Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
February 4, 2019 11:00 a.m.
On January 29, 2019, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) along with Charter Officers and city Department Directors, spent a long day at the Fernandina Beach Municipal Golf Course Clubhouse examining important issues facing city government and getting to understand one another better. While they spent the morning listening to a presentation on the recent Parks and Recreation Department study and debating the merits of paid beach parking, they spent their afternoon in a strategic planning session, with Cindy Jacoby of Biz Consulting as facilitator.
Commissioners discovered that the allotted 4 hours for their strategizing were not sufficient to allow them to come up with goals that they could all support for the next fiscal year. Therefore, a 3-hour follow on session has been scheduled for Saturday morning, February 9, from 9-12 a.m. back at the city golf course clubhouse.
Jacoby led commissioners through an exercise to demonstrate that various personality types approach problem solving in different ways to help explain why some commissioners require much research before making decisions while others rely more on the recommendations of experts. She stressed that there was no “right” way to act, but that it is important to understand that not everyone approaches problem solving in the same manner.
This exercise led into a discussion of how to mitigate conflicts when they arise. Problems tend to arise when fact-based reasoning takes a back seat to emotional arguments or when commissioners will not compromise a personal stand or belief to move forward. Some strategies put forward to improve decision-making included:
- Pursue realistic, achievable policies and projects;
- Avoid “paralysis by analysis:” concentrate on getting the information needed to make decisions, not all the possible information that could be gathered;
- Rely on public engagement during FBCC meetings, as opposed to individuals who lobby intensely outside of meetings (the “squeaky wheels”);
- All input needs to be considered but consensus among the FBCC is key.
City Manager Dale Martin said that the number of complaints the city receives from the public is “infinitesimal,” and that social media is not reflective of the level of satisfaction of the general city population.
Commissioners expressed the need to have a better understanding of each other’s positions on important issues before voting. There appeared to be consensus that the FBCC could function more efficiently and harmoniously if there were more workshops, since private conversations cannot be held under Florida’s Sunshine Law. Consideration was given to the idea of reserving every Tuesday evening for FBCC meetings or workshops. More workshops could result in shorter Regular Meetings, which would be focused on decisions as opposed to discussion.
Commissioners also expressed the hope Regular Meetings, preceded by workshops during which differences can be thoroughly aired and debated, would be more productive and lead to a more engaged citizenry.
Commissioners identified many individual goals for the coming year, but time ran out before they could come together on a collective set of 3-4 priorities.
Some of the proposed goals of individual commissioners included:
- Completion of marina improvements
- Increasing the city’s tree canopy
- Improving the city’s flood rating
- No loss of environmentally sensitive land
- Waterfront/2nd Street development plan
- Affordable housing
- Purchasing land for conservation
- 10-year dune development plan
- Asking citizens to approve a bond referendum to purchase land for conservation
- Rolling over unfinished goals from the current strategic plan
The discussion will continue at the February 9 meeting, which is open to the public.
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.