By George Miller, 1-12-23
This year’s Nassau Legislative Delegation Meeting invited the public in to directly state their legislative priorities to new State Senator Clay Yarborough (Senate District 4) and new State Representative (State Rep District 4) Dean Black (see original event announcement).
Held at County Commission Chambers in Yulee, on 1-11-23, 21 meeting speakers made their preferences known to our representatives, while quite a few more were in attendance. It looked like a who’s who of local officials and NGO officials were also there, some of whom spoke.
Most were there looking for state money, a few for legislation and a couple just to congratulate the new officials and wish them well. Most were government officials or NGO/association reps.
The meeting was called to order, then Black and Yarborough nominated each other to the Delegation and appointed Yarborough as Chair. Each speaker had 3 minutes. Speakers also had the option of submitting written materials to better document their cases: Read
Downloadable and printable PDF
Agenda and Speaker Roster:
Nassau County Legislative Delegation
Organizational Meeting and Public Hearing
January 11th, 2023 3:00-5:00 PM
Nassau County Commission Chambers
James S. Page Governmental Complex
96135 Nassau Place
Yulee, Florida 32097
- Pledge of Allegiance
- Roll Call
- Election of the 2022-2023 Delegation Chair and Delegation Vice Chair
- Opening Remarks and Announcements
- Recognition of Elected Officials
- Recognition of Speakers
Commissioner Klynt Farmer on behalf of Nassau County Board of County Commissioners
Mayor Bradley Bean on behalf of City of Fernandina Beach
Superintendent Kathy Burns: Superintendent | Nassau County Public Schools
Paulette Kirkland and Keith Wingate: The Northeast Florida Fair Association
Arthur I. “Buddy” Jacobs. Esq.: On behalf of City of Fernandina Beach
Laureen Pagel: Chief Executive Officer | Starting Point Behavioral Center
Janice Ancrum: President/CEO | Nassau County Council on Aging & Nassau Transit
Lisa Purvis: Town Clerk | Town of Hilliard
Lynda Bell: Executive Director | Keep Nassau Beautiful, Inc.
Lyn Pannone | Amelia Tree Conservancy
Gil Langley | Amelia Island Convention & Visitors Bureau
Ricky Rowell | Nassau County Sheriff’s Office/ Florida Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials
Jay Southerland | Chair, Children’s Home Society of Florida Northeast Region Board
Jack Knocke | County Citizens Defending Freedom Nassau
James Bruner | County Citizens Defending Freedom Nassau
Penny Velie | County Citizens Defending Freedom Nassau
Roy Postel | County Citizens Defending Freedom Nassau
Jackie Dunn in support of Florida Cares Charity
Additional Speakers Not on Agenda
Two more speakers were added during the session.
New Fernandina Beach Mayor Bradley Bean had 4 priorities, all requiring more state money. He said that the seawall/riverwalk project, which is supposed to stop hurricane flooding, will consist of 9- $1 million phases. Not clear how much state money he was expecting. He wants a new city hall- not clear what the financing would be; funding to maintain 40-50 beach walks; Tree protection.
Nassau County School District Superintendent Kathy Burns first boasted that Nassau Schools are #2 in the state. Florida Citizens Alliance Managing Director Keith Flaugh had a different take on that at his Monday Nassau County presentation- watch for our article on that soon. She was grateful that the bond issue passed which in part will be used for teacher salary increases. Because of what she says is a shortage of teachers, even with Nassau now offering the highest pay in the region, she wants the law changed to make it possible for retired teachers to come back and teach without losing their pension payments. It sounded like she wanted more money for classrooms, too.
Town Clerk Lisa Purvis of tiny Hilliard wants to tap the state for nearly $20 million for seemingly worthy projects such as water and wastewater systems improvements, a hurricane shelter, parks and an upgraded baseball field.
Lynda Bell, Executive Director of NGO Keep Nassau Beautiful, laid out what her organization is doing about beautifying the land via education, planning and even physically removing solid waste and outlined some facts about the solid waste trust fund. But she made no specific bid for funds in her written submission we saw.
Jackie Dunn (above photo), “in support of Florida Cares charity,” warned legislators of a crisis in the Corrections Dept, which she said is the third largest state govt. organization. She wants parole reform and talked about some perceived injustices in sentencing and prison time. She said that parole costs are about 10% of imprisonment costs. Dunn also called out the Department of Records as extremely costly, at $2.9 billion annually, with $100 million in overtime alone. She said that the National Guard had to be brought in to help. Citizens Journal did not attempt verify these items/amounts or most statements made at this meeting. She mentioned that her son had been imprisoned for 18+ years, but did not mention the charges or circumstances.
