I had the very pleasant experience last week of being introduced to Ms. Laura DiBella, the newly appointed executive director of the Nassau County Economic Development Board (NCEDB) and came away very impressed.
Following my conversation with Ms. DiBella I walked away thinking how fortunate county residents are to have this very personable, articulate, energetic, intelligent, hard working lady in this key position. The daughter of two Sicilian immigrants, she was raised in Florida, boasts a University of Florida degree, and takes her job very seriously, working weekends and nights as she toils to provide programs to promote a financially strong county business community while at the same time enhancing the quality of life for all of us. She’s an outstanding ambassador for our county.
But the mere mention of creating jobs and improving the quality of life and its impact on Amelia Island sends a small but vocal clique of local Orwellians into frenzies like Superman recoiling from kryptonite, Dracula from sunlight and City Commissioner Pat Gass from logic and reason.
While Ms. DiBella works to broaden and diversify the local tax base and to assist with the creation of high-quality jobs within all areas of Nassau County, there’s a small circle of cranks in Fernandina Beach like local gadfly Julie Ferreira who penned a rambling, disjointed screed for the local News Leader newspaper (‘Flourishing Fernandina’, Voices of the People, March 11, 2015) condemning Ms. DiBella for telling a Fernandina Beach city advisory meeting that she will work to ensure the community never again loses jobs because it isn’t vibrant enough and describing fast-growing Yulee as “flourishing.”
That is not what Ms. Ferreira wanted to hear. In her letter to the editor she said her “jaw dropped” and she and others were “shocked” by Ms. DiBella’s comments. She also said “We want to be Mayberry without the threat of a toxic pall hanging over the heads of our families.” She went on to insinuate that the two local mills, Kinder-Morgan and others involved with the port were planning the equivalent of a D-Day invasion of Amelia Island complete with a flotilla of ships and fleets of trucks ready to bombard Fernandina Beach with logs, coal and liquid natural gas before discharging their infantry of camera-armed tourists onto the beaches from massive cruise ship landing craft to wreck havoc on Aunt Bea, Goober and Barney.
Ms. DiBella’s credentials are hard to beat. She’s worked with Fortune 500 companies throughout the state of Florida in a mix of high-level marketing, real estate and manufacturing positions and knows well the needs of the community having been involved in a variety of organizations including, but not limited to, the Amelia Island-Fernandina Beach-Yulee Chamber of Commerce, JAX Chamber, The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, Pace Center for Girls, Hands on Jacksonville and the National Parkinson’s Foundation.
I have no idea what enraged local gadfly Ms. Ferreira does for a living if anything other than promote her “Let’s turn Fernandina Beach into Pottersville” program. And she’s not alone. Local Fernandina Beach High School teacher, former commissioner, and frequent News Leader opinion-editorial contributor, Ron Sapp, and sitting Commissioner Gass are long-time members of a local clique of Attention Deficit Disorder activists living in a fictional world they have created in their own minds.
My suggestion to Ms. DiBella is to politely ignore them and watch as amused as the rest of us as they futilely attempt to thrash their way to coherent arguments. They’re loud but harmless and nobody pays them much attention.
Commission Craziness: Commissioner Pat Gass is always good for a couple of chuckles.
During a heated discussion at the Tuesday, March 3 City Commission meeting in which Commissioner Tim Poynter logically and articulately pushed for a waterfront park plan the voices in Commissioner Gass’ head, having apparently just returned from an extended happy hour, scrambled to offer a snappy response and at one point in the discussion spat out “….that was that nasty other commission” as a retort to Mr. Poynter’s explanation of why resident’s taxes were lower last year than the year before. Commissioner Gass’ red-in-the-face rambling and convoluted arguments against borrowing money to fund needed downtown improvements to attract future residents, tourists, investors and businesses would have a late comer to the session thinking that Mr. Poynter was plotting a Marxist overthrow of city hall.
