The Saint Augustine Tea Party adjourned their Tuesday night meeting after an hour-long presentation by Mayor Nancy Shaver. Almost immediately after her introduction by Chairman Lance Thate, Shaver could tell that there was no need to update the nearly two dozen members and guests in this group on basics like sea-level rise or transportation strategies.
She decided to somewhat change gears from her most requested topics of discussion and soon found herself fully engaged in an active “question and answer” period that was more like a “question and answer and argument and rebuttal” period. At no time did the passionate discussion become unruly; in fact, Shaver is known for her willingness to analyze and debate controversial topics with her constituents.
- Attending was former City Commission candidate Wade Ross, moderator of a facebook group that is focused on panhandling and vagrancy issues. He sharpened his point in challenging the mayor on her views of the importance in what he sees as the recently deteriorating response by the city police department to calls for an officer when his group members observe violations of various city codes and ordinances.
- The goal of Ross’ volunteer group is to motivate elected leaders and law enforcement to take action when they observe what they describe as “the desecration of St. Augustine’s historic area”. Shaver explained the basics of how police prioritize their response to calls for service. Ross contended, at least in recent weeks, police have become less and less available when he and his members call.
- Also attending as guests were Evelyn Hammock and another member of the St. Augustine Vagrant Watch and St. Augustine Citizen Night Watch group who observe, report and document local ordinance violations, primarily with photographs that are sometimes posted on their group’s facebook page. Hammock told Historic City News editor, Michael Gold, that vagrants have taken over the Historic Downtown Parking Facility at night, going so far as to engage in prostitution, drug distribution, and other crimes.
Ross hammered out several questions directed to Shaver who concluded that if he was finding violations, he needed to call police. When Ross pushed further, Shaver suggested he use 911 to request an officer. Ross said that they could do that, but his understanding was that his reports did not constitute “an emergency”. Shaver finally informed Ross, after several questions, that they were simply going to have to “agree to disagree” on the subjects.
- Community activist Jill Pacetti, also a former city commission candidate, reported her concerns with the way in which Rev Ronald Rawls has been bullying downtown merchants during his planned protest marches, none of which have been “permitted”.
- Ralph Reese, another member of a group supported by Pacetti, expressed his concern that the city is not availing themselves of laws already active that could help quell disturbances caused by Rawls during his demonstrations. Pacetti and Reese also belong to a group working to protect the historic confederate artifacts installed downtown in Plaza de la Constitution.
- St Johns County chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, Jerry Cameron also joined in the discussion, offering insight into some of the issues being voiced by members of the audience; aided by his experience as former assistant St Johns County administrator as well as his former career in law enforcement.
- Dave Heimbold, a founding member of the local Tea Party, is a familiar face on St George Street because he is a member of the costumed “Town Crier Committee”. He pushed Shaver on the need to hold Rawls accountable for what he sees as violations of existing law that would protect citizens from the verbal assaults, disturbing the peace, and what Rawls calls disruption of “business as usual” in Saint Augustine during his monthly protests.
Shaver acknowledged that police have engaged, but so far made no arrests of, the participants in Rawls’ hostile activities. Shaver commended Police Chief Barry Fox for his restraint in handling exchanges between Rawls and other citizens. She also said that maintaining public safety is a top priority for the city and that they were concerned about the city becoming the next Charlottesville or Chapel Hill. So far, no violence or physical attempts to topple the local memorial have been reported.
All topics were well challenged and debated, not the least of which were public concerns surrounding the very unpopular contextualization of our 140-year-old confederate veterans cenotaph. It sits peacefully in the Plaza and has done so since it was erected by the Ladies Memorial Association of St Augustine.
Rawls has threatened that “there will be no peace until the confederate memorial is removed from public display on city property”. Rawls has enlisted aid from a number of sympathetic causes in Jacksonville, Gainesville, and other towns, like the New Black Panthers, the “anti-fascist” group behind much of the violence in other cities, ANTIFA, and the group Black Lives Matter, largely made up of young, white, college students who suffer “white guilt” and feel that black Americans are entitled to reparations for slavery.
Shaver did not equivocate on that topic, either. She has already said publicly that she does not react well to threats and demands like the ones advanced by Rawls and his aggressive pack of “professional protestors”. She has been the victim of emotional outbursts and catcalled as a racist or white supremist in public, allegations which she denies.
Having spent untold scores of hours listening to Rawls and his sympathizers and their allegations that the city is a hotbed of “systemic racism” the mayor is sometimes viewed as too weak in reacting to Rawls’ political affronts. Most people in this meeting held that view and weren’t bashful in voicing it.
Shaver agreed on points where she shared opinions, but remained steadfast on points where she clearly did not. Afterwards, she told Gold that she appreciated the honest exchange. She said that she knows that there will be difficulty ahead for either side of the divisive arguments that were discussed in the public meeting — if they escalate to violence.
“The city is well prepared, frankly,” she said, refuting any fear that citizen’s safety could be in jeopardy. “Our police and firefighters are well trained and communicate well with their counterparts on the county and state level during any emergency.”Mayor Nancy Shaver
Thate has said that his opinion of the mayor’s performance during the presentation, questions and answers, was what he “expected” but that he “had hoped for more”. In an exchange with another Historic City News reader, Thate seemed more focused on the city manager’s role in the contextualization process.
“Given the city manager’s role in the contextualization process, she should have been more open about it,” Thate told Gold. “She in fact protected John. In a perfect world Nancy should have called for his dismissal.”Tea Party Chairman Thate
Thate also took exception to the mayor’s defense of the City Attorney and Police Chief. Thate and others in the meeting held that police in the city are wrong for not arresting Rawls. They do not believe they receive the same consideration as Rawls does and that the process is unfair.
“Nancy’s defense of the fairness, regarding equal treatment, was just plain lame,” Thate said. “Nancy’s suggestion that Rawls’ lawless behavior is okay because the laws were written in 1964 is indefensible. On that basis the Constitution is not valid.”Lance Thate
Mayor Shaver did not say what most wanted to hear. However, she explained how she got to the decision she reached against contextualization. She said that she hasn’t heard anything since that would change her NO vote, elaborated on how the proposal presented to the commission by Regan didn’t look much like the results his handpicked committee brought back, and even explained the steps to get the issue back before the commission.
Everyone’s disappointed right now. Neither side got what they wanted. Many attorneys who act as Masters in arbitration cases will tell you that this is the outcome you commonly reach.