Residents of Fernandina Beach will soon be hammered with tax increases, but City Manager Dale Martin thinks he can lull local tax payers into a state of indifference with a series of incomprehensible weekly media columns. Meanwhile his sidekick and self-appointed city spokesperson, City Commissioner Chip Ross, continues his litigious rampage.
While Martin’s penned sleight-of-hand is an attempt to dupe residents into a state of stupefied apathy, sociopathic gasbag Commissioner Ross, notorious for leaving a trail of law suits in his wake wherever he goes, reached into his quiver to fire a legal salvo at the Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA).
First let’s take a look at Ross. His efforts are a desperate attempt to force a private firm, Worldwide Terminals Fernandina, to cough up its financial records. Worldwide, which is contracted by OHPA to operate the port, says its financial records are confidential and releasing them would damage it competitively.
Ross filed his 150-page suit as a private citizen without a lawyer. The City has apparently distanced itself from Ross’s legal antics and his suit is not tied to Ross’s and the city’s claim that OHPA owes it some $50,000 annually under some previous agreement. That issue is still pending as far as I know.
The motive for the current Ross suit is a mystery.
The court just recently issued a Writ of Mandamus supporting Ross’s demand for the documents which will probably cause the company to appeal.
Danny Fullwood, Chairman of the OHPA Commission, says he has no idea why Ross wants Worldwide’s financial records. “I don’t know how he expects to benefit from this,” says Fullwood, who speculates that it may just be a nuisance suit.
Ross owns a home near the port on the north end of Amelia Island. “He doesn’t like the port and would like to see it shut down,” adds Fullwood. He compared Ross to the guy who buys a house at the end of an airport runway then demands the airport be shut down because of the noise.
The deep-water port has generated significant economic benefit to the state and Nassau County businesses and residents for decades and has been in operation since long before the American Revolutionary War. It’s a special-purpose government district created by the Florida legislature in 1941.
Since Ross filed the suit without a lawyer, he has few if any legal expenses, but the port has to pay legal fees to defend itself. If Ross loses the case he will be responsible for court costs.
As for Martin’s word jumbles, area watchdog group Common Sense compared the City Manager’s muddled weekly columns to the actions of a sleight-of-hand magician masking his intentions to raise property taxes in the 2021-2022 Budget Cycle.
Martin’s articles are an unintelligible mishmash of gibberish guaranteed to have readers dozing off after the first paragraph. When tax payers eventually express shock at their upcoming tax increases he can retort with: “Wait a minute, I explained it all in a series of articles.”
Or he can do what he did the last time residents came forward to complain about their rising property taxes, pull up their public record assessments and publicly read aloud the amount they paid. It was an unforgiveable attempt at public intimidation that should have spelled the end of his tenure right then.
“In his weekly articles, Martin moved his hands all over the table to distract residents from his intentions,” says Jack Knocke, a Common Sense founder and one of its spokespeople.
The City of Fernandina Beach is desperate for cash because it lives far beyond its means by continuously adding staff, facilities, vehicles, and more under City Manager Martin’s direction.
In a message to Common Sense members recently Knocke offered an explanation for Martin’s obviating tactics explaining how it would make sense for the Fernandina Beach city government to operate at last year’s total revenue budget.
Knocke emphasized that operating at last year’s revenues is called the Rollback Rate, a lower millage rate if property values rise. “This is the rate that generates exactly the same total dollars for the city as they got from taxpayers last year,” says Knocke.
However, Knocke says that both Martin and Commissioner Ross like to call the rollback rate a tax decrease. “This is not the case as Florida law states that anything above the rollback rate is a tax increase,” adds Knocke.
“Last year, Martin pulled another sleight-of-hand, “ recalls Knocke. “He was forced by the City Commission to only get revenues totaling Rollback Rate Plus Inflation — roughly a 6% increase. Then he robbed the reserves to maintain his desired higher level of spending. He grabbed over $2 million from reserves to support his higher spending. Last year, Martin increased staff even with decreased state shared revenues. Adding full time staff along with benefits and pension expenses is VERY expensive.”
