Thrasher intervention makes parties negotiate

The drama that has been unfolding in the Historic Fullerwood Park and Nelmar Terrace neighborhoods continues — but, thanks to Senator John Thrasher, neither side will get everything they want; the hallmark of well negotiated agreement.

Although already passed through the House of Representatives, the companion Senate Bill, that would give the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind the power to take private property upon payment of “fair market value” and approval from a state commission, is being held up.

The residents of the two heavily residential neighborhoods bordering the sprawling campus may have found an angel in the Republican Senator who calls St Augustine home; even though they have criticized him in the past for his staunch conservative politics in a largely liberal-leaning city, where the majority of residents are Democrats.

At the conclusion of a meeting yesterday that included St Augustine Representative Bill Proctor, St Augustine Mayor Joe Boles, St Augustine City Manager John Regan as well as school President, Danny Hutto, Thrasher, chairman of the Senate’s powerful rules committee, told reporters he is going to hold the bill “until the feuding parties work out an agreement”.

Proctor has held the opinion, at least publicly, that there is only a small number of “disgruntled neighbors” who don’t understand the purpose of the legislation. He has written a “letter to the editor” rebutting claims made by City Commissioner Bill Leary and a second letter which he says explains why this legislation needs to be passed now; claiming that the eminent domain issue has been a priority for him since he was first elected to office.

Regan is following the direction of the City Commission, who collectively employs him. His negotiation skills have been tested as the process of keeping peace between the school and its neighbors has reached a fevered pitch. Mayor-Commissioner Boles, also a skilled negotiator, remains optimistic that an accord can be reached. Boles, who is not the designated negotiator for the commission in its mediation with the school over building code violations, has characterized negotiations between the municipal and state entities as, “a cumbersome process, at best”.

Hutto, whose service at the landmark school dates back to the 1960′s, told Historic City News editor Michael Gold that he would like to retire “on a high note” — and, at the last meeting of his Board of Trustees, it appeared as though he might; despite the current fracas. It was apparent in that meeting that he had the support of his Board to negotiate with the City to reach a settlement of their differences. Many residents expressed concerns that the school acts as if they don’t have to respect the wishes of the neighborhood; “they are going to do what they want and tell us later,” was one speakers comment before the Trustees. But, by the end of that meeting on the 10th of this month, after reassuring comments by all of the Trustees, some of those fears appeared to be weakened.

No agreement between the City of St Augustine and the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind will ever be “bulletproof” since the municipal corporation’s authority is trumped by state laws that can change with each new legislative session.

Thrasher seems convinced that there is an agreement, short of legislative action, that can be reached between the state agency and city government.

Photo credits: © 2012 Historic City News staff photographer

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