If you’re running short of funds and could use a few thousand extra bucks then head downtown to City Hall and ask the Fernandina Beach City Commission to dip into the taxpayer’s till for a “no questions asked, no contract” deal and see if they’ll ask City Manager Joe Gerrity to cut you a check.
Four of the current commissioners did exactly that more than a year ago when failed commission candidate and community gadfly Lynn Williams was granted $8,000 for a dredging plan that has yet to materialize and for which he won’t or can’t account. In fact Williams became downright indignant when Mayor Ed Boner rightly asked him how the money is being spent and Williams spouted some mumbo-jumbo answer about “turbidity” and state environmental and fish and wildlife bureaucracies.
Mayor Boner proceeded to question Williams for an accounting of the eight grand saying, “I’ve had several people ask me how much money has been spent so far to construct the working model. Just some requests for basic accounting: how much has been spent, how much is left?”
An indignant Williams unashamedly told the mayor, “Ask them to call me. In our proposal there was never any intention of trying to itemize or be specific on what this would cost. To this day, I don’t know what it will cost to see it to the end.” At one point Williams said he spent about $3,600 of our tax money on hardware for his test machine, but didn’t produce any evidence.
When the mayor pressed Williams saying “I need to get more numbers” Williams blatantly replied, “I’m not giving you more numbers. I don’t have them.”
Some of the commissioners apparently lost sight of whose money they are dealing with as evidenced when Commissioner and Vice Mayor Sara Pelican, who voted to cut Williams a check in March 2013, also told Mayor Boner to tell those who called him to call Williams. Huh? Excuse me lady but you voted to hand over $8,000 of our money more than a year ago with no strings attached and now you want US to go find out what happened to it? Aren’t you up for reelection in November? It’s obvious that you have been sitting too close to Commissioner Pat Gass and have been strangely influenced by the voices that don’t vote and never attend commission meetings that congregate in Ms. Gass’ head.
Not satisfied with Williams’ responses Mayor Boner said the next time the city Commission cuts a check he would like to see “some sort of accounting,” which further irritated an always irritable Commissioner Charlie Corbett, not the brightest bulb in city hall and one severely limited by a lack of tact, manners, and an understanding of parliamentary proceedings, who also voted to cough up the cash last March. “Are you telling us what to do?” Corbett spit out at the mayor. According to a report in the online Fernandina Observer Corbett is the same commissioner, who when Williams initially requested the money, asked Williams “You think you can do it for $4,500 but you’ve asked for $8,000?” to which Williams replied, “ Yep, because I don’t know how it’s gonna work.” That was good enough for Corbett.
Last March Corbett, Pelican, Boner and Gass all agreed to have the city cut Williams a no strings-attached check. Former Commissioner Arlene Filkoff was the lone dissenter and Johnny Miller, who fortunately defeated Williams among others for a commission seat, was not a member at the time.
A tip of the hat to Mayor Boner, who in my opinion should never have voted for the initial request, but has the integrity, hindsight and the community’s best interests at heart by asking for an accounting. And as far as Pelican and Corbett are concerned, we can be thankful that the polls will be open in November enabling us to correct mistakes made in previous elections.
This has been an $8,000 lesson on how not to handle the public’s money.
Fernandina’s Bernie Madoff? Articles about David Yulee and the dedication of his statue in front of the old downtown train station Thursday, June 12, (Statue of David Yule coming home, 6/11/2014, Jacksonville Times-Union and David Yulee’s History, Fernandina Beach News-Leader, 6/11/1014), two by Fernandina Observer writer Suanne Z. Thamm and a gushing Observer piece by former local museum director Ron Kurtz, all left out some interesting details about this controversial historical figure. The Times-Union article by reporter Dan Scanlan was mostly a factual piece probably written from a press release while the Page one News-Leader story, was a puff piece with lots of extra puff, written by Amelia Island Museum of History’s Gray Edenfield. The Observer articles were all as puffy as the one written by Mr. Edenfield, conveniently glossing over key factors in Yulee’s past.
All of the articles conveniently forget to mention that artist Chuck Oldam turned the opportunity to sculpt Yulee’s statue down, saying in a letter to the News-Leader: “I discovered a shocking truth. David Yulee was not only a slave holder but one of the most ardent proponents and defenders of slavery in his day.” In fact, according to the recently published A Disease in the Public Mind, a New Understanding of why we Fought the Civil War, author Thomas Fleming points out that only six percent of the Southern population owned slaves, grouping Yulee into a small, immoral class of folks.
