ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — One of Florida’s oldest counties scrubbed the position responsible for preserving its history. The last person to hold the title isn’t backing down and claimed he was forced to resign in the name of development.
Trey Asner spoke out during Tuesday’s County Commission meeting, “it says on the county website St. John’s County embraces its historic heritage — my experience says otherwise.”
Asner held the position of cultural resource coordinator. Asner said the county got rid of his office after forcing him to resign in Aug. 2021.
The concerns Asner listed at the county commission echo what he told Action News Jax Wednesday. He said he was forced to resign because his position didn’t fall in line with the county’s development goals.
“I was a civil servant as opposed to a servant of developer interests in our county,” he said.
Asner had three main concerns he claims led to his forced resignation. The first lies within the walls of Hastings High School, which is part of the National Register of Historic Places.
He claimed during Tuesday’s meeting that county administration asked him to hide a report from the Cultural Resource Review Board and ignored the cost of restoration. According to the report, which was published in May 2020, it would’ve cost more than $5 million to restore the old school.
“Letting a part of St. John’s County history be lost is a threat to the people here. It’s an erosion of their story,” he said.
According to Asner’s comments during public comment, he asked a county staffer if they “knew anything about a property that was purported to have slave graves and is to be developed,” and Asner was told that he was “walking on thin ice.”
In his last concern, Asner said “In violation of county code and the certified local government program, I was instructed to stop the CRRB from designating historic sites. The administration had become concerned that having designated historic sites would scare off developers.”
Asner said he was eventually forced out for insubordination over an issue with the Canright House in St. Augustine. However, the employee evaluation Asner sent Action News Jax showed he was always partially or fully successful.
Asner requested a meeting with county commissioners, but the county attorney said, “...because of your request for an investigation and the potential for litigation, we are not recommending meetings on this issue...”.
While the position has yet to be filled for months, Asner said he’s still doing the job, just in a different way.
“I went to school for historic preservation so I could learn how to protect our history — and I want to serve the people of St. John’s County. Not developers.”
Asner did request an investigation with the Inspector General. He said he’d be happy to return to the job. Action News Jax requested comment from the county, but so far, we haven’t heard back.
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