Monday, March 24, 2008

DAY 756 -- We're Still Waiting on Answers on St. Augustine's illegal Dumping

Group to battle pollution at Blue Spring

Group to battle pollution at Blue Spring

Orlando Sentinel
Publication Date: 03/24/08

ORANGE CITY -- The waters of Blue Spring appear crystal clear, gushing from underground and flowing down the spring run to the St. Johns River.

More than 260 manatees this winter took refuge there, making the spring their crucial habitat.

But the waters hold something else the residue of lawn fertilizers, septic tanks and other pollutants seeping into the spring water from much of west Volusia County.

Knowing that the surrounding cities hold the key to the spring's health, state wildlife officials have started a new working group to tackle the pollution that has increased as the region has grown.

City and county officials, state agencies, environmental groups, local businesses and nearby residents have been invited to the group's first meeting, scheduled for Sunday at Blue Spring State Park.

"The group is designed to be a forum for sharing information about the spring, the health of the spring, threats to it," said Carol Lippincott, the group coordinator. "With that information, we hope to do things that will better protect the spring."

Blue Spring ranks as one of Florida's first-magnitude springs, its waters gushing at a rate of 1,174 gallons per second, or 157 cubic feet.

Thirty years ago, that spring water contained negligible levels of nitrate pollution, said Rob Mattson, an environmental scientist with the St. Johns River Water Management District.

"Now it's about six times the natural amount," Mattson said. "But the increasing levels are true in a lot of springs. It's a statewide issue."

According to a state environmental assessment, a water sample from Blue Spring showed nitrate levels higher than that found in 80 percent of Florida streams.

That spring water contains pollution is a growing problem that many people don't understand, said Jim Stephenson, an expert on Florida springs.

"People think it's pure, it's coming from the earth," he said. "But the fact is that water, in its journey across the spring basin, has picked up all sorts of contaminants."

Blue Spring is fed by rainwater, which can wash fertilizer off lawns or pick up tainted liquid from septic tanks. Wastewater-treatment plants also feed nitrates into the system because the treated sewage effluent, when it is sprayed on fields or used as reuse water, still contains the nitrates that are inherent in all waste, Stephenson said.

All those contaminants eventually percolate into the ground, down to the caverns of the aquifer, which feeds water for the spring.

That means that most of west Volusia including all of Deltona and Orange City, as well as parts of DeLand, DeBary and Lake Helen can affect the health of Blue Spring, Lippincott said.

The nitrate levels at Blue Spring haven't shown any direct effect on the manatees living there, said Kent Smith, who focuses on manatee habitat for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

But nitrates could potentially fertilize algal blooms and change the habitat, he said.

Connie Bersok, environmental administrator for the state Department of Environmental Protection's springs initiative, said the pollution problem is evident at springs surrounded by development.

For example, the nitrate levels at Silver Springs are dramatically higher than those of nearby Juniper Springs. The difference is that the drainage basin for Juniper Springs is almost entirely within the Ocala National Forest.

Lippincott said the working group offers a chance for people to discuss the spring health. The group, funded under a state wildlife grant, has no authority or power, and participation is voluntary.

However, Stephenson, who has coordinated long-running working groups for Wakulla Springs south of Tallahassee and Ichetucknee Springs in Fort White, said such groups have been very successful.

For example, the Ichetucknee group has helped organize several events to teach residents about the spring. Governments in the vicinity are upgrading dilapidated sewer pipe and the stormwater systems. Septic tanks at the state park there have been replaced with systems than can remove the nitrogen.

Organizers hope the new working group for Blue Spring can spark similar efforts and get residents involved in caring for the spring.

"The best thing the working group can do is give an opportunity to provide the message of stewardship of the spring and build more of a communal awareness for springs protection," Smith said.

Information from: The Orlando Sentinel,

Click here to return to story:

© The St. Augustine Record

Thursday, March 20, 2008

City, Fish Island in talks

City, Fish Island in talks

Publication Date: 03/20/08

The City of St. Augustine is working with the developer of the Fish Island Development in hopes of stopping a $9 million lawsuit over a proposed dock that the city turned down.

Fish Island Development LLC will go before St. Augustine's Planning and Zoning Board on April 16 to discuss alternatives to the owner's originally proposed dock. The meeting is required by law before the developer, Jim Young, can proceed with his $9 million lawsuit against the city, said City Attorney Ron Brown.

Planning and Zoning could offer new ways for the owner to use the property, or suggest modifications to the original plan, Brown said.

"They could change it or leave it alone," Brown said. "They just have to give a written settlement offer to show they tried (to work it out)."

The original dock was to have been more than 1,200 feet long and about 10 feet wide, said Mark Knight, city planning and building director.

It would have been part of an upscale development on Anastasia Island south of the Mickler O'Connell Bridge (S.R. 312).

Fish Island gave the city notice on Jan. 17 of the potential lawsuit, and the city has 180 days to either settle with the developer or look at other ways the developer can use the property.

If a resolution is not found during that time, the developer can then move forward with his lawsuit.

Fish Island could also offer a new proposal to the Planning and Zoning Board, Brown said.

The development's attorney, Richard Maguire of Rogers Towers P.A., did not return calls for comment.

Planning and Zoning denied the original project twice and the City Commission supported the board's denial.

The developer claims the city's decision will cause $2.7 million in value loss to the property and $6.2 million in value loss of future marina sales, totaling $8.9 million, according to court documents.

Opponents of the project said they were concerned about safety, erosion, destruction of the environment and loss of the Fish Island vista to the public.

