News Bites: Nights of Fights; Halloween Horror; Stiff Competition


The nation’s oldest city St. Augustine takes another step backwards by circumscribing the right to protest in the public square (literally). On Oct. 23, The St. Augustine Record’s Sheldon Gardner reported on a city council vote to move forward with a proposed ordinance “that will, if enacted, limit how people protest in the Plaza [de la Constitución].”

“The ordinance,” Gardner wrote, “would require protesters and counter-protesters to stay on the Plaza de la Constitucion’s perimeter sidewalk during events, and it would also allow police to keep opposing groups separated. People could be fined up to $500 and face up to 60 days in jail for violating the rules”

This motion to proceed was narrowly approved by a 3-2 vote. Dissenting voices were (legitimately) “concerned about the ordinance infringing on free speech.”

The ordinance itself is not a done deal, however. “The Commission has to take another vote on the measure, and allow a public comment session, before it can be enacted.”

The public is already weighing in, as Gardner noted.

“Several people spoke at Monday night’s meeting, including the Rev. Ron Rawls, who opposes the ordinance and has said he will sue if it is enacted. Rawls also said he plans to lead a protest at the next Nights of Lights kickoff in November.”

Which is, of course, the point of this entire exercise. City officials are attempting to head off anticipated protests during the inauguration of Nights of Lights. Such protests are a time-honored annual tradition, with activists redirecting the spotlight from the admittedly pretty holiday decorations to city residents’ growing discontent with the monuments to hate given pride of place in their public square.



Every Halloween parents warn trick-or-treaters to beware of candy tampering. There are all manner of variants of the horror stories they tell. Sometimes the sweet treats are laced with rat poison. Sometimes they’re filled with (free!) recreational drugs, intended no doubt to turn our youth into hopped-up reefer addicts.

Dan Scanlan of The Florida Times-Union recounted a real-life candy caper, from our own Clay County: “Middleburg resident Christina Cavender posted Wednesday night on Facebook that her niece found a Kit Kat bar with a sewing needle inserted into it, then found another needle inside a Reese’s peanut butter cup. She said the candy was picked up during trick-or-treating in the Pine Ridge Plantation development.”

The culprit is unknown, but local authorities are on the case.

“An incident report filed with the Sheriff’s Office said Cavender went out with two trick-or-treaters about 6:30 p.m., parking at the community center on Pine Ridge Parkway. They were out for about two hours, then went home to check out the candy. That’s when one niece split a Kit Kat bar and found a sewing needle inside, followed by the second needle, according to the Facebook post.”

Scanlan duly followed up. “Sheriff’s spokesman Christopher Padgett said deputies have been blanketing the area, speaking with residents and researching.”




A retail renaissance is underway in northern St. Johns County, and its effects will be felt all the way up to southern Duval County. In a Nov. 2 story, Jay Schlichter of The Jacksonville Daily Record reported on the first step.

The Pavilion at Durbin Park is now open for business. Located at the intersection of Race Track Rd. and Florida 9B, this 2.4 million-square-foot shopping center is anchored by a newly opened Walmart, soon to be joined by dozens of businesses including restaurants, beauty and health services, and several big-box stores like Burlington, Petco and the now-ever-present Five Below.

More phases will follow this initial development.

When/if completed, Durbin Park will give Jacksonville’s retail hubs a run for their money.

“If Durbin Park’s developers are successful in building out the allowable square footage,” Schlichter wrote, “the retail space alone will be larger than St. Johns Town Center, which has 1.4 million square feet of retail space. Shopping centers developed near the Town Center generated hundreds of thousands of additional square feet of stores and restaurants.”

Schlichter also noted that, while the development might divert spending dollars from southern Duval County shopping centers, it might also reduce congestion. A fair trade, if ever we’ve seen one!