Last Thursday afternoon, June 24 at 2:55 pm, I received an email from Fernandina Beach City Attorney Tammi Bach, castigating me for a May 28 item here that characterized the city’s use of impact fees as “illegal.”
In her email she said that a May 28 item in my Blog headlined: “Quiet Please! Criminals At Work” was “patently false,” “malicious”, and “erroneous.”
Ms. Bach did not post her comments here, nor did she publicly copy the City Commission, the City Manager or anyone else. However, since her beef with me addresses topics that are of public concern I think it’s important to share them. Here is her email:
I am writing to let you know that your post titled “Quiet, Please! Criminals at Work” on May 28th probably went too far. I do understand the First Amendment and the Sullivan case holding regarding public officials and your immunity. However, your statements that the City illegally spends impact fees and building department fees on the Golf Course and Marina are patently false. Impact fees are spent only on capital projects necessary due to growth. To refer to City Manager Martin and Commissioner Ross as criminals and the City as a criminal enterprise is malicious.
The City would miserably fail every annual independent audit if impact fees were spent illegally. In fact, the City gets very high marks by auditors for its financial health. The City has an A+ rating by Moody’s for its creditworthiness. Building Department fees are spent only on the Building Department, per state law. Attorney General Ashley Moody does not have an investigation or audit in the works to review City finances. Water and sewer user fees, that we pay as customers, are collected, and spent for operational and capital costs for the water and sewer systems. The water and sewer funds have historically maintained reserve fund balances in case of emergencies or natural disasters that necessitate major reconstruction of the water and sewer systems. The City Commissioners and City Managers for many years (long before Dale Martin arrived) have used a portion of the utilities reserve funds to make loans to the Golf Course and Marina. Impact fees are never part of the utilities reserve funds, and impact fees are held in trust funds.
I appreciate the humor in your musings and opinions but accusing City Commissioners and the City Manager of criminal malfeasance is erroneous.
I don’t know if Ms. Bach initiated the letter or if she wrote it at the behest of spendthrift City Manager Dale Martin and his sidekick, pompous City Commissioner Chip Ross, the rogue, self-appointed city spokesperson. It doesn’t matter as the intent appears to be intimidation rather than education.
I’m also confused as to who Ms. Bach represents – the citizens of the community, who are her sworn constituency and pay her salary – or Martin and Ross, who give her direction. Public attorneys are supposed to represent the people and advocate for the law. City managers and commissioners come and go but the peoples’ interest and the law are constants.
People that break the law are considered criminals. Any organization that advocates and sanctions breaking the law is considered a criminal enterprise.
I’ve shared Ms. Bach’s correspondence with other locals including frequent city critic, attorney, and author Pat Keogh; members of the city watchdog group Common Sense; Chamber of Commerce members, among others, requesting their feedback. I’ve mingled their thoughts here along with mine.
Ms. Bach’s email has raised a number of issues prompting the following questions:
- The city has previously been found to administer impact fees unlawfully in two court proceedings that cost city tax payers $4.5 million in refunds and legal and consulting fees. Did the city’s annual audits prior to those proceedings indicate compliance with the law or did the city “miserably fail every annual independent audit” prior to the court’s judgments?
- At the time of the two lawsuits where city sewer impact fees were found not to conform to state law did you present your audit results as a defense? If not, why not?
- Please provide any audit materials indicating that the city was in compliance with state law in administering its delegated authority. It would be especially interesting to see any specific audit certification of city compliance with impact fee law and the state building code.
- You write that the impact fees are “held in trust” for the property owners who have deposited them. Other than those ordered to be refunded by the court in the 2015 case, please provide the amounts by year that have been refunded to those paying the fees.
- You admit that loans are routinely made by the utility from its reserves to fund golf course and marina financial needs. That’s what’s called a “slush fund”. Please provide by year the amounts lent, loan terms and repayments made by the city to the utility. Also provide any loan acceleration terms in the event the funds are required by the utility for “reconstruction of the water and sewer systems”.
- What’s the difference between an “impact fee” and a “capacity fee”? Impact fees, and, I assume, “capacity fees” are not taxes and may not be treated as taxes. Aren’t they required by law to be held in trust for the citizens of the community? How does changing the name from “impact fees” to “capacity fees” make them lawful?
- How is the required amount of reserves calculated?
- What’s the return on investment with the lost investment opportunity through loans to the marina and golf course? What happens if the funds are urgently needed to be used and are insufficient for the intended purpose?
In addition to taking issue with the things that have been written here about the city’s compliance with state law she says the state attorney general is not conducting a current review of city practices.
There have been serious allegations by the Chamber of Commerce and its members among others, including builders, developers, and architects, that city building fees are 550% above those in Nassau County for the exact same services administering state code. Nobody at city hall has successfully explained how this massive discrepancy is justified. Ms. Bach?
I understand that a group of locals have requested the state attorney general investigate the city’s handling of these issues. I don’t know where that currently stands. So, with the city’s past record of administering impact fee law and most recently the Chamber’s findings on administration of the state building code locally I would like to suggest that Ms. Bach join in requesting that Governor Ron DeSantis order a state review of city practices in administering state law.
She says everything is alright and that they aren’t criminals, and the city isn’t acting as a criminal enterprise. Let’s ask the state to validate that so we can put these serious issues to rest once and for all. How about it Ms. Bach?
What has the city got to lose with such a review? If, as she claims, everything is on the up-and-up, it has everything to gain.