For example, Martin assumed he could fix the financial mess at the city-owned golf course by spending $500,000 on Top Tracer which has been a massive financial disaster so far. “It was his idea and the City Commission approved it,” said Knocke.
What the city got for their tax money at the golf course is a bar without a bartender, booze, bathrooms, or food. Usage is abysmal. Rates at $40 an hour are as out of sight as golfers. Potential players can’t use it after the 6 pm prime time because there was no advance planning since they failed to realize they were building it in an FAA flight path thereby impacting air travel with their lights.
Martin also uses auditors as an excuse for his mismanagement and bad decision making. Auditors determine if books are stated accurately. They are not business managers and should not be cited for justifying or driving business decisions such as the golf course.
“City Manager Dale Martin has been bringing increased spending and taxing budgets to the commission for years,” concludes Knocke. “He has created a bloated government that is not sustainable for our small community. Our City Commissioners need to change direction now.”
Ross’s Litigious Trail: Ross, a local emergency room doctor, is notorious here and in his former residence of Solomon’s Island, MD for his frequent law suits.
For those who haven’t been paying attention following are a few examples of how this pompous narcissist has attempted to ruin people’s lives with his numerous legal actions.
One of the most despicable local examples in Ross’s lengthy legal history took place in 2017 when one of his suits drove John and Teresa Sauer, and their special needs son, John Jr., out of their Fernandina home forcing them to take shelter in a local hotel, costing them thousands of dollars.
The Sauer family bought a house at 205 Broome Street in Fernandina Beach’s historical district in February 2015 and spent between $80-90,000 renovating it, only to have the financial roof cave in on them thanks to Ross. Until the suit was settled the Sauers were denied a certificate of occupancy.
The suit also cost city tax payers $10,000, the cost of the city’s $5,000 insurance deductible in each on the cases he brought. Ross didn’t care and said so in a letter to the editor in the News-Leader.
Ross says he filed the actions to contest whether amendments to the City’s Comprehensive Plan in June 2017 were in compliance with Florida Statute. And the Sauer family was in his way….well, too bad!
The court didn’t agree with Ross. Administrative Law Judge Suzanne Van Wyk found that Ross’s challenges were based upon “inaccurate contentions”, that he “presented no relevant acceptable data or analysis which contradicted” that action and that he “did not prove” that the City’s action was in violation of Florida Law.
In this space on November 3, 2017, I wrote that a variety of news outlets reported how Ross’s behavior and legal actions upended the tranquility and lives of many in Ross’s former Solomon’s Island, Maryland community
Charles Donnelly, an attorney for the Solomon’s Island Tiki Bar was quoted in an April 19, 2012, Southern Maryland Weekly Galvert Gazette article headlined “Local wins give Tiki Bar much to celebrate” saying that his client (Tiki Bar) “spent between $300,000 and $500,000 on attorneys, architects and legal fees over the years defending itself from Ross.”
Other area media reported about Ross’s activities in his former residence including one in the Washington Post by J. Freedom du Lac, the Post’s general assignment news editor, headlined: “At the famed Tiki Bar in Southern Maryland, it’s the doctor vs. the drinkers.”
Sean Rice of The BayNet.com authored another one about Ross on September 22, 2006, headlined “Prominent Tiki Bar Foe Charged with Intoxicated Endangerment.”
According to these Maryland and Washington D.C. news reports Ross tried to strip a local bar in his former residence of its liquor license and had legal charges brought against him. The entire, very bizarre report of Ross’s activities can be found by going to: http://www.thebaynet.com/articles/0906/prominent-tiki-bar-foe-charged-with-intoxicated-endangerment.html. The Washington Post article can be read in the May 28, 2011 Washington Post (At the famed Tiki Bar in Southern Maryland, it’s the … – Washington Post ).
Speaking Of Commissioner Ross: Maybe the best way to make abrasive Fernandina Beach City Commissioner Chip Ross go away is to isolate and ignore him. That way the city can get some work accomplished and lower the decibel level at the same time.
