Did text messages sway the Jax City Council firefighter pay boost vote?

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On Thursday, when walking to Jacksonville’s City Hall, I talked with a couple of Jacksonville Fire and Rescue personnel (in separate conversations) who were pretty happy about the Jacksonville City Council’s decision, made on a second vote, to take $320,000 from the stormwater fund and put it toward maintaining the positions of 17 district chiefs.

As well they should have been happy. The floor amendment, which had failed 11 to 8 in its first vote, passed 11 to 8 the second time around … an outcome which surprised City Council President Greg Anderson.

What changed? The Florida Times-Union makes a strong argument that the root of the switch is in aggressive, continual lobbying by Randy Wyse, president of the firefighters’ union, via text messages to City Council members before and during the meeting.

One of the men who flipped: Land Use and Zoning Chair Scott Wilson, whose role was singular, in that he pushed the measure for reconsideration.

Wilson had remorse after the first vote, according to the text string.

“The source of funds got me because I have so much flooding in my district,” he wrote to Wyse.

Well, that same source of money will be used for the fire chief salaries that he voted against.

Tommy Hazouri, who pushed the floor amendment in the first place, texted Wyse in a fit of pique.

“Where did u learn to count. Boy was I sabotaged,” Hazouri wrote.

One issue, as many district council members ranging from Lori Boyer to Al Ferraro will tell you, is that there is a profound backlog in stormwater and other infrastructural projects.

A story that Ferraro told on the campaign trail, and still tells, is one about an old couple who lives in a rural part of the district. The woman is in a wheelchair. When there is standing water, she gets bitten by bugs and worse whenever she is pushed to and from the car and house.

That story is one that can be told throughout Jacksonville, where drainage issues are a way of life for some people, and a generational curse for others.

The areas that typically see the worst effects, in terms of infrastructure neglect, are the so-called minority access districts 7 through 10.

Two of those representatives, Reggie Gaffney in District 7 and Katrina Brown in District 8, flipped and made the difference.

A cynic might check their campaign accounts for fire union backing as 2019 approaches.

The compelling case for the money going to fire is equity and fairness; the case for infrastructural renewal, however, is a similar case.

Those who supported the move contended, after the meeting, that a few hundred thousand dollars doesn’t mean much in terms of these projects.

Maybe that’s the case; the problem, however, is that for those wading to their cars or mailboxes, they don’t see it that way.

Wilson, Gaffney, and Brown seem to have made the bet that any political blowback within their districts will be mitigated by fire union support, which has a variety of tangible and intangible benefits that one can guess.

Beyond weighing political options, there is an obvious question that must be asked.

Why wasn’t there money to perform both tasks?

Jacksonville, under the guise of fiscal conservatism, is emaciated in terms of revenue. The bet that the Lenny Curry administration has made is that aggressive growth will drive revenue.

That bet is predicated on Jacksonville’s economic expansion, or whatever one might call it, continuing.

Of course, numbers were strong during the Alvin Brown years, especially in terms of lower unemployment rates as the term progressed.

Every decision is a matter of political calculation, and it’s interesting to see what drives the new City Council members, whose vote was succinctly described by Finance Chairman Bill Gulliford.

“Newer council members,” Gulliford said, “don’t understand the severity of infrastructure issues.”

They seem to understand realpolitik pretty well though.


A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at [email protected]


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