Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore" Gains Support

Will our Congressman John Mica and our local public officials propose and get enacted a "St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore," embracing areas that deserve protection?

Or will land-raping developers be allowed to pave over every part of our city and county, making it look, feel and smell like New York City?

So many other places -- from Guam to Cape Cod to Cape Canaveral to the Everglades -- have national parks and national seashores. Why not St. Augustine and St. Johns County? (See below).

A St. Augustine national park was first proposed before World War II. It's about time we create it.

Let's empower America's favorite federal agency, the National Park Service (NPS), to do what NPS does best.

After the January 22, 2007 St. Augustine City Commission meeting, Mrs. Maureen Boles (St. Augustine Mayor Joseph Boles' mother), came up, introduced herself, took my hand in both her hands and graciously thanked me for "speaking out" on the need for a national park, and on historic and natural preservation issues, on which she's been outspoken for "30 years."

To honor Mrs. Boles (and those who first proposed the national park before WWII), let's take decisive action now.

Let every citizen be heard on the park. What should be included?
How should it be managed?

To those city residents who want to save money, let's move the history-preservation function from the city government to NPS.

To those county commissioners who want to save money, let's deed some county parklands to NPS.

To those Florida state officials who want to save money, let's deed some Florida state parks and historic properties to NPS.

To the St. Johns River Water Management District board, let's deed SJRWMD parks to NPS.

Let's adopt a management plan for "St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore" that preserves, protects and defends our history, nature and wildlife for future generations.

We can do it.

What do the engineering firm of Prosser Hallock (rhymes with "Moloch"), the Rogers Towers law firm and Samco Constructors have in mind for Elkton, FL?

What do the engineering firm of Prosser Hallock (rhymes with "Moloch"), the Rogers Towers law firm and Samco Constructors have in mind for Elkton, Florida?

Elkton is presently a rural area in St. Johns County known for its good soil, for potato and cabbage farms and for rural beauty.

Unknown speculators hiding behind a corporate veil want to plop thousands of homes on top of potentially pesticide-contaminated, petroleum-contaminated and turpentine-contaminated soils (even considering asking for another "brownfield" designation.

On January 29th, Prosser Hallock and Rogers Towers had a get-together at Jim's Place, a restaurant in Elkton, providing lukewarm food (and buckets of sugary iced tea), trying to win friends and influence neighbors.

It didn't work.

Patronizing the residents, few straight answers were given to questions about wetlands, affordable housing and already clogged local roads.
Hurricane evacuation of Anastasia Island and other areas could be imperiled. There were five hour backups on SR 207 during one hurricane, even before some 80,000 new residents moved to the county, one resident said.

One local resident noted the wetlands in the area for which a "Development of Regional Impact" (DRI) is being sought, stating how there was "chest high water" in the area after one rainfall.

Prosser Hallock and Rogers Towers could not and would not answer questions articulately, whether they involved wetlands, traffic or corporate ownership.

"It's a private company," one hobbledehoy sniffed.

Do foreign speculators have to destroy all the farms, nature, beauty, seashores and history in St. Johns County and St. Augustine?

Does money from India, China and elsewhere speak louder than local residents?

Do local farmers have to sell their land, or are they greedy?

Will destruction of agriculture result in U.S. dependency on pesticide-contaminated foreign food imports?

Will there be an OPEC of food once our U.S. agriculture economy is destroyed?

Is the Elkton DRI based upon need, or greed?

Will speculators be candid with citizens, or do they suppose that it is "business as usual," as under the ancien regime, when arrogant, smug, dictatorial, speculators' lawyers ruled the roost in our St. Johns County Commission under the suzerainty of the likes of Bruce Maguire and Karen Stern?

What do you reckon?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Guest Column: Press must get tough on city leaders

