Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
April 9, 2015 1:00 a.m.
The Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) kicked off the month of April with its first Regular Meeting on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. They moved swiftly through a light, non-controversial agenda, adjourning at 7:15 p.m. The city awarded three proclamations, unanimously passed a 6-item Consent Agenda, 6 Resolutions, and one Ordinance (2015-05) on First Reading. They appointed Roy G. Smith, Jr. to a vacant alternate position on the Historic District Council. They also engaged in discussion regarding allowing non-U.S. citizens who are city residents to serve on city advisory boards (approved 3-2, with Commissioners Pat Gass and Robin Lentz voting against) and briefly discussed wetlands policy.
Mayor Ed Boner read a proclamation declaring April 2015 as “National Volunteer Month.” In urging citizens to observer this month by investing time, talents and energy in reaching out to those who have become disconnected from the community, Boner said, “By volunteering we can come together to build a brighter future for all our citizens.” City Comptroller Patti Clifford accepted the proclamation on behalf of Nassau County Volunteer Center Executive Director Gail Shults who did not attend.
Mayor Boner also proclaimed April 22, 2015 as “Earth Day.” He said that it is everyone’s responsibility to safeguard the environment by recognizing that all life depends upon the Earth and upon a human commitment to preserve it by recycling, conserving energy and using earth-friendly products. Earth Day advocate and city employee Barb Rathmell accepted the proclamation.
Nassau County Library Director Dawn Bostwick, Assistant Director Janet Loveless and Friends of the Library President Bill Flynn were on hand to accept a city proclamation declaring April 12-18, 2015 as “National Library Week.” Upon receipt of the proclamation from the mayor, Bostwick thanked the city, county and Friends of the Library for their support in financing recent library improvements. She said that the library will re-open for business on April 20, 2015 and invited everyone to visit and enjoy the new library.
Williams update on dredging machine
Lynn Williams reported on recent tests of a small dredge machine that he and local shrimper David Cook had designed and constructed with $8,000 provided by the FBCC two years ago. Williams said that the machine, which has been christened locally the “Magic Mud Machine,” works. He said, “We are now permitted to carry out such testing as we need, want, to do.” In referencing three demonstrations provided last fall to the Corps of Engineers and Florida Department of Environmental Protection, he expanded upon a DEP suggestion that instead of having a heavy duty machine dredge every two years, he might consider downsizing the dredge into a smaller machine that could run continually throughout the year so that silt would not accumulate as it does now. In order to keep boat slips available all the time, Williams suggested that such a dredge would need to be run weekly, if not daily. He said that the simpler machine “would not cost all that much” and could be operated by dockhands in the marina “in their free time.” He presented commissioners with a scrapbook with some photos and examples of additional machinery used in northern marinas to keep boat slips free of silt before dredging operations can be performed. He said that while the project has changed from the way it started out, he believes that it can become a very effective operation. He acknowledged that he owes the city commission a report with photographs “and a clear disquisition of how this works.” He suggested that the report would be forthcoming in a month. The Mayor thanked him, and there was no FBCC discussion.
Mr. E.J. “Mac” McClelland approached the Commission during Public Comment seeking relief from current permit fees charged to street performers. He said that there is a current fee of $300 per performer per year. He said that he plays as part of a trio and that the current fee structure means that his performance unit must pay $900 annually if they want to play in a designated area on Centre Street. Commissioners seemed sympathetic, agreeing that such an amount seemed excessive.
After considerable discussion over both the permit costs and other issues related to street performers, the FBCC directed City Attorney Tammi Bach to bring back an ordinance to the April 21, 2015 meeting for FBCC action.
Should non-U.S. citizens be allowed to serve on city advisory boards?
City Clerk Caroline Best and City Attorney Tammi Bach brought this matter to the FBCC for resolution. City Charter Section 69 and the City’s Oath of Office have conflicting language. According to Bach, it is not expressly required by state or city law that an advisory board member be an American citizen.
Both Commissioners Pat Gass and Robin Lentz strongly supported making American citizenship a requirement. Bach reminded commissioners that when city employees and board members take the oath to serve, they promise to uphold the Constitution and laws. “When you become a citizen,” Bach said, “you must take classes that teach you about the Constitution. … If you chose to eliminate citizenship requirement, we would definitely require that board members be legal residents, with a Green Card.”
