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Last call: Jacksonville City Council closes 2018

All good things come to an end: and so it is for the 2018 calendar for the Jacksonville City Council, which met Tuesday for the final time this year.

Just a few of the highlights, beyond the X-Mas sweaters depicted in the graphic….

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Health care options for public safety: New changes to collective bargaining agreements for police and fire employees were to be ratified via the Council consent agenda, but were pulled by Councilman Garrett Dennis for questions.

Ordinances 2018-756 and 2018-757 would allow the unions to separate from the city health care plan in 2020. Public safety may have a negotiating advantage on insurance rates, given the overall health of police and fire being better than that of city employees. With defined benefit plans not available for new hires after 2016’s pension reform, better health plans can help with recruitment.

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Dennis asked if the collective bargaining was a precondition for unions endorsing Mayor Lenny Curry‘s re-election. Once satisfied that it was not a quid pro quo, he said he’d vote for the bill.

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Hart Bridge money: Mayor Lenny Curry has secured the $37.5 million needed to remove the Hart Bridge offramps and a stretch of the expressway, as a way of routing traffic and action onto Bay Street and near the showcase Sports Complex.

Ordinance 2018-785 appropriates $12.5 million from the Florida Department of Transportation, money ceded earlier this year for that purpose.

The U.S. Department of Transportation likewise came through with its $12.5 million share this week.

The federal grant application said the “project directly addresses the main impediment to development along the waterfront in this section of downtown. This project will demolish the elevated bypass, and in its place will construct a ramp from the Hart Bridge to street level on Bay Street. A second ramp will be constructed at the corner of Bay Street and A. Phillip Randolph Boulevard to go over Hogan’s Creek, a creek the City has plans to activate in the near future.”

The bill sailed through on the Consent Agenda.

Beyond development, the grant application pointed out the fact that the elevated expressway destroyed neighborhoods and that returning roadways to grade would help revitalize some of the most left-behind neighborhoods in the city.

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Tighter ethics rules: Ordinance 2018-822, filed by Council President Aaron Bowman at the request of the Jacksonville Ethics Commission, mandates that officials and employees avoid leveraging their positions or resources for personal gain.

As well: “City officials and employees should make an honest effort to use official time and City property only for official business and should not misuse property, time or resources for their own benefit or for campaigning.”

The bill also prohibits city employees and officials, as well as board appointees, from appearing in an adversarial position against the city or an independent authority.

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Strategic plan: The Jacksonville City Council has moved closer to aligning its priorities on public safety, financial health, governmental effectiveness, neighborhoods, affordable housing, and infrastructure.

But this bill isn’t done yet.

By 2023, Jacksonville is to be the “safest urban center in the country … the cleanest city in the country and most attractive city to visitors.” As well, by then a “resilience strategy for natural disasters, economic and environmental threats” should be developed.

The bill was substituted and re-referred to the Rules Committee.

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UAE bill pulled: Just as the way to a man’s heart is through a stomach, the way to the heart of the Jacksonville City Council is through a seven-figure appropriation.

On Tuesday, the Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee downed a bill that would have returned a $2.775 million grant from the United Arab Emirates.

Back in October, the United Arab Emirates gave Jacksonville that money toward post-Hurricane Irma reconstruction.

City Council voted the appropriation through without a hitch in the summer, but second thoughts clouded members (and potential 2019 mayoral candidates) Anna Brosche and Garrett Dennis when they considered the UAE’s human rights record, deemed to be among the world’s worst.

Brosche and Dennis have become punching bags for the Council, and this bill saw most everyone on Rules take a turn before John Crescimbeni proposed a substitute to turn the bill into a gesture of appreciation.

Brosche wanted her name off the bill. Told she couldn’t do that, she motioned for withdrawal, and got it.

Or so it seemed.

A motion to reconsider followed, with Crescimbeni and Bowman teaming up and bringing the bill back for a second try.

Brosche brought back her withdrawal motion. Some confusion ensued, before conversation moved on that motion.

“Time and time again, I’m totally disappointed in this body. The leadership of the body,” said Councilman Garrett Dennis regarding the subversion of the bill’s original intent.

“You need to look yourselves in the mirror and decide, are we making decisions based on good policy or vendettas,” Dennis asked rhetorically. “Be bigger than this.”

Dennis then ran out the clock on his allotted time, to scattered applause from the members of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville in the back.

Councilman Greg  Anderson urged no comments from the audience, as an Abraham Lincoln impersonator nodded.

Councilman Terrance Freeman, the appointed Councilman for District 10, said his district needed the money.

“Maybe it’s going to take somebody from the outside to … bring change,” Freeman said, discussing the challenges the Ken Knight Road area in his district faced during Hurricane Irma.

“When this UAE money came, they were more excited than I. When they were blessed with it, I wasn’t going to let anyone take it away from them,” Freeman said. “If they want it, I’m going to fight for it.”

Councilman Tommy Hazouri railed against charges that Council was being “vindictive” relative to bills sponsored by Brosche and Dennis. Hazouri, describing himself as “Mr. Human Rights,” noted that America gives aid to many countries, and he’s “not ashamed” of taking money from the UAE.

Councilman Danny Becton noted that the matter is as simple as Brosche not wanting her name on the bill, and he supported withdrawal.

“We should honor the intent of legislation we pass,” Becton said.

The bill was finally withdrawn.

 

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades, with bylines in national and local publications alike on subjects ranging from pop music to national and global politics. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014, and has held a column in Jacksonville, Florida's Folio Weekly for two decades. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." Gancarski is a frequent presence on Jacksonville television and radio, including fill-in slots on WJCT-FM's award-winning talk show "First Coast Connect." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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