The online Fernandina Observer distaff duo of “Editor” Susan Steger and “Reporter” Suanne Thamm should be a cinch to snag the coveted Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) 2020 Golden Anvil, the highest achievement award that can be presented to public relations practitioners.
Throughout 2020 and earlier, these two PR flacks masquerading under the guise of journalists, have generated a massive, unprecedented flow of glowing editorial reports and gushing opinion pieces lauding the City of Fernandina Beach’s elected officials and employees at all levels while ignoring or squelching all negative rejoinders.
These two progressive publicity hacks have taken the liberal media’s shading of government incompetence to new heights by acting as Fernandina’s unofficial PR agency under the guise of a local online “news” outlet named the “Observer,” which more accurately should be labelled the “Apologist” to reflect its true function.
The Observer’s two local sycophants — Ms. Steger and Ms. Thamm — unashamedly portray Fernandina Beach City Manager Dale “The Big Spender” Martin and his mouthpiece and enforcer, Commissioner Chip “Capo” Ross, as austere, kind-hearted, civic minded visionaries struggling mightily against a mean-spirited local community of miserable misers, ignorant deadbeats, and greedy entrepreneurs hell-bent on polluting the local environment, clear-cutting the tree canopy, and obliterating the city’s Norman Rockwell way of life.
Commentaries that should nail the Golden Anvil Award nomination for the two gals were a pair of 2020 year-end editorial pieces and coverups that would have been cheered by Joseph Goebbels and Baghdad Bob.
The Steger-Thamm December 21 joint interview of City Manager Martin was peppered with more adoring adjectives and adverbs than MSNBC spews during its doting interviews with a dozing Joe Biden.
PRSA jurists can cite the following drool-drenched paragraph from their slavering December 21 editorial accolade as the nomination clincher: “But despite the best efforts of Martin, City officials and local media, many people still do not seem to understand how government works. When we asked Martin what his biggest frustration is as City Manager, he replied after some thought, ‘The unfamiliarity of some citizens as to how local government operates.’ He expressed regret that Facebook and other social media appear to dominate ‘the news,’ leaving the government and responsible local media in the position of trying to overcome erroneous rumors with facts.”
This co-authored Steger-Thamm PR Hall of Fame piece that blames all city troubles from the marina and golf course fiascos to crumbling infrastructure and financial mismanagement on the over-taxed citizens of Fernandina can be read in its mind-numbing entirety by clicking here: https://fernandinaobserver.com/city-news/a-conversation-with-fernandina-beach-city-manager-dale-martin/
In another year-end word jumble, the city’s poodle media pair published a lengthy rebuttal by “Capo” Ross to what he says was a list of issues sent to him by “a local resident” detailing why City Manager Dale Martin should be fired. True to form the Steger-Thamm Apologist didn’t publish a single word of the critical piece that prompted Ross’s frenzied response or even mention its author.
The unnamed, accurate, well-researched compilation of detailed justifications outlining why City Manager Martin should be sacked was compiled, written, and submitted to local media and all City Commissioners by Jack Knocke, a founder of the local watchdog group Common Sense. Mr. Knocke is also a college professor and successful business owner. The Apologist’s two city hall hacks conveniently didn’t mention any of that. Click here to read Mr. Knocke’s eye-opening piece: https://commonsensefb.org/docsfactsreferencesresources.html that ran in the Wednesday, January 6 News Leader. Readers can follow or get involved with Common Sense by going to the following: (https://www.facebook.com/commonsenseFB ) and (https://twitter.com/BeachCommon).
Unlike the PR pair’s favorite area activist groups – The Atlanta Tree Conservatory (ATC) and Conserve Amelia Now (CAN) – which includes numerous non-resident, fist-shaking, garbage can lid-banging, slogan-shouting tree groupies, Common Sense’s ranks consist of concerned city residents of all economic levels and backgrounds including, publishing, law, engineering, journalism, medicine, education, government service, business owners, hospitality workers and more.
The Apologist’s Steger-Thamm team’s record of ignoring opinion pieces submitted by critics such as Common Sense and publishing only the city’s uncontested responses encourages readers to put as much trust in their reporting as they do in gas station sushi. The two city hall darlings mirror a couple of fictional characters – not the hard-nosed reporters Brenda Starr and Lois Lane – but Thelma and Louise as they drive the Observer’s credibility off a cliff.
If the pair’s Mother-of-all-puff-pieces Martin interview isn’t enough to seal the prestigious PR prize, the Apologist duo can point to a series of articles it ran recently authored by the city’s Building & Permit Director Stephen Beckman that were so blatantly self-serving they would be an embarrassment to an employee newsletter. The fact that Beckman’s department is projecting a $2 million deficit in 2021 and its fees are seven to eight times higher than those of the county were apparently considered inconsequential and never mentioned.
