Wednesday evening Fernandina Beach City Commissioner Mike Lednovich did an impersonation of a rehabilitated Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning as he looked down on the street and offered to pay the first boy he saw a huge sum to “deliver the big turkey hanging at the poulterer’s to Bob Cratchit’s house.”
California transplant Lednovich’s epiphany that suddenly inspired him to shed his “loopy, left-coast extremist” persona — at least temporarily — was apparently triggered by the combination of the spreading Coronavirus pandemic and a visitation by several members of a spirited community group.
Whatever motivated Commissioner Lednovich failed miserably in casting a similar inspirational influence over Commissioner Chip Ross who penned a lengthy “Up Yours” opinion-editorial that was published in local media outlets last Friday, March 13. The entire City Commission, including Ross and Lednovich, have been targets of a dedicated band of concerned citizens seeking dramatic budgetary, legislative and administrative changes designed to cut costs and increase efficiencies in the city government. The Coronavirus scare has justifiably energized the group to encourage the Commission to act on their recommendations.
In addition, members of the citizen’s group including commercial broker Phil Griffin, lawyer, entrepreneur and businessman Pat Keogh, and Marina Board member Jerry Decker, Jack Knocke, Frank Quigley, etc. sent public letters to the city commissioners, local media outlets, among others explaining the necessity for immediate cost-cutting.
In a surprising call-to-action Wednesday evening (March 18) Lednovich thanked the group for its “engagement in our crisis and recovery plans.” He added that he spent an entire day forming a Citizens City Economic Recovery Advisory Committee and provided the following list of spending and project proposals that he says he posted on his Commissioner Facebook page.
- Suspend Simmons Road Park $500,000
2. Suspend Top Tracer Golf $500,000
3. Suspend Waterfront Park – halt all consultant work, suspend project
4. Suspend Front Street – halt all consultant work, suspend project
5. Suspend New City Hall – halt needs assessment
6. New positions hiring freeze (Assistant City Manager in the $110,000 salary range)
7. begin using zero-based budgeting process for the 2020-2021 budget
8. Lower the tax obligation for 2020-2021 for city residents
9. Identify critical City facilities building maintenance/repair projects (example Marina North dock must be repaired)
10. Suspend vehicle/equipment replacement.
11. Review beach walkovers replacement plan
12. Review city staffing
13, Review City emergency powers – such as can we reallocate funds (such as impact fees) for other needs?
-Temporary waiver of dock fees for marina businesses (2 or 3 months)
-Best economic recovery practices culled from Westrec’s pool of 32 municipal marinas.
City Budgeting 2020-2021
-First, the city manager and department heads must demonstrate and defend their “critical” needs that “must” continue:
Need all existing personnel?
Need all existing services?
Need all existing equipment/vehicles?
Need all existing facilities?
Commissioner Ross on the other hand says in his op-ed that the services paid for by Fernandina Beach residents with their taxes are “quality of life assets” leaving no room for cutting the city budget. “These quality of life assets are not fat; they offer a way of life,” he exclaims.
In an op-ed that appeared in the local News Leader and in the online Observer, Ross took to task pundits and the dedicated group of city residents who are questioning the city’s rising costs, competence, and existence. In his “you’re full of it” rant Ross says: “To most residents nature is pristine, beaches are clean, trees are assets that clean the air, act as storm water management devices, wind protection, and sun shades.”
Ross, who writes as though this dedicated band of citizen critics are advocating open hunting, slash-and-burn land-clearance, and logging in Egans Creek, concluded his long-winded nature lecture saying: “….just ask a ‘quality of lifer’ or island resident which city lands they want to sell on the list. They all live here because they love it and can’t understand why they want to sell it or change it.”
They don’t Commissioner. They want to maintain the quality of life you so sanctimoniously preach about from your Commissioner’s pulpit. However, they want it managed by a competent governing body that will improve it, not dish out reasons why nothing can or will be done. Even if that means selling an asset to a private or public/private entity that can manage it better than people like you or an inept city staff. They’re seeking solutions that you fret will take it out of your hands and those of City Manager Dale Martin and the other clueless bobblehead commissioners and city staff. The Coronavirus pandemic that is having such a dramatic economic impact locally, emphasizes the need for immediate relief.
