Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
December 16, 2020
The City of Fernandina Beach welcomed two new City Commissioners and one returning Commissioner as it said good-by to retiring Commissioners Phil Chapman and John Miller on December 15, 2020. The ceremony marking the changes following the November 2020 General Election occurred at the biannual Reorganization Meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC), during which the new FBCC also elected Mike Lednovich and Len Kreger to serve respectively as Mayor and Vice Mayor for the next two years.
In prior years, the Organization Meeting was packed with family members and well-wishers of both the outgoing and incoming City Commissioners. This year’s ceremony was sparsely attended due to the continuing precautions associated with the Covid pandemic.
Outgoing Mayor John Miller, who had served as Commissioner for 7 years and Mayor for 4 of those years, presented Commissioner Phil Chapman with a plaque in recognition of his 3 years of service. Miller highlighted Chapman’s advocacy and accomplishments in advancing the City’s goal of becoming the most ADA compliant city in the country.
An emotional Chapman thanked all the City staff and Department heads. “You are professionals and do an incredible job,” he said. He also thanked the citizens for giving him the opportunity to serve. “I’d like to think the City is a little better than it was 3 years ago,” he said adding that his one regret was that the City has not yet met its goal of a waterfront park along the Amelia River. “Hopefully in 4 years we’ll actually see one,” he said, as he ended by thanking his wife and wishing good luck to the incoming Commissioners. “But remember,” he admonished the new Commissioners, “a lot of time it’s not luck but skill. Use your skills.”
Vice Mayor Len Kreger also presented outgoing Mayor John Miller with a plaque recognizing his years of service. Kreger said, “If we were to write fitness reports, Johnny would get an outstanding report. He’s done an outstanding job as Mayor and Commissioner … and he’s a nice person, too.”
Later in the meeting, Miller delivered remarks and observations on leaving office. He thanked Charter Officers, Department Heads, City staff, family and the public.
He said, “The great thing about this position is you get to go behind the scenes to see how our City really operates. … I’ve seen how much people love working for this City, and that starts from the top. I think one of the most important things I did was participate in the hiring of Dale Martin as City Manager. Mr. Martin is keeping us in very good hands for a very long time. He has inherited great staff and and added more great staff. His management technique is beyond reproach. He has not only been an asset to the City but to me personally as Mayor.
“Your City Clerk is the face of the City, and you couldn’t have a better one [than Caroline Best.],” Miller continued crediting Best for the work that she devotes to not only running her office but to producing the proclamations that are so meaningful to recipients. “The proclamations she writes come from the heart,” he said. “She maintains the history of the city and is just a nice person.”
Turning toward City Attorney Tammi Bach, Miller recalled her advice on running meetings and her availability to Commissioners at all hours for advice and guidance. Miller encouraged new Commissioners to take advantage of her knowledge and willingness to help. “Our City is so lucky to have a City Attorney who is so professional, with so much historical knowledge, who loves our City as much as she does.”
Miller went on to thank City Department Heads for their professional services, citing numerous examples of their dedication to the City and its citizens. He said that the City has nowhere near the problems of other similar sized Florida cities because of the quality of Fernandina Beach’s staff. “Anyone who thinks that City employees are not doing anything but twiddling their thumbs needs to visit the City and find out first hand what is happening. I will sleep well at night knowing that these people are on the job. When people say they love the City, what they are really saying is that they love the people who are making the City what it is.”
“To all these City people, I say thank you. You’ve created all of this.”
Miller concluded by thanking his family, especially his wife Lori. “You’ve been at my side the whole time,” he said. “She has given all her time to this city with no recognition. It’s all about you now. You have sacrificed so much for me [during my military service and city service], and now it’s my turn to sacrifice for you.
In conclusion, Miller thanked the citizens “for giving me the greatest opportunity of my life.”