Fernandina Beach has always been a quiet low key Florida backwater and to some degree still is.
It resembles almost every other sleepy small Florida coastal community – full of retirees from New York and New Jersey with shoulder-length nose hairs, puttering 10 miles an hour down the middle of the main traffic arteries in golf carts, oblivious to the long string of cars behind them that are too polite to honk or even shake a fist, but nobody cares.
However, the atmosphere changes dramatically on Tuesdays during City Commission meetings at Ash Street’s City Hall. That’s when downtown Fernandina transforms into Key West’s Duval Street on steroids. This past Tuesday, May 3, was no exception. The fact that it was a full moon may have added to the ferment.
Last Tuesday the City Commission Chambers and sidewalks out front were packed with gay pride supporters demanding access to public spaces for their upcoming event. They were equally mixed with those who were far less than enthusiastic about publicly celebrating sexuality, gay or otherwise, particularly when children are in attendance or nearby.
The live music on the patio from the across the street’s Boat House Restaurant added a festival-like atmosphere to the gathering.
Inside the packed commission chambers close to 50 folks spoke for and against the sexually oriented event at the city’s Central Park that would be in full view of a children’s playground.
Outside the chambers, the South side of Ash Street was dominated by gay pride supporters waving signs and rainbow flags. The North side of the street was populated mostly by a younger crowd opposed to the event. They carried signs including one saying: “Don’t California my Florida”.
A young married couple I spoke with told me they had moved here recently from New Jersey and didn’t want their new community to become known as a “gay destination” such as Key West. Others among them nodded their agreement and waved signs signaling disapproval of a gay event involving children at Central Park.
The pro-pride crowd appeared larger and extremely vocal, waving signs, quoting biblical verses, and applauding and cheering pro-pride speeches inside the packed proceedings that were being broadcast through outside speakers.
Not all the folks outside the building were pleasant or courteous. Attendees testified there was a steady stream of hostility from the pride crowd.
Even prior to the event local police were notified to investigate a death threat directed at Jack Knocke, who heads Nassau County’s chapter of Citizens Defending Freedom, which has been working locally to keep adult content away from children.
The pride crowd didn’t win many friends and influence people to its side of the argument with its angry, hostile tactics and vulgar irrational behavior, just the opposite.
For example, Sherian Wilsher-Berteau, a mother of four, who grew up in Fernandina Beach, was one of the many speakers arguing against the Pride event near the children’s playground at Central Park.
She expressed her displeasure in a Florida Citizen Journal opinion editorial following Tuesday’s contentious session. She wrote that she and her friends were subjected to hostility from the pro-pride group following her three minutes at the lectern. “I had to deal with lots of obnoxious people while waiting outside,” she wrote. Scary times for our city, it was crazy out there- a friend had to endure some obnoxious female lecturing her about how wrong we all are. It was hard to stay calm when they are so aggressively in your face. I was called names as I walked to my car, lots of hostility going on.”
At the lectern Ms. Wilcher-Berrreau rationally and calmly told the Commissioners and the audience that she was “speaking as a mother about minors & children who are not equipped to deal with these adult issues either mentally or emotionally.”
In her commentary she wrote: “Communities celebrating together in a public forum have always had rules and guidelines for what is acceptable decorum for the general public. Sexually suggestive performances by drag queens shaking their whatever’s and encouraging same sex relationships should not be considered suitable for young kids. We should not be asking why not just go along – we should be asking why some in the gay community are insisting on targeting children and including them in these very adult issues?”
Comments directed at her online and outside the chamber venue were vicious, irrational, and incoherent. Knocke said he was treated courteously. “I had some polite and interesting conversations with those who have opposing views,” he said. “Online, however, it’s the opposite.”
The death threat sent to Knocke came from a local via Facebook Messenger is an example. It said: “You finna act like you do,” he wrote . “(Expletives) up for everybody that doesn’t think like you.. Well, keep thinking the way you do, your brain finna end up like JFK. Remember that.”
Police investigated the threat, identified the person, and the issue is now in the hands of the state attorney general. Knocke says he doesn’t know if authorities have reached out to the individual, who has been identified, but Knocke has been civil enough not to identify the demented jerk.
“I’m not shocked to have received this threat,” said Knocke, who also criticized local media for their biased coverage of his organization and its supporters during this situation. “The way Citizens Defending Freedom has been treated by the local media here in Fernandina Beach is helping to radicalize people against us. They make us sound like ‘far-right’ lunatics. In reality, we simply do not want our children and grandchildren exposed to sexualization, inappropriate adult materials, and a drag queen performance in spaces designed for children.”
Knocke’s criticism doesn’t extend to The online Florida Citizens Journal which has been the one objective news outlet in its coverage of both sides. The bi-weekly News Leader’s pretend reporter with the fortunate name of Julia Roberts, has no concept of the word “objectivity”, apparently graduating from, the “Close Cover Before Striking School of Journalism and Screen Door Repair.” And the online Observer is nothing more than a far-left screed slavishly promoting anything the city and its staff toss to them.
The following letter from Florida Citizens Journal Publisher George Miller, expressing the opinion of what may be that of most folks hereabouts, was sent to the Fernandina Beach City Commission May 3:
Members of the Fernandina Beach City Commission:
Jack Knocke’s email to you objecting to the gay “Pride” event venue seemed like a reasonable request. While there is a constitutional right of freedom of assembly, there is also a matter of balancing that with the rights of others, other laws, and just plain good taste. But your acquiescence and the hysterical reaction from the left to the request was unacceptable, but instructional.
Anyone who has been paying attention can see that the LGBTQ goal is not just about tolerance, but aggressive pushing of their agenda, which includes grooming of children and demanding of complete acceptance and promotion of that agenda, under the threat of “cancellation” and even violence.