Click here to return to story:

© The St. Augustine Record

Monday, March 17, 2008

CAPITOL CORRUPTION: Mica's Earmarks Go to Campaign Contributors

Mica's Earmarks

Publication Date: 03/16/08

The U.S. Senate in a 71-29 vote last week rejected a proposal that would have ended the congressional tradition of asking for earmarks, a custom that critics say can lead to abuse and public outrage.

Remember the 2005 "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska? U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, wanted $200 million to build a bridge to an island with 50 inhabitants.

The project was canceled in 2007.

Despite the occasional kerfuffle, U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, said Friday that he's a "strong supporter" of congressional earmarks, also called pork-barrel spending, because legislators know what projects should be funded in their district.

"You have to make your case," Mica said about earmarks. "The money doesn't just appear."

Mica is the ranking Republican on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and his district covers St. Johns, Flagler, Volusia, Putnam, Orange and Seminole counties.

In 2007, he requested $27.35 million in earmarks for six different companies in District 7. Of that, $11.3 million was ultimately appropriated.

Raydon Corporation of Daytona Beach, which manufactures up-armored Humvees, electronic tabletop trainers, mobile medical units and complex military communications equipment, among many other defense-oriented products, received the highest earmark request of $18.8 million.

Of the nine earmarks he requested, Raydon was for five of them.

But Raydon received considerably less, although Mica didn't know the precise figure.

"Raydon is the biggest manufacturer and employer in Volusia County, similar to what Northrop Grumman is to St. Johns," he said.

The second largest earmark was for Mathews Associates Inc. of Sanford, Fla. This battery-manufacturing company, joined with STIDD Systems Inc., of Greenport, N.Y., got an earmark request of $4.5 million to manufacture a diver propulsion device. STIDD makes submersible boats.

The other three earmark requests, for Electronic Warfare Associates Inc. of Lake Mary, which makes communications and counter-terrorism equipment, Cubic Corp. of San Diego, Calif., which makes instrumented training systems for military forces and virtual training devices, and Ocean Design Inc. of Daytona shared requests of $4.15 million among them.

Final figures, though, are not available for each company.

Campaign contributions to Mica from 2001 to 2007 were a total of $158,375.

The largest contributor in 2007 was Harris Corp. of Melbourne, which makes secure wireless communications networks, and has offices worldwide, 16,000 employees and annual revenues of $5 billion. The company contributed $30,500, even though it received no earmarks that year. The company is building Mine Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles and has been awarded a $42 million contract to build state-of-the-art radios for the Air Force.

Electronic Warfare Associates Inc, gave $19,250, Cubic Corp. gave $825 and Ocean Design gave nothing.

Northrop-Grumman, which has a manufacturing and repair plant in St. Augustine, donated $20,500, even though it received no earmarks from Mica in 2007.

'Biggest red flag'

David Williams, vice president for policy for Washington, D.C., based Citizens Against Government Waste, said his organization supported the failed earmark amendment, which would have imposed a one-year moratorium on congressional earmarks.

"We're not opposed to government spending," Williams said. "But earmarks are passed with no competitive bidding and no oversight. That's the biggest red flag we have."

An earmark, Williams explained, locks a legislator's vote to the bill that it's on.

He said the Pentagon doesn't request these funds. The money comes out of the Pentagon's budget.

Mica said the decision to place an earmark on a bill is made by "a collage" of the administration, members of Congress and agency representatives.

"We can't force the Defense Department to take any products it doesn't want," he said. "Many of these requests are for training equipment or to protect our men and women in the military and to save money."

For example, a virtual firing range can save millions of dollars a year in bullets.

Still, abuses occur with regularity.

A Michigan legislator wanted a $1 million earmark to build a water-free urinal. The only company in the country that makes that particular item was in his district. Another legislator wanted a $500,000 earmark to build a teapot museum in his district. And former California Rep. Duke Cunningham was convicted of taking bribes and kickbacks for supporting earmarks to a company that promised to digitize Department of Defense manuals.

Williams said, "A lot of people in Congress are good people who think they're doing the right thing. They don't see earmarks as a corrupting influence. Others issue a press release and pose for a ground-breaking photo. They never answer the question, 'Do we really need this?'"

Creating jobs laudable, but ...

Beth Rosenson, assistant professor of political science at the University of Florida, teaches political ethics and said there is nothing in the ethics code against earmarks.

"But there's an ethical cloud that hangs over it," Rosenson said. "There must be a legitimate reason why this money is being spent. You have to look at specifics. Is the earmark for a company or individual? Is it tied to a public good, like a hospital? Also the question should be asked: Why isn't this being put in the budget?"

Legislators should follow the "appearance standard," avoiding behavior reflecting unfavorably on them, she said.

"Creating jobs is a laudable achievement. But the question is the manner in which it's being done."

Mica said Friday that in January he instituted new and more stringent earmark rules to the Republicans serving on the Transportation Committee. These include full disclosure of Republican (earmarks) at least 24 hours before it is considered.

"I've tried to clear it up and introduce more transparency," he said.

Click here to return to story:

© The St. Augustine Record

Friday, March 14, 2008

So SUSAN BURK is leaving St. Augustine City Commission. Good riddance.

As we recently reported, BURK missed at least 25 St. Augustine City Commission meetings in five years – the worst attendance record by far – she’s guilty of missing about 20% of meetings and leaving other meetings early (like the one on November 13, 2007 that approved sending illegally dumped solid waste back to the Lincolnville community).

While wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal and engineering fees for AKERMAN SENTERFITT and GEOSYNTEC on the now-dead plan to bring illegally dumped solid waste back to Lincolnville, SUSAN BURK also blew our money on junkets to Spain, NYC, Germany and Colombia and never asked tough questions about mismanagement, waste, fraud, abuse, misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance. She’d even smirk when I used those terms.

Last year, BURK and City General Services Director JAMES PIGGOTT flew to Cartagena, Colombia for a sister cities junket. In 2003, BURK and Comptroller MARK LITZINGER flew to Germany to look at mechanical parking garages. In 2005, BURK and all City Commissioners blew $8100 on a three-day junket to NYC with wives and significant others (BURK inexplicably spent four days in NYC). Commissioners claimed to the St. Augustine Record that they were conducting “business,” which means that the violated the Sunshine law, as no prior notice was given of their meetings with Standard & Poors and three bond rating companies, which wined and dined them in fancy restaurants every night. Controversial Florida 7th Circuit States’ Attorney John Tanner refused to prosecute the Sunshine violations, with a minion claiming it was an “inspection trip.”

BURK made the motion to accept City Attorney James Patrick Wilson’s resignation in an October 13, 2006 special meeting held without prior Sunshine notice, then moved to pay him to sit at home until January 31, 2007, even though he had resigned effective that date.

It was BURK who made the motion on October 13, 2006 to hire RONALD BROWN as temporary City Attorney, then moved in December 2006 to hire BROWN permanently, without a proper EEO search, also without proper Sunshine notice (the meeting was called only for discussion of tax relief for low-income elderly residents). State’s Attorney refused to prosecute that Sunshine violation, claiming it was an “emergency meeting,” even though the City only claimed it was a “special meeting,” and there was no emergency.

BURK has turned into a lickspittle for those who would destroy our Nation’s Oldest City and turn it into an unreasonable facsimile of South Florida, complete with tree-killing, wetland-destruction and ticky-tacky ugliness.

I actually voted for SUSAN BURK for Mayor in 2002. GEORGE GARDNER was elected Mayor by ten votes.

I am deeply disappointed in SUSAN BURK. In her first years in office, BURK was a populist hero, fighting the oppression of artists and entertainers on St. George Street. I was impressed with her sensitivity on First Amendment issues, including the artists and entertainers and the Rainbow flags on our Bridge of Lions.

But over the years BURK sold out. BURK has degenerated into a doormat for HARRISS and speculators like ROBERT MICHAEL GRAUBARD, once her boyfriend.

Like most St. Augustinians, I was snookered into believing BURK, GARDNER and other Commissioners were reformers. In fact, I naively believed that every single one of the current Commissioners was a reformer, as each portrayed themselves in running for office.

Now I know there’s a big, bad political machine run by a wicked Republican man named WILLIAM B. HARRISS, our City Manager, whose idea of a good time is discriminating against African-Americans and Gays, violating the First Amendment and putting 35,000 cubic yards of solid waste into our Old City Reservoir.

Whether its speeding trucks on Leonardi Street or illegal dumping, BURK rolls her eyes and smirks whenever citizens share their concerns.

She’s a secure vote for HARRISS.

Now HARRISS’ machine has two candidates running for BURK’s seat – Dan Sullivan (Chair of the Parking Committee responsible for the White Elephant Parking Garage) and Leeana Freeman, (BURK’s law partner, whose already making anxious promises of conscious parallelism and congruency on everything BURK did)(see below).

Now HARRISS’ political machine has thoughtfully devised a race between two machine candidates for BURK’s seat. How devilishly clever.

You get to vote for tweedle-dee or tweedle-dum.

Tweedle-dum Sullivan brought you the $22 million White Elephant Parking Garage. Tweedle-dum Sullivan promises business as usual.

Tweedle-dee Freeeman was Chairman of the Planning and Zoning Board (like Commissioners GARDNER, CRICHLOW and Mayor BOLES). Last year, when people spoke out against the Fish Island Marina, Tweedle-dee Freeman actually defended the noxious practice of allowing speculators to have the last word – it’s “rebuttal,” she said, “like in court.” Of course, “in court,” there is also “surrebuttal,” which Freeman arrogantly refused to recognize. Like BURK, Freeman’s court experience is largely limited to divorce cases.

Like Tweedle-dummer Sullivan, Tweedle-dee Leeana Freeman actually promises Business as Usual. She doesn’t want to change a thing.

So who will save our City from more Philistinism from its gold-plated $50,000,000 City Hall budget, greedy speculators and more environmental crimes and more environmental racism?

Definitely not Tweedle-dum Sullivan and Tweedle-dee Freeman.

So who will save our City?

Stay tuned.

Freeman, Sullivan seek St. Augustine City Commission seat

Freeman, Sullivan seek St. Augustine City Commission seat

Publication Date: 03/14/08

City Commissioner Susan Burk will not seek re-election and instead endorsed her law partner for the position.

Leanna Freeman, 37, announced she will vie for St. Augustine City Commission seat 2 that Burk now holds. Burk, who had previously said she would run again, will step down after 12 years on the board.

"I didn't feel I could leave until I found someone I was comfortable with replacing me," said Burk. "I felt I had to be up there to say things that other people wouldn't say. ... (Leanna) will do that. We share the same vision for the city."

Freeman, 37, will now battle candidate Dan Sullivan for the seat.

Burk and Freeman have been law partners for nearly 11 years.

Freeman has gained respect while serving five years on the city's Planning and Zoning Board, including when she was chairwoman from 2006-2007.

