Final results of the Nassau County Chamber of Commerce survey of the Fernandina Beach Building Department were released last Friday, March 19, and the results weren’t bad – they were worse than bad.
Local community watchdog group Common Sense says the 164 responses from builders, businesses, and residents were “unbelievably rotten – 79% not satisfied and 68% of respondents projects delayed. Many complaints of excessive fees and aggressive, even hostile enforcement.”
Common Sense’s analysis went on to report that survey respondents overwhelmingly testified that the city building department is overreaching its authority with excessive fees, delayed responses, approvals/then reversals, unnecessary procedures leading to higher building costs, over enforcement and accusations of retaliation causing builders to remain silent and residents to go underground.
“Builders have been leaving the city causing a shortage of building resources for businesses and residents,” say Jack Knocke, one of the Common Sense group’s founders.
Common Sense, the Chamber and the city’s entire construction industry aren’t the only Building Department critics. The local print News Leader chimed in with news stories detailing the chamber’s negative survey results. The paper’s North Florida syndicated columnist Steve Nicklas penned a scathing piece last Friday, March 19, blasting City Manager “Big Spender” Martin and calling the Building Department situation a “four-alarm fire controversy.”
In his column headlined “City manager fortunate he doesn’t work in private sector” Nicklas also pointed out that the Building Department’s woes aren’t the Big Spender’s only headache. He cited that during Martin’s tenure property taxes have increased by nearly 50 percent; the city’s staff has grown by 43 new full-time employees; there are leaking sewer lines; unnecessary beach access expenses; landscaping issues; the $600,000 golf course Top Tracer game fiasco; an inferior garbage collection contract; the overpriced airport terminal; a $500,000 Simmons Road park nobody wanted; and a new $5 million fire station. He didn’t even mention the elephant in the room – The $12-15 million marina FEMA fiasco.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, despite the lousy survey results, the city refuses to acknowledge that a problem exists.
Martin responded to the crummy Chamber survey in a letter to the News Leader saying that Beckman was just doing his job. He even accused the Chamber of making multiple requests to “hurry approval, risking lives.”
Donning his “Left Coast” hat oblivious California transplant, Mayor Mike Lednovich, told Knocke that he was “supportive of more aggressive enforcement.” When Knocke expressed shock at his comment Left Coast kept digging his hole mimicking Martin saying the Building Department is “keeping the city safe.”
How “safe” is the city is keeping its residents? Here’s an example: This past January a friend of mine had a new garage door installed. Included in her invoice was $145 the contractor paid the city to inspect the installation. Just a few days following the work the door began coming loose from the ceiling. She related that the city inspector didn’t even enter the garage to look at the work and only stood on the driveway and watched the door go up and down, then left. “The door could have hurt me or damaged my car, or both,” she says. Her efforts to convince the city to refund her $145 have so far proven futile.
Left Coast Lednovich not only penned his own letter to the News Leader March 19 with his mindless defense of the Building Department, but also criticized the News Leader for its accurate coverage of the messy chaotic situation. He called a front- page photo of a grinning Beckman that included the survey comment, “Barney Fife with a bad attitude”, a “below the belt personal attack by an unidentified critic.” It could have been worse. The Barney Fife reference in the article headlined “Survey: Building official under fire”, was one of the mildest observations in the chamber’s multi-page list of blistering comments.
The normally boisterous and pompous gasbag, Commissioner Chip Ross, has been uncharacteristically quiet since this problem surfaced. Has he finally discovered a city issue so indefensible that even he’s been stunned into silence or is he holding back fearful of violating the city’s controversial noise ordinance.
Commission Len Kreger is performing his customary imitation of a potted plant while newly elected Commissioners Bradley Bean and David Sturges have said nothing publicly. However, Commissioner Sturges, who owns a local construction company, told me he’s personally received more than 25 negative calls about the Building Department. As Knocke said: “Our commissioners need to read the Chamber Survey in full and do their job to fix it.” When 79% of 164 respondents are not satisfied it signifies a major problem that did not pop up overnight.
In contrast, Nassau County’s residents are heaping praise on their inspectors. A survey I was provided yesterday indicates the county building department boasts an excellent activity report including remarkably high customer service numbers. Out of more than 1,000 permits and almost 3,000 inspections all the customer service survey responses were 5 of 5. That’s impressive! Keith Ellis the Nassau County Building official appears to be doing a heck-of-a job. See the report here: Nassau County Building Department February 2021 Report
Martin’s problems may just be beginning. I have it from more than one reliable source that a group of concerned and influential city residents are forming a delegation to meet in Tallahassee with the state’s Attorney General to request an investigation. When Nassau County’s building department enforces the same Florida Building Codes with much higher satisfaction rates, lower fees, and a more efficient operation something is very wrong downtown.
The pandemic would be the ideal time to announce to the Fernandina Beach Building Department that they aren’t needed, that they are “nonessential.”
