While local businesses and residents are seeking a prescription for the financial pounding they’re taking due to the virus-inspired shutdown the “doctors” governing and administering Fernandina Beach are padding their bill instead of alleviating the suffering. Instead of seeking ways to ease the pain, city officials are aggravating the financial agony of those businesses and residents on fiscal life support before the plug is pulled.
With the astonishing exception of California transplant Mike Lednovich, none of the other commissioners or the City Manager Dale Martin have used a City Commission session to discuss ways to turn off the money spigot and pare back costs during this crisis, just the opposite. Only a cabal of socialists would think that now is the time to financially punish tax paying businesses and residents.
Commissioner Lednovich has vocally called for a halt to the city’s proposed spending while separately a group of concerned local citizens have banded together to form Common Sense, (http://www.commonsensefb.org/), an organization demanding a halt to the city hall’s irresponsible spending and budgeting.
Lednovich and the Commons Sensers have separately singled out the following targets championed by the city’s political quacks:
- The city gobbling up more city acreage to appease the tiny but loud environmental extremist crowd, many who don’t even live in the city.
- An unnecessary, $400,000 Simmons Road Park that will appeal mostly to county residents and whack trees the extremists say are untouchable.
- Hiring an assistant City Manager at $110,000 annually plus benefits
- Hiring other useless city bureaucrats
- A $350,000 Top Tracer technology game for the city’s money losing golf course,
- Moving to a larger city hall,
- Shoveling hundreds of thousands of dollars more into the hands of outside consultants.
- A multimillion-dollar mismanagement of the city marina.
And this list doesn’t include the underfunded pension programs and the city’s staggering debt, which are never mentioned by the commissioners or City Manager Martin. It would almost be preferable if fraud were involved. However, as far as anyone can tell it’s just plain old fashioned incompetence and mismanagement as these characters appear to be too dim to be crooks.
In case you’ve forgotten, City Manager Martin and his free spending City Commissioners decided last year — without anyone’s permission — to tax city citizens an additional .5 mils to buy city property for conservation purposes. They were intimidated in doing so by a small vocal group of fist-shaking, sign-waving extreme environmentalists, that stalk City Commission meetings, taunting the City Manager and Commissioners successfully cowing them into submission.
A couple of months ago Commissioner Dr. Chip Ross told a member of the recently created Common Sense citizens watchdog group that there were no land parcels large enough for development left in the city. He later contradicted that saying there are 40 pieces of property the city is eyeballing to buy for conservation purposes with the $1.2 million of our misappropriated tax dollars. So, what’s accomplished by buying up small parcels here and there, since the risk of development doesn’t exist? Buying little tracts makes no sense unless they are developable sites that abut existing conserved park land like Egans creek or the Greenway. A Common Sense member — using the Nassau Appraisers tax map — looked at all adjoining parcels, and except for those already government-owned, found only a couple, privately held by HOA’s abutting such property.
The Common Sense group concluded that the land parcels on the city’s and Dr Ross’s list are nothing more than a land-grab. None need to be acquired to protect the ecosystem. These parcels are residential R-1 abutting existing houses, they frequently flood and are full of muck. The two JR Holdings properties the city is buying for $400,000 have a market value of $205,000. City officials are using our tax money in search of a way to spend – all driven by political activists. Their message is: “What virus-inspired economic shutdown? Hurry, find me land, any land, that can be swept up in the name of Mother Earth…..please.” Remember, the city already owns one-third of the property within the city limits. These property lists were looked at by the Common Sense group, which consists of some very, very smart locals including former CEOs, government officials, media executives, investors, etc. The oblivious cretins that run the city operate in ignorant bliss despite the economic wreckage caused by the government enforced shutdown and spend our tax money as if they had just won the lottery. They’re assuming nobody is watching. The pathetic local media sure aren’t. The near-death News Leader is so far left it’s lost all respect and credibility while the online Observer’s editorial timidity has rendered it impotent.
Ross is acting as City Manager Dale Martin’s strong-arm land acquisition bully and front man because Public Works Director John “Pay to Play” Mandrick is too busy extorting local businesses for impact fees before he retires. When Ross asks for and receives citizen input he quickly and routinely responds saying their suggestions aren’t workable or that the auditors say everything is “OK?”
