The ongoing battle between Jacksonville General Counsel Jason Gabriel and the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund has simmered all spring and into the summer.
Earlier in June, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and general counsel Gabriel took aim at the “arrogance and disregard for taxpayers” and “a blatant disregard of public records law” by the Police and Fire Pension Fund, which did an end run around the OGC and unilaterally solicited Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s opinion on the legality of the JPFPF’s Senior Staff Voluntary Retirement Fund.
At issue: Gabriel, as the city’s general counsel, asserted his office’s legal authority supersedes that of any of the city’s independent authorities.
The JPFPF, despite Gabriel repeatedly insisting that they provide him with any communication to Bondi, including draft documents or notes toward that communication, failed to comply with his directives and appealed to Bondi, as if they had co-equal legal standing with the city’s general counsel.
Ultimately, the JPFPF appeal to Tallahassee was fruitless; Bondi refused to get involved in the local issue, saying interpretations of local charter are reserved to the attorney for the local government in question — the general counsel, in the case of Jacksonville.
In that context, Gabriel offered on Thursday “Binding Legal Opinion 16-02,” which will, he wrote in a letter, “be binding” on the entire consolidated government, including the JPFPF Board.
The opinion in more detail:
On Friday, May 20, 2016, the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund Board of Trustees (“JPFPF Board”) voted to request guidance from the Attorney General for the State of Florida with respect to what authority the General Counsel for the Consolidated City of Jacksonville has, pursuant to the Consolidated City’s Charter, to issue legal opinions that are binding as to the JPFPF Board. The JPFPF Board’s request came as a result of a binding legal opinion issued by me on April 20, 2016, concerning the JPFPF Board’s lack of authority to set up an unlawful “senior staff voluntary retirement plan” (“SSVRP”) for a few select participants without City Council approval.
Briefly summarized, the City’s position with respect to the JPFPF Board’s request to the Attorney General on matters of Charter provisions, is that they are matters of local government more appropriately left to the Consolidated Government and its chief legal officer to resolve. As you are now aware, the Attorney General has agreed with that position.
On June 9, 2016, correspondence from the Attorney General in response to the JPFPF Board stated that the Attorney General does not issue opinions on questions requiring an interpretation of local code or charter and that interpretations of local charter are reserved to the attorney for the local government in question, the General Counsel, in the case of Jacksonville.
As such, this letter, along with the attached letter from the Attorney General’s Office dated June 9, 2016, and the attached letter from me dated June 1, 2016, hereby constitutes in their entirety, General Counsel Legal Opinion 16-02, and shall be binding on the entire consolidated government including, but not limited to, the JPFPF Board.
Bondi’s response, and Gabriel’s codification of the city’s position, would seem to put to rest the ongoing saga of the controversial Senior Staff Voluntary Retirement Fund.