Guest Column: Press must get tough on city leaders

St. Augustine
Publication Date: 01/14/07
We sincerely appreciate improvements in the St. Augustine Record and hope it continues to improve. Increased news coverage is deserved of lawbreaking by city of St. Augustine officials.
St. Augustine city government's lawbreaking continued three days before Christmas. City Commission broke the Sunshine law (again) by voting Dec. 22 to ban venders from the Plaza de la Constitucion and to hire Ron Brown as permanent city attorney. The special meeting notice said it was solely to enact tax breaks for low-income elderly. St. Augustine city officials cared not for public rights to notice and an opportunity to speak.
City commissioners violated the Sunshine law on Oct. 13 when they hired Ron Brown as temporary city attorney, with no advance notice. City officials must be investigated by grand jurors.
Why do city officials always have to be picking on someone, and holding illegal meetings? Are disgruntled city officials only happy when they are making someone else unhappy? Do they think their "gotcha" government wins friends?
Our city government created the homelessness problem. Remember the buskers, artists, entertainers and musicians along St. George Street? Though buskers were popular with tourists, our misguided City Manager, William B. Harriss, and Commission (Commissioner Susan Burk dissenting), banned buskers from St. George Street. The city promised they could use the public market in the Plaza. Now panhandlers have replaced St. George Street buskers. Venders are being kicked out of the Plaza.
Homelessness is a predictable result of governments neglecting responsibilities and corporations' shipping our jobs overseas ñ Lou Dobbs' "Race to the Bottom."
We need investigative reporting, not government and corporate apologists.
Too often, press and politicians forget they work for the people.
Legislating against buskers, musicians, artists, entertainers, the homeless and venders will not make anyone happier or wealthier.
"Blaming the victims" of poverty is a wretched excuse for public policy or journalism.
The Record must continue to improve its coverage during 2007, shining the searchlight of investigative reporting, empowered by Florida's Sunshine law, on corrupt, dysfunctional local organizations.
St. Augustine city officials must be held accountable by the people, prosecutors, the courts and Gov. Charlie Crist (who has created an office of Government Openness, which sounds promising). Let's persist in exposing wrongdoing and demanding that public meetings and records be open and understood, eliminating wasteful spending.
Like good diplomats, we must not take "no" for an answer. City of St. Augustine pollution, Sunshine and open records violations must be remedied/stopped. Dumping the contents of St. Augustine's old city dump into the Old City Reservoir was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg in local governments' involvement in environmental crimes. We must investigate and prosecute environmental crimes (including bald eagle nest-tree cutters, clear-cutters, polluters and wetland-destroyers).
Let's solve environmental and historic preservation problems creatively, graciously.
Let's ask Congress and the president to enact a "St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore" for everyone. I agree with Ed Slavin's idea, first shared at the Nov. 13, 2006, City Commission meeting. There's no principled reason for St. Augustine not to share federal park dollars spent liberally elsewhere. St. Augustine deserves an actual "National Park" (not just the Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas, both "National Monuments").
The National Park Service (NPS) is America's most trusted, favorite federal agency, with long experience/expertise.
Let's combine historic city streets, the Anastasia State Park and Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (formerly Guana River State Park), Red House Bluff, and other local history/nature into one world-class tourist destination, administered by NPS, inspired by Cape Cod, New Bedford and Philadelphia national parks/seashores. Let's preserve history/nature and culture, earning more national and international tourists' time (not just daytrips from nearby neighbors).
We're blessed with an opportunity of a lifetime: voters' righteous revulsion against wholesale history/nature destruction (and current real estate market). Let's unite our diverse community, working to preserve what makes St. Augustine and St. Johns County great, unique, enjoyable. Future generations will thank us and praise our leaders' vision. St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore:
Let's get it done. It's up to us.

Click here to return to story:

© The St. Augustine Record

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Not Unexpected

Reporter Peter Guinta's article in today's St. Augustine Record says it was "unexpected" for Governor Crist to create a new Office of Government Openness. Unexpected by whom? Why?

Governor Crist announced plans to create the office several weeks ago.

As JFK said during the Cuban Missile Crisis, "there's always some poor SOB who doesn't get the word."

Monday, January 01, 2007

For Decades, Local Governments Violating Sunshine Law By Banning Employees from Attending Public Meetings

For decades, local governments in St. Augustine and St. Johns County, Florida wrongfully excluded their own government employees from our government meetings.

Calls to City of St. Augustine officials about this illegal policy were not answered last week. (See below).

Local governments with policies excluding government employees included the Anastasia Mosquito Control Commission under longtime Director Hampton Mickler, as well as the city of St. Augustine City Commmission, whose policy is apparently still chilling city employees (other than courageous firemen) from attending. Employees were long told they cold not attend City Commission meetings without permission

The office of Florida State Attorney General Charles Crist was kind enough to answer my questiosn about this matter today, (New Year's Day 2007), by E-mail. Tomorrow General Charles Crist will become Governor Charles Crist.

The answer to the question is a resounding NO -- read it for yourself. See below.
A 1979 State Attorney General's opinion shows that these actions violated the law.
Fear, "team-playwr" ideologies and lack of competent legal advice have excluded employees from the meetings of governments for which they work.

