Saturday, May 27, 2006

Is George Gardner Running for Re-Election As Mayor?

Is Mayor George Gardner running for re-election as Mayor? City Manager WILLIAM B. HARRISS treats him disrespectfully, on December 30-31, taking over 24 hours to return his telephone call and on May 24, 2006, deferred to by staff as if he (and not the Mayor) were running the workshop on historic preservation. Mayor Gardner did not say if he was seeking re-election for Mayor when challenged by Commissioner Joe Boles. Mayor Gardner switched seats, running for Mr. Boles' two-year Commission seat. Mayor Gardner said he was not going to say if he was running for re-election as Mayor until after the legislature's sesion ended. What are his plans?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Arts, Entertainment and Honoring 10,000 Years of St. Augustine History

Arts, Entertainment and Honoring 10,000 Years of St. Augustine History
St. Augustine needs to encourage our artists, musicians, entertainers and culinary artists (cooks) while doing a better job of presenting our history. Here are a few thoughts:
1. The Spanish Quarter Museum, St. George Street and Visitor Information Center need live, authentic Spanish guitar music and dancers. Truly welcoming people and saying hello needs to bring them back into the 16th century with authentic music -- live music (not tape). The acoustics of the VIC will help showcase talented authentic Spanish guitarists.
2. We need murals by local artists in alleys between buildings.
3. We need to vote on whether to adopt all of the 2003 recommendations of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, including the $1 surcharge on guided tours. This will help fund historic preservation purchases and should not discourage visitors (City Commissioners recently approved higher fees for the Tour Trains and Old Town Trolleys). The demand curve for tours is sufficiently inelastic that the tour companies asked for a raise in their fees.
4. We need more "dining in the colonial manner," like in Colonial Williamsburg. The Taberna is a good start, but we need larger historic taverns/restaurants, with candlelight, live authentic Spanish music, food, menus, furnishings and costumed servers. We need more outdoor restaurants, with live music. St. Augustine's reputation as a city of artists and entertainers must be respected and not neglected.
5. We need to emphasize our 10,000 years of indigenous and Spanish and history and truly welcome visitors to the Nation's Oldest City, starting with signs proclaming 10,000 years of history and an historic preservation park on the entire 17 acre Red House Bluff site next to St. Augustine High School, a site that Commissioners voted January 9 to turn into condos and a strip mall operated by developer ROBERT MICHAEL GRAUBARD (Mayor George Gardner dissenting).
Today's City Commission workshop on Spanish Quarter Village and VIC were very constructive, with good ideas and participation. We need more of that in our town.
After years of efforts by special interest and City managers, the artists and entertainers were kicked off St. George Street by City Commission ukase. People failed to talk and compromise, empowered by the demonizing of artists and entertainers.
People on both sides, like J.D. Pleasant (artists and enterainers) and Dana Ste. Claire (historic preservation), encouraged compromise.
Those efforts to compromise were unavailing, leaving St. George Street today too plastic, with too many inauthentic stores and too little of our history.
History and arts/entertainment are two parts of the same rich cultural tradition. We must honor both and plan a better City in the 21st century.
We can do better.
What do you think?

