By Dave Scott, 9-16-22
Comments at the Tuesday, September 6 Fernandina Beach City Commission session by resident Glen Stettler combined with his August News Leader opinion editorial, have revived the contention swirling around the city’s alleged illegal impact/capacity fees and building code mismanagement.
In Stettler’s Wednesday, August 26 News Leader op-ed piece (“View from the cheap seats”) and his September 6 commission appearance he claims the folks at city hall have a lot of ‘splaining to do, alleging that they’re dodging and lying.
City Attorney Tammi Bach didn’t refute Stettler’s allegations, only offering a preposterous “cocktail napkin” defense of the city’s malfeasance that could have been scripted by Mel Brooks.
As a retired Navy Commander and past Presidential Communications Officer, who also served as Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for International Technology Security and Director of Technology Security, Stettler is used to wading through bureaucratic government BS to reveal what’s actually going on.
After researching, discussing, and reading about the disputes with parties on both sides (including attorneys) of lawsuits that the city lost, Stettler says it’s clear to him that the city’s current actions administering impact/capacity fees remain illegal despite the court telling the city to knock it off.
Some years ago, citizens organized a class action, suing the city for the illegal administration of impact fees. The city lost. But it wasn’t about to let its golden goose fly the coop, so it promptly initiated a new suit in a Machiavellian attempt to pledge the impact fees to be used to support a bond issue.
The state joined in, and the court again found the fees to be unlawful. With the state piling on a clear message was sent from Tallahassee to the city, telling them to stop. “Phooey,” said the folks at city hall. Bilking local tax payers is far too lucrative to let the state and courts cook this bountiful golden goose.
The court’s decisions against the city were applauded by a series of local residents’ “opinion” articles published in the bi-weekly News Leader that were critical of the city’s illegal activities.
There was no other public outcry. And other than the local residents’ opinion pieces, the News Leader never once editorialized about the city’s unlawful acts or conducted any investigative reporting. Not one city official publicly took issue with any of the citizens’ published opinion pieces critical of the city.
At Stettler’s city hall appearance the current Commissioners sat silently after he detailed the city’s misconduct. They appeared indifferent, acting as if it was all new news to them and didn’t ask a single question.
Long-time City Consigliere Bach feigned surprise exclaiming: “I didn’t have any idea about the article.” Her bewilderment was reminiscent of the “Casablanca” movie scene when Captain Renault says: “I am shocked—shocked—to find that gambling is going on in here!” just before the croupier handed him his winnings.
About an hour after Stettler spoke to the Commission Bach finally responded, blaming an unnamed consultant for the city’s legal woes but never denying that the fees are illegal. “The only reason we lost is because a consultant didn’t do a good job justifying it, calculating fees on a napkin,” she whined.
The city spent more than $1 million and three years defending itself and all Ms. Bach can offer in its defense is a consultant scribbling fees on a cocktail napkin?
In her closing comments Bach added: “We are not illegal.” She said the state attorney general is welcome to “look at our impact fee policy” adding: “If a Commissioner or City Manager wants to use impact fees they can come see me or the Comptroller and she and I will decide if that is the right thing to do.”
Stettler presented the issue to the Commissioners at 1:50 into the below video and Bach responded at 2:51:18. It can be viewed at: https://fernandinabeachfl.new.swagit.com/videos/179947
Pat Keogh, local real estate investor, attorney, and national author, who was instrumental in initiating the successful class action suits against the city, annihilates Bach’s defense saying: “Nothing Attorney Bach said about why the city lost the class action impact fee lawsuits was true. They lost because the court found in two trials over three years that administration and expenditure of fees violated state law. The decisions had nothing to do with the calculation of the fees on a napkin she says was used to design the fees by their consultant.”
Keogh continues to scorn Bach’s “cocktail napkin” defense adding: “Think about how ludicrous and self-condemning her explanation is. She was city counsel before, during and since the trials. Why would she have supported spending a million dollars in outside attorneys to defend the napkin impact fees? Then, having lost the first trial because the fees were found to be unlawful why would she support initiating a case to pledge the napkin impact fees to support a city bond issue? Also note Ms. Bach never wasted her breath on denying Mr. Stettler’s charge that the city’s outlandish building code fees violate state law.”
Stettler sums it up saying: “It ought to concern all tax paying city residents that these illegal city activities continue to this day without any consequences.”
