In the unfinished business department, the newly aligned Fernandina Beach City Commissioners have a number of unresolved issues that are left over from the fiasco that was the last commission. Following are what I, and a number of other folks, consider projects that need immediate attention in no particular order:
- The sidewalk to nowhere still hasn’t gone anywhere. The Front Street walkway connecting Centre St. to the one the owners of the Salty Pelican built at their own expense was supposed to have been started after Thanksgiving, two months ago, but so far nothing has happened. It appears that CSX Railroad needs to take a final look at the plans and once they give the OK, work can proceed. Can we ask when CSX might give the thumbs up?
- Where is the “magic mud machine” to dredge the downtown harbor that local gadfly Lynn Williams promised to build and demonstrate for $8,000 of our tax money he was given almost two years ago by the previous commission? I suggest that someone on the commission ask Williams to put up or give our money back. He’s missed all deadlines so far, so give him one that says demonstrate it or cough up the eight grand of taxpayer cash. Or here’s a thought. Charge the talkative Mr. Williams $1,000 the next eight times he speaks at commission sessions, as at the rate he pops up and down there we’ll have our money back in a couple of weeks.
- A $1.2 million airport visitor center. Really? Are we all of a sudden expecting Delta to establish a hub here. Defending the project one commissioner told me that the visitor center would also serve as a “storm shelter” and “office space that the city would lease out.” I guess there isn’t enough empty office space on Sadler, South 8th St., downtown, etc. so the city will step in and compete with local commercial real estate brokers for folks that want an isolated office at the airport. And a storm shelter? Someone explain this to the voters please.
- The downtown waterfront redevelopment. Let’s make a decision and get this moving or tell us what it will take to get it off the ground.
- I still don’t know how the impact fee law suit was settled without any public discussion. More than $3.5 million dollars of our money was wasted on outside lawyers and the settlement and not one word of how it was reached was discussed publically by the previous commission. How could folks that took a huge chunk of time to discuss where they should sit, backyard chickens, dogs in restaurants, etc. decide in to settle the most massive suit in the city’s history with no public discussion? Something stinks here and I’m willing to bet that the state Sunshine Law was violated. When do we hear the details including disciplinary actions to be taken and the specifics of the amounts and timing of the refunds?
- Fernandina Beach’s underfunded pension programs are ranked the worst in the state of Florida, even worse than those in neighboring Jacksonville, which are making daily newspaper headlines. Why? This is the proverbial elephant in the room that has been joined by the 800-pound gorilla, making for a densely packed chamber and potentially serious housekeeping problems. Explain why we are underfunded. Is it because of poor investment management, expectations of 8-16 percent returns that didn’t materialize, pension planning for employees who leave after short employment spans or what? What are the remedies or suggestions? Is it all perception or is it more complex than that? Explain it to us please.
- A fire department where low morale and turmoil are hot topics that have resulted in the firing of Robin Marley, the city’s human resources director who has since filed a “whistle-blower” suit against the city and a chief who has been moved away from his troops. It’s not good to have the local firefighters unhappy. What exactly happened and what are the fixes here?
- What happened to the kayak launch for Egan’s Creek?
I understand that the commission will discuss pending issues quarterly and give a brief report on each. That’s a move in the right direction, but a lot of folks have told me they’d like to see the above discussed sooner than later.