Let's Clean Up the City of St. Augustine, Florida

Nearly three months ago, St. Augustine Commissioners deferred to Commissioner ERROL JONES to respond to questions about the City's illegal dumping of 20,000 cubic yards of contaminants in the Old City Reservoir. JONES blasted "unsubstantiated allegations," while JOSEPH BOLES said he was "tired" excoriated citizens "trashing" CITY MANAGER WILLIAM B. HARRISS. BOLES has been silent on the "trashing" of our Old City Reservoir with enough contaminants to fill in six Olympic size swimming pools to a depth of six feet (or cover a football field to a depth of eleven feet). Citizens are "tired" of the City's excuses.
At the May 22 Commission meeting, Commissioner Jones accused citizens of "whipping" him at every meeting, saying he surrendered. "Uncle, uncle, uncle," he actually said.
JONES claimed the "science experient" (not shown by choice of City employees controlling the camera) did not show coquina. The material shown was from another pit on Holmes Boulevard.
The environmental injustice of the City's illegal dumping in a lower-income neighborhood has not been discussed.
Nor has the City Manager's malfeasance and insouciance to basic expectations of governmental managers.
On March 13 & 27, Commissioners gave City Manager WILLIAM B. HARRISS the immoral equivalent of a "group hug," giving him a framed "heck-of-a-job" award.
On May 17, the City's Orlando (Akerman Senterfitt) environmental lawyer William Pence , filed a response with FDEP that admitted all of the facts reported to the National Response Center on February 17 and investigated on-site by EPA and FDEP commencing February 27. The response raises more questions than it answers (e.g., nothing about what happened to the fish in the Old City Reservoir, a defective sampling plan, and conflict-of-interest self-monitoring). A public hearing on-the-record with witnesses under oath is required.
Was there an apology? No.
No apology for illegal dumping.
"Mistakes" were made, JONES said, like Richard Nixon.
No apology for restricting individual citizens' rights to speak at both the beginning and end of meetings (subject of a CERCLA whistleblower complaint filed on April 20).
Mayor Gardner was absent on May 22.
On February 24, he said that there was only "clean fill" being dumped in the Old City Reservoir.
That's what City Manager WILLIAM B. HARRISS told him.
WILLIAM B. HARRISS let Mayor Gardner down.
Commissioners let our City down.
"There are no bed springs in clean fill," John Marler, a 50-year environmental regulatory manager retired from EPA says.
Coquina pit lakes are like an "open sore, going straight down to the aquifer and groundwater," says John Henry Hankinson, Jr., former EPA Region 4 Regioal Administrator.
There are no refrigerators, metal tanks, asphalt, toilets, or other debris in clean fill.
Our City put our City employees at risk, sorting through 20,000 cubic yards of material from the Old City Reservoir, without hazardous waste training.
Commissioners won't even answer when they're going to provide the training.
The City's May 17, 2006 response to FDEP did not address the training issue.
Commissioners and City Manager WILLIAM B. HARRISS play God, risking workers' lives, and don't deign to talk about it.
They won't answer questions.
They take umbrage. The City Attorney sends hate mails saying what a horrible person one is who dares to seek the truth.
"Get a life," was the rejoineder of one apparatchik.
Life and death is at issue.
The life and death of people and republican, democratic values of limited government and self-government are at issue.
The life of City workers and people drinking from the Floridan aquifer was not considered when illegal dumping took place. No training. None.
The life of people drinking from the aquifer and groundwater for the next centuries was not considered.
St.Johns River Water Management District told the City not to dump in a January 8, 2006 certified letter. SJRWMD wanted to know what the City proposed to dump before issuing a permit. Instead of answering the letter, the City dumped 20,000 cubic yards of material.
Even after criminal investigators interviewed City managers on February 27, more dumping took place.
Then our City had the audacity to ask SJRWMD for an after-the-fact permit (something Commissioner SUSAN BURK opposed in 2000 for the Casa Monica Hotel's request to fly our American flag she thought "offensive" (too big, from a pole she and Messrs. DONALD CRICHLOW AND GEORGE GARDNER, then on the PZB, thought too tall).
Our City is too short.
Too short-tempered in response to Sunshine public documents requests, threatening arrest and authorizing an illegal SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) against Dr. Dwight Hines.
Too short on willingness to mediate public document requests.
Too short on planning
Too short on environmental and moral values.
Too short on explanations.
Too short on appreciation for the citizens who fund its bloated $45 million annual budget (some $4300 for every man, woman and child in our City). Our City does not run schools or a municipal electric system. The budget seems gold-plated. There is no Zero-Based Budgeting.
Meanwhile, we're spending $1.5 million in tax money to pay for a $2.5 million out-of-court settlement for an African-American man made a quadriplegic by SAPD.
Taxpayers will now have to pay to clean up the Old City Reservoir.
Our City did not learn from Clay County, where several officials were indicted and the cost of its cleanup of illegal dumping may top $9 million.
It's our money and our environment.
Instead of saying "thank you for speaking out," Commissioners and City managers glare at citizens holding them accountable. Commissioner BURK said the problem was "one disgruntled citizen."
Or is the real problem dysfunctional City government, one where lack of checks and balances empowers waste, fraud, abuse, misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance, a place with some 400 busineses benefitting from blanket purchase orders, where loose-as-a-goose procedudres, a lack of openness and transparency allow imperial managerial potentates throw their weight around?
For over 440 years, St. Augustine has been governed in the spirit of Pedro Menendez, an autocrat. (Menendez ordered the first anti-Gay hate crime in the history of North America, ordering a man killed because he was "a Sodomite and a Lutheran." Menendez brother-in-law wrote it down.
In the wake of a City Founder who literally got away with murder, all succeeding City administrations have had an inflated idea of their power and abilities.
Before he retired, HARRISS' predecessor actually put a Burger King cardboard and plastic crown on his head in response to a citizen raising concerns about Commissioners' coronating City Managers without national searches.
Our City Manager, WILLIAM B. HARRISS, and his eight year reign of error are up for review.
While former City Commissioner John Reardon in 1998 wanted HARRISS to have annual performance evaluations, and we asked for them more recently, Commissioners rejected the idea of evaluating HARRISS' performance, preferring to confer a "heck-of-a-job" award and carp at dissent.
We must roll up our sleeves, decide on a national search for the next City Manager, and establish priorities.
The Nation's Oldest City is worth saving. This beautiful place and its people deserve better than they have in our City government management and Commissioners.
Unjust stewards who have contempt for our environment and our democracy must lead, follow or get out of the way.
In St. Augustine, we get to overthrow the government every two years.
This year, the terms of Commissioners GEORGE GARDNER (Mayor), JOSPEH BOLES and DONALD CRICHLOW expire.
They either face the voters or retire.

Monday, May 22, 2006 T-Shirts Available At Tonight's Meeting T-Shirts will be available at tonight's City Commission meeting -- we may give one to Mayor George Gardner. The meeting starts at 5 PM and may be viewed on TV on Time-Warner Cable channel 3.

Clay County Auditor's Report on Illegal Dumping

See the Clay County Auditor's report on illegal dumping, with remarkable parallels for St. Augusine's illegal dumping. There have been resignations and indictments in Clay County, with more work underway.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

All Eyes on City Manager at Next Commission Meeting

All eyes will be on our St. Augustine City Manager, WILLIAM B. HARRISS, at our next Commission meeting on May 22, 2006 at 5 PM, 75 King Street,St. Augustine Florida. Will he explain what he was thinking when 20,000 cubic yards of contaminants were dumped in the water of our Old City Reservoir? Will he say who will pay for cleanup? Will it be him or us? What do you think?