None of the commissioners or Martin have ever run a business or been responsible for a balance sheet including Commissioner Ross. Despite Dr. Ross claiming he ran a medical practice in Maryland all my research could find there were news clippings from that state and Washington, D.C. about the numerous law suits he filed helter-skelter against his neighbors and how happy they were to see him skedaddle southward. Since he’s been here he’s filed two failed suits against the city he represents that cost taxpayers $5,000 in city insurance deductibles to defend. This guy’s a real sweetheart,
In his op-ed Ross spins a fantasy that “islanders here love it and can’t understand why anybody would want to change it.” What he failed to mention is that many of those “islanders” don’t live in the city limits and don’t have to put up with him or the city’s corrupt, inept and bumbling elected officials and staff, or pay for any of their misguided nonsense. What Ross is really good at is counting the reasons why he won’t consider any of the suggestions the concerned citizen group proposes. Doctor Ross, who serves in our local hospital’s emergency room might as well be saying: “Take two aspirins and call somebody who cares.” The doctor thinks more like a defense attorney representing a guilty-pleading court-appointed client instead of a medical professional seeking a remedy.
Commissioner Ross writes that island residents enjoy the city’s “way of life” but conveniently omits that a great many of those islanders don’t live in the city, but in the county. So why are city residents subsidizing their county neighbors? I’ve never seen a “City Residents Only” sign or a toll or ticket booth labeled “non-residents pay here” anywhere within the city limits. County residents and visitors enjoy the exact same nature, shade trees, beaches, airport, marina, golf course, parks, recreation centers and other amenities he lists, all thanks to city residents who pay for them. Instead of trimming or unloading its non-performing assets, Ross wants the city to buy more. For example, it’s currently eyeballing 40 vacant lots to purchase for its non-performing conservation assets folly that residents were stiffed for with an additional one-half mill “conservation” tax increase.
City residents pay both city and county taxes but get nothing extra in return. Zero, zip, nothing, nada! County residents enjoy the benefits of both the city and county with a lower price tag, even those who live in the gated “Swells” communities on the island’s south end or on the stretch of pricey county-only ocean-facing South Fletcher Avenue property and in scattered clusters around the city’s zig-zagging boundaries. The term “annexation,” is to these lucky county residents what Holy Water was to Linda Blair in the Exorcist.
The city is a monopoly provider of services when just across the bridge there’s an alternative provider of the same services — the county. Just like the city it has law enforcement and fire and emergency services. It has permitting capability and a water and sewer service, human resources, financial, administrative, planning, building and code enforcement personnel. Taxpayers in the city pay for both. The county has it all except maybe a cemetery management service and that, like the airport, golf course and marina management are privately available.
Why do we need this inept, expensive city government? Why not dissolve the city with all of its duplicate services and turn it over to the county? County government has its flaws, but it’s not the train wreck that exists in the city. The city government is an unnecessary, bloated mess with underfunded pension funds and a growing debt that are never acknowledged, much less discussed by the City Commission or City Manager Martin. The City Manager’s only objective appears to be to continue to grow the inept bureaucracy that runs the dysfunctional government he administers.
Ross’s op-ed piece, directed at the citizens group demanding change, is a pathetic attempt to prove them wrong. While Lednovich provides some solutions Ross makes it very clear in his piece he wants no part of what they’re suggesting. Neither does City Manager Martin, who is currently advertising for an assistant city manager’s job with an annual salary of more than $110,000. This is on top of other city jobs he’s advertising to fill. They also want to find new and larger city hall digs to house all these additional bureaucrats. Forget the fact that the city’s infrastructure is crumbling, it has massively underfunded pension liabilities, huge debt, rising taxes, and no solutions. Thanks to their prolific spending, a “there’s nothing to see here” attitude, an impact fee extortion racket, and gross mismanagement the city does more harm than good. The city’s underfunded pension programs have never once been discussed publicly by Ross, Martin or any of the city commissioners, not a peep. Why not? When questioned Commissioner Ross’s standard answer is: “The auditors say everything is fine.” If so, what are the numbers commissioner? What about the city debt? What’s that add up to and how are you guys solving it?
Former city and now county resident, Keogh, a lawyer, entrepreneur and businessman who owns a number of properties in Texas, Virginia and Nassau County has been a long-time observer and critic of the city’s antics and has volunteered here for both the city and county governments in various capacities. “I own real estate and have developed in both jurisdictions,” he explains. “I find the county government very service oriented and the city is just the opposite. Want a good government experience in the city? Go to the library downtown or to the tax collector or DMV in the old courthouse. Very service oriented, a delight to work with and all part of county government. Those ‘hicks’ out in the county know how to deliver public service in my view. Given the opportunity I would hand over city government tomorrow to Nassau County.”
Keogh adds: “By my reckoning in the city you are paying about 30% more in taxes and an unknown amount in public friction for what? What do you get for it? What value does city government provide its citizens?”
