During a talk to the European American Business Club this past Tuesday evening, local architect John Cotner not only held the rapt attention of his audience with his relaxed and entertaining speaking style, but also took aim at bureaucrats and lawyers, two groups of people whose objectives he says impede progress and increase costs without offering any positive benefits.
Cotner, who has made an impressive and positive mark on Amelia Island’s landscape with his projects that range from residences and restaurants to parks and plazas, arrived here in 1980 fresh out of Atlanta’s Georgia Tech, initially tackling the original Omni’s Windsong condominium project for Dick Cooper.
His pedestrian-friendly Windsong residences were originally pooh-poohed as “unworkable” but homes that originally sold for between $175,000-$235,000 then are now going for well over a million bucks, proving his critics very, very wrong.
He doesn’t hesitate to take aim at the legal fraternity and local, state and federal bureaucratic groups who he says restrain creativity, not just for architects and builders but other professions as well. He didn’t come out and say so in exactly these exact words but it’s apparent to him that most lawyers and bureaucrats are like cackling hens with no leadership abilities, who try to slowly peck people to death.
“We need tort reform desperately,” he told the group and went on to describe projects that he was able to complete under budget, ahead of schedule and that met all safety requirements, because he was able to legitimately work around legal and government red tape and stumbling blocks.
He described how three years ago his group rebuilt the small home of an elderly woman in Fernandina Beach that was made uninhabitable by fire and how the entire project was completed for just $3,000 in less than six weeks because they worked around the government bureaucrats. “If the government had been involved we would still be working on it,” he said. “The key to success is not involving government and lawyers.”
Other projects the candid Mr. Cotner has created include hundreds upon hundreds of area homes ranging from a one-bedroom cottage downtown to a 10,000 square-foot five-story residence on the ocean.
He designed and oversaw the new downtown Amelia Tavern, Tim Poynter’s new Timoti’s in Jacksonville, the restored downtown train station and the Humane Society building. The Pirates Playground behind the Atlantic Recreation Center and the new Egans Creek Park off Atlantic are also part of his portfolio. “We even did the South 8th Street Burger King,” he said, adding that the interior is unlike any other in the fast food firm’s chain. He is currently working with Don Shaw on the 4810 Plaza on First Coast Highway next to Harris Teeter, that I’ve heard may house a restaurant and an old fashioned barber shop, but Cotner wasn’t saying what Mr. Shaw’s plans may be.
His talk prompted several unsolicited testimonials from satisfied clients and admirers in the audience who vouched for his skills, touting his designs as distinctive, attractive, safe and comfortable saying they know because they live in the homes he designed.
Speaking Of Lying Lawyers & Bumbling Bureaucrats: Architect Cotner isn’t the only local voice expressing concern about overzealous bureaucrats who throw stumbling blocks in front of area entrepreneurs faster than a local administrator can rush in with his fat rule book to tell them what can and cannot be done.
Amelia Coastal Realty Broker Philip Griffin recently wrote a letter to Governor Rick Scott, State Representative Janet Adkins and State Senator Aaron Bean asking for relief from what he describes as “a serious flaw in the Florida Building Code that is wreaking havoc locally with small businesses and small commercial property owners.”
According to Phil the issue not just a stumbling block but a barricade called “Change of Use.” This bureaucratic “Change of Use” process dictates that any time a building changes use from one commercial tenant to another type of tenant, even though there is no need for construction, there are unintended consequences that result in a number of small buildings being destroyed or sitting vacant instead of being allowed to be reused. In his letter Griffin said he was sure that the original intention was to upgrade buildings, but the unintended consequences have been the opposite and the costs prohibitive.
“Many of the buildings affected are small older buildings (under 1,500 square feet), often converted houses, as areas change from residential or rural to more commercial,” said Griffin in his letter. “Until recently when an office tenant moved out and a new tenant wanted to open a retail store they just painted the walls, changed the carpet and moved in.”
