Mexico couldn’t hold a candle to the goings on at the May 5 Fernandina Beach City Commission session as not even a drunken Cinco de Mayo celebration could have topped the fireworks inside City Hall this past Tuesday evening, May 5.
Following a mundane beginning with a variety of proclamations, boring resolutions, code amendments, and city manager and city attorney reports, the proverbial doo-doo hit the fan when Commissioners Robin Lentz and Tim Poynter articulately, forcefully and without pulling any punches, lashed out at City Manager Joe Gerrity, suggesting it was time for what they described as this “weak and ineffectual” manager to hit the bricks.
Commissioners Poynter and Lentz publically told a solemn-faced Gerrity that they were fed-up with his foot dragging, lack of leadership and inability to get things done. Gerrity responded at least twice saying: “I’m not ready to respond to you. I’d like to think about what was said,” ironically reinforcing the two irate commissioner’s arguments.
The two commissioners vigorously and eloquently made their cases citing specific situations within the Fire Department, Parks & Recreation, Human Resources, areas of trust and more, with Gerrity pleading for time to create a defensive position. Commissioners Johnny Miller and Mayor Ed Boner, who voted to give the embattled Gerrity a four percent pay increase last year, appeared confused and flailed about incoherently, apparently unable to grasp the severity of the situation. Fortunately for those in the sparsely attended chamber, Commissioner Pat Gass and her constituency of “people who don’t vote and who don’t attend commission meetings” were absent. Commissioners Boner and Miller reacted to Ms. Lentz’ s and Mr. Poynter’s valid and rational criticisms of the city manager the same way Linda Blair’s Exorcist character did to Holy Water.
Commissioner Miller, who appeared during most of the session to be staring into his lap as he pecked away at his cell phone, attempted to defend Gerrity with a baffling comment about his own back ground in the military and saying: “All I know is what I’ve seen….and I don’t really know, but I get answers from Joe and don’t have any problems.” Mr. Miller was also reeling from comments by Mr. Gerrity who claims Mr. Miller fouled the water with his ill-fated Facebook attempt to round up a “posse of local citizens to march on CSX Headquarters in Jacksonville and hold a press conference.” In full Occupy Wall Street mode Mr. Miller was seeking on his own a way to break the gridlock over the sidewalk-to-nowhere issue that is Gerrity’s job, but which Gerrity says is being held up by CSX Railroad and not the city. According to Gerrity Mr. Miller’s social media caper “did more harm than good.”
Later during the heated chamber discussion when confronted with a variety of issues he has let slide, including the Front Street sidewalk, Gerrity tossed a verbal grenade to deflect his critics remarks and again threw Commissioner Miller under the CSX train, referring to Mr. Miller’s misguided social media plea to march on CSX, saying he got a call from a high level CSX executive who saw Mr. Miller’s Facebook messages and told Gerrity: “Fernandina Beach is rapidly becoming my least favorite place,” a comment that indicates Commissioner Miller’s rash act may have badly backfired and that Gerrity will use anything he can get his hands on to try to save his job.
Mayor Boner, who appears to be the most comfortable when handing out proclamations and posing for “grip and grin” pictures, seemed totally flustered during the session saying: “I think Gerrity has done a good job but I don’t really have anything to compare it to…I’m worried….I don’t know how I feel I’m handling it…maybe that’s a bad answer.” Later in the meeting the mayor said of the fire department issue: “I don’t know how to get from here to there. I’m not the city manager.” Near the end of the session the hapless mayor asked: “Is everyone happy?” I’m not sure what he meant by any of this but at least he didn’t threaten to occupy CSX Headquarters.
Ms. Lentz initiated the city manager’s public performance review during her comment period saying she didn’t initially support Gerrity’s appointment when she was a private citizen and after five months as a commissioner she says she’s tried to be objective and likes him personally, but there’s a “pink elephant in the room” and claims their relationship is strained, partially based on what she says was a breach of trust by Gerrity following a meeting the two had concerning airport issues. Ms. Lentz says she received phone calls from people immediately following that meeting and the callers recited issues to her “that could only have come from Joe Gerrity.”
