor Joshua Bird, County Court Judge Charles Tinlin and defense attorney Thomas Elijah Cushman (concealed by podium) discuss case.

First Amendment victory over misguided or mean-spirited official oppressors in St. Augustine Beach city government, police and putative "civic association."

On Friday, July 22, 2016, a date that will live in local  history, County Court Judge Charles Tinlin dismissed the "stalking" charge against First Amendment hero William Rosenstock of St. Augustine Beach today, effective today, subject to no contact for a year with the barbecue vendor about whom Mr. Rosenstock raised concerns.  No fine.  No probation.  No classes.  No guilty plea.  The agreement was personally typed up by Judge Tinlin in his chambers (after Assistant State's Attorney Joshua Bird refused to type it after opposing the judge's order, saying he had already offered a plea bargain).

After Judge Tinlin personally typed it, the dismissal agreement was signed by the prosecution and defense counsel.

In a hearing earlier this year, Judge Tinlin had earlier declined to dismiss the case on a First Amendment motion, based on Mr. Rosenstock's concerns about a farmer's market vendor.  Judge Tinlin's order did not address First Amendment issues.  But today he dismissed the bogus charge against Mr. Rosenstock, brought at the behest of the St. Augustine Beach Civic Association (SABCA), SABCA President, WILLIAM JONES, a Sheriff's department employee, St. Augustine Beach Commissioner ANDREA SAMUELS et ux, ROBERT SAMUELS.

Three cheers for Judge Tinlin.

Three cheers for  criminal defense lawyer Thomas Elijah Cushman, our own Atticus Finch.

And  three cheers for St. Augustine Beach First Amendment hero William Rosenstock, former Chair of the St. Augustine Beach Code Enforcement Board, outspoken advocate for beach access and the public interest --- now empowered to continue speaking out.

What's next:  A new birth of freedom in our community, where rampant civil rights violations are no longer tolerated by the people, bench and bar.

Left to right: Three First Amendment violators: St. Augustine Beach Civic Association (SABCA) President WILLIAM JONES, Commissioner ANDREA SAMUELS, et ux, SABCA VP ROBERT SAMUELS.

What's next?: A day of reckoning for oppressors and enemies of the people's free speech rights, starting with sadistic St. Augustine Beach Commissioner ANDREA SAMUELS, her heckler husband ROERT SAMUELS,  Sheriff's employee WILLIAM JONES and their  barely concealed political action committee, 501c4 St. AUGUSTINE BEACH CIVIC ASSOCIATION, INC.  Let the  federal investigations and litigation begin about the bogus charges these misguided miscreants stirred up against Mr. Rosenstock -- retaliation for his protected activity in ending the County's "free speech zone' at Beach Pier, criticizing the sweetheart relationship between the City of St. Augustine Beach a d the St. Augustine Beach Civic Association.

As my mother said, Time wounds all heels."

Let freedom ring!

Thanks to everyone for supporting free speech.

Keep on speaking truth to power!

Ed Slavin

Say NO to Coastal Developer Sprawl

Capt. Lee Geanuleas, U.S.N. (Ret.) writes in St. Augustine Residents Count: "Article in Saint Augustine Record's Sunday's edition captures opposition to Future Land Use Change requested by the developer.":

Proposed Vilano Beach resort faces opposition from area residents

Residents of Vilano Beach, North Beach and South Ponte Vedra Beach are organizing opposition to a developer-initiated request that St. Johns County amend its Future Land Use Map and, thus, pave the way for conversion of an old, unused RV park into a private commercial resort.
The land in question is 43.87 acres located about 1.5 miles north of the Francis and Mary Usina Bridge on the west side of A1A/Coastal Highway, just south of Ocean Sands Beach Inn.
Some residents are saying approval of the Comprehensive Plan amendment requested by Watermarke/Beachcomber’s developers could set a dangerous precedent for major commercial development along the A1A residential corridor between the bridge and Ponte Vedra Beach.
Developers are looking to build a hotel and resort project at 3457 Coastal Highway that could include about 130 rooms, 70-plus beach villas, a conference center, bed and breakfast, restaurant, cafĂ©, bar, gift shop, beach club, office building, boathouse and cabana. Their application goes before the county’s Planning and Zoning Board Agency on Aug. 4. A hearing before the Board of County Commissioners is scheduled for Sept. 20.
Save Our Vilano, a committee of residents fighting the developer’s request, gathered at the Serenata Beach Club on Wednesday to discuss some particulars of the project and its potential
Bill Nesbitt, steering committee member of Save Our Vilano, said he thought the land could appropriately handle the residential use for which it’s already approved.
He and other residents said the number of people using a private resort of the proposed intensity and density far exceeds what would be allowed by the currently approved Planned Unit Development, or PUD, of 79 single-family residential units. They said not only is the land surrounded by protected marsh and wetlands, the proposed project is inconsistent with existing residential properties in the area.
Many residents echoed each other’s concerns on what effect the project could have on traffic, emergency services and the ability to evacuate the narrow barrier island in a timely manner — to say nothing of navigating the already congested intersection of May Street and San Marco Avenue.
When Nesbitt said a traffic study conducted on the developer’s behalf projected the resort would add 150 vehicles an hour to existing patterns on A1A/ Coastal Highway, residents broke out in nervous laughter.
“They don’t get their mail by carrier pigeon, do they?” one resident asked rhetorically.
Other residents expressed concern whether approval for commercial use would allow the current property owner, or any future owner, to build hotels, bars, restaurants, gas stations, laundromats, movie theaters, retail stores, convention centers without further approvals from the county, even if Watermarke/Beachcomber does not materialize.
The current Future Land Use Map shows much of Vilano Beach, including the land in question, is designated appropriate for low-density residential, rather than commercial development.
In questioning the need for more commercial development in St. Johns County, Nesbitt pointed to the county’s financial support for projects like the Vilano Town Center and World Golf Village Convention Center, which he claimed are underutilized.
“Some of the county people say we need more of this stuff because we don’t have enough,” he said. “Well, for goodness’ sake, you’re not using what you’ve already paid for.”
Attorney Jane West, retained by Save Our Vilano, reminded residents the property can be developed with or without the requested changes.
“My client does not want to completely stop development on this property and even though it’s sandwiched between two pristine conservation areas, historically it was a mobile home park and a campground,” she said. “This is not about stopping development. However, it is about stopping irresponsible development that is incompatible with the surrounding land use.”
She questioned why the county would consider a private commercial project in close proximity to the Vilano Town Center, a publicly backed commercial project that she said has potential to be a “funky beach commercial hub,” but that has yet to come to fruition.
“It’s not there yet,” she said. “It’s not even close to being there.”
West also spoke to the merits of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which took years to develop and finalize, and the dangers of making too many amendments and exceptions.
“When you deviate from that plan at the request of a private developer, it is not always necessarily in the public interest,” she said.
She said amendments come in many forms and that a PUD is essentially a contract between a developer and the county in which a development gets its own set of codes.
“We have well over 400 PUDs in St. Johns County right now,” West said. “It’s one thing to have all your code enforcement officers memorize the St. Johns County code — it’s a whole other thing to ask them to enforce 400 additional codes.”
Developer Steve Magiera, partner Ren Weiss and attorney Ellen Avery-Smith presented conceptual drawings and plans for the Watermarke/ Beachcomber Resort at a Vilano Beach Main Street meeting in May.
Neither Vivian Browning, chair of Vilano Beach Main Street, nor Avery-Smith returned calls Friday for comment on the project.

