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.

People wonder:

  • 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 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.”

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Dickie Anderson
Dickie Anderson(@dickie-andersongmail-com)
1 month ago

Thanks for putting into words what so many are thinking. Yes, a sad day for our community.

Mark Tomes
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
1 month ago

I served on a school board for 3 1/2 years, one in which the majority of members violated the Sunshine Law regularly by discussing board matters privately. I came to know the signs of these private meetings rather well, and all the signs point to the three who voted for Martin’s removal as having discussed this privately, and in violation of Florida sunshine law. Do I know they did this? No, but it’s very difficult to understand how they could have come to such an abrupt decision without some sort of private meetings.

Al MacDougall
Al MacDougall (@guest_67414)
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

Let’s stop dealing in conspiracy theories.

Jason Collins
Jason Collins (@guest_67394)
1 month ago

Many of the supporters of these Commissioners (the majority of voters) expected them to remove the former City Manager for many reasons. So as expected and without the need to break Sunshine laws those Commissioners acted to satisfy their supporters. It’s really as simple as that. On another note The Observer at least used to pretend to be a sharp digital newsworthy alternative to the Newsleader and even as a Conservative I have helped spread the distribution to my friends and customers. All I have seen lately is the spread of innuendo and attacks on the character of these fine public servants with negative Op Ed after Op Ed. Is the Observer a news source or is this production the opposite of the Dave Scott blog? Please decide and let us who are hungry for real unbiased news know? Thank you.

Mike Harrison
Mike Harrison(@drmikeharrisoncomcast-net)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

Many of the supporters of these Commissioners (the majority of voters) expected them to remove the former City Manager for many reasons.

How did they know that Dale Martin’s head was on the Run-Off ballot?

Chris Carter
Chris Carter (@guest_67456)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

You set the bar for quality news reporting about as low as possible by using a worthless blog written by a hateful, bigoted and narrow minded individual. While I choose to simply ignore that relatively small, extreme far right segment of the local community, based on a cursory review of Mr. Scott’s site and archives of past writings, it’s pretty safe to assume that anything that can be said which is contrary to his trashy opinions is likely to be good news reporting. I hope the writers and editors at the Fernandina Observer keep up their great work for many years to come and for long after the old time MAGA folks have disappeared.

Richard Cain
Richard Cain (@guest_67396)
1 month ago

“… 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.” Interesting. I didn’t know a “vote” of an audience at a commission meeting was where decisions are made. And I keep hearing how the new “Republican” commissioners are somehow like Siamese twins but yet seem to vote in opposition to one another.

Roger Conrad
Active Member
Roger Conrad(@conrad2k)
1 month ago

Can someone explain to me how the Commission voted to fire the City Manager this week and had the interim appointee all lined up to take the job, if Sturges, Bean, and Ayscue didn’t talk behind the scenes between City Commission meetings? It would seem that alone would be of sufficient concern to trigger a Sunshine Law investigation.

Al MacDougall
Al MacDougall (@guest_67415)
1 month ago
Reply to  Roger Conrad

Let’s stop the conspiracy theories please.

Sandra Lerch
Sandra Lerch (@guest_67420)
1 month ago
Reply to  Al MacDougall

Open your eyes!

Tom smith
Tom smith (@guest_67419)
1 month ago
Reply to  Roger Conrad

It is called responsible leadership.

Jerry Torchia
Jerry Torchia (@guest_67398)
1 month ago

Excellent article on the firing of a competent city official. It’s almost as if the three new council members came in with a pre-set agenda.

Doug Mowery
Doug Mowery (@guest_67406)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Torchia

Only 2 are new.

Dman (@guest_67412)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Torchia

only 2 are new and one of the two voted against termination, but as always facts never interrupt a liberal whining.

Al MacDougall
Al MacDougall (@guest_67416)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Torchia

Let’s stop the conspiracy theories please.

Ed B.
Ed B. (@guest_67458)
1 month ago
Reply to  Al MacDougall

It’s not a theory – it’s the unfortunate truth of the matter.

Orlando Avila
Orlando Avila (@guest_67399)
1 month ago

The City Manager serves at the pleasure of the City Commission, at any time a majority may dismiss the City Manager with out without cause. Most City Managers tenures last about 3-5 years. The Mayor and Vice-Mayor both lost confidence in the City Manager and did many residents. If you want to know, request the list of 23 transgressions that was brought up Tuesday and publish it unredacted and unedited.

It didn’t take a crystal ball to know the News Cameras were there, Channel 4 teased it all day.

If you’re accusing someone of illegal activity without proof, which impugns their character you teeter on the line of libel.

I think Jason Collins is right, the Observer has turned from a decently put togehter news publication into slanted blog with an agenda.

Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift (@guest_67448)
1 month ago
Reply to  Orlando Avila

Amen to that, new guy likes to stir the pot.

