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Is No Public Discussion of $1.8 Million Lawsuit An Example of Shady Local Government?

secret-meeting-safe-picFrom all the buzz I’ve heard, I’m not the only person surprised that at their last meeting the Fernandina Beach City Commissioners voted Tuesday, November 18 to unanimously approve a $1.8 million settlement of the Water Impact Fee case without a single word of public discussion. Using a convoluted variation of the Queen of Hearts’ upside down “Sentence first — verdict after!” statement in Alice in Wonderland’s Trial of the Knave of Hearts and obviously accepting it as judicial precedent, City Attorney Tammi Bach, her cadre of out-of-town attorneys and consultants, and the city commission, managed to bypass any public discussion of the issue by the voters and taxpayers whose money they are squandering.

Apparently the settlement was surreptitiously decided upon prior to the November 18 public meeting, which as I understand it, is a violation of Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine-Law, which provides a right of access to governmental proceedings at both the state and local levels.

The law is applied to any gathering of two or more public officials subject to the sunshine requirements who discuss some matter that could potentially come before the governing board for action.

This does not mean that the city commissioners can’t meet privately to discuss a settlement and the cost of litigation. They can. But they can’t meet to accept a settlement and then have it ceremoniously accepted at a later open meeting and this is apparently what they did. It has to be publically discussed. In fact the Sunshine Statue explicitly states that any decisions made in an earlier secret meeting and later ratified ceremoniously are void ab initio….Latin and legal mumbo jumbo meaning “as if it never happened.” And the meeting need not be “clandestine” in order for an agreement to be invalidated. There are also criminal penalties for such actions under the Sunshine laws. (Look it up at MyFloridaLegal.com, pages 47-51).

So unless they are telepathic, the commissioner’s — who I was told did meet for many hours behind closed doors on this issue — are confined only to discuss settlement negotiations or strategy, not a final settlement. Nope, it is clearly stated in the law, that it is the job of the city attorney to explain it to the public and the commissioners, receive public input, and then have it voted on publically.

Oh, and the settlement package must be made available in advance. That was done. But making a complex 126-page document available just 24 hours in advance of such a vital and complex issue is a stretch. In that case Commissioners Charlie Corbett and Pat Gass would have made it to page three about now, even with the voices in Ms. Gass’ head reading it out loud to both of them.

Meetings were held in secret to discuss the settlement. The city attorney admits the suit was in resolution. The amount of $1.8 million was allocated. And there was no discussion at the public meeting November 18. So what may be the largest lawsuit in city history is the last agenda item that took less than five minutes to approve without a single word of discussion. That’s not legal.

And none of this takes into consideration that the impact fees were illegal and should never have been imposed in the first place.

Folks, I’m not a lawyer, but something here smells funny, or as Wonderland’s Alice shouted out in the Queen of Hearts’ courtroom: “Stuff and Nonsense!” And the final numbers are not just $1.8 million of our tax dollars.

As resident and local businessman Patrick J. Keogh pointed out in a comment to this blog last week, the cost to citizens is at least $3,535,000. “That’s $1.8 million in the settlement plus $735,000 previously refunded. By the time the settlement funds are returned add another $1 million in fees for the three law firms and consultants,” he explains.

If, like me, you’re a property owner in Fernandina Beach that recently received a tax statement, and you’re upset with the folks who are supposed to be stewards of our money, then let your voice be heard. Call or write the commissioners or attend the next commission meeting and ask for an explanation and by all means, vote on December 9.

If I am wrong here then someone please explain to me where I went off the rails.

***

Charlie’s Hilarious But Pat’s A Gas: If Charlie Corbett loses his December 9 runoff bid against businessman Tim Poynter to retain his Fernandina Beach City Commission seat, we’ll still have Pat Gass to keep us entertained with her bizarre comments. On November 18, for example, Ms. Gass, prompted no doubt by one of the unpredictable voices that reside in her head, suggested that the city should fire the complaining firefighters to make examples of them in an already demoralized fire department. Oh, and a sitting city commissioner told me that there’s “only” about five or six disgruntled firefighters causing this ruckus. Really Just five or six? In a department of less than 40? That’s a lot commissioner.