Vice Mayor Johnny Miller said that he would have to take the opposing side. As far as he was concerned if the potential board members were paying city taxes and they are documented, they should be allowed to serve. Commissioner Tim Poynter said that basically the oath just says that you are agreeing to uphold the laws of the country and state.
Trudie Richards, a Canadian citizen, approached the FBCC. She explained that she is a full-time resident of the city and married to an American. She argued that because the advisory board holds no power other than persuasion, she would like to be considered a candidate for an advisory board seat. She explained that she has been an active community volunteer and has a desire to work on matters affecting parks and recreation.
Mayor Boner said he tended to agree that someone looking to serve should be allowed to do so and add expertise to the committee or board’s deliberations. Poynter said he preferred to leave the issue as it is now. Bach said that in that case, the city would change the wording of the oath that board members are required to execute to eliminate the assertion that they are U.S. citizens.
Gass said that while she welcomed anyone who wants to contribute at committee or board meetings, she believed that allowing non-citizens to serve would be “opening Pandora’s box.” Lentz agreed with Gass. She said that the FBCC takes advisory board recommendations very seriously. She thanked Richards for her desire to serve and reinforced Gass’ statement that she might still be active on any issue without being a formal committee or board member. Boner wondered if the situation couldn’t be left as it is, and that each appointment be decided on a case-by-case basis, since the FBCC needs to approve each appointment anyway.
Finally Miller moved and Poynter seconded directing the city attorney to revise the language in the oath required from board members and bring it back for consideration at a future meeting. The motion passed with support from Miller, Poynter and Boner. Gass and Lentz voted to oppose.
Commissioner Pat Gass asked for support from other commissioners in changing the zoning designation of all wetlands property owned by the City of Fernandina Beach to be designated Conservation to prohibit any future development on city-owned wetlands. Gass explained that such an ordinance would send a message to potential developers that the city follows the policy that it is imposing on private developers as well.
In response to a question from Commissioner Lentz, City Manager Joe Gerrity said that the city does not own a lot of property that falls into such a category that is not already designated Conservation. Mayor Boner asked how such a designation would affect retention pond issues. Gass suggested that perhaps staff could develop a presentation showing the pros and cons of such an ordinance. Gerrity said that city staff has several other ideas on wetlands that they will bring to the FBCC and that this idea could be considered as part of that discussion. That suggestion was acceptable to the commissioners.
City Manager Gerrity reported that the city has issued a certificate of occupancy for the renovated library building. He also reminded commissioners of a meeting on the Parks and Recreation Master Plan at 5:00 p.m. on April 13, and the need for time in May to discuss a Planning Advisory Board recommendation on a citizen-initiated code change. Consensus was to schedule a Special Meeting to begin at 5:00 p.m. on a regularly scheduled commission meeting date.
Vice Mayor Johnny Miller asked that the city consider waiving interment fees in Bosque Bello Cemetery for veterans.
Commissioner Pat Gass reported that students at Southside Elementary School had all been sent home with a flyer indicating that they could sign up for free swimming lessons offered by the city. She expressed both the hope and concern that all would take advantage of the offer, meaning that the city would need to budget additional funds for the program. Gerrity said that if enrollment exceeds the currently allotted $35,000 he will come back seeking commission direction. Gass also indicated that the Fernandina Beach High School Culinary Arts program is participating in Jacksonville’s One Spark festival. She encouraged citizens to download the One Spark app from https://www.onespark.com/festival/2015 and consider voting for the local project by casting a vote for project 22038.
Commissioner Tim Poynter expressed concerns over City Manager Gerrity’s comment at the end of a previous meeting that indicated Front Street might become a one-way street between Ash and Centre Streets if the current Parking Lot B plan is implemented. Gerrity reaffirmed his statement, but added that it does not appear that the city will receive any permission in writing from the railroad anytime soon. Poynter also asked that in filling the vacant Fire Chief position, Gerrity use the set of qualifications that was in place before the hiring of the last chief. Gerrity said that in reviewing those qualifications, he believed that the previous chief met all but possibly one of the qualifications.
Commissioner Robin Lentz thanked Parks and Recreation staffer Jay Robertson for the successful “Slide into Spring” event. She also advised commissioners and the public of the city recycling event that will be held on April 18. She also asked for input and consideration for a special award to acknowledge the work of the Friends of the Library in bringing about the new, improved library facility. Commissioner Gass expressed concern that any special awards program needed to be formalized so that future award recipients would know the criteria for recognition.
The meeting adjourned at 7:15 p.m.