Steve Nicklaus, an island financial adviser who writes a weekly “Steve’s Market Place” column for the Fernandina Beach News-Leader, is an entertaining and fun guy to join for a couple of cold beers, and his columns are well written, interesting and amusing.
I’ve discovered that he is most always factual and rarely lets things get by him. That’s why I was surprised by two of Steve’s recent columns criticizing former Fernandina Beach City Commissioners for a variety of issues that were, in fact, not of their making and giving credit to current commissioners for good works they don’t deserve. In fact Steve just flat out got a lot of the facts wrong or he got them from a source that spun a distorted view.
Here’s my take on Steve’s recent comments:
Golf Course: Steve says the former commission gave Billy Casper Golf a “lucrative $100,000 annual contract that does not contain performance clauses”. In reality the contract is for $84,000 and the RFP (Request for Proposal) and Casper’s proposal contain a lengthy list of clearly stated performance requirements. What Steve should have asked is why the current commission and the city manager aren’t enforcing them and why did this city manager and commission disband the unpaid Golf Course Advisory Board, a group of dedicated golfers who added oversight and know more about the course that the five current commissioners and City Manager Joe Gerrity combined. The RFP itself (10-100), is available at City Hall for those who want to read it, and if Sara Pelican thoroughly read the contract as she recently stated, then perhaps she needs to take a reading comprehension refresher course. There’s probably only one sitting commissioner that knows one end of a golf club from the other.
Downtown Twinkling Lights: They don’t twinkle and never have. Yes, they were removed , but for tree trimming purposes and it was thought that after they were taken down they could be replaced by ground-based lights, a move that two former commissioners tell me they regret as that certainly didn’t work out well. Lights were reinstalled in the trees, not by this current commission, but by the efforts and funds of former mayor and commissioner, Beano Roberts, who deserves a standing ovation.
Impact Fees: Steve says the past commission “secretly assessed $800,000 in impact fees on local restaurants,” when in fact nothing was done in secret since all decisions on impact fees were public. Interested citizens can simply go to the city website and key in “impact fees” in the search field and a fee schedule pops up, not a very good place to keep secrets. However, I do agree with Steve when in his July 9 column he called impact fees “anti-capitalistic fees on new business.”
Felix: Steve says the past commission tried to restrict Felix, our peanut-selling, harmonica-playing, bike-pedaling pal from selling his products downtown. But the city staff blew that one and the commission was late in stepping in and fixing it, but it did get fixed, as it should have, after a great public out-cry.
Forward Fernandina: Steve says the commission “pushed through a $15 million downtown restructuring plan without allowing citizens to vote on it.” The $15 million number appears to have come out of the air with even Commissioner Pelican who was on the commission then, mentioning it but failing to say that she may have heard that number from one of the voices in the head of Commissioner Pat Gass. In fact the resolution was for $6 million, with $2 million eventually being borrowed. In Section 2 of resolution 2011-11-8 signed August 11, 2011 it says “The City of Fernandina Beach City Commission authorizes and directs the city manager to proceed with the implementation of the Strategic Plan which will be funded through non –ad valorem resources including a revenue bond/ bank loan proceeds not to exceed six million ($6,000,000.00) dollars to be made in up to three draws by 2015.” Part of the money was earmarked for the library expansion, which the current commission is now taking undue credit for following through on. Oh, and don’t we elect our elected commissioners to make important decisions for us without tossing them back at us in expensive referendums?
Airport Lawsuit: When the majority of the past commissioners were seated they inherited an airport lawsuit that was already in mediation with a court appointed mediator. They did not, as Steve implies, fight and lose the court battle, as decisions had been made four to six years previously by former commissions to enter into a lawsuit, and by this time is was in the hands of judges and beyond anyone’s control.
