MAYOR JOSEPH L. BOLES, JR.
Photo credit: Greg Travous & Hans Holbein the Younger
The Readers Rail: Don Joe de Mayor Boles
By Terry Herbert
Don Pedro Menendez’s legacy is safe with Mayor Joe Boles and the St. Augustine City Commission. That’s not a good thing.
Joe Boles was recently re-elected to his third two-year term as Mayor of St. Augustine. He plans to create legacy projects that will last to the city’s 500th birthday. His commitment to recapture certain of the Ancient City’s traditions has been obvious since his first term.
The questions is, which ones.
There is the great legacy of Spanish explorer and admiral, Don Pedro Menendez, who arrived in 1565. Once he had dug a quick fortification, he attacked Fort Caroline, near today’s Jacksonville, killing the Frenchmen who stayed behind to fight.
The next thing Menendez did was to attack and behead other French soldiers, including Captain Ribault at Huguenot Cove.
What did the French represent that was a threat to the Spanish? France was a cultural leader in art and music.
With the paintings of Leonardo de Vinci and Rosso, the French lute, dance and chansons in five or more parts; no wonder it posed a dire threat to Menendez and the Spanish, and for some unknown reason, a threat to our mayor now.
Menendez’s legacy is set in stone, but the mayor has received a gift, a third opportunity to change his legacy.
Boles leads a City Commission which has gallantly targeted artists for legal battles in court. Code 22-6 bans artists from Plaza de la Constitution and St. George Street. Despite the city attorney’s efforts, it was struck down in Federal Court as unconstitutional, considered an infringement on the rights of artists.
So the Boles-led City Commission passed a new Code 22-6, which not only recriminalized the selling of paintings at these locations; it now criminalizes the creating of art.
If an artistic member of Cathedral Basilica wanted to paint their church from the vantage point of the plaza, he, presently, could be fined $100, or worse, thrown in jail.
Musicians are banned from the same areas and must stay 50 feet away from these heavy foot-traffic areas filled with St. Augustine’s tourists, thus limiting their freedoms.
The first item of business for Joe Boles as he begins his third term is to take an oath and swear “to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of The United States” — again.
But in his first two terms, this Boles-approved city legislation has abridged the “make no law” guarantee of the First Amendment right to free expression guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.
Previous City Commissions have had similar intrusive codes overturned in court six times in the past 15 years. Yet Boles and the recent mayors keep passing more of the same unconstitutional laws.
They know artists and musicians don’t have the money to keep filing lawsuits.
The City of St. Augustine does. The mayor and City Commission have at their disposal relatively unlimited resources — your taxes.
After his election, Joe Boles said of being mayor, “It’s every hometown boy’s dream.”
What other hometown boy gets to grow up and to oversee Menendez-like regulations, which jail artists like Greg Travous, who has been arrested four times and been issued 15 tickets. It must be exhilirating to be responsible for these attacks on Travous’ civil liberties.
And talk about a legacy project, tour guides at the Castillo de San Marcos can show visitors the old fort’s jail cells and reassure tourists that Boles and the City Commission plan to keep this imprisonment tradition alive for at least the next 55 years.
On the other hand, all of Travous’ charges have either been thrown out of court or dropped by the city. City officials know they have no chance of winning in court. The artists are now taking the City to Federal Court and losing there could be a whole lot more costly for the City.
How much longer can city leaders get away with these shenanigans?
In the Mayor’s last term, the City Commission also upheld the Spanish legacy of keeping unwanted ships from entering Matanzas River.
The Spanish used cannons mounted at the top of the fort’s east wall to drive away British captains who dared to enter their waterways. The Mayor has accomplished it without firing off a shot. He simply had expensive moorings installed and requires boaters to carry $300,000 of liability insurance.
One need only take a glance off the sea wall to realize that he has effectively chased most of these boaters — and their money — off to other less formidably guarded and more hospitable ports. That is, until the boaters win their lawsuits against the city, which have been upheld in other similar waterways along the coast of Florida.
Meanwhile, downtown merchants are hurting.
What Spanish tradition should the mayor apply in dealing with the case of Murphy McDaniel, whose Avalon Carriage Company is in debt with apparently no way out?
Give Boles credit, he apparently realizes that Debtor’s Prison was a British, not Spanish tradition. A jail cell isn’t the answer to this one.
His Commission is considering adopting an ordinance that may cause McDaniel’s company to fail. The mayor must be falling back on the Spanish tactics of not allowing English and other merchants to trade in Spanish territories.
A captain/merchant named Jenkins tried to do it, and a Spanish commander cut off his ear. This started The War of Jenkins’ Ear, which was fought around the world.
Joe Boles is not going after McDaniel’s ear; he is going after his company — kicking the chair out from under his business, be hanged the rope around his neck! (This would also knock the legs out from under an investor who is battling McDaniel in court. Why risk a law suit now from a contingency attorney, when the whole matter will most likely be moot in six months time?)
Once the mayor shuts down Avalon, he seems to assume other smaller businesses will come in and take its place.
The owners of carriage businesses in Charleston, whose carriage ordinance may be imposed on St. Augustine, say none of them would have gone into business if this code had been in place when they first considered the opportunity. The adoption of a similar ordinance here will greatly hinder any businessman’s ability to run a profitable carriage enterprise.
And this is where Mayor Boles legacy departs from Menendez’s. The horse is at the core of St. Augustine’s founding, also at the center of the Flagler Era and into the 20th century.
Unfortunately, part of Boles’ legacy will likely be the death of the carriage/horse tradition in St. Augustine, a few years before its 450th anniversary celebration arrives.
By Terry Herbert
St. Augustine expatriate Terry Herbert is an author, screenwriter, storyteller and former news director at WMSL in Athens, Ga. From 2004-2010, he worked as a carriage driver and tour guide in St. Augustine’s Historic District.