Letter: Bailey speaks to city officials about protecting 1879 veteran’s memorial

Historic City News would like to express our gratitude to Mark Bailey for his willingness to stand up and say what so many of us are thinking.  And, when Mark speaks, he puts his money where his mouth is and that is going to be hard for Tracy Upchurch, Nancy Kline, and Leanna Freeman to swallow.

Mark and Alecia Bailey
The Bailey Group
St Augustine, FL

Dear commissioners:

It is with a great amount of respect and appreciation for your service to our community, populated with caring and energetic residents, that I offer our opinions on the above topic.

While I understand that your first responsibility is to the City of St. Augustine residents it should also be noted that your City of St. Augustine Beach and “local” county residents should have a voice that is recognized as important to issues that may affect them, whether directly or indirectly.

I hesitate to use myself and Family as an example, however, my family has resided here for 65 plus years and have been deeply involved from a business/employment, philanthropic, political and generally as ambassadors for an amazing community that we love so dearly.  In my Father’s eulogy, I thanked him, as well as my Mother, for picking St. Augustine to be our home.  While we are residents of St. Augustine Beach currently, Alecia and I pay a significant amount of property taxes in the city limits.

You have heard all the reasons for and against the removal of the Memorial. I would like to express some non-emotional thoughts that may lead to a change in direction.

While I do not know the exact cost to remove, store and reestablish the obelisk, it would not surprise me if that number were to exceed $300k and most likely $400k. A significant expense during a time of economic crisis, uncertainty and state budget cuts that directly affect West Augustine residents who have been patiently waiting for the completion of the septic to sewer infrastructure.

It is also important to note that some believe that the obelisk will not survive this process. This, and the cost, are concerning to most of our citizens.  Mayor Upchurch, I would like to suggest that the assumption you made that 55% percent of the speakers and emails heard during your last meeting represented a majority may not be accurate. A majority of what population base?

I would like to request, if possible, that these opinions be separated into city residents, county residents and other. I believe that many of those commenting were not taxpayers in St. Johns County, much less the City.  In addition, making a decision to place this on the ballot as a referendum would not be perceived as dodging your responsibility. I do not feel that the Commission understands that the community, from a majority perspective, does not agree with your directive.

It may be too late for this option but make no mistake that choosing this path is in fact a decision. A very valid one.  If the result is the same, it would ease much of the tension your decision, made in large part due to the emotion sweeping the nation, has brought to our caring community.

I do not believe that the removal of the obelisk will lead to any changes that impact our African American community.  My wife and I and many other individuals and businesses in this community give of their time, talent and treasure every day. The two of us serve on as many as 10 nonprofit boards at any one time and spend no less than a day per week focused on these organizational needs.

This should be your focus as a Commission. Bring the community together to understand the concerns and goals that are achievable. I am sorry if this is perceived as offensive, but most of our protesters do not know what it means to make a real difference.

Once this obelisk, and perhaps other statues in our town are removed, they will revert back to their own lives and will not give back in any meaningful way, yet they will believe that they were a part of a positive change.

Case in point, during a recent meeting with a well-respected leader in the African American community, he informed us of the need for a clinic in West Augustine and the plans to pursue funding.  A fabulous idea that Alecia and I will support financially and champion to encourage additional community-wide buy in and funds to address this need.

It is also clear that the City may not be able to complete the sewer infrastructure project, previously alluded to, that has been on the needs list for years as residents are being exposed to leaking septic tanks and expenses that are inherent with older septic systems.

The request to the State that was taken out of the budget was $450,000. John Regan noted that the City will pursue the funds next year. Can you guarantee that these funds will be available next year? Clearly, we cannot.  This topic is infuriating to me and should be to anyone who thinks it through. We are going to spend almost as much to remove the obelisk as it would take to complete this needed and woefully dated project.

I will offer to the Commission and City staff that we will personally, along with other community support, fund the difference in the final obelisk removal estimate and the cost of the sewer infrastructure project.

Finally, after talking with numerous individuals those who wish for the obelisk to remain are quite open to the plans proposed by Susan Parker and Sandra Parks.  Whether you repurpose the obelisk to be a Civil War Memorial to include all lost sons of St. Augustine or something completely different, Susan Parker said it best, “the obelisk to the war dead is in and of itself a basic and classic structure to serve as a generic monument structure.”

Perhaps we consider her suggestion of celebrating St. Augustine’s 200th Anniversary of its acquisition by the United States of America (1822). We could consider recognizing the recipients of the Order of La Florida, our City’s highest honor, a group which includes Dr. Robert Hayling.

I trust that each of you will be wise enough to heed the advice of our preeminent historians like Susan and I hope that our opinions, which align with so many other’s in this community, are given serious consideration.  In addition to our offer to close the gap in the funding of the sewer infrastructure, our group of caring residents will also guarantee to fund the complete cost of any repurposing agreed upon by the Commission.