Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 5, 2015 7:24 p.m.
Pirate Skydiving and Adventures
The subject of allowing tandem skydiving onto the city beach returned to the FBCC for action. While John Hornsby, the spokesman and marketing representative for the firm, maintained that the city could not prevent such activity on public beaches, the FBCC thought otherwise. On a 5-0 vote, the commissioners rejected the proposal, claiming that it would constitute a public nuisance.
This proposal was not supported by city staff and had been previously rejected by the city’s Airport Advisory Committee (AAC). Andy Curtin, pilot and former AAC member, expressed concerns that despite all the best plans and intentions of the business operator, audio communications for pilots along the beach are sometimes not clear. FBPD Chief James Hurley addressed concerns about the skydivers possibly distracting drivers along South Fletcher. He also acknowledged that although skydivers sign waivers for liability while in the air, the city could be liable under certain circumstances if skydivers are blown off course into the ocean or into a building.
Commissioners raised concerns about skydivers interfering with the enjoyment of the beaches by property owners and visitors, as well as questioning how the “catchers” would access drop sites.
Hornsby may seek to move his drop site to Peter’s Point, if the county agrees.
Fire Rescue Department Update
Firefighters Local 2836 president Chett Lyncker told commissioners that he welcomed the city’s calling the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to conduct investigations into various allegations within the Fire Department. “We are confident,” he said, “that this investigation will take the city in the right direction.”
Retired Fire Captain Tommy Spicer addressed commissioners. He stated his belief that City Attorney Tammi Bach had misrepresented the results of previous investigations into complaints within that department. He said that through public information requests he had determined that firefighters had complained about health and safety risks due to poor department management. He said that every investigation report he had seen spoke to lack of training, safety violations, and harassment. He cited additional public information requests emanating from an alias “John White,” which he characterized as attempts to discredit accusations of mismanagement and retaliation.
Spicer raised Commissioner Pat Gass’ email correspondence with “John White,” claiming that she had “warned him to be careful of whom he trusts because she wouldn’t want to see him hurt.” He also claimed that Gass had been in communication with City Attorney Tammi Bach to bring in FDLE to investigate the Fire Department. He reported that Bach had advised Gass that FDLE would only investigate criminal allegations. Spicer took issue with City Manager Joe Gerrity’s statement at the previous meeting that former Fire Chief Dan Hanes had recommended the current chief for his position, because he could find no written recommendation in city records.
Later in the meeting Commissioner Gass denied that she had called in the FDLE to investigate the Fire Department, claiming that she had only asked Bach if such action would be possible.
In a conversation after the meeting, Bach confirmed Gass’ claim. Bach further emphasized that she has been involved in two investigations that involved interviewing all firefighters. She said that while there were allegations of activities that adversely impacted safety and fire response, there were never findings to support such allegations.
Bonhams automobile auction at city golf course next week
Marianna McIntyre, Development Director for Micah’s Place, reminded commissioners that in addition to Concours d’Elegance activities, the city is also gearing up for the first Bonhams automobile auction to be held at the city golf course on March 12. Previews are open, free of charge, to the public on March 10 and 11 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Parking is available at the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport only. Bonhams will operate continuous and complimentary shuttles to and from their pavilion during the previews and the auction event.
Mayor Boner introduced McIntyre and informed commissioners that she was instrumental in bringing Bonhams to the island. She said that Micah’s Place was thrilled to be the non-profit beneficiary of the event. She showed the commission and the audience a copy of the Bonhams auction catalog, which devotes a full-page color ad to Micah’s Place and one to the city golf course. She said that Bonhams has been an enthusiastic community partner and currently holds the record for the most expensive automobile sold at auction for $38.5M. She said she suspected they would be spending lots of money in the community during their visit. She thanked the FBCC for supporting the event.
Commissioners led a round of applause for McIntyre. Mayor Boner remarked that he hoped that the even would be successful and that Bonhams would return to make the auction an annual event “many, many years into the future.”
Bonhams took out a full-page, 4-color ad in The New York Times on Tuesday advertising the Amelia Island Auction. For additional information about Bonhams, the auction, admission, catalog and featured cars, visit their website: http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/22530/.
City proclaims week of March 15-21 “Sunshine Week”
City Clerk Caroline Best accepted a proclamation from Mayor Boner citing the importance of access to public records and the city’s commitment to access and transparency by declaring Sunshine Week.
Best said in thanking the commission that 48 years ago the state passed the Sunshine Law, thereby making the state’s commitment to open government the strongest of all the states. Best told the audience and the commissioners that her office takes great pride in what they do to further the goals of public access every day and that they will continue to serve.
Dining for a good cause: supporting the Ark of Nassau
Former Chairman Wes White of the Ark of Nassau invited and encouraged city commissioners and charter officers to serve as lunchtime wait staff at Ciao Italian Bistro on Friday, May 22 as part of Ark of Nassau’s Celebrity Waiters fundraiser. Since the early 1970s, Ark of Nassau has helped meet the needs of Nassau County adults with disabilities by providing programs and services that support their active participation in all aspects of life. Nassau County Commissioners will participate in the event on Thursday, May 21. All tips and profits from the event benefit the Ark of Nassau.
