Sunday, December 31, 2017

2001 Ed Slavin letter re: City of St. Augustine's loony laws -- unconstitutional anti-artist ordinances (SAR)

Bruce Kevin Bates, twice-prevailing plaintiff in First Amendment litigation against City of St. Augustine, Florida. (HCN).

History has proven us right. Visual artists have won twice in federal court in 2009 and 2016-2017 (Bates v. City of St. Augustine I & II).

Our streets are still "not lively," as Mayor Nancy Shaver said in 2015. Panhandlers have taken the place of buskers.

In 2018, let's restore artists and musicians to their rightful place on St. George Street.

Letter: Let's not repeat history
Edward A. Slavin Jr.
St. Augustine
Published Wednesday, April 18, 2001
St. Augustine Record

Are we condemned to repeat history? In 1964, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led demonstrations against an old St. Augustine ''tradition'' -- ''Jim Crow'' segregation. The demonstrators were right. The city was wrong. History celebrates Dr. King and the civil rights movement.

On April 1, some 100 people demonstrated against the city ordinance persecuting St. George Street artists under penalty of criminal laws. That's equal to 1 percent of the city's registered voters; some elections turn on thinner margins. The ill-advised city and manager ignore ''public opinion'' from visitors and residents alike (March 20). On April 1, The Record called for a negotiated settlement of the artist ordinance before it gets to court. That's wise advice. Losing repeatedly in the courts, the city should ''drop the oyster and leave the wharf.'' Do it now -- before the city's shame is permanently engraved in law books, along with Supreme Court decisions forever placing the stain of human rights violations on Jacksonville and Boca Raton.

Jacksonville's loony laws led to a wonderful U.S. Supreme Court precedent, Papachristou vs. city of Jacksonville, banning unconstitutional ''void-for-vagueness'' laws against ''vagrancy'' (or anything else). Justice William O. Douglas wrote the court's 1972 opinion, a monument to the genius of a free people.

A city of Boca Raton manager sexually harassed a woman lifeguard; Boca burghers unwisely appealed from a small judgment. The result in 1998: the leading Supreme Court precedent on ''hostile working environments.'' After its harasser and co-ed lifeguard locker room made history, Boca removed the lifeguard HQ sign, but not the permanent taint to Boca's name.

Once tour trains operators were harassed. Who's next? St. Augustine's ''historical'' area was long home to ''buskers.'' ''Buskers'' have a legal ''right to exist,'' just like Israel (which only a few terrorists now deny). ''Buskers'' are part of our wonderful town. Shop owners should not look down their noses at buskers, but salute them and celebrate diversity. As JFK said, ''a rising tide lifts all boats.''

Inside the Castillo? Federal property, not city streets. Colonial Williamsburg? Quite a contrast: no T-shirt shops, hundreds paid to work in costume by a mega-foundation with fat management salaries, high prices charged to enter restored buildings. Williamsburg pushed to charge admission to people walking city streets inside Williamsburg; that effort failed. Williamsburg requires anyone conducting history tours to pass an ''official history'' test (with a loophole for Williamsburg employees but not volunteers). Moonlighting Williamsburg volunteers risk arrest if they lead bus tourists for pay and ''deviate'' from the ''official history'' syllabus (talking about the Civil War?) or fail to report a tourist for violating city, state or federal laws. Sadly, no proud Virginian sued over Williamsburg's hysterical lawmaking and ''official history.''

St. Augustine is more human(e): citizens will not rest while our city violates anyone's rights. Saint Augustine said, ''An unjust law is no law at all.'' Jesus said: ''That which you do to the least of my brothers (and sisters), you do unto me.''

Saturday, December 30, 2017

FLORIDA AG PAM BONDI: Bed Tax Money Can Now Fund Transit (If Tourism-Related)

The late former St. Augustine Mayoral candidate Peter Romano's idea about restoring trolleys -- previously shared by former St. Augustine Mayor Len Weeks -- can now become a reality here in St. Augustine.  Like the trolleys in New Orleans, Memphis, Denver (above).