He echoed architect Cotner’s concerns saying: “With this new requirement the owner is now required to endure a very expensive and torturous journey of hiring engineers and architects to prove that the existing building is safe. This is not a life safety issue, merely a regulatory overreach with the unintended consequence of buildings being abandoned and left to rot because of the extreme costs to comply with the new codes. We all understand ‘life safety’ and would understand if this was an issue, but this has nothing to do with life safety and provides absolutely no benefit to anyone. The tens of thousands of dollars to comply and the time wasted add no value, do not improve the property, and cause nothing but pain to the owner and potential tenant who cannot open their business.”
Griffin, who has been instrumental in the revitalization of the shabby 8t Street corridor, articulately went on to explain to the law makers that in Fernandina Beach there are dozens of buildings that are being subjected to this process and that they are being left vacant or bulldozed since the price of compliance exceeds the value.
“Much of Florida is like Fernandina Beach, with older small buildings that have been converted to secondary uses like professional offices, gift shops and service companies,” explained Griffin. He said that during discussions with the building officials (City and County) and other public officials they too are frustrated, but say that they have no leeway, because the building code cannot be ignored, even when it makes no sense.
He ended his letter pleading with the politicos to help correct the legislative error before Fernandina Beach and many other communities witness a blight that can easily be avoided. I find it interesting that both Cotner’s and Griffin’s concerns are issues that current Fernandina Mayor Johnny Miller promised to address in his initial campaign platform, but he decided to travel to Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. to bash businesses instead and flap his Chicken Little wings fanning every liberal cause known to mankind including save the whales, stop seismic testing, ban the bag, hug a tree, close nonexistent puppy mills, foil the frackers, toss the foam ware, a windmill and a chicken coop in every yard, a solar panel on every roof, a dog in every restaurant, save a sewage-infested swamp, and more. Mayor Miller is too busy saving the planet from plastic bags to be concerned with local business issues. Now the activist mayor has problems of his own…see below.
Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh! Despite what Fernandina Beach City Attorney Tammi Bach and City Clerk Carolyn Best say, there are others claiming that City Commission Mayor Johnny Miller is not qualified to run again due to a bounced $120 qualifying check.
The online news gathering NCFL Independent reported Wednesday morning that Fernandina Mayor Miller’s $120 qualifying check from his campaign account to cover his election fee bounced. The Independent reported that while Mr. Miller was expected to have money in the bank by the candidates’ August 5 qualifying deadline, the check was declined in mid-August, according to city bank records. However, local officials said Tuesday that Mr. Miller is allowed to stay in the race under a state statute dealing with candidates that have checks returned for insufficient funds.
Former commissioner Eric Childers, Miller’s opponent in the race, was more than gracious when told about the situation saying that he believed that “Mr. Miller acted in good faith” but questioned the city officials interpretation of the statue, adding that he also was sure Mr. Miller’s wife and campaign treasurer, Lori, also acted in good faith when she wrote the $120 check on August 3, two days ahead of the qualifying deadline.“It was probably an innocent mistake,” said Mr. Childers. “But if he didn’t have the money in the account so late in August I wonder why he is still a qualified candidate.”
There appear to be others expressing confusion over whether Mayor Miller is indeed still qualified to run. A local lawyer told me that despite Ms. Best’s interpretation of the statue and City Attorney Tammi Bach’s reading, the Palace bartender’s status requires further investigation and that it is proceeding.
The Independent said that according to City Clerk Caroline Best, the state provides candidates in nonpartisan elections another opportunity to pay the fee if the check is returned by the bank “for any reason.”
According to Fernandina City code of Ordinances, Elections, Section 34-2, Mr. Miller took an oath saying he paid his fee. The statue says that under oath “That he or she has paid the filing fee required by the state law and ordinance of this city to be paid upon filing his notice of such candidacy or qualified by the alternative method of qualifying;” All Mr. or Mrs. Miller had to do was look in their check book to determine that this wasn’t true.
In a phone interview Tuesday with the Independent’s Mary Maguire, Ms. Best said that there are conditions: the candidate must pay the fee with a cashier’s check within 48 hours of notification. Ms. Best said she alerted Mr. Miller and his campaign treasurer – his wife Lori Miller – by phone on August 18 to let them know the check had been declined and the clock was running.