Pursuing Taxes and Raising Revenue: Steve claims the past commissioners raised taxes and pursued revenues vigorously to grow government but fails to provide examples. He also conveniently leaves out the fact that the current crop of commissioners approved what may be one of the highest tax increases in the city’s history with a millage rate jump of 15.95 percent, the largest bump since the early 1990s, a rather startling omission.
The Current Commission Balanced The Budget: Um, OK, but he forgets to say that ALL Florida municipalities are required by law to “bring forth a balanced budget” something that decades of commissioners have done, good and bad. Steve’s claim is like saying they got dressed and came to work.
Boardwalk: Again, stretching to find any positive accomplishment by this current commission, Steve credits them with building the new boardwalk at Main Beach. But, as President Obama so famously said “You didn’t build that!” Money for the boardwalk was budgeted for a number of years and its construction was delayed by the Department of Environmental Protection, as the last commission worked to try to get it closer to the beach or at least in the same place as the old one. The boardwalk, like the library, fell into the lap of the current commission and trying to list any of this commission’s accomplishments is similar to listing Hillary Clinton’s while she was a US Senator from NY or US Secretary of State.
This coming election in November will be vital for the city and its residents. Two very qualified, energetic, enthusiastic and intelligent candidates will be challenging two incumbents that need to be shown the door.
Educator, mother, and community volunteer Robin Lentz is running against Sarah Pelican and former commissioner, businessman, and city restaurateur Tim Poynter, is running against the curmudgeonly Charlie Corbett. This city will be much better off without Ms. Pelican and the cranky, clueless Corbett and will, in my opinion, see a marked improvement with Mr. Poynter back on board and Ms. Lentz adding a refreshing new face.
I know both Ms. Lentz and Mr. Poynter and I truly believe that they will do more than bring a “to do list” with them to the commission chambers, but instead will work to draw up long-range, realistic goals that best serve the community and make the most efficient use of our tax money.
It’s time to break up the Curly, Larry and Moe majority that has turned the commission chambers into a burlesque venue, and get on with seriously representing the citizens of the city and run its affairs without the nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.
Speaking of the News-Leader: Steve did hit the nail directly on the head, however, when he lauded the privatization of the city marina by the former commission and gave credit to Westec for its “admirable job” of managing it compared to the former city run operation, a comment which resulted in, as far as I can recall, the fourth sour grapes column (Marina is a silt trap and that is the crux, FBNL, July 11,2014) by the whiney Coleman Langshaw, who was booted as marina head in favor of Westec. Hey Colman, you were fired. The new guys are doing a better job. Get over it. Will the News-Leader ever pull the plug on his childish playground mentality columns? Good grief.
Jacksonville War Zone: Last Saturday during a conversation in the Florida House’s Mermaid Bar with two couples who were escaping the city of Jacksonville for the peace and quiet of Fernandina Beach and a weekend retreat at the Florida House, the topic rolled around to the Jacksonville Times-Union Metro section’s recent articles about raging violence in that city with a headline that day proclaiming “Another shooting in Jacksonville’s Ceasefire Zone.” It described the shooting of a 16-year-old boy in an area so rife with killings, shootings, stabbings, and other violence that the sheriff and other city officials initiated something called “Operation Ceasefire” to try and curb it. Operation Ceasefire! Good grief, I’m sure that’s a term that the Chamber of Commerce, tourist boards, and realtor’s associations would like to see disappear. But according to the vacationing foursome the newspaper articles are not exaggerated, with one gentleman saying he grew up in the area years before it was proclaimed a “ceasefire zone” and his parents are buried in a cemetery there, which he says is not safe to visit due to the zone’s high rate of violence. A designated “ceasefire zone” is another reason not to visit Jacksonville, no matter what the city’s boosters tell you, unless you’re anxious to tour the murder capital of Florida and witness the mayhem firsthand.
