The commission said no, unanimously — but some members of the public spoke in support of a proposal yesterday that sought acceptance for a plan that would turn over management of public lands in our area to the federal control of the Department of Interior, National Parks Service.
A frequent speaker at city and county government meetings, Edward A. Slavin, Jr., appeared before the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners at their regular business meeting and tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade commissioners to move forward in support of his proposed “St. Augustine National Historical Park, Seashore and Coastal Parkway”.
It was clear that “agenda item 1” was controversial at the outset — people were waiting in two lines to speak their minds, the majority of which voiced opposition to the idea; citing a variety of reasons for their opinions.
Also clear was that the commissioners, with virtually military precision, were going to handle this proposal with an abundance of care. Slavin has been a controversial face in the community and has frequently taken local government and media to task for causes and viewpoints that he passionately advocates.
In what seemed to this reporter as a prepared, scripted and possibly rehearsed disclaimer read into the record before the process continued, Chairman Ken Bryan gave this introduction:
Just for clarification so that everyone understands what this item is …
This item is not an issue of, or initiated by, the Board of County Commissioners or the administration.
This item was presented by a citizen to the Legislative Delegation on October 31st, 2011 for support and approval if or when it was presented to them.
Since the members of the delegation asked for feedback and consideration by the board prior to being finally considered by them, we decided that it was only appropriate that this item be presented to the general public; for everyone concerned to have the opportunity to express their support or opposition to the idea of a proposed St. Augustine National Historic Park and National Seashore Act.
The Board has been asked to approve a resolution in support of this particular proposal. An idea has been around for several years and only recently, has this been brought to this Board and asked for us to take a position on it.
We are now allowing those who are promoting this idea to present it to this body with full disclosure to all of us, as well as to you.
This venue also provides and allows for public input and we can have a final and unified decision — once and for all.
With that, I’ll take a couple of minutes to explain how we’re going to proceed with this particular item today and the process we will follow as we move through this particular item this morning.
The presenter is Mr. Ed Slavin and he will be given a block time of fifteen minutes for his entire presentation, and you can use this time, Mr. Slavin, any way you like. You can start your presentation and use ten minutes, and use the final five minutes for your follow-up, or closing remarks — because you have contacted the Board to ask whether or not you will be able to have your rebuttal following the public comment.
So, you’re granted fifteen minutes — you can budget it, use it any way you like. Vice Chair Miner will be keeping track of time as we proceed through this.
Once Mr. Slavin makes his presentation, there will also, we’re going to open it up for public comment, because that’s what we’re here for. Each individual will be given three minutes for your presentation, or your comments — again, Commissioner Miner will keep track of the time.
Following public comment, we will bring it back to the Board for discussion; at which time this particular body will make a final decision as to how we will proceed with this.
With that, I’d ask if the County Administrator or County Attorney have any follow-up questions or remarks in regard to this item?
The County Administrator, Michael Wanchick, took his microphone and said:
Mr. Chairman, the only thing that I would say would be to re-emphasize your point that this was not an initiative brought forward by the Board of County Commissioners or administration — that it was simply a citizen’s right to be heard.
It’s been an item that has been kicked around for as long as I’ve been with the county and I think it’s only appropriate that you make a determination whether you want to proceed or not with this initiative so that we can lay it to bed one way or the other.
The County Attorney, Patrick F. McCormack, took his microphone and said:
Yes, I just want to remind the Board that for example the next item, number 2 is a quasi-judicial, this present item, number 1, is not a quasi-judicial; there’s no cross-examination, that type of thing. It’s basically a presentation, as the Chair has mentioned, opportunity for the presenter to have follow-up comments after the general public comments, thank you.
Only then was Slavin permitted to start his presentation. Slavin has been known for taking combative positions with local government. On more than one occasion, he has been threatened with removal from the podium by law enforcement, after the chair ruled him out of order.
Tuesday, however, his demeanor was professional, civil and respectful of the proceedings and he articulated his argument — point by point — for the first eleven minutes, reserving the final four minutes until after public comments.
The room was not “packed” — more attended when parents were threatened with lights being turned off at their baseball fields. Those who spoke, did so with purpose; concerns covered everything from the potential closing of additional beaches, losing the authority to regulate parks and beaches locally, forfeiting control of water from ground and rivers, to more philosophical objections comparing the nationalization of state and local parks to socialism, and even communism; with one speaker likening park rangers to a federal “goon squad” under a Nazi regime.
Judith Seraphin, Slavin’s employer, former State Representative candidate Faye Armitage, whose political run was supported by Slavin, and three or four additional private citizens, expressed concern that if the Board did not act in support of the proposal, the community was at risk of losing our place in history and that living components of our beach environment would be at risk of extinction from further urbanization and development.
After public comment concluded, each commissioner took a minute or two to reflect on why they were going to vote against the proposal — Commissioner Sanchez going so far as to say he was prepared to introduce a motion specifically to “not accept” the proposal. The process consumed the first 1 hour and 43 minutes of the meeting and was the last piece of business heard before the morning break.
The electronic vote recorded 5-0 against the proposal; however, Slavin has vowed to return to the commission. He is hopeful that the Board would allow the measure to appear as a public referendum item on the November 2012 ballot. He says that he wants to let the people decided whether or not it is an appropriate course of action.
Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer