Sitting down for a chat with Fernandina Beach’s City Manager Dale Martin

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
November 7, 2018 5:15 p.m.

 

As he begins his fourth year as Manager of the city of Fernandina Beach, Dale Martin sat down with Fernandina Observer co-editor Susan Steger and reporter Suanne Thamm the day after the 2018 General Election to highlight some of the accomplishments and challenges he has experienced over his first three years on the job.

Dale Martin and Susan Steger discuss Martin’s first 3 years in the city.

City staff and organization

Martin expressed pride in the city staff, citing the number of successful new hires for key positions over the past three years.  This is especially important in view of anticipated retirements that will occur in the next few years.  Newly hired managers are getting an opportunity to thoroughly learn the operations in their departments from employees who have worked for the city for many years.  This will put the managers in a better position to backfill positions as the need arises.

The City Manager reported that the city is embarking on a wage survey to ensure that city employees are adequately compensated for the work they do in comparison with others similarly situated in the region.  He said that today’s employees are more concerned with “money in their pocket” than pension benefits, which motivated workers in past years.  Without adequate compensation in entry level positions, turnover increases resulting in additional overhead costs for hiring and training new staff regularly.

Martin explained that in order to better serve citizens he recently reorganized the Community Development Department by dividing it into two distinct departments:  the Building Department, headed by city building official Jud Allen and the Planning and Conservation Department, headed by planning manager Kelly Gibson.

No current reorganizations are underway, although Martin allowed that might change following a consultant report on the Parks and Recreation Department.  He said that City Commissioners might need to weigh in on whether the department should be focused on providing services internally to city residents or to have a broader scope in providing programming or events as revenue generators for the city.

The Code Enforcement Department has become a focal point for many commissioners as they receive complaints from citizens.  Commissioners have expressed a desire that code enforcement become more proactive. “As the community grows,” Martin said, “the quality of life expected calls for a raising of the bar.”

The biggest challenge

Martin recapped the City Commission’s process for setting its annual goals.  The commissioners meet in public setting with the Charter Officers and city department heads in January to identify and prioritize goals for the coming year.  Those goals are the basis for marching orders sent out to the different departments. They are also officially agreed to by all commissioners and adopted by resolution of the city commission.

However, commissioners often interject personal goals during the year that detract from the formally adopted goals.  Because the city has limited resources that have already been committed to routine work of the departments, pursuing additional goals puts a strain on accomplishing the goals that the commission collectively adopted in January.

Martin was quick to point out that he is confident that all city commissioners are well intentioned and motivated to do well on behalf of the citizens.  He sees no charter violations or attempts to undermine staff. But he allowed that commissioners, like citizens, sometimes lose sight of the “busy-ness of City Hall.”  City staffers have many tasks to accomplish in the course of their workday.  As added tasks are added to their workload, progress toward meeting collective goals slows.

City Advisory Boards

Now that city boards all meet at City Hall and their proceedings are recorded for public viewing via the city’s website, Martin expressed his belief that the boards are operating more effectively.  He allowed that the city could do a better job in training board members on responsibilities and expectations.  He cited the need of boards to be mindful of master plans and other guidelines in the performance of their duties.  “Citizen engagement through board service is critical,” Martin said.  “The City Commission also needs to exercise proper oversight with respect to performance and appointment of members.”

Space challenges

The space limitations of City Hall become a bigger problem as new equipment is added and more staff is hired. City staff are currently spread out around the city to compensate for the inadequate office space at City Hall. In order to address the need for space, the city has continued to pursue obtaining ownership of the Historic Post Office Building at 4thand Centre Streets.  City Hall would then move into that building, allowing activities like Utility Billing and others to return to a centralized location.

In commenting on the current state of negotiations with the United States Postal Service (USPS) to obtain their historic building, Martin informed us that the USPS has determined that it still needs a downtown presence somewhere between the waterfront and 11thStreet and between Alachua and Beech Streets.  They are looking for 24,000 square feet that would enable them to accommodate a 1,200 square foot building, a loading dock and parking.

The city is working with USPS through its lobbyist to identify such a site and work out conditions that would benefit both parties.

Martin said that currently he believes the city has enough space to meet its needs throughout its various buildings for the next 1-2 years.

Other highlights

Martin cited the progress made at the City Golf Course over the past few years to improve course conditions, operations and management.  He expressed confidence in the Golf Course’s future despite the existing debt load.  He said that the city course is the only remaining walkable course on the island and expressed confidence that even as interest in golf appears to wane in younger people, the city course will always remain.

