Monday, March 02, 2015

No sales tax increase is desired or required. Here's where to cut St. Johns County budget

No sales tax increase is needed, desired or required.
Our bloated St. Johns County government -- and all other governments -- must cut waste, fraud and flubdubs.
There has been no response to my February 12 e-mail to St. Johns Commissioners and County Administrator, sent in response to several other-directed County Commissioners who somewhat rudely demanded citizens tell them, "where do we cut" if we do not support a sales tax increase.
Nineteen days later, no one has called or written to talk about cutting County government waste. Wonder why?
Here is the full text of my Lincoln's Birthday e-mail, sent to St. Johns County Administrator Michael David Wanchick, Commission Chairman Priscilla Bennett (a/k/a "Rachael Benett), Vice Chair Jeb Smith and Commissioners John H. "Jay" Morris and William McClure:

Subject: Here's where to Cut, St. Johns County Commissioners -- You Asked for It!
1. New vehicle purchases
2. Take home vehicles
3. Energy consumption
4. Consulting contracts
5. No-bid contracts and other wasteful contracted services
6. Asphalt purchases -- build a co-op with other governments
7. Mid-level managers
8. Underpriced developer services
9. Developer giveaways and subsidies
10. Travel, conferences, entertainment, lodging
11. Construction of any new buildings (including Sheriff Training Center)
12. Visitor and Convention Bureau
13. Political patronage
14. Flubdubs, flummery, dupery, nincompoopery, waste, fraud, abuse, misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance
15. First Amendment, Sunshine and Open Records violations, unsafe working conditions and tortious conduct
16. Advertising
We deserve an Inspector General and an Ombuds, reporting directly to our Commissioners, to help implement those items. Please put that on the ballot in 2016.
Cordially,
Ed Slavin
www.cleanupcityofstaugustine.blogpost.com
904-377-4998

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Justice for Michelle O'Connell Day

Great turnout, thanks to everyone.
Break in the weather was 'pert near Biblical -- for 90 minutes, the rain stopped.
Just long enough for our long-planned 5:30 demonstration, and long enough for every single Menéndez Noche de Gala​ $195 ticket buyer, freeloader attendee and historic re-enactor to see that our St. Augustine 2015​ community will not rest or stop until there is Justice for Michelle O'Connell​.
Thanks to the O'Connell family for their persistence.
Thanks to my Memphis State University (n/k/a University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law​) friend, Anglican Father Nathan E. Brooks​, for saying Mass yesterday in the Chattanooga Jail, asking the Almighty for a break in the weather.
Thanks to General George S. Patton​ for his December 23, 1944 Weather Prayer (written by a Roman Catholic Priest on the eve of the Battle of the Bulge).

Saturday, February 28, 2015

1550 Days and Counting: Justice for Michelle O'Connell

Tonight, the height of the St. Augustine social calendar drew 35 pickets.
That's because 1550 days ago, there were screams, gunshots and a dead woman in a deputy's home. The High Sheriff's henchmen told the shooting victim's family it was a suicide. No one believes them. The New York Times, PBS Frontline, Dateline NBC and Dr. Phil have all covered the story. Every thinking person in St. Johns County wants a federal grand jury.
Sheriff DAVID BERNARD SHOAR, State's Attorney RALPH JOSEPH LARIZZA, Medical Examiner PREDRAG BULIC, M.D. and the entire St. Johns County political machine will be held accountable.
Not one (1) local clergymen has spoken out in favor of Justice for Michelle O'Connell.
Only one (1) local elected official has spoken out in favor of Justice for Michelle O'Connell.
Mayor Nancy Shaver, we salute you!
Everyone else, we know what you were talking about all night at your fancy $195/person gala in honor of St. Augustine's founding genocical murderer, Pedro Menendez de Aviles.
Your insular world will not allow you to escape scrutiny, for as the ancient equitable maxim says, "silence gives consent."
Or in the words of ACT-UP: "SILENCE = DEATH."
"We SHALL overcome," as LBJ said to Congress after Selma.
I was proud to speak to civil rights hero Dr. Robert S. Hayling, D.D.S. outside the gala: he said he would do anything he could to help.


