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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Clydesdales and Downtown         

  The weather outside was frightful but discouraged no one!  They were due at Central Park around 2 p.m. and by 1:30 people were already waiting.  When the distributor's rep was at the corner of 11th and Atlantic the buzz was kind of low level and then the first truck came into sight around the bakery and Red Otter.

  They came, one after the other, and the three were absolutely amazing as they filled the small parking lot near the now removed log cabin VFW hall.  The two with horses on one side of the parking lot and the one with the beer wagon along 11th Street.  What a production!

  Four horses to each of the first two vans.  They were impeccably clean and outfitted for the purpose like a submarine must be to house its crew.  Not only are these horses special, they live like it and are certainly accustomed to it.  The tack and hardware was kept in the same van as the wagon and in position in the parking lot before the first horse was removed.  They came out one by one, wrapped in their customized traveling blankets, and were brushed and powdered and pampered as if they were ready to compete with the toddlers in tiaras.  The Clydesdales are much better behaved though and obviously used to the individual attention lauded on them by their crew - at our house the dogs refer to us as staff when they think we aren't listening.

  What a crew too!  They are well prepared and equipped to cover any necessity including the inevitable scooping that is necessary amongst livestock of any caliber, even these beauties.  Hitched to the side of the semi-truck trailer combo for grooming some of the horses even lifted their hooves in anticipation of being brushed and powdered.  Once harnessed and awaiting the remainder of the team they appeared as athletes loosening up for their expected exploits and performance.  It may have started as a gimmick to surprise Mr. Busch but the Clydesdales have become an icon that can't be matched.

  The crowd gathered downtown and as the anticipated trek down Centre Street at 3 p.m. slid closer to 3:15 people were stepping into the street looking for the blue lights of the police cars leading the procession.  As the first car neared Centre and 8th the crowd began to hum with joy as - pardon the cliche - children of all ages lit up the streets with their smiles.  The horses were amazing!

  Driving an eight horse team is an overwhelming task anywhere I'm sure, but throw in the confines of downtown Fernandina with the cars and people everywhere and it was an accomplishment of herculean proportions.  Once in position outside the Palace Saloon we were allowed almost arm's length access to the beauties.  Eric, the driver who disembarked to deliver the fresh brewed beer to the Sheffields, was busily attending to his horses and answering questions from all comers.  The time passed much too fast for all but the horses, and the crew too I'm sure.  We made it back to Fourth and Centre in time to watch Eric at the reins negotiate the tight turn eastbound and could see the horses as they toyed with the load that had to be light to them as they clomped in unison heading back to their mobile stables and the ride back to Jacksonville's Equestrian Center.

  Our luck was the misfortune of Mayport NS who had a conflict and could not accommodate the opportunity of the Clydesdales.  The reception that greeted them was probably unexpected with such short notice and lack of any long term publicity.  Thanks to the distributor, North Florida Sales, for having the foresight to realize the potential for such a visit to our little Paradise by the sea.  Holly Hajdu, the Marketing Manager for North Florida Sales, had the wherewithal to pursue the permits and ensure the success of the show in spite of the short time span to accomplish her goal.  We should all be thankful for the Clydesdales' visit and the cooperation of the locals, including the city government at all levels, that ensured the success.

  What a show!  What a team of horses! What a city!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Observations on an October Morn'

  The morning "Charlie" walk serves to remind me of the beauty of our little community!  The rain has cleaned the air, the sidewalks are rinsed almost as clean as the streets and the air is just a tinge cooler.  What a beautiful way to start the day, especially after yesterday cooped up in the new courthouse in Jacksonville and fighting the rush hour traffic to get back to Paradise.

  Charter captains were prepping their boats for the anglers on the way.  Most likely a trip to the jetties for some heavy pulling on the running bull reds.  If the cloud cover is heavy enough even some after sun up top water action on the way past the fort.  Don't get me wrong, chartering is hard hard work.  But, what an office to work out of on a daily basis!

  The railroad tracks at Front and Centre are riddled with rotting cross ties.  Why?  Don't try and sell me that routine maintenance on those tracks is part of the Forward Fernandina financial debacle.  First Coast Railroad or CSX needs to get off their glutes and replace them.  NOW!  Watch a young mother with an infant in a stroller try to get past the holes created by the rotten and broken timbers.  Watch an elderly person with a walker negotiate the traps of a rail with no timber abutting it as they are supposed to be.  Or, almost as bad, a relatively healthy and strong wheel chair bound citizen puzzled by how to get around the crevices yearning to be canyons.  Those tracks have been unfriendly to anyone that isn't erect, walking on two feet and willing to adjust their steps to avoid the travails of the rails.  Someone needs to get a grip on reality and fix them pronto.

  Work continues on the former Pompeo's restaurant.  Even at the early hour of seven a.m.!  Luca has suggested October 15 as the target date for opening.  Two weeks is not a long time in the construction or restaurant businesses.  It is a virtual eternity if you're starving for Italian food.

  The early morning paper had references to debate parties from St. Augustine to Fernandina.  I have been tired of these debates since the 80's.  They are simply orchestrated attempts by each camp to cast their candidate in the best light, no matter the truth of their performance or positions.  We need someone who will get up their and give us the straight skinny, no balderdash and flash.  Tell us the cold hard truth!  Americans are a resourceful sort and have, in the past, overcome all types of adversity.  We can, and will, again.

  The unfolding debacle at FSCJ grows more troublesome by the day.  It was known as FJC when I attended.  Its purpose was to serve a segment of the community that couldn't, for whatever reason, leave to one of the big schools.  It had a reputation of being very community oriented and helpful to the student body.  No one dreamed of $500,000.00 salaries, expense accounts, car allowances and travel expenditures.  There was a simple purpose with a simple path to follow - good stewardship with education dollars to help further the communities skills, education and talents.  Now it seems to be an open check book for a select few who have warmed up to the power that considers himself to be beyond question.  I have met Gwen Yates, the incoming chair of the Board of Trustees and know her and her husband to be very community oriented.  But, with sadness I have to say they all need to go.  It sounds unduly harsh but this is the same board that just weeks before the scandal broke renewed the contract of an already overpaid and, apparently, pompous president.  The Board, Wallace and other insiders need to go.  As a great book has been often quoted, if its your hand that causes the problems, lop it off!

  Our community is a viable, living organism.  It has to grow, change and prosper to survive.  There area variety of functions within the community that have to co-exist for that to happen.  City workers have to keep the downtown clean and attractive to attract the tourists that want to fish, eat in our restaurants, shop with our merchants and possibly even seek their higher education locally.  We need to recognize these things, speak out to improve them and support the right kind of progress that respects the past, lives in the present and prepares for the future.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Fernandina in the Fall

  Jimmy Buffett has a song, "The Weather is here, Wish you were Beautiful!" that describes fall along the Northeast Florida coast.  Fernandina is at its finest, weatherwise.  Tourists are in shorter supply than most other times of the year and that does not bode well for the local shopkeepers and restauranteurs.  But, it is really great for the locals who have born the weight of traffic, lines and crowds around town.

  What a weekend it has been though!  Weather beyond expectations, especially following the short and weaker northeaster than was here just a week ago!  Cooling down but certainly still warm by anyone's standards this side of Hades.

