County Administrator holds clandestine Budget Hearings


Despite unanswered correspondence from Historic City News and others, when St Johns County Administrator Michael Wanchick holds his three days of budget hearings next week, most taxpayers will not be able to participate in the process.

The clandestine hearings, being held during daytime office hours, will not be held in our million-dollar public auditorium, nor will they be broadcast on GTV, nor will they be available for review by the public in a transparent, easily accessible online archive; but rather, Wanchick has revealed his intention to hold the sessions in the comparatively cramped San Sebastian Conference Room.

In addition to county administrative staff and employees from the Office of Budget and Management; Room 289 is expected to seat members of the press, presenters from each county department, as well as residents anxious to avoid white elephants and sacred cows that have pushed the county further into debt and increased millage rates to sustain what some critics are calling “out of control spending”.

Adding to the already standing-room-only crowd, it is anticipated that one or more St. Johns County Commissioner will attend and participate in the budget hearings.

In a “warm and fuzzy” e-mail, ostensibly from St Johns County commission chairman, John H. “Jay” Morris, Jr., but sent by Michael Ryan using the county’s public affairs department e-mail account, Morris repeats a quote from the county website — “St. Johns County invites members of the public to attend the Administrator’s Budget Hearings.”

Really? Morris appeared in a 2011 front-page article in The Ponte Vedra Recorder; describing Florida’s Sunshine Law as “the dumbest law he has ever heard of”. He went on to state that his “preferred method of business” is “a small private group meeting” in the morning and implementing decisions in the afternoon.

And now we learn that a conference room where a small group of about 10-12 people can sit down at a table, untelevised, and meet with every department head, or their representative, will be used to defend their proposed 2015 budget requests.

Does that sound like transparency, accountability, or a venue where a neighborhood could attend to offer an opposing point of view to any of the Wanchick budget agenda, or, does it sound more like an administration, rife with pork-barrel spending, looking for the coward’s way out, rather than making the tough cuts that are long overdue?

Historic City News reporters saw the worst-of-the-worst during Wanchick’s past budget hearings, appropriately held in the St Johns County Auditorium, when, then commissioners, Mark P. Miner and Joseph “Ken” Bryan flanked the county administrator. They became confrontational, verbally, and physically abusive towards citizens who dared to question budget spending that led to higher ad valorem taxes. Minor snatched the microphone from one citizen to stop his from speaking, and Bryan bowed and struck another citizen who had been questioning his stewardship of public funds. Neither Miner nor Bryan would be returned to office; Miner abandoned his office before completing his first term, and Bryan was defeated in his attempt for re-election.

Historic City News is continuing to seek compliance with state mandated open meeting laws and improved accountability of elected public officials and the administrators they hire.

If you plan to attend, the hearings will begin each day at 9:00 a.m. each day at the St. Johns County Administration Palace located at 500 San Sebastian View in St. Augustine.

Tuesday May 13, 2014

9:00 – 9:15 Introductions
9:15 – 9:45 Solid Waste
9:45 – 10:45 Public Works
10:45 – 11:00 Emergency Management
11:00 – 11:15 MIS
11:15 – 11:30 Agricultural Services
11:30 – 1:00 Break
1:00 – 1:45 Growth Management & Building Services
1:45 – 2:00 Codes Compliance
2:00 – 2:15 Regional Planning/PV Zoning
2:15 – 2:30 Transit
2:30 – 2:45 Land Management Services
2:45 – 3:15 County Attorney/Legal Aid
3:15 – 3:30 Medical Examiner
3:30 – 4:00 Library Services/Law Library

Wednesday May 14, 2014

9:00 – 9:15 Economic Development
9:15 – 10:00 Construction and Facilities Management
10:00 – 10:30 Fire Services/EMS/Communications
10:30 – 10:45 Animal Control
10:45 – 11:00 Beach Operations – Lifeguards
11:00 – 1:00 Break
1:00 – 1:30 Cultural Events
1:30 – 1:45 TDC
1:45 – 2:30 Parks & Recreation
2:30 – 2:45 Beach Operations – Beaches/Tolls
2:45 – 3:45 Health & Human Services/Housing
3:45 – 4:15 Health Department

Thursday May 15, 2014

9:00 – 9:30 Court Services
9:45 – 10:00 Veteran’s Services
10:00 – 11:30 Utility Services
11:30 – 12:30 General Government, Debt Service, Misc.
12:30 – TBD Additional Business as Necessary