Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
January 9, 2015 2:25 p.m.


City Commission chamber seal DSCN0166

Although its first meeting of 2015 lasted barely an hour and a half, the new Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) appears eager to get started on what could be an ambitious agenda for the year ahead.

Commissioners unanimously approved the appointment of former City Commissioner Arlene Filkoff to a 3-year term on the CRA Advisory Board and the reappointment of Evelyn McDonald as the Friends of the Library’s representative to Arts and Culture Nassau through 2015.

During Commissioner Reports at the end of their January 6, 2015 Regular Meeting, commissioners raised issues and topics for future meetings.

Planning Retreat

Fernandina Beach City Manager Joe Gerrity
Fernandina Beach City Manager Joe Gerrity

City Manager Joe Gerrity announced that he is trying to set up a strategic planning retreat or a goals setting session that will probably last an entire day during the first or second week of February. He said that he has had a couple of requests to get a professional facilitator for the session, adding, “I think we can accommodate those requests.” Commissioner Robin Lentz said that she hoped the commission could come up with dates that night. “Before you know it,” she said, “it will be August and people will say, ‘Oh, we can’t do that because we are in a campaign season.’ And so”—she clapped her hands—“Let’s go! I’ve brought my calendar.” The audience broke into laughter, but Lentz continued. “I’d like all of us to be thinking about three short-term, attainable goals for the year and maybe three long-term goals attainable in 5-10 years.”

gc3Golf Course

Gerrity also reported that he has heard from several people that the city golf course is in better shape than they have seen it in years. He complimented and thanked course manager Josh O’Brien and encouraged local golfers to get out, play the course, and consider purchasing a course membership.

Commissioner Tim Poynter serves as as FBCC liaison to the city golf course Greens and Oversight Committee. He said that in discussion with members and in reading minutes, “[Committee members] don’t seem to understand what they are supposed to do; I don’t understand what they are supposed to do.” Poynter turned toward the senior commissioners and said, “I would like to know some sort of direction from you going back to when the committee was formed. I know what the former Golf Course Advisory Board was charged with, but I don’t know what this committee has been charged with. They certainly would like to have an idea because they don’t want to waste their time.”

cg2Poynter went on to say he was working with the committee chair to prepare a presentation for the FBCC showing where the golf course was and where it is now since Billy Casper Golf assumed managerial responsibility. He said he was looking to get some consensus from the commissioners before approaching Billy Casper to see if their $50,000 offer to help rebuild greens is still on the table. City manager Joe Gerrity said that he has been told that the offer is still on the table.

gc1“We need to know from the Commission before we go forward because no one wants to make a formal presentation to be shot down again,” Poynter said. Mayor Boner quickly stated, “I want the money.” Lentz echoed Boner. She asked for a discussion at the meeting about extending the Billy Casper contract to take advantage of their $50,000 offer to help restore the greens “if that offer is still on the table.” Poynter said, “That sounds like a real warm fuzzy thing that I am hearing so far, but I still want to do this presentation so that the community knows what has been going on. For those who do not play golf, they need to understand that this course is one of the greatest assets that this city has. … All that beautiful acreage is quite special. It is not anything that I would ever want to give up, sell or develop in anything other than it is now.”

Commissioner Gass said, “I also like money. But I would like to tweak the contract a bit so we have some bench marks on what [Billy Casper] is supposed to do.”

Poynter replied, “That will all be in the presentation for the people who have not read the background.

Gass seemed satisfied that that explanation.

DSCN3818Commissioner Lentz

New commissioner Robin Lentz said that she wanted to make it a point to thank every person who came before the commission to speak noting, “Up until a couple weeks ago, I was one of you. It takes guts to do that.” She went on to thank audience member Judith Lane who earlier in the meeting during public input called for unity, in the spirit of a meeting held the previous evening at the historic Macedonia AME Church (see Anne Oman’s article entitled “Pastor strives to ‘Bridge the Gap’ between law enforcement and minorities”). During her remarks Lane said,

Judith Lane addresses FBCC during public input.
Judith Lane addresses FBCC during public input.

