Michael Gold, Retired Editor
HISTORIC CITY NEWS
I worked as a volunteer in my first local political campaign in 1974. Against all odds, we got one of the small handful of St Johns County Republicans (that included me) elected to the St Augustine city commission. Since then, I have been hired to consult and campaign for candidates for municipal, county, regional, and state political offices. Although there is always plenty of fire brought by the candidates and their supporters, the flames almost always provide more heat than illumination.
The August 23rd election has already seen more than its fair share of heat for a mid-term election with only a mediocre turnout. Everybody is watching everybody else through a microscope. There is an underlying sense of anger, mistrust, and just plain bitterness aimed at everybody who has offered themselves for elected office. That has extended to key members of their campaign staff.
Even St Johns County firefighters are feeling the heat. Not from fighting fires, which is what we pay them to do, but from absconding with at least one county fire vehicle and a crew of three men to relocate or re-install campaign signs at early voting locations for County Commissioner Jeremiah Blocker and County Commissioner Sarah Arnold.
On August 10th, members of St Johns County Professional Firefighters and Paramedics, IAFF Local 3865, announced their endorsement of both sitting commissioners, Blocker and Arnold. There are some influential politicos engaged in both campaigns. There is some influential money engaged in both campaigns, as well. Some Historic City News subscribers who witnessed the misuse of county-owned resources this week reported the incident that occurred in front of the Supervisor of Elections Office to County Administrator, Hunter Conrad.
For a job whose salary is established by state statute, our county commissioners are well paid. Very well paid; and, if you ask me, in most cases overpaid. In St Johns County an elected county commissioner, which is considered a part-time job, is paid $81,928.91 annually this Fiscal Year. They are all paid the same and there is no “bonus” for serving as chairman. They are allowed to have other, full-time employment. All but Chairman Henry Dean does have.
- Former County Commission Chairman Jeremiah Blocker is concluding his first term in office. He has parlayed his celebrity, since being elected in November of 2018, into raising cash donations totaling $279,218.00. I can’t envision spending that much money to campaign for an $81,928.91-a-year job. With Election Day upon us Tuesday, he has only spent a reported total of $147,938.18, with no word on what he plans to do with the remaining $131,279.82.
- District 2 Commissioner Sarah Arnold has never been elected to the Board of County Commissioners, she was appointed by St Johns County’s own Governor Ron DeSantis. Her first term in office has likewise concluded. Although she has only been in office for eight months, financial backers saw whatever caught the governor’s eye, since they have given her a total of $194,100.00 in cash as well as an additional $195.60 of in-kind donations. She has spent a reported total of $170,074.17, leaving her still clutching a war chest of $24,025.83.
The ugliness has escalated on both sides of these confrontations. There was another incident involving the placement of a campaign sign that occurred at the St Augustine Beach City Hall. In that incident, which happened this week, one of the protesters reportedly spits on an election worker. No charges were filed but the protestor was warned against trespassing and left the property.