The livelihood of businesses in Fernandina Beach — from ice cream parlors and restaurants to clothing stores and hair salons — are all impacted by decisions made by the elected city commissioners, the unelected city manager, and unelected city-appointed groups such as the Special Events Committee.
I find it ironic that not one person involved in any of these city decisions, has ever owned or operated a brick and mortar business — not the city manager, not one of the five commissioners, and no one on the 11-person special events committee. That’s like having the winner of the Noble Prize for Literature selected by a panel of illiterate judges.
There’s no business empathy in city government, which consists of folks who have adopted former President Barack Obama’s “You didn’t build that” mind-set. As long as I have been observing those in charge at city hall, I’ve never seen an attempt on their part to create programs designed to keep, assist or attract businesses. Just the opposite, as it considers them pesky nuisances and tax cash cows.
For example, instead of ensuring that the city is an attractive place to locate enterprises and create jobs, the city initiates programs to stifle and gouge local entrepreneurs through extortionist impact fees, bureaucratic permitting processes, silly attempts to ban plastic bags, balloons, Styrofoam cups, nonexistent puppy mills and fracking, etc. while, misidentifying private property as “do-not-touch” wetlands and making ill-advised decisions on special events, and more.
Current city businesses and those considering moving here watch slack-jawed while mimicking, Sybil Fawlty, when she repeatedly tells her inept innkeeper husband, Basil, in Fawlty Towers: “You never get it right, do you?”
The latest decision made by this local cabal of guillotine blade sharpeners was to dictate that the wildly popular Sounds on Centre concert events be moved to another day, time and location starting next year. This was a decision made in the city’s covert Golden Goose Slaughterhouse by the 11 members of the city-appointed Special Events Committee, a non-elected group that doesn’t contain a current or former business owner, and whose meetings are held in secrecy. When I asked if the committee meetings were open to the public City Manager Dale Martin responded saying: “The Special Events Committee is not an open meeting: it serves at my pleasure and as my designee for review of special events (it is a staff function).”
Following last week’s column, in which I was critical of the city manager, the commission and the bobble-head, yes-nodding committee for their Sounds on Centre decision, I received a note from Commissioner Chip Ross, attaching a letter he received from a disgruntled city business owner who wants Sounds on Centre moved. The letter-writer is a friend of mine and had previously shared his correspondence to the city with me, a courtesy Commissioner Ross didn’t extend to him when he forwarded me his letter. I disagree with the business owner’s opinion and my friend knows it. I then asked Commissioner Ross to send me any correspondence that he received differing with my friend’s opinion and the city’s decision to move the event starting in 2020. I copied the other commissioners and City Manager Martin.
Mr. Martin responded with the following:
Good morning, Mr. Scott:
Since the issue of Sounds on Centre did not involve the City Commission, let me share my thoughts on the events of the past few weeks.
If I were a member of a business association such as the Historic Fernandina Business Association (HFBA), I would like to think that my concerns would at least be heard. If I were the head of a business association such as the HFBA, I would at least listen to the concerns of my members. I, and I believe the City Commission, attempt to similarly operate with regard to our “members”- the citizens of Fernandina Beach. Our collective decisions are rarely unanimously received by the public, but we make a sincere effort to acknowledge the issues and concerns raised by everyone and respond accordingly.
In this case, however, the HFBA made the decision to publicly belittle and bully businesses rather than even acknowledge that concerns existed. I believe that it would have been more productive (and much less acrimonious- the result solely of the actions of the HFBA) to listen to the concerns, observe those concerns over the course of this year’s concert series, and, if appropriate, make changes (or not, upon direct observations) to accommodate those concerns in future years. Unfortunately, the HFBA decided to not only ignore the apparent concerns, but also, of its own accord, threaten to cancel the concert series.
I sincerely hope that the HFBA will take the opportunity before this year’s concert series to reach out to all businesses to determine what, if any, concerns exist. During the events, those concerns can be monitored and perhaps even addressed without the need for such rancor. Sadly, though, I expect that some in our community rather prefer the “mob-rule mentality” of social media, and base decision-making on the number of “likes” and “dislikes,” not research and data.
I truly hope that our community has higher expectations for behavior and decision-making; I know that I do.
Mr. Dale L. Martin
City Manager, Fernandina Beach
Chuck Hall, president of the HFBA, reacted to Mr. Martin’s letter to me saying that the majority of HFBA members support keeping the concerts where they are. He disputes Mr. Martin’s allegation that members were “bullied” saying such language is “not helpful.” Mr. Hall said the city with its permitting power holds all the cards and its decision to move the concerts just a few weeks before the first one wasn’t feasible and he’s grateful they relented and will allow this year’s series to proceed.
“Cancelling the 2019 concerts was not a threat,” he said. “Without the permit, we cannot host the concerts With other options not being reasonable and faced with our financial and time constraints, we were unable to continue.”
