Editorial: Problem with a couple of bills

The Florida House and Senate are considering a couple of bills that will directly impact St Augustine because they relate to a long standing and nationally recognized institution in town, The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind.

We’re all familiar now with House Bill 1037, sponsored by St Augustine resident William Proctor, and its companion bill Senate Bill 1348, filed and co-sponsored by Stephen Wise, District 5, Jacksonville (which includes the northwest area of St. Johns County) and Don Gaetz, District 4, Destin.

Collectively, through a resolution adopted at the last St Augustine City Commission meeting, the Board expressed objection to the bills.

Personally, I don’t see the benefit of the bills, either.

I am concerned, however, with a couple of other “bills” — Bill Proctor and Bill Leary.

My acquaintance with Bill Proctor goes back to one afternoon at the Ponce de Leon Motor Lodge in the mid 1970’s when John Morris and Lawrence Lewis, Jr., introduced me to him. My acquaintance with Bill Leary has only been during the past two years; but then, he and his wife only moved to St. Augustine in February 2005.

Leary seems interested making his vision of St Augustine a reality. Soon after he moved here, former commissioner Don Crichlow took Leary under his figurative wing — in no time at all, Leary had a seat on what is arguably one of the most influential boards at city hall; the Planning and Zoning Board.

Proctor, in my own observation, can already claim credit for more accomplishments that bettered our community than I could attempt to list here. Proctor has made his mistakes — but he has made his bones, as well. His forty-year reputation as a civic leader, educator, and steadfast St Augustine supporter is undeniable and is reflected in many facets of our daily lives.

The fact that I don’t personally see the need for House Bill 1037, does not mean that Dr. Proctor has given leave of his common sense, or that his numerous and substantial contributions to the very foundation our community is built upon, should be dismissed or mocked.

For Leary to write “I was struck by how much it seems we are all puppets dancing to the strings of Bill Proctor”, I have to think the commissioner may be a bit too close to the issue since he now resides in the Fullerwood Park Historic District.

In a “Letter to the Editor” published this weekend, Leary goes on to say that he believes Proctor has undertaken a “personal quest to right a perceived affront a decade ago” — referring to the school’s purchase of several residences and commercial properties in various states of disrepair.

Leary recites an opinion that Representative Proctor has chosen, in his last year in office, to represent the school rather than St Augustine. From that, Commissioner Leary draws his own conclusion that “Proctor now represents the best interests of neither”.

Leary seems exasperated in his recent letter. He seems resigned to the fact that “it will be hard to stop Proctor’s personal quest — because through patience and political cunning he is positioned to effect trades with other legislators to achieve his goal.”

Leary knows of what he speaks. Before moving to Washington, DC, the FSU law school graduate made his living writing legislation for the Florida House of Representatives.

As a businessman who grew up here, who has watched the controversy between neighbors and school administrators “ramp up” and “cool down” over the past fifty years, whose mother was an educator and retired from the state school, and who grew up with the students and local children in the neighborhood, some of whom now own homes there, I have to say that I feel your anxiety, I sense your frustration and I will keep a vigilant eye on how this works out. But, have no doubt, it will work out.

Bill Leary forecasts that thanks to Bill Proctor “the relationship between the school and its neighbors and the city will remain needlessly cold.” I say, only if you make it so. Use those “visionary skills” to come up with a plan that does not break off communication with the school’s administration and continues to welcome them to the discussion of your differences.

As for the commissioner’s opinion of who Dr. Proctor serves, I am inclined to say that Proctor has done a lot more, legislatively, that I agree with — than I don’t. I don’t agree with House Bill 1037; but then I also don’t agree with the fortune being pissed away in the name of the 450th Commemoration.

Proctor is an elder statesman — Leary is still a freshman commissioner.

I like Commissioner Freeman’s observation — the one’s who can stop this are the Board of Governors of the School. I met them Friday. They all are reasonable people. I hope Leanna can be the one to make the peace between them and negotiate support for her idea.

Photo credits: © 2012 Historic City News staff photographer

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