Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

New Council President Off To Rocky Start

Richard Clark, the Intracoastal-area councilman who assumed the reigns of City Council President on Wednesday, has seen his tenure begin under a cloud of controversy.  After facing a public outcry over the various conflicting answers he gave to local media about who was funding the recent trip he and his wife took to Paris to attend the Paris Air Show, Clark recently elicited further controversy by requesting emergency legislation to request the Council fund the installation of batting cages at the city park where his child plays Little League baseball.

Diane Melendez, a long-time city activist, first raised concerns last week that Clark was attempting to push through “emergency legislation” that would have expended over $168,000 of taxpayer dollars without the benefit of a request for proposal or public input.  One of the most controversial pieces of the news; however, was the revelation that Clark was using bond money for his district to benefit a park that was not his district.

The batting cage dilemma has merely been the tip of the iceberg that Clark has faced when balancing his new role as incoming council president with parent and little league supporter.  Clark has engaged in a back-and-forth with several other little league parents via his city e-mail account.  Some, including another league board member, have complained that the incoming council president has impugned their character and replied rather abrasively to their concerns—even going so far as to hang up on them.

After reviewing the batting cage matter, the City’s Ethics Commission concluded that there were no violations in Councilman Clark’s requesting of the emergency legislation.  The Commission also reminded the public that the council does have the right to waive the bidding process.  That being said; however, Mr. Clark’s introduction of the legislation—and his skirmishes with his district constituents and other little league parents—leave questions about his political skills in leading the council at a very crucial time in city history.

In the end, Clark withdrew the “emergency” aspect of the legislation after fellow council members raised concerns over the nature of the request, but the month leading up to his appointment as council president has been less than reassuring.  Clark’s closing comments at this weeks council meeting showed many, including Nick Callahan, a District 3 constituent, that he still “doesn’t get it.”  Addressing the batting cage controversy, Clark pointed out his 7A Tee Ball team made the state championship and stated that he could only “imagine what he could have done with a batting cage”.

A prominent political activist who asked not to be named, expressed concern that Clark “would be eaten alive” as council president.  At this juncture, its hard to wonder if that sentiment will not indeed bear out.


Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, , , , , ,

6 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. Seamore Jane says:

    Good analysis. Writer shows a lot of courage taking on the establishment!

  2. Billly says:

    Clark has been blowing his district off for years. I am not sure what his damage is, specifically, part of it may be never having to actually work for a living since he has inherited a spot at this familiy company.

    He blows off constituent e-mails. Blows off our calls. I dont think he has ever had a town hall or forum, and I sure as hell have never seen any kind of news letter from him.

    District 3 deserves better.

  3. Lidia Nahuel says:

    This brings some light to how our leadership is being handled at the local level. How the hec do you steal bond money for a vacation and have that over looked. That is something just short of evil. We focus our time on some simple pedy things and we the public of jacksonville are being robbed in the middle of the day by our councilmen.

  4. Samantha Jones says:

    Clark’s arrogance will be what gets him in the end. Even though he was hauled up on ethics charges he’ll view their findings as that he did nothing wrong.

    Wake up Mr. Clark you don’t listen to you constituents. You need to follow the rules; your flap with Pete and the league cost my grandson his batting cage.

    Great leadership, you arrogant hack of a politician.

  5. Ross says:

    Two things happened at the Ethics commission meeting last Monday. One is that they released legal findings on the issue. Next, they wrote a letter on it to the City Council.
    here is that letter:

    Email: ethics@coj.net
    HOTLINE: 630-1015

    June 23, 2009
    The Honorable Ronnie Fussell
    Council President
    The Honorable Richard Clark
    Council President-Elect
    117 W. Duval Street
    Jacksonville, FL 32202
    Re: 2009-467 (Wingate improvements)

    Dear President Fussell and President-Elect Clark:
    Last night, the Ethics Commission met to discuss a Hotline case that involved allegations connected to 2009-467. The case was dismissed as legally insufficient but with a unanimous vote to write a letter to the Council outlining the concerns of the Commission with this bill. We do not comment on the decision as to where to allocate the funds, as that is clearly at the discretion of the Council.
    Per the analysis of General Counsel’ s office, the bill is legal as drafted and the process to pass it on an emergency basis without competitive bidding is allowable under current Code and Council rules. Based upon the citizen participation at the Commission meeting, the emails and the phone calls, it appears that although legally correct, the perception of the process has not increased public trust in our government. A two week period of time is very short in order for citizens to b come aware of a bill and to have adequate time to have input on the issues. This is especially in light of citizens not being trained sufficiently in City Council rules and procedures.
    People understand this short time period in true “emergency” situations if adequately
    documented. The Commission is concerned about the use of the term “emergency” and how this is defined in the rules. Adequate notice, transparency and opportunity to be heard are key elements in increasing the public’ s trust in the process. The complaints that have come to the Commission most forcefully are that accelerated hearings leave little time for public review or comment. This creates a perception that public comment is unwelcome or is considered to have no value.
    Based upon incidents in the past few years, it is likely that citizens would have some
    degree of apprehension as to contracts that are not competitively bid. There is a perception that the city gets the best price if goods and services are competitively bid. Although that is not always true, the non-competitive bidding coupled with an emergency process in 2009-467 appears to have raised concerns.
    The Commission respectfully requests that the Council consider this input when deciding how to proceed with 2009-467 in tonight’ s Council session. Per the recent JCCI study on “Our Money, Our city”, it is essential to work on citizen engagement and consensus in order to build trust. The Commission trusts the Council to make decisions that move the city in this direction.
    Very truly yours,
    /s/ Gene Filbert
    Gene Filbert
    (original signed)
    Chairman of the Jacksonville Ethics Commission

  6. FL Sunshine 119.01 says:

    From: Pete Komaroski
    Posted: Mon 6/22/2009 1:54 PM
    Posted To: Richard Clark’s Email
    Conversation: 7’As
    Subject: 7’As


    I have never lied to you and take great offense to your calling the character of my name into question. I have always valued our friendship and I am very upset that you would not afford me the opportunity to speak before you hung up on me.
    It has always been my position that the league should have supported an 8B team with 8 year olds on it. I informed you that the league did not support this before you went and you replied that you would do this on your own. From a league standpoint, to change this position now would set a bad precedent for coaches doing and spending league monies however they please without league approval.

    I should not have to explain to the many families that wanted thier 8 year old child to have this opportunity that it was more important to use league resources to provide it for another age group that had other opportunities available. I have always been honest about that. I understand that you are speaking in the interests of your team, however I am speaking for the deserving kids in the league. I can’t explain to the many how the league decided that the 7s were more deserving than the 8s when it was you who made the decision to play.

    I certainly hope that you are helping to oversee the monies from the City of Jacksonville to benefit our league and will not continue to hold it over the leagues head in order to get your way.

    I told you last night that I would bring this to the executive board and look forward to the meeting. As you know, I have only one vote and have made it clear what my position is. Threatening me and calling me names will not change how I feel about the many different aspects of this situation. Thanks and anytime you’d like to discuss this matter please feel free to call me.

    Pete K.

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