No matter how many times St Augustine city officials are taken to court for violating the constitutional rights of artists; and, no matter how many times the city is enjoined and ordered by the federal court to stop infringing those rights, it seems that there is always someone willing to run the taxpayer’s legal bills a little higher, apparently because they consider themselves above the law.
The City Manager, John Regan, is not above the law. However, he is accountable when he refuses to comply with the law and when his departments repeatedly persecute innocent citizens in its name.
Department of Planning and Building director, David Birchim, is not above the law. However, he is accountable when he refuses to comply with the law and when his code enforcement employees repeatedly persecute innocent citizens in its name.
City Attorney Isabelle Lopez is not above the law. However, she is accountable when she refuses to comply with the law and when she fails, consistently, to educate city employees about the consequences of persecuting innocent citizens in its name.
Code Enforcement Officer Curtis Wendell Boles has been employed by the City of St Augustine since September 2, 2003. In nearly thirteen years of employment, is it not reasonable to expect that he should know the codes of the city? Certainly before he falsely cites an innocent citizen for violating them, wouldn’t you think? He is a grown man. He is 55-years-old. And, at an annual salary of $40,250.95, plus benefits, he makes more money than the average St Augustine and St Johns County resident.
Last week the Building Department received a complaint that an artist was sitting in a chair on the sidewalk in front of A1A Ale Works. The location is OUTSIDE the restricted zone as defined by city officials. That should have been the end of the matter, but it wasn’t. The artist, Martha Hird, has a mobile vendor permit issued by the City. That should have been the end of the matter, but it wasn’t.
Hird explained to Historic City News that she normally is set up in the plaza market, paying a monthly fee to the city for the privilege of selling her wire art there. This month, she did not make the lottery, so she took her supplies across the street to the public sidewalk, outside the prohibited zone.
Because of the outcome of a lawsuit against the city, it was decided that artists and entertainers could perform in “public areas” other than St George Street. In that settlement, the City identified “public streets, rights-of-ways, sidewalks, parks, playgrounds, and all public ways except those portions of the streets and roadways intended for use by vehicular traffic within the City of St. Augustine” as alternative locations for artists.
In another action in 2001, the City of St. Augustine was sued contesting violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act by Access Now and handicapped St. Augustine resident Robert Jones. When Jones died in 2006, Merrill Paul Roland, who has an artificial leg, took over for Jones in the lawsuit.
On July 23, 2007, the City Commission unanimously approved settlement of the lawsuit by agreeing to spend $650,000, over seven years, to bring the city up to ADA compliance. $100,000 spent by the city fixing ADA violations in the prior year, would be deducted from the settlement.
Photographs from the scene show that the sidewalk where Hird was painting is 8-feet wide to the curb.
Regan was traveling to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation conference when this incident occurred. He told Historic City News that he was going to teach a seminar session , etc. He said that he had just returned from Tallahassee Saturday afternoon.
According to Public Rights-of-Way Access Guidelines and the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the City is only required to provide “continuous and unobstructed clear width of 4-feet, exclusive of the width of the curb, for pedestrian access”.
With about 41″ for a 24″ chair, that four-foot rule is not in danger of being violated here. That four-foot rule is not a new regulation or standard, either. Given the several lawsuits over the past fifteen or twenty years, everybody at City Hall should understand that.
Instead of knowing the law before making this inappropriate confrontation, Boles decided to take matters into his own hands. He deduces that the artist has willfully violated Sec. 18-56 of the Code of the City of St Augustine and proceeds to issue her a written warning.
Boles issued a false and misleading written warning to Martha Hird.
He communicated to her that if she did not “remove all vendor apparatus” within 24-hours, her failure to do so may result in:
- a citation instead of a warning, or
- a mandatory court appearance, or
- a civil penalty not to exceed $500 per infraction
City officials and employees representing the city may not engage in any conduct the natural consequence of which is to harass, oppress, or abuse any person in connection with their lawful pursuit of constitutionally protected activities.
For your reference:
Sec. 18-56. – Willful obstruction of public ways and passages.
- a) It shall be unlawful for any person with the specific intent to do so and without other lawful purpose to willfully obstruct the free, convenient and normal use of any sidewalk, street, highway, bridge, alley, road or other public passageway; or the entrance, corridor or passageway of any public building or structure, by impeding, hindering, retarding or restraining traffic or passage thereon and therein.
- b) It shall be unlawful for any person with the specific intent to do so and without other lawful purpose to willfully approach a vehicle while the vehicle is on the portion of a public street currently in use by vehicular traffic.
- c) Any person who shall be found guilty of violating the provisions of this section shall be punished as provided in section 1-8.
(Code 1964, § 17-5.1; Ord. No. 11-27, § 1, 12-12-11)
State Law reference— Obstructing highways, F.S. § 861.01.
The City Attorney, City Manager, and code enforcement employees need to understand that the residents of St Augustine will not tolerate the use of any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means to coerce compliance with non-existent regulations.