Record of the Jekyll Island State Park Authority (JISPA) Board Meeting of 15 December 2008, as recorded by Steven Y. Newell, Secretary, Jekyll Island Citizens Association
(Note: IPJI has placed some text in “bold” type for emphasis)
Chairman Bob Krueger brought the meeting to order at 9:30 AM. Board members present were Buddy DeLoach, Mike Hodges, Becky Kelley, Tom Lewis, and Sybil Lynn. Steve Croy was on a conference telephone line. Park Authority Executive Director Jones Hooks, DNR Commissioner Chris Clark, and local Senator Jeff Chapman were also present. The audience numbered about 40 persons.
CONSERVATION & PRESERVATION COMMITTEE
Museum Director John Hunter presented this report, in the absence of Chairman Ben Porter, who was unable to attend. Hunter called upon Jeff Shadrick of the Friends of Historic Jekyll Island (FOHJI). Shadrick presented a check from FOHJI for $32,000 to the Park Authority to help support the memorial that was recently placed at St. Andrews Park to commemorate the landing of the Wanderer (the last of the ships to bring African slaves to the United States). Chairman Krueger thanked Shadrick for the generous gift, and noted that the commemoration ceremony was a very moving event.
Hunter next called upon Spud Woodward from DNR/CRD in Brunswick to make a presentation. Woodward noted that he had recently briefed the DNR Board regarding the projects that DNR/CRD is doing with the Jekyll Island State Park Authority, and his intention for the day was to provide an update on these projects. Among the proposed joint projects was the improvement of the 25-year-old boat ramp located behind Tidelands Nature Center. It is the only boat ramp in the Park, and is also the only ramp between the basin of the Satilla River and the ramp on St. Simons Island, making it very important to the Glynn County boating community and to visitors to Glynn County. The ramp was suffering from undermining and the slope of the ramp was such that boaters had to use their motors exaggeratedly in order to get their boats back onto the trailers at low tide, adding to the erosion problem. During FY 2008, the DNR/CRD budget was enhanced by $1.35 million to be used for boating-access projects in coastal Georgia. The Jekyll ramp needed an expanded service dock (to 100 feet) and widening (to 50 ft from 20) and lengthening of the ramp (one continuous slab of concrete) to well below the mean low-tide level. This hardy ramp can now allow three boats to be unloaded at one time. An additional 3 acres of parking space has also been added, including enhanced handicap parking for access to the fishing piers extending into Ski Rixen Pond. This was truly a partnership project among the State Legislature, the Park Authority, the Executive Branch, and the DNR. The total cost was $450,000. In the future, given additional funding, improvement of the access road, with addition of turnouts and removal of invasive species, will be undertaken.
Action-items associated with management of Ski Rixen Pond have included introduction of hatchery-reared red drum (1000 6-8-inch fish) as part of a Peach State Initiative (CRD’s first experimental enhancement of a saltwater recreational fishery). Tagging/retrieval has shown that 15-20% of these fish have been caught by fishermen. A problem affecting fish survival at the Pond is low dissolved oxygen levels. DNR/CRD, in cooperation with Coastal Conservation Association and the Fish America Foundation, has installed a $10,000 compressed-air oxygenating system in the Pond, with assistance from Park Authority staff. Hard substrates have also been added to the sand/silt bottom of the Pond, to encourage development of productive fish habitat. By summer of 2009, an additional fishing pier will be added, once the proper permits have been obtained. The Pond may be declared an official Public Fishing Area by the Board of the Department of Natural Resources, so Woodward requested of the Park Authority Board that they grant the Authority permission to use the Pond in that way. This would result in the first Georgia saltwater Public Fishing Area.
DNR/CRD would also like to undertake renovation of the Tidelands Nature Center. It could become a multipurpose facility, housing educational and research entities. CRD has $36,000 in its budget to cover a feasibility study. It is anticipated that several partners will be interested in joining in on the renovation/expansion. Displays and laboratories might be included in the new Center, along with a state-of-the-art fish-production center. The new Center might have two parts, one at the current location, and the other west of the Pond. The goal is to build the best new Center for the long-term interests of the State Park.
