Friday, January 28, 2022

LARIZZA won't prosecute after County fires dishonest Utility Department manager who lined his pockets. (Action News Jacksonville)

Good scoop by Emily Turner, Action News Jacksonville!

I reached out this morning to County, Clerk of Courts and Comptroller and State's Attorney -- no documents received yet. I think this is a federal crime and should be treated as such. State's Attorney's office has an excuse -- County did not lose any money! Sounds at best facetious, another example of RALPH JOSEPH LARIZZA's unfitness to hold office. 

Read the St. Johns County Inspector General report here and the whistleblower's response here.

The St. Johns County Inspector General's report identifies alleged crimes committed by NELSON, but our State's Attorney won't prosecute. This is further evidence of local corruption in St. Johns County.

LARIZZA refuses to explain why he refuses to distribute the National District Attorney's Association's National Prosecution Standards to his staff. When you're a Dull Republican autocrat in one of the most corrupt places in Florida, you don't explain much, and you don't lead your 82 Assistant State's Attorneys to prosecute white collar crime and corruption. 

Louche LARIZZA is a lousy lawyer and a lousier prosecutor.  

LARIZZA helped coverup the Michelle O'Connell case in the home of Deputy JEREMY BANKS, belatedly recusing himself in 2011, five months after the homicide, after Robert Hardwick and James Parker -- his chief investigator and his assistant --, wanted an exhumation and autopsy. Hardwick is now Sheriff and JEREMY BANKS is still on the Sheriff's payroll. 

From Action News Jacksonville: 

Hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money went to county employee, report says

January 27, 2022 at 5:20 pm EST

By Emily Turner, Action News Jax

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — A Whistleblower Report and subsequent Office of Inspector General Report found Rick Nelson violated four ethics laws: abuse of power, preferential treatment through bid tampering, official misconduct, and falsifying records.

Nelson was a manger in the St. Johns County Utility Department, running a system called SCADA that monitors water and wastewater infrastructure.

The report shows Nelson is also a co-owner of a company, Technical Field Service Inc, that provides parts and works on the same systems he managed for the county.

The report found Nelson never disclosed ownership to the county and gave his company preferential treatment in bids and purchases. It also found he falsified records to cover his tracks and had other employees do the same.

Action News Jax went to Nelson’s home to ask about the report. “It’s a lie,” he told ANJ.

We asked the county and found between May of 2016 and August of 2021 it spent $396,355.50 of taxpayer money on products and services with Nelson’s own company.

We have not heard back from the county about how many bids his company was awarded or how much they were worth.

Nelson was put on leave as soon as the investigation began in July, though the county hasn’t said yet whether that leave was paid. He was terminated but not charged criminally in November when the investigation was completed.

Nelson refutes all of it saying it is, “very wrong.” When pressed further by Investigator Emily Turner he referred us to his attorney, saying, “The report, it’s a lie.”

We reached out to his attorney but have not heard back as of air time. When asked why he wasn’t charged criminally, the state attorney’s office said “Our investigation determined that there was a clear violation of the non-criminal Florida Statute 112.313. At the same time, our investigation revealed that the county suffered no financial harm from this violation.”

Following the OIG recommendations, St. Johns County says, “The Utilities Department has reviewed and modified its internal processes to ensure these incidents cannot go undetected. Additionally, last year the County began revising and rewriting its purchasing policy. Once completed, the new policy will go before the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners for approval.”

County Growth Management Workshop bares all on ill effects of too-rapid development in St. Johns County

Kudos to our St. Johns County Commissioners for spending four hours on January 25, 2022 listening to staff and then some 67 witnesses -- well-informed citizens who want government to work for us, not developers. 

Finally, a Growth Management Workshop at the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners.  

This comes after decades of one-party misrule, with its poorly-planned growth in ugly commercial and residential "developments" by foreign-funded shell companies, resulting in clogged roads, clearcutting of trees that are then burned, reckless feckless wildlife killing, wetland-filling and corruption of our political system with money from the likes of TRAVIS HUTSON. 