  Had the opportunity to attend the Mighty Fighting Pirates football game Friday night.  They pulled off a wonderful victory against cross county rivals the Hilliard Flashes.  Early going didn't look too well but Dale Burford called it with a "we'll wear 'em down" prediction that proved true by the second quarter.  The coaching staff put together by Travis Hodge is performing well above most people's hopes so soon into his tenure.  They have put together a team of young men who have bought into the hard work pays off approach to football which will carry over into life in general for most of them.  The team is made up of seniors down to freshmen which bodes well for the future.  The Pirates have come a long long way since the downsizing of the school as a whole, and the sports programs specifically, since the opening of Yulee High School.  They are certainly much leaner than the old days but are up and coming as a team and program.

  The marching band is still a wonder to observe!  Johnny Robinson is living proof that hard work and dedication can produce amazing results.  I am in a state of awe every time I contemplate the number of young people he has touched through his distinguished career at FBHS.  The dedication of the students is equaled only by their parents that are the backbone of the program.

  Friday evening was followed by a wonderful early morning excursion to the new and improved Farmer's Market.  "Who'd a thunk it?"  It has grown by leaps and bounds and continues to improve weekly!  Makes you wonder how good the old one could have been had its leadership had a little more open minded approach and foresight.  The City Commission and Mr. Gerrity are to be commended in their quick response to the treasonous abandonment of the old group and implementation of the new and improved version.  There are vendors comparable to what we have only seen at markets in much larger communities and the crowd seemed to grow as the day got older.  I hope there is a quid pro quo for the vendors and shoppers.  We certainly got our benefits from our visit and have to believe the whole thing will only grow stronger and prosper for our community as a whole.

  Having spent time in larger places I am troubled though by the lack of numbers that do support such programs.  Small town life is about pleasantries and benefits of enjoying your neighbors - both close by and across town.  The high school activities and events offer an excellent opportunity to show our younger citizens that we care about them and their future is the ultimate quest of our community.  You would be surprised who you can run into at the games, and at the Farmer's Market also.

  What a beautiful place we call home!  Get out and mingle.  Participate in some of these events that you have long ago abandoned.  The faculty, band leaders, coaching staff, parents and, especially, the young participants all appreciate your presence.

  You have a chance to be "community" by going out for a couple of hours.  Pair the evening with an early dinner at one of the many restaurants and a ball game.  Or a Saturday morning with breakfast or lunch and the Farmer's Market.  Walk downtown, or the beach, and mix in some exercise with our beautiful little Eden of the First Coast.  You will be surprised at how much richer your life is with just a little participation in these "hometown" activities.  That is what Smalltown, America is all about!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Farmer's Market Fireworks

  There have been multiple letters to the editor of the News-Leader regarding the departure, growth, needs of the old Fernandina Farmer's Market that began in Central Park and moved downtown to the unit block of North 7th Street.  First and foremost, a Farmer's Market is a plus and a community enhancer.  It brings people together, out of their cars, homes and shells, and they interact.  That is a great gain for all of us.  Kudos to the City Commission and Mr. Gerrity for making the interim market happen last weekend!  I was unable to attend due to family obligations but am looking forward to this Saturday with anticipation.

  Second, the manner in which the market was moved to the Plantation was shady at best and smells like a heap of rotting fish truthfully.  Failure to communicate with the City about the permits for operation appears intentional whilst planning was going on to kowtow to the Omni hierarchy for someone's benefit other than the citizens of Fernandina who were responsible for the success of the market.  The fact that a press release pre-dated notice to the City that the market was gone as of the following Saturday - that's right, no advance notice to the governmental entity that helped it prosper - speaks volumes about the intent and interests of its leaders.  Letters to the Editor of the paper indicating anything to the contrary are merely revisionist history and probably authored by someone with close connection to its operators or at least unwilling to see the truth.

  Is a move necessary?  Possibly!  Anything that would enhance the future market will be good for all of us.  The waterfront?  I don't think so because of the possible conflicts with boats, the boat ramp, trailer parking and the like.  Near the waterfront?  Absolutely!

  As opposed as I usually am to committees I think the commission should appoint a select committee with a limited lifespan and specific duties regarding a new farmer's market operation within the city.  Representatives should include the historic district, the remainder of the city, downtown business members, a city official and probably either law enforcement or fire and rescue or both.  Recommendations should be returned by a date specific to Mr. Gerrity who could then present the options to the commission as a whole and guidelines could be set in place to more effectively operate a market that benefits the city as a whole and not just some self serving strong arm who does things at his or her whim.

  A committee such as that with a deadline of mid-January would allow for a fresh start - forgive the pun - next spring and allow us to flourish as we progress through the growing season for local, or near local, vegetables and fruits along with the other items that have become commonplace among the Farmer's Markets across the south.

  Fernandina is a beautiful community!  There are more pluses than minuses and if you eliminate the differences over political approaches to government it is the true gem of the southeast coast.  We aren't as big as Savannah or St. Augustine.  Not as touristy as Daytona or Myrtle Beach.  Prettier than all of them in our natural resources.  The benefits of various points of view can me melded into a great future for our little town.  Some of the ideas already being espoused are excellent and show a deference to the existing businesses with brick and mortar commitments and an intent to improve the offerings of a market to include other local artisans on occasion.  It does not need to become a flea market, as Commissioner Bunch opined, but it could include a periodic art element along with other contributions that lead to its vitality.

  Every cloud may not have a silver lining but this one sure appears to for all of us.  We got lemons so lets make lemonade!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Fiscal Responsibility - Finally!

  Two City Commissioners - Pelican and Corbett - have consistently been against the keeping and expenditure of the borrowed $1.8 million that was tied to Forward Fernandina and the optional projects that are the hangover of the Czymbor era.  The "cheap" money, as Bunch, Filkoff and the Great Hoohaa Poynter referred to it, is now showing its true colors.

  A significant increase in the electrical franchise fees was necessary in the coming year to carry the debt load associated with the loan they secured.  There is little or no money left in the depleted special taxing district called downtown.  No monies yet from the gas line that FPU is in the process of completing to contribute to meeting the debt load.  And now because the Great Hoohaa is facing an election challenge, he has abandoned the program that he not only embraced but excitedly expounded by voting against the increased franchise fees.

  The Great Hoohaa has been a force behind the unbalanced budget for the last three years when our reserves were spent to fund his, and Czymbor's, favorite projects.  All of a sudden, when someone who is a true fiscal conservative steps forward to challenge him, he doesn't like a budget that raises taxes and requires more from each electrical user to pay for his special projects.  He just isn't a pay as you go type of guy!  Of course there are those out there that are in lockstep with him that point to this as his desire to do the right thing.  Balderdash!  He's trying to save his commission seat in the face of the realities he created.

  Now the City is in a quandary over what to do!  Poor Mayor Filkoff.  She doesn't understand the problems she has been part and parcel of and was in a "twiddle her thumbs" mode following the still sensible positions of Pelican and Corbett.  What is one to do?

  It is very simple, fiscally sound and would change the course of city government over the next twelve months.  Give the unspent balance back to the bank and pay for what we have used so far.  Not rocket science by any means but a straight forward way to run our government in a manner that is financially responsible.

  The buffoons that write for the Fernandina Observer try and paint this as a flip flop on the parts of Pelican and Corbett but they are so encumbered by their special interest agenda they are engaging in the Orwellian double speak they have become known for using.  The Great Hoohaa had the first vote regarding raising franchise fees to pay for his pet projects and he voted a resounding NO!  The die had been cast and he was upside down with all of his old cronies because Pelican and Corbett held true to their own souls and voted against funding the debt they believe is unnecessary.  Thank God for common sense!

