Friday, April 28, 2006

St. Augustine's Earth Day celebration, April 29, 11 am to 3 pm

St. Augustine's Earth Day is at the Ampitheatre tomorow, Saturday from 11-3. See Compass magazine.

Missing Files At City Hall (II)

Now the City Attorney claims they may have to ask the Court reporter to "do" another Shade Meeting transcript if his staff can't find it by Monday. The City Attorney has not apologized for losing public records.He won't answer questions and (as is his custom) sent a series of unresponsive, hostile, churlish E-mails to me, as late as 11:35 PM yesterday. I wear his scorn as a badge of honor. At 1 PM, our City lawyers and managers will be meeting with FDEP officials on the City's illegal dump sites. Rushing from one scene of reckless endangerment to another, City officials can't refute what Dr. King said: St. Augustine is the "most lawless" city in America.

Missing Records at City of St. Augustine's City Hall

Working on my monthly column for Out in the City, I requested two days ago the Marshall Burns Shade Meeting Transcript from June 2003. The City Attorney referred me to the Clerk's office. The Clerk's office was never provided with the Shade Meeting Transcript. Two days later, I'm still waiting on the Shade Meeting Transcript.Our City Police Department beat an African-American man, making him a C-4 quadriplegic.Our City agreed to pay him $2.5 million.Taxpayers are paying $1.5 million (in installments). Insurance paid $1 million.When a city settles a lawsuit, all Shade Meeting Transcripts must be made public.The people have a right to know.Is the City of St. Augustine still, as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "the most lawless" city in America? Our City Attorney is long on pejoratives, long on excuses but short on performance. We have a right to read the Shade Meeting Transcript, without further delay.The City Attorney's telephone number is 825-1052, area code 904.His name is JAMES PATRICK WILSON and he works for you (supposedly).We're waiting, Mr. WILSON. Let's see the Shade Meeting Transcript, please, sir, today. Thank you.

Meeting Today on 20,000 Cubic Yards of Illegal Dumping by City of St. Augustine, Florida

Mr. William Pence, the City's environmental attorney (from Orlando) is in St. Augustine this morning. We trust that the City's circa $500/hour environmental lawyer slept well at the splendid Casa Monica Hotel last night. Thus refreshed, at City expense, we look forward to answers from Mr. Pence. He is meeting with FDEP officials in Jacksonville today at 1 PM on 20,000 cubic yards of illegal dumping by the City of St. Augustine, which Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the "most lawless" city in America. Left word for Mr. Pence at the City Attorney's office earlier this morning. Efforts to reach Mr. Pence for comment have been unavailing. Mr. Pence, we're still waiting for answers to the 77 questions on the City's illegal dumping. Please answer the questions today. Thank you, Mr. Pence.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Welcome Visitors to "Clean Up City of St. Augustine, Florida"

Our beautiful City welcomes millions of American and overseas visitors annually. Welcome. Let me welcome you to "Clean Up City of St. Augustine, Florida," which also welcomes visitors, including recent visitors from four continents. Visitors include people from St. Augustine and St. Johns County, Northeast Florida, every region in America, as well as Spain, United Kingdom, Argentina, Italy, Canada, the Czech Republic and Malaysia. Watch this space. This blog is only twelve days old. Our City is over 440 years old. Democracy is a wonderful thing, its wonders unfolding right here, before your very eyes. As a wise man in Oak RIdge, Tennessee once said to me, "we've got nowhere to go but up." Soon we hope to show you more about the Nation's Oldest City that will help us to learn together and to become (in the words of John Winthrop and Ronald Reagan), "a shining city on a hill," a beacon of understanding, tolerance and honest government. We welcome your suggestions and expertise on solving our environmental, development and authorarianism problems here in St. Augustine. We welcome our City's answers to questions, e.g., on dumping of 20,000 cubic yards of contaminants in the Old City Reservoir.

Unwelcome Attitude Greets Citizens Asking to See Purchasing Records at City of St. Augustine, Florida City Hall

Should there be more (or less) open competitive bidding in government purchasing by City officials? Is it acceptable that our City buys gasoline on the spot market, by obtaining "telephone quotes" from three good-ole-boys every time one of the City's tanks needs filling? Other jurisdictions have long-term contracts and obtain substantial discounts. Why isn't our City using competitive bidding more to spend its $45 million annual budget for 13,000 residents? How much money could more competitive bidding save you?Why was the City Attorney so hostile April 26 when two citizens asked to see more purchasing records? Why would he threaten people with arrest if we did not leave (after sharing no actual purchasing records), send us to another office (for a document that office did not have), yell at City employees, then (for good measure) run to the elevator yelling at us, pressing the elevator button after the door had closed, causing the door to open and continuing the "argument" that he had started earlier?Why is he so pugancious and surly? This is the same man who made it his mission to kick artists and entertainers off St. George Street. How unhappy he seems.Why does the City Attorney become so unhappy whenever people ask to see their government records? Does he think they're his personal records and not yours?Why is the office of the City Attorney of the St. Augustine, Florida so indescribably unenlightened in comparison with other City offices and other government agencies? Other offices are friendly and gracious when records are requested.Why wasn't there an up-to-date Purchasing Manual in the Purchasing Office (which yesterday had only a ten year old copy, dating back to the days of Mr. Pomar's time as City Manager)?Why are thirteen different (13) offices doing purchasing and keeping purchasing records?Do we need an Inspector General to root out misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance in City purchasing?Do we need IG investigators and auditors as a check on the City Manager's power?What do our City Attorney's and City Manager's offices have to hide with their hostile hauteur directed against inquiring citizens?It's our money. P.S. The next day, April 27, we went back to the purchasing office to begin examination of purchasing records. The staff was polite and records requested were being provided. The difference was that City of St. Augustine City Attorney JAMES PATRICK WILSON was not in the room. As poet Robert Frost would say, "and that has made all the difference."

Estimable City Attorney JAMES PATRICK WILSON Is No Gentleman, A Bad Example for Citizens and Visitors in Our City of St. Augustine

The man who spent ten years perpetrating St. George Street artist exclusion laws (resulting in First Amendment violations); who advised against flying Rainbow flags on the Bridge of Lions (resulting in a finding of First Amendment violations); and who justifies anything any developer ever wants to do is CITY MANAGER WILLIAM B. HARRIS' right-hand clone, JAMES PATRICK WILSON. Today, JAMES PATRICK WILSON came to the City of St. Augustine Purchasing Office in response to routine requests to view documents on asphalt, automobile and vehicle, attorney, engineer, environmental and other consulting work contracting (and shade meetings). City of St. Augustine CITY ATTORNEY JAMES PATRICK WILSON was decidely unpleasant, yelling, insulting, bordering dangerously on assault and battery and false arrest, when two citizens went to view records on purchasing practices. WILSON demanded we list all the documents we wanted to see. He provided none of them, demanding we leave and come back later upon threat of "arrest." One man tried to snatch away a ten-year-0ld Purchasing Manual (not the current version) before we had finished reading it. The lady who took our request refused to shake my hand (as WILSON refused last year). After we had left the office, WILSON then stormed down the hallway after us. He was yelling. We were in the elevator, the doors closing, closing closed. Then WILSON pushed the elevator button, forcing us to endure his continuing tirade. I thought that WILSON wanted to hit me and was grateful to have a witness. WILSON was trying to continue an argument he had started earlier. We will be back. If it takes United States Marshals to compel the City of St. Augustine to obey the law (as in the 1960s), what Dr. King called "the most lawless city in America" will start to treat citizens with respect instead of disdain, derision and derogatory language. We need a City government that protects people, instead of developers and contractors.

