Thursday, August 31, 2017

HOUSTON's Problem: Wetland Destruction by Influential Developers and NO ZONING Helped Cause Human Misery in Massive Flooding (NYT)

Sound familiar? Time to talk about the lessons learned from Houston and Hurricane Harvey.

We lived there for two years, and both experienced a badly polluted place resembling the Wild West if it were run by Big Oil, greedy developers, their corrupt politicians and NO ZONING.

Every time Houston considered referenda to adopt zoning, it was defeated by the electorate, the last time in 1993, three days before we moved there.  Reading the Houston newspapers before our move, you would have thought you were in another century.

Every time Houston considered zoning, wealthy opponents called it "Communistic."  Residents now rue the day when they allowed homes and businesses and strip clubs and car dealerships or anything to be built anywhere, even in the ten year flood plain, while allowing vast swaths of wetlands to be destroyed.  The greedheads have reaped the whirlwind.  What do we do now? I don't know the answer for Houston, having left there on November 5, 1995, moving to Florida.

Lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey in Houston: We must preserve and protect our wetlands to save our homes and businesses from flooding. We must unite as a people in our righteous wrath and deny devious greedy developers the ability to destroy our forests. wildliife, beauty and culture. Never again!

I do have some suggestions for St. Johns County (God's country), where I've lived since 1999.

No more Comprehensive Plan Amendments.  Thanks to new Commissioners, none have been approved in 2017.   That's a good start, after 70,000 homes were rubber-stamped by developer-driven Commissioners selected by Sheriff NEAL PERRY's wife, SYDNEY, and her ISSUES GROUP, 1998-2004.

Time to reconsider the depredations of controversial St. Johns County Administrator MICHAEL DAVID WANCHICK, who since 2007 has given every indication that he is insolent and insouciant to environmental protection.  It appears that WANCHICK wants to turn St. Johns County (God's country) into an unreasonable facsimile of Richardson, Texas or Broward County, Florida, where he worked before being inflicted on St. Johns County by developers and their supercilious Sheriff,  DAVID SHOAR f/k/a "HOAR."

After Harvey in Houston, it's time to adopt stronger laws on zoning, wetlands, environmental protection, ethics, conflict of interest and corporate ownership disclosure.

As JFK said, "Here on Earth, God's work must truly be our own."

Here's the article from The New York Times about Houston, Hell On Earth thanks to gloopy greed:

A Storm Forces Houston, the Limitless City, to Consider Its Limits
AUG. 30, 2017

An abandoned truck sat in a northbound lane of Interstate 45 in Houston on Tuesday. Credit Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

HOUSTON — Not long after a pair of New York real estate speculators founded this city on the banks of a torpid bayou in the 1830s, every home and every business flooded. Though settlers tried draining their humid, swampy, sweltering surroundings, the inundations came again and again, with 16 major floods in the city’s first century.

And yet somehow, improbably, Houston not only survived but prospered — and it sprawled omnivorously, becoming the nation’s fourth-largest city and perhaps its purest model of untrammeled growth.

When Hurricane Katrina  devastated New Orleans, the disaster played out in an eccentric anachronism, a city of modest economic heft proudly tethered to its exotic past. But Harvey has inundated a city perpetually looking to the future, a place built on boundless entrepreneurialism, the glories of air conditioning, a fierce aversion to regulation and a sense of limitless possibility.

The result has been a uniquely American success story, the capital of the world’s petroleum industry, and the place that sent a man to the moon, built the world’s biggest medical center and became a model of dizzying multiculturalism, with with 145 languages spoken.

But Harvey’s staggering flooding is raising very un-Houstonian questions about whether there are, in fact, limits to the Houston model of perpetual growth, and whether humans can push nature only so far before nature pushes back with catastrophic force.

Though its breakneck development culture and lax regulatory environment have been lauded for giving working people affordable housing — and thus a shot at the American dream — many experts and residents say that the developers’ encroachment into the wetlands and prairies that used to serve Houston as natural sponges has inevitably exacerbated the misery that the city is suffering today.

“There could have been ways to have more green space and more green infrastructure over the years, and it just didn’t work that way, because it was fast and furious,” said Phil Bedient, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Rice University. Many developments were not built with enough open land or enough detention areas to take in floodwaters, Dr. Bedient said. “It’s been known for years how to do it,” he said, “it just costs the developers more money to do it that way.”

The post-Harvey rebuilding drama here is bound to unfold as a frontier nation increasingly faces up to limits — as southern and western cities mature, as resources are strained by a growing population, and as climate change, exacerbated by Houston’s signature industry, threatens bigger, wetter, ever-more-dangerous storms.

Greater Houston has always been a precarious place for a boomtown. It sprawls across a flat coastal plain, crisscrossed by slow-moving bayous, with clay soils that do not easily absorb water. The average annual rainfall is 48 inches. For years, locals kept track of the hurricanes brewing in the Gulf of Mexico with magnetic maps hung in their kitchens.

In fact, it was a bold spate of post-storm improvisation that helped truly put Houston on the map. In 1900, a Category 4 hurricane virtually leveled Galveston, the nearby coastal port city. At least 6,000 people were killed. The fear of another direct hit like that helped spur the dredging of the Houston Ship Channel, a 50-mile waterway completed in 1914 that allowed ships to come up from the Gulf of Mexico to Houston, a relatively safer inland port.