  The budget issues will continue to face the City Commission until he either retracts his vote and steps forward to keep spending money like the drunken sailor contingency Czymbor brought to our little hamlet or the borrowed money is returned to the bank.  Let's hope it is the latter!
First Rule of Nature

  The end of August approaches, the summer tourists have begun to slack off and the weather has an appreciable change - only a degree or two, but appreciable all the same.  Isaac is somewhere in the vicinity of Castro and drawing a bead on Key West.  The supposed destination around Mobile with possibilities still so far up in the air the hurricane hunters are still flying routinely.

  Weather is a constant fascination for me.  I love to watch it, check the changes, the progressions and the similarities as I add years to my experience.  Having lived my entire life in the South, all but ten years in Northeast Florida, I have watched with undivided interest the numerous storms that have threatened the peninsula I call home.  Fortunately, as I learned from George Davis shortly after locating in Fernandina, we are the westernmost point on the east coast of North America.  Some will think "why would such an idle piece of knowledge be of any interest?"  The answer is simple - hurricanes.

  Look at a map of the east coast.  We stick in somewhere underneath Cincinnati, or thereabouts, while North Carolina's east coast is out there with the Canadian Maritime Provinces.  Good for us usually!  But this year has been different.  We had tropical storms well before the official season.  The winter was a warm one after two successive very cold ones.  And, so far, very few storms at this time of the season.  Will the season intensify?  Will we get the projected number of storms?  Only Mother nature knows for sure.  But if nothing else comes of this it reminds me of the first rule of nature - nature wins!

  We live on a barrier island and not a very big one at that.  By their very nature barrier islands are living, shifting things that won't be the same next week as they are this week or were last week.  All the man made adjustments, the preventatives and preparations are all for naught.  The ocean and winds and tides and rivers and rain and heat will do with this place as they see fit.  Sometimes in conjunction with each other and sometimes alone.  But, always as nature deems fit!

  Prepare for the worst, hope for the best and keep a keen eye on the weather websites.
Everyone has their favorites and the meteorologists they respect.  But, whatever you do, keep an eye out for the coming changes.  The next couple of days will mean constant fluctuation and varying levels of potential danger.  So just mind your p's and q's, watch the weather and be ready to run.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

  Oh say can you see..., forgive me Frances Scot Key, the end of the Weinstein/Bean race to the bottom of the barrel of politics.  If for no other reason I am glad August 14th will be here manana because there will be a lull in the negativism that politics has become.  Every conversation I have had in the last three weeks that even skirted around politics has at least included a discussion on the terrible ads run by and for both campaigns.  One astute friend who knows them both said it was evident that they would never serve the people of NE Florida if elected.  It was clear to him they would be beholden to the political entities that put up the millions of dollars to get them in place for the respective bids for the Senate presidency.

  Shame on all of them for their purely self interested approach to governance and service!  And to hell with anyone who says I am simply naive for thinking so and childish for saying it.  What is the end goal here?  The betterment of Florida?  I would dare say not!  This is simply egotistical posturing for the selfish poppinjays that have become politicians in our fair state.

  Then, on top of that, I heard that the Janet Adkins campaign went after Cord Byrd with allegations he was gay!  No, wait!  It'll never stick, he's married.  Damn, what do we do now?  I know, suggest someone on his campaign staff is gay.  Really?  Is this what it has come down to in the NE Florida of 2012?  This is the primary campaign and it is already this bad.  What have we become?  We want to serve the public so bad that we will belittle mankind for the privilege of getting to the top.  If this is indicative of what it takes to get to the top there must be something much better up there than what is let on by those already in Tallahassee.  Is membership in this privileged club so rewarding that you sacrifice all to get there?  Maybe, those vying to get there had nothing to sacrifice in the first place.  You know - morals, ethics, integrity!

  The ends do not justify the means!  Not in a world based on thousands of years of Judeo-Christian philosophy and teachings.  These charlatans who proclaim their Christianity from one face while the other one, or in some cases one of their others, is doing all those things anti-Christian with their next breath.  Do they not realize there is a reckoning day - I call it a come to Jesus day - that we all face as we leave this life?  There is more to be lost than some local political race and it is their eternal souls.  For those who don't understand eternity it means forever, damn it!

  I hope there is voter turnout of an unprecedented level tomorrow!  Let these buffoons know they are being watched.  There are consequences for their actions and the voters are the ones who will permanently tattoo those consequences on their behinds.  We need good people who are going into public service with an emphasis on service to the public not their bank accounts and self interests. 


  Do your civic duty and let the fools know there are people who care!  Be the good Samaritan not the high priest who walked by because he couldn't get his hands soiled.

Friday, August 3, 2012

"We are the people our parents warned us about!"
  What have we become?  I know Florida is a keystone state for the Presidential election and recent history, the last twenty years or so, have meant presidential politics is negative politics.  But why the local races?

  The worst by far is the State Senate race between Aaron Bean, the local boy made good, versus Mike Weinstein.  I have known both for more years than any of us would care to admit.  Away from political races they are both nice guys, people you would not mind spending time with at a party, barbecue or special event.  Watching their ads on TV turns my stomach though!  I don't want either of them representing me in Tallahassee if this is the way they have to get the job.  If even half of the ads are true neither should be allowed to hold office and both should probably be investigated for the allegations that are being made against them.

  Other local races are equally troublesome.  The judicial race for Judge Brian Davis' seat.  Truly a gentleman, scholar and well qualified member of the judiciary.  However, the audacity of seeking a federal appointment, for which he is well qualified, has opened him to an attack of epic proportions.  Three or four lawyers are running against him and, but for the federal issue, would never consider taking him on in an election.

  County Commission candidates.  Come on, where is the necessity to stoop to low bred behavior to serve on our commission?  Ronnie Stoots, a relative newcomer with enough of a traveling history that he should be banned from calling himself a resident of any community, conveniently prints signs that show him as a County Commissioner and not a candidate for that office.  Seems trivial but it is against Florida law and it is misleading and it is deceptive at a level that smells.  The handwritten "for", so small and in such thin pen strokes that it is not visible from the roadway is more of a joke than his claim to being a spokesman for the taxpayers.  A search of the property appraiser's website shows no properties owned by anyone named Stoots in Nassau County.  There was a time that people had to be landholders to vote.  They should at least be required to tell the truth about their tax paying status to run for office.  But, Mr. Stoots has affiliated himself with a group in Nassau County that doesn't adhere to standards of common ethics or decency.  That is a shame!  It speaks volumes about him and the kind of person he is and representative he would be.

  Jimmy Buffett had a song about being the people our parents warned us about.  If the behavior of people seeking office in Northeast Florida is a reflection of us it seems we have become those we didn't want to be.

  I long ago left the political parties because I was appalled at the behavior they not only tolerated it seemed to me they encouraged it.  If all politics is indeed local then it is a terrible thing to peer into the mirror politics offers of us as a community.  Someone needs to tell these people that scurrilous behavior is not going to be tolerated.  The best way to do that is vote on Tuesday, August 14 and let everyone know that their course of action is not worthy of our trust.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Send in The Clowns...

   Fernandina Beach has been blessed by many different resources.  We have the historic district full of old homes and old stores and warehouses.  We have the rivers and marshes and, of course, the beach.  We have public pools, tennis courts, a golf course and a city owned marina.  It is a virtual empty canvas, small town America at its finest, a place where you can paint your life's dreams.  More importantly we have wonderful residents who, in their diversity, make this a place just about anyone could live.

