Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

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, , , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , ,

City Hall Facing Angry Public

Jacksonville’s electorate is mad—steaming mad—over the latest news out of City Hall.  E-mails titled everything from “Taxation without Representation” (was anyone’s right to vote denied in the last City Council elections) to “Get a Clue” are flooding the mailboxes of City Hall.

A sampling of the e-mails are below:

I respectfully request, again, your good office to represent “WE THE PEOPLE” and kill the three (3) taxes being imposed on the electorate.  There were promises of no new taxes.  Please do not insult me by claiming these are fees and not taxation.

The Mayor’s office should be SHUT DOWN before any politician discusses shutting down services that we the people can not provide for ourselves.  Shut down Parks and Recreation, Senior Citizen Centers and frivolous spending before you talk about layoffs of the first police officer, firefighter or paramedic!  Shame on anyone who has lived over seventy years (70) and can not entertain themselves!


Carroll Huffines

___________________ Read the rest of this entry »

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

Tea Party Returning to Jacksonville

On July 2 at 5:30, First Coast Tea Party is planning another “Freedom Rally.”  They have asked prominent Jacksonville politicians, including City Council President Richard Clark, to attend as a VIP guest.  While the first round of “Tea Parties” was apparently directed at conservative anger towards Barack Obama (although it was unclear how “taxation without representation” gelled with a democratically-elected President), one has to wonder if news of Jacksonville’s growing deficit problems will turn the July 2 rally in a more local direction.  Judging by the speaker lineup from the last rally; however, that appears unlikely, particularly in light of the fact that one of the featured speakers was Jay Fant, a close friend and ally of Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton.

Apparently, budget deficits are only bad in Washington, DC.

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

Charlie Crist Fundraises in Jax

Interesting that the brother of a Democratic City Council Member is on the host list:

The governor’s campaign fundraising tour of the Sunshine state take him to the Jacksonville home of Steve and Diane Halverson June 17. Crist today brushed off the notion that he’s aiming to post ginormous numbers for his first quarter as a senate candidate: “No, not really. Just working hard every day….It’s kind of steady as you go. There’s a long time.”

Jacksonville hosts include:


The Weavers keep their political bases covered.  Just for the record…Delores Barr Weaver was at Alex Sink’s recent Jacksonville event. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Florida, Florida Politics, Jacksonville, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

E-Mails for Public Officials Now Online

A few days ago, Joey Marchy of Urban Jacksonville blogged about a Twitter conversation that took place between myself, a fellow JaxPoliticsOnline.com blogger and Marilyn Young, the assisting managing editor at the Times-Union.  The conversation was in regards to the reluctance of incoming council president Richard Clark to allow public access to his e-mail via the city council’s website.  Ms. Young pledged to put the question to Mr. Clark the following day in a interview that had already been scheduled with Tia Mitchell, the Times-Union’s City Hall reporter.  As we discussed this, my fellow JaxPoliticsOnline.com blogger pointed out that e-mails for many of the Mayor’s current staff members were also not available online.  The Times-Union contacted the Mayor’s Office the next day to inquire about the e-mails and  Misty Skipper, the Mayor’s Communications Director, pledged to have the city’s website updated.

I’m happy to say that the e-mails are now accessible for public review.  They can be found here (enter “publicdocs” as the user name and “public” as the password).  E-mails for participating city council members, including the incoming council president, can be found here (enter “citycpublic” as the user name and “public” as the password).

Mayor Peyton, his staff and Richard Clark are all to be commended for taking an important step in embracing transparency in Jacksonville government.

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Jacksonville’s Impending Pension Crisis

The pension crisis is bearing down hard on the City of Jacksonville, much like a Category 3 storm that has the potential for increasing wind speed. With a current unfunded liability in excess of $1 billion, the problem has now become an issue so large our elected officials can no longer ignore it.

The City Council formed a Special Pension Committee to make recommendations as to actions the City can take to deal with the deepening issue.  Their report, which was due to the Council President on June 2, has been pushed back to June 30.  This extension will coincide with the incoming Council Presidency of Richard Clark, at which point he will have the option to determine whether or not the committee should continue if they have not yet finished up their report.

Not surprisingly, Jacksonville is not alone.  A website entitled The Pension Tsunami gives daily headlines of cities and states dealing with pension problems from around the country.  Different governments are dealing with the problems in different ways.  One Florida city, Pensacola, made the decision to move all of their general employees to the Florida Retirement System.  This change, which went into effect on June 18, 2007, resulted in a reduction in city contributions from 50% to 9.85% for the regular class employees who are now part of the FRS.

While the FRS may be an option for Jacksonville’s general employees as well, we do not have the option of folding the police and fireman’s pension funds in the FRS because of a number of reasons, including the fact that the City receives money from both the state and federal government for the funds.  For the Police and Fire Pension Fund, the City contributes money, the members contribute some and a small contribution is also derived from court fines.  Additionally, there is roughly $10 million that is contributed each year from the state. The bulk of the money that is paid out—about 85%—comes from earnings.  Jacksonville has guaranteed an 8.4% return, something that is not feasible given the current market conditions. (The Florida Retirement System, as an aside, guarantees a return of 6.4%.)

