By Suanne Thamm
When Vice Mayor David Sturges showed up at the City Commission meeting on Feb. 21 wearing a coat and tie, we knew something of consequence was going to take place. Or he was attending a funeral. It almost seemed that TV cameras had been ordered to mark this dark day in our city’s history: the firing of a city manager who had served Fernandina Beach well for more than 7 years.
The only question remaining is why Martin needed to be terminated, especially in such a way as to cause embarrassment to us all, who had no real inkling as to why the action was necessary.
The need for transparency applies to elected and appointed government people equally. That’s why many of us were so surprised when Mayor Bradley Bean, Vice Mayor David Sturges and Commissioner Darron Ayscue voted to terminate City Manager Dale Martin at Tuesday’s city commission meeting, despite audience calls opposing this action.
- Why the abrupt turnaround from both Bean and Sturges from their satisfactory evaluation of the City Manager in October?
- Why we were expected to take Sturges’ word that his litany of complaints were factual?
- How two new commissioners — Ayscue and Antun — who have worked with the city manager only since December — could possibly have enough experience to pass judgment?
- Who among the commissioners stand to benefit from this action?
- Who is calling the shots behind the scenes and to what end?
- Why complaints from a few people have more sway than the contentment of the many with government under Martin’s leadership?
- Have newly elected commissioners and the candidates in the November 2022 elections adhered to Sunshine Law requirements?
Whenever certain people who deal with the City of Fernandina Beach do not get the answers they want from city staff, they bleat, “We need more transparency at City Hall!” This cry is then bandied about on social media until it becomes sort of a mantra for anyone who has a beef with city policies, practices or the people who implement them.
Sadly, not every person unhappy with city government even knows what “transparency” is — or isn’t. More’s the pity that they don’t take the trouble to learn or process the reasons for their denials.
The information below taken from https://icma.org/page/transparent-governance-anti-corruption provides a good explanation of transparency in government:
“Transparency is the principle of allowing those affected by administrative decisions to know about the resulting facts and figures (e.g., the city budget) and about the process that resulted in those decisions. Transparent governance means that government officials act openly, with citizens’ knowledge of the decisions the officials are making. Availability of information on government policies and actions, a clear sense of organizational responsibility, and an assurance that governments are efficiently administered and free of systemic corruption are important components of transparent governance.
“Transparency is a fundamental element of abolishing corruption. Transparent governance is important to local governments and the communities they serve because corruption threatens good governance, leads to the misallocation of resources, harms public and private sector development, and distorts public policy. Controlling corruption is only possible when government, citizens, and the private sector cooperate to ensure transparency.”
Martin’s termination was a sad ending to what in the minds of many has been the most productive period in the city’s recent history. Questions about the competency of this commission to hire Martin’s replacement are swirling around the community. People are asking: Can commissioners be trusted to hire a professional manager to replace Martin, or will the position be gifted to someone already in the wings? How much will a new manager demand in compensation [Martin was at the low end with $147K]? Will other staff follow Martin to his future post, leaving an even bigger negative impact on us citizens? Will this commission revert to micromanagement as has been the case in the past when anti-taxers get elected?
Let’s hope that more information will be revealed with time regarding the “new direction” this commission wants to take. And let’s hope it is a direction not totally determined by gripes about fees and taxes. Our city has many capital needs that need to be addressed, and that means we must be prepared to pay for them. The city under Martin’s leadership was well underway to addressing many of these.
Remember this quote attributed to Napoleon: “Order, counter order, disorder.”