"Coverups Never Work!" -- Senator Howard Henry Baker, Jr. (R-Tenn.) during Watergate




Photo by Ed Slavin

Justice for Michelle O'Connell Vigil: 35 Picket Between Rain Showers at Menendez Noche de Gala

Michelle O'Connell vigil Action News Jacksonville
 

Photo by Linda L. Anderson Photo by Ed Slavin Photo by Joyce Peterson Photo by Joyce Peterson Photo by Joyce Peterson Photo by Michael Gold/HCN Photo by Michael Gold/HCN Photo by Michael Gold/HCN Photo by Michael Gold/HCN Photo by Michael Gold/HCN Photo by Michael Gold/HCN Photo by Michael Gold/HCN Photo by Michael Gold/HCN Photo by Michael Gold/HCN
Photo by Michael Gold/HCN

Photo by Cassie Jo Rivers

Photo by Cassie Jo Rivers

Photo by Cassie Jo Rivers

Photo by Cassie Jo Rivers

Photo by Cassie Jo Rivers

Justice for Michelle O'Connell Rally Today at Lightner Museum and City Hall

Weather looking better for 5:30 Justice for Michelle O'Connell demonstration at Lightner Museum and City Hall, 75 King Street.
As LBJ told Congress after Selma: "We SHALL overcome!"

Lugubrious Goober of the Month: JAMES GEORGE WHITEHOUSE, For Appealing 7-Eleven Permit Revocation to Circuit Court






Five Commissioners voted unanimously to revoke permit: Todd Neville, Nancy Sikes Kline, Mayor Nancy Shaver, Leanna Freeman and Vice Mayor Roxanne Horvath. Unanimous, based on irrefragable testimony in five hour quasi-judicial hearing
Justice was done.
So this hick hack appealed immediately, risking sanctions and attorney fees for him and his Japanese corporate client, 7-Eleven.


Our first monthly Lugubrious Goober of the Month Award goes to:

JAMES GEORGE WHITEHOUSE, Esquire, former Assistant City Attorney, former County Attorney, former prosecutor
St. JOHNS LAW GROUP
(Owned by DOUGLAS NELSON BURNETT, City Attorney for City of St. Augustine Beach, attorney for St. Augustine Airport Authority, and son of DOUGLAS BURNETT, former Commanding General of the Florida National Guard)
Lugubrious goober of the Month JAMES GEORGE WHITEHOUSE:


1. Insulted and yelled at City Commissioners during January 15, 2015 quasi-judical hearing
2. Inflicted bad trial advocacy in defense of indefensible -- twelve gasoline pumps and heavy traffic at failing intersection adjoining Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, Public Library, Davenport Park Carousel, Hurricane Evacuation Route from Barrier Island
3. Presented unreliable testimony by dodgy "expert" testifying without disclosing report and by dodgy former City Planning and Zoning Director MARK KNIGHT (paid $4500)
4. Falsely accused Commissioners of listening to "clamor of the crowd"
5. Rightfully got ruled against on eleven (11) separate legal issues
6. Lost on ten entry corridor guideline violations
7. Lost on "pending ordinance" doctrine
8. Files frivolous writ of certiorari petition to Circuit Court
9. Bills Japanese multinational corporation for low-quality legal work
10. Appearance of impropriety because law firm represents adjoining City of St. Augustine Beach

Assigned to Honorable Howard Maltz, former Assistant City Attorney of the City of Jacksonville
Prediction: frivolous lawsuit dismissed, with award of reasonable attorney fees to the City of St. Augustine under Rules of Appellate Procedure

Flagler College Radio FCC Complaint Filed: Federal Communications Commission Complaint No. 155115