***

Speaking of Charlie Corbett: Corbett, who is running on a campaign platform of having never raised taxes is apparently very confused. During a July 10, 2013 budget session following then Commissioner Tim Poynter’s refusal to accept City Manager Joe Geritty’s proposed millage rate increase of 5.86 percent, Corbett announced that he would not be present for the financial workshops including the final one scheduled for August 2 that year. He also presented a chart accusing the last city commission of “bad budgeting” and using reserves to keep the city running. The city financial director said that none of Corbett’s accusations were true causing an irate commissioner Corbett’s voice to quiver in pointless rage. This is the same guy who voted for budgets that raised the tax rate 15.95 percent in fiscal year 2012-13 and another 3.3 percent in FY 2013-1014. Don’t forget the runoff election between Corbett and Poynter is December 9 folks.

***

If You Build It They’ll Come. Or Maybe Not: If you think $47,000 for a 651-square foot deck on downtown’s harbor visitor center is a bad idea then how about $1.2 million for a welcome center at the island’s tiny airport? At least the welcome center downtown attracts a visitor or two but unless I’m mistaken our little airport isn’t exactly overrun by tourists. In fact if you’ve ever visited the airport you’ve noticed that prior to a plane landing, a limousine is already waiting to whisk its occupants off to the Ritz-Carlton or their gated community destination. And if they’re performers staying at the Ritz prior to a Jacksonville appearance, they certainly aren’t going to be hanging out at a visitor center, because they aren’t interested in mixing with the hoi polloi. So what’s the point? In his reelection campaign talks Commissioner Charlie Corbett is taking credit for the deck, but whose idea was this airport project?

***

Attention Tree Huggers: Here’s something you can get your arms around: A new book “This Tree Has a Story” just out by Karen Saltmarsh and Sarah Cotchaleovitch, that asks and answers fascinating questions about trees in our area and elsewhere by two local ladies, who are not arborists, but who paint fascinating verbal pictures of trees that will intrigue people of all ages and make you think twice the next time you’re relaxing in the shade of that large backyard water oak. The slim soft cover volume boasts intriguing black and white photos of trees in this area and elsewhere and sprouts interesting statistics such as the fact that an oak tree needs to absorb at least 50 gallons of water daily and that pine needles aren’t really needles at all, they’re leaves. I’d like to say the book was printed without the use of a tree but don’t think that was the case, but if you’re interested in a copy of the $12.95 volume you can get one by going to the Nature Center at the Omni where copies will be available today, the Florida House, owned and operated by the Saltmarsh family, or by emailing Ms. Saltmarsh at slatmarshws@aol.com. Local book stores interested in stocking copies for the coming Christmas season should also contact Ms. Saltmarsh.

***

Car Talk: Finding a automotive mechanic you trust and who knows what he or she is doing can be an expensive proposition if you go the “hit and miss” route, but Linda and I were fortunate when we first moved here to find two exceptional area pros based upon recommendations from long-time residents. The late “Big Ray” Mullis of T-Ray’s Burger Station fame, suggested that I take my car to Corbin’s Automotive, tucked behind the 14th Street Shopping Center on 1424 Jasmine, while Linda’s almost 20-year-old prized Jaguar XJL is being serviced regularly at First Choice Goodyear in Yulee on the advice of Jaguar expert and consultant David Berghoefer. James Corbin is one of the most honest and professional auto experts I’ve ever encountered and will actually discourage you from having repairs or service adjustments he knows are not necessary, despite what you or your brother-in-law Louie might think. His pretty daughter Lauren who runs the office can talk cars with the best of ’em and Corbin’s staff are all polite, knowledgeable and conscientious, and you can tell what their customers think by reading just a few of the letters and cards posted on the office bulletin board. Call ’em at 904/261-8825. When David recommended First Choice Goodyear to Linda I thought he was sending her there for tires, not an engine analysis. However, the husband and wife team of Mike Burdett and Laura Shea, aided by Store Manager John Grimes, operate a full service operation capable of working on all makes of cars and have been doing so since they purchased the business in 2009 after Mike retired following 30 years of Goodyear employment, the last few as regional and district manager. They have computer equipment not available on the island to assess Linda’s aging Jag and have even called her following service to ask if the car is running OK. Hey, my doctor doesn’t even do that! Again, I can’t say enough positive about this team of pros except to encourage you to give them a try at 463670 State Road 200, Yulee or call ’em at 904/225-2775. Oh, and if you’re buying a used car for yourself or a family member both places will check it out for you, a step I highly recommend.

***

Fernandina Fireballers: Local resident Bob Hanrahan reports that his son, 33-year-old right handed relief pitcher, Joel, and the Detroit Tigers have agreed to a one-year one million dollar contract with an additional $2.5 million available in incentives despite the fact that Joel’s rehab from Tommy John surgery prevented him from throwing for the Tigers in the majors or minors last year. Despite the fact that Hanrahan was unable to take the mound in 2014, the Tigers have plenty of reason to be optimistic that he can help their bullpen in 2015. He spent parts of four seasons with the Pirates from 2009-12, where he was a two-time All-Star as the team’s closer. He posted a combined 2.59 ERA with 10.4 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 in 229 1/3 innings with the Bucs, and his walk numbers would be even better were they not skewed by a 5.4 BB/9 mark in his final season with Pittsburgh. The island is looking good baseball wise as we also boast former Atlanta Braves Manager Bobby Cox, Cy Young award winner and L.A. Dodger pitching ace Clayton Kershaw. Who have I missed that we can add to the Halftime Sports Bar & Grill’s fall softball team roster?

***

Drinking, Dining & Dancing: I’ve just heard that the February 21 Montessori School Chili Cook-Off will stay right where it has always been on North 2nd Street and will not be relocated to a city park as apparently there was a lot of blow back against the idea to relocate the event. Good!  If you’re sitting inside or on the porch listening to music at the South 3rd Street Green Turtle and get a case of the munchies, then you’re now in luck as not only can you step across the street to the new Pi Pizza joint and pick up a slice or a whole pie to eat at the bar or on the porch but thanks to an energetic, personable and young Steven Ruis, evening drinkers can now enjoy food from the Turtle’s tiny kitchen including: Tuesday: Tacos; Saturday, Buffalo, BBQ, Ranch or Jerk wings and, back by popular demand, Gyros on Friday.  Don’t forget that Friday, December 5 is the next Crescendo Big Band event at Sandy bottoms beginning at 6:30 pm, so if you want to experience a fabulous 21-piece orchestra complete with male and female vocalists get there early for a good seat and don’t forget you can also place an order to sample some of Nick Hartley‘s innovative cooking. Downtown’s South 3rd Street’s Bright Mornings is not just for breakfast and lunch anymore and now boasts three different menus (breakfast & lunch, brunch and evening, since Swiss expatriate Walter Cereghetti bought the place a few weeks ago. We stopped by last Friday evening and enjoyed a wine and beer on the patio while listening to a couple of talented guitar players and singers who provided just the right volume and musical style to go with the new format. Call ’em at 904/491-1771 and ask Walter when he will begin serving spatzle.  Not sure which downtown restaurant you want to eat in? Then try Amelia Island Tasting Tours, the brain child of Hola co-owner Marisol Triano where for just $59 from 2-5 pm where you can sample food from four-five downtown chefs all within walking distance of each other. Not hungry and just want a couple of pops? Not a problem, the tour offers a special Mixology treat for $39 from 5:30-7:30 at four downtown locations where you can sample craft cocktails. They tell me they’re planning other tours as well including a Kid’s Tour, Chocolate Tour, Dessert Tour, and a Boutique Tour. Check ’em out at ameliaislandtastingtours.com or call ’em at 1-800-979-3370 and ask about the special holiday tour events and times.

Is No Public Discussion of $1.8 Million Lawsuit An Example of Shady Local Government?

secret-meeting-safe-picFrom all the buzz I’ve heard, I’m not the only person surprised that at their last meeting the Fernandina Beach City Commissioners voted Tuesday, November 18 to unanimously approve a $1.8 million settlement of the Water Impact Fee case without a single word of public discussion. Using a convoluted variation of the Queen of Hearts’ upside down “Sentence first — verdict after!” statement in Alice in Wonderland’s Trial of the Knave of Hearts and obviously accepting it as judicial precedent, City Attorney Tammi Bach, her cadre of out-of-town attorneys and consultants, and the city commission, managed to bypass any public discussion of the issue by the voters and taxpayers whose money they are squandering.

Apparently the settlement was surreptitiously decided upon prior to the November 18 public meeting, which as I understand it, is a violation of Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine-Law, which provides a right of access to governmental proceedings at both the state and local levels.

The law is applied to any gathering of two or more public officials subject to the sunshine requirements who discuss some matter that could potentially come before the governing board for action.

This does not mean that the city commissioners can’t meet privately to discuss a settlement and the cost of litigation. They can. But they can’t meet to accept a settlement and then have it ceremoniously accepted at a later open meeting and this is apparently what they did. It has to be publically discussed. In fact the Sunshine Statue explicitly states that any decisions made in an earlier secret meeting and later ratified ceremoniously are void ab initio….Latin and legal mumbo jumbo meaning “as if it never happened.” And the meeting need not be “clandestine” in order for an agreement to be invalidated. There are also criminal penalties for such actions under the Sunshine laws. (Look it up at MyFloridaLegal.com, pages 47-51).

So unless they are telepathic, the commissioner’s — who I was told did meet for many hours behind closed doors on this issue — are confined only to discuss settlement negotiations or strategy, not a final settlement. Nope, it is clearly stated in the law, that it is the job of the city attorney to explain it to the public and the commissioners, receive public input, and then have it voted on publically.

Oh, and the settlement package must be made available in advance. That was done. But making a complex 126-page document available just 24 hours in advance of such a vital and complex issue is a stretch. In that case Commissioners Charlie Corbett and Pat Gass would have made it to page three about now, even with the voices in Ms. Gass’ head reading it out loud to both of them.

Meetings were held in secret to discuss the settlement. The city attorney admits the suit was in resolution. The amount of $1.8 million was allocated. And there was no discussion at the public meeting November 18. So what may be the largest lawsuit in city history is the last agenda item that took less than five minutes to approve without a single word of discussion. That’s not legal.

And none of this takes into consideration that the impact fees were illegal and should never have been imposed in the first place.

Folks, I’m not a lawyer, but something here smells funny, or as Wonderland’s Alice shouted out in the Queen of Hearts’ courtroom: “Stuff and Nonsense!” And the final numbers are not just $1.8 million of our tax dollars.

As resident and local businessman Patrick J. Keogh pointed out in a comment to this blog last week, the cost to citizens is at least $3,535,000. “That’s $1.8 million in the settlement plus $735,000 previously refunded. By the time the settlement funds are returned add another $1 million in fees for the three law firms and consultants,” he explains.

If, like me, you’re a property owner in Fernandina Beach that recently received a tax statement, and you’re upset with the folks who are supposed to be stewards of our money, then let your voice be heard. Call or write the commissioners or attend the next commission meeting and ask for an explanation and by all means, vote on December 9.

If I am wrong here then someone please explain to me where I went off the rails.

***

Charlie’s Hilarious But Pat’s A Gas: If Charlie Corbett loses his December 9 runoff bid against businessman Tim Poynter to retain his Fernandina Beach City Commission seat, we’ll still have Pat Gass to keep us entertained with her bizarre comments. On November 18, for example, Ms. Gass, prompted no doubt by one of the unpredictable voices that reside in her head, suggested that the city should fire the complaining firefighters to make examples of them in an already demoralized fire department. Oh, and a sitting city commissioner told me that there’s “only” about five or six disgruntled firefighters causing this ruckus. Really Just five or six? In a department of less than 40? That’s a lot commissioner.

***

Speaking of Charlie Corbett: Corbett, who is running on a campaign platform of having never raised taxes is apparently very confused. During a July 10, 2013 budget session following then Commissioner Tim Poynter’s refusal to accept City Manager Joe Geritty’s proposed millage rate increase of 5.86 percent, Corbett announced that he would not be present for the financial workshops including the final one scheduled for August 2 that year. He also presented a chart accusing the last city commission of “bad budgeting” and using reserves to keep the city running. The city financial director said that none of Corbett’s accusations were true causing an irate commissioner Corbett’s voice to quiver in pointless rage. This is the same guy who voted for budgets that raised the tax rate 15.95 percent in fiscal year 2012-13 and another 3.3 percent in FY 2013-1014. Don’t forget the runoff election between Corbett and Poynter is December 9 folks.

***

If You Build It They’ll Come. Or Maybe Not: If you think $47,000 for a 651-square foot deck on downtown’s harbor visitor center is a bad idea then how about $1.2 million for a welcome center at the island’s tiny airport? At least the welcome center downtown attracts a visitor or two but unless I’m mistaken our little airport isn’t exactly overrun by tourists. In fact if you’ve ever visited the airport you’ve noticed that prior to a plane landing, a limousine is already waiting to whisk its occupants off to the Ritz-Carlton or their gated community destination. And if they’re performers staying at the Ritz prior to a Jacksonville appearance, they certainly aren’t going to be hanging out at a visitor center, because they aren’t interested in mixing with the hoi polloi. So what’s the point? In his reelection campaign talks Commissioner Charlie Corbett is taking credit for the deck, but whose idea was this airport project?

