By Dale Martin
August 13, 2021
This week, City officials will be attending the annual Florida League of Cities conference. The event typically alternates between Orlando and Hollywood, with this year’s event taking place at the World Center Marriott in Orlando. Vice Mayor Len Kreger, Commission David Sturges, City Attorney Tammi Bach, and I will be attending the three-day conference. Due to scheduling conflicts and other prior commitments, the other Commissioners are not able to attend (Mayor Mike Lednovich, Commissioner Chip Ross, and former Commission Philip Chapman attended the 2019 conference).
The Florida League of Cities (FLC) is the primary advocacy group representing the interests of the over four hundred cities, towns, and villages throughout the State. The FLC was formed in 1922. If I remember correctly, at a previous FLC conference, I learned that a former Fernandina Beach official once served as the President of the FLC.
The conference provides an opportunity to meet other city officials from throughout the State. The issues confronting municipalities are often not as unique as perceived locally: cities are facing many of the same challenges elsewhere as in Fernandina Beach: pandemic recovery, levels of service in the face of labor shortages, home rule pre-emption, and others.
The FLC solicits local officials to serve on a variety of committees to address these issues before the State General Assembly. The five committees are Finance, Taxation & Personnel; Land Use & Economic Development; Municipal Administration; Transportation & Intergovernmental Relations; and Utilities, Natural Resources & Public Works. The efforts of these committees are presented as resolutions at the annual conference for consideration by the FLC member communities. Each community receives a number of votes based upon its population. At this (as with previous annual conferences), I have served as the voting delegate representing the City.
In summary, the two issues before the Finance, Taxation & Personnel Committee are communications services tax reform (a source of locally levied general revenue) and local business tax protections. The Land Use & Economic Development Committee is reviewing policies associated with economic development incentives and annexation.
Cybersecurity and short-term rental legislation are on the agenda for the Municipal Administration Committee. The issue of short-term rentals has been a festering issue for several years, as advocates of both more restriction/less restriction, more State control/more local control argue back and forth. This issue has been a key issue for the FLC arguments against pre-emption (the State rescinding or over-ruling locally enacted ordinances and adopted policies). A significant facet of the current debate is that several cities with regulations in place as of 2011 have had those regulations “grandfathered,” but no revisions to those regulations are permissible because then the entirety of the “grandfathered” regulations would be voided. After 2011, the State Legislature prohibited cities from regulating short-term rentals, leading to a patchwork of regulations across the State. The FLC argues that the State’s desire to have uniform regulations across the State is not effective: what works in one city may not be effective in another. The FLC argues that it should be local governments, representing their residents, which determine what regulations should be allowed (as with many issues, not solely short-term rentals).
The Transportation & Intergovernmental Relations Committee will discuss transportation funding and affordable housing. The Utilities, Natural Resources & Public Works will review tree protection and PFAs (chemicals commonly found in thousands of residential, commercial, industrial, and medical products which lead to subsequent environmental contamination problems). The Priority and Policy Statements for each Committee are available for public review each is approximately one page). When the official resolutions are crafted, and prior to their presentation for consideration, as the official representative of the City, I will consult with the City Commissioners on-hand for guidance. Nearly all of the policies, however, are overwhelmingly adopted, no matter how the representative of Fernandina Beach votes.
The conference has two keynote speakers: Mr. Kenneth Gronbach, a demographer who will offer insights into future economic, cultural, and political phenomena; and Mr. Leland Melvin, a former astronaut and NFL player, who will share his life story of community, perseverance, and grace.
An array of vendors will provide an introduction to their services. Three vendors that I do wish to converse with are the City’s new auditor, Mauldlin & Jenkins; the City’s financial consultant, Hilltop Securities (as the City prepares for the financing of the proposed fire station and the construction/re-opening of Alachua Street; and WGI, the consultant assisting the City with its visioning, Comprehensive Plan, and Land Development Code review/revision process.
Throughout each day, several shorter sessions will be dedicated to a variety of specific topics. Usually, City officials will disburse to attend different sessions to gather as much information as possible. The three days are somewhat hectic, but at the same time reinvigorating as we get to meet other municipal officials and learn what their issues and solutions have been, especially when similar to the challenges of Fernandina Beach.
I look forward to sharing the lessons learned from this year’s conference.