JaxPoliticsOnline.com

Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

City Pushed Through Union Contracts Month Before Budget Crisis

Despite declarations by elected officials in the City of Jacksonville that the city is in the midst of a budget crisis, the City Council rushed through legislation in June which the Mayor requested be heard as an emergency that approved new collective bargaining agreements with City employees represented by two different unions.  The legislation, 2009-477 and 2009-478, was backdated as the city was operating under an expired contract with one of the unions.

Visit our new site at http://jaxpoliticsonline.com for the full story.

Filed under: Jacksonville

Godbold Meets With Fire Union, Scolds Police Union Chief

According to News4Jax.com, former Mayor Jake Godbold met with members of the Duval County Fireman’s Union on Wednesday to express his disappointment in the Police Union Chief’s call for a Gate boycott.  Godbold also encouraged the fire union to refrain from resorting to the similar tactics as the Mayor prepares to address pension reform with the city’s unions.

Goldbold told News4Jax that he had never seen personal threats of this kind in all of his years in Jacksonville politics.

Nelson Cuba, the police union chief, has since backed down from his earlier calls for a union-wide boycott.

The full article can be read here.

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

School Board Hikes Taxes, Public Silent

The Duval County School Board voted to raise the millage rate a quarter Tuesday night with nary a complaint from Jacksonville residents.  In contrast to the outpouring of e-mails flooding into City Hall mailboxes and the online and organized protests over the Mayor’s proposed increase—only a handful of residents turned up to voice concerns over an increase in the portion of the millage rate used to fund education.  To be sure, the increase levied by the School Board was smaller than the City’s proposal, but nevertheless, in a town known for its anti-tax sentiments, it is surprising that the increase received such little notice from taxpayers.

While public support for education is certainly strong, many have expressed concerns in the past over the expenditure of taxpayer dollars by the school board.  In fact, one of the most widely-read JaxPoliticsOnline.com columns over the past year was written by one of our former contributors who had expressed reservations over the size and expense of the administration housed on Prudential Drive.

Board members W. C. Gentry and Stan Jordan expressed their opposition to a tax hike without specifically designating the increased revenue raised be directed towards reserves.  The Times-Union article on the meeting can be read here.

Filed under: Jacksonville, , ,

Folio Weekly Profiles Clay Yarborough

Picture 4In this week’s Folio Weekly, Owen Holmes returns with a compelling profile of Jacksonville City Councilman Clay Yarborough.

The article—“How an unelectable Bible Boy became a Jacksonville City Council force majeure”—is a must read.

You can find it here.

The article includes a quote from an article first published here.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, , ,

Police Union Threatens Gate Boycott

Picture 2The news broke just before lunch—Police Union President Nelson Cuba was announcing his intentions to call for a boycott of Gate Petroleum, the family business owned by Mayor John Peyton’s father, in retaliation of the Mayor’s plan to call for pension reforms and salary freezes.  Nelson accused the mayor of threatening to take away the “basic necessities” police officers have become accustomed to.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5-30 is one of the most powerful unions in the city and home to over 2,500 officers.  The union has long wielded considerable influence in city elections, including endorsing John Peyton and many of the current members of the city council.  Nelson’s call to members of the union to “send [their] own message and hit the Mayor in his pocket” is therefore not only a monetary threat—it is something designed to discourage any council member from supporting reforms that the union does not agree to.

UNF Political Science Professor Matthew Corrigan told David Hunt of The Florida Times-Union that the move by Nelson could backfire.  Corrigan said that, while the union is well-respected in the city, they risk losing that respect by refusing to share in budget cuts.

The full Times-Union article can be found here.  For breaking news on the Jacksonville political scene, follow us on Twitter.

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

School Board To Consider Tax Increase on Tuesday

According to Mary Kelli Palka of The Florida Times-Union, the Duval County School Board will vote hold a vote on Tuesday to address whether or not the board will increase the millage rate to fund reserves. The board is concerned that further cuts in education may be coming from the state and they wish to increase the county’s reserves to deal with that possibility.