From 1998-2004, devious developers funded The Issues Group, which hand-picked all of our County Commissioners, run by the spouse of Sheriff NEIL PERRY, who directed all St. Johns County elected Democrats to change their party affiliation to Republican in 1989.  

All of them stood in line together at the Supervisor of Elections Office, then located in the Casa Monica Hotel -- the reason that I know that is my late friend Alice Everette Compton and her husband Robert were in line, registering to vote, and they were both witnesses to history.

On one day in 1989, Sheriff NEIL PERRY contrived a Republican takeover of our government, without the formality of an election.  PERRY endorsed as his successor as Sheriff the oleaginous St. Augustine Police Chief  DAVID SHOAR, who legally changed his name from "HOAR" in 1994.

We need more elected Democrats in St. Johns County and a functioning two-party system. 

We need a County Commission with seven members, five from single-member districts and two at large as we had until 1998, when Commissioners violated the 15th Amendment to redistrict, without a new Census, or study, or any reason other than wanting to keep an African-American Commissioner from bering elected.  That decision means all County Commissioners now run county-wide, allowing moneybags to elect our leaders by poisoning campaigns with dark money from developers.

With seven Commissioners, we can have a working committee system, and allow issues to be developed maturely.

We need a County Charter -- not the defective-by-design "starter charter" voters twice rejected in 2008.

In the words of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, "three generations of imbeciles is enough.

From St. Augustine Record:


From News4Jax:

St. Johns County commission chair considering referendum for sales tax increase-

Announcement came ahead of passionate public commentary during commission workshop addressing county’s rapid growth Ashley Harding, Reporter Joe McLean, Reporter Published: January 25, 2022, 1:22 PMUpdated: January 25, 2022, 6:26 PM ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners could consider a referendum for a sales tax increase from 6.5 cents to 7.5 cents, commission Chair Henry Dean said Tuesday. Dean made the announcement on “The Morning Show,” saying he had thought about that option but had not talked about it publicly or discussed it with the commission. “We can put on the ballot a referendum where the voters can vote up or down — yes or no — on an increase in the sales tax,” Dean said. The disclosure came ahead of a commission workshop Tuesday morning addressing the county’s rapid growth. St. Johns County resident Steve Lacy said that may be the only option. “Nobody wants to pay more taxes, but frankly I don’t know how we’re going to be able to afford it,” Lacy said. According to the 2020 census, between 2010 and 2020, St. Johns County grew by nearly 44%. It is one of the fastest-growing counties in the U.S. and the second-fastest growing county in Florida. As Tuesday’s presentation from the commission got underway, commissioners reiterated the growth in the number of people and approved developments. But one of the biggest takeaways from the presentation was that there are 13 deficient county roads in St. Johns County — which would cost the county around $155 million to fix. Dozens of St. Johns County residents spoke out during public commentary, saying there are a number of reasons why growth needs to slow down. “Perhaps the vast majority of St. Johns County residents don’t want to see a lot more development, especially at the rapidity we have seen,” said one woman, followed by a round of applause. Several people talked about the increase in traffic, there not being enough parks and also how they said the development has an impact on their quality of life. “I urge you to resolve existing infrastructure problems, especially the traffic, before they give further development,” said St. Johns County resident Doris Taylor. St. Johns County resident Mark Genezier said: “Traffic is everywhere. It’s really changed the complexion of our community.” Genezier and his wife protested outside the County Auditorium building. As veterinarians, they said the tree removal to make way for development is harming animals. We’ve seen the trajectory of what development does both to the local wildlife and we’ve seen what it does to the surroundings,” Genezier said. “If you drive down some of those roads in the county, what used to be forests and woods are now clear cut where they just come in and everything on the property is taken to the ground.” Speakers inside the auditorium also called for the commission to protect the county’s green spaces. “Please don’t underestimate how urgently your constituents want to see you slow down our county’s growth,” said one St. Johns County resident who spoke. “We see rural and agricultural land being converted to residential and commercial at an alarming rate.” Another growth problem is the pace at which the county is hiring new employees and keeping them. A fast-growing county also needs fast-growing law enforcement, transportation, schools, health services, infrastructure and other services. Several of the speakers placed the blame for the backlog of growth management on the county’s commissioners, accusing the leaders of recklessly green-lighting development projects without keeping pace with all that growth. I encourage St. Johns County Growth Management to become proactive rather than reactive. I also encourage this department to work holistically with other departments so that a common vision for the county converges,” said Carol Anderson, with North Beach Community Alliance. It also came out at the workshop that the commission has already approved more development. Last year, the county approved permits for 820 single-family homes. That’s said to be a record for the building department’s whole history, and the county keeps growing. In December, the Silverleaf community was approved for an expansion that would add 2,394 acres and up to 5,600 more housing units. There’s also Grand Cypress, a development going up on the bestbet gambling spot. Commissioner Ray Blocker also said during the workshop that the county should consider restructuring the commission itself, expanding the five-member panel to better fit a growing county. A couple of St. Johns County residents also pointed out that the surrounding six counties are also seeing significant growth — it’s just that St. Johns County was growing the fastest. They said figuring out a solution only in St. Johns County won’t solve anything and called for the commissioners to work with the leaders in those other counties on a bigger-picture strategy for growth management. No decisions were made by the commission on Tuesday.


