Letter: Let the public speak at 450th meeting
Editor: Meaningful public participation is essential in planning celebrations of St. Augustine's 450th birthday, and upcoming Civil Rights and Spanish history anniversaries. National Park Service Regional Director David Vela says the key question is "what do you want for your birthday?
On July 18, the federal 450th Commission --- created pursuant to U.S. Rep. John Mica's legislation and appointed by Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar -- holds its first meeting at Flagler College Auditorium at 10 a.m.
The St. Augustine 450th Commemoration Commission is governed by the Federal Advisory Committee Act: it requires advisory committees to hold Sunshine public meetings, allow the public to speak, with "fairly balanced" memberships. Our 450th Commission already shines with a "fairly balanced "membership.
Under former City Manager William B. Harriss, city staff publicly stated that they lobbied for 450th Commission members who were "influential and affluent," suggesting, by example, former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez.
Objecting to these criteria, I wrote Salazar July 15, 2009. On April 14, 2011, Salazar appointed the 450th Commission, with 13 members who are well-qualified to make recommendations about our 450th. They include former Governor/U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, former UN Ambassador Andrew Young, former NPS Director Robert Stanton, Miami-Dade College President Eduardo Padron, history professors Michael Gannon and Michael Francis, St. Augustine Mayor Joseph Boles, the Rev. Thomas Willis and Castillo Superintendent Gordon Wilson. The 450th Commissioners are knowledgeable about St. Augustine, Florida, history, preservation, civil rights, nature, and creating national parks.
Our 450th Commission must welcome public participation, including presentations about the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore, first proposed in Congress in June 1939. Let's help our 450th Commission plan for our upcoming celebrations. Let's protect our beloved St. Augustine for future generations -- preserving our history and nature forever. It is up to us.