Preserving and protecting St. Augustine's coastline

Once again, We, the People were heard and heeded at County Commission July 19th on protecting our fragile coast. Good Record editorial:
Former EPA Region IV Regional Administrator John Henry Hankinson, Jr. ran EPA programs for seven states for eight years with 1200 employees -- he compared the spot in question as equal to many national parks. It's time to adopt the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore Act,

Editorial: Summer Haven voter much bigger that it seems
Posted: July 22, 2016 - 12:11am

One of the prettier drives in the county is the ride down State Road A1A South from, say, Crescent Beach, across the frothy Matanzas Inlet and down to the town of Marineland.

Nearing the St. Johns-Flagler County line you’re driving on a tendril of coastal terra firma.

To the east, only a few hundred feet of indigenous “red shell” coquina beach separate the two-lane road from the surf. To the west, you could just about spit and hit the Intracoastal Waterway.

Tuesday, a zoning variance on that stretch of highway was turned back by three St. Johns County Commissioners. It was a tiny sliver of land. The request was almost negligible compared to the zoning patronage development seems to expect from our county leaders as de rigueur.

It was a tiny battle won in a war of gifted growth. But on the heels of the county’s rejection of the nearly carte-blanche expectations of the King’s Grant development, perhaps it is a sign.

The issue surrounded a small piece of property in that sensitive crease of land between A1A and the river — about eight-tenths of an acre. It is — oddly — zoned for a low-intensity commercial use.

The applicant wanted it rezoned to residential which, on its face, seems a downgrade. But that was just the start. Reduced setbacks from the road and the river were part of the ask, because the pesky lot just wouldn’t fit the house plans.

If you know the area, you understand how flood-prone it is. The old Highway A1A just to the north was destroyed by storms years ago. Residents there have water delivered to their homes by truck because utility service went away with the road.

A brand new inlet opened itself up and closed itself down over the period of a few years just up the road. And there is neither water nor sewer service available to the applicant’s piece of property. Neither is it eligible for federal flood insurance.

Part of the applicant’s plan was to sink a septic tank in the backyard in the high-hazard area directly adjacent the Matanzas Estuary — which is so pristine in terms of water quality that it remains only one of two or three shellfish harvesting zones in Northeast Florida.

The applicant asked for the residential rezoning because the hurdle was lower. The exceptions and exemptions he would have to procure from the county for any type of small commercial enterprise would have been much more extensive — and he knew it.

After 90 minutes of discussion, commissioners voted 3-2 to deny the application — with commissioners Bill McClure, Rachael Bennett and JayMorris turning it back. It was who put the issue into corrective perspective. He asked the applicant’s attorney if the developer had purchased the land under the commercial zoning designation, and had understood its parameters.

Following what might be described as circuitous legal exposition, the short answer was clearly “Yes.”

The applicant won’t appeal. Developers understand that the easier remedy for this type of denial may be no more than four months away, when the makeup of the county commission changes in the November elections.

But the county vote that barely made the newspaper, on a “development” the size of a small Starbucks made a big statement.

We can’t stop development on highly sensitive coastal barriers under legal and existing zoning codes — written back when “environmental science” was an oxymoron.

But we can stop encouraging it by allowing owners to rewrite land use laws and regulations to fit their site plans, architectural renderings and corporate revenue expectations.