***

Attention Tree Huggers: Here’s something you can get your arms around: A new book “This Tree Has a Story” just out by Karen Saltmarsh and Sarah Cotchaleovitch, that asks and answers fascinating questions about trees in our area and elsewhere by two local ladies, who are not arborists, but who paint fascinating verbal pictures of trees that will intrigue people of all ages and make you think twice the next time you’re relaxing in the shade of that large backyard water oak. The slim soft cover volume boasts intriguing black and white photos of trees in this area and elsewhere and sprouts interesting statistics such as the fact that an oak tree needs to absorb at least 50 gallons of water daily and that pine needles aren’t really needles at all, they’re leaves. I’d like to say the book was printed without the use of a tree but don’t think that was the case, but if you’re interested in a copy of the $12.95 volume you can get one by going to the Nature Center at the Omni where copies will be available today, the Florida House, owned and operated by the Saltmarsh family, or by emailing Ms. Saltmarsh at slatmarshws@aol.com. Local book stores interested in stocking copies for the coming Christmas season should also contact Ms. Saltmarsh.

***

Car Talk: Finding a automotive mechanic you trust and who knows what he or she is doing can be an expensive proposition if you go the “hit and miss” route, but Linda and I were fortunate when we first moved here to find two exceptional area pros based upon recommendations from long-time residents. The late “Big Ray” Mullis of T-Ray’s Burger Station fame, suggested that I take my car to Corbin’s Automotive, tucked behind the 14th Street Shopping Center on 1424 Jasmine, while Linda’s almost 20-year-old prized Jaguar XJL is being serviced regularly at First Choice Goodyear in Yulee on the advice of Jaguar expert and consultant David Berghoefer. James Corbin is one of the most honest and professional auto experts I’ve ever encountered and will actually discourage you from having repairs or service adjustments he knows are not necessary, despite what you or your brother-in-law Louie might think. His pretty daughter Lauren who runs the office can talk cars with the best of ’em and Corbin’s staff are all polite, knowledgeable and conscientious, and you can tell what their customers think by reading just a few of the letters and cards posted on the office bulletin board. Call ’em at 904/261-8825. When David recommended First Choice Goodyear to Linda I thought he was sending her there for tires, not an engine analysis. However, the husband and wife team of Mike Burdett and Laura Shea, aided by Store Manager John Grimes, operate a full service operation capable of working on all makes of cars and have been doing so since they purchased the business in 2009 after Mike retired following 30 years of Goodyear employment, the last few as regional and district manager. They have computer equipment not available on the island to assess Linda’s aging Jag and have even called her following service to ask if the car is running OK. Hey, my doctor doesn’t even do that! Again, I can’t say enough positive about this team of pros except to encourage you to give them a try at 463670 State Road 200, Yulee or call ’em at 904/225-2775. Oh, and if you’re buying a used car for yourself or a family member both places will check it out for you, a step I highly recommend.

***

Fernandina Fireballers: Local resident Bob Hanrahan reports that his son, 33-year-old right handed relief pitcher, Joel, and the Detroit Tigers have agreed to a one-year one million dollar contract with an additional $2.5 million available in incentives despite the fact that Joel’s rehab from Tommy John surgery prevented him from throwing for the Tigers in the majors or minors last year. Despite the fact that Hanrahan was unable to take the mound in 2014, the Tigers have plenty of reason to be optimistic that he can help their bullpen in 2015. He spent parts of four seasons with the Pirates from 2009-12, where he was a two-time All-Star as the team’s closer. He posted a combined 2.59 ERA with 10.4 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 in 229 1/3 innings with the Bucs, and his walk numbers would be even better were they not skewed by a 5.4 BB/9 mark in his final season with Pittsburgh. The island is looking good baseball wise as we also boast former Atlanta Braves Manager Bobby Cox, Cy Young award winner and L.A. Dodger pitching ace Clayton Kershaw. Who have I missed that we can add to the Halftime Sports Bar & Grill’s fall softball team roster?