She oversaw issues such as Fish Island Development's request to build a massive dock south of the Mickler O'Connell Bridge (S.R. 312). The project was denied and is now in litigation, but Circuit Judge Michael Traynor ruled that PZB's denial was legally sound.

"I believe my experience on the PZB and understanding of the legal process makes me the right person for this," Freeman said.

She grew up in Lincolnville and has lived in St. Augustine. Her two young children also attend school in the city, and her husband owns a business on St. George Street.

"I have a vested interest in the city," she said. "I don't want to change the face of our city; that's not my goal. I want to protect (it)."

Sullivan, who is retired, feels the job calls for someone who can dedicate more time.

"I just don't think we can afford to have a part-time commissioner," he said. "I'm in it for the long haul."

Sullivan has been chairman of the city's Parking and Traffic Committee for five years.

Although Burk will no longer be a commissioner, she said she will stay involved with City Hall.

"I will miss not having a vote," she said. "That will drive me crazy."

Click here to return to story:

© The St. Augustine Record

Editorial: Run government like a business

Editorial: Run government like a business

Publication Date: 03/14/08

Ahhhh! Imagine the luxury of a bottled water station right in your office. No need to share the chrome public water fountain down the hall with others and their germs, or to lug a little cooler from home with a liter or two. How sweet it is!

Well, it was.

Removing bottled water stations from St. Johns County government buildings comes as the county tightens up its operating expenses. Faced with more revenue declines as property tax reform takes hold, County Administrator Michael Wanchick removed the bottled water; approximately a $60,000 annual contract.

It may look like a small step but it's the beginning of a new way to do business. When the state cuts, local governments must cut, too. At the heart of the reduction is property tax reform the result of a public outcry against the past decade of rising costs of government.

So far, county government's revenue slash is a total of $31 million through cuts made this year and the year after. While there are some state forecasts that the gloomy picture will start a turnaround in a year or two, there's still the potential for another $17 million reduction locally in three years. All this is in the name of property tax relief.

The centerpiece is the 2008 constitutional amendment, known on the ballot as Amendment One. It was approved by 64 percent of Florida's voters last January. Is that a mandate to cut more or what?

Clearly Wanchick, who came from Texas last summer to become county administrator, has a strong resolve and the support to do so. Working with Doug Timms, the county's director of the Office of Management & Budget, and the County Commission, cost-savings initiatives are under way. County employees have been asked for their advice. On Saturday, The Record will partner with the county to involve you, the taxpayers, in the process.

We expect our local governments to trim the fat, delay some anticipated expenses and plans and even some new hires. Businesses and households cut back, why not government?

A leaner county government is the goal. But to accomplish this, more than bottled water contracts are on the line. We expect the people who spend our tax dollars to be thrifty. Hence, private businesses, who have had long-term contracts with county government, cannot assume they will roll over into a new year next October as they have done.

The county should have been doing this kind of scrutiny all along. Long-term suppliers should not assume government contracts are permanent. County Administrator Wanchick assures us this review sets the tone for the future, budget crisis or not.

St. Johns County's $706-million operation must run like a business in good times and in those not so good. As taxpayers, we should demand no less.

Click here to return to story:

© The St. Augustine Record

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hastings de-chartering effort revelatory about abuses of power by government

Government is instituted by the just consent of the governed.

Thomas Jefferson said we are free to alter or abolish governments if they are unresponsive.

First Hastings' government is guilty of being in the thrall of soeculators like ROBERT MICHAEL GRAUBARD, who were charged no impact fees and asked for nothing in exchange for a racially discriminatory annexation that violated the Fifteenth Amendment and Voting Rights Act, threatening to dilute minority voting strength in a majority African-American town.

Then Hastings' government increased water bills by 30% (instead of looking to speculators to pay their fare share of new capacity, as I suggested to the Town Council in 2005).

Now Hastings' government may be abolished.

An ancient Chinese curse says, "may you live in interesting times."

Hastings and St. Johns County are living in "interesting times," wrougt by greedy, wetland-killing, tree-killing, uglifying "developers" spending the money of gullible investors, including people from China, India, Australia, South Korea and Canada, to name a few.

What if governments folded because of lack of interest and popular support?

What if those who have enabled ROBERT MICHAEl GRAUBARD and other alleged fraudfeasors were defeated and faced indictments?

What if St. Augustine's city government were de-chartered due to waste, fraud, abuse, misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance, flummery and dupery?

Respect is earned. As Anastasia Mosquito Control Commission Chairwoman Jeanne Moeller said last year, most people "don't trust [our] government."

As Senator Gary W. Hart put it best, "you won't get the government off your backs until you get your hands out of its pocket."

To dull Republican billionaires who see government as a mining operation, giving them subsidies for their disreputable lifestyles of the rich and aimless, we've got news for you. The gravy train is at an end.

The people in their righteous wrath are outraged at government as a polluter, as shown by the City of St. Augustine's Philistinism in secretly dumping solid waste in the Old City Reservoir while doing nothing about a Living Wage or other protections for Ripley's Believe it Or Not! Museum and Tour Train employees whose pay and benefits were slashed by a Canadian billionaire.

Stinky St. Augustine officials need to be replaced with competent, compassionate, honest officials. Otherwise, will our Nation's Oldest City of St. Augustine be next to face de-chartering?

And what if the Pentagon had to hold bake sales to buy nuclear weapons?

What do you reckon?

Hastings De-chartering on hold

Publication Date: 03/11/08

HASTINGS Hastings elected officials listened to proposals to de-charter their town but didn't take any action to make it happen at their Town Commission meeting Monday.