The Illegitimate Government of the City of St. Augustine, Florida

The "five crises of nation-building" are identity, legitimacy, penetration, participation and distribution.We face those five crises in Iraq.We face them in America.We even face them here in St. Augustine, the only city I can think of (other than NYC and Miami) that thinks it has a foreign policy. St. Augustine is insecure as to its identity. Its government lacks legitimacy. Its government cannot penetrate (cannot make its will be done when developers are concerned, even on a 3000-4000 year old archeological site, with work contracted out to private archeologists). Its government does not welcome participation but discourages it, even ordering a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) upon filing of Dr. Hines' open records lawsuit, seeking to discourage such litigation by citizens. The benefits of citizenship are poorly distributed, with city burghers unwilling to discuss a Living Wage ordinance.Next time anyone condemns a Third World country like Iraq for lacking progress, remember the City of St. Augustine. Founded in 1565 (the same year that Ivan the Terrible founded the forerunner of the KGB), St. Augustine must be more democratic. Let's clean up the City of St. Augustine, Florida.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Culture of Life vs. the Cult of Death, Personality, Secrecy and Unaccountability

Dr. King said St. Augustine was "the most lawless" city in America, as first reported by John Herbers in the New York Times on June 6, 1964. On April 24, 2006, St. Augustine City Commissioner Joseph Boles, a lawyer, moved to seek to force a citizen to pay the City's attorney fees for what he termed a "frivolous lawsuit" to "make sure we don't encourage these kinds of lawsuits. Commissioners did not discuss the nature of the lawsuit. The case, brought pro se by Dr. Dwight Hines, Ph.D., a retired Jacksonville University professor, seeks to order the City's mandatory compliance with records laws, sometimes called "Sunsine laws." The text of Dr. Hines' lawsuit may be read by scrolling to the bottom of the blog and clicking on the first comment. As the formerly reform City Commissioners prove to be authoritarian, hierarchical facsimiles of their predecessors, they rush to justify the actions of City-Manager-for-Life WILLIAM B. HARRISS. Last night's vote is an act of defiance and ugliness. The fact that all Commissioners went along with Commissioner Boles' amendment shows conscious parallelism -- it's the Commissioners against the public interest. As they have no excuse for police abuses that resulted in a man being left a quadriplegic -- or 20,000 cubic yards of contaminants dumped in the old City reservoir -- they show themselves to be hostile to the culture of life. They represent a cult of personality, death, secrecy and unaccountability. Whether polluting our land and water or rubberstamping the City Manager (and developers' plans to destroy the beauty and archeological integrity of the Red House Bluff), their ukases never cease to amaze. Several of them ran for election using the word "rubberstamp." They have become what they decried. The new boss is the same as the old boss -- Mr. Harriss, coronated without competition on April 13, 1998.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Arts in St. Augustine, 2006

Is our City doing enough to promote the arts? Where are the the displays of local art in City Hall? Where is our City government's heart? Arresting a 79 year old woman for painting on St. George Street? Adopting TOSGSAAESO (see below)? Breaking Commissioner's word to restore the artists and entertainers to St. George Street? This is unacceptable. We can do better.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

It Takes a Village to Protect 10,000 Years of History and Our Beautiful Northeast Florida Environment

My hat is off to "Hardware Bob" for the color photo and aerial picture of Red House Branch. Our City Commissioners received information afflicted by what Sir Winston S. Churchill might call "terminological inexactitude." Let the entire site now be protected and not neglected.
We need a world-class investigation by UF archeologists, followed by world-class preservation by the National Park Service, State of Florida, City of St. Augustine and St. Johns County. Thanks again to Mayor Gardner for voting against the project on January 9, and for asking questions -- if you had been given accurate information about wetlands (see Bob's second photo), you might have prevailed.
Robert Kennedy would tell his staff, "Don't tell me what I should have done, tell me what I should do now." Any one of the four Commissioners who supported the project is empowered to reconsider it.
Of course, there are ancient equity cases going back over 200 years (in Mississippi, Maryland and elsewhere) that say that legislation procured through fraud may be set aside as to the wrongdoer.
Meanwhile, the lesson in all of this is that we need transparency in the Nation's Oldest (European-founded) City.
We need to consider hiring an independent Inspector General and/or Ombudsman. We need an Online Reading Room.
We need to assure that all of the City's agenda notebook contents for our City must be published on the web, as the County and SJRWMD already do.
We need to protect the independence of City professionals like Mr. Halbirt.
We need City Commissioners who are more skeptical (as some once were), asking questions instead of insulting persons asking questions.
The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
Thanks again, "Hardware Bob."
I salute you!

Friday, April 21, 2006


The Record, contacted by St. Johns Water Management District, corrected its story today. The City would have liked us to believe that there was no environmental impact on groundwater, without running the first laboratory test. The record stated at page 2: Corrections INCORRECT INFORMATION ON MONITORING WELLS-- A story on April 13, 2006 conerning the FLorida Department of Environmental Protection's investigation of the Holmes Boulevard borrow pit containsed incorrect information. Teresa Monson, spokeswoman for St. Johns Water Management District, said that because there are no monitoring wells in the area of the borrow pit, where the city has allegedly (sic) dumped unsuitable materials, there is no way of immediately knowing if groundwater has been contaminated.

HURRICANES: We Need to Protect Low-Income People and People With Pets In St. Johns County's Hurricane Disaster Planning

I received a gracious response from the County -- there is still work to be done. Dear Ms. Stoughton:
Thank you. I have some further questions on low-income people without cars or funds to evacuate and evacuating people with pets.
2. What outreach and assistance will there be to low-income people and those without cars or drivers' licenses other than the existing special needs program, which I read about previously and noted to focus on disabilities? One of the reported problems with Katrina evacuation was assuming everyone had money and cars in which to evacuate. This culturally biased assumption and maladroit administration killed hundreds who were literally left behind by a government "frozen in the ice of its own indifference," as FDR would say, quoting Dante.
3. Can you please designate one or more shelters as pet-friendly today? That was one of the key problems in Katrina and caused misery to people and pets. Let's designate shelters for people and pets. It will save lives, as people drowned in Katrina because there was no shelter for their pets. Motels are not the answer, it would appear.
Thank you.
With kindest regards,
Ed Slavin

In a message dated 4/21/2006 9:16:42 AM Eastern Standard Time, writes:
Good Morning Mr. Slavin,

My name is Linda Stoughton and I am the Deputy Director of Emergency Management for St. Johns County. I will be glad to assist you with disaster information and provide answers to your questions. St. Johns County Emergency Management includes not only hurricane planning, but uses an "All Hazards" approach to disaster planning. Everything we learn and train for can be used for any type of disaster including hurricanes, wildfires, domestic security, flooding etc.