Saturday, May 20, 2006


Some people say that St. Augustine, Florida CITY MANAGER WILLIAM B. HARRISS has brought shame to our City with illegal dumping and other controvesial actions. He once accused those who planned a peaceful protest of bringing shame to our City. As the RECORD REPORT 3/20/2000:
The march may not interfere with the king's speech at Government House, which is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. But City Manager Bill Harriss said the marchers are only trying to embarrass the city during the king's highly visible visit.
''The only purpose of their protest at this time is to bring shame on the city. That goes to show the makeup of the people who would do something like this,'' he said.
He said the protest had ''no valid purpose,'' because the king of Spain has nothing to do with the issue of free speech on St. George Street.
''The bottom line is that the City Commission and the people of St. Augustine are not going to change their minds on the basis of public opinion. We'll wait for a court decision,'' Harriss said.
David Wasserman:
David Brian Wallace:
Patrick Murphy:
M. Lewis:


‘‘I believe St. Augustine is the crown jewel in this country’s history, and we must constantly work to preserve historical resources that have been left to us,’’ said Harriss. ‘‘My intentions are to provide an atmosphere within city government that not only listens but accepts new or alternative ideas to accomplish these goals.’’
WILLIAM B. HARRIS, APRIL 13, 1998, quoted in 4/14/ RECORD

"No public comment was allowed during the contract discussion, which upset St. Augustine resident J.D. Pleasant.
Pleasant said Monday’s agenda stated that there would be ‘‘discussion concerning city manager’s contract’’ but no public input was permitted.
And, at the last meeting, the city manager was appointed when the agenda stated that the selection process would be discussed.
‘‘If it’s legal, it’s not fair and it’s not good public relations... It’s starting to stink. It’s starting to look like another bad deal,’’ said Pleasant. ‘‘This whole selection process stinks.’’
Pleasant said he just wanted a chance to speak and be informed.

WEJ Issue: White Elephants and Junkets (WEJ)

We know about the $500,000 building modification and huge expensive construction projects that may prove to be white elephants (WE). We know about the Junkets (J). Put them together and they spell WEJ -- White Elephants and Junkets. A few questions about junkets:
1. We still have not had full explanations for what possessed our Five City Commissioners and City Manager WILLIAM B. HARRIS (with spouses and significant others) to spend over $8100 of tax funds in NYC on a 3-4 day junket last year (later in the year voting to say ours was a "poor community," cruising cheaper permit applications (e.g., for the SJRWMD permit application for illegal dumping, which our City proceeded to do without a permit after SJRWMD asked questions January 8 and told our City not to dump at all). Here are a few questions for our Commissioners and Mr. HARRISS to kindly answer:

2. Commissioner Burk and others said meals were paid for by bonding companies -- an appearance of impropriety?

3. It was stated that dinners were at small neighborhood Italian restaurants -- often very expensive. Receipts?

4. What records exist of the money spent on Commissioners by bonding companies?

5. What other entertainment was provided? Men's clubs?

6. Will Commissioners and Mr. HARRIS share their photos?

7. Will they share their notes of meetings?

8. Are their any transcripts?

9. Are there any audio or videotapes?

10. What business was actually accomplished?

11. The Record reported other cities get bond ratings by fax, without
travel at all.

12. City officials spent some $300/night rooms in a city where the average room is $201, where rooms can be had for $150 or less. Other government travelers pride themselves on spending as little as possible.
What is it about the City of St. Augustine that makes our leaders want to spend as much money as possible?

13. Our City refuses to put its agenda packet/notebook on its website, but it can afford trips to NYC, Spain and Germany -- while wasting money on 20,000 cubic yards of illegal dumpinng. Are priorities misplaced?

14. Is waste, fraud and abuse, misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance desirable?

15. Is flummery becoing a way of life in City Govevernment under City Manager WILLIAM B. HARRISS' eight year reign of error?

16. What do you think?;f=41;t=000087 For more background, see the urls below:
Record article: Valuable trip or junket?
Record editorial: Rationalizing NY trip worse than taking it
Fred Green:
Ben Rich (now County Commissioner:
Ed Slavin:

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Day 82 -- Do We Need the 82nd Airborne To Restore Order?

May 17 is Day 82, with no answers to questions yet. Our City's answers to FDEP's Warning Letter are due at the end of teh Day. Do we need the 82nd Airborne to restore order in St. Augustine, stopping illegal acts like dumping of 20,000 cubic yards of contaminants in the Old City Reservoir?

Government Pollution Without Permits is Illegal and Criminal

Oak Ridge pollution would have made our Founders sick at heart knowing our government was a massive toxic industrial polluter at its nuclear weapons plants, operated by the likes of Union Carbide. Would our Founders be sicker now, knowing the Nation's Oldest City, is a polluter too -- 20,000 cubic yards of contaminants in the Old City Reservoir, without permits? "When will [we] ever learn?" Government pollution is wrong. Pollution without permits is criminal.

Happy Anniversary, Department of Energy, Oak Ridge, Tenn. Operations Office

May 17 is the 23rd anniversary of the declassification of the Oak Ridge, Tenn. mercury pollution - largest mecury pollution event in world history. I was 26 when our Appalachian Observer newspaper got it declassified. It changed the history of Oak Ridge. It changed my life, too. Happy Anniversary, United States Department of Energy, Oak Ridge, Tennesse Operations Office -- you have spent over $5 billion on cleanup. The whole world has been watching since May 17, 1983. The world, citizens and Congress are watching you. As I promised then, "Oak Ridge will never be the same again." What DOE and AEC did to nuclear workers and residents was immoral and despicable. The whole world now knows what tyrants nuclear weapons plants managers were -- as Tom Clancy once wrote, "everything about nuclear weapons was immoral."

