March 15, 2019 12:00 a.m.
The City Commission recently hosted joint meetings with, first, the Nassau County School Board and, second, with the Nassau County Board of Commissioners. A third joint meeting with the Ocean Highway and Port Authority is scheduled for later this month (March 26; 6:00 PM; City Hall). These meetings illustrate the key role that relationships play in local government.
Relationships in government are so critical that when I started my career, I always believed that it would be too much to sacrifice those relationships to move, as my career sometimes involves, to a different state. The local community and corporate leaders that I came to know and respect transitioned, in their careers, to greater positions in corporate board rooms and state and federal government. Why would I discard those relationships by moving to another state and having to build new relationships?
Well, I did eventually discard those nearly fifteen-year relationships in Michigan and moved to Connecticut and started over again. Moving to a new community for anyone presents a variety of personal and professional challenges. At the personal level, you have to create a whole new circle of friends, to find a new doctor, dentist, and church, and possibly change banks (thank you, USAA).
In the midst of those changes, as a professional local government manager, are the professional challenges of serving the public. It has been said that as a manager, you have the most friends on the day you start serving a new community; thereafter, all you do is accumulate more enemies. Inevitably, when the “newby“ gets to town, a few residents often seem to want to gain the ear and push an agenda that may have been thwarted by the former manager. It is always wise to proceed cautiously those first few months to truly learn the lay of the local land: in time, the difference between personal and community agendas becomes more distinguished.
In my experience, intergovernmental relationships are somewhat comparable between Michigan and Florida: large states with an intermediary county government. Connecticut, which was both small and lacked county level government, was very different- cities and towns interacted directly and often with state government. I routinely met with state officials, not only legislators, but also state directors and even the governor. Previously in Michigan, and now in Florida, such state-level interaction is much more infrequent (with perhaps the exception of State Senator Aaron Bean due to his longstanding ties to the community).
At the federal level, ironically, the relationships have been stronger in the two larger states. I had an excellent rapport former Congressman Dale Kildee (D- Flint)- he loved bear claws, so I always rushed to the local bakery when I expected him at City Hall. Here, primarily through other relationships, I enjoyed working with former Senator Bill Nelson and continue to work with Congressman John Rutherford: both of these gentlemen have, in my opinion and in general, served Fernandina Beach well (P.S. Congressman Rutherford, despite daily repeated assurances over the past month, I’m still waiting on the final permits for the marina from the US Army Corps of Engineers).
Closer to home, when I arrived in Fernandina Beach, I was told, from a variety and numerous sources) that relations between the City and Nassau County were abysmal. As indicated earlier, I proceeded cautiously early to learn the lay of the land. And I discovered that those early offered insights were erroneous.
I met regularly with former County Manager Mr. Ted Selby. We’d occasionally encounter each other in more informal settings. From my perspective, we establish an open rapport, discussing several mutual concerns of the City and the County. I met somewhat less frequently with his successor, Ms. Shanea Jones, but have renewed the professional relationship with County Attorney/Manager (what EXACTLY were you smoking that day, Mike?) Mr. Michael Mullin.
I have also worked to establish relationships with the County Commissioners. Due more to geography and political boundaries, I most often engage Commissioner Leeper. Due to tenure, I have become more acquainted with Commissioner Edwards. As the new Chairman, I am becoming more familiar with Commissioner Taylor. As the two other Commissioners grow into their new roles, I look forward to coordinating City and County efforts with Commissioners Bell and Ford.
These critical local government relations take time to grow: respect and credibility take time to mature. Based upon our recent meeting, I believe that the relationship, although not perfect and with plenty of challenges forthcoming, between City and County officials is serving the community well.