Editorial: The Nevilles being seen as political opportunists

The Nevilles: Being seen as political opportunists

Michael Gold, Editor in Chief

Hurricane Matthew was as devastating a storm as I’ve lived through in St Augustine; and, I’ve lived here during Dora and a host of damaging tropical storms that have followed over the past fifty years.

In an earlier time, people in St Augustine were less pretentious. Less materialistic. Less opportunistic. There are many fine folks who call St Augustine home; even though they weren’t necessarily born here or haven’t lived here as long as me. People whose compassion is genuine. People whose motivation is not self-serving. People whose charity is offered with “no strings attached”.

Less than three years ago, I was fortunate to meet someone who personified all of those qualities — our mayor, Nancy Shaver. During our recent natural disaster, Mayor Shaver was working shoulder-to-shoulder with other community leaders, firefighters, law enforcement officers, social workers and medical professionals at the St Johns County Emergency Operations Center.

Residents were evacuated, but not everyone chose to leave. No one could have prevented the devastation that followed, but what our residents did when they returned, was very revealing. Mayor Shaver, alone and with other volunteers, set out canvassing neighborhoods beginning with her own neighborhood of Lincolnville. The day that bridges were re-opened and Florida National Guardsmen allowed, our mayor made her first post-Matthew assessment tour of Anastasia Island.

Mayor Shaver chose to use the critical days following the hurricane to communicate our needs to key state, regional and national agencies in order to insure our voices were heard. She found time to personally visit with business owners on St George Street, attraction operators, local restaurants, travel and tourism professionals — and not just the high profile, big money campaign contributor types.

That said, in just three weeks, our city’s biennial elections will be held. The storm has not caused them to be postponed. There was a time when it would have never happened in St Augustine, but, I have been embarrassed by the degree of political opportunism being shown during this difficult time. Especially guilty are small-time politicos like Todd Neville and his wife Heather, who seem to have adopted a “fake it until you make it” mentality.

They presented themselves as good Samaritans, offering the parking lot of Commissioner Neville’s accounting office to the City, Health Department, and County Emergency Management office as a “staging area” for “relief” to residents, ostensibly countywide.

Their actions have found them out, though. The “free offer” apparently came with a few political strings. For instance, would you expect to find campaign signs for favored candidates at the “relief” site? Would you expect the mayor to be dressed down by Commissioner Neville and instructed loudly and publically that HE is in charge here? Or, how about TPO appointee and VeloFest self-promoter Heather Neville having a meltdown any time she has to interact with the mayor unless Heather is the center of attention? Why would Jacksonville television stations be invited to film interviews with volunteers at “his” site, but when the city’s highest ranking elected official visits, she is directed to “leave them alone” while they work?

Are these Neville social climbers people of charity? I think not. It is clear from public comments made on social media that a number of local residents question the Neville’s motives, as well.

The “free” offer is clearly not “free”. There was no free lunch with this less-than-generous offer from the Nevilles. Some have observed that Todd and Heather Neville are merely trying to capitalize their own political futures using the grief of St Augustine’s storm-ravaged residents and that their true motives are simply to manipulate the outcome of the November 8th election.

This is grandstanding by a man and woman obsessed with controlling transportation and mobility within the City of St Augustine. They operate in cahoots with sympathizers in the running and bicycling cliques. That would include people like City Manager John Regan who appointed Heather Neville to the recent mobility advisory task force. A recently born again teacher at Flagler College, Joe Saviak, has stepped up his rhetoric against Mayor Shaver and for Todd and Heather Neville. He and wife Carol Saviak, have been busy mugging for cameras and threatening removal of Mayor Shaver from their storm-damaged property, as well as her elected office.

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