Tuesday, April 10, 2018

3-2 VOTE ALLOWS ECHO HOUSE DEMOLITION -- City history under siege from developers' demolition derby

April 9, 2018: St. Augustine City Commissioners voted 3-2 to allow demolition to proceed on historic Echo House.

Commissioners approved a motion by Vice Mayor Todd Neville, seconded by Mayor Nancy Shaver and supported by Commissioner Roxanne Horvath not to explore litigation over the impending demolition of ECHO HOUSE, for which a demolition permit may now be issued to St. Paul A.M.E. Church "over the counter" on April 16, 2018 under to a June 2018 HARB order.   Voting against were Commissioners Leanna Sophia Amaru Freeman and  Nancy Sikes-Kline.

Though Rev. RON RAWLS has violated the June 15, 2017 Historic Architectural Review Board (HARB) order allowing time for community involvement to save ECHO HOUSE at no cost to the church, there is nothing to be done.

The building will be torn down -- a monument in perpetuity to the ineptitude of the City of St. Augustine to protecting our history, a tribute to the power of schemers and conmen and their "snow jobs," as Commissioners belatedly recognized.  Too late.

Leanna Freeman led the debate, pointing out that Rev. RONALD RAWLS, Jr. had fraudulently misrepresented facts to her to euchre her support for approving the transfer of ECHO HOUSE to his church.  No one disagreed with her.

Four City Commissioners said they had been "betrayed" and fraudulently misled about Echo House by St. Paul A.M.E. Church pastor RONALD RAWLS, Jr. -- Leanna Sophia Amaru Freeman, Nancy Sikes-Kline, Roxanne Horvath and Mayor Nancy Shaver made it official.  The only exception was Vice Mayor TODD DAVID NEVILLE, the lying outlier, sitting at the far northwest corner of the meeting room, scrunched defensively into the corner all night.

Discussion proved that the City quit claim deed's defective "right of reverter" clause was poorly drafted by RONALD WAYNE BROWN, under the malAdministration of WILLIAM BARRY HARRISS, City Manager (1998-2010), who now greases a chair and encumbers a position with corrupt St. Johns County Sheriff DAVID BERNARD SHOAR.

The "right of reverter" clause made no references to RAWLS' repeated promises he had the money to fix Echo House and would do so.  It made no reference to the building at all. It merely said that if the "property" was no longer being used for a charitable purpose, the City of St. Augustine could take it back.

Was this ineptitude intentional?  Or was it merely negligent?  Legal malpractice?

wrote the right of reverter clause.

BROWN was hired without advertising, first temporarily, then permanently, in twin Sunshine violations by the City of St. Augustine City Commission in 2006.

That was after resignation of City Attorney James Patrick Wilson, who quit, later explaining, "I worked there fourteen years.  They dumped a landfill in a lake.  They didn't ask me.  They didn't tell me.  And I figured it was time to move on."

HARRISS did not give a fig about Lincolnville, and was the understudy to former City Manager JOSEPH POMAR, who joked in 1998 that he wanted to have fourteen bulldozers line up and tear down Lincolnville.  Racist POMAR's fatuous joke is today's directive, as gentrification afflicts Lincolnville, aided and abetted by Rev. RONALD RAWLS, JR.

In 2010, there were two (2) lawyers on City Commission who blessed BROWN's defective quitclaim deed "right of reverter language" -- Leanna Freeman and Mayor JOSEPH LESTER BOLES, JR.

BROWN's Assistant City Attorney at the time was CARLOS EDUARDO MENDOZA, now a United States District Judge for the Middle District of Florida in Orlando.

So four (4) attorneys missed the defective quitclaim deed "right of reverter language"  -- RONALD BROWN, CARLOS MENDOZA, JOE BOLES and LEANNA FREEMAN.

Has our City of St. Augustine repeatedly shown itself incapable and unfit to protect our history, again and again having suffered and permitted, privatizations, demolitions and tree killings at the behest of powerful special interests, including Flagler College, Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, Claude Leonard Weeks, Jr., David Barton Corneal, Robert Michael Graubard, St. Augustine Yacht Club, et al.?

Solution: St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore study and legislation.

From Historic City News:

Horvath switches decision on Echo House in less than 5-minutes



St Augustine City Commissioner Roxanne Horvath admitted to the audience during the Monday night commission meeting that she did not know what took place in the negotiations that allowed St Paul AME Church to take possession of the estate of Dr. Andrew Anderson II, but two fellow commissioners were on the board in February 2010 and recalled exactly what happened.
Commissioner Leanna Freeman explained her personal experience directly with Ronald Rawls Jr, pastor of the church, who she said told her point-blank that the church had the funds on hand to pay the costs of rehabilitating the structure if they could take it over. She said she remembered the telephone call to Rawls the night the issue was decided and specifically asking questions so that she would not have to be dealing with the very embarrassing situation she faced tonight.
“We didn’t go looking for the cream of the crop,” Rawls said in a 2016 press interview. “Our design was to take the struggling students – and we’ve learned that’s not a great business move.”


