Historic City News reporters and our subscribers from the tourism and hospitality industries engaged in a well-attended, but un-broadcast, public forum that brought together incumbents and their challengers at the Lewis Auditorium on the Flagler College campus last night.
Despite bouts with heavy rain, fourteen political candidates who are vying for seats on various boards in St Augustine, St Augustine Beach, and St Johns County, faced prepared and pre-circulated questions
Three-weeks away from Primary Election Day, where a number of the contests will be settled; the audience was wishful, but mostly not expecting, answers containing any degree of passion or consequence. For the most part, they got, or didn’t get, what they expected — depending on how you graded the largely hackneyed, unimaginative, and canned rehash of scripted campaign rhetoric.
That is, of course, until the final question of the evening; but then only between the two candidates for mayor of St Augustine who are leading early in un-official county conservative polls. Speaking first on the last question regarding what the candidate would personally do, if elected, to avoid “unintended consequences” from their “best intentions”, mayoral candidate Nancy Shaver listed some specific deficiencies that she has observed citywide and feels that City Hall must make right before making new commitments that could potentially affect the hospitality and tourism industry.
First, on the subject of infrastructure, a common area of complaints from both tourists and residents, especially during festivals or a large community event, Shaver pointed out that, notwithstanding a minimal state-mandated comprehensive plan, the city lacks proper documented infrastructure planning — aggravated by years of “deferred maintenance” where money was approved in the budget but wound up spent on other politically expedient projects.
Boles denies the allegations, pointing to City Manager John Regan and Public Works Director Martha Graham, both licensed professional engineers, who Boles says carry out the city’s specific written infrastructure plan every day. Shaver, who has engaged the parties in a dialog over what she sees as this deficiency for years, was aghast.
Shaver also pointed out that we have no capital budget — ostensibly an ongoing struggle partially blamed on the change of management and accounting style between former City Manager Bill Harriss and current City Manager John Regan. There is a draft capital budget in development, but Shaver points out that it includes too much wasteful spending — like $50,000 for new curtains in the Alcazar Room.
Shaver explained to Historic City News that the city does have a $23 million estimate, in today’s dollars, to bring aging and deficient water lines up to par, but, there is no concrete plan for funding. Additionally, Shaver explained that the city has no sewer replacement plan or funding estimate; even though we are proceeding with the addition of sanitary sewer force mains outside the city limits.
“We have no storm-water plans, other than the 3 pilot projects,” Shaver said. “We are kicking the can down the road on the real need — a pumping station.”
Shaver also drew attention to her findings, determined with the aid of city staff and a sitting member of the city commission, that there has been no street assessment in over 10 years — the time that sitting mayor Joe Boles has been in elected office.
Finally, $100,000 in paving dollars is in the budget this year; but, Shaver questions where those funds will be spent.
She sees the commission’s job to set city policy and city management to carry that out. Although the candidates were not allowed to publicly debate the issues, Shaver believes that someone has been asleep at the switch.
Photo credits: © 2014 Historic City News staff photographer