From Historic City News:

Growth management workshop overview

On Friday, January 21, 2022, St Johns County Civic Roundtable Chairman Jim McLane provided Historic City News with a copy of 35 suggestions for how to better handle growth in St Johns County, as submitted to the Board of County Commissioners.  The purpose of the Roundtable is to preserve and improve the quality of life in St Johns County, and to that end, they spoke with various stakeholders to solicit their ideas.

On Tuesday morning, over 200 people attended the Growth Management Workshop at the County Auditorium, beginning at 9:00 a.m. and ending just after 1:00 p.m.  There were 67 speakers who spoke for 2 hours and 41 minutes. The speakers were well informed and articulate about the need to slow down the pace of growth in the County.

The program began with 4 short presentations by staff on:

  • Local government’s role in managing growth
  • Current growth trends and infrastructure needs
  • Transportation planning and concurrency
  • Additional considerations for new development proposals

Topics brought up by the speakers included, traffic, clear-cutting of trees, the need for more libraries, parks, and land conservation, the number of variances routinely granted, the increasing number of preemption bills being considered and passed in Tallahassee, taking away local decision making, the constant amendments to the comp plan, the decreasing amount of rural and farmland, sprawl, loss of the quality of life and the reason we all came here, impacts of climate change, the impact of development on the environment and many more similar topics.

It was discussed that there is a $500 million deficit in the amount of the cost of infrastructure that is needed for the existing community. This has been caused by several factors including a reported 30% increase in the cost of construction today over the impact fees collected at the time of entitlement, which could have been 20-years ago.

The topic of a sales tax was brought up as a way of trying to fill the infrastructure deficit as well as other changes that need to be made to ensure that development going forward does not create additional infrastructure deficits.

At the end of the Workshop, the Commissioners discussed the items that they would like to pursue.

Commissioner Blocker:

  • Do we have the right form of government to address our current and future growth needs?
  • Should Mobility fees be considered?
  • Our current fee structure is probably not addressing our needs today.
  • Other counties that have experienced rapid growth have moved away from impact fees.
  • Need more sidewalks and ways to bike.
  • More community meetings for development proposals.
  • Better to hear from community early in the process.
  • Schedule future workshops at other times of the day so that more can participate.
  • Need to put Tree Preservation back on the agenda.
  • Need to finally address clear cutting.

Commissioner Waldron:

  • Would like to see the public notice area increased perhaps to countywide.
  • Would also like to examine the current form of government.
  • Suggested that applications should be considered in batches by District.
  • Noted that a lot of these subdivisions were approved years ago.
  • Issues are coming up in the south part of the county because of growth in Flagler County.