A man rode one horse and led another through a flooded suburban neighborhood on Tuesday. Much of the prairie west of Houston that once helped absorb storm water has been developed. Credit Andrew Burton for The New York Times

But Houston continued to go underwater again and again, with a particularly costly flood in 1929 and another in 1935. In response, the state legislature, in 1937, created the Harris County Flood Control District, in an effort to finally build a modern flood-control system. Eventually, with federal assistance, two huge projects, the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, were constructed to protect downtown from flooding.

The city grew rapidly in the postwar years, and in an effort to control storm water and direct the runoff to the Gulf of Mexico, two key bayous through the city were channelized — essentially converted to concrete culverts — while a third was widened, Dr. Bedient said. A network of channels — 1,500 of them, today totaling 2,500 miles — were built to move storm runoff out of neighborhoods and down to the sea.

But in the end, they may have provided a false sense of security. “And so the building just went rampant, and there weren’t many controls,” Dr. Bedient said. “We had no zoning. It was like the Wild West, and you just built housing subdivision after housing subdivision up close to the bayous, up close to the channels.”

By the 1980s, Dr. Bedient said, officials came to realize that the system could not handle big rainfalls: the green space that could have absorbed much of the water from a big storm was now paved over with parking lots, houses, churches and malls.

Houstonians felt the impact in June 2001, when Tropical Storm Allison hit Harris County and dumped 80 percent of an average year’s rainfall on the area, killing 22 people and leaving behind 73,000 damaged residences and $5 billion in property damage. Since then, scientists have warned that climate change could produce rainier, more frequent and more damaging storms in the Gulf Coast region, turning what were once minor annoyances into major disasters.

Yet through all of this, metropolitan Houston has kept growing. Though the region suffered some tough years after the 1980s oil bust, Harris County, which includes Houston, experienced the highest annual population growth of any county in the United States in eight of the last nine years, according to census data.

Developers both responded to and fueled the boom, often doing what they wanted in Texas’ relatively laissez-faire regulatory climate. In 2015, the Houston Chronicle examined a sampling of permits issued to developers, and found that more than half the developers had failed to follow through on Army Corps of Engineers directives meant to mitigate the destruction of wetlands.

Two years ago, Erin Kinney, a research scientist with the nonprofit Houston Advanced Research Center, wrote that 65 square miles of freshwater wetlands had been lost in the Houston-Galveston Bay region, largely because of development and sinking land, and that 30 percent of Harris County was covered with impervious surfaces like roads, parking lots and roofs.

Much of the development in recent years has occurred on the Katy Prairie, a vast stretch of land west of town that was once covered in native grasses and wildflowers, a place where rainwater often pooled before soaking into the ground or slowly running into creeks and bayous.

Gavin Smith, the director of the Coastal Resilience Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said some of the land in the Houston area had been made more vulnerable to flooding because of the amount of groundwater that had been pumped out of it. That, he said, actually caused the land to sink, a process called subsidence.

Even before Harvey, Houstonians had become acutely aware that the flooding question was central to the discussion about their city’s future — although political solutions have not always been easy to come by.

National Guard troops looked over a wall along a flooded section of the Loop 610 highway in Houston. Credit Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times
Critics have debated the efficacy of regulations, dating to the 1980s, that require developers to build “detention ponds” to store rain water.

In 2010, city voters narrowly passed a major financing mechanism, ReBuild Houston, to improve roads and an out-of-date drainage system. But some have bridled at the idea of the new taxes and fees involved, and the program has been the subject of at least two lawsuits.

New, devastating floods kept coming — on Memorial Day in 2015, and in April 2016 (the so-called “Tax Day” flood) — killing a total of 16 people and causing more than $1 billion in damage. They were major local news at the time: “Is this the new normal?” the Chronicle asked in an April 2016 headline.

The way forward is not clear. In May 2016, Mayor Sylvester Turner appointed Houston’s first “flood czar,” Stephen Costello, an engineer and former at-large City Council member. Mr. Costello was too busy with the unfolding crisis on Wednesday to comment for this article.

Gerald E. Galloway, an internationally recognized expert on flood risk management and water policy at the University of Maryland, said that Greater Houston could benefit from effective regional planning, with the patchwork of local governments working together to take into account their developments’ effects on their neighbors.

“But that’s not the style in Texas,” Dr. Galloway said. “You drive and drive and drive, and you’re going from one community to the next. How do you get all those communities to agree on what needs to be done?”

A number of experts have said that local governments will have to consider buying out homeowners who live in flooded areas, returning the land to green space that can absorb the floodwaters. But as Katrina proved, such efforts can generate tremendous pushback.

And if the region begins to put stricter regulations on building, there is a chance that one of Houston’s great lures — affordable housing — may disappear. This is a concern for Joel Kotkin, the urban theorist and author who has been a great champion of Houston’s lax regulation policies.

“If you put the kind of super-strict planning shackles on Houston, that would be the way to kill it,” he said. “Why would you live in a hot, humid, flat space if it was expensive?”

Like many others, he was quick to praise Houston’s energy and optimism, and said the city would recover. The Texas author Larry McMurtry, a former Houston resident, agreed.

“Houston will accept anybody who’s got hustle — it respects energy more than any place,” he said. “Houston is a very resilient city, and it will overcome.”

Manny Fernandez reported from Houston and Richard Fausset from Atlanta. John Schwartz contributed reporting from New Orleans, Jess Bidgood from Boston and Malachy Brown from New York.

