Saturday, April 02, 2016
HEATHER SUTHERLAND NEVILLE: "Making 'Nowhere Plans' for Nobody?": ANASTASIA BLVD. ETHICS AND PROCESS QUESTIONS AIRED IN RECORD
Controversial St. Augustine City Commissioner TODD NEVILLE (R-Proctorville)(a/k/a "ODD TODD the CYA CPA"), RIGHT, has a spouse, Ms. HEATHER SUTHERLAND NEVILLE, LEFT, who has a startup business, called VRUM Planning.
Potential conflict of interest alert: Will HEATHER NEVILLE do work for local developers?
Other than missing the VRUM connection, The Record did a pretty good job of raising questions about what the late Justice Antonin Scalia might have termed HEATHER SUTHERLAND NEVILLE's Anastasia Blvd. road work "jiggery-pokery":
Safety issues, growth influence Anastasia Boulevard
Posted: April 3, 2016 - 12:15am | Updated: April 3, 2016 - 12:48am
By SHELDON GARDNER
Ja Williams isn't the first person to be fatally injured on Anastasia Boulevard. Other people have died after being hit by vehicles on the road in the past several years.
Williams, 16, of St. Augustine, was hit by an SUV Thursday as he rode a skateboard across Anastasia Boulevard, police say. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Multiple studies have focused on Anastasia Boulevard, and a Florida Department of Transportation study is looking at the impact of reducing the number of its lanes, which is mostly a four-lane road and is controlled by the state.
“FDOT is also studying the safety and operational impacts of reducing the lanes from the Bridge of Lions to Comares [Avenue],” according to Debbie Delgado, an FDOT spokeswoman. “That study should be complete in May.”
More public input will be needed before any decision is made on the project, said city Public Works Director Martha Graham.
Some say there is confusion about where the idea for changes on Anastasia originated. There appears to be tension about the proposals from some in the neighborhood.
“I believe residents and businesses agree that change has to happen on Anastasia Boulevard,” said Susan Rathbone, a Davis Shores resident. “What that change looks like is open for discussion.”
Among the concerns is that some business owners, Heather Neville or her husband, St. Augustine Commissioner Todd Neville, have quietly pushed for changes to the road.
But the Nevilles and local business owner Robert Nettles say that is not true. Ideas for improvements were produced from public meetings involving the city and other groups, they said.
One effort was called the St. Augustine Mobility Institute. Additionally, city representatives, Davis Shores residents and Anastasia Boulevard business owners attended a public meeting with the FDOT in June to discuss changes.
Led by the city and the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization in 2012, the Mobility Institute used public and expert input to look at Anastasia Boulevard and the city’s other entrance corridors — San Marco Avenue and King Street.
Public meetings led to the creation of a roughly 100-page report. Ideas for Anastasia Boulevard include reducing the number of lanes, though the report said further analysis would be needed.
Graham said that’s where the idea for reducing the number of lanes originated.
There’s also been an FDOT safety review of the area, which came up with ideas like updating pedestrian signals at Matanzas Boulevard.
As for her agency, Delgado says the “discussions began about a year ago when members of the community and city officials reached out to FDOT to decide together what improvements could be made to enhance safety on the stretch of A1A from the Bridge of Lions to the Alligator Farm.”
Rathbone, who leads the St. Augustine North Davis Shores Neighborhood Association, said she believes people have gotten frustrated with the lack of change on the road despite studies that have already been done. So different groups in the area have been seeing for themselves what can be done about it, and Rathbone has been part of that process.
But some business owners seem to be taking charge and promoting their own agenda, Rathbone said. And there’s concern that changes are being pushed through that haven’t been vetted by all the stakeholders.
Also, she wrote that residents and business owners “are puzzled by the involvement of Heather Neville as the spokesperson for the Anastasia Business owners, as she does not have a business on the boulevard, thus is not a stakeholder.”
Neville said she is not the spokeswoman but has been involved with a group of business owners as a volunteer.
“Because of this, there is speculation that [Heather Neville] is using her position as a Commissioner’s wife or relationship with FDOT to advance changes to the Blvd. without truly representing even a majority of the businesses themselves and not being elected by them to speak on their behalf,” Rathbone wrote in an email to The Record. “In June of 2015, at least one business owner suggested the formation of an official Association, which I believe could have prevented much of this fear by requiring open communication and input from a majority of the owners. To date this has not been done.”
Heather Neville responded, “This is all ridiculous,” adding that she’s been involved as a volunteer in making traffic improvements for several years. “I have been doing this for six years before he [Todd Neville] ever put his toe in a political campaign.”
Heather Neville said she became involved with a group of business owners to provide information on safety and making improvements.
She meets with other neighborhood groups in Davis Shores as part of her advocacy for cycling safety and education in the region. She also goes to community traffic safety meetings with the FDOT — which are open to the public — and serves as a volunteer on the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization board, she said. Everything she does is as a volunteer, and anyone else can attend the meetings, she said.
She also said she’s not pushing a certain outcome on Anastasia Boulevard — she just wants it to be safer.
As for Nettles, he said he is one of a group of business owners in the area trying to improve Anastasia Boulevard. Some business owners hold public meetings, which Nettles said the public can attend.
The group now has a Facebook page and a website promoting the area’s business and destinations.
He said business owners have discussed safety and other improvements to the boulevard, but changes are not the result of the business group. It’s the result of public meetings and the FDOT’s decision-making, including making minor safety upgrades like fixing sidewalks. He said some people in the community are misinformed.
Todd Neville said within the past couple of weeks, a constituent asked about his involvement with business owners in the area, and he said there are rumors that he is behind changes to Anastasia Boulevard. Neville said that’s not true.
“I’ve never been to one of their meetings,” he said about the business group, adding that he supports what the group is doing.
Work by business owners in the area included a survey in 2015, which was discussed later at a public meeting.
Nettles and others were listed on an introduction to the survey. Heather Neville was listed as well.
Business owners, along with Heather Neville’s input as part of her expertise on a NFTPO advisory council, created the survey, according to the survey’s introduction. The survey was created using information from a mobility study that had already been done, Neville said.
Questions referenced transportation and other changes to the road such as parking and medians, and the survey included a question, “Do you believe a two-lane system with lower speeds would enhance or hurt your customer base?”
Neville is working with the results, she said. The survey went out to neighborhood groups as well, Nettles said.
Nettles said he and others have done everything they can to rally and beautify the neighborhood.
“You have a bunch of people who do want to help the community right now,” Nettles said. “And all we want to do is get our name straight that we’ve done everything right and correct. We’ve made no decision on our own.”