Friday, June 20, 2014

IN HAEC VERB: Echo House: May We Have It Back, Please? (Letter to Rev. Ron Rawls, St. Paul A.M.E. Church in St. Augustine, Florida)

Dear Rev. Rawls:
1. Your presentation to the HARB yesterday lacked content. You say the church is growing 8-11% per year but vaguely assert hardship. Why?
2. You can't prove hardship. You voluntarily took over Echo House, subject to a right of reverter if you cease to use it for charitable purposes.
3. Your speech, and those of your supporters, was freighted with animus, some of it racist, attempting to inflict "shame" on HARB if it won't agree with your plans to tear down Echo House. As one HARB member pointed out, razing Echo House would only yield 50 parking spaces -- you say you want 150 or 300 spaces.
4. You directed disrespect, mockery, obloquy and opprobrium at historic preservationists before any of them has even spoken out on the issue. Why?
5. You played the race card from the bottom of the deck. Why? You should apologize for this Lashon hara. You are not promoting healing -- you are dividing our community. Dr. King would not approve of this tactic. It is cheap theatrics, not problem-solving. People who love our city deserve your respect.
6. Ambassador Andrew Young has written that it is vital for civil rights activists to let the other guy save face. I see no attempt on your part to follow this advice. In fact, you give the impression of someone who does not strongly support civil rights, having refused to join when we filed several voting and civil rights complaints. Your YouTube and St Augustine Record statements directed against Gay marriage are homophobic.
7. You referred to your church as being "a business," and this candid admission is the etiology of your demand to demolish Echo House -- to "grow'" your "business."
8. You indicated that you had sent four (4) E-mails to Otis Mason about parking at the Excelsior School. An African-American who was twice elected School Superintendent, Otis Mason is a respected leader in our community. Otis Mason deserves your respect. Go talk to him. I will go with you.
9. Likewise, go talk to Fr. Willis, rather than sending E-mails. I will go with you. Your communication technique in dealing with sources of potential parking spaces -- written E-mails -- is a bit passive-aggressive and not likely to succeed. Is that by design, because you want to destroy Echo House? Please explain.
10. There are skilled grant-writers in our town who could help you raise the money to fix the building. Please call them.
11. St. Augustine does not need another historic building destroyed. Thus, I again suggest you return the Quitclaim Deed for Echo House to the City of St. Augustine, or give it to the National Park Service for preservation, as part of a St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore.
12. If you tear down Echo House, any parking lot would be a business, and the income stream from that business would be taxable. Ask your lawyer. Have you been in touch with a parking corporation about your proposed parking lot?
13. You indicated you already have plans for the parking lot. Please share your plans, and all legal, accounting, architectural, planning, grant writing and other advice, so we may help you build the school at Echo House. You have done good work for our community. It would all be obviated and forgotten forevere if Echo House were destroyed. Please cease and desist.
14. Again, destroying Echo House is a bad idea, and illegal. In your heart, you know I am right. As my grandmother would say, "drop the oyster and leave the wharf."
15. Elihu Root was a diplomat and corporate lawyer, much more sensitive to public relations than whoever has advised you in the past, and now. In the immortal words of Elihu Root to his corporate clients, "You're damned fools and you should stop!"
16. I look forward to talking to you further. Shalom!
Thank you.
Thank you.
With kindest regards,
Ed Slavin

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