Fernandina Beach to conduct first mail ballot election on proposed Charter Amendments this spring

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
January 22, 2021

On third and final reading at their January 19, 2021 Regular Meeting, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) passed Ordinance 2020-21, which will submit to registered City voters via mail ballot a list of Amendments to the City Charter.  The FBCC considered the recommendations put forth by the Charter Review Commission (CRC) following their deliberations and agreed with almost all.  Their biggest objection to the CRC’s proposed changes was a proposal to change the election cycle so that initial City elections would be held during the State/County primary election in August of even numbered years.  The FBCC dropped that recommendation from the list of questions going to the voters.

The final FBCC vote was 3-2 in favor, with newly elected Commissioners Bradley Bean and David Sturges in opposition.  The dissenters recalled initial FBCC assurances that all the CRC recommendations would be sent to the voters.  Although Commissioners explained their reversal, Bean and Sturges did not agree.

Due to the length of the ballot and the need to read the proposed changes carefully, the FBCC opted for an exclusively mail ballot.  The mail ballot election will be the first such in the City’s history.  All registered voters will receive mail ballots starting March 24, 2021.  To be counted, these ballots must be returned by 7:00 p.m. on April 13, 2021.  

The Charter Review Committee was commissioned in 2019 to review the City’s current Charter and recommend any revisions. The committee met over the past year and submitted proposed changes to Section 10A to prohibit sale of City-owned conservation lands and restrictions on sale of recreation lands which was previously approved on the November 3, 2020 City general election ballot. 

Other proposed Amendments that will appear on the spring mail ballot include:

  • Change the term “groups” to “seats” for Commissioners to create more clarity 
  • Direct election of Mayor to replace straw ballot
  • Progressive discipline and hearing for Commissioner violation of ethics, 3 absences, felony conviction or multiple violations of administrative interference rules (Sec. 10); 
  • Require minimum qualifications for City Manager, City Attorney and City Clerk; City Manager required to be a resident 90 days after appointment; 
  • Require Commission to complete annual performance evaluations for all Charter Officers; – 
  • Provide that Commissioners, Charter Officers and advisory board members can initiate investigation of City department or employee; 
  • Correct the description of how Fernandina Beach was created; 
  • Provide that Commissioners can attend meetings virtually in case of serious medical condition; and 
  • Clean up legalese in favor of “plain language” with gender neutral terms 
  • Create new Charter section 141 providing for citizen initiatives to propose ordinances for referendum approval 
  • Revise oath of office for Commissioners, board members and employees to include ethics

All 27 pages of the Ordinance, which includes both language to be added and language to be stricken, may be found on the City website under the following link:  https://fernandinabeachfl.civicclerk.com/Web/GenFile.aspx?ad=15046 

For those voters receiving a mail ballot for the first time, it will be important to understand that it is not a sample ballot, but an actual ballot.  There will be no in person voting.

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