Monday, February 08, 2016

Questioning St. Augustine Beach Conflicts of Interest and Loyalties: Bob Tis Column in Record

St. Augustine Beach Commissioners voted 3-2 to designate Richard O'Brien as Mayor. He's served as Mayor before. He's a nice thoughtful guy.

But Commissioner Undine Pawlowski George was the most senior Commissioner who had not previously served as Mayor. The pathways, folkways and tradition in SAB is for rotation of the supposedly honorary mayoral position.

But Mayor Andrea Samuels hates Ms. George because she represented a neighbor in litigation with Bob and Andrea Samuels, and because Ms. George ran against Ms. Pawlowski George. Had Ms. Pawlowski George been elected Mayor, all of the conflicts of interest and loyalties that flow from a motel owner being Mayor would not be present at every meeting.

The root cause is Ms. ANDREA SAMEULS, a/k/a "CUPCAKE," up for re-election this year. CUPCAKE's behavior at the December meeting (on the occasion of Ms. Pawlowski George's 38th birthday, led me to write this vignette:

The SAMUELS' meanness toward First Amendment rights (vis a vis former County Commissioner J. Kenneth Bryan, former St. Augustine Beach Code Enforcement Chair William Rosenstock, the St. Augustine Beach Civic Association, illegal retaliation against just about everyone who disagree with them) is an embarrassment to a cool itty bitty city of St. Augustine Beach.

The Samuels need to rise above their Lashon hara and act like mensches, not leeches.

We need a county wide ethics ordinance, one applicable to all governmental units in the County.

Bob Tis: Shifting sands under the feet of the St. Augustine Beach mayor
Posted: February 7, 2016 - 11:47pm | Updated: February 8, 2016 - 12:02am
Bob Tis is a former Record reporter.

I don’t have a dog in this fight.

But if I did, it would be hard, sometimes, to keep Fido on the leash.

The first squabble of the year at City Hall was over which of the five St. Augustine Beach city commissioners should serve as mayor. Former Mayor Andrea Samuels nominated Rich O’Brien. Commissioner Undine George nominated herself. After a debate, a slim consensus went with O’Brien, a local hotel owner. George, an attorney, may have been more qualified for the simple reason that Mayor O’Brien might feel compelled to step away from most every important vote the Commission makes in the next few years.

La Fiesta Inn and Suites has a fascinating history.

In the early 1960s, local boat builder L.C. Ringhaver famously traded his shrimp boats for the property and operated the Inn for about a year and then sold some of his interest in the hotel.

According to the hotel’s website, O’Brien met his now wife Lauren by the hotel’s prominent pool in 2001. They now own the hotel together.

Certainly the biggest issue facing the St. Augustine Beach City Commission is a voter-mandated 35-foot height limit for new construction. One fancy hotel has already used a loophole provided by the state concerning flood zones to skirt the restrictions. They were approved to build up to 53 feet from the ground. Another hotel currently under construction had little problem getting an exception for architectural add-ons over the height limit. Some people who recently voted for the regulation in a thought-to-be binding referendum feel betrayed. The Commission has acknowledged the need to set some policy.

But at the last meeting they were busy discussing how many seats a new coffee shop should be able to have on its patio.

It may not be my place to wonder out loud if the guy who owns the large older hotel with the loud miniature golf course in front of it is the right man to lead this small city forward.

It is hard to debate that the La Fiesta property is in an interesting spot as the future of St. Augustine Beach plays out. The Ardid family, who have developed the finest skyscraper hotels in Miami and Tampa, purchased the former Beachfront Hotel at the other end of the beach. They have already talked about a partnership with the trendy Salt Life bar and restaurant across A1A Beach Boulevard. A new Marriott currently under construction across the road from La Fiesta will certainly change some of the landscape in this hotel-heavy town. And nearly next door to La Fiesta, the Holiday Isle Oceanfront Resort has announced that they will soon become a Guy Harvey Outpost Signature Property.

While it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary for Holiday Isle to tackle a “rebranding” associated with one of the world’s most famous marine artists, it might — combined with the Ardid’s project and the Marriott — signal a real trend.

Some local wags suggest that attracting a more affluent client to the beach hotels will bring prosperity to St. Augustine Beach. Some are skeptical and worry that the influx of fancy clients could signal the loss of the laid-back beach-town feel many have enjoyed over the last few decades.

You can bet if the City Commission is willing to discuss a few chairs outside a coffee shop for a couple of hours that there is a scrum for the tourist dollar.

This puts O’Brien in a tricky spot. He and his wife own a beautiful but older property that could potentially be squeezed for business pretty tightly by the new dogs in town. I guess we will see if he is all bark or has some bite when this new breed requests policy changes like louder music or parking garages.

It is hard to imagine that O’Brien’s votes on issues like the 35-foot height restriction and other more subtle issues like food trucks and police budgets won’t be affected by his business situation. It will be up to O’Brien to recuse himself if he feels there is a conflict of interest.

And we have to remember that this is a small town. Somebody has to be mayor. I hope the voters and the rest of the City Commission got the right guy to navigate the tricky waters toward the future the residents (and the voters) are hoping for.

Raymond Newdell 02/08/16 - 11:30 am 00The 35 foot limit
Changing that just makes me want to cry. Look at the mess that Daytona Beach has made of their beach- the beach is shaded in many spots now from the high rises.

...and the traffic. What is St. Augustine Beach going to do with all the traffic? Think it's bad now? These are the good old days.

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