May 27 2020                                                                                                                               
Published by former Mayor George Gardner The Report is an independent publication serving our community Contributions are appreciated
History’s Highlight Flags for our National Cemetery At certain national cemeteries, where NCA staff have capacity, we will be placing flags for Memorial Day. This includes St. Augustine National Cemetery, where staff will place individual American flags at all gravesites and also display the “Avenue of Flags.” National Cemetery Administration Chief of Staff Tom Howard City activist Ed Slavin has a way of getting to the heart of a matter - at whatever level. While corona virus prevented public attendance at Monday’s wreath-laying ceremony at the St. Augustine National Cemetery, below is Slavin’s effort to honor the fallen on Memorial Day. It began with Slavin’s email to VA Under Secretary (Randy) Reeves, copied to dozens of state and local officials and media. Dear VA Under Secretary (Randy) Reeves: I spoke today by telephone with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs General Counsel, Col. William A. Hudson, Jr. (Ret.), who suggested that I contact you to make my request that VA kindly approve and allow American flags to be placed on graves in our St. Augustine National Cemetery for Memorial Day, 2020. I explained to Col. Hudson how easily COVID-19 social distancing might be implemented at our tiny 1.4 acre St. Augustine National Cemetery while American flags are placed on graves, a traditional honor provided by local St. Johns County Boy Scout troops.  (I left a phone message for you earlier.). This is our oldest national cemetery, established in 1828. The graves in our St. Augustine National Cemetery include Seminole War veterans, Civil War veterans (including graves marked U.S.C.T. for "U.S. Colored Troops") and veterans of all wars since that time. The home of our Florida National Guard, St. Augustine is a small town that deserves a "morale boost" during these trying times, as we emerge from coronavirus lockdown.  With kindest regards, I am, Ed Slavin Slavin later emailed: One of my informants tells me that, as a result of our concerns, a chaplain contacted maintenance at the cemetery -- look for flags on graves in the next day or two. And finally, Mr. Slavin: Thank you for your email and the opportunity to speak on the phone.  As we discussed, to make informed decisions during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, NCA used existing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and state and local public health guidance to maintain physical distancing, limit the size of gatherings and encourage vulnerable populations to remain sheltered in place.  Therefore, NCA made the difficult decision to not host public events for Memorial Day, including the placement and retrieval of gravesite flags by groups.  At certain national cemeteries, where NCA staff have capacity, we will be placing flags for Memorial Day. This includes St. Augustine National Cemetery, where staff will place individual American flags at all gravesites and also display the “Avenue of Flags.”   Additionally, all 142 VA national cemeteries, including St. Augustine, will be open for visitation throughout the Memorial Day weekend. Families and friends are welcome to place flowers or individual flags at Veterans' gravesites. Cemetery visitors are asked to adhere to CDC, state and local health and safety guidelines and local travel restrictions.      Thank you again for your support.     Tom Howard, Chief of Staff, National Cemetery Administration Photo: Col Mark A. Tolzmann, U.S. Army (Ret.)
City incumbents file for reelection    Only one challenger so far in Election 2020 All three City Commission incumbents have filed for reelection this year. Seat 1 Roxanne Horvath is in her second four-year term after succeeding former Commissioner Errol D. Jones. She has no challenger at this time. Seat 2 Leanna Freeman is completing her third four-year term and is currently vice mayor. Freeman is challenged by Flagler College Associate Professor of Natural Sciences Barbara I. Blonder. Seat 3/Mayor is a two-year seat held by former Mayor Tracy Upchurch (1990-92), who was appointed by the City Commission last year to complete the term of former Mayor Nancy Shaver who resigned for health reasons. Upchurch is director of the Frank D. Upchurch Sr. endowed Law Program at Flagler College. Candidate qualifying is between Noon, June 8 - Noon, June 12, and qualifying papers are now being accepted.
