Friday, May 22, 2015

Leonard Pellicer guest column: He likes the 'noise' down at St. Augustine City Hall

Leonard Pellicer guest column: He likes the 'noise' down at St. Augustine City Hall
Posted: May 22, 2015 - 10:31pm

St. Augustine
It has been six months since Nancy Shaver assumed the office of mayor.

During the past several weeks, we have been reading differing points of view in The Record from those who supported Mayor Shaver and those who supported the former mayor, Joe Boles. Clearly there is a marked difference of opinion as to how things are going down at city hall.

Some regard the “noise” surrounding recent commission meetings as a sign that city government is dysfunctional, while others regard the hubbub as proof of progress. Clearly it’s “not business as usual!”

Perhaps we need to think about what drove the most recent mayoral election? Shaver’s victory wasn’t a result of some widespread “throw the bum out,” sentimentality among voters.

Joe Boles was a very popular and effective four-term mayor, particularly when it involved raising the visibility of the city and promoting business development. Boles, along and his fellow commissioners, accomplished a great deal of good on behalf of our city.

So what propelled Nancy Shaver to victory, aside from her extraordinary talent, outstanding skill set and hard work during the campaign? Shaver’s victory resulted from a growing uneasiness that comes with the realization that we need to realign our governmental priorities with our most closely held values or we may lose the essence of what has made our city so special for 450 years.

St. Augustine is special because it is an authentic “living, historic city.” There are strong, vibrant neighborhoods with tree-lined streets and interesting and charming architecture throughout the city.

Many of St. Augustine’s families trace their ancestral roots back centuries. In the telling, retelling, and celebration of the history, one enjoys over and over again incredible stories of triumph and tragedy, along with the architecture, food, music and that special blend of cultures that has simmered together over centuries to make our city unique.

Nancy’s Shaver’s election was powered by individuals and neighborhoods rising up to say, We can’t continue to:

■ Lose any more of what makes us who we are, by continuing to tear down historic houses and cut down centuries-old oak trees to make room for institutional buildings and businesses.

■ Spend hundreds of thousands in bed taxes, to bring growing hordes of visitors to the city to discover a diminished quality of experience that fails to meet expectations.

■ Focus primarily on tourism, while residents are plagued by brown water, poorly-maintained streets and sanitation problems.

■ Ignore our comprehensive plan and zoning laws while issuing PUDs that benefit individual entrepreneurs, businesses and institutions at the expense of residents.

■ Take actions that remove more and more of St. Augustine from residents, while giving it over to tourism and business interests.

Nancy Shaver may be creating noise with her direct personal style, but she is keeping the promises she made to the electorate.

City government has never been more transparent or responsive to citizens. With her fellow commissioners and an outstanding array of city employees, she is moving forward with assessing and addressing infrastructure needs. She is going out into neighborhoods, holding coffees, walking the streets and asking the people what they need from their government.

These actions have made her one of the most accessible mayors anywhere. People who have never before interacted with a mayor are now getting that opportunity. The conversation is being expanded to include many whose voices have long been silenced.

The “noise” we are hearing is coming from folks who haven’t been heard from in quite some time. Frankly, I find that encouraging and refreshing!

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