Monday saw a Jacksonville City Council committee move Mayor Lenny Curry‘s children’s program re-orginization — the Kids Hope Alliance (KHA) — through by a 6 to 1 vote.
It took over three hours, and it became clear that one primary skeptic of the bill was Council President Anna Brosche.
As the committee lurched through its fourth hour of deliberation, Brosche advanced at least a dozen line-item criticisms of the bill. However, Brosche was not a voting member of the committee.
The lone “no” vote in that committee: Councilman Garrett Dennis, a Democrat who has been willing to buck both the Curry Administration and political team.
Dennis was vocal with criticisms, suggestions of amendments to the bill and other procedural tricks — including an attempted stall to force deferral as the committee reached what had been thought to be a hard stop time of 1:30 p.m.
As luck would have it, Dennis chaired the Tuesday morning meeting of the Finance Committee — and therefore it was widely expected that Finance would be the toughest of the three committees for the KHA bill.
That impression was augmented when an occasional Curry political adversary — Council President Anna Brosche — showed up for bill discussion.
And sure enough, the bill — a priority of the Curry administration — didn’t even get a vote.
For the second straight committee meeting, Sherry Magill, president of the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund, offered critiques of the KHA model. She wanted a dedicated funding source, expressed concerns about KHA becoming political and took issue with the KHA’s reliance on decreased crime stats as a metric.
Council President Anna Brosche honed in on questions about the funding source, noting that in FY 05-06, funding was just over $21 million, but since then had an erosion in funding, while Jacksonville Journey investment was “all over the board.”
Brosche surmised that she thought legislative intent was that funding would keep going up, not that it would be cut — as happened earlier this decade.
Dennis then took issue with Curry’s assertion on Monday that support for the Jacksonville Children’s Commission is tantamount to supporting “special interests,” saying “the only interests are the kids of Jacksonville.”
“That kept me up all night last night, thinking about special interests,” an impassioned Dennis noted.
In response to a provider’s assertion that the KHA would send children’s services “backwards,” another frequent Curry Administration sparring partner — Finance Vice-Chair Danny Becton — said this concerned him, given that the reforms were supposed to represent progress.
“That thought process is certainly contrary to the objective to the bill, where we are trying to enhance and raise the bar for kids,” Becton said.
Dennis addressed another of the provider’s concerns with the bill, calling it “problematic” when small providers had to compete with city agencies for contracts.
“It’s almost like picking and choosing based on the priority of the leadership in the Mayor’s Office,” Dennis said, adding that he is “inclined to defer the bill.”
That didn’t go over well with Ali Korman Shelton, the mayoral liaison to Council, whose father Howard Korman is both a former chair of the Children’s Commission and a very strong proponent of this bill.
In fact, as Mr. Korman began his remarks, Dennis said he intended to defer the measure two weeks.
“The Children’s Commission right now has a lot of uncertainty … the longer it takes to do this, the more uncertainty there is,” Korman said, noting that “good people … have their future up in the air” while the city mulls the re-orginization.
Chairman Dennis had more surprises that doubled as absolute non-starters for the Curry Administration.
One amendment that went up in flames: a referendum to set up KHA as an independent taxing district, one which could levy a tax not exceeding .5 mill, which would come out to roughly $26.7 million.
“Let the voters decide the commitment to the children,” Dennis said.
Boyer noted that the Consolidation Task Force had opposed carve-outs like this, and so she “strongly opposed” this proposal.
Councilman Reggie Brown was concerned, meanwhile, that amount wasn’t enough, and “maybe a full mill” is required. Brown ultimately said he wouldn’t support the amendment.
Bill sponsor Scott Wilson said this was a “bad idea” and he’d vote against it if lumped into this bill.
Other amendments were successful, including a Reggie Brown one to ensure that all high school students — including those over the age of 18 — would be eligible for youth services.
Near 1 p.m., Dennis urged deferral.
But there were fireworks, with Councilwoman Lori Boyer noting that the version being voted on had three hours of work and multiple amendments, and that there needed to be a vote or a continuance of the meeting at some later time to preserve the work done.
“We’ve shotgunned this, we’ve rushed this,” Dennis said, urging a potential Committee of the Whole to resolve “tons of questions” he had on the bill.
Boyer then motioned on the substitute as amended, and the motion was seconded — wrapped as the Finance substitute.
Some committee members pushed for a vote, but Democrats on the committee — mindful of a deferral of a Reggie Brown bill in a different committee — said that to not defer this bill would be a different standard.
Brown’s bill: a resolution of support for a bill in the Florida Legislature requiring school crossing guards at all schools serving students up until eighth grade. There were questions about funding what would be a state mandate, and other logistical issues.
Council President Brosche added that if her questions on the bill were not answered, she would push for deferral at Council Tuesday. As of late Tuesday afternoon, her 17 questions had not been answered.
“Hopefully we can do that before Tuesday so we don’t need to defer it on Tuesday,” Brosche said.
Discussion continued, with the Curry Administration vowing to answer any residual questions on Monday, while urging that the committee vote the bill out.
Despite that vow, Chairman Dennis deferred the bill. A special meeting of the committee looks likely for Monday.
The Rules Committee took up the measure Tuesday afternoon, with many of the same speakers making increasingly familiar points about the bill.
Howard Korman noted that, while this has been a “difficult process,” Councilors should “move this forward — either up or down” to alleviate uncertainty among current members of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission regarding whether they’d have jobs or not after the re-orginzation goes through.
Amendments from the previous two committee stops occasioned more discussion, with more technical amendments offered before a substitute version was moved through and approved without a no vote.