Monday, May 15, 2006

Twelve Musts for the Next City Manager of the City of St. Augustine, Florida

The next City Manager must:1. Respect competitive bidding and conserve energy 2. Work to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse 3. Protect the environment and respect employees 4. Respect public opinion, not mock it 5. Respect diversity of opinion and employment 6. Encourage the artist, entertainment and academic communities 7. Respect democracy and our republic 8. Walk the halls and talk to employees 9. Be willing to say "no" to developers and Commissioners on their pet projects 10.Listen to the experts and citizens, instead of telling them what to think. 11. Not be a bully. 12. Not be Mr. Know-it-all on all subjects (e.g., environnmental law).

Next City Manager -- National Search for City of St. Augustine's Next City Manager

Now is the time to set minimum standards for a national search -- and a fairly balanced Search Committee -- for the next City Manager of our City of St. Augustine.
No more coronations. No more Caudillos. No more automatic selection of the next person in line on the "ladder." The next City Manager must have a documented history of accountability, creativity, responsiveness, listening to employees and citizens and learning from experience and "mistakes." What do you think?

Day 80: Still Waiting for Answers from City of St. Augustine, Florida city government

On February 27, Mayor George Gardner promised "answers." We have the videotape.
It has been 80 days since questions were asked.
Who is going to pay for 20,000 cubic yards of illegal dumping in the Old City Reservoir?
Who knew?
Who authorized it?
Who will be held accountable?
Why were City workers given no hazardous materials training?
Why do WILLIAM B. HARRISS (City Manager) and JAMES PATRICK WILSON (City Attorney) refuse to answer questions?
Why do the two never appearing on camera to answer for their actions?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Protecting City of St. Augustine Employees

My mother was for decades a local government employee -- long the Purchasing Secretary at a County College in Southern New Jersey. I learned first-hand in her office the ways of government and was inspired to see her lead her fellow employees (secretaries and custodians). They were treated disdainfully in negotiations. They then rose up and win a strike against oppressive working conditions. I helped them picket. They were paid for the week they were on strike. Their achievements were nationally recognized by the International Union of Electrical Workers (they became IUE Local 440). On Mother's Day, I salute her (and all of the workers). Today we rededicate ourselves to holding the City of St. Augustine accountable -- for the good of our City and employees and citizens alike. Failure to provide our City employees with hazardous waste training is a symptom of deep failures to lead by our City Manager, WILLIAM B. HARRISS. (see next article).

Safety, Security and Liberty

Our City of St. Augustine failed to provide hazardous material training to workers handling 20,000 cubic yards of contaminants dumped into the Old City Reservoir. Florida DEP awaits a response from our City, now due on May 17th. Our City fails to protect employees and our environment. Our City fails to assure that taxpayer dollars are protected, refusing to discuss appointment of an independent Inspector General and not explaining why 13 City offices "do their own thing" in purchasing -- with separate purchasing files and decisions (and no record on the delegation) according to City Attorney JAMES PATRICK WILSON. Our City Commissioners, City Attorney JAMES PATRICK WILSON and City Manager WILLIAM B. HARRISS have a lot of explaining to do.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Mr. WILLIAM B. HARRISS is invited to answer 90 questions in this space

St. Augustine City Manager WILLIAM B. HARRISS is hereby respectfully invited to answer 90 questions about environmental pollution by our City government in this space. We've been waiting for answers since the first two dozen questions were asked on February 24. Today is Day 74. Our City's response to FDEP's Warning Letter is due on May 17, 2006 (23rd anniversary of the declassification of the Oak Ridge, Tennessee mercury pollution report by DOE). As John Stewart said at the Oscars, "Americans are very patient."

Environmental Pollution in Paradise

Here in this beautiful City, 440 years old, dumping of 20,000 cubic yards of contaminants in the Old City Reservoir is called a "mistake." City Manager for Life WILLIAM B. HARRIS made the same mistake 20,000 times. Our City Commissioners are very tolerant of his "mistakes," recently awarding him a "heck-of-a-job" award in the midst of a FDEP criminal investigation. Our City was founded in 1565, the same year Ivan the Terrible founded the forerunner of the KGB. Secrecy abounds in our City government. Secretive government pollution of our environment here -- as in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and other nuclear weapons plant sites -- would have made Ivan proud, but it would have made our Founding Fathers angry and sick at heart. Enough secrecy. Enough pollution. Enouigh unaccountability.

Commissioners' Heckling and Censorship of Public Comments at St. Augustine City Commission Meetings

City staff and Commissioners obstructed efforts to show 38 FDEP photos of pollution of the Old City Reservoir at last night's City Commission meeting, refusing to allow showing of the photos, obtained from FDEP on CD-ROM. Commission meetings are becoming the equivalent of "happy talk" during an election year, with proclamations but no substance. Reducing rights to speak at both the end and beginning of Commission meetings and Commissioner heckling/interruption of speakers has a chilling effect on First Amendment rights. Our City was found to have violated First Amendment rights last year in the Bridge of Lions Rainbow flag case. See my column in this month's Out in the City, quoting Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said the City of St. Augustine was the "most lawless" city in America. We shall overcome.

