Musings, opinions, observations, questions, and random thoughts on island life, Fernandina Beach and more

Musings, opinions, observations, questions, and random thoughts on island life, Fernandina Beach and more

Buy-Gones Gone Sign A Bad Sign For Local Fernandina Beach Businesses

img_1503One of the signs on the South 8th Street woman’s resale boutique Buy-Gones is gone and that’s a bad sign for other Fernandina Beach businesses.

Buy-Gones, which has been a community fixture for more than 25 years was purchased a decade ago by Barb Kent, who also operates a Buy-Gones retail outlet in Yulee and employs between four and five part time people, some who have been there almost 15 years.

As a retail resale boutique, drive-by traffic is key to the economic success of Ms. Kent’s stores, and since her location in Fernandina Beach is on 7th Street, with the back of the two-story facility facing the busy 8th Street (near Lime) corridor leading to town, it is extremely difficult to catch the eye of drivers along 8th Street without a prominent sign. Forget walk-in pedestrian traffic as it is almost nonexistent along 7th street or that part of 8th Street.

The sign facing south — one of two that have been in use on the store for more than a decade — became functionally outdated with letters fading and the neon technology becoming obsolete, so Ms. Kent purchased and installed a new one at a cost of almost $1,000.

The attractive new sign, which is a significant improvement over the old one, falls into the “let’s clean up the shabby looking 8th Street ” program city officials have been clamoring for the past several years.

But instead of stopping by and patting Ms. Kent on the back, the city’s jack-booted code enforcement organization descended on her store like it was kristallnacht in 1938 Germany, demanding the new sign come down. NOW! “Und, nix, zee old sign can go back up NOT,” they ordered.

Huh? What? Why? Because the city changed the rules. That’s great. The heel clickers at city hall change the rules and not until almost $1,000 has been spent the business owner isn’t told. So in an effort to improve the looks of a facility; cooperate with the city’s 8th Street beautification scheme; and drive customers to the store, a business owner is penalized. Based on this Monty Python form of city governance I assume business owners should assign an employee to contact city hall on a daily basis to keep track of these secretive and costly new rules. And guess what? Property taxes are going up too! Those wild and whacky folks at city hall sure know how to ingratiate themselves to the local business community.

Oh, and it’s not like Ms. Kent is the “Wonderful Life” antagonist Mr. Potter of local businesses here. Just the opposite. The gregarious and energetic Ms. Kent devotes large chunks of her free time to a variety of local fund raising and charitable organizations ranging from Optimists and Rotary Club efforts to local fundraisers and serving as a host home for foreign exchange students. She has also been a community-minded entrepreneur insuring that her stores reflect positively on her business and the community. Henry F. Potter represents the city in this scenario.

ZJ7jjMDMs. Kent has appealed to the city’s Mr. Potters in writing asking them to grandfather her sign and so far nobody has responded. Why not? I have driven South on 8th Street and there are a number of businesses with signs on both sides of their buildings. Will the city demand they each take one of them down too?

If Ms. Kent tells environmental extremists, Mayor Johnny Miller and Commissioner Len Kreger, that her sign is a nesting area for endangered Mongolian dung beetles, they’d probably fall all over themselves to help, even taking time away from their crusades to ban spray deodorants, plastic bags, balloons, puppy farms and common sense, to assist a local tax-paying business. But I doubt it as you can look those two commissioners in the eyes and quickly come to the conclusion that, even though the lights are on, nobody’s home.

Is anybody else at home in city hall that can get this outrageous injustice resolved in Ms. Kent’s favor? Commissioner Tim Poynter? You’re the only business owner on the commission so surely you have some empathy with Ms. Kent. Can you intervene? Or is this the kind of nonsense other prospective businesses can expect if they decide to locate here? If you’re a current business owner you may soon have to raise your hand and ask someone at city hall when you need to use the rest room because your impact fees will probably go up after so many flushes.

Ms. Kent, a pretty and fiery redhead, is a retired U. S. Navy Lieutenant Commander (LCDR), and not one to give up easily. But it would be refreshing if the city would lift a finger to help instead of gleefully poking her in the eye with it.


Speaking Of City Issues: Unlike employees of private firms government employees live under a microscope and that’s as it should be since they work for us and it’s our money they are spending and they rightly need to be held accountable.

It takes thick skin to be evaluated publically as is the case for the city manager, city clerk, city attorney and most other folks with managerial authority in local municipalities including Fernandina Beach. The past two former city managers in Fernandina can certainly attest to that. And then there are the Sunshine Laws and Requests for Information requirements that the governments are obligated to follow that can expose any employee to public scrutiny.

I recently heard that Ms. Nan Voit, Director of the city’s Parks & Recreation Department was suspended for five days without pay. My inquiry produced documents indicating that Ms. Voit, a likeable lady who always struck me as a conscientious employee, but whose department has recently been embroiled in financial control issues, was unhappy with her most recent employee evaluation conducted by City Manager Dale Martin, and she took out her anger and frustration concerning that evaluation out on her department employees in a series of not very diplomatic text messages.

