Record of the Jekyll Island State Park Authority (JISPA) Board Meeting of 14 April 2008, as recorded for Jekyll Island Citizens’ Association
(Note: IPJI has placed some text in “bold” type for emphasis)
Chairman Porter brought the meeting to order at about 9:40 AM. Board members present were Ed Boshears, Steve Croy, Buddy DeLoach, Mike Hodges, Sam Kellett, Becky Kelley, Bob Krueger, and Sybil Lynn. Board Counsel Zier was present by telephone connection, and the audience numbered about 30 persons. Chairman Porter announced that public comment would be invited following each of the Board’s committee meetings.
CONSERVATION AND PRESERVATION COMMITTEE
Mike Hodges led off the Conservation/Preservation Committee session by inviting Christa Frangiamore, JISPA Conservation Manager, to provide an update on her activities. Christa announced that she had received word that she would probably be receiving a $50,000 Coastal Incentive Grant on behalf of the Park Authority. The grant money would be used for bike trails, interpretive signage, and signs for the wildlife-viewing platforms that she plans to have constructed. Chairman Porter joked that this money should show up in the budget, and not be hidden. Christa reported that she is striving to obtain Audubon certification, which will require that she provide checklists of wildlife species and a demonstration garden. She has found a good location near the clubhouse of the golf course (the rectangular pond there) for the garden. Christa passed out a copy to Board members of the butterfly checklist that she has produced as a part of the application for Audubon certification. Christa will have two interns working with her this summer on the checklists. Christa thanked the JISPA landscape staff for help in removing the invasive tamarisks that are too common on the western side of the Park, along the causeway, and in some dune areas. Christa announced that the Jekyll Square blocks in downtown Brunswick are nearing completion.
Mike Hodges reported that the Park’s Conservation Plan remains on the desk of Counsel Zier for legal review. George should have time for this review, now that the legislative session for 2008 is over. Mike also announced that the Park Authority has received two awards (Excellence in Rehabilitation and Marguerite Williams) for the historical-preservation work that was associated with the refurbishment of the building in which the Georgia Sea Turtle Center is now located. Center Director Bill Irwin participated in the presentation of the awards, which were officially made to Chairman Porter.
Ed Boshears stated that he had understood from Eric Garvey recently that a capacity study is now underway for the Park. He wanted to know what the current status of this study is? Jim Broadwell answered that Bleakly Advisory Group and Cooper Carry Consultants are conducting the visitation/capacity study. These two have only just begun their work. Ed wondered when a report on this study can be expected? Answer: in sixteen weeks, with preliminary material earlier. Ed also asked about current speculation that Linger Longer Communities (LLC) will be expanding their Beach Village project into the maritime forest west of Beachview Drive, alongside the originally proposed location of the Village on the beachfront. Ed wanted to know whether the Authority would seek advice on what can legally be built on that forested site, which may contain federally protected wetlands, before LLC proposes using that site? He suggested that it was a serious mistake to ask for proposals to build on a site (the central beachfront) that was protected by the Shore Protection Act. He felt that the very expensive plans that were submitted were dead as a doornail when they were submitted, due to lack of careful study of the laws governing the proposed site. He wondered whether the Board was planning to examine the forest and wetlands and determine what could legally be built there, or whether the Board would make the same mistakes out of ignorance that they made on the beachfront? Chairman Porter requested that Ed hold his question until the report of the Public/Private Partnership Committee.
Bob Krueger introduced a capital request for purchase of a tram. Ronny Smith had found a good bargain on two trams to replace two that are now 25 years old and causing excessive repair costs. The two new trams will cost $123,400 (as opposed to a more usual cost of $346,000). At the end of the fiscal year, the capital fund usually contains five to six hundred thousand dollars. Becky Kelley asked whether another capital project would have to be dropped to make it possible to purchase the trams? Answer: no; the tram purchase would have had to be done soon anyway, and the new trams will allow expansion of the Park tours. Bob also requested approval of purchase ($6,300) of new computer terminals for Blackbeard’s Restaurant; the old terminals are causing problems with the business. Bob announced the transfer of funds from the Park’s beach-renourishment category ($66,000) to provide funding for the capacity/visitation-impact study being performed by Bleakly and Cooper Carry. Also, $15,000 will be transferred from the Parking Fee monies to the Historic District Improvement category.