Obstruction of Public Comments at St. Augustine, Florida City Commission Meeting Last Night

Commissioner Errol Jones last night attempted to obstruct my public comments citing "Clean Up City of St. Augustine, Florida,", demanding that I not show the url on our City document camera during the City Commission meeting. He said Commissioners were already aware of this "private" website and that he did not want me "advertising" it. I told him it is a public website. He was rude and unfriendly, as only a defender of City Manager for Life WILLIAM B. HARRISS could be. In contrast, I used the word "please" some twelve times in asking Commissioners to be more accountable and open.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

FDLE Investigation of City of New Smyrna Beach

1. Two of my mentors (retired federal employees) now live in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, active in government reform and corruption-fighting. They've encountered the same style of slapdash local government there, complete with SLAPPs, threats and pejoratives, that we have here. Amazing!
2. The FDLE's NSB investigation teaches that those who desire to reform St. Augustine and St. Johns County will perservere, despite scorn and skeptics.
3. As our Founders intended, the First Amendment teaches that we shall overcome any and all misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance, fraud, waste and mismangement in St. Aug and SJC.
4. For more information, go to
Ed Slavin

Where did $7.3 million go?

NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- Fraud, lies and cover-up are not allegations you'd expect to hear in this charming seaside town, especially involving the mundane city agency that provides electric, water and sewer service.

But in the past year and a half, a scandal has been unfolding, involving millions of dollars of taxpayer money from the utility's sale of phone and Internet service.

The result has been jolting -- $7.3 million in losses at the utility, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation and five top utility officials out of jobs.

What went wrong and who's to blame isn't entirely clear. FDLE recently finished a year-long criminal investigation, but the findings are confidential until prosecutors decide whether to file charges.

However, reports from outside auditors tell a shocking story: Taxpayers footing the bill to recruit customers for a private company. The utility director creating a Web site for a company doing business with the utility. Staffers manipulating thousands of customer accounts to pay commissions to that company, even though it didn't earn them. Utility officials lying about their involvement and a potential conspiracy to cover up the deeds.

It all started in 2001 as a plan for the utility to expand its services from selling electric, water and sewer service to adding phone service. Utility officials said it would be an easy way to make extra money, which could help them lower bills for local ratepayers.

Initially, the utility signed up phone and Internet customers for a private company.

Over the next few years, the utility teamed up with more businesses to recruit customers throughout Florida and five Southern states.

"We were given all these wonderful reports of how this would be making all this money," said New Smyrna Beach City Commissioner Lynne Plaskett, whose husband works as an electric lineman for the utility.

At first, few questioned Utilities Commission Director Ron Vaden, who started in 1987 as an electrical engineer making $25,000 a year and moved up to the $160,000-a-year top job.

The utility's governing board members generally deferred to his expertise. Their monthly meetings often lasted just 15 minutes in the middle of the day.

Reflecting back, City Commissioner Jim Hathaway said Vaden apparently was not informing the utility board of his actions, and the board's five members should have questioned him more. The City Commission, which appoints members to the utility board and has ultimate oversight of the utility, also was kept in the dark.

"The City Commission was, I guess, misled on the phone business," Hathaway said.City Mayor Jim Vandergrifft sees it differently. The mayor, supporting Vaden in the past, said the mess may simply be a business plan gone bad."I would never blame anyone unless there's facts to back it up," the mayor said, noting the city is awaiting the results of the FDLE investigation.

Vaden and other former utility officials deny involvement in criminal activities, although some have acknowledged the utility may have been mismanaged.

Auditors Brent Millikan & Co. said in a stinging report last month that the problems appear to go far beyond mismanagement. The report is filled with phrases like "potentially unlawful" and "potential criminal acts."

The most serious allegations involve the utility's dealings with three companies: One that provided phone and Internet service, and two telemarketing companies that recruited customers.

Here is the story that emerges from their report.In 2001, the utility started selling phone and Internet service for a Lake Mary company, called Epicus, and in return received a cut of sales.

It wasn't long before Genny Turano, former utility telecom director, heard Vaden was acting as a consultant for Epicus and "helping (CEO) Mark (Richards) run the business," she wrote in the auditors report.Utility regulations prohibit employees from working for companies that do business with the utility.

As head of the telecom division, Turano typically worked closely with outside vendors. But on the Epicus contract, her boss Vaden worked directly with CEO Richards."I was left out of the loop," Turano wrote.The CEO asked Vaden twice to provide $200,000 deposits on behalf of the utility. Vaden authorized the $400,000, without seeking approval from the utility board, according to the auditors. Only $40,000 of the deposit was repaid before Epicus filed for bankruptcy.

While Epicus was in default on repaying the deposits, Vaden told his staff to pay an additional $612,500 to Epicus for telemarketing solicitations to add customers to Epicus on behalf of the utility. These arrangements violated utility policies, which require competitive bids on contracts and approval from the utility board on payments greater than $25,000, the auditors say.The utility requires bids and contracts for any business dealing involving more than $500. But next, Vaden entered "an unwritten oral business arrangement" with a Canadian company, called RSVP Customer Care Centres, for telemarketers to sign up customers.

The company received $2.3 million in 2003 and 2004, although for seven months of the time, the company signed up customers for Epicus and the utility received nothing in return, according to the auditor.These dealings were "potentially unlawful," involved "potential acts of malfeasance" and violated utility policies, the auditors wrote.

Yet, the most shocking allegations were yet to come.In 2004, the utility paid $406,000 to a North Carolina company, called V-Star, whose ownership remains a mystery.

But auditors have discovered Vaden registered the company Web site while he worked for the utility.Without formal approval from the utility board, Vaden signed a contract with V-Star to provide telemarketing and recruit customers for the utility's new in-house phone company.

A few weeks later, former telecom director Turano learned checks for V-Star were being sent to the home address of Teri Vaden in North Carolina. She asked her boss about it, and Vaden said Teri Vaden was his sister-in-law and an employee of V-Star."He (Ron Vaden) also stated that he had no ownership or ties to V-Star," Turano wrote to auditors.

Six months later, Turano learned a utility employee was taking V-Star checks to a local bank, depositing them and sending the receipts to Teri Vaden. That month, August 2005, Turano announced her resignation, effective the following April, because she could "no longer work in this type of environment," she says she told her boss.A month later, in September 2004, Vaden abruptly resigned after city commissioners began asking questions about the telecom business.

A gloomy picture began to emerge. Instead of being flush with cash, the division had lost $1.1 million.That's when outside auditors began looking into the mess, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement began to investigate.

The auditors questioned Vaden early on about his involvement with V-Star. He "emphatically denied to our firm that he had any connection with, or knowledge of, any of the principal stockholders and officers of V-Star," the auditors wrote.

By dissecting the coding on V-Star's Web site,, the auditors discovered the domain name was registered to Ron Vaden, using his e-mail address at the utility and his home address in New Smyrna Beach, according to the auditor's report. The domain was created on Sept. 26, 2002, while Vaden was director of the utility and 16 months before he signed the V-Star contract, the auditors report says.

Vaden, who still attends utility board meetings as a member of the public, has called the accusations "a bunch of garbage."The employee who deposited checks for V-Star, Richard Paczkowski, former utility manager of agent sales, also denied involvement with V-Star. He told the auditors he deposited the checks "solely to enhance the Commission's customer service capabilities," according to the auditors.But then travel records showed the utility paid for him to travel three times to North Carolina for V-Star "sales marketing" trips.

Afterward, Paczkowski "confirmed to us that he did in fact have some personal involvement with V-Star, and that he was paid for providing professional services" to the company while also on the utility's payroll, the auditors wrote.

If true, Vaden's and Paczkowski's ties to V-Star would violate the utility's personnel and ethics policies. And Paczkowski's travel reimbursement may have been "unlawful," the auditors wrote.Yet, the allegations and fallout were not over.Turano, the telecom director, decided not to resign when Vaden stepped down and she took over as utility director. She also denied involvement with V-Star, according to the auditors.

But last year, auditors discovered e-mails showing she ordered her staff to change the coding on 4,964 customer accounts to show they were recruited by V-Star, when, in fact, V-Star didn't sign them up and didn't deserve commissions for them, according to the auditor's report. The accounts belonged to the utility.Initially, Turano acknowledged she asked for coding changes on 2,000 accounts, but only because Vaden requested it, she told the utility board last summer. She said she had no reason to doubt it wasn't part of an agreement with V-Star.

But then the auditors found another 2,964 accounts had been changed.By monkeying with the customer database, the utility "effectively paid both telemarketing solicitation fees and residual sales agency commissions to both parties (RSVP and V-Star, respectively) for solicitation of the same telecommunications customers," the auditors wrote.

The coding changes "may potentially indicate the existence of formal intent to defraud the Commission with the diversion of sales commission funds from the rightful owner of the customer accounts."Two other top officials lost their jobs over V-Star.

Last year, e-mails were found that showed the director of telecommunications and the director of information technology may have been involved in a "potential conspiracy" to "intentionally obscure the ability to track the potentially unlawful alteration of the Commission's telecommunications customer database files," the auditors wrote.

Former telecommunications director Rob Hunter and information technology director Craig Crawford deny the charges and say they were trying to fix the fraudulent coding. Crawford, in a speech to the utility board, also said it is absurd to think Paczkowski was a key player in "the criminal masterminding of the entire telecommunications cover-up."

A few weeks ago, the utility board voted to abandon its phone business.Ironically, auditors question whether the utility and City Commission had the authority to approve the telecom businesses in the first place, and provide service to customers outside the city limits of New Smyrna Beach.

The auditors say they're not attorneys, but it appears the grand telecom plan should have been put to voters in a referendum.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Why Do Oligarchs Rage (WDOR)?