Don’t expect the local News Leader bi-weekly newspaper to delve into any of this since it has never investigated anything more complex than a platter of rubbery cheese cubes, cheap wine, and stale crackers at a local garden club gathering. Steve Nicklas’ Market Place NL column occasionally take a poke at the city and the commission, but his space is limited, and he may be restrained by the paper’s management. The online Fernandina Observer has a milquetoast editorial position on everything in an attempt to avoid controversy and not offend anyone no matter how offensively an offender offends. The Mary Maguire one-woman online Independent does an occasional investigative report, but it appears only sporadically and on issues that fit her agenda. And as far as the Jacksonville media are concerned if it isn’t a homicide, fire, or gang rape they’re not the least bit interested in the goings on in the backwaters of Nassau County. So, the city administration and its elected officials have carte blanche to do as they please without any media oversite. The city’s governing body likes it that way. To them the group of concerned residents asking probing questions is an annoyance and is being publicly dissed and dismissed by City Manager Martin’s lackey, Commissioner Ross in his op-ed. What do the local media do? Zzzzzzzzzz. Sad.
Keogh takes the city’s incompetence and tax gouging a step further calling it a “criminal enterprise operated only for the benefit of the employees and elected officials.” He says the only answer is to get rid of it. “In my experience,” he says, “the county does a good job at a reasonable price. And the City doesn’t. If you think ‘criminal enterprise’ is too harsh a term how else do you explain the unchecked theft of citizens’ property by City Public Works Director John “You Have to Pay to Play” Mandrick and the rest of the city government shaking down private enterprise through illegal impact fees?”
Following three years of litigation and two trials it was found in 2014 that the city engaged in unlawful financial practices and the city was forced to pay about one million dollars in private legal fees. It also had to refund $3.5 million in illegally collected fees. The city quickly turned around and reinstated the fees under another name — “capacity fees.” Mandrick led that reinstatement with the help of a $24,500 taxpayer-paid consultant thus continuing the city’s “legalized” extortion racket. Why $24,500? Could it be because state law requires a competitive procurement for work over $25,000?
In the 2014 court case Judge Brian Davis ruled that the City of Fernandina’s “impact fees” did not comply with Florida Law, that the “Impact Fees” used to purchase the city’s water facility (part of the city’s infrastructure) were in violation of law, and that “Persons paying the impact fees have received no benefit from their fees.” Despite the verdict and taxpayer money being flushed down the drain nothing changed.
Many city employees have been reported by local business owners to be downright inept, nasty and hostile, particularly those in the permitting function. The city’s answer: “It’s hard to find qualified people.” Good grief! “The only answer is to dissolve the city, “says Keogh. “You know ‘When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands..’.”
I’m voting and campaigning for any city commission candidate who runs on a platform of dissolving the city, gutting its corruption, and merging any of the good parts left over into the county. That candidate’s platform should start by advocating the immediate freezing of all but essential spending (cops and firefighters for example), wages and hiring, and looking for whatever can be trashed before merging with the county. The only problem the candidate would have is how to dress this turkey attractive enough that the county is willing to dance with it.
Advice For City Commissioners: Pat Keogh also has some suggestions for the city of Fernandina Beach that will even lessen the strain on local businesses during the Coronavirus crisis, particularly those like bars and nightclubs that the state has told to completely shut down. Others needing help include cruise companies, fishing charters, restaurants, and B&B’s. Pat suggests refunding now all paid but unearned impact fees. “Virtually no impact fees paid to the city are earned,” he says. “The City has plenty of facilities capacity and impact fees may only be spent to ameliorate the impact of new development. Until spent they remain the property of the party paying. As a rough rule they must be refunded within seven years. The City never refunds the fees. They should refund those fees now and that would have a stimulative or sustaining effect,” he explains.
“The City should petition the state to retain state sales taxes collected as a local stimulative for some period of time.
Property values of commercial establishments in the City will be reduced as a result of reduced economic activity. The City should announce now a reduction in real estate taxes on commercial real estate with encouragement to property owners to share the savings with business tenants.”
Will the city listen to Mr. Keogh? Based on his recent post Lednovich might, while Ross is probably out looking for more “conservation” swampland to buy.
“Yeh, Well Oh Yeh!”: Watching the Democrat Presidential debate Sunday evening reminded me of the Walter Matthau-Jack Lemon “Grumpy Old Men” movies. The low energy Joe Biden-Crazy Uncle Bernie Sanders debate looked like a disagreement between two old geezers in the day room of an assisted living facility arguing over who gets the last cup of pudding.
Snow On Amelia Island: Amelia Island resident John Snow, the former CEO of CSX Corporation who served as the 73rd United States Secretary of the Treasury under U.S. President George W. Bush was interviewed about the economic impact of the Coronavirus on Fox News Network’s Neal Cavuto Show this past Tuesday afternoon. Speaking from his Amelia Island home, the former Treasury Secretary expressed confidence the markets would rebound from what he called the “Coronavirus tsunami” and differentiated it from the financial market issues in 2001 and 2008.
