By Dale Martin
April 30, 2021
Today marks a bittersweet day in my career as a city manager: Chief James (Jim) T. Hurley officially retires today.
Chief Hurley has served as a law enforcement officer for over forty years, the bulk of which was in Ft. Lauderdale, but the last fifteen years of his career after been here in Fernandina Beach. To have over forty years of service for any career is a remarkable achievement, but to be dedicated to such public service for nearly half a century is laudable.
I have served with six Chiefs of Police throughout my career, from a small part-time department in rural Michigan to somewhat larger suburban departments and then with larger, full-service departments as we have here in Fernandina Beach. All of those men were outstanding professionals, taking very seriously their commitment to “serve and protect” their communities. But Jim Hurley, without hesitation, has set the bar exceptionally high for integrity and professionalism. My respect for him has grown every day since I began my tenure here over five years ago. Apparently, the Police Department had significant challenges facing it when he arrived in 2006. Since then, he has shaped the department as a direct reflection of his, and this community’s values.
He has developed and implemented a variety of services and programs, all of which serve to enhance the quality of life in Fernandina Beach: the Police Auxiliary Corps (volunteers trained to supplement sworn Police Department personnel with traffic duties and crowd control), the Beach Rangers (remarkably, this group was started in response to unleashed dogs on the beach, but the group now serves as key community ambassadors on the beach), the Police Advisory Board (a community advisory group that serves as a barometer for community issues and concerns), and Safe in Place (a senior “wellness check” program to provide comfort and assistance to City senior citizens). Most impressive, however, is the remarkable string of accreditation awards that Chief Hurley has achieved since his arrival: this is a high-quality and high-performance department.
Chief Hurley routinely walked neighborhoods throughout the City, providing a visible presence of the Police Department’s community policing efforts. He has extensive experience in the “new” actually being “old,” whether it is parking concerns or noise complaints. He’s obviously broken in a few City Managers, too. He is respected at levels of government beyond the City. He has provided great counsel to his statewide peers as well as many state political leaders.
This City has been fortunate enough to avoid the internal and external turmoil afflicting cities, states, and nations. In great part, that can be directly attributed to Chief Hurley. He has pro-actively engaged nearly all of the diverse populations and groups that call Fernandina Beach home, even those without a home. He is an advocate for “right:” what is the right thing to do, in which direction is the moral compass pointed? Because of his leadership and guidance, I have had to have very few meetings which required deep and deliberate conversations with community implications in the balance. As those rare meetings inevitably closed, I never had any doubts that we made the right decision. A final impressive feature of Chief Hurley’s service has been his undiminishing commitment to his job: much too often, after long careers, the self-interest of impending retirement supersedes professional responsibility: that has never been evident with Chief Hurley. I am incredibly grateful to have served with Chief Hurley.
Police departments and personnel are under intense scrutiny: some of the scrutiny is well-deserved due to the questionable actions by one or a few; some of the scrutiny is also simply due to being a police officer in the United States in 2021. Chief Hurley, his command officers, and his rank and file represent what is good and, in Chief Hurley’s words, noble. Consider that the starting hourly wage of a Fernandina Beach patrol officer is roughly $20 per hour. What they do is remarkably challenging; what we expect is unerring perfection.
Congratulations, Jim, to you, Susan, and the rest of your family, on this well-deserved recognition for a remarkable career. I’ll miss you, but I also know that incoming Chief Mark Foxworth will continue to carry forward the values and qualities that you have instilled in the Fernandina Beach Police Department.