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Jax Council panel withdraws its own bill reforming Ethics Commission appointment process

The Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee mulled a bill that the committee itself introduced on Tuesday, a measure requiring Jacksonville Ethics Commission nominees to be confirmed by the City Council before serving on the commission.

Then the committee moved to withdraw its own bill, which itself was the result of a nomination that was pulled.

Rules Chair Garrett Dennis noted before Tuesday’s meeting that Leslie Jean-Bart, before being confirmed, was taking actions on the committee.

This proved to be problematic when Jean-Bart exchanged barbs with the head of the local police union on Facebook, decreasing the political will to confirm the former State House candidate and leading to her sponsor, Public Defender Charles Cofer, pulling her name from consideration.

Despite the seeming initial will of the committee to push this bill through, speakers’ opinions ran in the other direction, and the committee flipped toward withdrawal soon thereafter.

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Mary Bland Love, voting on the Ethics Commission despite not being confirmed yet, spoke against the bill, saying the current setup allows for a “probationary period to see how a commissioner would perform.”

The goal: keeping the commission “independent.”

“If you had a situation where someone was appointed who was otherwise qualified but for whatever reason someone wanted to sit on the appointment,” Love said, it could hamstring the committee.

Ethics Director Carla Miller likewise spoke in opposition, addressing similar themes regarding the need to keep the committee independent, including noting that in other jurisdictions there is no legislative approval process (with constitutional officers making the appointments).

Former Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Carlucci, the current chair of the Florida Commission on Ethics, spoke up also, lauding the “independence” of the local ethics commission, which was borne in the wake of a grand jury investigation.

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That independence, housed in the city charter, was reaffirmed via referendum two years ago.

“It was deliberately discussed,” Carlucci said, “that these appointed members would be able to go ahead and begin work.”

“Anything that chips away at the special independence that any ethics commission has taken away from its ability to execute its mission,” Carlucci said.

“There may have been one issue with an appointment since 1992,” Carlucci added, noting that a year and a half elapsed between his appointment and confirmation on the state level.

Committee members began to turn against the bill as Carlucci sat down, with Councilman Jim Love deferring to the opinions of the experts, saying “we should just leave it as it is.”

Councilman John Crescimbeni noted that the Jean-Bart deferral happened for reasons beyond the committee’s control (a need for a State Ethics Committee ruling regarding a potential employment-related conflict of interest), when Rules Committee members learned that Jean-Bart “was not behaving ethically in the social media world.”

“Had that not been an issue, this committee likely would have taken this bill up … it would have gone on the consent agenda, and been approved,” Crescimbeni said.

“Time was the candidate’s enemy,” Councilman Danny Becton said, noting that the “candidate had self-destructed.”

However, Becton took his own path, speaking against sailing the candidates through.

“If that’s what we’re doing, why are we sitting here going through the appointment process if the deal is done,” Becton asked quasi-rhetorically.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri floated the motion for a withdrawal of the bill, noting that optics would look bad if the committee voted against its own bill.

And the bill died its quiet death soon thereafter.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades, with bylines in national and local publications alike on subjects ranging from pop music to national and global politics. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014, and has held a column in Jacksonville, Florida's Folio Weekly for two decades. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." Gancarski is a frequent presence on Jacksonville television and radio, including fill-in slots on WJCT-FM's award-winning talk show "First Coast Connect." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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