1. Myself and Director Ashton had the opportunity to respond to Hurricanes Charley, Katrina and Wilma as part of the State of Florida Emergency Response Team (SERT). We responded to Hurricane Katrina as a member of the Incident Management Team that was sent to Harrison County, Mississippi the day after the storm made landfall. We gained first hand knowledge of how devastating the situation was and the difficulties facing Harrison County. We learned many lessons while participating on this team.

Having a Point of Distribution Plan (POD Plan) in place to provide food, water and ice to citizens after the storm is critical. We have been working on this plan for St. Johns County to insure that sites are identified and staffing is identified to put this plan into action. We are also working with the volunteer agencies to pre-identify locations for mobile feeding units to operate.

Debris - One of the most difficult problems in a community's recovery after a hurricane. St. Johns County has selected two large Debris removal companies that are pre-qualified to operate after a storm if needed.

Staff training - Under Presidential Directive #5 all staff working on disasters must have the new National Incident Management (NIMS) training developed by the Federal Government. St. Johns County has been working very hard to train County, City and volunteer agencies in the NIMS classes and ICS.

Having a Continuity of Government (COG) and Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) for the critical functions of government is also essential. St. Johns County has developed these plans for critical county functions including fire, EMS, Law Enforcement, Emergency Management, Finance and Administration. These plans are designed for in the event a critical function has to move from their current location to a new location in 12 hours and be able to operate for 30 days.

St. Johns County is also developing a Disaster Temporary Housing Plan to use after a storm makes landfall. This plan would address the possible location of FEMA trailers, hotels, apartments etc. to find housing for citizens that have lost their homes.

Mutual Aid is extremely important during a catastrophic event. The County must be ready to identify our needs quickly and request the resources through the State or Private Industry. Forming partnerships with private industry and our volunteer partners before the disaster will better prepare our community for recovery.

2. St. Johns County has a Special Needs Registration Program that has been in place since 1989. Any citizen that needs transportation to a general shelter or special needs shelter can and should pre-register with St. Johns County Emergency Management to provide this service. We use the St. Johns County School Board Transportation Division to execute the plan with assistance from Council on Aging. We currently have over 500 residents on the list. During an evacuation we will also publish a telephone number the citizens can call for transportation. This system worked very well in the 2004 hurricanes.

3. Currently there is not a "Pet Friendly" shelter in St. Johns County that can host both people and pets. We still have a shelter deficit for people and Emergency Management and the School Board are continuing to add additional shelter spaces as new schools come on line. The three new elementary schools have been added for the 2006 hurricane season. We are working hard to find a structure that meets the shelter standard 4496 to place people and pets. There are many pet friendly hotels in the area and we do encourage citizens to have a plan for their pet.

4. All of our disaster plans are being updated to meet the Federal requirement of the NIMS mandate. We have also added the COOP/COG Plans, POD Plan, new shelter information, and theTemporary Housing Plan will be added to the St. Johns County Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan this year.

St. Johns County also has a strong training program in place to practice our plans and make changes. We train as a team including the County, all three cities, Flagler Estates, volunteer agencies, state and Federal agencies each year to insure that everyone knows the plan and their disaster role. We have also trained and participated in disaster exercises with Flagler Hospital, surrounding Counties, and the Utilities department. We conduct this training using table top exercises and full scale response exercises.

It takes a community to prepare for, respond to, and recover from a disaster of any kind. We say "One Team, One Plan, All Hazards."

The Governor has come out with his new plan called "Cultural Preparedness". It is very important that each citizen have a disaster plan in place for their family and a disaster kit prior to Hurricane Season. If anyone would like more information on disaster preparedness, please call St. Johns County Emergency Management at 904-824-5550 and we will be glad to mail you an information packet or you can visit our web site at for local preparedness information.

Thank you. Please feel free to contact me if you need any further information.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

What Lessons Learned from Hurricane Katrina?

Due to income inequality, building in wetlands and poor planning, are we ready for a hurricane?
I wrote the City Manager and County Administrator without response:
Dear Mr. Adams and Mr. Williamson:
1. What lessons have our County and City learned from Katrina?
2. How do we assure evacuation of our City's and County's low-income, disabled and senior citizens in the event of a major hurricane?
3. Which shelters will now allow pets?
4. What changes have been made to disaster plans since Katrina?
5. Please reply today so that I may quote you in my blog,
Thank you.
With kindest regards,
Ed Slavin
Box 3084
St. Augustine, FL 32085

Day 55 and No Answers to 77 Questions on City of St. Augustine's Illegal Dumping in Old City Reservoir

It's Day 55 and there's still no "answers" to 77 questions. "Answers" were promised by our Mayor, George Gardner, in a February 27 Commission meeting to 77 questions I started asking on February 24 about the City's illegal dumping in the Old City Reservoir. As William F. Buckley, Jr. once asked, "why does baloney reject the grinder?"

St. George Street Artist and Entertainers -- Time to Repeal TOSGSAAESO?

I recently viewed 2000 and 2001 City of St. Augustine Commission videotapes. The energy that went into kicking all singing and painting off of St. George Street was incredible! Commissioner Susan Burk, my hero back then, was a zealous effective advocate for First Amendment. She is now our Vice Mayor. Whatever happened to her? She and others promised to repeal or revamp the artist and entertainer ordinance. Today, St. George Street resembles neither Williamsburg nor Montreal, but remains a tacky, dull venue for selling t-shirts to tourists. When are our "reform" Commissioners going to stand up to our City Manager, WILLIAM B. HARRISS, and repeal That Outrageous St. George Street Artist and Entertainer Suppression Ordinance (TOSGAAESO)? What do you think?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

We Voted for Reformers As City Commissioners Once Upon A Time

Every single one of the persons currently sitting on the City Commission ran and was elected as a reformer. I voted for each of them. Today, I am wondering what happened to them.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Living Wage Ordinance for St. Augustine

Eight times since December I have asked St. Augustine Commissioners about a Living Wage Ordinance for our City's employees, City contractor employees and City franchisee employees. No answers. No proposals. No progress. Insouciance. No eye contact. The City's employees, contractor employees, City franchisee employees and employees of properties leased from our City must be protected and not neglected. Like Orlando, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties, it's time for St. Augustine to have a living wage ordinance, protecting workers from the oppression of declining real wages in the midst of a real estate boom and skyrocketing gasoline prices. See Living Wage urls at the right of this page. What do y'all reckon?

We're Patiently Waiting, Mr. Mayor

On February 27, Mayor Gardner promised "answers" from the City Manager to questions on illegal dumping of 20,000 cubic yards at the Old City Reservoir. We're patiently waiting.

