The Sunshine Law & The Sidewalk To Nowhere: I recently read the 63-page transcript made by court reporter William Hazes of a February 20, 2014 hour-long attorney/client session (City of Fernandina Beach, plaintiff, vs. Patricia Toundas, defendant) obtained through a public records request and discovered some interesting and amusing items.
The session was attended by the then City of Fernandina City Commission, City Manager Joe Gerrity and City Attorney Tammi Bach to discuss the controversial “sidewalk to nowhere” that may or may not exist along Front Street between the Marina Restaurant-housed Drury Building and the CSX train tracks up to the Salty Pelican’s privately paid for walkway.
The Florida Sunshine Statute F.S. 286.011(8) allows for an attorney/client exception enabling governmental boards or commissions to “meet out of the Sunshine to discuss pending litigation to which the entity is presently a party before a court or administrative agency, provided that the subject matter of the meeting shall be confined to settlement negotiations or strategy session related to litigation expenditures.”
I had a hard time finding discussions of settlement negotiations or strategies related to litigation expenses but then I’m not an attorney. However, a lawyer acquaintance, who also read it, suggested that the session may have been a violation of the Sunshine law. I don’t know as I’m not qualified to make that decision.
But whether it was lawful or not I did find some enlightening comments in this document, including one by then Commissioner Charlie Corbett who said Marina Restaurant owner Patricia Toundas doesn’t want a sidewalk along the side of her building because: “She doesn’t like the Salty Pelican. End of conversation.”
Further commenting on the controversy swirling around the sidewalk issue and the city’s failure to make any headway, Corbett said: “And we all know that there are certain parties that are — that are doing this, that are pushing this. And we know who they are, and we know why they are doing it. And unfortunately there is nothing we can do about that.”
When asked by rookie Commissioner Johnny Miller: “Who? I don’t know who they are.” Corbett said: “Well, I will tell you after the meeting if you would like to know.”
I’d like to know too Johnny. What did Charlie tell you?
Also during the session. an obviously frustrated Ms. Bach expressing her dismay over the issue voiced concern about future court actions, and her image saying: “You know, the problem is that every time we do something in court and we lose, we don’t get what we want, we have an article in the paper about how we are big, fat losers. Particularly me.”
Both Mayor Boner and Commissioner Miller expressed surprise at the possibility that Marina Restaurant owner does not want a sidewalk with both saying that it would only increase foot traffic in front of her business, an opinion I share.
Other comments ranged from insurance coverage and surveys to towing cars and imminent domain and so on with nothing being solved.
Mayor Boner summed up my feelings and those of many in the community during the closed session when he said: “…I am frustrated because I think this suit hurts the Marina owner, I think it hurts adjoining businesses, it hurts the city, it hurts the taxpayer —It hurts every single person involved, and there is no point to it…”
Oh, I’m still waiting for CSX to call me back and tell me when they are going to be finished reviewing the city’s proposal that will clear the way for the sidewalk. I spoke to three different people there two weeks ago, got two calls back saying they were still looking for the right person and would get back again. If I was a shareholder in CSX I’d be concerned.
Central Park ball fields: David Barth, the Gainesville consultant who has been working on the Fernandina Beach Parks & Recreation Master Plan the past many months got several pats on the back from local citizens for his work overall, and a rap on the knuckles for the portion of his proposal where he recommended moving the ball fields from Central Park to the airport area.
A number of speakers, including me, urged the city commissioners to leave the ball fields right where they are and in the end the commissioners, with the exception of Johnny Miller who was absent, agreed, including a somewhat reluctant Robin Lentz.
One of the arguments that Barth made in favor of moving the ball fields was that a Central Park venue with more trees and even a dog park would encourage people that live in that area to tidy up their homes, an idea that just doesn’t hold water. No matter what is done to Central Park, property owners nearby won’t crank up their lawn mowers or pick up a paint brush unless they are confronted by code enforcement to do so. This isn’t an urban renewal project, it’s a Parks & Recreation Master Plan folks.
Speakers almost unanimously expressed their desire to leave the ball fields where they are as they said it added to the small town “Norman Rockwell flavor” of the community and that families and kids now can walk and ride bikes to participate and watch, something they would be unable to do if they were relocated to the airport area.
Barth provided a variety of solid ideas, with the most popular being to clean up and fix the existing facilities, a suggestion that got the unanimous support of Mayor Ed Boner, Ms. Lentz, Commissioner Tim Poynter and a majority of the voices in the head of Commissioner Pat Gass.
Commissioner Poynter summed it up best saying that he was confident that the existing ball fields could be improved by paying more attention to the surrounding streets, building sidewalks, improving the parking lots and landscaping. He concluded saying: “I’m not sure that we need much more of anything, instead we just need to take better care of what we have.”
