Editorial: The squeaky wheel gets greased


300-MICHAEL-GOLD-@HCN2013Editorial: The squeaky wheel gets the grease

Michael Gold, Editor

Next week there will no doubt be heard a lot of squeaky wheels around City Hall; when, at the behest of freshman commissioner, Roxanne Horvath, the City of St Augustine launches a new “visioning project” to create an updated “blueprint for St Augustine’s future”.

How does that idea sound to you? Whose idea of how St Augustine should look in the future will be selected? How much is this going to cost? Who is going to pay for it?

The visioning, or, re-visioning, process will commence at a commission workshop on Wednesday October 2nd at 9:30 a.m.

In 1995, under a different commission, mayor, and city manager, over 200 members of the community met in 10 topic-driven committees over several weeks to develop a blueprint for what they defined as their vision for my hometown.

Want to know what they came up with?

“St Augustine, as the nation’s oldest city, is a community of great heritage. With emphasis on tourism as its main economic driving force, the city enjoys a superior residential quality of life enhanced by a unique architectural history and an ambiance which is preserved to attract the arts, culture and a flourishing downtown business sector, St Augustine is surrounded by thriving modern communities which recognize the importance of the historic downtown to overall economic vitality.”

Is it just me, or is that not about as generic as a community could hope to get — for something as uncertain as the future? In 1995, those 200 volunteer citizens never imagined the nation was headed for an upside-down housing market, where banks would be changing names, or closing altogether, as common practice, where employment could no longer be counted on as scores of employers, large and small, began laying off workers and closing down plants, or, the impact those factors, over which they had no control, would have on tourism. The world changed six-years later, after the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Did St Augustine’s vision change? Have the archetypes, to which we aspired, become no longer important as we keep looking ahead and moving forward?

  • As we prepare to celebrate our 450th anniversary, St Augustine is still the nation’s oldest city and we are still a community of great heritage.
  • Although depressed by less spending on personal vacations, tourism is still the driving force of our local economy.
  • I will put St Augustine’s “residential quality of life” up against anyplace I’ve ever lived or visited; and, the unique architectural history and ambiance, which continues to be preserved, certainly contributes enhanced values to our downtown business sector.
  • Finally, I am aware of no dispute in surrounding communities as to the importance of the “historic downtown” to our overall economic vitality.

Perhaps Commissioner Horvath will enlighten me as to what I’m missing, but I think I’ve got it. I’m still getting used to the new air of “sophistication” to which I have been exposed, at the taxpayer’s expense, in the year or so since her election; however, I’ve been living in and loving St Augustine since I drew my first breaths of life at Flagler Hospital in the 1950’s — which is long enough to have seen carpetbaggers and awful politicians come and go.

The “new words” used in 1995, and strengthened when the “vision” was updated in 1996 and again in 1998, are “to attract the arts and culture”. St Augustine already has 450 years of arts and culture to share with the world; but, somehow, outsiders and scallywags convinced the “right people” that we need a Picasso exhibit to experience “art” and 25,000 concertgoers following a band nobody’s ever heard of to experience “culture”.

Former City Manager Joe Pomar once told me, “Mike, don’t ask me to explain why we are doing this, because it doesn’t make any sense — but, the Bohemians have taken over the city.” Damn if he wasn’t right.

My prediction is that those Bohemians, the self-serving special interests, the carpetbaggers, scallywags, and awful politicians, will use this opportunity to further dilute our “great heritage”, which has given us our “brand”, and sustained us as a community. Our authentic Spanish culture has already delivered us a flourishing business community amid an economically vital and historic downtown that is St Augustine’s — and St Augustine’s alone.

So, don’t be surprised when the pirates rob the Spanish explorers of their rightful claim on St Augustine’s vision for the future, or, when legalized moonshine stills on Riberia Street become a greater priority than educating vacationing families who come to St Augustine for a legitimate, authentic, unique cultural heritage experience. If they wanted to see make-believe, Disneyesque attractions, of no historical significance whatsoever, they would go to Orlando.

So, I’ll encourage you to attend the latest St Augustine Vision Planning Project update on Wednesday, October 2 at 9:30 a.m. in the Alcazar Room at City Hall, located at 75 King Street in St Augustine. It’s a workshop, so you are not guaranteed the opportunity to be heard unless granted by the mayor. But, you will start to hear the squeak of wheels eager to be greased; probably from people who have been here less time than those old tee-shirts have been hanging in my closet.

I will be praying for St Augustine to move away from the carnival-ish, pseudo-history, before its pedaled for truth by moral opportunists looking only to line their own pockets with combs from the land of milk and honey.


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