Read AG Pam Bondi's November 22, 2017 opinion:

Advisory Legal Opinion - AGO 2017-06
Number: AGO 2017-06
Date: November 22, 2017
Subject: Funding transit system with tourist development tax

Mr. Tim Norris
Chairman, Walton County Tourist 
Development Council
25777 US Highway 331 South
Santa Rosa Beach, Florida 32459

RE: COUNTIES – TOURIST DEVELOPMENT TAX – TRANSIT SYSTEM OPERATED BY A PRIVATE COMPANY – whether the county may use revenues received from the tourist development tax to fund a transit system to be operated by a private company. § 125.0104(5)(a)3., Fla. Stat.

Dear Mr. Norris: 

This office has received your inquiry on behalf of the Board of County Commissioners of Walton County, asking the following question:

Whether the county may use proceeds of the tourist development tax under section 125.0104(5)(a)3., Florida Statutes, to fund, in whole or in part, a transit system operated by a private company.

In sum:

Section 125. 0104(5)(a)3., Florida Statutes, which authorizes use of tourist development tax revenues for “an activity, service, venue, or event” when one of its main purposes is to attract tourism, does not encompass funding to operate a transit system in general, but would support funding for specific transportation services that are clearly intended to attract tourism. 

The Local Option Tourist Development Act, section 125.0104, Florida Statutes, authorizes counties to impose a tax on short-term rentals of living quarters or accommodations within the county (with certain exceptions not pertinent here). This office has often stated that “the intent and purpose of the act was to provide for the advancement, generation, growth and promotion of tourism, the enhancement of the tourist industry, and the attraction of conventioneers and tourists from within and without the state to a particular area or county of the state.”[1]

The projects that can be funded by the tourist development tax are enumerated in subsection (5) of the statute.[2] Each is related to the attraction of tourists to the county.[3] You suggest that section 125.0104(5)(a)3., Florida Statutes, provides the specific authority to fund the operation of a transit system. That provision states:

“(a) All tax revenues received pursuant to this section by a county imposing the tourist development tax shall be used by that county for the following purposes only:

* * *

3. To promote and advertise tourism in this state and nationally and internationally; however, if tax revenues are expended for an activity, service, venue, or event, the activity, service, venue, or event must have as one of its main purposes the attraction of tourists as evidenced by the promotion of the activity, service, venue, or event to tourists[.]” (e.s.)

This provision is specifically tailored to authorize funding for the promotion[4] and advertisement of various attractions within the county to tourists.

“Nothing in section 125.0104(5), Florida Statutes, suggests that the tourist development tax is a broad funding source. Rather, the tax revenues are a targeted funding source to directly and primarily promote tourism.”[5] Thus, such revenues cannot be used to fund a public transit system for the citizens of Walton County that would incidentally benefit tourists. Instead, to warrant use of tourist development tax revenues for transportation services under subsection (5)(a)3., there must be a clear and direct relationship between the promotion of tourism and the particular transportation service being offered.[6] Such transportation services should involve routes and schedules addressing the specific needs of tourists, and might include, for example, a shuttle connecting hotels and motels with county tourist attractions.  

Although subsection (5)(a)3. does not restrict services eligible for funding to those which are publicly provided,[7] each qualifying service must clearly enhance the County’s ability to attract tourists, and each must be promoted to tourists in a manner demonstrating that tourism is one of its central purposes. Therefore, before allocating revenues to any transportation service for which funding is sought, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners must make a case-by-case factual determination, based on a consideration of these factors, regarding whether a main purpose of the service is to attract tourists.  

These principles are reflected in prior opinions discussing the use of tourist development funds. In Attorney General Opinion 2000-25, this office was asked about a county’s use of tourist development funds (1) to cosponsor with a private corporation a bass fishing tournament at a county facility, and (2) to sponsor a two-day event at a private racetrack. This office concluded that tourist development funds could not be used to operate or promote a private sports facility, because subsection (5)(a)1. requires that sports facilities be publicly owned to receive tourist development tax dollars. Revenues could be used, however, pursuant to what is now subsection (5)(a)3., for the particular attraction or event being held, so long as the governing body made the legislative determination that one of the main purposes of the event was to attract tourists. 

