Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
February 22, 2018 6:34 p.m.
Fernandina Beach Main Street Interim Executive Director Arlene Filkoff delivered a brief update to the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) at the February 20, 2018 FBCC Regular Meeting. Her report was brief, as it followed a workshop held with the FBCC just the previous week. She reported that Main Street was engaged in preplanning discussions for improvements in downtown landscaping, trees, sidewalks and lighting. She noted the interdependency of some of these activities and the importance of proper sequencing to avoid having to redo work. Key to this is the opportunity to link some of the projects to other city work, such as stormwater repair and mitigation.
“We are going to have to have a 4-dimensional plan to show us how all of this work can be done at the same time, while keeping in mind what we can afford and any negative impact on downtown businesses,” Filkoff said.
During Public Input, former city commissioner Charlie Corbett, used his three-minutes to raise a series of questions about the Main Street program, its record keeping, financial accountability and use of city staff to chair Main Street Councils.
Corbett first asked why three city staffers, paid by taxpayers, were chairing 3 of the 4 Main Street Councils, when originally the plan was to have this work done by volunteers. “Shouldn’t Main Street pay for them?” he asked.
City Manager Dale Martin replied that going forward, that would be a discussion he would have with Main Street. He believed the city staffers were serving in a temporary capacity until Main Street could attract volunteers for the positions.
Corbett then asked how much money Main Street “has in the bank.”
Martin said he could not answer the question, but Filkoff returned to the podium to reply. She said that the money banked currently came from private donations and grant money and amounted to approximately $20-30,000. “That money is about to be added to as we kick off our fundraising strategy,” she said. “Our fundraising goal for this year is to raise an additional $65,000.”
Corbett moved to his next question, asking if anyone in the city knew where the $100,000 of city money provided during the first 2 years of the program had gone. “Is anybody keeping track of this?” he asked.
Martin said, “We provide the money to them, $40,000 per year. They invoice the city on a quarterly basis. It’s given to Main Street to spend.”
Corbett then moved into meeting minutes. He said that Main Street is supposed to furnish monthly minutes, quarterly reports, itemized invoices showing how money has been spent, balance sheets, etc. “Do we have any of that?” he asked. “Is anybody keeping track of the money? We’ve given them $100K so far? What are they doing with it?”
Martin said that he thought that these questions reflected the reason for the recent transition from the previous Main Street Director to Filkoff.
Filkoff returned to the podium. “We do have all [those items Corbett cited] and through our city liaison on the Main Street Board, all that information is available.” In answer to another Corbett question she replied that all the information is up to date as of the last Main Street Board meeting “this past Monday.” Filkoff reassured Corbett that all this information is available via a public information request to the City Clerk.
Corbett asked Filkoff if she personally knew where the money went. She said, “I happen to know that much of the money that has been spent has gone to support the Main Street Florida Conference held here last year and the Executive Director’s salary.”
“Those were my questions,” Corbett said. “It doesn’t seem like anybody is keeping track of that.”
Vice Mayor Len Kreger said he was taken aback by the staffing for Main Street being provided by the city. He cited specifically the work of the planning staff. Kreger said, that in light of a recent communication to the FBCC from that department, “The staff is in turmoil. They are in turmoil because their workload is so great that their director sent out a letter, which I viewed as a cry for help. We have those people working on Main Street while we are missing deadlines for Comp Plan revisions. We need to make sure that the priorities of the department are consistent with the needs of the city and the vision and goals of the city.” Kreger cited a list of outside organizations and groups that the city is helping. “But while we are doing this,” he said, “we are missing the city goals.”
Corbett said he didn’t have any problems with the Main Street project, but he was concerned with tracking the money. “I don’t know, but if I were y’all, I might make them think about raising some money before I give them any money,” Corbett said in reference to the final $20,000 of the current city 3-year pledge.
Kreger asked Corbett if he had been as last week’s workshop. Corbett said he had. Kreger said that plans for fundraising had been addressed there.
Filkoff asked to be recognized. She said, “First to the records: absolutely, these are all made available to the city through our board liaison. Regarding city employees on these committees: I take great care with insuring that I am not pushing them too far. Some of them are able to use their council members (volunteers) to do some of the work on their plate. … The key to this however, is for you all to realize that without a strong partnership with the city, Main Street will not be able to achieve results as quickly as some of you have said we need to. You need to balance those two, and that’s what we have to do on a daily basis.”
Kreger commented to Filkoff. “You may be trying to do that. But it is the job of the city to balance the needs of the city with what you are doing.”
Filkoff agreed, adding that at the workshop the FBCC had agreed with Main Street on the work needing to be done. “We need to work with all of you and city staff on prioritization,” she said.
She countered Corbett’s claim that Main Street was a “charity.” “We are not a charity,” she said. “We are a 501.6.c. organization. We are all about trying to ensure that the economic engine of the city stays healthy.”
In response to a question from Mayor John Miller regarding the amount of time city staff spends on Main Street, Martin said, “They don’t spend time every day on this. I would guess that [the three staffers] spend 5-6 hours a week.”
Miller reinforced the FBCC’s full support of Main Street as expressed at the workshop.
Kreger expressed concern that Filkoff misunderstood his criticism of use of staff. He said, “I wasn’t criticizing Main Street; I was criticizing the city’s control of the staff. It’s the city’s responsibility to say ‘this needs to be done before that.’ If you devote all these people to different projects, the priorities need to be clear. The number one priority for the city is the waterfront.” He went on to say that little has been done on that priority since October.
Miller said that he believed that Filkoff was well aware of how things work in the city and that he doubted that city staff would push back waterfront work because they had a Main Street meeting. Kreger disagreed saying that work has been delayed, citing a Main Beach report that was overdue.
With that, Miller closed discussion and moved on.
After the meeting, several people privately questioned Corbett’s motivation in bringing his issues before the FBCC. He and Filkoff served together on the Fernandina Beach City Commission for a period during which he often expressed open antagonism towards her, sometimes bordering on rudeness. Corbett did not raise any of his concerns during the first two years of Main Street prior to Filkoff’s taking over as Interim Executive Director. Nor has he expressed similar concerns with respect to city grants to other projects or organizations. And as one local wag said, “He sure didn’t mind giving away $8,000 with no strings for the Mysterious Magical Mud Machine that Never Materialized.”