The normally sedate Jacksonville City Council Rules committee was popping on Tuesday afternoon, with a controversial board appointment highlighting the agenda — with resistance from Democrats and party-line adherence from Republicans.
While it looked like the vote was going to go in favor of that nominee … a “hard stop” of the meeting at 3:15 allowed the Rules Chair to defer action for two weeks.
And so he did.
The backstory, and the committee process, are both genuinely compelling though.
Back in January, former Jacksonville City Council candidate Mike Anania seemed like a sure thing to be appointed to the Jacksonville “Taxation, Revenues, and Utilization of Expenditures” Commission.
However, last week’s Jacksonville City Council meeting saw Anania’s nomination referred back to committees, after Rules Committee Chair Garrett Dennis raised concerns about Anania’s comportment.
Dennis urged Anania to ask himself a question: “Is it worth it to continue this fight, to split the council? Or do I love Jacksonville and the process enough to step back, to say ‘I’m going to put my selfish ambitions to the side and step aside’.”
Anania, however, did not step aside — and he showed at the meeting with Karyn Morton, the chair of the Duval County Republican Party.
As the committee went through the rest of its agenda, Anania walked around the room, shaking hands and pacing at irregular intervals.
All of the tension and drama attendant to Anania seemed to be for nothing, however.
At least, for a moment.
The 5-2 vote that was passed last time Rules met happened again.
Then, a motion to reconsider was floated and passed … with some new information.
Chairman Dennis noted that when Anania was a CPAC Chair earlier in the decade, he ensured his wife was appointed to the TRUE Commission, which was a CPAC appointment.
Each CPAC appoints a TRUE commissioner — and the spot he seeks has been open for a year and a half.
Dennis contended that Anania kept the position open to “appoint himself as the TRUE Commission appointee.”
This, despite Anania leaving the CPAC Chair in Dec. 2016.
“The history of this applicant is not about Jacksonville; it’s about himself,” Dennis said, referring to Anania “promoting himself and his wife,” then leaving a vacant commission spot for himself.
Dennis vowed to attend the Finance Committee meeting Wednesday to reinforce his displeasure.
Council VP John Crescimbeni, a Democrat from Arlington, called Anania up to address the contention Dennis made.
“Why was that left vacant for so long, and why wasn’t somebody appointed,” Crescimbeni said, since the vacancy in Oct. 2015.
Anania said the good candidates had time constraints that precluded their joining the commission.
Both Crescimbeni and Anania concurred that the prolonged vacancy “looked funny.”
“I don’t like the look of this,” Crescimbeni said, regarding the apparent elisions in Anania’s story regarding time commitments and the difficulty to fill them.
Despite questions and concerns from the three committee Democrats, the four Republicans were harder to move.
Councilman Danny Becton, who objected to reconsidering the vote, cited vacancies on the committee.
“There’s only 10 members out of 18, and four of them are serving [expired terms],” Becton noted.
Becton vouched for Anania’s “good character,” noting that “Mike’s apologized for any miscommunication he’s had with members up here.”
Becton said he wished he had 12 Ananias on committees, noting that these are “just volunteer positions,” not “a seat on the council.”
“Forgiveness,” said Becton, was potentially a factor in the decision.
Becton also wondered about the wisdom of trying to “disband the city council’s oversight committee,” calling for the media to report on that.
Councilman Scott Wilson, while “concerned” about the lack of respect shown to committee members by Anania, opted to support Anania, given a long association.
“I realize he can be abrupt, but his heart is in the right place, even if his delivery is not,” Wilson said.
Councilman Jim Love also indicated that he’d support Anania, who he considers a friend.
And Councilman Greg Anderson, with some gravel in his voice, said “nobody deserves to be berated in this committee.”
Chairman Dennis’s position was unchanged despite the entreaties of Republicans.
“It’s a bad precedent if we start filling in people to fill in slots. If the TRUE Commission isn’t working, we should just sunset it,” Dennis said.
Dennis likened the Anania nomination to a movie with a bad trailer, one that people see anyway.
And Dennis questioned the timing of the extended vacancy, and the CPAC extending Anania’s name as the filler.
“Something’s not right, and I’m going to continue to beat this drum until Tuesday,” Dennis said.
Crescimbeni, seeing the vote count, proposed a reduced term to Dennis as a sort of probationary period for Anania.
“It’s the same trailer but the movie would be leaving the theater a little earlier,” Crescimbeni said.
Code dictates a three-year term, which would require the bill to be an ordinance, not a resolution.
As this was being discussed, the clock ran out on the vote.
So, for a fourth time, the committee will mull L’Affaire Anania in two weeks — on Apr. 18.
Beyond the Anania non-vote, the committee also approved resolutions in support of Enterprise Florida and moves on the state level to raise the age of tobacco purchases to 21.
However, there was no controversy on either item.