Commissioner Gass, who lives in a world where everybody is either an oppressor or victim, continued her opposition to improving downtown’s waterfront and streets and insisting that the city’s current population pay in full for any improvements that will be enjoyed by future residents in a Wednesday, March 11, local News-Leader Viewpoint editorial (Resurrecting Forward Fernandina, March 11, 2015) and in a Fernandina Beach Yulee Network Facebook discussion group. In both she publically admonished Commissioner Poynter once again for wanting to borrow money by comparing her fellow commissioner’s suggestion to improving a private home’s landscaping and adding a pool while letting the rest of the house deteriorate. While she’s counting pennies why doesn’t she, or one of the more reasonable voices in her head, ask gadfly activist Lynn Williams for the $8,000 back she voted to give him for his mysterious magic mud machine that we have yet to see.
Next time Commissioner Poynter sparks a debate with Ms. Gass I suggest he comes armed with a whip and a chair or a tranquilizer dart.
Gerrity, Bach, & Fire Department Chiefs On The Hot Seat: WOW! A lengthy damning investigative piece in the Wednesday, March 11 Folio Weekly paints an ugly picture of Fernandina Beach’s behind-the-scenes management maneuverings and city politics and spells big trouble for City Manager Joe Gerrity, City Attorney Tammi Bach and the city’s fire department chief and assistant chief.
The article headlined “Something Rotten” and written by Susan Cooper Eastman, is based on interviews with Fernandina’s fired Human Resource Director Robin Marley who has a “Whistle Blower” suit pending against the city; interviews with former city firemen; and records secured through Florida’s Sunshine law.
It paints a devastating picture of fire department leadership collapsing into disarray, a very stubborn and confused city manager and a city attorney, who appears to be on the verge of losing another law suit that will prove costly to area residents.
A very calm and friendly Ms. Marley told me that the reaction to the article has been overwhelmingly positive with an outpouring of support from the community and many city employees. “My phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” said Ms. Marley whose father moved his family to Yulee from Jacksonville where his daughter grew up on a farm from the age of seven.
The article should most certainly have those city commissioners who voted to wait to investigate the shenanigans by fire department leadership, the city manager and city attorney, reconsidering that unwise decision.
The Boys Of Summer: When I read about the death of baseball player Minnie Minoso I recalled the many days I watched the Chicago White Sox outfielder play spring training exhibition games at Al Lopez Field on Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa when I was a kid. My friend, Ray Karp, and I would hang around before and after the games to get autographs of the players, who in those days were easily accessible and always willing to chat and sign whatever you handed them. So after reading Minoso’s obituary I dug out my old autographs and looked for Minoso’s, which I found along with signatures of other players who were on White Sox teams in the late 1950s including Sherm Lollar, Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, Jim Rivera, Billy Pierce, Walt Dropo, and more. Minoso was born Saturnino Orestes Armas Miñoso Arrieta in Cuba, and signed his name “Orestos Minoso.” I remember him as always smiling and friendly, a player who always had time and a smile for kids seeking his autograph. I looked it up and when I got those autographs in 1957 Minoso was paid $36,000 a year while Aparicio, who was one of the game’s best shortstops, made $12,000.
Thinking Out Loud Department: Are the Cuban and Chinese companies drilling for oil off the coast of Florida more environmentally conscious than the US ones that are banned from drilling there? *** Want free quality health care? Go to any area hospital and answer all their questions with one word – “Que?” *** I recall when pregnant women referred to their unborn child as a “baby” instead of a “choice.” *** A rapper riddle: What is released first, the rapper or the rapper’s latest rap? *** And speaking of rap, Are Bow Wow and Snoop Dog registered with the American Kennel Club? And if their girl friends dump them do they drop them off at the local pound? *** If, after 20 years of listening to him, it took Obama that long to figure out that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was a card carrying member of “Lunatics R Us” why should we think his attention span would have been any better during national security briefings in the White House? *** If Hillary Clinton discovered she had cannibals among her constituents, she would promise them missionaries for dinner. *** Florida Senator Marco Rubio once observed: “Every day Joe Biden says something that would end my career if I said it.” *** In 1973 there was18 1/2 minutes of a missing tape, no one trusted the President and he was run out of office. Now there are 30,000 missing emails and the death of a U.S. Ambassador and we are supposed to consider this one to become President.