Commissioner Whitehurst:

  • District 1 is the densest
  • Deficit in fees for roads shouldn’t happen and should be a priority going forward.
  • We need to take cars off the road.
  • Kids biking to school would lessen congestion.
  • Evaluate drop-off and pick-up times.
  • Economic development incentives.
  • LAMP We have heard the community to conserve the land.
  • Commission has taken substantive steps to conserve the eco system.

Commissioner Arnold:

  • Deficient roads and traffic.
  • Would like to explore mobility fees and how to catch up.

Commission Chairman Dean:

  • Hold a similar workshop in 6 months to follow up and make this work.
  • How do you handle comp plan amendments?
  • Is there sufficient infrastructure?
  • Already entitled to build 35,000 to 55,000 lots.
  • Existing community needs include roads, law enforcement, fire stations, libraries, parks.
  • What alternative sources are available for the $500 million dollar deficit?
  • Before considering a sales tax increase, ask the citizens and put it on the ballot.

Roundtable Suggestions:

  1. Establish a long-range vision for St Johns County.
  2. Utilize a mix of land uses to cluster businesses and services near homes and jobs.
  3. Provide a wide range of housing options for people of various incomes and ages.
  4. Design distinctive, attractive communities that foster a strong sense of place.
  5. Preserve open spaces, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas.
  6. Compact neighborhood design.
  7. Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities.
  8. Provide a variety of transportation choices and make communities walkable.
  9. Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective.
  10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration on development decisions.
  11. Stop the constant changes to the comp plan.
  12. Provide robust training sessions for staff and leadership on the economic cost of sprawl.
  13. Establish Urban Service Boundaries creating development clusters.
  14. Incentivize infill development instead of sprawling into rural and undeveloped lands.
  15. Incentivize flexible density strategies with developers.
  16. Consider economic incentives for commercial developments that bring high paying jobs.
  17. More interagency and intercounty coordination in planning the future of the County.
  18. Promote Florida Friendly yard landscaping.
  19. No new Septic tanks.
  20. No big wetland impacts.
  21. Change “impact fees” to “mobility fees”.
  22. Evaluate high density zones.
  23. Hire additional county staff with higher salaries to attract and retain good talent.
  24. Clear and appropriate process for design and development approvals.
  25. Property Rights element needs to be changed to allow for assessment of community impact.
  26. Benchmark how other counties our size handle these issues.
  27. Encourage and Support continuing education for available to county staff.
  28. Update unified document management system to integrate word docs and spreadsheets.
  29. Encourage and incentivize development near transportation.
  30. Examine the current County governance system.
  31. Make application materials publicly accessible through the County website.
  32. Stop granting variances for requests that do not meet the “undue hardship” burden.
  33. Impact and utility connection fee relief for homes under $250,000.
  34. Continue to plan housing near transportation hubs.
  35. Create a percentage for art programs for large new developments.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Sheriff HARDWICK Refuses to Remove Website Propaganda Defending Racist KKK Sheriff LAWRENCE O. DAVIS

St. Johns County Sheriff ROBERT HARDWICK has not removed a propaganda paen to racist KKK Sheriff LAWRENCE O. DAVIS on the website of the St. Johns County Sheriff.   

The white supremacist anti-historical propaganda first appeared in the 1995 yearbook of the St. Johns County Sheriff's office, under Sheriff NEIL PERRY, and is available for inspection at the St. Augustine Historical Society's Research Library on Aviles Street.

The propaganda remains on the St. Johns County Sheriff's office, falsely labelled "history."  Three successive Sheriffs would have flunked history if they were at any respectable educational institution.

The smarmy racist government propaganda includes two Big Lies to polish DAVIS's graven image.

  • It states DAVIS "held the town together" during civil rights protests.  
  • It states DAVIS was found "innocent" by a jury that merely found him "not guilty," then extravagantly and falsely claims DAVIS was "exonerated" by the Florida State Senate.

