County Commission hopefuls share backgrounds and platforms with Beaches Coalition


Three of the four candidates for the District 4 seat of the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners spoke before the Ponte Vedra Beaches Coalition Monday, Feb. 26, highlighting their qualifications for the position while identifying some of the county’s most pressing concerns. Participating candidates included Erika Alba (R.), Jeremiah Blocker (R.) and Dick Williams (R.), while Catherine Hawkinson Guevarra (D.) was unable to attend due to a work conflict.

For Alba, a corporate lawyer who also practices campaign finance and political law, infrastructure was the driving force behind her decision to run. As the mother of a child who plays travel baseball, she said it was at Davis Park in Ponte Vedra that she first realized the need for a change.

“Our baseball field here at Davis Park in Ponte Vedra is not ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant for baseball,” Alba said. “They used to have sidewalks, apparently, but I guess they wore out. One day, it was last spring, after writing letter after letter and trying to meet with people, I saw a group of people standing over where the parking lot ends, where the curb is roped off and there’s just uneven gravel. … I realized they were carrying a man in a wheelchair all the way to the back field, so he could watch his older boy play baseball, and I was instantly furious.”

Blocker, an attorney and combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, said his military experience made him well-equipped for the position of county commissioner.

“I had an opportunity to lead troops in the Army, from platoon leaders, to company commanders, to battalion staff, so I’m used to dealing with large numbers of troops, large resources, intense situations and making tough decisions,” he said.

Blocker agreed with Alba that infrastructure is an area of concern, but also focused on the problem of growth from the perspective of first responders.

“We have a fire department that’s under a tremendous amount of strain,” he said. “We’re not adding fire fighters quick enough to keep up with the growth, and when you’re adding about 10,000 new residents a year, that’s a tremendous strain on the fire department. You don’t want to have a cardiac arrest, a drowning on the beach and then a child choking to death, and the fire department not be able to respond. We need to make sure that they’re equipped and have the resources necessary to get that job accomplished.”

Williams opened his remarks by outlining his qualifications for the position, citing more than 30 years of experience managing radio stations around the country, as well as several years leading and working with the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach and serving on the St. Johns County Planning and Zoning Agency. He also included the fact that he is retired among his qualifications, setting himself apart from his three opponents.

“The job of being a county commissioner is not a part-time job,” Williams said. “There are 1,200 employees, and even though you’re not managing those 1,200 employees, you are totally involved in the policies and the strategies moving forward. So, I think it’s important that the candidate you select is willing to make this a full-time position, and give it the hours, and take the chance to go out and meet with the public and work with staff.”

One issue that all three candidates acknowledged as pressing was the erosion of Ponte Vedra Beach.

“Our beaches are an absolute mess,” Alba said. “There is no Mickler Beach at high tide. Spring break is coming, Memorial Day is coming, and I think at that point there’s going to be a critical mass of people saying, ‘Oh my gosh, what are you guys going to do about the beach?’”

Blocker, echoing Alba’s sentiments, pointed out that other coastal counties in Florida have managed to find effective ways to maintain and renourish their beaches. Williams, however, was the only candidate to address the issue of finding funding for such a project, and expressed his support for the Save Ponte Vedra Beach initiative, as well as the proposal to increase the bed tax to 5 percent to raise funds.

Coalition Chair Lisa Cook closed the comments by pointing out the importance of getting the community involved in upcoming elections.

“We are at a very crucial point, fiscally, for our county,” she said. “To get sidewalks fixed, and get things done, and get the beaches and things like that taken care of, it is a collective issue. Everyone in this room needs to be working on these issues, and that’s why we’re all here.”