The major difference between the Mafia and Fernandina Beach’s city government is that the Mafia attempts to conceal its activities.
Even during the financially crippling pandemic Fernandina Beach’s free-spending and unapologetic city government blatantly flaunts its financial ruthlessness and greed, ignoring calls for fiscal restraint from citizen groups, financially stricken business owners, and individuals.
Citizens pleading for relief are met with intimidation, threats, snubs….and demands for even more of their cash.
The city’s unquenchable thirst for money to fuel its insatiable spending habits knows no limitations. Pandemic? What pandemic, shrug the three tone-deaf City Commission members Phil “The Listener Who Can’t Hear” Chapman, Johnny “Moonbeam” Miller and Chip “The Big Spender” Ross and their Don, City Manager Dale Martin?
Instead of ordering the knee-capping of their victims these four Goombahs unleash permitting, building, public utilities and other city department enforcers to prey on local out-of-work citizens, struggling local businesses, builders, developers, and startups with more regulations, increased taxes and outrageous fees that are scheduled to go even higher.
Pleas for relief are met with threats, nuisance inspections and fines. Can’t pay? Then get out of town. Complain? Fees go higher, permits are delayed, inspections increased. And you don’t even have to reside in the city limits for these financial ghouls to gouge you – they’ll threaten you with annexation, a fate as deadly as any borrower caught in a loan shark’s web.
This is all taking place on top of a city tax increase levied on a population whose livelihoods depend largely on the travel and hospitality industries, two of the pandemic’s hardest hit sectors.
To compound the community’s fiscal woes major revenue producing events such as the Shrimp Festival, Dicken’s On Centre, the National Petanque Tournament, and others have all been cancelled due to the pandemic, cutting off millions of dollars in local revenues.
Because of the pandemic Amelia Island hotel occupancy rates are at historic lows, with thousands of local employees laid off. The restaurant and bar industry continues to suffer with more permanent restaurant closures announced just this week. Revenues below break-even levels, layoffs, lower tips, and pay cuts are commonplace. Fishing and boating tour charters are off. Special events such as banquets, weddings, business meetings, family reunions, etc. are cancelled and postponed as are many other hospitality related functions leading to increased financial hardship for locals.
Like many hard-hit homeowners nationwide, Fernandina Beach residents are not immune to asking for rental concessions and mortgage relief until the pandemic subsides.
Those affected get no sympathy from the Henry F. Potter wannabes running city hall. Just the opposite, the city is piling on. The city unashamedly and mercilessly continues to publicly shakedown its financially suffering populace, attempting to squeeze more and more money out of its cash strapped citizens. How many city employees have been laid off due to the pandemic? None. In fact, the city’s new budget calls for even more useless bureaucrats to be added to the already bloated citizen-funded city hall payroll.
Fernandina Beach’s fiscal lynching’s are called impact fees, permitting fees, tax hikes, etc. Any impacted business or individual that dares to complain will feel the wrath of the city’s enforcers with building sites shutdown, invoices issued for outrageous amounts, harassment from inspectors, silence from private contractors on the city payroll who don’t want their gravy train derailed, and more.
One builder here told me he paid the city $114,000 for a plan review that the city hired a private contractor to handle. That contractor was paid $2,800. He also paid $103,000 for a fire marshal’s review that took just three days. Does anybody in town have a business with margins like those?
Fernandina Beach’s continued spending during the pandemic, its illegal impact fee scheme, tax increases, refusal to address the pension issue, hiring of even more nonessential employees, and funding of questionable projects is a model the Mafia must be observing with awe and admiration.
The City Commission and its supporters complain about the lack of low-income housing hereabouts but it’s not hard to understand why there is such a shortage. If you are a builder or developer, the cost of excess regulation and fees of residential development aren’t worth the investment. With its ever-increasing fees, the excess cost of any development is astronomical. The increase in fees is a double whammy – a way to scare developers away and increase revenues without calling it a tax increase.
The city is also pandering to a minority of environmentalists — many who don’t even live here – and the “blow-the-bridge” local lifers. They want everybody who arrived here the past 15-20 years to please leave…. but, not before hugging a tree and leaving behind as much cash as the city can squeeze out of them.
The proposed fee increases are examples of the city’s extreme extortion activities, actions that may possibly violate Florida State statutes, an issue that I’ve heard some savvy locals are threatening to bring to the state’s and the court’s attention.
Here are a few examples:
- A preliminary plat application for 20 lots will now cost $5,000 or $250 per lot. This is more than is traditionally paid to a surveyor to prepare the plat. The city is now proposing to charge more to review the document than it costs to prepare it.
