4-16-13 Fernandina Beach City Commission Highlights: Municipal Golf Course, City Clerk position

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm

Reporter-News Analyst

Fernandina Beach City Hall - Photo courtesy of John C. "Charlie" Hutchins
Fernandina Beach City Hall – Photo courtesy of John C. “Charlie” Hutchins

Once again, the status and conditions of the Fernandina Beach Municipal Golf Course dominated FBCC discussion.  The Commissioners also discussed the filling of the vacant City Clerk position and were briefed on the status of the update process for the Downtown and Old Town Historic District design guidelines.

Fernandina Beach Municipal Golf Course

Representatives of Billy Casper listened in silence as Doug Bailey, Chair of the city’s Golf Course Advisory Board (GCAB) briefed commissioners on improvements in course conditions over the past month. 

Before and After Photos of 9 S - Progress
Before (3/10/13)and After Photos of 1 S (4/15/13)

Bailey was not on the agenda, but he presented his information during the public input portion of the agenda.  Bailey said that overall conditions have improved and that with the FBCC’s permission he will report back on progress every two weeks.  Commissioners expressed no objection to Bailey’s plans to continue reporting.

In response to a question from Commissioner Arlene Filkoff, City Manager Joe Gerrity replied that he expected the agronomist’s report on the Golf Course any day.  He also added that there are efforts underway to keep golf carts off the areas that are being rehabilitated.

Later in the meeting the topic turned toward the legal status of a committee formed at the previous FBCC Regular Meeting to study the Golf Course conditions.  City Attorney Tammi Bach stated that if this committee, consisting of local resident Tommy Shave and friends that he appoints to work with him, just reports back observations to the FBCC, they would be considered a fact-finding committee and as such would not be covered by the Florida Sunshine Law.  However, if their purpose were to present advice or recommendations to the FBCC, they would be covered under the Sunshine Law.  Vice Mayor Charlie Corbett adamantly stated that the committee is fact-finding only, citing information gleaned from Barbara Petersen, President of the First Amendment Foundation, during her recent workshop “Government In the Sunshine.”  He reminded commissioners that on a 4-0 vote they had approved the creation of this committee at the last FBCC Regular Meeting.

Commissioner Arlene Filkoff, who was not present for the vote, said that she would have also supported the motion, because she agreed that the FBCC benefits from more information.  But she expressed her difficulty in understanding the role of the Golf Course Advisory Committee with respect to oversight and monitoring of course conditions when the FBCC now seems to have formally given the fact-finding role to a different group.

Commissioner Ed Boner said that there was no intent to slight any group and that the FBCC “just wants [the Golf Course problems] fixed.”  He said that the two groups have two different approaches.  While one is fact-finding, the other is advisory.  He expressed hope that through Shave’s efforts, golfers will be persuaded to return to the municipal course and take out memberships again.  Filkoff responded that she would like to see the groups work together.

Mayor Sarah Pelican explained her frustrations over the past months in trying to get a true picture of the scale of the problems at the golf course.  While admitting that she is not a golfer, she said that she attends regular Optimists Club meetings at the Golf Course Club House and just by looking out the window she concluded that there were problems with the greens.  Yet members of the GCAB were saying that everything was fine or getting better.  Claiming a definite problem with mixed messages she asked, “Who do you believe?  Me or your lying eyes?”

With that remark City Manager Gerrity turned to the Billy Casper representatives saying, “See what you’ve done?  You’ve got us chasing our tails.”  Gerrity went on to say that with changing commissions and city managers, the institutional knowledge is in the city advisory boards.  “We need to respect the boards,” he said, “and promote community involvement.”  He added that city boards can serve as good training grounds for future city commissioners.

Vice Mayor Corbett said, “I’ve been on this commission for 15 months and never heard anything from the GCAB.  Now we’ve lit a fire under them.”

Commissioner Pat Gass asked Filkoff if the GCAB had asked her to bring their issues to the full commission.  Filkoff said they had not, and that all she had done was to call a special meeting for them.  But she added “perhaps we need to clarify the role of boards and reach a determination on the future of advisory committees.”  To the question of oversight responsibility, Gerrity looked toward the Billy Casper group and said, “These guys are mine.” 

