Last week, Historic City News was on hand for a one-hour workshop that brought together government and private stakeholders preparing for the inaugural meeting of the federal 450th Commemoration Commission later this summer.
The exact date for the first meeting of the recently appointed federal commission has not been set; however, National Park Service Southeast Regional Director, David Vela, told participants, and a small group of perhaps two-dozen citizens, that he expects to know the date very soon.
City Commissioner Bill Leary brought up the idea of the importance for this workshop in the last commission meeting; pointing out that the inaugural meeting of the federal commission will set the tone for the future success of the panel.
In addition to the roundtable participants, the audience included members of the First America Foundation’s board, city and county officials, representatives from Romanza, St. Johns Cultural Council, law enforcement and others.
Seated at the table, Vela was representing the Department of Interior, Mayor Joe Boles, City Manager John Regan and Director of Public Affairs Paul Williamson conducted the meeting. Other participants included Superintendent Gordon Wilson and Chief of Administration Lindsey Phillips representing the National Park Service, Chairman Don Wallis and Executive Director Jamie Alvarez representing First America Foundation, Director of Operations Linda Dixon and Director of Academics Jan Matthews representing UF Historic St. Augustine, Inc., and Congressional Delegation representatives; Adele Griffin for Senator Marco Rubio, Michelle Barth for Senator Bill Nelson and Patrick Kelly for US Representative John L. Mica — the US Congressman who sponsored the House bill creating the federal commission.
The agenda distributed was brief — aside from introductions and closing comments, the purpose of last week’s workshop was to discuss plans prior to the inaugural meeting, the inaugural meeting itself and plans for after the meeting.
Paul Williamson told Historic City News editor Michael Gold that he wanted to be sure that the commissioners have as much information about St. Augustine as they need in advance of the meeting. The question was raised; have all of the commissioners actually been to the city — the consensus was that all, but the last three, have. Vela committed to determining the answer.
Vela made clear from the outset that the success or failure of the commission will be determined by the expectations and outcomes realized — not just locally, but nationally.
The conversation quickly turned to the position of “Executive Director”. Mayor Boles raised concerns that most federal commissions are “project driven” whereas the 450th Commemoration is “activity driven”.
Of course, the City is interested in four identified commemorations; not only the 450th founding of St. Augustine, but also the 1812 Spanish Constitution, the 1513 landing of Ponce de Leon and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The federal commission, on the other hand, is focused solely on the commemoration of the city’s founding; 450 years ago in 1565.
Dana Ste. Claire, who attended today’s meeting, was hired by the city for $86,100.00 from Historic Tours of America to serve as both Executive Director of the City’s original 450th Commission and Interim Director of Heritage Tourism. Ste. Claire, assisted by Jamie Alvarez, worked with a hired consultant to formulate a strategic plan for the commemoration. All of that was tossed when the mayor abandoned the regional steering committee and contracted the newly formed First America Foundation to manage the four signature events. Alvarez left the city to go to work for First America where she is Executive Director. Ste. Claire continues on with the city as a department head; replacing Bill Adams as Director of Heritage Tourism.
Boles did not suggest Ste. Claire as a potential Executive Director for the new commission; however, he made it clear that having a local person in that position would be his preference.
Vela said that the National Park Service will fill the administrative gap in the interim; naming Wilson at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, locally, and himself, in the Atlanta regional office, to cover until an Executive Director can be selected. He did signal that he felt the choice of who is best to serve, operationally, will be made by the federal commissioners after they convene. Appropriations to fund the commission are not in place yet.
Vela reminded the other participants that the Department has a lot of recent experience with commemorations of national consequence — citing the 150th anniversary of the Civil War at Fort Sumter in Charleston, connecting the events in Manassas Virginia and the obvious connections to the Civil Rights Movement.
Today there is a special workshop at City Hall to review the outcome of last week’s meeting and to discuss what steps are being taken locally — both by City staffers and First America Foundation.
If you are planning to attend — today’s special meeting will begin at 3:00 p.m. and will be held in the Alcazar Room; on the first floor of City Hall, located at 75 King Street in St. Augustine. It will NOT be broadcast live on Comcast Government TV (Cable Channel 3), however, the 5:00 p.m. regular meeting that follows, in the same location, will.
Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer