The past two Sundays Fernandina Beach business owners, ranging from hotels and restaurants to toy stores and clothing boutiques and more have been left sitting in the dark without knowing why thanks to Florida Public Utilities.
The Sunday (October 30) following the crowded Saturday Florida-Georgia game day and just before brunch the power went out downtown and in other nearby areas for almost half the business day while this past Sunday it happened again starting about 1:30 p.m. and lasting until close to 5 p.m.
During both “Black Sundays” restaurants had to cancel reservations; hotel and bed and breakfast guests had no lights or air conditioning and fled their rooms; shops couldn’t ring up sales or use their credit card machines; and tens of thousands of dollars in revenue went down FPU’s black hole faster than the hapless Jaguars could rack up loss number six to Kansas City’s Chiefs. The only bright spot in the darkness was that local Jaguar fans didn’t have to witness that sad mess due to blank TV screens.
To compound the financial misery suffered by local businesses FPU continued to keep their frustrated and infuriated customers in the dark when they called to ask about the outage. I personally witnessed a hotel general manager, three restaurant owners and four shop keepers attempt to get through to FPU only to get “push one for, two for, etc.” recordings, without ever being connected to a real person to respond to their questions. One person was on hold for close to an hour before finally giving up.
A couple of them resorted to calling the Fernandina Beach Police Department (NOT 911) which accurately answered their queries That’s like calling some guy in India to answer a question about your home computer, oh, wait a minute……
The cops said the first Sunday outage was due to a traffic accident while the second one was caused by a switch pole on South Fletcher and insulators and stuff that failed on other poles that impact the downtown area.
In media reports FPU’s Government Relations Manager, Ramiro Sicre, admitted that FPU has problems with its emergency telephone lines and added that he has tried to contact the restaurants with an apology.
I’m sure they’d rather have a check for the money lost in sales than an insincere “Sorry ’bout that folks.”
And speaking of power-hungry, the city’s other robber-baron utility is still running amok.
During the recent election there was one person who — if his name had been on the ballot — would have likely lost by a landslide and then some, and that is John Mandrick, Fernandina Beach’s director of the utilities department.
I’ve never heard from or met one single local business person that has a good word to say about this guy, just the opposite. Every time this man’s name comes up in a conversation with local business owners they turn purple with rage.
This is a man, whose reputation with local business people is so unsavory that his name has become a verb describing a distasteful action and who acts like a used car salesman on straight commission, bullying and strong-arming prospective buyers, in this case local businesses.
Local business owners have actually described this guy to me as glaring at them across his desk as he rubs his forefinger and thumb together saying: “You have to pay to play” in order to collect his ransom style impact fees for water and sewer hook-ups. They have been “Mandricked”, a term described in scathing detail by local magazine and newspaper columnist Steve Nicklas not too long ago.
If he twirled the ends of his black mustache while demanding payment, he’d be a dead ringer for cartoon villain Snidely Whiplash as he tied Nell Fenwick to the railroad tracks. Oh, and this city servant at one time was reprimanded and suspended from his duties for a week because he “verbally abused” an employee in his organization, not exactly a pleasant person with whom to deal in or out of the office.
Several business have been forced to close their doors after being “Manricked” while others scrapped expansion plans or set up shop in more business friendly communities. Others had no choice but to cough up the cash while the allegedly business-friendly folks on the city commission sat on their hands grinning at each other. Where are the business owner’s advocates in this city? Other city officials have jurisdiction over his guy but nobody does anything.
I’ve heard about places of businesses that Mandrick knew were grandfathered in on the outrageous fees but he tried to extort them anyway. In one case he actually attempted to convince a one-person hair dresser that a water fountain that required a bank account-busting impact fee was required in her shop. If she hadn’t fought it she would have had the only beauty shop on Amelia Island with a water fountain….. a very expensive water fountain.