Corbett held up a city resolution that outlined the GCAB’s charge from the commission and said that in light of this clear statement, he did not understand how there could be confusion over the role of the GCAB.  Filkoff demurred, saying that the resolution had been authorized before Billy Casper had taken over management of the course, and that the matter should be revisited.  She spoke to the confusion over who staffs the Board, reports to the FBCC and similar issues.

Commissioner Boner said that it is not a bad idea to make the boards “more connected” to the FBCC.  He suggested a monthly update from every board to the FBCC.  He praised Bailey’s report on behalf of the GCAB, a sentiment echoed by other commissioners.

Filling the City Clerk Position

Mayor Pelican said that she had asked for this item to be placed on the agenda.  She said that City Manager Gerrity had recommended putting off a new hire until the FY 2013-14 budget picture became clearer.  She asked the other commissioners, “How do we all feel about this?”  Commissioner Gass indicated that this position was key to the checks-and-balances system at City Hall and was very important.  Commissioner Filkoff said that her concern was that she did not want to hire a new person at this time if it would mean that public safety personnel would need to be cut when the budget is formulated.  Commissioner Boner agreed with Filkoff, saying, “If we can wait, fine.”

Pelican reported that she had discussed the matter with City Attorney Bach and learned that the FBCC can appoint a City Clerk Pro Tem to serve before the position is formally filled.  Bach added that the Deputy Clerk serves in the absence of Pro Tem, or interim, City Clerk.    Should a Pro Tem be appointed, that person would assume full duties of the City Clerk and probably, if an internal appointment, would receive as much as a 6% temporary pay raise, as has been the case with other interim appointments in the city.

Vice Mayor Corbett weighed in with support for appointing a Pro Tem now to be followed with the formal selection of a City Clerk after the budget is put together.  Filkoff asked, “What about pay?  Will we support a 6% bump up for an internal candidate? Who determines the selection process?  Do we have the money to do this?”  Corbett asked, “Is there someone we have to look at [for the Pro Tem position]?”

Commissioner Boner suggested that the City Attorney and the City Manager bring back names for the FBCC to consider.  Attorney Bach immediately replied that this would not be a good idea, because she or the Manager could be accused of putting forward their own choices.  She returned the ball to the commissioners’ court.

Mayor Pelican said that she would put forward a name:  Jennifer Gooding.  Gooding is currently a senior planner and has served as the city’s grants administrator and also as airport manager.  Pelican said that Gooding is independent and capable.

Filkoff asked Gerrity what the impact of Gooding’s selection would be on the Planning Department.  Gerrity seemed taken aback by the suggestion and allowed that there were already changes underway in the Planning Department.  Gerrity announced that he had just appointed Community Development Director Marshall McCrary to the position of Deputy City Manager, effective May 6, 2013.  He added that he is interviewing internal candidates to replace McCrary as CDD Director.  It had been Gerrity’s intent to eliminate a planner position with that selection.  That could mean that the planning staff would drop from three to one.

Boner allowed that he did not even know Jennifer Gooding and would recommend putting off any decision until commissioners could put more thought into the concept of a Pro Tem City Clerk, think about candidates, and talk with Gerrity regarding impact on staff of any particular in-house candidate selection.  Corbett suggested that the FBCC “get on with it.”  Gass said that she liked the idea of a Pro Tem to avoid giving any perceived advantage to any current candidate for the Clerk’s position.  A brief discussion, with no resolution, ensued regarding the ability of anyone appointed to the Pro Tem position to be considered for the official position.  Boner restated that he needed to know how filling the job on an interim basis would affect Gerrity’s ability to run the city.

A long silence hung over the chamber.  Finally, Gerrity asked, “Can I express myself freely?”  After being assured that he could, he told the commissioners that if they were not satisfied with the field of applicants for the City Clerk position, they should re-advertise it.  A somewhat frustrated Mayor Pelican said that the reason they were not moving forward to fill the position was out of consideration for Gerrity’s concerns about the budget.  No one seemed interested in re-advertising the position.  With that, Boner and Corbett suggested postponing the question to the next meeting, thereby giving commissioners and Gerrity time to deliberate about options.

Historic District Design Guidelines

Senior Planner Adrienne Burke briefed the FBCC on updates to the design guidelines used by the Historic District Council and city staff to review building and rehabilitation projects in the Downtown and Old Town Historic Districts.  The city’s guidelines have not been reviewed since their adoption, and as a result of the current review, text and opinion are being replaced with more photos and examples to help property owners better understand changes that would be well received and those that should be avoided.  Burke provided a comprehensive list of all the city’s outreach efforts to make citizens aware of the review process and to solicit input.  She reported that there had been only one comment received on the Downtown guidelines and 10 from Old Town.  Historic District Council Chair, local architect Jose Miranda, addressed the FBCC and offered to answer any questions.