Bob reported that Park revenues are 8% above projected budget as of February; expenses were about 1% down year-to-date, and net operating cash income was about $710,000 (about 32% over budget). The lease for the Jekyll Island Arts Association is still being negotiated; a problem needing solution is insurance for the kiln operations, and Counsel Zier is working on the legal language for the lease.
Bob stated that it is now time for the Board to consider the renewal conditions for the residential leases in the Park. He pointed to the fact that potential buyers of homes in the Park will need to be able to secure 30-year mortgages, which require certainty of 40 years of occupiability of the home to be purchased. He stated that consideration of the lease extension procedure (if any) would take some time, because the form of the leases and the rates to be charged would have to be carefully considered. He asserted that Senator Chapman and others have questioned whether there should be ANY residential leases in the Park. Bob questioned whether there should be any houses on the south end of the Park, where development has been ruled out by law. He anticipated a need for outside help in making decisions about the residential leases. Chairman Porter agreed that the consideration of the residential leases should take place now, and charged the Finance Committee with these deliberations; he included reiteration of the assertion that a number of people have remarked that the Park should not contain residences.
Kevin Runner requested that the Board consider repaving Riverview Drive near the Club Hotel, a project that has been delayed for some time. Jim Broadwell replied that a funding shortfall caused this project to be postponed, but assured Kevin that it should be completed soon. Kevin also requested attention to the lack of quality cellphone service in the Park; it does sometime hurt bookings. Marjorie Johnson replied that Verizon is planning a cellphone tower for behind the fire station. Bob Krueger added that other companies typically add equipment to the tower, once it is has been constructed.
Sybil Lynn asked Cornell Harvey to comment on the new flexible-benefits program that will soon be available to the JISPA staff.
Chairman Porter requested that Representative Terry Barnard come out of the audience to the Board’s table, and thanked him for helping with the Board’s legislative issues in the 2008 session. Steve Croy noted that the Authority had gone into the 2008 legislative session hoping for a budget item to assist the Authority in their re-development of the Park, and the Governor provided that budget boost in the form of a $25 million dollar offer to help with the proposed Park infrastructure changes. He stated that he was waiting anxiously for Debby Dluglenski (who was in the audience) to deliver that check and enable the infrastructure work to get underway. He was thankful to the legislature for defeating the Chapman and Buckner bills; his opinion was that this could be attributed to the legislature’s recognizing the destructive nature of these bills for the Park’s revitalization planning. Steve spent the weekend before the Governor went to China with the Governor, and talked to him at length regarding his hopes for Jekyll Island State Park. Governor Perdue is appreciative of the Board’s efforts, and is keeping much more of an eye on the Park than it may sometimes appear. Steve thanked Chairman Porter and Bob Krueger for walking the halls of the Legislative Building and making sure that the Authority’s case stayed on their front burners. Steve stated: “It has came up in several of my meetings with legislators that there is a growing thought that there should be no houses on the south end of the Park, which should be allowed to entirely return to nature, with the exception of the 4H Center”. He called for immediate addressing of this issue. He stated that the one disappointment of the legislative session came with the decision to have the money from the sea-turtle auto license tags flow to the Nongame DNR people, rather than directly to the Park.
Representative Barnard felt that the 2008 legislative session was mild compared to the 2007 session, in which HB214 was passed and signed into law. He remarked that the demolition of dilapidated hotels, and refurbishment of lower quality hotels, has already made the Park look better. He described the defeats of the Chapman and Buckner bills, and told the story of the Buckner amendment and the threat that he felt that it posed to the Coastal Management Act renewal. He was glad that some give and take took place behind the scenes, and that Rep. Keen was able to announce that the central beachfront parking lot would no longer be the proposed site of the LLC Beach Village, making Rep. Buckner’s amendment no longer necessary. The Coastal Management Act was then attached as an amendment by Rep. Barnard to a Marshlands Protection bill, and it is now on the Governor’s desk for signing. Chairman Porter added that the Authority Board had already decided to use the beachfront only for greenspace and public access, so Rep. Buckner’s amendment was pointless. Rep. Barnard concluded by reminding the Board that the legislature attempted to add an amendment to HB214 in 2007 that would have barred residential properties in Jekyll Island State Park. Rep. Barnard fought and defeated that amendment, because he felt that the matter should be argued within the Park Authority, not by the legislature. He stated that his secretaries were worn out by callers demanding that residential properties not be allowed in the Park. He repeated his call for close examination of the existence of residential housing on the south end of the Park, because the State does not want it. He offered help to the Authority in its moves in this regard.
