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Council members Reggie Brown, Greg Anderson, Lori Boyer at JEA Agreement meeting

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Jax General Counsel deems City Council “appropriative” body in JEA pay negotiations

In 2012, Jacksonville General Counsel Cindy Laquidara decided that JEA had the power to raise its employees’ pay.

Laquidara was quoted in The Florida Times-Union at the time as saying “the city used to be the employer; the facts changed but the charter language did not.”

Fast-forward to 2015. Jacksonville has a new General Counsel, and a revised opinion on the matter, which was revealed Tuesday during the JEA Agreement meeting at City Hall.

“Up until 2012, it was always the City Council” that was the acceptable collective bargaining body,” said Jason Gabriel, who asserted that it’s also in the Charter, and that his take is buttressed by case law.

Citing a case from Pasco County involving the Sheriff’s Office, which declared itself a “legislative body” for collective bargaining purposes, Gabriel noted that the court disagreed.

In Jacksonville, “City Council appropriates; JEA allocates,” Gabriel said.

Gabriel cited the “unique power” of Council to change the Charter via a supermajority, saying that the “appropriative power” rests with Council.

As usually happens in these cases, there is a General Counsel memo, and FloridaPolitics.com has reviewed it.

The “short answer” to the question of whether JEA or the Council has such power: The Jacksonville City Council is the “legislative body” for purposes of approval of collective bargaining agreements under Chapter 447, Florida Statutes.

Since 1997, Gabriel wrote, JEA is the “employer” of its own employees, able to “establish employment policies relating to hiring, promotion, discipline and termination, and other terms and conditions of employment.”

JEA employees initially were city employees, Gabriel continued, including in 1992 when the state legislature had its last “wholesale adoption of the Jacksonville Charter.”

In 1997, the City Council amended the Charter to say that “all employees of the utilities system shall be employees of JEA,” though that same amendment dictated that the City Council “shall be and continue to be the legislative body as provided by Section 447.203(10), Florida Statutes.”

Thus, wrote Gabriel, the city retained its right to “maintain legislative body status for purposes of collective bargaining,” even with JEA’s “employees.”

And, if council desired, a supermajority that desired to revise the charter could make JEA employees once again employees of the city of Jacksonville.

In addition to the Pasco County case cited in our Tuesday coverage, Gabriel, in the memo, also cites a 1986 case involving the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind.

The 1st District explained that “the appropriations authority is an essential element of legislative body status” under this second broad, unnamed statutory category. In that case, the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind did not have “appropriations authority” because all of its money came from the State Legislature, and transferring money already appropriated was simply done pursuant to its authority. See id. at 60. In short, the Legislature appropriates money, the agency or executive decides how to allocate that money in the budget; and it is the City Council that appropriates JEA’s money by approving its budget.

Gabriel closed by noting that “this opinion shall be considered binding on the Consolidated City of Jacksonville, and to the extent any other opinion is inconsistent with the provisions of this opinion, such opinion shall be considered overruled to the extent of any such inconsistency.”

And now you know the rest of the story.

Written By

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 AG@FloridaPolitics.com

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