After losing the suits the city was forced to refund the citizens’ money. For years city management – both elected and appointed – have viewed its residents as easy marks from which to extort cash. Undeterred and disregarding the guilty verdicts following the trials, the city hired a $24,500 consultant with tax payer cash. He recommended that the city change the name of the “impact fees” to “capacity fees” and continue raking it in. Talk about as easy payday! To paraphrase Juliet’s comment to Romeo: “That which we call an impact fee by any other name would smell as illegal.”
Why don’t victims of the city’s fleecing loudly express their disgust and publicly call for corrective or legal action? Simple, they are retaliated against. Even the fat cats with deep pockets back off. If they want to keep doing business hereabouts or get one off the ground they’ll keep quiet and pay up or they’ll find it difficult if not impossible to obtain building and inspection permits or even one to own a dog.
Remember the controversy arising from the Chamber of Commerce survey that found the city was charging exorbitant fees to locally administer the state building code? The customarily silent and impotent Chamber protested, for once acting on behalf of its dues paying members. The city’s building department head, Steve Beckman, who had been strongarming citizens, eventually resigned. Satisfied, the Chamber then went back to snipping open house ribbons, drinking cheap white wine, and eating rubbery cheese cubes but nothing changed.
Who is encouraging the city’s bad behavior and endorsing these extortionist practices?
Stettler points out that there was a Commission discussion about using impact fees for purposes other than those prescribed by law. “That is effectively using impact fees as de facto taxes,” he says. “Again, this violates state law. The laws governing impact fees are not ambiguous.” Stettler explains: “Fees are not to be used as tax revenue and if not needed for the lawfully stated purpose they must be returned to the citizens who paid them.”
This rogue free-spending group of city officials are to Fernandina what Dr. Tony Fauci is to health care – dangerous arrogant frauds, extortionists, and liars.
“What is taking place is a continued pattern of illegal activity,” says Stettler. “It has gone on for so long that the city has lowered the bar for acceptable enforcement of state law. Each time the topic is raised, the city waits it out, the complaints diminish, and the illegal activity continues.”
City Consigliore Bach nonchalantly says the city is abiding by the law and is doing nothing wrong. Since she said she would welcome the State Attorney to conduct a full review of impact/capacity fees and building code fees, administration, and enforcement, then the community should extend that invitation.
Local citizens concerned over this violation and flaunting of the law can write to the state and ask them to look into it. Below is a sample letter other citizens have already sent to Governor DeSantis asking him to have his Attorney General investigate. You can cut and paste it, use it as is, alter it to suit your style, or write your own.
Office of Governor Ron DeSantis
State of Florida
400 S. Monroe Street
Tallahassee FL 32399-0001
Dear Governor DeSantis:
As a resident of the City of Fernandina Beach in Nassau County, Florida, I have a special request.
I believe our local government is administering state statutory charters to unlawfully generate supplemental local revenues.
A number of years ago local citizens brought a successful class action lawsuit against the City for the unlawful administration of water impact fees. Following three years of litigation and two trials citizens recovered about $3.5 million in unlawful fees.
Incidentally, the City, in a second lawsuit attempted to pledge water impact fees to support a municipal bond issue. The state successfully joined the class in objecting to using fees, previously found to be unlawful, for that purpose.
Upon the successful resolution of the second lawsuit the City hired a consultant who recommended changing the name of the “impact fee” to “capacity fee” and reinstated what the courts had found to be an unlawful local tax. Those fees are still in place today stifling growth and economic activity in our local economy, not to mention the financial hardship to local citizens.
More recently, Governor, our Nassau County Chamber of Commerce conducted a survey of local businesses and found that the administration of fees based on the state building codes were 550% higher in the City of Fernandina Beach than in our surrounding Nassau County. Literally, Governor, fees for the administration of the state building code are five and one-half times higher on the City side of the street than the Nassau County side.
Sir, I am requesting that you direct state government to conduct a review of the City of Fernandina Beach’s administration of these and any other state mandates to insure compliance with both the letter and spirit of Florida law.
Speaking Of City Hall Balderdash: Last week in this space Fernandina Beach Mayor and Commissioner Mike “Left Coast” Lednovich, labeled me “Pinocchio” saying I inaccurately reported his twisted logic concerning the “beach smoking ban (no cigarettes, vaping devices, or pipes, but cigars are fine) and his convoluted support of the violent, Marxist Black Lives Matter thugs.
