By George Miller
7-15-22, Fernandina Beach
Local We The People civic group sponsored a forum for Nassau County Board of Commissioners Candidates. It featured more and much more in depth questions than previous local forums we attended, allowing better insight into candidates’ thinking/views. Above pic (L-R), County Commissioner candidates “Hupp” Huppmann, Alyson McCullough, George Spicer. Photo: George Miller, Citizens Journal Florida.
We the People President Deb Boelkes not only formulated thoughtful questions on relevant key issues, but included a few additional ones in advance of the event, held at Walker’s Landing.
Original event listing HERE
Invited candidates were:
District 2 Candidates:
Aaron Bell – incumbent (schedule conflict)
A.M. “Hupp” Huppmann
District 4 Candidates:
Thomas Ford – incumbent (schedule conflict)
Jeanne Scott (dropped out)
We the People scheduled this session so it wouldn’t conflict with the normal 1st Monday board meeting schedule, but didn’t realize that the meeting had been moved to Jthe second and fourth Mondays, so we missed incumbents Bell (District 2) and Ford (District 4). They submitted brief statements which Boelkes read aloud to those assembled.
Forum Questions and Answers
Nassau County Commissioners Candidate Questions – 2022
1 – Minute per question, unless noted:
- Please tell us:
- Your family situation (i.e., married, number of children)
- How long you have lived in Nassau County
- Your current employment / position
- Past / present elected positions
- Other memberships / offices you hold
A: Huppmann- 2 businesses run: Hawaiian Surf & Trading Co, musician, married w/2 adult children, construction and HR background, was USAF navigator, retired military, worked for railroad,
A: McCullough- Lifelong in Callahan area (Hilliard now) , married, 4 active children, teaches career tech- Teacher of the Year- Nassau County School District, State Agriculture Advocate.
A: George Spicer- 32 year Nassau resident, married 50 years, raised 4 children, has 5 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren, retired boilermaker, C of C volunteer of the year- multiple service organizations, says is qualified.
A: Aaron Bell- written statement read by organizer: Dist. 2 incumbent, MBA, CEO of multiple companies, raise impact fees, lower taxes, control growth, tell bad developers to “go pound sand”, deny Riverstone II 85′ towers.
A: Thomas Ford- written statement read by organizer: Dist. 4 incumbent, served 4 years, Passed FL Assoc. of Counties curricula, helped manage in global pandemic, transportation planning, affordable housing, balanced budget.
2- What are the three main reasons you are running for Nassau County Commissioner?
A: McCullough: People, Taxes, Future. Want to educate voters on how things work, where is the money going? Will ask questions, push back. She is getting responses of no-no-no from officials, who are not obeying the people and she intends to help address those problems.
A: Spicer- served 2014-18, the only vote against tax & gas tax increases, helped switch a 10 yr project financed by a 4% bond to all cash, was Fl Assoc of Cities rep, running on his record, wants more infrastructure and less taxes.
A: Huppmann- Rowed across the Atlantic as part of team that raised $900,000 for charity as a result. Wants to prevent future episodes like the one that illegally removed trees from his neighborhood, which provoked him to pay attention to what is going on.
3- If elected, will you hold any other employment besides the Board of Commissioners?
A: Spicer. No, I have income security (retired)
A: Huppmann- wife will run family business, but he will “dabble” in music.. On pension.
A: McCulluogh- “I am the only non-pension candidate”, says her school supports her and will work with her to make sure she is available for the work to be done for the Board of Commissioners.
4- The VoteNassauFL.gov website (as of Sunday, July 10) showed these are the total monetary contributions for each BOCC candidate:
- Aaron Bell (incumbent) – $30, 935
- Hupp Huppman – $8,340
- Thomas Ford (incumbent) – $35, 600
- Alyson McCullough – $17,905
- George Spicer – $43,590
Who are your top five campaign donors?
A: Huppmann- Rick Tal–? , a potential opponent, instead supports him with $1000, friends neighbors, small businessman. He did not enumerate who.
A: McCullough- All donors are in-county, says she is not willing to sell her soul, got $1000 checks from friends, family, a conservation organization, small businesses. Didn’t name names.
A: Spicer- He is biggest fundraiser, says that his wife donated $23,000 (about half), very conservative PACS, small businesses, hard working taxpayers, building trades.