Commissioners Bradley Bean and David Sturges got that ball rolling last Tuesday when they initiated a 4-1 vote by the Commission to abandon legal efforts to acquire by eminent domain what is known as the O’Steen – Simmons property along the Amelia Riverfront. Ross was the only one voting to confiscate the property.
Mayor Mike Lednovich and Commissioner Len Kreger agreed leaving Ross as the lone holdout wanting to waste time and tax money using legal efforts to snatch private property from unwilling sellers.
“It was great to see Bean and Sturgis not follow the recommendation of Martin and Bach,” says Common Sense’s Jack Knocke. “The amazing backstory is that Martin and Bach stated that they agreed to accept the latest appraisal a few months back in arbitration because the appraisal was coming from one of the top firms in Florida.”
Knocke says that when the appraisal came back at $2.3 Million – well above the city’s $830,000 appraisal – Martin and Bach recommended that the City Commission reject it tossing the effort into the court system. Bach also recommended sending the appraisal to a state oversight board to call out the appraiser, reports Knocke.
“Why would she think that she knows more about property appraisal than the best in the state?” asks Knocke. “Why would she ask the commission to reject the appraisal that a few weeks earlier she agreed to accept due to the reputation of the appraiser?”
Fortunately, the cooler heads of Bean and Sturgis prevailed.
How much has this debacle cost the city’s tax payers Mr. Martin? Ms. Bach?
News Leader News: The new News Leader Editor Scott Bryan has done a good job of balancing the newspaper’s coverage since taking over from the far-left Peg Davis a few months ago.
However, its editorial “Lawsuit seeks documents that should already be public” in the Wednesday June 16 edition baffles me. It takes the side of rogue Commissioner Chip Ross and his individual suit against OHPA for Worldwide Terminals financial records. The piece was written by the paper’s editorial board which the masthead says consists of Bryan and Publisher Foy Maloy.
The editorial makes no mention the fact that the city is not requesting these records and doesn’t ask why it and other Commissioners aren’t involved. The reason that Ross is requesting the records as a private citizen are vague. Why? And the editorial makes no mention of the OHPA Commission’s opinion except to praise Commissioner Miriam Hill, who regularly expresses opposition to her fellow commissioners. The editorial also doesn’t mention Ross’s habitual practice of filing lawsuits, a compulsion he appears to have adopted as a hobby.
The editorial suggested OHPA fire its private contractor, Worldwide Terminals, if it doesn’t hand over its financial records, a move that the firm says would give unfair advantage to its competitors.
If the editorial’s objectives were to change minds or convince readers that Ross’s suit has merit it failed.
A Leftist Thinker’s Stinker: Next to the News Leader’s editorial was Ron “Get Off My Lawn You Little Bastards” Sapp’s ongoing editorial buffoonery headlined “New rules take thinking out of classroom.”
Sapp is his own worst enemy, continuously embarrassing himself with irrational blather that most well-adjusted people typically abandon as they grow older. Not Sapp. Just a couple of months ago he identified as a socialist, writing that he was proud to admit it.
Fortunately the retired indoctrinator is no longer polluting the minds of young people at Fernandina Beach High School. I’ve heard from many parents and former students that his classroom propaganda echoed his editorial nonsense which included flagrant assaults on the realities of history.
His latest leftist editorial rage endorses the radicalization of the educational system that embraces Marxist indoctrination rather than learning. His June 16 stream of bilge supports critical race theory and insists this Marxist claptrap be taught in our public schools. He criticized Governor Ron DeSantis for bringing it to a screeching halt.
The Florida Board of Education (BOE) Thursday, June 10, approved a rule initiated by Governor DeSantis that specifies public schools teach American history based on “universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence” and bans “critical race theory” from being taught in Florida classrooms.
Critical Race Theory is just a fancy term for simple old-fashioned race hatred, except that instead of targeting blacks, it targets whites for the color of their skin.