- A small-scale Future Land Use Map (FLUM) change and small-scale rezoning are each proposed to $2,500 or $5,000 total. A voluntary annexation application will net an additional $2,000. So, if a property owner wants his property to get water and sewer the total application fee comes to $7,000. That’s more than an applicant would likely pay in utility connections for a single-family residential unit. This is punitive to anyone trying to connect their house to centralized water and sewer and discourages those wanting to get off a septic system. When city connection fees are factored in this will result in someone paying more than $10,000 plus the increased city real estate taxes.
- The city is proposing an astronomical increase from $1,200 to $7,500 for an authorized demolition of a property. Six times the cost of reviewing an application is beyond excessive, particularly when some of the structures targeted for demolition are worth less than $7,500 and some even have a negative value because they are considered hazards.
The city has a lot to answer for including why is it raising fees that come directly out of its citizen’s pockets when they are already suffering due to the pandemic? Even without the pandemic could they honestly answer the following questions:
- Why are you making improvement in the Historic District so difficult that properties will decay and rot because owners can’t afford your permits?
- Why are you using fees as a way to raise money behind the citizens back—while publicly advocating cost cutting—hypocritical, punitive and dishonest during this health crisis?
- Why are you penalizing local businesses as they struggle to survive?
- Why does a permitting fee that costs an average of $6,700 in Jacksonville cost $201,000 in Fernandina Beach?
Why isn’t the city focused on the following:
- Reviewing headcount to reduce and right size city government
- Reviewing the vehicle replacement program to save 30% or more annually
- Ensuring that fees, building codes, and approval processes are not onerous to citizens
- Ensuring that if there is a request to increase fees, that the requested increase is clearly justified by the underlying cost — not including inefficiencies — pursuant to Florida law.
In a nutshell the city has a lot to answer for but it’s doubtful it’ll respond positively. Commissioners Len Kreger and Mike Lednovich are the only two with any sense of fiscal responsibility or sympathy. Chapman and Miller aren’t on the ballot this November, so thankfully we’ll soon be shed of those two. Ross is running again but his opponent, Wendall K. McGahee, may be even a worse nightmare than the “Big Spender”.
The city’s financial shenanigans in our community reminds me of a scene from “Pippin”, a musical comedy I attended many years ago at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. King Charlamagne’s wife, Fastrada – a gorgeous, Brooklyn accented, gum chewing, necklace twirling, schemer – approaches the king sexily requesting a larger allowance. He agrees then turns to the audience and asks: “I wonder if the screwing I’m getting is worth the screwing I’m getting?”
We’re fortunate to live in a gorgeous section of the country, but apparently nothing will change with the dysfunctional city government until there is outside intervention – the county, the state, the feds, or some combination. It took state and federal agents to cleanup towns like Phenix City, Alabama; Crystal City, Texas; and Hampton, Florida, three of the most corrupt small towns in America. Fernandina Beach isn’t at the extreme those were. Ours appears to be mostly a silent conspiracy of corruption between the city and its citizens because the citizens are too intimidated to speak out for fear of financial and regulatory retribution.
If residents will elect two commissioners (Bradley Bean and David Sturges) to join Kreger and Lednovich to neutralize the Ross-Martin Tweedledee and Tweedledum duo maybe we’ll see some relief. Otherwise hang on to your hats and your wallets.
Who Is Wendall K. McGahee? Group 3 City Commission candidate Wendall K. McGahee has a glossy 5” X 7” handout that features his picture and five talking points on one side and a biography headlined “Who Is Wendall K. McGahee?” on the other.
The bio is typical boilerplate outlining his residential, educational, religious, and work background, his email address, and a phone number, but no specifics on his proposed programs or political or activist affiliations.
To find out more about who Wendall K. McGahee is I’ve attempted to contact Mr. McGahee five times through the email and phone number on his handout to ask him to clarify his positions, particularly on Black Lives Matters and his role with that organization. All of my attempts have met with silence. He has never responded.
Here’s why I’m asking.
During a Thursday, June 4 protest march in Fernandina Beach that Mr. McGahee participated in he told News Leader reporter Julia Roberts: “Fernandina Beach has financial as well as racial inequities, and the issues are prominent: There are well-off white people and lower-income white people, as well as black people, but at the end of the day, the well-off white person will always come before the black person.”
“Rioting is what happens when you turn a deaf ear to people,” he said. “Marching downtown is great, but this needs to be ongoing and constant. Something needs to happen. We want change, but will it ever really come?”
