Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
About 40 people, an unusually high number, attended the first regular April meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) Tuesday evening, which lasted a little more than 2 hours. Commissioner Arlene Filkoff left the meeting prior to the discussions on annexation and the golf course. Consult the city’s website fbfl.us for complete information on the full agenda and back up material. You may also watch portions or the entire meeting via the city’s website.
Quiet title complaint on the “sidewalk to nowhere”
Vice Mayor Charlie Corbett pulled item 5.4 from the Consent Agenda because two people had indicated that they wished to address this item (Resolution 2013-41). This resolution, required by Chapter 31 of the City Charter, authorized the City Attorney to proceed with a Complaint to Quiet Title, which was filed with the court on March 18, 2013. The purpose of the complaint is to settle ownership of land immediately west of the Duryee Building. Patricia Toundas, the owner of the building and the Marina Restaurant, is the defendant in this case and rose to speak, teary at times. Toundas claims that in 1954 by Ordinance 258 the city vacated the land in question. She said that she has no problem with the court ruling on the matter, but she wants it done right. “I want to know where the paperwork is,” she said. She told the FBCC that she has been a good steward of the property and that her claims have been upheld in the past. She said that she has been the victim of harassing and abusive phone calls, blogs, emails and tweets following the recent mishap involving a wheelchair-bound woman and railroad tracks. She pointed upward and said, “He will bring out the truth.”
She said, “I don’t have nothing against anyone,” adding that when the Salty Pelican Restaurant opened she sent flowers to the owners. She also said that if a sidewalk does get built in the contested area, Salty Pelican Restaurant should not have to pay for it.
As she left the podium, Mayor Sarah Pelican said, “Patricia, I’m sorry for all you’ve gone through.”
Local attorney John Cascone, who is a tenant in Toundas’ building, had also requested to speak on this topic but declined when called.
The item passed on a unanimous vote with no Commission discussion.
Later in the meeting City Attorney Tammi Bach reported that she had met earlier in the day with CSX officials on the downtown rail crossings and the state of the tracks. She anticipates quick action on some of the Centre Street conditions. The railroad people visited primarily to collect information, she reported, but she opined, “they will probably get involved with the Complaint to Quiet Title.”
To view the actual complaint along with the various back up items such as Ordinance 258, related letters, and a survey, download the agenda item from the city’s website.
The public speaks: Shrimp Fest concerns, street musician advocates
Dorothea Stillwell addressed the FBCC regarding her unhappiness with major changes to this year’s Shrimp Fest activities. She wants the parade returned to Thursday night from the Saturday date and says it is wrong to sell beer at the event. She expressed concerns about what kind of fencing event organizers will place in the waterfront area to restrict the beer sales area. She also complained about the official T-shirt, which she claims features a redfish, not a shrimp. She said that she has been told that the city has no control over any of this but believes it should because the city provides the venue for the festival. She said, “Everything should have stayed the same.”
Joan Bean rose to speak on behalf of the street musicians. She reminded audience members that the second reading of the ordinance will occur at the FBCC’s May 7 meeting. She believes that the presence of street musicians makes the city appear more inviting. Banning them from pocket parks, forcing them to provide proof of insurance and paying a $300 fee to be licensed seems wrong to her. She suggested that the city study what is done in Savannah as a better model. She wondered about the future of events like “Sounds on Centre” should this ordinance pass. She also wondered whether this ordinance would apply to Felix.
City Attorney Bach responded that she had modeled the ordinance after the one in St. Augustine. While pocket parks are being eliminated, all other streets in the city are being opened to such street performers. She said that an ordinance would not be written to benefit or adversely impact any single individual. She said that she might need to define the term “street performer” in the ordinance. She also advised commissioners that they may modify this ordinance as they choose at second reading. If the changes are significant, the ordinance may need to be rewritten and come back for another first reading.
Mrs. Stillwell rose again to echo Mrs. Bean’s concerns.
Refinancing city water bonds
The FBCC unanimously approved Resolutions 2013-43 and 2013-44, refinancing bonds the city issued to finance the purchase of the water system from Florida Public Utilities. Ed Stull, the city’s bond counsel, said that these actions will save the city $235K per year, based upon today’s rate of 9.7%. The bond issue will not exceed $39M.
City telephone replacement system
City Manager Joe Gerrity provided the FBCC with a background briefing on the problems with the current city phone system and recommendations to replace it. Currently, the city has a system consisting of 11 stand-alone systems to serve 15 departments: 5 legacy digital, 2 Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP), and 4 analog. The systems are not interconnected. Some of them are so old that replacement parts must be found on E-Bay. They are costly to maintain and inadequate to needs of citizens and staff alike. The Police Department needs a new system with connectivity to external agencies, increased network security, and 24/ 7 interoperability with the Sheriff’s Office. The current IT Department cannot maintain a phone system along with its other duties unless it adds personnel.
