By Dale Martin
With the hiring of Ms. Catherine Vorrasi to lead the Parks and Recreation Department, I believe that the City now has in place the next generation of outstanding departmental leadership.
Ms. Vorrasi, a Coast Guard veteran, is coming to the City from Bartow, where she has served as the Director of Leisure Services for three years. She has also served in New Mexico and Arizona communities prior to Bartow. Originally from Virginia, she has earned a bachelor’s degree (George Mason University) in Education, Health and Physical Education, and a master’s degree (University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign) in Recreation, Sport & Tourism Management. She has also earned several professional credentials related to public service and parks and recreation. Ms. Vorrasi will begin serving our community on September 19.
I want to offer great appreciation to Mr. Scott Mikelson for his service as the interim Parks and Recreation Director for the past year. In discussions with Mr. Mikelson, he has indicated that he enjoyed the opportunity to learn department operations from a senior management perspective. He provided needed assistance in preparing the 2023 budget and capital plan. We had many long talks about his role for not only the Parks and Recreation Department, but also for the entire staff and community. I believe that Mr. Mikelson will be an excellent resource and partner for Ms. Vorrasi. Thank you for your efforts, Scott.
With the exceptions of Mr. Dana Whicker (Information Technology), Ms. Kelly Gibson (Planning and Conservation), Ms. Michelle Forstrom (Code Enforcement), Jeremiah Glisson (Public Works – Operations), Chief Ty Silcox (Fire), and now Chief Hurley (Police), the senior staff has completely turned over in the past six years. The efforts of Marshal McCrary, Adrienne Burke, John Mandrick, Robin Marley, Patti Clifford, Rex Lester, and Nan Voit were essential in the development and management of Fernandina Beach during the period of remarkable growth from roughly 2000 to 2020. Building upon their successful efforts now falls to this next generation of senior leadership.
It is also essential to note two other senior staff that have provided long-term stability: City Attorney Tammi Bach and City Clerk Caroline Best. The two of them and I are the City’s three Charter Officers- our positions and duties are delineated in the City Charter and it is only the three of us that are under the direction of the City Commission.
Ms. Bach has served the City since 2007. In addition to her service to the City, Ms. Bach will serve as the Chair of the Florida Bar Association’s City, County and Local Government Law Section as well as the president of the Florida Municipal Attorneys Association in 2023.
Ms. Best has served the City since 2004, starting in the Community Development Department, and subsequently transitioning to the City Attorney’s office, before being appointed as City Clerk in 2014. Ms. Best has represented the City of Fernandina Beach on a variety of professional clerk organizations, and, like Ms. Bach, she has several significant and highly coveted professional certifications.
Returning briefly to Mr. Whicker, Ms. Forstrom, and Ms. Gibson: those three were in senior departmental leadership positions, but not fully classified as Directors (Information Technology was part of the Finance Department and Code Enforcement and Planning were part of the Community Development Department). With previous re-organizations, Information Technology and Planning (and Conservation) are now independent departments.
Mr. Andre Desilet has the most tenure of the Directors that have served the City after my appointment. Mr. Desilet was initially hired as the Director of the Stormwater Department, a department created to address growing stormwater needs within the City. With the recent retirement of Utilities Director John Mandrick, Mr. Desilet, now titled as Public Works (Utilities) Director, has assumed leadership of all of the City’s utilities: water, wastewater, and stormwater. Mr. Desilet’s hiring was ironically unique in that his hiring was a “one-and-done”: the hiring of the remaining Directors required two recruiting efforts before a candidate was hired – and in every case, it was well worth the wait.
Ms. Testagrose (Comptroller) came to the City after previously working in southeastern Florida. Her efforts have recent resulted in the City achieving its highest ever bond rating (Moody’s): Aa2. This rating will provide exceptional long-term financing benefits to the City should the City be interested in issuing long-term debt for future projects.
Mr. Coyle (Airport Director) previously served in Idaho (not only as an Airport Director, but also as a City Manager) and the United States Air Force (including tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan). Under his direction, the Airport has the most professional leadership it has ever had. Ms. Matson (Human Resources) previously served the City of Naples for 30 years and, since her arrival, the City has revised its Pay and Classification Plan (first time in nearly 15 years) and negotiated three collective bargaining agreements.
Mr. Charles George (Deputy City Manager) has previously served private corporations as well as communities in Georgia. Mr. George now oversees several key projects: the recently completed riverwalk, other resiliency efforts, the new fire station, and downtown railroad safety projects. His professionalism and experience has been invaluable to the City. Mr. Michael Cooney, the embodiment of the “gentlemanliness” of golf, has developed a strong team at the Golf Course and leading the effort to rehabilitate that facility. Mr. Jimmy Parr appears to be a long-term professional Building Official following a lengthy series of short-time predecessors.
Ms. Vorrasi will be an outstanding addition to this exceptional team. Welcome to Fernandina Beach.