Speaking of the Jacksonville T-U: Every Saturday theTimes-Union runs a restaurant review column by Matt Pittman, who is pictured leaning on a video camera and who hopefully is a better video maker than he is a journalist. In last Saturday’s column he urged readers to visit Nippers Beach Grille, on Jacksonville Beach, praising its food, location, view, and specials he hasn’t even tasted yet. For example, he says “Stop by Nippers for the food, the drinks, and the great live music. We saw Zach Deputy perform out on the deck and he was great….I hear the ‘Sunday, Funday’ brunch menu and Bloody Mary bar are great.” He also lavished praise on the eatery’s chef and servers, saying they were – are you ready – “great.” He even repeated Nipper’s slogan of “Come for the food, stay for the experience.” However, he failed to mention that two weeks before his review, that restaurant’s “experience” included a fatal shooting in its parking lot of Nassau County resident Zachariah “Nas T” Tipton, during “Nippers’ Bike Night,” an incident which, by its omission, he and his editors must have determined to have been not so “great.” Am I being too critical of his not mentioning the shooting and should his editors have waited a couple more months before publishing such a slobbering review? Maybe, but I’m sure the restaurant was, as good ‘ole Matt would say, grateful.
Things I wish I’d Said: “Beer is food. Liquid food, like soup.” – Jarod Kintz (via island fisherman, fishmonger, and boat dweller Charlie Freeman).
Cheap Sunglasses: The 1980 ZZ Top classic “Cheap Sunglasses” became a reality at the Front Street Salty Pelican, as innovative owners Al Waldis and T.J. Peletier ordered a “boatload” of the glasses to give to their patrons who join them atop their upstairs Front Street Pelican’s Perch to watch the sunset over the town harbor, and who may have forgotten to bring their own shades. Last week the Pelican began handing out bright green, pink and yellow paper-framed sunglasses to patrons that make them appear as though they were watching a 3-D film, but instead they’re quaffing a cold brew and enjoying a relaxing view. I suggested that as the sun begins its descent, they crank up the ZZ Top recording and hand out the glasses, a small step toward turning Front Street into our own quiet version of Key West’s Duval Street. On Sunday evening beginning at 7 I think regular guitarist Dan Voll and bass player Michelle would look really cool in the Pelican’s cheap sunglasses or how about a song called “Everybody’s Got a Cousin in Miami That Wears Cheap Sunglasses?” Call ‘em at 904/277-3811.
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: Speaking of the Salty Pelican if you haven’t tried its Sunday brunch then you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you order from its constantly updated menu to discover that the most expensive item is a $15 order of local shrimp & grits with Andouille sausage, gravy, white cheddar grits and toast along with unlimited mimosas, complimentary bloody Mary’s and beignets. There is a steak and eggs item for $14, chicken and buttermilk waffles for just $13 and lump crab, parmesan cheese with potatoes for just $11 and much, much more. James Edwards is thenew executive chef at Gourmet Gourmet owner Bill Mertens tells me, and his credentials are, well… gourmet. Known by the nom de guerre Chef Chíago, he joins the restaurant from the Omni Plantation where he was a senior chef responsible for opening several of its restaurants, most recently Oceanside and prior to that he was sous chef at the Ritz Carlton’s Salt under the late Thomas Tolxdorf. According to Mr. Mertens, Chef Chíago has already had an immediate impact on Gourmet Gourmet’s cuisine and is enthusiastically expressing his culinary creativity away from a corporate structure in Gourmet Gourmet’s small family run eatery where he can more freely express himself, and diners can soon expect the new chef’s multi course dinners with wine pairing offerings at an all inclusive price in the near future. Call ‘em at 904/261-8973. Friend Tom Yankus reports that Bucketz in the old Cotton Eye Joe location just east of Shave Bridge has a handwritten “We’re now open” sign out front.Wines By Steve’s new location at 4924 First Coast Highway. Suite 1, in the Palmetto Walk Shopping Village will have its official Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting ceremony next Friday, July 25th to be followed by a wine tasting that everyone is invited to attend. There is also a wine tasting there this evening (Friday, July 18) beginning at 5 pm.