"We can't keep surviving like this. What's happening to Hastings?" asked Jane Rogero, an area resident whose mother lives in the small southwest farming community.

She answered her question, saying that commissioners had quit caring about the citizens, and citizens had quit caring about what the commission did.

That drew protests from Mayor Tom Ward and Commissioner Jeannette Bradley, both saying they cared about Hastings and its people.

The de-charter proposal was sparked by a vote by the commission in January to approve a 30 percent in hike in the town's water rate. Commissioners said it was necessary in order to pay off bonds and to keep the town from going broke.

"I can't believe we got so broke," Rogero said. "We need to come up with a better plan; we need to come up with some changes."

Businessman Johnny Barnes told commissioners that the needed change was to get rid of the town.

"Do I have solutions for all these issues?" Barnes asked. "I'm asking this commission to put a referendum on the ballot and let the people vote."

Barnes and Ward ended up in a heated exchange.

Barnes wanted the commission to go ahead and put the issue on the November ballot. After that, he said, there would be plenty of time to hold meetings and discussions before the vote.

Ward said information and town meetings need to be held before anything goes on the ballot.

"I have been trying to do some research. Nobody's got any numbers," Ward said.

County Commissioner Ron Sanchez was in the audience and said the county was not there to get involved in the business of Hastings.

"I can't offer any suggestions (as to whether) the county could do anything cheaper with water and sewer," Sanchez said.

"You're trying to catch up on things that should have been done," Sanchez said, adding that was the same situation he faced in his first year on the county board.

Several citizens spoke during the public hearing section, raising questions about what costs might come up if the county took over and asking for more information and discussion about the dechartering proposal.

Ward said he was putting together a committee to research the issue.

"This can't go away until we've got some numbers we can understand," he said.

Click here to return to story:

© The St. Augustine Record

Guest Column: State Democratic party should pay for new primary

Guest Column: State Democratic party should pay for new primary

By William C. McCormick
St. Augustine
Publication Date: 03/11/08

The Florida Democratic Party must move forward quickly to assure that Florida voters are not disenfranchised from the presidential nomination process.

Florida taxpayers should not have to pay for another democratic primary and Democratic National Committee leaders say the national party will not help pay for a second Florida primary.

Therefore the FDP should pay the cost of a second primary, even if initially it has to go into debt to do so. Actually, in the long run with the right strategy, the FDP could end up significantly improving its long-range financial situation.

American voters know that financial support within each political party flows upward, not downward. I send money to national committees representing the senate, the congress and the party, as well as the national candidates, and they are constantly requesting more financial support. Then they decide where and how that money is spent.

Florida contributors including all large and small donors as well any special interest groups should direct their donations to the Florida Democratic Party.

Also, when our eventual presidential nominee comes to Florida we should welcome him/her to rallies, but not to fundraisers, unless most of the funds go the Florida Democratic Party.

In this era of political change, it's time the state parties start providing more support to their nominees who don't head the ticket.

We all know that those states where the presidential nominee is not expected to win, receive little or no campaign funds from the national party.

Perhaps the real impact of Florida in this year's election, with the unintentional assistance of the DNC, will be to reassess the way we the voters direct our campaign contributions and therefore change who determines the allocation of those donations.

If so, I believe we will have begun a campaign funding movement that other state parties will follow.


William C. McCormick is the Democratic state committeeman for St. Johns County, but the views expressed are solely his own.

Click here to return to story:

© The St. Augustine Record

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Unwelcome Wagon Strikes Again--Visitors Are Bieng Hit WIth $15 Fines When They Don't See Maniacal Newfangled Parking Meter Machine

Another ROBERT MICHAEL GRAUBARD Project Bites the Dust

See below.

Vilano town center on hold

Vilano town center on hold

Publication Date: 03/08/08

Redevelopment of Vilano Beach's Town Center has stopped because the state's collapsed real estate market has essentially frozen commercial lending and dropped property values.

St. Johns County will now be forced to make the monthly payments on a $12.2 million sales tax bond it had issued to cover the cost of Vilano Beach infrastructure. Those projects included drainage improvements, new roads and underground utility lines.

Elaine Dilbeck, past president of the North Shore Improvement Association, said the purpose of the infrastructure improvements were to bring people to Vilano Beach as a destination.

"(But) I noted that there were no workers out there (Thursday or Friday)," she said. "We're going to get the Publix, we just don't know when."

Dilbeck said the redevelopment movement in Vilano Beach began in 1995, when the rickety wooden bridge from the mainland was torn down and the arching, concrete-and-steel Francis and Mary Usina Bridge completed.

"We decided we were going to do something, because we had lost traffic and were going to lose businesses," she said. "We wanted to have that small town flavor but still draw people. You can see the sun rise and set on the same block. That's why we have two gazebos. Vilano has a laid back, romantic Florida style."

One of the original selling points of the downtown redevelopment was the promise of a Publix. Residents had to drive to St. Augustine or Ponte Vedra to do grocery shopping.

Vivian Browning, also a past president of the Improvement Association and still a board member, said she expected it to take about 18 months to build a Publix, 36 condominiums and an underground parking garage. Also planned is 30,000 square feet of boutique stores, which would feature an ice cream parlor or places selling beach wear, for example.

"We're a mirror of the rest of the state and nation," Browning said. "It's just going to take a little longer to pull things together with this economy. We've gotten the infrastructure done. The rest can evolve in parts." County Commission Chairman Tom Manuel said Friday that the county is examining all the Community Redevelopment Agencies to see what the board's total liability is concerning revenue bonds. Other CRAs, such as the one in West Augustine, have also issued bonds backed by sales taxes.

