Editorial: Learning to share the sandbox

When it comes to telling a United States citizen what they can and cannot do, I am uncomfortable surrendering to any one-person “sole and complete discretion” to make such decisions — especially when that individual is a mechanism of government bureaucracy.

The power to make decisions about what activities are allowed and what activities are prohibited comes from a group of representatives elected by the people — not a single, dictatorial authority. We enjoy a representative form of government in America, and St Augustine is still part of the United States.

At Monday night’s regular meeting of the St Augustine City Commission, our elected commissioners propose to bestow upon one of two possible, individual employees, acting on their own, the sole and complete discretion to say who can and who cannot use a simple metal detector on public property anywhere in the City.

The proposed change to an existing section of the City Code will read:

Sec. 6-7. Excavations on public property.
No individual shall be allowed to use a probe, metal detector or any other device to search or excavate for artifacts on public property, nor can any individual remove artifacts from public property without the written permission of the city. The City Manager or the City Archaeologist shall grant such written permission and shall exercise sole and complete discretion in the exercise of such authority. Furthermore, no disturbances or construction activities shall be authorized within properties belonging to the city, including public streets and rights-of-way, without a city right-of-way permit and without such archaeology efforts as may be addressed by this chapter. Any proposed archaeological work and delays relative to a disturbance or construction work shall be in accordance with provisions of this chapter relative to major and minor disturbances in Archaeological Zones I, II and III.

Although I find that St Augustine has an excellent City Manager and a capable and qualified City Archaeologist today, I have no idea who will be hired to work in those positions next year.

Notwithstanding the entire interpretation of what is, and what is not, an “artifact” under the code, the process is contrary to the principle of a republic form of government; it more closely resembles a monarchy.

What is more disturbing is that, once again, city officials are overreacting to a single, high profile affront to their sublime authority to control the history of St Augustine.

A television crew producing a reality-based show filmed an episode in St Augustine that dealt with buried treasure for entertainment purposes. All the amateur historians came out of the woodwork to condemn the idea that an ordinary member of the public was worthy to undertake such a quest — certainly, only a government appointee or his hired department head would possess the knowledge to advance such a cause.

All that was accomplished in the melee that ensued was that the City put out the “un-welcome mat” to a group of “outsiders” — who happen to be in a position to promote us, rather than castigate us.

Isn’t the whole idea of historical tourism to attract the ordinary, John Doe Citizen from Pigsknuckle, Arkansas who might be interested in seeing a place where authentic history was made? So what if he brings along his metal detector and finds someone’s lost wedding ring. Just think how many people he’ll tell about his St Augustine vacation.

When it comes to public property, the public owns the sandbox. Learn to share with the other children and don’t resort to overreaching government intervention as the solution for everything. It’s not.

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