Beach community divided on police department

Prior to last week’s election, Historic City News reporters noted lines were already being drawn in one of the more controversial issues to affect the City of St Augustine Beach since the municipality incorporated in 1959 — what to do about the police department.

Community activist Ed Slavin stood waiving a sign outside City Hall that declared the only way to keep the St Augustine Beach Police Department was to elect Ed George.

Across the driveway from the polling location, stood former Chief of Police Richard Hedges; waiving a sign in support of the re-election of Vice-Mayor Rich O’Brien, George’s opponent. Hedges was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in an FDLE investigation instigated by disgruntled police officers who now find themselves on the receiving end of some unwanted attention that might result in the paring down of the department; ultimately costing them their jobs.

Hedges was not alone. Two commissioners, not up for re-election this year, Commissioner Andrea Samuels and the mayor, Gary Snodgrass, were also on the scene to support their fellow commissioner, Rich O’Brien; whose support of the mayor’s “blended approach” to law enforcement at the beach is read by some to mean doing away with all but 5 or 6 paid police officers. The city charter, as currently written, only requires the position of Chief of Police — not the continuance of an autonomous police department.

Before the election was over that resulted in O’Brien being re-elected, another sitting commissioner, local attorney Undine Pawlowski, would come under close scrutiny for her efforts to return Ed George to the board.

Exercising her rights under a Massachusetts law that recognized gay and lesbian marriage, Pawlowski was a partner in a marriage to Beach resident Donna Marie Giancola that ended this year in divorce, according to court records. Accusations surfaced that Pawlowski now lives with George and that the two are a heterosexual couple; although Pawlowski denies that her relationship with George would have created a conflict under Florida’s Government in the Sunshine laws.

At one time, George served as mayor at the Beach; however, he was defeated in a close election by now Mayor Snodgrass. Historic City News became aware of allegations against Pawlowski’s father by another former mayor, Frank Charles, that Michel Pawlowski, who registered to vote in local St Augustine Beach elections, in reality lives out-of-state; and further, the address he registered with the Supervisor of Elections is, in fact, the home owned by her daughter’s ex-spouse, Donna Giancola. Charles provided Historic City News a copy of a signed statement from Giancola attesting to the fact that Pawlowski does not now, nor has he ever, resided at her house in St Augustine Beach.

Since the election results were published, and O’Brien was declared the winner of another four-year term, the commission has moved forward with their selection of a new Chief of Police to replace former Chief Hedges. That announcement is expected soon. A committee that had been named to assist in vetting members of the current Beach Police Department has been “placed on hold” when the Sheriff delivered a letter to Mayor Snodgrass and other officials this week stating that his command staff members would no longer participate in that process.

If the Beach elects to continue the department, even in a scaled-down form, Shoar said the incoming Chief of Police would be capable of vetting his own officers and making his own staffing recommendations to continue to operate the agency. Shoar iterated a list of ten areas found deficient at the unaccredited police department; discovered and documented during more than two months of investigation by a special Florida Department of Law Enforcement team and Internal Affairs investigators with the Sheriff’s Office.

As chief law enforcement officer in the county, Sheriff Shoar has assumed, and is retaining, jurisdictional operation and supervision of those law enforcement functions — until such time as the department is deemed capable of providing those functions for themselves; whenever that might be.

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