20,000 Cubic Yards--Please Answer Below, Mr. HARRISS

Mr. WILLIAM B. HARRISS, St. Augustine's City Manager, celebrated his eighth anniversary in the job on April 13, 2006. He was coronated by the City Commission eight years earlier, on April 13, 1998, with no national search. The Record published its page one banner headline story on April 13, 2006, HARRISS' eighth anniversary as City Manager, reporting that the FDEP is conducting a criminal investigation of illegal dumping of 20,000 cubic yards of contaminants in our Old City Reservoir. We've been waiting for answers to questions since I sent my first questions on February 24. (The Mayor promised "answers" on February 27). We look forward to hearing from you, Mr. HARRISS. Mr. HARRISS is hereby respectfully invited to post all of his complete answers to my 77 questions about his illegal dumping in the space below (just click on comments to answer my questions, Mr. HARRISS).

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Lowells and the Cabots (and Our City and County)

Our County's controversial Code Enforcement Officer, Mr. Acosta, went to the Old City Reservoir, inspected, but now claims that he took no notes, passing on glib reassurances about City Manager HARRISS having everything under control. The Old City Reservoir is located in St. Johns County, outside City limits, on Holmes Blvd Extended, between King Street and Four Mile Rd. It is near the Courthouse. EPA and FDEP found the site and have an active criminal investigation. Our City and County officials originally told DEP on February 24, 2006 that they were not aware of any Old City Reservoir. Mr. Acosta repeatedly sent E-mails to me in which he demanded directions, after I sent him an aerial photo in a PDF file from SJRWMD. On April 11, 2006, I wrote Mr. Acosta:
Dear Mr. Acosta:
1. Why would you inspect a contaminated site and take no notes? Desuetude?
2. What did Mr. Harriss tell you?
3. In Boston, people once said "the Lowells speak only to the Cabots and the Cabots speak only to God."
4. In St. Augustine, Mr. Harriss, City Commissioners and God may not be on speaking terms, as evidenced by what [City officials] have done to the land and the people.
5. It appears that Mr. Harriss only talks to developers and polluters.
Thank you.
With kindest regards,
Ed Slavin

In a message dated 4/10/2006 2:03:57 PM Eastern Standard Time, writes:
The Code Enforcement Program of St Johns County has no report to forward to you. My understanding of the situation is this matter is being dealt with by FDEP and the City of St Augustine. You may want to make contact with City Manager Bill Harriss.
-----Original Message-----From: []Sent: Monday, April 10, 2006 12:43 PMTo: James AcostaCc: Dan BosankoSubject: Re: Please send a copy of report on Old St. Augustine Reservoir
Dear Mr. Acosta:
You inspected the site. You took notes. You made a report. You talked with DEP and St. Aug officials. You took notes. Please forward them.
Thank you.
Ed Slavin
In a message dated 4/6/2006 7:57:12 AM Eastern Standard Time, writes:
The Code Enforcement Program of St Johns County has no report to forward to you. My understanding of the situation is this matter is being dealt with by FDEP and the City of St Augustine. You may want to make contact with City Manager Bill Harriss.
-----Original Message-----From: []Sent: Wednesday, April 05, 2006 10:30 PMTo: James AcostaCc: Dan Bosanko; EASlavin@aol.comSubject: Fwd: Please send a copy of report on Old St. Augustine Reservoir

Why No HAZMATS Signs on Leonardi Street?

Our City could easily erect a sign at the intersections leading to Leonardi Street, stating "No HAZMATS. This would exclude through trucks carrying explosive propane, while allowing local propane deliveries on Leonardi Street. Why was this not done years ago? What principled reason exists, if any, for our City Manager, WILLIAM B . HARRIS, refusing to "just say no" to Amerigas and UGI? Mr. HARRISS, we will print your response.

Leonardi Street's Trucks: Egos & Huge UGI

Leonardi Street residents have repeatedly asked City Commissioners and staff to do something about the trucks using their street as a shortcut.
Their concerns have led to thousands of dollars in engineering studies but no solution.
A sign banning large trucks not making local deliveries would suffice.
Our City Manager disdains the people and their concerns. Our Commissioners defer to him.
One of the companies whose trucks use the street is Amerigas, which distributes over 1 billion gallons of propane annually and has operations in the U.S. and other countries, with local trucks dispatched from Houston, Texas.
Rather than stand up to a multinational corporation (NYSE: UGI) and its subsidiary, Amerigas Partners (NYSE:AGP), based in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, our St. Augustine City Commissioners would rather talk around the topic.
Residents have repeatedly petitioned respectfully for a redress of grievances for years.
Residents have left meetings frustrated with Commissioners unwillingness to listen, "frozen," FDR would say "in the ice of their own indifference." Commissioner Errol Jones spoke for almost 15 minutes about the history of the street and his childhood memories.
It doesn't take much effort to put up a sigin excluding commercial trucks over a stated weight, just as exist on other City streets, including those where some City officials dwell.
Our country was not founded for public officials to cower to power.
On April 24, there will be yet another City Commission meeting (5 PM, Alcazar Room, Lightner Museum and City Hall Bldg, 75 King Street).
On April 26th, there will be a live conference call and webcast by UGI and Amerigas on their latest quarterly earnings. Saving a few seconds to cut through a residential neighborhood must make a de minimis contribution to those quarterly earnings of else Amerigas would have respected citizens' calls to its Houston dispatcher.
I am sure that UGI and Amerigas' risk analysts and "beancounters" may even be willing to share statistics on it (e.g., the risk of a wreck vs. the time and money saved). No doubt UGI and Amerigas can explain it to us (and Wall Street analysts and other reporters). To participate in the April 26, 2006 4 PM UGI/AGP conference call, see

Let's Preserve 10,000 Years of St. Augustine History

We have 10,000 years of history here in St. Augustine and it must be preserved, protected and defended.It takes a village to protect our precious cultural heritage. From ethnocentric U.S. Department of the Interior and National Park Service information to culturally insensitive displays at privately owned tourist attractions, we must correct the record.As an historic City, we do our visitors a disservice when we talk only of the last 440 years of history.When indigenous peoples' holy and burial sites are turned into strip malls and condominiums, that is truly a disgrace to the human race. On January 9, 2006, four out of five City Commissioners possibly voted to do just that (Mayor Gardner dissenting). Developer Robert Graubard's consultant report showing a 2000-4000 year old indigenous habitation was not shared with the city, state or county archeologist. The site (next to St. Augustine H.S. on the west side of Lewis Speedway) contains multiple manmade mounds, possible burial or ceremonial sites. Dr. Kenneth Sassaman, Acting Chair of Anthropology at the University of FL, examined the Environmental Services, Inc. report and is ready, willing and able to send graduate students to investigate the Red House Bluff site. Yet our City won't even send the report to the state archeologist, Laura Kammerer, who won't read it since it wasn't sent to her by a governmental agency. (I faxed it to her on January 23rd). Between hope and history lies a place where some fear to tread -- Ms. Kammerer said to me, "I work for the Governor," as if that excused her refusal to do her job without fear or favor of developers. What do y'all reckon?