Wonder why?

We in the reality-based community know:

  • Sheriff L.O. DAVIS did NOT "hold the town together,: he arrested civil rights demonstrators illegally and had KKK members on his payroll.
  • Sheriff L.O. DAVIS was NOT "exonerated" on corruption charges -- the Florida State Senate voted removed him from officer, by 44-2 vote.

How many KKK sympathizers are in today's St. Johns County Republican Party?

How many want their local history full of lies, like DONALD JOHN TRUMP's claim to have been re-re-elected?

Disgraceful disgusting sloth, torpor and desuetude by Sheriff ROBERT HARDWICK?

Here's the full text of the SJSO's embarrassing goofy gooberish public mash note to a racist KKK Sheriff L.O. DAVIS, as it appears on the Sheriff's website this morning, more than eight years after I asked Sheriff DAVIDS SHOAR to remove it.  

This is our tax dollars at work promoting white supremacy in St. Johns County by amateurish airbrushing of our Sheriff's office and its sorry history, about a time when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, called St. Augustine and St. Johns County "the most lawless" place in America:

Sheriff Lawrence O. “L.O.” Davis – 1949 until 1970. Sheriff Davis held office for 21 years. During those years, society saw a changing culture. In 1952, a new jail was completed, and Sheriff Davis moved his headquarters from the old jail on McWilliams Street to the new jail on Lewis Speedway. It was during his tenure that uniforms were adopted. The incident prompting uniforms occurred with Deputy Kenny Masters.

It seems Deputy Masters was on the beach patrolling and found a man sleeping on the beach. Deputy Masters, being in civilian clothes, wearing a gun and a very small Sheriff’s shield, approached the man. When the man awakened, he saw Deputy Masters’ gun and thought he was being robbed. The man then reached for his gun, and Deputy Masters shot the man. Later at the hospital, Deputy Masters asked the man why in the world did you go for a gun? The man said, “I thought your were trying to rob me.” The next day, Deputy Masters went down to the store, bought khaki work shirts and slacks, and pinned his shield on his shirt. Later Sheriff Davis got patches, and they were sewn onto the khaki shirt. From there, our current Sheriff’s uniform developed into what it is today.

It was also during Sheriff Davis’ time that the first marked patrol car was put on the street. Painted green and white with a star on the sides, the car was assigned to Deputy Noah Carter.

One major development that his tenure as Sheriff saw was the civil rights movement, a challenging time for our nation, state and county. In 1963, the Reverend Martin Luther King and his associates came to St. Augustine, the oldest city in the nation. St. Augustine became the site of many demonstrations. During one of these, Dr. King was arrested by deputies and booked into the St. Johns County Jail. Shortly afterwards, Dr. King and others were released from jail.

The climate was stressful in those years, but with Sheriff Davis’ leadership, the community held together. This nation moved forward after the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Sheriff Davis was well respected in the community. Many citizens tell stories of his kindness; taking bags of groceries to those who were in need, or helping others get jobs. Sheriff Davis had been a city police officer for approximately three years prior to taking the Office of Sheriff. He had a deep, abiding commitment to the youth of our county. Also, he was one of the founders of the Florida Sheriff’s Boys Ranch, which grew from a small camp on the banks of the Suwannee River to a working ranch system, serving thousands of Florida’s children every year.

In 1970, then Governor Claude Kirk removed Sheriff Davis from office based on allegations made by several individuals. Subsequently, in a trial, Sheriff Davis was found innocent. Later, at hearings in Tallahassee in front of the Senate, Sheriff Davis was exonerated. By this time, Governor Kirk had appointed Dudley Garrett, to take Sheriff Davis’ place.

In the 1972 election, “L.O.” Davis tried to regain the office, but lost to Sheriff Garrett.


The phony history of Sheriff L.O. DAVIS first appeared in 1995, when NEIL PERRY (right) was Sheriff.