When further probed about the 40 parcels of land he identified as possible conservation acquisitions Ross — a resident of about five years — who considers himself an authority on everything Amelia Island, articulated his usual position saying: “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves; Did gyre and gimble in the wabe; All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.”
Commissioner Ross explained his position in the language of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, a dialect of gibberish, gobbledygook and balderdash in which he is exceedingly fluent. When questioned about the city’s sacred conservation resolve forged by the shrill single-minded zombie-like tree-hugging extremists, City Manager Dale Martin affirmed Commissioner Ross’s statement saying: “O fabjous day! Callhooh! Callay!” demonstrating the same linguistic fluency as Commissioner Ross.
At last Tuesday’s City Commission session, the City Commission became unusually rationale for a brief period and backed off its Ross/Martin-inspired plan to place a referendum before the voters in November seeking to impose additional taxes to purchase land for conservation. Realizing the referendum was probably DOA, Dr. Ross, speaking in a tongue never used in the past said voters might not support such a move when they are seeking ways to lower taxes to alleviate their current economic issues. Oh really! What a brilliant diagnosis doctor. The other bobbleheads nodded their OK. Don’t anticipate this period of financial rationality to last.
Martin uses the same Ross doubletalk when addressing the downtown marina issue, repeatedly saying that FEMA will come across with $7-8 million to help pay for the $15 million in Hurricane Matthew repairs. OK, Mr. Martin, what letter or document do you or anyone else at the city have from FEMA saying that it will pay? When did you get it? What does it say? And if you don’t have any documentation why not? And if FEMA doesn’t come across then what?
The marina, which was a catalyst for the revitalization of downtown 30 years ago, has suffered from years of neglect by the city. For example, when it was originally built by private developers headed up by Robert Allison in the 1980’s the builders and engineers said that the connecting rods holding the whole thing together must be replaced every six years. It was gifted to the city in the early 1990’s and the rods never replaced. When Hurricane Matthew hit it easily tore it apart because the rods had deteriorated to dust. Leaving the storm debris behind contributed to the destruction says Allison. Could the city’s incompetence be a reason FEMA is withholding funds? Want to hear another jaw-dropper, then ask about the sweetheart marina lease deals?
Despite the city’s financial ills Martin is drooling over tax payer cash proclaiming in a Commission meeting a few weeks ago: “We had a $13.5 million fund balance as of February 29.” Translation: “Let’s hurry and spend it while we’ve got it boys.”
When I asked Mayor-Bartender Johnny Miller– who was selling sealed bottles of booze at the Palace Saloon this past weekend — about these expenses, he curtly replied: “They’re budgeted.” When I suggested the city “un-budget them” he smirked, turned his back, and walked way. The bartender-mayor is just one example of the arrogance and ineptitude currently populating city hall. Fortunately, he’s term limited and his pathetic foray into politics ends in November.
While Commissioner Lednovich was rationally calling for fiscal restraint Dr. Ross had an opposite opinion. In a March 13 opinion editorial in local media, while the virus epidemic was well underway, the emergency room doctor said that city services paid for by Fernandina Beach residents with their taxes are “quality of life assets” leaving no room for cutting the city budget. “These quality of life assets are not fat; they offer a way of life,” he exclaimed. This guy is off the charts reckless with our money while Martin grins and gives him a thumbs up.
The real culprit hereabouts isn’t the virus pandemic, it’s the toxic crowd currently inhabiting city hall. The only difference between them and the proverbial drunken sailor is that the drunken sailor is spending his own money. Lednovich appears to be the only person in city hall who doesn’t look at the local tax payer as an easy mark. His current role appears to be playing straight man to Groucho, Harpo, Shemp, Moe and Curly. What the city needs now is a Jabberwocky sword that goes through the city budget “snicker-snack.”
Oh, and think about this. Free-spending City Manager Martin is not an elected official. He’s hired by the oblivious City Commission and until they decide to get rid of him, we’re stuck with this grinning marionette.