A version of this article appears in print on August 31, 2017, on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: A Limitless City, Now Envisioning New Limitations. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscribe

George F. Will, "Yale saves fragile students from a carving of a musket" (WaPo)

Reading this Washington Post column by Pulitzer Prize winning commentator George F. Will reminds me of the histrionic, homophobic, history-destroying, Rev. RONALD RAWLS, JR. claiming to be "offended" by two Confederate veteran monuments here in St. Augustine, Florida:

Summer brings no respite for academics committed to campus purifications, particularly at the institution that is the leader in the silliness sweepstakes, Yale. Its Committee on Art in Public Spaces has discovered that a stone carving that has adorned an entrance to Sterling Memorial Library since it opened 86 years ago has become “not appropriate.” 
The carving, according to Yale Alumni Magazine, depicts “a hostile encounter: a Puritan pointing a musket at a Native American.” Actually, the Native American and the Puritan are looking not hostilely at each other but into the distance. Still, one can’t be too careful, so the musket has been covered with stone. This is unilateral disarmament: The Native American’s weapon, a bow, has not been covered up. Perhaps Yale thinks that armed white men are more “triggering” (this academic-speak means “upsetting to the emotionally brittle”) than armed people of color. National Review Online’s Kyle Smith drolly worries that Yale University might be perpetuating harmful stereotypes. 
If such campus folderols merely added to what Samuel Johnson called “the public stock of harmless pleasure,” Americans could welcome a new academic year the way they once welcomed new burlesque acts. Unfortunately, the descent of institutions of learning into ludicrousness is symptomatic of larger social distempers that Frank Furedi has diagnosed abroad as well as in America.
Furedi is a professor emeritus in England and author of “What’s Happened to the University?: A Sociological Exploration of Its Infantilization.” Writing in the American Interest, he cites a warning issued to Oxford University postgraduate students about the danger of “vicarious trauma,” which supposedly results from “hearing about and engaging with the traumatic experiences of others.” This, Furedi says, is symptomatic of the “medicalization” of almost everything in universities that strive to be “therapeutic.” Universities are “promoting theories and practices that encourage people to interpret their anxieties, distress and disappointment through the language of psychological deficits.” This generates self-fulfilling diagnoses of emotionally fragile students. They demand mental-health services on campuses that are replete with “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” to insulate students from discomforts, such as the depiction of a musket. What academics perceive as “an expanded set of problems tracks right along with the exponential growth of the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.’ ” 
The socialization of children, which prepares them to enter the wider world, has been shifted from parents to primary and secondary schools, and now to higher education, which has embraced the task that Furedi calls “re-socialization through altering the norms that undergraduates grew up with.” This is done by using speech codes and indoctrination to raise “awareness” about defects students acquired before coming to campuses that are determined to purify undergraduates. 
Often, however, students arrive with little moral ballast bequeathed by parents who thought their role was, Furedi says, less to transmit values than to validate their children’s feelings and attitudes: “This emphasis on validation runs in tandem with a risk-averse regime of child-rearing, the (unintended) consequence of which has been to limit opportunities for the cultivation of independence and to extend the phase of dependence of young people on adult society.” 

The therapeutic university’s language — students are “vulnerable” to routine stresses and difficulties that are defined as “traumas” — also becomes self-fulfilling. As a result, students experience a diminished sense of capacity for moral agency — for self-determination. This can make them simultaneously passive, immersing themselves into groupthink, and volatile, like the mobs at Middlebury College, Claremont McKenna College, the University of California at Berkeley and other schools that disrupt uncongenial speakers. Hence universities provide “trigger warnings” that facilitate flights into “safe spaces.” Furedi quotes an Oberlin College student who says: “There’s something to be said about exposing yourself to ideas other than your own,” but “I’ve had enough of that.”
Times do, however, change, as the Yale Alumni Magazine delicately intimated when it said the stone now obscuring the Puritan’s musket “can be removed in the future without damaging the original carving.” And the future has come with strange speed to New Haven. 
In a peculiar letter in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, a Yale official says the university is removing the stone “that a construction project team had placed on the stonework.” By clearly suggesting, implausibly, that this “team” acted on its own, the letter contradicts the magazine’s report that the covering up was done because the Committee on Art in Public Spaces deemed the carving “not appropriate.” The letter, which says the uncovered carving will be moved to where it can be studied and “contextualized,” speaks volumes about Yale’s context.

Will Rev. RAWLS "Take Down" His Anti-Gay Marriage YouTube Video Because GLBT People Find It Offensive?


Will Rev. RONALD RAWLS, JR., take down this hate-Gays video?  I'm offended.  How about you?  Notice the large container of sugary drinks that the histrionic, history-destroying Rev. RAWLS is selling, over his right shoulder?  What kind of minister makes money from selling diabetes to his flock, even as he advances an anti-Gay, anti-history agenda?