1. Flagler College Radio provides the government of the City of St. Augustine with 26 hours of air time annually for its program, "The Break Room," hosted by City of St. Augustine Public Affairs Director PAUL WILLIAMSON.
2. Flagler College Eadio presents no regular news programs, thereby allowing the City government unfettered access to listeners with propaganda, distorting the news.
3. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called St. Augustine "the most lawless city in America."
4. Respondent Flagler College Radio giving the City 26 hours of PR fluff annually and lack of any regular news coverage fails to serve the pubLic interest.
5. This results in a total lack of radio coverage by respondent on matters of police abuses including the Sheriff's coverup of the shooting death of a deputy's girlfriend (reported by the New York Times, PBS Frontline, Dateline NBC, et al) and on local government misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance, waste, fraud, abuse, discrimination, pollution, no-bid contracts and destruction of historic resources (including 7-11's effort to build a large gasoline station and Flagler College's expansion into the historic district of our Nation's Oldest City, St. Augustine, Florida).
6. "The Break Room" is not news, but propaganda for the "ancien regime," even presenting the defeated former Mayor JOSEPH LESTER BOLES, JR. after voters rejected him over corruption and no-bid contracts, after he was no longer Mayor.
7. Please contact Flagler College President WILLIAM ABARE and kindly investigate the news distortion by Flagler College radio.
Thank you.

General Patton's Prayer for Justice for Michelle O'Connell Demonstration, 5:30 PM



Weather prayer for Saturday clearing by 5:30 -- Third Army General George S. Patton's prayer at Bastogne, written by a Catholic priest:
“Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.”

Friday, February 27, 2015

Song: "Michelle O'Connell's Body" (to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "John Brown's Body"



"Michelle O'Connell's Body"
(to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "John Brown's Body")

Michelle' O'Connell's body is a-lying in her grave,
Michelle' O'Connell's body is a-lying in her grave,
She lost her precious life while she was struggling to escape
Her soul is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Her truth is marching on.

Michelle, she was a heroine, undaunted, true and brave
She showed her strength and valor as she fought her rights to save
But now the grass grows green above the silence of her grave
Her soul is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Her truth is marching on.

She planned to leave oppression and begin her life anew
Her deputy refused her, and into a rage he flew
Two gunshots and her screams, and then she died before we knew)
But her soul is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Her truth is marching on.

Michelle is gone and no grand jury ever got to speak
But justice will be done and that's the outcome that we seek
And soon throughout St. Augustine the truth will set us free,
For her soul is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Her truth is marching on.

Copyright © 2015, All Rights Reserved, The Estate of Michelle O'Connell





Thursday, February 26, 2015

Good investigative reporting by Sheldon Gardner at St. Augustine Record



Good work, Sheldon Renee Gardner! I loved your story on the gala ticket scam. Good job. Read below. It's fair, balanced, notes other cities have their own ethics rules, and exposes the hypocrisy of free gala tickets. I love the idea of having "unwritten policies." That was always fun in whistleblower trials, whenever employers said they had an "unwritten policy," I knew we'd scored pay dirt. City Manager JOHN REGAN says there's an "unwritten policy" that free tickets for top dawgs mean they and their spouses are "representing the City." Really? That dawg won't hunt. Is that why TIM BURCHFIELD and BILL HARRISS never went? I thought the purpose of a gala was to be snooty, dress in fancy clothes, and look down your distended nostrils at the "peasants" paying your way.

Our late Appalachian Observer Publisher Ernest F. Phillips was so right about the greed of too many government officials.

As Robert Penn Warren wrote in "All The King's Men," it's a case of "Gimme, gimme, gimme, my name's Jimmy!"

In the words of the late Alabama Governor "Kissin" Jim Folsom, "There ain't nothin' louder than the sound of a hog bein' pulled off a tit." No more free tickets. That includes Vice Mayor Horvath, Commissioner Freeman, their spouses, and city staff.


