UF Law alumnus serves as mayor to nation’s oldest city
By Jared Misner
Joe Boles is a busy man.
He’s a full-time attorney specializing in elder law, has a resume of community service that could make even the most seasoned volunteer proud and he’s the father of three children and four step-children.
And somehow, Boles (JD 84) finds time to serve the nation’s oldest city during his third term as mayor of St. Augustine.
“It’s not so much politics as much as it is community service,” Boles said of his job as mayor, “and that’s what makes it fun.”
Boles said much of what he owes to being able to serve the 13,992 residents of St. Augustine comes from the small-town feel of the notable city 75 miles northeast of Gainesville.
And for Boles — who doesn’t have an official office at city hall and instead operates out of his own law office — a small-town feel is “just fine” with him.
“People can just come to my office,” he said. “You can even park at my office if you want.”
Being the mayor of a smaller city, however, doesn’t matter much when that city is also the oldest city in the country. Being the mayor of a city preparing to celebrate its 450th anniversary carries special privileges and responsibilities normal small-town mayors just don’t have — like supervising the city archaeologist, for example.
“When you’re the mayor of the oldest city in our nation’s history, you have the responsibility of being a steward of all these historic resources,” Boles said. “We’ve got to do all the basics-plus, which is what makes it fun.”
This small-town feel is appropriate for Boles, who describes much of his time at UF Levin College of Law during the early 1980s the same way.
“It’s kind of like a small town there too,” Boles said with his signature North Carolina-native chuckle. “It’s like a community in and of itself.”
Stressing the diversity and close-knit atmosphere UF Law is known for, Boles noted even he might have been a little different than the average law student, since he was was 30 years old while in school. Boles, who majored in design at UF, decided to take the Law School Admissions Test only after a college roommate convinced him of law school’s merits. Saying he did “pretty good” on the test, Boles wasted no time in becoming involved on campus after being accepted to UF’s College of Law.
Boles ran successfully for president of the John Marshall Bar Association during his second year, which Boles said jumpstarted his career of public service.
“You’ll meet some of the finest, brightest people in the world (at UF Law). And I found that to be true,” he said.
And the fact that UF Law graduates serve as mayors of cities across Florida, including Coral Gables, Parkland and Orlando, may support Boles’ assertion.
“I’ve got to assume being a graduate of the premier law school in Florida helps us hold our heads high on the campaign trail,” Boles said. And he didn’t hesitate to talk about his fondest memories in Gainesville.
“The social aspects at the law school were all such great fun,” he said, adding the study group he joined helped to form some of the best friendships he’s ever had.
He was first elected to the St. Augustine City Commission in 2004, two decades after graduating law school.
And he was quick to offer some simple advice to current law students hoping to pursue a career in politics: The basics are the most important.
“The basics are what’s going to get you places,” he said. “You might think criminal law is what you want to do because it’s what you see on TV, but explore family law, try international law,”
As Boles continues his community work as president of the St. Johns County Council on Aging as well as his work as the vice president of the St. Johns County Welfare Federation, Boles also wants current law students to know the importance of community service.
“The best way to build your practice is to give yourself away,” he said. “That’s where you find out people are in need of your services.”
Describing his law degree as his most useful life tool, Boles added a career in law gives anyone confidence. And Boles — whose first job as a teenager was to dress as Ponce de Leon and ride horses down St. Augustine’s famed St. George Street — knows a lot about confidence.
Looking to the future, Boles happily lists a series of celebrations he’s looking forward to sharing with the people of the city he serves, including the city’s three-year-long celebration of its 450-year anniversary.
“When you’re (mayor of) the nation’s oldest city, you get to celebrate everything,” Boles said.