20,000 Cubic Yards of Illegal Dumping Is....

enough stuff to fill in six Olympic size swimming pools to a depth of six feet. Or enough stuff to cover a football field to a depth of some 11.2 feet. Or enough, potentially, to kill all of the fish and wildlife in a coquina pit pond where local people have fished and swam for generations.
Do our putative City "leaders" expect us to think that this was merely a "mistake?"
Make no mistake about it -- there are no environmentalists on the St. Augustine City Commission.
There is no City manager with the word "environmental" in his title.
They may not hate nature, but what they did to the Old City Reservoir is considered criminal by state and federal regulators. I never used the word "criminal" in reporting "just the facts" to the National Response Center on February 17 (Report No. 788280).
Does being the government of the City of St. Augustine mean never having to say you're sorry?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Are These Trips Necessary?

The NYC trip was not the first or last trip. Vice Mayor Susan Burk flew to Germany to examine mechanical parking garages, when fine examples exist in the USA. The St. Augustine Record blasted wasteful spending in this 2003 editorial: Editorial: Travel idea not good for city Publication Date: 06/28/03
A pattern of feeding at the public trough has emerged at St. Augustine City Hall under the new administration, led by Mayor George Gardner. The pattern is a far stretch from the focus on public service promised before the November election.
The mayor ran on a platform of openness and need for change. He said he was determined to be more responsive to the public than his predecessors.
Well, lately, he has been making the previous administration look pretty solid by comparison. The previous administration didn't ask for big raises and free travel to Europe for their significant others. The previous administration was criticized for its stance on public issues, not its desire to spend public money on itself.
That desire to spend has become a major distraction for the Gardner-led government in the Nation's Oldest City. And the timing of the distraction couldn't be much worse, as matters of great public importance are on the agenda: the San Sebastian harbor project, the Bridge of Lions, parking plans and so on. It will be difficult to build consensus with lingering questions about ethics and motivation.
Gardner said he made a mistake recently when he asked for the mayor to receive $20,000 a year in compensation, which would have been more than the mayor in Daytona Beach, a much larger community. He apologized to the community for raising the subject, for thinking he was entitled to a larger salary for his labor. He later said he did not want a raise of any kind. But somehow his apology didn't stop him from voting for the more modest increase city staff proposed for the mayor, from $12,000 to $16,000. Maybe he won't cash the checks when the raise kicks in next fiscal year.
Then, this week the mayor brought to the commission table an idea that taxpayers should pay for plane tickets for commissioners' spouses to go on fancy trips. Wouldn't it be nice to take them all to Spain for the Aviles sister city exchange?
It turns out that St. Augustine can't pay the freight unless the spouses perform official functions while traveling. So the commission decided that the spouses can be voted in as temporary ambassadors!
Isn't that great?
The mayor said it's just too expensive to take his wife to Spain otherwise. And the move, which only Commissioner Errol Jones opposed in a 3-1 vote, would open the door, like the salary increase, for future commissioners who don't have as much money as some of the former wealthy officeholders. Commissioners Don Crichlow and Bill Lennon also voted for the measure. Commissioner Susan Burk was out of town and not present for the vote.
The Gardner logic goes something like this: How can poorer commissioners-to-be step in and function as their elite predecessors without the public's help?
Recall that Gardner, who has a home in St. Augustine, stayed two nights at the taxpayers' expense at the downtown St. Augustine Casa Monica Hotel when Spanish dignitaries visited earlier in the year.
It is possible that he just doesn't see the problem that other people see with such spending.
It is possible that he thinks it is perfectly fine for taxpayers to foot the bill for his wife to fly to Spain.
In defense of his travel position, Gardner said his wife would be asked to go to many events in Spain, that there would be much effort involved. Former Mayor Mark Alexander, who paid for his own wife's ticket to Spain, said Thursday that the most she had to do was shake a few hands, that there were no official duties to assume and that the trip was really more of a social occasion or vacation for her.
If Gardner wants to be different from the old guard, why not suggest canceling the trip?
We noticed that the Spanish delegation sent to St. Augustine did not involve an entire elected body. It involved a few key officials. And it involved a group of young entertainers, among others.
Why doesn't this administration send a group of young entertainers to Spain, along with one or two key public officials? (If others want to go, too, let them pay their own way.)
That would set a different sort of tone, more like what voters expected when they cast their lots for change.
Commissioner Lennon said Thursday that he was unaware Monday night he was voting on a general travel proposal. He said he did not know his vote would open the door for spouses to fly for free to Spain. He said he thought the vote was specifically for an upcoming League of Cities trip. He said he was shocked by what he read on Thursday's front page about the mayor's desire to send his wife to Spain. Lennon said he has always paid his own wife's way to such things.
It is up to Lennon, then, to correct the matter. He can bring the issue back up to the commission when all are in attendance. And he can insist on discussion, which was strangely absent from the last vote, whether this new "more open" commission wants to talk about the matter or not.
Click here to return to story: © The St. Augustine Record