The City had budgeted $77.6K in FY 2012-13 for a new system and issued an RFP, which received numerous bid protests. Last fall Gerrity cancelled the RFP and formed a 3-person team to bring him options and recommendations. The committee went back and forth with him over recommendations to bring in a system that would both meet all the city’s needs and stay within budget. Gerrity recommended to the FBCC:
- Remain with Comcast as a network provider (about 4.5 years left on contract, and other providers are more expensive).
- Connect to the County system and gain a solid call manager and economies of scale.
- Use State contracts currently in place for the County.
- Divide the system upgrade into three phases to be completed over 3 fiscal years and beyond.
Gerrity presented a long list of benefits that the city would see as a result of adopting this system:
- $41K per year saved just in DMS phone charges.
- Total interconnectivity and redundancy within City departments and with County departments, with internal four -digit dialing.
- Citizens will have four ways to connect to City departments:
- Through a central City number;
- Through direct -dial to departments and to individuals;
- Through the County offices, if doing business with both City and County.
- Free long- distance to Jacksonville calling area (versus $. 0247 /minute).
- By FY two, solid wiring in all buildings and a stable network platform to support the system long -term.
- County will provide call- manager, etc., service for $0 for the current fiscal year, about $6 /device /month thereafter.
- A stable, working phone system with a long life.
- Correct 911 calls from City offices.
- Increased security both for Police Department and for other City departments.
- Ability to manage calling at a more detailed level.
- All City departments, including enterprise funds, will be on a single system.
- Increased productivity for City workers.
- Long system life (12 -15 years).
- Stable technology, benefits from prior County build outs.
- Professional management of the City’ s phone system.
The cost of the system will be $198.4K through the State contract, with an additional discount and trade-in credit of $18K. The bulk of the cost ($130K) will be paid by the Police Department from Federal forfeiture funds. The remaining $68.4K will be paid from the city’s General Fund. Gerrity reminded commissioners that the cost will save about $9K from the amount budgeted for this fiscal year. He also said that payback will come in less than 2 years based upon DMS phone charges alone.
Gerrity singled out for recognition the people who had worked to bring in this proposal: Jim Norman (Police Dept.), Judith Lane and Joe Blanchard (private citizens), and Guy Reiner (Nassau County). Commissioners joined in thanking these individuals later in the meeting.
Commissioners voted unanimously to approve Resolutions 2013-48, 2013-49 and 2013-50, paving the way for the new system. Gerrity hopes that the first phase will be implemented by the end of the fiscal year.
Proposed annexation of Nectarine Street properties
Proposed ordinance 2013-04 would annex into the city 4 parcels totaling 8.52 acres, located at 1463, 1601, 1603, and 1620 Nectarine Street. After hearing objections from local attorney Wesley Poole, the FBCC postponed further action on this item until the May 7, 2013 meeting, giving City Attorney Tammi Bach additional time to research Poole’s concerns. The Planning Advisory Board (PAB) had narrowly approved this proposal (4-3) before forwarding it to the FBCC for action.
Poole, representing the Palms of Amelia Condominium Association, claims that this action is not a voluntary annexation as the city asserts. He cited several problems with the proposed action relating to statutory requirements for compactness of the area, ownership, and statute of limitations.
Commissioner Pat Gass asked, “If the residents do not want to come into the city, does that also mean that they no longer want city services such as water and sewer?” John Hill, president of the homeowners association, said that the property owners affected pay a 25% premium for these services and receive police protection from the Nassau County Sheriff and existing mutual aid agreements between the city and the county. He said that not one of the 80 homeowners who would be affected wants to be annexed into the city.
City Golf Course
City Manager Gerrity sought and received permission from the FBCC to send a strongly worded letter to Billy Casper Golf (BCG) expressing the city’s unhappiness with the state of the greens under BCG’s management and providing notice that the city expects dramatic improvement by August 1. Gerrity emphasized that the object is not to get rid of BCG, but to get the course in good playing condition to increase memberships, rounds played and revenues. “We need to see something different out there, gentlemen,” he said, addressing his comment to the BCG team in the audience. He reported that John Foy, an agronomist with the USGA, had ridden the course earlier in the day and that he will provide the city with a report in two weeks.
“It is too much of a financial risk to sit and do nothing,” he said.
Commissioner Ed Boner addressed remarks to the BCG team. He said that he will do everything he can as a commissioner to build good will toward them. He also plans to tour the course and talk to golfers.
Vice Mayor Charlie Corbett moved that local resident and long time golfer Tommy Shave form a committee of five golfers and bring back a report every 30 days on the state of the course. Boner asked if this committee would be separate from the Golf Course Advisory Board and Corbett replied, “Most assuredly.” Boner suggested widening the pool of people to serve on the committee. Corbett asserted that he wants the course “improved back to the way it was” and expressed confidence that Shave could pick his own committee members. Corbett said, “We’re tired of hearing about 5-year plans, 2-year plans. We want progress.”
