Submitted by Suanne Thamm
May 16, 2012
Effective May 29, 2012, Fernandina Beach will have a new city manager, but it will have to wait considerably longer to see the realization of the riverfront park or a new Main Beach boardwalk. Within the next few months lights will begin returning to Centre Street trees. And despite objections from Commissioner Charlie Corbett, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) adopted rules of procedure for its meetings and rejected a proposed November 2012 voter referendum on funding improvements to the Fernandina Beach branch library.
The Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) convened its second regular monthly meeting at 6:00 p.m. on May 15, 2012 in a packed City Hall Chamber and moved quickly through proclamations, presentations, and more routine business so that it might devote more time to topics of current and/or longstanding community concern. Despite many opportunities for heated debate, commissioners maintained their composure, no doubt due in part to their approving a proclamation declaring May 2012 as “Civility month” early in the meeting.
The public seemed more engaged in discussion, thanks to the changes instituted by Mayor Filkoff in removing the requirement for speaker forms to be completed within 15 minutes of the start of the meeting. This change was part of Resolution 2012-70, which provided additional information on rules of procedure for FBCC meetings. Commissioner Corbett strongly opposed this resolution, claiming that it was restrictive and vague and “just another layer of bureaucracy.” In response to Corbett’s claim that Roberts Rules of Order and Florida statute offered sufficient procedure, City Attorney Tammi Bach pointed out that current city ordinance states that in following Roberts Rules the Commission “may vary procedure from time to time.” The rules of procedure were adopted with modification on a 3-2 vote. Commissioner Sarah Pelican joined Corbett in opposition.
At 7:00 p.m. the FBCC once again tackled the problem of the Main Beach boardwalk. Interim City Manager Dave Lott provided a detailed slide presentation on background, costs and options for the Commission’s consideration. A 2010 evaluation indicated that the boardwalk was nearing the end of its usable life. Over time it has served as a revetment and allowed the formation of a new dune, requiring 7-8 hours of weekly maintenance to keep the boardwalk free of sand.
In July 2011, the Commission was provided with 3 options and opted to go with the third, which called for moving the boardwalk 10-15 feet west of the current location and elevating it 2 feet. This option called for abandoning the existing boardwalk in place, demolishing and reconstructing vertical structures. The engineering firm Gillette and Associates has worked with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to resolve outstanding issues and move into the permitting phase. The total estimated cost is approximately $170,000. Currently the city has only set aside $125,000 in its capital improvement budget for this project. The project could be broken into two phases to stretch out the financial impact over a longer period.
Commissioner Corbett expressed strong opposition to “spending money on a sand dune.” He maintained that the money would be better spent repairing bathrooms at the Martin Luther King center, where the money would be spent on people rather than a sand dune. Commissioner Tim Poynter said that people come to Fernandina Beach for the beaches. “It would be irresponsible,” Poynter said, “to kick this can [boardwalk] down the road.” Asa Gillette reported that the preliminary plans have already been submitted to FDEP. The action requested from the Commission was to finalize the plans so that the project may proceed to the permitting stage.
After more discussion and public input, Poynter moved and Vice Mayor Jeffrey Bunch seconded moving forward to finalize permitting Option 3 in one phase. The motion passed on a 4-1 vote, with Corbett opposed.
The FBCC moved from the beach to Centre Street with a discussion on a plan to relight the Centre Street trees. This plan was proposed by former Fernandina Beach mayor Don “Beano” Roberts upon consultation with the architect who did the first tree lighting scheme for Centre Street in the 1970’s and Rex Lester, the City’s Maintenance Manager. Under this plan, 19-22 Centre Street trees from 8th to Front Streets will be lit with a new type of light that mimics the ones that were take down last year. The lights are primarily used for seasonal lighting, so it is not known how they will hold up under constant use. Each tree needs 18-20 strands of lights. Roberts has already collected $6,300 in private contributions to pay for the lights, which will cost the city annually about $760 in electricity and about $9,880 (internal cost) in maintenance. Lester asked the Commission to “trust in me” regarding placement of the lights and re-use of the existing uplighting. Commissioner Pelican moved and Vice Mayor Bunch seconded a motion to move ahead with this plan and allow Mr. Lester discretion as he requested. The motion passed without objection.
At 8:00 p.m. Interim City Manager Lott delivered a presentation containing cost estimates for Front Street and the waterfront park improvements. The total cost of all the recommendations is $5.2M, of which Front Street accounts for $2M; railroad (Alachua crossing) – $700K; horizontal park elements (grass, sidewalks, etc.) – $803K; park features and amenities – $1.5M. The Waterfront Advisory Group (WAG) asked for approval of the conceptual plan, which varied from the 2009 approved conceptual plan because of the need to reinsert the boat ramp. Four members of the public spoke on this item with two supporting it and two in opposition.
Commissioner Corbett’s prime concern was keeping the Veterans Memorial in its current location. Interim City Manager Lott explained that could be done. Vice Mayor Bunch accepted the concept, stating that “we are doing it for the future” and that it will probably take 10-15 years to complete. With respect to cost, Bunch indicated that if the city decides to purchase the land to the north of the city marina and relocate boat slips, that alone will save the city close to a million dollars in dredging fees over the next 10 years. Commissioner Pelican asked if the money allocated for railroad improvements would enable the city to have Front Street declared a Quiet Zone by the railroad. Interim City Manager Lott explained that the additional signaling required for Ash and Centre Streets was not included in the figure presented, and that those improvements would need to be in place before the railroad would consider Quiet Zone status. In response to another question from Commissioner Pelican Lot responded that the city could not proceed to discuss a move or new building with Atlantic Seafood until the proposed plan is approved. Commissioner Poynter moved and Vice Mayor Bunch seconded conceptual approval of the plan as presented, which passed with a unanimous vote.
