By Dale Martin, City Manager
With the City Commission election completed this week, let me first offer congratulations to Dr. James Antun (Seat 4) and Mr. Darron Ayscue (Seat 5) for their successful election effort. Thank you to Mayor Michael Lednovich for your four years of service to the city, especially the past two years when serving as the mayor. Thank you also to Ms. Genece Minshew for her willingness and desire to serve the community.
Commissioners Antun and Ayscue, as you take your seats on the City Commission, let me offer some preliminary recommendations (and some of these recommendations should be considered by other City Commissioners, too, as the election cycle offers a refresher opportunity).
First, read the City Charter. It is not a lengthy document, but it is the foundational document of our city government. The City Charter can only be altered by a vote of city residents (except if sections are subsequently found contrary to state law). The Charter established the municipality and its form of government (Commission-Manager). It delineates the powers of the City Commission and the Charter Officers – the only three employees hired directly by the City Commission: City Manager, City Attorney, and City Clerk.
All other city employees are the direct responsibility of the City Manager. Commissioner interaction with city staff is limited in accordance with the Charter, specifically Sec, 10(b). As has been my common practice, I have provided express permission (as required in Sec. 10) to Commissioners to communicate directly with city staff. In a relatively small city, I find it beneficial to have Commissioners engage senior staff directly: I believe it fosters a better understanding of municipal operations and challenges. The direct access to city staff, however, is at my sole discretion, and as each Commission(er) is different, I will follow the Commission(er)/staff interaction as the new Commission begins its work.
Second, and directly related to staff interaction, I invite and strongly encourage each Commissioner (new as well as tenured) to schedule a visit with each City Director and tour city facilities. The city has exceptionally diverse operations: recreation facilities; an airport; a marina; a golf course; utilities, including three water treatment facilities, wastewater treatment facilities, and stormwater infrastructure; public safety facilities and operations, including an under-construction fire station; Building, Planning, and Code Enforcement operations; nearly 100 miles of streets; sanitation operations; facilities maintenance; and several other administrative personnel and functions. Commissioners are not expected to be experts on these facets of local government operations, but, as leaders of the community, they should have a rudimentary familiarity of what the city provides (and, frankly, how well staff performs).
Third, read the annual budget and audit. These documents are the backbone of achieving the goals and objectives of the City Commission. The budget process never stops. As soon as a budget is completed in late September and the new fiscal year begins in October, staff immediately begins to work on the budget for the next fiscal year. The City Commission’s annual visioning/goal-setting session, typically in late January or early February, draws Commissioners into the long-term preparation of the annual budget. When completed (and in accordance with the City Charter), and when I present the preliminary budget to the City Commission in July, that budget is my recommendation, following discussions with Commissioners and staff, as to how to accomplish the goals and objectives established by the City Commission. Once I pass the budget to the Commissioners, it then becomes their budget to review and revise as appropriate.
Fourth, schedule a meeting with Mr. Arthur “Buddy” Jacobs. Mr. Jacobs has an extensive history of Fernandina Beach governance and, as the city’s lobbyist, can provide outstanding insight into the relationship between local and state government. Although Florida is ostensibly a “home-rule” state, allowing cities to govern themselves locally, state government has recently usurped some of that home rule power by “pre-empting” local government authority (for example, tree protection and short-term rental regulations). Mr. Jacobs hosts an annual excursion to Tallahassee during the legislative session to meet with the city’s delegation (which, for the first time in many years, includes two new faces in Sen. Clay Yarborough and Rep. Dean Black).
Local government is an exciting effort – the people, the businesses, and the events of this community are remarkable, and you are now the leaders, the face of Fernandina Beach. Again, congratulations to Mayor-elect Bean, Vice Mayor-elect Sturges and new Commissioners Antun and Ayscue (and thank you, too, to Commissioner Ross for his continuing service). I, and city staff, look forward to working with you for the next two years.
REMINDER: Community Christmas potluck dinner on Dec. 25, 2-5 p.m., Nassau County Council on Aging at 1901 Island Walk Way, Fernandina Beach. All are welcome to share with our community’s bounty of fellowship and food.