A week after the Jacksonville City Council passed his Kids Hope Alliance bill, Mayor Lenny Curry signed the reform bill into law Wednesday.
The KHA, a new seven-person board that will replace the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jacksonville Journey, will command a roughly $35M budget for services for what the Mayor calls “at-hope kids,” handling oversight of various programs.
The bill passed 18-1 , after a chippy discussion that lasted almost four hours, exposing and exacerbating fissures on the Council that have moved from hallway gossip to fodder for mainstream media.
The sole no vote: Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, who had his own competing legislation that now rests in the scrapheap of dead bills.
This was after City Council President Anna Brosche attempted to stall the bill out from being heard on the night of the vote, saying the public needed more time to review it and that she had unanswered questions, accusing the Curry administration of trying to hide the bill from the public (a contention that Curry strenuously refuted).
And the sponsor of the KHA legislation, Scott Wilson, was himself an interesting choice. Wilson had been very vocal about geographic limitations in the funding program of the Jacksonville Journey in 2016, and it didn’t seem coincidental that he was carrying the replacement.
Wilson was lacerating in dealing with Dennis’ stall tactics during bill discussion, calling them “disgusting” on more than one occasion.
Such procedural drama: in the rear view mirror, as Curry signed the bill.
Indeed, Curry didn’t even want to address the drama that preceded the bill passing; the ceremonial signing at Daniel Kids on Jacksonville’s Southside was described by Curry as a “celebration.”
However, it was a celebration that excluded Brosche and Dennis, who did not make the trip to the Southside.
Curry described the reorg in big-picture terms, saying that it was about trying to make children’s services closer to “perfect” in the city.
Curry also, in what could have been seen as a rebuke to those who thought the previous structure was canonical, noted that long after he’s gone, he expects that advocates for children’s services will attempt to reform the KHA.
“This legislation worked how all legislation should work,” Curry said, noting that the collaboration and one-on-one meetings with Council made the bill better, with key changes that included ensuring that special needs children were addressed in the legislation.
Curry lauded Councilman Wilson, saying that the Councilman “took an interest early on in how we provide services to kids” and was “willing to lead” on this bill.
Indeed, Wilson — in whose district Daniel Kids is located — noted that a key feature that he liked about this bill was language that allowed qualified applicants anywhere in the city to receive services, a difference from the Zip Code based Jacksonville Journey model.
Council VP Aaron Bowman — the odds on favorite to be Council President next year — issued a ringing endorsement of Curry and the bill, one even more meaningful given Brosche’s absence and the unresolved conflict between the Mayor and the current Council President.
“You say you’re gonna do something, you do it,” Bowman said, “and involve all of us.”
And regarding the bill?
“I can’t offer a change to make it better.”
Among the other Councilors in attendance: recent Republican Council Presidents Lori Boyer and Greg Anderson, along with fellow Republicans Jim Love and Sam Newby, and Democrats Katrina Brown, Reggie Gaffney, and Tommy Hazouri.
The Council calendar is poised to slow down as the year wraps up, but what is clear is that any restiveness among the city’s legislators has been quelled, and the One City, One Jacksonville vision — embodied on Kids Hope Alliance, in both concept and actualization — has prevailed.
This, despite the Council President and the chair of the best committee on Council standing on the sidelines.