Submitted by Dale Martin
Fernandina Beach City Manager
August 10, 2018 — 12:00 p.m.
Next week, Commissioner Chip Ross and I will be attending the Florida League of Cities (FLC) annual conference in Hollywood. Vice Mayor Len Kreger was originally scheduled to participate, as well, but other personal commitments will prevent him from attending the conference. With former Commissioner Tim Poynter’s participation last year, City Commission representation at the conference returned after a lengthy absence, so I am pleased that Fernandina Beach elected officials continue to be represented.
The official conference is for three days- Thursday through Saturday. With notable statewide elections for U.S. Senator and Governor slated for November, I was looking forward to hear the candidates for those offices speak, especially with the primary elections looming immediately afterward. Unfortunately, the candidate forums quizzically have been scheduled as a pre-conference event on Wednesday. Due to our travel plans, we’ll miss the forums (as I expect many other local officials will, too).
The prominent theme for this year’s conference is the fifty-year celebration of home rule in the State of Florida. The introduction to the conference reads: “[Home rule] is the belief that government closest to the people governs best; that city halls across our state are more accessible, responsive and fair in addressing the needs of their constituents; that local decisions should be made locally; and that the people who live, work and play in a city know what’s best for their unique community. Over the last few years, the Florida Legislature has challenged this philosophy by pursuing numerous measures that seek to undermine local decision-making and hamstring municipal officials from doing the jobs they were elected to do effectively. But our dedicated members have fought back with an unwavering message to lawmakers: Let Cities Work! When city officials are free from preemptions and unfunded mandates handed down from the state legislature, our cities can continue to grow and prosper.”
Examples of the recent challenges to home rule by State legislators include “one-size fits all” regulations related to tree ordinances, telecommunications structures, Community Redevelopment Agencies, short-term vacation rentals, and, of course, the ignominious HB631 (which continues to be justified through increasingly complex contortions). In all likelihood, the attacks on home rule will continue when the Legislature reconvenes.
The first day of the conference is primarily focused upon the various committees that craft FLC policies and legislative priorities. Other than those meetings (neither Commissioner Ross nor I current sit on any FLC committee), educational sessions are scheduled for topics related to energy and short-term rentals. For those unaware, the short-term rental issue is becoming more troublesome as corporate entities are beginning to purchase homes for the sole purpose of short-term rentals: the concept of a homeowner offering a house for an occasional rental to supplement income is being dwarfed by large scale purchases of houses in single-family residential neighborhoods. Those homes, neighborhoods, and communities are not designed or intended to accommodate such commercial noise, traffic, and disruptions. For those of you that believe a homeowners’ association (HOA) will offer a degree of protection from such rentals, you may be surprised when state legislation supersedes those HOA rules!
Additional first-day training includes an ethics session. Local government elected officials and senior staff are, by state statute, required to complete annual ethics training. Training for Fernandina Beach officials and staff is conducted locally by the City Attorney to satisfy this requirement.
The second day is the “meaty” day of training. One session reviews the role, authority, and perception of elected officials. Little actions that were sometimes ignored, missed, or accepted rise to a new level of scrutiny once an official assumes a municipal leadership position. Other sessions offer more insight into the home rule challenges. Changes, and the speed of those changes, in the telecommunications industry are discussed in another session. The daily keynote speaker is the Honorable Stephen Benjamin, Mayor of Columbia, SC, and current President of the National Conference of Mayors.
The Exhibit Hall provides an opportunity to meet and discuss issues with several vendors- engineers, architects, solid waste, planners, software, recruiters, etc. It is usually in the Exhibit Hall that attendees have time to interact with officials from other communities and share challenges and ideas. This is also a chance to renew acquaintances that, due to the vastness of the State, happen only once each year at this conference.
The conference concludes on the third day. The FLC conducts its annual business meeting to formally adopt the previously reviewed and recommended policies (imagine it as a giant City Commission meeting with 400 City Commissioners). Following the business meeting, the scheduled keynote speaker is the Honorable Mark Stadola, Mayor of Little Rock, AR, and President of the National League of Cities. The concluding session of the conference reviews the recent state legislation related to school safety.
The best opportunity at this conference is to learn that, as much as we consider ourselves wonderfully unique (and we are in several regards), as a city, many other cities in Florida are facing similar issues. We can discover methods to address those issues that have either failed or succeeded, and bring that knowledge back home to put to use in Fernandina Beach.