Sunday, October 27, 2019

REJECT misguided move to abolish elected St. Augustine Mayor position

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in his State of the Union address, January 6, 1941:  "We must especially beware of that small group of selfish [people] who would clip the wings of the American eagle in order to feather their own nests." 

Anyone who demands to remove a check and balance in our democracy better have a darn good reason. 

There are NO principled reasons for revoking your right to vote for the St. Augustine Mayor. 

"Here sir, the people govern," as Alexander Hamilton said.

"We get to overthrow our government every two years," as the character "Josh Liman" said on The West Wing.

St. Augustine residents first elected their Mayor in 1812 under the landmark Spanish Constitution.  See historian Susan Parker's column here.

Should we retain the elected mayor's position in St. Augustine as a check on the powers of the City Manager?  Yes.    

I strongly agree with St. Augustine Mayor Tracy Wilson Upchurch, who wisely frankly said so on October 14, 2019.   Watch here (click on Item 7B). 

Who would erase vested voting rights, in violation of legal and constitutional rights?  One person:

  • third generation Florida building contractor and developer, elected to Commission in 2018;
  • voluntarily testified in support of dubious projects, including DOW PUD and San Marco Hotel;
  • fined for illegally demolishing a building on Washington Street, of which he said, "I can make it fall down."
  • homestead property tax fraudster caught claiming 100% homestead exemption for his St. George Street property, while renting out a garage apartment on AirBnB, with a phony address on the mailbox.
  • former owner of a Saudia Arabian construction company who sold it to British and Saudi partners.

VALDES claims to love St. Augustine, but mostly profits from it, and was willing to tear down a building without a permit, stating to the City Inspector, "I can make it fall down. 

VALDES has a hate-on for Mayor Nancy Shaver and any reforms.

VALDES wanted to give voting rights to nonresident business owners, which would be illegal.  

Undeterred, VALDES also said he wanted to eliminate the City Mayor's position because:

  •  someone moving here. from Chicago might be "confused" that we have a strong Mayor and not a City Manager form of government.
  • electing our Mayor causes "turbulence."

Developers and their cat's paws want to pick their own Mayor.  

The title would "rotate" among Commissioners, as in that perfectly malfeasant, mediocre City government in St. Augustine Beach. 

Mayor/Professor Upchurch answered that it takes him "two minutes" to explain to his students that St. Augustine has an elected Mayor and a strong City Manager.  If Flagler College students can understand this, surely even people moving from Chicago will understand.  It's not rocket science.

Freshman Commissioner JOHN OTHA VALDES is perfectly mediocre as an elected official.  He should not get to be Mayor for a Year by rotation. , 

JOHN OTHA VALDES rather reminds me of Senator Carl Curtis (R-Neb.), who never read Ralph Nader's book on auto safety and did not want to hear his testimony, but tried to interrupt.  Senator Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) then told Senator Curtis to let the witness finish.  Senator Curtis replied, “I have no objection to hearing his testimony, but when he loses me with—,” Senator Kennedy finished the sentence: “With big words?”

Like Senator Curtis, Commissioner VALDES can't handle the truth.  The City staff induces the result he wants by depriving Commissioners of objective research, simply preparing an ordinance.  

Enough of one-sided staff advocating for erasing voting rights and destroying our history. 

We in the reality-based community appreciate the refreshing candor of Tracy Upchurch, the history and law professor with personal hands-on experience as our legislator, our past Mayor and as a scholar.   

The imperious behavior of St. Augustine City Managers needs checks and balances -- more not less.  

We need countywide, applying to our City, an:

  • lobbying disclosure, 
  • ethics ordinance, 
  • Inspector General and
  • Ombuds. 

Since I moved here on November 5, 1999, two successive St. Augustine City Managers, WILLIAM BARRY HARRISS and JOHN PATRICK REGAN, P.E have: 

