Thursday, November 27, 2008

Guest Column: Press must get tough on city leaders

Guest Column: Press must get tough on city leaders

St. Augustine
Publication Date: 01/14/07

We sincerely appreciate improvements in the St. Augustine Record and hope it continues to improve. Increased news coverage is deserved of lawbreaking by city of St. Augustine officials.

St. Augustine city government's lawbreaking continued three days before Christmas. City Commission broke the Sunshine law (again) by voting Dec. 22 to ban venders from the Plaza de la Constitucion and to hire Ron Brown as permanent city attorney. The special meeting notice said it was solely to enact tax breaks for low-income elderly. St. Augustine city officials cared not for public rights to notice and an opportunity to speak.

City commissioners violated the Sunshine law on Oct. 13 when they hired Ron Brown as temporary city attorney, with no advance notice. City officials must be investigated by grand jurors.

Why do city officials always have to be picking on someone, and holding illegal meetings? Are disgruntled city officials only happy when they are making someone else unhappy? Do they think their "gotcha" government wins friends?

Our city government created the homelessness problem. Remember the buskers, artists, entertainers and musicians along St. George Street? Though buskers were popular with tourists, our misguided City Manager, William B. Harriss, and Commission (Commissioner Susan Burk dissenting), banned buskers from St. George Street. The city promised they could use the public market in the Plaza. Now panhandlers have replaced St. George Street buskers. Venders are being kicked out of the Plaza.

Homelessness is a predictable result of governments neglecting responsibilities and corporations' shipping our jobs overseas ñ Lou Dobbs' "Race to the Bottom."

We need investigative reporting, not government and corporate apologists.

Too often, press and politicians forget they work for the people.

Legislating against buskers, musicians, artists, entertainers, the homeless and venders will not make anyone happier or wealthier.

"Blaming the victims" of poverty is a wretched excuse for public policy or journalism.

The Record must continue to improve its coverage during 2007, shining the searchlight of investigative reporting, empowered by Florida's Sunshine law, on corrupt, dysfunctional local organizations.

St. Augustine city officials must be held accountable by the people, prosecutors, the courts and Gov. Charlie Crist (who has created an office of Government Openness, which sounds promising). Let's persist in exposing wrongdoing and demanding that public meetings and records be open and understood, eliminating wasteful spending.

Like good diplomats, we must not take "no" for an answer. City of St. Augustine pollution, Sunshine and open records violations must be remedied/stopped. Dumping the contents of St. Augustine's old city dump into the Old City Reservoir was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg in local governments' involvement in environmental crimes. We must investigate and prosecute environmental crimes (including bald eagle nest-tree cutters, clear-cutters, polluters and wetland-destroyers).

Let's solve environmental and historic preservation problems creatively, graciously.

Let's ask Congress and the president to enact a "St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore" for everyone. I agree with Ed Slavin's idea, first shared at the Nov. 13, 2006, City Commission meeting. There's no principled reason for St. Augustine not to share federal park dollars spent liberally elsewhere. St. Augustine deserves an actual "National Park" (not just the Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas, both "National Monuments").

The National Park Service (NPS) is America's most trusted, favorite federal agency, with long experience/expertise.

Let's combine historic city streets, the Anastasia State Park and Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (formerly Guana River State Park), Red House Bluff, and other local history/nature into one world-class tourist destination, administered by NPS, inspired by Cape Cod, New Bedford and Philadelphia national parks/seashores. Let's preserve history/nature and culture, earning more national and international tourists' time (not just daytrips from nearby neighbors).

We're blessed with an opportunity of a lifetime: voters' righteous revulsion against wholesale history/nature destruction (and current real estate market). Let's unite our diverse community, working to preserve what makes St. Augustine and St. Johns County great, unique, enjoyable. Future generations will thank us and praise our leaders' vision. St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore:

Let's get it done. It's up to us.

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