Overflow crowd at First America news conference

Flanked by Commissioner Errol Jones on one side and activists Judith Seraphin and Edward A. Slavin, Jr., on the other; Newly elected commissioner Bill Leary listened intently to a well prepared presentation delivered by Jamie E. Alvarez this morning.

Alvarez deferred to First America Foundation, Inc. Chairman, Donald Wallis, for a moment, after calling the news conference to order — long enough for Wallis to establish that Alvarez position with the private foundation has been advanced to “acting executive director”.

Attention has been focused on Alvarez’ position since she resigned her Heritage Tourism job with the City of St. Augustine on August 9, 2010. Alvarez, who was earning $30,728.51 per year on the City payroll, went to work for the organization that has received $275,000 in City of St. Augustine reserve funds — as controversial payment of what has been labeled, “seed money”.

Since that time, Alvarez and Chairman Wallace have been too tightlipped about how they are implementing their paid-in-advance contract to satisfy some residents, critics, and even members of the present City Commission; like Leary, who has insisted on better transparency.

At the January 10th meeting of the City Commission, Alvarez introduced herself to the commission with the title “Director”. Alvarez later clarified, when questioned by Commissioner Leary, that she was a staff director — not the yet-to-be-hired Executive Director.

Although the Foundation meetings are closed to the public, Historic City News reporters were informed that the decision to promote Alvarez was made eight days ago; at a new salary of $65,000 per year — more than twice what she earned at the City. According to Alvarez, she currently supervises only one paid staffer; Laura Cryan.

Wallis told the assembled media, and others, that the Board of First America has written a job description for the Executive Director’s position and will make an appropriate search – however, he stopped short on details of the scope of a national search for an experienced, professional director. Wallis admitted that during the “consideration period” the Board has been soliciting and encouraging 23 year-old Alvarez to take the believed $100,000+ a year position. Alvarez turns 24 tomorrow.

On September 10, 2010, Historic City News documented that an online employment listing on the Nonprofit Jobs Cooperative website of the Center for Nonprofit Management, advertised an available position of “executive director” for First America Foundation, Inc. The description in the ad read, “Work closely with Board Chair of newly formed and funded organization with a specific, narrow and unusual mission.” The requirements listed called for a candidate that “Must be able to help Board rapidly complete its strategic planning process and then design, hire, manage, lead and direct the staff that will implement that plan.” The ad listed “Salary: $100K+” for the position that would focus locally on St. Augustine “with national and international implications.”

The cooperative who published the Internet advertisement is a collaboration of nonprofit management centers from across the United States. Their stated goal is to provide a “one-stop source for job seekers to search for nonprofit jobs,” and, “for employers to easily publish job opportunities within specific regions.”

The nationwide ad has inexplicably disappeared from the national search website. In fact, Alvarez denied in a recent Commission meeting that the ad was legitimately placed. She commented that neither she nor Wallis knew anything about the job search ad despite the fact that it contained Wallis’ direct contact information — including his cell phone number and e-mail address.

In the media kit distributed from the Foundation today, Alvarez is listed as “Executive Director”.

At the head table this morning sat Chairman Don Wallis, Vice-Chair Christine Chapman, Secretary Leslee Keys, and Treasurer Matt Baker. None offered financial information or gave officer reports.

Community concern has heightened since the City funded First America Foundation, Inc., with $275,000 in advance, at the time Mayor Joe Boles signed the seven page contract August 9, 2010. At the news conference today, the names of the Board of Directors and two paid staff members were announced. The foundation also announced the names of some “honorary” board members.

The press release says, “The foundation presented its mission, vision, goals and strategies after four months of deep strategic planning.”

The media kit that was distributed lists the foundation’s “strategic framework” but the organization still lacks a demonstrable strategic plan.

Basically, the framework merely states that the foundation’s vision is for St. Augustine to be “universally recognized” for its significant role in shaping the United States, the Western Hemisphere and the world. Its mission is to lead and coordinate the commemoration of that “significance”.

The foundation has hired two local companies to help with communications — Eclipse Media Power to produce a website, with a projected launch March 1st, and, Make Me Social, who will launch a twitter and facebook page immediately.

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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