During a June 13 march that the News Leader said Mr. McGahee helped organize, participants chanted slogans such as “no justice, no peace” and “black lives matter” as the group walked through town. Many carried BLM signs and wore BLM shirts. McGahee told the News Leader that the BLM organization was not involved despite the obvious chants, signs, and clothing. “Nothing to see here,” says McGahee, who has the endorsement of a group called Young College Democrats.
Based on his statements to Ms. Roberts, Mr. McGahee appears to have knowledge of BLM’s local activities and has expressed strong opinions about what he claims is local “racial inequity”. If he feels I’ve misquoted him or posted anything he didn’t say or that he wants to clarify he certainly has had the opportunity to do so. But he has repeatedly refused to answer my emails or return my phone calls.
During a candidate forum in Commission chambers at city hall Friday September 11 he wasn’t asked about his BLM affiliation and he didn’t bring it up. However, he did offer a curious comment on the city-owned marina. Despite the city hiring Oasis, an outside firm to take over day-to-day management of the marina, Mr. McGahee expressed his desire to have the city bring in a company to take over marina operations and “relieve us of that financial burden.” Does he think the city should sell the marina? Lease it? What? He didn’t explain what he meant. And nobody asked.
His responses to the media that I have seen have been mostly generalities offering no specifics as evidenced by the following statement he issued to the online Observer newspaper this week:
“I ask that you join with me as I strive to preserve the heritage and prepossessing environment of our small island-fixed town. I ask that you lend me your support as I promote a system for more suitable living in hopes of a better quality of life for everyone. Help me advance our community by means of bringing a sense of diversity and inclusion to the table and ensuring that no one is overlooked or left out.
“My greatest desire is to see my hometown at its absolute best for myself, others and generations to come. There is a dynamic sense of servitude within me that could only manifest itself in the heart of a native. In the last few years, we have had some rather challenging issues at the forefront of our local economy; I am eager to contribute and assist in implementing strategic plans to help us rise above them all.”
It took two paragraphs for Mr. McGahee to say absolutely nothing.
Between incumbent Commission Chip Ross and challenger McGahee, I’m holding my nose and voting for Ross, the devil I know.
Speaking Of BLM: I don’t believe Black Lives Matter activists represent the black community any more than white nationalists or the KKK represent the white community. I also believe the black community wants more police officers in their neighborhoods for protection, not fewer. Recent surveys confirm that.
Most all people agree that black lives are as important as anyone else’s, but do not subscribe to Black Lives Matter’s Marxist push for social revolution. They don’t buy into looting as a form of reparations and to undermine traditional family structures, the collapse of which is central to the misery of the black underclass.
Black Lives Matter activists are turning criminals into martyrs and are leading rallies that call for defunding law enforcement, destroying businesses including black owned ones, and calling for reparations for slavery. Its criminals who threaten black lives, not police officers, and focusing on police behavior instead of criminal behavior does nothing to help blacks, who are some of the likeliest victims of violent crime. BLM is responsible for more black deaths in two weeks of rioting in the streets than the police are in all of 2019.
Some 20 or 30 black people, including children, can be mowed down over a single weekend in places like Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. Look at what’s happening just in Chicago alone, more than 50 people shot each weekend with 5-10 killed, almost all of it black-on-black. Where are the BLM protestors?
According to the Wall Street Journal five million Americans have purchased guns this year for the first time, a record number. The WSJ says African Americans account for the largest percentage of the jump in gun-ownership. That’s understandable based on what’s happening in their communities in Democrat-run cities across the country.
BLM mobs used the killing of a black thug in Minneapolis as their rationale. But these goons have no interest in bringing about something called racial justice. If there were such a thing most of THEM would be in jail. The backlash from BLM anti-police activities is now resulting in police being ambushed and shot. Following the shootings of two police officers in Compton, CA last week a jackal took a video of the wounded officers and laughed as he shouted: “no justice, not peace.” It got worse. Disgusting protestors blocked a Los Angeles hospital’s emergency room doors where the two ambushed officers were taken while anarchists chanted “We hope they die.” Two police officers were shot in Louisville, KY Wednesday evening. These aren’t humans. They’re a crazed pack of blood-thirsty wolves.
Black Lives Matter says stealing on their behalf is a form of reparations. I have yet to hear them explain how stealing from black businesses equates to reparations.
BLM has no headquarters building, no phone number, and no street address; yet Liberal/Socialist donors and corporations who don’t want their buildings vandalized or businesses ruined by BLM donate millions of dollars in extortion. Where do they send it? Who do they make out their checks to?
The mess our inner cities are currently experiencing lies at the feet of BLM. They foment the hatred and their members are the ones destroying entire sections of the inner cities and looting businesses. You don’t make America better by destroying it.