As he’s cleaning out his desk, Department head Stephen Beckman could be told that in addition to the pandemic, his function is unnecessary hereabouts because there’s an identical group right across the street in Nassau County that does exactly what his team does and they do it extremely efficiently, without gouging the public it is supposed to serve. They also do their jobs without pissing off the entire local construction industry and extorting its customers.
Beckman has managed to do something that no other organization since I’ve lived here has ever done – inspire a lethargic and normally disinterested Chamber of Commerce to put down its tray of cheap wine, stale crackers and rubbery cheese cubes and finally act on behalf of its dues-paying members, loudly and aggressively.
It might be best for all concerned if the city hung a “Closed for Good” sign on its Building Department’s door and directed residents to the county’s office. It makes perfect sense since the city is in the county we are all its residents.
Maybe Florida’s Attorney General will help shake things up.
Please, Make It Stop: I remember when I was a child in elementary school and a classmate would be called to the front of the class to read out loud or answer questions. When a poor unprepared, nervous kid stumbled, hemmed and hawed I’d cringe and slink down in my seat, embarrassed for him.
That’s how I felt Thursday afternoon watching Joe Biden’s so-called press conference. It was painful. He called on reporters whose names he haltingly read from a prepared list rather than randomly taking questions from those seated in front of him. He then read his answers from prepared remarks, many times stumbling while reading. At one point while searching for a name to call on he muttered: “Now, where am I?”
When asked about North Korea’s recent missile launches he looked down at the lectern and stammered through a written note, not once glancing up at the audience directly in front of him. If North Korea launches any more missiles he’ll read that note out loud again. Take that Kim Jong-un!
He stumbled all over a question on the filibuster, at one point stopping mid sentence and staring blankly into space. That was after saying “When I arrived in the Senate 120 years ago….”
He outright lied about the out of control masses of illegals crossing our southern border saying it is seasonal and happens every year. Yep, every year hundreds of thousands of illegals overwhelm the border, are housed, fed, and put up in shelters and hotels and transported anywhere in the country they want to go. Not one of the adoring boot-licking so called media in the room challenged him on that or anything else. It was frightening.
When he was stumped for a response or couldn’t find the right note card he fell back on his standard refrain of: “It’s Trump’s fault.”
During my years as a daily newspaper reporter, I attended a lot of press conferences, and not once was I ever asked to submit a question I would ask in advance. I never saw anyone read prepared answers at the lectern like Biden did yesterday. Not even the dimmest football player or coach.
When the one hour embarrassment ended you could almost hear the collective sigh of relief from behind the curtain as they prepared his tapioca pudding and turned on the Andy Griffith reruns.
My literate and articulate Tampa Plant High School classmate and current American Spectator writer, Larry Thornberry, summed up Biden’s performance in an email to me saying: “This pathetic nebbish gives age 78 a bad name. Happily, I know a lot of 78-year-olds in touch as I am with so many of my high school classmates. And I can report that few of these have lost the plot like Doddering Joe has. And unlike Joe and the ‘reporters’ who so badly fumbled their jobs today, my classmates retain the ability to be embarrassed when they make fools of themselves, or when they fail their responsibilities utterly.”
During his sad word jumble Biden mumbled that he’ll run for reelection. That must have come as a surprise to Kamala Harris. If by some unfortunate twist he happens to win when he’ll be 82 I assume press conferences will be conducted from an assisted living facility with an interpreter.
New York! New York! Good Bye! Good Bye! More than 3.5 million New Yorkers hightailed it out of their state between January 11 and December 7 last year according to Unacast. This year the migration is getting even stronger and many of the wealthier are taking their companies with them.
Most of those leaving are headed to Florida seeking greener pastures including smaller government, lower taxes, reasonable COVID regulations, warmer weather, lower prices, open restaurants and schools….in other words, a normal life.
With eight women now crying sexual harassment NY’s Governor Andrew Cuomo appears to have his hands full – no pun intended – and NY City’s Mayor Bill di Blasio is so dim he doesn’t recognize the mess swirling around him, much less react to it.
Maybe Joe Biden, or whoever his handlers are, can replenish New York’s dwindling population by shipping the hundreds of thousands of illegals they’re encouraging to cross what used to be our southern border by sending them to New York. After living in that liberal crime-infested ill-governed hell hole for a while, even their wretched former Central America countries ruled by the drug cartels would start looking good to them.
Literary Islanders: Amelia Island is blessed with an abundance of writers, some well-known, some not, some good, some not.
Two of the best local celebrity scribes are Neal B. Freeman and Ed Kosner.
Freeman is former editor of and columnist for National Review and the founding producer of William Buckley’s TV show Firing Line and author of “Skirmishes.” Kosner is former editor of Newsweek, New York, Esquire, the New York Daily News, and author of “It’s News To Me.”
Neal has just published a new book, “Walk With Me” subtitled “an invitation to faith.” So far I’ve read one chapter and if it’s any indication this book will appeal to a wide audience of believers, non-believers, and agnostics or anybody who appreciates good writing. It’s not intended to convert anyone but is a spiritual memoir that sparkles with Neal’s hard-to-stop-reading style.
