Well, a variation of that manta could very well be inscribed on our city limits sign declaring “Welcome to Fernandina Beach: To sue us, please take a number and wait your turn.”
The hapless Jacksonville Jaguars look like Super Bowl champions compared to this town’s legal performance and from all indications the hits will just keep on coming. For example during discussions this week and last over the misguided decision to repeal a wetlands variance application that temporarily, at least, prevents anyone from building desperately needed and moderately priced apartment housing on a Georgia owned bank’s property at South 14th and Lime St., Commissioner Johnny Miller said he was “tired of being railroaded by outside attorneys. I think there are times when you have to say ‘OK, sue me,'” added Mr. Miller in accepting City Attorney Tammi Bach’s advice to reject a special magistrate’s decision to have the St. Johns River Water Management District evaluate this real estate issue.
Well, Mr. Miller will in fact probably get his lawsuit wish and whether he knows it or not he is indeed getting “railroaded” by outside lawyers. In fact he’s covered up with them. The city has spent hundreds of thousands of our tax dollars on outside counsel including firms in Tampa, Orlando, Miami, Tallahassee and local attorney Buddy Jacobs, and millions more of our cash settling a long string of unfavorable outcomes. Commissioner Miller’s railroad is a high-speed express packed with city-paid outside attorneys, another reason why Commissioner Miller needs to question Ms. Bach’s recommendations and those of the city’s staff. That’s why we voted for him. For example as Mayor Ed Boner wisely pointed out the hourly meters for the two city insurance company attorneys that argued her “wetlands” case Tuesday, Feb. 5 were running from the minute they drove from their offices in Orlando and Tallahassee to Fernandina Beach and back, fees paid by our tax dollars.
But insurance covers that right Ms. Bach? Up to a point. If you keep wrecking your car, your insurance company will raise your rates and eventually drop you. The same with the city. But that doesn’t matter when it’s not your money you’re spending right Ms. Bach, Commissioners Miller, Pat Gass and surprisingly, Robin Lentz.?
Where’s Commissioner Miller’s outrage over the “pollution” caused by Ms. Bach and her railroad full of outside legal teams burning through our tax dollars?
One thing I can say for Ms. Bach is that she’s not a cheap politician — she’s cost this town a fortune hiring others to do her job and they’re all failing miserably at it.
And we can brace ourselves for another legal smack as I just read through the 12-page Robin Marley vs. The City of Fernandina Beach “whistle blower” complaint and request for a trial by jury filed by the city’s fired human resources director and from what I saw, if it makes it to trial, this will include some very embarrassing testimony for many folks in the city including City Manager Joe Gerrity, Fire Chief Jason Higginbothem and Ms. Bach. I’m not an attorney, but what I saw in that document is very compelling and Ms. Marley’s case looks like a slam dunk to this untrained legal eye.
Meanwhile back at the wetlands, I know how issues with the word “environment” in them prompt apocalyptic shrieks from Commissioner Miller for bans on everything from plastic bags and underarm deodorant to electricity and horse flatulence. He would just as soon trust the stewardship of our island to free range chickens and dung beetles. Now Commissions Gass and Lentz have joined Mr. Miller in what will certainly lead to another law suit, with tax payers getting legally hosed over the South 14th and Lime Street wetlands issue.
Commissioner Gass’ actions are inexplicable as they are dependent on the majority vote of her imaginary constituency, those she says who don’t show up at meetings and who don’t vote, and the voices in her head. However, newly elected Commissioner Lentz’s decision to change her vote on the wetlands issue puzzles me. She should have listened more carefully to Commissioners Tim Poynter and Mayor Ed Boner, the two dissenting votes, who wisely cited property rights and a wish to follow the law, avoid litigation and legal costs in a case that will likely lead to the bank’s desired result anyway. Attorney Mike Mullin’s Tuesday, Feb. 3 compelling arguments were totally ignored by a chamber full of hooting, cheering and applauding tree huggers, who probably intimidated Ms. Lentz. I have to commend Commissioners Boner and Poynter for doing the right and practical thing even though is wasn’t popular with the chamber’s pro-wetland crowd. Mr. Mullin is a guy who I would want in my corner if I was in urgent need of an attorney and Nassau County is fortunate to have him back him as its county attorney. He’s the county’s Perry Mason compared to Ms. Bach’s Algonquin J. Calhoun.