She added that Mr. Gerrity also “drags his feet and doesn’t move swiftly. “I know it’s a difficult job,” she says, but adds that “his personal opinions and judgments are frequently wrong.” It appears that dissension among firefighters was her final straw. “He’s the captain of the ship,” she says and according to her its sinking and she’s “tired of the pink elephant in the room.”
Commissioner Poynter mirrored Ms. Lentz’s comments and went further peppering Gerrity directly with questions the city manager said he was “not ready to respond to.”
“I ran again because I wanted to move the city forward,” declared Mr. Poynter .” There were projects that the city had talked about for the last 40 years ….and are still important projects,” Poynter said. He said the current commission clarified these goals in their recent planning retreat but nothing has been accomplished …”five months into my second term.”
Poynter’s frustration level increased when he questioned Gerrity’s observational skills saying, “….at the last meeting he indicated that the only department he has a problem with is the Fire Department. “I’m not sure what city he’s in,” Poynter exclaimed, “but I’ve got to tell you that I’ve heard an awful lot of people from an awful lot of departments with a lot of problems. We’ve had a Rec Department that tried to put on a rock concert at Fort Clinch that the city got blamed for, but the city had nothing to do with it; I’ve had architects and builders come up to me complaining about how long it takes to get a building permit in this town. These are things I have brought to the city manager, and fall on deaf ears. I understand that we have rules. But if the rules are wrong, change the rules. We have issues in this city that need to be resolved. We have projects that aren’t going anywhere. A month and a half ago we talked about borrowing the money to open Alachua.” Looking directly at Gerrity he said “I asked you ‘Where do we stand on the money?’ … Where are we? We talk about the sidewalk from nowhere. It’s not just that sidewalk. It’s the entire waterfront. Where are we? We need to deal with the railroads on the entire waterfront. We’ve got water issues. Where is the plan? It is so disjointed we can never get an answer.”
Poynter continued addressing Gerrity directly. “Why is it taking so long to get things done? To me, we do not have the leadership we need at the helm.” Referring to his last term Poynter said: “I was not supportive in the vote to hire you, because I wanted someone who had done it, been there, with years of experience and you didn’t have that. I was dumfounded when you indicated you didn’t lower the standards to hire a Fire Chief, you just hired someone who didn’t meet them. I think that’s worse, actually. This is not the way you manage and the way you run the city.”
Gerrity’s strongest response to this withering public criticism was directed at Commissioner Poynter and mimicked the kid on the playground who committed five key errors in each of his baseball team’s last losing games when he said “This guy has never liked me.”
The citizens of Fernandina Beach need to get behind Ms. Lentz and Mr. Poynter if they want to see their city move forward because as Commissioner Poynter succinctly put it “As far as I’m concerned, you (Gerrity) had your shot. You did not succeed……. I’d like to see another city manager.”
Another Reason Not To Contribute to NPR: Following a traffic cop’s shooting of two Muslim lunatics, armed with AK47 automatic rifles, that probably saved the lives of many innocents in Garland, Texas, by killing the two Islamic savages this week, National Public Radio broadcast an interview with a jerk who berated the organizers of the event rather than the two Muslim nut cases trying to kill those attending it. I tuned in to the station mid-afternoon Monday just as this pompous fool was saying that Pam Geller, the organizer of the event to draw a cartoon of Muhammad, was a “hater, bigot” and a “racist” and condemned her for organizing the event and not once faulting the would-be killers, with the mindless interviewer never adding an objective question. Nowhere on this dreadful station was there an opposing point of view as the commentators at NPR were more concerned with condemning the event being attacked than they were the attackers. It’s crap like this that encourages me to write to my elected national officials and encourage them to cut off all tax-payer funding to this outrageous propaganda network and question the motives of anyone that would send this phony baloney station a single penny. These loons don’t understand that the First Amendment to the US Constitution was written to protect speech we dislike no matter how abhorrent, not just speech we do like.
What’s In A Name? In the Jacksonville-based Florida Times-Union newspaper’s crime report last Saturday there was an article about a 20-year-old man being convicted of the first degree shooting death of a mother and attempted murder of her boyfriend who was paralyzed by the killer’s bullets. The shooter’s name was reported as Sayton Adair Walker. Now who, in their right mind, would name their child Sayton and in doing so what would they expect to be the future for a person with that hideous moniker? That’s not exactly a name you want to put on a job application, submission to a college, or have called out loud in a public setting. When I was in a position to hire folks in my corporate career, I have to admit I was reluctant to interview folks whose resumes contained unpronounceable and goofy names, instead sending them back to the human resources department. And I can guarantee you I would certainly never have hired a “Sayton”, however, I would probably have peeked to catch a glimpse of what a person with such a name might look like.