Ms. Best said that Ms. Miller got the money to First Coast Community Bank under the deadline and that “all is well.”
When City Attorney Tammi Bach was notified about the check situation she said that she and Ms. Best called the state’s Division of Elections to ensure that the city had interpreted the situation correctly. “I had never seen this before. No,” Ms. Bach told the Independent.
Nassau County Supervisor of Elections Vicki Cannon, who is contracted to administer the election for the City of Fernandina Beach, told the Independent that under county rules, a commission candidate would have been bounced from the election for bouncing a check. Ms. Cannon, who previously worked for 18 years as city clerk, said that she had never come across such a situation and that the difference appears to be partisan elections. The county holds partisan elections while the city does not.
“There are glitches in the election code,” Ms. Cannon told Ms. Maguire.
The issue with Mr. Miller’s check came to light Tuesday after he filed his August campaign treasurer’s report Monday with a $36 “return check fee,” a $10 service charge, and a cashier’s check for $127. Mr. Miller, who works as a bartender at the Palace Saloon in downtown Fernandina, was also required to pay a $360 filing fee. That check cleared, according to records.
If Mr. Miller can’t balance a check book with less than $500 in it then how he can handle the details involved with the city including complex budget issues among others?
As of late yesterday afternoon Ms. Best said she was seeking additional advice including a written legal opinion from the state Department of Elections.
Mr. Miller did not respond a phone request for comment to the Independent and declined to comment on the issue when I contacted him by email, responding to me saying “Dave Who?”
Journalistic Malfeasance: Just when you thought the bi-weekly local News-Leader couldn’t get any worse it does. In this past Wednesday’s edition the paper printed a lead opinion editorial by retired school teacher Ron “Get off of my lawn you little bastards” Sapp containing another episode of his never ending Bambi-against-Hitler-save-our-island crusade working himself into a dervish-like trance about, in his words: “New developments with thousands and thousands and thousands of new homes and people (that) are going to change the way we live.” Of course Ron Sapp lives in 1950 and he won’t be happy until the county hangs “Do Not Enter” signs on all bridges leading to Amelia Island. At the bottom of the page was another opinion-editorial by my neighbor and frequent News-Leader contributor Bob Weintraub, who penned a sleep-inducing historical hatred piece that apparently was written to flaunt his academic credentials and cure insomnia. He began his hysterical historical hatred hike by detailing the history of the destructive and evil Islamic Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, detoured to Kansas to pick up some hatred seed, quoted the Old Testament, took a side trip through Europe’s terrorist bombing sites, toured the Bernie Sanders camp and — Surprise! Surprise! — ended up in the Trump campaign, actually saying (and I’m not making this up) that Trump spreads the “same poisonous climate of hate spread by the Saudis and Wahhabism that has created so much horror throughout the world” What? It’s obvious this paper lacks editors and will print any codswallop that ends up on Publisher Foy Maloy’s desk. After reading these two pieces of nonsense I’m convinced that Sapp’s and Weintraub’s default arguments are to throw food.
Workplace Chaos: Suppose at work last Monday morning you were told to attend a meeting to discuss a variety of topics including a decision by corporate headquarters to lower the flag in front of your building to half mast out of respect for the 15th anniversary of 9/11 and you raised a clinched fist to object to that gesture because you said, in your opinion, this country oppresses black people and the nation’s police forces are leading that oppression? I’m pretty sure that within five minutes you would be escorted by security from the conference room to your office to clean out your desk and turn in your employee badge. Yet, when the simple-minded NFL players led by goofball San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick show contempt for their employers and this country, and do so from their National Football League (NFL) offices in front of thousands of TV viewers and those in the stadium, there are no consequences. Free speech means that the government can’t sanction you for your speech. However, it does not give employees the right to say or do things that reflect poorly on their employer while they are on the job. And that’s what these bozos are doing. There is something very wrong when the NFL is saying it will ban patriotic shoes, but stays silent when these infantile football players disgrace their employers, bring dishonor to the game, insult the fans, and abuse the rights bestowed upon them by living in this country. And where are the team owners and coaches of these twits who react to the American flag like Linda Blair did to holy water in the Exorcist? Maybe these offensive loons should all be checked by a neurologist as it appears that multiple concussions on the playing field have impacted their judgment as nothing else I can think of could cause these cretins, who are paid millions of dollars, to show such contemptible disrespect. Contrast the actions of these loons with those of the Fernandina Beach High School students who placed more than 3,000 American flags in front of their Citrona Street school to commemorate the 9/11 tragedy and local merchants like Pajamadave Voorhees at Pajamalife who offered 10% off on American flag pajama bottoms. Attention Hillary Clinton! I found a basket of your deplorables and they all appear to be liberals employed by the NFL!