For 28 years after the question was asked the Attorney General, local lugubrious goobers in St. Augustine and St. Johns County have been trampling upon the public's right to know, including the right of government employees to attend meetings of the City, County and other Commissions for which they work.


Here's the full text of the 1979 Attorney General's opinion:

Number: AGO 79-01
Date: January 9, 1979
Subject: Sunshine law, personnel matters

Frank C. Chavers
Executive Director
Housing Authority of the City of Cocoa


1. Does the Government in the Sunshine Law permit the board of commissioners of a municipal housing authority to exclude the executive director and other members of the authority's staff from the public meetings of the board when the board is discussing personnel matters?

2. If the answer to question 1 is in the negative, is such an exclusion permissible if members of the news media are present at the meeting?

3. If the first two questions are answered in the negative, is such an exclusion permissible if no other members of the public have chosen to attend the meeting of the board?


The Government in the Sunshine Law prohibits the governing body of a municipal housing authority from excluding the executive director and other members of the authority's staff from a public meeting in which the board discusses personnel matters, regardless of whether members of the news media are in attendance or whether any other members of the public are present.

Since your questions are interrelated, they will be answered together.

The Government in the Sunshine Law, s. 286.011, F. S. (1978 Supp.), provides, in pertinent part:

(1) All meetings of any board or commission . . . of any agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation or any political subdivision . . . at which official acts are to be taken are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times . . .. (Emphasis supplied.)

The governing body of a municipal housing authority operating under Ch. 421, F. S., is a public agency within the purview of the Sunshine Law; therefore, the meetings of that body must be 'open to the public.' Attorney General Opinion 076-102. Webster's Third International Dictionary, at page 1836, defines 'public' to mean 'the people as a whole.' Clearly, the staff of a municipal housing authority are members of the public as well as employees of the authority; hence, such persons may not be excluded from the meetings of the board of commissioners of the authority unless the meetings themselves are exempted by law from the requirements of s. 286.011, supra. The presence of newspaper reporters or other representatives of the media at a meeting of a public body does not foreclose the right of other members of the public to attend such public meetings. Cf. Informal Opinion to Mr. Johnie A. McLeod, November 2, 1976, in which this office concluded that the fact that a city councilman is owner and publisher of the local newspaper does not serve to exempt such councilman from the scope of s. 286.011. The fact that no other members of the public are present at the meeting likewise does not authorize any circumvention of the requirements of s. 286.011. The phrase 'open to the public' means open to all persons who choose to attend. See s. 286.011(2), which provides that '[t]he circuit courts of this state shall have jurisdiction to issue injunctions to enforce the purposes of this section upon application by any citizen of this state' (Emphasis supplied.); and s. 286.011(6), stating that all persons subject to subsection (1) of the statute are prohibited from holding meetings at any facility or location which, inter alia, operates in such a manner as to unreasonably restrict public access to such a facility.

Moreover, it might be noted that no law permits a public body to discuss personnel matters in secret (except collective bargaining sessions to the extent provided in s. 447.605[1], F. S.). Further, the courts have declined to imply an exception to the Sunshine Law for meetings relating to personnel matters. As stated by the Second District Court of Appeal in Times Publishing Co. v. Williams, 222 So.2d 470, 474 (2 D.C.A. Fla., 1969):

'[P]ersonnel Matters' are not sacred nor legally privilged, nor do they enjoy any insulation from legislative control. Here we are aided by the history of the act's passage, and conclude that the legislature specifically intended to include 'personnel matters' within the 'open meetings' mandate of the act. (Emphasis supplied by the court.)

See also Wolfson v. State, 344 So.2d 611, 614 (2 D.C.A. Fla., 1977), in which the court held that an indictment charging the defendant with a criminal violation of the Sunshine Law was sufficient when it alleged that the defendant 'while serving as an elected City Commissioner of the City Commission of Lake Wales' met with other city commissioners at a secret meeting and that 'at said meeting matters pertaining to City Commission business, to-wit: Employment of the City Attorney, was [sic] discussed . . ..' As a caveat, however, it should be noted that the Sunshine Law does not preclude the reasonable application of ordinary personnel policies, for example, the requirement to use annual leave to attend meetings, provided that such policies do not frustrate or subvert the purposes of the Sunshine Law.

Accordingly, your questions are answered in the negative.

Prepared by:

Patricia R. Gleason
Assistant Attorney General