On the marina fiasco front the Apologist pair and their Martin-Ross clients are conspiring to prepare the community for a defensive PR campaign when FEMA eventually gives the city a thumbs down over the marina’s $15 million rebuilding price tag, due to the city’s mismanagement, incompetence, and Martin’s mysterious lost paper work.
Another Common Sense founder and local resident, Frank Quigley, an acknowledged national media authority, isn’t buying the city’s or the Steger-Thamm propaganda pablum. A veteran media expert, Mr. Quigley knows his stuff. He spent 40 years in legitimate media including Congressional Quarterly, Thomson-Reuters, and The Economist Group, in addition to heading up a national publishing firm that produced a chain of city and state government trade magazines. He called the Apologist flacks out with the following comment in their January 3 post.
Ms. Steger it seems that you have, in this nice photo, https://fernandinaobserver.com/general/amelia-island-revealed-244-copy/ inadvertently shown the underlying flaw in the Fernandina Beach FEMA application for financial support to “repair and/or replace” the damaged Fernandina Harbor Marina. This photo shows the marina prior to damage sustained during Hurricane Matthew. This is the configuration that FEMA would have been obliged to repair. Instead, the city chose a reconfiguration – as you state and as Commissioner Ross stated in an opinion piece in The Fernandina Observer, last week. He stated, “the storm-ravaged Marina has been replaced with a new dock layout and the mud removed.” Previously Ms. Suanne Thamm featured the marina on your blog (https://fernandinaobserver.com/city-news/how-do-you-solve-a-problem-named-marina/) which shows your readers a photo the new configuration – it is very nice but Public Assistance for disaster relief is to return damaged/destroyed property to as-was condition. So, these photos are “facts”, and the “missing document” is a red herring. (Can anyone explain the nature of this missing document, who authored it, and how – in the age of digital communication – any document could be “lost”?). The Stafford Act does not offer to “build back better”. The multi-million-dollar FB marina upgrade should have been decided by a bond referendum, especially in light of the long list of delayed capital projects that total many millions of dollars. To suggest that this whole episode isn’t a giant fiasco is to sweep under the rug the information the public deserves to know.”
Mr. Quigley’s original unedited comment to the Observer contained Ms. Steger’s original photo and commentary, which referred to the reconfigured docks. After Mr. Quigley’s original was posted Ms. Steger hurriedly edited and reposted it to eliminate any reference to the date of the photo or any reconfigured dock layout, an action Mr. Quigley accurately says “…. is shameless and media malpractice.”
When confronted with this by Mr. Quigley, Ms. Steger again refused to publish his comment saying his points were “erroneous.” She forwarded him the Observer’s April 2019 out-of-date Thamm article citing it as her source and insinuated that he was a “complainer”. Undeterred he followed up with a complete set of even more comprehensive data points and pointed out that the marina’s southern attenuator would not, in its new configuration, qualify for the grant asking her to reply and let him know the specifics of how he erred. She responded saying she was too busy, and that Mr. Quigley should check with the city manager.
Ms. Steger puts an entirely new blush on transparency, incompetency, and buck passing. Factual and objective reporting are alien concepts to this retired banker and former City Commissioner who practices journalism with the finesse of a sumo wrestler attempting synchronized swimming.
Like most other readers, Frank Quigley now recognizes that the Observer (aka Apologist) is simply a promotional arm of the city masquerading as a media outlet and Steger and Thamm just moo and follow “Big Spender” Martin and “Capo” Ross into the cow chute.
Under new editor, Scott Bryon, the local print News-Leader also published Ross’s defensive testimonial to the “Big Spender”, but to the paper’s credit it ran Mr. Knocke’s Common Sense opinion piece word-for-word albeit a few days later. The News Leader can leave city hall’s boot licking to its chief city propagandist, Ron “Get Off My Lawn You Little Bastards” Sapp, an admitted no-growth liberal who promotes any trendy nonsense the woke crowd trots out. As wrong-headed as he is at least he publicly acknowledges his loopy left-wing biases and rational readers know to ignore his mindless blather.
The Common Sense organization exposed Steger’s and Thamm’s brazen biases effectively destroying any pretense the “Observer” had of being a balanced, objective, fair media outlet leaving its reputation a blazing wreck.
