Goldman warns Mobility Task Force too heavily skewed to residents

To most Historic City News readers in the tourism and hospitality industry, 60-year-old Richard Goldman is the darling of the Visitors and Convention Bureau in St Johns County and the quoted authority on all things having to do with development of tourism in northeast Florida.

He appears in a leadership role and sits on, or votes on, so many quasi-governmental boards and councils that he is often mistaken to be a government employee — but he is not. He and wife Sharon live a private life in Ponte Vedra Beach; far away from the busy hotels and attractions in St Augustine that pump the millions of dollars in Local Option Tourist Development Tax in his direction.

The fact is that Goldman is President and Chief Executive Officer of the non-governmental organization who controls the goose that lays the golden eggs, about 5-million of them annually. Only a government can collect tax, so the taxing authority, the Tourist Development Council, an agency of local county government, is the conduit through which the St Johns County Tax Collector collects and remits the 4% “bed tax”. But a business contract between St Johns County and the Visitors and Convention Bureau to perform and manage the destination marketing functions for the county creates the link by which all those public tax dollars make their way into private bank accounts — the biggest and most influential being controlled by Goldman and his company.

So, when Richard Goldman speaks, people listen. Closely.

This may explain why St Augustine City Manager John Regan appointed Goldman as one of the fifteen-man “Mobility Task Force” before he left for Spain. For a month.

The task force, requested to assist the city’s consultant, Littlejohn Engineering Associates, has been nothing if not controversial since its take-it-or-leave-it implementation; with hundreds of citizens bewildered with how so many conflicted people were chosen. The roster is replete with nepotism, city contractors, out-of-town individuals, with all but a bare minority representing active citizens in our local community councils. But, Richard Goldman is one of the few voices at the city mobility task force table.

What could possibly go wrong with that choice, Mr. Regan?

On the heels of a meeting earlier this week, Goldman, the consummate advocate for “heads-in-beads”, a concept that fuels the fire of traffic congestion and increased demands on our centuries-old streets, heard rumblings that the people who live here every day and cringe at the thought of having to make their way out onto the streets and roads to get to their destination in town, were being heard by the consultant. Can you imagine that? The taxpaying residents who are shelling out the $108,000+ consulting fee are being heard?

From an e-mail Goldman sent yesterday afternoon to all VCB Partners, he writes of the task force meeting, “The first round of input was too heavily skewed to residents and business voices are not being heard.”

Many Historic City News readers will argue that it is the over commercialization of our narrow streets and business districts that we find ourselves on the horns of this dilemma in the first place, and, if finally the residents are being heard, it’s long overdue.

Goldman cleverly asks his members to send their ideas on mobility and parking for businesses to him, perhaps copying the city’s mobility scapegoat Xavier Pellicer, “so we can be sure that the consultant receives them.” Good idea since I’m certain there is someone shredding all the ideas that St Augustine’s business community are contributing to the discussion.

Goldman provides coaching, “Keep in mind that your ideas might be that such and such should not be done because …” So we’re prepared to hear what cannot be done at the Task Force, but not “what should be done”?

The meat-and-potatoes of the Goldman e-mail was this scarecrow, “I can’t emphasize enough that I have been told that there has been very little business input and your businesses WILL be affected by decisions the City Commission takes as a result of this consultant’s work.”

Jesus. It must be an election year. We have fifteen years’ worth of paid-for but unimplemented traffic and mobility studies buried in the catacombs of city hall. Enough dead trees and ink contaminants to move the needle on deforestation. Every time Nancy Sikes-Kline got held up at a red light, she tried to relieve it with another study, or academic paper, or transportation opinion from the TPO or University of Florida, or another charlatan carpetbagger with a spiffy pair of spats and a bottle of snake oil that she met at some obscure charrette of mobility Mensa’s. Blessed be the imbeciles for they shall find their way, eventually.