Island Issues

We Can Call Them “Pay-to-Play” Fees? But No Matter What The Name They’re Still Illegal

We Can Call Them “Pay-to-Play” Fees? But No Matter What The Name They’re Still Illegal

Dollar valve on the pipelineIn 2010 Public Utilities Director John Mandrick wrote an opinion editorial in the local News-Leader (City Utilities Department pushes forward, Friday, Nov. 12, 2010) where he stated that his “recent $3.5 million facility  improvements would provide enough capacity to take the city to 2030” based on what he said was a “three percent” growth rate. He said in his editorial that “We should not need any new treatment facilities until 2030.”  However, our four year rate of growth from 2010-2014 was actually 1.3 annually say Census numbers. Therefore there should be enough capacity to take us to 2050. So as local attorney and real estate investor Patrick Keogh said in a comment to last week’s blog on this topic: “By Utility Director John Mandrick’s own admission the City has enormous excess water and sewer capacity. The excess water capacity was bought and the excess sewer capacity was foolishly built by Mr. Mandrick.”

On the other hand Dave Lott, former interim city manager, said in a letter to the editor in the News-Leader Wednesday (Stop bullying John Mandrick) that folks should stop criticizing Mr. Mandrick saying that the director actually has no control over rates, fees, etc. He’s just the enforcer and Lott admits that in doing that job he does have some rough edges. I’ve personally heard from many about the “enforcer’s “pay-to-play” rubbing of his fingers together in the faces of local businessmen and his not too subtle employee relations tirades.

So why the new fees, which may only be spent to provide additional facilities to meet the needs of new development? Those funds cannot be used for maintenance and operating expenses. “Why does he (Mandrick) do it?” asks Mr. Keogh about the tactics. “Because he can,” says the disgruntled local investor and lawyer. ” If you don’t pay his exaction you cannot get an occupancy permit. He just shook me down for over $2,000 for a new restaurant that is in a building that has long been a restaurant. These fees are simply a tax on change. A community that taxes change cannot prosper.”

Another observer, Tom Yankus, pointed out last week that neighboring Yulee may be thriving because of Fernandina Beach’s actions. “Does any commish think there is the possibility that ‘impact fees’ restrict new money and new businesses from opening?” asks Mr. Yankus. “The island is booming with new housing and/or home renovations along Fletcher and 1st. Sadly we are being forced to go over The Shave (Bridge) for more of a variety of shops, restaurants and even for a movie. The 5-0 vote for illegal fees is 0-5 and a .000 batting average in my game.”

So why did the city commission unanimously vote to re-impose  “impact fees,” which the courts have declared illegal, and that are now being calling “capacity fees,” which according to Mandrick’s 2010 op-ed, we don’t need?  And aren’t they illegal no matter what they are called?

Taking Mr. Yankus’ baseball analogy a step further the city’s actions are similar to Atlanta Braves outfielder B.J. Upton, who after signing a $75 million five year contract in 2012 proceeded to hit a dismal .189 in 2013 and .208 in 2014. So he changed his name this year to Melvin. He can call himself Babe Ruth, but my guess is that it’s going to take more than a name change for Melvin to start hitting and justify his obscene salary and it’s probably going to take more legal action to set the city straight with its newly christened “capacity fees.” The commissioners appear to be getting legal advice from Meyer Lansky and are having their rulings enforced by Luca Brasi.

While not directly addressing the impact fee issue, it was reported by the online Independent (ncflindependent) that Nassau County Economic Development Board (NCEDB) Executive Director Laura DiBella said at a meeting this past Wednesday that “Fernandina Beach must create a friendly business environment and officials can start by dusting off the welcome mat and unlocking the door.”

“The city needs to adopt a pro-business stance,” she said to the Planning Advisory Board urging them not to make her job harder than it needs to be. She said the city’s charm is a selling point and she asked the planning board if they were satisfied with the line-up of empty businesses on 8th St. and the dark storefronts on Centre St. “This city should be bustling,” said DiBella. “Like Yulee.”

Oh, I’ve also heard from a number of disgruntled folks about the messy process for getting their impact fee refunds back in the city’s most recent $3.5 million plus legal black eye in which it has to pay millions of dollars in illegally extracted impact fees that were declared illegal by the courts.

The law says the impact fee money was to be held in trust and the court trusts the city to administer a proper list. But from what I’ve heard, folks are saying the list is it is a disaster and today, March 6, is the deadline for filing for a refund.

“If a lawyer handled money in trust like the city does, he’d be disbarred,” said one unhappy claimant.

The city’s government’s attitude is similar to that of a confused and cranky downtown pub owner whose mindset appears to be: “If I could just get rid of all these pesky customers I could get some things done around here.”


The “If You Think Impact Fees Are Bad” Department: Now here’s a thought. If Public Utilities Director John Mandrick decides to bolt the city for the private sector, I’m sure he’d be welcomed with open arms at Comcast.