Chairman Porter recognized Debbie Dluglenski, who represents the Park Authority at the State Office of Planning and Budget. He thanked her for her part in obtaining the offer of $25 million to the Park by the Governor.
Ed Boshears wanted to know why the agreement to drop the idea of putting the Beach Village on the central beachfront of the Park was not brought to the Authority Board before Rep. Keen announced it to the press? Ed also reacted to the DVD of the legislative hearing at which Chairman Porter and Steve Croy emphatically called Senator Chapman a liar. He was offended by the Atlanta newspaper’s report that stated that the Authority Board called Senator Chapman a liar, since he definitely did not believe that Senator Chapman was a liar, and he did believe that the figures that the Authority was using to attack Senator Chapman were themselves inaccurate. Ed felt that Chairman Porter and Steve Croy could go to Atlanta and make asses of themselves as often as they liked, but when they did so, they should make it clear that they were making asses of themselves only on behalf of themselves. Ed felt that what Porter and Croy did was not only irresponsible, in that they were making false statements, it was also stupid. He reminded Porter and Croy that when Sonny Purdue was a member of the minority party, he was treated badly by the majority figures. He suggested that this situation might someday soon be reversed, and Senator Chapman might be Governor, partly as a result of the Porter/Croy actions in the legislature. Chairman Porter reacted by reminding Ed that he had, some months ago, called both himself and Steve Croy liars. Steve Croy responded that Ed had not been at the hearing himself, and that he did not need critiques from Ed. Steve accused Senator Chapman of unfairly attacking the Park Authority Board for self-serving purposes. He justified his remarks at the hearing by pointing to the majority legislative votes in his favor, which he also felt were aimed at characterizing Senator Chapman’s reports of Board inaccuracies as falsehoods. Ed then pointed out to Chairman Porter that Porter had stated to the press that Senator Chapman’s and Rep. Buckner’s bills would have killed revitalization. How could that be true, if he and LLC had already decided not to use the beachfront for the Beach Village? Chairman Porter replied that Ed would need to refer to the whole newspaper report. He stated that he would go forward with his charge to revitalize Jekyll Island, Senator Chapman’s wishes notwithstanding.
Jean Poleszak was reminded of a principle that she learned in college: “Never quite believe history; it’s always somebody’s interpretation”.
Frank Mirasola pointed out that the Citizens Association never did want the asphalt parking lots on the central beachfront of the Park saved – the Association wanted ready public access maintained, along with sensible improvements.
Sandy Cerrato reminded the Board that the residents that they seemed not to want in the Park should be receiving a big thank-you for the thousands and thousands of hours of volunteer service that they give to the Park. The Park would not be what it is today without this volunteerism. Further, Sandy asked how it can be that many more condominiums and timeshares are being considered for the Park, if it is the goal of the Authority to remove the residents? Chairman Porter noted that this is a valid question that will come up again in the next few months. He also noted that the Board acknowledges and appreciates the many hours of volunteering done by the Park residents, and he stated that the beneficial effects of the volunteering are apparent.
Thorny Parker pointed out that the south-end residences in the Park are no longer beachfront properties, and now have less impact upon the south-end beaches than the 4H Center or interpretive Turtle Center walks. He also noted that at least 50% of the Park residences are used as rental properties, providing more opportunities for visitation to potential visitors that aren’t looking for hotel-room stays. Lastly, he cited a 400% increase in his fire fee for his residence, alongside a 25% increase in the budget of the fire department, and no increase in fire fees for the Park’s businesses. He wondered where the extra fire-fee money was being spent? Chairman Porter asked that no further comments on Park residency be made until after the Finance Committee begins its deliberations on the potential extension of leases for residents.
Sandy Hamel inquired about the possibility of a statewide referendum being held to decide, yea or nay, on the use of the Park as a site for an LLC Beach Village or Town Center? She pointed to the several new-hotel+condominium projects now in various stages of getting underway, and suggested that the Beach Village or Town Center projects may not ever be needed for Park revitalization. She asked that the people of the State be allowed to decide the question, via a referendum. Chairman Porter stated flatly that the Board will not ask the Legislature or the Governor for a referendum, and he doubted that anyone else would either.
