Constituents in Jacksonville City Council District 10 had an opportunity Thursday to meet the man Gov. Rick Scott appointed to represent them.
Terrance Freeman, a Republican who up until last week lived in Mandarin in southern Duval County, met his new constituents (in a 19 percent Republican district) at the Legends Center, at the same location suspended Councilman Reggie Brown, who is facing a federal lawsuit in a scheme to defraud with another suspended colleague, often had his meetings.
Activists, bristling at a selection they saw as imposed on the district by the GOP power structure in City Hall and Tallahassee, were expected to show in force.
“Many of you are asking who is this man standing before you,” Freeman said, who introduced himself as the father of four and the son of a Baptist preacher and social worker.
“I know that the media has made this about me as much as possible,” Freeman said, adding that he had prayed before entering the room today.
“I was assistant to a City Council member. But I wish [the media] would add a bit more … the phone calls I received from throughout the community, saying I need help,” Freeman said.
“I understand there are people in this room who are not happy,” Freeman said to murmurs. “The reality is this: it’s a 10 month window, and in March, there’s going to be an election, and you’re going to get a chance to elect someone of your liking.”
However, said Freeman, it now is “vital that District 10 have someone at the table” — and he’s that guy.
The era of good feeling lasted until Freeman said speakers had one minute to speak, and the murmurs kicked up anew.
Hazel Gillis of the Democratic Black Caucus kicked off, saying Freeman was a nice guy better suited to serve in Mandarin, and asking why he felt qualified to run (to applause). Freeman said he had encouragement from the district, and that he was “equipped with the knowledge” of how to get the district its just due in the budget process.
The hits continued. Another speaker said that “the right one” should be in that seat, and questioned his residency.
When Freeman claimed he was a resident of 10, the collective groan emerged anew.
Freeman wouldn’t give his address, worried that people would “come by and picket and harass.” The councilman asserted that his family is now in a 4 BR/2BA house.
The residency argument Freeman made was a hard sell to those who had lived in the district for more years than Freeman did days, and repeated questions along these lines didn’t help.
“Why would you move to Mandarin and then represent people on the Northside,” one man said.
The party identification question led Freeman to the most shopworn cliche in Jacksonville politics: the statement that a pothole lacks party identification.
“I’m here to represent the district. I know there are some issues that may come before me that don’t jibe with the values you hold,” Freeman said.
“I wasn’t born with an R after my name,” Freeman said, vowing to “come back with solutions” — a vow that earned a smattering of applause from supporters.
Freeman wouldn’t commit to carrying the former Councilman’s legislative initiatives, but that he would “be involved … with the conversation” when they came up.
When asked how he felt about selling JEA, Freeman said he was interested in “exploring the value,” a buzz phrase from the Mayor’s Office that instilled no confidence in the crowd.
“Somebody in here needs to be looking at [Freeman] all the time,” said a member of the local CPAC, about a minute before Freeman looked at his watch.
While some speakers urged the crowd to give Freeman a chance, what was clear was this crowd had a ways to go before being won over.
Despite this synchronicity of talking points, Freeman said he did not lobby Curry for the appointment.
Freeman’s appointment has been challenged in court by Brenda Priestly Jackson, a Democrat and former Duval County School Board chair who was passed up for the appointment.
Priestly Jackson and other Democrats charge that Freeman, who, per the city of Jacksonville’s interpretation, established residency in the district by renting two rooms in a private home the day he was appointed last week, was not a legitimate pick because he moved to Northwest Jacksonville solely to serve on the Council.
As luck would have it, Priestly Jackson was one of the final speakers.
“There is inherent value in District 10,” she said. “I understand you have moved in since the appointment. What was your opinion about District 10 before you moved in? Is it a place that you thought your wife and children would thrive?”
She closed by asking Freeman if he supported Donald Trump. Freeman dodged the question; the catcalls got loud.
Freeman was in the process of establishing residency, when he was appointed last Tuesday by Gov. Scott, per Communications Director John Tupps.
“The press release announcing the appointment has an effective date of the appointment,” Tupps said.
If the appointment is effective when sent out, that arguably contravenes Jacksonville’s general counsel’s position.
General Counsel Jason Gabriel noted last week that the threshold for eligibility to serve, per Gabriel, was when Freeman is sworn in — which was Thursday. Other lawyers on the defendants’ side of the case will make the same contention, with the city claiming what was done complied with the Charter.