Historic City News was watching Monday night’s city commission meeting when it became apparent that at least two commissioners were feeling out-of-the-loop when it came to communications surrounding the 450th planning.
What began with Vice Mayor Errol Jones questioning the timing and intentions of city staff members John Regan and Dana Ste. Claire, who are accompanying the mayor on an upcoming trip to Aviles, Spain, evolved into an exchange between Commissioner Leanna Freeman, City Manager Bill Harriss and the mayor, himself.
Boles, who is paying for his trip personally, says that he is not going to Aviles to conduct any official business. “I’m going on vacation”, Boles said. Freeman appeared to dispute the mayor’s claim; questioning the need or reason for two city staff members to accompany the mayor. Harriss interjected that it was his decision to send Regan and Ste. Clair with the mayor and that he had authorized payment of their travel expenses.
Freeman and Jones each had examples of recent visits of officials from our sister cities and the Spanish delegation in Miami — visits which, they say, they found out about from un-official sources instead of from the city manager or mayor.
Freeman was particularly upset over the fact that, as an elected city official, she was not informed of a meeting that was held in the commission meeting room at City Hall between representatives from Aviles and local members of the Chamber of Commerce, certain businessmen and Mayor Joe Boles. And, when she found out that the meeting was being held, she said that she was “not allowed to attend or participate” ostensibly over the mayor or the city manager’s fear of potential Sunshine Law violations.
City Attorney Ron Brown joined the discussion as it was getting heated with implications that the mayor and city manager were somehow attempting to exclude others from the 450th Celebration planning; at one point drawing applause from some citizens who were attending the meeting.
After hashing through the concerns, Brown suggested that there is a way that the city clerk or Director of Public Affairs, Paul Williamson, could manage a calendar for the commission that would keep each commissioner apprised of the other’s schedule of future events or meetings in a manner that complies with Florida’s Sunshine Laws.
This is not the first time that the question has come up of who, exactly, is doing the planning for programs and activities to commemorate the 450th Anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine. Some residents say that they can’t understand who’s in charge.
The Federal St. Augustine 450th Commemoration Commission is responsible for coordinating with federal, state and local entities — the city is only one of a number of components in the mix. In addition, the Director of the Department of Heritage Tourism, Dana Ste. Claire, leads the St. Augustine 450th Commemoration Commission as Executive Director and is advised by Williamsburg, VA Mayor and consultant Jeanne Zeidler; who is also being paid by the City.
If Commissioner Freeman or Jones are feeling left out of the process, perhaps those feelings are fueled by the fact that Mayor Boles leads a 14-member committee of community leaders who act as a “Steering Committee” and are visibly participating in the process.
Or, maybe those feelings are fueled by the fact that former Mayor George Gardner leads his own “450 Community Corps” which some have perceived as a “maverick” organization to get commemoration planning under way two years ago. Gardner says his group is today a part of, and not apart from, the process.
If there were fears of being excluded, perhaps the St. Augustine City Commission workshop yesterday morning at 9:00 a.m. in the Alcazar Room at City Hall helped relieve some of the tension. Key visitor interests including authentic Spanish cuisine, an interactive public archaeology program, traditional Spanish crafts, a comprehensive St. Augustine history museum, and evening historical programs were outlined by Dana Ste. Claire as he introduced workshop participants to a new, interactive heritage tourism program tailored to today’s visitors.
“They’re no longer interested in the traditional museum experience,” Ste. Claire said. “Frankly, they’re tired of looking at dead birds in glass cases.”
Ste. Claire outlined a new program stretching from visitor orientation at the Visitor Center through a variety of events and programs in and around the Colonial Spanish Quarter.
This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the Ringhaver Center at Flagler College, there is a Steering Committee meeting where details of the strategic plan for the 450th anniversary – The First America – will be explained in a public session.
Finally, the general public gets an opportunity to attend an assembly Monday, November 2nd at 5:30 p.m. in the Flagler College Auditorium where everyone will get the opportunity to learn about what’s been done so far and what’s being planned for the future.