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City Hall Variety Show Includes Tongue-Lashing, a Potential Firing and the Ostracism of a Cantankerous Commissioner

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Opinion

By Dave Scott, 2-10-23

Fernandina Beach City Manager Dale Martin was put on notice that his job is on the line, City Attorney Tammi Bach was alerted that her dubious past actions may be catching up with her, and a habitually grumpy cantankerous Commissioner Chip Ross was consistently ignored at the Tuesday evening, February 7, City Commission meeting.

The highly entertaining session opened with a “dog and phony show” that featured a Humane Society gal actually parading the “Dog of the Week” through the chambers followed by a stream of pretentious doddering grey-haired grannies whining and hand wringing about the construction of a few downtown townhouses and a nonexistent threat posed by Ocean Highway & Port Authority’s (OHPA) cruise and cargo ship traffic. One of them was the habitual finger-wagger and notorious area tree-hugger, Margaret Kirkland, who, as far as I know, doesn’t even live in the city limits, but delights in telling folks there what they can and can’t do with their property. Even Ross schooled the grannies saying that the city has no authority over what comes in and out of the port as it is under federal jurisdiction.

One of the session’s headliners and most popular performers of the evening was articulate and persistent local resident Glen Stettler, who launched an effective plea to have the Commission request that the state conduct an audit of the city’s books. The session concluded with a call to fire Martin. The only things missing were a Vatican juggling act and Swiss yodelers on unicycles.

It’s difficult to know where to start but informed local resident Stettler calling out City Attorney Tammi Bach for “knowingly conducting activities in violation of state law” and saying that her actions are “called operating a criminal enterprise” seems like a good place.

Astute citizen Stettler, a retired Naval officer and former White House communications staffer, penned recent News Leader opinion editorials and once before addressed the Commission on the topic. He publicly requested the Commission call on the state to take a peek at the city’s handling of  “illegal impact fees.” In his plea this past Tuesday he called out Ms. Bach declaring: “We have a city attorney that knowingly presents the Commission with false information.”

Stettler says that City Consigliere Bach’s defense that past law suits over the fees were generated by bad math on a cocktail napkin “has no connection to the reality of the law suits.”

Stettler’s appeal got the attention it deserves as the Commission agreed to request the state ensure that the City of Fernandina is properly administering the laws and the funds generated by local application of them.

Glen Stettler

During his brief and punchy pitch Stettler reminded the Commission that in civil class action cases some years ago the City was twice found to be acting unlawfully with respect to the state impact fee laws. “It is past time for a state review of current practice,” said Stettler. The Commission also agreed to conduct an impact fee study to refresh current fees with Stettler adding: “It makes sense to conduct that study only after the results of the state audit are known.”

Every comment the surly know-it-all Ross made on the subject and others was politely heard and promptly disregarded leaving him justifiably isolated.

At the end of the session Commissioner David Sturgess  made  a motion to fire City Manager Martin citing a list of reasons ranging from hiring and firing practices to the mishandling of Brett’s and favoritism. One of the most serious was the accusation that Martin instructed city department heads “to make it look ugly” in their response to proposed 10% department budget cuts.

“I’m making a motion to terminate Dale Martin’s contract without cause and give him a 30-day written notice immediately,” Sturges said following Martin’s city manager’s report to the commission.

Ross huffed and puffed in Martin’s defense and Martin asked for the opportunity to “prove to you” he can work with this commission, “which is a whole 180-degree different change than the previous commission,” he added. “This is a transition period, and I will support this city commission.”

The commission yoted, 3-2, to postpone the decision until the next commission meeting but most observers think the necessary three votes and possibly four, are there to bid the eight-year veteran goodbye. And if the state audit goes the way many think it will, Ms. Bach could quickly follow Martin out the door while Ross protests to deaf ears.

***

Club City Hall: The highly entertaining Commission sessions remain “no cover and no minimum” despite Ms. Bach’s reference to cocktail napkins in her defense of what many are calling illegal capacity/impact fees. Here’s a thought — at future Commission sessions require residents to write and submit their requests to speak on cocktail napkins and call it “Whine Hour”. Ross certainly fills the role as a gruff bouncer, and he could make periodic announcements saying:  “Now appearing on stage one Tammi Bach and her famous cocktail napkin routine.”