Because this task is being funded by a state grant, the first draft is due to the Division of Historical Resources by April 30, 2013.  Thomason+Associates, the consultant who is putting the guidelines together, was selected last summer as a result of a bid process.  Burke addressed concerns raised by some citizens and commissioners about not using “the red-line process” to reflect changes to the 1999 documents.  The earlier documents are not available in digital format, and the total restructuring of the guidelines would make such a process extremely difficult to read.  Drafts are available for public review on the city’s website at www.fbfl.us/historicdistrict.

Ron Machado, a resident of Old Town, rose to speak regarding his concerns over the ability of property owners to place commercial buildings on media peonias, a Spanish measure of land.  Through discussion with commissioners, Manager Gerrity and Senior Planner Burke, the FBCC came to understand that Machado’s concern regarding ambiguity in the code had been removed from the guidelines so that it could be more properly addressed in the Land Development Code.  It appeared to be the consensus of the FBCC to support Machado’s position regarding commercial building in OT-2 zoning by directing the Planning Advisory Board to make a text amendment that would then come back to the FBCC for approval probably before the design guidelines would return for final approval.

Short takes and updates

·       The FBCC unanimously passed Resolution 2013-57, approving a Memorandum of Understanding with the Florida Paddling Trails Association to be designated a Florida Paddling Trails Blueway Community.  Local citizen and environmental advocate Len Kreger explained the item to the commission and reported that the local kayak club is paying the membership fee for the city. The FBCC thanked him for his involvement.

·       City Manager Gerrity provided the FBCC with a survey of a city-owned parcel on the corner of South Fletcher Avenue and Bill Melton Road.  He recommended that the FBCC vacate the dead end portion of Pasco Road, a road that no longer exists, before deciding to sell or not sell the parcel.  The FBCC agreed to do so.  Commissioner Boner expressed a desire to proceed with the sale of city-owned land that is surplus to city needs.  Gerrity agreed to bring parcels to the FBCC on a case-by-case basis.  In response to a question from Commissioner Filkoff, Gerrity said that proceeds from any such land sales would go into city financial reserves.

·       City Attorney Bach reported that she is looking into revising parts of the city ordinance dealing with barking dogs and leaving animals unattended in vehicles for more than 30 minutes.  Boner asked her to also look into confiscating animals that bite.

·       Commissioner Filkoff extended sympathy to the family of city employee John Coverdell, who recently lost his father.  She also expressed appreciation to the Historic District Council for its handling of recent cases involving St. Michael’s Church expansion.

·       Commissioner Pat Gass reported that her brother, Nassau County Commissioner Steve Kelley, had recently returned home following a heart quadruple bypass and was improving.

·       Mayor Pelican thanked volunteer organizations for their work parking more than 1700 cars at the municipal airport during the Concours d’Elegance.  She thanked Marina Manager Joe Springer for his work with the Marine Trawler Owners Association.  She also reported that local resident Lynn Williams has been appointed to the Florida Inland Navigation District Board and that he will be a great asset.  She and Vice Mayor Corbett attended the recent boxing match at the Peck Center Gym and reported that they were proud that Fernandina Beach would now be included in the Guinness Book of World Records as the site of the longest boxing comeback victory in history (25 years).

·       Manager Gerrity expressed appreciation to the city’s public safety personnel for handling two recent fires and a meth lab bust.

The meeting, which began at 6:00 p.m., adjourned at 8:40 p.m.

Suanne Z. Thamm Reporter-News Analyst
Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter-News Analyst

Editor’s Note:  Suanne Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved toFernandina 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.

April 17, 2013 5:40 p.m.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Carol Stephens
Carol Stephens (@guest_35889)
8 years ago

I am a new resident at 1366 S. Fletcher. I just attempted to view an article re: transportation and was not allowed. How can that be fixed?
Carol Stephens

Carol Stephens
Carol Stephens (@guest_35890)
8 years ago

I want to see the routes for the proposal. I will retire on 1366 S. Fletcher and will need to travel about sometimes by transport and other by returning with a bike.