By: Judie Mackie
The Fernandina Beach City Commission Meeting on Amelia Island was filled to capacity as a crowd marched from Central Park in downtown Fernandina Beach to the Commission Chambers showing support for Felix Jones. With barely any room in the outside hallway, police blocked off Ash Street between Second and Third Streets to permit supporters to listen from the street and sidewalk on the outside speakers of the public address system.
(Listen to the entire pod cast to hear Felix Jones play the harmonica during the Commission Meeting and hear our City Attorney, Tammy Bach’s sound bit as she explains the current ordinance and its application to Felix.)
As Felix and the crowd arrived the setting erupted in applause both inside and out. Residents of Fernandina Beach wore t-shirts that read ‚ ‘Keep Felix Rolling’, and carried signs of encouragement, Leave Felix Alone and Vote the Commissioners off of the Island.
The official meeting began with a call to order, roll call of city management, the Pledge of Allegiance and Invocation. Item 9.3 on the evening’s agenda was moved to the first item of business. Food Peddling ‚(Section 26-66a) Consider amending our no peddling ordinance to allow for a fabric of community determination/exception. This item is placed on the agenda by Commissioner Sapp.
Dan McCranie and Mike Mullen were the attorneys representing Felix and when they acknowledged Felix Jones and his mother, Mrs. McGowen, loud shouts and applause once again burst from the crowd both inside and out. Mullen described how Felix represents the best in all of us. He is a hero and a role model and has attained a level in the community that no one else will ever reach.
McCranie then spoke of how Felix has galvanized this community. The people and the love that are represented tonight, the attorneys felt as if they were representing the entire community and this issue has Struck a nerve. Felix Jones is 44 years old and has cerebral palsy. He was not expected to have lived as long as he has. He didn’t walk until he was nine and didn’t talk until later in life as well. He began school at Peck and then graduated from Fernandina Beach High School. Governor Lawton Chiles singled Felix out as an exceptional young man. For 17 years Felix has started his day cleaning at Wal-Mart from 6 to 11:00 AM as his options are few. But he has given our city his life. For 20 years he has peddled pies, cookies, peanuts, newspapers and played his harmonica. No one has ever suffered from food poisoning and that is more than can be said of our restaurants. He has been through ten Mayors, 12 City Managers and 15 Code Enforcement Officers and no ticket has ever been issued. Someone started this now it has to be completed.
The money Felix earns is given to charity. Dan McCranie spoke of a receipt for a scholarship donation to send a girl to college. He added: Felix is important, he is us. Felix calls it ‘fellowshipping’ and we can all use more fellowshipping. It is a joy for him to come downtown and he doesn’t bother a soul. Felix is a tourist attraction and you can find him on YouTube playing the harmonica.
April 29 is Felix’s birthday and when McCranie suggested he would like to see the city make a proclamation for Felix’s Day, the crowd went nuts!
Mike Mullen once again took the microphone and said that based on the number of years that Felix has operated his tricycle in our city, he should be Grandfathered in as his activities fall outside of the walls of a 1955 law. Mr. Mullen wants to see that tomorrow, Felix is back doing what he is been doing for over 20 years, anything less is a disservice. They, Felix’s legal representation, is prepared to help Fernandina Beach create whatever ordinance is necessary to address all of the concerns associated with this issue. No one from the city will interfere with Felix anymore and they will offer these services free of charge.
Ms. McGowen, Felix mother, rose to say a few words. She said: “It is an honor and privilege to be here and to see so many and so much love. I pray over the cookies and I pray for love. The cookies are good because they’re prayed over. God sent Felix to get our attention and he sees what needs to be done. It is not because of the cookies, but because God brought us together to show love towards one another”.
“Open your hearts”‚ she continued, “Things happen when you give love, your time and offering. Thank God, let Felix have his job and do what God put him here to do. He is on God’s time, let him continue. She offered to stop baking the cookies and the pies and the crowd roared in “boo”. “Thank God for all of you, everyone”.
Felix then took his turn at the microphone and whipped out his harmonica and played a patriotic tune. His second tune had everyone clapping along and tapping their toes in an emotional statement of support and he closed to a thunderous and roaring applause. “I want to thank ya very much‚” was all he could say.
Then it was the City’s turn to speak on the matter. Tammy Bach, our city attorney spoke up. “The current ordinance prohibits vendors from selling. From what I have seen over the past couple of weeks, Felix is not selling, he is accepting donations and there is no violation of the ordinance. Carry on Felix!”
This matter was resolved in the manner it should have been. Our community came together and showed the love Mrs. McGowen has prayed for while baking the cookies and pies for her son to sell for so many years! Keep on rolling Felix, our city and its residents love you and all that you stand for. Amen!