Congressman John Rutherford, former Jacksonville Sheriff (left), Sheriff ROBERT HARDWICK (center), with Sheriff DAVID SHOAR, who legally changed his surname from "HOAR" in 1994.

In the words of United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., "three generations of imbeciles is enough."

For the record, here are the e-mails that Sheriff SHOAR's hand-picked successor, ROBERT HARDWICK, has ignored in the year that he has been Sheriff of St. Johns County, the second fastest-growing county in Florida:

-----Original Message-----
From: Ed Slavin <>
To: <>; <>
Cc: <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>
Sent: Mon, Jan 24, 2022 6:27 pm
Subject: Re: Misinformation About Racist KKK St. Johns County Sheriff L.O. Davis on SJSO website

Dear Sheriff Hardwick:
1. When will our Sheriff's office finally remove two falsehoods from our Sheriff's website, defending racist KKK St. Johns County Sheriff Lawrence O. Davis?
2. February is Black History Month.  How will the St. Johns County Sheriff honor Black History Month?
3. It has now been 3072 days since I first wrote to Sheriff David Shoar asking him to remove the falsehoods about racist KKK Sheriff Lawrence O. Davis, on August 28, 2013, the 50th anniversary of the "I have a dream" speech by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who called St. Johns County "the most lawless" in America.  
4. I made that request is eight (8) years, four (4) months and 28 days ago.  
5. That is 100 months and 28 days ago.  
6. The delay is freighted with animus and institutional racism.  (While a third falsehood was removed, stating that Dr. King was arrested by "federal agents," the other two falsehoods remain to this day.)
7. I expect better from you, Sheriff Hardwick.
8. Look at the false website words in quo.
9. Quo vobis videtor?  (How does it appear to you?  What do you reckon?)
10. Would you please be so kind as to remove the offending words this week?
Thank you.
With kindest regards, I am,

-----Original Message-----
From: Ed Slavin <>
To: <>; <>
Cc: <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>
Sent: Tue, Jan 18, 2022 1:41 pm
Subject: Re: Misinformation About Racist KKK St. Johns County Sheriff L.O. Davis on SJSO website

Dear Sheriff Hardwick:
1. Where are your manners?  
2. Still waiting on a response! 
3. I have been obligated to raise this issue with our elected County Commissioners.
4. There is no defense to SJSO's sloth and torpor, August 28, 2013-date. 
5. I just spoke in non-agenda public comment to our St. Johns County Commissioners and informed them of this outrage.  
6. Would you please be so kind as to remove the offending Big Lies about racist KKK segregationist Sheriff Lawrence O. Davis from our St. Johns County Sheriff's website today.
Thank you.
With kindest regards, I am,

-----Original Message-----
From: Ed Slavin <>
To: <>; <>
Cc: <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>
Sent: Mon, Jan 17, 2022 7:40 am
Subject: Re: Misinformation About Racist KKK St. Johns County Sheriff L.O. Davis on SJSO website

Dear Sheriff Hardwick:
1. Since 2014, I have written to two (2) successive St. Johns County Sheriffs about blatant misinformation on SJSO website, using falsehoods in attempting to rehabilitate the reputation of racist Sheriff Lawrence O. Davis.
2. No response to my e-mail.
3. You now own this misinformation.
4. The misinformation remains on our SJSO website.
5. Please remove it today.
Thank you.
With kindest regards, I am,

-----Original Message-----
From: Ed Slavin <>
To: <>
Cc: <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>
Sent: Wed, Jun 23, 2021 12:19 pm
Subject: Misinformation About Racist KKK St. Johns County Sheriff L.O. Davis on SJSO website

Dear Sheriff Hardwick:

A. Would you please be so kind as to remove today the misinformation about racist KKK Sheriff Lawrence O. Davis (1949-1970) from the St. Johns County Sheriff's website?
  1. Sheriff Davis did not hold the town together. 
  2. Sheriff Davis was not "exonerated" by Florida Senate -- he was removed!

