The tortuous twists and turns of the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund deal continued in Wednesday night’s Jacksonville City Council meeting, as the latest iteration of the Pension Deal (one that was approved, before a series of revisions from the PFPF and Council, by a 16-3 vote in December) failed to pass. Rejected on a 9-9 tie vote (the Council is short a member currently), the evening was contentious, with emotionally heightened debate throughout the night.
The critics were fierce and furious. One notable one: Robin Lumb, Councilman and Duval GOP Chair, who said “this is not a pension deal; this is a mirage.” Another one: Bill Bishop, who described the pension deal as a “Rube Goldberg Machine” and repeatedly sounded the alarm that he refused to be a party to passing on a flawed deal to a new Council for the sake of expedience.
After the event, Mayoral Chief of Staff Chris Hand was quoted as saying that “what 9 members of City Council did tonight is an insult to both our taxpayers and our brave public safety officials.”
Since Bishop just came through an hotly contested Mayoral campaign in which he was repeatedly critical of the funding mechanism of the pension deal, and since the open question in Jacksonville politics right now is whether or not he will endorse Mayor Alvin Brown (with whom Bishop’s family has apparently dined and, according to the mayor, “roasted marshmallows” with) or party mate Lenny Curry, I felt it important to ask him about his staunch stance against the current deal tonight.
Bishop on the pension deal: “This entire pension episode has been about politics rather than what is good for the city, residents, or public safety officials.” Bishop did say that Hand was entitled to his opinion.
Interested in finding out more, I had a conversation with Hand about tonight’s setback for the Pension Plan that seemed, a few months back, to be very achievable. What drove the Council rejection of the deal? And is there a way forward?
“Bill Bishop’s vote was absolutely NOT political. He takes a thoughtful approach to issues and we just had a disagreement on this one. Bill always tries to do what is in the best interest of the City, and in this case we just had a different perspective on what that was,” Hand said.
Hand added that he would “not be so generous to some of the other 9 members not being political” in their rejection.
One of the things that clearly disappointed Hand was that, after 2013-386 (the Administration’s previous attempt at a Pension Deal) was voted down,the Administration went “member to member” and “incorporated their concerns” into the latest iteration of the bill.
There perhaps was a “moving of the goalposts,” he speculated.
Having listened to the debate deteriorate into squabbling over a series of hours, I wondered if the situation simply had escalated or if there was an orchestrated attempt to squash the Pension bill for political purposes. Hand asserted that it’s “always hard to say how [things] transpire.”
Ultimately, with only 9 of 18 voting yes, the bill was “unsuccessful.” Seven Republicans and two Democrats ensured its fate.
Despite this, says Hand, the Administration will “continue to push forward. Politics should have nothing to do with it. The pension challenges” extend “across party lines.”
“The Mayor’s led on this since Day One,” Hand contends. “Our consciences are clear. We will continue to lead. It’s just too important for our city’s future.
With three more Council meetings before the runoff election, it is an open question how much the Administration will be able to push this one forward before the voters go to the polls to settle the binary question of Brown Versus Curry.
We will have more coverage on the PFPF deal tomorrow morning via our colleague, Kevin Meerschaert.