“Over 2019, we had already agreed with Mr. Martin’s request to conduct intense surveys, public meetings, and more, to discover which businesses may truly be adversely affected, and want this concert series changed. If it appears that there is an overwhelming cry to make changes, we will consider it. Our commitment to these concerts costs over $10,000 per season, and we work for no pay. This seems to mean little to those that would change something they know little about.”
Because so many local residents and business people responded to the commission due to a hastily sent message by the HFBA that said the “concerts were cancelled” the city clerk could not forward them all to me via email, she had to provide them to me on a disc, which I picked up at city hall.
After going through the hundreds of emails, the overwhelming majority of residents and businesses people wrote to tell the city they want the concert series to stay put. In this deluge of emails, I discovered just three that want it moved. It appears that Commissioner Ross was very selective in picking out the one letter to send to me that strongly objected to the current format, possibly thinking that since the writer is a close friend of mine, I would be swayed. Why didn’t he mention all the positive ones that he and the other commissioners received? It appears they’re taking counsel from local curmudgeon Ron “Get Off My Lawn You Little Bastards” Sapp.
“We shop, dine, drink, each time we are downtown for the concerts” was a recurring theme in many of the letters. The current location lends itself to exactly that, and is the reason it was selected 12 years ago.
I find it odd that the city didn’t partner long ago with the HFBA on this event to benefit the economic engine that drives the city and entertains thousands of local citizens with a series of six annual concerts. But, based on its history, that’s not the city’s style.
I also find it odd that city officials rarely respond here or in other forums, print and electronic. Mr. Martin’s letter above is a rare exception. Normally they are mostly content to be punching bags, banking on the public being passive.
The bullies Mr. Martin refers to in his letter are all in city hall, when they’re not hiding under their desks.
Here’s How To Join: Those interested in joining the Historic Fernandina Business Association (HFBA) can do so by contacting Chuck Hall at DowntownFernandina@gmail.com or call him at 904-607-3121. You don’t have to be located downtown to be a member and it costs just $100 annually.
A Moral Dilemma: Tampa Plant High School classmate, friend, and “American Spectator” writer, Larry Thorneberry, commenting on the very conflicted Virginia Governor and pediatric neurologist’s carefree attitude toward murdering babies following their birth, asks in a recent article: “If there is a moral difference between a woman consulting with her doctor to determine if her child should live or die, or a woman consulting with a hit man to determine if her husband should live or die, I don’t know what it is.”
Great Sports Quotes: “Last year we couldn’t win at home and we were losing on the road. My failure as a coach was that I couldn’t think of anyplace else to play.” — Harry Neale, professional hockey coach.
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: This Sunday, February 10, from 10 am to 2 pm, the downtown 12 North Front Street Salty Pelican kicks off its annual Sunday Brunch featuring bottomless mimosas $15, a “make-your-own Bloody Mary Bar” for prices ranging from $6 to $9, depending on the vodka selected, and all-day live music. This Sunday’s menu will consist of the following seven menu items: Buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy with potatoes, $11; Crab cake Benedict served with poached eggs, Hollandaise sauce, spinach, potatoes, $14; Shrimp and grits with Andouille sausage gravy, cheddar grits and toast points, $16; Pelican skillet, sausage, scrambled eggs, Jack Cheddar cheese, cheesy hash browns, bacon, $13; Brunch cut and eggs, chef’s choice cut steak, two eggs, toast with potatoes, $19; Huevos rancheros, fried corn tortillas, salsa, black beans, two eggs over easy, Jack cheddar cheese, with potatoes, $12; Lobster grilled cheese, sweet cold water lobster tail, cheddar and American cheese, served on thick cut garlic toasted Challah bread with potatoes, $16. Call ’em at 904/277-3811 or go to www.thesaltypelicanamelia.com. I stopped by the Patio Place , the corner of Ash and South 5th Street Wednesday evening to catch a few tunes by pianoman John Springer and drummer Rob Taylor and was pleased to see a lot of familiar faces from the now shuttered Beech Street Restaurant and Alley Cat. The weather was good and every table outside was full. They’re there every Wednesday 6:30-8:30 p.m. On Wednesday evenings from 5:30 until they are gone, regulars at 12 South 2nd Street’s PJD’s Beer & Wine Garden bring in wings from other restaurants, bars, and grocery stores and hold an informal vote on who has the best flappers hereabouts. Publix has been crowned champ week-after-week but last Wednesday an unexpected source of wings from downtown’s Amelia Island Coffee Shop on Centre Street was judged by the panel of not totally abstemious authorities as very, very good. Who would’ve thunk it? Island BAR-B-Q, 1925 South 14th Street, is now serving breakfast with a breakfast buffet for just $9.95; sausage, egg and cheese, $6.75; one egg, bacon, sausage and toast, $4.25 or two eggs, $5.25, and more. Call ’em at 904/624-7811. Oh, folks also pick up fried chicken gizzards and livers at Island Bar-B-Q for the Wednesday PJD’s wingding and they are gobbled up incredibly fast.