A move that stymied a former St Augustine City Commission, under Mayor Joe Boles, and led to more than $100,000 in fraud and waste during the creation of the “First America Foundation, Inc.”, was nipped in the bud by Assistant City Attorney Isabelle Lopez Monday night when she instructed commissioners not to exert their own concerns into the ordinance creating a Lincolnville Community Redevelopment Area.
In the First America case, the mayor wanted to direct how the 450th anniversary of the founding of St Augustine would be commemorated. He first ignored an existing volunteer citizen group; favoring a hand-picked “steering committee” of his supporters. Ultimately, he tried padding a startup “not-for-profit” corporation with hundreds of thousands of dollars of city funds, in advance, paying for services that never materialized — an apparent attempt to subvert Florida’s “Government in the Sunshine” laws which require open meetings.
One of many failures in the First America case was that Upchurch and Upchurch attorney-partner, Don Wallis, who headed the sham organization, wouldn’t allow the city commissioners to exert their control over the direction of the commemoration activities — to the extreme extent that only the Mayor was allowed to attend meetings of the First America Board of Directors — the other city commissioners were not allowed by Wallis, even if only to observe.
Now that the speculative Lincolnville Community Redevelopment Area and redevelopment plan are being enacted, Lopez is telling the commissioner to leave management of the CRA Agency and citizen advisory committee to those subordinate boards — not through the enabling legislation.
Unfortunately, some will say, Lopez has recommended that the members of the City Commission serve in a dual capacity — serving also as the members of the Community Redevelopment Area Agency.
Since the Monday night meeting, when the plan was approved, Historic City News has received communications from our readers asking if this is not the same as seating the mayor’s hand-picked “450th Steering Committee” members, as the members of the “Board of Directors” of the First America Foundation? Another question is, if it’s not appropriate for the commissioners to exert their concerns over the Community Redevelopment Area as “commissioners”, why is it appropriate for the same people to exert their concerns over the Community Redevelopment Area, simply because they wear two hats?
Concerns mentioned by residents during a public hearing on the matter included proposals for expansion of commercial zoning along Martin Luther King Avenue and alternating one-way side streets.
The legislation wraps the new Community Redevelopment Agency into the existing Historic Area Transportation and Parking Community Development Agency, renaming it the “St Augustine Community Redevelopment Agency”.
Funding for the new Community Redevelopment Agency will come from any “tax increment increases” if property values rise. If the value of property in the blighted Lincolnville area does not rise, despite capital improvements that qualify to be paid for by the CRA, the CRA will have no funding. The City paid a consultant, Prosser Hallock, who estimated the increase to reach $8.48 million in 20 years.