Suanne Z. Thamm, Reporter-News Analyst
About 30 people, including city commission candidates Ed Boner and John Elwell, were in Fernandina Beach City Hall Commission Chambers as Mayor Arlene Filkoff gaveled the first regular meeting of the new fiscal year to order at 6:00 p.m. on October 2, 2012. The meeting moved smoothly through the first half hour, as Mayor Filkoff moved through a series of presentations promoting the Les DeMerle Amelia Jazz Festival (October 7-14), honoring October 2012 as Domestic Violence Awareness Month and October 7-13 as Fernandina Beach Local 2836 Fire Prevention Week.
Mayor Filkoff recognized City Fire Chief Dan Hanes who updated the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) and the public on the status of negotiations with the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF). Chief Hanes recognized and thanked members of the union negotiating team for forgoing salary increases duly negotiated and approved by contract in 2009 in light of the city’s financial difficulties. Chief Hanes said that city firefighters “want to be part of the fabric of the community” and that they “have faith in each and every one of you [city commissioners]” to treat them fairly when master bargaining on a new contract begins in February 2013. City Manager Joe Gerrity commended Chief Hanes and echoed both pride in and appreciation for the action of the city’s firefighters saying, “Sometimes we take these fine folks for granted.” He also thanked the IAFF local for its understanding of the city’s financial plight.
Mr. Lewis Eason, representing the Friends of Fernandina Aviation (FOFA), presented a proposal to the FBCC for an aircraft static display park at the city airport that would feature a 75% scale model of an F4-U Corsair, the airplane used to train Navy pilots at the airport in 1943. He explained that he needed FBCC approval to take this plan to the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) for final approval. Commissioners agreed to support the concept. Vice Mayor Jeffrey Bunch raised a concern that the proposed location might conflict with the airport master plan. City Manager/Acting Airport Manager Joe Gerrity will work with Mr. Eason and FOFA to make sure that a suitable location can be identified.
The era of good feeling hit a bump in the road when Andre Desilet of Gillette and Associates updated the FBCC on the Main Beach Boardwalk project. Desilet reported that while the city thought it had an earlier agreement with Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to move ahead on boardwalk reconstruction and repairs, that agreement had never been reduced to writing. Currently, FDEP is demanding that all existing structures be removed and a new boardwalk elevated 2-2.5 feet be built 40 feet west of the current one. FDEP will allow no structures on the dune. Vice Mayor Bunch asked what the city would be expected to do in 20 years when the dune will have encroached on the new boardwalk. Desilet opined that the dune would have stabilized, especially if the city can prevail in convincing FDEP to allow the existing boardwalk to remain in place. Meanwhile, no permits have been issued, and the city tries to convince FDEP to scale down its demands. City resident Len Kreger expressed his frustration with the boardwalk project, urging the FBCC to take action quickly.
What was billed as a 5-item consent agenda was whittled down to one item, as Commissioner Charlie Corbett removed three items for individual consideration and Mayor Filkoff removed one. However, the single remaining item – the FY 2012-13 sewer and refuse exemption list – seemed to cause no problem for anyone. Meanwhile, after a couple simple questions that could have been handled in advance of the meeting, Corbett discovered that he had no problems with the 3 items he had pulled after all. That left only Mayor Filkoff’s item, a resolution honoring the men and women who served in our nation’s military by recognizing a portion of Central Park as a veterans memorial (Resolution 2012-156). Mayor Filkoff used this opportunity to recognize the American Legion for its leadership role in this project. Representing the American Legion Post, former Fernandina Beach Mayor Bruce Malcolm recognized contributions from local citizens and corporate citizens (Home Depot and Lowe’s). He invited all local citizens to visit the site and consider purchasing a brick for $50 to honor any person who has served the nation in uniform or not.
City resident and Airport Advisory Committee member Sam Lane invited the commissioners and the public to the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport to view the new tree removal plan on October 9 at 10:00 a.m. He expressed his belief that for safety reasons action must be taken. But he urged that only those trees that are clearly identified as obstacles be removed.
The FBCC moved harmoniously through the first 5 resolutions before them, approving a facility rental fee waiver request, a specific service for painting the wastewater treatment plant clarifier weirs, a grant submittal to fund beach education kiosks and signs, and two airport projects.
Unanimity ceased with the consideration of resolution 2012-163 to approve a memorandum of understanding among the city, the Amelia Island Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Amelia Island Fernandina Restoration Foundation to commit funds to rehabilitate the historic train depot at the foot of Centre Street. Even the testimony of local architect John Cotner and the presence of Senator David Levy Yulee (as portrayed by Museum first person interpreter Fred Giltmier) were not enough to convince Vice Mayor Bunch that it could cost as much as $300,000 to overcome years of delayed maintenance on the 1,000 square foot structure. The motion passed on a 4-1 vote.
Under the proposed agreement, the Visitors Bureau would provide $125,000 toward the project, which would be matched by the city. The Restoration Foundation would kick in another $50,000 to be used toward an interpretive exhibit and a statue of David Levy Yulee, the man responsible for the creation of the city of Fernandina in its current location as well as the first trans-peninsular Florida railroad that ran from Cedar Key on the Gulf of Mexico to Fernandina on the Atlantic Ocean.
Even though Vice Mayor Bunch voted against the agreement, which would provide the city with a restored historic structure for only $125,000, less than half the amount committed by other parties, he voted with the other commissioners to approve a 20-year lease allowing the Visitors Bureau to continue operating in the depot building for $10 per year.
In another mystifying move, Corbett and Pelican gave no reason for voting against a resolution to continue legal services up to $3,000 to challenge an insurance claim denial relating to a water impact fee suit. This motion passed on a 3-2 vote.
In other business, three ordinances were approved on first reading relating to voluntary annexations into the city for properties on South 14th Street.
While commissioners voted unanimously to approve reappointment of Christian Rasch and George Sheffield to the Historic District Council, Commissioners Corbett and Pelican opposed the reappointment of Charles Burns and Lynn Williams to the Board of Adjustment. No reason was provided, but by majority vote all reappointment requests were approved.
The situation with the Airport Advisory Commission was a bit more problematic, with six applicants applying to fill 3 vacancies. Mayor Filkoff stepped down as chair to suggest that the appointments be tabled until such time as the commissioners have a better understanding of the Airport Master Plan. Commissioners concurred.
During Commissioner Comments, Commissioner Poynter asked the City Manager to arrange a presentation for the next meeting. An individual has expressed interest to some commissioners and some in the community in opening a second Fixed Base Operation (FBO) at the municipal airport. Poynter asked that this matter be brought before the entire commission in a public forum. City Manager agreed to do so.
The meeting adjourned at 8:45 p.m.
October 4, 2012 2:23 p.m.