Title: Deceit Beach: The True Story of Deception
Author: William L. Post
Publisher: Trent's Prints & Publishing (Chumuckla, FL)
ISBN: 10:: 1-934035-42-4 / 13: 978-1-934035-42-9
130 81/2" x 11" pp. (incl. 40 pages of historic illustrations and 33 pp. of appendices and an index)
$29.95 $24.95 (plus shipping)
Pensacola Beach resident William L. Post has just published "Deceit Beach," a 92-page (not counting appendices) historical analysis of the "tax-free" promises made, nationwide, by Escambia County officials to encourage development of Santa Rosa island. The book arrived from the publisher today and it should be hitting the shelves of bookstores and beach shopping venues in the coming weeks.
It will be a brisk seller. We'll have more, much more, to say about Deceit Beach in the coming days and weeks. Judging from a quick skim, however, it's undeniable that with this book Mr. Post has made a vital contribution to the historical record of the greater Pensacola area.
The book is both a narrative history of the tax-free promise that made development of Pensacola Beach possible and a compilation of reproduced historical documents from 1949 to 1969. It belongs in every area library, on the shelf of every Pensacola Beach resident, and in the hands of every mainlander who may be wondering what the ad valorem tax lawsuit is all about. It would serve the public well, too, if Escambia County commissioners and other officials gave it a read.
Post, who is 56 years old, holds an advanced degree in chemistry from Auburn University. He has been a Pensacola Beach resident since 1993 when he retired from the oil industry. His interest in beach history was piqued eleven years later when, as he writes, "Chris Jones, the Property Appraiser for Escambia County... and Janet Holley, the Tax Collector... decided it was time in 2004 to tax the [Pensacola Beach] leaseholders as if the leaseholds were deeded real property."
What ensued for Mr. Post was a sixteen month odyssey through the dusty archives of the Santa Rosa Island Authority, the records of the Escambia County Commission, local public libraries, law libraries, university "special" collections usually not available to the general public, and countless other repositories of historical documents. He has compiled much, though far from all, of what he discovered in Deceit Beach.
The book provides the reader with a clear chronological time line of how, why, when, and which public officials at the federal, state and local levels engineered, and then widely promoted, the express promise that beach leaseholds would remain free from ad valorem taxation for the duration of their renewable leases. Included in Chapter 7 are fifteen pages indexing key documents from governmental files -- and obvious clues to where even more can be found.
Beach readers are likely to find most compelling 41 pages of reproductions of merely some among the hundreds of newspaper and magazine ads, pamphlets, tourist brochures, and other printed media showing how explicitly the Island Authority, Escambia County itself, and even the State of Florida put the governmental imprimatur on their "tax free" promises, from coast to coast in order to attract individuals and families to settle on Pensacola Beach and contribute to its development.
The reproductions in Post's book, although in black and white, are the clearest, cleanest, and most easily readable we have ever seen. In some cases, we recognized ads from the SRIA's muddy archives of reproductions which we and select other residents have seen before; but Post appears to have tracked down the originals, or as close to them as one can get, and the results are stunning. The assembly of documents in itself is compelling evidence that somewhere, someone has been deceiving the public about Pensacola Beach.
"The county flat-out did twenty years of advertising promising no taxation, ever," Post told us today. Those promises were unequivocal, he adds:
These days, I see some county politicians and even state judges trying to say that the ads only described the 'present' condition, as it was back then, of no taxation -- as if no one promised that the tax free exemption would remain that way. But you can't read these advertisements or the minutes of governmental meetings at the time without concluding that is simply wrong. Repeatedly, Escambia County and the SRIA made the explicit promise that the exemption would be binding on the government in the future, too.Post spares no one who has engaged in the latter-day gloss-over of history. He is especially critical of the state Supreme Court's ruling in Straughn v. Camp, a 1974 ruling which, in Post's words, "ruled that the leaseholds are not [a] public purpose, therefore, no exemption."
Newly revealed historical facts support the claim that the imposition of ad valorem taxation on plaintiff's leaseholds does impair the obligation of contract. Possibly because of their ignorance of the historical facts, the Florida Supreme Court made illogical statements and ruled there was no impairment of contract.Post told us today that while the Straughn v. Camp court was mistaken about the nature and duration of local governmental promises for tax exemption on beach leaseholds, he suspects it was the fault of lawyers who argued the case at the time.
* * *
The perpetuated error of the Straughn v. Camp ruling is the reason for all litigation which has followed.
"They didn't have the historical documents that have since come to light," he says. "It's little wonder. It took me over a year to unearth them."
Just one of the surprises Post has dug up from the historical record are minutes from a May 29, 1946 "special joint meeting" of the Santa Rosa Island Authority board and Escambia county commissioners. Those minutes show that the federal government's original intention actually was to deed Santa Rosa Island over to the county without restrictions.
It was at the request of the SRIA and Escambia County commissioners that language was added to the federal legislation, and eventually the deed itself, stipulating that Santa Rosa Island could be "leased or not leased but [was] never to be otherwise disposed of or conveyed by it." That language was drafted at the joint SRIA-County commission meeting and sent off to then-U.S. Congressman Bob Sikes. The congressman then amended his draft bill, as requested, and it became law shortly thereafter.
What effect this long-forgotten fact may have on the current deeds-for-taxes debate is any one's guess. But at least we can say, thanks to William Post's thorough research, that the pretense is over: 'poor little Escambia County' didn't have the deed restriction against re-selling beach property imposed on it by the big, bad wolf of the United States government. The county asked for the restriction so it could lease the land but not sell it.
Like a mugger with a conscience who fears he can't stop himself, maybe the commissioners of that time were, in effect, scrawling a note in bright red lipstick on the deed: "Stop us before we kill the environment again."
It's a good thing the feds listened. It's also good that William Post is here to record what happened afterwards.
To order an advance copy of Deceit Beach, until distribution begins, at the moment you have to email the author: WilliamLPost@hotmail.com
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