On second and final reading at its August 4, 2015 Regular Meeting, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) approved sending two questions to city voters on the November Ballot:
Question One would change the City Charter by moving elections from every year to every two years to coincide with state and county elections. The change would eliminate annual elections beginning with 2017 and not affect any current City Commissioner’s term. Changing commissioners’ terms from three to four years would bring their terms in line with those of Nassau County Commissioners and Nassau County School Board Members. This would mean that the term of the Mayor would change from one year to two years also. The chart below shows when each particular group change would take effect:
|Incumbent||Current Term—3 years||2015 Election||2016 Election||2017 Election||2018Election||2019No Election||2020 Election|
|Group 1:Johnny Miller||2013-2016||4 years(2016-20)||4 years (2020-2024)|
|Group 2:Tim Poynter||2014-2017||3 years(2017-20)||4 years (2020-2024)|
|Group 3:Robin Lentz||2014-2017||3 years(2017-20)||4 years (2020-2024)|
|Group 4:Ed Boner||2012-2015||3 years2015-18)||4 years (2018-22)|
|Group 5:Pat Gass||2012-2015||3 year2015-18)||4 years (2018-22)|
Note that Groups 2 and 3 would not convert to 4-year terms until 2020, and that the first year that would not see an election for city commission is 2019. Under the charter’s term limit provision, neither current Commissioner Tim Poynter (Group 2) nor current Commissioner Robin Lentz (Group 3) would be eligible to seek re-election to a 4-year term. The change would have no bearing on Commissioners Ed Boner (Group 4) and Pat Gass (Group 5) whose seats are up for election this year. Candidates winning election to those seats will serve 3 years, since 4-year terms—if approved via the referendum–would not kick in until 2018. Boner has announced that he is not seeking re-election, and Gass has not announced her intentions at this time.
All current commissioners voted in favor of placing this item on the ballot, citing hopes that eliminating annual elections will add stability to the commission and city government while saving the relatively small cost of odd-year annual elections ($13,000) and saving work for the Office of City Clerk in advising and training candidates every year.
During public comment, only one citizen—Lynn Williams—spoke against the shift to 4-year terms, citing fear that such a change could lead toward too rapid a change in direction of the city, should 3 commissioners be elected in one cycle. He suggested instead that the commissioners adopt a 5-year term, with one commissioner elected every year. The Commission was not persuaded by his arguments.
Question 2 is a housekeeping change to the City Charter necessitated by the city’s change of election cycle from spring to coincide with the county and state November election cycle. The annual organization meeting is conducted following the November election and any run-off election. During that meeting commissioners formally elect the Mayor and Vice Mayor among other items of business.
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.