When a storm blows across Florida, it happens suddenly and violently. Dark clouds gather in the sky. The rain pours down in blinding sheets. Claps of thunder sound like cannon fire. It feels like the end of the world. When St. Augustine’s Ed Slavin takes on a fight, he comes on like a Florida thunderstorm. The only difference is that Florida thunderstorms start brutally and end quickly, while Slavin’s torrents seem unceasing.
The bespectacled St. Augustine blogger and activist dresses nattily in oxford shirts and khakis with a mad professor mind-of-its-own shock of gray-and-black hair hurtling about his head. Slavin possesses a brilliant mind, a finely calibrated sense of outrage, and the mental acumen to both thoroughly investigate and mightily agitate. His partner referred to him as “the pest that never rests” in a letter recommending Slavin for the University of Florida’s law school.
Slavin received his B.S. degree from the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He interned in the Washington, D.C., office of Ted Kennedy and at the U.S. Department of Labor. As the editor of the Appalachian Observer, he uncovered a massive cover-up by Union Carbide involving mercury poisoning in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He earned his law degree at Memphis State University and represented whistleblowers in landmark cases in Oak Ridge and Washington, D.C. He was disbarred in Tennessee in what he regards as retaliation, although he admits to calling an opposing lawyer a “redneck peckerwood,” and his disbarment involved charges that he harassed judges.
Neither that disbarment nor his relocation to St. Augustine in 2000 curbed Slavin’s crusading nature. He still slings arrows, does copious research, gathers records, wages public harangues, and knows how to layer hyperbole with exacting case law.
And he Just. Doesn’t. Stop.
Slavin’s current targets include St. Johns County Supervisor of Elections Vicky Oakes, for failing to provide early voting sites close to St. Augustine’s historic downtown; public officials whose publicly financed trips to promote St. Augustine’s 450th anniversary celebration in 2015 he thinks are a waste (his criticism led to cancellation of a $25,000 trip for commissioners in 2010); the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, for planning to demolish a 1926 Mediterranean revival building and put up a parking lot; the city’s dumping of solid waste and raw sewage in Lincolnville, the historic black neighborhood that encompasses much of The Ancient City’s southwestern peninsula; and the arrests and outlawing of street artists and musicians in the city’s historic district, as well as the continued employment and SWAT team promotion of a St. Johns County Sheriff’s deputy who was the subject of a blistering New York Times/Frontline investigation questioning whether he murdered his girlfriend (the official story is that she killed herself).
But most of all, the focus of Slavin’s ire of late has been St. Augustine Mayor Joseph L. Boles, who is seeking reelection this year. In Boles, Slavin sees remnants of the advantages that come with being part of the white hometown elite — vestiges of the good-ol’-boys network from which the city needs to untether.
Case in point: Slavin has hammered Boles repeatedly about the deal he and former mayor Len Weeks made 25 years ago with the St. Augustine City Commission to lease a prime piece of commercial real estate in the heart of the historic corridor. Slavin and others estimate that Weeks and Boles have netted between $2 million and $3 million in profit from the arrangement over the years. Slavin believes Boles and Weeks should end the lease, and turn over control of the property and, with it, the building they erected there. Boles and Weeks have both pointed out that is exactly what will happen when the lease permanently expires in 10 years. But Slavin says the city is losing money right now, money it could use for infrastructure, for historic preservation, for the city’s 450th birthday celebration, and the city’s mayor should act in the interest of the greater good, not personal self-interest.
“I think [Boles] ought to tear up the lease and let the city take back the property. Let the city make the profits instead of him and Weeks. I think of it as an exercise in fiduciary duty,” Slavin says. “I think people have a right to know how much they are making on the deal. I think the city has a duty to protect the taxpayers and the city, and we are being bamboozled by Boles and Weeks.”