Here's how "President Josiah Bartlet," a fictional Aaron Sorkin character in The West Wing, responded to anti-Gay bigotry:

Here's how "Will McAvoy," a fictional Aaron Sorkin character in The Newsroom, responded to anti-Gay bigotry:

Here's how I responded to Rev. RONALD RAWLS, JR. -- no response -- as Wm F. Buckley, Jr. once said, "Why does baloney reject the grinder?":

-----Original Message-----
From: Ed Slavin
To: ronrawls
Sent: Wed, Aug 30, 2017 6:01 pm
Subject: Rev. Ronald Rawls, Jr.: Remove your 70 minute anti-Gay marriage YouTube video, please
Dear Rev. Rawls:
1. Please remove and take down your offensive, inauthentic, inflammatory, insensitive anti-Gay marriage YouTube video, which foments hatred.
2. I was honored to be invited to write the first article on Gay marriage in an American Bar Association publication in 1991 after successfully representing the plaintiff in Duane Rinde v. Woodward & Lothrop Co., establishing the right to equal discount benefits for Gay partner's spouses at 30 department stores in Washington, D.C. and six states.  I would be willing to discuss this with you and your congregation.
3.  Whatever possessed you to put up hate speech on YouTube after our Supreme Court, President Barack Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden, supported our constitutional right to Gay marriage?   The Supreme Court and President Obama addressed a legal issue.  Your remarks were intolerant, if quoted correctly.  See St Augustine Record article on June 26, 2013.   
4. Your response to a Supreme Court constitutional rights decision -- a strictly legal matter -- was uncouth and unkind; Rev. Rawls, you were quoted in The St. Augustine Record about "sin issues" at a time when Rev. Dudley Waver and other local church leaders spoke out with acceptance, kindness, dignity and grace, recognizing the landmark Supreme Court decision was a matter of "secular law," just as St. Augustine City Commission did on December 10, 2012 (when preacher Doug Russo, whom you invited to speak on August 21, 2017, said Gays should be put to death because its's in the Bible.   
5. Likewise, your YouTube video offends GLBTQ people: it and shows no compassion, no scholarship and very bad judgement.
6. Why do you indulge in hate speech about both Gays and monuments to Civil War veterans, while claiming God told you to demolish an historic building for parking?  
7. Rev. Rawls, how can you claim "moral" leadership in light of your homophobia, your demolition of 2/3 of historic Echo House (after selling most of its roof tiles), your plans to demolish the rest of Echo House, and your demagogic demand to remove two (2) Civil War soldier monuments in Our Nation's Oldest City, St. Augustine (including one on City property and one on State of Florida property, administered by the University of Florida)?    Please call me to discuss.  
Thank you.
With kindest regards, I am,
Sincerely yours,
Ed Slavin

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Artists Win Settlement of Yet Another Civil Rights Lawsuit Against City of St. Augustine, Florida

City should have changed ordinances in January 2015, when attorney Tom Thomas E. Cushman spoke to City Commission. Only Mayor Nancy Shaver was agreeable to holding a workshop meeting. Four other Commissioners -- Todd Neville, Nancy Sikes-Kline, Leanna Freeman and Roxanne Horvath were unwilling to consider changes -- changes instituted now as a result of the City losing yet another federal court civil rights lawsuit.
Hired without a statewide search, developer-driven St. Augustine City Attorney Isabelle Christine Lopez needs to resign. Now.
Her pro-developer bias and cognitive miser attitude deprives the Commissioners of good legal advice and denies citizens their legal and constitutional rights.
City failed to seek $216,000 in legal fees from Whetstones on their frivolous litigation over their lawsuit against claim to own City bottomlands. Although seeking legal fees was discussed in a Shade Meeting, during the litigation, maladroit City Attorney Lopez and outside law firm (Gunster Yoakley & Stewart) never filed required paperwork, then emitted excuses.
Enough of Lopez wasting our money and violating our rights.

Settlement in St. Augustine lawsuit will expand territory for artists

A lawsuit settlement is poised to give more freedom to artists in St. Augustine.

Artists Bruce Bates, Elena Hecht, Kate Merrick and Helena Sala sued the city in 2015 over rules that restrict the sale of art. Creating art is considered a performance under city code, and selling art is considered vending.
While commissioners supported the settlement, City Code changes will come back to the board for consideration and public comment.
Details of the settlement, according to City Attorney Isabelle Lopez and Assistant City Attorney Denise May, include:
• Spaces in the Plaza de la Constitucion market, which are now used by commercial vendors, would be reserved only for First Amendment expressive activity such as creating art or performing. However, performers could create and sell something such as a piece of art. Twelve spaces also reserved only for First Amendment expressive activity will be added under an overhang at the city parking garage, and they’ll be available via the same lottery system used for the plaza. Commercial vendors will keep their existing spaces in the area.
• Getting a space for performing via the lottery will cost $25 instead of $75. People can apply for a waiver.
• Performers won’t have to follow mobile vending rules such as insurance coverage and permitting.
• Rules for peddlers (those who move from place to place to sell) will be repealed. They weren’t being enforced anyway.
• Rules for the plaza west of St. George Street will be repealed because the city doesn’t control it — it’s in possession of the state and managed by the University of Florida.
• Florida League of Cities, the city’s former insurance carrier, will pay $50,000 in attorneys fees as well as mediation fees.
• St. George Street and the Plaza de la Constitucion regulations, like those restricting or prohibiting performances, will remain in effect.


Record Editor says its "not news" that St. Johns County now has an Inspector General to ferret out waste, fraud, abuse, misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance. So I asked Clerk of Courts Hunter Conrad and Inspector General J. Bradley to send Record Editor a press release, since The St. Augustine Record Editor apparently doesn't consider anything "news" unless he gets a press release or phone call from an advertiser, government agency or businessman.
I think that this speaks volumes about this stinky little corner of the MORRIS COMMUNICATIONS empire.
Mark your calendar: October 2 is Liberation Day, when GateHouse takes over the St. Augustine Record from the nutty MORRIS family.
Since 2007, I've been calling for creation of an Inspector General here.
Now that we have one, the St. Augustine Record's editor says it's "not news."
Is he a newsman?
Or what?


