Historic City News reporters witnessed “return fire” at Monday night’s St Augustine City Commission meeting; triggered by a recently published letter from Commissioner Bill Leary that was critical of the city’s use of reserve funds and what he called “an unhealthy obsession” with the 450th commemorations.
Mayor Joseph L. Boles, Jr., who also serves on the appointed federal 450th Commemoration Commission, was absent Monday night; however, Vice-Mayor Leanna Freeman made her feelings clear when she admonished Leary by saying, “The numbers you chose were least favorable to a commission that shares your goals”.
Leary has been considered a strong supporter of the 450th — he has flown to Washington, DC with 450th Commemoration Director Dana Ste. Claire, and Leary’s former position at the Department of Interior was once thought to be the inside connection that would move St Augustine’s four-years of celebration forward with federal support.
None of that has happened.
Now Leary is saying that the residents of St Augustine simply don’t have the level of interest in the commemoration and are not willing to commit the level of financial support necessary to justify over $1 million in spending by city officials.
The straw that broke the camel’s back in Leary’s case appears to be a finding of excessive use of the city’s General Reserve Fund to pay for a series of loosely related celebrations for which we still have no concrete plans, no firm budget, no “stop loss” figure for spending, no federal funding, and no major financial contributors.
Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline scolded Leary for airing his concerns in a newspaper guest column. Leary and Sikes-Kline sparred over amounts publicly expressed by Leary in his letter, amounts that Leary defended.
Leary characterized the commitment of money held in “our main savings account” as “alarming and unsustainable”.
As the discussion disintegrated into argument, City Manager John Regan interjected, “I don’t think this is going anywhere good”.
During the upcoming budget hearings next month, part of the discussion will include establishing a sustainable fiscal policy for reserves, Regan says. Also in September, a two-hour workshop has been set to discuss the management of the 450th Commemoration by city officials.
That workshop is set for September 26 at 8:30 a.m.