City Commission: Building Department Improvements Approved but Public Comments Stay at Meeting End for Non-Agenda Items

By April L. Bogle

Mayor Bradley Bean called upon “all citizens to celebrate how far we have come, to eliminate prejudice wherever it exists, and to embrace the great diversity within our community” in proclaiming June 2023 as Pride Month. Fernandina Beach Pride President Genece Minshew holds the proclamation.

City Commissioners unanimously approved several high-profile pieces of city business at last night’s regular commission meeting and Mayor Bradley Bean proclaimed June Pride Month. There were no protestors over any agenda or non-agenda items, as there have been in recent meetings. Toward the end of the approximately two-hour meeting, four citizens asked for the public comment period on non-agenda items be returned to its earlier time slot. The commission did not oblige their request.

New Software to Speed Building Permit Process

Commissioners approved the purchase of new software that promises efficiency improvements in the building permit application review process. Implementation is expected to take eight to nine months.

“The Building Department, Planning Department, Code Enforcement, Fire Marshal and other departments that need to do permit application reviews submitted by citizens had a system for several years that has not operated the way we wanted it to,” said Charlie George, interim city manager.

George said the new permitting and licensing software, called CityView and used by many Florida cities the size of Fernandina Beach, is more reliable, streamlined and customer friendly.

The city is purchasing the system instead of leasing it to prevent spamming and viruses. “By purchasing it, we control our data,” he said.

The $470,000 purchase cost and the $53,538 annual maintenance fee will come from the building department reserves and budget. “No tax dollars will be spent on it,” George said.

Commissioner David Sturges spoke in support of the software. “This is awesome because the Building Department’s going to get the help they need, and not just the Building Department, but the city … employees are going to benefit … code enforcers can look at the same specs, the utilities director, utilities workers, everybody is going to have access to this software and they can see what’s going in every property all the time. So it’s going to be revolutionary. It’s a long time coming, and I’ve been fighting for it for a long time.”

Private Sector Building Inspectors to Improve Customer Service

George also announced plans to use outside licensed inspectors for building inspections and eliminate three positions in the Building Department. The city will contract with Joe Payne, Inc., which has been supplementing city staff for about a year. “I have not heard any complaints from any contractors or citizens about those private provider services we’ve been doing,” said George. “I’m confident that this recommended change will improve our relationship with the citizens in the contractor community and will reestablish the quality and customer service our citizens deserve.”

Sturges applauded the change. “I’ve taken four to eight phone calls a week ever since I’ve taken this position, and it all bases around the problems with the Building Department. Anybody and everybody you ask how difficult or easy it’s been to pull a permit in the city of Fernandina, I don’t care if they’re your grandma, I don’t care if they’re a teenager, I don’t care who they are, they all know it’s atrocious to deal with the City of Fernandina Beach Building Department … This will help us hone down and reduce our costs, so we can reduce our permit costs, which we’re going to take a sharp knife to, hopefully, with this commission in the upcoming budget.”

Brett’s Waterway Cafe to Undergo Safety Inspection

Commissioners approved a $19,600 expenditure for the mandatory annual visual inspection of the substructure under Brett’s Waterway Cafe. Engineers from Kimley-Horn, a Jacksonville-based planning and design consulting firm, will conduct the inspection; drones will take aerial photographs.

“There’s limited time to get under that structure with the tides, shallow water and low headroom so drones will be taking the photos,” said George. “The inspections will still be done from an engineering standpoint using an engineering protocol. To clarify it’s not just a drone inspection.”

Kimley-Horn wrote in its scope of work: “Due to the reported safety concerns and recommendations that access to and beneath the building structure be restricted from other structural engineers previously involved with separate evaluations of the structure on behalf of the City, Kimley-Horn will limit its assessment to a visual review only with the aid of aerial drone photography. Based on the recommendations of the structural engineers involved with prior investigations and assessment of the substructure, Kimley-Horn will be unable to get close enough to the substructure to perform any new destructive or non-destructive testing.”

