Saturday, March 12, 2022

Reform St. Johns County Government BEFORE Considering 15%+ Sales Tax Increas?

"They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent. Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have entered upon a period of danger. The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences. We cannot avoid this period, we are in it now.”

-- Sir Winston Spencer Churchill, November 12, 1936

St. Johns County's developer-driven oligarch-coddling policies brought a massive backlog in infrastructure spending.  

Now oligarchs and four out of five County Commissioners want voters to approve a 15%+ sales tax increase will likely go on St. Johns County ballots this year, instead of making developers and other oligarchs pay their fair share.

Have our local governments been "run like a country store?"

Have they sold their souls to oligarchs and so-called "developers?"

We must look to the oligarchs, developers and Benedict Arnold Corporations to pay their fair share, instead of stealing from the poor to give to the rich -- "Robin Hood in Reverse."

Rose Kennedy's favorite Bible verse was "to whom much is given, much is expected." 

St. Johns County's local offiials have been given a lot but do they give enough in return?

Former Assistant County Administrator Jerry Thomas Cameron once told new County Commissioners that "just because you got elected, you did not gain 20 IQ points." 

Too many elected leaders act otherwise  

Some elected officials act like they  think that they hung the moon.

Some think that developers and oligarchs hung the moon, like former Sheriff DAVID SHOAR, who once told the League of Women Voters that developers are "very nice people."

Some of them get swell heads.

Some of them lose touch, acting like princes, as former Sheriff DAVID SHOAR called them, or Republican Lords of All they Survey, brandishing contempt for our democracy, disrespect for the truth and too much tepid tolerance for waste, fraud, abuse, misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance.

Some 33 communities in St. Johns County now have bad flooding due to bad planning by influential developers and oligarchs, aided and abetted by insouciant or incompetent County government. Our former County engineer was not even an engineer, apparently.  Developers build bad projects and leave their victims holding the bag through promiscuous use of the fig leaf of "Community Development Districts," charged with providing infrastructures that Benedict Arnold Corporations left town without providing.

Commissioners seem oblivious to the effects of their actions on working people, retirees and people on fixed incomes, like their unanimous 2016 vote deleting the PUD's legal requirement that Nocatee provide 40 acres for affordable housing on payment of $800,000 by PARC GROUP.  Especially insensitive was the Board of County County Commissioners 2019 vote doubling its single ride Sunshine Bus Company fares (Commissioner Henry Dean dissenting).

Non-agenda public comment is now at the very end of meetings, discouraging people from showing up to raise concerns.

Ocean level rise and global warming are here and require more parks and more planning.

Is corruption sadly still a way of life here?

You tell me. 

Our City of St. Augustine dumped a landfill in a lake and was angry at me for reporting it. 

We, the People got the landfill removed from the Old City Reservoir. That incident taught us that our political class are not really "good 'ole boys." Actual good old boys like to fish.  The Old City Reservoir was a prime bass fishing spot.  The people who dumped 40,000 cubic yards of contaminated solid waste in it, including toxicants, bedsprings and toilets, are bad people and the elected officials who tolerated it are bad leaders.

Our Sheriff's Department and State's Attorney covered up the September 2, 2010 Michelle O'Connell homicide.  As State's Attorney criminal investigator Robert Hardwick, now our Sheriff, said in deposition, "we're all tainted."

Our Sheriff's office was the subject of a five year embezzlement scheme that stole $702.666. 

Still no forensic audit.  

Still no skeptical scrutiny of the Sheriff's budget.  

Still no body-worn cameras.

Still false statements on Sheriff's website praising segregationist Sheriff LAWRENCE O; DAVIS, falsely stating he was "exonerated" by Florida State Senate, which voted 44-2 to remove him from office.  I first requested correction on the anniversary of Dr.King's "I have a dream" speech in 2013.  Two successive Sheriffs keep up a "history" page that is anti-history, a paen to past races Sheriffs.

It is as if Sheriff DAVID SHOAR never left office.

Our Board of County Commissioners is fairly inept and often maladroit at government oversight.

Developers, oligarchs and lobbyists write our laws. It is all about them and their power.

As Sir Winston Churchill said, "You cannot reason with with the tiger when your head is in its mouth." 

JFK said, "This who sought power by riding the back of the tiger, ended up inside."  

Have developers, oligarchs and their lawyers swallowed our local governments, "as lithe and fierce, like a tiger?"

This is one of the worst cases of "regulatory capture" I've seen since I first saw coal companies and the nuclear weapons industry in Appalachia using governments as cat's paws.