We're remedying City's frequent sewage spills

We, the People have been reporting the City of St. Augustine's pollution to the National Response Center for ten years. We get results.
Enough pollution in Lincolnville a/k/a "The Pollution Peninsula" and elsewhere.
In 2008, then Assistant City Manager John Patrick Regan, P.E. falsely claimed that it was a misuse of the National Response Center to report sewage spills -- the oafish underling of City Manager WILLIAM HARRISS A/K/A "WILL HARASS" dared to publicly stigmatize Judith Seraphin and I for our protected activity.
We ignored the lugubrious goober and kept making reports.
As a result, the City has been repeatedly fined for sewage and solid waste violations.
As a result, every time there's a sewage spill, there's a record.
As a result, EPA and FDEP are watching the City of St. Augustine.
As a result, this is a better, safer place for people, wildlife, our water supply and our environment.
We, the People wear the Establishment's scorn as a badge of honor.
We fight like saber tooth tigers to preserve and protect our Nation's Oldest City.
And as LBJ said to Congress after Selma: "We SHALL overcome."

St. Augustine plans manhole project to help keep rain from sewer system
Posted: July 21, 2016 - 11:42pm | Updated: July 22, 2016 - 9:05am
St. Augustine, environmental agency reach agreement on sewer spills
St. Augustine commissioners give nod to sewer spill agreement

As part of the city of St. Augustine’s work on correcting sewer spills, it is planning to upgrade manholes to help keep stormwater from going into the sewer system.

The effort is an in-kind project planned in lieu of paying a fine to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for sewer spills.

It’s also part of a consent order between the city and the FDEP on how the city will address 18 sanitary sewer spills and overflows that occurred from July 2015 to February, and how the city will address spills and help prevent others.

The agreement, approved by the City Commission in May, requires the submission of a Capacity Management Operations and Maintenance assessment report to the FDEP as well as fines and fees of $5,500 or an in-kind project.

The city had planned to get a consultant for completing the assessment, but decided to do the work in-house, public works director Martha Graham said at a recent meeting.

The assessment report is due in August, said Todd Grant, deputy public works director for St. Augustine. A draft is undergoing peer review by the Jacksonville Electric Authority, which has gone through the process before, Grant said.

The in-kind project that the city recently proposed to the FDEP — called “Wastewater Collection System Inflow Reduction” — would help keep stormwater from going into the wastewater system by installing manhole inflow dishes, according to the project proposal from the city.

Basically, they are dishes inside of the manhole that collect water that seeps in.

Sanitary sewer manhole covers have gaps in them, so at high tide and during rain, excess water gets in and can overwhelm the sanitary sewer system, Grant said.

“The sewer system is designed to handle waste,” Grant said. “It’s not designed to handle waste plus a lot of rainwater.”

Stress on the system can cause longer run-times at pump stations and “elevated flows at the wastewater treatment facility,” according to the proposal.

Other benefits of the project include reducing overflows related to rainfall and reduced maintenance costs because debris is kept from going into the system, according to the proposal.

The city hasn’t chosen the location for the dishes, but they’re looking into Davis Shores, the area between City Hall and the seawall and an area near the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, Graham said.

The city has 2,100 manholes, Graham said, and expects “246 manholes will be outfitted with dishes” according to the proposal.

The project has to be completed in January, and Graham added that the city has already used the dishes on some manholes.

The cost is estimated to be $10,095 with staff time included, according to the proposal.

The downside of the project is that water may drain slower from roadways and into the storm drain, Graham said.

When asked if the change is worthwhile, she said, “We can’t have it going into the sewer system.”

The FDEP recently approved the project, said Russell Simpson, of FDEP’s Northeast District.

The proposal said the project is “valued at [1.5] times the civil penalty, which in this case is the equivalent of at least $7,500.” The penalty, which the project replaces, was stipulated in the consent order.

In-kind projects are “above and beyond” measures that wouldn’t have to be done for normal regulatory compliance, said Jim Maher, assistant director for the Northeast FDEP district. The final decision is made by the district director.

Part of the consent order stipulates fines for any spills after the consent order is in effect. Maher said three spills have been reported, one of which reached surface water and would be eligible for a $500 fine. That was less than 100 gallons after a manhole overflow on Solano Avenue, which affected Quarry Creek.

That overflow, which happened on June 7 like the other two, was from heavy rains from Tropical Storm Colin, Maher said. The FDEP hasn’t made a decision on the fine yet. Fines are typically collected on an annual basis, he said.

Another June 7 spill — this one at Old Quarry Road and Baru Road — was a 5,000-gallon spill from a forcemain break that was diverted to a retention pond, and 3,800 gallons were pumped out, according to the city’s sewer spill log. The rest went in the ground.

Outside of the three referenced by Maher, another entry was listed on the city’s sewer spill log, a blockage on June 24 on Hypolita Street.

The city of St. Augustine has completed in-kind projects for previous consent orders, including “the toilet’s not a trash can campaign,” Grant said. That effort tried to get people to stop flushing things other than toilet paper.

Other than the current consent order, the city has had at least four consent orders since 2008.

Outside of the consent order, the city has been upgrading utilities and helping to prevent future spills, including equipment and instrumentation replacements at a lift station worth $137,000 and “calling out emergency pump contractors and authorizing [the city] employee overtime to control [spills] during very high rain events at a total cost in excess of $60,000,” according to the consent order and previous reporting.