Biden, Democrat mayors, governors, senators, and representatives refuse to condemn the violence because they fear a BLM backlash. But the backlash by the rest of America – black and white — on November 3 will be the one that’ll leave them stunned.
A Message From Another Joe: As we move closer to November 3rd and hear about all the issues surrounding mail-in ballots, it’s appropriate to recall Joseph Stalin’s definition of elections: “It doesn’t matter who casts the votes, but, rather, who counts them.”
Things I Wish I’d Said: “You know you are living in a brainwashed society when white people are protesting against white people for being white.” – anonymous.
City Commission Prognostication: My on-the-ground-close-to-the-action correspondent and wise local sage who knows more than most hereabouts tells me: “I think that the new commission will bring the Chip (Ross) and Dale (Martin) show to an end — or at least really slow it down. Len (Kreger) and Mike (Lednovich) will not be bullied, and the new ones are all independent thinkers (maybe not Lajoux (Alexandria) – but she will follow Mike). Chip does not have any ‘followers’ going forward – no Johnny Miller and Phil Chapman to make 3. Hope is out there somewhere.”
This wise man is assuming that BLM activist and hard-core Democrat Wendall McGahee’s Group 3 campaign against incumbent Chip Ross is hopefully doomed and somehow Alexandria Lajoux is in the mix in Group 2. I agree that McGahee’s campaign is a dead end. But I vehemently disagree on Lajoux and am pulling the lever for David Sturges, a man who has run a highly successful business here for close to 30 years. Lajoux may be a nice lady but she appears dazed and confused and counts trees among her major constituents. Bradley Bean, an articulate young man wise beyond his years, gets my vote in Group 1.
The wise and prophetic prognosticator went on to add: “Truly the city is a source of entertainment – too bad we have to pay for it – kind of like Comcast, but you can cancel that one.”
The city building department administers and enforces the Florida Building Code, set in Law by Florida Statute 553. Also, the requirement for who and how contracting is done is set by Florida Statute 489. City commissioners and City Manger do dictate building code. Building Code is adopted by the State. A local municipality can amend the code with some stronger requirements, as they have with Flood provisions as an example, which also benefit the community.
The Building Department is only PART of the permitting process. Building Department fees are used strictly (per Florida Statute) to only operate the Enforcement of the Florida Building Code. The Building Department does not operate off tax money, just permit fees. Planning and Conservation are local requirements that are directed by city leadership. The Building Department operates according to the laws of the State, and local ordinance. Codes are applied fairly and consistently. Municipalities have local requirements so that community values can be obtained and preserved.
Building Codes protect life and property and when a city has strong codes and enforcement, it benefits the community in many ways, such as lower insurance, higher property values and safer communities. Cities are rated by insurance agencies (ISO rating happens every three years and the higher a city is rated for its enforcement of the building codes, the lower insurance and better quality insurance is available). History has shown (great fires and natural events such as storms, hurricanes, etc) that strong codes greatly benefit a Community.
It looks like David Sturges and Bradley Bean are the right choice given the real issues that face the City–mounting debt and a crumbling infrastructure. The debt accruing to finish the Marina, the repair of Peck Center, the Atlantic Recreation Center, the 40+ beach walkovers, shoreline stabilization, and more will severely strain city finances. New capital projects, if approved will greatly amplify the fiscal strain—the waterfront park ($7-9 million), the Columbarium, buying more conservation land.
The other candidates are idealogues more focused on advancing a vision and non-responsive to dealing with the real issues confronting this town–more about talk and idealistic concepts than practical governance. The city badly needs wise governance not philosophy. Help make it happen–vote.
And there is the problem : “He lead a march for racial injustice that was escorted by the local police.” Yes, escorted by city police and supported by the city commissioners. Our city police and city commissioners supported and allowed hundreds of people, most from Jacksonville and Georgia, along with local liberal transplants, to illegally block Ash and Centre. The march was legal, but as soon as they marched down Ash and then down Centre, blocking access to both roads, it became illegal. Though most seem to refuse to believe it, it is absolutely illegal to block any roads during a protest. So our city commissioners and police chose to pander to a group of people and allow them to block our streets illegally while ignoring the actual rights of city taxpayers to unimpeded access to our streets. Now three people who are members of this group are running for a seat as city commissioner, Lajoux, Minshew, and McGahee. If you support illegal actions by protesters being allowed and protected at the expense of city taxpayers, then vote for these people. Elections matter. Do you want laws enforced or do you want political virtual signaling supported by city commissioners and police.