Last week an irate parent, who is fed up with critical race theory being taught in her kid’s school, spoke at a Loudoun County, Virginia School Board session reminding its members of something every federal, state, and local official needs to hear repeatedly, particularly those in Fernandina Beach: “You work for us!”
We look forward to hearing Ms. Bach’s answers.
“Shut Up!” They Explained: A local Facebook group called Amelia Island Fernandina Beach Yulee Network yanked my blog outlining a variety of state-wide programs initiated by Florida’s Republican Governor DeSantis last Friday, June 25.
It said: “This post has been removed by an admin or moderator.” The justification the unidentified moderator or admin gave for censoring it was: “Group rules were violated.” These anonymous folks said the commentary didn’t pass muster because: “Posts must be local”, “pass the so what test” and “be worthy of group discussion.”
Apparently this enlightened crew feels that decisions made by Florida’s governor about what’s taught in Nassau County schools; illegal immigration; sanctuary cities; soaring crime rates, and more are of no interest to folks hereabouts and have no impact on area residents.
Prior to being scuttled, my article about Gov. DeSantis – who is considered a top contender for the GOP’s presidential nomination – garnered 37 local comments, split between those that agreed with the post and those that didn’t. So much for “it must be worthy of comment.”
Unless I write about such riveting topics as housecats, sea turtles, lost pets, where to buy deep dish pizza, or the best place for a pedicure, the folks who run the Amelia Island Fernandina Beach Yulee Network site assume their readers aren’t interested. They hide behind the titles of “admin” and “moderator” and are free to censor any material or opinions with which they disagree. It’s their prerogative since it’s their site – whoever they are – and they can toss out whoever they want. However, their discriminatory behavior doesn’t do much for their site’s credibility or for the respect they have for their readers.
On this blog I only boot those using vulgar and profane language and folks selling stuff. I also discourage the use of links since I can’t verify whether they carry malware or viruses or what they actually link to.
Speaking Of Governor DeSantis: During a Friday news conference at the Florida-Alabama state line near Pensacola, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he was dispatching a contingent of state agents and troopers in response to a June 10 letter from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey asking fellow governors for up to 500 law enforcement officers to assist at the border.
DeSantis said Florida will fulfill a 10th of that need with an initial deployment through July 14 and, if necessary, follow, dispatch a relief contingent to the border. At least 10 county sheriff’s offices have volunteers pledged to go if called, he said.
Other governors have said they’ll help too as the Biden Administration’s catastrophic neglect and abysmal disregard for the law and the country’s borders are having a massive negative economic impact on the nation’s schools, housing. and hospitals, straining its already overburdened welfare programs, and adding to soaring crime rates.
Things I Wish I’d Said: “Calling Kamala Harris’s visit to El Paso a trip to the southern border is the equivalent of going to Olive Garden and calling it a trip to Italy.” – Congresswoman Lauren Boebert (R-CO).
Did Somebody Mention FEMA & The Marina? My downtown source who knows more than most about such things tells me that the city’s appeal to FEMA appears to be dead. He says the arbitration option, if exercised, will simply result in either an outright dismissal or FEMA will be ordered to redo their worksheet at some point, simply dragging out the whole sordid business at taxpayer expense.
Who’s responsible for this financial catastrophe? Someone has to be held accountable and the finger points directly at City Manager Dale Martin as chief executive and the commissioners for reckless behavior.
Did Martin clearly explain to the commissioners that the FEMA worksheets were not approved, and thus could be changed? That the $6.1 million “rebuild” estimate was just that, an estimate?
These are questions that need answering. Commissioner Len Kreger, who was a commissioner when the Fender Marine rebuild contract was awarded, is on record claiming Martin assured him the FEMA grant would happen. What do the four others – Phil Chapman, Chip Ross, Johnny Miller, and Roy Smith – who were commissioners at the time say?
In an NCFL Independent article dated Nov 2, 2018, Martin declared: “All permits have been secured and a revised FEMA estimate of $6.4 million for only the southern attenuator (the original $6.5 million FEMA estimate was for the southern and northern portions) has been completed and wending its way toward final signature.”
In other words, he created $12.5 million of new debt, all the while knowing the FEMA grant had not been finally approved. Not only did city officials take a risk, but they also created massive debt without a plan to pay for it – except through continued high taxes and the hoped-for largess of the US government, which my source says is not going to be forthcoming.
They Only Laugh When You Hurt: My most recent national column was posted on Biz Pac Review (BPR) Wednesday, June 30 and can be read by going to: https://www.bizpacreview.com/2021/06/30/dave-scott-they-only-laugh-when-it-hurts-1095922/ .
Drinking, Dinning & Dancing: Piano man John Springer and sidekick drummer Rob Taylor will once again be performing at the new Marriott Courtyard on Atlantic, near Main Beach, Friday, July 17, 4-8 pm. Their July 3 and 4 appearances have been cancelled due to illness. Weather permitting there will be a “Sounds On Centre” event downtown, at the corner of 2nd Street and Centre featuring Soundwavez this evening, July 2, from 6-8 pm. At the same time Sandbar & Kitchen at Main Beach will host the Davis Turner band inside, also beginning at 6 pm. Light Up Amelia will conduct a July 4 fireworks display downtown from 8-9 pm Sunday, July 4 with the fireworks scheduled to begin at 9 pm. The Dynamic Les DeMerle Band will conduct two Red, White & Blues shows July 4, at 2 pm and 5 pm, July 4 at Story & Song Bookstore Bistro. It costs $25 per person to attend. Call ’em for reservations at 904/601-2118.