Last Aug 31, Christopher Ragucci – then the president of the Port of Fernandina’s operator, Nassau Terminals – filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics alleging that Fernandina Beach City Commissioner Ronald “Chip” Ross abused his elected position in an attempt to drive the port into financial ruin, thus causing the value of his nearby house on North Third St. to soar.
The commission investigated for 11 months and yesterday exonerated Ross with this terse statement: “The Commission considered a complaint filed against Ronald “Chip” Ross, a member of the Fernandina Beach City Council. No probable cause was found to believe he misused his position when the City reviewed a grant application that would affect a port in the vicinity of Mr. Ross’ residence.”
There is, of course, a story behind that brief ruling.
Complaints to the commission are held in strict confidence while being investigated and are made public only on the day of the ruling. Behind that confidentiality was seething anger on Ragucci’s part because Ross – as is his well-known habit – asks city officials to have a look at anything he notices that doesn’t seem right, including things at the port.
One of them was a grant application by the port to obtain $15 million in federal infrastructure assistance, which he asked the city attorney to review. She found a problem. He also asked the county property appraiser to review the port’s tax exemption status. He found a problem. Other complaints were that Ross filed four public records requests with the port – sheer harassment in Ragucci’s view.
One thing the investigator reviewed was the status of Ross’s property value. The investigator noted without comment that the 1,600 square foot home’s market value already has soared from its 2008 purchase price of $265,000 to $1,063,000, according to the most recent Zillow estimate. (That, by the way, is typical of most homes in the city’s historic district, regardless of proximity to the port.)
Ragguci, in the meantime, has sold his interest in the port operator company – and the new owners have promised transparency and cooperation with elected officials and citizens. Ross, in a statement, wished Ragguci well in his future endeavors.