Editorial: County employees used for political purposes?
Michael Gold, Managing Editor
St Augustine, FL
As Historic City News in St Augustine saw, and reported, last month; St Johns County’s abusive and unacceptably overpaid administration has realized that they are in jeopardy of losing their choke-hold on the sock-puppets on the Board of County Commissioners who they have under their control.
Citizens are afforded a legal procedure by which, every other year, we may “overthrow” our government — we call it an “election”. And, regardless of what you may believe, government closest to the people affects the people the most; either positively or negatively. Honest, efficient, ethical, transparent, and frugal representation in our locally elected public officials sets the tone and expectations for “the hired help” in administration. When our elected officials become ensnared by key employees that they are supposed to be managing, taxpayers loose a vital oversight protection that was built into the system.
It’s bad enough that St Johns County suffers the highest paid county administrator in our history, and in similarly sized counties within this region, as well as a county attorney who makes nearly as much money as our Florida Supreme Court justices, but a closer look at the size of their paychecks provides some understanding of what they have to lose.
St Johns County Administrator, 63-year-old Michael Wanchick, relocated to St Augustine Beach with his family in 2007. Wanchick has a professional services agreement with St Johns County. Although the original 5-year contract ran through 2012, on November 2, 2010, while Ron Sanchez was chairman, the Board of Commissioners voted to extend the agreement – five more years – and, as it stands today, the expiration date of the agreement has been extended, again, until July 30, 2017.
Wanchick’s salary? $193,000.00 plus benefits. County Attorney Patrick McCormack is paid $156,558.17 plus benefits. Whether either man is paid $200,000 a year or $2,000 is of no consequence when it comes to misuse of their official office to promote political issues, but they do.
Last time it was an ambush led by Commissioner Ron Sanchez against fellow Commissioner Bill McClure; instigated by Wanchick and McCormack, and resulting in the creation of a new administrative policy that prohibits citizens from entering their commissioner’s office, unescorted.
And, today, it is a letter published in the St Augustine Record. The letter is signed by the director of Management and Budget, Douglas G Timms, refuting an observation by commission candidate, Dan Abel, that because the county is $35 million further in debt today than we were two years ago, we have a spending problem. In a second article, an unsigned editorial by the newspaper, the writer reveals that the editorial is in response to a communication from the St Johns County administration. Humm?
“Last week, The Record published a letter to the editor from County Commission candidate Dan Abel,” the editorial explained. “In it he used some numbers to demonstrate his contention that the county carries too much debt. The county quickly cried “foul” and said the numbers were patently incorrect.”
The figures used by Timms in his “rebuttal” to Abel’s letter, are the same figures used by Abel in his letter to the Editor. Doug may have to try to confuse citizens, appealing to emotions, describing the county’s budget as “a complex issue that is challenging to understand”. After all, he is paid $109,628.41 for his allegiance to the Wanchick administration. But, I am glad to see that he’s not stupid enough to actually change the numbers from those originally provided to Abel, even if Wanchick is uncomfortable with them now making their way into print.
Nonetheless, the mullet wrapper says of Abel’s letter, “There’s no right or wrong to it. It is supposition, and it is fair game on the opinion page.” Good. Now the telling part. “The upshot of all this is that The Record is rethinking its policies on candidates and their access to the opinion pages, and we welcome your thoughts.”
Within the past month, during the Sanchez-vs-McClure fiasco, pressure from the county led to the firing of veteran government reporter, Peter Guinta, over his coverage of the abuse of power that occurred. Now The Record says that they are considering limiting candidate’s access to opinion pages.
Historic City News is not afraid to expose fraud, waste and abuse in government. We do not call anyone in government to get our opinions or for permission to publish articles. There is no way in Hell that we will be told to hire or fire an employee because someone in office didn’t like what we published. Historic City News is the last bastion of a free press in St Augustine. We hope that our sponsors and advertisers will continue to support our mission; to bring local news to you, without fear or favor.
The County Administrator and the County Attorney are the only two employees hired and fired by the Board of County Commissioners. Everyone else serves at the pleasure of the County Administrator. Key employees, like Timms, his “assistant” Jesse Dunn, not one, but two “assistants” for Wanchick, Darryl Locklear and Jerry Cameron, and the same for McCormack, many of whom are paid upwards of $100,000 plus benefits, are all well ensconced in Wanchick’s protection. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. That’s why it is critical that we elect a Board of County Commissioners who can keep the County Administrator in check.
Commissioner Sanchez and Chairman Morris are up for re-election. They have not been good stewards of the public’s trust nor have they performed in the public’s interest. The corrupt regime in the Administration Palace must be stopped before the county and its taxpayers are bankrupt.