Editorial: I need three votes Monday

Two days before the first meeting of the St Augustine City Commission this year, before the mayor or any of the other three commissioners had met in the sunshine to discuss the Coquina Avenue Land Grab publicly, Commissioner Leanna Freeman was posting on social media and reaching out by e-mail to ask her followers to share their support, proclaiming, “I need three votes Monday”.

She makes some claims on January 12, 2019 that, based on what we now know, require further examination and explanation since they appear to be false and misleading in violation of Florida’s Code of Ethics for elected public officials.

To start with, Freeman creates a false sense of urgency in her communication by stating, “The City will have a one-time opportunity Monday night to purchase a marsh front parcel in South Davis Shores.”  That claim is overreaching as the parcel remains on the market today and any other buyer able to pay the $469,000 asking price can call the two lots theirs.  Keep in mind, the commission has been on vacation for Christmas and New Year’s and the public has heard no discussion of this ostensibly urgent “one-time opportunity” to spend a half-million dollars that appears nowhere in the October 1, 2018 budget or capital investments in the strategic plan.

Next is the dubious, if not outright false, claim that the City will be able to “greatly reduce” the sunny day flooding in the streets if Freeman is successful in finding two other commissioners to allow her to buy this property.  The idea that by buying 91 and 93 Coquina Avenue off the tax rolls, at a loss of more than $7,000 a year in ad valorem revenue, we can ensure a great reduction in local flooding is completely debunked and lacks any scientific basis to make such a promise.

Even though the City of St Augustine already owns two other marsh front parcels further down Coquina Avenue, one of which was already designated a public park, Freeman states, “This would be the first and only public space or park in the South Davis Shores neighborhood.”  That statement is false on the face of it, and could clearly mislead a resident who is relying on Commissioner Freeman, a practicing attorney, to give them the truth upon which to either accept or decline her call for support.

As confirmed by City Attorney Isabelle Lopez, there are several easements and temporary access options at hand for the City — whether it buys any further property or not.  The adjoining property owner has allowed construction access to the City for maintenance and repairs to the stormwater system over the past 40-years and is agreeable to continue to do so. 

Yet, Commissioner Freeman says, “Owning the land will speed up the City’s efforts to reduce flooding by allowing quick construction and repair work to the area which currently allows a huge overflow of the river into the neighborhood during high tides.”  Not only is that false , City Manager John Regan admitted to Mayor Shaver during the last commission meeting that the remedial work that needs to be done to control the high tide overflow, can be completed in “about a week”.

Further, without identifying the source, Freeman claims that she has found “studies that support that neighboring property values may increase from 2% to 22% because of the proximity to a public space.”

Who in South Davis Shores owns neighboring property that could enjoy this windfall, up to 22% of the value of their property, if Commissioner Freeman and City Manager Regan get their way? 

Well, Commissioner Freeman for one and City Manager Regan for another.  One-term former commissioner Todd Neville, who is rumored to be grooming Freeman for a run at the mayor’s seat in 2020, is another potential beneficiary as is Jim Smith, who lives across the street from the ditch.

When you follow the money, all the talk about stopping sea level rise and tidal flooding by buying these lots was nothing more than a red herring.  The park was what they really wanted.  They were willing to lie to us as taxpayers to trick us into giving them the support to pull it off, too.  All they need do is raid the storm water reserve funds and the general reserve funds, leaving the City a half-million dollars poorer.  If you stand by and say nothing, or do nothing, that is exactly what is going to happen in the coming weeks.

Please take these observations to heart.  Before you agree to pay to line the pockets of the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats in City Hall, fulfill your obligation of good citizenship and demand that Freeman’s Folly be stopped.

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