Extreme Tree Hugging: At a January 20 Fernandina Beach City Commission session only vice-mayor Johnny Miller opposed (4-1) a staff recommendation to defer to the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) the review of a multi-family development (e.g. apartments) proposal requiring the filling of wetlands that sit partly in the city and partly in the county, a move that could lead to more affordable island housing. I find this ironic as Mr. Miller’s tree-hugging tendencies are now clashing with the best interests of those who helped elect him — members of the hospitality industry. The South 14th Street property discussed is an area of scrub brushes, mud and weeds surrounded by not too attractive businesses, rundown properties and not much else. The city desperately lacks modestly priced, attractive apartment housing for folks that work in hospitality jobs such as bartenders, severs, as well as for firefighters, policemen, and others who may be just starting careers or those working part time. An attractive apartment complex would also go a long way in sprucing up an otherwise shabby area and increasing property values. It appears the tree huggers are now embracing swamp grass, stagnant water, etc. to the detriment of many on the island in need of fairly priced, centrally located housing, not to mention the true owners of the property and the fact that any other decision will probably lead to another costly legal morass for the city and a slam-dunk for the plaintiff at the expense of the tax payers. At a special meeting January 28 both Commissioners Pat Gass and Robin Lentz reversed their votes and joined Mr. Miller in reconsidering their decision. Ms. Gass I understand, but Ms. Lentz’s decision baffles me, as even she admitted that if she was a single teacher she couldn’t afford to live in the city. Tax payers can brace themselves for another set of unnecessary and costly law suits and an eventual legal decision I predict that will not sit well with the tree hugging commissioners.
Hyphenated Silliness: I don’t understand hyphenated people. For example, I immigrated to the US from Canada with my family and not one of us ever called ourselves a Canadian-American because following our naturalization ceremonies we were no longer Canadians, but Americans, and proudly so. I have naturalized American friends from Belgium, France, South Africa, Columbia, Germany, the UK and other countries and none of them call themselves French-Americans, German-Americans, etc. so why do blacks, who were born in the US and have never even stepped foot on African soil, call themselves African-Americans? I have white friends in Atlanta and on Amelia Island who were born in South Africa and are now American citizens, but none of them call themselves African-American even thought it makes more sense for them to do so than someone who hasn’t even visited that continent. And, just wondering, since we’re on the subject, would a person born in Bosnia-Herzegovina who became an American citizen call himself a Bosnian-Herzegovinian-American? Or, for example, why don’t people who immigrate, say from Finland to France call themselves Finnish-French, or from Tanzania to Tajikistan a Tanzianian-Tajikistanian or from Cuba to Cameroon, a Cuban-Cameroonian, and so on? And the Irish, many English, Chinese and others who came here as indentured servants, a step up from slavery but not much of one, don’t call themselves Irish-American, English-Americans or Chinese-American, and I think it would do us all a lot of good is we dropped the hyphenated silliness and just referred to ourselves as Americans.
Buyer’s Remorse? Once the Democrats picked through the debris, dusted themselves off and looked around after the last election, they discovered that half of the 60 Democrat senators who voted for Obmacare in December 2009 are no longer at their senate stations including eight who were defeated by Republicans and eight more who chose not to run and were succeeded by Republicans. Even those left like Charles Schumer of New York are feeling the backlash with Schumer saying “Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them….we put all out focus on the wrong problem — health care reform.” A revelation that’s a bit late for what they’ve done to the economy and the lies they told in the process.
This & That: Florida ranks 5th and Georgia 19th in the nation in their climate for small business and entrepreneurship, according to the Small Business Index Policy 2014. No. 1 is South Dakota and at the bottom is California. *** In Seattle, the Freedom Socialist Party, which favors a $20-an-hour minimum wage, advertised a job opening for a Web developer to be paid $13 an hour. Source: George Will via Georgia Public Policy Foundation. *** I’m not a very good poker player, but I’m thinking I would like to play a game with Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton and John Kerry, who based on their foreign affairs disasters with Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Russia and now Cuba, wouldn’t recognize a bluff if it hit them in the face .*** “The Obama administration unveiled data showing that many Americans with health insurance bought under the Affordable Care Act faced substantial price increases this year, in some cases as much as 20 percent – unless they switched plans,” The New York Times reported. The data became available just hours before exchanges opened for 2015 enrollment. *** Have you ever noticed that when football players appear in front of cameras following a game or practice session they do so wearing baseball caps? So why don’t baseball players appear following their games wearing football helmets? *** I can’t figure out why I have become so popular among recruiters for mystery shopping jobs, as in the last two months alone I’ve been asked to respond to at least 100 email inquiries offering me these opportunities. I’m not sure these folks understand that I rarely leave the island and that most of my shopping is conducted in places that serve ice cold beer, good wines, a martini or two for Linda, and prepared food. *** Those athletes who have been caught beating up their wives or girlfriends, carrying guns or taking illegal substances all have one thing in common: the wish to put it all behind them and “just go forward.” *** I don’t understand Obama’s phrase “leading from behind.” How is that actually leading anything?