  But, that could also be part of the problem.  People move here and decide they need to fill in that canvas for all of us but not with their pocket book.  What attracted them isn't good enough after a few months or maybe a year.  We can do this better, or "the best way is this!" they tell you.  I always tell friends who buy new homes and want to immediately renovate they should wait a year or two and live in the house and with the house before they make major changes.  A new hometown should probably be even longer.  Cycles of a community aren't just four seasons there is much more.

  We have had more than our fair share of newcomers whose two cents towards improvements have cost us as a community.  Not just monetarily, which they certainly have, but in camaraderie and neighborliness.  The Independence Day celebration where a city commissioner had to brag about his donation after the public reaction was wholly negative towards him.  How divisive he turned out to be!  How interesting that Sammy Alvarez, a hometown boy who went off and came back after a military stint was finally outed as a Green Beret, the elitest of the U.S. Army.  "Who'd a thunk it?" was repeated many times after his letter railed against the Great Hooha. 

  How about the $44,000.00 in "uplights" that didn't.  They didn't "uplight" at all!  "What happened?" everyone wanted to know.  Well, another case of someone who had a brighter idea, pun intended.  A city employee certainly outside her field of expertise that let downtown deteriorate and decided that it would be easier to remove the tree lights and reward a specific company by writing the request for a product for their benefit.  Made her life easier, to hell with the appearance of our beautiful historic downtown.

  Parking meters! Again, and again and again ad nauseam. They were done away with decades ago because they weren't good for the community.  But no, we can spend thousands and thousands of dollars to buy these things, administer them and repair them in hopes of generating a few dollars.  All while our city's budget is swollen beyond its seams and ready to burst ala California.

  Two rec centers!  "Too many" if you're the Great Hooha and have no respect for our community's history.  Sometimes there are deeper currents than a few dollars that don't regenerate themselves.  For instance, does the police department pay for itself in dollars into the city coffers?  I would bet its not even close but who thinks you do away with police protection.  Same with the Fire and Rescue!  Those are people who help make our city what it is but we need to pay for them.  Programs for children are in the same group.  May not pay for themselves in dollars but the community benefits far exceed the dollars spent.

  No, our leadership for years has been of the opposite school of thought,  Ignore what makes this good for the people and that we can afford.  Spend money on other things!  McGill Aviation for instance! And don't forget their lawyers, almost a million dollars later.  Our City Attorney assured us we would prevail on appeal, it was money well spent.  What she meant to say was that in her opinion it was "our money" well spent.  What agreement did she have to share in the loss?  Pay half of the additional costs in interest, transcript costs and attorney's fees.  I bet not!  She won't lose a dime for her "leadership" on this issue.

  How about the money we're spending on Forward Fernandina.  Bursting budget, rising taxes, increased user fees and, I'm willing to bet, another increase in the taxes we call franchise fees to pay for all of this.  "Hey money is cheap," they tell us.  Of course that was the prevailing opinion in California also - four towns in bankruptcy and the whole state government one foot in the same hole and the other on a pile of banana peels.  Don't worry left coasters, Fernandina is following in your footsteps.

  How about our recent interim city manager.  The one we paid an additional month's salary because his contract for a temporary job - isn't that what interim is supposed to be - included a thirty day notice clause.  It was only seven or eight thousand dollars you will be told.  Yeah, that's right, but it was our seven or eight thousand dollars.  Not a stewardly way to spend tax dollars!

  I am certain Frank Sinatra is delighted with government in Fernandina.  If he had it to do all over again he would certainly live here where our city anthem has to be one of his old hits, Send in the Clowns.  How else do we attract them all?  Zoul and Czymbor are only two examples there have been others.  Lawyers, engineers, building officials are all part of the parade.  We need to change this pattern and return to a simpler, sounder and safer way of governing.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Gift...

  The gift that keeps on giving!  No, its not learning how to read, or fish or tend a garden.  Those are all gifts we should be thankful for.  Ones that good people took their time to make sure we got.  Whether it was that first grade teacher, or our dad or grandmother or that sweet neighbor that spent time with you when she knew you were on your mom's last nerve.

  No, the gift I'm talking about is that one we Fernandinans got from Michigan - Michael Czymbor!  He led our community down the primrose path and we now stand at a Grand Canyon sized dilemma called financial ruin.  He robbed Peter to pay Paul.  He treated our utilities like a never ending bank account and had the ability to do so because the "Five Buffoons" took his balderdash hook, line and sinker.

  I remember the day then Mayor Susan Steeger tried explaining the proposed budget with a line item showing $500,000.00 from parking generated fees.  "Ya'll don't understand, budgets are fluid," she told a friend and me.  Fluid certainly, the kind that is flushable because that is exactly what the situation was worth.  Czymbor sold the greatest commission of all time on that approach and it didn't matter that the $500,000 was never going to come about, for purposes of selling the public on his abilities it showed a balance sheet in agreement.  Like the emperor with no clothes though, it all fell apart.  Thank God!

  Citizens finally had enough last November and threw two of the bums out.  That was enough to re-gift our great leader and send him on to Palatka.  Putnam County beware!  Caveat emptor!  Czymbor is on the loose and your bank accounts are in danger.  We found that out here in our little outpost on the edge of the continent.

  How does a City Manager hide a $429,000.00 obligation from the board he serves at the pleasure of.  How does a board continue to show their face when they allowed it to happen.  It is at the very least misfeasance but quite possibly malfeasance!  A breach of their fiduciary duty to this community, their constituents.  Those they were elected to serve have instead been served up whole hog style, apple in the mouth and roasted to a crisp.

  I feel like a four year old on a family road trip.  "How long before November mommy?" is the question I keep asking though.  The three remaining commissioners, in good faith, should each resign with this kind of Damoclean sword hanging over our collective heads.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

TV Interviews

   Last night was a particularly troublesome night for me.  It was the night before a jury trial which is usually a night with little sleep, a lot of work and even more stress.  What made it worse is that two particular TV interviewers that I don't particularly care for had guests on that I had to see - at the same time.

  Piers Morgan, the Brit wannabe Larry King, had Justice Antonin Scalia and some professor who co-wrote a book.  I more often than not disagree with Scalia, his way of thinking and, more so, his way of writing decisions.  But, I'll be damned if he's not a great guy and someone I would love to spend time with away from a courthouse.  He is a classic of his generation of Italian male Roman Catholics.  Justice Scalia is funny, intelligent, well spoken and definitive in his positions.  If you don't know where he stands its simply because you choose not to know.

  Sean Hannity, on his Fox News show, had George Zimmerman and Mark O'Mara.  I have to admit my first thoughts on hearing that were why any criminal defense lawyer would let his client go on national television and be subjected to questioning.  Others I know wonder why the Judge hasn't issued a gag order?  Well, color me surprised!  GZ not only handled himself well he answered questions appropriately, made eye contact and was seemingly thoughtful at the right times as the interview progressed.

  Being a near troglodyte when it comes to electronics I couldn't record either of them and had to count on the fact that each would be replayed during the wee hours when I knew I would still be awake and working.  I guess it was a rather lucky break.  I got to see both!  Enjoyed them both immensely for entirely different reasons and was impressed that there was something worth watching on weeknight television.

  GZ's disposition last night will serve him well if he has to take the stand in a second degree murder trial.  He did well!  O'Mara was there to divert areas of conversation that were potential minefields such as the perjury charge against his wife and to touch on some legal issues that Hannity raised.  I do realize if there is a potentially sympathetic audience it would be Fox News and their usually conservative leaning watchers.  But, all the same, GZ did what he needed to do and did it well.

  What a great night for TV.  Too bad it isn't being replayed tonight I 'd watch again!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Rush Is On...

