Saturday, March 26, 2016
Halt Official Oppression. Now.
St. Augustine has come a ways from the days of Jim Crow segregation, when Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called St. Augustine "the most lawless city in America" (June 11, 1964 letter). But official oppression still persists.
On April 11, 2005, I spoke for the first time to the St. Augustine City Commission, talking about civil rights concerns (illegal annexations/Fifteenth Amendment). Then-City Manager William B. Harriss barked at me after the meeting, saying “I could have you arrested for disorderly conduct!” Harriss is gone, working for Sheriff David Shoar (who is now under FBI investigation).
There have been dozens of victories, including cleanup of the landfill the city dumped in a lake, state fines, Rainbow flags on the Bridge of Lions, election of Mayor Nancy Shaver, protection of Fish Island, halting numerous inappropriate developer projects and creation of the Dr. Robert S. Hayling Freedom Park (to be dedicated April 22).
Now, let us permanently end the lawless culture of fear, smear, retaliation, secrecy and corporation-coddling:
o St. Augustine is still following Draconian Harriss-era rules limiting public comment. local governments are still hassling people on Open Records requests. Public comment must be heard on every single agenda item as at St. Augustine Beach, St. Johns County, Anastasia Mosquito Control District of St. Johns County (AMCD).
o Government employees deserve strong whistleblower protections (as at AMCD).
o Citizens must not be arrested for peaceful picketing, "plein air" painting or playing music.
o Federal courts have repeatedly ruled the City of St. Augustine is violating the First Amendment in its treatment of our artists. Mayor Nancy Shaver has said "our streets are not lively," but four Commissioners would not budge. Result: yet another First Amendment ruling against our City, this time by U.S. District Judge Brian J. Davis. As attorney Tom Cushman wrote in the Record, "Enough."
o St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar ignores and disdains Open Records requests. So do some other government offices. The city and county create inflated facetious cost estimates and have poor communication skills. Responses from the St. Augustine "Public records custodian" are unadorned by anyone's real name. This lawbreaking must stop. Now.
o Sheriff David Shoar often retaliates against First Amendment protected activity, including complaints against FDLE's 2009 Special Agent of the Year Rusty Ray Rodgers for dogged investigation of the September 2, 2010 shooting of Michelle O'Connell in the home of Sheriff's Deputy Jeremy Banks, which Shoar claimed to be a "suicide.. Shoar unsuccessfully tried to have Rodgers prosecuted. Shoar unsuccessfully tried to have Rodgers fired. Rodgers is now reinstated, but bizarrely blacklisted from working St. Johns County. Shoar is still obsessing on meaningless minutiae -- flyspecking nitpicking of Rodgers. Why? Scurrilous Shoar has for three years retaliated against Rodgers. Shoar seethes because the truth was reported by The New York Times, PBS Frontline, Dateline-NBC, Folio Weekly, Dr. Phil.
Enough Nixonian dirty tricks and rebarbative lawman politics.
Enough retaliation, secrecy, mendacity, flummery, dupery and nincompoopery.
What's next? We are officially a "Compassionate City."
Speak out. Attend government meetings. Ask questions. Demand answers. Request documents. Expect democracy. Support and encourage honest people to become our next Sheriff, State's Attorney, City and County Commissioners and state legislators. Say "enough" to corruption. Help foil the devious developer-driven demolition derby of our town and county. Help drive the money-changers out of the temple of our democratic republic.
It's up to everyone to say "enough." And let’s finally preserve and protect this glorious, magical, beautiful, special place forever -- for your grandchildren and their grandchildren. Let's enact the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore (staugustgreen.com), first proposed in 1939 by Mayor Walter Fraser and Senator Claude Pepper, et al.
Happy Easter and Happy Passover. And in the words of Dr. Robert S. Hayling, D.D.S., our City's late civil rights hero, "Never give up!"
St. Augustine, Florida 32085