Oh, the 24-acre commercially-zoned, bank-owned area is partly in the county and the city and smack in the middle of the island, surrounded by not very attractive businesses and housing, busy streets, and looks like a pond scum covered swamp, only less inviting. To hear Commissioner Miller and News-Leader nature columnist and zoologist Pat Foster-Turley talk about it you’d think it abounded with deer frolicking on lush, green, fertile fields of clover.
I like and admire Ms. Foster-Turley even though I think she’s on the wrong side of this issue. She is a talented writer but I think she went to the extreme on this one, which is probably in her job description. Following a heavy rain she would likely team up with Commissioner Miller to declare a puddle on Fletcher a protected virgin wetland or maybe they’re hoping to locate an endangered spotted ditch leech in the 14th and Lime vicinity and generate federal regulations bringing all progress in that region to a halt.
It is entertaining to listen to these folks try to thrash their way to a coherent argument, even though the result will be tax payers ending up on the losing end of another lawsuit.
All aboard! The Polarizing Legal Express is leaving the station.
Island BBQ & Smoked Mullet Vacuum Being Filled: I stopped by the old Merge Restaurant location at the corner of Elm and South 8th Street the other day and spoke to Chef Kenny Gilbert, who was busy getting that stite ready for his soon to be opened Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen, a 74-seat southern food emporium. While there he told me of his plans to open a second eatery on the opposite corner, at 432 South 8th Street, the site of the island’s huge 400-year-old oak tree and to be called the Big Oak BBQ Shack. As a friend in the commercial real estate business says, Kenny’s efforts are an example of how a business can enhance nature rather than, as a few extreme environmentalists think, destroy it. Gilbert, who was once top chef at the Ritz Carlton, says that in addition to BBQ including brisket, pork butts, turkey, etc., that he will definitely be serving smoked fish, probably mullet, treats that his Florida-raised Mother’s side of the family remember from their childhood and I am convinced this concept will generate very long lines of customers. The old building once served as a BBQ joint many, many years ago and Kenny says he plans to restore the site’s original beams, etc. as carefully as possible. Beer and wine will be served and an opening date has yet to be determined. Chef Gilbert not only fills the island’s BBQ vacuum but also aids enormously in cleaning up the shabby South 8th Street corridor. We’re lucky to have folks like Chef Gilbert living on this island and I’m not just saying that because my mouth is watering for one of those smoked mullets and a slab of BBQ brisket. Oh, I forgot to mention that Chef Gilbert will be concocting his own hot sauce to go with the mullet or anything else folks want to sprinkle it on?
Dumb People With Smart Phones: Young people between the ages of 18-34 say they are planning to turn out to vote in 2016 and right now they’re indicating their choice for President is Hillary Clinton. However these folks don’t appear very well informed as more than three fourths of those polled in that age group couldn’t name even one of the US senators from their home state according to a Fusion Massive Millennial Poll which surveyed 1,000 people. And they think government can help them, particularly in an area where they’ve struggled to get ahead — in their jobs, when they are actually unemployed or underemployed because of misguided government policies generated by the Obama administration. In other words they want more of what ails them.
Something To Ponder: President Obama spent more money in a single day — February 18, 2009 — with the signing of the $787 billion stimulus package than the Defense Department spent in Iraq in an entire decade: $770 billion, says Wall Street Journal Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Bret Stephens in his new book “America in Retreat.”
