Guest Column: Tyranny at the Beach
Lance Thate, Chairman
Saint Augustine Tea Party
Special to Historic City News
On August 23, 2016, a group of St Augustine Tea Party volunteers assembled at the St Augustine Beach City Hall to protest a recent action by the City Commission that restricts political free speech on city property.
According to City Manager, Max Royle, political signs can no longer be put in the ground on city property, in particular the grounds of City Hall, which is an early voting and Election Day polling site, nor can the signs be put in the right-of-way of streets adjacent to City Hall or the right-of-way of any other public street in the City.
“The Tea Party has been involved in First Amendment issues in the area since 2011. We have been successful in eliminating restrictions on free speech on both Federal and County lands,” David Heimbold, Tea Party Media Chairman, told local reporters. “About a year ago, we expanded free speech at Pier Park, which is located in St. Augustine Beach. We believe some of the players involved in the restricting of free speech at the Park are the same as those who are trying to restrict political speech at City Hall.”
According to Heimbold, a considerable number of signs were along the road in front of St Augustine Beach City Hall on Saturday; but, when he returned on Sunday, all the signs were gone.
The Saint Augustine Tea Party does not endorse political candidates –but some of its members are either supporting candidates or running for elected office themselves.
Acting as an individual on behalf of Debra Maynard, a candidate for Sheriff in St. Johns County, Heimbold called the St. Augustine Beach Police Department to question why the campaign signs were removed. The officer who responded had no explanation for the action.
“These restrictions on speech are always done on weekends with no fanfare,” Rose Bailey, a candidate for the St. Augustine Beach Commission Seat 2, reported.
Other candidates present were Peter Royal who is running for Anastasia Mosquito Control Board and Kelly Lorbeer who is running for Republican State Committeewoman for St. Johns County.
Royle explained the new policy saying that he has since notified candidates for local political office that their campaign signs can be put on private property, with the owner’s permission, and are allowed on the city hall property — if they are carried by a person, or are attached to, or on a vehicle.
“The Saint Augustine Tea Party would like to remind the Commissioners who voted 5-to-0 for this measure, that they are bound by their oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Florida,” Heimbold warned. “Free speech is not something for them to decide — regardless of what a Jacksonville lawyer with an agenda might say. The Tea Party vows that this is not the end of this issue, it is the beginning.”