At one time we were told that city commissioner and former mayor George Gardner was sympathetic to the free speech rights of visual artists. Gardner has decided not to run for another term. As a former print reporter George was good at telling everybody what they wanted to hear but short on following through. Artist Suvo can tell you that Gardner rudely took three phone calls as he (Suvo) tried to discuss this issue with the commish. "The guy is a phony", says Suvo. "He was completely uninformed and it was clear that he had made up his mind, I was ushered out after only a few minutes."His vote to have artists expelled from the historic district was joined by the other four commissioners. Gardner sent out an e mail newsletter where he explained that this was done because County Judge Tinlin ruled that all vendors (sun glass merchants, flea market items etc.) must be permitted or the alternative would be to ban all vending in the historic district including First Amendment protected materials ( paintings, prints, sculpture and photographs) This fallacy was repeated in the press by Mayor Joe Boles and Erroll Jones. The St. Augustine Record also reported this as fact. City prosecutor Robin Upchurch included this as "fact" in her presentations to the commissioners.(See The Big Lie) Here is the truth:
"The Court finds that the ordinance 22-6 as applied to the defendants is an unconstitutional restriction "of their freedom of speech or expression as guaranteed under the First and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution as well as Article One of the Florida Constitution." St. Johns County,St. Augustine FL. Heard 9/26/07 by County Court Judge Charles Tinlin. Decision rendered 10/10/08
Anyone following this case could read Tinlin's decision on this blog. Nothing in the judges decision states that the city must permit all merchandising or ban all merchandising. We do not agree with his entire interpretation some of which is faulty and flies in the face of the First Amendment. There is a substantial difference in what is protected speech guaranteed by the First Amendment and other "merchandise such as jewelry and beads.
So long Commissioner. We prefer to have those who disagree with us to be direct and say so. Go back to your "do nothing" committees and workshops.