Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Update: City Special Appointees Still Raking In the Money

Since posting the article on the City’s Assistant Management Improvement Officers (AMIOs) on Sunday (read the original post here), we have received numerous requests for information on all of the AMIOs, their salaries, and raises.  The list is too long to include in a post here, but we’ve provided a link to all of the information for your convenience.

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

Congresswoman Corrine Brown is Feds Top Pork Spender

Corrine Brown: She delivers (the pork, that is). From the Orlando Sentinel editorial page:

Rep. Corrine Brown stands out for the sheer magnitude of her funding requests for next year: 97 projects worth at least $432 million. That works out to more than $600 per man, woman and child in her congressional district.

Ms. Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat whose district snakes all the way into Orlando, has worthy items on her list. These include water and transportation projects, urban redevelopment, youth programs, health clinics, university research and law enforcement. And we’re all for going to bat for your district. But if every House member were to match her requests, they’d be asking together for $187 billion, or about 10 times what Congress spent on earmarks last year.

Deficit? What deficit?

Ms. Brown’s list also includes millions for military projects for firms in her district. Granting those requests would create jobs, but would also give those firms what would amount to no-bid federal contracts.

Read the rest of the editorial here.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Politics, Jacksonville, ,

City Special Appointees Still Raking In the Money

Some 4 years ago, the Times Union did a report on city special appointees – called Assistant Management Improvement Offcers – as Councilwoman Glorious Johnson made a push to get rid of these special positions that were typically hired through a process that involved no formal job qualifications, established responsibilities or pay ranges for the positions.  At the time, the Mayor’s Office promised to reform the use of these positions, and Councilwoman Johnson relented on her legislative proposal if the City would indeed push reform on the issue.

With First Coast News handy-dandy, new “What’s That Costing You?” feature on City raises, I thought I’d take a look at these special appointees and compare then and now.

In 2005, 125 AMIOs made $7.5 million; in 2009, 166 AMIOs are making nearly $11.2 million – an increase of $3.7 million.

In 2005, the average AMIO salary was $59,845; in 2009, the average AMIO salary is $67,226.44 – an increase of $7,381.44 on average.

In 2005, the highest paid AMIO was Cal Ray at $119,503 as Finance and Department director administration; in 2009, the highest paid AMIO is Pam Markham at $140,074.92 as Inspector General.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Workin’ 9-5 (Plus a few hours of overtime)

I remember my first “real job” quite well.  Unlike my my actual first jobs (painting hog pens—swine flu!—and stacking cypress in a kiln to dry), this job was air-conditioned.  I was hired as a part-time produce worker in a local grocery store.  If I must say so myself, my rise was meteoric.  After a week, I became a bag boy, graduating to a cashier in two weeks and an Assistant Manager within two months.  I thought I was big time.  Little did I know my rise was attributable to a few simple factors—a) I showed up on time every day, b) my boss never had to bail me out of jail, and c) the labor market was somewhat tight in a small rural town.  I digress; however, from the topic at hand…

The grocery store was where I first learned the benefits of overtime—the financial benefits.  Time and a half was rather appealing for a 20-year old.  It was also something just about everyone in the store, from the cashier’s down to the stockboy’s, were quite familiar with.  The shelves never seemed to be able to be stocked within the required amount of time.  45 minutes after a cashier’s shift ended, she could often be found still working the register.  No one seemed to be able to squeeze their required work into their regularly scheduled 40 hours.  

My early days as a bank teller fourteen years ago were no different.  There were a few of us who were always ready to pick up an extra hour or so each day.  By the time Friday rolled around, we’d clue our Manager in that we either had to cut out by noon or we’d be on overtime.  Of course, no one could afford an unstaffed branch on Friday afternoon, so we’d all wind up with a few hours of overtime for the week.

Times changed in the private industry—at least the industry in which I have been a part—during the late 90’s.  Overtime was no longer the accepted norm—it became something that was strictly managed and eventually eliminated.  Despite the frequent claims to “run government as a business”; however, overtime seems to be the norm for Jacksonville’s City Government.  In David Hunt’s recent Florida Times-Union article, he details how the City of Jacksonville spent tens of millions on overtime—all in a year in which the City was gripped by a budget crisis.  He discusses how some employees more than doubled their salary, and ultimately, how one out of every six city hourly workers on the city’s payroll was paid more than $10,000 in overtime.   Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Jacksonville, ,

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]

    Read the rest of this entry »

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

City full speed ahead with lobbyists

While the City’s head of legislative affairs, Shannon Hewett, has left the City for the greener lobbying pastures of Southern Strategies headed up by John Thrasher, the City has neither a shortage of lobbying firms working for it (including Thrasher’s firm), nor, evidently, the money to pay them. 

According to the Florida Legislature’s website, the City paid out somewhere between  $60,000 and $120,000 to 4 of the 5 lobbying firms it retains to lobby the state legislative and executive branches just for the period running from October 1 to December 31, 2008.  (In case you’re wondering why there’s such a large spread in the amount of money that the City paid out, it’s due to the fact that state lobbyists are not required to report the specific amount they are paid, but instead a range.)  And don’t forget that the City is paying for firms to lobby the feds, too.

In the meantime, Florida Trend is reporting that many folks are cutting their lobbying expenses:

Looking for ways to plug an $82-million budget hole, Broward County commissioners decided last year to cut library and park hours. They also sacked two of the seven lobbying firms they had employed — a move that will save $66,000.

Palm Beach County commissioners have also scaled back their legislative affair’s budget for 2009, cutting their federal lobbyist’s pay by 22% and applying a 12.5% across-the-board reduction to their state lobbying contracts.

