Editorial: Is the juice worth the squeeze?

Editor Michael GoldHow much additional effort should the City of St. Augustine have to expend as they attempt to recover from the boondoggle that has been the nine-month relationship with First America Foundation?

There are people, either trying to be “politically correct” or trying not to offend personal friends who sit on one of the two volunteer boards, who still advocate factoring First America Foundation into the “commemoration planning” role contemplated in their original contract.

I say, “Enough is enough”.

Historic City News was clearly suspicious of the relationship between the City and the Foundation from the outset, and, the more information that we uncover, the more apparent it becomes that those suspicions were on point.

In announcing his plan of a “major policy shift” away from “status quo” to an “energized city staff” that will put commemoration planning “high on the priority list”, City Manager John Regan got the “show of support” from the commissioners that he needed; even though there remains some lingering interest in working with the one-man-band, Donald W. Wallis.

The role of any director or “honorary director” who has agreed, without pay, to have their name attached to First America Foundation in such capacity, is there to serve as little more than a figurehead. If that was not clear at the outset, it is abundantly clear today as I read the e-mails Wallis has sent to men and women who hold those appointed positions.

Let me say, I am impressed, and, a little more than surprised, at some of the successful people who have agreed to allow their names to be used in this way.

I checked today, and according to the Foundation website, the following people hold seats on the voting Board: William T. Abare, Matt Baker, Colin A. Bingham, Nancy Birchall, Joseph Boles, Cathy Brown, Christine Chapman, Ron Davidson, Richard Goldman, Leslee F. Keys, Anthony Lazzara, Pamela Mason, Martha McClintock, Susan Parker, Bob Storey, Randy Swift, Tracy Upchurch, Luis Vienrich, Don Wallis and Doug Wiles.

All of these fine residents are engaged in their own businesses or professions, the community, their churches, with their families, and, in truth, cannot devote too much time to a project of this scale for an extended number of years, in my opinion.

John Regan impresses me with his ability to direct and lead the day-to-day operation of City Hall. He has surrounded himself with professional, well qualified department heads. If Regan, Burchfield, Litzinger, Piggott, Ste. Claire, Knight, Williamson and Graham can’t be successful in delivering the results we need, I would be surprised and disappointed. Chief Arnold and Chief Lueders are well prepared, capable and equipped to provide command and control of our public safety plan and to coordination with county and state resources, as necessary.

To those who feel, for whatever reason, that the City should be hamstrung and held back to accommodate an organization that popped up overnight, took hundreds of thousands of taxpayer money, in advance, then delivered nothing, and still, nine months later, doesn’t have an executive director, staff, strategic plan nor have they raised any funds on their own, I would ask, is the juice worth the squeeze?

I understand that Mayor Boles has moved from the Board to the Honorary Board, which is a good thing. In the recent workshop, Boles showed great statesmanship by not telling us what we wanted to hear but rather what we needed to hear. I have told the Mayor in person, and, I will repeat for our readers, I appreciate that it takes a big person to admit when their original plans have turned out to be wrong — especially when that person is in a position of leadership.

I also appreciate Commissioner Leary, who Boles says convinced him to try the “private foundation” approach, for being willing to move ahead with different plans until we find the approach that proves to be right. Even though he was a one-time political opponent of mine, I believe that Leary has done as good a job as anyone else would have done for their first time in elected office — and that is to include me, had I been elected. Likewise, I have told the commissioner that in person.

This is our community and our celebration. The world is invited to share with and learn from us. The attraction here does not have to be manufactured, candy-coated or rubber stamped — it is our culture, our history and all those elements that are the story of St. Augustine that have been written over the past five centuries.

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