By Dale Martin
February 14, 2020
As mentioned last week, several City officials, including me, journeyed to Tallahassee earlier this week to meet with our State legislative delegation and other key people.
Due to the number of interested City Commissioners, we divided into two travel groups on Wednesday, with City Attorney Tammi Bach driving Mayor Johnny Miller and his wife, Lori, leaving a little before I gathered Commissioner Chapman and Vice Mayor Kreger for the three-hour drive.
The early part of our road trip was passed by telling Commissioner Chapman of our previous legislative visits to Tallahassee. This was Commissioner Chapman’s first visit representing the City, while Vice Mayor Kreger and I had visited the Capitol several times over the past few years. With the provisions of the State’s Sunshine laws, we couldn’t talk about City business, so other conversation wandered all over: family vacations, national politics, favorite Fernandina Beach restaurants, weekend plans, etc.
The sights along Highway I-10 west of Jacksonville are rurally scenic: farmlands and woodlands- you really see no urbanized areas except for the “truck-stop” villages that have sprouted at various interchanges. Our conversations diminished into the quiet routine of a long ride.
The quiet was soon broken by Vice Mayor Kreger’s phone chirping some piano-based ring-tone indicated a text message. The message was from Mayor Miller asking for a photo of us so that he could promote our trip on social media. Vice Mayor Kreger passed his phone to Commissioner Chapman (in the front passenger seat) to take the photo. The picture got enough of each of us to make us somewhat identifiable- half a face here, the top of a head there, and a shoulder. Not only did Vice Mayor Kreger forward that photo to Mayor Miller, he also shared a photo of a truck, a bird, and his shoe. I’m not sure what eventually got posted to Mayor Miller’s social media pages.
We passed Lake City, roughly halfway to Tallahassee, making good time and remaining on schedule to meet our planned 6:30 PM arrival time. We passed Highway I-75, which, as a native Midwesterner, I am more familiar with than the East Coast’s I-95 that I have come to know during my time in Connecticut and Florida. I more easily recite the I-75 metropolitan areas from my long trips from Michigan to Georgia and Florida than the I-95 cities.
We arrived as scheduled, and joined the others, and added Mr. Buddy Jacobs, our host, for dinner. Ms. Laura DiBella, formerly of the Nassau County Economic Development Board and Port of Fernandina also joined us. It was an enjoyable evening with pleasant conversation and great food. The evening ended with Mr. Jacobs providing us with our homework assignment: a thick folder of legislative bills to read in preparation of our discussions the following day. The homework also provided a great sleep aid.
We met the following morning and the City Commissioners, Ms. Bach, and I climbed into Mr. Jacobs car to travel to the Capitol. We took the usual route, parked in the usual garage, offered the usual greetings to Capitol staff, and walked the usual halls: with Mr. Jacobs lengthy tenure in Tallahassee, nearly everything is “usual.” He is highly respected and regarding by the most junior staff to the most senior State leaders. He actually hosts an expansive breakfast for Capitol staff- janitors, maintenance, security, etc.- at the conclusion of each legislative session. He is an exceptional host.
Our first visit was with Senator Aaron Bean. Sen. Bean shared his concerns about short-term rental regulations (despite overwhelming public opposition at the committee hearing, the proposed legislation continued its progress with a 3-2 committee vote). We discussed other legislation that concerned the City and thanked him for his support against that legislation. Sen. Bean then escorted us to the floor of the Senate chambers and shared several stories with us.
We then had a brief meeting with Rep. Cord Byrd and shared many of the same concerns. We then went to the Senate gallery to watch the Senate which had convened for business. Following discussion and action on the proposed State budget, Sen. Bean took the time to introduce the Fernandina Beach officials to the Senate. We then walked to a nearby restaurant for lunch.
The afternoon meetings were just as important, beginning with a lengthy meeting with Mr. Jarod Moskowitz, Director of the Florida Department of Emergency Management (DEM), and Ms. Ms. Amanda Campen, the Bureau Chief of the DEM’s Bureau of Recovery. We shared our frustrations regarding FEMA and the City’s recovery efforts following Hurricane Matthew. Both officials, who represent the State’s highest direct link to FEMA, expressed their own frustrations regarding Hurricane Matthew, revealing that, for whatever reason, Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts were problematic everywhere. Director Moskowitz indicated that he would speak to FEMA officials on Thursday.
We concluded our trip with a photo with the Governor. It took longer to type this sentence than the time we had with the Governor, but he did, unprompted, compliment Fernandina Beach on our “gas-station restaurants.”
The drive home was quiet. It had been a long day, but thanks to the efforts of Mr. Jacobs, I believe that we accomplished what we set out to do: share our frustrations with key leaders, offer our support where needed, and enjoy the company of each other. We’ll continue to fight “the good fight.”