Another beautiful day in a beautiful city, one that we're democratizing daily. Life is too short to hate anyone, especially entrenched oligarchs who "know not that they know not that they know not." The government of our Nation's Oldest (European-founded) City is run by one man who who fails to preserve 10,000 years of history while doling out favors to developers while putting 20,000 cubic yards of contaminants in the Old City Reservoir (while getting a heck-of-a-job award as the City Manager in the midst of an active criminal investigation on illegal dumping). In 1565, the City of St. Augustine, Florida was founded by oligarchs. It is still run by one oligarch (controversial City Manager WILLIAM B. HARRISS). We forgive him for his Philistinism and his undeserved martyr complex. We study his whiny ways -- repeatedly refusing to answer questions while using surrogates to take the heat and heap abuse on those who ask questions. The very first time I ever attended a public meeting (six years after we moved here), Mr. HARRISS threatened me with arrest for disorderly conduct, for questioning annexation policies and possible violations of the Voting Rights Act and Fifteenth Amendment. He and his City Attorney refuse to shake my hand or talk to me. Mr. HARRISS' (and surrogates') always-personal, in-your-face approach to "debate" on public issues reminds me of the yammering adolescent girl who once wrote William F. Buckley, Jr. in response to his initial published opinion on the Beatles ("P.S., you are too crummy to be called a person!!!"). Like the goofy girl, City of St. Augustine City Attorney JAMES PATRICK WILSON's gregarious, opinionated E-mail (reprinted below and prepared on government time and at government expense) typifies the genre of those being asked questions hereabouts in 2006 -- to attack the questioner personally (ad hominem) while threatening them with arrests and invoking other means of retaliation. We shall overcome this deviation from the standard of care one expects from public servants:
In a message dated 5/2/2006 3:18:36 PM Eastern Standard Time, writes:
Dear Ed:Most people that know me think I am a nice guy, sorry you don't. Perhaps your conduct is the reason you have had so many problems throughout your professional career, while it lasted, and in your personal life (I presume). I would suspect that those problems can be traced to your unfathomably rude conduct and insults directed toward everyone that you have contact with if they do not completely agree with you. Apparently the first amendment in your mind only applies to you and those who march in lockstep with you. The rest of us should merely heel to your commands, I reckon.I have never mispronounced your first name. Even I can't mispronounce "Ed". You have accused me of mispronouncing your last name on occasion. If you ever heard me attempt to call roll you would understand that my inability to pronounce names is something I come by honestly. I have the right to refuse to mediate when there is simply nothing to mediate, there is no legal dispute within the scope of the mediation provision. I have no animus, that is your fantasy that you use to excuse your spiteful and malicious writings. This is my job, I am a lawyer representing a client. There is nothing personal to me regarding this. You cannot escape your hateful emotions so you attempt to spread them to everyone to create a battlefield where there need be none. It is this inability to separate personal from professional which causes you to fail. You do everything within your ability to breed hatred and contempt with everyone you contact, then tar the names of the people you have attacked by accusing them of animus when they don't follow your orders(?). You need help, but like I said, I am not qualified to provide that.I feel sorry for you. Your life seems to be one of tortured misery. As a human being, I find it hard to hate someone so pathetic.Kindest personal regards,James P. Wilson

Thursday, May 04, 2006 -- Preserve What We Market to Tourists in SJC & St. Augustine

check out's a website devoted to environmental tourism in St. Johns County, St. Augustine and Ponte Vedra. It's advertised in national publications. On Sunday, it was advertised in a Florida advertising supplement printed in the Record and hundreds of American newspapers. Hypocrisy? Bad timing?
It's time that we preserve what we're marketing to tourists.
Red House Bluff -- slated by Robert Graubard and our City for condos/strip mall where there's reportedly a 3000-4000 year old Indian village.
The Old City Reservoir -- our City dumped 20,000 cubic yards of contaminants, risking the aquifer and groundwater.
Historic charm -- our City is seeing tear-downs and McMansions at an alarming rate.We need more parks -- City and County.
We need a City government more concerned with preserving the environment than with selling our environmental and cultural heritage to developers who proliferate ugliness.
We need to preserve land for parks before they're all sold to the highest bidder developers.
Join the forum at Talk of the Town at
Tell the Chamber of Commerce their members must protect the virtues we sell to tourists.

Good news -- Update on Cape Care Plan

At their annual Town Meetings, the Cape Cod (Mass.) towns of Provincetown, Yarmouth, Wellfleet, Truro, Eastham, Brewster, and Harwich have all supported the Cape Care Plan -- locally controlled single payer health insurance, which has the backing of doctors, patients, hospitals, employers and the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. The proposal was narrowly defeated in Sandwich (110-134) and discussion was disallowed by the moderator in Dennis. Three more Town Meetings will be held and votes taken starting May 8 (Chatham, Bourne and Orleans). Our community can learn from this debate and discuss how we might provide health care to all of our people, with local control. These are exciting times and exciting ideas.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Another Hate E-mail From City of St. Augustine City Attorney JAMES PATRICK WILSON

Just got another hate E-mail from City of St. Augustine City Attorney JAMES PATRICK WILSON, telling me what a horrible person I am. I wear his scorn as a badge of honor. WILSON and City Manager WILLIAM B. HARRIS sure sound like Richard Nixon in Woodward & Bernstein's "The Final Days." Withholding documents, trying the "limited hangout route," what's next?