***

Drinking, Dining & Dancing: I’ve just heard that the February 21 Montessori School Chili Cook-Off will stay right where it has always been on North 2nd Street and will not be relocated to a city park as apparently there was a lot of blow back against the idea to relocate the event. Good!  If you’re sitting inside or on the porch listening to music at the South 3rd Street Green Turtle and get a case of the munchies, then you’re now in luck as not only can you step across the street to the new Pi Pizza joint and pick up a slice or a whole pie to eat at the bar or on the porch but thanks to an energetic, personable and young Steven Ruis, evening drinkers can now enjoy food from the Turtle’s tiny kitchen including: Tuesday: Tacos; Saturday, Buffalo, BBQ, Ranch or Jerk wings and, back by popular demand, Gyros on Friday.  Don’t forget that Friday, December 5 is the next Crescendo Big Band event at Sandy bottoms beginning at 6:30 pm, so if you want to experience a fabulous 21-piece orchestra complete with male and female vocalists get there early for a good seat and don’t forget you can also place an order to sample some of Nick Hartley‘s innovative cooking. Downtown’s South 3rd Street’s Bright Mornings is not just for breakfast and lunch anymore and now boasts three different menus (breakfast & lunch, brunch and evening, since Swiss expatriate Walter Cereghetti bought the place a few weeks ago. We stopped by last Friday evening and enjoyed a wine and beer on the patio while listening to a couple of talented guitar players and singers who provided just the right volume and musical style to go with the new format. Call ’em at 904/491-1771 and ask Walter when he will begin serving spatzle.  Not sure which downtown restaurant you want to eat in? Then try Amelia Island Tasting Tours, the brain child of Hola co-owner Marisol Triano where for just $59 from 2-5 pm where you can sample food from four-five downtown chefs all within walking distance of each other. Not hungry and just want a couple of pops? Not a problem, the tour offers a special Mixology treat for $39 from 5:30-7:30 at four downtown locations where you can sample craft cocktails. They tell me they’re planning other tours as well including a Kid’s Tour, Chocolate Tour, Dessert Tour, and a Boutique Tour. Check ’em out at ameliaislandtastingtours.com or call ’em at 1-800-979-3370 and ask about the special holiday tour events and times.

10 Comments

Rich McCullen

4 December , 2014 at 8:58 am

Not sure why Ms. Bach thinks we should be relieved that the settlement funds come from an "enterprise fund" rather than directly from taxes. That doesn't make it free money. The "rate payers who use the system" are all of us. My wallet can't tell the difference between a tax bill and a water bill.

