On Tuesday, the Jacksonville City Council convened for the first time since a Monday report from the State Attorney that suggested rampant Sunshine Law violations.
The violations, per the report, related in part to the two most recent races for Council President.
Council members Anna Brosche and Garrett Dennis talked a lot, as did Dennis and Brosche’s assistant. Likewise, Dennis talked to (now suspended) Councilwoman Katrina Brown more than one might have expected given sunshine requirements.
Councilwoman Brown talked to many Councilmen, including Reggie Brown (her co-defendant in a federal fraud trial) for 247 hours. Katrina Brown and Reggie Gaffney talked for 74 hours, and Brown talked to Sam Newby for a total of 38 hours.
Reactions from Council members ran the gamut, with more than one veteran expressing frustration about colleagues’ inability to regulate themselves.
Council President Aaron Bowman was “very disappointed,” noting that “the voters will speak.”
“They need to have people they can trust,” Bowman said. “We’ve got to convince voters we’re looking out for them. This is a black mark.”
Councilman Bill Gulliford, a former Council President himself, was “surprised” by the “high volume” of calls from and to his colleagues.
“They claim that they weren’t related to city business, but you know, where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” Gulliford said. “I think Ms. Brosche claimed she didn’t talk to anybody and was caught redhanded when they produced [contradictory] phone records.”
When reminded that Brosche is running a mayoral campaign predicated on transparency, Gulliford said it’s “ironic and contradictory … that somebody touting transparency gets caught being not transparent” regarding “after hours conversations.”
“I don’t think the quality of this Council is as good as the last one I served on,” Gulliford said regarding the 2011-15 class. “We didn’t have these kinds of issues.”
While the previous Council had the requisite messy interpersonal relationships, issues like the Sunshine Law imbroglio, federal fraud indictments for two members, a double-dip homestead exemption for a third member, and a heated interaction with police by two members after a meeting) didn’t emerge in quite them same way.
Republican Jim Love, leaving the Council this year due to term limits, noted that adherence to Sunshine Laws seems to have waned of late.
“We need to get protocol down so people know exactly how to ask for each other’s vote,” Love said, noting that Gulliford as President insisted upon noticed meetings for vote pledges.
“The rules need to be very clear,” Love said.
Love noted that, compared to the people named in the report, he’s “nowhere near” those numbers in intra-council communications.
“We know those rules and many of us follow those rules to the letter,” Love said, citing Lori Boyer, Greg Anderson, Gulliford, and John Crescimbeni as examples of compliance.
“I’m not sure about everybody else,” Love said. “It seems like a lot of conversations made between two Council members. You’d think it’d have to lead to things we’d vote on.”
Democrat Joyce Morgan was “shocked” by the amount of phone calls, though as “friends,” people have a “lot of conversations.”
“How can I determine that X amount of calls are inappropriate? What’s the threshold,” Morgan asked. “I don’t know that a threshold is set.”
Second-term Republican Matt Schellenberg wondered about the report itself, including the “time frame” used for review of phone calls.
“I want to know the previous three years,” Schellenberg said.
Not everyone wanted to discuss the report, however.
Councilmen Sam Newby and Reggie Gaffney kept walking when asked, rather than discuss their conversations with Katrina Brown and potential Sunshine Law reforms they may or may not favor.