Tuesday night saw the Jacksonville City Council pass a bill authorizing the Kids Hope Alliance, a new seven-person board that will replace the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jacksonville Journey.
The bill passed 18-1 , after a chippy discussion that lasted almost four hours, exposing and exacerbating fissures on the Council that have moved from hallway gossip to fodder for mainstream media.
The sole no vote: Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, who had his own competing legislation that now rests in the scrapheap of dead bills.
That passage ends a two-month political taffy pull that saw Mayor Lenny Curry opposite the Jacksonville City Council President and Finance Chair, with the Council President suffering a setback at the hands of her own legislative body.
In a special meeting Tuesday afternoon to discharge the bill from Finance Committee, Council President Anna Brosche made a number of charges about the way the administration handled the process, charging that the administration made a procedural move to loop the public out of bill discussion.
Curry fired back: “At no time would any one from my office or the Office of General Counsel seek to subvert the legislative process or attempt to prevent the input of the people of Jacksonville. It is both irresponsible and disgraceful for an elected official to make such a slanderous allegation. The Council President should immediately admit that the anecdote is false and should apologize to the two staff members who she attacked.”
Brosche did not apologize. The Mayor likely won’t forget that.
During public comment before bill deliberation, Councilman Garrett Dennis repeatedly attempted to make an emotional appeal during questions to people who would be losing their jobs during the restructure. Bill sponsor Scott Wilson made his displeasure with that clear after the third round of this, calling it a “disgusting” tactic at one point.
Council VP Aaron Bowman got frustrated after the seventh round of this, saying it was a stall tactic, and Brosche had to remind him to make questions “germane” to the bill.
There were, in total, 26 public commenters — and they got plenty of time to make their points.
Amidst the speeches, some clarification: it was thought that part of the re-org, early learning specialists and the like, who are directly employed by the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, may lose their jobs.
CFO Mike Weinstein noted that everyone employed with JCC serves at the pleasure of the Mayor, adding that it’s “disgraceful”, “disheartening,” and “shameful” that people are being made to feel their “jobs are on the cutting block.”
“Nobody’s going to lose their jobs if you vote for this tonight,” Weinstein said.
Weinstein noted that an amendment offered tonight would offer “flexibility,” adding that “there’s no direction to let anyone go”, that people have “civil service protection,” and that there are other positions in city government.
The succession of public commenters continued, with Jacksonville Children’s Commission Board Chair Matt Kane having his say.
Kane, a six-year member of the board, said the JCC brought “real change to kids in the community.”
“This organization is really something wonderful,” Kane said. “We have spent time and energy making a difference … changing the way that after school works.”
After the public comment ended, the bill discussion began. And former Council Presidents offered up amendments.
An amendment from Councilwoman Lori Boyer tightened up the definition of “in-house services” in the bill, saying that KHA could provide in-house services and training, contingent on Council approval of scope and budget. This amendment would also protect the jobs people worry about.
“We’re looking for outside providers for most things,” Boyer said, but this would make it possible to go “in-house” if that option made sense.
Councilman Greg Anderson then pushed an amendment that required a 2/3 majority of Council for removal or replacement of wayward board members.
Both the Boyer and Anderson amendments were uncontroversial and passed easily.
Another amendment sought to extend the age of eligibility to people up to the age of 21 who are pursuing education, and 22 years old for special needs people. After some floor debate, that came to pass. Another amendment further expanded what one Councilor called “umbrella coverage.” Other technical amendments, nibbling around the edges of bill language, were debated with an etymological zeal as the meeting lurched toward its fifth hour.