Johnny Miller

3 December , 2014 at 12:04 pm

Dave, as you know emailed this blog to the city attorney and this is her response. I emailed it directly to you, but thought your readers might like to see it as well. "Johnny:  thank you for forwarding to me…see my response below which I am also copying all Commissioners on.  First, the $1.8 Million is NOT being paid from TAX DOLLARS.  The settlement and City’s outside attorneys’ fees for the “cadre of out-of-town attorneys and consultant” will be paid from reserve funds in the Water Utilities account which is an enterprise fund not at all funded by property taxes or any other kinds of taxes.  The Utilities Department is funded solely by rate and fee payers who use the system.  The $700,000 refunded last year was due to an error in providing 90 days’ notice of an increase in impact fees in 2009.  Only the increased proportion was refunded not the whole thing.  There was $155,000 in water impact fees refunded, not $735,000.  Most of the refunds in 2013 were sewer impact fee increases which are not at issue in the lawsuit being discussed here.  The settlement documents and amount of settlement ($1.8 Million) were published prior to the City Commission’s public meeting giving the public an opportunity to make comments at the meeting and for Commissioners to discuss it.  Some interested parties and media, including Mr. Dave Scott and Mr. Phil Griffin were present at the November 18th meeting.  Why did they not make public comments to the City Commission to express their views then?  The reason that the agenda was amended the day before the Commission meeting is because the City was waiting for signatures on documents from Plaintiff and their attorneys before the City Commission could formally consider the settlement at the November 18th meeting.  In a perfect world, the settlement documents would have gone out on Wednesday, November 12th or Thursday, November 13th with other agenda items but that is still just a few days prior to Commission meeting. There was never a vote taken at any attorney/client meeting behind closed doors indicating that the City Commissioners had voted on a settlement outside of the Sunshine.  The City followed all legal procedures pursuant to Section 286.011(8), Florida Statutes.  The Commissioners considered the settlement issues and amounts in attorney/client meetings which are recorded in transcripts prepared by Bill Hazes Court Reporting.  Those transcripts will be available to the public in the next few months upon the conclusion of the class action (after Court approves settlement and class members are identified).   I have a couple of questions to folks who are sadly misinformed by bloggers and weekend editorialists:  1)      Do you really believe that the City Commission did not settle this case earlier because they wanted to pay more attorneys’ fees or wanted to continue the legal fight for the sake of fighting?; and 2)   What would be the purpose of the City Commission violating the Sunshine Law when every word discussed behind closed doors is taken down verbatim by a Court reporter present in the room the entire time with the City Commission?  The City Commission, City Manager, City Attorney and outside attorneys believe and still believe that the actions taken by the City Commission back in 2003 when the City purchased the FPU water system was a benefit the community and done through a public process of several Commission meetings with consultants presenting evidence that buying the FPU water system was a good thing for the City.  The rates paid by users of the Fernandina Beach water system are lower than any neighboring communities which is a testament to excellent management by the City of the water system and the wise decision to purchase the system.  Tammi E. Bach, J.D., B.C.S. Board Certified Specialist City, County & Local Government Law City Attorney City of Fernandina Beach 204 Ash Street Fernandina Beach, FL 32034 Ph# (904) 310-3275 Fax# (904) 310-3466   If this email is related to the Board, Committee or Commission that you serve on, please DO NOT REPLY TO ALL.    Disclaimer:  According to Florida Public Records Law, email correspondence to and from the City of Fernandina Beach, including email addresses and other personal information, is public record and must be made available to the public and media upon request, unless otherwise exempt by the Public Records Law.  If you do not want your e-mail address released in response to a public records request, do not send electronic mail to this entity.  Instead, contact this office by phone or in writing.     Is No Public Discussion of $1.8 Million Lawsuit An Example of Shady Local Government?Nov 28, 20143 Comments secret-meeting-safe-picFrom all the buzz I’ve heard, I’m not the only person surprised that at their last meeting the Fernandina Beach City Commissioners voted Tuesday, November 18 to unanimously approve a $1.8 million settlement of the Water Impact Fee case without a single word of public discussion. Using a convoluted variation of the Queen of Hearts’ upside down “Sentence first — verdict after!” statement in Alice in Wonderland’s Trial of the Knave of Hearts and obviously accepting it as judicial precedent, City Attorney Tammi Bach, her cadre of out-of-town attorneys and consultants, and the city commission, managed to bypass any public discussion of the issue by the voters and taxpayers whose money they are squandering. Apparently the settlement was surreptitiously decided upon prior to the November 18 public meeting, which as I understand it, is a violation of Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine-Law, which provides a right of access to governmental proceedings at both the state and local levels. The law is applied to any gathering of two or more public officials subject to the sunshine requirements who discuss some matter that could potentially come before the governing board for action. This does not mean that the city commissioners can’t meet privately to discuss a settlement and the cost of litigation. They can. But they can’t meet to accept a settlement and then have it ceremoniously accepted at a later open meeting and this is apparently what they did. It has to be publically discussed. In fact the Sunshine Statue explicitly states that any decisions made in an earlier secret meeting and later ratified ceremoniously are void ab initio….Latin and legal mumbo jumbo meaning “as if it never happened.” And the meeting need not be “clandestine” in order for an agreement to be invalidated. There are also criminal penalties for such actions under the Sunshine laws. (Look it up at MyFloridaLegal.com, pages 47-51). So unless they are telepathic, the commissioner’s — who I was told did meet for many hours behind closed doors on this issue — are confined only to discuss settlement negotiations or strategy, not a final settlement. Nope, it is clearly stated in the law, that it is the job of the city attorney to explain it to the public and the commissioners, receive public input, and then have it voted on publically. Oh, and the settlement package must be made available in advance. That was done. But making a complex 126-page document available just 24 hours in advance of such a vital and complex issue is a stretch. In that case Commissioners Charlie Corbett and Pat Gass would have made it to page three about now, even with the voices in Ms. Gass’ head reading it out loud to both of them. Meetings were held in secret to discuss the settlement. The city attorney admits the suit was in resolution. The amount of $1.8 million was allocated. And there was no discussion at the public meeting November 18. So what may be the largest lawsuit in city history is the last agenda item that took less than five minutes to approve without a single word of discussion. That’s not legal. And none of this takes into consideration that the impact fees were illegal and should never have been imposed in the first place. Folks, I’m not a lawyer, but something here smells funny, or as Wonderland’s Alice shouted out in the Queen of Hearts’ courtroom: “Stuff and Nonsense!” And the final numbers are not just $1.8 million of our tax dollars. As resident and local businessman Patrick J. Keogh pointed out in a comment to this blog last week, the cost to citizens is at least $3,535,000. “That’s $1.8 million in the settlement plus $735,000 previously refunded. By the time the settlement funds are returned add another $1 million in fees for the three law firms and consultants,” he explains. If, like me, you’re a property owner in Fernandina Beach that recently received a tax statement, and you’re upset with the folks who are supposed to be stewards of our money, then let your voice be heard. Call or write the commissioners or attend the next commission meeting and ask for an explanation and by all means, vote on December 9. If I am wrong here then someone please explain to me where I went off the rails.         "

Louis Goldman

1 December , 2014 at 8:56 pm

No discussion? Here's a possible reason. Remember the first pay back of $735,000 created by an error in implementing changes to the impact fee ordinance? The money paid back at that time was the total of 100% of the money that was paid in. The settlement in the law suit is to pay back $1.8 million which is about 65% of the total amount of impact fees paid in. Even with the lawyers fees it is still much less than the amount paid in. It's a bargain for the City so why discuss it? The City's use of the impact fees broke the law. The City should be required to pay back the total amount of the money paid in the same way as they did in the first pay back.

