Three bills that had been expected to highlight the Tuesday evening agenda of the Jacksonville City Council won’t.
The end result: an anticlimactic meeting, mostly because the committee process weeded out three bills that may have been sound policy, but were inconvenient politics – at best.
Extra Pension Payment? No Thanks!
Councilman Danny Becton had an idea: 15 percent of all increases in the general fund would go to the city’s $2.8B unfunded pension liability.
Becton called a public notice meeting to sway council members, and it was a big moment for him – he had complained of not getting media coverage to some reporters.
All the press was there: television, print, radio, and, well, us.
As public notice meetings go, this one began to circle the drain before adjournment. We published a piece. And as soon we did, the Lenny Curry Administration wanted to correct something.
Becton had claimed the administration was “favorable” to the bill. Team Curry – on the record, off the record, and whatever else – pushed back against that assertion, wondering how Becton could have gotten a message of support from the meeting he’d had with senior staffers.
“I don’t know where he got that. But that’s not the case,” Curry told us.
After being informed of mayoral pushback, Becton amended his read to one of being told “they were not going to help me, but they were not going to come out against me.”
Fast forward to the bill’s one committee stop: Finance.
The bill got a 4-1 no vote, with the four who voted no making very pointed remarks in debate.
Becton didn’t want to answer our one question for him: did the mayor’s office kill the bill?
Whether it did or not, the bill is dead. The mystery is why Becton didn’t pull the bill before the inevitable no vote in Finance.
TRUE Sunset? False!
Another failed reform bill: a measure to lower the number of members on Jacksonville’s TRUE Commission for 18 to 11; that bill would have sunset the appointed fiscal watchdog body.
That bill didn’t make it out of the Rules Committee last week.
Councilman Tommy Hazouri, who co-sponsored the bill along with Rules Chairman Garrett Dennis, saw the writing on the wall during the May meeting – at which the bill was deferred.
Hazouri saw the writing on the wall during the May meeting, when Dennis described his “change of heart” on the bill, a change occasioned by pushback from a variety of community stakeholders.
Whatever reforms might happen with TRUE, Dennis doesn’t want to push them forward.
“I don’t want to carry the water on this one,” Dennis said.
No Appointment Necessary
Here’s more water no one wanted to carry in the end, from last week’s Rules Committee, where the panel withdrew its own bill requiring Ethics Commission nominees to be confirmed before sitting.
The impetus for this: a controversial nominee who was withdrawn from consideration after a Facebook spat with the head of the local police union.
The bill illustrated the maxim: hard cases make bad law.
Despite the seeming initial will of the committee to push this bill through, speakers’ opinions ran in the other direction, and the committee flipped toward withdrawal soon thereafter.
Mary Bland Love, voting on the Ethics Commission despite not being confirmed yet, spoke against the bill, saying the current setup allows for a “probationary period to see how a commissioner would perform.”
The goal: keeping the commission “independent.”
“If you had a situation where someone was appointed who was otherwise qualified but for whatever reason someone wanted to sit on the appointment,” Love said, it could hamstring the committee.
Ethics Director Carla Miller likewise spoke in opposition, addressing similar themes regarding the need to keep the committee independent, including noting that in other jurisdictions there is no legislative approval process (with constitutional officers making the appointments).
Former Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Carlucci, the current chair of the Florida Commission on Ethics, spoke up also, lauding the “independence” of the local ethics commission, which was borne in the wake of a grand jury investigation.
That independence, housed in the city charter, was reaffirmed via referendum two years ago.
“It was deliberately discussed,” Carlucci said, “that these appointed members would be able to go ahead and begin work.”
“Anything that chips away at the special independence that any ethics commission has taken away from its ability to execute its mission,” Carlucci said.
Council members took a hint and turned against their own bill.
Hazouri floated the motion for a withdrawal of the bill, noting that optics would look bad if the committee voted against its own bill.