The statue depicts a likeness of Yulee holding a pocket watch to check on the next scheduled train, a bit odd since the only ride Mr. Yulee ever took on his ill-fated rail line was to escape the advancing Union forces. That was the one and only trip Yulee’s train ever made until after the war as Robert E. Lee had the rails ripped out and shipped to more strategic and defensible Confederate locations north of Florida.
The statue was pushed through by a small group of folks in Fernandina who conveniently overlook the fact that Yulee’s railroad was built by slaves and the US Senator Yulee-controlled consortium was paid with tax payer money by the Florida state legislature at Yulee’s request. Following the Civil War, the ardent slavery proponent and turncoat Yulee was imprisoned for treason in Ft. Pulaski, GA. After he was released he entered into even more railroad schemes and in the 1880s state money went to pay off debts Yulee failed to pay on his railroad plans.
T.D. Allman’s book “Finding Florida” (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013), which was favorably reviewed by the Times-Union last year, details much of Yulee’s controversial life, and in a light that the statue proponents would rather ignore. In addition to the statue we now have a town (Yulee) and a Florida County (Levy, his real name) named after this man of dubious character. Upon his death in 1886 a Tampa editorial said “From beginning to end Mr. Yulee has shown himself a trickster,” yet that didn’t stop the state of Florida from naming this racist turncoat and flim-flam man a “Great Floridian” in 1999, a blatant act of revisionist history.
Dedicating a statue to David Yulee in Fernandina Beach in front of the train station is like New York City erecting one of Bernie Madoff in front of the NY Stock Exchange.
A Catch 22 Fish Tale: Searching for an answer for a guest who asked if he needed a license to fish on the beach, Amelia Oceanfront B&B Innkeeper Johan Ramakers clicked on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission web site and was overwhelmed with our state’s version of “The Most Dangerous Catch” as in Catch 22 and more. The list of licenses, exceptions and options found on the link http://myfwc.com/license/recreational/do-i-need-a-license/ read strikingly similar to the pointless activity witnessed by Alice in the “Who Stole the Tarts” trial during her travels through Wonderland when the White Rabbit said “I gave her one, they gave him two; You gave us three or more; They all returned from him to you, Though they were mine before.” For example this is a verbatim paragraph Han found in our state’s Catch 22 Fishing Commission: Residents who are fishing for a saltwater species (other than mullet in fresh water) from land or from a structure fixed to the land are required to have a no-cost saltwater shoreline fishing license unless they have a regular saltwater fishing license or are exempt. Could Lewis Carroll have said it any better? When the folks that write this gibberish go home after work it must be terribly embarrassing when they try to explain to their family and friends what they do for a living.
Shrimp Boats Are A Coming: This past Thursday Captain Kevin McCarthy restarted his annual Eco-Shrimping Tours that involve an interactive exploration of the St. Marys River Basin, where guests are coached on the operation of an Otter Trawl shrimp net, which they will actually deploy and retrieve if they wish. Don’t bring a fork or tarter sauce though because the sea creatures are released back into the water after being displayed and identified in an on-board aquarium while the boat glides through the backwaters and tidal creeks that make up the area’s local estuary. Developed in Fernandina, the net is similar to those nets used by the commercial shrimp industry today. Reservations for the two-hour Thursday to Saturday 10 am trips are recommended and can be made by calling 904/261-9972 or visiting the white kiosk in the North parking lot of the downtown Marina.
Sidewalk Brouhaha: JennNiles, the striking blonde paraplegic, who successfully got the attention of the feds after she was ejected from her wheelchair when she tried to maneuver the Front Street area of gravel, railroad tracks and busted up pavement, and was ignored by local politicos, had an eloquent letter printed in the Fernandina News-Leader (June 6, 2014, Sidewalk to Somewhere) to rebut lawyer John Cascone’s May 30 letter, “The sidewalk that never was.” Unlike Cascone, the New England resident cited ordinances, references, surveys, etc. that show a sidewalk has existed in an area where Mr. Cascone and Marina Restaurant owner Patricia Toundas say there never was one. Because of Ms. Niles efforts the feds under the auspices of the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA) visited the site, met with city officials and from what I heard are not happy, an attitude that may well cost Fernandina taxpayers plenty and eventually lead to a much safer walkway to other Front Street businesses such as the community-minded owners at the Salty Pelican. Thanks to Ms. Niles the town’s good ‘ole boy network appears to be as broken down as the sidewalk it claims doesn’t exist.
