Monday, February 29, 2016

14 Years Later, How Corrupt Are Our Local Governments?

Letter: Writer upset by local government
Edward A. Slavin, Jr.
St. Augustine
Published Friday, March 15, 2002

Former St. Augustine Mayor Len Weeks recently spoke at length at a televised City Commission meeting, extolling the Feb. 23 Pedro Menendez birthday celebration.

All public festivities were rained out (with no rain date or alternate indoor site), but the city's private masked ball was a success, he said.

However, he said, city ball guests got wet because the city lacks a parking garage, requiring people wearing tuxedos, evening gowns and expensive shoes to endure wet raindrops - some had to walk three blocks, he exclaimed. This wet shoe and gown crisis demands a parking garage to protect from the raindrops, Mr. Weeks said. That's one myopic "vision."

Due to lack of rain date or alternate indoor sites, our visiting Tennessee friends saw that the emperor has no clothes (and no rain date or alternate site, either). We were embarrassed that our visitors saw only empty tents.

The Menendez birthday's one successful event was a 500-person ball held by the city, with only some 320 required to pay for their tickets, according to Mr. Weeks. Most locals (and many visitors) have been adversely affected by poor events planning. This is not the first time. In 2000, Grand Illumination posters had wrong dates. In 2001, a high school band was given the wrong date for the Easter Parade.

The key question on a parking garage is not whether to build one, but where?

Other historic cities (Annapolis, Savannah and Charleston) built parking garages to accommodate tourists. Here, the proposed design, location and ownership of the proposed downtown parking garage lacks vision and ignores local residents, who may have to sue the city.

Cable TV covers city and county meetings (though replayed too infrequently, with poor quality tapes): voters are watching local governments, sometimes earnest, sometimes comic. Some elected officials could do stints on Comedy Central - Commissioner Kohnke's asking apartment developers to evict "misbehaving" tenants summarily shows an antediluvian sense of government as running others' lives. Having seen her "run" County Commission meetings, her constituents should "run" someone else for her job.

Too often, authoritarian thinking converts democracy into a farce -- like the lack of a rain date or alternate site for the Menendez birthday, or "That Outrageous St. George Street Artist Oppression Ordinance" (TOSGSAOO), which would have (again) rerouted Menendez's birthday parade had the rain not halted it.

Flagler Hospital CEO Joe Gordy, former School Board chairman and chair of the Greater St. Augustine Vision stated (March 5 Record): "In the 10 years since we started, St. Augustine has become a different market for visitors. We are emphasizing its quaint atmosphere. If you had told me 10 years ago that the King of Spain would have come here, I would have told you, "when pigs fly."

St. George Street artist arrests and poor planning are narrow-minded, not "quaint."

Our governments must become more sensitive and democratic. Without a sea change in attitudes, "when pigs fly" is the answer to that perennial "vision" question, "When will our governments care about people like us?" Let's celebrate and strengthen our democracy.

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