I suggest that if PRSA decides to honor the “Apologist” Steger-Thamm duo at an awards ceremony it should introduce them with the following musical tribute, while adding apologies to Julie Andrews and “The Sound of Music”:
The “Apologist” Anthem
Articles and opinions that read all the same
Publishing fluff that doesn’t cause any pain
Printing puff pieces without any strings
These are a few of our favorite things
Fat mushy missives filled with air kisses
Ensuring that harsh hisses are all far misses
So Martin and Ross never fear any stings
These are a few of our favorite things
Boring fluff stuff without grinding axes
Only puff pieces and not Fernandina’s high taxes
City officials with angel white wings
These are a few of our favorite things
When the critics strike
When the truth stings
When we’re feeling sad
We simply remember our favorite things
And then we don’t feel so bad
Things I Wish I’d Said: “When one door closes and another door opens, you are probably in prison.” – anonymous
“Nice Little Town You Got Here, Too Bad If Something Happened To It” Department: When Fernandina Beach city officials are offered an opportunity to implement fiscal restraint and relinquish any control that would ease the financial burden of its tax payers they instinctively display the compassion of the Castellammarese clan.
According to media reports Commissioner Len Kreger was recently approached by Florida Public Utility (FPU) inquiring about the possibility of FPU purchasing the city’s water and sewer system.
When Commissioner Kreger reported this contact to the City Commission, the City’s self-appointed capodecina, Commissioner Chip “Capo” Ross, impulsively recoiled declaring: “City leaders reject the idea of selling the sewer system”, adding that selling the system would be like “killing the goose that laid the golden egg”.
The “geese” “Capo” Ross was referring to are Fernandina Beach residents and the “eggs” are their water and sewer bills and impact fee payments, a cleverly conceived shakedown scheme that’s gone on since 2003.
Here’s how it works
Water and sewer services are a natural monopoly and there are no practical market alternatives to a single central system. For that reason, a single utility provider operates the service subject to public oversight and regulation. That regulation is necessary to ensure that consumers (Fernandina’s geese) are charged fair rates for services and the operator recovers only reasonable operating expenses, plus a fair market rate of return on the capital invested in the plant.
In Florida, that utility regulatory responsibility is overseen and enforced by the Florida Public Service Commission, which also regulates electric rates and service.
However, when a municipality buys a utility it is no longer subject to PSC regulation. The city is supposed to do that. This is why the City Hall mob wanted to buy the system and why “Capo” Ross wants to hang on to their Golden Goose. Think of it this way: Would the mob sell off a lucrative racket, particularly when nobody’s policing it?
To “Capo” Ross’s way of thinking the water and sewer bills the local Castellammarese set are just another way to fill city hall coffers. Why would they want a pesky state agency exercising oversight and interfering with the city’s lucrative extortionist rate setting and enforcement scheme?
Some 17 years ago, when Fernandina’s water service was privately owned and regulated, Florida’s PSC denied a rate increase saying the company had over invested in the plant and the investors should eat the added cost rather than pass it on to the city’s customers (“Capo” Ross’s geese).
The city then stepped in to buy the system at an excessive cost the PSC had denied. Think about that! The City imposed the cost increases on residents that the PSC had denied! The City’s capos then imposed illegal impact fees to pay off the debt it incurred by overpaying for the facility. The resident golden geese got goosed and the city raked in the cash. But he City didn’t stop there.
Once the city mob took over they tied access to public water and sewer and impact fees to city-issued certificates of occupancy. Property owners failing to pay impact fees can’t use their property. This is a shakedown scheme organized crime would envy.
And it got even worse for area tax payers. The city required that county properties that adjoined the city and needed access to the public water and sewer service would have to agree to be annexed into the city and pay higher city taxes.
The city’s water and sewer service is simply a vehicle for shaking down citizens without worrying about interference or oversight. That’s why “Capo” Ross sees the system as the goose that lays golden eggs.
But the worst may be yet to come as the city’s resident geese may be required to lay larger golden eggs to pay for the deeper damage of neglected infrastructure repairs of the past several years.
According to a 2019 study by American Society of Civil Engineers and published by the US Water Alliance, the US needs to invest between $110 billion and $130 billion a year until 2040 to replace aging and deteriorating water infrastructure and to improve water quality. As an example, the study found that in the US there is a water main break on average every two minutes. The underinvestment is piling up says the organization. And it may soon be hitting home.
Maybe FPU knows something we don’t and sees an opportunity here to replace the plant. FPU is a subsidiary of Dover, Delaware-based Chesapeake Utilities Corporation (NYSE: CPK) and has some deep pockets with a $1.8 billion market capitalization. It can afford a long-term investment that individual Fernandina tax payers can’t.
Because the Fernandina Beach city hall crime syndicate sacrificed the water and sewer system’s future for immediate income, replacement money isn’t there. That’s where regulated capitalists like FPU can play a “white knight” role. FPU might have insight into the deeper damage that’s taken place due to the neglect of the past few years and be willing to invest for future returns.
To ensure reasonable rates, quality service, professional management, and a secure water and sewer system future, the citizens that “Capo” Ross refers to as the city’s “Golden geese” should demand the system be turned over to private hands and be subject to the regulation and oversight of the PSC.
