By Dale Martin
August 27, 2021
Earlier this month, several City officials from Fernandina Beach (Vice Mayor Kreger, Commissioner Sturges, Attorney Bach and me), as well as from communities throughout Florida, converged on Orlando for the Florida League of Cities’ annual conference. The conference provides an opportunity to meet fellow officials, attend educational sessions, learn of new services and products, listen to several notable speakers, and, for some, ride the waterslide.
We didn’t arrive (by train and rideshare) to the conference until late Thursday afternoon. The morning ethics session offered an opportunity to satisfy the State’s annual ethics training (required for all elected officials and senior appointed staff), but the City conducts its own internal ethics training (which also includes an introduction and review of Florida Sunshine laws) to satisfy the training requirement. The afternoon sessions were associated with the various advocacy committee meetings. Since no City official or staff currently serves on those committees (but some have now expressed interest in serving), attendance at those meetings was not necessary.
After officially registering, most of us ventured into the Exhibit Hall to wander among many vendors. Representatives of two companies with which the City has begun to work were present. Maudlin & Jenkins is the City’s new auditor, succeeding Purvis Gray following a selection process earlier this year. I was not part of the selection process and, since Maudlin & Jenkins had yet to begin its annual audit work for the City, I introduced myself to the available staff. We had a lengthy discussion about the current financial condition of the City and the financial opportunities and challenges for the City.
I also visited with representatives of the Government Services Group (GSG), specifically Mr. David Jahonsky, Vice President. The City Commission retained GSG to provide assistance with the appropriate expenditures and necessary reporting requirements associated with the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act funding. Congress has allocated significant funding to every local government throughout the country. In the case of Fernandina Beach, the allocation is approximately $6.5 million. The City will shortly receive its initial fifty percent of the funds, with the remaining balance scheduled to be received next year. All funds must be expended by December, 2024. The formal agreement related to these funds will be presented to the City Commission at its September 7 Regular Meeting.
That funding, though, has limitations for its use. While it can be used for “infrastructure,” the allowed infrastructure expenditures are limited to water, wastewater, stormwater, and broadband: it cannot be used for other projects frequently associated with infrastructure such as roads and buildings. The City Commission has directed staff to use the initial ARP funds for stormwater projects along the Amelia River waterfront and Alachua Street. I had previously met Mr. Jahonsky when he introduced himself to the City Commission, but I enjoyed the time to discuss in greater depth the facets of the ARP.
Throughout Friday and Saturday, City officials attended small group sessions to learn of resiliency efforts, electric vehicles, social media, annexation, and general media. I also attended the three keynote speaker sessions, all of which I found to be engaging.
Mr. Clarence Anthony, the Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of the National League of Cities (NLC). Mr. Anthony’s local government service began when, at 24-years-old in 1984, he was elected Mayor in South Bay, Florida. He served that community until 2008, becoming involved with the NLC during his South Bay tenure, serving as President in 1998, and being appointed to his current leadership position in 2013. Mr. Anthony articulated the need to govern. He shared that his initial foray into local government was his desire to address crime in his community. It’s easy to have a political platform on which to base a candidacy, he said, but once elected, it is critical to shift from politics to governance. He said communities should develop a leadership pipeline to develop a pool of candidates more informed about operations, not politics.
Another speaker was Mr. Leland Melvin, a former collegiate and NFL receiver who subsequently became a NASA astronaut, completing two space shuttle flights. He described the various challenges that he had to overcome to succeed and gave great credit to those people who continued to believe in him despite significant setbacks. He said community leaders can use their roles to similarly inspire others.
The final keynote speaker was Mr. Ken Gronbach, a demographer. A speech about demography doesn’t necessary sound interesting, but Mr. Gronbach made it interesting enough that I purchased hi book, Upside. He shared his lengthy experience in the predictability of demographic studies, especially helpful in understanding generation differences and future challenges throughout the country and around the world.
The FLC annual conference is always interesting and invigorating, sharing concerns and successes with other Florida leaders. The commonality of the challenges provide the purpose for the FLC to represent the needs of communities to state and national leaders. To learn about about the FLC, please visit its website at www.floridaleagueofcities.com.