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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.

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