Monday, June 08, 2020

Independence Day Fireworks Cancelled After May 11, 2020 Sunshine Violation is Remedied

At their meeting this morning, our estimable St. Augustine City Commission never reprimanded City Manager John Patrick Regan, P.E. for lying to them on May 11, 2020, or for inducing them to make a decision on fireworks without any public comment asked for or sought.

At least Commissioners were forced by citizen concerns to revisit and to reconsider the illegal vote they took without allowing public comment, a violation of F.S. 286.0114(2) and Article I, Section 24 of our Florida Constitution. 

Never again.   

As I told Commissioners this morning, James Madison wrote in 1823 that "a popular government without popular information is a prelude to farce or tragedy,"

From this day forward, to avoid litigation, prosecution, nit-picking and picketing, St. Augustine City Commission must let the people speak before every single decision.

That is what St. Johns County and the City of St. Augustine Beach do.

It's not hard -- if there's a discussion and a vote is about to take place on a decision, St. Johns County Attorney Patrick Francis McCormack will say, "public comment," and Commissioners will solicit it.  Even if there's hardly anyone left in the auditorium, public comment is sought.  

Patrick Francis McCormack acts like a gentlemen and scholar compared with St, Augustine City Attorney Isabelle Christine Lopez.  

Hint: when she was hired illegally, without posting or advertising the job, two (2) Commissioners said, "she protects us," in two-part harmony.

Protects us?

From whom?

For whom?

Asking for public comment is required to comply with state law. 

It is also required to comply with the norms of common courtesy and civic decency.

Under corrupt autocratic City Manager WILLIAM BARRY HARRIS, Regan's reprobate mentor, public comment rights were eroded and violated,  

As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once wrote , "It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past."

Get this right, Mayor Tracy Wilson Upchurch, Vice Mayor Leanna Sophia Amaru Freeman,  Commissioners Nancy Sikes-Kline, Roxanne Horvath and John Otha Valdes.

Sit up straight.  Pay attention.

If you're making a decision, we get to talk.

Democracy is NOT a spectator sport.

This is not the first time that St. Augustine City Commissioners have violated Sunshine laws, set forth at Article I, Section 24 of our Florida Constitution and F.S. 286.0114(2).

It's not the first time I've caught public officials in efforts to violate Sunshine laws.  It's fun.  You can help hold governments accountable.

In East Tennessee, Anderson County Commission Budget Committeeonce  heard from Sheriff Dennis O. Trotter (later sent to federal prison for unrelated crimes). I caught them red-handed, coming back from a pizza buffet dinner one night, seeing the lights on in the County Commission room, knowing there was no scheduled meeting.    

Anderson County Commission ordered the Budget Committee to vacate the recommendations from its illegal meeting, and to vote those items again.  

So Anderson County Commissioner H. Clyde Claiborne, Ph.D., an Oak Ridge National Laboratory expert on nuclear waste disposal, bellowed, "Just because the Appalachian Observer screams, we've got to jump through a God-damn hoop!"

And they did, as God intended and I asked.

The Appalachian Observer began with a bang with a July 4, 1981 Prospectus promising "Independene in Journalism." We kept our promises. Every single one of them.

St. Augustine works on the same principle. 

If there's no one holding our officials accountable, secrecy prevails, and as Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, "Secrecy is for losers."

How was St. Augustine in the bad 'ole days?

The mother of then-Mayor Joseph Lester Boles, Jr., Ms. Maurine Boles, once told Maureen Ortagus and I (on a Saturday night at their gallery on San Marco) how it worked, 

Maurine Boles recounted regular Sunshine violations in her living room some 40 years ago.  They'd have their meeting then, she told us, and go have the "real" meeting and it would be over in "fifteen minutes," everything having been decided in her living room.

When we first visited St. Augustine in August 1992, and on visits thereafter, Brian and I unwittingly witnessed breakfast meetings of City Commissioners in P.K.'s restaurant on St. George Street.  Later, routine Sunshine violations took place in the Village Inn and a since-closed Greek restaurant.  

And some Sunshine violations take place blatantly, openly, notoriously, guarded by armed police officers if those insisting on accountability get too uppity.  

On November 12, 2007, Lincolnville resident Joseph Anthony Seraphin and I were threatened with arrest by Mayor Joe Boles (current Mayor Tracy Upchurch's undergraduate and law school roommate).  The St. Augustine Record editorial on November 10, 2007 had promised public comment would be allowed on the proposed FDEP consent order on the City's dumping a landfill in a lake, involving bringing the waste back to Lincolnville, plopping dirt on top of it, and calling it a "park."
After a January 10, 2008 meeting at St. Paul A.M.E. Church, organized by Judith Serpahin, we won. Tthe City's criminal illegal dumping was remedied and the waste is now in a Class I landfill, something HARRISS had rejected, in writing.

We, the People will continue reporting crimes by the City and insist that the City conduct its business in compliance with all federal, state and local laws -- though lawbreaking in the place that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once called "the most lawless city in America."

From the St. Augustine Record:

St. Augustine commissioners uphold decision to cancel July 4 fireworks
By Sheldon Gardner
St. Augustine Record
Posted at 11:14 AM
St. Augustine commissioners did not change their previous decision to cancel July 4 fireworks because of concerns about a potential coronavirus outbreak.

After hearing public comment at Monday morning’s meeting, no commissioner wanted to revisit the decision.

“I know that this is a difficult topic for everybody because of the competing (interests),” Vice Mayor Leanna Freeman said.

Commissioners and city staff met via Zoom, which has been their practice in recent meetings because of the coronavirus.

Commissioners heard from close to 30 people who commented about fireworks, with many of the comments coming via email or telephone. Most of the commenters were opposed to having a fireworks show on July 4.

The show could be held in September, but that hasn’t been decided.

The fireworks are blasted from the Matanzas River near the Castillo de San Marcos, and the event has drawn tens of thousands of people to downtown St. Augustine.

Commissioners had decided to cancel this year’s show, but then City Manager John Regan decided to hold another meeting on the topic once he learned that information he provided about regional cancellations was inaccurate.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said recently that the city will have fireworks, but the show will be at more sites instead of just downtown so that people won’t be clustered in one area.

Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach, New Smyrna Beach and Deltona have all canceled or postponed July 4 fireworks shows.

Regan said Monday that the basis for the Commission’s earlier decision had not materially changed. He cited coronavirus statistics from the Florida Department of Health and shared information about cancellations in the region.

He said that if the event went forward, the city could have no realistic expectation of enforcing social distancing requirements and capacity restrictions at bars and restaurants.

Aside from how coronavirus has changed July 4 celebrations, commissioners talked about how the pandemic is affecting their meetings.

Commissioners and city staff have been meeting by video conference using Zoom, but they’ve experienced glitches in communications and connections.

Regan suggested getting back to regular meetings at City Hall starting on June 22, but commissioners disagreed on whether to start going back that soon.

“I think it’s early to be doing it,” Commissioner Roxanne Horvath said.

Mayor Tracy Upchurch, who had technical issues on Monday, said he feels strongly that the City Commission needs to get back to City Hall.

“I think things are better done in person,” he said.

Commissioners decided to have another Zoom meeting on June 22 and discuss the issue more at that time.

Regan said he will share with each commissioner the city’s plan for resuming meetings at City Hall, including requiring masks and reducing room capacity to keep people socially distanced.

1 comment:

Steven Boyd said...

Get back to your meeting room, social distance and get on the business in sunshine!