Ark of Nassau is the only local, nonprofit agency providing programs and services for individuals with developmental disabilities who are 18 years and older. Ark of Nassau primarily services individuals with cerebral palsy, autism, spina bifida, Prader-Willi syndrome and varied mental disabilities.
White said that the last time the city participated, they helped raise $3,000, but that the county outperformed them by about two thousand dollars. He said that since the city’s day of the event has been moved to Friday, he hoped that would help the city raise more contributions. “There are a lot of people,” White said, “who like to see you wait tables. And even a few who like to order you around. We want them to pay for that privilege. We greatly appreciate your participation and contribution.”
White introduced Vivian Sankey, the current Ark president. She provided commissioners with details.
Wes White concluded by telling everyone that first responders will be comped into the event. “We squeeze them for tips,” he said. “We find they are very generous after they have eaten.” Nassau County Commissioners will participate in the event on Thursday, May 21.
City Manager Report
City Manager Gerrity reported that the city has closed on the sale of the South Fletcher property at the corner of Bill Melton Road. He said that as previously discussed, proceeds will go toward paying off golf course debt and partial funding of replacement ceiling and lighting for the renovated part of the library building.
Gerrity reminded commissioners that the Joint Local Planning Agency would meet in the James Page Governmental Center in Yulee on March 19. While he invited agenda input from the commissioners, he said that his priority is to get county commission commitment to participate in funding beach renourishment. He said that one of the items the county will bring up is the creation of a special taxing unit (MSTU) to provide a regular revenue stream for beach renourishment. He said that this is the first such meeting between the county and the city in 3 years and that he would like to demonstrate that the city can work well with their county counterparts.
City Attorney Report
City Attorney Bach referred to stormwater planning and explained she would bring different options to the City Commission during the budget process. She reminded the City Commission that the planning portion of these projects must be completed significantly in advance of doing the actual project.
Vice Mayor Johnny Miller
Vice-Mayor Miller commended FBPD Chief Hurley and his department for their persistent work to close the cold case of the murder of Mrs. Janet Simmons-Mattox, widow of Nassau County’s first African American Sheriff’s Deputy.
Miller referred to a crossing on Atlantic near Citrona and stated he met with a community organizer, FDOT, and Ms. Janet Adkins’ office. He commented they made some progress, and they would take another look at this. It was noted there was equipment on Atlantic to do a study to tell how many students are crossing there. Commissioner Gass inquired about parents parking only in the parking spots. Vice-Mayor Miller stated the FDOT was willing to get rid of those two spots at Citrona. Police Chief Hurley added that the Police Department was also reviewing that, because it creates blind spots. He stated that his department is also looking at why so many parents are picking up their children at that spot.
Commissioner Pat Gass
Commissioner Gass reported that last week she met with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and representatives from Rock Tenn, the Ocean Highway Port Authority, and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church about reducing the speed limit along 8th Street from Cedar Street to Atlantic Avenue. She stated that her concerns had been warmly received by attending representatives. Participants also talked about removing the hump in the road and smoothing out the dip created by a manhole north of the Atlantic Avenue intersection. She commented that a temporary sign would be placed changing the speed from 30 MPH to 20 MPH between Beech and Alachua Streets while the FDOT is reviewing this issue.
Commissioners thanked Gass for her efforts.
Commissioner Tim Poynter
Poynter thanked all the people who showed up for the goals meeting earlier in the evening. He thanked Commissioner Gass for her efforts to improve 8th Street.
Commissioner Robin Lentz
As she does each meeting, Lentz thanked all those who spoke before the FBCC. She commented that last Wednesday night the Community Development Department in conjunction with the Parks and Recreation Department held a Workshop on the Parks and Recreation Master Plan. She stated that while chambers were packed, there were no young people at the meeting. She made sure that the flipcharts were brought to the middle school afterschool, where they were presented to about 40 pupils. She commented she looked forward to finalizing that plan.
Commissioner Lentz pointed out the Slide Into Spring event is Saturday, March 28th and Sunday, March 29th. She stated that the Parks and Recreation Department is hosting this event, the proceeds from which will benefit 8th Flags Playscapes and the Nassau Humane Society.
Lentz reported that she would assist the 8th Street Working Group in developing an ad hoc streetscaping group. The goal is to develop plans that might qualify for FDOT funding with assistance from Representative Janet Adkins’ office.
Mayor Ed Boner
The Mayor welcomed Bonhams to Fernandina Beach and wished them well in their inaugural year. He echoed Vice Mayor Miller’s praise of the FBPD for solving the Simmons-Mattox cold case, commenting that it was an amazing story.
He reminded the community that Babe Ruth and Elm Street Little League opening days are coming up respectively on March 7 and March 28. He encouraged other Commissioners to attend and watch the youngsters play.
Mayor Boner suggested to commissioners that if they place Facebook comments into page format it is easier to archive and arrange the comments by date. He reminded commissioners never to comment on city business on their personal social media.
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.