-----Original Message-----
From: Ed Slavin
To: coc ; bsimmons
Cc: craig.richardson
Sent: Wed, Aug 30, 2017 1:51 pm
Subject: Request No. 2017-526: Clerk of Courts and Comptroller's office press release on St. Johns County Inspector General

Dear Messrs. Conrad and Simmons:
1. Please send me a copy of the St. Johns County Clerk of Courts and Comptroller's office press release on the new Inspector General office.
2. If no press release exists yet, will you kindly create one?

3. St. Augustine Record Editor Craig Richardson earlier today allegedly told a Lincolnville resident, former U.S. Army Capt. Kirk Dougal, that the creation of the IG office was "not news."  
4. Evidently, the St. Augustine Record still does not consider anything "news" without a press release or a phone call from an advertiser, businessman or government official.  Thus, in the public interest in exposing wrongdoing, would you kindly send the Record a press release on the new IG, including the pertinent e-mail  and street addresses and telephone number(s)?
5. For ten years, I've been advocating creation of an Independent Inspector General for St. Johns County, to investigate waste, fraud, abuse, misfeasance,  malfeasance and nonfeasance in all governments in St. Johns County.  
6. Thank you for listening, Mr. Conrad.  Congratulations, Mr. Simmons.  We're part way there.  
7. How can local people help you?
With kindest regards, I am,
Sincerely yours,
Ed Slavin

St. Augustine Record unquestioningly reports another Sheriff DAVID SHOAR allegation of "suicide"

"St. Augustine Record does not report names of suicide victims?"  MORRIS-owned Record STILL lets Sheriff determine what a suicide is, without waiting for ME's report?   Without reporting?

That's just what the MORRIS-owned Record did after the September 2, 2010 homicide of Michelle O'Connell.  Had enough?

This appears to be a press release.

This now deserves an actual news story, written by an actual reporter, especially since the mother of the alleged suicide victim identified him by name.

Posted August 30, 2017 05:40 am
Jail inmate committed suicide, Sheriff’s Office says

A St. Augustine man died Tuesday morning after he jumped from a second story balcony near his cell in the St. Johns County jail, officials said.

The 39-year-old man was pronounced dead at the jail shortly after the incident, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Cmdr. Chuck Mulligan said.

Mulligan said the inmate had been in the jail about six days when, after returning from breakfast, he was climbing the stairs back to his cell. At the top of the stairs, instead of continuing onto the landing, he climbed over the railing, climbed to the top of a chain-link fence that extends from the balcony railing to the ceiling, and jumped.

Mulligan said witnesses and officials had been interviewed following the incident and said that the man was not on suicide watch had shown no signs of wanting to harm himself.

He had been booked into the jail on Aug. 23 on charges of burglary with an assault or battery and tampering with a witness by preventing communication to law enforcement.

The St. Augustine Record does not print the names of suicide victims.

Promoting healing in St. Augustine after 452 years -- 18 urgent actions (none involves removing monuments)

Thanks to the 76 people who spoke at City Commission August 28th (Feast of Saint. Augustine, 452nd anniversary of Menendez's sighting land and naming our town after a black man, Saint Augustine of Hippo).

St. Augustine's Spanish Governors freed British slaves, leading the British to burn our town to the ground twice. There's a state park at Fort Mose, honoring the African-Americans who won freedom from slavery under the Spanish, fleeing oppression in British colonies in the Carolinas.

We urgently need greater protection for resources with enhanced National Park Service status.

We need to promote healing and respect our history here, including:
1.  Enactment of the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore, first proposed by Mayor Walter Fraser, Senator Claude Pepper, et al. in 1939. Let's honor 11,000 years of history, including the first Africans (free and slave) who arrived here on September 8, 1565 with Pedro Menendez and America's first Hispanics, Catholics and Jews. Courageous Minorcans, Greeks and Italians fled British contract-slavery in New Smyrna colony in 1777, voting with their feet. We must share their courageous stories with the world with NPS interpretation.

2. Emancipation Proclamation Park monument (site of first reading here is now a parking lot).

3. Union Civil War veteran monument.

4. Sculpture honoring slavery victims.

5. Sculpture of civil rights heroes Robert Hayling, Stetson Kennedy and Barbara Vickers, engaged in conversation, perhaps looking at the slavery sculpture and one of the other Civil War monuments (like the one honoring General William Wing Loring),

6. NPS civil rights museum honoring St. Augustine Movement's role in adoption of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, not unlike the ones in Memphis, Atlanta and elsewhere, putting history in perspective.

7. Monument to "Guillermo," first anti-Gay hate crime victim (1566), a French translator of the Guale language, whom Menendez ordered garroted to death in secret because he said Guillermo was a "Sodomite and a Lutheran."

8. Florida law requiring K-12 civil rights education, like in Mississippi.

9. Renewed dedication to restoring democracy, open government and transparency.

10. Halting developers's destruction of our history, wetlands, wildlife and beauty.

11. Ending housing, employment and public accommodations discrimination.

12. Restoring artists and entertainers to their rightful place in historic downtown.

13. County Charter providing for limited, open government, an independent Inspector General and Ombuds.

14. Single-member Commission districts.

15. Saving the majority-minority Town of Hastings from dissolution.

16.  Urgently addressing mobility, affordable housing and low wages. We need free democratic labor unions and collective bargaining for higher wages and benefits.