That dawg won't hunt!
The notion of supposing that a "benefit" that makes no profit for four years, benefitting no one, but entertaining rich guys, including freeloading City employees, is somehow "City business" -- pitiful. No written policy requires attendance. This is an outrage. Snotty snooty City managers, with nothing to be snooty about, make us pay for their fancy-bears party. By God, ENOUGH.


CITY "footing bill for gala tickets" -- St. Augustine Record confirms our reporting -- city official freeloading, disappearing "benefit" for years

This is so wrong on so many levels -- kudos to Sheldon Gardner and the Record for investigating pigs at the trough.
Shame on them!
We need a City ethics code.
Now.


St. Augustine footing bill for gala tickets
Posted: February 26, 2015 - 8:43pm

By SHELDON GARDNER
sheldon.gardner@staugustine.com


The city of St. Augustine is paying more than $3,300 to cover the cost of several city leaders, officials from Spain and others to attend the Menendez Noche de Gala.

City Manager John Regan said he expects staff members and elected officials to represent the city at the Saturday event and other city events, which has been city policy.

He said the Noche de Gala is key for displaying the city’s focus on the sister city relationship, cultural heritage and historic preservation and making important connections, some of which have benefited the city’s preservation efforts.

The tickets are $195 per person. The city’s code says free tickets or gifts should not be accepted on terms more favorable than given to the public and some members of the public have criticized the use of the free tickets.

But the city is paying full cost for the tickets, and officials are there to represent the city, so it’s not a gift, officials said.

Leaders also are encouraged to attend other key city events, some at the city’s expense, such as the annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast, Regan said. The city also pays for participation in professional associations.

“Our policy has been to encourage our elected officials and our senior staff to take on as part of their job responsibilities the representation of the city,” Regan said. “It’s not mandatory. But it is something that I was always encouraged to do and I’ve encouraged my staff to do and our elected officials.”

Regan has been with the city since the late 90s.



Budget for gala was $5,730

The city budgeted about $5,730 to cover the potential cost for city commissioners, staff and others to attend the Noche de Gala, said City Comptroller Mark Litzinger. A check for $3,315 has been written to the Casa Monica to cover the cost of those actually attending.

The check covers the cost of some city department heads and their spouses as well as city commissioners and Spanish officials. Among those expected to attend with their spouses, and to be paid for by the city, are Regan, Litzinger, City Clerk Alison Ratkovic, Vice-Mayor Roxanne Horvath and commissioner Leanna Freeman. Regan said when he has gone in the past, the city has paid.

Dana Ste. Claire, the 450th department director, will also attend, and his ticket is paid for by the city. St Augustine has also paid admission for several Spanish officials, including the mayor of Aviles, because they are invited to attend.

Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline is not going, but the city has paid for her ticket in the past, she said. Mayor Nancy Shaver is attending but is paying for her own ticket, and Commissioner Todd Neville said he is going and has paid for his own ticket.



Putting on the event

The Noche de Gala, held at the Lightner Museum, is produced by the Casa Monica Hotel but is an official 450th Commemoration event, according to the agreement between the city and Casa Monica. The event celebrates the birthday of Pedro Menendez de Aviles, who founded St. Augustine in 1565.

The event promotes the city’s commitment to historic preservation and the Lightner Museum, as well as the cultural exchange program, Regan said.

The city’s former department of heritage tourism and historic preservation managed the effort until several years ago, Regan said. After that, the city turned production over to the Casa Monica.

The event highlights the Lightner Museum, which is housed at the City Hall building at 75 King St. The event displays the city’s commitment to historic preservation.

A procession to the event, with re-enactors, leads to the gala.

The Noche de Gala promotes the cultural exchange program with Aviles, Spain, a sister city of St. Augustine, Regan said.

The city has financial obligations to maintain the Lightner Museum, and some partnerships that have come from the gala have helped fund rehabilitation projects, Regan said.

Profits from the event go to a restricted fund overseen by the city used for Lightner rehabilitation, he said. But the city has not seen a profit since the event has been managed by the hotel.



Official business

St. Augustine’s code references gifts, and a couple of people voiced concerns about the tickets during public comment at a recent City Commission meeting.

