(“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us….” — Charles Dickens.)
Residents of Amelia said they were fed up with a new tax imposed without their consent and town officials wasting money it already had. So, they got rid of the whole shebang by dissolving the entire 119-year-old town and shuttering city hall.
Despite its name, the town of Amelia isn’t on Amelia Island, but in Ohio, about 17 miles southwest of Cincinnati. Well, it’s not in Ohio anymore, it’s nowhere because it no longer exists. Angry taxpayers voted it out of existence last November with a whopping 68 percent of them voting to boot the politicians and bureaucrats who imagined themselves as the original Amelia’s father — King George III.
Ohio’s Amelia didn’t go quietly. Newspaper reports described allegations of suspicious political donations and rumors about fake social media accounts. Protesters wore T-shirts that said “Stop the tyranny!” At one point, a former official was escorted out of a public meeting in handcuffs. For more than a year, the residents were consumed by a debate over a proposal to impose a new local tax of one percent and the town’s wasteful spending.
Ohio’s Amelia has a lot more more in common with Florida’s Amelia Island than its name. There are a variety of parallels, especially with Amelia Island’s Fernandina Beach. The Amelia town government’s one percent tax increase without any public input and uncontrolled spending were the sparks that ignited a good old-fashioned American rebellion.
Like Fernandina Beach, Amelia residents questioned the need for a new city hall. Amelia’s tax payers wanted an explanation for the city spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to upgrade village offices to a Victorian-style building, with a lion door-knocker, chandeliers on the ceiling and a gazebo in the backyard. Like Fernandina, Amelia had its own police force, with a chief. Our force has 42 full time officers and eight part time, that’s 33 per 10,000 people while Orlando has only 24 per 10,000. I’ve heard that our police department even has its own gym. Nice.
The debate in Ohio’s Amelia became not a question of who should be running the town, but whether the town should exist at all.
Amelia, Ohio, like Fernandina was financially stable, with a population that had nearly doubled since 2000. In recent years, a Kroger supermarket opened on Main Street. New subdivisions sprouted up, advertising new suburban homes for starting prices around $200,000. Residents zipped up Interstate 275 for easy access to their jobs in Cincinnati, just like commuters here zip down Interstate 95 to jobs in Jacksonville.
The only thing Amelia didn’t have then was a population sidelined from their livelihoods by a virus pandemic, a fact the current Fernandina City Hall occupants appear to be blissfully unaware of as it continues in its quest to buy more conservation land; approving a massive new fire station; seeking a new city hall; continuing to blur the the “Where’s FEMA?” Marina fiasco; the hiring of an assistant city manager and other bureaucrats; constructing an unnecessary Simmons Road Park, and more.
At its May 19, meeting the Fernandina City Commission approved on a 4-1 vote an expenditure of $172,500 to Passero Associates for design and pre-construction work on a new fire station to be located on airport property. The station is replacing one in a high density area off Sadler Road for the new one in a low density airport area near the county line. Passero says it is expected to cost about $4 million, give or take a few hundred thousand here and there. These are the same people that gave us the $5 million “It looks like an airplane” airport terminal, a white elephant the tax payers are now saddled with due to the pandemic economic hit. Will the pricey new station look like a fire truck? Commissioner Mike Lednovich was the only sane vote, saying no. Also, does anyone else wonder why Passero appears in almost every winning bid the city puts out? I wonder how much money it rakes in from Fernandina tax payers annually. I suspect the newly formed Common Sense group might want to look into that.
Could what happened in Amelia, Ohio happen in Fernandina Beach? Why not, the stage is set? Some prominent locals, such as businessman, entrepreneur, and attorney Pat Keogh, have been calling for the dissolution of Fernandina Beach’s city government and its merger with Nassau County for years. Pat’s argument is that we have too many levels of government that are not suited to our needs. Taxes are a major part of it, such as the .5 mill increase last year for conservation invoked without public consent. People are willing to pay for essential services, but they want to get something for their money, not bits and pieces of useless mosquito-infested swampland being taken off the tax rolls because a group of out-of-town screamers with their hair on fire intimidated city officials. Illegal impact fees extorted from local businesses are another major factor.