In an informal opinion provided to Circuit Court Clerk Scott Ellis of Titusville, this office was asked about using tourist development revenues for the day-to-day operations of a “county contracted arts and culture-focused nonprofit entity,” the Brevard Cultural Alliance.[8] Such operations would include salaries of agency personnel, costs of marketing and printing, and insurance and employee benefits. This office concluded that under section 125.0104(5)(a)3., Florida Statutes, tourist development tax revenues could be used for particular events and activities put on by the organization to promote tourism, but not for its daily administrative expenses.  

Therefore, it is my opinion that revenues from a tourist development tax may be used for specific tourist-oriented transportation services based upon a showing that one of the main purposes of each individual service provided is to attract tourists to Walton County.  


Pam Bondi
Attorney General


[1] Op. Att’y Gen. Fla. 83-18 (1983).  See also Ops. Att’y Gen. Fla. 14-02 (2014) and 13-29 (2013).

[2]  See, e.g., Alachua County v. Expedia, Inc., 175 So. 3d 730, 736 (Fla. 2015); Freni v. Collier County, 588 So. 2d 291, 293 (Fla. 2d DCA 1991).

[3] “Tourist” means “a person who participates in trade or recreation activities outside the county of his or her permanent residence or who rents or leases transient accommodations as described in paragraph (3)(a).” §125.0104(2)(b)2., Fla. Stat.

[4] “Promotion” means “marketing or advertising designed to increase tourist-related business activities.” § 125.0104(2)(b)1., Fla. Stat.

[5] Informal Opinion to Hon. Scott Ellis, December 16, 2014.

[6]  See Ops. Att'y Gen. Fla. 15-14 (2015), 14-02 (2014), 12-38 (2012), 10-26 (2010), and 10-09 (2010).

[7] You have indicated that the transit system in question will be operated by a private company. Because Art. VII, § 10 of the Fla. Const. prohibits a county from using its taxing power to aid a private entity, even those projects authorized by § 125.0104, Fla. Stat., must be shown to “serve a paramount public purpose,” with only “incidental benefits” accruing to a private party, to be eligible for funding.  State v. Osceola County, 752 So. 2d 530, 539 (Fla. 1999) (affirming the validation of bonds issued to acquire a convention center from a private entity that would operate the facility, using revenues from a tourist development tax to pay the debt service, finding that “[t]he fact that the proposed project will be operated by a private entity does not negate the public character of the project”).

[8]  See supra, n.5. 

PETER ROMANO prepared a 20 minute video promoting trolleys in St. Augustine

County Attorney PATRICK McCORMACK Neglected AirBnB Agreement for Three Years?: Former County Commission Chair Bennett

PATRICK FRANCIS McCORMACK neglected his duty for three years.  Read the comment from former County Commission Chair PRICILLA BENNETT a/k/a "RACHEL."  Thank you for blowing the whistle on malfeasant, mediocre, mendacious County Attorney PATRICK McCORMACK.

