Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Is Jacksonville Doomed to Repeat its Failures?

We all know the story of the consolidation of city and county government in the mid-60s that grew out of corruption scandals that resulted in the indictment of 11 city officials, including 4 of 9 city councilmen, 2 of 5 city commissioners, the city auditor, the executive secretary of the city recreation department, 1 of 5 county commissioners, the county purchasing agent.  The city tax assessor took the Fifth Amendment, refused to testify, and resigned. 

The grand jury presentment contained numerous findings and recommendations:

    1. Revise government structure to deny unlimited power and authority to a few political leaders. 
    2. Prevent city officials and their close business and political associates from using city employees and city contracts for their private and political purposes.
    3. Instill honesty and morality in the conduct of public affairs and restore confidence in our public officials.
    4. State audit of city financial affairs. 
    5. Revamp personnel structure and eliminate political patronage jobs. 
    6. Strict enforcement of laws prohibiting participation by city employees in political activities. (Burns Blitzers) 
    7. Require removal of public officials or employees who take the Fifth Amendment on matters pertaining to public duties, and suspend them from office after indictment, pending trial. 
    8. Severely criticized the community’s moral climate which tolerated these conditions, referring to businessmen and city employees who participated in the wrongful acts, or went along with them and did not step forward to disclose the practices and conditions discovered by the grand jury, until duress of a subpoena.
    9. Complimented those few employees who did assist–and the prosecutors, television, and newspapers who provided information from their own investigations. (Norm Vincent, Richard Martin) [Orangecountyfl.net]

Roughly 20 years later, the 80’s gave us seven investigations by the state attorney’s office and an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  During that period of time indictments were handed down against 2 city council members, a prominent lawyer, the director of staff service for the City Council (who was also a former mayoral aide), the former Duval County property appraiser, the former marine director of the Jacksonville Port Authority, the former chief assistant state attorney, and a judge. 

The two biggest state investigations involved the Riverwalk, which had $600,000 in cost overruns, and the letting of $2-billion in municipal construction bonds.  The grand juries stopped short of indictments in both investigations. No report was released in the Riverwalk investigation, but State Attorney Ed Austin called the city’s handling of the construction “an embarrassment” and “very close to criminal.”  In the matter of the bonds, the grand jury issued a seven-page criticism that said lawyers and bond underwriters were chosen on the basis of their friendship with [Mayor] Godbold and other city officials rather than on the merits of the service they could provide.  The grand jury interviewed 40 people and found no evidence of extortion or payments in exchange for city business that amounted to $33-million in underwriter’s fees and $2.2-million in legal fees.  “The sad truth is the political favors and game-playing for friends that we observed were performed for free,” the grand jury said.  [St. Pete Times]

Fast forward 20 years now to the Peyton years.  A federal investigation is currently ongoing into Jaxport’s dealings and we’ve seen grand jury investigations of city council for sunshine law violations, as well as the Administration’s expenditures for a courthouse that has yet to be built.  Then there were the Mayor’s no-bid contracts with his friends – Scott Teagle at ProLogic and Shelia Green at GreenBean Corporate Solutions.  Now the Mayor is pushing a $750 million no-bid contract with Waste Management.

They say history repeats itself every 20 years and that if you don’t learn from your mistakes you are doomed to repeat your failures. While I have never fully bought into that line of thinking, after looking back over the past 40 years of Jacksonville’s history, I am inclined to change my mind.


Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , ,

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