Forward March chairman asks for and gets amended request

Reporting in Historic City News was mentioned by several speakers during yesterday morning’s meeting of the St Johns County Commission. Our article preceding the meeting, and individual e-mail copies sent to the chairman and commissioners, resulted in the $10,000 funding request, by Sheriff David Shoar, being taken off the “fast track” consent agenda and modified to bring the requested action into compliance with state law.

The illegal request, as originally worded, would have been item 2 on the consent agenda. It was appropriately moved to item 1 on the public agenda and opened for public comments. Several spoke on the matter including Forward March, Inc., president Ronald E. Birchall, and Veterans Council chairman Bill Dudley. Sheriff Shoar did not appear to speak.

Community Activists Tom Reynolds of St Augustine Beach and Ed Slavin of St Augustine both spoke in support of local veterans while concurring that the request, as worded, did not comply with state law and had all appearances of a political favor to a pet project of the sheriff.

The county attorney had to rewrite the motion to specify a required “law enforcement purpose” so that the commission wouldn’t violate state law by approving the sheriff’s request. Commissioner Jeb Smith was vocal in his concerns that such an improperly composed request would come forward.

Following Birchall’s statement, Commissioner Jimmy Johns admitted that he had no idea of the identities of officers and directors of Forward March, Inc. When Birchall could not recite the members of his board, stating that they change from time to time, Johns asked if that organizational information could be provided outside of the meeting. In the interim, during comments by Ed Slavin, he provided Johns the state website address (sunbiz.org) where Johns could look the information up for himself. Johns apologized for not being prepared with that information.

Because Forward March, Inc., is not “the seizing agency”, they will be bound to public disclosures provided in Chapter 119 F.S., with respect to accounting for these moneys. With the new educational purpose delineated to include a crime prevention and drug abuse education aspect, the board unanimously approved the amended request, 5-0.

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