Local Airbnb hosts bring in $8.8M in 2017, company says

Airbnb Florida says hosts in St. Johns County brought in $8.8 million in 2017. Roughly 64,800 guest arrivals this year placed the county just outside the top 10 most-booked Florida counties, in the 12th slot.
Altogether, the state’s Airbnb hosts earned $450 million from 2.7 million guests.
The 2.7 million guests counted by the California-based homesharing giant represents a 75 percent increase over last year’s guest count.
Six counties welcomed more than 100,000 Airbnb guests — and tens of millions of their dollars.
Miami-Dade County, where hosts made $134.6 million, saw the highest number of guest arrivals in 2017, at 667,200. Osceola County, where hosts made $39.6 million, saw the second highest number of arrivals, at 358,400. Broward County hosts attracted the state’s third-highest number of guest arrivals, 239,600, but made $45.7 million.
According to the company, there are now nearly 40,000 Floridians sharing their homes or vacation rentals through Airbnb, with hosts earning an average of $6,700 annually.
Airbnb is authorized to collect and pay the state sales tax on all bookings in Florida. The company also collects and pays local bed taxes in 39 counties.
In 2017 alone, Airbnb secured new tax agreements with six counties: Miami-Dade, Broward, Sarasota, Polk, Hillsborough and Leon. St. Johns County on Thursday confirmed it has not entered into an agreement regarding the collection of bed taxes.
In counties with agreements, hosts collect and pay nothing and Airbnb collects and remits the taxes, paid by guests as part of their reservation, on their behalf. Hosts in counties not covered by an agreement are still legally obligated to pay their local tax.
Airbnb says the “vacation rental community” of which it is a part is complementing, rather than competing with, the hotel industry. The company cited Gov. Rick Scott’s announcement in November that a record 88.2 million visitors had come to Florida in the first nine months of 2017.
According to Visit Florida, the number of hotel rooms sold in Florida during the third quarter of 2017 grew by 4.7 percent compared to the same period in 2016. During the same period, Florida’s average daily room rate increased by 3 percent and occupancy by 2.9 percent.
A search on Airbnb’s website for two guests, anytime, in St. Johns County yields 300-plus results, which include entire homes and apartments, or private rooms and suites. The average nightly price is $162, with options well below and above that price point.

Sort by 
Tom Reynolds · 
In 2017 alone, Airbnb secured new tax agreements with six counties: Miami-Dade, Broward, Sarasota, Polk, Hillsborough and Leon.

St. Johns County on Thursday confirmed it has not entered into an agreement regarding the collection of bed taxes.



Linda Matlin · 
Tom Reynolds if you have so many complaints, and nothing good to say, about our county why don’t you move?
Tom Reynolds · 




Edward Adelbert Slavin · 
Uninformed ukase of defenders of the status quo -- "MOVE." How rude, gauche and louche. What a cliche.
Rachael Bennett
Gotta agree with Tom on this one. Do the math- $0.04 bed tax x $8,800,000= a good chunk of change.
The County Attorney was directed to negotiate an agreement with Air BnB almost 3 years ago. Cannot imagine why there is still no agreement.
Edward Adelbert Slavin · 
Thank you! Requesting documents. Happy New Year!
Edward Adelbert Slavin · 
It's my Request No. 2017-731. My 731st record request of local, state and federal governments this year.  
Diane Keller Garrison
I think what's missing here is that a lot of the properties listed on Airbnb are actually businesses - not private citizens. So taxes are collected for the most part but still why don't we collect from the rest?
It's a good point - anything to help our county would be good!
Edward Adelbert Slavin · 
AirBnB bed tax money not collected is a sign of malpractice.

(Photo credit: HCN)
-----Original Message-----
From: Ed Slavin
To: pmccormack
Sent: Sat, Dec 30, 2017 2:31 pm
Subject: Request No. 2017-731: Patrick Francis McCormack Delays re: AirBnB bed tax agreement

Dear Mr. McCormack:
1. Please send any documents on your negotiations on bed taxes with AirBnB since 2014.  If none, please explain.
2. On Facebook and the St. Augustine Record website, former Commission Chair Rachel  Bennett wrote December 29, 2017: "The County Attorney was directed to negotiate an agreement with Air BnB almost 3 years ago. Cannot imagine why there is still no agreement."
3. Kindly call me today to discuss. 
Thank you and Happy New Year.
With kindest regards, I am,
Sincerely yours,
Ed Slavin

Billionaires supporting RONALD DEON DeSANTIS for Florida Governor (Politico).

MEDIOCRITY LOVES COMPANY: the other-directed puppet of SHERIFF DAVID SHOAR AND PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP is being supported by the billionaire basket of deplorables. These oligarchs are supporting our mediocre Congressman RON DeSANTIS for Governor in the wake of endorsement by President* Asterisk DONALD TRUMP.

Billionaire kingmakers swarm Florida governor's race after Trump endorsement

Not long after an admiring presidential tweet, Congressman Ron DeSantis won the backing of some of the most influential players in GOP politics.

