City receives final $22k First America refund

Last week, the City of St. Augustine got some overdue good news when it comes to the First America Foundation fiasco; news that many residents compare to a “bad dream” that they would like to see go away — good news but not quite over yet.

Of the total $300,000 given over to the now defunct Foundation, $150,000 was refunded on June 22nd through their Chairwoman, Christine Chapman — with a promise to turn over records and the remaining cash on hand.

Assistant City Manager Tim Burchfield spoke to First America Foundation Treasurer, Matt Baker, after Historic City News inquired about the balance payment over a month ago. “Baker said he still had two checks that needed to clear and then had a few small assets that needed to be sold,” Burchfield told us. After that was accomplished, “then they would be ready to remit the final check.”

Birchfield later told Historic City News that Baker estimated the final check “would be between $23,000 and $25,000″.

The City Manager’s office confirmed last night that they did receive a $22,000 check from Baker, bringing the total refunded amount to $172,000 — the $128,000 difference, at this point, seems to be the cost of an education.

Heritage Tourism Director Dana Ste. Claire added that recently he was able to go to the former office of the Foundation, located inside vacant space at The St. Augustine Record building. Ste. Claire retrieved boxes of commemoration materials and work product that spanned back to when Foundation Executive Director Jamie Alvarez worked for the City.

What remain “un-accounted” for, are the accounting records. Burchfield and Regan are confident that Baker will return those records to the City so that they can be inspected for any impropriety in spending.

In the nine or ten months of the secretive, closed-door operation of the Foundation, then Chairman Donald Wallis and Alvarez managed to go through $128,000. City taxpayers are eager to learn the truth about where it went.

Wallis is an attorney with Upchurch, Bailey and Upchurch, who worked out a deal with the City to provide planning and coordination of the 450th Commemoration of St. Augustine’s founding in 2015, to plan a 200-year anniversary of the 1812 Spanish Constitution, a 500th celebration of the 1513 landing of Ponce de Leon and a 50-year anniversary, in 2014, commemorating the 1964 signing of the Civil Rights Act.

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