Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2008 Ed Slavin Guest column in Record, "Public can fight St. Augustine 'City Hall"

Guest Column: Public can fight St. Augustine 'City Hall'

Published Saturday, February 02, 2008
Folio Weekly termed me an "environmental hero" on illegal dumping. I merely did my job as a citizen.

Since February 2006, I have endeavored to learn about City Manager William B. Harriss and the illegal dumping. Questions were stymied by city ommissioners interrupting me with ridicule, rodomontade, and non sequiturs. Whenever a community or constituency goes to the City Commission to express their concerns, they're treated disdainfully, often leaving disillusioned, hurt.

Commissioners' hubris is nearly fatal to democracy and our environment - including forgiving a $15,000 tree-killing fine and approving the shipping back of solid waste to Lincolnville - without allowing any public comment, violating specific promises in each case.

Violations of free speech rights are indefensible and must be ended.

America was founded by visionaries who cherished free speech: Robert F. Kennedy said that if our Constitution were written in St. Paul's style, it would say: "But the most important of these is speech."

Free speech is everywhere under attack - locally, nationally and globally. Embittered, controlling, manipulative organizational oligarchs hate dissent and retaliate, yielding to immoral, infernal lusts to "reach out, reach out and crush someone."

From Harriss to President George Walker Bush to Russia's Vladimir Putin, "they know not that they know not that they know not."

Apparently not even oligarchs' own family members are safe from "gag orders" and efforts to chill/punish dissent. Mayor Joseph Leroy Boles, Jr. allegedly told his mother Maurine (a member of our city's history advisory board) to stop commenting on public issues (after I quoted her in The Record last year as supporting the proposed St. Augustine National Historical Park, National Seashore and National Scenic Highway). Joseph Boles opposes "federalizing" history and park functions (neglected by our city and state).

"How low can City Hall go?" Threatening citizens with arrest, violating free speech rights, refusing to answer budget hearing questions (or televise budget hearings); attacking artists and entertainers (St. George Street and Slave Market Square a/k/a Plaza de la Constitucion); discouraging meeting attendance (removing 60 seats from the Alcazar Room); reducing your available time for public comments outside scheduled agenda items (from 8 minutes to 3 minutes per meeting); insulting persons asking questions; threatening to seek attorney fees against Dr. Dwight Hines for filing his successful Open Records lawsuit, with Boles demanding to make him "pay the piper" (our city wrongfully withheld more than 45 pounds of public records it claimed did not exist).

Where are the "sanctions"/prosecutions for City Hall's criminal, anti-social, anti-environmental, anti-worker acts?

Our St. Augustine government embarrasses us all: illegal dumping in the Old City Reservoir (risking the health of untrained employees); wasteful spending ($22 million "White Elephant Parking Garage"); and suppressing free speech. It detracts from the beauty, history and image of our town.

Michael Dukakis said, "the fish rots from the head." City managers/staff are often surly, during commission meetings actually laughing and talking on cell phones when citizens and commissioners are speaking. Where are their manners?

Our city manager and city attorney sit with their backs to the public, never shown on-camera on cable-TV, speaking without being identified by name.

Employees live in fear of retaliation if they speak the truth about Harriss and his reign of ruin.

Meanwhile, our county officials are more protective and vigilant to protect free speech rights, expanding public comment rights and clarifying First Amendment rights on county property (Amphitheater/Farmer's Market, Fairground and World Golf Village Convention Center).

Virtually all-white, all-male City Hall officialdom is isolated and an anachronism.

Every time St. Augustine City Commissioners violate First Amendment rights, a part of the soul of our city dies. Our Nation's Oldest City and its history and beauty are worth saving. We need greater transparency and accountability. See Clean Up City of St. Augustine, for pollution and other scandals and solutions.

Get involved. Run for office. Support reformers. Vote. Write. Speak out.

We need a "clean sweep" - "a new broom sweeps clean." Why not display a broom in your car/pickup/lawn/porch? Prove wrong those naysayers who complain, "you can't fight City Hall."

Ask questions. Demand answers. This is advanced citizenship. Smile. It's 2008.

Ed Slavin is former legal counsel for constitutional rights with Government Accountability Project; worked for three U.S. senators (Ted Kennedy, Gary Hart and Jim Sasser); clerked for Chief Judge Nahum Litt of the U.S. Department of Labor; and wrote a biography of President Jimmy Carter for young readers (forward by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.).

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