Becky Kelley observed that she is a member of the Conservation Committee, and she suggested that she and Woodward could get together and discuss the idea of the new saltwater Public Fishing Area. Chairman Krueger described a Public Fishing Area near Hawkinsville that is well utilized and very appreciated, and felt that the Park could well use the new Fishing Area that Woodward is proposing.
Mindy Egan pointed out that the new private-partner contract with Linger Longer Jekyll includes statements of consistency with the goals of conservation within the State Park. It should have been a prerequisite to any plans for construction in the Park, to have a comprehensive and protective Conservation Plan adopted and serving as a guide to avoidance of damage to sensitive ecosystems. She asked what the status of the Plan was, sitting on legal counsel Zier’s desk, and when the Plan would be released for public review, including review by experts in the field of ecology, as was initiated in July of 2007? Answer: until we get a product from Mr. Zier, I do not know where we are going with this. I do not know when we will see the Plan. Zier responded on the phone, stating that he now has contract details to work out, so he won’t be getting back to the Plan until January. Egan restated her position that adoption of the Conservation Plan should reasonably have been a prerequisite (not an afterthought) to firming up plans for real-estate development in the Park. She wondered how the delaying of the Plan’s adoption squares with the Authority Board’s many assertions regarding their serious desire to protect the Park’s natural ecosystems? Krueger stated that he did not see why the Plan should be adopted before the private-partner contract was prepared and signed. He felt that the revitalization goals can be met with or without the Conservation Plan, and the natural resources can still be protected.
Frank Mirasola noted that three alligators that had previously been routinely seen in Ski Rixen Pond have not been seen lately. He wondered whether this might be connected to the recent manipulations of the Pond? Answer: it isn’t likely. Mirasola also asked if the Tidelands volunteers and staff would be consulted regarding the plans for expansion of Tidelands? Answer: yes, we have already been talking to the upper levels of administration at UGA Cooperative Extension and will continue to talk to all of our partners. Mirasola reminded Woodward that he will need to look all the way down to the bottom of the organization to find the nature-walk volunteers!
David Egan remarked that, at the public, financial-future presentation by the Bleakly Group, Fernbank ecologist Al Tate had presented an outline of a plan for creation of a biodiversity center in Jekyll Island State Park. Tate has since prepared a more detailed version of his biodiversity-center ideas. Director Hooks has shown interest in this proposal. Egan suggested that Tate’s proposal be given serious consideration as a future component of the revitalized Park.
Chairman Hodges announced that staff was recommending that a 3-year renewal of the lease for the Sweets Shoppe (150 Old Plantation Road) be considered by the Board. The current lease fee is $223 per month plus 3 percent of gross income over $16,000 per year. Director Hooks added that the Sweets Shoppes provides an attractive boutique retail spot in the Historic District, and the operators have been good tenants. The second lease to be considered was a renewal with a relocation, for Jekyll Realty. Jekyll Realty will be moving next door, to the old Sandpail location. Annual rent will be $24,000, and tenant will be responsible for all costs associated with the premises. This lease will terminate if construction of the new retail sector of the Beach Village gets underway. Hooks was pleased that Jekyll Realty will be taking over the Sandpail space, rather than there having to be a vacant storefront/brown-papered windows there.