ANTHONYSER 07/22/16 - 08:55 am 00Rain water
The worse one is at West San Carlos by th Library

Thursday, July 21, 2016


St. Augustine Historic Preservation Planner Jenny Wolfe responded to public comment about demolitions at the July 21, 2016 HARB meeting by noting that work is afoot to preserve "70-some" civil rights sites as part of the National Register of Historic Preservation Places == sites in both St. Augustine and St. Johns County.


St. Johns County Assistant Property Appraiser Paula P. Mann denied a homestead exemption to St. Augustine Commissioner TODD NEVILLE on June 23, 2016, responding to Commissioner Todd Neville's affidavit, admitting his condominium is rented and not owner-ooccuped.

Documents from the Property Appraiser do not show any referral to the State's Attorney for fraud prosecution.

Did St. Augustine City Commissioner TODD DAVID NEVILLE commit homestead exemption property tax fraud, not notifying Property Appraiser that he and his wife are no longer living in their condominium?

St. Johns County Property Appraiser's June 1, 2016 letter to the NEVILLE, based on address change to post office box, immediately revoked exemption; the letter from Homestead Fraud Investigator gives NEVILLE 30 days to file affidavit if he still claims it.

NEVILLE admitted the property is rented, but never responded to my five questions, below.

What do you reckon?

Have controversial St. Augustine City Commissioner TODD NEVILLE, C.P.A. and wife HEATHER possibly committed misdemeanor homestead exemption fraud?

NEVILLE and wife HEATHER's homestead exemption from Florida property tax law, F.S. 196, is under investigation by the St. Johns County Property Appraiser's Homestead Fraud Investigator, Mr. Steve Garris, C.F.E. (Certified Fraud Examiner).

On June 1, 2016, City Commissioner TODD NEVILLE et ux received a letter from the Homestead Fraud Investigator, as a result of information from a third party vendor's information that NEVILLE had changed his mailing address from 167 Sunset Circle North, St. Augustine FL 32080 to Post Office Box 1718, St Augustine FL 32085.

The letter from Homestead Fraud Investigator Mr. Steve Garris, C.F.E. stated in pertinent part that "This action indicates to us that you are no longer a permanent resident of the property to which you claim homestead exemption." The NEVILLE's homestead exemption is being revoked unless they file an affidavit by July 1, 2016 stating that they are living on the property.

Since Spring, the NEVILLES have been seen living in Lincolnville at 71 Park Place, a property purchased for $450,000 December 29, 2015 by NEVILLE's parents, Timothy and Judith Neville, of St. Augustine Beach, and a family trust, with a transfer that same day for $100 reflected in county records.

Five questions that I posed the morning of June 15, 2016 to TODD NEVILLE by text message have not yet been answered:
1. Have you responded to the June 1, 2016 letter from certified fraud investigator Steve Garris from the St. Johns County Property Appraiser's office?
2. Is it true that you are no longer living at 167 Sunset Circle North?
3. Is it true that the property is rented?
4. How long has it been rented?
5. Why did you not notify the Property Appraiser that you're no longer living in the Homestead Property?

The homesteaded property where the NEVILLES no longer live was purchased for $285,500 on March 31, 2006. It is now appraised for property taxes at $126,392, which includes a $50,000 homestead exemption to which the NEVILLES are no longer entitled under Florida law.

Homestead exemption fraud is a misdemeanor and if convicted NEVILLE could be jailed or recalled from office.

The NEVILLES' marriage ceremony was performed by former St. Augustine Mayor JOSEPH LESTER BOLES, JR., defeated for reelection in 2014.

ODD TODD NEVILLE is most noted for:

1. Blocking an audit of 450th commemoration audits;

2. Grandstanding and grandiose self-promotion, including pugnaciously and publicly proposing to use City of St. Augustine funds to file a meritless libel lawsuit against Historic City News and Michael Gold over his opinion about conflict of interest, a misuse of City resources on legal research to promote a vendetta, in violation of the First Amendment;

3. Interrupting his four women colleagues like a sexist misogynist would, especially interrupting and harassing Mayor Nancy Shaver, as on June 13, 2016 when she asked questions about the LITTLEJOHN mobility contractor LITTLEJOHN's violation of that contract, having failed to present a timely work plan as required by the contract;

4. Promoting his wife's non-profit group (VELOFEST) and her profit-making business, with NEVILLE's running buddy, City Manager JOHN PATRICK REGAN, P.E. putting HEATHER NEVILLE on the new Mobility Task Force, a conflict of interest according to Captain Lee Geanuleas, U.S.N. (Ret.);

5. Showing citizen speakers disdain and disrespect with ostentatiously rude body language and utterances, sometimes interrupting and insulting citizen speakers and activists, using the term "gadfly" openly and notoriously as a pejorative;

6. Serving on the Board of Flagler Hospital, for which NEVILLE and his firm, NEVILLE BREIDENSTEIN & WAINIO is the certified public accountant.

7. Serving as an advocate for DAVID BARTON CORNEAL's DOW PUD and CORDOVA INN, attending a celebration party with City Manager JOHN PATRICK REGAN, P.E in the early morning hours of August 27, 2015;

8. Serving as accountant for Flagler College;

9. A constant state of agitation and anger and affinity for caffeinated Red Bull®;

10. Spending $2000 on personal funds on a survey whose results he has not disclosed.

11. Being partner in the firm formerly known as NEVILLE BREIDENSTEIN & WAINIO with the spouse of City C.P.A. MEREDITH BREIDENSTEIN, JUSTIN BREIDENSTEIN, who recently left the firm.  (Updated).

