Jax Councilors won’t ‘rubberstamp’ Mayor’s children’s program reforms

Lenny Curry with Council

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry unveiled ambitious reforms to Jacksonville children’s programs earlier this summer.

And when he launched the bill at a press conference, 14 Jacksonville City Council members raised their hands in support of the bill he sold to them, one by one, in the days before that high-profile presser.

The Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jax Journey would be rolled up into the Kids Hope Alliance.

The Kids Hope Alliance would be a board appointed by the Mayor’s Office, with approval by Council.

“A board structure with strong oversight that’s empowered to hire management, one with a focused mission,” Curry said regarding the structure.

Of course, re-orgs take time: this one is allotted six months for transition, and legislation hasn’t been approved yet.

On Thursday, legislators had their first chance to discuss the concept formally, via a Finance Committee review of the budgets for children’s programs.

In contrast to their symbolic support weeks back, committee members asked challenging questions about the concept, a preview of committee hearings on the bill in Sept.

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After a long discussion of an amendment filed by Jacksonville City Council Finance Chair Garrett Dennis (which was eventually pulled), committee members wanted to know more about the current programs.

JCC board chair Matt Kane spoke at some length about after-school programs, noting that ‘just this year” there were reforms to the process, after an 18-month study that included a review of national best practices.

“We try not to duplicate any services,” Kane said regarding the perceived overlap between the JCC and the Journey — a reason for reform.

Finance Vice-Chair Danny Becton urged that services be bid out, allowing the Council to know fixed costs — and if necessary, to allocate more money.

Currently, Becton says the model allows for kids to “just be playing on the monkey bars,” rather than learning skills that protect them from automation eliminating unskilled jobs.

Councilman Reggie Gaffney closed the morning session expressing confidence in all the stakeholders, while Councilwoman Katrina Brown closed the discussion.

“The challenge is we are in a re-organization … it’s unfortunate the bill didn’t run parallel with the budget,” Brown said.

“I told the Mayor I’d support the bill along with 13 other colleagues, but I never said a conversation wouldn’t take place,” Brown said. “I stood with the Mayor and the administration for change … but there’s always going to be debate … amendments, suggestions, conversations.”

Chairman Dennis echoed Brown.

“We shouldn’t rubberstamp anything that comes before us,” Dennis said.

Discussion, started Thursday morning, will continue Thursday afternoon.

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In the Kids Hope Alliance, Curry proposed a comprehensive re-organization going far beyond simple tweaks of extant structures.

Curry will roll the JCC and the Jacksonville Journey into one new structure: the Kids’ Hope Alliance (the Jacksonville Partnership for Children, Youth, and Families).

The group will have a seven-person board, comprised of mayoral appointees that must be approved by the City Council; as with Curry’s reformation of the JEA Board earlier in his term, the goal is to move the organization toward linear accountability. In this case, accountability regarding helping “at-hope kids.”

“Hope was a really important word given the feedback I’ve gotten,” Curry said Tuesday.

The transition period will take six months: the first three months, starting in October, will allow the Journey and the JCC to finish its business; by January, a board should be seated to carry on the KHA’s mission. If that doesn’t happen, Plan B is to run JCC and Jax Journey out of the Mayor’s Office, until the board is approved by City Council.

The strong indication is that the board will be in place by the end of the year, however.

Curry is prioritizing business-minded people with big picture visions and strong resumes for board inclusion, similar again to his reformation of the JEA Board. Board members will understand finance and org structure, Curry said, and would understand the necessity of hiring management and staff that understands the mechanics of the services offered.

“A board structure with strong oversight that’s empowered to hire management, one with a focused mission — that’s going to work,” Curry said.

There will be an interim executive director appointed for the six-month period, and one can expect him or her to be a truly transitional, yet respected, figure with experience in these matters; from there, the board of directors will hire someone permanent.

The organization will focus on four strategic elements, that are intended to facilitate long-term transformation and accountability every step of the way.

One such element: early learning and childhood development, with a focus on school readiness and literacy. The goal here is to stop the skills gap that can emerge from rearing its head.

Another element: preteen and teen programming, intended to continue the trajectory of earlier programming.

A third element: juvenile justice programming, including intervention programs much like those found in the Jax Journey.

And the fourth element: out of school programs, including summer camps and after school programs.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski



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