According to the code, “No commissioner or other officer or employee of the city shall accept any frank, free ticket, pass or service, directly or indirectly, from any person, firm or corporation upon terms more favorable than are granted to the public generally; provided, that such prohibition of free service shall not apply to policemen or firemen in uniform or wearing their official badges where same is authorized by ordinance.”

City Attorney Isabelle Lopez said the code has not been interpreted to apply to something like the Noche de Gala.

“I can tell you that since I’ve been here that has not been interpreted to mean that departments cannot defray the cost of employees to attend, whether it’s seminars or galas or anything else as long as it’s budgeted for and approved by the City Commission in their budget,” Lopez said at the meeting.

The state has laws about gift acceptance and disclosure by certain public officials. Lopez and Litzinger said the tickets are not gifts because they are paid at full cost by the city and because officials are there representing the city.

Only certain city officials are required to file reports, including the city attorney. The city does not have regulations that add to the state’s disclosure requirements, Lopez said.

No one from the city attorney’s office is expected to attend this year, although four tickets were budgeted for the department. Tickets were also budgeted for the Public Works Department. Martha Graham, public works director, said she does not plan to attend.

However, the city has paid for Graham and her husband to attend in the past. She started with the city in 2008.

The city’s unwritten policy has been for city leaders, including department directors, to go and represent the city at the Noche de Gala, Lopez said. The gala tickets are budgeted and approved in public every year.

Other events include the annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast and the Martin Luther King Jr. Day march and others, including those on weekends and evenings, Lopez said. And employees have been expected to attend and represent the city. Many events have no fee.

At the gala, “We’re supposed to be there as official ambassadors of the city,” Lopez said.

When city officials bring their spouses to the gala, spouses are also expected to act as a host, Lopez said.

City leaders who are there can greet delegates from Aviles and answer questions about the city, she said.

The city covers the cost of the city official’s spouse to attend.

The city also pays for officials to attend other events, including the annual mayor’s holiday lighting at the Plaza de la Constitucion, which raises money for the homeless, and the Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast, Regan said.



A complex matter

Determining whether an official receives a gift that needs to be reported can be complex.

The Florida Commission on Ethics released an advisory opinion in 2005 saying that “City officials who are reporting individuals have not accepted either a prohibited or a reportable gift” (under Florida statute) “where they to attend events in a suite at a motor sports speedway under admissions purchased by the city from a nonprofit economic development corporation which leases the suite from the speedways’ under,” according to the opinion.

The question was whether commissioners or other city officials would be accepting a prohibited or reportable gift under Florida statute by attending events in the suite leased to a nonprofit, when the city manager paid for their admission using city funds or where they pay admission from their own personal funds. However, the opinion noted that the funds were from sponsorship fees and city officials private, non-city funds. It also said that if a spouse went at no additional cost to a reporting city official, that would need to be reported as a gift.

In 2008 the Florida Commission on Ethics found probable cause that Jacksonville officials broke state ethics laws by not disclosing free Jaguars football tickets and other items worth more than $100, according to the Times-Union. Family and friends used the tickets, and a story found more than $193,000 in taxpayer dollars was spent over four years on entertainment, alcohol and food at city-owned venues. No punishment was doled out.

The ethics panel found that Jacksonville’s gift laws were confusing. The code said gifts from the city did not have to be reported. But the city began requiring officials to report the tickets as gifts.

Jacksonville has its own ethics department and codes.

“In Jacksonville we would consider tickets given to city employees or officials gifts,” said Carla Miller, director of ethics for the city of Jacksonville. “And that they should be reported if they are required to do so with the state ethics commission.”

Miller said she believes there is not a public purpose exception to receiving a gift. She said Jacksonville holds the jazz festival as city event, and when a reporting city official attends they report it to the ethics commission.

Her advice is to get an advisory opinion on the issue from the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Mark Moriarty, chair elect of the City, County and Local Government Law section of The Florida Bar, said the spirit of the gifts laws is to prevent influencing votes.

