Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
February 9, 2015 10:00 a.m.

DSCN4131On February 4, 2015, Fernandina Beach City Commissioners (FBCC) and senior city staff gathered at the Fernandina Beach Municipal Golf Course Clubhouse for the 2015 Workshop on Goals. Despite overcast skies, cool temperatures and a light drizzle, the mood was upbeat and positive as four city commissioners worked together over a six-hour period to revisit the city’s vision, identify short- and long-term goals that support that vision, and seek strategies to achieve the identified goals. Brian Teeple, Chief Executive Officer of the Northeast Florida Regional Council with 29 years of experience, facilitated the day-long workshop, assisted by Lindsay Haga, the Council’s Planning Director.

Commissioner Pat Gass did not attend due to illness. Other than city staff and media representatives, there were no more than five members of the public in attendance throughout the day.

City Manager Joe Gerrity and Mayor Ed Boner
City Manager Joe Gerrity and Mayor Ed Boner

City Manager presents 2014 year end review

City Manager Joe Gerrity began the day with a year end review, highlighting the many city achievements during calendar 2014, including several successful annexations, Police Department accreditation, a strong safety record (378 days without an accident), an improvement in insurance rating (ISO) from 5 to 3, downtown rail crossing improvements, the first phase of the Main Beach Boardwalk, replacing windows at the Peck Center, housing construction and rehabilitation under the Community Development Block Grant.

City Comptroller explains need for new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP System

City Comptroller Patti Clifford explains ERP to FBCC
City Comptroller Patti Clifford explains ERP to FBCC

City Comptroller Patti Clifford followed Gerrity with a presentation outlining the need for, cost and benefits of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. The goal is to increase productivity. She said that it is critical to obtain support from senior city managers, and that implementing a new system will involve a full examination of existing processes as well as in depth employee training.

Clifford explained the shortcomings of the city’s current software and its vendor. She said, “To the best of our knowledge, the company has only 2 full time employees and one part time employee. In the past year they lost a key employee who understood accounting and their software. The three that remain are a programmer, the Principal (owner) and clerical help. We know of only one other customer that uses the [company’s] software. This train is leaving the station and we do not want to be the last one on board!”

epicThe city is currently working with EPIC Engineering and Consulting Group to analyze current city methods and processes, develop the City’s ERP system requirements, develop an RFP for to issue for an ERP solution, and help the city evaluate the responses to that RFP.

Clifford invited input from the city commissioners on ERP needs as the city moves forward to replace an antiquated, error-prone system with one that will better serve the community by increasing efficiency and reducing time needed to process requests, permits, etc. throughout the city. The early estimate for implementation of the entire system is $1.5M. However, Clifford said that the cost could be underwritten by some restricted fees in the Building Department, spread among other departments benefitting from the service, and possibly tapping into some Parks and Recreation impact fees. The ERP could also be implemented over two fiscal years.

Commissioner Tim Poynter suggested that the city try to get the company that is awarded the RFP to finance the project over five years. He expressed grave concerns over the viability of the current system and the decreasing level of vendor support.

Clifford spoke to all the workarounds that need to be done behind the scenes to keep the current system working.

Commissioners seemed supportive of moving forward with ERP needs analysis.

Ed McMahon on the power of uniqueness

The goal setting session began with a video presentation: “Where am I? The Power of Uniqueness,” a lecture delivered by noted urbanist Ed McMahon at TEDxJacksonville. McMahon sounded the themes of investing in community improvements that support the uniqueness of a community. One of his themes also stressed during a talk he gave in Fernandina Beach a few years ago: people invest in communities that invest in themselves. (To view video, click here.)

The work of planning begins

Facilitator Brian Teeple summarizes commissioners' input
Facilitator Brian Teeple summarizes commissioners’ input

In kicking off the work session, facilitator Brian Teeple indicated that his role was to help commissioners work through their priorities. He compared their challenge to “drinking from a fire hose.” Commissioners are not subject experts, he said, but must help the community navigate through all the challenges and issues it faces. He said that the workshop was an opportunity to step back and take stock, understanding that the past and the reality of the present are factors in getting to the future. He cited the interrelationships of city departments, the limited resources available to the city, and that not all decisions the commission is called upon to make are equal. He said that all good public policy is directed and incremental, allowing that it is difficult to set the course at all levels and get the community to buy in.

