Tuesday, November 5, 2002
Daytona Beach News-Journal Editorial
Daytona Beach's neglect of the Josie Rogers house over the past year is shocking. Equally shocking is the city's apparent inability to precisely trace what happened to hundreds of thousands of dollars in state and local grant money staff had obtained over four years to move and restore the important historic house.
The Josie Rogers house, built by one of the city's founders, was moved by the city to its original riverfront site in 2001, where it was to be the trail head for an environmental learning center on Manatee Island. The city was to have rehabilitated and opened the structure to the public this past summer. Instead, the boarded-up house sits on blocks on the banks of the Halifax River.
The house that was to be a centerpiece of Daytona Beach's riverfront development has become a homely structure.
On Oct. 2, after the city had invested $415,000 in grant money in the house and a nearby historic trail, Public Works Director Stan Lemke asked the City Commission to declare it "surplus" and find someone to move it.
The city staff's request raised red flags because it appeared on the consent agenda -- a list of items that the commission approves as a unit and without discussion. Commissioner Mike Shallow pulled it off the agenda and won enthusiastic support from other commissioners to try to save the house.
The City Commission -- which hears an update on the status of the house on Wednesday -- should not only save the house but also investigate what appears to be bungled management of grant money. And it must seek a structure for overseeing grant funds -- something it now lacks.
The mess that surrounds this house -- which deserves to be cherished -- stands as a black mark on city government itself. Administrators are still trying to sort out the grant funds and determine what was used and if any of the money needs to be returned. As much as $360,000 could still be available, but no one knows for sure because of conflicting reports.
To make matters worse, finger-pointing within City Hall has stirred rumors of misconduct and led to personnel complaints.
Part of the problem appears to be that management of the grant funds was moved to the Department of Public Works, which has no experience in over seeing grants. City Manager Richard Quigley says the transfer came before he took office and the lack of oversight did not become apparent until recently.
He said city commissioners agreed to end funding for the Rogers house during budget workshops last summer. If so, then commissioners also are culpable for not looking far enough ahead to consider the consequences.
The city has made commitments in grant applications to refurbish the house and it has an obligation to the public to complete the restoration of this historic structure.
The two-story frame house was built in 1879 by D.D. Rogers, the city's first surveyor. His daughter Josie Rogers -- the city's first woman mayor and first woman medical doctor -- lived in the house and practiced medicine in an office building next to it. In 1919, the family dedicated the property for what is now Riverfront Park and moved the house and office to the west side of Beach Street.
The Rogers house deserves more than the fate of being declared "city surplus." Yes, there are problems with transients breaking into the house, but that occurred after the city moved it and proceeded to let it sit without using restoration funds. And after the house is finished and furnished, there are other hurdles to overcome, including finding funds -- or an organization -- to operate and maintain the house.
Yet allowing the Rogers house to be sold and carted away would be a travesty of historic justice.
Such a move would have even greater effects: It would call into question the city's ability to responsibly manage other grants -- such as for Peabody Auditorium. The matter must be taken seriously because grants are intrinsic elements in citywide redevelopment.
The Josie Rogers house deserves rescue -- for its historic and future value.