Mayor needs to rethink 450th agenda

Mayor Joe Boles and 450th Executive Director Dana Ste. Claire are putting great stock in their ability to deliver a celebration for our 450th birthday that has been credited with the ability to revitalize the city’s economy with no less dispatch than Ponce de Leon’s mythical Fountain of Youth.

They have surrounded themselves with lawyers like Don Wallis and Bill Leary who are able lieutenants of the mayor’s 450th Commemoration agenda.

Even though the celebration is three to five years down the road, depending on who you ask, we have been talking about it — and spending money in its name — for the past three years, no matter who you ask.

Boles has described his vision of an extensive, “community wide effort” to showcase St. Augustine’s rich history, however, to date, the only financial support has come from city taxpayers.

Nearly six months ago, in early March, Boles, Ste. Claire, Regan, and now city commission hopeful Bill Leary, traveled to Washington, D. C. to meet with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar — Leary’s former DoI co-worker and the man who will make the decision on appointments to the 14-member commission.

Upon Boles, Ste. Claire, Regan and Bill Leary’s return, the delegation reported, “From all accounts of the meeting, it seems evident that the establishment of this federal commission, the St. Augustine 450th Commemoration Commission, is very near.”

Of course, when originally attempted in the last session of congress, the 450th Commission never made it out of committee. U.S. Representative John L. Mica is the House sponsor of the re-introduced bill, now titled H.R. 480 — The St. Augustine 450th Commemoration Commission Act of 2009.

That was six months ago. In a letter last week, the congressman told community leaders about the status of federal funding and appropriations for various projects and programs — the outlook was somewhat grim. Keep in mind when counting on government funding, which this committee is supposedly to receive, this is the first time since 1974 that Congress has not been able to pass a federal budget.

Mica wrote, “federal funding appears to be on hold” and pointed out that only two appropriations bills have been passed by the House before the August recess — no appropriations bills have been able to pass Congress.

Mica candidly predicts that “federal expenditures will be limited to current fiscal year levels” and current conditions will postpone action on any special requests or earmark appropriations “for some time.”

“I do not believe appropriation requests will be completed until after the fall elections,” Mica wrote.

In a City Commission Workshop April 21, 2010, after the Washington D.C. excursion, Mayor Boles stated that one of the challenges the City was facing was that federal funding had not yet been approved.

Boles also announced that Bill Leary, who had gone with the delegation to Washington, had been serving as the City’s “Government Liaison for the 450th Commemoration”. After all, Leary was formerly a White House environmental lawyer and worked for the Department of Interior — who better to influence the current Secretary of Interior to “buy in” to the mayor’s 450th party?

When Leary spoke before the workshop, he reported that the Department of Interior was trying to obtain funding for the Federal 450th Commission for the current fiscal year. But remember, no 450th Commemoration Commission has been created to this day.

According to the Clerk’s minutes of the meeting, Leary, when pressed about the money, said that “because the Federal Commission had not yet been created, funding was not included in the 2011 budget.” Leary also said, “The Department of Interior was aware of the issue and pledged to provide funding for 2011 through 2015.”

Defending his apparent “inside man in Washington, D.C.”, Boles pointed out that while the federal process had been progressing slowly, the City was fortunate to have Bill Leary as a citizen.”

As far as I know, it’s the Congress that appropriates funding for projects — not the Department of Interior. And, although the Secretary may have said he has his commission members vetted, they still have not been appointed. And even if the Secretary got approval for his appointments, our congressman is saying that the purse-strings have been tied shut.

So, no trips to Aviles Spain for Don Wallis or Joe Boles and I suppose Bill Leary will have to wait … as congressman Mica says, “until after the fall elections.”

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