St. Johns County Commissioner Krista Joseph waves an American flag as she begins her comments during a meeting Nov. 21, 2023. | St. Johns CountySt. Johns County Commissioner Krista Joseph waves an American flag as she begins her comments during a meeting Nov. 21, 2023. | St. Johns County
St. Johns County Commissioner Krista Joseph waves an American flag as she begins her comments during a meeting Nov. 21, 2023. | St. Johns County

St. Johns County commissioner censured for comments

Published on December 6, 2023 at 4:27 pm

The St. Johns County Commission has censured member Krista Joseph for comments she made during a meeting, criticizing county officials and promoting an election to turn them out of office.

The censure vote came Tuesday on a motion by Commissioner Henry Dean, who said Joseph made a “campaign speech” during a meeting Nov. 21. The censure was approved 4 to 1, with Joseph voting against it.

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Dean’s motion said Joseph’s comments during the earlier meeting violated the commission’s rules on decorum and civility. The motion directed the county attorney to hire outside counsel to determine whether those statements violated Florida law that addresses political activities of state, county and municipal officers and employees.

“It’s not pleasant, and I don’t really enjoy doing it, but I am compelled that I need to,” Dean said of his motion.

“If you will go back and listen to the tape or watch the video, you’ll hear me say that I don’t think that should be proper and done,” Dean said, referring to Joseph’s earlier comments. “I don’t think that’s allowable at a public commission meeting in a public building.”

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Contacted Wednesday, Joseph defended her statements and called the censure vote “weird.”

What she said

Joseph represents the Ponte Vedra area and was the lone “no” vote when the commission approved the planned expansion of the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club and The Lodge and Club in early November. The vote approved Gate Hospitality’s request despite community protests against it. A motion by Joseph to make sure the size and scale were compatible with the neighborhood failed.

During the next commission meeting, the one Nov. 21, Joseph made what she called a “public service announcement” during her commissioner’s report, when she began by waving a small American flag. She asked residents whether they were “sick” of what is happening in the county, like traffic, clear-cutting of trees, high-density housing, approval of more housing and overcrowded schools.

Then she asked whether people were tired of the county “ignoring advisory boards.”

“Ponte Vedra Advisory Board, eh, we don’t need them,'” she said. “(Do you) feel you aren’t being listened to and developers control the board? No response to your emails? You know what? There’s hope. In less than nine months, we have an election.”

St. Johns County Commissioner Krista Joseph, left, holds up copies of commission rules and the elections supervisor’s webpage as she speaks during a meeting Nov. 21, 2023. | St. Johns County

Joseph held up a printout of the elections supervisor’s website with voting registration information. Dean interrupted her and asked, “Can she make a political speech during a commission meeting?”

County Attorney David Migut said the commissioner’s comments should be related to county business, to which Joseph asked where that was in the rules.

“I looked for it.” Joseph said. “I even warned you. I already talked to another attorney about what I am allowed to say, and I was approved to talk to the people of St. Johns County about election day nine months away, and there are three open commission seats.”

Migut ultimately stated that he believed Joseph had “crossed the line” on their policy on decorum and civility, and that she should refrain from speaking on that anymore.

What happened next

The next commission meeting was Tuesday, when Dean made his motion after saying he did some legislative research and determined that Joseph’s “political speech” violated Florida election law.

Joseph interrupted Dean at that point, saying he could not accuse her of lying. Board Chairwoman Sarah Arnold told Joseph she had not been recognized to speak and should allow Dean to finish.

Dean said Joseph’s comments “call for censure,” and he then made the motion. He also included a second request that the county seek outside legal counsel to determine whether this violated state law and come back with a recommendation on how the commission should respond.

Commissioner Christian Whitehurst seconded the motion. Audience members then were allowed to comment, most suggesting the motion be voted down.

One speaker said the commission was discourteous to Joseph when she raised her concerns about overdevelopment and other county issues.

“You all jumped on her in retaliation for her First Amendment protected activity,” Ed Slavin said.

St. Augustine resident Doris Taylor said what was happening “stunned” her. She protested spending taxpayer money to hire an outside attorney.

“After watching you guys, and listening to you for the last couple of years, I know how arrogant you are,” Taylor said. “You think you can do this? I’ll tell you something — go ahead and try it. You will each be voted out. This population will not stand for this kind of treatment of a fellow commissioner.”

Joseph made a short statement after the public comments, first referring to the death of her son, Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV, while fighting in Iraq in 2016. Then she briefly read a description of the First Amendment.

“It protects free speech, the press, assembly and the right to petition the government for the right for redress of grievances,” she said. “And I stand by that.”

Joseph said Wednesday that she was within her rights.

“I waved an American flag and told everyone where they could vote, where the election was and who was going to be running,” she said. “But I never endorsed anyone, so I am still not sure where in that non-factual points I made did anything come out of this. It is silly, really.”

Joseph said she cannot remember any recent censure of a St. Johns County commissioner and doesn’t think it means anything other than “you have been a bad person and they slap your hand.” But the censure will not remove her from the commission because the voters elected her.

She said she will continue to do her job representing the people and speak out on issues like development and “all the things they are doing, and this is the way of them teaching me some lesson.”

Arnold and Vice Chair Roy Alaimo voted to support the censure motion along with Dean and Whitehurst.

author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 email Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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