John Findlay
John Findlay (@guest_67401)
1 month ago

I agree with your comments. I do NOT think this was handled well, starting with the “ambush” on Feb 7 after the audience had largely left. I also have concerns about the Sunshine Laws and the lack of transparency. Who gave Mayor Bean, acting alone, the right to line up an interim City Manager in advance of the meeting to terminate the current CM? How did he know the outcome of the vote in advance (commissioners are free to change their minds)? Why were the other commissioners not involved in discussions about finding an interim manager? I hope that we will be vigilant to prevent the current City Commission from becoming even more partisan than it already is (I applaud Commissioner Antun for not voting with the Republican majority). And please note that paying dual salaries for an interim period is not likely to help fiscal conservatism.

Julie Ferreira
Julie Ferreira (@guest_67418)
1 month ago
Reply to  John Findlay

Thank you John Findley, these are my questions and feelings as well.

Marilyn Showalter
Marilyn Showalter(@showaltebellsouth-net)
1 month ago

I was surprised and shocked at the way Mr.Martins termination came about. I feel if there was dissatisfaction with his performance it should have been brought to light during the October evaluation and he should have been given a chance make changes. Even at the meeting where Mr Sturgis threw out the lamblast at the end of the meeting that appeared to be out of nowhere or perhaps a vendetta there could have been some reconciliation. The whole termination process was and is embarrassing to the comission, the community and Mr. Martin and his family. This whole debacle could have been handled very differently.

Christine Harmon
Christine Harmon (@guest_67404)
1 month ago

Thank you Suzanne for another insightful article. Excellent! The manner in which the city manager was fired should be condemned. The questions you asked should be answered. Please, do not let this action fade from people’s minds without a deep investigation.

Doug Mowery
Doug Mowery (@guest_67407)
1 month ago

Suanne! Those first two sentences made me spit out my coffee with laughter! That was a hilarious opening! Glad you are still engaged! Take care…..

Bob Weintraub
Bob Weintraub(@rukbat23gmail-com)
1 month ago

Great article, Suanne. All the right questions. I doubt we’ll get many answers.

Joe Blanchard
Joe Blanchard (@guest_67411)
1 month ago

Interesting article. Is this “news” outlet supposed to investigate and report the news or just be a sounding board for select points of view? I think we all know the answer to my question.

Al MacDougall
Al MacDougall (@guest_67413)
1 month ago

This from an unabashed Martinist…….taxes and fees are a major part of the reason.

Perhaps if fees at public facilities–the marina, golf course, Rec Center, playing fields, and such–were properly increased without using taxes, financial order could be restored. Yes, increase usage fees and stop the subsidies….this commission will hopefully follow through.

William Smith
William Smith (@guest_67446)
1 month ago
Reply to  Al MacDougall

Taxes and fees are voted on by the commission, not the manager; the manager only prepares the budget for approval. And resorting to ad homenim attacks (‘unabashed Martinist’) is not helpful, nor is dismissing legitimate questions or observations regarding the possible violation of the Sunshine Law as ‘conspiracy theory’..

1 month ago

Excellent article! Personally, I will miss the way Dale Martin reached out through his weekly newspaper column and the Citizens Academy to make local government more transparent to us. The question of who will benefit from this firing is crucial to understanding this unfortunate event. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this year’s city budget which is to include proposed audit of impact and building fees.

Ruthellen Mulberg
Ruthellen Mulberg(@rmulberg)
1 month ago

I concur with those who applaud Ms. Thamm for her insights!

To those upset that “The Observer” has somehow “abandoned” neutrality, might I point out this piece was clearly identified as a “Commentary”. In the past, Ms. Thamm has also contributed many informative reports with a professional journalist’s impartial posture. (BTW, I miss those very much). But this is an opinion piece.

Regardless of whether one agrees there was good cause for Mr. Martin’s dismissal or not, I too am very disappointed and embarrassed for the way the situation was handled.

Transparency is a word thrown around so much that it barely has a meaning any more. But the least we should expect from our elected representatives is a public exposition of the thought process and rationale they employ to reach a decision on how to vote. Instead we seem to get
benign generalities at best, if any explanation at all! The News-Leader (2/24/23) quoted Mayor Bean as calling Mr.Martin “a stand-up guy”. Then in the next breath, he votes to dismiss the city manager!