Safety concerns about Brett’s surfaced in July 2021 when the city issued a “Notice of Unsafe Structure.” The notice cited concerns with “structural deficiencies related to the concrete substructure” and for repairs to be made or the property vacated. The tenant on this city-owned property, Center Street Property Group, Inc., appealed the notice to the city’s Board of Adjustment (BOA). The BOA denied the appeal, and the tenant appealed the BOA’s denial to the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court. According to Resolution 2023-35, “the BOA decision was quashed by the Court … to date, the Notice of Unsafe Structure has not been further addressed by the Court or the City…”

Commissioners decided in March 2023 to take no further action regarding the notice because the lease expires in December 2025 and repairs would be “impractical and not financially feasible.” Instead, they approved mandatory annual visual inspections of the substructure to be performed by the city and mandatory post-storm event inspections to be performed by Center Street Restaurant Group.

George said the inspection is a follow-up to the previous inspection, at about half the cost, and that the city is using Kimley-Horn for the first time “for an independent eye.”

Beach Access #40 Coming Back

Commissioners voted to approve the $270,000 repair of beach access #40’s walkover. C&L Landscape, Inc. will start construction after the turtle nesting season ends in late September. In 2019, all beach walkovers were assessed and #40 was taken down due to its poor condition. Budget for #40’s repair is included in the 2022-2023 Capital Improvement Fund.

‘Port District Road’ Designation to Improve Safety

At the request of the Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA), commissioners voted to designate three streets near the Port of Fernandina as “Port District Roads” to improve efficiency and safety.

The designation includes signage that “will serve as an additional reminder to the traveling public that they are within an operating port area with attention to the heavier equipment that regularly transit the area,” according to Resolution 2023-92.

There are no prohibitions or impacts to non-port related vehicles, and vehicles that travel in the area, such as forklifts, will now be exempt from registration, license taxes and displaying license tags.

Local streets receiving the designation:

  • Dade Street from Front Street to North Third Street
  • North Second Street from Dade Street to Broome Street
  • Calhoun Street from the railroad tracks to North Third Street

Public Comment Period Stays at End for Now

Four citizens asked commissioners to restore a public comment period to early in the agenda, especially for the elderly and for parents of young children. Their comments were in response to the commission’s May 22 vote to move the public comment period about items not on the agenda to the end of meetings. The commission decided 4-1 (Commissioner Chip Ross dissenting) to move the comment period because two consecutive meetings turned out dozens of citizens who spoke for more than two hours about items not on the agenda, delaying the completion of city business. (The public can still speak about items on the agenda at the time those items are being discussed.)

Last night, Ross suggested opening up 30 minutes of public comment at the beginning of meetings, allowing for 10 speakers at three minutes each and accommodating remaining comments at the end of meetings. “All the years I’ve been sitting here, it’s usually one or two people (who ask to speak). I’ve had a lot of comments from the public (about moving comments to the end of the meeting). They feel that this is stifling public participation.”

Commissioner James Antun said Ross’s suggestion was a “reasonable compromise,” but Commissioner Darron Ayscue disagreed, saying it would create complications about limiting who speaks when. Mayor Bradley Bean said, “We are accepting public comment either way … we’re simply prioritizing public comment that’s on the agenda. Let’s think about it more. I think it’s too early to switch it back. This is how other bodies governing do it here in our county and around the state.”

Public Comment on Millage Rate Encouraged Before July 25

Ross also suggested one or two meetings be held prior to July 25, when the commission sets the millage rate, to allow for public comment on the rate and what they want to see in the budget. Bean said he didn’t think additional meetings were needed because the schedule contains several budget discussions. Instead, Bean suggests the public come to the regular commission meetings prior to July 25 and voice their thoughts — during the public comment period for items not on the agenda at the end of meetings.


