And your point is …

St. Augustine Record reporter Peter Guinta attended the March 8th meeting of the Republican Club of Greater St. Augustine to listen to a presentation from St. Johns County Sheriff David B. Shoar, however, when you read his account of the evening, you wonder if he was at the same meeting as everyone else.

Guinta was right about one thing, Shoar won’t talk about the Manuel case to reporters any more, but said he will discuss it in public forums. And, from where many, if not most, of the audience was sitting; it was pretty clear why Shoar has taken that position.

In Guinta’s article, published in The St. Augustine Record under the title, “Shoar comes out swinging”‘ and re-printed in The Record’s sister paper in Jacksonville, The Florida Times Union, under the title, “St. Johns sheriff offers his side of the Tom Manuel affair”, it’s apparent that the writer, or his editor, has a proclivity to let their own agenda overshadow their reporting.

The audience last week got the message that the reason the sheriff feels compelled to offer his “side” of the Tom Manuel affair, directly to the public, is because newspaper reporters, like Guinta and his editor Peter Ellis, who are supposed to be reporting the facts, have filtered the official statements that could be made in the criminal case to support their own theories.

Tom Manuel is a criminal. While he was a public official, serving on the county Planning and Zoning Agency and then later as a member of the St. Johns County commission, he took $60,000 in cash bribes — that we know of. Manuel was not only captured on video, both in meetings before and at the time he was publically taken into custody, but, he admitted his crimes in open court.

Manuel was investigated, indicted, confessed and was convicted for public corruption. His motive? Money, power and his own ego — in his words; he “got too wrapped up in it”.

Manuel was never coerced to commit any criminal act. He did so of his own volition. He set up a political action committee as part of this criminal enterprise to receive donations for his political future; if you wanted his support on the Board, you had to donate to his pet charities — but as newly installed Republican Club President Gary Bruce commented, “In all the years I have worked with the Salvation Army, I’ve never received a $50,000 donation in cash. Any legitimate donation is made by check.”

Bruce and Shoar made a point that is clear. So, what point are Guinta and Ellis trying to make?

Morris Publishing, owners of both The Record and The Times Union, have recently gone through bankruptcy court to get out of paying more than half of their accumulated debts. A number of the newspaper’s employees no longer have their jobs; down-sized, laid-off, whatever you want to call it — they are out of work. The printing presses no longer print the “local” newspaper locally and the parking lot of their relatively new mega-structure at SR 207 and SR 312 sits all but empty.

Manuel was the darling of The Record. Manuel played The Record like a fiddle.

In the Friday, September 1, 2006 edition of The Record, the editors published an article endorsing Manuel’s election to the position that he has dishonored. The article, titled “Time is right for change –Manuel’s the one to make it”, shows just how infatuated The Record had become with Tom Manuel.

The Record wrote, “Manuel can be caustic in his role as public official. We’ve seen it on the PZA.” Besides stating the obvious, in deciding to endorse Manuel, The Record went on to write, “We said he’s smart; the problem may become that no one is more sure of that than him. His acerbic, verbal jousting is fine when he’s taking on $400-an-hour attorneys, but he needs to treat the ordinary citizens that come before him — should he win the election — with the courtesy and respect they deserve.”

In telling St. Johns County voters that they “believe Tom Manuel has been the more forthright candidate during the campaign”, we see again how Manuel was able to hoodwink The Record. “His election to the board would bring what we believe to be a needed balance to a county commission whose attitude toward growth has been, at the very least, predictable,” The Record said.

Does The Record give us a clue, now that we know that Manuel was on the take from developers, when they wrote in that same endorsement, “The Record is a business whose profits are driven by numbers — numbers of subscribers and numbers of advertising inches. Frankly the more development we have and the more growth we experience, the more money we make.”

Oh, now I get the point.

Photo credit: © 2010 Historic City News staff photograph

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