The Courtyard Pub & Eats Puzzle: What the heck is going on at the Centre Street Courtyard Pub & Eats since Joe Parrish sold the establishment? I can only assume that new owner has never worked in the hospitality industry as so far every time I’ve been in the place a number of the beer taps are capped, there is only one server, and they rescheduled popular piano man John Springer to just Thursday, one night a week, down from his regular Thursday-Saturday schedule. I was there this past Thursday and despite the lack of servers, beers, etc., the place was wall-to-wall, standing room only, all enthusiastic Springer fans eager to pay for food and drink. The lone server and harried cook, were relieved by some sympathetic folks that pitched in to help when the credit card processing equipment collapsed and the employees, to their credit, did their best. It is very rare for me to criticize a bar or eatery, but this situation is so confusing it merits attention. When he first took over I asked the new proprietor to let me know what his plans are for specials, etc. so I could publicize them and the only response I received from him was when he barked at me “You got the phone number wrong the last time.” I asked him to send me the correct one and have yet to hear from the guy. If it wasn’t for John Springer’s Thursday night gig I’d never step foot in this place again.
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: Contrary to the rumors, Dominos Pizza on the island did not close and has in fact been taken over by Dave and Paula Crow, owners of the Yulee Dominos and are actually hiring more delivery drivers and inside help. Want to go to the movies and don’t want to drive to Jacksonville, then head downtown Fernandina Beach to Sheffield’s at the Palace on Thursdays where you can grab a beer, martini, etc. from the cash bar or even choose from downtown Cuban Restaurant Hola’s menu, then sit back and watch a film for ten bucks, which also includes a bag of popcorn. A new movie will be featured every Thursday night until the old juke joint Rendezvous Festival reopens at American Beach, June 5 and films will be shown there. The doors at Sheffield’s open at 6:30 pm and the move starts at 7:00. Call ’em at 904/492-3332. And speaking of movies, the theater that was supposed to open last month in Yulee at the corner of Amelia Concourse and A1A, is still a month or more away from that happening according to a story by Mary Maguire in the online newspaper ncflIndependent. GG’s Bistro, formerly Gourmet Gourmet has removed the display cases that greeted visitors to the Southside restaurant at 1408 Lewis St. expanding the bar and giving the eatery a much more cozy feel. Call ’em at 904/261-8973. If you want to have a good time, taste some good wines and food, then you need to make reservations February 27 at Wine’s by Steve, which will have as a special guest Francesco Milana, the area’s singing Italian chef, and aspiring singer Liz Bundy, of Southern Wine & Spirits, who is auditioning for “The Voice.” Francesco is an accomplished chef and singer and Liz a respected sommelier and for only $15 a person you also get Italian wine samples and snacks. Owners Steve and Donna Raszkin are also planning their first sit down wine dinner in their 4924 First Coast Highway location to be catered by neighbor Bar Zin and Sardinian Winery, Wednesday, March 4. It’s limited to 25 folks so call ’em at 904/557-1506. One of the best Super Bowl venues in town this Sunday will be the Front Street Salty Pelican, where for just $16 you can take part in an all-you-can-eat buffet that includes wings, burgers, salads, chowder, clam rolls, and more beginning about 5:30 pm.
Dave, the staff had advised the commission to reject the magistrates decision to send the matter directly to SJRWMD before it was even brought in front of he county. He is the only commissioner, until the vote of on the 28th, who voted following the direction of the city staff. The other 4 votes were against city recommendations.
Regarding the airport, you must have missed the establishment of a technical advisory committee to address airport utilization and expansion. This study group, facilitated by Passero which is not in the airport demolition business, has a predictable outcome. Similar to the old Johnny Carson Karnac skit, in this instance the answer to the question of what the outcome will be is: Karnac says, a busier airport, the residents be damned because it is good for business.