17. Pumping system to protect us from global ocean level rise. Hurricanes Matthew and Harvey are harbingers. We'll get federal funds through enactment of the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore.

18. Federal Grand Jury investigation of corruption and civil rights violations. September 2 marks the seventh anniversary of the 2010 shooting death of Ms. Michelle O'Connell in the home of St. Johns County Sheriff's Deputy Jeremy Banks. St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar's massive coverup demands justice. See 2013 and 2017 New York Times and PBS/Frontline investigations. Two autopsy physicians were found malfeasant. Shoar tried to have FDLE special agent Rusty Rodgers prosecuted and fired.

What we DON'T need here:
o Hatred.
o Removal of local monuments to Civil War war dead. Leave the monuments alone.
o Misguided "minister" dividing us over monuments (after destroying 2/3 of Echo House, an historic African-American community building)(after first selling its roof tiles), while spewing anti-Gay marriage hatred on YouTube. Rev. Ron Rawls' racist rhetoric is reprehensible -- not promoting healing, but his personal agenda -- growing his "business" (his church) as he called it in City meetings.


Posted August 30, 2017 12:02 am
Local historians say city still has unfinished work from 1960s struggles

Local historians say city still has unfinished work from 1960s struggles

As was on display Monday night at the City Commission meeting, St. Augustine is one of many Southern cities taking a fresh look at how symbols can perpetuate racial tension.

The events more than two weeks ago in Charlottesville, Virginia, have caused people all over the country to reconsider whether Confederate monuments are appropriate in city squares, like the two monuments in St. Augustine the commission and residents discussed Monday.

Just as Charlottesville has become, St. Augustine is no stranger to the national stage when it comes to race relations.

It was about 53 years ago that Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference demonstrators — along with some locals — gathered in St. Augustine to push for the end of segregation.

It revealed something of the uglier side of St. Augustine to a wider audience. And according to some historians, the exercise ended without a particularly satisfactory conclusion. They also say the lack of resolution still dogs the city.

Flagler College history professor Michael Butler, who is the author of the book “Beyond Integration: The Black Freedom Struggle in Escambia County, Florida, 1960-1980” and various other works related to civil rights, said King’s effort here was met with strong resistance and violence.

“I think St. Augustine was tremendously important, and it received a lot of attention at the time in 1964,” Butler said. “What SCLC discovered when they got involved in the St. Augustine struggle was that this was a much more violent and much more dangerous place than they thought they would encounter.”

And despite a specific list of demands, the SCLC never really brokered a compromise with local leaders. The Civil Rights Act was signed by President Lyndon Johnson, which ended segregation as a legal practice. The events here helped prompt the passage of the bill.

Yet because both sides never really got together locally after the protests — and the arrest of King — Butler believes St. Augustine is still suffering from unresolved issues of racial equality.

“There was very little interracial cooperation after the Civil Rights Act passed in St. Augustine,” Butler said. “I think that’s a story that more cities in the South have in common with St. Augustine than don’t.”

St. Augustine’s place in the history of the civil rights movement rivals its other historical acclaim, said local historian David Nolan.

But Nolan believes it’s almost entirely unappreciated by the predominately white community that makes up the St. Augustine area. (St. Augustine was 84 percent white, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, while the county overall was 89 percent white.)

“When I came here in the 1970s … I was told two things: ‘Don’t waste any time in Lincolnville. There’s no history down there.’ And the other thing was, ‘You must never mention the name of Martin Luther King in St. Augustine,’” Nolan said.

Nolan acknowledged the city’s achievement in recognizing the significance of civil rights history in 2014 with the “Journey” exhibit and the reunion of some of the 16 rabbis who protested with King and were arrested here in 1964.

Other than that effort, Nolan said he really hasn’t seen much embracing of black history here.

The city erected the St. Augustine Foot Soldiers Monument and Andrew Young Crossing in 2011 in the Plaza de la ConstituciĆ³n to honor Civil Rights leaders.

“Kind of 50 years was the magic number,” Nolan said. “Once 50 years had passed, the city started very tentatively to do things, to have exhibits, to put the Andrew Young footsteps in the Plaza.”

Still, Nolan would have liked to have seen a concerted effort to preserve places like the Monson Motor Lodge, site of the famous “swim-in” and iconic photo of acid being poured into the pool when black swimmers refused to get out.

“I have no doubt that, in the future, St. Augustine will take advantage of its civil rights history,” Nolan said. “We’ll be selling T-shirts and keychains and all that kind of stuff.

“The question is: How much are we going to lose between now and then? How much have we already lost and how much are we going to lose between now and when they say, ‘Hey, we better save every bit of it.’”

Part of the reason the civil rights history has not been embraced the way the history of Henry Flagler or Pedro Menendez has been could be traced back to the fact that the black and white populations have never fully resolved the conflicts of institutional racism.

It’s something Butler said very few Southern towns have been able to do well.

“It’s the nation’s story,” he said. “There’s a huge difference between desegregation and integration. St. Augustine desegregated. St. Augustine has yet to fully integrate.”

That has carried over into the current dispute over whether Confederate monuments should continue to be displayed in the city’s public spaces.

“That’s where these issues of symbols come into play,” Butler said. “That is the visual reminder that we haven’t fully integrated as a society. They mean one thing to certain people, and they mean something totally different to others.

“The fact (is) that there’s very little listening when it comes to symbols and their public presence.”


