Decision On Whether To Oust City Manager Delayed To Next Meeting

Will it be more of the same? Or will Fernandina’s city commission make a change?

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

— Steve’s Marketplace —

The winds of change are blowing through Fernandina Beach, at gale forces. Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel could show up soon.

The winds peaked Tuesday night during an action-packed, knock-down-drag-out city commission meeting. The chambers were packed, with people watching from outside. 

First up were residents opposing the Port of Fernandina’s operations, particularly when dangerous materials are transported there – as well as cruise passengers. A controversy has erupted over the port’s plans to host several large cruise ships this year.

Next it was on to the proposed development of the old Tringali property in downtown. It drew even more residents than the port issues. Residents are concerned how historic single-family homes are being replaced with multi-family structures, leading to increased density.

Not to be outdone, commissioner Darron Ayscue proposed to have the state auditor conduct a review of the city’s finances. At issue are the city’s handling of impact fees as well as accounting procedures. This is long overdue.

Several hours later, when the chambers had emptied out, a bombshell was dropped by commissioner David Sturges. The vice mayor motioned to remove Dale Martin as city manager. The discussion that ensued became heated, as commissioner Chip Ross challenged Sturges on his grounds for terminating Martin.

Sturges promptly ran down a list of Martin’s shortcomings. The list was long, but not all-inclusive. The commission proceeded to vote 3-2 to table a decision until the next meeting (Sturges and Ayscue abstaining). 

Ross, who has a close relationship with Martin, spoke out in support of the city manager of six years. In a lot of ways, Ross has been running the city with his domineering conduct and strong opinions. Along with former mayor Mike Lednovich and former commissioner Lyn Kreger, Ross had a pretty certain voting block. This has dissipated, like a morning fog.

The tax-and-spend policies under Martin are undefensible. The city budget has exploded, as a downpour of property-tax revenues has been spent with recklessness. The city’s staff has ballooned beyond what is necessary for typical operations.

Expensive capital projects have been undertaken without a legitimate justification. Ross pushed for something like a six-month probationary period for Martin; in math terms, six years is more than six months.

Conservative residents are fed up with Martin’s freewheeling spending. They have been quietly calling for his replacement for several years now. This is not about Martin as a person. It is about his job performance.

City attorney Tammi Bach should also be evaluated. Likewise, her miscalculations over the years have cost the city dearly. In other words, they’ve cost the taxpayers.

It’s time for a change in the the city. The direction of the winds are telling us this. Now it’ll take three city commissioners to boldly step up and do the responsible thing. Ross certainly won’t do it.

So it’s up to Mayor Bradley Bean and new commissioner James Antun to act accordingly, along with either Sturges or Ayscue. They all ran on platforms of reducing taxes and regulations, and becoming more fiscally accountable. So what will it be?

More of the same, which residents are openly contesting. Or something different, with an accountability to the residents.

______ Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor with a national brokerage firm who lives on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His colums also appear in several weekly newspapers in North Florida and South Georgia, and also on his website at He has also done business reports for local radio stations  and for National Public Radio in Jacksonville. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 904-753-0236.