Fernandina Voters Elect Conservative-Minded Commissioners

A city runoff election was held December 13, 2022. Here are some of the top issues for the new Fernandina Beach commission.

Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace.

— Steve’s Marketplace —

Florida prides itself on being a place where wokeness goes to die. And Fernandina Beach is now another graveyard for woke policies, big government and wasteful spending. 

The woke, radical agenda has died another day. It has been chewed up and belched out by voters in Florida, particularly in Fernandina Beach. The results from the city election Tuesday night put a resounding exclamation point on this.  

Two progressive, woke-leaning candidates were defeated by two conservative, rational candidates. Fernandina Beach will be far better for it. You’ll see the results.

The city now has four conservative-minded commissioners for the first time in a long time, with combative Chip Ross as an outlier. And we have a bright, energetic and dedicated mayor in Bradley Bean. We have a tremendous opportunity with this stacked lineup. It’s like a poker hand with four aces, and a wild card. 

While it’s time to unite and rejoice, it’s also time to get to work and clean up the mess left behind by the worst city government in the last 30 years, in my opinion. And the ringleader of the wasteful mess is city manager Dale Martin. 

The agenda for the new commission is lengthy, critical, time-consuming. Listed here are some of the top issues, and timely directives for our new leaders. This could be their manifesto for efficiency, a playbook for policy. And there is no time to waste in removing the waste. 

  • 1. Review the city manager’s six-year job performance. Martin might be a nice guy, but his priorities are misguided. Judging from his actions, he wants to build and expand government, not downsize it. Martin should also be critiqued on the marina repairs/FEMA debacle, the city golf course and the lousy Top Tracer experiment, wasteful spending that includes adding 55 full-time employees during his tenure, etc. Similar reviews should be done with the city attorney’s office and its woeful track record, along with the inadequate building department.
  • 2. Put a hiring freeze in place. Also, require each department to present ways to reduce expenses by 20 percent over the next year. This will return us to where we were prior to the recent spending spree and rampant government expansion. Outsource as much as possible, like landscaping/lawn services.
  • 3. Use citizen-advisory committees to review complex issues, such as the city’s complicated budget with its incohesive moving parts. A financial committee consisting of a nominee from each commissioner could go line-by-line to dissect the current budget, benchmarking expenses, spending, staffing, etc. And the five-member group could regularly report its findings to commissioners. 
  • 4. Transparency should be the hallmark of the new commission. New mayor Bean will be terrific at this. He grew up here, his father Aaron Bean was the mayor (and is now a U.S. representative for our area), and he understands the community like few others. Talk openly to the people, and remove the condescending three-minute limit on citizen’s comments during meetings. Distill the topics for each commission meeting into a concise one-page summary, and discard the thick binders bloated with legalese that no one reads or understands.
  •  5. Work with our local businesses, not against them. Business owners complain quietly about the heavy-handed regulation and enforcement, but fear retribution if they speak out publicly. New commissioner James Antun has experienced this in his thriving business. For instance, it took Sandbar three years to get approvals to build an outside, second-floor deck; the former Pozzi Bistro and other establishments have tried to construct rooftop or upstairs seating, but resistance from city officials proved it to be counter-productive and costly; and the assault on the popular Brett’s Waterway Café over convoluted safety issues, spearheaded by now-former commissioner/mayor Mike Lednovich, has been an embarrassment. 
  • 6. Candidates commonly run on a platform of reducing taxes, regulations and waste. The four conservative commissioners did. So use the recommendations from a financial advisory committee to shrink the budget, reduce the tax rate and put money back into residents’ pockets, not into the coffers of government. Remember, you are there to represent the people who elected you. 
  • 7. Coordinate and/or roll city operations into the county. We don’t need duplicitous services, when the bigger county can do it better anyway. The city is located in Nassau County, and you pay taxes to both. Put together a citizens’ group to look at the potential ways for efficiency and cost savings. 
  • 8. And lastly, let’s discard tired ideas like a sea wall, moving City Hall to the old post office, building an elaborate $4 million fire station on the outskirts of town and giving the existing building to the lifeguards, opening Alachua Street, etc. These are all unnecessary and costly. 

The city government has been and can be compared with the federal dumpster fire in Washington, D.C. We don’t want anything to do or have any similarities with that financial disaster. Let’s take a fresh hold of our city government, run it for the people the way it should be run, and let freedom and prosperity reign.  

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Steve Nicklas is a financial adviser with a national brokerage firm who lives and works on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His business columns also regularly appear in weekly newspapers in Northeast Florida and in Southeast Georgia, and on his website at www.SteveNicklasMarketplace.com. He has published a book, “All About Money,” of his favorite columns from the past 20 years. The book is available on Amazon. He has also done financial reports for area radio stations and for National Public Radio in Jacksonville. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 904-753-0236.