The California transplant said that his parading through Fernandina Beach during a June 2020 demonstration wearing a large “Black Lives Matter” sandwich board had “absolutely nothing to do with Black Lives Matter” but was to protest the death of George Floyd at the “hands of responding police officers in Minneapolis.” Really? Then why was he wearing the huge sandwich board that said only “Black Lives Matter” while at the same time those Marxist thugs were shooting and beating bystanders while rioting, looting, and burning in cities all over America? He says smokers on the beach “violate my rights” while never mentioning the rights of the victims of BLM.
Lednovich also attempted to throw former Police Chief Jim Hurley under the bus saying: “That same day Fernandina Beach Police Chief Jim Hurley said at that rally: ‘I know that police chiefs from cities large and small are outraged by the behavior of the officers in MN and I join them in expressing my disappointment and condemning the horrific actions of a few that serve to undermine the good works of police officers all across America.’”
While proudly displaying his massive BLM sign, “Left Coast” was also wearing a baseball cap saying: “Fernandina Beach Police Department.” Parade observers who didn’t know or recognize the masked, red nose wearing Lednovich would rightly assume he was a member of the local police department since his hat didn’t say “City Commissioner” and his sign read only “Black Lives Matter.”
In his comment here the backpedaling mayor said: “The Fernandina Beach Police hat you’re so annoyed about was personally given to me by Police Chief Hurley. I specifically wore the hat the day of rally to demonstrate my support of our fine local police while protesting the murder (the officers involved have all been convicted) of Mr. Floyd.” He must still be mourning career criminal Floyd’s death as I see him wearing that hat constantly.
In case readers missed it, “Left Coast” is pictured here, in a photo sent to me by a reader, wearing his Fernandina Police Department hat while parading through town displaying his “Black Lives Matter” sandwich board. I don’t see any mention of George Floyd on his sign. I can’t explain the red clown nose, but it seems appropriate. I’ve been told that this photo appeared on his Facebook page but disappeared after I started using it here.
By the way a very rationale and articulate candidate, Dr. James Antun, is running against “Left Coast” for City Commissioner. Dr. Antun and his chiropractic wife operate a Fernandina Beach clinic and have experienced first-hand some of the Byzantine city tactics other small business owners have suffered that are ignored by Lednovich. I’m casting my vote for Dr. Antun.
True To Their Word: When I read about Herbert E. Kohler, Jr.’s death this past week it reminded me what an extraordinary company he led.
When Linda and I moved into our Amelia Island home, we purchased Kohler fixtures. They weren’t cheap but were exactly what we wanted, and the workmanship was excellent. About five years after they were installed one set of fixtures on a bathroom sink began to corrode. I recalled Kohler’s “lifetime” warranty promise, took photos of the corroded fixtures, and sent them to the company along with copies of the receipts. In two weeks, maybe less, we received new fixtures, no questions asked.
We’ve since purchased only Kohler fixtures and have never been disappointed. The Kohler Company is an excellent example of product integrity, and we will never consider purchasing similar products from any other firm.
Poll Results: The last poll on this site asked readers if they approved of the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness program. The final results showed that of the 144 people responding 89 percent or 128 respondents said “No” while just 11 percent, 16 folks said “Yes.” Apparently 16 folks hereabouts or their offspring still have loans to pay off and prefer to stiff their neighbors with their debt rather than meet the obligation they promised to honor.
Here’s a thought. Since colleges encourage students to borrow money and since that money goes to them, then make the colleges responsible. They’re the ones that promised these students degrees that would ensure they succeed and earn enough to comfortably pay it all back. Most of the student deadbeats either drop out or walk away with worthless educations in absurd fields of study that are of value to no one.
The government should loan to the schools, then the schools loan to the students, thereby putting the school on the hook for the debt since they would be underwriting the loans. Then see how much “loan forgiveness” would be extended.
New Poll: A new poll asks Fernandina Beach residents if they think the state government should review Fernandina Beach’s capacity/impact fees and permitting fees to ensure they are in compliance with state law?
No! You’re just confused!
Read Dave Scott’s Blog regularly to get it straight
Republished with the author’s permission. Read The Dave Scott Blog– subscribe Free
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal Florida.