According to an earlier article in the Times-Union, a majority of the board is leaning towards supporting the increase.  The vote will require an endorsement of five of the seven members of the board.

Read the Times-Union article here.

Filed under: Jacksonville, , ,

City Council Emergency Rules Up for Review

The definition of “Emergency” was stretched recently when Councilmember Richard Clark introduced controversial Ordinance 2009-467; an emergency, no-bid appropriation for a $168,000.00 batting cage in Wingate Park.  The Jacksonville Ethics Commission was called upon to examine his request and revisited the issue during their June 29, 2009 Commission Meeting.  During this session, City Attorney Margaret Sidman walked the board members through a detailed explanation of City Council’s Emergency and Procurement rules.  Although the Ethics Commission’s original findings indicated Mr. Clark’s bill was legally sound, under intense criticism from other Councilmembers and the media, Richard Clark withdrew the bill and sent it back to committee so it could be re-submitted with competitive bids and without its emergency status.

This bill has become such a case study in the ambiguities of City Council’s Emergency Status Rules, that the Ethics Commission Legislative Subcommittee will meet on July 23, 2009 at 1PM to discuss if and how those rules can be enhanced.  Currently, City Council Rules 4.901 -4.906 do not explicitly define what constitutes an emergency and leaves the decision up to Councilmembers.  This allows the definition of an emergency to be loosely interpreted, influenced by special interests and provides few safeguards to ensure that the public has adequate time to review and respond to “emergency” legislation.

According to Ms. Sidman, nearly 8% of 2009 legislation submitted to date rose to the level of emergency status; and Jacksonville hadn’t even seen its first hurricane of the season.  She did indicate that there are formulaic, flow-charting procedures in place that Council Committees are urged to follow when designating emergency legislation, but they are merely suggestions and not mandates.

How often those flow-charting procedures are used remains a mystery.  Councilmember Clark has yet to answer how these rules and procedures were applied in the case of Ordinance 2009-467. Flowcharts and deliberation aside, according to the rules Mr. Clark was technically allowed to decide that a batting cage was an “emergency” regardless if his constituents didn’t think so.

With any luck the Ethics Commission Legislative Subcommittee will be able to recommend tightening these rules so special interest bills are not fast-tracked before the taxpayers can see what they’re really paying for.  Rules on emergency legislation need to be in place to guarantee open government for the public interest and not an open checkbook for pet projects.

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

The Tax Conversation Continued

The news from Jacksonville.com on Tuesday was discouraging—Jacksonville’s Public Libraries are facing a budget cut of $1.1 million next year, even if a proposed 12% hike in the millage rate is passed.  This cut, David Hunt points out, is on top of a $1 million cut the city imposed last year.  (That cut was partially made up by the state, but with the state in dire straits, don’t expect a repeat this year.)  If the Mayor’s millage rate increase is not passed, the Times-Union reports that the city will close 5 of the city’s 21 public libraries.

While some may shrug their shoulders and argue that, in times of economic hardship, libraries are something that can be sacrificed.  However, a visit to your local Jacksonville Library will likely show that they are a necessary service—particularly when money is tight for the average citizen.

For this writer, it’s personal.  As a child who was an avid reader and grew up without a television, the public library was my only means of gaining knowledge.  I vividly remember concealing Hardy Boys books between historical biographies as I snuck back into my house after a trip to the library.  (The Hardy Boys were deemed too “worldly” for me to read, so I had to consume them on the sly.)  For many Duval County youth (and adults), public libraries remain the sole means of expanding their knowledge base.

With the news breaking on Wednesday that decreases in the property tax roll were not as severe as anticipated, the Mayor has now scaled back his tax increase recommendation to 1.02 mills.  According to the Mayor’s Office, this rate of 9.5 mills would place the city close to the rate the city had in place three years ago before Amendment 1 was passed.  Of course, there were no Stormwater Fees, Garbage Fees or JEA Franchise Fees three years ago.  Not to mention the Duval County School Board is also pondering a millage rate hike.  Because of those facts, it’s rather disingenuous to say the city is returning to 2006 tax levels—it’s a tactic voters see through and resent.

