City Government Should Support, Not Deter, Small Business Community

The Brett’s Waterway Cafe controversy began back in 2021 and was on the agenda again at January 17, 2023 Fernandina Beach city commission meeting.

— Steve’s Marketplace —

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

Fernandina Beach’s eclectic restaurants skillfully wine and dine customers, while dodging a clothesline of bureaucratic hurdles and hassles.  

Other small businesses like shops, stores, offices, etc. endure similar harassment here. City officials over-regulate these integral parts of the community as if nuisances, instead of accommodating them as treasures.   

The latest installment involves a longtime favorite restaurant here, Brett’s Waterway Cafe. Unique, and locally owned and operated like nearly all the restaurants here. A treasured landmark indeed – with a target on its back.  

The tone of discussions about the restaurant by certain city commissioners borders on being distasteful. In fact, last week commissioner Chip Ross pushed for immediately shutting down Brett’s over a potential liability-insurance issue.   

The Brett’s controversy began in 2021. That was when the former commission issued a flimsy safety violation against Brett’s and the old pier it sits on. Fortunately, this subjective order did not hold up when challenged in court.  

Since then, Ross has been campaigning against Brett’s remaining open, sort of like he did with the Port of Fernandina (another valuable business). Ross went so far as suggesting that the city inform Brett’s insurance company about the fabricated safety order.  

Isn’t that sort of tattle-tailing, and is this something the city needs to be involved in with 130 buildings. The other solution volunteered by Ross was posting a warning sign outside the coveted restaurant. 

It’s another nauseating case of big government pushing around the private sector. They defend their actions as being “for the good of the people,” but we don’t need some elected official to protect us. Our police do a fine job of that. 

And how about emphasizing what’s good for our businesses. That’s an afterthought within the city. Instead, businesses face exorbitant permitting fees, slow and costly approvals for everything from a sign to a walkway, and warnings and fines for extra measure. 

The new commission must figure this out, and fast. We must foster and support our private businesses, not deter them. Four of the five commissioners ran on campaigns to support businesses through fewer, fairer regulations. They need to make this happen, especially as we head into a possible recession when business activity slows. 

Commissioners must also use their time during meetings to discuss topics of importance, and to openly voice their opinions. They can’t do this outside a meeting. Sitting there and not even commenting about the ridiculous demands by Ross is not serving the public.  

It took Mayor Bradley Bean to finally shut down Ross and his tirade. While Ross made flimsy “what if” comments, Bean cut through the posturing and grandstanding. Yes, we’ve seen this movie before.  

“I think the insurance has been here the whole time and I think we are covered based upon the experts we can talk to,” Bean said. “This has all been cleared up. We have a great insurance policy that is very robust.” 

The local government must get out of the way of our successful private businesses, especially our restaurants and shops. Pave the streets, repair the sidewalks, cut the grass.  

These are typical municipal tasks. Unduly interfering with a popular business is not. 


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 columns also regularly appear in weekly newspapers in Northeast Florida and in Southeast Georgia, and on his website at 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.  

Related Content

“Is Brett’s Final Sunset Coming At Current Location? City of Fernandina Beach may condemn the pier holding popular restaurant, Brett’s Waterway Cafe.” ( by Steve Nicklas, published July, 2021.)