If the little girl in the 1986 film “Poltergeist II” had attended the February 17 Fernandina Beach City Commission meeting she most certainly would have had cause to squeal her now familiar refrain.
But instead of “evil spirits” what has returned to haunt residents of Fernandina Beach is a baffling 5-0 commission shutout vote and something even scarier…impact fees. These “illegal fees” are being reinstated right on the heels of a $3.5 million legal and consulting impact fee fiasco lawsuit caused by an inept city attorney and is being paid out of city coffers — money that belongs to tax payers.
I’m convinced that the city commissioners voted to reinstate this foolishness because it is a complex issue and I’m not sure they understand it very well. Either that or they have a total disregard for the law. They need to reread Judge Brian Davis’s decision, if they ever read it in the first place. He said the fees were illegal. The city lost a costly legal battle over them and is now having to cough up money that was illegally assessed.
In its ruling against the city on the impact fee bond validation law suit, the court said “The impact fees do not comply with Florida law and as a result are unlawful.” What is so difficult about that to understand? The city loses a massive lawsuit because the court said what it is doing is unlawful and our commissioners turn around and say: “Let’s do it again.” It’s like they got a traffic ticket for speeding and were told by City Attorney Tammi Bach: “OK, the cop is gone now so floor it.”
Of all the commissioners that I thought would vote against the new imposition of fees was restaurateur Tim Poynter, who will actually get money back because of the last lawsuit. But maybe I’m missing something here. Perhaps Poynter is afraid of being called out for improper influence since he owns a local restaurant. It’s happened to him in the past as the local News-Leader wrote one of the most wretched pieces of rubbish I’ve ever read in a failed attempt to accuse then commission candidate Poynter of acting illegally even though he did nothing wrong. Admittedly, as a commissioner, he’s in an uncomfortable position on this issue. But come on Tim, what were you thinking?
Something very strange happens to these folks once they are elected. During the election they sound and act like reasonable people. But like the “pod people” in the movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” once they slide into those big fat leather swivel chairs in commission chambers, they look the same, but begin acting very peculiar. For example when he was running for office Johnny Miller said “Impact fees may be necessary, but their ‘impact’ should be beneficial, not harmful, and when elected I will encourage the city commission to take a very hard look at how these fees are calculated.” Hey Johnny, you can stop looking now. The problem is you and your fellow commissioners, City Attorney Bach, your consigliere, and Public Utilities Director John Mandrick, your enforcer.
During her campaign Commissioner Robin Lentz said: “No matter how ambitious and altruistic our objectives are we need to bring our government in line with the realities that businesses and families face every day: spending plans must depend on the amount of money that is available and that our elected officials are stewards of that money and therefore must ensure that it is strictly accounted for, penny-by-penny.” I don’t think she meant “let’s keep breaking the law and shaking down our local business community.” However, I could be wrong.
As far as Mayor Ed Boner goes he never says much of anything. It’s like he’s running for Mr. Congeniality and doesn’t want to rock the boat.
Commissioners Pat Gass and Miller will slavishly vote for anything that City Manager Joe Geritty and City Attorney Bach want, but I thought the return of these illegally extracted fees would generate at least some discussion by Poynter, Commissioners Lentz and Mayor Boner. But just silence. Go figure.
By far the best and most comprehensive commentary I’ve read on the issue is an opinion-editorial by local lawyer, entrepreneur and real estate magnate Patrick J. Keogh that appeared in the News-Leader last Friday, February 20 headlined “City continues its contempt for the law.”
The very articulate Mr. Keogh didn’t pull any punches saying in his conclusion: “If city commissioners, the city manager and city attorney again install an ordinance or administrative process that violates state law, they should not only be sued but indicted.”
If you haven’t read Keogh’s piece do so. Then tell our commissioners what you think.
The Fire Station’s Still On Fire
During that same commission session a decision to investigate the brouhaha that has been roiling the city’s fire department the past many months was delayed at the request of City Attorney Bach, who said it would adversely impact the city’s defense in former city Human Resources Director Robin Marley’s Whistleblower lawsuit.
If you’re new to the city, you’ll notice that we’re awash in lawsuits, none of which Ms. Bach or her tax payer-funded truckload of out-of-town attorneys have fought successfully. She’s Amos & Andy’s Algonquin J. Calhoun on steroids.
But getting back to the firefighters issue, Commissioner Lentz, disappointed many in the packed chambers by becoming one of the three commissioners that voted to postpone the investigation, but diluted that letdown somewhat saying that Geritty’s job was on the line in this case, a fact the city manager acknowledged since he was the guy who single handedly screwed up the entire department. In casting her vote Lentz said “I’m with Commissioner Poynter that we charge the city manager with fixing this problem. I don’t know that it can be fixed in 30 days. I’m willing to look at 60 days. It puts your job on the line, Joe, when you can’t fix it.”