Lastly, I find it extremely frustrating to keep hearing the often flaunted declaration that our local elected officials were chosen by the “majority” of the voters, so their decisions reflect the “true will” of their constituents. Particularly in the last decade of elections, more often than not, we have seen split voting between 3 or more candidates, such that no one running receives at least the 50% required to win a general election. It is more often than not a narrow margin between the third-place (i.e, eliminated) candidate and the next highest, that leads to a run-off! Moreover, it seems to me, at least, that often those 2 of 3 are generally the more “moderate” candidates, if you will. They split the vote for the platform that I suggest is closest to that of the majority of constituents. Instead, we end up selecting the final winner in a run-off that occurs almost immediately after the general election (and in the midst of the biggest holiday season) with a pitiful turnout of not even half the registered voters!! I do not give a pass to my fellow residents who fail to exercise their most precious right! That is also a cause for embarrassment. But, the reality is that we end up with representatives who prevail with the smallest of margins and in no way shape or form can be described as having a mandate! This is why I believe ranked voting would be a better method for selecting our local officials.
Perhaps this would eliminate some of the “see-saw” effect in the temper of the commission as a whole from one election cycle to the next. Hopefully, then the likelihood of reaching consensus and effectively addressing the needs of the community would be enhanced; rather than remain mired in the indecisiveness and paralysis that now plague the halls of our local government all too often.

John Findlay
John Findlay (@guest_67435)
1 month ago

I totally agree that ranked choice voting would be a far better method of selecting our officials. The last runoff was highly partisan with the Republican Party pushing their candidates by sending mailers to registered Republicans to vote and heavily supporting them in other ways. It was supposed to be a non-partisan election, but it was not. Also, if you check the numbers, both Lednovich and Minshew got more votes in the initial election than the Republican winners got in the runoff. So more people voted for Lednovich and Minshew for Commissioner than Antun and Ayscue, but just not at the right time. I suspect Lednovich and Minshew would have won had there been ranked choice voting. So claiming that Antun and Ayscue were the people’s choice is inaccurate. But, for no good reason, DeSantis has blocked ranked choice voting.

Richard Cain
Richard Cain (@guest_67440)
1 month ago
Reply to  John Findlay

So, apparently Lednovich and Minshew voters couldn’t be bothered to show up for the December run-off election. Proposals to push the City elections back into earlier in the fall … with the run-off in the general election … are opposed though it would seem this is the election when the missing Minshew/Lednovich like to vote. And let’s keep in mind this “tainted” runoff election where the GOP pushed “their” candidates was one in which there was no early voting … a voting method much more widely used by GOP voters than Democrat voters. And yet “their” candidates won anyway indicating very strong support among motivated residents. Folks just keep whining about how to conduct an election until their preferred candidates win. I believe they are called “election deniers”.

The discussion about firing the City Manager (who I personally had no problem with his performance from what I could see) morphs into the continuing cries about who got elected to the City Commission and how they got elected. Very tiresome. I believe it was Obama who said “elections have consequences”. Yes, they do.

John Findlay
John Findlay (@guest_67443)
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard Cain

The best and fairest method is ranked choice voting, which several other states use. It is essentially an immediate runoff. Do not understand why DeSantis felt he needed to block it.

Richard Cain
Richard Cain (@guest_67444)
1 month ago
Reply to  John Findlay

The “best and fairest method is ranked choice voting (RCV)” … strictly an opinion of yours and others. Many folks on the Left and Right oppose its use. Gov. Newsom of the formerly great state of California … you know … the savior of progressives everywhere … VETOED a bill in California that would have instituted RCV and stated ” … concern that RCV has often led to voter confusion, and that the promise that RCV leads to greater democracy is not necessarily fulfilled”. Rather than following the anti-DeSantis line one should read up on the cons of RCV … you may not agree with them but you might develop some understanding why not everyone is in favor of RCV. But again … why are we having this endless and tiresome replay of the last City election. Lednovich and Minshew lost. It’s over. Move on.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_67453)
1 month ago

This article written by Suanne back in 2015 on the volatility of the City Manager position in Fernandina Beach is an excellent history recap as well as some suggestions to provide additional stability worthy of discussion.

The old saying that the CM only needs to keep 3 of the commissioners happy is true, as is the inverse that if you tick off 3 of the commissioners you will likely be out of a job.

Despite Suanne’s words in this article the recent events with Dale Martin are not much different than the firing of Michael Czymbor back in 2012 who has been CM for over 7 years. Two new commissioners had been elected and had promised in their campaigning that they would seek to replace Czymbor. True to their word, they joined forces with one sitting commissioner to demand his recognition a month after taking office. Czymbor was terminated which was a wise financial move since it triggered a severance package.

History repeats itself.

Doug Mowery
Doug Mowery (@guest_67454)
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave Lott

Other than the minor change to how the mayor is selected, every word of that 2015 article is still valid today. I hope everyone with a strong opinion on city government takes the time to read it.

John Doe
John Doe (@guest_67522)
22 days ago

Is there a recall procedure for Commissioners and the Mayor in Fernandina? If so, then perhaps those who object to the conduct of the Mayor or Commissioners should be executing those processes vs litigating in the press.

Last edited 22 days ago by John Doe
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x