The school’s contract was approved for four years in 2012 and in the final year of that contract, on January 29, 2016, Rawls withdrew the Letter of Intent to renew their charter from the St Johns County School District. They completed the 2016 school year but would not re-open the doors for the 2016-17 school year. St. Paul School of Excellence was to be a public, charter school with 60 students in grades K-4 and a student-teacher ratio of 30 to 1.
“There have been purchases with Title I dollars, there have been purchases with general operating dollars, and we have inventories of all those items,” a school district employee told Historic City News. “Whatever is salvageable of the school’s property, including computers, furniture and supplies, will go back to the School District.”
Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline also recalled the “sales job” that Rawls made to the City seeking their support to take over the property that, at the time, consisted of three serviceable buildings. She made clear that she felt a keen sense that the remaining building could and should be preserved as it is a contributing structure to the architecture of the National Register Historic Lincolnville Community.


Kline said that Rawls reported that 75 percent of St. Paul’s students came to the school struggling academically and that most students came from African-American families in West Augustine.
When Freeman and Sikes-Kline realized that Rawls had lied to the commission and that he lacked the financial backing he had represented, lacked the ability to pay and keep veteran teachers, was having to switch principals each year because the school couldn’t pay what the position demanded, they felt regret for being part of the charade.
“We had a lot of new teachers who were very good at their job, but we were missing that mentorship aspect,” Rawls said when he finally closed what remained of the School of Excellence. “They needed the right type of leader.”
It was the lack of resources, Rawls said, that prevented the school from “closing the achievement gap”. He said low enrollment led to low budgets and that was to blame for the schools’ failure. In making the decision to close, Rawls told local reporters, “Our resources are so limited, and we can’t keep our children in a situation that is not what we envisioned.”


Commissioner Horvath was moved to agree after hearing the recollections of the two senior commissioners who were on the commission at the time Rawls took over the property. She went on to say that as a licensed architect working on preservation projects it’s a mistake to demolish serviceable buildings. She did recall the last fiasco involving Rawls and the Echo House property in 2012. Ormond Beach developer George Arnold reportedly paid the church $2,000 for “20 to 30 pallets of vintage red terra cotta tiles, removed from the roof of Echo House”. The manufacturer of the tiles told a member of the Citizens for the Preservation of St Augustine that the value of the missing, used tiles is about $4 each; placing the value of the tile removed at roughly $25,000. There was never an accounting for the money.


Next was lame-duck Commissioner Todd Neville who has already announced that he will not seek re-election in November. He decided to stand on the theory of private property rights and supported his friend, Ronald Rawls, saying that the government can’t and shouldn’t be looking at taking the property, either through the reverter clause, or eminent domain. He said it could be a long expensive process for the City and he wouldn’t go along with its approval.
Finally, the mayor, Nancy Shaver, gave an explanation that the City screwed up when they made the deed with the reverter clause. Had the clause included a reference to a specific date upon which the reconstruction had to be completed or a specific use that was required to quiet title to the property, she, Neville, and City Attorney Isabelle Lopez, expressed an opinion that the result might have been different. As it sits, though; she sees no easy remedy at hand that might save the historic 1920’s complex that at one time provided indigent African-Americans with nursing care.


It looked like the vote would go 3-2 denying Rawls and St Paul Church the ability to purchase the over-the-counter demolition permit, when the mayor had the City Clerk call the roll. The vote was split two-to-two when it reached Horvath, who caved, reversing her initial vote and finally voting to approve the demolition permit to be issued.
The issue passed 3-2 with Freeman and Sikes-Kline dissenting. As the gavel fell, in a sharp, clearly audible voice, Commissioner Freeman directed a remark to the AME Church board members who were on the front row that she hoped they got a new leader.


Warren Celli said...

An honest government would have done due diligence IN THE SUNSHINE and insisted on verifying Reverend Ron Rawls funds and obtaining a signed contractual obligation with him before transferring Echo House to his church.

The hijacked gangster commission appears to have hit spiritual rock bottom in its past few meetings.

Perhaps a visit to a past time of better morality might be in order...


Anonymous said...

If the result is the building will be demolished and the City's stated goal of preservation will not be realized then the real issue is that the City gave away a huge chunk of land to absolutely no benefit of residents.

The City could have used the land ...a park...low income housing..or even paid parking.

Does this deal violate separation of church and state? What is the commercial value of the land sans building?

Worse yet the City was not able to get a single benefit...land will not be taxed and they couldn't even get Rawl's to agree to resident parking when the church is not in service?

Stupid stupid stupid