Editorial: Leary admissions no surprise

In a letter to the editor published in The Record today, St Augustine City Commissioner Bill Leary profoundly states, “city government is unhealthily obsessed with the 450th commemorations”; a fact that Historic City News has reported, in detail, over the past three years.

When former city commissioner Don Crichlow decided to vacate Seat 4 two years ago, Historic City News editor Michael Gold ran for the seat primarily on this very issue. Gold is a Republican who is a native St Augustinian. Leary, at the time a registered Democrat, was still new to St Augustine; having retired here a few years prior from inside the Washington, DC beltway.

The seats on the city commission and the mayor’s seat are non-partisan, but the candidates, obviously, are not. The city voters selected Leary on approximately the same ratio of ballots cast, as there are Democrats-to-Republicans registered to vote. No real surprise.

Now, just two years later, it appears Leary, who was one of Mayor Boles’ champions for the ambiguous chain-of-events loosely referred to as the “450th Commemoration”, has awaken to discover that the Emperor’s clothes aren’t real, after all.

Leary points now to the following realities regarding the 450th:

  • Non-profit support entity never emerged to solicit contributions
  • Never put a cost on the lofty, vague strategic plan
  • Incredibly, there is no 450th budget
  • Never set a “stop-limit” on how much money could be spent for the 450th
  • Never taken any of the “dreams” off the table
  • Rather than adjust our desires to economic reality, just keep spending
  • Since none of those circumstances occurred overnight, I wonder what straw broke his back?

    In the open letter, Leary says “the alarm bell” was returning to town after missing a commission meeting to find that all but $4.1 million has been raided from the city’s General Reserve Fund.

    For comparison, in 2007, before the four-year-long celebration became the talk of the town, the General Reserve Fund balance was $12 million. The plan was to cover city needs for six months in the event of a hurricane; $4.1 million would cover just over two months.

    The millions of dollars that have been thrown away, by fraud and poor management, in the name of “The 450th” is a shame. What is worse, there are many projects on the horizon totaling millions of more dollars that will vie for the remaining General Reserve Fund balance.

    Leary goes on to admit that he has supported many of the General Reserve Fund obligations made during his two years on the commission. He also admits that private and public funds to finance the egocentric 450th party have remained illusory.

    Now that the City and taxpayers are ass-deep in alligators, Leary has an epiphany — we have obligated about $2.4 million from the General Reserve Fund for the 450th and if we keep spending at the present rate, we will exhaust our reserves by the end of 2015.

    Historic City News expects the City of St Augustine to become more focused on the core responsibilities of city government and to dismantle this two-year-old fantasy.

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