When we began 2012 there were many loud voices in our city complaining about a strategic plan that has now become notorious as Forward Fernandina, or F2 for short. Our City Commission legally adopted this plan after much public discussion. The idea behind the plan was to finally do something about topics of citizen complaint and study over the past 20 years, mainly: the riverfront, the 8th Street corridor, the Centre Street business district, and surrounding neighborhoods. In order to move from plans to action, the Commission needed to find a revenue source. They decided that property taxes were not the fairest approach and opted for increasing the franchise fee by a relatively small amount: the price of a cup of coffee. They then borrowed $1.8M against that fee to make waterfront improvements, better the current library facility and make improvements to the rail crossings along Front Street.
And then all hell broke loose. Political campaigns were launched to demonize and vilify the commissioners and private citizens who supported the plan. A city manager lost his job. The opinion pages of the local print newspaper became petri dishes for breeding hate and hatching plots to bring down all those behind the plan. Why did so many otherwise rational and caring citizens jump on the misery machine? Because in their opinion both the plan and the financing should have gone to the voters to decide. The People had been deprived of an opportunity to vote aye or nay to spend public money; their rights had been trampled. Never mind that the items to be funded had been discussed by many citizens over the years; ignore that many previous commissions had borrowed significant money for other projects that did not require or receive voter approval.
Fast forward to the end of the year, with a new city manager and four out of five new commissioners who had campaigned on listening to the People, as opposed we guess to listening to just some people. Almost immediately they took a vote to ignore the guidance provided in city ordinance chapter 34-9, and the will of the people who selected Commissioner Sarah Pelican as Mayor and awarded second place to Commissioner Arlene Filkoff in the November straw ballot for Fernandina Beach Mayor. Instead the new city commission voted to award the number two position — Vice Mayor – to Commissioner Charlie Corbett, who had not even participated in the straw poll. Had Corbett participated, it is possible that he and Commissioner Sarah Pelican would have split the vote, resulting in Filkoff’s returning to the position as Mayor.
Those of us old enough to remember the days of former President Richard Nixon, may recall that his secretary, Rose Mary Woods, achieved a certain amount of fame for an unexplained 18½-minute gap in a taped conversation between Nixon and H.R. Haldeman. Our (Click for 48 sec Video) new city commission may go down in history for the 9½-second gap between Commissioner Pat Gass’ motion to appoint Corbett and Commissioner Ed Boner’s second. They certainly shocked those of us who were at least expecting to see Commissioner Filkoff nominated for the second place that she earned in the election.
So the commission that exercised legal authority to move ahead with a strategic plan funded without a ballot initiative that was not even required acted improperly. Yet the commission that replaced them ignored the wishes of citizens expressed on a ballot initiative to do what pleased them. Nothing illegal here either.
As we said, where you stand depends upon where you sit.
December 20, 2012 4:55 p.m.