“Critical Race Theory teaches kids to hate our country and to hate each other. It is state-sanctioned racism and has no place in Florida schools,” DeSantis tweeted before the BOE vote.
“The woke class wants to teach kids to hate each other, rather than teaching them how to read, but we will not let them bring nonsense ideology into Florida’s schools,” DeSantis continued. “I find it unthinkable that there are other people in positions of leadership in the federal government who believe that we should teach kids to hate our country.”
Sapp disagrees. In his column he encourages the teaching of critical race theory, which is built around the framework of identity-based Marxism, an ideology that unleashed some of the world’s most brutal dictators and darkest times and advocates the overthrow of capitalism. That’s what avowed socialists do.
Instead of critical race theory, what our schools require is the true story of America, that includes the injustices, but places them in the context of the country’s high ideals and our progress toward achieving them.
American parents, fed up with critical race theory indoctrination, are flooding into their local school board meetings in the thousands to demand they reject this Marxist claptrap. National political observer and former educator Joel Ross says: “We are just at the start of the revolt, and it is spreading fast as parents find out what their kids are being told and indoctrinated with.”
Ron Sapp is a lonely and angry voice in the wilderness and his degenerate blather on the editorial page of the News Leader an example of the garbage he spewed at our local high school students.
I encourage the newspaper to continue printing his drivel so its readers can see for themselves the dangers such people pose when they are let loose in a classroom.
Things I Wish I’d Said: “If stupidity was a disability, I know more than a few people who would get monthly checks.” – Anonymous.
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: Popular piano man John Springer and his drummer sidekick, Rob Taylor, are back. The tuxedo clad Springer and drummer Taylor will be taking requests at the new Marriott hotels on Atlantic, Springhill Suites and the Courtyard, at the site’s Tide Pool Bar and Grill outdoor venue Friday, June 25, 4-7 pm. They are also booked at the American Legion Post 54 at Gum and South 3rd Street, Saturday, July 3, from 6 -9 p.m. Both events are open to the public. The Sean McCarthy Band is hosting a “Booze Cruise,” a $65 per person ticketed event aboard an Amelia River Cruise boat Saturday, July 3, 4-6 pm that includes beer and wine. Call 904/261-9972 for tickets.
It is absolutely unconscionable that the City Manager even consider any budget proposal without focusing first and foremost on those areas in which taxpayer money can be saved. His fiscal responsibility is to the city residents, not to the city staff or his own self-generated failures such as the gross overshoot on expected FEMA contributions for marina repairs, the “golf-o-matic” Top Tracer(?) device, endless paid studies, etc. He should also be looking for ways to consolidate with the county where cost-savings can be realized for the benefit of the taxpayers. I would hope that the city residents would rail against this attempt to raise taxes again after the devastating year of 2020. If he can’t or won’t find a way to trim the budget, then perhaps it’s time to find someone who will work for the primary stock holders in Fernandina Beach – the citizens. And, in the future, if a city manager elects to live outside city limits, his/her pay should be reduced in the amount of the property taxes he/she would be paying if they lived in the city. In that way, a raise in property tax rates would automatically result in a cut in his/her income just like it does for those of us affected.
It appears that Ross is pursuing the suit from a personal perspective, therefore a personal matter. I believe this has nothing to do with city business but if Ross was so endeared to protecting the city and its residents why is he bringing forward the suit and not the city?
I guess he is fighting for you Fernandina residents!
As usual some of the comments below miss the point completely week in and week out but expected due to their myopic vision.
Briefly, here’s the process.
Lone commissioners cannot individually authorize lawsuits on behalf of the City without a full vote of the Commission.
Private individuals are entitled to request most governmental records under the Sunshine Laws. Should those records not be produced, a court may rule on the validity of the request and may compel the governmental entity to produce the records.
If, after reviewing the records, private citizen Ross has any concerns, he may present those concerns to the Commission for their evaluation and potential further action.