Four speakers- Penny Velie, Alissa (or Melissa) Bernhardt, Jack Knocke and James Bruner —- brought up concerns over the issue of over-sexualization, gender ideology, age-inappropriate content in the public schools and sexual abuse. They are asking for legislative, School Board and legislative action. We heard no specific examples, except from Penny Velie, who spoke of herself being a sexual abuse victim from an early age (didn’t say it was school-related).The School Superintendent did not address this.
Lauren Pagel, CEO of Starting Point Behavioral Center; Janice Ancrum, President/CEO of Nassau County Council on Aging and Nassau Transit; — were all looking for money for projects for their worthy causes.
Gil Langley, Amelia Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, pointed out some interesting financial and employment statistics on just how very important tourism is to the county for jobs, spending and tax revenue. He claimed a $1 billion economic impact and 29% of county GDP (or is it GCP?). That might make lawmakers more sensitive to needs of the hospitality industry. He was about saying what money the county/state are getting from their industry rather than asking for lots of money. He said tourism helps eliminate the need for a state income tax. They are only asking that bed tax money not be diverted from tourism marketing, which is vital to sustaining and growing tourism traffic/revenues, which make all that tax money and jobs possible, that short term rentals pay their share and that full funding for “Visit Florida” be provided. His presentation was so compelling that we will soon write a separate article about it.
Jay Southerland, Chair of Children’s Home Society of Florida NE Region Board, would like support for their program designed to provide students with counselling, medical and dental services, after school enrichment, mentoring and more to help improve student behavior, increase academic gains, graduation rates, enhance parental involvement and teacher retention. They’re asking for $11 million to help do that.
A lone Citizen, Jimmy Dubberly, told a sad tale of his house burning down due to a defective battery purchased from Amazon. He said that state law prevents him from holding Amazon accountable, unlike many other states. He wants the law changed. He said nothing about manufacturer liability.
CCDF-USA, Nassau County Chapter, a participating activist civic organization, later sent us a summary of what they thought was important about their presentations:
The local CCDF (County Citizens Defending Freedom) chapter of Nassau County sent a delegation of four residents to the hearing. Unlike most speakers, representatives of the advocacy group did not make requests for funding. They advocated legislative reform.
CCDF Nassau County President Jack Knocke pledged to be a resource of information to assist Yarborough and Black in the upcoming session. He summarized how through a series of meetings with elected officials and local residents, CCDF recommends legislators focus on protecting children in public schools and community settings. He specifically asked for a bill in Tallahassee to expand legislation passed last year to bolster anti-grooming guidelines in Florida curriculum for Kindergarten through 8th grade. The Florida Parental Rights bill passed in 2022 imposed guidelines to 3rd grade and younger. (Ed. note: Knocke sent us this letter submitted to the delegation.
James Bruner, a board member of the group and local attorney, also spoke on protecting parental rights and urged the legislature to be cautious allocating state money to non-profits which undermine family structure within the schools by providing supplemental materials. He cited the North East Florida Educational Consortium specifically in his presentation, and cautioned to be aware of others using similar methods.
CCDF volunteer Penny Velie delivered a heartfelt assessment of current data demonstrating how sexualization and abuse of minors often lays the groundwork for lifelong emotional and psychological struggles. She asked Yarborough and Black to support any bill that strengthens Florida Statute Chapter 847 addressing child pornography and obscenity.
CCDF volunteer Roy Postel addressed the panel on issues of election law. He echoed sentiments expressed by Knocke and asked to change Florida law to reduce the number of days allowed for early voting to one week (currently up to 15 days are allowed). He also asked for current law to be adjusted so polls can be closed on Sunday. Currently, Florida is the only state in the US which requires early voting be offered on “consecutive days” thereby forcing the county to keep the polls open on Sunday.
CCDF asks the legislature to make Election Day a state holidays to improve access for residents and poll workers. Postel also cited statistics showing up to one-third of all vote by mail ballots sent out during the midterms were not used. Why are so many ballots going out and then never returned, he asked?
“We should return to the pre-covid standard offering folks to request an absentee ballot. You would need a reason for the privilege, not simply be mailed a ballot to promote a culture of convenience,” Postel said. This also would help reduce potential for fraud.
It should be interesting to see how our new local state officials and the state legislature in general receive, analyze, absorb, prioritize and fund these requests and legislative changes wanted. We only saw the 21 who got the meeting notice and were motivated to go and present. There are probably many others who will use other channels to communicate their priorities. Nassau is only one medium-sized county of dozens.
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.