The chapter I read on Christopher Hitchens was riveting, peppered with first person accounts of Neal’s personal and professional dealings with Hitchens, the late left wing British atheist, author, lecturer, and essayist – for example: “Hitchens’s accent was unmistakably English but not offputtingly regional, which added at least 20 points to his IQ in the ears of Anglophiliac listeners.” The book is chock-a-block full of excellent writing and fascinating historical and cultural tidbits, that make readers think: “I didn’t know that!”
The book is available on Amazon.
Ed Kosner may be retired but his crisp, clear writing pops up frequently in the Wall Street Journal where he’s called on frequently to review books.
I’ve made a number of purchases based on Ed’s reviews, most recently one that he examined last Friday, “Assignment Russia”, and another Friday, February 24 titled “The Snatch Racket.”
Carolyn Cox’s “Snatch Racket” details the epidemic of kidnappings that plagued America in the 1930’s including the abduction of the 20-month-old child of Charles and Anne Lindbergh and how the FBI moved in to solve and bring the rash of kidnappings to a stop. It also ventures into more modern-day grabs including those of Patty Hearst and Frank Sinatra, Jr. In it I learned that one of the lead characters in the Lindbergh kidnapping case was the head of the New Jersey state police, H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who was the father of Gulf War hero General Norman Schwarzkopf.
“Assignment Russia”, authored by 90-year-old former TV newsman Marvin Kalb, relates the story of his broadcasting career, and includes fascinating details of other TV news professionals whose names are familiar to those of us who grew up during the Cold War. As Mr. Kosner says in his review about younger readers “it’s a wakeup call for what they’re missing in their daily feeds of cable news, Facebook, Twitter and the clamorous rest.”
However, they may already be so Woke that nothing can blast them out of their hypnotic social media stupor.
Meanwhile Back At The Asylum: Our country is currently influenced by completely insane individuals that think all this Woke and Cancel Culture claptrap is the greatest thing since canned beer.
For example, does anybody else think it’s abnormal that in America we celebrate athletic teams with European ethnicities – Celtics, Viking – but say it’s offensive to name anything after American Indians?
Bill Shuey, an author, and columnist out of Georgetown, Florida, says that idiocy is now in vogue. “Everybody wants to climb on board the good ship ‘Ridiculous’ and sail off into the land of sugar plums and Tinker Bell,” writes Bill.
How stupid are they? The satirical online publication Babylon Bee’s recent headline explains it: “Instead Of Traditional Warfare, Chinese Military Will Now Be Trained To Shout Wrong Pronouns At American Troops.” We are on a fast path to downhill destruction. The only question is when will it occur?
West Coast columnist Burt Prelutsky echoes Mr. Shuey’s concerns reporting: “Further proof that living, as I do, in Los Angeles, I am not merely in the belly of the beast, but inside an insane asylum, comes in the form of the following public announcement from the L.A. County Department of Public Health.”
It reads: “Restaurants can open indoors with the following conditions: one household per indoor table, with a limit of six people and at 25% capacity.
“Outdoor patio dining will no longer require the same household per table.
“However, the Department is not yet permitting television viewing while dining.”
Burt says the edict raises certain unavoidable questions. “For instance, why are there different rules for indoor and outdoor dining? And what is it that the folks at the Department of Public Health know about the connection between Covid and watching TV that they’re not telling us?”
Move Over Ladies: Will transgender males be allowed to compete at the Olympics in female events? If so, we can expect every female record in the books to be erased. These “ladies,” after all, are even more manly than the Russian and East German women who used to take home all the medals in the 50s and who had to shave between events.
Seriously Not Funny: I’ve never been a fan of comedian Bill Maher because I never thought he was funny, just a far-left political hack. However, a friend sent me Maher’s closing from his recent “Real Time” TV show sounding the alarm on China’s growing dominance over the United States. Here’s an excerpt from that piece, which I agree with 100 percent, that should be read by every blockhead in Washington.
He said: “In China alone, they have 40,000 kilometers of high-speed rail. America has none. We’ve been having Infrastructure Week every week since 2009 but we never do anything. Half the country is having a never-ending woke competition deciding whether Mr. Potato Head has a d— and the other half believes we have to stop the lizard people because they’re eating babies. We are a silly people.
“Nothing ever moves in this impacted colon of a country. We see a problem and we ignore it, lie about it, fight about it, endlessly litigate it, sunset clause it, kick it down the road, and then write a bill where a half-assed solution doesn’t kick in for 10 years,” Maher explained. “China sees a problem and they fix it. They rebuild a dam. We debate what to rename it.”
For a change Bill Maher made sense.
Drinking, Dining & Wrestling: Linda and I and 10 friends are going to Hammerhead for a little entertainment tomorrow, Saturday, March 27, where we have ringside seats for Hammerhead’s Midget Wrestling matches. I have little to say about this event except that it is sold out and it’s our small way of supporting the arts. I’ll report briefly on the experience next week.