  The allegations are out!  Now George Zimmerman has gone from racist murderer to sexual abuser.  "I always wanted to keep it quiet..."

  Let's suppose what GZ's cousin is saying is wholly true, every sordid bit of it.  Why now?  Piling on, they call it in football.  It's illegal in football and should be in life as a whole.  If the young lady wanted to keep it private then she should have done so.  No public accusations until there is a news level she never dreamed of in her life.  Why would you do it?  Bring yourself under the scrutiny of the world press in a matter that is of no relation.  Is it her fifteen minutes of fame?  Some would say it must be true or she wouldn't have made herself a public figure and expose herself to the probably unending attention of anyone and everyone who has already made up their mind about the guilt of GZ.

  But, that willingness to come forward may carry some credibility with it when you do it for the purely simple purpose of exposing an abuser.  Once that person achieves some level of fame or infamy your reasons are now questionable.  I have told many people that if you dreamed something as a ten year old and told your best friend there are prosecutors out there who will try to indict you for a conspiracy.  Watch the reaction now!  Is this a prior bad act that will subject GZ to impeachment if he testifies?  There is already talk about this showing his true character.  Balderdash!  There is no talk out there in the community of him being an abuser.  No one else has said this openly.  But watch what happens, the fruitcakes will be espousing every imaginable accusation about him.  The bugs will be coming out from the woodwork because they can.

  Look at it for GZ.  How does one disprove a negative?  No one has said anything about this in his entire adult life.  He has gone about life, married, enrolled in school got jobs all without this issue ever raising its ugly head.  Now, out of nowhere he is blindsided by a hit and run driver who he can not defend himself against.  If he stands up and calls her out the reaction is "methinks thou dost protest too much!"  If GZ sits by in hopes that it dies a quiet death "he knows its true or he'd do something about it" is the argument.  A true Catch 22!

  This is a case that should be decided on the facts alone.  Nothing else!  Not all the talking head lawyers who offer their opinions on a situation of which they have little or no inside knowledge.  Not the lawyers for the dead young man's family - they have a monied interest in this matter - they are advocates and their position has a slant to it that they are pursuing for their clients.  Not the rabble rousers who have come in seeking their few minutes of fame on the back of the deceased young man's corpse - both sides by the way.  Not the idiots that post on all the newspaper websites with their racist views, illogical rants and half baked legal theories unsupported by the law - again both sides.

  Criminal trial as sport has risen to a level of distaste that impacts the finest criminal justice system known to humanity.  OJ made it a daily drama and it has now sunk to new lows.  Cases that would have suffered the fate of all non-celebrity matters are pushed to the forefront of each news cycle.  Why?  Simple answer - green American dollars!  Hype sells.  Sordid hype sells big!

  The NFL in its earliest days had professional football players who held second jobs during the off season.  Who can forget Bart Starr and his Cadillac dealership.  There were many others also.  Now, criminal trial lawyers - defense and prosecution - will be attending acting classes along with marketing 101 and hiring clothing consultants and getting the $400 John Edwards haircuts.  Book agents and ghost writers will be next!  We were once a simple group, close when necessary, solitary ships most of the time.  Like the NFL of old, we were regular Joes and Janes going about our life, unrecognized by most of society.  Not any more!

  Did anyone learn from the Casey Anthony trial?  The world was convinced she would be found guilty and die in jail.  Her peers decided otherwise and there was an uproar because the rush to judgment had been ignored by jurors who didn't do what the people wanted.  I guess what it amounts to is a modern high tech, instantaneous information lynch mob.  We've made up our mind now find a way to justify it.

  That isn't justice and it isn't the American Way.  Let justice be done!  Everyone shut up, sit back and let the criminal justice system funnel this case through the process.  Like sausage being made it may not be pretty, but what comes out is pretty darn tasty most of the time.

Friday, July 13, 2012

If you Can't Afford To Live Here...

  Can Fernandina afford to limit services for our youth?  The biggest criticism I have heard about our town in my 20 plus years here has been the lack of entertainment opportunities for our youth.  I guess it doesn't matter if you're the Great Hooha.  He's got his, tough luck kids!

  The Great Hooha - Tim Poynter for those who don't know of his lack of concern for our traditions, being from Cincinnati or some other such God forsaken place - wants to know what we can afford.  Well, the first answer that flies to my mind is if all the business people, especially those holding public office, acted as the stewards of the community they are supposed to be we would be able to do a lot more for those who need it.  Other restaurateurs are told $550.00 per seat but the Great Hooha pays none.  When you're counting your nickles and dimes $30,000.00 is a lot of money.  When you have to beg money from the citizenry to honor our traditions, our veterans and our forefathers it is even more money.  The Great Hooha himself bragged about his "early" donation of $1,000.00!

  I call balderdash on his homunculus self!  I say the Great Hooha made a three per cent (3%) investment of what he owed the city in hopes that no one would know of his scheme to avoid impact fees. 

  I call double balderdash on the idea that we cut money by cutting programs from children but we continue to mortgage and spend in the wake of the financial woes that have beset us.  Three California towns have filed bankruptcy recently, but only two because of overspending and declining revenues.  Lucky for us!  The third one filed because of an airport lawsuit...  Oh hell, what do we do now?  We have a lawsuit over our airport we've lost at every turn and continue to spend good money after bad trying to get it back.  Gamblers call that doubling down.  I hope voters will call it irresponsible actions by commissioners and city lawyers!

  Reading the reputedly responsible views of the Fernandina Observer I learned that franchise fees are different than the taxes the commission is talking about raising.  Triple balderdash it is!  We pay money to an independent - wink, wink - company who our government gives an exclusive franchise to operate within our city limits.  They in turn give that money to the city for the privilege of operating within the city.  By any other name that is a tax!  Yes it is a tax collected by a middleman who probably gets to keep a few cents per hundred to add to their burgeoning bottom line but city government is taking our hard earned money in the guise of a franchise fee.  I thought the franchisee paid the fee to the franchisor.  We are the city of Fernandina and yet our elected leaders are tapping us like a bottomless well.

  Sorry, I digress.  We are using franchise fees to pay for Forward Fernandina so that is okay in the Great Hooha's way of looking at things.  It isn't raising taxes to pay for this program its raising franchise fees.  As he told us some time ago, speaking from the mount to us peons below, "if we can't afford to live here leave!"  I guess we could apply that to the increased franchise fees and if you can't afford them just disconnect the electricity.  After all refrigeration, lights, air conditioning and the other modern conveniences are not all that important.

  What is important?  Simple question and a sensible one too.  Downtown!  That's what is important.  The trouble is all you people who don't have businesses downtown, or live down here need to realize its your obligation to pony up to make sure we stay on top down here.  You peons be damned!  Think about it, not just oh gee whiz we've been talking about this for so long, etc, etc, etc.  Forward Fernandina, what does it do for your neighborhood?  The franchise fees, what are they going to do for your neighborhood?  Does the waterfront come alive off Atlantic, or off Citrona or even Jasmine?  Does a library that is the responsibility of the county really have to be downtown?  Does it have to be downtown at the expense of $50 for every man, woman and child in Fernandina?  And, on top of it, since we are borrowing that $50 we have to pay interest on it too!  That is not responsible government!

  Now is the time for all good people to come to the aid of their community!  Step back Great Hooha because you have proven you aren't good and this isn't a community you belong to, you see it as your servants.  Your affection for Forward Fernandina is almost incestuous!  It makes me wonder if the first word is really Forward and not another f-word.  From you, I wouldn't doubt it for a minute.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Right to Remain Silent

  Comedian Ron White tells stories of his apparently checkered past and relates events where he had the right to remain silent but not the ability!  That failure to exercise your rights can be more harmful than most realize.  I cannot tell you about the number of video tapes I have seen of suspects in custody, handcuffed in the back of a patrol car, who share information that they would never want to be heard by anyone else, especially law enforcement.

