Despite the Mayor’s continued bleatings that he was too afraid of being sued to watch out for the long-term interests of Duval County taxpayers, the City’s top lawyer appears to have respectfully disagreed. In a letter written to the Mayor and released to The Times-Union, Rick Mullaney stated that “the city would win a court dispute over the terms of its contract with Waste Management to operate Trail Ridge landfill.” Of course, Mullaney threw the Mayor a bone by acknowledging that an appeals process could take years. The Mayor immediately seized on Mullaney’s admission to justify his position stating, once again, that he was afraid of being sued.
Of course, the Mayor fails to acknowledge the obvious. No lawsuit has been filed. Yes, a lawsuit has been threatened, but lawsuits are threatened on a daily basis. Not all cases are appealed, but if they are, there is always a chance they could drag on for years. Which begs the question, Is the Mayor running Jacksonville like a business? That is, after all, exactly what he promised, correct? WWHPD? Certainly you recognize that question—what would Herb Peyton do? The Mayor’s father, a Jacksonville business legend, has never been one to fold his cards at the mere threat of a lawsuit. His son doesn’t seem to share his fortitude.
Any business should work to limit risk. But, government is not a business. While it should never proceed recklessly with total disregard to the rule of law, when it has law and right on its side, it should act decisively. Cowering in the face of threats like John Peyton and Stephen Joost are proposing certainly doesn’t demonstrate leadership—it speaks to an inner wimpiness. Certainly that’s not the message they—particularly Joost—wish to send about their leadership abilities.
Of course, the Mayor’s “fear” of a lawsuit rings hollow when one reads that his staff is holding weekly brainstorming sessions with the very individual who has threatened to sue them. The meetings have absolutely nothing to do with legal negotiations—they are strictly devoted to developing PR strategies that will convince the Council to come over to the Mayor’s side. If the Mayor was truly living in fear of a lawsuit, it seems he would ensure that all interactions between him (and his staff) and the threatening party were held in the presence of both parties attorneys.
The Mayor has based his entire case on the fear that the City had a legal obligation to bow to Waste Management’s demands. That argument was seriously damaged by a story The Times-Union published that sought the counsel of a legal scholar. The scholar, Professor Cleveland Ferguson debunked the Mayor’s theory and now the City’s General Counsel has backed him up.
Leadership is about pursuing what is right, even in the face of adversity. Waiving City ordinance simply for the benefit of securing an up-front infusion of cash that would rescue the Mayor’s last two budgets at the expense of future city budgets is not doing the right thing. And, don’t doubt it for a minute. That [the Mayor’s attempt to patch up his upcoming budgets] is what is driving the Mayor’s position here. Not the threat of a lawsuit. Not his friendship with Paul Harden. Certainly not his concerns for the long-term future of the city. It’s a selfish gamble, pure and simple. And Stephen Joost appears to be willing to play along with him.
Which leaves us with the question: Is John Peyton a leader or is he someone who will run at the mere threat of a lawsuit? I suppose we’ll learn the answer over the next few months.