B. I first pointed these irrefragable facts out, repeatedly, to your predecessor St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar in 2013, nearly eight (8) years ago on the anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech (at which time there was also a third inaccuracy, stating he was arrested here by federal agents).  The lies about the racist Sheriff remain posted this afternoon.

C. The ultimate source of this misinformation may be traced by learning who wrote the relevant page of the 1995 SJSO yearbook, prepared for the 150th anniversary of Florida statehood during the administration of Sheriff Neil Perry.  (Available for inspection at St. Johns County Historical Society Research Library on Aviles Street).

D. Please call me today if you have any questions.  

E. Kindly remove the two (2) material falsehoods on SJSO's website re: L.O. Davis, today,

Thank you.

With kindest regards, I am,
Sincerely yours,
Ed Slavin

Florida school district cancels professor’s civil rights lecture over critical race theory concerns. (NBC News(

Governor RON DeSANTIS and other Florida politicians are brandishing bigotry, embarrassing us all on a national stage.

NBC News scoop on beloved Flagler College History Professor J. Michael Butler being disinvited by Osceola County Schools from speaking to planned event teach teachers about our civil rights history: 

Florida school district cancels professor’s civil rights lecture over critical race theory concerns

It's an example of how the debate over critical race theory has reached public schools in Florida, with the history professor accusing Gov. Ron DeSantis of creating "a climate of fear."

MIAMI — A Florida school district canceled a professor’s civil rights history seminar for teachers, citing in part concerns over “critical race theory” — even though his lecture had nothing to do with the topic.

J. Michael Butler, a history professor at Flagler College in St. Augustine, was scheduled to give a presentation Saturday to Osceola County School District teachers called “The Long Civil Rights Movement,” which postulates that the civil rights movement preceded and post-dated Martin Luther King Jr. by decades.

He said that he was shocked to learn why the seminar had been canceled through an email Wednesday but that he wasn’t surprised because educators feel increasingly intimidated over teaching about race.

Less than 24 hours before Butler was informed of the cancellation, a state Senate committee advanced legislation Tuesday at the behest of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to block public schools and private businesses from making people feel “discomfort” when they’re taught about race. DeSantis also wants to empower parents to sue schools that teach critical race theory.

“There’s a climate of fear, an atmosphere created by Gov. Ron DeSantis, that has blurred the lines between scared and opportunistic,” Butler said in a phone interview. 

“The victims of this censorship are history and the truth,” Butler said. “The end game is they’re going to make teaching civil rights into ‘critical race theory,’ and it’s not.”

A spokeswoman for DeSantis, Christina Pushaw, denied the allegation and pointed out that DeSantis had nothing to do with the local Osceola County controversy — one of the most tangible examples of how the debate over critical race theory has reached public schools in Florida. 

“Critical Race Theory and factual history are two different things. The endless attempts to gaslight Americans by conflating the two are as ineffective as they are tiresome,” she said in an email. “So just to be clear, mixing up ‘teaching history’ with ‘teaching CRT’ is dishonest.”

Between local classrooms and the halls of the state Capitol, public school administrators have been left to navigate tricky education politics intensified by state and national forces.

DeSantis — an early opponent of what he called critical race theory, or CRT, who also fined school districts over Covid mask mandates — is running for re-election and is widely seen as a 2024 GOP presidential contender. Although there’s scant evidence that CRT is taught in Florida public schools, DeSantis pushed the state school board to bar it anyway and then called on legislators to enshrine it in state statute during the lawmaking session that began two weeks ago. 

Other potential Republican White House hopefuls, like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, have also crusaded against CRT and school mask mandates, issues that helped propel Glenn Youngkin to the governor’s mansion in Virginia last year.

CRT was developed in the 1980s as a graduate-level academic framework to highlight and quantify the impacts of structural racism, including disparities among Black people and white people in policing and prosecution. It was rarely something likely to be discussed in a high school classroom.

But the term has often been misapplied as a shorthand for the notion that white guilt was being taught in K-12 schools in lessons about slavery, civil rights and discrimination, all core elements of the nation’s story long before the advent of critical race theory in law and graduate schools. 