Wasteful Spending on New York and Foreign Junkets

Our City Manager, his wife, our Mayor, his wife, three other Commissioners and their spouses and significant others spent over $8100 on a trip to NYC -- a possible Sunshine violation -- for the purpose of getting a bond rating, which they could have obtained by fax. They spent money like cartelists, while showing elitist disdain for our City's workers. An entry-level fireman is paid only some $31,000. The City Commissioners wasted in three days what the fireman earns in three months. The St. Augustine Record covered the story well last year (while not discussing the apparent Sunshine Law violation):
Valuable trip or junket? Five city commissioners and the city manager spend $8,188.65 of taxpayer money for a trip to New York about St. Augustine's bond rating for a water plant project, a trip bond agencies say wasn't necessary By KATI BEXLEY Publication Date: 06/05/05
St. Augustine's five city commissioners, the city manager, and their spouses went to New York City for four days in March, spending more than $8,000 on a trip they say was necessary to ensure a good bond rating.
"One of the best tools we have for the bond rating agencies is for them to see (the commissioners) so they know who is making the decisions," City Manager Bill Harriss said. "It's PR."
However, three bond rating company representatives and city and county officials from around the state say trips like the city commission's are not needed. One county official laughed out loud when he heard that the entire City Commission went.
"Regardless of the size of the city, it's strictly what's on the paper," said Leslie Wilkins, of the Standard & Poors New York City media relations department, referring to the city's financial health. "Meeting the people won't change that."
For three nights in late March, Harriss took the commissioners to meet with three different bond-rating agencies, including Standard & Poors, and one insurance company in New York City to sell a $21.4 million utility bond for capital improvements to the water plant. The city received an A rating from all three agencies, which is the third highest rating.
Because St. Augustine is small -- its population is 13,245 -- Harriss said meeting the companies face-to-face is essential to making the city stand out.
But the city of Cocoa Beach has a population of about 12,800 and it received an AA rating, second from the highest, from Standard & Poors through a conference call, said Ken Kilgore, finance director. Its bond was for $14 million.
"(The companies) never did really suggest we pack up and go there," Kilgore said. "In our case, we didn't think it was necessary. (The companies) didn't seem to think it was necessary."
Several Florida cities and counties contacted by The Record said they sometimes send one elected official along with their finance staff to meet with bond-rating companies in New York. None send the entire commission.
"Do the (New York) companies want to meet all of the commissioners and their spouses? No," Allen MacDonald, St. Johns County Finance Director, said through laughter. "That would be an overkill."
John Incorvaia, senior vice president of Moody's, another bond agency with which the commissioners met, said a community's management is an element in his analysis of a bond.
"We need to, at some point in time, make sure we have confidence in the stability of the government (that is in charge of the bond)," Incorvaia said. "It's always helpful when we meet the decision-makers."
Incorvaia also said he does not "necessarily encourage issuers to meet with them unless they have not seen them in a long time."
The St. Augustine City Commission last went to New York City as a group in 2002, according to Harriss.
Amy Laskey, an analyst from Fitch, the third company with which the commission met, also said it is useful to meet the City Commission, but said it doesn't impact the bond rating.
"No, the rating isn't affected by whether we meet commissioners," Laskey said.
Spouses, significant others went along
The married commissioners and the city manager took their wives to New York. The two single commissioners took their significant others. The city paid for air fare and hotel accommodations for the commissioners and the city manager, but not air fare for the spouses.
They stayed at the Double Tree hotel, but a hotel representative said she could not tell if they paid for a double or single room by looking at their rates. This is because single and double room rates can range from a difference of $20 to $80 each week, and their computers can only look five days back, the hotel representative said.
All stayed three nights, except City Commissioner Susan Burk who stayed one more night to attend a meeting that the others could not attend.
The companies bought the majority of the meals for the commissioners, but Burk said they went to diners and little Italian restaurants. There is no record of the meals bought for them, except for one meal Harriss bought for the commissioners.
"We went to whatever was close by and convenient," Burk said.
'Refreshing' that commission went
Harriss said one of the reasons he asked all the commissioners to go is because of changes after the 2002 election.
Before that election, Standard & Poors approved a $4 million bond for St. Augustine to build a parking garage behind the Lightner Museum. After the election, the sentiment of the commission changed against that proposed garage, and the money was not used for that project, Harriss said. That $4 million is paying for the parking garage now being built north of downtown, Harriss said.
"The bond agencies were very concerned. That's when I said, 'I've got to stop this, or it's going to snowball,' " Harriss said. "I have convinced these New York guys we have a good commission that is unified."
Commissioner Don Crichlow said he asked the companies himself if meeting with them had an effect on bond ratings.
"I intentionally asked each one of these folks when we were up there," he said. "They said it was very refreshing to see the whole commission. They said, 'It is really impressive.' Those were (each company's) exact words."
In reply to Standard & Poors' spokeswoman saying the information on paper determines bond ratings, Commissioner Burk said they have to say that.
"It's like a bank can't say, 'I'm going to loan you money because I like you,' " she said.
Burk also said having the companies go to dinner with the commissioners' spouses and significant others personalized the bond-rating process.
"It's humanizing the event," she said. "Even though (the companies) don't want to humanize it, we want to. We want them to know the people in our city."
'Never heard' of all commissioners going
City of Port St. Lucie accountant Marcia Dedert disagrees. Her city, with a population of 130,000, has received an AA rating -- a higher rating than St. Augustine received -- for a $100 million bond from the same New York companies. She said they never send any of their City Council members to meet them.
"They ask financial questions, and they want a report on financial conditions, so that's who goes (to New York)," Dedert said. "I have not heard of (the companies) wanting to see our City Council."
Commissioner Errol Jones said the New York trip was not a vacation for him.
"I took time off my job for this. I get paid for those (vacation) days if I don't use them," he said. "I went to the meetings all day."
Trip's goal: Save citizens money
For Commissioner Joe Boles, the trip was a wise business decision for the city.
"It's a lot easier to judge a company when you know who's running it," he said. "It takes money to make money, as long as we get a good rating -- because that's what ultimately saves our community thousands of dollars."
Mayor George Gardner echoed his fellow commissioners in saying, "I wouldn't term (the New York trip) a junket. ... I'm not a bond expert, but I think it's important the city make every effort to try to get the best (bond) rating possible."
Click here to return to story: © The St. Augustine Record

Do City of St. Augustine & Mayor, Ignore Housing Problems?

The documentary blog, Dare Not Walk Alone, reports that on February 28, Mayor George Gardner walked out of a meeting on housing and said there was no housing problem in our City. St Augustine Mayor Walks Out of Housing Meeting There was a housing summit today in Saint Augustine to discuss the deplorable conditions in some Saint Augustine neighborhoods. This meeting was organized after Senator Tony Hill viewed the film, Dare Not Walk Alone. He was appalled at the conditions of the houses shown in the documentary and wanted to address this situation by getting the city fathers together.The meeting was held today, Feb 28. St Augustine Mayor, George Gardner stayed for a while and then stood up to leave. Before he left, however, he personally attacked Jeremy Dean for making Dare Not Walk Alone and said that Jeremy obviously only sees the "glass as half-empty." Mr. Gardner went on to say that Saint Augustine does not have a housing problem and then WALKED OUT of the meeting!. Everyone was totally stunned. (I would like to note here that Mr. Gardner's term expires in December, 2006. Thank goodness!)After the Mayor walked out, the rest of the attendees boarded buses to view the worst areas of town and the areas needing the most help. Most people were visibly shaken and some even said they couldn't believe that they were still in America. The worst areas look more like Haiti than the well-groomed homes of the touristy areas of town.I'm still waiting for word from the Mayor's office as to why he walked out and will advise you when I get a statement.posted by DNWA at 12:13 PM 0 comments links to this post

Living Wage Ordinance

Orlando, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties (over 130 jurisdictions nationally) already have what City of St. Augustine City Commissioners won't even discuss or debate -- a Living Wage Ordinance.
Why won't Commissioners direct their staff to research the issue and obtain help from a university economist?
Real estate and gasoline prices are making times tough for workers. Our City thrives on tourism and the tour guides, drivers and hospitality workers who make tourists want to come back again and again, as many of us did before we moved to this wonderful place. Those workers deserve decent respect from employers. Why was I the only person to call the Canadian billionaire in response to Folio Weekly's disclosures about local pay and benefit cuts afflicting local Tour Train and Ripley's Believe it or Not! Museum workers? No "oar in that water?" To whom do our City Commissioners think they're talking?
Why won't our City Commissioners discuss the Living Wage issue?
What do y'all reckon?