Posted August 30, 2017 12:02 am - Updated August 30, 2017 09:49 am
City officials plan to ‘wrestle’ with future of Confederate monuments

St. Augustine officials say they won’t be making any fast decisions about what to do with a Confederate monument in downtown’s Plaza de la Constitucion.

After hearing hours of public comment on Monday night, commissioners asked for a careful approach. And on Tuesday, City Manager John Regan said that’s how he’s moving forward.

“I think we’re at a real critical moment in our city’s history right now,” Regan said.

The next step is researching how other governments have addressed the issue of Confederate monuments, and the policies other cities have for monuments in public. Regan plans to bring that back to commissioners for consideration, but he hasn’t given himself a deadline for doing so, he said.

After hearing public comment Monday, Mayor Nancy Shaver said many questions remain to be answered about the city’s options.

Removing the Confederate monument on city land on the east side of the plaza is a possibility, said City Attorney Isabelle Lopez. Laws regarding burial grounds would apply to the memorial to Confederate Gen. William Loring, which is on the western side of the plaza and is under state — not city — control. His ashes are buried there.

“For our monument. … It’s a public policy decision,” Lopez said.

That’s how Shaver described the issue on Monday.

“The policy question to me, really, is what is appropriate to have in a public space,” Shaver said. “I think that takes contemplation. I think it takes understanding what that might mean from many resources.”

Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline pointed to some resources to consider, including a statement from the National Trust for Historic Preservation that she said summed up her opinion at the moment.

The statement said, according to Sikes-Kline, that people should remember the past but not necessarily revere it. As communities try to find a balance, they should do so in a transparent way that looks at many alternatives and allows thoughtful dialogue in the community that includes all voices.

Sikes Kline, whose background is in historic preservation, also said people in the community need time to consider the issue. Commissioners also need time to go out and listen.

“I feel like we’re at a historic moment,” Sikes-Kline said. “I feel like we’re looking at a big culture change. I think you’re seeing it expressed here. … I want to hear everybody’s voice, and I’m very reluctant to get ahead of our community.”

She and Shaver also mentioned Sandra Parks, former city commissioner and widow of civil rights activist Stetson Kennedy.

On behalf of the Stetson Kennedy Foundation, Parks suggested several things, including:

Work with the state to shroud both monuments until there’s a resolution.
Create a donation fund for modifications to the monuments or for creating new ones.
Create a short-term Civil War commemoration committee composed of historians, tourism professionals, educators and history organization leaders to recommend design and content standards for monuments, events, tours and advertising for St. Augustine Civil War history.
Create an inventory of Civil War sites in the city.
Provide educational programs to the public about the city’s Civil War history.

Vice Mayor Todd Neville said he wanted the city staff to come back with options, saying the environment was “hot” on Monday night.

Commissioner Roxanne Horvath said she needed more time “to digest” people’s comments.

“This was a lot more emotional than I thought it would be,” she said.

Commissioner Leanna Freeman suggested providing some direction.

Overall, commissioners agreed on taking a careful approach and considering information that city officials bring back.

Regan said it’s the city’s job to be prepared for all consequences. Monday night’s meeting was the first step in “active listening, which is the first step to solving … problems that have consequences,” he told commissioners.

The city has been progressive, he said, pointing to efforts to diversify its workforce, open the door for civil rights monuments in the plaza, investing in West Augustine utilities, and financing an exhibit on African-American history as part of the 450th anniversary celebrations.

“Philosophically, our goal is to be a progressive city,” he said. “This problem, we have to wrestle. It’s not something that’s an easy one.”

Shaver agreed.

“This is not about bricks and stone,” she said. “It’s really about something quite different, which is what I think we heard tonight.”


Posted August 29, 2017 12:02 am - Updated August 29, 2017 10:40 am
Sides plead to retain or remove St. Augustine Plaza monuments

At St. Augustine’s City Hall on Monday night, dozens of people called for opposing futures for Confederate-related monuments in St. Augustine’s plaza.

More than 70 people signed up to speak to commissioners about the issue, and public comment was still being taken shortly before 10 p.m. Commissioners hadn’t had a chance to share their opinions by press time.

Of about 50 people who had spoken shortly before 10 p.m., they were almost evenly split between those who wanted the monuments to stay and those who wanted them removed. Some people suggested options other than leaving or removing them, including the city coming up with a different way to educate people about its Civil War history.

During the meeting and before public comment began, Mayor Nancy Shaver asked for people to shake hands and asked for people not to jeer or applaud.

“This is democracy, but this is a room to be civil,” Shaver said.

Speakers included a representative from the NAACP and a representative from the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The leader of the NAACP’s St. Augustine branch, the Rev. Margaret Rickerson, called on commissioners to remove “all Confederate statues, flags and memorials from our public grounds,” adding that the monuments represent slavery.

“So the history books should be their resting [place],” Rickerson said. “’Take them down’ is our battle cry.”

St. Augustine has two Confederate-related monuments.

One of the memorials, on the east side of Plaza de la Constitucion, honors men who died “serving the Confederate states.” A monument with an image of the Confederate flag that stands near the west end of the plaza honors Confederate Gen. William Loring — whose ashes are buried in the area — and his service in the Civil War and other conflicts.

The city controls the space where the Confederate monument is located, and the state owns the area of the Loring monument, city officials said.

Historian Susan Parker, at the request of City Manager John Regan, gave an overview of the history of the monument on the east side. The first request to put the monument in the plaza was denied by city officials, she said. As city politics changed, the monument was allowed.