Phony Phrases: A past Thomas Sowell column about “words that replace thought” contained the following that should provoke some even deeper thought: “Apparently everyone is entitled to a ‘fair share’ of a society’s prosperity, whether they worked 16-hour days to help create that prosperity or did nothing more than live off the taxpayers or depend on begging or crime to bring in a few bucks. Apparently we owe them something just for gracing us with their presence, even if we feel that we could do without them quite well. The rich are supposed to pay their ‘fair share’ of taxes. But at neither end of the income scale is a ‘fair share’ defined as a particular number or proportion, or in any other concrete way. It is just a political synonym for ‘more,’ dressed up in moralistic-sounding rhetoric. What ‘fair’ really means is more arbitrary power for government.” I really like Thomas Sowell.
Things I Wish I’d Said: “How can Obama be so surprised so often? It’s as if he wandered into the White House on a tour and discovered he’s President.” — Charles Krauthammer.
Clueless Or Incompetent? US intelligence and military officials conclude that as many as 30 former Guantanamo Bay detainees have joined forces with the Islamic State and other militant groups inside Syria. Some of the former detainees were released within the past three years. All told 180 of the 620 detainees released from Guantanamo have returned to the battlefield or are suspected of doing so says the February 2015 issue of “The American Legion Magazine.” Oh, it has also been reported that one of the terrorists exchanged for US Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl was caught trying to returned to his old professional of blowing up innocent civilians. Exchanging Bergdahl for terrorists is the equivalent of swapping a captured German Field Marshall Edmund Rommel for Beetle Bailey, only worse, as Private Bailey is just inept, not a traitor.
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: Prohibition is over at Joe’s 2nd Street Bistro says owner and Chef Ricky Pigg as he announced that diners can now order cocktails ranging from martinis to Bloody Mary’s and much more at 14 South 2nd St. eatery, one of my island favorites. I was honored to be asked by Karl Mrozek to judge a chili and chowder cook-off last week at his Nassau Sport Fishing Association’s annual shindig at the Kraft Athletic Club along with island celebrity Pajamadave and Pate Sucree restaurant owner Donna Reilly. Ms. Reilly tells me that her 232 North 2nd Street eatery is now serving Sunday brunch from 11- 3and is open every day for lunch and dinner. The lady also caters and two of her most popular take out orders are her special two-pound meat loaf and Italian meatballs. Call ’em at 904/626-1677. And speaking of Pajamadave his South 2nd Street Pajama Life shop’s web site is up and running enabling folks anywhere to browse his interesting and unusual inventory by going to www. pajamalifeusa.com The other day a friend was telling me about a disappointing visit to an off-island restaurant saying: “The food and service there were so bad I saw Betty Crocker throw a rock through their window.” My comments last week concerning the service at the downtown Courtyard Pub & Eats didn’t sit well with the new owner as when I arrived this past Thursday evening to hear piano man John Springer you’d think I’d kicked dirt on the umpire as I was refused service and ejected. Once again the place had wall-to-wall Springer fans but other than that I can’t comment as my stay was limited since the owner gave me the “you’re outta here” sign. This is a fun venue with a great local crowd and a beloved entertainer but my visit yesterday, and I assume any future ones, are not on the cranky owner’s calendar. However, Springer fans should not let the inhospitable actions of management stop them from flocking to hear one of the best entertainment bargains on the island and even Ms. Crocker would hold her fire while singing along and toe tapping with this fun group of Springer regulars. An early version of last week’s post had the wrong date for the February 27 Wine’s by Steve function which will have special guests Francesco Milana, the area’s singing Italian chef, and aspiring singer Liz Bundy, of Southern Wine & Spirits, who is auditioning for “The Voice.” Francesco is an accomplished chef and singer and Liz a respected sommelier and for only $15 a person you also get Italian wine samples and snacks. Owners Steve and Donna Raszkin are also planning their first sit down wine dinner in their 4924 First Coast Highway location to be catered by neighbor Bar Zin and Sardinian Winery, Wednesday, March 4. It’s limited to 25 folks so call ‘em at 904/557-1506.