Melinda Rakoncay, six year Neighborhood Council President, has stepped down to run for the City Commission
After six years as President of the Neighborhood Council of St. Augustine, Melinda Rakoncay, in accordance with the Council’s bylaws, has resigned as President and Delegate to the Neighborhood Council to run for City Commissioner.
Melinda, a resident of the Nelmar Terrace neighborhood, was one of the founding members of the Council and has represented Nelmar Terrace since the inception of the Council in the early 2000s. She has been tireless in her efforts to maintain the livability of the residential neighborhoods of our beautiful old town.
A primary focus of Ms. Rakoncay’s presidency has been to facilitate a better and more productive working relationship between the neighborhoods and city government and in addition to bring more public awareness to the Neighborhood Council. Realizing that every neighborhood in the city was experiencing a degradation in livability due to eroding infrastructure, lack of parking, and increases in tourism and traffic, Melinda worked to develop a series of Mobility Workshops in 2016 which were held throughout the city. The city manager and city staff were invited to attend and to listen to the specific concerns of each neighborhood’s residents. Notes from these workshops were ultimately incorporated into the comprehensive city-wide mobility report developed by the city. Later Melinda and Steve Carter, an international facilitator, worked with city government to set up a Mobility Department at city hall. Reuben Franklin, current Director of Public Works was appointed the city’s first Mobility Manager and Melinda served as Resident Mobility Liaison, an unpaid position which gave residents an important ear on mobility issues. Reuben and Melinda subsequently organized a series of Mobility Walks with residents in each neighborhood to assist the city in developing a list of easy-to-fix issues in each neighborhood around parking, yellow curbing, sidewalks, and other concerns. Melinda’s work has given the Neighborhood Council and its members a much-needed voice with the city on traffic and parking issues.
Throughout her tenure as president, Melinda has continued to work to stimulate dialogue between neighbors and city government, and to educate neighbors on how to constructively work with city government. Melinda often attended meetings of neighborhood associations to hear first-hand some of the issues of concern to neighborhoods. After such meetings she would often act as an intermediary between neighborhoods and city staff.
Melinda continued the Neighborhood Council sponsored candidate forums in election years, which gave residents the opportunity to meet and submit questions to candidates for the city commission. Though COVID prevented the Neighborhood Council from holding an in-person candidate forum in 2020, Ms. Rakoncay created a Neighborhood Council Election Newsletter to supply residents with answers from candidates to the city commission on various issues.
In 2021, Melinda was also integral in establishing the Neighborhood Council’s George Gardner Award, an award given in honor of Gardner to a city employee in recognition of his or her outstanding work benefiting the city’s neighborhoods. Gardner had served as mayor from 2002 to 2006 and it was at his suggestion that the Neighborhood Council and its member neighborhood associations were formed. The first recipient of the award was Reuben Franklin.
One of the most enduring legacies of Melinda’s work on the Neighborhood Council has been her work to fight commercial intrusion into the residential neighborhoods of the city. She served on the city’s Short Term Rental Committee. The recommendations of that committee became the basis for the city’s current ordinance governing the registration and regulation of vacation/short-term rentals throughout the city.
In 2019 she helped the Uptown neighborhood fight the attempt by the Catholic Church to turn the Mission into an event venue and amphitheater. In late 2019 President Rakoncay and the Neighborhood Council used grant money from The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, to sponsor a three-part lecture series “Putting Down Roots” which gave the history behind some of the National Historic District neighborhoods. The lectures, which ran in early 2020, not only highlighted the special historic nature of this city’s oldest neighborhoods, but also helped to draw attention to the alarming loss of historic structures in St. Augustine’s oldest residential neighborhoods.
Finally, Melinda has continued to help neighborhood associations to become informed about and to fight attempts by developers to up-zone properties in their neighborhoods. Examples include her work to defeat the attempts in 2018 to up-zone 125 Marine Street in Old City South, in 2021 to up-zone the former Corazon Theater property on Granada Street and in 2020-21 to rezone the San Sebastián Harbor PUD. Her editorials in the St. Augustine Record and her speeches and presentations before virtually every city board have served to educate residents and to remind city officials about the negative impacts of up-zoning and the importance of preserving the residential character of the city’s neighborhoods.
On Melinda’s stepping down, Burry Gowen, Neighborhood Council Vice President will now serve as Neighborhood Council President, Jim Kleinschmidt of Old City South continues as Secretary, Jeanette Berk of North Davis Shores continues as Treasurer and Stacey Strumpf of Uptown will serve as the Council’s new Vice President. Below is Ms. Rakoncay’s resignation letter.
We want to thank Melinda for her years of service to the Neighborhood Council of St. Augustine and we wish her luck. She will be sorely missed.
Click HERE to read Melinda Rakoncay’s letter of resignation.