Guest: Mobility plan stalled from the start

LEE GEANULEAS

LEE GEANULEAS

Guest: Mobility plan stalled from the start

Lee Geanuleas
St. Augustine

Special to Historic City News

Our city government recently announced the formation of a “Citizens Advisory Mobility Task Force” as part of a mobility “road map” process. According to the city, the road map lead to actions that will alleviate St. Augustine’s mobility challenges.

That the city has started an action-oriented process and not just “another traffic study” is good news. The bad news is that this task force, selected by the City Manager John Regan, has major shortcomings which undermine its credibility and devalues a process which will cost the citizens of the City of St. Augustine over $200,000.

The biggest problem with this task force is that it includes of a number of people who have inherent conflicts of interest. Another is that 40 percent of the “citizen’s” task force members are not citizens of our city.

It contains no one from the large Old City South neighborhood whose residents must daily contend with downtown traffic.

The good news is that replacing just a few of the current members will eliminate the conflicts of interest and make room for additional city residents. Here are a few who should be replaced:

Richard Goldman, executive director of our local Visitor and Convention Bureau (VCB) and Ponte Vedra Beach resident. Including someone whose job is to increase tourism, a major contributor to our traffic, is highly questionable. The presence of such an influential tourism advocate could stifle the task force’s ability to develop the creative solutions we so badly need. What if the task force determines that reducing tourism marketing is a good first step to stem the tide of vehicles flooding St. Augustine? Would that recommendation survive with the leader of the VCB on the team? One obvious (and cost-free) step in alleviating congestion would be off the table even before the process begins.

Rob Matthews of the Matthews Design Group is a member. Not a city resident, his company’s website notes it has contracts with the city of St. Augustine for civil engineering services. Since the health of his business is dependent, in part, on the goodwill of city staff, this is an obvious conflict. Isn’t there a civil engineer available in our city without such a glaring conflict?

Becky Yanni of the Council on Aging which operates the Sunshine Bus is on the task force. Not a city resident, Ms. Yanni is the operator of a public transit system that competes for contracts. This too is a conflict of interest.

• Also on the task force is Heather Neville, the wife of a city commissioner. Selecting a sitting commissioner’s spouse is an obvious problem from a “good government” perspective. With his wife on the task force, can Mr. Neville be completely objective in his evaluation?

This is not to imply the folks above aren’t good people or aren’t subject matter experts. It’s not about character or knowledge, it’s about good government decision-making.

By choosing these people, Mr. Regan ignored the “prime directive” of forming a group to develop public policy options; avoid obvious conflicts of interest. If this were a project in a public administration class, the professor would probably give it a D and tell the student to redo it.

As one who was initially encouraged by the city’s plan to develop a “road map” for action, I am disappointed decisions were made, no matter how well-intended, that will inevitably taint the outcome.

What we need is our elected representatives, the city commissioners, to fulfill their oversight function and fix this important, but flawed, task force.

Geanuleas holds a Master of Public Administration degree from George Washington University and served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as assistant for force planning. He and wife Debra are residents of St George Street.

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