In secret, behind locked gates, our Nation's Oldest City dumped a landfill in a lake (Old City Reservoir), while emitting sewage in our rivers and salt marsh. Organized citizens exposed and defeated pollution, racism and cronyism. We elected a new Mayor. We're transforming our City -- advanced citizenship. Ask questions. Make disclosures. Demand answers. Be involved. Expect democracy. Report and expose corruption. Smile! Help enact a St. Augustine National Park and Seashore. We shall overcome!
St. Augustine has come a ways from the days of Jim Crow segregation, but official oppression still persists.
On April 11, 2005, I spoke for the first time to the St. Augustine City Commission about civil rights concerns over illegal annexations and Fifteenth Amendment violations.
Then-City Manager William B. Harriss barked at me after the meeting, saying “I could have you arrested for disorderly conduct!”
There have been dozens of victories that include the cleanup of a 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:
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 it is at St. Augustine Beach, St. Johns County, and the Anastasia Mosquito Control District.
Government employees deserve strong whistleblower protections.
Citizens must not be arrested for peaceful picketing, “plein air” painting, or playing music.
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.”
Some city and county government offices disdain Open Records requests. They 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.
Sheriff David Shoar unsuccessfully tried to have FDLE’s 2009 Special Agent of the Year, Rusty Ray Rodgers, fired in retaliation for his dogged investigation of the September 2, 2010 shooting of Michelle O’Connell in the home of his deputy, Jeremy Banks. Shoar claims the death is a suicide. Rodgers never ruled Banks out as responsible for the death. Rodgers has been reinstated, but bizarrely blacklisted from working cases in St. Johns County. Shoar seethes because the truth was reported by The New York Times, PBS Frontline, Dateline-NBC, Folio Weekly, and 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.