Speaking Of Newspaper Articles: Just in time to greet the tens of thousands of visitors to last week’s Shrimp Festival, the lead headline in the Page 1 in the local bi-weekly News Leader blared “Decorated officer named as shooter.” With images of Baltimore’s mindless rioters burning and looting behind the excuse of “excessive police force” our local paper’s headline and story implies that a Fernandina Beach police officer, who probably saved lives through his actions, shot a Brunswick, GA man and not until the seventh paragraph of that poorly written article did the writer, the paper’s editor, Michael Parnell, indicate what might have caused the cop to use such deadly force. The police officer, Jason Smith, who has been recognized many times for his positive actions, shot the man after it became clear that he was endangering the public with actions that could likely lead to the death of local citizens. Shame on this newspaper for producing such a wretched piece of journalism. Why not a headline that said “Decorated officer saves lives by shooting thug.” Hopefully things will get better on that paper’s editorial staff with the introduction of its new editor this month, as they couldn’t get much worse.
Speaking of Silly Newspaper Articles: The Amelia Island News Wrecker, a satirical publication that I produced late last month is full of articles that don’t make any sense and are obviously not true, but its intended purpose has apparently been achieved as it has been reported to me that many of the establishments that provided the Wrecker to its Shrimp Festival guests ran out and asked me to replenish them, saying they heard customers laughing out loud at the parody and taking extra copies to give to friends. One neighborhood reported that a resident went door-to-door handing them out. So due to requests from its advertisers and readers, there will be another Wrecker, but not until next Shrimp Festival. So if you relish satirical abuse and want to advertise or have “news” story ideas for the next issue please contact me at the email on this site or at email@example.com.
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: I’m normally a BBQ brisket fan and I’ve eaten barbeque all over Texas and the Southeastern US, but one of the best BBQs I’ve had was this past Shrimp Festival weekend at the booth between the South 3rd Street Florida House and Green Turtle, where Chef Marshall Sands smoked several pork butts and served them up on buns with a special vinegary cole slaw and his own home made sauce. I ate two the first day and another two the next and can only hope that Marshall adds this tasty item to his Florida House menu in the not too distant future. And while we’re talking BBQ, if you haven’t tried the new Willie Jewell’s Bar-B-Que place at the intersection of A1A (SR-200) and Main Street (Hwy 17) in Yulee and you like barbeque brisket, then get down there soon, as I had it this past Monday and that place’s 12-hour oak-smoked beef is as good as any I’ve had anywhere in Texas. However, I did use my own favorite Luling City Market Texas-bought sauce, slices of jalapenos and thick-cut slices of raw onions in my sandwich with the brisket I brought home. Willie J’s also serves pork, sausage, ribs and chicken plus a wide variety of traditional sides, desserts, beer and wine as well as good old-fashioned country music in the background. If there are better and more personable island guy bartenders than the Amelia River Golf Club’s Chuck Singleton, Salty Pelican’s Pete Thomas, Sandy Bottoms’ Artie Steinig, Baxter’s Michael (Doc) Dougherty, and the Palace Saloon trio of Rob Ross, Jimmy Hess and Johnny Miller someone please tell me where they are. I recently ordered a burger while sitting at the Karibo’s Karibrew bar and the half pounder with raw onions, tomato, a special sauce and pickles is definitely in the top five on the island, a position I am sure that anonymous area burger critic The Fat Man From Space will share if he ever gets down there to try it. Political junkies who also enjoy barbeque and beer can head over the Nassau County Fair Grounds Saturday, May 30 where the West Side Republican Club is hosting the Reagan Day BBQ that will feature US Congressman Ander Crenshaw, State Representative Janet Adkins, and State Senator Aaron Bean, among other GOP luminaries. Tickets are just $11.50 and can be obtained online at wsrc.ticketleap.com/wsrc-reagan-day-bbq