Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Another Victory, An Earthquake: 16.666% Sales Tax Increase Won't Be on November 2015 Ballot
Sheriff DAVID BERNARD SHOAR and other St. Johns County elected officials are going to have to sharpen their pencils and cut their budgets. County Commissioners voted June 16, 2015 (last night) thrice not to place a 16.666% sales tax increase on the ballot.
Sheriff DAVID BERNARD SHOAR's political power, and his political machine, are in disarray. The most corrupt county in Florida had an earthquake, and it came in the form of 150 people and dozens of speakers. Empowered by full-page ads taken out by a retired colonel, Dr. Roy F. Hinman, Jr., M.D., and for years informed by this blog, We, The People, were heard and heeded. Finally.
The lavish $16 million St. Johns County Administration Building a/k/a "Taj Mahal" had never seen such an event before.
First there was 90 minutes of jawboning by the County School Board (with no time limits for their rambling dog and pony show).
Then came Commissioner William McClure's presentation, practically ordered and then repeatedly and rudely interrupted by demagogic Commission Chair PRISCILA BENNETT a/k/a "RACHAEL BENNETT," as well as by JOHN H. JAY MORRIS. Perhaps due to the interruptions, McClure's presentation was hard to follow, and at one point it sounded as if he were mistaking correlation with causation (income and unemployment in counties with six percent vs. higher sales taxes).
In the end, it was the extravagance of the justification for yet another off-year special election that won the day, especially when County Administrator MICHAEL DAVID WANCHICK said he'd been planning the sales tax raise "for years." Also, the hauteur and haughtiness of the two DAVID SHOAR cronies offended nearly everyone. In fact, Commission Chair PRISCILA BENNETT a/k/a "RACHAEL BENNETT" and JOHN H. JAY MORRIS harassed and intimidated McClure and other dissenters all through the night, heckling us. At one point new Commissioner James Johns, the swing vote, was speaking and pointed out BENNETT's disrespectful body language, putting it on the record the way a good trial lawyer would do, saying her actions did not reflect "civility."
I spoke first, after the School Board presentation, Board discussion and McClure presentation.
I objected to the two minute time limit, not announced in advance, outside the ordinary course of business, and to having the hearing outside the ambit of the advertised public hearing, which County Attorney Patrick McCormick gently warned about only to be ignored by Chair BENNETT (without a vote).
I noted that other jurisdictions had only recently rejected one-cent sales tax increases, including Martin County, Florida and the State of Michigan (with 80% of the people voting against a heavily-funded campaign to raise taxes for infrastructure).
I pointed out the need to cut waste, fraud and abuse, and to have an Inspector General and Ombuds to protect us. I suggested the School Board raise money from wealthy corporations, the way Oklahoma City Schools CEO/Superintendent William Weitzel did. I quoted Rose Kennedy's favorite Bible verse, "To whom much is given, much is expected," opposing a middle class tax increase and calling for wealthy developers to shoulder more of the burden.
There followed dozens of people from every walk of life, from throughout our county, ninety percent agreeing with me: no tax increase, no special election. Many were from the Tea Party. Many were self-identified Republicans. While I am a liberal Democrat, we all agreed on this issue. One speaker noted that many small business owners were afraid to speak out for fear of the political machine's power over their livelihoods.
There were a few speakers who talked in support of schools, or libraries, or ballfields, seemingly shills without a clues about the overall county machine's power and influence.
But no one rebutted the waste, fraud, abuse, misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance, flummery, dupery and nincompoopery brought to you by DAVID SHOAR's political machine. The pro-tax-raise side emitted mainly emotion, threats of crisis and condescension.
Former County Commission Chair Dr. Mary Kohnke, Ph.D., condescending as ever, who opined that there was "no fat," and dodgy St. Johns County Democratic State Committeeman William McCormick, who said the same thing (sadly reminiscent of the sad character "Ditto" in Edwin O'Connor's great American political noval, "The Last Hurrah").
Near the end of the meeting, I reminded Commissioners of my Lincoln's Birthday e-mail, in response to their challenge to tell them where to cut the budget. None responded substantively. I also asked if any Commissioners thought Michelle O'Connell committed suicide. None did. I responded, "Well, I don't either," calling for large cuts in the fat in Sheriff SHOAR's bloated budget.
Recently appointed by Governor Richard Lynn Scott to the vacancy created by the election of Cyndi Stevenson to the State House of Representatives, all eyes were on our new Commissioner, James Johns, a Cherokee Indian originally from Alabama and an engineering consultant long with International Paper Company, now on his own. After listening to the debate, Commissioner Johns joined Commissioners William McClure and Jeb Smith in opposing sharing a 16.666% sales tax increase with the School Board. The same three commissioners then rejected the expensive, manipulative off-year ballot measure, amid weird, withering and disrespectful jabs and barbs from Commission Chair PRISCILA BENNETT a/k/a "RACHAEL BENNETT" and JOHN H. JAY MORRIS.
It was a Frank Capra-esque evening, with the dictatorial whim-of-iron of County Administrator MICHAEL DAVID WANCHICK and his hick hack henchmen, JERRY CAMERON and DARRELL LOCKLEAR, foiled by a succession of free voices.
It was a triumph of democracy, with diverse voices uniting in opposition to a regressive sales tax amidst testing county government waste, fraud, abuse, misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance, flummery, dupery and nincompoopery.
St. Johns Commission Chair PRISCILA BENNETT a/k/a "RACHAEL BENNETT" and JOHN H. JAY MORRIS were sputtering and drooling with rage, like schoolyard bullies. BENNETT appeared to cry, her mascara was running, and she said she was "ashamed." Many of her constituents responded, "We're ashamed of you!" Stiff-necked ex-executive JAY MORRIS repeatedly dressed down fellow commissioners, particularly McClure, as if they were his subordinates. Is MORRIS suffering from dementia?
County Administrator MICHAEL DAVID WANCHICK's threats to cut library hours was unavailing, as was a parade of School Board members and claims by often-bragging former executive of fraudfeasing RPM International executive JOHN H. "JAY" MORRIS that "the bottom was going to fall out" next year. (MORRIS' company settled federal False Claims Act litigation for some $60 million, rendering his claims to "business experience" an empty suit; MORRIS attacked me personally last night after I stood to applaud his colleagues' courage, stating "they guy that was standing" did not attend the budget briefing (not televised on St. Johns County Government TV and held in another building during the daytime, making it inconvenient for many of us to attend).
We wear JAY MORRIS' scorn as a badge of honor. We look forward to a new day in St. Johns County, where bullies like Sheriff DAVID BERNARD SHOAR, County Administrator MICHAEL DAVID WANCHICK and his hick hack henchmen, JERRY CAMERON and DARRELL LOCKLEAR,
Commission Chair PRISCILA BENNETT a/k/a "RACHAEL BENNETT" and JOHN H. JAY MORRIS no longer intimidate employees and citizens.