News Bites: Rawls Well That Ends Well; Starship Enterprise; Sneak Peek


It would be an understatement to say that St. Augustine city authorities were concerned about Ron Rawls’ plan to lead a protest at the Nov. 17 Nights of Lights kick-off ceremony. The city even passed an 11th-hour ordinance to literally curb the pastor of Lincolnville’s St. Paul AME Church. (The ordinance limited the protest to the sidewalk.)

As The St. Augustine Record’s Travis Gibson reported on Nov. 18, however, all went smoothly. Rawls did indeed make an appearance, along with 150 congregants opposed to the continuing presence of two Confederate memorials on the Ancient City’s main public square, the Plaza de la Constitución.

“The protesters … showed up about 15 minutes before the ceremonial flipping of the switch,” Gibson wrote, “with fists raised and chants of ‘Sorry about your Christmas lights, but we’re in a bigger fight!’ and ‘This is what democracy looks like!’ There were no obvious counter-protestors present, but many in the crowd clearly objected to the protest as signs held by protestors reading ‘Don’t spend your money in racist St. Augustine’ blocked views of the ceremony. Some yelled ‘Come on get out of the way!’ while others yelled ‘Trump!’ and ‘Get jobs!’ Others countered the chants by singing Christmas songs. A few supporters of the protest bumped fists with the protesters.”

According to Gibson, “Rawls said he was pleased with what happened.”



The nonprofit Coastal Conservation Association and specialist contractor TISIRI (Think it, Sink it, Reef it) have joined forces on an artificial reef project off the coast of Ponte Vedra Beach. A Nov. 15 story by Benjamin Naim of The Ponte Vedra Recorder reported that the reef components were installed last month.

Naim’s source was TISIRI project manager Joe Kistel.

“Kistel said the process began well over a year ago by finding the materials and picking and vetting a location,” wrote Naim. “Today, the Starship reef sits 12 miles east of Ponte Vedra. The two biggest benefits of the reef, Kistel noted, is that it creates an environment for recreational use and it positively impacts the surrounding natural habitat. The reef is a great spot for fishermen and scuba divers, Kistel asserted. Additionally, people can use the reef to catch fish, take photos and enjoy the oceanic environment.”

Shell Oil Company, one of the project’s other partners, is barely mentioned in the story, perhaps because its parent company, Royal Dutch Shell, is still associated in the Floridian consciousness with a major 2016 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The name of the reef is actually derived from Shell’s new Starship truck concept, which was used to deliver the reef components cross-country from San Diego.



State officials are not scheduled to release graduation figures until next month, but that didn’t stop outgoing Duval County School Board chair Paula Wright from giving a sneak preview, according to a Nov. 15 story by The Florida Times-Union’s Denise Amos.

Amos wrote that Wright’s Nov. 14 farewell address included some unscripted comments in which the term-limited school board veteran predicted that Duval County’s public high school graduation rate had likely risen to 85 percent.

“That’s a nearly 5 percentage point increase from the current official rate of 80.8 percent,” observed Amos, “which was based on the prior year’s graduating class, and it continues a steady improvement in high school graduation trends for the district for the past decade or more.”

The observation came before Wright’s official speech, in which she focused on improvements made during her term and the work ahead.

“She thanked her audience of about 40 people for supporting improvement in District 4, which represents Duval’s northwest side, including some of its most impoverished neighborhoods. That part of the county includes many high-achieving schools such as A-rated Stanton College Preparatory and Darnell Cookman high schools and many struggling schools such as F-rated Lake Forest.”

Wright said that the district is graduating more college- and career-ready students than before, although overall literacy benchmarks remain a challenge.