Submitted by Dale Martin
Fernandina Beach City Manager
October 15, 2021
The City Commission recently approved a subscription to Polco, a national online community engagement polling platform. Polco includes the National Research Center, which the City utilized on two occasions to conduct the National Community Survey (2017, 2019). The results of those two surveys are available for review on the City website (under the home page Community tab).
The City’s new relationship with Polco is intended for at least two specific engagement efforts. One is another edition of the National Community Survey, likely to be conducted in early 2022. The survey will be first provided to randomly selected residents through a United States Postal Service announcement. As with the previous National Community Survey (NCS) efforts, the residents selected will be a small sample size of the entire community: the 2017 survey selected 1,000 residents; the 2019, 3,000. The NCS data (Technical Appendices) on the City’s website includes an illustration of the randomly selected properties. In both surveys, the response rate was approximately 30%. The Technical Appendices also review the reliability and validity of the surveys.
After a reasonable time for the randomly selected households to respond, the survey will then be opened (electronically) for anyone to complete. The City will then have the randomly selected pool of responses to compare with the open series of responses. In other words, the cry of “But I wasn’t selected!” will be negated. Everyone (residents and non-residents) will have the opportunity to participate.
The second feature of the City’s relationship with Polco will be the ability to conduct internally created polls and surveys. The first significant focus for such a survey will again be the waterfront.
In 2019 and 2020, the City engaged a landscape architect consultant (Marquis, Latimer & Halbeck; ML&H) to develop and refine the waterfront park concept. The community desire for a waterfront park dates back many years, and is specifically referenced in a variety of formal City documents, all of which incorporated extensive public input. The claim by some that the community does not want a waterfront park is not true, based upon the consistent preponderance of previous outreach and engagement efforts over the past twenty years. The components of the waterfront park, though, are the continuing subject of disagreement.
ML&H met with representatives of a variety of boards and commissions to gain an initial community insight. This Steering Committee included the Chair of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, the Marina Advisory Board, the Historic District Council, and Fernandina Beach Main Street all shared comments with ML&H. ML&H also met individually with each City Commissioner for additional guidance and advice. Based upon that input, and combined with several previous waterfront park conceptual designs, ML&H prepared a series of concepts for consideration.
The concepts were shared with the Steering Committee, then shared with the respective boards and commissions, and then presented to the City Commission at its 2020 annual visioning session. The unanimous consent was to support what has come to be designated as Concept E. A planned formal public engagement effort in April, 2020, was disrupted due to the pandemic.
In its place, a web-based Community Hub was created by MH&L. This hub was open and available to anyone and everyone with electronic access for over thirty days in September/October 2020. The link to the hub was widely publicized and promoted through local traditional media (NewsLeader, Fernandina Observer, and the former Nassau County Florida Independent) and several official and popular social media sites. Despite that extensive outreach effort, less than 200 people responded.
When the substantially positive responses to Concept E were shared with the City Commission earlier this year, some people suddenly voiced displeasure over the results. I would expect that many that voiced that displeasure with the results didn’t participate, despite the open and available opportunity to do so, with the online Community Hub. So, with the underwhelming community participation, the City Commission desires another waterfront engagement effort, which has led to the new relationship with Polco.
The City will first prepare an introductory survey to build a public participation pool. This survey will be made available to any interested person. A key component of the participation pool will be the requirement for participants to provide their name, a physical address, and an email address. Polco uses publicly available voter registration records to validate participants. Although anyone can participate in the Polco surveys, the City will have the ability to segregate resident/non-resident responses.
After an adequate participant pool is developed, City staff and Polco will again present Concept E for public comment. Additional detail for the various components of Concept E will be provided to clarify those components and give the City Commission better insight into the community’s desires.
When presented, I encourage everyone to participate. This is a formal effort to engage the community and the results will likely be translated into City Commission direction and staff action. No one will be able to argue that they didn’t have the opportunity to voice their opinion.
I look forward to this process.