My most recent experience with these empty suits started about three weeks ago. The TV sets in our house decided on their own to determine what we should and shouldn’t watch and when we could watch whatever the sets selected for us. Since my viewing habits are limited to news, the Military History Channel and baseball, I wasn’t as impacted as much as my wife, Linda, whose tastes are much broader and more refined, extending to a number of BBC series and a variety of movies.

After contacting the Comcast folks and following four service calls involving four different people over a week’s time, the problem appeared to be solved. But we’ve been beaten down to the point that we’re actually grateful that the Comcast-run Internet and phone only go out every now and then, but I guess we can be thankful they actually work at all, small consolation for an exorbitant monthly fee.

We were without our already paid-for TV service for almost two weeks, and were reassured by the service folks who appeared at our home, that we would not be charged for the equipment they replaced or for their time. Our paid-for service was flushed.

Then the bill arrived. And I now understand why Comcast muckity-mucks do not put a phone number to call for service on their invoices. They have numbers for buying more of their stuff, and a number to call to complain about them to government officials in Tallahassee, but no service number. If they did it would be in use 24-7. Their attitude appears to be “Go tell it to city hall, suckers.” I also understand why they have what appears to be bulletproof windows separating their clerks from their customers in their South 14th Street office. The last time I saw windows where you had to speak into a device to talk to a clerk and slide money through a small slot, was at a gas station in one of Detroit’s high crime neighborhoods, which my running-on-fumes rental car sputtered into a few years ago.

Prior to receiving our bill, which DID include their equipment and service calls, I’ve realized that my monthly Comcast tab is enough to lease a really nice car with a great sound system, GPS, and a bunch of other gizmos and probably a TV set in the back seat for the urchins. I checked and I can get a 2015 Lexus CT 200H with a 24-month lease agreement, not including taxes, for what I send to Comcast each month. After receiving the bill, for all the services and equipment, I was repeatedly told we would not be billed for, I’m sure I could upgrade that lease to a Bentley.

Now, I have to be fair to the local people that handled my service and complaints. They were very nice and sympathetic. To take out my anger on them, would just be wrong and more than likely aggravate my situation. They do a good job but they have no authority. One very nice lady I talked to through her protective barrier told me that she has worked for Comcast for 18 years. If there is a company out there reading this, here is a lady you want on your team. It is obvious she can handle anything tossed in her direction and then some.

By the way, in the May 2014 issue of Consumer Reports Comcast consistently ranked among the worst providers of telecom bundles, TV service, Internet service and phone service, not a very enviable showing. I’m now shopping for a new provider.


Celebrating A Comfy Life: Celebrating its successful one-year anniversary, Pajama Life, the quirky downtown South 2nd St. shop that sells everything from its own unusual “Living Life Comfy” branded pajamas to chili mixes, invited its customers, friends and neighbors to help observe its 12-month anniversary yesterday. Zan Maddox and Pajamadave Voorhees have put a lot of time and effort into their fledgling business and their hard work and ingenuity is paying off. Good for them.


Neptune to be Deep Sixed? According to property owner Daniel Todd Ward, the expensive King Neptune statue, that has been vandalized three times in front of his classy beach front Fletcher Street home may be removed as repairs would be extensive and expensive. I spoke to Fernandina Beach Police Chief James Hurley and he tells me that the investigation is still ongoing and there is a sizeable reward in the thousands of dollars for information that leads to the arrest of the jerks who vandalized the elegant statue. Mr. Ward made a $1,600 donation to the police department in hopes of upgrading a surveillance camera in the area. There have been a number of leads but so far nothing has resulted in an arrest, but Chief Hurley says the case is not closed. It’s a frustrating issue for Mr. Ward since this is the third time the more than $30,000 marble sculpture has been damaged, allegedly by the same two cretins. People who may have an idea who the culprits are should contact the police at 904/277-7342.


Georgia Bag Banners Bonked: Possibly striking a blow to Amelia Island ban-the-bagger’s hopes is a story filed by Morris News Service friend Walter Jones who says the Georgia State Senate voted February 26, to prohibit Georgia cities like Tybee Island and Athens from imposing their own local bans on plastic grocery bags. Could Florida be far behind? A vote of 32-19 sent Senate Bill 139 to the House for consideration where a similar bill was introduced by the chairman of the House Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee. The sponsor of the Senate measure, Sen. Tyler Harper, R-Ocilla, said he wanted to prevent a patchwork of different local rules to complicate business for grocery chains and others with multiple locations. “We talk about being business friendly in our state, and we talk about making sure that we provide the right regulations for the businesses in our state and making sure that our businesses have level playing fields and that our businesses in our state have some sense of certainty in regards to regulation in our state,” he said. “This is one of those pieces of legislation. At some point, the legislature could decide to impose a statewide ban on the bags, Harper said, but it shouldn’t be just here and there.” Amelia bag banners may get a smack down from the folks in Tallahassee if they continue their silliness.


Local’s Career Over?  Relief pitcher Joel Hanrahan, son of island resident, Bob, was released by the Detroit Tigers this week after it was learned that he needed another arm surgery. Joel, 33, who  was an All-Star in 2011 and 2012 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, has 100-major league saves under his belt and it is not entirely uncertain that he could pitch again, but coming back from two Tommy John surgeries will be tough.


