Byline: DEIRDRE CONNER
ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH - St. Johns County's independent mosquito control district is under fire again, this time from some who contend public comment and questioning is being squelched.
They point to such things as deputies being called to two meetings this week and mailings in district envelopes targeting a frequent critic's past.
But the chairwoman for Anastasia Mosquito Control's elected board said the meetings had become unruly.
"It really wasn't limiting free speech," Chairwoman Barbara Bosanko said Friday. "The reason the sheriff was called ... was because of disruption in the meeting."
Deputies were called to the agency's workshop Tuesday when Bosanko was unable to maintain order. She said they were asked to return Thursday for the board's regular meeting.
Jerry VanderWier of St. Augustine said he was astounded when authorities were called in the middle of Tuesday's meeting.
"I felt it was to intimidate me," he said.
VanderWier and his father-in-law, Don Girvan, attended the meeting on the district's budget to raise concerns about items such as a planned purchase of two 37-inch flat-screen televisions as well as a $1.8 million Bell JetRanger helicopter set for delivery next spring.
When Girvan was called to speak, he asked board members to consider a cheaper helicopter. Board member Linda Wampler interrupted him, saying the helicopter issue was over. Girvan told commissioners they should resign if they refuse to at least consider a different aircraft.
Soon after, Bosanko gaveled down board member John Sundeman, who was asking to allow Girvan to finish speaking. Bosanko abruptly adjourned the meeting to call the Sheriff's Office.
Board member Jeanne Moeller said she's worried people who want to speak will feel intimidated because of the law enforcement presence and because of what she called a plot to smear the reputation of a local activist and frequent critic of the district.
Moeller showed two mailings, both on district letterhead and targeting activist Ed Slavin's disbarment in Tennessee. Slavin had his law license revoked in Tennessee in May 2006 for "demonstrated incompetence and lack of diligence" and violating rules of conduct, according to documents from the Board of Professional Responsibility.
It was unclear how many letters were sent or by whom. The envelopes included a message printed from district Director Rui-de Xue's e-mail account. Xue asked a reporter to call his cell phone Friday afternoon but did not return a message left on his voice mail.
Moeller said that whoever sent the letters, it sends the message that the district will "dig up dirt" on those who participate and distribute it. …