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Active Member
3 months ago

Everyone, PLEASE email. call, stop by City Hall, do whatever you can to put “Items not on the agenda” back to the beginning of the meeting! What the Commission has done is wrong on so many levels. This was moved to the early time years ago to accommodate, and I in no way mean any disrespect, Mrs Bean, Bradley Bean’s grandmother. If it made sense, then to help “the elderly” then what makes it different now? IF the Commission truly believes that the agenda items “take up too much city business time” then why shouldn’t Proclamations be moved to the end also? Proclamations are NOT “city business”. The Commission has cut the pool of people who’d like to speak down to basically no one. If people are sitting at home waiting for the time to speak and head out, what’s to say they make it in time? It is time for the Commission to begin to listen to us!!! Commissioners, you are getting paid (while it may be very little) to sit and LISTEN to us. It is time to change your outlook on our city and do what is right, not what is easy for you!

Mark Tomes
Active Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
3 months ago

I am so glad to see that the city commission did not bow to fanatical Christian pressure regarding LGBT+ recognition and acceptance.

julie ferreira
Active Member
julie ferreira(@julie-ferreira)
3 months ago

People who pay close attention to local government should be worried and for good reason. 

Citizens are effectively being gagged when public comment for ‘items off the agenda’ gets stifled so that we can make ‘city business’ move faster. Considering this a best practice and using comparisons to “other cities” and how ‘they’ do it is a derisory attempt at justifying the Commission’s latest bad decision.

Seems this Commission is slowly dissembling our prized municipal standards and is collapsing open government by moving public comments not on the agenda to the ‘end’ of the meeting. This anti-constituent posture is reprehensible.

Suddenly now its extremely inconvenient and next to impossible for citizens to gage when to run down to City Hall so they can be heard. When is the time? Well there is no set time. It’s just whenever they manage to get to it as the city meeting winds down.

Previously Fernandina has had a strong tradition of allowing public participation in local government by listening to constituents on ‘items off the agenda’ close to the beginning of meetings.

Listening to constituents on ‘items off the agenda’ is an object of good government. Now the Commission is effectively silencing citizens with health issues, those who find it difficult to sit through a whole Commission meeting for whatever reason, those concerned with family bedtimes and meals for children, those who have night-time driving issues, or all the other myriad reasons that make this change untenable.

Has Machiavelli become our new guide now that local politicians start to resort to any means in order to establish and preserve self-serving authority?

Write to the three Commissioners who are adamant about the new ‘business first’/citizens last change:

[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]

Cheryl Deem
Cheryl Deem(@cheryl-deem)
3 months ago

Commissioner Sturges repeatedly forgets to abstain from voting on issues related to Bretts. But what I don’t understand is why he can advocate for and vote on issues related to the Building Department and permitting issues. As a builder he surely must seek permits from the Building Department. In his comments last night he spoke about how the new system should allow the city to cut permitting costs. Even if permitting costs are passed through to his clients, doesn’t the improved system benefit his company by making it easier with less staff time to obtain permits?

Cheryl Grant
Active Member
Cheryl Grant(@cheryl-grant)
3 months ago

This has to be a joke. Pay consultants to fly a drone around Brett’s as a Safety Inspection!?? Not only is the safety issue underwater, it is INSIDE the supports (among other elements) that hold the restaurant up! You know, like not falling in the water.

Betsie Huben
Noble Member
Betsie Huben(@betsie-huben)
3 months ago

Commissioners Ayscue, Antun, Bean & Sturgess would have us believe that having comments for non-agenda items at the front of the FBCC agenda is “impeding the business” of our city. I would suggest that the citizens who sign up to speak for 3 minutes at the beginning of FBCC meetings are the commissioner’s single most important agenda item. Citizen comments often serve as a barometer of how our city is – or is not – doing by those who are on the receiving end of their decisions. Likewise, our citizen’s have introduced important new topics to the commissioners they may not have even been aware of. Our citizen speakers have diverse backgrounds and bring unique perspectives to topics. But that can and will be lost when, after 3+ hours, folks are forced to give up and head back home to check homework, pack lunches, get ready for work the next day or take their medication on schedule. Our citizen’s time must be respected. They are the taxpayers who pay to keep the lights on at city hall. They should not be left to speculate how long a city meeting might last and how far they can push themselves to “hang in there” and be heard. Fernandina’s citizens who rise to speak are the very same people who took time to vote and put the commissioners in their chairs on the dais. Putting citizens at the back of the city’s agenda feels discriminatory and recalls the bad old days when folks were told to take a seat at the back of the bus. Commissioners might want to honor the folks who honored them with their vote. By keeping Fernandina’s citizens first on the agenda, the commissioners can visibly and procedurally demonstrate that the citizens are always at the forefront of their thinking. 