Poverty, Prejudice and Oppression

At Monday night's St. Augustine City Commission (April 10), the Episocopal priest led a prayer, asking that our Commissioners work to alleviate poverty, prejudice and oppression. We're still praying for them today.
All five City Commissioners refused to discuss those issues when I questioned them.
Vice Mayor Burk interrupting me angrily when I discussed the fact that West Augustine residents pay 25% more for their water and sewer services, while the City refuses to discuss annexation of this underserved, primarily African-American area profiled in Jeremy Dean's documentary, "Never Walk Alone."
The Vice Mayor tried to say that my concerns were irrelevant to the proposed utility ordinance under discussion. I had to explain amendments and parliamentary procedure to her -- the fact that a utility fee ordinance could be amended to deal with other utility concerns, which is whyI was also requesting that the City do something about the Time-Warner Cable franchise (it expired two years ago), asking that the City establish a municipal electric utility (like those that serve Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Gainesville, Orlando and 25% of Floridians). It was also why I had asked that the City Attorney be directed to file a complaint on behalf of the City and its residents with the Public Service Commission over overcharges by Florida Power & Light (which the NY Times reported March 15th is charging FPL customers five cents on every dollar for federal income taxes (which FPL does not pay, actually getting refunds) . I objected to the Vice Mayor's tone of voice.
At one point, there was a move toward the podium by St. Augustine Police Officer Barry Fox, who stood in the middle of the room, as if he were waiting for a signal.
At the conclusion of the meeting, I asked our City Commissioners to place extirpating prejudice, poverty and oppression on the agenda for every City Commission meeting.
Speaking of alleviating poverty, prejudice and oppression, our City of St. Augustine needs a Living Wage ordinance for City employees, contractors and franchisee employees. Living costs are spiralling and the City government is indifferent. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and our "leaders" won't even talk about it.
When a Canadian billionaire's entourage slashed Ripley's Believe it or Not! Museum and Tour Train employees' hours and eliminated their health care befits, Messrs. George Gardner and Donald Crichlow told Folio Weekly that our City "does not have an oar in that water," showing their lack of knowledge of the City's power to oversee its franchisees.
Writing for The Collective Press, I got the Canadian billionaire on the telephone in 30 seconds --- he said he was unaware of the local pay and benefit cuts, which no one had told him about before. I related this to our Mayor and Commissioners, none of whom have ever expressed any interest in calling him at all, as if supporting workers (instead of developers) were somehow beneath their status).
Since December, 2005, I have spoken out in support of a Living Wage at the last eight City Commission meetings.
Not one Commissioner has moved to direct that there be any work on a Living Wage ordinance.
As St. Augustine gentrifies, "affordable housing" is becoming an oxymoron. I've asked Commissioners if their intention is to make it impossible for working people to live here. As is customary, they won't look me in the eye and they won't answer questions.
The people of our City of St. Augustine deserve better than for our government to be run like a bad banana republic in an old Hollywood movie.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rightly called the City of St. Augustine "the most lawless City in America." 20,000 cubic yards of contaminants in the Old City Reservoir is merely a synecdoche -- a part that stands for the whole thing.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

State investigates city dumping (Record article, 4/13)

Here's the Record's article: State investigates city dumping KATI BEXLEYPublication Date: 04/13/06
Florida Department of Environmental Protection is conducting a criminal investigation on the city of St. Augustine for dumping 20,000 cubic yards of material into a borrow pit and staging construction waste and vegetation on the site.
The city admits to putting materials on the 80-acre site on Holmes Boulevard and says it will correct the problem.
"We've made some errors and we've been forthright with the agency in our desire to remain in good standing with (them)," said John Regan, city chief operations officer.
FDEP sent a warning letter on March 15 to Mayor George Gardner stating that the city had possibly violated the law.
The letter cites the following problems with the site.
In January, the city moved 20,000 cubic yards from a site on Riberia Street, which was an old dumping ground, to the borrow pit on Holmes Boulevard. The dumping was unauthorized. On March 1, FDEP investigators found the pit was filled with metal, plastic, paper, wood and other solid waste.
FDEP found that a smaller body of water on the site was filled with lime waste used as a water softener at the city's water plants, yard trash and other vegetation.
Two other areas on the site were being used to store the city's yard trash and construction debris, such as piping, wood and tires, before it was taken to landfills. The city did not have permits for this.
Jill Johnson, FDEP spokeswoman, said there is an open criminal investigation of the city for the violations. She wouldn't give further details.
Teresa Monson, St. Johns River Water Management District spokeswoman, said there are no monitoring wells within miles of the dumping site and there is no potential for water pollution. A monitoring well is tested on a regular basis for various minerals, Monson said.
The city applied to St. Johns River Water Management District for a permit on Dec. 20 to dump material into the borrow pit. But Water Management found the city had already used the site without the permit, which the city admits to, according to documents.
On March 1, the city wrote to St. Johns River Water Management District offices and Jacksonville and asked for authorization to fill the borrow pit. That is the same day Department of Environmental Protection inspectors observed a city work crew dump material into the pit.
In the letter, by Public Works Director Robert Leetch, the city acknowledged that it had already dumped 20,000 cubic yards of material into the pit.
"To our knowledge, there are no known, nor have we observed, contaminants or pollution associated with this wetland creation project," Leetch wrote.
However, the state DEP wrote a warning letter to Mayor George Gardner two weeks later that said none of the city workers involved "had any training that would enable them to identify hazardous ... material."
That letter said that FDEP officials had observed on March 1 city workers putting a large amount of "unauthorized solid waste items visible throughout the entire surface ... and beneath the surface water of the borrow pit."
That city truck dumped a 20-yard container of street sweepings on the property, according to the warning letter. The letter shows FDEP found two sites being used as staging areas for construction and vegetation waste before it was taken to landfills.
The materials put into the borrow pit came from a 3.35-acre salt marsh creation project at the end of Riberia Street, Regan said. The city is restoring wetlands at the Riberia site and the city needed to remove the material promptly so seasonal trees could be planted, said William Pence, the city's environmental attorney of Akerman and Senterfitt in Orlando.
"I think the city got into a situation where permits that were needed weren't applied for in enough time," Pence said. "The city fully anticipated it would receive the permit, and we still believe the permit will be issued."
Monson, of Water Management, said the permit is pending and the department is waiting for the city to show the material in the borrow pit isn't contaminated soil or products.
Pence also said the city had people pulling out debris from the material and that only 1 percent would not fall under the state's definition of clean debris.
Regan said the city wasn't aware that permits were needed for the waste. The city has applied for a permit for the vegetation and cleaned up the construction material, Regan said.
The city will meet with FDEP later this month, Regan said. He said the city will do whatever it takes to be in compliance with the state.
"The most important thing is that, in our opinion, we have not harmed the environment," he said.
The FDEP has given the city until Monday to remove all solid waste from the Holmes Boulevard site and to dispose of it in a proper waste management site. After that, the agency has ordered the city to test the site for contaminants in the soil, sediment, water and ground water. If pollution of the surface or ground water is found, the agency ordered the city to take corrective actions. Click here to return to story: © The St. Augustine Record