Ms. Voit has provided the city a valuable service in the years she has worked here, and I’m sure that after her September 26-30 suspension is over she will take a fresh look at her position and approach the job with renewed dedication and vigor. I read the documents and there are not many folks that could stand up to being evaluated publically, particularly when the evaluation is not to their liking. It’s tough.

City Manager Martin is a no-nonsense guy and this should be a shot across the bow to others that he’ll not abide or tolerate insubordination or a lack of financial control, among other issues. He did what he had to do even though it involved a likable and dedicated employee.


Oh Johnny! Oh Johnny! Oh! Part Two: Apparently Mayor Johnny Miller’s bounced check issue isn’t over yet. City officials (City Attorney, Tammi Bach and City Clerk, Carolyn Best) say that Mr. Miller’s bouncing $120 qualifying check is OK with them since he covered it in time and the state statute they cite covers nonpartisan elections. That’s right. But from what I’ve read that statute only applies to judicial offices and school board members. It does not reference other nonpartisan elected positions. And since Fernandina Beach Mayor Johnny Miller is not running for a school board or a judicial position he should be disqualified to run for reelection to the City Commission, so say lawyers and others who have looked at this issue.

The statute says: “If a candidate’s check is returned by the bank for any reason, the filing officer shall immediately notify the candidate and the candidate shall have until the end of qualifying to pay the fee with a cashier’s check purchased from funds of the campaign account.” The statute, clearly says that it requires disqualification of a candidate that did not pay the fee by the end of the qualifying period.

The filing for City Commissioner closed on August 5, 2016. Mr. Miller made payment after August 19 and from what I’ve heard on the street this issue is not going away anytime soon. Shouldn’t the fact that this guy can’t balance his own checkbook also be of concern to voters who entrust their commissioners with the city’s budget that’s made up of their tax money?


Public OpinionWho, What, When, Where, Why & Huh? The local News-Leader newspaper’s “From the Porch” word jumble cobbled together by their columnist Dickie Anderson boasted a headline this past Wednesday that I don’t think even the confused Ms. Anderson was responsible for writing, since the paper recently hired a new copy editor.

The column, a sleep-inducing mess about local houses being built with material from the old Egmont Hotel, was headlined: “God bless America: Standing for patriotic music” across five columns at the top of page 5B. However, there wasn’t a word anywhere in Ms. Anderson’s column or anywhere else on that page about patriotic music, God, America or standing. Maybe that’s the new copy editor’s approach of tricking people into reading Ms. Anderson’s muddled ramblings.  

In most newspapers the basics of writing a story’s lead paragraph traditionally includes the five “W’s” of Who, What, When, Where, and Why, a journalistic given that is often ignored by the local News-Leader. For example the paper often prints press releases verbatim rarely editing a single word and it apparently rarely, if ever, contacts the firm, group or agency issuing the material for clarification or comment. That’s great for those issuing the releases, but many times not so much for the paper’s readers. For example, for the past several weeks now the paper has printed a story in its “People & Places” section touting the “Taste of Amelia” event November 18 at the Amelia Island Plantation. It lists everything except the $50 per person price, a fact that I think would be relevant to those considering attending the function. Or am I going wrong here?

If nothing else the New-Leader provides its readers a healthy mental exercise of solving a word puzzle twice a week.


Something To Think About Before You Vote: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” — Winston Churchill.


The Original Deplorables: The George Soros-funded phony-baloney “Black Lives Matter” group says that the nation’s police forces are targeting black people. If for some absurd reason that was true, all the police would have to do is stop answering calls and patrolling black neighborhoods, as the unprecedented number of black-on-black homicides would be even more staggering without police intervention. Why aren’t black organizations questioning this catastrophe and proposing programs to fix it instead of attacking the only people out there protecting them from their homicidal neighbors?


Expressing Himself: As the November 8 election grows nearer I’ve noticed an increase in political bumper stickers, yard signs and frantic Internet activity by folks expressing their opinions on the candidates, and I spotted this pickup truck in the parking lot of the Sadler Street post office recently clearly expressing the driver’s sentiments. While I was taking this photo the owner told me that he frequently parks his truck as close as possible to the local Democratic Party office, which I’m sure generates looks from within that would indicate their building was being approached by a death star.