   The proceeds of a robbery safely hidden or disposed of to never be found again, but for the foolish loose lip syndrome that infects people when confronted by law enforcement.  Drugs hidden in a place they would never be found, even with the help of a dog, given up by the back seat discussion of co-defendants in custody.

  There is no constitutionally protected right to privacy in a public place or the backseat of a patrol car.  I don't care what you saw on TV.  It doesn't matter what Judge Judy said!  You have no expectation of privacy in places other than your home or other such protected locations.  Digging a shallow grave in your backyard in full view of your neighbors is not protected behavior!

  Talking on the telephone from a jail cell is not the place to invoke a poorly created code to cover some nefarious action you wish to discuss.  With modern equipment and digital recording there is very little you can do that won't come back to haunt you.  Have you ever looked at the light posts in shopping mall parking lots.  Yes those are cameras on top and yes they can take videos of you on their property without your permission.  Yes it is dumb to drive the stolen vehicle to a mall and enter a store using the credit cards you found inside.

  I am not attempting to counsel people on committing crimes but I am telling you your actions, your speech and your behavior can carry consequences that you don't anticipate.  The reason there are criminal defense lawyers is that law enforcement can take innocent intentions, words or actions and view them in a way that you end up in custody.  When that happens people are often astonished!  How could they arrest me?  It happens routinely across our great country and innocent people end up in a system they don't understand expending their resources, or those of their families, getting out of the hot water they so casually stepped in without thinking.

  FACDL has a T-shirt I wear frequently that provokes comments.  The front says - "You have the right to remain silent...!"  The back finishes with - "Now use it!"

  Don't think for a minute that is insignificant advice.  Look at George Zimmerman and his actions in the days after the unfortunate death of Trayvon Martin.  He was a good law abiding citizen.  Had nothing to hide!  Wanted to cooperate with the police.  If I asked for a lawyer they would think I was guilty!  They said I probably didn't need a lawyer it was just a few questions!  I have heard them all  from all kinds of people that have wandered into my office because they are either under investigation or have already been arrested.

  It starts out quite simple, "you wouldn't mind explaining to us how it went down would you?"  Having nothing to hide people voluntarily comply.  Now, no one thinks that the situation they are describing was emotionally charged, happened so fast and has been replayed in their mind so many times that it is no longer a picture perfect rendition of the events.  Then the questions start that pick your story apart and you change a word or two, where you were standing or how something might have actually happened instead.  Soon thereafter you hear "please put your hands behind your back and turn around."  Next its handcuffs snapping shut!  Eventually cell doors!

  Our Constitution is there for a reason and it serves purposes for all of us.  When you fail to avail yourself of its protections you can end up in hot water and, even worse, sometimes jail or prison.  Just think about the number of times you see law enforcement officers facing charges.  Who is always next to them?  They will "lawyer up" in a New York minute and zip their lips with alarming speed.  I will bet you George Zimmerman wishes he had done the same.  You should!

Life's Lessons

  When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for people to learn the hard lessons of life it can be painful to watch.  As a criminal defense lawyer it is often made more painful by the repercussions individuals suffer for their actions that they never contemplated.  It is not unusual for people conferring with their defense lawyer, for the first time at least, to be reticent in their recitation of events that have led them to seek counsel.

  I tell people there are two different kinds of lies - commission and omission.  Willfully misleading is a lie of commission - for an example consult the news about Mrs. Zimmerman and her pending perjury charges.  Failing to disclose is a lie of omission - Mr. Zimmerman's testimony in the first bond hearing that failed to correct his wife's lie of commission.  Both are lies and both have consequences!

  The difference of an additional month in jail plus an increase in bond amount of $850,000.00 is a large consequence by anyone's standards.  Further, Judge Lester's ruling suggested the Zimmermans had misled Mark O'Mara, one of the defense lawyers who has been there for them.  I tell clients if they lie to me and I make a representation based on their falsehood I will look like a fool for a few minutes and they will most likely end up in jail.  Now, I have the Zimmermans to use as an example of that very premise.

  The moral of the story is don't lie!  Don't color the truth or ignore someone else who has misled when you have the opportunity to set the record straight.  The failure to do the right thing at the right time for the right reason can bring you harm.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Politics At Its Worst

  A few years ago I read a quote about Congress that was not attributed to anyone in particular but it described our current political status better than anything I've heard or read -"The problem with Washington is we have too many Democrats and too many Republicans and not enough Americans."  That pretty much sums up the story.  The obstructionism in Washington is unparalleled in history.  There is no interest in doing the business of the people for the best interests of the people it is all about achieving whatever goal the leaders have set.

  One should wonder why independent minded men and women who were strong enough to get elected to Congress would worry about the thoughts of their peers on what they are doing.  Simple!  Money.  The root of all evil.  Filthy lucre.  Thirty pieces of silver.  Call it what you will, that is what happens when the congress gets together.  The ones in power control the money through the PACs and the money doesn't go to Representatives that buck the party leadership.   It goes to those who go along.

  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell admitted a couple of years ago his single most important thing to achieve was making Barack Obama a one term President.  Whoa!  Hold on there Mr. McConnell I thought the business of Congress was to run the country for the best interests of the people.  That hasn't been the goal since probably the days of President Nixon but for certain not since Ronald "Dutch" Reagan.  During Reagan's tenure he and Tip O'Neill got together on a regular basis for some old fashioned fun.  They and a few others had a few adult beverages, played some cards, smoked some cigars and agreed where they could and agreed to disagree when they couldn't agree on some policy position.  But, it was about the country as a whole not their particular parties.  No, not Mitch McConnell's Congress!  Not the House of John Boehner!

  What brings me to this is the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or whatever the official name of Obama Care is called.  "This is the wrong thing!"  "It needs to be pulled out by the roots and start all over!"  That is what the Republican politicians were saying on the Sunday morning news/talk programs across the channels.  There was no room for negotiation or modification or improvement.  No, just plain old we have to get rid of it and do so now.  The attacks that it was done in a partisan manner are ringing on deaf ears.  Everything in Washington now is partisan!  If there was a better way and a more fair approach why wasn't it taken when the Republican's had the majority in both houses or there were more congenial working arrangements?  This whole issue originated during the Nixon administration and the lobbying dollars were against it so the politicos were too.  That is what is driving this bus, the same old thirty pieces of silver.

  The Supreme Court ruled!  John Roberts, the Chief Justice that the neo-conservative right embraced with open arms was the deciding vote.  Get over it!  Move on!  Use the FIDO approach - forget it, drive on.  There are other more important issues facing our country than whether or not the health insurance industry is happy with the health care model we are going to use.  What about employment?  What about our slipping education system?  What about our military and its diverse set of fronts it is now engaged on?  What about Veteran's benefits for all those who have suffered in these multi-front battles we are waging?

  Congress needs to heed the advice of a WWII flight instructor to a scared cadet soloing for the first time.  "Grab your left ear with your right hand, your right ear with your left hand and pull your head out of your ass and fly the plane."  We are a country in great need of someone willing to fly the plane!