Hodges reported that hotel-occupancy statistics for November show that the percentage of rooms available that were occupied is down (36% in 2008) from November 2007 (47%). The room rate averaged $112 in 2008 (versus $103 in 2007). Room revenue is down 29% from 2007. In October, total revenues to the Park Authority were $1,211,000, 11% under budget, and for the first four months of the current fiscal year, the Authority is 6% under budget with regard to total revenue. In October, Park expenses were $165,000 over budget, and year-to-date, expenses are $264,000 over budget. This budgetary condition cannot be allowed to continue to exist, so adjustments have been made to the expense side of the budget for the remainder of the fiscal year. Director Hooks explained that about $100,000 of capital projects have been postponed, and set a goal to cut department budgets by 10%. Personnel costs have had to be included to reach the goal: 13 full-time employees will be laid off, 20 full-time employees will have their hours reduced, 35 part-time employees will be laid off, and 5 part-time employees will have hours reduced (6 of the full-timers laid off have found other jobs; Human Resources Director Cornell Harvey is working carefully with employees leaving the Authority to ensure that their benefits are being fully used). Managers will take over some tasks that part-time employees had been performing. Vendor costs have also been examined for potential reconfiguring. Some hours of operation have been reduced, and new ideas for efficiency improvement will be implemented. Hooks noted that economic slumping in the tourism industry is not limited to Jekyll Island State Park, but is present throughout the country (fifth largest decline in tourism since 1930). Hodges inquired whether the staff reductions would hurt the Park’s service to its visitors? Answer: management will provide coverage of all aspects of service, and staff will move from department to department when necessary. Hodges and Krueger commended Hooks and his staff, and the residential volunteers, for their responses to the budget crisis. Hodges and Hooks provided a word of tentative encouragement: early returns for November appear to show a turnaround for Park financials.
Tom Lewis stated his assumption that laid-off employees will be given first opportunity to take any new openings on the Authority payroll, and Hooks assured him that this is the case.
DNR Commissioner Clark addressed the question of the $25 million State bond issue intended to pay for the infrastructure supporting the Linger Longer Jekyll Beach Village project. Clark noted that State bond sales are being reduced in size this year, and that the bond sale intended to cover planning and design for the expanded Park Convention Center has been pushed back to January. There will also be a bond sale at the beginning of the second quarter of the year. Clark stated that the Governor has asserted that the State has a good credit rating, which should permit bond issuance.
Jimmy Veal (37-year operator of the Beachview Club) commended the State Park’s Legislative Oversight Committee, the Authority Board and staff, and anyone else who has worked on Park revitalization. To Veal, the situation boils down to a need to get the revitalization going quickly. He had never seen business fall off a cliff like it recently has. The revitalization is the only answer to his business troubles. The revitalization will be his salvation and will permit his business to survive. He challenged listeners to question any business in the Park about its finances. The hospitality industry is down generally and Jekyll Island State Park is suffering more due to some deterioration. He encouraged listeners to work with him and the Board, not against them, because we’re all in this together. He asserted that if we think that our fire fees and utilities are expensive, we haven’t seen anything yet if we fail to get the revitalization going quickly.
Gloria Zocchi stated her hope that attention is being paid to seniority in the laying-off of Authority staff. She hated to see faithful staff employees hurt by the current financial slump. She noted that volunteers are being asked to step in and take over responsibilities of some of those employees let go. It was her feeling that the willingness of volunteers should not facilitate the firing of employees. Krueger responded that the firing of employees, particularly at holiday time, is not pleasant, but financial realities must be recognized. The Authority administration has acted in as compassionate a fashion as possible.
Chairman Hodges made a motion to endorse the actions of Director Hooks to right the Park’s financial ship, and the motion carried.
Chairman Sybil Lynn called upon Cornell Harvey to present two Faithful Service Awards. Harvey began by referring to the layoffs occasioned by the 10% reductions requested of each department. Harvey put each laid-off employee in touch with the Department of Labor, and sought to find avenues to new jobs for each person let go. The names of the employees laid off were put on a list of potential new hires. Criteria for selection of employees to be let go included seniority. Harvey expressed great regret at the loss of some employees and friends.
Harvey announced that the Georgia Sea Turtle Center won first place for its float (constructed from recyclables) in the Brunswick Christmas Parade. Representatives of the Center attended a scientific meeting on Marathon Key, FL (25% of the presentations at the meeting were made by Center personnel).
