Editor’s note: After seeking questions from quite a number of thoughtful citizens, we boiled their ideas down to these twelve questions for the four City Commission runoff candidates. We’ll publish the answers as they come in. This is the first response.
If elected, what would be your first priority as a new commissioner?
I would sit down with the city manager and discuss my expectations of him as the city manager. I would identify the things I want to see managed differently at City Commission meetings, including better metrics to judge progress and success, and status reports. I will talk with him about the need for a strategic plan for the city and propose proven steps to start that process.
What distinguishes you from your opponent?
I have been an engaged citizen for more than 4 years. I regularly attend City Commission meetings; I know what is going on in the city and will be able to hit the ground running.
My experience that will benefit Fernandina includes not only volunteer community programs and projects such as the Planning Advisory Board where I serve as vice chair, but a solid business background in financial management, planning and coalition building.
And, unlike my opponent, I have not and will not take campaign contributions from area developers and builders.
What are the top three important problems the next City Commission must solve in the next two years?
We must find a clear path forward, including a funding strategy, for:
- Downtown seawall, as well as flooding in Escambia Slough and Atlantic Avenue at Egan’s Creek.
- Upgrading downtown infrastructure, including lighting and sidewalks
- Better budget planning and implementation
Good-faith negotiations for property that are crucial for public projects [roads, seawalls] sometimes simply do not work. In such cases, will you support invoking the law of eminent domain — with fair compensation to the landowner?
It depends. This is never a black or white issue. I would ensure that the city adheres to Florida Statute VI, Chapter 73, including its guidelines for negotiation. That means I would want to give each situation a fair and detailed analysis before I would support taking of property.
The school board recently passed a bond referendum and the county passed a bond issue for conservation land. In the next two years would you support a general obligation bond issue in the $20-30 million range supporting repair and replacement of aging city infrastructure? If not, why not?
I would not support a bond for repair and replacement of aging city infrastructure at this time. We do not have enough hard data to make that determination. The downtown seawall project and upgrades to the historic downtown should be analyzed and prioritized as well as any commitment to repairing and replacing aging city infrastructure. Again, we do not have a clear strategic direction, nor the financial analysis, needed to make any decisions on bond referendums at this time.
Why do you support or oppose the city’s purchase of privately owned, environmentally sensitive property [wet lands, dunes, tree canopy, marsh, wildlife habitat] to perserve that land in conservation for future generations’ enjoyment?
I do support the purchase of environmentally sensitive property, when it is truly environmentally sensitive and fits into a longer-term strategic plan.
If you believe there is too much development in the city, how would you propose to stop it legally without interfering with property rights?
The comprehensive plan and the land development code drive the development strategy for the city, so any changes would need to come through the Planning Advisory Board. There is opportunity to relook and possibly reduce density by zoning category, or perhaps create design standards at the neighborhood level. You can never stop development, but you can better manage it through smart, consistent implementation of our existing standards, or by creating new and innovative standards.
Some people in our community say that we have traffic and parking problems. What do you think? How would you mitigate those concerns or change the situation?
First, we need to do better enforcement of our current traffic and parking rules, especially as they relate to the downtown area. We need to work out off-street parking for employees of our downtown businesses and enforce it.
We should always be looking at parking downtown and at the beaches for possible changes and improvements.
Unlike most cities of our size, there is little appetite for paid parking in this community, so I think that we must work with what we have.
If you could change one thing in our Land Development Code, what would it be any why?
We need to make it easier to understand and remove the amount of interpretation that goes on.
We should take a look at density by zoning category, as well, if we are serious about reducing density in the city.
If elected, what three steps would you take to put our city on firmer financial footing?
I would start with workshops prior to budget approval process. Each would be focused on different department budgets, with the department heads coming in front of the City Commission to discuss and defend their budget recommendations. This way each workshop can be focused and really allow the commission to delve into the budget and understand the implications of budget reductions and additions.
Then I would like to see three budgets presented to the commission for consideration, each based on one of the three millage rates: the proposed, the rollback and the adjusted rollback. I want the city manager and department heads to weigh in on where and how budget reductions based on the millage rate should be handled. The way it is now, the City Commission randomly removes items from the budget without a good understanding of the implications.
I would ask for a detailed analysis of headcount by department to see where we may find savings or redundancy.
I would look at the current organizational design of the city as there are too many silos, redundancy and organizational dysfunction that leads to waste of money and resources. I think this would also lead to a better, more supportive work environment for our hard-working city employees.
I would close Top Tracer. It was a boondoggle from the very beginning and will just continue to eat up resources that can be used to improve the golf course.
If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city for any purpose, what would you do with it and why?
Interesting question, it is sort of like asking what would you do if you won the lottery.
My practical side says we would use it for the seawall or downtown upgrades, but my heart says, to use it to help those in our community that need our help.
As an engaged citizen, I see the great good our non-profit organizations do every day and how much need there is. So, I would want to support our local non-profits, the youth, the underserved and underprivileged, the homeless and those who struggle to make ends meet every day. Maybe not the most practical, but the most caring of the people who make up this great community.
What neighborhood do you live in? Why? Where are your favorite places to spend time in our town?
We live in the Selva Verde subdivision which is over on the city golf course. We back up to the #1 south hole, and it is a lovely place to live. We have so many trees and a beautiful canopy over our street. We are fortunate to have wonderful neighbors, which makes it even more special.
I have so many favorite places; the beach, the golf course, Ft. Clinch State Park, Egan’s Creek Greenway, the entire downtown vibe with fun shops, bars and restaurants. Frankly, I rarely leave the island because almost everything I need is right here.