Jax Council members, administration members discuss potential government reforms - Florida Politics

Jax Council members, administration members discuss potential government reforms

On Wednesday, Jacksonville City Council members Lori Boyer and Bill Gulliford met with members of the Lenny Curry administration, including Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa and Chief Financial Officer Mike Weinstein, to discuss issues related to recommendations related to the Task Force on Consolidated Government.

At least a few of the reforms discussed may find their way into the 2016 city legislative agenda. And they may affect Jacksonville government significantly.

Some highlights:

— Discussion of an amendment to Matt Schellenberg‘s bill to allow for three terms for Council members, with the provision that it not apply to current Council members. This process may be discussed, according to Councilwoman Boyer, in public notice meetings with individual Council members.

— Discussion of training of board members of independent authorities. Boyer noted that training now was handled by the independent authorities, without regard to the larger goals and direction of the city. An ordinance was passed; implementation is the question to be resolved.

— Boyer, current VP, noted that if she were Council President, she would ensure that standing committees had a “pro active” list of tasks to complete.

— Mousa discussed a refinement of the executive branch process related to interlocal agreements, with clear direction to members of the mayor’s office staff regarding the city of Jacksonville’s obligations related to the Beaches and Baldwin, which would avoid miscommunication.

— A discussion of the mechanics of a referendum. Boyer noted that the November election would be disadvantageous for voter education, as national issues would drown out city concerns related to the ballot measure.

— A discussion of what Mousa described as “scrutinizing” department budgets, looking at what services are required. Mousa noted that, during this summer’s budget discussions, departments weren’t required to do unit-price comparisons. Look for a “baseline” analysis, related to quality and cost, in the FY 17 budget. A comparison to the private sector providing some services likely would be part of this.

— A discussion of Pension Board rate of return, which Boyer said was disclosed too late in past budget cycles, “almost as if it was intentional.” A possible remedy: legislative requirement of such disclosure in a way more conducive to reliable municipal budgeting.

— A discussion of reining in Independent Authorities. Boyer noted that certain agencies “have their own counsel, have their own PR” department. This discussion pivoted into inscrutable invoices; Mousa noted that some invoices, for example IT, are written in such a way that overcharges are obscured. Mousa also noted, regarding outsourcing and privatization, that there was a bill years ago to privatize garbage services; it was squashed in Council when they buckled under pressure from employees and families.

This especially nettled Mousa, given unanimous support for this measure in committee.

Future privatization bills, he said, would require a commitment from Council to support such a measure and not buckle under pressure.

One “limited trial of privatization” of services is happening already.

— A discussion of separating unfunded pension liability from departmental costs, related to police, fire, and other public services, occurred. Weinstein noted that the next budget would separate legacy costs, such as unfunded liability, from operating expenses. Mousa noted that it would be more accurately rendered as a non-departmental line item. A chart would be provided documenting the impact of unfunded liability, which would, said Gulliford, allow for more reliable expense forecasting on a departmental level.

— A discussion of public health services, which all agreed seemed to be in a reactive posture. A measure of the downshifting, as Gulliford noted: Public Health and Safety committee has been consolidated with Recreation and Community Development, because the former “didn’t have enough to do.”

The UF Health funding crisis, related to primary care clinics, was discussed. Expected revenue from these could be $2 to $3 million a year, a small fraction of what is actually needed.

Mousa noted that UF Health is “happy with business to date” in their Northside clinic; a priority of the administration has been to bring in more private revenue and improve UF’s revenue posture, and the Northside clinic is expected to be a driver of that.

— Mousa mentioned his enjoyment of “reading the code,” saying “you’d be shocked of what’s in the code that we’re not following.” Council members were not shocked. Mousa urged for a cleaner itemization of what’s in the code, citing that language in the budget ordinance, while codified, “has never been done.” Boyer noted a preponderance of outdated language in the code, but it doesn’t get deleted because “nobody has time.” The limited quality of the keyword search function on Bill Search also came up.

— A reorganization plan from the executive branch was discussed, with an eye toward refining what Mousa called “fiduciary responsibility” lines toward “more efficient government.” Gulliford noted that he hopes this goes better than the previous reorganization.

CPACs were also discussed, with Mousa noting that they have lost their effectiveness over the last four or five years. Part of the issue, Boyer added, was a gap in communication from the CPACs to members, including there not being emails. The Executive Branch will, as Mousa said, “get a hold of that” and impose more “structure and direction,” via the “proposed Neighborhoods department.” The high point of actual development of a cohesive Neighborhoods strategy occurred during the John Delaney administration, Mousa added. The mayor’s office, it was generally agreed, needs a more visible presence; it was noted that representation from the Executive Branch has been absent from at least one CPAC.

— Infrastructural remedies in “older urban core neighborhoods,” many of which have been neglected since Consolidation, were discussed. Boyer floated a tangible goal of setting a fixed amount (10%) of the Capital Improvement Plan budget for this process; Gulliford countered that an arbitrary target would be problematic, and Mousa agreed, saying that it would be a “token” amount, and “priorities” and “county wide equivalency” should be drivers.

Mousa noted that people in NW Jacksonville believed that a “commitment” was made for infrastructural renewal, and that they feel shorted. He also noted that neighborhoods like San Marco and Riverside are technically “older urban core neighborhoods” also, and that there have been some infrastructural improvements in areas.

Boyer countered that such renewal is a “show of good faith” regarding “what we sold” via Consolidation.

Another issue: unpaved roads in outlying areas.

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