St. Johns County and Sheriff have the same louche lobbyist as the developers and oligarchs, a blatant conflict of interest winked at by the County's failed to adopt its own ethics and lobbying ordinances, as other jurisdictions do. 

Some of these public serpents believe, as extremist St. Johns County Sheriff DAVID SHOAR said in 2017, "You don't have a right to protest":

How do we allow fundraiser and lobbyist THOMAS MARTIN FIORENTINO, Jr. to represent the County, the Sheriff, and NOCATEE, PARC GROUP, and other special interests all at the same time? Prior County Commissions fired FIORENTINO. He's back in the good graces of Commission now, without any national basis to pay him for little or now work, with secrecy and dual loyalties the would gag a mango.  

St. Johns County Commission is a lousy legislative body. 

No investigative or oversight hearings.  

Few tough questions.  

Lack of followup.

Little planning.

Low expectations of themselves and others.

One County Administrator was fired without prior notice?

Current County Administrator hired without posting or advertising the job? 

On what theory?

That one good putsch deserves another?

County Administrator hires directors without transparency, and they're confirmed by acclamation without advance public notice or providing any resumes, violating the spirit and letter of Florida law requiring Commission to confirm the Administrator's Director appointees.

Incurious local officials too often rubber-stamp billion dollar annual budgets and massive development projects, while disrespecting and interrupting citizens.

They're "God players," as the late Nashville Tennessean Publisher (later USA Today Opinion Editor) John Seigenthaler would say.

Now, they want a 15% tax increase, to be shared with city governments. 

Enough malarkey, flummery, dupery and nincompoopery. 

Let us make our governments reflect our values. Let's be a shining beacon on a hill. 

If St. Johns County governments had a motto, carved in marble, would it be "Ubi Est Mia? (Where's mine?) (That's the motto Mike Royko suggested for the City of Chicago in his book, Boss.)

Let us drive the money-changers from the Temple of Democracy. 

As Alexander Hamilton wrote, "Here, sir, the people govern." 

Let that be our motto, and our lesson, in St. Johns County.

Titanic trio: Developer-Senator TRAVIS HUTSON, St. Johns County Commissioner CHRISTIAN WHITEHURST and St. Johns County Clerk of Courts and Comptroller BRANDON PATTY, Election Night 2020.

Titanic trio: Disgraced ex-Sheriff DAVID SHOAR, a pusillanimous political prostitute, internationally reviled, who legally changed his name from "HOAR" in 1994; candidate, now-Sheriff ROBERT HARDWICK; current extremist Congressman. JOHN HENRY RUTHERFORD, former Jacksonville Sheriff.

The formidable forces of arrogant authoritarianism. coverups and developer misrule want to mislead you to support a 15%+ sales tax hike. 

Developers believe in the Golden Rule, e.g., those who have the gold make the rules. Oligarchs would benefit, not everyday citizens. 

Once again, they want to relieve developers from their fair share of taxes and impact fees. 

Will we be fooled again?

We pray that we will not be fooled again. 

Speak out.

Ask questions, demand answers, and expect democracy. 

Thus, I will oppose the 15%+ sales tax increase, unless we have significant government reform, covering every government office, from City Halls to County Commission to School Board:

