For more than two hours Thursday evening, Historic City News editor, Michael Gold, attended the forum for St Augustine City Commission candidates at the invitation of host Rev Ron Rawls; leader of the minority community group known as “300 Concerned Citizens”.
Two years ago was the first, and this is the second election cycle in which the group has interviewed candidates about specific areas of interest to the minority members of our city. Less than 10% of registered voters in the city elections are Black, Hispanic, or Asian.
Rawls moderated questions taken from the floor and candidates only had two minutes to give their answers. Rev. Rawls was also the timekeeper and gave his foghorn cellphone ring a good workout, as he kept speakers to their allotted time.
Jackie Rock, a candidate for Anastasia Mosquito Control also participated. Kris Phillips, a challenger for mayor, did not attend, she sent a surrogate to read an introduction, but answered none of the policy questions posed to the candidates who participated.
The forum was held in the chapel of St Paul AME Church on Martin Luther King Avenue in St Augustine’s historic Lincolnville neighborhood.
Historic City News recorded audio responses given by the candidates, and Shirley Williams video-recorded the questions and answers; which Rawls says will be replayed after the election to remind the winners of the promises made during this step of their campaigns.
Questions ran the range of everything from police body cameras to working with the county for solutions to their mutual utility issues in West Augustine. Candidates were asked if they were members of the local NAACP chapter; most were not, however many were members of Compassionate St Augustine. Diversity training for city personnel as well as in hiring and promotion opportunities for minorities were discussed.
There were no dramatic meltdowns, although Heather Neville was in the audience. Nor did Commissioner Leanna Freeman suffer any temper flare ups. The only hostile response came at a moment when Commissioner Roxanne Horvath strayed away from her cue cards for a moment to say she was proud of her vote in support of $250,000 in state funds to apply towards the West Augustine water and sewer project. She proceeded to falsely accused Mayor Shaver of vetoing the request and having it removed from this fiscal year’s budget. She was corrected that it was the governor, not the mayor, who vetoed the line item.
A participant in the interview process had to earn 75% of the vote of the members in order to receive the endorsement which includes a commitment pledge from all the members to vote only for those candidates selected by the group.
Incumbent mayor Nancy Shaver and Seat 1 challenger Ronald Stafford each earned more than the required 75% margin for endorsement. The group will not endorse either candidate in the Seat 2 contest between Freeman and Rathbone, as Rathbone’s lead over Freeman fell short of the full 75%.