The big news that came out of Jacksonville’s City Council meeting on Tuesday night is the passage of 2015-304: the Police and Fire Pension Deal, by a 14-4 margin.
Those against it (Lori Boyer, John Crescimbeni, Bill Bishop, and Matt Schellenberg) made their arguments. But the fact was that Councilman Bill Gulliford and his impassioned advocacy for the bill carried the day.
Gulliford got his four floor amendments through, dealing with strong arguments from Boyer, Bishop, and Schellenberg, especially on the final floor amendment, where Schellenberg argued that the bill would hamstring the council, and Bishop contended that there is no out for the city if things go south.
Gulliford stuck to his guns. The city must keep its word, he said. It’s the right thing to do.
Once the amendments were dealt with, the discussion of the bill proceeded. Boyer contended that there was a chance that the bill could be invalidated in a court, because it did not follow collective bargaining procedure.
Bishop said that the process itself was flawed, that this created a “seven year hamstring” for the city, and that if Boyer’s worst case scenario came to pass, the city would be in a worse mess.
Gulliford stuck to his guns. The city’s counsel said that there were many examples of benefits agreed to in the public sector outside of the narrow parameters of collective bargaining. He added that even if there were a ruling that the deal was invalid, that ruling would be overturned in appeal.
Stephen Joost spoke up, saying “we should settle this thing tonight so that we don’t have to spend another $200M,” as was the case over the last four years, dealing with the financial costs of inaction.
More sharp critiques from Crescimbeni and Bishop followed. Gulliford fired back, attacking what he perceived to be their “absolutist position.”
“This is not a war,” he said. “At some point, there’s got to be peace.”
Warren Jones spoke up, mentioning the sagging morale in the police and fire departments, where there had been no raises in six years.
Robin Lumb spoke up. He had been on the fence in Rules Committee, not promising to support the bill on the Council floor. However, on this night, he gave his imprimatur to stem the contretemps.
“Gulliford has me persuaded,” he said, saying that this bill was “workable.”
14-4. Bill Gulliford managed to do an end run against some of the brightest folks on City Council, avoiding the 9-9 deadlock that killed the last pension deal and, arguably, made Alvin Brown a one term mayor.
After the vote, PFPF Chief John Keane told me succinctly: “I’m glad it’s over.”
Meanwhile, Chris Hand, Mayor Brown’s Chief of Staff who describes himself as a “dyed in the wool policy wonk,” contended that this outcome “clearly shows broad based support” for reform from the executive and legislative branches both.
“With every great initiative, there are a lot of parents,” Hand said, noting that Gulliford “deserves a ton of credit.”
In a statement, Mayor Brown concurred.
“Tonight’s vote is a great result for taxpayers and our hardworking first responders. I have made pension reform a priority since Day 1, and we look forward to working with the Police and Fire Pension Fund to enact these much-needed reforms. I want to especially thank Council member Bill Gulliford for his leadership and working with me on a solution that will make our city a better place.”
Beyond Pension, there were some other issues that are worthy of note that were resolved.
2015-400, the bill giving the incoming Lenny Curry administration money for their independent 90 day audit, passed with some modifications. The expectation now is that the work will be done in six weeks; the budget for the job, $300,000.
Sam Mousa, whom most people are expecting to be the Curry team’s Chief Administrative Officer, told Council that either the CAO or CFO would serve as the “project manager” for this audit. Payment will be rendered to Ernst and Young in two installments. Half at the halfway point; half at the effort’s completion.
The bill passed 18-0.
As well, with little fanfare, at the tail end of the session, Ordinance 2015-436, sponsored by Councilmen Richard Clark and Clay Yarborough, was approved on an emergency basis. It establishes a 180 day moratorium on the growing, processing, and dispensing of “low THC cannabis, a/k/a medical marijuana.”
Hopefully, a similar moratorium will be issued on the medical conditions that make such medicine a necessity for suffering children.