“I’m here to ask you tonight to try to unite this community. There has been a lot of ugliness in the paper on both sides of the issue between those people who have retired here or moved here to work and those who have lived here a long time or have grown up here. This sort of thing has got to stop. For someone like myself, who gives a lot of hours willingly to this city, it’s an insult. But it’s the sort of thing that stops people from wanting to come into the city and to contribute to it. There are tons of people who are extraordinarily talented who have moved here and a lot of folks who have grown up here who can do the exact same thing. I’m asking this commission—it’s 2015, a new year—to take a look at those issues and to try to bridge that gap that has already surfaced. We have got to stop this. We are one community.”

Lentz said you can’t change what you have said, but you can move forward. “I look forward to working with all of you [commissioners] in a positive direction,” she said. Lentz called attention to the latest issue of First Coast Magazine, which highlighted fire departments around the First Coast, starting with the city Fire Department Station 1 and the city restaurants, featured in an article entitled “Destination Foodindina.”

She also asked the city manager to follow up with complaints about landscape buffering around the port.

Fernandina Beach City Commissioner Tim Poynter
Fernandina Beach City Commissioner Tim Poynter

Commissioner Tim Poynter

Commissioner Poynter, as one of the two commissioners who attended the AME Church meeting, said, “I came away [from the meeting] feeling empowered but more empowered with the awesome responsibility we have sitting here [on the city commission]. We are not going to please everyone with our decisions, that’s clear. But I’m sure that everyone [on the commission] is committed to do the best job they can to make the best decision for the community as they can. “

He endorsed comments made by Judith Lane and Robin Lentz in that regard and indicated his willingness to work together with all the commissioners in the year ahead.

Later in the meeting Poynter asked to see written proof that the railroad has no problems with the city’s proceeding to develop the parking lot B portion of the waterfront park plan that calls for straight-in parking on the west side of the tracks. He said, “I don’t want to rely on hearsay that it is absolutely fine. Let’s not plan something that we can’t build.” City Attorney Tammi Bach agreed to proceed with a letter.

DSCN3314Commissioner Pat Gass

Commissioner Gass, when it came her time to report, said, “Unfortunately, I don’t have anything pleasant to say. This morning when I got up I received some of the saddest news I’ve received in years. Yesterday there were 16 people laid off at the Port of Fernandina Beach—16 families; that’s a lot. One of the men I know had worked there 17 years; another 15 years. That is just heartbreaking. So please keep all of them in your prayers, you thoughts. It’s a heck of a way to start a new year for anybody.“ She went on to say that it is so tough for the community because “we all grew up together, we went to school together, and you probably know some of them, too.”

DSCN3807 - Version 2Vice Mayor Johnny Miller

Miller also spoke to AME event and offered thanks to Police Chief Hurley, saying that it opened a dialog with the community. “On a personal note,” he said, “ I would like to be part of that effort. I think it’s important to keep that dialog going, and we are on a roll. I will speak to Rev. Daniel personally. I was very proud to be from Fernandina last night.” Miller went on to ask the city manager to reschedule him for a night tour with the Fire Department. “You [the Fire Department] are a crown jewel for this community,” he said.

Miller also asked for an update on the sidewalk between Centre Street and the Salty Pelican restaurant. City Attorney Bach said that the parties have agreed and the judge has issued a court order to allow the sidewalk to proceed. She said that in an abundance of caution she has sent a copy of the court order to CSX so that they would not be surprised when construction begins. Bach anticipated a response in a few weeks.

DSCN3802Mayor Ed Boner

The Mayor congratulated Friends of the Library President Bill Flynn on the completion of phase 1 of the library expansion/renovation project to a round of applause from the audience. He also thanked Nassau County Economic Development Executive Director Laura DiBella for her attendance at the FBCC meeting. He asked the city manager about the status of the permit to open the Alachua Street rail crossing, set to expire soon. Gerrity replied that the letter has been sent. There was no indication that the request to extend the permit implied direction to proceed with the project. Boner also thanked Gerrity for proceeding to engage services of a professional facilitator for the commission goals meeting. He ended his remarks by noting former Commissioner Arlene Filkoff’s appointment to the CRA Advisory Board and thanked her for being active in city affairs once again.

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_26408)
7 years ago

It’s not about the past, or the present. It is now about a future that is informed, can see, think, and integrate outside of the box – to plan for a decent future for our fellow citizens in a meaningful way. Got good, smart folks carrying our water. Give folks some latitude….

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