Donald Trump is pictured. | Getty
Just last week, President Donald Trump weighed in on Twitter to say that Rep. Ron DeSantis “would make a GREAT Governor of Florida.” | Chris Kleponis/Pool/Getty Images

After Donald Trump appeared to endorse Ron DeSantis’ campaign for Florida governor last week, a handful of the biggest and most influential billionaires in Republican politics threw their support behind the three-term GOP congressman, upending the race in the nation’s biggest swing state. 
The stable of billionaires and millionaires listed on DeSantis’ “Finance Leadership Team,” obtained by POLITICO, includes casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, hedge fund heiress Rebekah Mercer, investment tycoon Foster Friess and other donors who have funded the conservative Koch brothers’ network and President Trump’s campaign. Just last week, Trump weighed in on Twitter to say that DeSantis “would make a GREAT Governor of Florida.”
DeSantis has yet to formally announce his 2018 campaign for governor, but his intentions to seek the office became clear in May after he established a state political committee, called the Fund for Florida’s Future, that’s allowed to raise and spend unlimited soft money from corporate contributors.
“This sets DeSantis apart from the rest. He will have the financial resources and the ground game and the Trump base to be an incredible statewide candidate,” said David Bossie, a DeSantis backer who founded the Citizens United conservative group, served as Trump’s deputy campaign manager and just co-authored the new “Let Trump Be Trump” book plugged by the president.
Gov. Rick Scott, a Trump loyalist who is leaving office due to term limits, might run for U.S. Senate next year and usually does not endorse in contested Republican primaries.

Normally, national contributors such as Adelson and Mercer don’t get involved in state races. But DeSantis has earned their trust and become a sort of “billionaire whisperer,” said one Florida-based Republican fundraiser.
As a member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, DeSantis is a frequent Fox News guest who has earned a reputation as a small-government conservative, an opponent of the independent federal investigation of Trump and a supporter of moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. And donors have so far loved what they have heard.

“These big national finance givers are true believers. Donors like Adelson care about Israel, and they watched DeSantis fight for what they care about,” the fundraiser said. “They see him consistently boosting Trump on Fox. So here they have a prominent national congressman who speaks their language, pushes their issue and defends their president.”
A spokesman for the Adelsons, who own the Las Vegas Sands casino empire, said “there is no decision on the level of financial support” for DeSantis but that the husband and wife duo “appreciate and have great respect for the leadership of Congressman Ron DeSantis on numerous issues.”
Mercer’s support for DeSantis stands above the others. She manages the political giving of her father, hedge fund magnate Robert Mercer, and played a key role in the Trump transition. The Mercers, top supporters of Trump’s campaign, own a stake in the conservative Breitbart media enterprise and the Cambridge Analytica data firm used by Trump’s campaign. 
Other top DeSantis finance team members include:
• Bernard Marcus, a Home Depot co-founder who has given nearly $18 million to federal campaigns and political committees since 2000, Federal Election Commission records show. Of that money, more than $7 million went to committees supporting Trump’s 2016 election.
• Thomas Peterffy, the founder of Interactive Brokers, one of the nation’s largest electronic brokerage firms. Peterffy contributed $366,200 in 2016 to two committees helping Trump’s election, according to Federal Election Commission records. Peterffy, according to a Time report, was Florida’s richest immigrant who supported Trump.
• Foster Friess, a Wyoming-based investor who has toyed with running for U.S. Senate in his home state after talking to Mercer and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. Friess has given more than $4.3 million to federal campaigns and committees since 2000, with more than $2 million going to committees supporting Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign in 2012. Friess also donated $100,000 to the Trump Victory PAC in 2016.