Explanation Needed: During television and radio discussions and in newspaper and magazine articles Democrats and some Republicans repeatedly say “We can’t deport 11 million illegals.” But I’ve never heard any of them explain why.


Move Over Corrine Brown: When Florida Congresswoman and south Florida state-embarrassment Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and her husband were discovered having used her congressional campaign funds to attend the recent Grammy Awards, Rep. Wasserman-Schultz, head of the Democratic National Committee, said she just happened to be in L.A. on a fact-finding mission to learn the issues most important to the music industry. And of course, being a congresswoman in South Florida, which isn’t all that far away from Nashville, that would be of utmost concern to her.


Get Rid of Fossil Fuel! But Not Right Now Please: In New Haven, Connecticut Yale University anti-fossil fuel campaigners indefinitely postponed a protest that was set for last weekend due to “unfavorable weather conditions and other logistical issues.” Fossil Free Yale, a group pushing the university to divest itself from fossil fuels, told the Yale Daily News that frigid, snowy weather set for last weekend meant their global warming protest would have to be postponed. The group wants Yale to divest from fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and oil. But I bet they went back to their dorms and cranked up their fossil-fuel heating systems in a city where temperatures were -9 degrees Fahrenheit with wind chill and lots of snow and ice. Timing is everything folks.



Patrick J. Keogh - 06. Mar, 2015 -

I think Dave Scott is doing an important public service shedding light on the City’s continuing abuse of power and violation of law.
I just got Madricked…..again! During the short interval that water impact fees were suspended (the City has recently reinstated their illegal water impact fees) we applied for a certificate of occupancy for a new restaurant on 8th St. Five years ago during Mr. Mandrick’s $800K shakedown of City restaurants he demanded $12,818.16 in additional impact fees from Merge then the operator at 510 S 8th St. I renovated and own that building and am proud of what I believe is the prettiest property on 8th St. and a model of what that gateway could be. The local restaurants rose up against the $800K in illegal impact fees and Mr. Mandrick eventually backed off. Or at least I thought he did. What I did not know then is Mr. Mandrick went around and apparently coerced restaurants into signing off on a seat limitation. In the case of Merge, someone signed a paper saying that they were only authorized 47 seats at that location. I, as the owner of the building, knew nothing about this and certainly would not have agreed to such a limitation and Mr. Mandrick cannot identify the person who signed his form. “Sign this paper or pay almost $13K” is the coercive tactic I think he used. In fact, when Merge closed they had 75 seats. The new operator presented a plan requiring 62 seats. I know the difference because I donated the excess chairs to Barnabas. After investing a ton of money in a new kitchen and other equipment we filed for our CO and Mr. Mandrick shook me down for $2,077.50 in sewer impact fees. As Dave Scott makes clear, Mr Mandrick has acknowledged that the City has enormous excess water and sewer capacity. In administering the refund of illegally collected impact fees it is clear the City has ignored its responsibilities to administer impact fee trust funds in their custody. The list they have provided to the fund’s administrator is rife with omissions and errors. So the City illegally takes my money and then illegally administers those funds.
Lest we think there is no progress, Mr. Mandrick refrained from his “you have to pay to play” mantra in shaking me down for the $2,077.50. “I have my piece of paper; (indicating the 47 seats) where’s yours?” Mr. Mandricked asked. That’s the state of public service in Fernandina.
Thanks Dave for focusing light on this abuse of power.

Tom Yankus - 06. Mar, 2015 -

Oops…Saving “$50 MONTHLY” this year. Dave…that’s $600 yearly!

Tom Yankus - 06. Mar, 2015 -

Comcast’s service and fees ($150+ monthly) for TV/Internet forced me to change last April. There were several other options from “free” TV to DISH and/or Direct. We are in the fringe area of reception (30+ miles) from JAX’s TV stations. Some on the island claim to get about a dozen stations. The closer you are the more stations you get. My nephew in Tampa lives by Channel 13 and gets 40+ free stations! DISH or Direct? I chose DISH. Living in Dahlonega I had DISH and for the most part I was satisfied. Yes, it goes out at times in bad storms. I get 250 stations, all sports and so much more variety then Comcast. The first year costs $39.99 and $69.99 monthly the second. They now offer Internet but I decided to stay with my Comcast Internet at $60 per month. Do the math. I’m saving about $50 this year and $20 the next. Good luck!

Steve Nicklas - 06. Mar, 2015 -

Dave, great column. Your explanation and chronology of the anti-business impact fees is right on — if only city officials would read what you (and I) are writing!!

Steven Traver - 06. Mar, 2015 -

don’t expect any better for AT&T. my bills are just as high as yours. I’m told that satellite service is much better than had been; what have you found in your vetting?

James Matison - 06. Mar, 2015 -


Astute observation about 5-0 City commission vote on a new “Mandrick” fee! Now you see why many were upset that the most recent “new” members went along with this. Perhaps now you can see why your support for Timothy’s owner was not overwhelming! He always seems to side with any new fees for the city, as he did before when he was on the council! Tjhis is why he was voted out the first time!