St Augustine: 99-year history of ignoring paid consultants

275-LAUGH-AT-YOUConsultants, studies, workshops, steering committees, surveys and visioning are such overused buzzwords in the City Manager’s vocabulary in St Augustine that the taxpayers have come to expect them as the solution to just about any problem that presents itself — and its been that way for many, many years.

On November 1, 1917, American Park Builders, a planning and management firm, filed their comprehensive report of a “study” authorized by the St Augustine City Commission and made recommendations for the “general improvement and extension of the City.”

Every observation in the 99-year-old study applies today. One explanation is contained in the executive summary, which says that while the City, in 1917, seems “about right” given its population, industry, and level of tourism, St. Augustine could begin to grow rapidly.

Wonderful. How much did we pay for THAT pearl of wisdom?

But, to American Park Builders’ credit, they gave a prophetic warning to the city officials — The failure to plan for that growth could result in “perpetual inconvenience”.

The findings include:

  • 1. The main source of revenue is tourism, but the City needs to expand opportunities to include all economic classes.
  • 2. The street system although typical of older Spanish towns, was designed to serve only local needs, and the streets too short and too narrow with a bottleneck at St. George and the Plaza.
  • 3. The need to exercise eminent domain then widen streets creating large blocks surrounded by arterial streets connected to other, more modern routes. The recommended widening included 30 named streets.
  • 4. The construction of a new concrete bridge to Anastasia Island at South Street.
  • 5. The Report covers numerous other Planning and Zoning issues in great detail.

Just over a year ago, Flagler College, at the behest of the City Manager, and then city commission, mailed ballots for a citizen survey with each resident’s water bill. Recently, under the same City Manager, we’ve contracted with a national company for three years to conduct an annual citizen survey; which, we were told Monday morning, has only validated almost everything already known by the city manager, city commissioners, and director of finance and management. And not to be overlooked, we have one commissioner who un-officially is conducting his own “official” survey to selected residents, asking them to mail a response back to him personally.

Most residents who have lived here more than a few years have already become deaf when it comes to the whole “we need to hire a consultant” approach; since it is clear, at least during the last 99-year history handily available, that consultants are always expected to opine and conclude what their client wants to hear. And, when they don’t, at least in the case of the City of St Augustine, the manager in office is going to do exactly he wants to do, anyway.

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