***

A Sinking Feeling: Last week I wrote that crotchety Commissioner Ross advocated in a News Leader opinion piece that the city figure out how to fund the city’s downtown marina that hosts Brett’s Restaurant or sell the whole shebang — restaurant, docks, pier, and all.

Commissioner Ross responded to my comments saying: ”Nowhere in the article do I advocate selling the Marina.”

He sure fooled me. Perhaps my comments were influenced by Ross’s Wednesday, February 1 Fernandina News Leader opinion editorial headline that said: “The marina: subsidize or sell?” or his last paragraph where he wrote: If certain conditions aren’t met the city should “make a serious effort to sell the marina.”  Ross didn’t come across as the pushy vacuum cleaner salesman with his foot blocking a closing door, but  the headline and the conclusion of his column using the word “sell” sure read to me like he was suggesting a sale.

In my comments I said that local News Leader print columnist Steve Nicklas and marina architect and businessman Robert Allison, who spearheaded an investment of $6 million into the pier and eventually gifted it to the city, penned News Leader opinion pieces recently providing detailed evidence that Ross has no idea what he’s talking about.

Allison, the marina’s original builder, who knows more than anybody hereabouts about it, wrote a scathing piece in the Wednesday, February 8, News Leader condemning both Ross and Martin for their clumsy handling of the city’s crown jewel, saying “…..the responsibility for the city’s loss of this waterfront public property will fall squarely into the laps of Dale Martin and Chip Ross.” His Viewpoint piece headlined “A fairway wide enough for ships to pass” is a must read for those wanting an in-depth understanding of what has happened, what is currently happening, and what should happen with the city marina. His article also appeared in the Citizens Journal Florida at https://www.citizensjournal.net/fernandina-city-marina-a-fairway-wide-enough-for-ships-to-pass/ 

Former City Commissioner Mike Lednovich also took issue with my comments last week saying I was as all wet as he and Ross predict customers at Brett’s on-the-pier eatery will be soon since they say it’ll collapse into the water any second now prompting future diners there to consider wearing wetsuits as a precaution.

Failed Commission candidate and former mayor Lednovich was so irritated by my comments he responded twice, once saying Allison predicted imminent doom for the building and the second time telling me: “Let’s see if you correct your error.”

Allison responded to my comments declaring: “I am not saying the understructure was flawed from Day 1, I really don’t know. What I have said is that the engineers at Preston Haskel believed it needed substantial work done for the building to be safe. For all I know some of this may have actually occurred but, at the time, I moved on to other projects and paid no further attention to the matter.”

Atlanta resident, Dave Lott, a former acting city manager who hasn’t lived here in almost 10 years, expressed his support for Ross despite confessing that he hadn’t even read Ross’s column. That’s OK, as this serial city sycophant would comment on a local restaurant’s menu offerings despite never having sampled the food.

Ross is up to something says a local who knows more than most about such things pointing out to me what he says are obvious clues.

He says Ross has put out terrible financials for the marina in suggesting “subsidize or sell”. Now he’s distancing from “sell”. What’s the point, asks my source. What’s he up to?

My guy says he expects it to unfold that Ross is attempting to generate a public outcry about the marina being so far in the hole in order to refloat the “expand the marina north” idea.

My source believes the current situation is as follows with only four options on the table, three of which he says won’t fly.

  • Doing nothing is not acceptable to the citizens and taxpayers because they want something done. And doing nothing perpetuates the money pit.
  • Selling the marina is not viable. Who would buy such an enterprise, with a sitting Commissioner publicly advertising its sucking financial chest wound?
  • Expanding north is not an option due to the reality of tides that are navigationally treacherous except at slack tides (high tide/low tide – about 45 minutes twice a day). And limited egress/digress because Front Street and train tracks are there. Plus, the city does not own the property. The Applied Technologies Management (ATM) company providing advice to the city is yet another consultant feeding at the public trough. They live by computer simulation and Computer-Aided-Design (CAD), but are unable to judge the nuances of individual situations like the Nassau River. Experienced boatmen respect and fear channel navigation in these waters says my source.
  • The Allison fill-in park proposal makes sense he says as it is thorough and complete There is no other viable plan on the table. He says he’s read the plan and it’s a starting point to do something bold.

