Submitted by City Manager Dale Martin
City of Fernandina Beach
February 21, 2020
Through various comments and correspondence, it remains evident that local government continues to befuddle many people: questions about why the City’s Historic District Commission does not protect properties on American Beach, disappointment with the City Commission for not doing more to thwart development at the south end of Amelia Island, and confusion about traffic control near the City’s Airport. While many local issues affect areas with a “Fernandina Beach” mailing address or ZIP Code, the jurisdiction and authority of the City extends only to the City boundaries. The issues referred to above are all outside the city limits (and under the jurisdiction of Nassau County officials).
It is part of my effort to reduce some of that confusion as well as inform of city government operations that I conduct my Government Academy, the next series of which begins next Thursday evening. The Government Academy is offered through the support of the Nassau County Council on Aging, which promotes the series, manages registration, and provides classroom space at its Life Center (1901 Island Walk Way; located between McDonald’s on 8th Street and Zaxby’s on 14th Street). I again offer my thanks for such support to the Council on Aging and Ms. Janice Ancrum, President/CEO.
This fourth series of six classes, like the third, will be offered on Thursday evenings (the first two series were afternoon classes), from 6:00 PM to approximately 8:00 PM. The classes are weekly, but this series will have one interruption (Mar 19) due to a scheduling conflict. Class size is limited to fifteen participants to encourage an informal small group environment and discussion. Participants must register through the Council on Aging and the one-time registration fee (Member of Council on Aging: $30; Non-member: $40) allows for attendance at all sessions.
The planned six sessions review a variety of topics related to city government. The series begins with an overview of local government in Florida, a history of the formation of the City of Fernandina Beach, and an introduction to the City’s Charter, the primary organizational document of the City. The City Commission recently appointed a Charter Review Committee to study the City Charter and recommend possible revisions. The proposed revisions, after being referred to the City Commission for review, are then presented to City residents for approval or rejection. The Government Academy is an opportunity to learn about and discuss the City Charter in preparation of proposed Charter revisions. Thank you to the residents who serve on the Charter Review Committee.
The series originally had only the next session dedicated to an introduction to municipal finance and taxation, but it has become necessary and popular to actually devote both the second and third sessions to this topic. Many people do not understand how tax rates are levied, the effect upon their home, the budget process, and the cost of services provided by the City. The session provides an opportunity to examine a tax bill (yours) in greater detail.
The fourth session brings public safety into the classroom. As will be presented in the previous budget session, approximately fifty percent of the City’s General Fund budget pays for public safety: police and fire. Officers from both the Police and Fire Departments will provide personal insight into their experiences (in some cases over twenty years) in Fernandina Beach. Several vehicles and other equipment will be available to examine to learn more about the capabilities of these exceptional departments.
The fifth session will be a field trip to the City’s water and wastewater facilities. It is taken for granted that when you turn the tap or flush the toilet, that everything will function safely- so safe that you probably never even think about the accessibility of water and sanitation. Well, the safe and efficient operations of the City’s water and wastewater systems requires significant investment in both facilities and personnel. The class will tour the water and wastewater facilities to learn more about utility operations.
The final class reviews operations at other key City facilities: the Airport, the Golf Course, and the Marina. All of these facilities have strong community support and are considered key assets to the community and the region. The managers of these facilities will offer comments and answer questions about their operations.
The support for and participation in the Government Academy has been rewarding: “graduates” often request more opportunities to explore City government. In response to those desires, I am working with City staff to prepare a series of “advanced” sessions to be made available to graduates of the Government Academy. The intent behind the “Graduate Level” classes will be to spend additional time (perhaps three two-hour blocks, for example) with a specific department- the Police Department, the Fire Department, the Airport, the Building Department, etc. This is a work in progress, but I hope to have such offerings available in late spring, early summer. Stay tuned.
I strongly believe that I have an incredibly exciting job in local government. I enjoy sharing that excitement and my career experiences with others who want to learn more about their local government. I hope to see you next week.