5- THREE minutes: Keeping in mind General Michael Flynn’s assertation “Local Action Create National Impact” according to NassauCountyFL.com the persons we elect as our commissioners are responsible to:
Enact resolutions and ordinances for the general health, safety, and welfare of the residents of Nassau County
Levy taxation when necessary to finance the operation of the county government, and
Provide necessary services to safeguard the well-being and safety to the residents
As such, the Commissioners oversee: the County Attorney (and therefore Risk Management) and the County Manager.
Commissioners do not oversee: the Sheriff, The Clerk of the Court or Comptroller, the Property Appraiser, the Tax Collector, or the Supervisor of Elections.
Q: As it relates to Commissioners’ responsibilities, what three things do you believe Nassau County residents are most concerned about at this time, and what do you intend to do about them?
A: McCullough- public safety, good growth, taxes. A dream Nassau County to live, work and play. Have high wage careers here. Job creation here lowers property taxes, Govt transparency, She did her research. People don’t care. IU will serve you the taxpayer.
A: Spicer- Taxes, Cost of doing business, Public Safety. The tax base. Roll back sales tax was from the $1.4 MM state refund, not doing of the county. Wants millage (property tax) rollback. Never voted for a tax increase. Vote was 3-2 on millage, + 5% gas tax. Stopped it.
A: Huppmann- Public Safety, Taxes/Budget, tax cuts but must balance budget, meaningful budget reductions- not just reallocations. Restore order- City Manager and Attorney were the same, and Commissioners allowed this.
6- Now that property values are higher than ever in Nassau County, which will lead to higher property tax income to the county, what are your thoughts on providing tax relief to property owners?
A: Spicer- Property value increases automatically increase taxes. Small businesses have no exemptions, Will due his due diligence.
A: Huppmann- Get tax burden “off rooftops,” “relieve the pressure.” Get more businesses here- Crawford Diamond (industrial park).
A: McCullough- There has not been detailed accountability until recently. Need multiple allies on the board to get things done. I have youthful energy, “You work for me, bossman” (Govt works for people?). We haven’t had a voice on the Commission.
7-One recent controversial Commission decision was related to the 50-acre parcel owned by Riverstone Properties at the south end of Amelia Island. The property is zoned RG-2, which formerly allowed single-family dwellings, duplexes, townhomes, and multi-family dwellings as permitted uses.
Single family dwellings, duplexes and townhomes have a maximum building height of 35 feet and a maximum lot coverage of 35%.
Multi-family dwellings could exceed 35 feet up to a maximum of 85 feet or seven stories.
Riverstone originally envisioned building 11 84’ towers. Their vision put the value of the land at an estimated $72M.
Then, in August 2021, the County Commission modified beachfront height restrictions on new construction, to not to exceed 45 feet (so that high-end single-family homes could be built).
In March 2022, Riverstone (represented by the Rogers Towers law firm) threatened to sue the County for $27M, representing their opinion of the lost value of the parcel under the Bert Harris Private Property Protection Act, designed to protect a landowner against any lost value of their property due to actions taken by government.
Six weeks ago, the County Commissioners voted 3-2 against settling the case brought against it by Riverstone Properties under the Bert Harris Act (Aaron Bell, incumbent in District 2 was one of three who voted AGAINST settling the case; Thomas Ford, incumbent in District 4 voted FOR settling the case). Because the Act requires a settlement offer, the offer to be presented to Riverstone proposes NO changes to county building height regulations. Instead, some opponents have suggested building 18-oceanfront lots with an estimated value of $3M each, coupled with 18 lots near the beach, with an estimated value of $1M each. Some residents on the south end want the property to be made part of the State Park. Some residents would like see a new high end resort to go in as an alternative to the Omni and the Ritz.
The only concession Riverstone has offered to the county is a beach access area for the public. Action is still pending.
Q: What is your position on this case?
A: Huppmann- This is very complicated. City passed an ordinance, stand by that decision, opportunity was compromise. Find a meaningful solution. Do not have all the facts. Don’t use provocative, combative slogans.
A: McCullough- Honor the law. That’s the law. Don’t waste tax money on legalities. There are property owner rights.
A: Spicer- This is a no-brainer- abide by the ordinance. FB is a jewel in the state of Florida. Benefits are articulated. Some voted against stewardship. Developer did not want to listen.
8- What are your thoughts, in general, about property owner’s rights vs. enacting more regulations to limit redevelopment or the renovation of existing properties?