Attorney Bach jumped in with questions regarding the nature of the committee and its charge from the commission in an attempt to determine if sunshine law requirements would apply. Commissioner Gass asked why it needs to be an official committee, adding that she encourages more citizen involvement and would welcome wide input. In attempting to clarify the motion Bach asked if the intent is to make this an ad hoc committee of citizens who will just report back their thoughts to the commission. Corbett agreed.
Don Zimmer, BCG’s regional director addressed the FBCC and informed them that BCG will continue holding town hall meetings at the City Golf Course every 2 weeks. He said that course conditions are not where BCG wants them, partly due to long term planning measures and weather conditions. He said that BCG wants the opportunity to communicate with all interested parties and plans to attend future FBCC meetings and Golf Course Advisory Board meetings as well. He also wants an opportunity to interact with the newly formed group. He expressed confidence that course conditions will improve as weather warms. He also affirmed that BCG wants a long-term relationship with the city. He introduced Chad Barhorst, the new club general manager and Buddy Tate, the course superintendent.
Mayor Pelican asked Zimmer about statements allegedly made by BCG representatives blaming the city for insufficient financial support of the city golf course. Zimmer replied that without context he could not respond, but that the deferred maintenance of the course had taken its toll prior to BCG’s arrival. There was a deferred capital replacement of greens and bunkers needed for long-term success of the course.
Gerrity told Zimmer, “It’s your job to generate the revenue to improve the course.”
City resident and Golf Course Advisory Board (GCAB) member Jim Powers rose to speak echoing concerns about poor course conditions. He served on the evaluation committee that had recommended BCG to the city and had been pleased with improvements made early-on. However, he noted that the course has deteriorated significantly. He recapped points that he made in a recent Fernandina Observer article that he had forwarded to each commissioner. He supported putting BCG on notice. He said that although BCG has talked about a long-range plan, the GCAB has yet to see one. He questioned reprogramming of maintenance money last summer. He said that oversight of the golf course seems to be in question. He asked, “What is the role of the Golf Course Advisory Board? It seems wishy-washy at this point.” He concluded by saying “Bad conditions lead to less play. Less play leads to lost revenue. Lost revenue leads to physical and financial mess. Let’s get it right; let’s make it work.”
Corbett said, “Time to shut up and put up and go from there.” Commissioner Gass seconded Corbett’s motion, which passed unanimously on a 4-0 vote (Filkoff had left the meeting prior to the golf course discussion).
Pending House Bill 85 and Senate Bill 84
City Attorney Bach reported that these proposed bills would create new opportunities for public-private partnerships in projects such as road building. If passed, in a partnership between a county and a private concern to build or improve county roads, tolls could be charged to recoup costs. There is currently no provision to involve a city if the county road runs through a city. Bach suggested to the Florida League of Cities that language be inserted to include affected cities in any decisions of this type via an interlocal agreement. Commissioner Gass raised concerns about the transparency issues involved since projects would not need to be bid. Mayor Pelican echoed those concerns. It was the consensus of the FBCC to object to the proposals in their entirety. Bach will so advise the Florida League of Cities.
Short takes and updates
- Attorney Wesley Poole thanked the commissioners for their support in his
successful bid to replace the late Granville “Doc” Burgess as Nassau County Judge. He introduced his son Harrison, who will take over his cases after swearing-in.
- City Manager Gerrity reported that the Army Corps of Engineers is concerned over what they see as the city’s “lack of commitment” to beach renourishment. The FBCC vocalized its support for the effort, which Gerrity will forward to the city’s consultant for further action.
- Commissioner Gass asked whatever happened to the piped-in music system that existed on Centre Street. Gerrity replied that the system was completely broken and could not be repaired. She also asked who is in charge of the city golf course, and Gerrity replied that he is.
- Commissioner Boner raised concerns about the city’s pursuing abandoned residential structures. Gerrity asked for addresses, since there is money in the city budget for demolition. Boner also asked for an update on the library. Gerrity informed him that he and Bach will attend a meeting with Nassau County representatives Ted Selby and David Hallman next week to work on contract language. He reassured the FBCC that the final contract would return to them for approval.
- Mayor Pelican announced that due to anticipated length of the evening’s agenda, the discussion regarding filling the City Clerk position was being moved to Tuesday, April 9 at 3:00 p.m. in City Commission Chambers.
- Between resolutions and ordinances, Mayor Pelican introduced John Moceyunas, a boxing promoter and president of LDLTV, Inc., who announced that a professional boxing match will be held at the Peck Center Gym on April 13. He introduced the main attraction, Sal Cenicola, a 53-year old boxer and restaurateur from St. Simon’s Island, who is attempting to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records. He will fight Nathan Petty of Louisville, KY. There are other fighters on the card for the evening. More information on the fight, tickets and the weigh-in at Sliders the night before is available on their website: www.LDLTV.com. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Queen of Hearts Foundation for Disabled Children.
The meeting adjourned at 8:10 p.m.
Editor’s Note: Suanne 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.
April 4, 2013 1:15 p.m.