Speaking of murals    Art graces Uptown wall, Lightner Museum opens mural contest Tom Caswell sent a picture of “the mural I just commissioned behind my home at 31 Rohde Ave - the mural is actually on East Lane.” The same day Lightner Museum announced, “a mural competition (to be) displayed on the back wall of the newly refurbished music room.”  Says Caswell of his mural, “It’s by local artist Steven Teller. You may have seen his work on the house over in Vilano just north of the gas station? And you can find him on Instagram @StevenTellerArts. “He’s an amazing artist! I’ve actually seen his work in Chicago but didn’t realize he was a local. Anyway - doing my part to hire local and beautify the neighborhood.” Lightner Museum says, “Artists from anywhere are invited to submit entries” for its competition. “The winning concept will be selected by the Lightner’s staff and Board of Trustees, and then displayed on the back wall of the newly refurbished music room. During the COVID-19 lockdown, the Lightner completed an entire first floor renovation. The gift shop is now located in the home of the former Victorian Village. In the music room, which houses the museum’s collection of 19th century mechanical musical instruments, the floors were redone, walls were repainted, and several instruments were shipped out for repair. “The 23’6” x 8’ back wall is now ideally suited as prime space for a mural,” museum officials say. Mural concepts should reflect the history of the museum, the Gilded Age, and/or the history of music. Submissions will be accepted until July 15 and participation is free. Artists will submit a sketch of the mural design, a short artist statement any supporting images reflecting the concept.
Beauty limited The beautiful garden at the Peña- Peck House is in full bloom, the Woman’s Exchange says, but the house and garden are closed during the pandemic. The Exchange was forced to cancel its annual spring luncheons and now has cancelled the Fall Luncheons as well. “We are so grateful to all of you who regularly attend our events and look forward to seeing you as soon as it is safe to resume our luncheons and event fundraisers.   “We are hopeful to be open for the Spring 2021 Luncheons, that there will be a vaccine and better treatments for the Coronavirus.” The luncheons help fund scholarships for a full semester's tuition ($1,250) to St. Johns River State College to women over 30 who are returning to college.
Reopenings continue Rentals, pool, microbreweries, tattoo parlors among latest The latest round of reopenings - in time for the Memorial Day weekend, included short-term rentals, the Galimore Community Pool, microbreweries and tattoo parlors. Short-Term Vacation Rentals St. Johns County's Plan for Opening Short-Term Vacation Rentals was approved by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations on May 20. The plan outlines details regarding a variety of factors including reservations, staffing, cleanings, and inspections. The Galimore Community Pool on Riberia Street, operated by the St. Augustine Family YMCA, reopened Friday. The pool will operate according to CDC guidelines, city officials say. This includes a limit on the number of swimmers allowed in the pool/area based on restaurant occupancy, practicing social distancing, and wiping down furniture after use. The bathroom will remain open but locker rooms and indoor showering is prohibited.  The outdoor shower will remain open. Microbreweries and tattoo parlors Following recent Department of Business and Professional Regulation interpretations, microbreweries and tattoo parlors are permitted to open with some restrictions. Visit www.CityStAug.com for details on reopenings.
Homeless Coalition ‘counting blessings’ “We are still short on operational funds but our staff, residents and clients are all healthy, so we count our blessings,” says Debi Redding of the Emergency Services and Homeless Coalition. The coalition operates a transitional housing complex off Palmer Street in West Augustine. “Our office has remained open to serve our residents and walk-in clients throughout the pandemic,” says Debi. “Early on we were concerned about running out of food in our pantry, especially with the cancellation of the May Mail Carrier Food Drive, but the community has stepped up and our pantry is full and overflowing.   “Over 80% of our residents lost their jobs in mid-March and we were awarded some funds from the United Way First Coast Relief Fund to pay two months’ rent for transitional families. “Thank heavens for additional funding coming into the county for COVID related financial issues, as other agencies have been able to cover rent and utilities for our permanent families in need. I have to say that churches, civic organizations, and the community in general have stepped up monetary donations, food and cleaning supplies to help us recover due to losses from fundraisers and festivals. Plus we were approved for the PPP Small Business Loan to help pay staff and utilities for the office and such. “By the way, Jean is doing great and keeping everyone on their toes.” Jean Hardin is one of the co-founders of the coalition with her husband, the late Jim Hardin, in the late 1990s
Amp begins refund process The St. Augustine Amphitheatre will begin a refund process Thursday, May 28, to assist patrons with refunds for postponed, rescheduled, or canceled events at either the St. Augustine Amphitheatre or Ponte Vedra Concert Hall due to the COVID-19 health crisis. The box office will open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, St. Johns County Cultural Events Division spokesman Ryan Hall says. Refunds are also available at the original point of purchase. “We are not able to provide refunds to those who purchased their tickets through Ticketmaster,” says Hall.