Commentary: Challenges and Qualifications for a New City Manager

By the Conserve Nassau Board of Directors

The Fernandina Beach City Charter provides general guidelines for commissioners on the hiring of a city manager. However, commissioners and the search committee need to identify more specific criteria based on current needs.

The founding members of Conserve Nassau, formerly known as the Comp Plan/LDC Working Group, have spent four years researching issues in Fernandina Beach, interviewing experts, staff, committees and commissioners. We have provided input on the Comprehensive Plan, the Vision 2045 Plan and many Land Development Code ordinances. We are sharing our perspective on the challenges any new city manager will face in Fernandina Beach and the qualifications that we believe are needed to address those challenges.

Based on our study, the most critical challenges are:

  1. Preparing for sustainability and resiliency. The greatest long-term threats we face are sea level rise, storm surge and climate change. These are threats to our economy, environment and social stability. On our barrier island, we need to:
  • Protect and grow our dunes far more aggressively.
  • Protect and grow our Amelia River marshes using adequate buffers and living shorelines.
  • Limit development in the flood zone. We already have some limits, but we need more to minimize costly damage and reconstruction.
  • Protect our wetlands.
  • Conserve land more aggressively.
  • Upgrade our building and development standards.
  • Educate the community about best practices and emergency planning.
  • Limit development to redevelopment. We are replacing native vegetation and dunes with buildings far too large for our small lots and replacing our natural protections with impervious surface.
  • Ensure that we have enough native shade tree canopy and understory to process stormwater, moderate temperatures and protect us from storm winds.
  • Upgrade infrastructure to protect us from future storms and flooding.
  • Finish the downtown flood wall.
  1. Managing overdevelopment and density. These are gradually undermining not only our environmental sustainability, but also our economic sustainability because of congestion and losing the small-town character of the city.
  2. Developing a long-term planning perspective. We need a 50-year plan that schedules out maintenance, rebuilding, capital projects, etc. to limit crises.
  3. Addressing the affordable and workforce housing crisis: This is a serious problem with businesses unable to hire staff and the county’s own retirees unable to live in the county. The city needs to collaborate with the county on this, but also develop its own initiatives.
  4. Addressing mobility issues: We need multi-modal transportation to address congestion. This should also be addressed in collaboration with the county and studied from a broad perspective. Employers should be included in developing solutions.
  5. Developing a collaborative working relationship with the county. Neither the city nor the county can make progress without meaningful collaboration.

Based on the challenges above, we consider the following credentials and skill sets advisable for a city manager:

  • Master’s degree in public administration or a related field
  • At least 5 years of successful experience as a city manager
  • Demonstrated understanding of the coastal environment and related challenges
  • Effective written and oral communication skills
  • Demonstrated consensus-building skills
  • Demonstrated long-term strategic planning skills
  • Proven leadership skills in moving the community toward a long-term, sustainable future
  • Demonstrated fiscal management skills, including long-term fiscal management
  • High ethical standards demonstrated in previous positions. This is a major priority for professional organizations and will be essential for establishing public confidence.
  • Demonstrated skill in working with businesses, large and small

We are available to discuss these recommendations and their foundations with commissioners and others. Our comprehensive plan drafts, webinars and our input regarding the Vision 2045 Plan are available on our new website:

Margaret Kirkland, Len Pearlstine, Joyce Tuten, Elise Pearlstine, Wende Burdick, Terry Grady, Lauree Hemke, Frank Hopf and Tammi Kosack, board of directors


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1 year ago

PLEASE make sure they are someone who believes in putting Fernandina Beach and America FIRST we need to do our part to bring back our amazing Constitutional Republic and keep our town beautiful and safe! Thank you 

Kat (@guest_68198)
1 year ago

A voice of reason in a wild story. With specific qualifications a new candidate can be evaluated based on needed skills rather than who they know.

Al MacDougall
Al MacDougall (@guest_68200)
1 year ago

The issues listed above are policy matters for the city commission to address–not the city manager, who is an administrator and manager.

Mike McClane
Mike McClane(@concerned-citizen)
1 year ago
Reply to  Al MacDougall

No surprises here from this group and no mention of fiscal responsibility.