The Faithful Service Awards went to Donald Lockhart (15 years in facility maintenance), Terry Newton (10 years in golf-course maintenance), and Kenny Pruett (10 years in greenhouse and landscaping).
Chairman Steve Croy reported that he has received many calls and emails from legislators supporting and congratulating the Authority Board for its contracting with Linger Longer Jekyll (see www.jeffchapman.us for a copy of the contract) at a time of economic turmoil. Croy’s discussions with various committee chairs indicate that the next legislative session will be a quiet one with regard to issues affecting Jekyll Island State Park, but they expressed their confidence in the Park Authority Board after seeing what the Board has been able to accomplish in 2008.
Roy Lynch (Logix Consultants, Savannah, and associate of Friends of Jekyll) announced that he and his group were going to give Chairman Croy something to do during the “quiet” legislative session. There will be a lot to address regarding the State Park, though Croy is not aware of it at this time. Lynch asked whether Croy would attend the Legislative Oversight Committee meeting in Atlanta the following day? Answer: yes. Lynch wondered whether public comment would be allowed at the Atlanta meeting? Answer: that will be decided by Representative Keen, Chair of the Oversight Committee. Lynch requested of Croy that he use his influence to have it be the case that coastal citizens who travel to Atlanta for the meeting be allowed to make comments at the meeting. Krueger reinforced his statement that Keen would make that decision, regardless of the advice of Croy. Lynch requested that Croy answer his question, but Krueger rebuffed him. Lynch would not back away from his desire to have Croy answer. Croy stated that Keen would announce the rules at the opening of the meeting, and would not reveal them to Croy ahead of time. Lynch quoted Justice Brandeis, “Crime is contagious; if government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law, and it moves every man to become a law unto himself”. Lynch felt that coastal Georgia is seeing a lot of that going on right now, and many citizens are committed to putting an end to it. Krueger thanked Lynch for his comment.
Mindy Egan noted that she had called Representative Keen’s office to ask about public comments at the Atlanta meeting. Keen’s office announced that there would be no public comments accepted at the Atlanta meeting.
In the absence of Chairman Sam Kellett, Marketing Director Eric Garvey discussed the Park’s marketing work. Garvey asserted that the Park’s marketing team is confident, and is continuing to sell into the future. Some national exposure was received from the Wanderer commemoration held in late November. The New York Times “Escape” section covered the remaking of the Jekyll Oceanfront accommodations, and the Toledo, Ohio, newspaper covered Jekyll Island State Park in its travel section. The group sales team is making progress in bringing Georgia associations to the new, expanded Convention Center, and is having some success in bringing youth and athletic groups to the Park, including an Ultimate Frisbee training camp and tournament (three weeks and 3,000 room nights in March). A lacrosse camp and soccer camps are scheduled for the summer. A notable return of convention business is that of Rotary District 6900 (1,250 room nights), which hasn’t met in Jekyll Island State Park for seven years. Director Hooks reminded Garvey of two awards that have been received by the Marketing Division: one for excellence in flexography for the Beachscape flier (which is produced on a flexopress) by the National Association of Flexographers; the Public Relations Society of America, Atlanta chapter, recognized the Marketing Division for its work with the release of Dylan the loggerhead turtle.
PUBLIC/PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP COMMITTEE
Chairman Krueger reminded the group that the contract with Linger Longer Jekyll has been signed, and there is no further information to provide at this time.
