More than 40 years in business taught Genece Minshew that even when things are great, they can always be a little better, and she says she wants to bring that attitude and experience to the Fernandina Beach City Commission.
“I think the biggest issue that drew me (into the race) is that the city could just do things better,” the candidate for the commission’s Group 2 seat said. “There seems to be not enough consensus building, cooperation, leadership. I think those are all things I can bring to the table.”
Minshew has had a home in the city for 20 years and lived here full-time for 12. Her grandfather came to the island in the 1930s to work in the paper mills. Although her father’s job with Florida Power & Light took her family all over Florida while she was growing up, “This is where I always think of as home,” she said, adding she has extended family here and a grandfather buried in Bosque Bello Cemetery.
The run for City Commission is Minshew’s first foray into politics after a career with BellSouth, and the timing was finally right in terms of her interests, time, and energy. She believes the city is somewhat lacking in management and communication, skills she can bring to the table.
“I spent years trying to get 1,500 people across nine states to do things consistently the same way, every day. It’s a challenge but you can do it,” she said. “You can focus on process, on training, on development, on improving systems and on longer-term strategic planning. ... I understand how to write a business case. It’s not always clear to me that the city is making those financial decisions about projects with the right financial focus.”
A case in point, she said, is the Fernandina Harbor Marina, damaged during Hurricane Matthew in 2016. While it is partially up and running now, it still operates at a loss and is heavily in debt to other city accounts from which money came to keep the marina afloat.
“I don’t think you can just summarily forgive (the debt), but you can’t just have these lines of credit that are rolling out there now,” Minshew said. “There has to be some kind of way to consolidate that debt, put it into a long-term something – bond or whatever – and the marina will stay saddled with it. The marina in the big picture will not be cash positive for a very long time.”
Having the marina financially support itself is a question of vendor management, Minshew says, something she believes is lacking in city government.
“You need clear goals, clear outlines of responsibilities, a dashboard, metrics, regular follow-up and communications,” she said. “You need a vendor manager that oversees that relationship. The mooring balls just rotted away because for three years, while the marina was closed, they didn’t do anything about them. So, why is that? If you had good vendor management in place, that wouldn’t happen.”
Plans for a waterfront park are “too expensive, and we can’t afford that,” Minshew believes. Instead, the city should concentrate on maintaining a working waterfront.
“The marina needs to be an active waterfront marina that’s focused on the boating public and that includes businesses,” she said. “They are the waterway gateway into our historic downtown. They are an integrated part of the look and feel of downtown Fernandina. You make that as revenue positive as you can.”
Another issue is how best to balance a growing city with maintaining undeveloped areas. Minshew was a member of zoning board for Decatur, Ga. for six years. She said the city was built out, meaning there were no more undeveloped properties, so the focus was on infill or managing areas that were to be redeveloped. That experience, she said, along with her experience on the Fernandina Beach Planning Advisory Board gives her insight on how to manage development. She said the city needs to follow its own Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map.
“We need to rethink how we are doing development. We have a pretty good comprehensive land use plan. We don’t always follow it. People have a tendency to pick and choose parts of the land use plan that they’d like to use to validate their projects,” Minshew said. “I’m a big ‘plan your work, work your plan’ kind of girl. Land use, conservation, tree canopy protection – those are all important things we need to work on. As the vice chair of the PAB, I am working on those issues. I am very proud of changes we made to the tree ordinance. I think they were cooperatively developed through workshops and discussions with affected parties and it is improved. I think the height restrictions, where we had workshops and collegiately came to a better option – that is how you make things work. If you don’t care who gets credit for the idea, you can actually get a lot of things done.”
Another area of concern is taxes. Minshew volunteers to help low- and middle-income families on Amelia Island prepare their income taxes and says that experience has given her insight into how big of a bite property taxes can take out of a budget.
“Every spring I get to sit across the table from people and see how little money they live on, and it makes me wonder how they survive. It gives me a very good perspective on taxes and city services,” she said. “I think we need to be very careful about taxes and tax increases. Our property values continue to increase, which increases our potential tax roll. We have a lot of retired and low-income people on this island who have lived here for years. They struggle with taxes.”
The very uniqueness of Fernandina Beach requires a broader focus, Minshew said.
“This is not a normal small town,” she said. “You’ve the beach, you’ve got the dunes, you’ve got greenways, you’ve got a river, you’ve got the marina, you’ve got golf courses. You have a more complicated city government than a lot of small towns because you have more things you control, so, therefore, you need better management, oversight and processes to make all those things work effectively, and I think we are lacking in some of those.”
She believes there is also a lack of problem-solving through communication.
“I like to work cooperatively and in consensus with groups of people. I think you always have a better outcome when it’s not just you,” Minshew said. “You create more opportunities to talk with your fellow commissioners, and that’s not happening today. It seems to me sometimes the Sunshine Laws are used as an excuse to talk past each other. That’s no way to run a business, and to me, the city is just a form of business. It’s kind of a monopoly in that you have a set base of customers that have to deal with you, but you need to be more customer-focused.”
Minshew said the city does well with “core competencies” such as police and fire protection, water and sewer service, and amenities. However, she is a believer in improvement.
“Maya Angelou says you do what you know, and when you know better, you do better,” Minshew said. “I think we can do better.”
The deadline to register to vote in the Aug. 18 primary is July 20. Early primary voting is Aug. 7-15. The deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 3 general election is Oct. 5. Early general election voting is Oct. 19-31.