A: McCullough- People do not want more. There are major drainage issues. Spoke of ana example of 90 acres rezoned from ag to res near her.
A: Spicer- For strong property rights. Work on growth, which is coming, like it or not. Don’t want “urban sprawl” like Yulee is developing into. Appease and slow down developers
A: Huppmann- 3000/day are coming to Florida. We are 6th fastest growing county in FL. “30,000 ft level planning” needed. maintain affordability.
9- What is your position on the maintenance of roads, walking paths, bike trails, and county public beach access points, and the foliage that grows out-of-control alongside these roads and paths, harming the totally covering the trees and creating safety concerns, especially for women walking and riding alone?
A: Spicer- Supports public beaches & access is the law. Also infrastructure on the roads. Drainage is an issue.
A: Huppmann- Vision vital to Commission. Don’t like beach access limitations. Favor partnerships- use private contractors to develop/maintain this infrastructure. Private is cheaper and no pensions to pay.
A: McCullough- Private road maintenance and competition is working. Government fails 90% of the time.. Many govt. positions are vacant.
10- Some Nassau County homeowners along Thomas Creek, north of JAX airport, which typically floods, have sought to have the county purchase their homes to make the area a park. Are you in favor of doing so, and if so, what are your thoughts on using conservation bond funds for this purpose?
A: Huppmann- Corps of engineers say it is not manageable and to roll over and buy it. He wants commercial interests to take it on instead of govt. Gov. is offering property current value.
A: McCullough- No on referendum. Govt. has no business spending $30mm to buy property. She’s been to Thomas Creek and doesn’t want to spend tax money on it.
A: Spicer- Agrees with McCullough. If elevated, where does the water go? (drainage). Corps of Engineers will need $30MM to dredge it. City has a drainage problem.
11- What are your thoughts on the City of Fernandina promoting FB as an LGBTQ+ “safe city”?
A: McCullough- “I am rooted in faith and family.” “I don’t give a flying hoot what they are doing.” Don’t want the city to promote a sexual agenda.
A: Spicer- Agrees with McCullough. “I too believe in The Word” (Bible). What you do is your business. Don’t try to force feed me or my children. Doesn’t want to hear “are you a boy or a girl?” He says he almost fell down when (rainbow) flag flew at City Hall. Raise kids, work hard, love Jesus.
A: Huppmann- Govt. has no role in this. Live and let live. Free to be ourselves.
12- What is your position on how the County and the City of Fernandina might best control spending and expansion of the City government?
A: Spicer- Combine city and county sheriff and fire depts. There is double taxation within city limits. Million$$ wasted. In the marina, shrimp boats used to blow out the silt – now not allowed (expensive dredging does it).
A: Huppmann- yes, there are duplicated resources- consolidate. End east vs. west county differences- ONE Nassau County. Support each other.
A: McCullough- Volunteer fire depts in east county LOWER taxes. The cost of permits in city vs county is quite different.
13- Do you have any thoughts on the potential to create synergies, improve service levels, and reduce costs by combining some of the city and county services such a trash pick-up and other things?
A: Huppmann- Use contractors more.
A: McCullogh- Reiterated before- want public/private partnerships. Big govt.= big problems.
A: Spicer- Think outside the box. Be competitive. Work to save taxpayers/small businesses money. Nobody wants to work anymore. Agree with McCullough, his opponent and Huppman- we all all neighbors and friends.
We didn’t get to the following questions:
What do you think about the City of Fernandina’s building department regulations that have caused contractors, vendors, and retail shops to leave the city?
What are your thoughts on what should be done with the “FB city property” such as the City Hall, the Atlantic Seafood Building between the marina and the railroad track (both of which are in disrepair), Brett’s Waterway Café which has been declared structurally unsafe, and 101 Front Street (where critical permits were allowed to lapse)?
What is your position on the City of FB’s actions to manage enterprise fund assets (such as the Marina and the FB Municipal Golf Course?
Editor’s note: due to the huge volume of information covered and no video to fall back upon, just notes, it is possible we missed or misstated something. If you were there and differ, or just want to comment, let us know via a note to [email protected] or a reader comment.
George Miller is Publisher and Co-Founder of Citizens Journal Florida, based in Fernandina Beach. He is a “retired” operations management consultant, software and publishing executive and manufacturing management professional.