People around the country and the state of Florida have called for the removal of Confederate-related monuments from public spaces, while others have pushed back in favor of keeping the memorials and monuments.

Much of the comments at Monday’s meeting focused on what the monuments symbolize and their impact — whether leaving them reveres a history of slavery, and whether removing them would open the door for other historical monuments in the city to be torn down if they offend people.

“The purpose of those monuments was a clear message that we lost the war but we’re still in charge,” said the Rev. Ron Rawls, pastor of St. Paul AME Church, who again called on commissioners to remove the monuments and said he’s been threatened since speaking about the issue.

Rawls encouraged people a week ago to come to City Commission meetings and sign up for public comment to speak in support of taking the monuments out of the plaza.

Public comment was also touched with personal testimonies, including of those who remembered racial segregation in the city and who have experienced discrimination.

Jaime Perkins, who grew up area, recalled working for a bank in downtown St. Augustine. She said a man came into the bank and used a racial slur against her. He wore a Confederate flag pin on his lapel, she said.

“If that flag once meant heritage, which I don’t concur with … the hate groups and other radical organizations … have tarnished its image,” Perkins said.

Many spoke about preserving history, some family members of those named on the Confederate Monument. One woman who started a petition gathered thousands of signatures to keep the monuments.

David McCallister, Florida Heritage Chairman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the monument was put up by women who wanted to remember their family members who died.

“It is a cenotaph for their memory when they are buried in mass graves and battlefields far from home,” McCallister said.

In other business

• Commissioners supported a settlement in a lawsuit that four artists filed against the city related to city rules that apply to the sale of art. The settlement will also, among other things, exempt artists from complying with the mobile vending ordinance and having to apply for a permit to sell their art. Attorneys fees of $50,000 and mediation fees will be paid by the Florida League of Cities, who was the city’s insurance carrier.

• Commissioners supported funding a grant program that will pay for some people in West Augustine to pay for hooking up to sewer.


Posted August 28, 2017 08:47 pm
Peace prevails as crowds gather downtown to debate Confederate monuments

Things remained peaceful Monday night as more than 100 people came to downtown St. Augustine to make their opinions known about the proposed removal of Confederate monuments from the city’s main plaza.

About 20 people, some carrying American flags, and many wearing military garb, took up position near the obelisk built to honor those from St. Augustine who died fighting for the Confederacy.

Another monument, which sits on land owned by the University of Florida at the west end of the Plaza de la Constitucion, honors Confederate Gen. William Loring — whose ashes are buried in the area — and his service in the Civil War and other conflicts.

The Rev. Ron Rawls, of St. Paul AME Church, has asked city officials that the monuments be moved to a museum or private property.

Apparently motivated by the recent removal of similar monuments from public spaces in other American cities, Rawls, at a meeting he hosted at his church last week, said the ones here serve only to perpetuate a message of intimidation aimed at black residents. At the church meeting he invited supporters to speak out at the next city commission meeting and to keep doing so until the monuments are moved.

“We will stay there until 12 o’clock that night,” Rawls said at the time. “And then in two weeks we will do the same thing.”

“And the longer this draws out, the longer that will draw out,” he said. “This is something that can be done and we need to take advantage of the spirit within our country right now that is moving toward what’s right.”

Police Chief Barry Fox said before Monday’s meeting that he had planned for about 200 people to show up and had, with the help of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office and St. Augustine Beach Police Department, added in extra layers of security in case tensions ran high.

While the meeting didn’t start until 5 p.m., demonstrators in the plaza, from a group that calls itself “3 Percent United Patriots,” or 3UP, started showing up about 2:30 p.m.

With police standing at the edge of the plaza, and others occasionally walking through, most demonstrators spoke calmly with passersby when they stopped to talk or ask questions.

Questions for the group were directed to Sheryl Tumey who wasn’t there but said by phone that she was working from her home near Daytona Beach, arranging to have supplies sent to hurricane victims in Texas.

In a brief interview she said the group got its name from the idea that only 3 percent of the population in colonial times “stood against the king’s tyranny.”

She described the group as “diverse” but made up of “like-minded people” who didn’t want to see the monuments moved because they honored people who fought and died in war.

“This is for veterans who are recognized by the U.S. Congress as combat veterans,” she said. “We respect all veterans.”

The 3UP organization, she said, does not tolerate racism and she took issue with people of a “conservative mindset” often being thought of as “racist.”

“The labels need to stop,” she said. “We are Americans and we need to start acting like it.”

At City Hall, those wishing to speak, about 100 of them, filled chairs set up in an overflow room adjacent to the meeting chamber.

Les Lamon said he was in favor of having both monuments moved. He acknowledged that people who fought for the Confederacy fought bravely “but they fought clearly for slavery.”

Choosing to honor them is a decision, he said, “and that’s a choice we can revisit at any time.”

“That doesn’t mean we are getting rid of the history, we are just choosing not to honor it anymore,” he said.

Michael Harrison, who said he has lived in St. Augustine his entire life was there to speak in favor of keeping the monuments where they are.

“It shouldn’t even be a debate,” he said. “This is a tourist town, people come here to see history.”

Discussion on the topic, which was added to the commission agenda last week, didn’t get underway until shortly before 7 p.m.

Mayor Nancy Shaver said about 75 people had signed up to speak and officials estimated the public comments could last as long as four hours.