Visioning for 2025

DSCN4109During the first exercise, Teeple asked commissioners to use single words or short phrases to characterize their vision for the city in the year 2025.   Common themes included the importance of the riverfront, beaches, historic preservation and history. Commissioners emphasized the eclectic nature of the community, which includes working families and retirees, the importance of recreation opportunities, safety, tourism, and an improved 8th Street.

In contrasting the city with the county, Mayor Ed Boner said, “The city is all about tourism, while the county is all about growth.” In response to Teeple’s question on why work on the waterfront had been interrupted, commissioners explained that there was no money to move forward. Commissioner Tim Poynter, recalling McMahon’s analysis, reiterated that it is a hard sell to convince city residents that the city needs to invest in itself.

DSCN4113Following a short break, commissioners continued their work by identifying actions they would take “If I were King or Queen.” For the most part, commissioners wanted to speed up items identified in the first exercise. The group discussed the benefit of 4-year terms for city commissioners, better public information on city needs and accomplishments, fostering competition to make improvements and save tax dollars, securing the city’s energy future, better use of social media, more effective volunteer recognition.

Goal setting

Following a lunch break, Lindsay Haga summarized the first two sessions by putting together a narrative consisting of six statements from the commissioners’ input. The commissioners then moved on to goal setting. Teeple urged commissioners to avoid blue-sky goals – like island-wide annexation – and concentrate on goals that might be more easily achievable within 1-3 years.

DSCN4125Commissioners placed many items on the “to do list” for year one, including opening the Alachua Street rail crossing and creating a Quiet Zone; establishing a second fixed base operation at the airport; implementing code changes to benefit the improvement of 8th Street; developing a storm water plan for implementation by October; fixing Fire Department problems; reviewing the building permit process; appointing a CRA director (or economic development specialist); piloting a public/private trolley transportation system.

Keeping goals in mind and on track

In concluding the workshop, Teeple asked how the commission intended to keep track of everything identified as a priority. Commissioners discussed: requiring periodic status reports from the city manager; posting the goal statement in Commission Chambers; signing off on the final document to indicate their personal commitment. Commissioners also indicated that they would hold another workshop in 90 days to place costs on all the goals and projects identified.

DSCN4122At the end of the meeting commissioners discussed their commitment to making a reality of the identified goals, understanding that there will be financial and possibly political costs to such commitment. Commissioner Poynter stressed the importance of selling the goals to the community. Commissioner Robin Lentz spoke to her desire to be able to point to a cleaned up waterfront or improved 8th Street in 3 years, knowing that she played a positive role in making a positive change. Mayor Boner said, “Everyone is going to have to pull together to make this work.” Commissioners agreed with Boner and Miller, who added, “Even if we have to borrow money to achieve these goals.” Lentz pleaded with her fellow commissioners not to “get bogged down in minutiae.” She encouraged them to support the city staff, exercise due diligence, and keep their eyes on the prize. With respect to the so-called WAG plan for the waterfront, Poynter said, “Let’s make it happen.”

What next?

Brian Teeple advised commissioners that he would submit to city staff a draft of the day’s visioning and goals the following week, to be followed by a final report in another week. He said that he was very impressed with the commissioners’ commitment to work to achieve these goals along with their understanding of the role of the commission (policy) and the role of the city manager (implementation).

The Fernandina Observer will publish the complete work product from this workshop when it becomes available.

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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Eric Bartelt
Eric Bartelt(@ericbarteltgmail-com)
7 years ago

Also included high on the list of “items to do” within one year was building the Lot B section of the waterfront park. That’s the section between Brett’s and the Welcome Center.

Peggy Bulger
Peggy Bulger(@peggy-bulger1949gmail-com)
7 years ago

What about the “sidewalk to nowhere”?

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