What is astonishing mind boggling is a $1.2 million terminal, er Welcome Center, is being proposed before a study group puts together an airport plan! In 1999 the last plan in part was to expand the runways about 1000 feet, which plan was beat back by the citizens once The Commission, which had been routinely approving requests for upgrades, met with resistance. Since then upgrades have been muted and within the plan established in 1999.
Please keep on this one Dave, our serene island is about to be turned into an aircraft carrier. We are only about 30 miles from an international airport, why do we need one nearer?
I enjoy you musings immensely, but on the Lime and 14th street property wetlands matter I disagree with your conclusions.
The island does need affordable housing, but not on the proposed property. Putting aside the environmental /habitat concerns, here are some issues for your consideration:
You don’t have to walk the property to determine the extent of the wet area. Aerial photos on the assessor’s website over the last several years visibly indicate the area that would need to be filled for any construction to begin. It is extensive and when filled the water will go somewhere. When that happens, other property could be impaired with remediation required. I suspect the City at that time would have some financial obligation to increase drainage, etc. It could even be worse: check this story on the responsibility a city in California faced when a city contractor screwed up… http://www.ibabuzz.com/insider/2007/12/03/vaughn-walker-half-moon-bay-and-a-woodshed while the reverse of the local situation ( the city of Half Moon Bay created the wetlands as opposed to the potential destruction of these wetlands by the SJRWMD, an agency established to preserve water resources). I also can that the presiding Judge is well-known for his legal opinions, so I think the case law is established.
The other issue for me is the attempt by a bank to recoup some money on one of their problem loans that they are legally required to write-off in full by October of this year. Attempting to remove the wetlands issue is last ditch (no pun intended) attempt because the clock is ticking. I am speaking authoritatively on this subject as I am banking industry professional. First National Bank South is an OCC regulated bank. The bank executed an “enforcement action” (EA) with the OCC in 2010. The EA resulted from unsafe banking practices, much of which had to do with the bank’s lending practices. The EA was terminated in 2013, but the bank is still writing off problem loans ($8 million in 2013). (Everything I am representing about the enforcement action and the loan losses is public information.) The bank is small ($250 million in loans), so every dollar lost is a big hit to earnings. Frankly, although threatened, I doubt whether the bank will spend the money necessary for a lawsuit against the city. Also, a suit would have to be fast-tracked in view of the October deadline unless the OCC agreed to an extension on the October write-off deadline.
Added to the mix, is that the local attorney currently representing First National Bank South is soon to become the Nassau County attorney which will prudently result is his withdrawal as the bank’s counsel on this matter. Oh my.
Curious to me, as well as I am sure others, is who is interested in developing the proposed apartment complex. They’re behind the curtain on the bank’s actions.
Enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work.
Keep after those politicians, Dave. Also, on the matter of baseball players wearing football helmets, it’s the same reason baseball mangers wear uniforms and in the sports the coaches don’t. In other words, nobody knows.
You outdid yourself on this one! Same every place. Just last week Hillsborough County School Board fired the superintendent without cause by a 4-3 vote even though it will cost the county over $1 million to pay the rest of her contract. Plus the cost of searching for a new one.
Dave – I hope you took the time to read Pat Foster-Turley’s reasoned analysis of the wetlands issue in Wednesday’s News Leader. There really is more to protecting this fragile island than just ensuring smooth access to all the taverns. I’m grateful that we have commissioners who are willing to admit that they may have acted hastily. Now let’s have a careful and well-informed review of the case – what is the real litigation risk and how could we better manage it? What are the SJRWMD policies and procedures in cases like this? What alternatives (such as further negotiation with the developer, perhaps aided by mediation) exist to simply turning the control over to an agency with a potentially different set of priorities? And commissioners – by all means keep hugging those trees that make this such a special place!
Excellent blog Dave! Where is accountability? Good news re: Dominos. Tom n Stacye
Maybe “a fiasco shared is a fiasco halved”? If so, we’d love to send you some of the local fiascos in the Uk (getting sillier daily as we get closer to an election) but no doubt they’re equally frustrating the world over. Why do people run for office when that short effort is the only activity they plan to take?