By Cindy Jackson
January 8, 2018 11:42 a.m.
A special meeting of the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners was held Thursday, January 3, 2019 with the sole purpose of discussing an amendment to House Bill 1075, relating to the East Nassau Stewardship District.
A dispute about who should pay for recreational facilities in the East Nassau Comprehensive Planning Area (ENCPA) has caused a stalemate between Nassau County Commissioners and Rayonier/Raydient Properties for almost two years. Nassau County believes Rayonier/Raydient Properties is tasked with funding the construction of all recreational facilities with the ENCPA. Rayonier/Raydient believes otherwise.
At the early morning meeting, suggested changes to HB 1075 were addressed. It was agreed that “more teeth” was needed in an attempt to keep things on track as the special district takes form.
The BOCC is requesting the Nassau County Legislative Delegation consisting of State Senator Aaron Bean and Representative Cord Byrd, seek to amend HB 1075 – the very legislation that created the East Nassau Stewardship District just a few short years ago.
The suggested language was developed by the law firm of Nabors, Giblin and Nickerson at the request of the BOCC. Nabors, Giblin and Nickerson, out of Tallahassee, specializes in land use and real estate law and count many local governments and other municipalities as clients.
While a representative from the firm of Nabors, Giblin and Nickerson was not present, County Attorney Mullin summarized the proposed language and after some discussion, a number of items were added to which the commissioners unanimously agreed to – by a vote of 5-0.
At the present time, all members of the East Nassau Stewardship District are employees of Rayonier/Radient and/or its associated companies. At some point in the future, homeowners will be stakeholders and members of the ENSD board but for now, committee members are comprised exclusively by individuals from Rayonier/Raydient Properties and/or its subsidiaries including: Mike Hahaj, Rob Fancher, Dan Roach, Bob Rhodes and Max Hord.
Changes approved by the commissioners at that early morning meeting (and which were later presented to the delegation) included:
- A mandate of July 15 of each year as the deadline for the East Nassau Stewardship District to submit a public facilities report. The ENSD has not submitted any sort of report since being created.
- A mandate of October 1 of each year as to when the East Nassau Stewardship District supervisors must participate in a joint public meeting with the BOCC. The ENSD has never appeared at a meeting of the BOCC nor have representatives from Rayonier/Raydient Properties. Rayonier has refused to be present at public meetings requested by the BOCC. Rayonier has suggested hiring a facilitator for such a meeting but the BOCC has vehemently rejected such a request.
- A mandated deadline of July 1, 2019 for the interlocal agreement (between Nassau County and the district East Nassau Stewardship District to be completed. No such deadline for completion is mentioned in the enabling legislation and so theoretically, this stalemate could go on forever.
- A provision that provides for Nassau County to enact a moratorium to stop or phase out future development until the East Nassau Stewardship District attains compliance with the above modifications; and
- A mandate that meeting(s) of the parties take place at the Nassau County Commission Chambers and those meetings must take place within 30 days of the request.
Commissioner Danny Leeper stressed “we need to take control of our destiny here.” In addition to asking for help at the state level from the legislative delegation, Commissioner Aaron Bell made a motion that ordinances be enacted at the local/county level so that the BOCC would be empowered to enforce the language they hope to see passed at state level from the Florida legislature. That motion was approved unanimously as well by a vote of 5-0.
Also in attendance at the meeting before the legislative delegation was attorney Gary Hunter, of the law firm Hopping, Greens and Sam. His firm represents the East Nassau Stewardship District.
He started his comments with a statement referring to the length of time this dispute has taken saying “I regret we are still here . . . and [this stalemate] is unprecedented.” Hunter has been practicing in Florida for over twenty years with a concentration in land use strategic development, litigation and large area planning.
At numerous times during his presentation to Bean and Byrd, Hunter at one point turned around to the commissioners in the audience behind him. Mr. Hunter was emphatic in impressing upon everyone in attendance that “changes should not be made in law when [an issue] is in a court,” further commenting that “adding more burdens is a bad idea.”
Hunter went on to say that “private battles and litigation should not involve the legislature.” In a later conversation, Hunter indicated that he believed Byrd and Bean understood that.
In addition to a battle for the hearts and minds of the legislative delegation, there is a court case pending.
Rayonier/Raydient Properties filed suit against Nassau County in November of 2018. After the suit was filed, the county requested an extension for submitting its pleadings. That request was granted and the result – the deadline for submission is January 7th. Judge Steven M. Fahlgren has been assigned to the case.
A complaint against Michael Mullin was also filed with the Florida Bar Association. That complaint has been referred to its Grievance Committee. According to Susannah Lyle, Public Information Manager with the Florida Bar, “once the Grievance Committee makes a finding to proceed with the complaint or not, the documents become public.” Ms. Lyle went on to explain, “If the Grievance Committee were to find probable cause that Mr. Mullin had violated one of The Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, the usual course is for The Florida Bar to file a complaint with the Supreme Court. The court would appoint a “referee,” a judge in the circuit where the case originated, to review the case and make a recommendation to the Supreme Court regarding discipline. It is up to the Supreme Court of Florida to impose discipline.” Attached is an infographic outlining the process. https://www.floridabar.org/public/acap/acap002/
In a phone conversation with Mr. Hunter, he indicated that in all likelihood, “the merits would not be heard in six months.”
Hunter also said the dispute is between Nassau County and Raydient, not the East Nassau Stewardship District, per se. He explained that the stalemate drastically effects the future of Nassau County.
The ability of the East Nassau Stewardship District to issue bonds is dependent upon the execution of an interlocal agreement. The execution of that interlocal agreement has been the sticking point. Without it, the East Nassau Stewardship District cannot issue bonds to fulfill/fund its obligations to create recreational facilities.
Hunter expressed his befuddlement at how and why things are where they are, further referencing the incentive that exists on both sides – for money to be raised to construct those public facilities and the benefit to be enjoyed by the residents of Nassau County.
To paraphrase, everyone would benefit from negotiating and finalizing an interlocal agreement. His final comment during the conversation was that his hope remains . . . “reasonable minds will prevail.”
To contact members of the Nassau County (state) legislative delegation go to www.floridasenate.gov for Senator Aaron Bean and for representative Cord Byrd, go to www.floridahouse.gov
Editor’s Note: Born in Hagerstown, Maryland, Cindy received her BA in Political Science from Dickinson College. Upon graduation, Cindy began her career on Capitol Hill working as a legislative aide and director. She later became a part of the public relations and lobbying team of the American Iron and Steel Institute and served as director of the office of state legislative affairs for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). Cindy was involved in economic development with the state of Maryland, and served as executive director of Leadership Washington County. As a community volunteer, Cindy participates in numerous volunteer activities serving as a member of Sunrise Rotary, and as board member of Cummer Amelia Board of Directors.