In January, JCCI recognized the reality that the city’s needs were unsustainable at an 8.48 millage rate and suggested several steps the city could take in righting the ship.  Among those were:

• Real estate transfers—which would help meet the City’s obligations and create jobs to
renovate the real estate at the same time.
• Overfund in good years to create a cushion for bad stock market years.
• Make pension contributions on DROP participants
• Strengthen the Ordinance Code to 90% funded before benefits can be enhanced for
both pension funds.
• Greater discretion in investment options.
• Refinance the unfunded liability by stretching out obligation and/or using POB’s

Another solution is to, once again, revisit what the city is promising to new employees.  The city’s new defined contribution pension plan, which is not as good as a defined benefit plan, is still guaranteeing a return of 7%—a full 1% above most defined contribution plans.

The Police and Fire Pension Fund has also suggested several solutions, including turning over parts of Cecil Field, the Jacksonville Shipyards and building future fire stations, which would then be leased back to the City.

It’s important to realize that while real estate may be part of the solution, it will not solve all of Jacksonville’s pension problems.  For starters, real estate is not a guaranteed investment.  In fact, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System has seen their real estate portfolio shrink by $3 billion over the past few months.  They now stand to lose the entirety of a $922 million investment in a 20,000 home development that failed.

The solution, regardless of what it is, will not be painless and will likely require concessions from both the unions and the city—meaning the taxpayers.  Perhaps the most important and pressing matter is the acknowledgement from all involved parties that the city is truly on the brink of a crisis with its pension funds and the time to act is now.  If Council members haven’t yet gotten that message, they may learn it the hard way via a voter revolt in 2011.

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

Paris, Anyone?

Ah, the perks of being the incoming Council President.  Before he is even sworn in to office, Richard Clark (along with his wife, Deatra) will be whisked off to Paris, France for the Paris Air Show courtesy of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority (JAA).  It also appears that other officials, including the Mayor,  JAA interim Executive Director  Ernestine Moody Robinson,  JAA employees Richard Rossi and Rosa Beckett, and JAA Board members Cyrus Jolivette and Ron Weaver, will also be traveling to Paris.

According to a recent news article, it’s costing the State of Washington, home to the largest concentration of aerospace workers in the world, $7,100 to send one person to Paris for the air show.  (And that’s the only person the state is sending.)  I guess John Clark’s exit hasn’t impacted JAA’s propensity for taking expensive, international trips.  I also guess that it’s just not as sexy to attend the US Air, Trade, and Technology Expo (USATT), the American equivalent of the Paris Air Show, that will be held in Dayton, Ohio in July.  Sure, the USATT doesn’t have the history that the Paris Air Show has; but, it also doesn’t have the high costs and would still provide good opportunities to network with the aviation industry.

Now that Councilman Clark has joined the computer age by making his E-mails public, perhaps we can persuade him to also twitter the air show for us.  I just hope they don’t decide to take $10,000 worth of limo rides while they’re attending the Paris Air Show like some other Jacksonville folks did awhile back.

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

City Ethics Commission to get a new member

At its meeting this coming Monday at 5pm, the Ethics Commission will be interviewing candidates for the vacant seat on the commission. The candidates are Scott Shine, Leslie Goller, and Cheryl Grymes.

Scott Shine runs a consulting business and previously made two unsuccessful City Council runs -against Jerry Holland and Richard Clark. As a result of those runs, Scott formed a non-profit – an election reform study group with local attorney Warren Anderson and Scott’s neighbor, Robert Gold. The group is seeking to make changes to local campaign financing laws. Scott most recently ran Jay McGovern’s campaign, who waged an unsuccessful race against Ander Crenshaw.

The next candidate is Leslie Goller. Leslie is an attorney with Terrell Hogan. Leslie has been very involved in local politics including being a Democratic Party attorney involved in the 2000 elections fiasco, running in an unsuccessful bid for City Coucil against Art Shad, and most recently in the news for filing ethics complaints against City officials for their Jaguars skybox and Veteran’s Arena adventures.

Cheryl Grymes, the final candidate, is the Executive Director of the Alliance for World Class Education. Most of us remember her as Cheryl Donelan Grymes, the former School Board member who most recently lost a City Council race to Clay Yarborough.  Cheryl has alot of heavy hitting Republicans behind her, while Scott and Leslie are Dems, so it will be interesting to see if this appointment will be politicized.

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

Just Say No

The Times Union reported on the Waste Management no-bid contract this morning.

Where to begin?

Should I start with Art Shad who is the ONLY Council person to come out of the gate expressing his wholehearted support of the no-bid agreement – “a shining example of what’s good”?

Or should I start with Paul Harden who thinks the no-bid contract “sells itself”?

Or should I start with Waste Management representatives who will be meeting with each of the Council members individually to “ensure the council has all the information…”?

Or should I start with the positives – the Council members who appear to have spines?

IMO, this is a no-brainer decision – JUST SAY NO.  This contract should be put out to bid and I am calling my council representatives to encourage them to do just that.

Here’s a run-down of the various Council members’ current position on the no-bid contract according to the Times Union::



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