Based on a quick recap of St. Augustine’s practice, he said it does not appear gifts laws would be implicated. He noted city has budgeted for it, co-sponsored it and it’s a longstanding event, and the city is paying full price for the tickets.

“It doesn’t sound like there’s any gifting going on,” Moriarty said.

City officials say the expense is part of their work, and the gift laws say “a ‘gift’ does not include salary, benefits, services, fees, gifts, commissions, or expenses associated primarily with one’s employment, business, or service as an officer or director of a corporation or organization,” among other things.

Lopez said Jacksonville has additional criteria, and attorneys have varying opinions about the matter. She also said there is no harm in asking for an ethics commission opinion, but does not intend to do so unless directed by the city.

“I guess it all comes down to, ‘Is it given to you as a fun freebie? Or are you there in an official capacity performing official work? That probably is the determination you have to come up with ... “ she said.



Part of the job

Some city officials who are attending said they see it as part of their job.

Horvath said she is going with her husband, both paid for by the city, and she believes strongly that it is part of her work representing the city.

Because the gala is a city function and officials attending are representing the city, she does not think there would be a requirement to disclose the ticket.

Horvath said she does not have a problem with the way things are handled.

“I think it’s fine the way it is,” Horvath said.

She said she is in favor of the city supporting commissioners to go, and said she and her husband have paid their own way in the past when she was not a commissioner.

Commissioner Leanna Freeman said the city is paying for her admission and her husband’s, and she is going because it is work-related.

“I’m going because I’m a commissioner ...” she said. “I think we should be there.”

Freeman also said the expense has to be put in perspective with the entire city budget, which is more than $56 million. And she has paid for others to attend.

“You have to look at the cost in relationship to our overall budget, our compensation and our responsibilities,” Freeman wrote in an email. “Our community has always placed great value on historic preservation, including the beautiful Lightner building, and cultural heritage. The gala promotes a continuation of these core values in our government.”

Several people could have gone but are not going for various reasons or decided to pay for themselves.

Former Mayor George Gardner said when he was in office the city followed the same policy.

“That was the case when I was mayor and I think it’s appropriate especially when we have a delegation led by the mayor of Aviles here for the Noche de Gala.”

Neville, who began his first term on the commission in November, said he and his wife are going, but he paid for his own tickets.

During commissioner orientation he was told there were certain events the city would cover the cost of because he would be representing the city, he said. But he said he would rather not accept.

Neville said as a certified public accountant, it seemed cleaner to him to pay for himself so that no one would interpret any of his later decisions as a commissioner as being swayed.

That was a personal decision, and he said he does not have a problem with the policy.

“I think it should be up to the city manager,” Neville said.





Gala attendees courtesy of the city of St. Augustine

• City Manager John Regan and wife

• Vice mayor Roxanne Horvath and husband

• Commissioner Leanna Freeman and husband

• Mark Litzinger, city comptroller, and his wife

• Dana Ste. Claire, director of the 450th Commemoration Department

• Alison Ratkovic, city clerk, and husband

• Pilar Varela Diaz, mayor of Aviles

• Javier Pagalday, deputy consul general of Spain in Miami

• Roman Antonio Alvarez Gonzalez, city council member for culture in Aviles

• Maria Del Carmen Vega Fernandez, city council member in Aviles

n Santos Yague Zapico, San Pelayo ship researcher

• Francisco Javier Garcia-Pumarino Cespedes, naval engineer and designer

Cost per ticket: $195

Total amount budgeted for Noche de Gala 2014/2015: $5,730

Total amount of check written for people planning on attending: $3,315


DANA STE. CLAIRE getting free $195 ticket


MARK LITZINGER (AT PODIUM), LEANNA FREEMAN & ROXANNE HORVATH (AT RIGHT) AND SPOUSES AND JOHN REGAN (BACK TO CAMERA) AND SPOUSE GETTNG FREE $195 TICKETS