Opponents might say that’s a ridiculous statement. But then why are these events in the most highly public places in the city? Why was the expo with its dozens of directly or tangentially sexually oriented booths – some targeting children- directly adjacent to a children’s playground? Why did last year’s expo advertise a drag show and a kids’ corner? Why did the city approve and read an effusive LGBT agenda proclamation? Why was their adopted symbol, a “rainbow” flag, raised at city hall, while other more worthy causes weren’t promoted? Why were multiple fire dept. vehicles leading the parade- were they expecting a fire? Why did some Commission members and candidates advocate making the city into an LGBTQ tourist destination? When will the City promote a heterosexual agenda and a family values month?
People are asking and want answers.
For more thoughts on this matter, please have a look at this Citizens Journal Florida article:
Hook Up? Apparently the lone sponsor of the Central Park gay pride event is a Los Angeles, California-based group called Aids Health Foundation (AHF). As far as I can tell it’s the local group’s only sponsor. It’s pictured here during last year’s event.
It’s tag line “Hook Up With Us” certainly draws attention. Would this organization that is dedicated to treating sexually transmitted diseases be one that would be appropriate parked near a children’s playground in Central Park?
Wait! What? Local gay pride advocate and failed City Commission candidate Genese Minshew tells Jack Knocke ( https://fernandinaobserver.com/city-news/knocke-pushes-to-cancel-pride-parade-festival/ ) that there are no “drag show or kid zone in this year’s Pride festival, nor was there last year. People who were not actually in attendance continue to spread false and misleading information,” she claims.
Really? Why then would advertisements we have about last year’s event boast that there were such events and attendees say they witnessed them?
Explain that Ms. Minshew.
Chip Shots: Fernandina Beach City Commissioner and physician Chip Ross may possibly be one of the most – if not THE most – contentious and unpleasant people to have ever been elected to public office hereabouts.
Ever since he was voted in seven years ago Ross has written and had published a number of opinion editorials to local news outlets expressing his views about the city, local governance, etc. He always identifies himself as “Chip Ross, City Commissioner” and there’s always an accompanying photo of the scowling Dr. Ross so readers are not under any mistaken impressions that the writer isn’t him. His editorials and city position leave the impression that his opinions are those of the city and that he is its official spokesperson.
Not once since Ross has been posting his views has he ever claimed that the opinions he expresses are actually those of the city, its staff, the city manager, or the commission. Nor has he said they are not. And not once has the city, etc. ever said his comments do not reflect those of the city its staff or other commissioners. Not until now.
Following Ross’s Wednesday, May 3 “Free Advice not worth the price”, a blistering, unwarranted and possibly libelous attack of News Leader columnist Steve Nicklas, I asked Mayor Bradley Bean if Ross’s comments are those of the city.
Mayor Bean quickly responded saying: “As a private citizen, Commissioner Ross can make any opinion he wants known to the public. However, without commission consensus, he does not speak for the City as a whole.”
Mr. Nicklas, taken aback by the fierce Ross screed, correctly questioned Fernandina Beach’s City Attorney Tammi Bach sending her the following:
I am writing to you about an inflammatory column, “Free Advice Not Worth the Price,” written about me by Chip Ross for at least two local newspapers. In the column, Ross uses his “city commissioner” title, which implies that his comments also represent the city and/or his position with the city.
In the column, Ross clearly stepped over the bounds of civility by questioning my company and my capability to deliver advice as a financial advisor. My roles as a columnist and as a financial advisor are completely separate endeavors. He also brought into question a book I had written. All of these attacks were unprovoked at the time.
This would be like me writing a column about Ross and questioning his ability to diagnose patients as a physician. The two roles obviously don’t intersect. In fact, Ross cites his city commissioner position as well as his physician role in at least one newspaper.
I would like to know if the city endorses Ross’ comments, and if the city reviewed the recent column prior to it being published. And does Ross indeed speak for the city, since he often cites his title and/or his city e-mail address for comments. Obviously, the city could also potentially be liable for damages caused by his comments.
Sincerely, Steve Nicklas
Ms. Bach responded to Steve’s letter saying that she ignores Ross’s ramblings as they do NOT reflect those of the city or its staff. Following is her partial response:
Mr. Nicklas: I received your email through the City’s website.
Commissioner Ross does not speak for the City or the other City Commissioners (including Mayor Bean) in his opinion pieces.
But Wait! There’s More! Not long ago, during a City Commission discussion about an ethics complaint filed against City Commissioner David Sturgis, Commissioner Chip Ross recused himself in a vote to have the city pay Mr. Sturgis’s legal fees to defend himself. All the other commissioners voted in favor of the city paying the fees.
I’d heard rumors that Commissioner Ross’s wife filed the complaint so decided to ask Commissioner Ross if that was why he recused himself.
Admittedly, I did call at a late hour, about 10:05 p.m., and Ross made it very clear he did not appreciate me contacting him at that time of the night saying: “Why are you bothering me at 10 at night?”
The next morning at 7:45 a.m. I received the following email from Ross.
“In response to your phone call last night at 10:05 PM, I have attached my notes from the 18 April 2023 meeting on the matter of my recusal from voting. Beyond that, the matter is at this point confidential under the rules of the Ethics Commission, and I believe inappropriate to give any further information. As I stated last night, you can obtain a copy of the form that state law requires me to file from the Clerk’s office. I do not have a copy in my possession.
I would appreciate it in the future if you would not call me after 8 PM or before 8 AM for non-urgent matters. I do return all phone calls and try to answer all e-mails within 24 hours. I do not text or use other social media. If you have a matter that concerns public safety or a crucial matter, I am available at any time”
In Form 8B it states that “….an elected official must abstain from voting if a relative including spouse, etc. may be involved.”