While there are pros and cons to maintaining current lobbying efforts and expenses (as pointed out in the Florida Trend article), it seems that in these tight budget times, the City should at least do a thorough examination of these firms’ performance to determine whether or not they are getting the most bang for their buck from their lobbying efforts at both the state and federal levels, if they haven’t done so already.

Filed under: Florida Legislature, Jacksonville, Mayor of Jacksonville, ,

Mayor digging in his heels on Waste Management no-bid contract

I just finished reading the latest developments in the Waste Management no-bid contract to operate the City’s Trail Ridge Landfill on the TU tonight.  Three – count them, three – companies have now come forward and want to bid on the Trail Ridge Landfill contract in a fair contest with Waste Management (and their negotiated no-bid contract) using the City’s bid process as required by the City’s ordinance code. 

And what does the Administration do?  They spout off garbage rates supposedly from other areas with absolutely no back up facts mentioned in the article, so you can’t even tell if they are making a fair comparison. 

And then, they have the chutzpah to say that anybody who wants to bid on the landfill needs to demontrate that they will be cheaper if they assume all the same liabilities and responsibilites that Waste Management has agreed to, even though the companies have already committed to doing  just that.  Ummmm, Mr. Mayor and Mr. Hollingsworth, isn’t that exactly what the City Ordinance requires be done in the bid process? 

To add insult to injury, Mr. Hollingsworth boldly states that  the companies who want to bid “must be willing to back the city if Waste Management files and wins a lawsuit.  “The real question is, are these opponents to this deal willing to pay those lawsuit damages in the event the city loses in court?” he said. ”

Funny,  I don’t see him making that same demand of Waste Management. 

Wouldn’t  the Mayor’s Office demands be more plausible and fairer if they also required that Waste Management meet those same conditions?  Shouldn’t Waste Management also be willing to back the City and pay the lawsuit damages, if the companies that want to bid file lawsuits and the City loses in Court?

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

Are we increasing the racial divide?

According to the Times Union, the new Black Republican Headquarters in Jacksonville is scheduled to open Thursday- the only office of its kind in the State.   I question the wisdom of Republicans opening a separate office. 

Studies by JCCI through the years, and including the most recent one (page 34), have demonstrated that a racial divide continues to exist in the City of Jacksonville.  In fact, in 1996, the City was labeled with the title of  “worst race relations” by the U.S. Commission on Human Rights.  In response, the City’s Human Rights Commission, under the guidance of Charlene Taylor-Hill, began holding study circles, groups of 10-15 people of diverse ethnicities aimed at encouraging people to talk with each other about issues that were creating racial divisions.   As of 2006, approximately 2500 people had participated in the study circles.  While that’s a good start, there’s still much more work to be done.  So here’s a link to the study circle program if you’re interested in understanding and helping to resolve the racial divide in Jacksonville. 

According to the local GOPers, the new Black Republican office is being opened to concentrate on getting more blacks to sign on as Republicans and vote.  But I wonder if we aren’t increasing the racial divide that currently exists in our City.

Filed under: Jacksonville, , , , ,

Council Auditor Very Concerned About City’s Finances

The Council Auditor is out with a summary of the City’s finances for the most recent quarter (it’s Report #661)—December 31, 2009.  The picture isn’t pretty.  While the general fund has a projected favorable variance (the City’s Finance Director states that it’s $4 million while the Auditor states that he views it as $10.3 million), the overall outlook for many of the Sub-funds is quite troubling.  In fact, the list is so extensive it’s hard to know exactly where to begin.

For starters, the Clerk of Court is projected to have a negative variance of $651,661.  This is directly traceable to declining recording fees because of the current real estate slowdown.

The Building Inspections Sub-fund is facing a negative projected variance of $1,956,241.  This is primarily due to a dramatic decrease in revenues—down nearly $3,000,000 from what was budgeted.  In Fiscal Year 2007/2008, the City used a transfer from Fund Balance of nearly $3.6 million dollars to balance this fund.  However, there was only $1.8 million appropriated this year to balance the fund, meaning that the City will need to increase revenue or dramatically cut expenses to balance out this fund.  Of course, this is also traceable to the slowdown in the construction industry.

Perhaps the most troubling news; however, comes from the city venues managed by SMG.  The language under each of these sub-funds is quite repetitive, and that’s not a positive thing.  For starters, Memorial Arena… Read the rest of this entry »

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

Yarborough, Hyde: An unlikely, but good combination


That was the City Council vote passing the 20 and out, guaranteed 3% COLA, corrections officers pension bill in City Council Tuesday night – despite the fact that the correctional officers pension fund is facing a $55 million unfunded liability at last count.

The only two City Councilpersons unwilling to potentially bankrupt the City with additional unfunded pension liabilities:  Clay Yarborough and Kevin Hyde. 

While there was much talk of City Council’s “moral” obligation to pass the pension bill, most Council members, except for Yarborough and Hyde, appeared to have ignored a legal opinion issued by the City’s Office of General Counsel to Councilman John Crescimbeni.  According to the legal opinion

The City intended to implement a three-year agreement, but, with the parties, recognizing the difficulties in that, agreed instead to obligate the Administration to introduce each component of the MOU in the agreed-upon time frame, to the Council for passage. The earlier passage of the funding obligations demonstrates further the City’s need to fund before it finally obligates itself. Accordingly, the City has the greater weight of this disputed issued, and it is more likely than not that the Council would be held not to have legally obligated itself to make these final changes.

Thank you, Councilman Yarborough and Councilman Hyde – for taking a stand to protect Jacksonville’s future budgets.  Thank you for being more concerned with your fiscal responsibilities as City leaders than with threats from a “man who would be king”.

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

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