Drinking, Dining & Dancing: Iconic island piano man John Springer has a new gig upstairs at Tim Poynter’s Karibo Restaurant, the corner of North 3rd Street and Alachua, with a Baby Grand Piano guaranteed to WOW! audiences each Wednesday evening beginning at 6:30 and running until 9 o’clock starting Wednesday, October 12. The amicable, tuxedo-clad Mr. Springer, who has been successfully entertaining local and visiting folks for many years beginning at the Beech Street Grill will continue his 6-9 p.m. Thursday and Saturday night performances at the Centre Street Alley Cat until that establishment closes sometime in the future following its purchase by Dr. Robert Hogan, who hasn’t announced his intentions so far. The new Karibo venue is a natural for Mr. Springer and will attract an enthusiastic crowd as he transitions to the new venue with beer, wine and mixed drinks as well as an appetizing menu. I’m surprised other hospitality locations didn’t snatch this guy up sooner. Call Karibo at 904/ 277-5269. I’ve heard from several sources that the Fletcher Avenue Surf is about to be sold and the prospective new owner has almost finished his due diligence, and if and when the deal does close, the new guy is rumored to say he’ll improve and add on to the current facility Let’s hope he hangs on to Joey Ledet, the manager/chef who makes the best muffuletta outside of Central Grocery in New Orleans among other terrific Cajun menu items. Oh, and now that the hapless Jaguars are 0-3 with little hope of improving significantly, can they turn off a few of the TVs in local pubs that carry that dreadful team to enable fans of competitive NFL organizations to watch their teams? Just because the appallingly bad Jaguar team calls Jacksonville home, doesn’t mean we should be forced to watch these stumblebums on the big screens with sound week-after-week. And speaking of football, one of the best deals on the island for football fans is the Thursday night Crab Trap special featuring one dollar draught beers, a bucket of domestic brews for 10 bucks, 50 cent wings, 16 dollars for a bucket of raw-you-shuck-’em oysters and one-half off appetizers. Find a better deal than this on Thursdays or any other night if you can and then tell me please. Call ’em at 904/261-4749.

  • Comment (10)
  • Assuming Ms. Kent hired a sign company to build and install the dilapidated sign you refer to, I don’t understand why this company wouldn’t have pulled a permit as part of their services. Certainly any legitimate sign company would do this intuitively. That process would have likely resulted in the owner finding out about the sign ordinance before she invested a bunch of money in the process. If I were Ms, Kent, and I had no option except to remove the sign, I would expect the sign company to reimburse the cost if they in fact failed to do their job in pulling proper permits.

    Ms. Kent should have one more option… She can have the issue addressed by the Code Enforcement Appeals Board (which I chair), which may or may not offer her some other possibilities. Whether that would help her or not just depends on the specifics of the situation, as well as the interpretation by my fellow board members.

    p.s. I think you meant Dr. Robert Hogan, not Dr. Robert Morgan.

  • Yes, it seems the sign problem was a lack of a permit. You didn’t mention if she had a permit or not. An innocent oversight?

    • Come on Chuck, she needs a permit to change, replace or improve an exiting sign? That’s like telling me I need a permit to rearrange the furniture in my living room. It’s over-regulation at all levels of government that is stifling economic activity by businesses. I agree with Pat Keogh’s comment here.

  • What Barb has learned again is that the city has unlimited capacity to destroy economic activity. We developed the most attractive property on 8th St under stifling city regulation and predatory impact fees. It took longer to get city approvals than it did to complete the work. So we never developed again on 8th. With public friction as high as it is in the city economic activity and talent simply goes elsewhere. My answer? Abolish city government as an unnecessary, destructive duplication of County government. For example, what possible sense does it make for a community of 10,000 to have a “Code Enforcement Appeals Board”?

  • Any business owner should have known that changing signage may involve a permit. At the very least you would go to the code and review current permissible sign regulations, which in turn would have indicated a need for a permit. A local sign company should have also been aware a permit was necessary. Your claim this is an “outrageous injustice ” is ridiculous. The overall community wants to have stronger sign regulations. Business does have a right to signs announcing their location, but allowing business owners to decide what those signs will be, size, how many, electronic, etc. creates an ongoing escalation of signage as each business competes for more eye catching appeal. The results is what you see in so much of Florida, a visual blight on our community. As if your driving through an endless commercial. As far as regulating signs on Amelia island I am very much in favor of that. I’d love to see all those commercial flags that have popped up in recent years be regulated too.

  • Suggesting that the abolishment of ordinances which regulate and enforce the signage allowable for businesses in the City makes absolutely no sense at all. I think City Staff does a commendable job of trying to enforce building and zoning codes equitably. Most business would prefer to have larger signage if allowable, but why should one business be given the opportunity to deviate from the codes, while all others play by the rules? The analogy of comparing signage ordinances and permitting to rearrangement of furniture in your personal residence probably doesn’t substantiate your argument very successfully.

    The Code Enforcement Appeals Board exists as a venue for citizens and business owners to present a credible argument when they feel the enforcement of codes and regulations by the municipality is creating a hardship. If this business owner feels there is a justifiable reason why they should be held to a different standard that other businesses in the community, they should present their argument. That is the entire reason the process exists… so the Municipality doesn’t have sole authority… and fellow citizens appointed to the board can consider the situation from a different perspective.

  • Bottom line on Mz Kent sign issue. We want to attract local business to stay here. We want local business to hire local help. We just seem to make it so hard for local business too stay local. Why is it the gun is always pointed at our foot?

  • Mr. Morrison:
    I was recently contacted by a high quality food services operator to buy and renovate a derelict building on S 8th St. Everything was right and he expected we could get the property at a very low price. I told him I would love to do another deal with him but refused to develop in the City because of all the senseless fees and crazy, time wasting and costly regulations. Result? We have a contract on a property in Jacksonville. So you may think the conflict Barb Kent is going through is no big deal. Ms. Kent and her business are community assets and the time spent on senseless regulation, permit fees and appeals is time and money she does not have for her business.


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