UF Historic St Augustine delays action on monument

The Friday morning meeting of the UF Historic St Augustine Board of Directors was called to order by Chairman Allen L. Lastinger, Jr. promptly at 10:00 a.m.  But, if anyone at the table was expecting a “short meeting”, that was not to be.

Security was higher than normal.  St Augustine Chief of Police Barry Fox and three officers were assigned inside and outside the meeting.  The north and south lobby doors to the building, which provide access to limited public restrooms downtown, were locked.  Not only were audience members searched and checked with a metal detector before being allowed in, they were held at bay from the five speakers and members of the Board in a cordoned area of folding chairs.

Then, within 20-minutes of its commencement, Shirley Williams-Collins, a retired teacher and photographer, passed out and collapsed on the floor bringing Lincolnville Museum speaker Floyd Phillips’ comments to a halt.  Chief Fox and several nearby audience members came to Collins’ aid, one maintaining chest compressions until emergency medical personnel arrived.  Collins was stabilized and transferred to a stretcher, then transported by St Johns County EMS to Flagler Hospital.

There were originally seven invited speakers asked by the Board for their comments.  Bill Mignon, a candidate for re-election to the St Johns County School Board, was invited but did not speak.  Mignon told Historic City News editor Michael Gold that he discussed it with school district Superintendent Tim Forson and decided against addressing the Board.  Lastinger announced that another invited speaker, Rev. Lee, was confirmed but became a no-show.

The remaining five speakers were:

  • James G Cusick
  • Timothy J. Johnson
  • Floyd Phillips
  • Ronald Rawls Jr
  • Mayor Nancy Shaver

Cusick was first to speak.  He pointed out several facts for consideration by the Board.  He presented a military and biographical history of General William Wing Loring.  Cusick also identified issues that he sees for any resolution that involves relocating or altering the monument in Loring Plaza by UF Historic St Augustine, Inc.

Issues pointed out by Cusick were the same as expressed by Historic City News in previous reporting.  Two issues that stand in the way of UF Historic St Augustine doing anything with the memorial include lack of a clear path to ownership of the grave since its dedication in 1920, and a Florida law that provides criminal penalties against anyone who “willfully and knowingly excavates, exposes, moves, removes, or otherwise disturbs the contents of a grave or tomb”.

Liaison between the Board and the University, Ed Poppell, commented that research by the University of Florida indicates that title to the property was transferred from the federal government to the Trustees of the Internal Improvements Trust Fund of the State of Florida.  The block of property from Cathedral Place to King Street, between Cordova Street and St George Street, was used as a post office prior to construction of the current building on King Street.

Although remaining living descendants of General Loring have expressed their wish that his remains not be disturbed or relocated, Poppell said that the University has not found any record of a partial deed transferring rights for the gravesite; so, they are comfortable that there is no enforceable claim on the grave by other parties.

The second issue presents because Loring’s remains are physically buried with the memorial.  The governing law appears to be §872.02(2) F. S. which states, “A person who willfully and knowingly excavates, exposes, moves, removes, or otherwise disturbs the contents of a grave or tomb commits a felony of the second degree.”

Flagler College religion teacher Timothy Johnson expressed his wish that the monument be taken down.  Floyd Phillips is husband to Regina Phillips who manages the Lincolnville Museum and sits on the seven-member Confederate Memorial Contextualization Advisory Committee selected by City Manager John Regan and approved by the city commission.  He also wants to see the monument taken down.  Ronald Rawls Jr, a Gainesville resident whose wife is an employee of the University, is at the center of failed attempts to remove the city-owned Confederate Memorial, and now the Loring Park Memorial.

Mayor Nancy Shaver was the last invited panel member to speak.  She did not speak in favor or opposition to the Loring monument or its removal.  Instead, she shared the process used and tabulated figures provided by the City of St Augustine as to the number of speakers for-and-against preservation of the monument still standing in Constitution Plaza.  She also addressed volumes of hundreds of e-mail correspondence, near and far, that overwhelmingly supported preservation of the Civil War Memorial.  Detractors presented about 1,000 petition signatures to take down the city memorial; however, a group of residents represented by Jill Pacetti as their spokesperson, presented an online poll that garnered some 11,000+ signatures in support of keeping the memorial artifact.

Because the terms of Lease Agreement #2734 between the State of Florida Board Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund, as Lessor, and the University of Florida Board of Trustees, as Lessee, do not provide for the removal of any of the real property subject to the lease, the only action the Board of UF Historic St Augustine could take would be to make a non-binding recommendation to the Department of State for consideration by the Florida cabinet.

The enabling legislation for the lease with UF is, in part, §267.1735(1) F. S. which clarifies “the goal for contracting with the University of Florida is to ensure long-term preservation and interpretation of state-owned historic properties in St. Augustine while facilitating an educational program at the University of Florida that will be responsive to the state’s needs for professionals in historic preservation, archaeology, cultural resource management, cultural tourism, and museum administration and will help meet needs of St. Augustine and the state through educational internships and practicums.

The UF Historic St Augustine Board of Directors will take up discussion of their plans for the monument at their next meeting in April.

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