Saturday, June 30, 2012

Legal News Dominates

  This week has seen a huge slate of legal related news on both the local and national levels.  I guess the biggest news would have to be the Supreme Court's - SCOTUS on the news wires - ruling on health care.  Chief Justice Roberts showed his concern for the legacy of the Court and his tenure as Chief with his ruling that literally split the baby, Solomon like.  He stood for the supremacy of the legislative process in our scheme of government by siding with four justices in saying that the "individual mandate" was a tax and within the constitutionally established powers of Congress.  He crossed the road and stood with four other justices and made certain everyone understood the same "individual mandate" was not within the scope of the Commerce Clause and therefore did not meet constitutional muster.  While that may seem inconsistent to both sides of the aisle if you read some of the better respected legal minds from academia you can see the importance and distinction in the positions the Chief Justice took.  He literally upheld the constitution in its basest form and allowed the legislative branch its due while telling it, on the other hand, it had gone too far.  From a purely historical and legal point of view justice was done.  The Chief Justice is to be commended for that!

  Locally the first two days of a suppression hearing culminated Friday with one of the world's most respected authorities regarding the mental processes and abilities of children telling Judge Cooper, and the world, why Christian Fernandez could not have understood or exercised his rights when he was questioned by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.  Having been around the legal system in Northeast Florida for longer than I care to admit I have to sit back in admiration when I see the names Hank Coxe and Buddy Schulz mentioned in the same article.  When you realize they are on the same team and standing between the child and the massive State you know there have to be some serious issues being batted around for lawyers such as them to be stepping to the plate.  The Assistant State Attorneys are good lawyers, well experienced and respected.  But, we are talking true Hall of Famers with Coxe and Schulz!  You can read the blogs and comments all over and hear all the nastiness people vent against the bar, Judges, the law and lawyers in general.  But knowing that the pezzonovante are looking the Honorable Angela Corey in the eye and saying no to prosecuting twelve year olds makes me proud to be an American, a Floridian and a lawyer.  Thank you Messrs. Coxe and Schulz.

  Semi-locally, at least from the point of view of the prosecution, George Zimmerman dominated the cable channels Friday with the newest attempt to get him out on bond pre-trial.  Judge Lester may have been rightly upset that Mrs. Zimmerman had allegedly lied about the monies they had access to when she testified.  But just as the sins of the fathers are not that of the sons, the lies of Mrs. Zimmerman have no more impact on the bond criteria for George Zimmerman than I do on the path of the sun through the daytime sky.  Is George Zimmerman a danger to the community?  Other than the pending charge and some minor scrapes a few years ago there is nothing to suggest he is a man to fear.  Is George Zimmerman a flight risk?  Not only no, but hell no!  He was told by Mark O'Mara, a man who appears to be a true lawyer of respect, that he had forty-eight hours to surrender and return to jail.  He was in an unknown location, had two days and some funds and still did the right thing.  He surrendered and has been in custody for the better part of June!  George Zimmerman is not a flight risk and is willing to exercise his constitutional right to trial.  He needs to have a bond set that is not punitive in nature and secures his appearance in court.  Hopefully, Judge Lester will do the right thing next week and set a reasonable bond.  This case needs to proceed and let the legal process work like it was prior to the introduction of public pressure and politics.  The interference of people with little or no knowledge of due process and local rules does not bode well for the appearance or achievement  of justice.

  All three of these issues were media circuses in their own rights - emphasis on the circus.  The Solicitor General had been chastised, ridiculed and parodied over his performance during the three days of argument earlier in the year.  Where are the accolades for him now that his narrow argument regarding taxation carried the day and captured the support of the Chief Justice in doing the constitutionally correct thing?  Thank you Geoffrey Toobin for admitting your short comings and jumping the gun, now tell your colleagues in the media to belly up to the bar of public scrutiny and admit their errors.  Politics will now set in to dominate the issue of national health care.  Sadly, the other two will continue to suffer the three ring atmosphere that has cast doubt on the integrity of our system of justice!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Deficit Budgets

  How do you run a deficit budget three years in a row?  If you are Tim "Hooha" Poynter and his prior fellow members of the Fernandina Beach City Commission you simply ignore fiscal responsibility.  Now there are rumblings of an additional deficit budget - one where we draw down the reserves or emergency funds - and no talk of salary cuts or other budget restraints.
  The city has enough take home vehicles to create its own traffic jam on our underused downtown streets and byways.  Where are the plans to stop that?  Even with the price of gas dropping it is simply too expensive to have everyone and their assistant driving city cars.  Why are the people who have allowed us to be drawn into law suits, overspending and overpaying still drawing their high salaries.  Their love for this community should be exhibited in assisting with the belt tightening!  If there is no love, then there will be no love lost with their departure.
  We have borrowed a whole lot of money - $1.8 million - for discretionary spending.  Opening of another railroad crossing that will benefit few, one being "Hooha" himself and his businesses.  It wasn't bad enough that he used the city parking lot at 2nd and Alachua for a private staging area for the recent improvements to his new enterprise, now he wants us to pay to open another crossing.  At what expense to the taxpayers?  The payments on the loan are approximately $12,000.00 a month of our tax dollars.  The money was borrowed quickly after the November elections to prevent the newly elected commissioners from putting the halt to it.  That money has been largely untapped since then to the tune of $72,000.00 so far this year.  But "Hooha" didn't want to expend $13,000.00 to celebrate the birthday of the greatest country yet known!
  The double talking about fiscal responsibility and fiscal restraints sounds good at the end of the Commission meeting but doesn't ring true when held up for evaluation against the prior actions.  "Hooha" has been willing to mortgage and spend our future, especially when he benefits, but not when the community as a whole does.
  We need people who will be stewards of our resources not protectors of their own interests.  People need to let the Commissioners know!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Talking Heads

  As a lawyer in a small town you are often greeted with questions about the seemingly endless high profile cases that find themselves in the news.  Everyone has a question, if not an opinion, as to what, why and how things occur in the criminal justice system.  It is easy to opine about things but not always smart.  The larger cities are worse so the news channels seek out lawyers to comment live on TV and radio and in the print media.
  All court personnel are insiders, so to speak, and have jaundiced views of what goes on in a courtroom.  It doesn't mean they are correct or have sufficient knowledge to offer an opinion - but many do.  Too many, in my opinion!
  Very few people have the luxury of knowing enough of the inside dope on a case to form an intelligent and well thought out position on many of these cases.  Personally, I have always told lawyers if you are going to try a case you need to pick your jury so that you can talk to them.  Too many young lawyers, prosecutors mostly, want someone else to pick the jury for them because its intimidating to talk to people in a courtroom and not have everything orchestrated for your own comfort.  The same applies to the position of "talking head" offering opinions on something with which you have no involvement and limited knowledge.  It is really easy to say something but it's not always easy to say something intelligent.
  Like facing a knuckleball pitcher you can talk about how far you would smack that floating balloon until you step into the batter's box.  The scenario changes drastically when it's your behind on the line and that pea sized ball heads this way and that as it makes its way to the plate.
  Lawyers need to stop and think about this sideline commentary that is becoming all the more prevalent on the various news and cable channels trying to fill air time.  They aren't Howard Cossell offering observations on a quarterback rolling out to throw a pass.  The courts and people's rights are not a game up for color commentary and interesting asides about someone's stance or swing or evasive run with a ball.
  The various bar associations are responsible for this, indirectly, when they allowed all the advertising and puffery that accompanies the unsightly commercials that are aired and the billboards that pollute the major intersections.  No one could have ever imagined it would go this far but it has!  Murder trial as sport.  Judge Judy and Joe Brown and the now countless others that have friends litigating against friends over spilt milk.  While being seen with the popular host of a TV newscast may meet the requirements of Marketing 101 it falls far short of what lawyering should be all about.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day