There are a number of companies that procure and successfully operate municipal water systems. FPU is just one of them. It and others should be invited to bid and put Fernandina’s water and sewer service back in private hands subject to the Florida Public Service Commission’s regulation and oversight.
People like Ross obviously hold local residents in utter contempt. If he possessed the least bit of personal insight, he would have concluded that the local “geese” dumb enough to vote for him deserve to have their pockets picked. Hopefully in the next election he’ll have an opponent other than a naïve radical Black Lives Matter activist who will provide voters a suitable alternative.
Just like geese “honk” when they fly to maintain the integrity of the flock’s formation, the “Golden Geese” citizens of Fernandina Beach should display a united front to privatize the city’s water and sewer system by “honking” every time they drive past Ash Street’s city hall.
DC Chaos Hits Home: The handful of loons that stormed the Capital building Wednesday had an impact on Amelia Island other than a unified revulsion of their mindless actions.
The Republican Nation Committee’s (RNC) meeting of its 180 leadership members that is currently taking place at the Ritz Carlton here was supposed to feature an appearance by President Trump. Due to the DC chaos that didn’t happen. Even plans to have the president send a video message were ditched. He made a phone call instead.
Those RNC leaders at the meeting at the Ritz are watching a Republican party that is in a state of confusion. The discussions going on there must be focusing on the scramble for leadership as many will try to position themselves as 2024 presidential material.
As west coast pundit and columnist Burt Prelutsky points out there was one good thing to come out of the mess made by the mob that went berserk in DC: “After months of left-wing rioting in cities across America where the participants suffered no pushback and no negative consequences, we finally discover that cops still know how to protect property, at least when politicians are endangered,” he observes.
Too bad there were no politicians around when America’s businesses in Minneapolis, Kenosha, Portland, New York, Seattle, Atlanta, Chicago and New Orleans, were being looted and torched by BLM and Antifa hordes of what we were told were peaceful black protesters.
It did make for a change, though, to hear the troublemakers in D.C. referred to as marauders, by the media, words we never heard applied to the thugs in BLM and Antifa when they were burning and looting buildings. They were called “peaceful protestors” by biased on-the-scene TV commentators even as buildings burned in the background.
I was invited to join a caravan of local islanders who attended the DC protests but declined. I was regretting my decision until I saw the chaos on TV Wednesday afternoon. Unfortunately, the handful of clueless rioters overshadowed the hundreds of thousands of American patriots who showed up to protest a fraudulent election rightfully and peacefully.
The handful of morons that stormed the Capital didn’t do American patriots or Republicans any favors, just the opposite. Expect the new majority of Democrats to respond with draconian laws further restricting our rights and using Covid and the DC chaos as their excuses. The double standard and hypocrisy they display are astounding. Does anyone recall Biden or any other Democrat calling for restraint during the Antifa and BLM rioting and looting last year that resulted in some 30 violent deaths across America? VP elect Harris even offered bail money to those arrested. What about the Bret Kavanaugh Senate hearings where Democrat supporters stormed the Senate chambers, blocking hallways and elevators and screaming at US Senators until the Capital police dragged them away? What about the mob that penetrated the Supreme Court grounds and attempted to break down its doors. Did Biden, Schumer, Pelosi, Harris or their media propagandists condemn them? What about the 2016 inauguration day DC riots, boycotts, firebombs, burning cars and “#Not My President” campaign? Why isn’t any of that mentioned? A few months back when the mob was pulling down statues, trashing our cities and our culture, the flying monkeys on the Marxist TV networks were all parroting Martin Luther King’s “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
The DC lawlessness has put a question mark on Donald Trump’s future role. His initial response to the chaos could have been stronger and now everyone is piling on. The Democrats don’t want to just defeat President Trump, they think they have him on the ropes and want to utterly destroy him. But he’s surprised us before and he might do so again.
I’ve seen reports that the Capital Hill mob was infiltrated by Antifa and BLM thugs. A known Antifa thug from Utah was next to the woman that was shot and has been arrested. But don’t look to the Democrat’s media lackeys to do any serious investigative reporting on that.
The next four years are going to be bad, unbelievably bad, particularly since the Democrats now control both the Senate and the House. I’m sure Georgia residents are extremely excited about being represented by the preferred candidates of California political donors. The country can soon expect some dreadful economic and foreign policy decisions. An aging and obviously incapable Biden is clearly an empty suit. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are vicious, vindictive, nasty, power hungry people. The idea that Donald Trump received 10 million more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016 and still lost to Biden, is ludicrous. It is unclear who is really going to be in control of the White House decision making. If you thought the Obama administration was bad you ain’t seen nothing yet.
I’d love to hear what the RNC folks down the road at the Ritz are saying today about all this.