City manager spending money like a drunk sailor on removal of 141-year-old veterans memorial

Last Monday, the St Augustine City Manager, who has been peppered with criticism over his handling of a growing list of maladies in the community, told commissioners and Historic City News reporters that he has spent “over $318,000” in direct moving costs for the specious “emergency” removal of the 141-year-old veterans memorial that stood in honor of 46-individual, local soldiers who died during the American Civil War.

Although the Ringhaver land donation previously reported saved taxpayers the cost of purchasing property elsewhere, Regan’s artificially and unnecessarily rushed planning added more than $80,000 to the $236,000 price tag from Jeremy Patterson and his New York State company, Progressive Construction.  The selected mover charged an amount almost double the original bid from a mover in Green Cove Springs.

“I think it’s a fair statement to say that management has put a tremendous amount of time and energy into the Confederate memorial over the past three years and especially the past few months,” Regan said during the Monday meeting.  “But, from an accounting point of view, we don’t track our indirect costs.”

About $42,500 in “hard cost” was added to the move when Regan agreed that the memorial should be moved by barge instead of truck.  The barge traveled north up the Intracoastal Waterway to the mouth of the St Johns River.  From there, it followed the inlet west into downtown Jacksonville.  In the last leg, the barge turned back south and traveled the rest of the way along the St Johns River.  The top spire of the cenotaph weighed 20,000 pounds.  The masonry base weighed 80,000 pounds.  Such a load, together with the weight of the tractor-trailers, counter-weights for the crane, and remainder of their equipment, prevented driving the memorial across the narrow bridges between the Plaza de la Constitution and the destination at Trout Creek Fish Camp on SR-13 in St Johns County.

And the bills keep coming in.  The city still has not properly accounted for the “indirect cost” of increased administration that was eaten up over the course of the project.  Overtime pay, fencing and security cost over $40,000 more than three City commissioners approved in June.  It seems that Regan also underestimated the amount of pushback he would receive from the community in the form of daily crowds of local protestors enraged by what they are calling an excessive use of force, an improper process that did not allow the residents to be counted, and questionable motives of the three commissioners who voted to create this crisis — two of whom voted not to relocate the memorial just two years ago.

Mayor Tracy Upchurch, who supported the removal, voiced support for the finished effort after Regan’s update.

Upchurch said the city conducted the removal with transparency and with a “very high professional and ethical standard.”

“I think this represents the tension we have in our community when we look at our strategic plan and our core values and we’re balancing issues of diversity and inclusion with an expectation of historic preservation,” Upchurch said.

Commissioners Roxanne Horvath and John Valdes opposed the move, citing concerns about historic preservation and the need to preserve historical knowledge.  Valdes prophetically warned at a prior commission meeting that Regan was not performing the due diligence required to properly evaluate the potential cost of this unpopular project; comparing Regan’s hurried efforts and cut corners to turning over a blank check to Progressive Construction.

And residents still suffer flooded streets, unacceptable septic conditions, and scores of other worthwhile uses for public funds.