Noble Member
3 months ago
Reply to  Betsie Huben

I don’t see what all the fuss is about. ANY governmental organization’s board (and non-governmental) sticks to its agenda and allows the public to speak to the agenda item when it comes up. And they are doing this. “Our citizen’s time must be respected”? What about the time of those that show up for discussion of an item on the agenda and find that it gets pushed back for hours because an “organized” mob chooses to drone on and on … often repeating one another’s talking points … about non-agenda items upfront? They brought this on themselves. You only concern yourself with respect for YOUR time, If a non-agenda subject is that important to you then you’ll find a way to stay for the end of the meeting to make your presentation. Comparing it to putting people at the back of the bus is really a bit much.

Trusted Member
3 months ago
Reply to  RichardCain

Mr. Cain – not sure how many meetings you have been to, so you may have more experience than I do.

In the many meetings I have attended since moving to the island 5 years ago, the only meeting I recall running long because of public comment on nonagenda items was May 9th and related to the PRIDE parade and festival. Most other meetings were either <2 hours or made lengthy by big, thorny issues, many of which were multi-meeting events, like the Race Track proposal for the airport, Amelia Bluff, the RV park on Sadler, and recently, the Tringali property.

The Commission acted hastily on this change of a long-standing tradition, and without invitng public comment before making the change.

THATs what the fuss is about…people felt blindsided and ignored. Doesn’t make for a happy community.

The Commissioners can and should do a better job of representing all of the people
My Opinion


Trusted Member
3 months ago

Moving public comment for City Commission meetings to the end of the sessions is just plain wrong – it disadvantages the citizens for the benefit of the Commissioners – hardly an act of “representative government”

First some facts

Having been present at the May 2nd and May 16th City Commission meetings, I must point out to the Commissioners and the public that the only lengthy session of items “not on the agenda” was on May 2nd and related to the objections raised by Citizens Defending Freedom – Nassau regarding the permit issued to our local PRIDE group for their parade and festival. Many people spoke about that issue, and few others spoke about items not on the agenda. The crowd was large because CDF had made an appeal for like-minded people to come and let their voices be heard; the PRIDE supporters responded in kind to ensure their voices were heard as well. This topic lasted 2 hrs and 20 minu

That event was truly an outlier in my experience of having been at many meetings where rarely more than a handful of folks step up to speak on non-agenda items

The May 16th meeting had very few people speaking about non-agenda items – a number of us spoke up about the proposed Solar Farm at Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport – and because there would be no VOTE on it – it was just a discussion item – the citizens that wanted to comment on it would have to speak BEFORE the presentation – so that “felt” like an item not on the agenda, when it fact it clearly was an agenda item. And the total time used for this was 30 mins according to the video

The lengthy part of that meeting was related to the agenda item on the Tringali property – an item that had many citizens concerned who stuck around until late in the evening to observe the discussions and let their voices be heard on that AGENDA item – that lasted 3 1/2 hours!

It was at the end of that marathon session that the commission – near midnight – voted to move public comment to the end of future meetings. I can empathize with the feelings of exhaustion and frustration that the Commissioners may have had after 2 longer-than-normal meetings – but this decision was a “knee-jerk” reaction done without the clear light of day and good reasoning

It takes a lot of courage and humility to admit publicly that you have made a mistake and work to correct it.

My hope is that Mayor Bean shows real leadership and sets the example for his fellow commissioners by proposing to abandon the motion and vote from the May 23rd meeting – and “put the people first”

Last edited 3 months ago by Cmoss56