Who is accountable for the 450th Commemoration spending?

Taxpayers in the City of St Augustine have been some of the harshest critics of what they see as mismanagement, fraud, waste and abuse surrounding more than $4-million dollars in public spending; much of which was paid to employees, contractors, and those insiders who profited from “sole-source” contracts, private meetings held outside of Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law, and political cronies of the pseudo-elite carpetbaggers who conspired to line their own pockets and enrich their own lifestyle from what should have been a joyous celebration of more than four centuries of Spanish influence by the families whose ancestors persevered in order that we could hold a 450th Commemoration.

To the extent that those taxpayers are also registered voters, they tell Historic City News that they intend to employ next year the same strategies used successfully in last year’s election to remove the eight-year incumbent mayor, Joseph L. Boles, Jr., a St Augustine attorney that became the “poster child” for lavish galas, excessive spending of public funds, and fabricating public interest that did not exist; effectively promising the financially strapped base of taxpayers who came forward to complain “the moon”, and giving them “moon pie”.

“Leanna Freeman’s days are numbered, as are Roxanne Horvath’s,” one reader commented to Historic City News editor Michael Gold at Monday night’s City Commission meeting. A recurring bone of contention for that reader was the payment of transportation, meals and lodging for city officials and others who were sent on junkets to Spain at taxpayers’ expense. Another reader, lifelong resident Jessica Erke, addressed the mayor and commissioners during public comment before the November election. She said that she had not been able to take a vacation to anywhere with her work schedule, the downturn in the economy, and facing mounting medical bills for her husband, Mark Fulton.

In a response to Historic City News on March 16, Vice-Mayor Horvath reported “I have taken 1 trip to Spain with partial payment from the City.” She returned this year for a second Spain trip at City expense. Leanna Freeman spent even more tax dollars during her time on the commission. Two days later, Freeman told Historic City News that she had taken three subsidized trips; travelling once to Aviles and twice to Malaga. Both Horvath and Freeman, beneficiaries of the overseas travel, blasted Mayor Shaver when she first called for an audit and “true up” of contracts awarded and managed for the 450th Anniversary. When Shaver commented that she was tired of being embarrassed by questions and complaints from taxpayers about runaway spending on the 450th, both Freeman and Horvath sprang from their seats to proclaim that they were not embarrassed.

The latest investigation we will be reporting involves the $30,000 purchase of 1650 copies of a 255-page, “450th Anniversary Commemorative Book” — a hardcover “coffee-table” style book being sold in the Visitor Information Center gift shop for $50.00 — or FREE if you happen to be enough of a “VIP” to satisfy Executive Director of the 450th Commemoration, Dana Ste. Claire.

We have obtained a copy of the purchase contract for the books; a sole-source purchase, non-compliant with city policies for competitive bidding, and without an opportunity for local and area suppliers to produce the work. Where did Ste. Claire order the books? From a book publisher in Strasbourg, France who then had the book printed in China.

We have obtained a copy of the invoice which was split so that 1,100 of the books did not have to be reported to the public as an expense.

We also have a statement from the Executive Director of the St Johns County Tourist Development Council, Glenn Hastings, who was hired to shoot the photos for the book.

Stay tuned for more details.

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