Roy Lynch asked Director Hooks why he had not received the information promised him at the public hearing for the amendments to the Park’s Master Plan required for the new entranceway into the Park. This promise was to relay to the Board a request for public hearings across the State, rather than just within the Park. Hooks believed that he had only offered to consider Lynch’s request for statewide hearings. Lynch replied that the record shows that Hooks had offered to relay the request to the Board, and get back to Lynch with the Board’s response. Hooks stated that Lynch’s point was well taken, and that he had discussed it with Chairman Krueger. The outcome of the discussion was the conclusion that Jekyll Island State Park business is usually conducted in the Park. It would be difficult to decide which Georgia cities should be chosen for hearings outside of the Park, especially during these times of budget issues. Lynch felt that an emergency was created, and then a predetermined solution was offered. Lynch noted that one percent seems to be a good figure to the Board: less than one percent of Georgia’s citizens are getting an opportunity to attend the Board’s public hearing, because the Board is not holding hearings outside of the Park. Lynch felt that the Park’s Legislative Oversight Committee is vision-impaired. Lynch referred to the Board as the Perdue Fan Club, and asserted that all parties participating in the Board’s negotiations are on the same team. Lynch resented the fact that the people of the State of Georgia have not had any information whatsoever presented to them regarding the Linger Longer Jekyll contract, and he resented the fact that the Board has misled and misinformed him. He felt that the Board had been less than truthful, and expressed disgust at the entire process of partnership-contract negotiation. Lynch described his goal as obtaining a restructuring of the Park Authority so that Georgia citizens can have the State Park administered in an honorable way. Krueger asked for a copy of the charter from the people of Georgia that gives Lynch the right to speak for them. Lynch retorted that Krueger’s charter comes from the Governor, as does that of the Oversight Committee, and results in the foxes guarding the henhouse, which Lynch found disgusting and despicable. Krueger thanked Lynch so much for his comments, and looked forward to hearing from him again. Lynch responded that “you certainly shall”.
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chairman Krueger described the events leading up to the day’s option of adopting an amendment to the Park’s Master Plan (see www.jekyllislandauthority.org, important postings), the amendments involving redesignation (from undevelopable to developable) of small plots alongside the planned new entranceway into the Park. Counsel Zier had no comment regarding the procedure. The amendment was approved.
Director Hooks reported that only 200 reservations for the sea-turtle auto-license tag have been confirmed, and suggested that the economy is having a negative effect on this. To counter this problem, the Park’s Marketing Division has produced a turtle-tag gift card, replicating the actual tag. One thousand purchases are needed before the real tags will be produced.
Hooks announced that WeatherFlow is working with the Authority to establish a weather station in Jekyll Island State Park. WeatherFlow will be spending about $25,000 to install the monitoring equipment. Hooks noted that routine reporting of weather at a potential vacation destination can be very helpful in marketing the destination.
Hooks announced that ribbon-cuttings would be held immediately following the Board meeting, for the new boat ramp behind Tidelands, and for the newly remodeled Recycling Park on the Park’s south end.
Hooks reminded the audience that a gate-arm is now in operation at the Greeting Station. Before the arm was activated, more than one hundred cars were caught passing through the decal line with expired decals. These offenders received letters, and many responded by buying new decals. On one example day following gate activation, 28 new decals were sold to cars stopped at the gate, and only two of these were renewals.
Chairman Krueger announced that letters were going out to a list of individuals inviting them to participate quarterly on a quarterly basis in the new Jekyll Forum. Participants will include Linger Longer representatives, citizens at large, etc. This will be a body charged to share ideas, rather than its being charged to take any action.
Krueger announced that the January Board meeting will be held on Wednesday, 14 January 2009, at 1:30 PM, at the Park Convention Center.
Krueger summarized the current situation for the effort to revitalize the State Park. Currently, 390 million dollars of private money are committed to new construction; none of that is public money. Krueger spoke to Farm Bureau representatives in the week before the day’s meeting, and after 45 years of having their convention in Jekyll Island State Park, they have decided that without improvements to accommodations (cold showers, poor mobile-phone service, no place to eat breakfast), they will move their convention. Revitalization will change this situation.
The committee session was adjourned at 10:57 AM.
The Board meeting was opened at 11:15 AM. Chairman Krueger brought up all action items from the Committee Session, and all of these were approved.
The Board meeting was adjourned at 11:18 AM.