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Clear as mud: Jacksonville City Council committee kills transparency bill

Legislation that would introduce a number of transparency reforms to Jacksonville’s city government went down in the Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee Tuesday, despite bill sponsor Anna Brosche requesting a deferral.

Rules, the sole committee of reference, is chaired by Councilman Tommy Hazouri, who asserted that the deferral request was too close to the meeting to be honored.

Longtime observers struggled to remember the last time such a thing happened.

It was soon enough clear why. There clearly was a consensus to kill the legislation, torpedoing Brosche’s bill to send a message to a politician who veered too far from establishment consensus.

The bill had zero yes votes and eight no’s.

The bill, written after a task force on open government and transparency during Brosche’s Council Presidency earlier this year, includes a number of reforms.

The legislation would require anyone doing more than $1 million worth of business with the city to disclose local political donations over the last five years. It would also require emails between Councilors and registered lobbyists to be posted to an online portal as the public record documents they are. Text messages would also have to be archived.

A previous iteration of the bill would also have required disclosure of travel on “private aircraft” with lobbyists, a seeming response to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s trips with Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan. That was removed from the bill, but it didn’t matter.

Brosche, mulling a reformist run for Mayor, saw her bill shredded from one side of the dais to the other.

Committee member Greg Anderson objected to the bill being thought of as “Anna’s bill,” noting that the Council has led on ethics issues by establishing an Inspector General office and strengthening the ethics office.

The bill, Anderson said, is “repetitive” and would impose enforcement costs on the taxpayers.

Rules vice-chair Bill Gulliford brought up the dreaded “unintended consequences,” which would include contractors not bidding on work based on disclosure requirements.

The public, Gulliford said, is “cynical” about the “very honorable people on this body.”

Indeed, only two of the 19 elected four years ago have been federally indicted for fraud as of this writing.

Councilwoman Lori Boyer said “people didn’t want to be in gotcha positions” regarding records retention of texts, which are notoriously difficult for the custodians of a $1.3 billion budget to archive apparently.

Council President Aaron Bowman added to the chorus of condemnation, saying the bill was “instilling fear and threatening.”

“I see nothing in this bill that will do anything but threaten and scare people,” Bowman said.

Councilman John Crescimbeni, who said he also didn’t support the bill, noted that Brosche’s request for deferral was not honored.

Ahead of the meeting, Rules Chair Hazouri threw down the gauntlet in opposition, saying that the bill was less about transparency and more about politics.

“The only thing transparent about this bill is that the sponsor is using it to further their own political agenda,” Hazouri added.

Hazouri, a Mandarin Democrat running unopposed for his second term as an at-large Councilman, has aligned with Mayor Curry on many issues in the last three years, including pension reform. He is almost certain to cross party lines and endorse Curry’s re-election once Brosche files to run.

Hazouri and Brosche were among the top vote-getters in citywide elections in May 2015. Both capsized socially conservative candidates, and many expected them to be able to work together.

However, the mutual disrespect between the two has been apparent, at times nearly boiling over, such as during Brosche’s campaign for the Council Presidency.

Hazouri “worked harder to get John Crescimbeni elected than he worked for himself,” a source griped.

Brosche relegated Hazouri to one minor committee assignment in the 2017-18 year.

On Tuesday, Hazouri exacted his revenge.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. 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 a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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