Fernandina Beach and “Prudent Man Theory”

Applying the “prudent man theory” to issues facing the city of Fernandina Beach. “What would a prudent man (or woman) do?” Steve Nicklas discusses the library, Fernandina waterfront and marina silt, and city government.

Silt Being Dredged at Fernandina Beach Harbor Marina (February 2012)
Silt Being Dredged at Fernandina Beach Harbor Marina (February 2012)
EDITOR’S NOTE: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insights on various topics in Marketplace column.


There is an axiom in the investment world known as the “prudent man theory.”

It is a process of evaluating a decision or outcome against what a prudent man would have done. It is intended to provide a benchmark of logic and fairness and prudence.

This theory could help in making decisions in running a city, county or school board. Think about it. After discussing a topic, elected officials could pause before voting and ask themselves: “What would a prudent man (or woman) do?”

Let’s see how it would work in reality.

Situation No. 1: Fernandina Beach city officials are divided over what to do with the downtown library. They have considered buying a new building and relocating the library there, or leaving the existing building in place and expanding it.

Prudent man theory: It makes more sense to improve and expand the existing building. The purchase and renovation of a new building would cost much more and take much longer (imprudent). The money and time you save could be put toward updating the content within the library.

That was easy. Let’s try another.

Situation No. 2: Most everyone in Fernandina Beach (including city officials) wants to improve the downtown waterfront. You don’t have to be prudent to realize that the waterfront is unattractive and ineffective, despite a few noticeable improvements from the private firm managing the marina. Committees have been formed and charettes have been staged — producing enough studies to fill a small library.

Prudent man theory: The old part of the marina gathers silt like an airborne French fry attracts sea gulls. Removing the silt is expensive — and dumping the muddy sludge is difficult. Let’s relocate all of the boat slips to the north (where some have been placed), and build a delightful pier over the slips of the old marina. Imagine a smaller version of the pier at Mallory Square in Key West; it could be a nice complement to a coveted waterfront park.

Situation No. 3: City Hall has been shaken up with the removal of the city manager. Interim manager Dave Lott is knowledgeable and practical, but probably has limited power. Meanwhile, there are lingering, unresolved issues facing the city — and whomever takes over the full-time position.

Prudent man theory: Move quickly to hire a full-time manager with a businessman’s acumen who has insight into the city’s situation (like Joe Gerrity). Evaluate each department head and enforce personnel changes to facilitate/streamline services. Overall, city employees must become more friendly and hospitable to citizens and businesses (i.e. taxpayers) — especially in the building and zoning departments. And light up the town once again by putting the white lights back in all of the trees on Centre Street, like before.

Steve Nicklas
Steve Nicklas
Who knows? Maybe this prudent-man thing could have some applications here.