12.  Confrontational, combative, cruel  coverup C.P.A. Commissioner NEVILLE (opposed to no-bid contract audits), our nasty St. Augustine City Commission ODD TODD NEVILLE (R-Proctorville), elected with MOMENTUM STRATEGIES GROUP, INC. floor-planning,  rang in the New Year with disharmony and dissonance in an otherwise happy meeting where two new parks were created.

ODD TODD NEVILLE notoriously disgraced himself at the January 11, 2016 meeting.

You've got to watch it for yourself.

Ordinance 2016-10 -- CITY CAB LAW: Delete Anticompetitive Clauses

ON MONDAY, July 25, 2016, City Commission will finalize its magnum opus, the vehicle for hire ordinance. First order of business -- delete LEANNA FREEMAN's anticompetitive limit on vehicle age and mileage, which all Commissioners agreed to do at their July 11, 2016 meeting, rejecting pressures from dodgy JAMES HOWARD, SAX TAXI owner, whom unrebutted testimony established wanted to put all other cab companies out of business. Second order of business: a pro-competition statement.

Here's the flawed proposed ordinance, prior to Monday's modifications to make it legal, avoid unconstitutional takings in violation of the Fifth Amendment, and prevent the City from being sued for triple damages and attorney fees under our antitrust laws:

SAB Violates First Amendment Rights (AGAIN)

Do we need to sue the City of St. Augustine Beach to assure compliance with constitutional rights?
What do you reckon?
-----Original Message-----
From: Ed Slavin
To: comrobrien ; comugeorge ; commengland ; comsgsnodgrass ; comasamuels
Sent: Thu, Jul 21, 2016 11:28 am
Subject: Public Comment Rights Must Be Respected by City of St. Augustine Beach, Florida
Dear Mayor O'Brien, Vice Mayor George and Commissioners:
1. Please vote to add public comment at the beginning of the July 25 & 28, 2016 "Special" Meetings of the City of St. Augustine Beach Commission and all future "special" meetings.
2. Your July 11, 2016 regular meeting was scheduled with a direct scheduling conflict with the regular meeting of the City of St. Augustine Commission. Why? Please end such schedule conflicts. Therefore, I was unable to attend your July 11, 2016 regular meeting because of this created conflict. Thus, I was unable to respond to what took place at the June 30, 2016 Special Meeting. The next regular meeting of the St. Augustine Beach City Commission is not until August 1, 2016.
3. No public comment was ever allowed at the June 30, 2016 "special" joint meeting on Land Development Regulations (LDRs) with PZB and the Tree Board until 200 minutes had elapsed, except that a favored local architect (sitting next to Mr. Robert Samuels, Commissioner Andrea Samuels' spouse) was singled out for favoritism and spoke without interruption at the specific request of Commissioner Snodgrass for some 30 minutes. The meeting was facilitated by Ms. Lindsay Haga, an employee of England, Thims & Miller (which works for developers), a firm hired by the Northeast Florida Regional Council as part of its contract giving advice on land development regulations to the City of St. Augustine Beach. This appearance of impropriety and conflict of interest was exacerbated by suppression of our public comment rights, denying "We the People" our right to speak on the 35 foot height limit.
4. Not one of you City of St. Augustine Beach City Commissioners even bothered to inquire or speak up in favor of our constitutional rights to equality of public comment. Why? I handed in a public comment form but it was ignored; thus I was forbidden to speak on desuetude of enforcement of the City Charter's voter-approved 35 foot building height limit during that discussion, then I was limited to only three minutes to address every single land development regulation covered in a 200 minute meeting. Subjected to an illegal gag order, forbidden to speak in public comment, several citizens left early: several appeared to be disgusted with your conduct of the "special" meeting. (You did not make citizens feel "special.")
Without any explanation or apology, SAB PZB Chair Jane West yet again quietly left a "special" LDR meeting early, after less than an hour. If she does it again, please appoint another PZB chair who is willing to work with you on LDR reform and will support citizen participation. The City Attorney also quietly left the meeting early, after several hours, but before public comment. Please direct him to attend all meetings, gavel-to-gavel: that is his job. Meanwhile, not one of the PZB or Tree Board members spoke out for our rights, either.
5. This viewpoint discrimination in allowing only one favored local architect to speak on the 35 foot height limit controversy was outrageous, intentional, invidious discrimination without basis in law, violating rights under the First, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments, as guaranteed by 42 U.S.C. 1983.
6. After 200 minutes, you St. Augustine Beach City Commissioners finally allowed time for public comment, although public comment was allowed at prior workshops and special meetings. Who among you decided that we would have to wait for 200 minutes? Who was consulted? Was this decision made in the Sunshine?
7. After 200 minutes, I spoke in support of LDR consideration for Pier Park and how to effect the current decrepit Pier's replacement. I was rudely interrupted by Commissioner Andrea Samuels talking to a PZB member. I then spoke in favor of the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore. Then I was insulted by Mr. Robert Samuels, spouse of Commissioner Andrea Samuels, complete with childish body language, stating that there would never be a National Park and Seashore and would never be a civil rights museum in honor of the 1964 civil rights "wade-ins" in St. Augustine Beach commenced by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and UN Ambassador Andrew Young at the then-segregated Pier Park.
8. Not one of you City Commissioners spoke of "civility" at that time, and my efforts to respond to Mr. Robert Samuels' misguided attack fell on five pairs of insouciant ears.
9. From now on, kindly honor public comment rights in every single meeting, regardless of whether you call it "special" or not. Please vote on this issue, and do not defer to the City Manager or Mayor to determine when the First Amendment and public comment rights will be respected.
10. Stop violating American citizens' constitutional rights with unAmerican activities such as those described in this e-mail, and in my June 15, 2016 police report on the City's intimidation of Mr. Robert Kahler, involving possible criminal Sunshine violations (illegal use of "polling" or use of Mr. Robert Samuels as an intermediary).
11. Please halt the abusiveness, as was brandished by both Mr. Samuels and then-Mayor Samuels last year, during consideration of a no-bid $1/year lease for the St. Augustine Beach Civic Association, when obnoxious behavior by SABCA members was significantly encouraged by Mr. & Mrs. Samuels (who recused herself from voting but did not step down from presiding, yet another shocking display of bad judgment).
12. Mr. Samuels has attacked one of the St. Augustine Beach Commissioners for being a "lesbian," both publicly and privately. Mr. Samuels is a cheap-shot bully, acting in concert with the St. Augustine Beach Civic Association, an I.R.C. 501c4 de facto political action committee dominated by Commissioner Samuels, et ux and SABCA President William Jones, a Sheriff's Department employee who has repeatedly abused the resources of St. Johns County Sheriff DAVID SHOAR f/k/a "HOAR" for political purposes, including opposition research and campaigning in uniform.
13. Rude, rebarbative racist homophobe Robert Samuel's hostility and heckling permeates nearly every single meeting of the City of St. Augustine Beach. It creates a hostile working environment for citizens exercising our First and Ninth Amendment rights.
14. Please direct Mr. Robert Samuels to stop the heckling. Or else stop lecturing any other citizens about "civility."
15. Please cease and desist from all future violations of our precious constitutional Sunshine, Open Records and Public Comment rights.
16. Please cease and desist from allowing SABCA and SABPD to intimidate First Amendment protected activity, as they did in the case of State of Florida v. William Rosenstock -- that is not their job.
17. Otherwise, do not be surprised by future filing of complaints or litigation over your creation and tolerance of a hostile working environment and denial of equal public comment rights. 