The FBCC next moved to the topic of the new city manager’s contract. Attorney Bach reported that she had spoken with the new manager and with his agreement was presenting a one-year contract effective May 29, 2012 at a salary of $103K. Vice Mayor Bunch asked that language regarding a probationary period and an initial evaluation period be the same: 6 months. Commissioner Poynter asked how the city got to a salary of $103K, when in earlier discussions commissioners had wanted to go low on starting salary because “it was a buyer’s market.” Commissioner Pelican retorted that Poynter was the one who wanted to go higher. Poynter agreed, saying that he expected to pay commensurate with experience and qualifications. He expressed the opinion that since Mr. Gerrity, the newly selected manager, had never held the position of city manager, the salary for the first year should be lowered. Pelican replied that since the highest paid city employee currently makes $98K, the manager should make more than that. Poynter then suggested that he make one dollar more than the highest paid employee during his first year. Finally, Vice Mayor Bunch moved and Commissioner Pelican seconded that the draft contract be approved as written with provision for a 6-month evaluation. The motion passed 4-1 with Commissioner Poynter dissenting.
At Commissioner Corbett’s request an item had been placed on the agenda regarding the Fernandina Beach library. He wanted to have the expenditure of $1.6M on building expansion and rehabilitation put on the November ballot so the voters could decide if they wanted to spend that kind of money. Vice Mayor Bunch asked how Corbett had arrived at that amount, when the city’s share all along has been publicly stated as $600K. Corbett claimed that even the county’s share of $600K represented money paid by Fernandina Beach taxpayers and that there was nothing concrete committing the Friends of the Library to the remaining amount. Vice Mayor Bunch tried to draw the analogy with the $500K that the City had committed to the Humane Society for a new facility. Corbett had supported this action, which included a pledge from the Humane Society to raise the additional funds. Not persuaded by Bunch’s reasoning, Corbett moved and Pelican seconded making the library improvements a ballot issue. The motion failed
City Attorney Bach asked the FBCC to consider placing Interim City Manager Dave Lott’s contract on the agenda as an emergency item, which they did. With the appointment of City Manager Joe Gerrity, Lott’s contract calls for him to be given 30 days’ notice. The FBCC unanimously agreed to provide him such notice on May 29, 2012. The Commission asked newly appointed manager Joe Gerrity if he had any problems with this action. Gerrity replied that he and Lott have a good working relationship and that he would probably assign Lott duties with respect to budget formulation. Mayor Filkoff asked Gerrity if the 2013 proposed budget would be his (Gerrity’s) proposal, and Gerrity responded affirmatively. Gerrity also indicated that he and Lott would decide on a new title for Lott during this transition period.
During his city manager report Lott announced that the city had recently received a $20K State Historic Preservation grant to revise historic district guidelines adopted in the 1990’s for the Downtown and Old Town Historic Districts. He solicited a volunteer from the FBCC to liaise with the Port Authority on the Coast Guard initiative, and Vice Mayor Bunch agreed to serve. Commissioner Pelican, who also sought this position, deferred to Bunch.
Following thanks to Interim City Manager Dave Lott for his service, Beano Roberts for his Centre Street lighting work, and all who helped make Shrimpfest 2012 a success, the meeting adjourned at 8:55 p.m.
Bill Flynn Honored With State Award
At the 2012 annual conference in Orlando, Bill Flynn, Chair of the Nassau County Library Advisory Board and President of the Fernandina Beach Friends of the Library, was honored with the Friends, Foundations and Boards Outstanding Member Award.
Each year, the Florida Library Association selects a single library volunteer from the state who works to improve library resources and services. Flynn, who joined the Friends of the Library board in 2007 and appointed by the County Commission to the Library Advisory Board in 2008 regularly attends budget meetings and has worked to improve the branch library in Fernandina Beach.
“I cannot say enough about Bill Flynn,” wrote Library Director Dawn Bostwick in her nomination, “He is a leader, a motivator, knowledgeable in finance, experienced in high level government, and an incredible advocate.” In her nomination, Donna Paz Kaufman, member of the Library Advisory Board and past recipient of the FLA award noted, “Bill is a model of citizenship, working for the public good.”
Currently, Flynn is working with the City of Fernandina Beach and Nassau County to improve the Fernandina Beach Branch Library. Each commission have pledged $600,000 for capital improvements to the facility which was built in 1977.
Historic Preservation Matters
Historic Preservation Matters, especially in Fernandina Beach. This Saturday, May 19th at St Peter’s Episcopal Church, 801 Atlantic Avenue, an opportunity is available for preservationists, local history buffs, and anyone else who is interested in our cultural resources and historic past.
Doors open at 8:30 a.m. and activities will take place throughout the day. Children’s programming is provided. Advanced registration is available through www.hpmatters.eventbrite.com. For a detailed schedule visit www.fbfl.us/DocumentView.aspx?DID=7201.
The purpose of this event is to raise awareness of the value of preserving our historic assets. Events are free with the exception of carriage tours, boat tours, walking tours, and trolley tours.
The City of Fernandina Beach obtained a Preserve American grant through the Florida Division of Historical Resources in order to present Historic Preservation Matters to the community. Major sponsor include the City of Fernandina Beach, Florida House Inn, and the A.I. Fernandina Beach Restoration Foundation. Additional support was received by First Coast Community Bank, John Myers Tree Service, Fast Signs, Custom Homes by Bryan Lendry, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Amelia Island Museum of History, Florida Public Archaeology Network, Amelia Island Carriages, Amelia Island Trolleys, and Amelia River Cruises.