Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
November 19, 2014 12:15 p.m.
During what seemed at times like a bureaucratic love feast, Fernandina Beach City Commissioners (FBCC) conducted a public performance review for all three Charter Officers during their November 18, 2014 Regular Meeting. Following their remarks, Commissioner Pat Gass moved and Commissioner Johnny Miller seconded providing a 4% pay raise for all three: City Attorney Tammi Bach, City Clerk Caroline Best and City Manager Joe Gerrity. The motion passed unanimously.
All the commissioners noted their pleasure at seeing a positive working relationship among the charter officers. Mayor Boner said that he had met separately with each charter officer before delivering his public remarks. Commissioner Charlie Corbett said that all three charter officers have grown a lot in their positions. Commissioner Gass, using the city supplied form, rated all three as “exceeding expectations.” Commissioner Johnny Miller said that his first year as a commissioner was educational, expressing his discomfort with having to deliver public performance reviews. Vice Mayor Sarah Pelican, who said that she would provide written evaluations for each charter officer, orally characterized the performance of each as “phenomenal.”
This was the first public performance review of all three Charter Officers in the city’s recent history.
Mayor Boner stressed that while often the performance of the City Manager is linked to that of a particular commission in the public eye, the City Attorney and the City Clerk must be seen as neutral and provide continuity from commission to commission. He said that the City Clerk has grown in her job. “She is learning her job,” he said, “and doing a better job every day.” The current commission in January 2014 hired City Clerk Caroline Best. He commended the City Attorney for providing “honest advice and opinion, not just alternatives.” He said that he would not want the job of City Manager, who has five bosses and often must play the role of peacekeeper. He said that he felt that City Manager Gerrity is “becoming more autonomous” in making decisions, and that was good. He commended Gerrity for improved employee morale and improving the safety record for the city. “Any manager is not going to make every person happy all the time,” he said. “In the next commission, hopefully [Gerrity] will still be here.”
Commissioner Corbett said the three individuals have accomplished a lot. He commended City Clerk Best for growth in her position over her first year, emphasizing that although she is attending classes to complete certification, she has a track record of successful performance with the city over the years. “Miss Bach has also done a nice job for us,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot accomplished on these lawsuits and annexations.” Regarding the City Manager’s performance, Corbett said that he believed that the number one accomplishment was staying on budget with the library expansion project. “The city’s being run as good as it has for a long time,” he said.
Commissioner Pat Gass read her remarks from the formal evaluation form, rating all three charter officers’ performances as “exceeds expectations.” With respect to City Clerk Caroline Best, Gass said that she admired her professionalism and approach to public service, that she is easy to work with and helpful. Her only area of concern was that information is getting to “local blogs and citizens” before it is getting to commissioners. She said, “This is a problem that needs to be corrected or fired [sic].” With respect to the City Attorney, Gass said she appreciated Bach’s professionalism and patience as she led the commission through “what seemed at times like a field of [legal] land mines that we inherited.” Gass said that while some in the community have blamed Bach for the lawsuits, she (Gass) said that it is because of your ability to “outmaneuver our local rogue lawyer and other frivolous lawsuits that citizens of this city have been saved untold thousands of dollars.” Gass saved her longest review for City Manager Gerrity, commending him for cutting city expenses and his leadership at the airport. She expressed appreciation for his laid back style, while expressing concerns over two specific situations where she felt he could have pursued more aggressive action internally. She acknowledged however, that under the City Charter it is not her role to get involved in the internal operations of the city. “I think you are an outstanding City Manager,” she said, “and please keep up the good work.”
“I think it’s kind of odd to get evaluated in front of the whole world,” Commissioner Johnny Miller said when it came his time to speak. “I’m glad the evaluations have been going well.” He said that both he and Caroline Best both started on the same day, so they were both “learning the ropes” at the same time. He said he jokingly calls Best “Siri”, because she picks up the phone at the first ring. He expressed admiration for City Attorney Bach’s performance during the annexation hearing, commending her ability to summarize long legal arguments in a short period. He said the City Manager has been “fantastic” in his transparency with the commissioners and his accessibility.
Vice Mayor Pelican said that there was a reason for her to go last. She could just say “ditto” and move on. She said that Caroline Best has taken to her job as City Clerk like a duck to water, doing a phenomenal job. She turned to the City Attorney and said, “Tammi, I know when we [Pelican and Corbett] came on board, you heard all those rumors about how heads would roll. We’ve moved on from that. You’ve done a phenomenal job. You’ve come out on your own instead of lurking in the shadows as you’ve seemed to have done in the past.” She cited Bach’s success in leading the city through legal matters and characterized her as a consummate professional. These remarks were in sharp contrast to the unsuccessful Pelican-Corbett motion to terminate Bach shortly after taking their seats on the commission in 2012. With respect to City Manager Gerrity, Pelican considered his performance also to be phenomenal and expressed her appreciation for his ability to move on in a positive direction despite occasional disagreements. She said, “We don’t have to agree, and he does not take disagreements personally.” She characterized the Charter Officers as “the Three Musketeers, the Dream Team.” She said, “They have developed a cohesiveness that serves the city so well.” She advised the Charter Officers to “corral whichever five monkeys you may have in the barrel up here,” referring to future commissions. She also said that she had been meeting with city department heads to get their appraisals of Gerrity’s performance as well. She thanked the Charter Officers, adding that she would follow up with written appraisals.
The FBCC followed the reviews with a unanimous vote to grant 4% raises to all three Charter Officers.
Editor’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.