Leary resignation caught some by surprise


300-SUVO-LEARY-BILLThe question on many Historic City News reader’s minds this morning, after Bill Leary’s short-notice resignation from the St Augustine City Commission yesterday afternoon, is, “what’s next?”

Yesterday, Leary, who only completed half of his four-year term, delivered notice of his resignation to City Manager John Regan in a two-page letter that indicates he never intended to serve more than one term to begin with.

When long-time Supervisor of Elections Penny Halyburton resigned before the expiration of her last term, Governor Rick Scott appointed Vicky Oakes, who was elected in the following election. When Tom Manuel was arrested for public corruption, the governor appointed Phil Mays to complete his term. When one-term county commissioner Mark Miner was called up, only one year after being elected to his four-year term, the governor appointed Ray Quinn to step in and complete the responsibilities of his office.

Unlike constitutional officers in St Johns County, the City of St Augustine is a “charter government” — election of its officers is outlined in that document. According to the Charter Laws of the St Augustine Municipal Code, within ten days of the occurrence of a vacancy on the city commission, the seat shall be filled, until the next municipal election, by vote of the remaining members of the commission — otherwise, the vacancy shall be filled by the Governor.

Leary will not be allowed to simply name his successor; however, the four remaining commissioners get the first bite at the apple; before the Governor appoints his replacement.

Some argue that the process supports cronyism and creates an opportunity for collusion, while others feel that local elected officials making the selection offers better representation than an appointee chosen in Tallahassee.

When he lost his bid for re-election in the recent November election, former City Commissioner Errol Jones commented about the racial makeup of the resulting board — “they’re all white, now” Jones said in a news interview. This begs the question if Leary’s replacement will be black to afford some increased perception of representation.

Since Jones’ departure, the Willie Galimore Center renovation project is underway, the Riberia Street improvements are continuing, and the city is moving forward to establish a Community Redevelopment Agency for Lincolnville; supporting an argument that the historically black neighborhood located in the heart of the city continues to be well represented — despite an all-white commission.

Historic City News will be reporting further details as this transition occurs and additional information becomes available.