Will the “legacy” be one of fraudulent spending?

800-HCN-ED-BOARD-LOGOAccording to the City of St Augustine 450th Commemoration’s latest website version, staff seems to have taken a shift in their “master plan” — we can only assume it is either because of political expediency or financial reality.

Historic City News has tracked several years of buck-passing and false starts as the city of St Augustine continues to stumble up to what should have been a simple, straight-forward commemoration of the anniversary of the founding of America’s oldest city.

Instead, we have observed repeated missteps by elected officials and side-tracked city administrators as they continued to amass an ever-growing elephant in the hopes of eating it in one, enormous bite. Good luck with that.

Now we are being told, in essence, to forget all of the propaganda that has emanated from everyone who has come, and gone; and, those whose titles and responsibilities have been in a constant state of flux — but are still associated with, and collecting from, the 450th.

It’s not about the 450th — it’s about the “legacy”.

In cooperation with the foundation that supports Flagler College, the “legacy” of Henry Morrison Flagler is being commemorated this year as its benefactors celebrate 125 years since the founding of the Hotel Ponce de Leon. Well defined purpose, privately financed, clear, attainable objectives — well within their means. These events are well managed and will preserve the legacy of the hotel, its founder, and the institution that is my alma mater.

John D. Bailey, Sr., and local un-paid organizers and fundraisers in St Augustine produced a quadricentennial anniversary to commemorate the founding of the city in 1565. “St Augustine 400th Anniversary Coordinating Committee”, made up of 17 leading citizens, promoted cooperation and created activities along with six other committees.

They raised about $6.258 million dollars without a professional fundraiser.

A 400-year anniversary actually has a name — “quadricentennial”. Celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Ponce de Leon landing this year is a “quincentennial”, but there is not a legitimate name for a 450th anniversary.

When it was all said and done an impressive number of “legacy” projects were created in 1965:

  • St Augustine Amphitheatre
  • Casa del Hidalgo and Spanish-style houses along St George Street
  • Reconstruction of the Cubo defensive line
  • Restoration of the City Gates
  • Enlarged and restored Cathedral Basilica
  • Erection of the 208-foot tall steel cross at the mission
  • Construction of Prince of Peace church
  • Steel and concrete bridge on the grounds of Mission Nombre de Dios
  • A US Postal Service stamp was issued to celebrate St Augustine’s 400th anniversary
  • A play to commemorate the founding of St Augustine by Pedro Menendez was commissioned. Paul Green wrote “Cross and Sword”. For years the play was presented each summer and remains designated the official state play of Florida.
  • And what will be the “legacy” of the 450th anniversary of Pedro Menendez’ enduring settlement in “the new world”?

  • Hundreds of thousands of tax dollars given to a sham non-profit “First America Foundation” — replete with its fraud, secrecy, misspending and lack of accountability?
  • Hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to pay city employees and contractors to promote and raise money for a celebration that has never had a marketable strategic master plan?
  • Hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to re-invent the Visitor Information Center and more in exhibit fees so that 39 Picasso pieces can be displayed for three months?
  • And, by the way, it’s not the 450th anniversary of the Spanish Constitution (which was overturned by the monarchy before the ink could dry), or Ponce de Leon’s “discovery” of La Florida, or the signing of the Civil Rights Act — even though, somehow, those separate noteworthy events got shoved under the 450th umbrella.

    All of those events pre-dated the 400th anniversary — you will notice that the 1965 planners were not distracted from their commemoration plan. Maybe that’s why they actually accomplished something.

    A mission statement prepared early in planning for the 450th called for “commemorative ceremonies, festive events, musical and dramatic performances, engaging public education programs, authentic recreations and restorations, publications, exhibitions, and research (on) the rich history and cultural diversity of St. Augustine over 450 years.” The mission statement on today’s 450 website is “The St. Augustine 450th Commemoration is an opportunity to make our city an even better place to live and visit.”

    Other quotes of interest from the “new” 450th website, bearing the third or fourth generation logos that just cost taxpayers $14,000, follow:

    At the end of the day, we don’t intend to raise money and spend it on a party.

    We intend to raise money for investment in the infrastructure of St. Augustine, guaranteeing that when the world gathers to celebrate our 500th anniversary … the St. Augustine they celebrate will be economically sound, clean and healthy, quaint and charming, and even more vibrant than the city we live in today.

    Small cities like St. Augustine can’t count on the state or federal government to provide for essential services like re-development and historic restoration.

    Specifically, we need to use the umbrella of the 450th Commemoration to explore alternative means of creating sustainable revenue streams that will fund our future needs.

    One last thing. Let’s not forget that, in reality, the new settlement at St Augustine in 1565 was only “new” to the Spanish, French and British who were at war with each other for the rights to colonize the land. The Timucua Indian Village of Seloy had existed here for almost 4,000 years before the European explorers.


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