Those figures won't be out for a week or so, Manuel said.

"I need (these CRAs) to work. The county and the public need them to work," he said.

County figures indicate that in January, Vilano's CRA returned $357,260 in 2007 tax dollars toward the bond payments. This was lower than the estimated $400,000 that was returned in January 2007, the figures show.

Browning said the market is the worst she's ever seen in 30 years of selling real estate.

"Some of the will to buy (property) is gone," she said. "We're hoping our revitalized downtown will bring buyers because of the changes. There are more than a dozen business on Vilano Road now. We're having the business owners clean up, fix up and remove old signs. We want to be spiffed out for our summer season. We'll be in good shape and have a viable commercial area."

Click here to return to story:

© The St. Augustine Record

HASTINGS' lawyer's name is GEOFFREY DOBSON (see below) and Hastings is bieng ruined by speculators

In 2005, Hastings annexed a large tract of land at the behest of speculator ROBERT MICHAEL GRAUBARD and his minions, who were not asked to contribute one red cent of funding for a water treatment plant or other infrastructure. Now Hastings may cease to exist (see below). The lawyer for Hastings is GEOFFREY DOBSON, not Jeff Dobbs (sic).
The lawyer for Hastings during the annexations was DOBSON's partner, RONALD BROWN, who is now St. Augustine's City Attorney.
DOBSON & BROWN represented every government entity in St. Johns County, plus developers. DOBSON told me he's represented Pierre Thompson for over 30 years, which would embrace the period when DOBSON was St. Augustine City Attorney and his Pelican Reef project was approved in local marshes.
THOMPSON's real estate company recently pled guilty to molesting a bald eagle nest tree on October 8, 2001.
Waiting in the wings like a raptor is St. Johns County Commission Chairman Tom Manuel, who wants to monopolize local governments in the hands of the county, taking away the rights of people in Hastings, St. Augustine, St. Augustine Beach to self-government, while taking over special taxing distrits (Airport & Mosquito Control).
When Hastings annexed (unwisely and in violation of the Fifteenth Amendment and Voting Rights Act), Commissioner Karen Stern was in the audience, rootig on those who would dilute minority voting strength in a majority African American community.
Now we have the County Commission Chairman, Tom Manuel, rooting to takeover Hastings.
These Republicans have a plan -- continue their political machine by hostile takeover of other government entities.
My mother always said "Republicans never steal anything small."

High water bills spark effort to unincorporate Hastings

High water bills spark effort to unincorporate Hastings

Publication Date: 03/10/08

A proposal to unincorporate Hastings will be back before the Hastings Town Commission tonight.

Local restaurant owner Johnny Barnes threw out the suggestion at last month's meeting, in part because of a 30 percent hike in water bills for Hastings' residents.

"That's really the only service the city provides. We would be better off having the county. They already police the streets and provide fire service," Barnes said.

The new hike has sent his water bill up at the restaurant he opened a couple of years ago, but he says his real concern is for those on fixed incomes.

"What are all the little old ladies supposed to do? They only have so much money coming in, and now they have to give more of it to the water department," Barnes said.

Mayor Tom Ward says he's willing to talk, but he doesn't see the need to shut down the town government.

He thinks it's unlikely Hastings commissioners will agree to disenfranchise the town.

"We needed to raise the rates," Ward said. "We weren't generating enough money."

Either commissioners must vote to unincorporate the town or those in favor of the move must collect enough signatures to put the issue on a ballot and let the town's voters decide.

It's the rate hike that has sparked the discussion.

Town Manager Shelby Jack said the increase, which was passed on an emergency basis at a January meeting, was done with the approval of town attorney Jeff Dobbs.

"It's in two parts; 15 percent now and another 15 percent in October," Jack said.

Water and sewer have been major points of discussion at town meetings for more than two years. Hastings found itself with no additional hookups available for people wanting to build. There were ongoing problems determining who had unused hookups and whether or not they were being paid for. Commissioners have gradually worked out the issues.

Increasing revenue through increased rates has been a recommendation from the USDA Rural Development, which holds the bonds used to expand the water plant facility.

Town officials say it has been almost eight years since the rates were raised. They argue if the rates had been raised 3 percent each year, it wouldn't have been necessary for the 30 percent increase.

Officials say the town provides more than just water. It also is responsible for a sewer system, street lights, street repair, paving, stormwater and recreation. While the state Department of Transportation handled the widening of State Road 207, the town has been working to repair streets in less-traveled areas within town.

Commissioners have talked about cost-cutting methods including renegotiating contracts with employees. Grants continue to be a major means of funds for the town of about 600.

St. Johns County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom Manuel says the county would be happy to take in Hastings and believes the town could still keep its identity.

Manuel says the county's utility department has estimated the cost of water in Hastings is about twice what county residents pay.

"If we took in Hastings, it would continue to have a separate identity. That's the case in Ponte Vedra and other areas. Hastings has a long history, and we wouldn't want to see that lost," Manuel said.

Barnes says Hastings isn't the town it once was and that the town government is "just one more layer of bureaucracy."

Barnes, who grew up in Hastings, had lived elsewhere before eventually deciding to return and open a restaurant. Johnny's Kitchen has become a popular eating place, and Barnes holds numerous fundraisers for the library in Hastings.

He's also been a supporter of Hope House, a licensed establishment that takes in boys in need of a home.

He remembers the days when Hastings was a bustling town with grocery stores, pharmacy, two auto dealerships and a ladies' dress shop.

"There's not a Hastings anymore," Barnes said, pointing toward the Main Street where there are a number of empty buildings.