• David A. Siegel, the CEO of Westgate Resorts in Orlando, who contributed $30,000 last year to the Trump Victory committee. Many expect the time-share mogul could start playing more in state and national politics with Trump’s election. Siegel last year said Trump’s election was “the greatest thing that's happened to me since I discovered sex.” Siegel’s wife, Jackie, said she once went on a few dates with Trump.
One name conspicuously absent from DeSantis’ list: Koch. None of the famed conservative brothers have signaled their support for him, though Siegel and other DeSantis backers, such as Dallas investor Doug Deason, are Koch network donors.
In a sign of his rising national profile, DeSantis played golf with Charles Koch in June at a Koch network retreat in Colorado. Another prominent Florida Republican who is considering a bid for governor, state House Speaker Richard Corcoran, didn’t get the same face time. While Trump’s tweet supporting DeSantis put a damper on Corcoran’s prospects, the list of top national donors supporting the congressman makes it even tougher for the state legislative leader to run as the conservative alternative to the GOP front-runner, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
Though many of the big-name Republican donors who announced their support of DeSantis have yet to contribute to the congressman, his campaign-to-be is expecting their financial support in the beginning of the year to eat into the hefty fundraising advantage enjoyed by Putnam, who is widely perceived in Florida conservative circles as having a relatively weak right flank in a Republican primary.
In a state as big as Florida, where a week’s worth of saturation TV during next year’s general election could cost as much as $3 million, cash is king. And Putnam has so far reigned over both his likely and current Democratic and Republican rivals by raising his money from the major industries that do business in Florida’s capitol, such as agricultural interests, the health care industry, power companies and Disney.
With Tallahassee’s institutional GOP donors behind Putnam, a Republican candidate can hope to match him only with outside money or independent wealth, which was a key to Scott’s success in his unexpected primary win in 2010.
Including his campaign and his Florida Grown political committee, Putnam had a total of about $15 million cash on hand at the end of last month. Corcoran, who is not yet an announced candidate, had $4.7 million in the bank in his Watchdog PAC. DeSantis had about $3.6 million in the bank between his political committee and his congressional campaign, whose donors will need to sign off on redirecting their federal contributions to his state race if he runs.
Surveys conducted by Republican pollsters show Putnam leading the GOP primary with less than a third of the vote. DeSantis, depending on the survey, trails by anywhere from 10 points to 20 points. And Corcoran is polling in single digits. More than half of Republican voters say they’re not sure whom they’ll choose. But 80 percent to 90 percent of them back Trump, the polls show.
Trump’s deputy campaign manager, Bossie, said Trump’s support for DeSantis and the backing of the top donors should help DeSantis catch up to Putnam quickly.

DeSantis, 39, is a Yale and Harvard Law School graduate and served as a military prosecutor in the Iraq War before he won his congressional seat in 2012. Putnam, 43, has continuously served in elected office since he was elected to the Florida House at the age of 22, then Congress and then to the position of agriculture commissioner.
“I’m a believer that career politicians looking for the next rung on the ladder are a thing of the past,” Bossie said. “When you look at that and you compare it to the president of the United States tweeting about Ron, his hard work and his service in the military, he is a game-changing candidate.”
Putnam’s campaign is dismissing DeSantis as a Washington pol who wouldn’t stick with his bid for U.S. Senate last year when Marco Rubio decided to run for reelection after Trump defeated him in Florida’s presidential primary.
“I’m hardly concerned about a Washington insider jumping into his second statewide race in two years in desperate search of a promotion. He’s not competition, just a stark contrast to Adam Putnam,” said Amanda Bevis, Putnam’s spokeswoman.
To one of the state’s top Republican fundraisers, lobbyist Brian Ballard, the national firepower of DeSantis’ finance team is unique.

“It’s as impressive a national donor list as I’ve seen,” Ballard said. “The question for Ron is, can he motivate them to get off the list and on to raising and giving considerable dollars? If he does, it will be a huge win for him. If not, it won’t be enough to catch Adam Putnam.”
Ballard, who once lobbied for Trump and spoke recently with the president about DeSantis, dismissed criticism from others who downplayed the significance of the president’s endorsement. Though Trump’s endorsement in Alabama’s recent special Senate race didn’t prove decisive, Ballard said it’s “delusional” to believe Trump’s support in Florida’s primary among DeSantis, Putnam and Corcoran would have no effect.
“Trump’s endorsement is incredibly important,” Ballard said. “The question is, where does it go from the tweet?”