Is there a future for Fernandina Beach City Advisory Committees?

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm

Reporter – News Analyst

DSCN1230At its October 15, 2013 Regular Meeting, City Commissioner Arlene Filkoff reported to the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) on findings from a study she and Deputy City Manager Marshall McCrary recently conducted with the blessing of the FBCC to assess the effectiveness of advisory committees and if appropriate, recommend changes.

Deputy City Manager Marshall McCrary assists Commissioner Filkoff in presentation.
Deputy City Manager Marshall McCrary assists Commissioner Filkoff in presentation as Interim City Clerk Kim Briley looks on.

Filkoff and McCrary sat in on recent meetings of the Airport Advisory Commission, the Community Redevelopment Area Advisory Board, the Golf Course Advisory Board, and the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board. The good news they found was that there is are many very willing citizens who want to participate in finding creative ways to operate and do the city’s business.  These volunteers bring a wealth of experience to the city.  The more unsettling news:  there seems to be a disconnect between the committees and the city they serve because of poor communication between committees and departments as well as with the city manager and the city commission.

The scope of the study was limited to those committees classified as advisory and not addressed by the Land Development Code. In addition to reviewing existing mission statements and authorizing legislation, Filkoff and McCrary took direct input from current committee members and the Interim City Clerk.

Overall findings

Filkoff and McCrary discovered that the mission of each committee seems clouded.  Mission statements have not been updated in years, if ever.  In some cases committee members feel that their committee was formed to address a specific issue at a specific time.  Once that responsibility was discharged, their continued purpose seems vague with many members wondering if they are only supposed to be reactive to city charges or more proactive, especially in this time of staffing cutbacks.

Filkoff said that the consistent message coming from each committee is “we don’t know what the commission wants from us.”  Members also felt that there is little or no feedback from the City Manager or the City Commission.  Some department heads seem unclear as to how to use committees effectively.  Poor horizontal communication among committees and departments leads to a “silo effect,” resulting in competing or duplicating work.

General Recommendations

The first recommendation of the study is for the FBCC to decide whether to keep advisory committees at all.  If the answer is yes, then the challenge is to involve them in meaningful activities such as planning,  prioritization, etc.  If no, the FBCC should consider eliminating the committees.

If the city decides to continue using advisory committees, much work needs to be done to clarify and update mission statements, provide members with more effective orientation packages and briefings, clarify the role of department heads and committees, and make the experience worthwhile both for the city and the committee members.

The study also called for greater accountability from the city manager and the department heads in making better use of committees and in maintaining regular communications with the FBCC.

Specific Recommendations

  • Do not expand the CRAAB to include the Waterfront Committee.  Leave the latter as it is unless more activity is initiated at the waterfront.
  • Add members to the Parks & Rec Committee to address concerns at Peck.
  • Consider either going with a greens committee composed of representatives of the Men’s and Women’s Golf Clubs or give the Golf Course Advisory Committee a true relationship management role.

The FBCC thanked Filkoff and McCrary for the time and effort they invested in the study and analysis.  They requested time to consider the findings and recommendations.  They plan to address findings and recommendations at their next meeting which will be held on Wednesday, November 6, 2013.

Suanne ThammEditor’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.