Commissioner Poynter and Mayor Ed Boner both voted to initiate the investigation now and voiced their disenchantment with the manner in which department complaints have been handled to date. Poynter echoed the thoughts of many in the chambers when he told Geritty,” If this commission does not want to move forward with an investigation, I want to know from the city manager—what are YOU going to do about this problem, because this is a problem. The reason I believe there is a problem in the Fire Department is poor hiring decisions by the city manager. We have a chief and a deputy chief who do not have the experience and the gravitas to win the trust and belief of those under them.”
We’ll now wait another 60 days to start an investigation into this crucial issue. And that should give Geritty plenty of time to get his resume ready.
Look Up in the Sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s, uuh, a parachutist and he wants to land on the beach. Local resident John (JC) Hornsby is promoting a plan he says is “to try and bring more attention and more income to our city which desperately needs it by landing tandem skydivers on our beautiful beaches.” I’m not sure about the benefits of people falling out of airplanes and landing on our beaches populated by tourists and residents. I’m sure they’ll find it interesting particularly if one lands on dad or mom snoozing on a beach blanket. I don’t know anything about jumping out of airplanes other than what I see on the Military History Channel, and I don’t think Hornsby plans a full scale D-Day like invasion of our shoreline. He says his plans are safe and his jumpers accurate. We’ll wait to see what the city says.
A Tip of the Hat to State Rep Janet Atkins of Fernandina Beach: On the Yulee High School student who was chastised for saying “God bless America” following his broadcast of the school’s morning announcements recently she says: “Students have a right to share their views. This student absolutely has a right to share his views and I am proud that he would honor this great nation by asking God to bless. Today we all should share this great blessing in the town square, God Bless America!” And God bless Rep. Atkins!
Speaking of Hat Tipping: Dedicated Parks & Recreation employee Jay Robertson deserves a pat on the back and a hearty thanks for his efforts on putting on a successful downtown chili cook off last Saturday. As one of the participants (Endangered Species Chili) I can attest to the work that goes into setting up a program like this and witnessed firsthand the happy crowd that sampled some 20 bowls of red, toe tapped to the live music, and took advantage of the vendors, children’s area, etc. Last week I said that Jay was Director of Fernandina Beach’s Parks and Recreation. He isn’t. That’s Nan Voit. But Jay does all the work. Just kidding Ms. Voit. However, I’m sure Ms. Voit is delighted to have such a hardworking imaginative guy as Jay on her staff and so are we as citizens. Next time I see you around town remind me to buy you a beer Jay. Oh, by the way our entry’s chili, concocted by Joe’s 2nd Street Bistro owner and chef Ricky Pigg, took a second place in the spiciest category. Ricky created a bison-based chili that reminded me of some of the best I’ve ever had in Texas. However, the judges were apparently all from East of the Mississippi, because we didn’t take overall honors. That went to the Surf’s entry with friend Pajmadave, with his whiskey and beer concoction coming in second, just a squeak behind the winner. We had fun and the sponsoring Montessori School raised a lot of cash.
ObamaCare: The White House reports that 11.4 million Americans selected insurance plans by the February 15 deadline, which is well below the projections of 13 million by 2015. According to Forbes magazine, “If previous trends hold, ObamaCare exchanges have enrolled roughly five million previously uninsured individuals: a far cry from 11.4 million.” Now, extensions are being offered and sought. Source Georgia Public Policy Foundation.
Does He Or Doesn’t He? Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said at a private dinner for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker recently that he doesn’t believe President Obama “loves America” and “lacks moral clarity.” Those comments have received support in some circles, condemnation in others and raised questions about some of Obama’s previous comments about then sitting president George Bush. At a White House press briefing last week FOX News’ Ed Henry asked press secretary Josh Earnest if President Obama had any regrets about calling then-President Bush “unpatriotic” for adding four trillion dollars to the national debt when Obama was running for president. Ernest spouted pure gibberish and appeared totally unprepared for the question. Perhaps the best defense of Giuliani’s remarks came from Franklin Graham, President and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, who recently took to social media to defend the mayor’ words saying: “Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has taken a lot of heat from the media for his remark that he’s not sure if President Obama really loves America. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do know that the president defends Islam and chastises Christians, rebukes our allies and befriends our enemies, and fully supports gay marriages and abortion but denies the religious freedoms of those who don’t agree. Our nation is ridiculed abroad and morally crumbling within. We are in trouble. We have turned our back on God.”
I Thought It Was Something I Ate: Former L.A. Times humor columnist and blogger Burt Prelutsky says that a Tampa nurse named Maxxzandra (and wouldn’t that name be worth a zillion points in Scrabble if it weren’t a proper noun?) Ford who you’d think would know something about pregnancy, gave birth to a 14.1 pound baby at St. Joseph’s Hospital recently but said she didn’t even know she was pregnant until her 35th week. I suppose she thought it was just taking a long time to digest the bowling ball she ate at Thanksgiving.