Ward said Barnes went off and now has come back.

"He hasn't been here trying to solve the problems," he said.

Click here to return to story:

© The St. Augustine Record

Builders Council Hypocrisy on Negligent Construction?

Builders Council political campaigns wrought Karen Stern, Bruce Maguire and James Bryant, St. Johns County Commissioners who let ticky-tacky homes be built where landraping, tree-killing, wetland-destroying speculators had their way with our beautiful county.
They can't stand government regulation that would protect the public.
Edward Paucek's letter (below) is in sharp contrast to his sharp tactics in one case, where leaky blue tarps destroyed a home moved from the airport and Paucek et al. paid $20,000 in an out-of-court settlement. Notice how Paucek (below) addresses the current scandalous $25,000 limit on DBPR recovery from builders.
Edward Paucek and his Builders Council bear watching -- sousveillance, so to speak, as the NY Times Magazine put it in December 2006 -- people must watch their governments and those like Paucek and the Builders Council who presume to dictate public policy.
See below.

Column: Check contractor before entering building contract

Column: Check contractor before entering building contract

Edward Paucek
Publication Date: 03/09/08

It saddened me greatly to read "Revoke Florida's Mechanics Lien Law" in the Letters to the Editor on Feb. 20. It was about the financial nightmare of a neighbor of the writer and the unwarranted burden and stress caused by a contractor who did not finish the project or pay his subcontractors. Liens were filed against the homeowner's property. The owner had to pay them plus legal fees and had to complete the improvements already paid for to the contractor thus incurring additional costs, interest and delaying the project.

I'm not sure the writer's suggestion of bonding all construction would be the answer. That would put another layer of cost for insurance bonding which ultimately is borne by the owner.

The banking and insurance industries have substantial clout in the Legislature and have massaged our laws with various degrees of success, not necessarily in the consumer's best interest.

However, before the advent of the current lien laws the situation was 10 times worse.

When a contractor pays his or her state licensing fees they contribute to a state recovery fund. A property owner can petition the Department of Professional Regulation (DBPR) to file a complaint.

If a contractor is found negligent, recovery to the injured property owner will be awarded. Unfortunately the maximum amount is capped at $25,000. This amount should be increased. We have asked the DPBR to work on an increase.

I wish that we had a better system to ensure that unscrupulous contractors could be eliminated from our ranks as they hurt our livelihood and give our industry a black eye.

We at the St. Johns Builders Council face these issues every day and try hard to stand a cut above the fray. Our contractors and subcontractors (associates members) hold ourselves accountable to the public and encourage anyone who is building to contact us for references. We are your local folks.

Any substantive improvement to or new construction on all property requires a building permit.

A "Notice of Commencement" signed by the property owner notarized and recorded in the public records must be completed prior to the first inspection.

This ensures all parties that they know who the owner is and if they do any improvement to the property they have 45 days from the date they commence work to send a "Notice to Owner" to the property owner.

If they do not, the owner is not held responsible for the debt. If they do, the owner has a responsibility to obtain a release from the subcontractor.

If your contractor does not give the owner this document, it's a big red flag. Don't pay. Get the facts and make sure the subcontractor or supplier is paid.

Financial responsibility begins at home. We must work with what we have. The old adage of "Trust but Verify" still makes the most sense.

Improving your home or building anew is a serious business. If you have financing, request your lender become more involved in this process. You may incur an additional management cost but its well worth it. Your lender then has more financial culpability.

If you are paying cash to make your improvements, use a title company to disburse your money to the contractor, subcontractors or suppliers.

All reputable contractors will welcome being paid by this third party. If they object, you don't want them.

There are many other ways we can help you safely build or improve your home. We urge everyone to contact our offices or the St. Johns County Building Department for help.

Building your home or adding to it is a serious undertaking but with a little homework it should be a wholesome and rewarding experience.

Edward Paucek is chairman of the St. Johns Builders Council.

Click here to return to story:

© The St. Augustine Record

Friday, March 07, 2008

Does this gentleman resent pollution expenses that protecdt public from sewage in our habor? We don't need his business. Go away. .

This man from Saratoga Springs, New York is what my grandmother would call "typical of his type." :) He's against the government regulating sewage poilution from his sailboat. I'm sure that the late William F. Buckley, Jr., an avid sailor, would not have minded pollution inspections of his sailboat. But this lugubrious goober evidently thinks it's a treat for him to frequent our restaurants and then deposit his sewage in our harbor. Go away.

Nor do we need other noisome nettlesome nasty people, like those who have mismanaged City Hall since April 13, 1998 (City Manager WILLIAM B. HARRISS and his coterie of clowns). They too have polluted our Nation's Oldest City -- but they make the gentleman from Saratoga Springs look like a piker. HARRISS & Co. put solid waste in our Old City Reservoir. Then they wanted to ship it back to the historic Lincolnville community. Now they're acting like they won't cooperate with Open Records requests, trying to charge us tens of thousands of dollars for our records.

As a temporarily ungrammatical Sir Winston Spencer Churchill once said, "this is something up with which we should not have to put."

Does this gentleman resent pollution expenses that protecdt public from sewage in our habor? We don't need his business. Go away. .

This man from Saratoga Springs, New York is what my grandmother would call "typical of his type." :) He's against the government regulating sewage poilution from his sailboat. I'm sure that the late William F. Buckley, Jr., an avid sailor, would not have minded pollution inspections of his sailboat. But this lugubrious goober evidently thinks it's a treat for him to frequent our restaurants and then deposit his sewage in our harbor. Go away.