It's Morning in America and St. Augustine, Florida

This morning's St. Augustine Record has a banner headline in a story by Kati Bexley: "State investigates city dumping: Probe concerns 20,000 cubic yards of material at stide near Holmes Boulevard in St. Augustine." Looks like controversial City Manager William B. HARRISS is attempting to abuse subordinate managers and Orlando environmental lawyer as the designated javelin-catchers. We're not surprised. Character counts. Attempting to use others as his "cutouts" is a tried-and-true tactic of all autocrats, like Richard Nixon. Are HARRISS' actions demeaning to the genius of a free people? HARRISS must approve anything, even the painting of a door in City Hall (the Lightner Museum Building, which has a leaky roof, with raindrops being caught in pots and pans and buckets). For HARRISS to be so demure as to let the Chief Operating Officer (John Regan), City Public Works Director (Robert Leetch) and Orlando environmental attorney (William Pence of Akerman & Senterfitt) take "credit" for HARRISS' intentional land and water pollution is, at best facetious. As a retired EPA regulator told me last month, "there's no bedsprings in clean fill." Having put bedsprings into the coquina pit lake along with 20,000 cubic yards of metal, plastic and asphalt debris, we've heard no apology from HARRISS. In the midst of a pending criminal investigation, HARRISS resembles President Richard Nixon (who once shoved press spokesperson Ron Ziegler to deflect press questions about criminality). HARRISS has unkindly shoved Mr. Regan, Mr. Leetch and Mr. Pence in front of the media, while hiding (HARRISS missed the March 13 Commission meeting, when Commissioners defended his honor against one "disgruntled citizen," as Vice Mayor Susan Burk put it, against unverified "charges," as Mayor George Gardner put it. The Record gets much of this complex story right, while unfortunately adhering to the City's "spin" in some places, without effective rebuttal (e.g., inaccurately asserting there is no chance of water pollution when former EPA Regional Administrator John Hanksinson told me that these coquina pit ponds are "an open sore going right down to the aquifer" and local residents used the once-pure waters of our Old Ciy Reservoir for fishing and swimming for decades). Newspapers produce the first rough draft of history, and this first story tells us: It's Morning in America and St. Augustine, Florida. Those who said "you can't fight City Hall" are wrong. A few misguided status quo fanciers are reading this morning what they have reaped from St. Augustine's obsessive goverment secrecy. Anyone who reads about 20,000 cubic yards of illegal pollution and still says "don't make waves" is possibly oblivious to the fact that this is a community of sailors, surfers, fishermen, freethinkers, progressives, and other people who treasure our environment, history and heritage. The truth will set us free.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Online Reading Room for City of St. Augustine, Florida

On February 16, 2006, I asked the City's Public Relations representative, Mayor and Commissioners to do what our County Commission does -- make its agenda notebooks public on the web. Two months later, St. Augustine has not complied. There is no online reading room. The EEOC report has not been supplied (while the County and the Water Management District each complied within hours of my requests.
JAMES PATRICK WILSON, our estimable City Attorney, demands we appear in person at offices to beg for documents, playing a cat-and-mouse waiting game. He wants us to "sell" us documents -- pay 15 cents per page for paper copies. This was my first request:
Dear Mr. Williamson:
Would you please be so kind as to place the complete contents of each of the Commissioners' agenda notebooks on the COSA website in PDF format, as SJCBCCC does? This online reading room procedure is also used by numerous federal and state agencies.Also, please send me the City's annual EEOC report in PDF format, as requested Tuesday.
Thank you.
Now, 55 days later, we're still waiting for a St. Augustine Online Reading Room to be established. We're still waiting for the City's EEOC report to show up. This is the same City that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called "the most lawless City in America," one where Jeremy Dean's documentary, "Dare Not Walk Alone" shows the institutional racism continues, a place where 59 of 59 police officers are white in a City that is 15% African-American. City officials say they're "tired" of "disgruntled citizens" criticizing "their" City Manager, WILLIAM B. HARRISS. Democracy is not beanbag. Those whose ideology is "don't make waves" do not belong in a community that is home to many surfers. Those whose Weltanschaung is "you can't fight City Hall" would perhaps be more comfortable in someplace other than St. Augustine, where voters get to overthrow our government every two years.

Still Waiting For Answers on Illegal Dumping -- Day 47

Still waiting for answers on our City's illegal dumping. I've been seeking answers since February 24th. This is an E-mail I sent the City government on March 30, 2006:

Dear Mayor Gardner and Commissioners:
Will our City staff and counsel please discuss installing 24/7 video cameras at the Old City Reservoir, so that citizens, DEP, SJRWMD, EPA, et al. can all watch the Superfund site cleanup on the City's website, and kindly assure that no further dumping or illegalities occur? Do y'all agree that our City has "poisoned the water in this reservoir, and [that] the reservoir cannot be cleansed without first draining it of all impurity[?]" See, e.g., Mesarosh v. United States, 356 U.S. 1 (1956). When will the cleanup begin? How much will it cost? Who will pay? It has been 34 days since I first asked you written questions -- we await answers. I sincerely look forward to hearing from you by close of business today.
Thank you.
With kindest regards, I am,
Sincerely yours,
Ed Slavin

Hines v. Harriss

Dr. Dwight Hines' pro se complaint in Hines v. Harriss (reproduced in his comment to this blog's 1st post, below) illustrates how important it is for citizens to be involved in their government. We cannot simply "let George do it," where George is overwhelmed by a George Orwellian system of nondisclosure -- a veritable excuse factory, one which Vice Mayor Susan Burk says employs 350 people with a $45 million annual budget. As Thomas Jefferson said, "a public office is a public trust." We trust that public records will be more easily available in the future. What do y'all reckon?

JFK: The very word 'secrecy' is repugnant in a free and open society

President Kennedy said,
"The very word 'secrecy' is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it."
Speech to American Newspaper Publishers Association, April 27, 1961

The Nation's Oldest City is Worth Saving

20,000 cubic yards of contaminants were unlawfully dumped in the Old City Reservoir of the Nation's Oldest City, here in St. Augustine, Florida. EPA and Florida investigators are investigating environmental crimes. Our City officials violated specific written orders from the St. Johns River Water Management District.

Florida's Department of Environmental Protection has issued orders -- our City has requested extensions. Some 77 questions on the illegal dumping that I have asked our City officials since February 24th have gone unanswered.

20,000 cubic yards of illegal dumping by City of St. Augustine City officials is symbolic of a crisis of spirit and lack of trust by our leaders in the people's right to know here in our Nation's Oldest (European-settled) City, founded in 1565.

This beautiful City has 10,000 years of history and is blessed with artists, scholars, actors, musicians, actors, entertainers, historians, tourists, restaurants, hard workers, retirees and progressive activists.

We need full disclosure and we're going to get it. Over 440 years after its founding, does St. Augustine deserve a government as warm and decent as her people and climate?

What do you think?
Will you help us clean up our Nation's Oldest City?
Ed Slavin
Box 3084
St. Augustine, Florida 32085-3084