Letter: Political free speech in St. Augustine Beach being suppressed
Lance Thate, Chairman
St. Augustine Tea Party
Dear Historic City News editor:
On October 25, 2016, the St. Augustine Tea Party (SATP) held its first ever Candidate Forum in its six-year history. The Forum was well attended. The Tea Party focused on the Commissioner’s Race in the City of St. Augustine Beach. Candidates, Andrea Samuels and Rich O’Brien, incumbents and challengers Maggie Kostka and Rosetta Bailey were invited participants along with the general public.
The SATP’s interest in this race has been initiated by the abuses of the First Amendment as it relates to the Right of Free Speech in St. Augustine Beach, Florida. The City Commissioners, in conjunction with the St. Augustine Beach Civic Association, has done everything in their power to restrict political free speech. The Tea Party became aware of the situation about a year ago. At the request of the St. Augustine Beach Civic Association (SABCA), County Park authorities had imposed a ‘Free Speech Zone’ at Pier Park. This restricted free speech in other parts of the Park facility. Pier Park is a County Park located within the City of St. Augustine Beach.
Volunteers of the St. Augustine Tea Party asserted their Constitutional Rights by willfully and deliberately presenting politically aggressive signs outside of the Free Speech Zone, refusing to step into the zone. Mrs. Samuels, then Mayor, attempted to have the Tea Party members ejected from the Park. The St. Augustine Beach Police Department refused to enforce her demands.
With law enforcement refusing to trample on First Amendment rights, the SABCA, through its President, Bill Jones, and its Executive Vice President, Bob Samuels, took it upon themselves to suppress political free speech. Ultimately, the situation was resolved when the free-speech zone was eliminated by the Board of County Commissioners. The Tea Party’s efforts were responsible for the change in policy.
So important is the suppression of opposition and political free speech to the SABCA that they continue, to this day, to resort to bullying, intimidation and even physical attacks, according to reliable SABCA volunteer sources. As the election drew closer, Mayor Rich O’Brien and Andrea Samuels, together with other City Commissioners, fabricated a justification for removing political signs from city property in the middle of the primary election. They incorrectly cited a Supreme Court decision, Reed vs. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, to perpetuate this action.
It was under these circumstances that the St. Augustine Tea Party conducted an open and transparent forum, to discuss the election issues at hand.
At the start of the SATP’s forum, there were two empty chairs at the candidates table. Neither incumbent candidate saw fit to acknowledge the forum or their invitation to participate.
When a political candidate avoids meeting substantial numbers of potential voters there is a basic reason for such behavior. It is the behavior of cowards; the incumbent candidates perform well when they are in control. The SATP’s forum put the people in control. The people are not in control at the City of St. Augustine Beach Commissioner’s meetings. These two incumbent candidates, Andrea Samuels and Rich O’Brien have a totalitarian bent. The people have no role in the decision process with the current city leadership. The Tea Party will play its role towards the defeat of these unfit candidates
After the forum and the conclusion of the Tea Party meeting, the mingling of the candidates, the public and the Tea Party projected the America that the Founding Fathers envisioned. Many of the guests in attendance expressed that they were impressed with the information and the process of the St. Augustine Tea Party’s forum.
It is time to stop the bullying style of government, thank the long-standing rule of the incumbents, and move on to governance that recognizes the will of the people and the blessings of free speech.