GOP Prevails In Nassau County: A little more than 33 percent of Nassau County’s 53,851 registered voters cast ballots in the recent Presidential Preference Primary with Republicans accounting for 11,986 votes opposed to the Democrats 5,856. The GOP accounts for 39,499 of the county’s registered voters (58 percent) while Democrats number 14,654 (21 percent). The remaining 14,251 voters are either members of small parties (962) or express no affiliation (13,289). The turnout among Republican voters was exceptionally strong since President Trump is an incumbent. President Trump tallied 11,517 votes or 96 percent of the GOP votes cast. On the Democrat side Joe Biden received 3,806 votes or 65.31 percent while 1,073 or 18.41 percent of Democrats voted Socialist with Bernie Sanders receiving the 1,073 socialist votes or 18.41 percent of the Democrat votes.
Bad News & Good News Department: Dr. Drew Pinsky, an American internist, addiction medicine specialist, media specialist and TV and radio personality has little respect for the media’s execrable coverage of the Coronavirus pandemic. Speaking with host Larry O’Connor on the Washington Examiner’s “Examining Politics” podcast, Dr. Pinsky said, “I don’t claim to know what’s motivating the media, but, my God, their reporting is absolutely reprehensible. They should be ashamed of themselves. They are creating a panic that is far worse than the viral outbreak. The bottom line, everybody, is to listen to Dr. Anthony Fauci [Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases]. Do what he tells you and go about your business.…Stop listening to journalists! They don’t know what they are talking about!” Based on what I’ve seen social media is even worse. Locally I’ve actually seen posts from Amelia Island residents detailing what they claim are “the death and dying feelings” of a young virus victim who lives in Mexico. What useful purpose does that crap serve?
Writing in the America Spectator, George Parry, a former federal and state prosecutor who blogs at knowledgeisgood.net, is refreshingly optimistic saying: “As you may know, the mainstream news media are staffed by agenda-driven progressive propagandists who have seized on the pandemic as yet another opportunity to bring about the political and societal change that they desire. Not wanting to let a crisis go to waste, they have engaged in an unrelenting drumbeat of doom and gloom regarding the potential impact of COVID-19. In this regard and as you shall see, the facts are far less dire than the panic-inducing apocalyptic scenario being pushed by the mainstream media.”
Parry says that compared to other pandemics, COVID-19 is relatively benign in that it poses a threat primarily to persons 65 or older and persons with co-morbidities. It’s not a catastrophically fatal 1918 Spanish flu that wiped out young and old alike and appears to be about as statistically fatal as the seasonal influenza A. And although it could possibly threaten to overwhelm our medical facilities, that’s a problem that our nimble free-market system is particularly well-equipped to solve.
“So, take a deep breath and relax,” he adds. “This isn’t the zombie apocalypse, and we’re well on our way to getting on top of COVID-19.”
But wait! He says there’s even more good news. “The pandemic has highlighted and substantiated the critical need to close our borders (including building the southern wall) and to move our manufacturing base and supply chain back to this country. Our lax border security has always been a public health concern. And, in regard to President Trump’s efforts to bring good-paying jobs home by repatriating our manufacturing base, we should thank the thugs who run the Chinese Communist Party, who got the brilliant idea to threaten to cut off America’s supply of antibiotics because our government had criticized China’s lack of transparency in dealing with COVID-19. This imbecilic threat highlighted the fact that 95 percent of our antibiotics are manufactured in China. This astounding fact, coupled with the alarming prospect that our supply of vital pharmaceuticals can be cut off, should serve as a wake-up call and spur the repatriation of all critical manufacturing and supply chains. Thanks to the pandemic, the handwriting for bringing our manufacturing base home is on the wall.”
Parry concludes saying: “We’re well equipped as a society to meet the challenge and prevail. The long-term consequences of COVID-19 will be positive in that we will be better equipped to handle future widespread medical emergencies, and our economy and national security will be immeasurably enhanced by the closing of our borders and the repatriation of our supply chain and manufacturing base.”
Foolish Pleasure On The Rocks With A Twist Of Hupp! Salvage operators attempt to raise the 63-foot yacht “Foolish Pleasure” onto a barge Thursday evening off Main Beach directly in front of the Sandbar Restaurant & Kitchen as local entertainer Hupp Huppman entertains the eatery’s customers. He obliged one imbiber by singing “If I had a boat.” The yacht, based in the Fernandina Beach Marina, tore a gash in its hull after hitting rocks near the jetty at Fort Clinch and sank. It drifted south toward Main Beach where it was halted by an ocean sandbar.