The formula for these fees appears to be as secretive as the one Coca Cola keeps in its safe for its signature product as no one I have met understands how they are calculated. “Mandrick,” one disgruntled businessman told me, “just pulls numbers out of his …..”
Most business owners tell me they are reluctant to go public with their complaints because they don’t want city officials to retaliate and make it even worse on them. That’s like going to a department store exchange counter expecting the clerk to slap you in the face.
Wouldn’t it be better for city hall to take a step back and calculate how much revenue in taxes the city could generate from successful future businesses rather than extort them for water and sewer hook ups?
In a 2014 court case Judge Brian Davis ruled that the City of Fernandina’s “impact fees” do not comply with Florida Law, that the “Impact Fees” were used to purchase the water facility as a whole in violation of law and that the amount of the “Impact Fees” were arrived at “through a wholly arbitrary negotiation process.” He also ruled that “Persons paying the Impact Fees have received no benefit from their fees which is rationally related to the payment of that fee.”
So what did the city do? It filed an appeal and lost, wasting thousands of tax payer dollars. It then calculated a cockamamie scheme to keep the fees, slipping around the court’s illegal label as it continues extorting its business community now calling them “capacity fees.”
“This is just highway robbery under the guise of the government,” said Pat Keogh, who owns restaurant and other properties in Fernandina and fled the city for Austin, Texas due to the outrageous fees. “When the rest of the universe is trying to make it easier for business, Fernandina Beach is trying to squelch it,” Keogh told the Jacksonville Business Journal before taking his capital and leaving to invest it in Texas.
If you’re a business person in Fernandina Beach it appears that one utility will keep you in the dark while the other one water boards you, and then they both will bill you.
A Bowl Of Buuz Please: If you overhear someone in a local tavern this weekend order a bowl of Buuz and a bottle of Airag it’s probably a member of the Mongolian petanque team that is here participating in the 2016 Petanque America Open being held beginning this evening and running through Sunday, November 13. The event, which this year is expected to attract some 400-500 folks from 14 countries (and yes Mongolia is one of them) and 25 states, is the largest petanque tournament in the United States. The brainchild of affable local expatriate Belgian Philippe Boets, the competition will be held at the petanque courts on the south side of the city marina downtown and will feature live music, food, crafts, beer and wine and lots of people speaking languages most of us from these parts won’t understand. So come on down, watch the action, meet new friends and pretend you’re on an around the world vacation trip.
Good News, Bad News Department: The bad news is that Johnny Miller won reelection to the Fernandina Beach City Commission. The good news is that Johnny Miller won reelection to the Fernandina Beach City Commission. Bad news because I don’t care for his anti-business policies and extreme environmental antics and good news because Moonbeam Miller makes terrific copy for this blog and my Amelia Island News-Wrecker. I’ve got to give him credit though because the personable Palace Saloon barkeep conducted a clean, well organized campaign and walloped his opponent 56.5 percent to 43.5 percent.
Here’s How To Help A Little A Lot: Kevin Little, who has been the Fernandina Beach Harbor Master for more than 30 years, suffered devastating losses when his home, which was not covered by flood insurance, was severely damaged by Hurricane Matthew, so those that have worked with Kevin over the years are reaching out to help and asking the community to join them on two musical twilight boat cruises this evening, Friday, November 11. Captain Sean McCarthy has volunteered to provide the live music on one of the boats while Jim Barcaro will entertain on the other boat. The two BYOB adult cruises depart the downtown harbor at 4:30 p.m. and return at 6:30. All proceeds will go to Mr. Little who is one of just two employees left at the severely damaged marina and is working seven days a week to help make repairs. To get your tickets call ’em at 904/261-9972 or go online at www.ameliarivercruises.com.
Good Things Come in Threes Right? The Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908, then Donald Trump defied the polls and whacked Hillary Clinton to become the 45th President of the United States. So based on those two “good things” I went out and bought a lottery ticket and am waiting to see if the old adage rings true.