You’re right on the right track. As a small business owner here …..now closed and retired….I have known both Bradley and David for years. The citizens here are very lucky for them to step forward to offer their common sense and abilities that are needed so badly in this commission.
Good Luck fellows in the upcoming election.
btw, count me among the people that spent money trying to meet our building department’s everchanging ideas of what was needed to have a professional contractor build a simple sunroom addition. We gave up after 4 months of frustration after it was suggested that we could apply for a “variance” for a “fee” of $800 with no guarantee of approval and a time of 45 days. They had the plans from the builder for 90 days before coming up with this idea.
A local attorney that knows about such things said the department marches to the drum of the FBCC.
The contractor is out of Jacksonville and remarked that Fernandina is the hardest place to secure a building permit that they do business in.
Hopefully this will stop after this election and the direction and business atmosphere will soon change.
Have any of the other candidates been asked about their views on BLM? I’ve met Mr. MCgahee and he is not the radical person that you have painted him to be. It seems to me that you are the radical one. He lead a march for racial injustice that was escorted by the local police. He has alway been active in the community. Maybe you would recieve a different reaponce from him if you tried a different approach. Constantly making negative remarks about him and then trying to contact him is not the way to go about it.
I have lost my job due to COVID, my property taxes were raised this year. It is disgusting how tone deaf these commissioners are. We are suffering. We feel we are being extorted by the rich Doctor, Mr. Chip Ross who is an emergency room doctor and makes a lot of money. The rest of us make $12 an hour if we are lucky. You are right Dave, this is a mafia that operates out in the open; we even have a real mafioso from NYC at the port. Ragucci is the actual mafia. I am voting for Bean and Sturges to blunt tweedle dee and tweedle dum
You nailed it, Dave. We just converted a run down, ugly old “internet cafe” in the County to a modern office building. Fees, process and County officials were all reasonable. The community now has an attractive asset, our tenant has a great work place and our taxes will go up based on the increased property value. We will be delighted to pay those taxes; the County was a partner in creating that added value. Find a property owner or developer who says that about the city. You couldn’t give us a property in the City; just one endless shakedown. Their biggest crime is the exorbitant price the COFB paid to acquire the previously investor-owned water utility. Why pay such an unreasonable price? So they could charge unregulated rates and use the system as a means to coerce county residents into being annexed. Putin uses guns and thugs to annex; the COFB uses access to essential water and sewer services to coerce annexation.
Dear Dave, After attending the last city commission meeting, I couldn’t wait to read your blog because without your sane voice I would think that I was living in some alternate reality! Chip Ross can only justify spending…I would like to know just one item that he can cut. He also stated that he listens to his constituents! Really? I guess not at the July 29th meeting where every citizen who spoke was for the full rollback and cuts in spending. (and people outside in the rain to show their support) Chapman had the audacity to say, he can’t see the dire economic situation because “Amazon and Walmart have plenty of jobs to offer, people just have to go and get those jobs.” I guess he should walk next door to Pozzi Restaurant and let the owners know as they shudder their doors. Even the newspaper didn’t want a comment from the “three angry women” who attended. Obviously not good press, for Commissioners! We were simply offended by the council clowns (although kudos to the efforts of Commissioners Len Kreger and Mike Lednovich for trying). Also, would love for you to comment that the mayor should be required to remove his hat indoors at official meetings, not even the most basic protocol! Thanks for listening to a very frustrated fellow citizen!
I like Lajoux as a person, but after speaking with her several times about her platform and her ideas, there isn’t any way to reasonably support her for office.
And it pains me to say that, truly.
Sturges, and Bean….. Ross too
Elections have consequences, get out and vote for candidates that share your passions and views.
I have read this and past blogs on the subject of the
cities arrogance and high
handed way it governs.You
have written about a well
respected group of business
and professional people that
have made overtures to the
city leaders to change their
iron fisted way of treating the
citizens of Fernandina Beach.Obviously that tact
didn’t carry any weight.You
can’t use logic and sensible
practices on people that
most likely are deaf to those
ideas. It’s time to play hard
ball and go for the jugular
vein.Sue the bastards in a
court of law.Among this group and other concerned
citizens pool enough funds
to hire an attorney that
specializes in this type of
law.If that doesn’t work go to
the State surely Aaron Bean
must know how to direct the
group in the right direction.
Isn’t he still the State Senator for Nassau County
and his family long time
residents of Fernandina Beach? Wonder why he has
not spoken out on these
matters anyone know?
TY, keep up the good “word”!
Your best blog, ever, David. Spot-on and obviously passion-driven. Good for you. Hope citizens + elected officials are paying attention and drive change.