City Refuses to Mediate Public Records Access (II)

Our City lacks openness and transparency. Our City government is an embarassment to our City.Refusal to mediate (talk) about it shows consciousness of guilt. Refusal to tell us what 13 city offices have purchasing power (and records) and refusal to place City Commission agenda notebooks/packets on our City website (as County and SJRWMD do) is indefensible. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Dear Ms. Gleason: Thank you for your efforts. Please be advised that: 1. I will take it up at the next City Commission meeting on Monday night.2. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called St. Augustine "the most lawless" city in America. I have posted JAMES PATRICK WILSON's unreasonable refusal to mediate to the St. Augustine Record's Talk of the Town and to my blog, "Clean Up City of St. Augustine, Florida" There on the blog you will find much evidence of the context in which the "dispute" arises -- including 20,000 cubic yards of illegal dumping in the Old City Reservoir, where people fished and swam for generations -- under criminal investigation by FDEP. Outside our very cooperative City Clerk's office, the rest of COSA managers have a chip on their shoulders and contempt for the public's right to know. 4. The fact that there still is no explanation for City Attorney JAMES PATRICK WILSON's illegal failure for three years to place the Shade Meeting Transcript in the City Clerk's office speaks volumes.5. What is the source of the assumption that the City Attorney can answer without consulting the City Commissioners? Seems to me that this is undemocratic and allows staffers to pretend to be like former Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague -- "I am the law."6. I look forward to talking with you about the City of St. Augustine.Thank you again for your efforts.With kindest regards, I am,Sincerely yours,Ed Slavin In a message dated 5/2/2006 2:23:35 PM Eastern Standard Time, writes:Thank you for your email Mr. Slavin. The board attorneys are authorized toaccept or reject mediation on behalf of the governmental agencies they represent. If you disagree with his decision, then perhaps you can raise your concerns to the city commissioners at their next meeting. Hopefully we will be able to have a phone conversation but with so manyresponsibilities up here email is usually the faster way I can answer yourinquiries. Sincerely, Pat Gleason

City of St. Augustine, Florida Refuses State Attorney General's Offer of Mediation on Public Records Access

Dear Ms. Gleason:
Mr. Wilson does not have the real or apparent authority to reject mediation in a matter never discussed by Commissioners. By copy of this E-mail, I hereby request that he place this matter on the next City Commission meeting. Mr. Wilson is not empowered to refuse mediation, sua sponte, without a vote.
How can we contact the records custodians when COSA won't even name the 13 offices who have the records on purchasing?
How can COSA refuse to discuss the City's obstructionism with the State Attorney General's office?
As JFK said, "let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate."
Mr. JAMES PATRICK WILSON and City Manager WILLIAM B. HARRIS both "fear to negotiate" because they know they're wrong and can't stand scrutiny.
Their actions are a case of res ipsa loquitur.
The State Attorney General is hereby placed on inquiry notice as to what it is that Mr. HARRISS, MR. WILSON and COSA might be hiding.
I look forward to finally talking to you, instead of all of this typing.
With kindest regards,Ed Slavin
Box 3084
St. Augustine, FL 32085

In a message dated 5/2/2006 10:13:00 AM Eastern Standard Time, writes:
Dear Pat:The city is opposed to any mediation with Slavin regarding the attached request. First, there is no legal requirement that the city post the information he refers to on its website. The public is free to examine any of the documents relating to the agenda any time during normal working hours and such information is available for copying at those times. The fact that larger public agencies have the resources to exceed the legal requirements is not legally binding on any other public agency. Slavin seems to assert that his right to review public records means that he has the right to have such records delivered to his door, which far exceeds the requirements of Chapter 119, Florida Statutes, which requires only that public records be open and available to public inspection and copying.Second, there has been no refusal to provide any public document to Slavin. The document that he has requested, a list of city departments that have purchasing authority, does not exist and the city is not required to create a such a document under the Florida Public Records Act. However, Slavin has been advised that he is free to inspect the records of any city department that has purchasing authority upon contacting that department during normal working hours. He must merely contact the custodian of the record and ask for a convenient time to come in and review such records. He has not been denied access, so there is no reason to mediate anything as there is no dispute regarding access. Slavin's dispute has nothing to do with access to public records, it is all about a dispute as to city policy on matters outside the public records act, therefore mediation is not appropriate.Please contact me if you have any questions or comments.Sincerely,James P. WilsonCity AttorneyCity of St. Augustine
>>> 05/02/06 09:05AM >>>Dear Ms. Gleason:I hereby respectfully request mediation with the City of St. Augustine (COSA) on two pending Sunshine public records requests:1. Refusal since February to make agenda notebooks available to the public on its website or in the room where Commissioners meet. All reports, proposals and other information that Commissioners read must be made available to the public on the Friday before Commission meetings, not just the agenda. The City does not meet the standard of care set by our County and our Water Managment District. It has no explanation. It seeks to avoid press and public scrutiny.2. Refusal to provide information documenting the City's delegation of authority to 13 unnamed offices to purchase goods or servicde and a list of every single one of the items that these 13 unnamed offices are supposedly authorized to purchase. The public has a right to know whether our Nation's Oldest City is flouting the intent of having a Purchasing Office by delegating the purchasing function to unnamed individual managers and supervisors, with purchasing records supposedly disbursed throughout our City in 13 individual offices. The public has a right to read all documents on this supposed delegation, including a list of what each office is permitted to buy on its own. If there were no documents (as the City Attorney claims without stating he has performed any search), then is the delegation extralegal and ultra vires?Thank you. With kindest regards,Ed SlavinBox 3084St. Augustine, FL 32085904-471-7023

Missing Files At City Hall (III)

Only after we complained to the State Attorney General's office did the City of St. Augustine bestir itself to provide the Shade Meeting Transcript to the City Clerk's office on May 1. Shade Meeting Transcripts are public records. It was required to be available in in June 2003, as required by Florida's Sunshine law. No explanation. No apology. No respect for public rights to know. In St. Augustine, a day without open records is like a day without Sunshine. So it goes with the government of the Nation' Oldest (European-founded) City (which Dr. King called its "most lawless") City. Mediocrity and mendacity in management oozes on.