  My day began with attending church with my wife and daughter.  Wonderful way to begin and with my two favorite people in the whole world.  Later drove into Jax to see my much older brother, two brother-in-laws and, most importantly, my father.  A perfect day!
  I tell people my siblings and I are the most blessed people on earth.  Eleven short days and our mother will turn 91.  Thirty-one days later and our father will be 92.  Their health fluctuates, as you would expect, but by and large they are in excellent shape and still live on their own.  Spending time with them is an added bonus to any trip to Jax and hearing their input on the various topics of the day often manages to surprise me.  Politics, war, religion the topic is unimportant.  But, when filtered through their years of life and the exposures the Greatest Generation have had it is usually pretty well founded.
  I only wish everyone could have their parents so long and in such good shape.  Each day is an added blessing that so few of my peers have.  God bless them one and all, our parents!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Fernandina Friday Nights

  Downtown is hopping!  It is like days of old with people everywhere.  The Bookloft had people of all ages perusing their shelves.  The ice cream shops had lines blocking the sidewalk.  There were people in their later years along with families with toddlers and strollers and fathers walking out with children in their arms and a cup of ice cream in their hands that they couldn't eat.  Every restaurant was packed, not busy, packed!
  The police department has returned its presence on Centre Street and downtown with an officer riding a Segway and engaging locals and visitors alike in pleasant conversation.  I hope the city commissioners see this.  This is what the tree lights was all about.  Its not about twinkling and us versus them attitudes.  Its simply about the charm of an old seaside village with a lot of history - some hundreds of years old and some just decades.  Its not change for the sake of change, looking modern or a new idea because the old is, well, just old.
  Fernandina is a place where families can visit as families.  They don't have to worry about what their children will be exposed to on the street.  Loud partiers imbibing past the point of propriety and acting out in ways that are offensive are not the norm here.  The presence of a law enforcement officer will once again deter the unsavory behavior that had started to show its ugly face again.
  The beach is the day time attraction and the restaurants and book stores and gift shops and ice cream shops are the evening and after dark attraction.  Fernandina is a welcoming community that likes people of all ages and accommodates many different tastes.  It is the proverbial old shoe, comfortable the minute you slide in and lends an air of relaxation and relief from the run amok society we have become.
  You put politics, religious differences and hustle and bustle aside to just settle in and enjoy life like it used to be.  Without leadership that focuses on quality of life we will lose that as so many other communities have.  We don't need massive debt, government that can't pay its bills and self serving elected officials who see nothing but the green of American dollars as their driving force.  Those attitudes will kill our community faster than the economic downturn did the housing industry.  One shopkeeper shared the upswing in business as her hopes of a good sign for the return of our national psyche and local interests especially.
  As a retired Judge used to say to visiting lawyers - Welcome to Paradise!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Perils of Flying Solo

  The grass is always greener when you look across the fence.  I have been flying solo for too many years to count and it has had its many blessings but weeks like this are the ones that make you pause to reflect.
  Return from the FACDL annual meeting which was, as always, very good and helps to recharge the batteries.  A trial set in Jacksonville...oops!  No go this week but maybe next.
  Tuesday pre-trials, a couple of old cases finally closing out with negotiated dispositions and two DMV hearings - both set with out any consultation to my calendar, the first at 9 the second at 11.
  Make it through chambers, go over plea agreements with all three clients and brief my client on the workings of the Kangaroo Court known as Administrative Review.  Only problem, no hearing officer and no trooper! Try to placate my client and family for a few minutes and then find a JA who calls to find out they have continued the hearing with little or no consideration for my schedule or my client.  And, by the way, forgot to call and advise they weren't going to make the courthouse but they did leave a message on voice mail at the office that wasn't scheduled to open until nine.
  Meet with a prosecutor over a new case during the down time and return for the 11o'clock hearing.  The same deputy who had previously requested a continuance just decided not showing was a better option.  An entire morning wasted with little or no ability to accomplish anything positive for my client.
  Grab lunch with two friends and, nightmare of all nightmares, break a tooth.  Return to my office with an ache that makes life miserable only to find out a construction crew on property behind my office has severed the phone lines.  No phones, fax or internet and a jury selection set for this morning, Wednesday.  Get in to see my dentist - thank God - then back to pre-trial my client.  Jury selection at 8 a.m.
  Jury selection goes well, brief recess and opening statements at 10.  New prosecutor who had not filed the case, knows little or nothing about it and probably her first trial.  Senior lawyer there at her side she tells the jury about evidence never disclosed and statements never recorded or disclosed at any point.  My motion for a mistrial was opposed by the senior lawyer and the Judge says he'll do the Richardson hearing.  It lasted about thirty seconds before he began scolding the senior lawyer and said the mistrial was the only option.
  Tomorrow brings a schedule full of appointments to make up for being out of town at the FACDL soiree and then in a trial and without phones on top of it.  Makes you wish for two or three partners to spread the wealth along with the agony.
  Despite the carping wouldn't trade it for the world.  Love being a criminal defense lawyer, love sitting there next to a client fighting to keep his CDL and truck driving job so he can continue to support himself and family.  The greatest job in the world - most of the time.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

  Just returned from Naples for the 25th annual meeting of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.  The foresight of those men and women who stepped forward in 1987 has paid off in spades with the status of the organization within the system, the recognized professionalism of the criminal defense bar statewide and the camaraderie of mostly individualists who defend the constitution daily for different reasons.

  The willingness of the experienced lawyers to stand up and give away their hard earned knowledge is admirable.  Probably not common in other workplaces but truly the standard for the Florida defense bar.  Lawyers famous for recent victories discussing the ins and outs, for all to hear, of the travails of trying high profile cases.   Telling other lawyers, young and old alike, how to swim against the tide of public opinion fueled by a media onslaught that may have predetermined a verdict without the full story only available to a jury.  IT professionals lecturing mostly tech illiterates on the developments of electronic equipment and services to make our lives better.  Having started off as an office boy - runner is the preferred modern term - when libraries took up whole floors of high rise buildings in downtown Jacksonville I am still amazed at how much info is at your fingertips without leaving your desk, keyboard and monitor.  Also amazing is the chasm that exists between the old plow horses of the profession and the new young thoroughbreds when it comes to technology.

  Like the big legal news throughout Florida of late, the stand your ground law was a major topic of discussion.  Lawyers who have litigated the same issues facing Mark O'Mara as he defends Mr. Zimmerman were there to tell all- the good and the bad - of what you face with the courts, the prosecutors and public opinion.  When the legislature passed this law a few years back it wasn't seen as anything other than a codification of the right to defend oneself.  The talk then was it extended the "castle doctrine" that lets us do what is necessary in our homes when danger is at hand.  Few complained and the NRA and other conservative leaning groups led the charge with Representatives and Senators who already leaned their way.  A tragic chain of events leading to the death of a teenager combined with the hype of Al Sharpton and the marketing savvy of someone has pushed this issue to the point where a fair trial may never be had.  Now there is a statewide panel set to review the law and what changes may be necessary - politically that is - to soothe the angry crowds.  Mob justice is an oxymoron! The criminal justice system works and works well until outside entities with little or no experience with the process try to force a wanted outcome.

  I was fortunate to learn many things in my three days down south.  The sharing of knowledge is worth the trip alone.  The realization that this part of Florida is truly God's country was reinforced once again and maybe the pearl of the entire lesson.  Glad to be home!  Glad all over again to be a part of the best segment of the legal profession!