BBQ & Brew: Smoke N Da Cockpit, the personable group of local air traffic controllers that volunteer on many occasions to cook barbeque for a variety of charitable events will fire up their grills Sunday, October 9 from 3-6 p.m. to assist one of their own this time at the South 3rd Street Green Turtle Tavern. Billed as a “Bar-B-Que and Brew 2016” the event will feature a BBQ dinner, live music, and drinks to raise funds for Foster Yates III, the brother of BBQ teammate Chris Evans. Foster is scheduled to receive a kidney transplant September 23 and medical bills are piling up due to diabetic complications. The bargain $10 dinner includes pulled pork and your choice of baked beans or green beans but even if they run out of their famous BBQ anything you spend at the Turtle will go toward Foster’s care as the Turtle is donating a portion of its sales to the cause. Tickets can be purchased at the door but they go fast so I advise folks to get advance tickets by going to Bar-B-Que and Brew 2016.
Great to see the praise for John Cotner. John is a very talented architect as his work demonstrates, but he is also a very humble guy in that he provides hundreds of hours of pro bono work that goes unmentioned. A couple of years ago John suffered a major accident with both legs being broken when he fell off scaffolding where he was leading a construction mission team from St. Peters Episcopal Church rebuilding a church’s roof in a Caribbean community. A year or so later John was off to Antigua with local residents Trey Dennard and Roy Bird to teach workers in Antigua how to install and finish the concrete floors for the Cathedral that has been undergoing an extensive, decades long restoration.
Before moving back to Atlanta,I was on the ARB in the Golf Side Communities.It was always a simple matter of approving plans submitted to us that were drawn by John Cotner.His designs were always top notch. As far as the drama on Johnny Miller and Ron Sapp is concerned,they made me glad I lived outside the city limits.Politics in Fernandina Beach always seemed like dumb and dumber.See the numerous Law Suits they have lost over the past few years and the large sums that the tax payers are on the hook for.How the City Attorney keeps her job is a mystery.
Dave: Love your subtle comments on KnickerCape! Cal Atwood
Thanks Dave I was already to write to the NL and comment on the two
“rectal orifices” Ronnie & Bobbie” but you won out again. See you for lunch, @ Puerto Rican eatery,9/21
In regards to Mayor Miller it is very hard for me to understand his way of thinking, his actions, or even his way of shunning former friends who do not agree with his policies.
Flashback to 4 years or so ago I remember being downtown and stopping by a local coffee shop where sitting out front was none other than Johnny Miller and Dave Scott conversing on his upcoming bid for a commission seat. I joined in the conversation for about 20 minutes discussing with him his platform. I have known Johnny since the first gig I played at the Palace Saloon some 10 years ago, but since our disagreements on my bid to land Skydivers on our beaches, which Johnny was ENTIRELY on board from the onset and then was the first to vote it down, he has recently referred to me not as a friend but rather “just” a bar patron”. I have also noticed that Dave has no longer been asked to have coffee and discuss issues facing our island any longer. Seems to me like many Liberals, not all, that when you disagree with facts that you are shunned by Mr. Miller. I for one have many friends that I disagree with but still can sit down with them over a beer and have a laugh and continue to disagree. I find it sad that our Mayor has developed the ability to shut out people based on differing opinions.