Sam Kellett introduced Joel Babbit of GCI, the public-relations partner to Eric Garvey’s Marketing Department. Joel described the first 8 months of working with the Park Authority as “challenging”. Joel introduced Walter Woods, formerly of the Atlanta Journal & Constitution, GCI’s new representative working with the Park Authority. Walter stated that GCI has two goals: 1) making the Park better known throughout the State and country; 2) to achieve more balanced news coverage of the Authority Board’s redevelopment efforts. He noted that any time a high-profile development takes place, it is necessary to have the public receive the developer’s side of the story. He described his efforts to have reporters talk to Authority personnel. He said that he thought that one of GCI’s best days this winter was during the hearings. He had staff members and Authority persons there and made sure to identify the reporters present and get them to speak to his people. They didn’t just hear Senator Chapman’s point of view or one lobbyist’s point of view; they heard everyone’s point of view including that of GCI. In the newspapers the next day, as a result of his work, he got balanced coverage. This is hard to get and sometimes you have to be muscular about it. In fact, that night, Eric Garvey and he got on the phones and called editors to ensure that some words that were not accurate were not used. Also, the Authority’s accounting practices were brought up in the hearings, so he made sure that the press knew that the Authority has a sterling record for its financial bookkeeping.
Walter described his efforts to get publicity for the Park’s amenities, including a piece in Southern Living and an airplane magazine. He reemphasized that he also has made sure to get the word out that most people support revitalization, including the Governor. He used PowerPoint slides to show his methods of attempting to achieve balanced news coverage. For example, he monitored the online discussions of Park issues by environmentally-active groups, and subsequently crafted responses to the potential publicity work of those environmentalists.
Joel Babbit regretted that GCI has had to spend so much time defending legislative actions, and hoped that soon GCI can focus more on showing the public the positive things about Jekyll Island State Park. Joel showed a long list of interviewees with whom GCI has conducted one-on-one discussions, in order to learn more about the Park and its functioning. The list included Authority Board members, Authority staff, and Park businesspersons.
Eric Garvey passed out a sheet to Board members describing the new Park-branding project to be conducted by GCI in conjunction with Eric’s department. It would cost $140,000, in increments of $35,000. Bob Krueger inquired about deliverables from the project: would they be required before payment? Answer: yes, on a monthly basis. Becky Kelley objected to this budget issue coming up without the whole Board having been previously notified, and Sam Kellett apologized.
Eric Garvey proposed that the Board sign onto an annual fireworks program from Melrose Pyrotechnics, so that they can obtain a 16% discount on the Park’s fireworks shows. Eric stated that Melrose has performed well in the past for the Park.
Pat Overholt objected to GCI’s omission of residents and residential groups on its list of interviewees. She informed the Board that the residents know the Park’s functioning in a different way than the Authority Board or staff, because of their volunteering and attendance at Park events, and their close interactions with visitors, especially renters of residential homes. She cited Mary Ann Cernak as an example of an important omitted person (Mary Ann has worked hard at surveying winter residents for their spending habits in the Park). She asserted that the Authority Board members cannot truly understand Park social and artistic events without attending them personally. Chairman Porter rejected Pat’s implication that the Board doesn’t know what is going on in the Park. Pat responded that she has never seen Board members at key Park social events such as the Georgia/Florida celebration, or the concerts. She invited Board members to attend such events. Chairman Porter quickly moved on to the next speaker.
Lucien DeBacker added the Volunteer Dinner held each year as a Park event that Board members might want to attend. He then read a letter that he has sent to the Governor and JISPA administrators regarding the assertion by the JISPA Board that a drop in visitation of some 47% justifies major redevelopment efforts in the Park. Lucien disputed the 47% figure and cited evidence for its considerable exaggeration. He went on to charge that use of this false figure constitutes a breach of the public trust, and called for a hearing to be convened under Georgia Code 45-10-3, subsection 8. Lucien handed a copy of the letter to Chairman Porter. Chairman Porter responded that Eric Garvey will provide Lucien with evidence of the drop in visitation of approximately 50%. He asserted that the Park is, in fact, in decline. He declared that he would not spend any further time discussing the matter.
Mindy Egan reminded Joel Babbit that she had given him a copy some months ago of a book of comments from survey respondents to the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island (IPJI). She felt greatly disappointed that GCI has not attempted to discuss that book of comments with her as representative of some 10,000 IPJI supporters all across the State. Joel apologized and explained that GCI does plan to interview residents (they plan at least 10 times more interviews) and that he does have the book of comments.
PUBLIC/PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP COMMITTEE
Chairman Porter announced that because of the fighting that he and others were required to do in Atlanta, LLC and the Board are still massaging the plan for LLC’s condominium village, and are still taking public input. He expects a revised plan very soon.
