Weekly comments from Dale Martin – ““Governing . . . should be a “public PARTICIPATION process”

By Dale Martin
City Manager
Fernandina Beach
December 18, 2020

City Manager Dale Martin

With no surprise, the final transition to 2021 will be a difficult time for many.

The COVID pandemic has stolen from us nearly everything from simple and normal activities to larger and special events. We don’t gather as much to laugh and celebrate the goodness or even meet to commiserate about our challenges. We just go about living without living.

I miss the informal visitors at City Hall and the members of the public at City Commission meetings. “Governing” should be more than simply a “public process”: it should be a “public PARTICIPATION process,” even if that participation is observing a City Commission meeting in the Commission Chambers. It is enjoyable to meet and greet the various clergy who offer the invocations, the presenters who share their insights, the speakers who voice their concerns, and the public that most often simply observe. The usual invigoration of City Commission meetings has been lost to sterility.

The community missed numerous events, including the Shrimp Festival, Fourth of July celebrations, concerts, parades, and other gatherings. Elections (federal, state, and local) were conducted, often with masked candidates that had limited interaction with voters (except perhaps even more of the usually unread mailers): no door-to-door canvassing, no parades, no church dinners, or community breakfasts. Nothing.

Summer vacations were lost, as evidenced by the nearly empty hotels. Our charmed local retailers have struggled along with many restaurants of which we brag about to our friends and family that do not live here. Since my arrival here, I make an effort to create a small sign denoting every overnight visitor (including unwelcome “guests” such as Matthew and Irma): I haven’t had to make many signs in 2020.

I expect that our community events will return, but some businesses may not. So many personal events, both happy and sad, however, have been missed forever. Fortunately, my family has not had to cope with the loss of a loved one during the pandemic, but the conclusion of one daughter’s college career and graduation was uneventful and the wedding of another daughter was reduced to a phone call on the wedding day.

The personal impact continues to hit home. A third daughter achieved her goal of becoming a registered nurse in February: it’s been a whole different career than she ever expected in her first ten months as she now works on the active COVID floors at the hospital. A fourth daughter teaches high school classes from her living room and the fifth daughter was the first in the family to become infected with the virus last week. Fortunately, our elderly mothers have been relatively safe, but lonely.

The gathering traditions of Thanksgiving, the holidays of December, and the thrill of the New Year are empty. Although only a short two-year “tradition,” we will miss hosting our annual community Christmas dinner (and sharing the leftovers with others at the Salvation Army).

The community service agencies have been a brilliant success during this frustrating year. The Council on Aging (disclaimer: my wife works at the Council on Aging), Barnabas, the Salvation Army, Starting Point, and Micah’s Place were recognized by the City Commission as offering support so critical that the City Commission unhesitatingly provided nearly $300,000 of unbudgeted funds to those agencies.

When advised that the $300,000 was likely to be reimbursed through federal funds, the hesitation was even less from the City Commissioners to direct the reimbursed funds right back to the community agencies. The federal reimbursement (with the assistance of Nassau County officials) was received earlier this week and the City Commission is expected to approve the re-distribution of those funds at its next meeting in January. Other community agencies and many local churches continue to provide support, as well. Please continue your support for those agencies and their missions.

As mentioned previously, please also continue your support (as best possible) for our local businesses. Shop and eat locally as often and as safely as you can. If able, tip your service workers a tad more. Buy a toy and find a Toys For Tots collection box (the Atlantic Recreation Center and the Fernandina Beach Golf Course are two such collection points). Pay for the person behind you- in the drive-through, at the grocery store (a recent national story detailed the nearly one thousand customer-long “pay-it-forward” chain at a Minnesota Dairy Queen). What if we could attempt to converge on a local business for a similar effort- any suggestions?

Those efforts are what I have always known about this season and have learned about this community. Many of us are fortunate and blessed- please share your blessings.

Let’s get ready to seize 2021.

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