18. Allowing bo public comment during lengthy discussion on evasions of the voter-mandated 35 foot height limit at the June 30, 2016 meeting, except for only one citizen -- a favored architect sitting next to Mr. Robert Samuels -- was lawbreaking: you must remedy it and apologize for it. Now.
Herein faileth not.
Thank you.
With kindest regards, I am,
Sincerely yours,
Ed Slavin

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


FOURTH JUDiCIAL CIRCUIT MARK HULSEY, III is facing a hearing before the Florida Supreme Court as a a result of Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) charges of racist, sexist language insulting African-American women staff attorneys, abusing and misusing staff, condescending attitudes and asking attorneys to "script" his every word in court (not their job).

Ironicaly JUDGE HULSEY is the privileged son of the late Smith, Hulsey, Busey law firm cofounder MARK HULSEY, Jr., a legendary litigator responsible for starting JQC.  Judge HULSEY's father was former State Bar president,  who pushed for establishment of the Judicial Qualifications Commission and once chaired it, also chairing the Jackonville Chamber of Commerce and Jacksonville Port Authority.

If first-term FOURTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT JUDGE MARK HULSEY, III is found guilty, if his alleged racist, sexist remarks and other misconduct are proved, it could result in his removal from the bench.   In June, a group of ministers called for him to resign from the bench.

Another Florida judge is in serious trouble, this time for allegedly making sexist and racist remarks from the bench. Circuit Judge Mark Hulsey III of Jacksonville faces an investigation by the Judicial Qualifications Commission that could result in his removal. Here's more from The News Service of Florida:

Hulsey is accused of using epithets to refer to a female staff attorney and saying blacks should "go back to Africa." A panel of the state JQC found probable cause to pursue charges against Hulsey for being "discourteous and condescending to staff," of having "expressed unnecessary criticism" of staff attorneys and using "language inappropriate for your judicial office." The notice of formal charges was filed Tuesday with the Florida Supreme Court.

Hulsey, who was elected to a six-year term in 2010 and is facing a re-election challenge this year, quickly denied the allegations. The commission has until October to file a recommendation for sanctions.

In the notice of charges, an investigative panel of the commission accused Hulsey of referring to a female staff lawyer as a "bitch" and a "c---," after she complained to the chief judge that Hulsey was overusing staff attorneys. The panel also accused the judge of demeaning female staff lawyers by likening them to "cheerleaders who talk during the national anthem."

Hulsey in 2011 "offhandedly observed" to an aide that African Americans "should go get back on a ship and go back to Africa," according to the notice of charges.

In a statement issued by his campaign, Hulsey said: "These false allegations have been a poorly kept secret hanging over me like a cloud for months. I am pleased the JQC has concluded its initial investigation, and that I will now have an opportunity to respond to them in a public forum."

Hulsey, a military veteran who has been practicing law for three decades, also said he has "demonstrated his commitment to the principles of equal justice for all" since joining the bench in 2011. Hulsey faces challenger Gerald Wilkerson in this year's campaign.

Mark Mahon, the chief judge for the 4th Judicial Circuit, which includes Duval, Clay and Nassau counties, called the allegations "troubling" and transferred Hulsey from the criminal section to the probate section after the notice of charges was filed. "These allegations are very serious, and if true, very troubling," Mahon said in a statement.