Rmatth (@guest_68282)
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike McClane
  • Demonstrated fiscal management skills, including long-term fiscal management
Sandra Baker-Hinton
Sandra Baker-Hinton(@sbhsandrabaker-hinton-com)
1 year ago

I would hope that this person would also consider the rights of the property owners. As a Conservationist I believe people as well as native animals can live together in harmony with proper respectful, common sense rules and planning.

Alyce Parmer
Alyce Parmer (@guest_68203)
1 year ago

Thank you Conserve Nassau Board of Directors for your thoughtful recommendations to our City Commission that reflect important priorities and professionalism. Now, we can only hope there are open minds on that governing body that will heed your valuable and important suggestions.

Casual Observer
Casual Observer(@betsie-huben)
1 year ago

And the story just gets wilder. Not only is there chaos within the commission in even establishing a process to find candidates, both Foy Malloy and Steve Nicklas suggest David Howe be considered. David Who? Why Howe? Further, Nicklas recommends Howe should be hired as a “consultant” to craft the city budget while we are waiting for someone to be hired as manager. That is one foot in the door for a complete unknown and a complete circumvent of any process, hybrid or otherwise for the city. We’re supposed to take comfort in the fact Mr. Howe has “talked to Mayor Bean on the phone and hopes to talk with other city officials, within their broad search.” Say what? Where is the transparency in any of this? Nicklas also suggests bringing back Joe Gerrity or Mike Mullin as alternatives. See what he is doing there? I think I see what looks like Trojan horse coming over the top Shave Bridge now…

Jack (@guest_68219)
1 year ago

Steve Nicklas has a lot of opinions about Fernandina Beach but does he live in the city, pay taxes here and have a vote here?

Al MacDougall
Al MacDougall (@guest_68213)
1 year ago

Well done…stick to your guns using the a la carte approach.
There are a large number of towns in Florida seeking city managers, we are just one among many… firms are cookie-cutter and generally push their most expensive candidates to maximize their fees……….time for a better approach.
I don’t see chaos, I do see the desire to use local resources, not some slick-talking recruitment agency……rock on, baby.
Running this small town is not rocket science, it just needs a city manager who operates the basics (utilities, public safety, and such) and works WITH, not AGAINST, the wishes of the elected commissioners on all matters….no secret agenda, empire building, or favoritism to a single commissioner or acticist group.

Tom smith
Tom smith(@high-n-dry)
1 year ago
Reply to  Al MacDougall

Stop on!

Al MacDougall
Al MacDougall (@guest_68230)
1 year ago
Reply to  Tom smith

It is just amazing how narrow minded and distrustful some activist groups are.

Noble Member
1 year ago

At the last City Commission meeting, they voted for the ‘a la carte’ option seemingly to save money, though potentially not more than a few thousand dollars. Meanwhile they voted to forgive half an out-of-town developer’s code violation fines to the the tune of $30,000, with no apparent reason other than to be nice to the developer; they voted REMOVE parking spaces by the marina at the cost of about $20,000; and they voted to put a cap on a lawyer’s fees, setting the cap at 20 hours at $300 an hour when the estimate was for 10 hours work at $300 an hour or an additional cap of $3,000 over the estimate. It was amazing to see these fiscal conservative so cavalier with tax payer money.

John Rasmussen
John Rasmussen (@guest_68221)
1 year ago

Nicolas is not the brightest bulb in room. His commentaries often leave you frustrated and certainly must leave himself very confused. What is the definition of a hack?

Al MacDougall
Al MacDougall (@guest_68238)
1 year ago

It is said that activists believe they have been vouchsafed a unique glimpse of truth, and everything in the world is seen through the distorted lenses of that revelation….

Ron Barone
Ron Barone (@guest_68309)
1 year ago

Flooding issues, YES! But you also say “climate change”. Do not just listen to the climate alarmists and believe everything they say. I can tell you unequivocally, every scientist agrees the climate is changing. What you don’t have is any consensus on whether it is anthropogenic or natural. Nor is there a consensus on the impact! I can cite fact after fact, but won’t bore you with fact stats you wouldn’t believe anyway!