Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Commissioners Rightly Questioned Secretive, Ineffectual "First America Foundation" at 450th Workshop May 23rd -- Thank you!

Six cheers for City Manager John Regan and five City Commissioners for standing up for our Florida constitutional rights against the First America Foundation, a Sunshine-violating secretive foundation which has dawdled for ten months. See below.
It takes courage for government officials to admit and correct their mistakes. It was a mistake to follow the City Attorney’s advice, attempt to violate Sunshine laws, and dole out some $275,000 to the secretive First America Foundation, which has squandered ten months with no action and no energy.
To FAF’s Chairman, Mr. Don Wallis, may we have it back, please?
It’s our money.
Thank you!
Meanwhile (drum roll), for those who read the Record article, or George Gardner’s newsletter article (below) here’s much, much more that took place at the May 23, 2011 workshop and the priorities our Commissioners have in mind for our 450th birthday.
The account below is nearly 2000 words. Why?
I don’t have their tight word limits.
I reckon I took notes faster than them (wearing out two cheapo pens in the process).
I also type pretty fast.
Here’s my account of the 450th workshop :
The workshop ran nearly two hours, from 3 PM to 4:45 on May 23rd. The Mayor, Vice Mayor, Commissioners, City Attorney and Clerk sat around two tables moved together, allowing for a more intimate exchange of views.
Dramatically, City Manager John Regan began the meeting with an overview of the 450th celebration, proposing a “major shift” in “City policy,” calling for the City to support projects that will bring “lasting change.” Discussing prior events, including the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Regan spoke of lost opportunities in other communities. He then segued into the ten (10) months since the First America Foundation was formed.
Regan spoke of how FAF has become a “black hole,” receiving great ideas but not sharing them with the City, putting people on hold, and not answering questions or responding to suggestions. Regan spoke of the lack of energy and ideas from FAF, stating “we need to get this show on the road.”
Commissioner William Leary agreed, stating FAF had produced only a “draft” putative “strategic plan,” a “strategic plan” that he said was “neither.”
Regan and Commissioners talked about the St. Augustine Civil Rights Museum and the work of Andrew Young to build it and fund it, with plans to turn it over to the National Park Service upon completion.
Regan spoke of how branding would work, including private individuals who are dedicated to the cause.
Stanley Parris, owner of the University of St. Augustine, plans to sail solo around the world in a yacht, which would if successful be the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe, and by the oldest sailor to do so – Parris plans a 110 day circumnavigation in the year 2013 in a vessel that will be “super-green,” and begin and end right here in St. Augustine, bringing world attention.
Regan spoke of the planned Maritime Heritage Festival, Romanza and other energetic efforts by community members. In contrast, FAF after ten months is “not out of the gate.” Regan proposed – and Commissioners agreed – “if they don’t show up at the starting line, I’m going to find somebody else.”
Regan spoke of space, time and knowledge as the three things needed for any 450th-related project in St. Augustine.
Regan spoke of the urgent need for the City to license a logo, a meaningful logo (in contrast to the dull logo that FAF produced). Regan has a law firm that is willing to work with the City on licensing, pro bono.
Mayor Boles and all other Commissioners agreed with City Manager Regan.
Mayor Boles said that FAF was only given four tasks and has not moved adequately to accomplish them.
Shifting gears, Commissioners listed their priorities for the 450th.
Mayor Boles listed sharing our Native American history (11,000 years here), the anniversary of the Spanish Constitution, the 2013 Quincentennial of Florida, the 2014 Civil Rights Act anniversary and the 2015 450th anniversary of ST. Augustine’s founding. He also listed the escape of the Minorcan survivors of New Smyrna to St. Augustine, the British colonial period, the Second Spanish period, the Henry Flagler and railroad history, the restoration of our city’s history in the 1950s and 1960s, the need for exhibition space, adding to the Visitor Information Center, repairing the former waterworks (Garden Club) building, repairing 102 Bridge Street and making it an asset to the community, the Civil Rights Museum, rooftop events at the city parking garage, changes to the special events field, modern art displays, a waterfront event hall, perimeter parking garage, Riberia Street park, Gallimore Center improvements, upgrades to the Spanish Quarter village, repairs to historic buildings, tall ships, more sister cities interaction, city marketing plans for trademarked materials with an approved logo, and a St. Augustine coin, stamp and license plate.
That is comprehensive.
Vice Mayor Leeana Freeman had hoped for dialogue with FAF, noting Don Wallis was not present, nor was anyone else from FAF. She agreed with John Regan that FAF “was not out of the gate.”
Regan repied, “they’re not even close.”
Freeman said it has “not been a transparent organization,” reiterating that people had “incredible ideas” and were treated diffidently by FAF. Then she mentioned the illegal gag order – a code of silence on FAF activities inflicted by Don Wallis on all FAF staff and board members, which chills creativity and communication. Freeman stated that there were “great ideas” that were “shunned” and “put on hold.”
Commissioner Errol Jones “fully agreed” with everything that was said by Regan, Boles and Freeman. He then proposed a “Black Ribbon Committee” on the 1964 Civil Rights Act anniversary, which would be “diverse and regional.” Jones agreed about the former waterworks building, 102 Bridge Street and the Civil Rights Museum. Jones proposed more trees for the special events field, which would allow less than the entire field to be used for an event, providing smaller spaces for smaller groups, so the space would “look full.”
Jones also proposed an RV park for the south end of Riberia Street. (Ed’s note: I don’t like it – this should be a park where people can enjoy the view, without internal combustion engines). Jones justified the Recreational Vehicle park in terms of “revenue.”