“OK Chip what’s your plan to fix this mess and save my job?”

This is Ross’s swan-song issue as he terms out of office. Martin may also be riding out on the same horse but even sooner with his firing probably imminent.  With the new slate of city commissioners Ross has been neutralized, sent to the showers. He previously had Lednovich to rely on, but he’s gone,  his spotlight snuffed.

If Ross can get the city to take the Simmons Group property by eminent domain – at a price closer to market than the last feeble attempt – he feels the marina could expand north. By raising hue and cry about the increasing money pit the marina is, he can offer this expansion as the solution…..HIS solution. But wouldn’t that put a restaurant/bar closer to his house, a situation that caused him reams of negative and embarrassing publicity in his former hometown of Solomon Islands MD? Ross is now a voice in the wilderness and even if he wasn’t folks that know tell me that will not happen.

Ross is laying up all forms of objections to Allison’s proposals, yet Allison’s essays and my source effectively say that Ross is all wet.  Ross claims permitting would keep the fill-in the south end from happening yet Allison, the original developer, says that is not true. Ross also claims that the same space is wetland which it is not according to Allison.

The only two financially viable solutions are: 1- the fill-in solution and park as suggested by Allison or 2- attempt to sell this money loser as Ross publicly advocated and now denies. The smart money’s on Allison.

***

Help Wanted: Reading the Wall Street Journal last Friday, a headline stating: “Biden’s top Economic Adviser to Resign” caught my eye. Of course, he resigned, Biden has the attention span of a hummingbird and this fellow had nothing to do. The article didn’t mention any of his accomplishments because there haven’t been any. It did, however, offer a list of possible replacements including a seventh-grade trans math teacher from San Francisco, a list of people from India with unpronounceable names, and any black LGBTQIA+ person.

***

Up, Up & Away:  My former high school classmate and current American Spectator writer Larry Thornberry sent me an email commenting on last week’s downing of the Chinese balloon saying: “About time. Does the fighter pilot who shot down this voyeur from China get a little balloon painted on the side of his plane right under the cockpit?   He added: “My sources tell me that when the victorious fighter jock was asked if he enjoyed shooting down the spy balloon, he replied, “The trouble with shooting down a Chinese balloon is that two hours later you want to shoot another one down.”

Larry’s comments got me wondering: When Joe orders Chinese take-out there must be better options than a balloon and then the U.S. military misinterpreting the term “take-out” thus dooming the delivery guy. Also, does the “Big Guy” get 10% off on those meals?

***

Things I Wish I’d Said: “Capitalism has done more to lift people out of poverty than all the social programs put together. That money to help our neighbors who are less fortunate than we are did not come from leprechauns.” – Senator John Kennedy (R-LA).

***

Local In The News: George Miller, editor and publisher of the local online Citizens Journal Florida news outlet appeared on Fox & Friends this morning and his appearance will be broadcast several times during the day. He’ll discuss President Biden’s visit to Tampa with an emphasis on his economic policies. Watch it HERE

 ***

Drinking, Dining & Dancing: Tomorrow, Saturday, February 11, beginning at 11 am is the 14th annual Chili Cook Off  that benefits the local Montessori School. The $15 per adult and $5 per child person tasting lasts until 1 pm and there will be live music, crafts and a kids zone. The event will take place even if it rains.  Make sure you stop by the “The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Chili” booth directly in front of PJD’s Beer & Wine Garden at 12 South 2nd Street and drop your coveted voting tokens in the bucket manned by myself and pal Pajamadave Voorhees. This year there are 23 entries. For more information go to https://www.facebook.com/events/1178985106051394  


Republished with the author’s permission. Read The Dave Scott Blog– subscribe Free

Veteran reporter, publicist, blogger Dave Scott of Fernandina Beach

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.

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