In the past 19 years more than 130 U.S. municipalities have dissolved according to the Tax Foundation. That organization’s Jared Walczak says these communities easily merged with counties where core services like police, fire, and emergency services, along with road maintenance and other government functions, are provided by the county or even the state. Municipal-oriented services—water and sewer or waste management, for instance—are either privately provided or non-existent. Sound familiar? It’s a scenario echoed by Mr. Keogh and others for many years. In Amelia, Ohio’s case, it didn’t become wholly unincorporated, but partitioned among two townships after its residents voted not to hand over any more of their paychecks to the spendthrift local government and dissolved the inept township.
The recent founding of Common Sense, a local watchdog group of prominent professionals — which is not calling for the city’s dissolvement, at least not yet — is an outgrowth of the exasperation experienced by residents of Fernandina Beach, particularly with autocratic, tone-deaf commissioners such as Chip Ross and City Manager Dale Martin and their pompous bullying and intimidating tactics. Last year, when residents publicly questioned their property tax increases City Manager Martin reached into city tax flies and read aloud the addresses, names and amounts of those questioning the increases. Other than intimidation and bullying, what was his excuse for such despicable behavior? Mr. Martin may want to take a hint from Wall Street Journal editorial writer Peggy Noonan, who wrote this week, “When you are reasonable with people and show them respect, they will want to respond in kind. But when they feel those calling the shots are being disrespectful, they will push back hard and rebel even in ways that hurt them.”
The Tax Foundation’s Walczak says having duplicate layers of government services between a city and county like Fernandina Beach and Nassau County does not make for effective, professional administration, and residents can find it frustrating to comply with local taxes and administrations that are often idiosyncratic and duplicative. “There’s likely a strong case for consolidation—either the sharing of services or the merging of governments — in small communities across the country,” he points out.
Several months ago – pre-virus — I was chatting with a regular at the local YMCA about city government and he summarized for me what he thinks most citizens expect from their local government. This gentleman, a long-time media executive of a national chain of local government publications, succinctly summed up voter expectations thusly:
- Teach our children.
- Pick up our trash.
- Provide public safety including law enforcement and EMT.
- Fill in the potholes. Keep bridges open.
“That’s it,” he said, adding, “most of this could be privatized.” He echoed Pat Keogh saying, “We don’t need a large city staff issuing business licenses (doesn’t the state of Florida require certification for most professions?), managing services that the county could easily provide or be done away with – and the backdrop of city government has yet to display competence to do something seemingly straightforward like getting the marina that was damaged over three years ago fixed for example. Instead it lets expensive mistakes slide and issues proclamations.”
The most popular functions in Fernandina Beach — the Shrimp Festival, Sounds On Centre, Dickens on Centre, — are not even conducted or organized by the city, but by independent organizations. The city charges them fees for permits, clean up, police duties, etc. The city does the same to the annual Concourse d’Elegance when it brings its parade of cars downtown for a day. The city has nothing to do with organizing the functions, only in telling visitors where they can and can’t drink a beer, park their cars, and then stand at the cash register to collect the event organizer’s cash.
It appears that it’s time for Fernandina Beach residents to consider shedding themselves of this extravagant, hopeless administration with its pompous self-righteous elected and appointed gasbags, dissolve the city, and merge with Nassau County. The right of exit is one of the most potent checks on power grabs. The folks in Ohio’s Amelia showed there are more ways to exercise it than voting with their feet. The residents of what once was Amelia, Ohio are doing just fine with lower taxes, less bureaucracy and regulations, and minus a cabal of wasteful, self-righteous politicians.
Shut Up Dave! A tiny handful of folks posting comments here often imply that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to me and that I should shut up, particularly when it comes to holding government officials accountable, especially Democrats. I welcome all comments but have a difficult time understanding how silencing me or anyone else expressing an opinion is constructive. One said I should do as he does: “I just sit back, shut up, and vote my mind each election.” Here’s what I don’t understand. They exercise their right of free speech on a platform I offer them then tell me to shut up. Many of these folks don’t hold back when it comes to expressing their scorn and contempt for President Trump and conservatives. They call for resistance for the misconceptions they have about democracy, government, public policy and the Constitution, a document I suspect few of them have ever read. Their answer is to squelch the free speech of anyone holding viewpoints contrary to their own. Sorry folks, but publicly voicing my opinion is a right I plan to continue exercising. I welcome all opinions and thoughts and never edit or delete any views unless they are profane and that has happened only two or three times in seven years. Please keep commenting, particularly if you disagree. Instead of telling me to “shut up” convince me why I should change my views and accept yours.