  • subjected our City to fines and civil, criminal and environmental investigations for overt acts of pollution and environmental racism.
  • got our City fined for putting a landfill in a lake, the Old City Reservoir on Holmes Blvd.
  • unsuccessfully spent $200,000 on legal fees, unsuccessfully demanding approval to move the landfill from the lake to Lincolnville (seven us filed an administrative complaint and the 40,000 cubic yards of contaminated material is now in a Class I landfill in Nassau County).
  • got our City fined for dumping semi-treated sewage effluents in our saltwater marsh at the south end of Lincolnville, never discussing it in a public meeting, violating Sunshine by "polling" Commissioners to save 
  • got our City repeatedly found liable by federal courts to have violated First Amendment rights, resulting g in damages and spending on legal fees for both sides by:
    • confiscating copies of St. Aug Dog newspaper and banning its distribution on St. George Street.
    • criminalizing art and music in our historic area.
  • served as doormats for dodgy businesses, easily duped by devious developers, some proposing hare-brained schemes:
    • some of which Commission approved (The Collector Hotel privatizing Dow Museum of Historic Homes, privatizing Lighthouse Park Community Center as private Yacht Club, privatizing one block of Cuna Street for benefit of one LOUIS JOHN ARBIZZANI of New Orleans, Louisiana), and 
    • some of which we stopped (coral growing tanks, aquarium and children's museum on top of garbage dump in violation of state law, now Dr. Robert S. Hayling, D.D.S. Freedom Park), halted thanks to Nancy Shaver, Blake Souder, Judith Seraphin, Cash McVay an d other activists.
  • spent tens of thousands of dollars on engineering studies to put structures on top of the old garbage dumps at the south end of Lincolnville (the area is now Dr. Robert S. Hayling, D.D.S. Freedom Park).
  • engaged in secretive meetings with business and property owners, including years of meetings without a written record with LOUIS JOHN ARBIZZANI and then BROUDY FAMILY.
  • maintained close and self-serving relationships with seedy characters.

When it comes to government structure, Mayor Tracy Upchurch knows whereof he speaks.  
His father and grandfather preceded him in the legislature.  His father preceded him as Mayor.

Our City has named Hamilton Davis Upchurch Park for his late father, who in 2007 spoke out against yet another power grab -- an irregularly-drafted, defective "starter charter" -- speaking publicly against it at St. Johns County Commission.  

Hamilton Upchurch's wise words against MICHAEL DAVID WANCHICK's and THOMAS G. MANUE's charter inspired me.  Citizens  ultimately helping activists block (twice on the ballot in 2008).  We, the People of St. Johns County twice defeated an unwise County Charter, which. would have undue concentrated power without checks and balances.  He and I both testified against it.

Professor Tracy Upchurch teaches history and law at Flagler College, and is a lawyer, former mayor and former state legislator, the third generation Upchurch in the state legislature.  

Mayor Upchuch was selected by Commissioners March 4, 2019 to fill the vacancy created by Mayor Nancy Shaver's February 28, 2019 resignation, three days after her  stroke after a Commission meeting adjourned.   

Some anti-democratic developer tools want to claw back and wrench away the people's vested right to select their Mayor.  

People of the Liethose who "want to clip the wings of the American Eagle to feather their own nests," demand to:

  • take selection of Mayor back from the people in St, Augustine and give it to Commissioners.  
  • eliminate the two year Mayor position.  
  • make seat 3 a four year seat, and have the Mayor picked by Commissioners.  

It is unlikely voters would approve.  If they did, unleashing Commissioners to rotate among themselves, perhaps they could give each annual pretend-Mayor a lighted sign for the roof of their house and car, asking plaintively, "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM??"

(That was the question that Commissioner ERROL DONLEVY JONES had for arresting offices in 2013, when he was interfering with a police investigation. of his kinfolk.  JONES has since been arrested twelve times).

When I was thirteen, the U.S. Senate rejected a mediocre nominee for the Supreme Court, G. Harrold Carswell, overriding the plea of Senator Roman L. Hruska (R-Neb.) that the mediocre deserve representation.

In a revealing tv news interview on March 16, 1970, Hruska said,  "Even if he [Carswell] were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they? We can't have all Brandeises and Frankfurters and Cardozos."

All of our Mayors can't be Nancy Shavers, but the people of St. Augustine deserve the right to choose them. 

Footnote: The United States Senate rejected Carswell's nomination on April 8, 1970 by a vote of 51-45, giving President Nixon a second Senate rejection of a Supreme Court judicial nominee; in 1969, it rejected Nixon's choice of Clement Haynsworth.

Footnote: another plea for mediocrity (and for not electing our Mayor) appeared in a dodgy former California small town Mayor's dupery Wednesday column in the mullet wrapper.

From NPR:
March 16, 1970
(This day in history) 

As the Senate is in the process of debating the nomination of Judge G. Harrold Carswell as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court -- to fill the seat vacated by Abe Fortas -- Nebraska Republican Roman Hruska says in a TV interview, "Even if he [Carswell] were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they? We can't have all Brandeises and Frankfurters and Cardozos."

The Senate will reject Carswell's nomination on April 8 by a vote of 51-45, giving President Nixon a second consecutive setback; in 1969, it rejected Nixon's choice of Clement Haynsworth.

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