Ed Boshears had heard that the revised plan would not be available for 6-8 weeks. He wondered if that timing was correct? Answer: don’t know.
Frank Mirasola made a request (under the Georgia Open Records Act) for a copy of the Board’s approval process for commercial buildings in the Park. Counsel Zier notified Frank that the Open Records Act only applies to existing documents, and no document describing the approval process existed at the time of his earlier requests. Frank pointed out that on the two earlier occasions, he had been told that Jim Broadwell would supply him with the documents (but then he did not do so). Frank then asked whether an approval process exists? Answer: we had a checklist, but not a process. Frank suggested that at the rate at which a “process” is being developed, all of the building will be complete before an approval-process document is available. Frank compared this situation with the difficulty that the public is having getting the Park’s Conservation Plan adopted. Chairman Porter refuted this argument, and asserted that Counsel Zier is working on the Conservation Plan. Chairman Porter laughingly exclaimed that one good way to slow down revitalization is to inundate the Board with questions that require hours and hours of research, and “y’all are doing a very effective job of that - congratulations”!
David Egan noted that he had pointed out at the Atlanta Oversight Committee meeting, that the 2004 Park Master Plan update stated that the Town Center to be built would cover 24 acres, and he had questioned then how it was that the acreage had grown to 45 in the Private Partner RFP? Subsequently, he had submitted this question to the Authority Board in writing, but no answer has been received. Chairman Porter directed Jim Broadwell to supply an answer to David on this point.
David Kyler of the Center for a Sustainable Coast stated that if LLC’s Beach Village project were to move west across Beachview Drive, then it would be necessary to destroy forest and wetland habitat that may or may not be protected under State or federal law. David called for enhancement and adoption of the Park’s Conservation Plan now, before any condominium-village plan is put into its final version. Since the village plan is now being revised, the Conservation Plan is still in limbo, and the capacity study has just gotten underway, it seems that the cart is being placed in front of the horse. Chairman Porter respectfully disagreed, and asserted that all of the impact studies are underway.
Ed Boshears wondered why the ecological-impact study, for the area just west of Beachview Drive along the central beachfront of the Park, had not been discussed during the presentation for the Public/Private Partner Committee? Chairman Porter responded that he has asked LLC and JISPA staff to conduct all appropriate, required studies of any part of the Park that is proposed for construction. Ed asked that the staff members in charge of the studies be identified? Answer: Jim Broadwell. Jim noted that he has had the wetlands delineated, and has sent that information to the US Army Corps of Engineers. Ed asked for a copy of the response received from the Corps, and Jim promised it.
Mindy Egan presented a brief overview of Georgia Code 12-16-4, which calls for an Environmental Effects Report (EER) from State agencies that plan projects that could damage the environment. She wondered whether the JISPA Board has made a decision regarding the potential for damage to the environment of the Park, and whether the Board, which has stated many times that it wants to do the right thing by the Park’s natural resources, would file an EER? Answer: we will do all studies and reports necessary to be in compliance with all laws. Counsel Zier asked that Jim Broadwell provide Mindy with a copy of the letter from the Attorney General’s Office (written by Counsel Zier) to Senator Chapman regarding Code 12-16-4.
Carole Hawkins of the Georgia Times Union took the podium. Chairman Porter confronted Carole and challenged her right to ask questions in the public forum. She said that she wanted to clarify some points regarding the environmental and capacity studies that had previously been discussed. Porter asked Carole to bring her questions to him after the meeting if she was asking as a reporter. Carole asked to whom she should direct her questions after the meeting? Answer: talk to me after the meeting.
Ed Leonard proclaimed the status of his family in Georgia since the 1700s. Ed’s family has owned a home in the Park for 38 years. He has sent a letter to LLC favoring the retention of the current businesses of the current Park Shopping Center. He also thanked the Park Authority Staff for operating the golf courses, etc., and the Authority Board for having the courage to think about the future of the Park. He noted that his wife is handicapped, and he demanded that handicap accessibility be considered at all beach-access points. He also called for affordability, feasibility, and stakeholder input in all future development planning for the Park, which should be for all the citizens of the State. Chairman Porter responded that LLC will give first choice and attention in the new Retail Center to the current business owners, and that handicap accessibility is a major consideration in all of the current revitalization planning.
The meeting was adjourned at 1135 AM.
Steven Y. Newell, Secretary, Jekyll Island Citizens Association