Saturday, February 27, 2016

No Such Thing As a "Free" Gala, Any Longer!

Delighted that our City of St. Augustine is not subsidizing two galas any longer.
Economist-opinionator Milton Freeman famously said, "There is no such thing as a free lunch."
For 25 years, the City of St. Augustine put on galas, doling out "free" tickets to the favored few.
That's sick.
Those free gala tickets were a synecdoche for the waste, fraud, abuse, misfeasance, malfeasance, flummery, dupery, nincompoopery, bigotry and no-bid contracts that made our City Hall a stench in the nostrils of our Nation.
The people said, "enough," electing Mayor Nancy Shaver in 2014.
The Florida League of Cities informed me in 2014 that no other Florida city put on galas.
St. Augustine had two!
Now we have none.
Viva, Mayor Nancy Shaver, for asking questions, obtaning answers, expecting democracy, and helping end these stunning examples of what Thorstein Veblein would call "invidious conspicuous consumption," pompous cotillions for the smug, wasting city staff time and money.
Piggy city managers, directors, commissioners and others guilty of living high on the hog at our expense: over the years, as St. Augustine Record reporter Sheldon Gardner documented in 2015, they received $195 free tickets for a money-losing "benefit" gala that ended up losing money, lacking financial controls and rigorous contractual provisions. No "benefit for anyone at all except for the usual cast of grifters who attach themselves to every government in the land, like maggots on top of a garbage can in Key West in August.

The Record article below quotes controversial Commissioner LEAANA FREEMAN (R-LEN WEEKS), who sheds bitter tears for the lack of a free gala to attend this year.

LEEANA A.S. FREEMAN is a lackey of ex-Mayor LEN WEEKS, who runs the all-white St. Augustine Sister Cities Association, Inc., receives continuing benefits as lessee of city commercial property at below-market rates, and worked without permits, destroying 211-year old 62A Spanish Street (Don Pedro Fornells House), fined only $3600, after which he was hugged by estimable City Attorney ISABELLE CHRISTINE LOPEZ.

Lachrymose lackey LEANNA A.S. FREEMAN, hopefully soon-to-be-ex Commissioner, was a party girl at government expense, accepting free tickets. (Mayor Nancy Shaver always pays for her own tickets). Not enough money for an Inspector General, Ombuds, first floor welcome center or welcoming spirit at City Hall, but crocodile tears for ending the free galas.

So "the city" approached all-white Sister Cities Association President CLAUDE LEONARD WEEKS, JR. a/k/a ex-Mayor LEN WEEKS, about recreating the controversial, corrupt, money-losing MENENDEZ NOCHE de GALA? As columnist Steven Cottrell asked about another proposed boondoggle, the attempted grand theft of our St. Augustine Post Office for use by Flagler College, "When did “the city” make that policy determination?"

Who is "the city?"

Officials unclear whether Menendez Noche de Gala in St. Augustine will return
Posted: February 26, 2016 - 10:49pm | Updated: February 27, 2016 - 7:08am

St. Augustine mayor Nancy Shaver speaks at a ceremony to commemorate the 497th birthday of the city's founder Pedro Menendez de Aviles in front of a statue of the Spanish explorer on Friday, February 26, 2016. PETER.WILLOTT@STAUGUSTINE.COM

While St. Augustine officials gathered Friday to mark the 497th birthday of St. Augustine’s founder, one part of the usual birthday festivities will be missing this weekend: The Menendez Noche de Gala.

The black-tie gala normally would have taken place this month in honor of the birthday of Pedro Menendez de Aviles. The city hosted the event each year before handing it over to the Casa Monica in 2011.

No one came forward this year to host the gala, which has been advertised as a benefit for historic preservation and the Lightner Museum. While some say they want the gala to continue, it’s not clear whether it will return.

Some who attended the wreath-laying on Friday near the Pedro Menendez statue in front of City Hall on King Street said they would like to see it come back, just not now.

Len Weeks, president of the St. Augustine Sister Cities Association, said the city approached the association about taking on the gala this year. The efforts that went into the 450th celebration were a factor in the organization saying not now.

“I think people were ready for a break,” Weeks said.

However, Weeks said he believes the event should return and the Sister Cities could be involved.

City Manager John Regan said the city should not be the producer of the event because of the effort and the associated costs.

The cost of producing the gala has ranged from $46,000 to about $72,000 in some years, according to a previous St. Augustine Record report. Tickets purchased by gala attendees ($195 each in 2015) and sponsorships helped offset costs.

While it was, in some years, billed as a benefit to historic preservation and the Lightner museum, the gala was not profitable most years, officials said previously. The city ran the event starting in the late 1990s.

In addition to the cost, producing the event takes a lot of time, Regan said. And now the city’s focus is on its strategic plan, which includes mobility improvements.

Regan said if the City Commission wants to pursue sponsoring the gala, he’ll make a plan for it. But he won’t recommend it.

“I don’t know what the future holds,” he said.

After Regan took over as city manager during the recession, city government was downsized and the department that produced the gala was dissolved, he said. That’s when the city turned production over to the Casa Monica, though the city still paid for government officials and other guests to attend. The city paid more than $3,300 for tickets for the 2015 gala.

Regan said someone could step forward to take over the gala. He said while it wasn’t a money maker, the gala raised awareness of historic sites and promoted independent preservation efforts.

Commissioner Leanna Freeman, who attended Friday’s wreath-laying event, said she believes the city should take a fresh look at what role it should play in cultural heritage. With all of the efforts put into the 450th anniversary of St. Augustine, the focus has since shifted away from cultural heritage, she said.

She brought up the city’s cultural focus during the budget process and plans to bring it up again, she said.

Freeman said she has been approached by people wondering what happened to the gala.

“I think a lot of people are missing it,” she said.

Archer 02/27/16 - 12:52 am 30What??!
I had heard Noche de Gala was cycled right out of existence, and that Commissioner Leanna Freeman will attempt to institute a new and exclusive gala event to occur at New Year's. Should she win the election.

Gee, if Carlie Seraphin were still around, maybe HE could raise funds for all costs and not take it from tax-payers who don't get to attend.

If something about "cultural heritage" can be found to correlate to a cost-prohibitive gala (except for the 1 percent, that is), then perhaps a heritage gala, affordable by all, would be possible.

beefeater 02/27/16 - 09:48 am 30All things considered,
not a lot of people attended the event, so how/why would "a lot of people" be missing it? It was (and would be) targeted to a small interest group, too "elite" for "a lot of people."

sponger2 02/27/16 - 10:36 am 30Good morning colleagues.
The Bottom line is; there is not enough money or influence to peddle at the affair, which has been the traditional reason for it's existence.

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