George Venieris

30 November , 2014 at 11:50 am

Pat Keogh asks "Why do our citizens put up with it?" and then suggests "The time has come to seek a better form of government by reforming this broken city system or dissolving it in favor of county government." Good suggestions Mr. Keogh but we need a specific path to enact these changes otherwise they are nothing but more hot air like the commission has been spewing for some time now. Build it Mr. Keogh and we will come.

Chaotic Dreamer

29 November , 2014 at 12:02 pm

I heard about the lawsuit and settlement issues almost 3 months ago, how did no one else hear of this.?. It bothers me cause I worked in the service industry part of downtown and I knew all about it, and all of you bigwigs had no clue. You might want to maybe involve yourselves a bit more on what is going on in Fernandina and maybe stop complaining about the stuff "YOU" don't like and want to change.

Patrick J. Keogh

28 November , 2014 at 1:16 pm

From what others have told me about the Commission meeting I think Dave Scott has it right. The handling of the settlement agreement is another violation of state law and this time it’s the sunshine statute. Even if not correct, what kind of cynical disdain must our Commissioners and City managers have for our citizens to conclude a three-year litigation costing those citizens $1 million in legal expenses with no discussion and explanation of their change of mind and the impacts going forward? That same meeting saw City Attorney Tammi Bach and City Manager Joe Gerrity receive a 4% raise. Raises are to reward good work and encourage further good work. What good work has either done when the proposed settlement acknowledges they have pursued a course of litigation that results in costing our citizens over $3.5 million? When they finally acknowledge their unlawful actions they engage in another unlawful action that likely will undermine the settlement. So what behavior does the raise encourage? Continuing bad, destructive and costly advice and actions by Toxic Tammi Bach? It seems that Ms. Bach operates more like a consigliere to the ongoing unlawful enterprise that is local government than as a City attorney. What we the citizens of Fernandina Beach are entitled to now is an open and full discussion of the terms of the settlement, an acknowledgement of the mistakes made, the details of the remedial acts including disciplinary actions to be taken and the specifics of the amounts and timing of the refunds to our citizens.

Han Ramakers

28 November , 2014 at 12:09 pm

Dave, several years ago I did an indepth analysis of the economic value of "our" airport with some conclusions to read at http://www.searchamelia.com/the-fernandina-airport-tree-cutting-scare-in-perspective . Bottom line is that our Municipal Airport, at a stone’s throw from Jacksonville’s aerodrome, has no chance in hell to become a financially feasible undertaking that would support the city’s coffers. $1.2 million for a welcome center is absurd, even if it would be a gift (to include operation and maintenance) from the discretionary few that use the facility. Call it a Clubhouse on the airport grounds, financed and operated by those that frequent the airport, and charge them a fee, and it still would be someone's folly. But anything requiring tax payers' monies would be criminal.

Karen Thompson

28 November , 2014 at 9:46 am

Mr. Matison must not have read this column. Charlie Corbett, who heads out-of-town every year while budget discussions are taking place has voted to raise our taxes more than 18 per cent in the past three years. Meanwhile projects like the city sewer problem, an unsightly riverfront and infrastructure remain in limbo with no money to be found. Yet, Charlie and the current commission approve , in secret , more than $3 million (more than Forward Fernandina) for the impact fee settlement that gives the city absolutely nothing. It is time we elect Tim Poynter, a successful businessman, who unlike Charlie Corbett will actually attend budget meetings and understand the financial process. Fernandina needs a proven leader and it's surely not Charlie.

James Matison

28 November , 2014 at 8:04 am

Dave: I appreciate your column and most recommendations; however, I disagree about your siding with Poynter on the subject of the "Forward Fernandina" loan! The money was just given because the interest rate was low; not because there were any real plans for it's use! Your columns every week display instances of poor and wasteful spending, and because this is a "staple" of the Fernandina City Council, and therefore, giving them extra BORROWED dollars to spend was just over the top! Fortunately Mr. Poynter was ousted because of his "borrow and spend" philosophy while on the Council. While Mr. Corbett may not be the best choice, I think it is time to let Poynter run his restaurants and encourage other more conservative citizens to run for Council!

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