That aside, some are now asking why the Mayor would propose a tax increase that only “maintains the status quo.”  They wonder what Jacksonville has accomplished if the Council approves a 12% increase in property taxes and necessary services are still severely impacted.  How can a tax increase that does nothing to improve the city’s long-term financial woes make this a better city to live in?  After all, isn’t that the question we are to be asking—what kind of city do we want to live in?

While voter anger at the proposed tax increase has been quite vocal, many within the community have acknowledged the fact that Duval’s millage rate is low in comparison to other major metropolitan areas.  At the same time,they have expressed their concern that the Mayor is looking to push through an increase that does nothing for the future financial health of the city because the increase would be made before several crucial issues were resolved.  After all, the Mayor’s budget depends on two key components that are unknowns:

  • Furloughs for all non-public safety employees and zero raises across the board. Neither one of these options are a guarantee—they will have to be negotiated at the collective bargaining table.  The door appears to be left open for special pay increases.
  • Possibly modifying the 8.4% DROP guarantee that the Police & Fireman’s Pension Fund has, extending the retirement age and other key elements of the pension system. Once again, these reforms are absolutely not a guarantee.  They will have to be negotiated at the collective bargaining table with the most powerful unions in the city.  Duval County John Rutherford has already weighed in on the proposals for the Police & Fireman’s Pension Fund, recently telling WOKV reporter Jared Halpern that he is opposed to some of Peyton’s reforms.

If either of these crucial elements fails to pan out—and it is likely that some elements will not—the proposed budget will be in trouble.

The Mayor could more effectively make his case by backing away from a “doom and gloom” approach—an approach that has been used more than once over the last few years—and open up the process.  It’s not enough to tell the public that $30 million of the current budget shortfall is “from the global economic crisis.”  Voters should be shown the data that backs up this claim.

The Mayor should also explore the option of dedicating 1 mill of property tax revenue to funding ongoing capital maintenance and improvements—another suggestion of the JCCI study which has been largely ignored.  This dedication of funds is something that the public could see the results of with their own eyes.

The Mayor should move immediately to begin pressuring the Council to act on pension reform.  As Mayor, he has the bully pulpit in Jacksonville and the ability to drive the discussion.  Voters will remain wary of any tax increase proposed before pension reform in complete and unless the Mayor steps up to the plate now, any hope he has of winning support for his proposal decreases with each passing day.

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

Tea Parties Coming Back To The First Coast

Tea Parties are returning to the First Coast just in time for the July 4th weekend.  Fresh off the success of the first party, which organizers say drew nearly 2,000 people to a lunch-time event at the Jacksonville Landing, the Duval County Republican Party is planning a repeat performance on Thursday, July 2nd from 5:30 to 7:00.  Anxious, perhaps, to avoid any criticism of local government spending or the recently-proposed property tax increases, Republican organizers have asked that participants make signs focused on “Washington” and “big government spending.”  The participants have been asked to declare their “independence from tyranny.”

St. Augustine will hold a tea party of its own on July 5 at Castillo de San Marcos.

The Duval County Republican Party’s flyer is below…  UPDATE:  The Duval County Republican Party has said that although they “promoted” this event, they did not sponsor or plan it.  The flyer below has been updated to reflect the flyer that was originally e-mailed.  The sentence “Paid by Republican Party of Duval County” is at the bottom, referring to the party’s covering the cost to promote the event via e-mail.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Jacksonville, , , , , , ,

Classical Music Returning to Prime Time WJCT

This is terrific news for the Jacksonville airwaves:

WJCT is pleased to announce the return of classical music to prime time public radio! Beginning on Monday, June 29th tune in to WJCT 89.9 FM and enjoy wonderful classical music every weeknight at 7pm.

You’ll love Performance Today. It’s one of America’s most popular classical music radio programs, with more than 1.2 million weekly listeners around the country.

Hosted by Fred Child, Performance Today features live concertsby famous artists in concert halls around the globe and from the American Public Media studios, as well as interviews, news and features.

For more information, visit WJCT’s blog.


Filed under: Jacksonville,

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