Letter: Davis Shores park a “new spin” now that the jig is up

Susan W Rathbone
Davis Shores

Dear Historic City News Editor:

Our City and its politics are starting to seem like an episode out of Boss (a gangster TV show on Netflix). All we need is Kelsey Grammar as the lead character and all the elements of a Boss episode are in motion:

  • Take One: The City Manager, John Regan, discovers a property at 91-93 Coquina Avenue for sale for about $500,000 that he thinks is ideal to make his personal dream come true to have a park and club house in his neighborhood.
  • Take Two: Regan draws in City Commissioner Leanna Freeman, who also lives in the same neighborhood; filling her head with how they could go about getting it approved, by staging it as necessary for “flood mitigation.” They bring it to the City Commissioners for an urgent vote during the January 14, 2019 City Commission meeting under the category “Items of Great Public Importance.” 
  • Take Three: Freeman posts on her Facebook the “one time” ability to buy this property and its necessary role in flood mitigation. Her audience; South Davis Shores residents who have battle scars from the past two hurricanes. Unbeknownst to anyone else but her Facebook followers, Commissioner Freeman appeals to these vulnerable flood victims to come speak at the meeting of their personal flood stories as further evidence of the “need” for the proposed purchase.  Meanwhile, Freeman posts on Facebook that property values near a park like this could increase neighborhood property values by 2-22%. Hmm… Who would that financially benefit? Regan and Freeman, of course. Ethics would dictate Freeman recuse herself from such a vote, but she did not.
  • Take Four: At the January 14, 2019 City Commission meeting, City staff (ostensibly under direction of Regan) present their case for this “necessary purchase,” stating that purchasing the property is the only way the City can maintain flood control pipes in the area. When questioned about how the City has been accessing the pipes on this lot for the past 40-years without ownership, and whether the City already has easements to do so, the City attorney responded: “It’s a mystery.” You want to spend over $500K and critical information about whether it’s a necessary expense is “a mystery”?

Was this agenda item rushed so that City employees were unable to perform perfunctory fact finding, or was this a purposeful ruse? Were City employees unsuspectingly recruited to support team Regan, their boss, on his personal quest?

It took me all of three minutes using public internet search engines to discover that there are already three City owned green space properties (2 of them waterfront) in the South Davis Shores neighborhood–one of which is already designated as a park that the City has failed to improve or maintain. Rather than use these existing resources that the City seemingly forgot about, their only solution is to buy yet another property and improve it instead? 

At the Commission meeting, City staff shared a PowerPoint that presented the purchase as necessary and vital for flood mitigation. The stories told by flood victims pulled at the Commissioners’ heartstrings. There was only one problem with the story — flood mitigation is NOT contingent on the purchase of this property.

It turns out that the City does have easements at the subject property and has been accessing and maintaining its pipes (albeit inadequately) from this and neighboring properties for the past 40-years. Just because the City wants to do a more extensive food mitigation effort now that they admitted it would only take 1-week to accomplish, doesn’t mandate the purchase of this property.

The self-serving plans of neighborhood property owners Regan and Freeman are exposed. Outsmarted by savvy residents who discovered the many inaccuracies and misinformation in the City’s presentation, these residents now are requesting a recall of the vote taken at the February 25, 2019 meeting that approved this “unnecessary” purchase from City reserve funds.

Regan stated that the adjacent property owners were “unwilling participants” to allowing access for pipe work. This would insinuate that the City made contact and adjacent owners denied access. Not so, per the Morrows, owners of an adjacent property who indicated that they had granted access for all the prior years and that no-one had even contacted them about this current project.

Records, please. Oh, what a tangled web we weave…

Cut right. Contrary to Regan’s remarks at the City Commission meeting, the Saint Augustine Record reports that “the main purpose of buying this land is to create a park”, according to Regan. Clearly, a new spin by Regan now that the jig is up.

Does purchasing land for yet another South Davis Shores park justify bypassing all City protocol for studies, evidence gathering, and reviewing alternatives? Regan spoke of due diligence, however the real information required to justify this property as necessary for flood mitigation went unanswered by City staff and was apparently not part of the diligence mentioned in their presentation. The City’s presentation should have included:

  1. A discussion of current easements and rights of way, and past methods of access;
  2. Proposed costs of flood mitigation (and engineering studies to show whether the proposed plan will even work);
  3. A budget for post-purchase park improvements including such things as grading, benches, sidewalks, playground equipment, etc., and a renovation budget for the non-historic building at the site that has flooded 2x and has already been approved for demolition – which Regan suggested could become a “clubhouse”; and
  4. The loss of tax revenues for the property.

How much will Regan and Freeman’s pet project truly cost the City? Surely there will be hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on post-purchase improvements; is this really a $1M project? What are we dealing with? Why was such common-sense information omitted from their presentation?

Don’t we have other, more truly urgent needs for City funds than yet another South Davis Shores Park that the City must improve and maintain? Perhaps the City should sell its other neglected properties in South Davis Shores to fund the cost if this is such a better choice for flood control and a park other than lots the City already owns?

Although these issues have been brought to their attention, our City Commissioners are backing their friends, Regan and Freeman instead of the opposition voices of their constituents.  It’s almost incestuous and yet another reason for term limits and written job performance reviews.

They are pulling together against the opposition, including Mayor Shaver and citizen voices like mine. They can ram this through, but there will be a price to pay. Trust is a hard thing to recover and voters will remember such wasteful antics at the next election.

The better course of action is to step back and allow the residents to speak, and to require the City to make a complete presentation of their due diligence and the true proposed costs of this purchase and park improvement project. This is clearly not now, and has never been, an urgent situation.

Commissioners and the public were duped at the meeting and should be mad about it!

The only way to stop this train wreck before it happens is to recall the vote and demand some common sense of our elected officials. If you agree with this editorial, write the City Commissioners at once or attend the meeting, Monday, February 25th to voice your opposition or sign the petition at http://chng.it/nyLHFwGTDV