More From A Clueless President: The following excerpts, which I agree with wholeheartedly, were sent to me by island resident Cal Atwood, a decorated World War II Marine, who fought on Iwo Jima and who devours three books a week as well as a variety of periodicals, are from Why Team Obama Was Blindsided by the Bergdahl Backlash written by retired Army officer and former enlisted man Ralph Peters: “Congratulations, Mr. President! And identical congrats to your sorcerer’s apprentice, National Security Adviser Susan Rice. By trying to sell him as an American hero, you’ve turned a deserter already despised by soldiers in the know into quite possibly the most-hated individual soldier in the history of our military. I have never witnessed such outrage from our troops. President Obama and Ms. Rice seem to think that the crime of desertion in wartime is kind of like skipping class. Team Obama and its base cannot comprehend the values still cherished by those young Americans “so dumb” they joined the Army instead of going to prep school and then to Harvard. President Obama never stopped to consider that our troops and their families might have been offended by their commander-in-chief staging a love-fest at the White House to celebrate trading five top terrorists for one deserter and featuring not the families of those soldiers (at least six of them) who died in the efforts to find and free Bergdahl, but, instead, giving a starring role on the international stage to Pa Taliban, parent of a deserter and a creature of dubious sympathies (that beard on pops ain’t a tribute to ZZ Top). How do you say “outrageous insult to our vets” in Pashto?”
More Colorful Baseball Names: Atlanta friend and sports broadcaster Gary McKillips, after reading my post last week on colorful baseball names, reminded me that I left off former Dodger pitcher Van Lingle Mungo while local retired Binghamton, NY attorney Bruce Smyk says Mungo was honored in a 60s song and says I should have also listed former big leaguer Candy Maldonado. All good picks. Any more I missed?
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: Executive Chef for the Amelia Island Ritz-Carlton, Thomas Tolxdorf , who was killed last Saturday in a single car accident on US 17, leaves a lasting legacy of many in the island’s hospitality industry who worked with him, knew him as a friend and learned from him. Tolxdorf who relocated to Amelia Island thirteen years ago will be missed, but not forgotten. If you have never heard the combination of Dan Voll, Michele, Nico and “fiddle girl” Amy Basse then you have a special treat in store because last Friday evening they did an impromptu on the porch of the Green Turtle that was a foot-stomping, toe-tapping humdinger with Amy performing Dan Voll’s signature “Everybody’s Got a Cousin in Miami,” something I’ve never heard before on the fiddle. Tim Poynter asked some friends and I to sample a hard cider he says his North 3rd St. downtown Karibrew Brew Pub will be serving this summer and which we declared “refreshing and tasty” and unlike any other bar offering I’ve tried hereabouts. He’s also conducting a contest to name the beverage, so stop by, order a glass, and pick a name, which, if you win, will provide you with a certificate for a dinner for two and bragging rights. The Bloody Mary wars have headed into the kookie phase as last weekend Crystal Foster built a Hammerhead version that included a Krispy Cream sausage and French Toast while Johnny Miller put his creativity into overdrive with a pickled okra, stuffed olives, pickle, mozzarella cheese, prosciutto peppers, a slice of baguette and corn chips topped off with a glazed doughnut, for a creation he called the “Sunday Brunch” at the Palace Saloon. Urp! American Legion Post 54 at the corner of Gum and South 3rd St. is providing lunches and dinners at prices you’d be hard pressed to match if you cooked at home. Oh, and if you want to eat at home they’ll deliver. Menus are subject to change but here’s a sampling of Pam “Big Red” LaClair’s menu of luncheon specials that are served 1 a.m. – 1:30 pm: Monday-meatball sub & chips $6; Tuesday-Club sandwich & chips $6; Wednesday-Beef stroganoff & salad $7; Thursday-chicken tenders & fries $6; Friday- tuna melt sandwich & pasta salad $6. Dinner is served from 5-7 pm with recent meals including: Wednesday-pot roast with potatoes & carrots $7; Thursday-wings .50, hotdogs $3; Friday-Prime rib with garlic mashed potatoes & salad $14.00.