TO: The Honorable Mark Hulsey, III
Circuit Judge,
4th Judicial Circuit of Florida
501 W. Adams Street, Room 7266
Jacksonville, Florida 32202-7266


The Investigative Panel of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, at its meeting on July 7, 2016, by a vote of the majority of its members, pursuant to Rule 6(f) of the Rules of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission and Article V, Section 12 (b) of the Constitution of the State of Florida, finds that probable cause exists for formal proceedings to be instituted against you.
Canon 2A of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct (the "Canons") requires a judge to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, stating that ajudge "...shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and
impartiality of the judiciary."
Similarly Canon 5 provides, in pertinent part, that, "[a] judge shall conduct
all of the judge's extra-judicial activities so that they do not:
(1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge;
(2) undermine the judge's independence, integrity, or impartiality; (3) demean thejudicial office.
1. You have been discourteous and condescending to your staff, and you have expressed unnecessary criticism of Staff Attorneys, and in doing so used language inappropriate for your judicial office. Among other comments:
a. You referred to the prior lead Staff Attorney as a "bitch" and a "cunt".
b. You have demeaned female Staff Attorneys by referring to them as like cheerleaders who talk during the national anthem.
c. You berated a Staff Attorney who failed to remain in the courtroom while ajury was deliberating. During this capital trial you required the Staff Attorney to provide you with basic information about capital trial procedures, and then, at the end of the two-week trial, you unfairly berated, and blamed the Staff Attorney for mistakes you made during the course of the trial.
2. In2011, during conversation with a Staff Attorney in your chambers in which she was reporting about the status of an order, you offhandedly observed about African-Americans, "They should go get back on a ship
and go back to Africa."
3. You have also exploited your Judicial Assistant to the extent that she felt compelled to perform personal tasks, such as paying your personal bills, writing letters, and making personal phone calls on your behalf. This misuse of a government employee unduly burdened your Judicial Assistant, and created an unhealthy atmosphere where the boundaries between personal tasks and professional work became indistinct.
a. One consequence of your misuse of your Judicial Assistant is that you are unable to respond to post-conviction matters promptly and efficiently. After attending training on post-conviction motions, you gave your instructional notebook to your Judicial Assistant and instructed her to read it and figure it out. Further, you have failed to promptly issue orders sought by the Attorney General's Office, forcing them to unnecessarily seek extensions in responding to petitions.
b. Another consequence of your misuse of your Judicial Assistant is that she had to routinely take boxes of court files home to complete her official duties at night.
4. Because of your indifference to your judicial duties, you rely upon Staff Attorneys to unnecessarily prepare word-for-word "scripts" of even routine and mundane judicial acts. You have demanded that specific Staff Attorneys be available to assist you at any time. In doing so, you have limited their availability to other judges:
a. In one such instance you allowed a Staff Attorney to wait for two hours before telling her that the hearing she was there for had been continued to a later time.
b. In another case, you required a Staff Attorney to sit with you, and be present through an entire two-week capital trial, even during
jury deliberations.
c. You routinely called upon one specific Staff Attorney to do work
for you, calling her directly, rather than going through the assignment process for the pool of Staff Attorneys. Thus, your actions resulted in her doing double duty: work assigned directly by you as well as her regularly assigned work. When she finally told her supervisor what was happening, the Chief Judge was made aware of what you were doing, and instructed you to stop overusingtheStaffAttorneys. It was this action that prompted you to refer to the Staff Attorney supervisor as a "bitch" and "cunt" in
aconversation with athird party.
5. Finally in 2016, when the JQC became aware of your continuing pattern
of misconduct it opened an Inquiry. When you found out that your Judicial Assistant had been contacted by the JQC, you directed her to "tell the truth", but then you also instructed her to make sure that she mentioned that she doesn't think you would ever make a derogatory remark about women or African Americans. You later confronted your JA regarding her cooperation with the JQC's inquiry, and her apparent refusaltosaywhatyouwanted. Your conduct represents an interference with the JQC's Inquiry process, and your JA was temporarily reassigned to prevent further attempts at interference.
6. Even after the foregoing, you have continued to request and suggest to your new Judicial Assistant that she undertake tasks that are purely personal in nature.
Your actions constitute inappropriate conduct in violation of Canons 1, 2A, 2B, 3A, 3B(1), 3B(2), 3B(4), 3B(5), 3B(8), 3C(l), 5A(1), 5A(2), 5A(3), and 5A(6) of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
You are hereby notified of your right to file a written answer to these charges with in twenty (20) days of service of this notice upon you. The original of your response and all subsequent pleadings must be filed with the Clerk of the Florida JQC….


Mark Hulsey fires back, says ‘dirty political tactics’ at play

8 hours ago
A Jacksonville judge facing misconduct proceedings is fighting back, saying the allegations against him are false and “dirty political tactics.”

Among other violations, Circuit Judge Mark Hulsey III was charged Wednesday with reportedly making racially biased and other derogatory comments off the bench. (Previous story here.)

One accusation had him referring to a woman attorney by using a vulgar term for female genitalia. He’s also accused of mistreating courthouse staff attorneys and his judicial assistant.

The case is being pursued by the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which investigates misconduct accusations against judges.

In a statement released later in the day, the judge said he was “eager to begin learning the facts and accusers behind the allegations.”