Nor do we need other noisome nettlesome nasty people, like those who have mismanaged City Hall since April 13, 1998 (City Manager WILLIAM B. HARRISS and his coterie of clowns). They too have polluted our Nation's Oldest City -- but they make the gentleman from Saratoga Springs look like a piker. HARRISS & Co. put solid waste in our Old City Reservoir. Then they wanted to ship it back to the historic Lincolnville community. Now they're acting like they won't cooperate with Open Records requests, trying to charge us tens of thousands of dollars for our records.

As a temporarily ungrammatical Sir Winston Spencer Churchill once said, "this is something up with which we should not have to put."

Letter: Mooring field will affect future 'cruisers'' visits

Letter: Mooring field will affect future 'cruisers'' visits

John J. Kettlewell
Publication Date: 03/07/08

Editor: It is unfortunate that St. Augustine is contemplating eliminating anchoring in favor of a mooring field. This will reduce visits by cruisers like myself. I've been visiting by water for about 23 years and I've spent thousands of dollars in St. Augustine.

I will not visit if I must use a mooring and register with the city. In my experience moorings are unsafe compared to my own anchoring gear. I do not choose to spend money for a mooring when I carry approximately $4000 worth of anchoring equipment onboard, and I resent the hassle and wasted time required to register and submit to pollution inspections, etc. I believe many other boaters feel the same and word will soon spread. On my last visits to Ft. Myers Beach and Marathon, both with mooring fields, many if not most of the moorings were empty and there were vastly fewer boats visiting than in previous winters. St. Augustine businesses will suffer and taxpayers will be stuck paying for the moorings, staff, maintenance, and other facilities. Moorings are fine for local boats staying long term, but the city should leave ample room for transients, like myself, who prefer to anchor, or else we will go elsewhere and spend our money elsewhere.

John J. Kettlewell

Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Click here to return to story:

© The St. Augustine Record

Do you see any shoring at the right side of this photograph of St. Aug archaeological dig?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Ancient well reveals gold

Ancient well reveals gold

Publication Date: 03/06/08

City Archeologist Carl Halbirt struck gold Wednesday in more ways than one.

Halbirt unearthed two pieces of gold used for clothing decoration from a 1600s well on the Cathedral Parish School property on St. George Street in downtown St. Augustine. It's only the second time he's discovered gold during his 18 years of working in St. Augustine.

"The only other time was in a well in front of the Governor's House," said Mark Knight, city planning and building director. "It had to be someone pretty affluent (who lived on that property) to be throwing gold away in the 1600s."

The gold two pieces were used for clothing decoration. One was a gold pin likely used to pin things to a woman's dress, and the other was a decorative gold piece men might have worn on their jackets.

Halbirt, with the help of several volunteers, also gleaned many other discoveries from the dig, making the site one of his most valuable finds, said Knight.

Along with the well, shell remains of an old house were unearthed and a trash pit. The three digs show a family lived on the property, Halbirt said, and they also show a 20-foot corridor where the original St. George Street was likely located.

St. George Street runs in front of Cathedral Parish, but Halbirt believes the original street was 20 feet closer to the school.

Halbirt has found many old wells on sites throughout St. Augustine, but none quite like this.

"We've never found anything with this quantity of trash," he said. "There are shells, pottery, cow bones. All of these things have laid buried and forgotten for an excess of 350 years."

Halbirt believes the family who lived on the property removed the top of the well's barrel and then had a feast and threw that trash on top of the well before covering it up. Among the remains were the bones of a cow, including a jaw bone with teeth.

Halbirt teaches an archaeology class at First Coast Technical Institute, and many of his former students buzzed around the three digs sifting dirt for artifacts.

Elizabeth Gessner and Janet Fisher dusted off what used to be a brass shoe buckle.

"We've found all kinds of things like medal, pottery glass beads," Gessner said.

Cathedral Parish students bounced from the three digs to check out the finds.

"It's pretty cool teachers let us come out here and look at it," said eighth-grader Katie Jackson, 14. "It was pretty unexpected."

Click here to return to story:

© The St. Augustine Record

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

No Money Set Aside For Florida's 500th

No Money Set Aside For Florida's 500th

By Jessica Clark
First Coast News

ST. AUGUSTINE, FL --Party planning is underway.

In 2013, the state will celebrate the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon's discovery of Florida. In 2015, the First Coast will observe the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine.

The guest list is expected to be pretty impressive.

Barbara Golden with the Visitors and Convention Bureau said that list includes the President of the United States, the King of Spain, and even the Pope.

Florida's and St. Augustine's festivities are still at least 5 years out and in the planning stages.

However, St. Augustine City Commissioner George Gardner is concerned because the state has not yet set aside any funding for the historic celebrations.

“We can't rely on the government to throw the party for all these events we want to have,” Gardner said, “nor do I think we should rely on government. I do feel that government -- as a representative of all the people -- has a responsibility to provide some seed funding.”

The state legislature created a planning commission for Florida's 500th, but it did not assign any money to it.

Now the Department of State wants to have that legislation repealed in order to create a more “cost effective” committee.

Gardner said, “I think it is important that an arm of the state be involved because you're talking about the entire state.”

Golden said the celebrations are not just parties, they're opportunities to showcase the state and they’re also money making events.

“We anticipate quite an [economic] impact,” Golden said. “It's kind of hard to determine what kind of hard impact there would be at this point out.”

While the celebration will be memorable and probably profitable, it appears planning and paying for the historic party currently appears to be a hurdle in tight economic times.

First Coast News