Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
October 16, 2018 – 4:12 p.m.
After many years of service as the attorney for the Nassau County Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA), Clyde Davis has tendered his resignation. Although Davis initially proposed to leave his position on November 13, Board Chair Adam Salzburg asked Davis to extend his service by an additional day so that he could cover the OHPA meeting on November 14. Davis agreed to do so and to assist OHPA in advertising for his replacement.
Davis made his decision following recent unproductive talks with Worldwide Terminals Fernandina (WTF) President Christopher Ragucci over proposed new contract terms. Also, OHPA is out of money to pay its bills because WTF has not paid monies due to OHPA under the current contract, according to Davis’ interpretation of the agreement between the parties.
Davis and Ragucci aired their differences heatedly over interpretation of the current contract during the OHPA meeting on October 10. OHPA Chairman Adam Salzburg resorted to gaveling both men down at times.
Problems with the mutual understanding of the current contract have led to problems with agreeing to a new contract. Davis has been opposed to OHPA’s approving the new contract with WTF as currently written. The proposed contract would have 35-year duration clause among other points of contention. But it would appear that OHPA is ignoring Davis’ advice and moving forward to approve the new contract at a Special Meeting scheduled for Friday, October 19 at 4 p.m. at the James S. Page Governmental Building in Yulee, FL.
The most pressing issue from Davis’ perspective is WTF’s failure to pay OHPA the dockage, wharfage and use fees for the third quarter of 2018, which ended September 30. Davis wrote in all capital letters in an October 12 email to OHPA Commissioners, “JUST THE AMOUNT OWED TO OHPA [from the port operator] FOR YOUR THIRD QUARTER DOCKAGE, WHARFAGE AND USE FEES UNDER THE EXISTING CONTRACT IS MORE THAN YOUR ENTIRE ANNUAL FEE THAT OHPA WOULD RECEIVE UNDER THE PROPOSED CONTRACT. … THAT MONEY IS PUBLIC MONEY THAT IS ALREADY DUE TO OHPA. IT JUST HAS NOT BEEN RECEIVED. THERE HAS BEEN NO WAIVER OF THAT OBLIGATION. IT HAS NOT BEEN GIVEN AWAY. YOU NEED THAT MONEY TO SURVIVE. DON’T LET IT GET AWAY.
He continued, “Public funds in the form of Port Authority Revenues are not property of the Port Operator, nor something discretionary to be paid or withheld at leisure. That money belongs to OHPA, as a trustee for the public.”
Davis wrote to commissioners, “You have $5,030 in bills pending, and only $5,100.00 on hand in operating. On top of those pending bills, you have: $20,500.00 due to Florida Ports Council; $280 due to the Chamber of Commerce, $1,257.00 to North Florida TPO, and $10,693, due to FFMIT. Now you have my bill for excess hours on top of those. So, in short, OHPA has far more bills on hand and coming due than cash on hand. The total may exceed even the remainder of your reserves. I happen to think that this is important. If you cannot pay your own bills because somebody else has not paid you, then it alarms me when nobody attempts to address the problem by asking for the money that is owed to OHPA by the Port Operator. ”
Davis ended his lengthy October 12 email with his resignation. He wrote, “So, everybody, here’s the deal: I am tired and none of this should be a debate, but it is. The fact that it is even an issue makes it crystal clear that I am not on the same page with OHPA anymore. It is also obvious that I have ceased to be effective as your attorney. It is obvious that you do not want the protections in a contract that I think absolutely essential. Mr. Ragucci asked at the last meeting for OHPA to “rein me in.” I will save all of you the trouble. Please accept this as my 30-day notice of termination of our professional relationship. It has been an honor to serve you but you will need to have another attorney on board by your next regular meeting on Wednesday, November 13. I will be more than happy to assist whoever it is that you choose.”
Clyde Davis is a lifelong resident of Fernandina Beach, Florida, and has practiced law in Nassau County for more than thirty years. He is a 1978 graduate of the University of Florida College of Law, and has served the public as a criminal prosecutor, Fernandina Beach City Attorney, and as Board Attorney for the Amelia Island Nassau County Association of Realtors and the Ocean Highway and Port Authority of Nassau County. He has also practiced law as a private attorney since 1983.
Davis’ resignation is the latest in a series of changes that OHPA has had to confront recently: the death of long time OHPA Commissioner Ron Braddock; the arrival of Worldwide Terminals Fernandina, a new port operator that acquired Nassau Terminals and replaced Kinder Morgan; the departure of longtime administrative officer Joanna Cason; an election that will bring two new OHPA commissioners to the Board next month. [District 5 Commissioner Lissa Braddock relinquished her seat when she successfully sought election to the Nassau County School Board; incumbent OHPA District 3 Commissioner Adam Salzburg, who has chaired the board during the transition to the new port operator, was defeated in his re-election bid.]
The departure of both Davis and Board Chair Adam Salzburg next month will leave only Pierre LaPorte remaining as a member of the OHPA negotiating team that dealt with WTF’s replacement of Kinder Morgan as Port Operator. Two newly elected commissioners could be facing contract disputes with their port operator as well as the need to hire a new attorney as soon as they are sworn in.
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.