Fill ‘er Up Please: Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen, the new eatery at 510 South 8th, in the recently renovated location that last housed the restaurant Merge, received a rave review Saturday, March 7 from Jacksonville Florida Times-Union restaurant critic Nancy White, who says she had a private media lunch with owner and chef Kenny Gilbert and listed some 18 — count ’em folks! 18! — items she said were her favorites ranging from smoked ribs and skillet cornbread to Mayport shrimp salad and sweet potato pie. That’s a lot of groceries to put away in one setting — and I know I shouldn’t say this — but from the looks of her photo she’s more than capable. I wonder what was on her dinner menu that evening. For reservations at Kenny’s Underground Kitchen call 904/310-6374.
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: Matt Mueller, who along with pretty wife Rachael, owns the downtown Centre Street Amelia Island Coffee Shop, which just underwent extensive renovations tells me the operating hours for the next several months are as follows: Monday-Thursday 7 am- 8 pm; Friday & Saturday, 7 am – 9 pm; Sunday, 7 am – 3 pm. Walter Cereghetti, a Swiss gentleman of Italian heritage who purchased the 105 South 3rd Street’s Bright Mornings restaurant last year tells me that the hamburger, that this blog’s restaurant critic Fat Man From Space says is one of the best on the island, is only going to get better as Walter is planning to grill them outside on a wood fire on Friday evenings 5-9 pm. Walter also will be cranking up live music and has added a variety of new selections to the menu including a $10 shrimp boil with potatoes sausages, corn, etc., pasta primavera for just nine bucks and lobster and seasonal vegetables served on angel hair pasta for just $13. There is also a good selection of wines and beer. Their hours are Monday 7 am – 2 pm; Saturday and Sunday 8 am – 2 pm; and Friday and Saturday evenings with music from 5-9 pm. Check out the web site at www.brightmornings.us or call ’em at 904/491-1771. Bring an appetite tomorrow and experience some of the most interesting and exotic foods nearby as Ahan Thai Kitchen at 474260 East State Road 200/A1A in Yulee is having a $25 per person buffet from 5-9. This terrific little spot across from Lowe’s was bought by Josh Woodard and his Thai wife last year and now sports a cozy bar, some delightful spicy creations including my favorite Pho soups with a choice of beef, pork, chicken or meatballs and delicious fresh spring basil rolls with shrimp. The menu is extensive and the buffet is a great way to experience its variety. Call ’em at 904/321-0255. And don’t forget tonight is Wines by Steve wine tasting from 5-7 pm 4924 1st Coast Highway. Call ’em at 904/447-1506 and then head downtown to the South 3rd Street Green Turtle for a cold one or a cocktail and music by island favorites Dan Voll, Michelle and Nico on the Turtle’s porch beginning around 7 pm. Hungry? Then step across the street and order a huge slice or a whole pie from Pi to eat there or bring back to the Turtle or they’ll walk it over to you. And they’ll even cut it in squares like the folks up north if you want. Call ’em at 904/432-8535. Last week at my regular Wednesday night 50 cent wing and cheap beer hangout, the Crab Trap at 31 North 2nd Street downtown, proprietor Choo Choo Germano suggested I skip my traditional order of Buffalo style flappers and try the “burnt” ones he enjoys. I did and I’m hooked. They look terrible, but taste great and I’ll be back this Wednesday for more from 5-7 for the two dollar beer and all day for the wings. Call ’em at 904/261-4749. And speaking of the Crab Trap the Johnny Millers are flanking North 2nd Street as Johnny Miller Junior is now tending bar at one end of the block at the Crab Trap while city commissioner dad continues handling those same chores during the day at the Palace Saloon at the other end. And don’t forget that popular piano man John Springer continues to pack the house at the downtown 316 Centre Street Courtyard Pub & Eats every Thursday evening beginning about 6:30. It’s one of the best entertainment values in town with no cover and a fun crowd. I have no idea what happens there any other night of the week as the owner declared me persona non grata a few weeks ago saying he didn’t like what I said in this space about his management style. You’ll also have to look up the phone number as the owner tells me I got it wrong last time I mentioned it but failed to give me the correct one. Oh well! Go see John Springer anyway, he’s worth it.