The debate over the teaching of racial history in education began to boil over in 2020 amid parental unrest over Covid lockdowns, distance learning for children and “anti-racism” trainings. And last year, organizations like the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which produces model bills for Republican causes, held webinars that warned that teaching what they called critical race theory in schools is un-American.

At the local level, school board members like Terry Castillo in Osceola County said she has gotten unprecedented attention from parents over the debate. 

“School districts in Florida are in a precarious position as we navigate the anti-CRT administrative order which has little guidance yet promises to have strong consequences if not implemented,” she said in a written statement that pointed out how “school boards have been punished for going against the governor’s orders regarding mask mandates.”

Castillo said she was initially unaware that Butler’s seminar had been canceled and that she was informed by the school district’s superintendent, Debra Pace, that the administration initially wanted to postpone it because of concerns about the spread of Covid.

But as the discussion intensified in Tallahassee, Castillo said, Pace also became concerned about the particulars of Butler’s lecture about the history of civil rights. 

According to an email Pace sent Wednesday to “social science educators” scheduled to attend the event, a copy of which was shared by Butler and independently verified by NBC News, the school district wanted a committee to review his presentation.

“I’m sorry we are unable to offer the planned professional development,” Pace wrote.

“We needed an opportunity to review them prior to the training in light of the current conversations across our state and in our community about critical race theory,” she continued, saying the district had received only a summary document of his presentation.

“I am mindful of the potential of negative distractions if we are not proactive in reviewing content and planning its presentation carefully,” Pace wrote, adding that the seminar couldn’t be immediately rescheduled because of other conflicts.

Pace didn’t respond to a request for comment in writing, nor did she provide an original copy of her email as requested. She didn’t dispute the copy furnished by Butler.

Butler said he hadn’t shared his full presentation with the school district. In the presentation, which he provided to NBC News, Butler doesn’t mention the theory, nor structural racism or anti-racism.

Butler said he learned why the presentation was canceled from the email, which was forwarded to him by one of the teachers who had been signed up to attend. The teacher locked his or her Twitter account out of fear of being exposed for speaking out.

Grace Leatherman, the executive director of the National Council for History Education, or NCHE, a national nonprofit group, said that her organization sponsors a seminar program in partnership with the county district and that it is funded through a grant with the Education Department.

She said in an email that the organization was informed Wednesday that the seminar couldn’t take place because the materials had to be reviewed. She added that the seminar was part of the series her organization is doing in the district and that it couldn’t be moved. 

“The district clarified that the event could be held later subject to editing of materials. NCHE will not continue with this event, but does look forward to continuing our long-standing commitment to Osceola County teachers,” Leatherman said.

In a subsequent phone interview, Leatherman said that while the cancellation wasn’t due to the district’s request to edit material, “simply, obviously, we don’t want our presenters to need to feel they need to edit or self-edit their work.”

“We don’t think that’s appropriate,” she said.

Butler said a council employee also informed him that local administrators felt the topic had set off CRT “red flags” at the school district. Leatherman said the district told NCHE the seminar could not take place because Butler's materials needed to be reviewed, but could be held at a later date subject to editing — logistically, however, it was not feasible for the NCHE to reschedule. 

Butler said: This is all fact-based instruction. This is not theory-based. This is not indoctrination.” 

Butler said he believes that the legislation being debated in Tallahassee is too vague and that it “makes it so that any topic that falls under the rubric can be labeled as potentially critical race theory.“

“And the end result is that any teacher training any educational program can be canceled, postponed, stonewalled so that it never happens,” he said.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican state Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., said in a text message that the law wouldn’t really prohibit teaching critical race theory; rather, he said, it would prescribe “the teaching of accurate and objective history on all the topics listed.”

“I think part of the confusion” over teaching basic civil rights history “is the confusion that has been created about what is or isn’t CRT,” Diaz said.

Marc Caputo reported from Miami, and Teaganne Finn reported from Washington, D.C.