Friday saw the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee move toward wrapping up budget deliberations. However, there was still some unfinished business with various departments.
And the most interesting bit of business was political business — not budgetary.
— The big enchilada: the 100 new police officers and other proposals from JSO, which were not approved during the first budget hearing.
It got interesting quickly when Chairman Garrett Dennis pointed out a poll ran by Sheriff Mike Williams‘ political committee, which said people wanted more cops.
“We don’t want to feel like we’re being pressured,” Dennis said. “We just want to know the rationale behind it.”
Williams referred to the poll as a “snapshot of the community.” Dennis posited this was focused on African-American people; Williams said it was county-wide.
“It could be seen as trying to influence this body one way or the other,” Dennis said. “It’s been a tough week, seeing this article and seeing us as a target.”
Councilwoman Katrina Brown continued on this theme, noting her balancing act between constituents who don’t trust law enforcement and public safety.
“I asked for a plan. When you came to the budget hearing last week, you didn’t have a plan like today,” Brown said.
“I don’t want anyone to feel like Katrina Brown hates the police department,” Brown said, wondering if the Sheriff perceived the “hold up” in the budget as a lack of support.
The poll noted that half of Duval County voters would want to bounce a Council member who didn’t support the call for new cops, which nettled Brown.
“I become the target as if I’m the person that hates police, which is not true,” Councilwoman Brown said.
Brown cited bad moments for police, from the Hemming Park melee after a protest to an officer allegedly putting a gun in a pastor’s face.
“When we start to get email threats as elected officials,” Brown said, “I want to go home to my family too.”
Councilman Reggie Brown can “imagine the media saying ‘the committee caves’.”
“In Saturday morning in the paper, our credibility crumbles,” Brown said, if the committee votes for the new cops.
Brown wanted the media to know that, if and when they push the “green button,” it was after an exhaustive vetting process.
Sheriff Williams told us, after the morning session wrapped, that the poll was intended as a “confirmation” of the effectiveness of messaging on the need for new officers.
He did not rule out future polls.
He intends to run for re-election, and should file officially late this year or early in 2018.
In other news from the morning session that actually dealt with the budget.
— Finance Chair Garrett Dennis proposed an amendment for a “marquee sign” near the entrance of Edward Waters College, as part of the $8.4M appropriation for a new field and dorm. Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa said the sign looked really nice — the kind of thing that costs a couple hundred thousand dollars — and probably couldn’t be pulled off in the current appropriation.
Councilman Danny Becton, who is less thrilled with spending on EWC than others on the committee, asserted again that “water projects” would be a better spend than EWC money, which is the beginning of a “slippery slope.”
“We make other things a priority,” Becton said, “over things people need in their neighborhood.”
“I’m really perplexed … we have neighborhoods that need basic water, but we are spending $8.4M on a ‘feelgood’ [measure],” Becton added.
Becton’s position was not shared by anyone on the panel, the members of which spent minutes passionately arguing for the spend — a priority of Mayor Lenny Curry.
— The Duval County Court made a pitch for 1/2 year funding for a drug court program, at just over $162,500; the federal grant is expected by then. The program was called a model on the federal level by Chief Judge Mark Mahon. Enhancement votes are this afternoon, but Finance Committee member Katrina Brown said it was at the top of her list. Mahon also got money for new tablets and furniture, bringing the total to $193,000, and leaving $2,730,152 of Council Contingency for enhancements in the afternoon.
— The computer aided dispatch system, “spread amongst a number of divisions and departments,” was up for $12M of borrowing authorization — not all of which would be needed in the next fiscal year, per CFO Mike Weinstein. The systems are end of life for both JFRD and JSO, and a refresh would allow for increased efficiency and effectiveness. The borrowing was authorized.