Despite two years of frustration and red tape, the long awaited repairs and changes to the marina’s south basin are imminent.  Fernandina Beach was only one of many communities frustrated in post Matthew recovery efforts.  Martin said that following Hurricane Matthew experience, the state made major improvements to the disaster recovery process. As a result, reimbursement for Hurricane Irma expenses is coming through more quickly.  While acknowledging the many obstacles that the city had to overcome, Martin expressed confidence that the necessary repair work caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 will soon be visibly underway.

Martin expressed great satisfaction with the city’s partnership with Fernandina Beach Main Street. He said that work was going “fantastically well” and credited Arlene Filkoff as the reason.  Filkoff, who serves as Executive Director of the Main Street Program, brought to the job an understanding of government and downtown business.  Martin said that she came to the job knowing the players, giving her an exceptional advantage to move the program forward.

Martin appears to have adapted well to life in Fernandina Beach, relishing both the Florida weather and the many community assets, not the least of which are the city residents, who engage with him both on and off the job on a regular basis.

He said that last month alone he received 2,100 emails from all sources.  He calculated that if he spends 3 minutes on each one, that alone accounts for half a workday every day.  He meets individually with commissioners once weekly and holds regular staff meetings. In between meetings, phone calls and emails, he does his “desk work.”

Martin obviously enjoys the personal interactions that his job requires and derives satisfaction from seeing the city able to maintain the quality of life that citizens demand through the effective interactions of the City Commission and city staff.

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’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.

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9 Responses to Sitting down for a chat with Fernandina Beach’s City Manager Dale Martin

  1. Frank Quigley says:

    Fernandina Beach couldn’t get a better city manager, for a tricky job. Martin runs his job well and seems to manage both up and down effectively. He has a good financial grasp on things, which will be increasingly important here. He can also bring focus. In a place where there are a lot of opinions, competing priorities and agendas.

  2. Tammi Kosack says:

    Wonder if USPS can retro the current City Hall? Meets location criteria. A sensitive reno could celebrate the historic parts of the old firehouse while updating/ building out necessary new space with a more modern flair. Sure would beat more condos there if CH leaves.

  3. Betsie Huben says:

    Mr. Martin is a great manager who exhibits one of the qualities I admire most in an elected official – he never seems to lose his sense of humor. We are blessed to have him here.

  4. Dave Lott says:

    I still wonder about the overall viability of the downtown Post Office to serve as City Hall for a number of reasons. I understand the ownership is desirable from a preservation standpoint, but the City does not have a great track record with devoting the proper level of financial resources to building maintenance due to other priorities, especially during leaner economic times. While the USPS through the arm twisting by Sen. Bill Nelson finally spent the money to repair the exterior and interior of the building, is that effort still being maintained by the USPS? Most city planners will say that having City Hall on the main business street (where rental rates are the highest) is not the best utilization but it should be within a block or two (as the current city hall is). What will be the costs to renovate to support ADA access and parking is another big issue. Perhaps an internal study has been done, but if not, might be time to do one to put a price tag on what a change will be to see how feasible it is.

  5. Steven Crounse says:

    With the Post Office building being underutilized for way too long. The USPS is not going to continue to support its Maintenance or keep it open. For the USPS it’s a Dinosaur. But for this City it’s a Cornerstone of Historic proportions. I can’t imagine our Centre St. without it. If it’s available to rent, Do It. If it comes up for sale, Purchase It.! Thank God, people don’t fly in to pick up their mail, We’d want to put wings on it.!!

  6. Dave Lott says:

    Steven, don’t get me wrong. I agree that the PO building is of huge historical significance and should be preserved for some purpose, I just don’t think it will work as a City Hall for all the reasons cited. Why in the world the USPS says they need 12,000 sq. ft. building is beyond me. Maybe the old Standard Marine although that building is only about 6,000 sq. ft. I think.

    • Suanne Thamm says:

      Dave, sorry about the typo. The USPS is looking for a 1,200 sq ft bldg. I have corrected the article.

      • Dave Lott says:

        Thanks Suanne, that certainly makes more sense.So maybe the City goes in with the Amelia Museum of History to buy the failing Standard Marine Building to house the museum and the Post Office. Maybe the USPS will return to running packet boats to deliver the mail to add a touch of history (LOL). Still don’t know what the City does with the old post office as the issues of ADA, parking and maintenance still exist. My understanding that efforts long time ago to lease out space not used by the PO were short lived as the space was not considered that attractive due to those accessibility issues.

  7. brandon farmand says:

    Other than the “uniqueness” / “quaintness” factor of having City Hall right on Centre St in the post office building, it would most likely be a very poor choice, given the cost. You could probably undertake a very substantial renovation/expansion at the existing City Hall site for a much cheaper price than the costs that would be needed, initial and ongoing, at the post office site. It would be so much better used, in a public-private partnership (to prevent undesired development of that site), to turn that site into a community cultural hall of sorts — concerts, museum, art shows, special events, etc.

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