The statement was on campaign letterhead, with a disclaimer, “Political Advertisement Paid for and Approved by Mark Hulsey for Circuit Court Judge.”

Hulsey, elected in 2010 to a six-year term, is running for re-election this year. He is being challenged by Gerald Wilkerson, a Jacksonville lawyer who specializes in family law and criminal defense. Judicial races are nonpartisan.

“These false allegations have been a poorly kept secret hanging over me like a cloud for months,” Hulsey said in the statement. “I am pleased the JQC has concluded its initial investigation, and that I will now have an opportunity to respond to them in a public forum.”

The statement mentioned his service “as an Army officer, an adjunct professor and in more than 30 years practicing law.”

“Hulsey forged strong relationships with diverse people from all areas of our community (and) these relationships were crucial in his election as a circuit court judge,” it said. “During his service as a judge, he has demonstrated his commitment to the principles of equal justice for all.”

The commission’s hearing panel may not take up the case until “later this fall,” Hulsey added. In all, he faces 14 violations of Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct.

“That will allow the challenger in my re-election campaign to continue using these baseless allegations in his attacks against me,” he said. “I’m counting on my reputation for impartiality, integrity and honesty to help voters and my longtime supporters see through these dirty political tactics.”

Wilkerson responded in an email, saying “Hulsey knows that these allegations were reported and investigated by the JQC well before I ever filed paperwork to run against him.”

“I condemn in the strongest sense Judge Hulsey’s suggestion that the JQC results are political in nature,” he wrote. “I can certainly imagine how upset a judge would be for the JQC, after a full and impartial investigation, to bring formal charges for racist and sexist comments, for misusing staff and for interference in an official investigation.

“It is very disturbing, however, that his campaign would attempt to deflect attention from these serious allegations by knowingly and falsely suggesting that these allegations and findings are somehow the result of dirty politics,” Wilkerson added. “I understand, though, as between me and the JQC, I am the only available target for this sort of mudslinging.”


Castillo Real Hotel Sold for $10,270,000

The Castillo Real Hotel in St. Augustine Beach has been sold to MSB Hotels (Manoj Bhoola), also a principal in Elite Hospital, owner of several hotel properties.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


We, the People were heard and heeded today-- the ill-advised, maladroit staff proposal to put illegal slot machines on the November 8, 2016 ballot has been withdrawn.
Kudos to our St. Johns County Commissioners for asking questions, and to The St. Augustine Record reporter Jake Martin for investigative reporting in his Sunday, July 17, 2014 page one story on the issue.
The notion that louche lobbyists and corrupt corporate lawyers can put something on our County Commission agenda at will was exposed for as fetid feckless favoritism.
There was no legislative sponsor -- our reckless, feckless County Administrator, MICHAEL DAVID WANCHICK, reminds me of what Earl Long once said about Huey Long's puppet Governor, O.K. Allen -- "A leaf blew in his window and he signed it.
We need an Inspector General, an Ombuds, and a new County Attorney and new County Administrator, at the end of their current contracts.
We need a new Sheriff, who does not receive campaign contributions from gamblers, and consort with sordid developers.

County commission nixes slot machine referendum discussion 

Posted: July 19, 2016 - 10:39am  |  Updated: July 19, 2016 - 11:18am
The Best Bet poker room on Monument Road in Jacksonville is one of two area facilities operated by the company. The company had plans to build a licensed pari-mutuel facility on the northeast corner of Interstate 95 and State Road 207 in St. Johns County. St. Johns County commissioners on Tuesday decided to withdraw from its agenda a discussion on a proposed ordinance for a referendum to whether slot machine gaming would be allowed in the county.
The Best Bet poker room on Monument Road in Jacksonville is one of two area facilities operated by the company. The company had plans to build a licensed pari-mutuel facility on the northeast corner of Interstate 95 and State Road 207 in St. Johns County. St. Johns County commissioners on Tuesday decided to withdraw from its agenda a discussion on a proposed ordinance for a referendum to whether slot machine gaming would be allowed in the county.

The St. Johns County Commission on Tuesday decided to withdraw from its agenda a discussion on a proposed ordinance for a referendum to determine whether slot machine gaming would be allowed in the county.
County attorney Patrick McCormack advised commissioners if they were to pull the item from the agenda, it would not come up before the board again in 2016, and, thus, not be included on November’s general election ballot for consideration.
Commission Chair Jeb Smith said he would have never agreed to “this activity” and that he and other commissioners did a lot of research before reaching their decision.
“This is dead,” he said. “It will not be resurrected within this year.”
Behind the push for the referendum was BestBet, which currently operates facilities in Jacksonville and Orange Park. Its facility on Race Track Road, called St. Johns Greyhound Park, closed in 2012.
The company had plans to build a licensed pari-mutuel facility on the northeast corner of Interstate 95 and State Road 207 to which its existing license would be transferred.
Also on the table, by a separate agreement, was a provision through which the county would have received 1.5 percent of that facility’s gross slot machine revenues via monthly payments.
Several residents speaking during public comment said the estimated $4.7 million in annual slot revenues, if it was a realistic projection, would not have made up for the impact that expanded gambling services would have on the county’s image.
Note: This is a developing story. Look for more details in Wednesday’s edition of The Record.
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sponger2 07/19/16 - 11:43 am
First smart move they've made in a decade. 
Now if they can string four or five smart moves in a row, we might have something. After all, it is an election year.