Fernandina Beach Main Street – the mission of which is promoting economic vitality of downtown businesses – found itself in a damage control position recently due to a social media comment by one of its board members about downtown businesses that display signs supporting President Donald Trump and selling Trump-related items.
The Main Street board member, Treasurer Dawn Tiura, posted the comment on a members-only Facebook group called “Amelia Island Solidarity Nation,” which has about 900 members. Someone who gained access to the AISN group copied the comment and shared it publically.
Tiura has since resigned from the Main Street position.
Fernandina Beach Mayor Johnny Miller, also a member of the AISN group, has two Facebook profiles, one as mayor and one as a personal account. Using his personal account, Miller shared a post in the group that said “Local businesses putting up Trump signs, Thanks! #Noted.”
Along with being distributed to others on Facebook, screenshots of the AISN comments were sent to local blogger Dave Scott. Scott took Miller, who ran for office on a pro-business platform, Tiura, and the Main Street organization to task over the comments.
The News-Leader asked City Attorney Tammy Bach if Miller violated any ethical standards with his comment on the AISN network because of his status as mayor of the city. Bach responded in an email, “The one post that Mr. David Scott shared with me that was posted by Mayor Miller did not violate any ethics laws.” Asked if comments that public officials post on their non-official, private online accounts fall under the realm of free speech, as long as they do not directly deal with government business, Bach responded, “Yes, exactly.”
Numerous attempts to obtain a reaction to the situation from Miller did not elicit a response.
In an interview with the News-Leader, Tiura said, “The whole thing has been taken completely out of context and blown out of proportion.” She explained it all started with Miller’s posting on the network. “People started posting where they saw the Trump signs. I posted that I am not going to frequent places that display Trump signs.” She said this all came down one day after Trump asked for a boycott of Goodyear tires, which angered her.
Scott’s blog quotes Tiura as responding to his question about the comment in the AISN Facebook group: “I would avoid businesses with signs. As most people who are very conservative would avoid businesses with a Biden sign.”
“This was on a closed page of like-minded people and it was leaked,” she reportedly told Scott. “Do you not think there is the exact thing going on in reverse?
“I also frequent all businesses, but I will not walk into one with a huge Trump-Pence sign. I did not encourage anyone else to do so. I stated my personal beliefs. How do you feel about the president of the United States who is advocating publicly asking for a boycott of Goodyear tires,” Scott quoted from her response to him.
According to Scott’s blog, Tiura “without any prompting” reportedly also offered: “I also don’t support Sliders since they decided to boycott the NFL. Personal choice for me.”
Sources close to the situation told the News-Leader that Tiura posted a follow-up comment on the AISN group after Scott’s blog report appeared. Tiura reportedly said, “It looks like I need to resign from the Main Street board.” She subsequently did resign last weekend.
“I resigned. End of story. But it has not ended,” Tiura told the News-Leader.
Tiura, who is CEO and president of Sourcing Industry Group in Fernandina Beach and a licensed CPA, told the News-Leader, “I have never been shy about my opinions.” But, she added, “This has gotten so out of hand with personal threats to me and my family. I have been hurt by it and angered by it. I just want people to leave me alone about it.”
Tiura explained, “I do believe in equality for all people. I was a Republican until three years ago. I do frequent all businesses. But if you are going to put it in my face, I will rebel. It was never supposed to be a boycott. I am not a (Trump) supporter. I don’t like what is happening to our country.” Tiura added, “Anything I say in writing I am willing to say in public. If you ask me on the street how I feel about businesses that post Trump signs, I will tell you I will not frequent them.”
As a result of the exposure of the Facebook comments, Fernandina Beach Main Street Executive Director Arlene Filkoff told the News-Leader, “I made it a point to immediately begin personally discussing the situation with our board members and downtown business owners.”
In addition to urging the Main Street board to issue an official statement, Filkoff personally sent out an email to address the situation, including to the News-Leader. In part, the email stated:
“I guess it would be really hard not to have heard recent comments about Main Street and me personally on Facebook and other online blogs. If you did not hear about it all, I envy you so very much. To summarize, one of our board members, one who has been very active and financially supportive of our efforts posted (in what she believed to be a private network where she did not identify herself with Main Street) a comment which is being interpreted as promoting a boycott of certain downtown businesses. She has stated that she did not promote a boycott.
“I can only attest that no one’s political opinions ever enter decisions about investing in downtown. I will not comment on anyone else’s political beliefs. That is not my role. My job and the job of the organization is to
focus on the preservation and economic vitality of downtown. I hope you know that this has been my focus since I started this position.”
In a separate interview, Filkoff said, “We have never discussed politics at the Main Street board meetings. That has never entered the fray. Dawn (Tiura) had never expressed anything like that at a Main Street meeting. I hated that Main Street folks we deal with day-to-day had to deal with this.”
Filkoff also told the News-Leader, “It is unfortunate that this is the world we live in. We can’t consider anything we put online to be private. … I even worry about my medical records and tax information. There are so many fake profiles out there in the Facebook world.”
Filkoff said she heard mixed reactions from board members and downtown business owners over the weekend after explaining the situation to them and urging the board to issue a formal statement. “For the most part, people are ready now to put it in the rearview mirror and move on.”
The Main Street board also issued a formal statement, over Filkoff’s signature, stating in part: “Last week, I promised all of you a statement from our Board. It is as follows. I wish we had never been put in this place. But I do hope that you will take this action as seriously as our board has done. As always, please let me know if you would like to discuss further.
“The Fernandina Beach Main Street program is part of the National program which is a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. We just received accreditation for the 5th consecutive year. During this time, we have worked very hard in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce, the Amelia Island Museum of History, the Amelia Island Restoration Foundation, the Tourist Development Council, and the City of Fernandina Beach to focus on improving the downtown streetscape and to identify future improvements. We also work with these groups to advocate for the businesses in our district. The City’s investment in this program is in recognition of downtown’s importance in the City’s economic health.
“Our dual mission is to focus on preservation of history in our district and economic vitality. We believe the two go hand in hand, and everything we do is in support of that dual mission.
“Recently, a board member of the Main Street organization made comments on social media which are not consistent with our mission. She has been a very active member of our board, a financial contributor and a business owner in her own right. Her comments have been received negatively and in recognition of the damage those comments might do to the Main Street organization, she has resigned. We thank her for her contributions.
“We have a great deal of work in front of us and we are busy with promotions for downtown to assist our businesses through the Pandemic as well as to prepare for the holiday season. If anyone is interested in helping out, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.”
The Fernandina Beach Main Street program kicked off in 2015 and was recertified in 2019. It is part of the National Main Street Program that includes more than 1,600 communities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The goal is to strengthening communities through preservation-based economic vitality in older and historic downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts. It is administered through the Florida Department of State.
Filkoff told the News-Leader that a priority at the moment “is focusing on getting a new executive director onboard and getting her up to speed and also focusing on fund raising.” Filkoff would not name the top candidate for the position, claiming details of the contract still need to accept, but she did state the candidate “has tremendous non-profit experience and has also been a business owner.”
Filkoff added that the candidate “has owned a house here for years and had planned to move here permanently when she heard about the opening for the Main Street executive director position. “She was excited to apply for the position,” Filkoff added.
Filkoff announced earlier this year her intention to leave the post by the end of the year. The new executive director is expected to be announced before the end of October.