November 29, 2019
Today marks the conclusion of my fourth year as the City Manager of Fernandina Beach. I’d like to first thank former Mayor Ed Boner and former City Commissioners Pat Gass, (Mayor) Robin Lentz, and Tim Poynter, and current Mayor (then Commissioner) Johnny Miller for their confidence in my ability to serve this community.
The journey to Fernandina Beach began with my July 26, 2015, letter of interest in response to the search announcement for a City Manager. I had, at the time, served over four years as a Town Manager in Connecticut. Political upheaval in the town I served in 2014 originally led to my exploration of other management opportunities, but things had settled down significantly in the community, so my efforts had been somewhat curtailed. My wife, Lisa, and I were preparing to remain in Connecticut for the time being.
While vacationing with one of my daughters overseas in August, though, I received a call from the City’s recruiting firm, informing me that I had been selected as one of nine semi-finalists (of approximately ninety applicants) for further consideration. Additional documents to support my application were requested, so upon my return home, I scurried to submit those documents. In late August, I was informed that I had been selected as one of five finalists for the position and was invited to take part in the two-day interview process in late September.
We arrived at Jacksonville International Airport close to midnight on Sunday and made the dark drive to Fernandina Beach. I had never been to Jacksonville before, let alone Fernandina Beach. My parents had visited Amelia Island in the late 1970s as part of an organized alumni trip to the Gator Bowl. I think I got a T-shirt out of that visit.
It was very late (or early) when we drove down an abandoned Centre Street to get to the hotel. As with many of you, Centre Street is a wonderfully attractive venue. Throughout my career, I have served in communities with historic downtowns, but none of them had the apparent success that greeted us that quiet September evening.
With no official orientation or interview activities scheduled Monday morning, I took the opportunity to meet Ms. Adrienne Burke, the City’s Community Development Director at the time, for an informal conversation. After that, we simply explored, driving across the island and throughout the city.
The first formal activity was a group tour led by Mr. Marshal McCrary (then Assistant City Manager). All four finalists (one of the original five candidates had since accepted a position elsewhere) climbed into a City vehicle for the tour. Since Lisa was going to play a key role in the decision-making process, I asked if she could accompany us on the tour, and she was granted permission. We saw all the exciting things that city managers get to look at- city facilities, maintenance yards, cemeteries (where it was joked that all the former city managers were buried- Lisa shot me glance at that comment), the Airport, and the Golf Course.
That evening, we returned to the Golf Course for a public “meet-and-greet” session. Each candidate was placed in a corner of the room and residents mingled with each of us, asking (and answering) a variety of questions. After that event, I joined another of the finalists and we visited the Salty Pelican for a late dinner.
Tuesday morning was “speed-dating” with the City Commissioners. The candidates spent approximately one hour with each of the City Commissioners, again, asking and answering questions, sharing philosophies and expectations. During a short break following those individual interviews, one of the remaining finalists withdrew, leaving only three of us to formally interview with the entire City Commission (and community) as part of the regularly scheduled City Commission meeting.
The candidates were presented to the City Commission in alphabetical order, and due to the last names of the other candidates, I was the final interview. I remember the Commission Chambers being crowded as I was directed to the podium to answer more questions. Lisa found it too unnerving to be in the Chambers, so she wandered the downtown streets (later commenting how warmly welcoming everyone was as she strolled). As I concluded the interview, the recruiter requested that I remain upstairs as I was likely to be offered the position. I quickly called Lisa to come to City Hall, where she was greeted by (Mayor) Commissioner Johnny Miller who offered some premature congratulations.
We made a whirlwind return trip in October to buy a house (Lisa learned how convoluted the city boundaries were since I was required to live within the city limits but a whole lot of houses with Fernandina Beach addresses are not in the city). We made our permanent move here shortly before Thanksgiving, enjoying the hospitality of the Chamber of Commerce as a welcoming event to the community.
We never had Florida on our list of places to be- we’re both from the Midwest, as are so many others here. The four years and approximately one hundred City Commission meetings have passed quickly (some of the Commission meetings only felt like one of those four years).
The City Commission and the City staff have several challenges, and we always will of one sort or another. Nonetheless, this remains an incredibly exceptional place to live and work: the evening sunset from my office is a beautiful daily reminder, especially at this time of year. Despite many differences, the people here are as genuinely warmly welcoming as originally encountered.
I have greatly enjoyed meeting so many residents both formally and informally. I enjoy those brief moments to exchange pleasantries or answer questions. I really do try to remember everyone’s name. I do believe that we have much for which to be thankful in Fernandina Beach. Sometimes, amid political fracas, we lose sight of what we have around us.
I look forward to Year Five, serving the City Commission and the community of Fernandina Beach. Thank you.