Dave, as many of your respondants have indicated, you got onto the wrong bandwagon regarding the OHPA. I think you are letting petty politics blind your objectivity. Take Commissioner Ross out of the equation and think with a clear head please. I have implored you to try change your tunnel vision focus on the City (and of course the Left bashing) and really look at the Port corruption for what it is. It’s a big bag of turds.
Dave, from the comments so far I think you are seeing that folks support Chip’s efforts to make OHPA and Worldwide Terminals more accountable and transparent. While I don’t believe that Worldwide should be required to make ALL of their financial records public, their interactions with OPHA and state/federal agencies such as the recent purchase of a tug using grant monies should be made available. Perhaps a more balanced report would include the perspective of OPHA commissioner Miriam Hill who seems to be the only one interested in financial responsibility and accountability. Most believe that OPHA has been run as a good ole boy network for decades with little public accountability. They seem to allow Mr. Ragucci and Worldwide Terminals to do whatever he pleases. At least Chip is putting his money where his mouth with this lawsuit.
Regarding Ron’s column, the issue I have is his support of educators providing their “opinions” on an issue in the classromm. Here is where the risk is of the political thought of the educator being advocated rather than a balanced approach. Teaching should be based on facts and all facts should be presented, not just those that support one position or another.
Facts are based in truth. From the highest office down to Dave’s blog, everyone is peddling their own versions of the truth. Lies, repeated often enough, become truth, and those truths become facts. So which facts do we want taught in the classroom?
Dave – I taught right down the hall from Ron Sapp for the last 6 years of my professional life. Critical thinking based on credentials, facts, and open discussion has always been his stock in trade. Ask any of his students.
I personally don’t care if you are married to Ron Sapp. If you support his Socialist promotion and critical race theory, I hope you are also out of the teaching business. You want us to ask and believe the people he indoctrinated? How much critical thinking went into that brain storm?
So do you think Critical Race THEORY is fact?
See above links.
A Port Authority with no public accountability is bad news – and locally and strategically dangerous – especially here, just across the Fernandina Entrance Channel that also provides the ocean entrance to King’s Bay. The lack of public records disclosure by the OHPA and Ragussi is worrisome from several perspectives – one, the financial issue raised both by Chip and the Editor of the News Leader. The axes you continue to grind are getting smaller and smaller.
Dave, at least get some facts straight. OHPA agreed to pay the City $50k a YEAR not a month. Mr. Ragucci of the Port wants the City to pave their road. So you want the taxpayers to pay to pave their road now?
And now that the City lost the Simmons waterfront property, you can now tell the public that 4 Commissioners voted to reduce Front Street to a ONE lane, ONE WAY street north of Bretts. When the railroad puts in the new crossing gates, the road has to be moved west. There will.no longer be parking for the Salty Pelican on Front Street without parking on Mr. Simmons property. You also may want to let the other Commissioners know that they will now be paying Mr. Simmon’s substantial legal bills, and they will pay for that wonderful appraisal that calculated Mr. Simmon’s property value using all of his land that is UNDER WATER. I guess that’s professional these days?
When all of the Pelican’s patrons start parking at the Marina, and there are NO spaces left for Mr. McCarthy’s boat tours, please tell the public to consult with Mr. Knocke. I am sure his proposed commercial/ condo developments will give them free parking. I think I’ll keep my subscription to the NewsLeader. They at least attempt to get the facts straight.
As long as you profess facts…. What orifice did that Condo/Commercial fact originate from.
Some of the most expensive real estate on the island should be used for a parking lot?
Can you comment on this article?
You may not like it, but…
The Florida Sunshine in Government laws are some of the strictest open records laws in the country. All government records and minutes of meetings are to be available to the public and you do not need to state a purpose when requesting them. Governments, and quasi-governmental agencies and organizations are NOT permitted to hide their activities by hiring private companies to do their work. Work by private contractors, on behalf of the government is subject to the same open records laws.
“If Ross loses the case he will be responsible for court costs.” If this is so, it stands to reason that Ross has serious reasons to seek these records. I’m no fan of lawsuits, but here he is taking some serious risk at financial loss for…..?