Jones also agreed about the license plate, tall ships and sister cities, saying we need one in Haiti because of St. Augustine’s role in Haitian history. Jones joked that he was ready to sell t-shirts, referring to “my marketing plan.”
Jones said he was “disappointed” in FAF and that it “needs to come up with some plans,” stating FAF needs to “keep it open to the public.”
Nancy Sikes-Kline agreed with her fellow Commissioners, saying “somebody has to provide leadership.” FAF needs an “action plan, a business plan and a calendar,” she said, noting it was “disturbing” that FAF was still “in a black hole,” while reducing the frequency of meetings (“every other month”). She agreed with Commissioner Freeman, saying she has “the utmost regard for the individuals” on FAF’s board, who include her friends and neighbors, saying she does “not want to see FAF fail,” suggesting the City might renegotiate the contract with the FAF. She proposed looking at the contract.
“I don’t like the gag order” that Wallis inflicted, Sikes-Kline said – “they need to be transparent.”
Of all the projects, she said the one with the most energy is the anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in 2014, emphasizing the need to honor African-American history.
Sikes-Kline said the “greatest gift” for the 450th is “the revitalization of Lincolnville.”
She spoke of the “sense of place” (which her University of Florida Professor, Ary Lamme III, addreses in his 1989 book, America’s Historic Landscapes – Community Power and the Preservation of Four Historic Sites). She spoke of the need to focus on city residents and a “sense of arrival in our walled city.” She spoke of the need for a living city, a sens of place and authentic sounds, sites and flavors.
Regan responded that FAF is wiling to renegotiate its contract.
Commissioner William Leary said he “loves” the Mayor’s list, adding the Mayor’s favorite from architect Daniel Burnham, “make no little plans” because they do not inspire people to adopt theml Leary added the need to invite the King and Queen of Spain and kvelled about Errol Jones’ idea for a “black ribbon committee” for the Civil Rights Act celebration, calling it “ingenious.” We “need to build on the beauty,” Leary said.
Turning to FAF, Leary said, “their ‘strategic plan’ is neither.”
Leary wants to work “closely with our sister cities,” and emphasize 2012 -- 200th anniversary of the 1812 Spanish Constitution (commemorated here in the Plaza de la Constitucion by what may be the only surviving monument in the world), calling for “scholarly effort.” Leary wants to see research on the Spanish Constitution and the U.S. Constitution and their impact on Constitutions throughout the Western Hemisphere.
On the 2013 celebration, Leary is concerned that the State of Florida may be in the process of dropping the ball on the 500th anniversary of Spanish Florida, stating the legislature had set aside $300,000 but that there was concern that Governor Richard Scott could exercise his line-item veto and kill the measure. This means that St. Augustine may take the lead for the entire state. Leary said that the 500th anniversary of Spanish Florida needs to be celebrated in St. Augustine, inasmuch as there is no clear evidence where Ponce de Leon first landed.
On the 2014 Civil Rights celebration, Leary said there is “very good stuff” being developed and that the City just “needs to get out of people’s way.”
Turning to FAF, Commissioner Sikes-Kline spoke of the need for fundraising, saying if FAF is “not doing that, why do we need them?” She said there was “a lack of good leadership,”
Commissioner Freeman said she was concerned with the FAF’s choice of chairman and that she “read what he sent out,” which she called “bizarre and concerning”
Freeman said FAF needed to have moved more swiftly, stating that it should have produced a license plate, a calendar, a t-shirt and wine and “could do it in a week/”
Freeman said she is “not convinced “ that renegotiating the contract is the answer.
Leary spoke of the once-a-year “Advisory Board,” calling it “an imaginary board.”
Invoking JFK, Leary said “a rising tide lifts all boats,” but it does not lift “leaky boats.”
Leary said FAF was “wrongfully founded on secrecy not transparency.”
Leary agreed with other Commissioners on fundraising, saying FAF “hasn’t raised a dime.”
“What is the value added?” Leary asked. “I want them to succeed,” L:eary said.
Leary said rather than turning over $275,000 to FAF, the City should have negotiated a fee for services contract.
Leary said he is “unhappy” and that FAF needs its “writs slapped.”
Boles wistfully noted advice the Commissioners mistakenly followed to fund FAF to avoid the Sunshine, based on Jacksonville’s Superbowl experience and claims that corporations won’t raise funds unless there is secrecy. Boles noted “they were threatened with lawsuits” under the Sunshine and Open Records Act, which put a pall over the entire process.”
Of FAF, Boles said, “they don’t know what to do.”
Boles mentioned that the Jamestown 400th anniversary planning was all in the Sunshine.
Leary reiterated his thoughts of FAF, “There is no reason for them not to meet in the Sunshine.”
Jones said FAF began with a “bad start,” saying FAF needs “tough love.”
Regan said he and Leary gave FAF “four hours of tough love” on May 20th. “What about the money?,” Regan asked. (FAF has already spent $100,000 of the $275,000, with nothing to show for it).
Leary reiterated that FAF disagrees with the City about secrecy, but that all FAF Board meetings and documents must be opened to the public.
Concerning the 2012 Spanish Constitution celebration, Leary noted that there was an opportunity for a parade here, after the one in Cadiz, Spain, which would include musicians or costumes from Cadiz.
Another workshop will be held next month, focusing on the 2014 celebration of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the one celebration whose conception is closer to a vision, rather than what Leary said about FAF “a ‘strategic plan’ that is neither.”

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