Coronavirus Conversations: The best one-liner I’ve heard about the virus lockdown so far is: “I’m as bored as an Amish electrician” while the best explanation as to why schools are closed comes from a six-year-old boy who responded saying: “I guess it was because they had run out of toilet paper.” It’s as logical as any other answer I’ve heard so far.
A Literary Home Run: Edward Kosner, former editor of Newsweek, New York, Esquire and the New York Daily News, is one of many Amelia Island residents who has left a trail of literary works in his wake while continuing to produce riveting prose. His frequent reviews in the Wall Street Journal’s Books section are an example. His WSJ appraisal of two books about baseball legend Yogi Berra last month are excellent reads that you don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate. “Yogi: A Life Behind the Mask” by Jon Pessah and “My Dad, Yogi” by Berra’s son, Dale, provide fascinating insights into the life of Berra and the teams, players, and owners he was associated with over the years. I thought I knew a great deal about baseball and those who played it in the Berra era, but I learned a lot by reading Mr. Kosner’s reviews. I didn’t realize that Berra not only played on 10 world championship teams, but as a manger he took teams (Yankees and Mets) to the World Series in both leagues. Mr. Kosner mentions that Berra grew up in St. Louis and lived across the street from future catcher Joe Garagiola, who once told a reporter: “Not only wasn’t I the best catcher in the majors, I wasn’t even the best catcher on the street I grew up on.” I have often found Mr. Kosner’s reviews more fascinating than the books he’s writing about. If you haven’t already, read Mr. Kosner’s own book, “It’s News To Me” which can be found on Amazon. It’s well worth the money.
Things I Wish I’d Said: “For the life of me, I’ll never understand how the Democrats can question our president’s sanity while continuing to put Maxine Waters in front of a camera.” – Candice Owens.
More Left Wing Nuttiness: Nancy Pelosi’s latest $3 trillion stimulus bill she dares to call “The Heroes Act” is simply the latest example of the sort of crap at which Democrats excel. Among other items, it calls for a $1,200 check going to every illegal alien in the country; pushes for loans going to women and minorities wishing to open a cannabis (marijuana) outlet; and releasing from prison those convicts suffering from asthma, diabetes or who are over the age of 50. As Burt Prelutsky says “God forbid criminals should risk contracting C-19; much better they should be released on the general public. Obviously, the Democrats have come to recognize that there are a lot of votes tucked away behind bars just waiting to get out and show their appreciation at election time.” Prelutsky continues adding: “Speaking of Pelosi, after her most recent Botox treatment, Madame Speaker looks even more like a department store mannequin. If she keeps it up, she’ll soon be even less life-like than the animatronic Abraham Lincoln at Disneyland.”
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: Hola, the popular Fernandina Beach Cuban eatery with the best Cuban sandwich north of Havana and Tampa’s Ybor City is moving after seven years at its present location at North 2nd Street next to the Palace Saloon’s Uncle Charlie’s and across from Pablo’s. Its new location will be at the corner of Ash and South 5th Street, at 31 South 5th Street, across from the Patio Restaurant where something called London’s Pub and the original Nana Teresa’s and the old Italian restaurant Luigi’s were once located. This is the last weekend at its current location. This weekend’s hours are Friday, Saturday 9 am-4 pm, Sunday 10:30 am-4 pm. The patio is open for dine-in and take-out is also available. The menu is available at holacubancafe.com. Owners Marasol Triana and Chris Garcia expect to be moved into the new location June 1 and open shortly thereafter, making the best Cuban coffee and sandwiches and Cuban pastries hereabouts. Call ‘em at 904/206-1985. I’ve visited a number of restaurants with bars this past week and discovered that many are spacing folks apart at the bar and have tables scattered about in their dining areas that are full of eager eaters, happy to be out of the house and among friends. Most eateries seem to be cautious, courteous and careful but one I attempted to frequent seemed totally confused, telling me to wait a minute out front then leaving me standing in a torrential downpour outside while other customers streamed in and out of the front door. I departed with a clearer understanding of the term “madder than a wet hen.” Also, why are standalone bars like PJD’s Beer & Wine Garden, Locals, The Green Turtle and The Palace Saloon being singled out for financial punishment? They don’t serve food but what kind of reason is that to fiscally flog them by not allowing them to open? Speaking of alcohol I read in an article about the virus that Listerine has a higher alcohol content than vodka, but I’ve never seen anyone order a Listerine and tonic.
SOCIAL DISTANCING WITH BEER BUMPER TABLES