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Fernandina Beach residents deserve better treatment by city leaders

The Fernandina Beach City Commission Workshop of April 6 was a very disappointing meeting. I spoke for three minutes and was only able to relate my introduction and conclusion. Three minutes for each speaker is creating a spectacle for the public and not getting to the root of the issues.

What is even more disappointing is that the city commissioners asked very few questions when speakers made serious allegations. I would have thought that the commissioners might have more concern for impacted citizens.

Why has the city manager not set up a forum to hear, process or meet on the numerous complaints? For weeks and months prior to this meeting, he had the opportunity. Since the workshop, he had the opportunity. Instead, he punts to the commission that protects him. The city manager’s weekly column in the local newspaper should announce an open and public forum for citizens to share their complaints without a time limit. Better find a bigger room. 

The takeaways from the workshop were specific and tangible concerns that the city has overstepped its authority. Trespassing and illegal searches are serious accusations that should be investigated. What has the city done to investigate these allegations?

With public data, we did an analysis that shows that the cost of the FB Building department over the last five years has increased 108%. These are the EXPENSES. The reserves grew during this time, so revenues collected grew faster than the expenses.

 A resident building a home here was told from his builder “your permit fees in Jacksonville would be $1,000, but in Fernandina Beach, you will need to plan for $14,000.” More alarming is that the building department director, city manager and commissioners are talking about hiring MORE people to keep up with enforcement, which means more expenses. And, the city manager is proposing to hire private providers (consultants) to supplement the work of the current staff.

The recommendations by the City Commission to train on customer service and hire more staff is ludicrous. Agreeing to support the building review board is a positive step. But they need to do much more.

In the public City Commission meeting April 20, the city manager asked the county manager if the county could take over the FB building department. Without providing ANY data to the county, he asked incoherent questions about their interest in taking control, resources needed, impact on fees. The city manager stated that according to the county, it will take study, it will not be fast and the county is not committed to doing it. 

 In fact, the county manager stated that he would be “happy to coordinate a meeting” and that until the City Commissioners ask the County Commissioners to address the transfer, he could not expend resources. Why did the city manager not ask the City Commission to ask?

Asking City Manager Dale Martin to make an inquiry is insufficient. The county needs to know that the City Commission is serious about considering a change. The Fernandina Beach City Commission should commit resources and manpower and formalize their request to the County Commission so that resources can be deployed to devise a potential solution. 

The city is continuing to run citizens through a gauntlet in so many ways. Yet, at the April 20 city commission meeting, Mayor Mike Lednovich had the gall to say “our building department and personnel came under withering attack, withering attack for their conduct; some may be true and some maybe false.” Is the mayor accusing citizens of lying? Seriously, what about the citizens who came under attack? Who does the commission represent?

Led by Commissioner Chip Ross, four of the five commissioners support building department inspectors wearing bodycams. Commissoner Bradley Bean, the only reasonable voice in the room, noted that the city could logically extend to every customer service representative in the city with a body cam? Where do we stop? Very intelligent response! Commissioners pointed to the excess reserves from excessive fees saying, that there is “plenty of money in the building fund to justify” the expense.

There was NO mention of the city building department overstepping their authority or calling for an investigation of alleged illegal actions.

If there are no consequences, the city will be emboldened to continue these onerous policies and tactics. They will continue to run businesses away, chase people out of the city to the county, and will stunt the reasonable and manageable growth of the city. 

Don’t take this sitting down, Fernandina Beach residents, because they will be coming to your door soon – to peek in your windows, inspect your trash and find some reason to exert their power over you and your home or business.

Jack Knocke, founder of Common Sense Fernandina is a business consultant and a resident of Fernandina Beach. He keeps us informed about what’s happening in our get-a-way town of Fernandina Beach, Florida.


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