  1. Require body-worn cameras for all law enforcement, with dashboard cameras in all vehicles.  Reject former Sheriff DAVID SHOAR's 2016 ukase that there is "a false narrative" that law enforcement needs to be watched."  Accountability for everyone.  No excuses. No more delays.
  2. Create a County Charter Review Commission composed of everyday citizens to propose a new form of government, with checks and balances, human rights protections and a charter for limited government. Put their proposals on the ballot for us to vote on at the same time as any sales tax increase. 
  3. Welcome, cherish, heed, publish and act on non-agenda public comment.  (The City of St. Augustine now omits non-agenda public comment from its minutes, while St. Johns County now puts it dead last at meetings, showing contempt for our democracy.) Stop insulting, interrupting, ignoring or heckling public questions and concerns.  
  4. Answer public questions during "question time" like the British Parliament, by adopting the "Mayor Gary Snodgrass rule" from the City of St. Augustine Beach, requiring public commenters' questions to be answered, instead of ignored.  The City of Flagler Beach has a similar procedure. It also has non-agenda public comment at both the beginning and end of meetings, "so nothing gets missed," says their new Chairman, J. Kenneth Bryan, a Justice Department retiree and former St. Johns County Commission Chairman.  Unconstitutional County Commission rules prohibit citizens "demanding an immediate answer," but usually we get no answer at all. Ever.
  5. Televise all government meetings and allow remote public participation, like School Board.
  6. Put government documents online, including all contacts. Stop blocking and discouraging records requests with fee-grabbing.  Prohibit any government from using an auto-responder to answer records requests and requiring a named, living breathing person to sign correspondence (City of St. Augustine, Sheriff, FDLE, State Legislature and other government agencies have the annoying habit of having no named person sign records request correspondence, an Orwellian fetish.
  7. Reform government purchasing as we know it. Report all instances of possible bid-rigging. Guard against government employees self-dealing (as with former Utilities supervisor RICHARD NELSON, fired for selling SCADA products to the County for years without criminal prosecution).
  8. Stop giving tax holidays to dodgy corporations as "incentives," selling our soul to secretive unknown investors for unknown reasons.
  9. Require lobbying registration and disclosures. 
  10. Require transparency in development, starting with disclosing the names of every single beneficial owner and investor in every single development project.  Russian investors must be subject to sanctions and full disclosure. 
  11. Developer money-laundering must be exposed and reported. 
  12. Require disclosure of all sources of foreign and domestic money in politics. 
  13. Create a County Ethics Commission with tough local laws, public hearings and enforcement to extirpate corruption, discrimination and secrecy.
  14. Encourage and protect whistleblowers, to end corruption as we know it.  Always hold accountable anyone who would presume to retaliate against a whistleblower.  Inform employees and contractors of their rights.  Adopt a County whistleblower protection policy, ordinance and resolution.
  15. Treat employees fairly, paying living wages and an end to favoritism, sexual harassment, secrecy and retaliation against whistleblowers.
  16. Create a County Environmental Board with  regulatory powers to halt or limit devious developers' wetland-filling, wildlife-killing, deforestation, clear-cutting.
  17. Provide for five single-member County Commission districts, like the School Board has, in order to reduce the influence of developers' Big Money and empower of citizen legislators.  Add two at-large Commission seats, running county-wide. 
  18. Adopt a working committee system, with committees to vet budgets and development proposals before half-baked proposals go to the full County Commission or City Commissions.  
  19. Provide each Commissioner with a legislative assistant, as they had before 2010
  20. Support statewide legislation to revise impact fees as we know them.  
  21. Stop subsidizing metastatic growth -- unchecked growth for growth's sake is the ideology of a cancer cell.
  22. Create an Ombudsman to advocate for citizens and taxpayers, ending the disgusting legislative dance of County and City staff acting as de facto or de jure developer puppets.
  23. Focus on protecting public health from known environmental health hazards.  There is no legal protection for employee safety in Florida since Jeb Bush helped abolish Florida OSHA in 2000. Local governments are inconsistent in protecting public health, as proven by our County School Superintendent's insolent and insouciant refusal to replace moldy wrestling mats, stored in showers, causing illnesses among the members of the St. Augustine High School Wrestling Team 
  24. Enhance the powers of our Clerk of Courts Inspector General, with job protections and enhanced budget, with authority to investigate any local government agency, subject to a County Charter approved by the voters.
  25. Consider Zero Based Budgeting, as President Jimmy Carter supported. Don't assume every department or office gets an increase. Some need to be cut. My late mentor, United States Department of Labor Chief Administrative Law Judge Nahum Litt, said any government budget could be cut by 10%.  Every government needs to examine every expenditure with a gimlet eye, and stop extravagant spending on what President Abraham Lincoln would have called "flubdubs." For every spending request and every piece of legislation ask, "Is it based on need, or greed?" (As Senator Gary Hart asked his staff to evaluate every single legislative proposal as a freshman Senator). 

If Commissioners want a 15%+ sales tax increase, they must answer, "what have you done to deserve this?" 

I seriously doubt the Commissioners' answers will be satisfactory.  In that case, their misguided 15%+ sales tax increase proposal will likely be defeated.

One of the best things to happen in this corrupt St. Johns County of ours was the 2007 contract cancellation of the Anastasia Mosquito Control District's illegal $1.8 million, no-bid luxury Bell Jet helicopter, which was unadorned by a single feature to kill skeeters.  Citizens and officials were threatened and investigated,  the Sheriff was involved, but nevertheless we persisted.  We got a refund on our deposit and taught lessons in frugality to our officials, 

In 2022, let a "no" vote on the tax increase be the answer of the good people of St. Johns County, in their righteous wrath, to overdevelopment and orotund rudeness of our public serpents.

Reject"Robin Hood in Reverse" tax policies that steal from the poor and give to the rich.

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