Trouble at The Times-Union? Someone in the Jacksonville-based Florida Times-Union is in trouble. This past Tuesday, February 24 there wasn’t a single mention of the hometown NFL team, Jacksonville Jaguars in the entire paper. Not one! Somebody will answer to Shad Kahn for this journalistic blunder.
Kudos to Jay Robertson! I’ve attended the chili cook off for the last several years and this year’s was by far the best. I think part of it was the beautiful weather but surely the great music helped attract more guests. I also liked that the kids area was strategically placed within view of the stage. I was able to let me kid play and still hear the music.
Thank you Patrick. I don’t know the answer to this but does the county/Yulee charge the foolish impact fee tax compared to the city?
Tom Yankus has it exactly right. By Utility Director, John Mandrick’s, own admission the City has enormous excess water and sewer capacity. The excess water capacity was bought and the excess sewer capacity was foolishly built by Mr. Mandrick. Impact fees may only be spent to provide additional facilities to meet the needs of new development. Those funds may not be used for maintenance and operating expenses. Why does he do it? Because he can. If you don’t pay his exaction you cannot get an occupancy permit. He just shook me down for over $2,000 for a new restaurant that is in a building that has long been a restaurant. The result of this continuing illegal exploitation? As Tom Yankus suggests I will take my capital and talents elsewhere. These fees are simply a tax on change. A community that taxes change cannot prosper.
You recently told me you welcome criticism, so let me take a shot at a couple of items in this week’s blog:
1. It’s sad to see you (and Rep. Atkins) piling on to the bandwagon of the “God Bless America” non-story. What started as a case of kids acting like kids got blown way out of proportion by adults not acting like adults. In the process, any meaningful lesson gets lost. It probably doesn’t hurt for our kids to learn that under the constitutional principles that protect us all it is at least mildly inappropriate for the official announcements from a publicly funded governmental agency to include a religious blessing. At the same time, any school kid remains free to loudly proclaim his or her love of God or country, or lack thereof, in any extracurricular/private context. Simple lesson, case closed, and thank you James Madison. Instead, the atheist organization the receives the protest reacts with an outrageously overwrought letter, and then everyone including sensation-loving media, parents, government officials and now even a local blogger who should know better overreact by trying to create a story where there isn’t one and trying to outdo one another in showing who loves God and country the loudest. It just makes us all look foolish, don’t you think?
2. The same thing could be said about the Obama “does he love America as much as WE DO?” kerfuffle. Regardless of your views on his policies, can you seriously question whether a guy who has devoted his entire career to public service and visibly ages as he battles through two terms of the most thankless job on earth is doing so out of love of country? And whether or not you like the man, shouldn’t you at least have enough respect for the office he holds not to engage in this kind of divisive rhetoric? What possible benefit to the public understanding flows from this debate?
The reason this matters is that it contributes to a vicious cycle. Cable news feeds us this pointless crap because it appears that we love it. We have the most polarized political climate in my memory and the least productive federal government because the message we continue to send to our elected officials is that what will get them re-elected is not informed efforts to resolve problems but rather endless grandstanding, meaningless show votes and empty patriotic babble. Why do you want to use your modest podium to contribute to the noise?
By the way, loved your chili even though I didn’t vote for you.
A five year observation since my move here in 2010. Yulee is booming with both population growth and new business openings. Downtown Fernandina Beach, 8th, 14th and Sadler’s empty storefronts continues on. Several once thriving strip shopping centers have become an eyesore to the island. Parts of downtown are boarded up. Am I the only one noticing? Does any commish think there is the possibility that “impact fees” restrict new money, new businesses from opening? The island is booming with new housing and/or home renovations along Fletcher and 1st. Sadly we are being forced to go over The Shave for more of a variety of shops, restaurants and even for a movie. Time to get off your leather chairs, roll your sleeves up and go to work fixing the problems that may exist because of an anti-business approach that exists. The 5-0 vote for illegal fees is 0-5 and a .000 batting average in my game.
I like your comment “Something very strange happens to these folks once they are elected”. My take is that they start drinking the government Kool-Aid.
As always, love to read your take on things…. But how could there be no beer available at the chili cookoff??? Course the fact there was NO chili when I got there at 2pm (it was stated it went to 4pm!) kinda makes that a moot point I guess.
We usually attend all the BBQ cookoffs but some months ago at Central Park… No Beer there either..
Who eats chili or bbq without drinking a beer?? That’s totally UnAmerican….. Now I understand and agree that some folks don’t drink beer and want Ice Tea…… No problem with that….. But I will now have to rethink going to these events if the beer isn’t an option……… 😉