Some Election Observations: Wednesday morning, November 9, I tuned into Jacksonville’s WJCT (89.9 FM), the local National Public Radio affiliate to enjoy a little “schadenfreude”, a German word for finding joy in the misery of others, and I found plenty of it on that sad station as I’ve never heard such weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth since I snuck into a southern faith-healing tent revival in my youth. The same on CNN as stunned hosts, analysts and their guests, all attributed Trump’s win to “dim, uneducated white men” claiming that the country is doomed as Republicans won a trifecta sweeping the Presidency, Senate and House, the first time the GOP has had a clean sweep election since 1928. *** The “safe places” at colleges and universities where the fragile flower blossoms traumatized by Trump’s win can get counseling, free hugs, and coloring books, must be jammed to overflowing possibly creating a market for building, selling and delivering portable “safe places” converted from storage pods that consist of a cot, padded walls and eating utensils with no sharp edges. *** I’m thinking that the shredding machines in government buildings all over Washington are probably working overtime and that many White House staffers are asking the demoralized and corrupt Clinton Campaign staff if they can borrow some of those cell phone and lap top smashing hammers before the Trump team moves in. *** If there was such a thing I’d be investing in Mexican brick futures. *** This election is proof that the Electoral College system works, otherwise California and New York, the two most populous and liberal states in the country would always be dictating who the President would be while residents of other states would be ignored. We are a republic, not a democracy, and the majority does not rule here, thank goodness. The differences between a democracy and a republic are the limits placed on government. In a republic, the Constitution protects certain inalienable rights that cannot be taken away by the government, even if it has been elected by a majority of voters. In a democracy the majority is not restrained in this way and can impose its will on the minority, or as Gorge Washington called it — “mob rule.” *** Oh, and what did San Francisco quarterback Colin “sit on your butt during the national anthem” Kaepernick do on Election Day? He didn’t vote! Here’s a guy who is one of the reasons audience numbers in the NFL are dropping faster than Obama’s legacy and says he’s doing it because of social justice, that he can’t stand to be in a country where minorities are so poorly treated — and on the one day where he really has something to say and do about it, he sits on his butt and doesn’t go vote. Well, the NFL fans are voting by turning of their TVs and not going to games.
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: The monthly luncheon that I enjoy with friends Joe Murphy and Cal Atwood was held the day after the election minus Cal, who was recovering from staying up all night watching election returns. Joe and I ate Cal’s portion as we enjoyed 11 North 3rd Street’s Sabia, a Mediterranean street food joint that features exactly what it advertises. I had the $9.00 gyro, with thinly sliced lamb and beef, piquillo peppers, harissa aioli, sitting on pita bread and a small Greek salad all sprinkled with a tasty Greek sauce. I also had the $5.00 seafood bisque, soup of the day. The gyro was terrific but next time I’d skip the soup and go for the $4.00 olives and feta marinated in olive oil and herbs. Joe’s order somehow got mixed up to his advantage as he ended up with a plate full of $4.00 chick pea fritters, a $9.00 Mediterranean style pork sausage and peppers sitting on pita bread and a $7.00 Sicilian sausage with roasted peppers, onions, potatoes, olives and herbs as the counter clerk thought he ordered both items. The food was good, the servers friendly, and the restaurant busy and we’d go back again. Call ’em at 904/624-7447. While looking for a place to get a haircut Wednesday, then thinking I’d stop somewhere afterwards for a cold beer, I managed to kill two birds with one stone at Studio 1 Barber Shop, a clip joint that offers free beer with a haircut. “Free Beer” is a sign that always gets my attention and the young ladies that run this old fashioned shop are true to their word. It’s located at 1428 Sadler Road, next to the Pet Supermarket near 14th Street and also offers hot towels and shaves. Ask for Keila, a Puerto Rican hottie who gives a great haircut for $15.00. Call ’em at 904/624-7295.