You Ain’t Heard Nothing Yet! Former city and now county resident, Pat Keogh, lawyer, author, entrepreneur and businessman who owns a number of properties in Texas, Virginia and Nassau County has been a long-time observer, victim, and critic of the city’s antics and has volunteered here for both the city and county governments in various capacities. He owns real estate and has developed in both jurisdictions and concludes: “I find the county government very service oriented and the city just the opposite.”
Following is his opinion on the mismanaged City of Fernandina Beach’s Public Utility System and why it should be privatized.
“With “Pay to Play” John Mandrick retiring it might be a great time to correct a past wrong. The City utility system used to be investor-owned and subject to the Florida Public Service Commission’s regulation for standards of service and rates. When the PSC refused the investor-owned firm’s request for a rate increase for its COFB consumers the City bought the utility. The PSC had found that the utility inefficiently invested in plant and determined they were entitled to a return only on about $18M rather than the $30M plus requested by the company. The FPU believed investors, not the City’s ratepayers, should pay for the “stranded investment”. That’s the way utility regulation works in a capitalistic system. The company gets to operate an essential use, public monopoly but subject to professional public oversight. The City gave the utility the $30M when they purchased the system and got “Pay to Play” in the bargain.
Why would anyone in their right mind do that? Because once COFB owned the system it was no longer subject to PSC regulation. Plus, COFB could impose illegal impact fees which they did and resulted in a class action law suit and refund of the impact fees after three years of litigation and two trials. Undeterred, the City reinstated the fees based on a new consultant’s recommendation to change the name of the fees. There was more to the City’s scheme. The City could use access to the system to bludgeon its County neighbors into being annexed into the City. If a County resident chose to access the public system they would have to agree to be annexed. What else? By combining utility service with government authority Pay to Play could threaten property owners that their certificates of occupancy could be withheld if the owner objected to the illegal fees. That’s how he got his name. When I and others took exception to the fees he had a habit of rubbing his thumb and index finger in your face saying, “you have to pay to play here”. What a nice guy. And there’s more. A municipal utility can charge its County customers a 25% premium on services. So, a County customer on one side of the street pays 25% more than a City resident on the other side with no cost justification as would be required of a PSC-regulated utility.
Think about this. How is any of this different than the scene in a mob movie which we have all seen where the thug confronts a local business owner and says “Nice place you have here, Pat. You must have invested a bundle. Am I right? It would be a shame if you lost all of this. We can promise you that if you buy our very reasonable protection plan nothing like that will happen to you and your family”. Then add the power of government to this and does anyone in the City or the County want to be associated with that kind of behavior?
Government ownership of the utility invites this kind of abuse and with “Pay to Play’s” departure it’s past time to put the utility into private hands subject to PSC regulation.”
Things I Wish I’d Said: “It’s been a strange day. First, I found a hat full of money. And then I was chased by an angry guy with a guitar.” – anonymous
How About A See Cruise? For folks who have been locked up at home the past couple of months or more one of Captain Kevin McCarthy’s Amelia River Cruises might be just the thing to help release tension and relax. Using the most recent guidance issued by the state, Captain McCarthy and his wife, Cecilia, taped off seating on their boats to provide six feet of social distancing between households and reduce capacity to about half, but offer a safe and relaxing way for local families to enjoy the outdoors.
“We have conducted enhanced cleaning procedures to do our best to mitigate any risks that we can, even on areas that are not ‘ours’ per se, but which our passengers use, such as the hand rails on the marina’s ramp leading down to our boats,” says McCarthy. “If you would like to wear a mask or gloves to further minimize your risks while on our cruises, we welcome you to do so. We are working on being able to provide hand sanitizers as well but have not obtained an adequate supply to share yet, so highly recommend that passengers bring and use their own at this point.”
McCarty said that for the for the time being, he will just be running the following nature and history tours every day:
10am – 12:30pm Cumberland Island Tour
2:30pm – 4pm Beach Creek Tour
7pm – 8pm Family Friendly Sunset Tour
Reservations are highly recommended since they require a minimum of 10 to sail. Call ‘em to book at 904/261-9972 or go to www.ameliarivercruises.com.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT THIS WEEK