Gov. Scott Isn’t Mr. Sunshine But He Sure Can Sell It: We’ve all known people who are not very personable, warm or charismatic but who are efficient, methodical and have an uncanny ability to get things done. I’ve worked for people like this in my career and I now live in a state that is governed by one. Governor Rick Scott was profiled in the April 7 issue of National Review by Kevin Williamson in a story headlined “The Best Bad Politician In America” where he was described as a no-nonsense peddler of the benefits of living and working in our state. Williamson recently observed Governor Scott during trips to Pennsylvania and California to recruit businesses, workers, residents and tourists. “He’s selling low taxes, a robust work force, solid schools…” writes Williamson. “Rick Scott is all about numbers, and Florida’s numbers look pretty good. His state has no income tax but is enjoying a $15 billion budget surplus. It has nearly 300,000 job openings at the moment, more than three times the number of people it has on unemployment. In the USA Today’s gold-and-silver-medal high school rankings, Florida outperforms such traditional powerhouses as New Jersey.” Describing Scott as a “competitive and sometimes prickly man”, Williamson explains how our governor has pulled the state back from the recession into the seventh best economy in the nation and created the country’s third largest economy. Comparing Florida to California the article says: “On the opposite coast, Governor Jerry Brown’s phony miracle is scheduled for a date with an ugly Chicago-style pension funding crisis. How do you think he’ll (Gov. Brown) propose closing that financial gap? Last time he did it with a 29 percent income-tax increase on “the rich” and a sales tax on everybody else.” Summing up Williamson writes: “Rick Scott does details, and he’s just crass/opportunistic/ballsy enough to show up in Democratic states every time they pass a tax hike to remind the locals that there are lower taxes and higher temperatures just down the way.”
Speaking Of Politicians: As more and more politicians declare their intentions to run for President in 2016, the Internet is responding with a landslide of commentary, the majority of it accusatory, angry, insipid, false, and partisan, but occasionally something catches my eye that I think is flat out funny, such as these I’ve selected from a “Top 10” list a cousin send me noting things he trusts more than Hillary Clinton: 1-Mexican tap water, 2- An elevator ride with Ray Rice, and 3- Gas station sushi.
Wanna Take A Sea Cruise? Beginning Saturday, May 2, and continuing every Saturday thereafter, Amelia River Cruises will give visitors a glimpse of what goes on under the boat they are on. During an exploration of the St. Mary’s River Basin, guests will be coached on the operation of an Otter Trawl shrimp net that was developed in Fernandina. This net is similar to those still used today by the commercial shrimp industry and deploying and retrieving it is part of the hands-on experience. The catch will be displayed in an on-board aquarium with each creature identified before being released back into the water. Guests will also explore the backwaters and tidal creeks that make up this estuary before returning to Fernandina Beach. The two-hour Saturday cruises aboard a restroom-equipped catamaran are conducted by marina biologist Justina Dacey and cost just $27 for adults and $17 for kids and leave the downtown Fernandina Beach Marina at 10 am. Call 904/261-9972 or go to ameliarivercruises.com or the little white kiosk in the marina parking lot for tickets.
Poor Judgment? I was recently contacted by my first ever employer, the Tampa Tribune, and asked to write an extensive piece about Amelia Island for a special travel section that paper is producing this spring. As readers of this blog know I am an enthusiastic cheerleader for this island and its hospitality and scenic and historical attractions. But I’m not too keen on some of its elected officials, city and county ordinances and some of its ornery and vocal old-timers and town cranks, but they’re all part of the local color so it’ll be fun painting a picture of this interesting community for outsiders to read. If you think there is an attraction that you feel has been overlooked or underrated that I may be unaware of and should be included, please let me know. They have also asked me to include areas within a 50-mile radius that visitors might find interesting and other than Cumberland Island I’m stumped. To me grimy and crime-ridden Jacksonville is a place to avoid, St. Augustine is a few miles out of the 50-mile range, and the pine forests in east Nassau County don’t offer much in the way of tourism. I’ve also been invited to speak to some 100 members of the Women’s Newcomer Club at their late June luncheon, a group I spoke to a couple of years ago and who for reasons known only to them want to hear my opinions again, perhaps thinking my comments can only get better as they can’t possibly get much worse.
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: Talented local fiddle player Amy Basse will appear at the Green Turtle tomorrow from 1:30-5:30 pm and then on a regular basis I’m told along with her equally talented son Dillon, who has put down his Fernandina Beach High School baseball bat and glove for the season and picked up his guitar to accompany his pretty mom. It was two years ago Mother’s Day I first heard this mother-son duo on the Turtle’s deck and they will make a repeat mom’s day appearance Sunday May 10, 1-5 pm, a show you and your mom will both enjoy. Other than using a shoe horn there was no way to get another person into the Centre Street Courtyard Pub this past Thursday to hear piano man John Springer, as it was one of the most packed venues I’ve ever seen for the personable and talented keyboard artist. Not to take anything away from John, but maybe the $2.00 Bud Light draught beers advertised in the window had a little something to do with it as well. Townie’s Pizza at 819 T.J. Courson Road, got a face lift recently and you’d be hard pressed to tell that that the newly painted and designed building once housed a Kentucky Fried Chicken joint. I like thin crust pizza and I think Townie’s and Tony’s on Sadler make the best in the area. Don’t forget this evening beginning at 5 pm is the weekly wine tasting event at A Taste of Wine By Steve at 4924 First Coast Highway. After that head downtown to the Green Turtle for a fun musical evening with Dan Voll, Michele and Nico.