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Political ‘silly season’ bleeds over into Jacksonville City Council meeting

The Jacksonville City Council agenda Tuesday evening was mild compared to the somewhat wild speculation about which member(s) are running for Mayor.

However, even as the “silly season” is in full swing, policy concerns populated the agenda, even as political cross-currents proved irresistible.

One such measure: 2018-846, Council President Aaron Bowman’s bill to create a task force on public safety and crime reduction.

“It’s somewhat of a blank piece of canvas. I didn’t want City Council telling the task force what to do,” Council President Bowman said.

The bill had 15 co-sponsors but did not clear the Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health and Safety with a unanimous vote, ensuring floor discussion.

Dissenting Democrat Garrett Dennis (who voted against this in committee) affirmed his opposition, noting “multiple homicides” in his district.

“This task force is just a waste of time,” Dennis contended.

Councilwoman Anna Brosche expressed “similar concerns.”

“We have plowed this ground many times before,” Brosche said. “We have lots of studies, lots of experts … there’s a group that wants to study some more.”

President Bowman was “very disappointed” in both, who “brought no ideas, no criticism” but “are great at throwing out criticism.”

“This task force isn’t about what we want, it’s about what the community wants,” added Councilman Reggie Gaffney.

Councilman Bill Gulliford noted that the “ground-up” approach is what the city needs.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri lauded “the most diverse committee created by any Council in years,” joining colleagues in wondering why Brosche and Dennis hadn’t offered solutions.

Dennis and Bowman have feuded in recent months, both on the Council floor and on social media.

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A couple of other bills we have been tracking, meanwhile,  were headed to the Consent Agenda to be approved without floor discussion.

One was pulled, however: the Council’s five-year strategic plan, which essentially boils down as follows.

The first year includes a “comprehensive crime reduction inventory,” and calls for more money for park maintenance, as well as better litter control, developing public spaces downtown and Mayport waterfront property, and revamping Jacksonville’s moth-eaten zoning code.

By the three-year mark, there should be a “comprehensive capital reinvestment plan,” as well as more action on the Jacksonville Journey (now the Kids Hope Alliance) and downtown activation, including the St. Johns River Park, performing arts venue, waterfront park, and Emerald Necklace.

By 2023, Jacksonville is to be the “safest urban center in the country … the cleanest city in the country and most attractive city to visitors.” As well, by then a “resilience strategy for natural disasters, economic and environmental threats” should be developed.

However, there was resistance.

Councilman Danny Becton noted that the stock market has tanked in the last year, with a federal debt spiralling over $22 billion.

Becton urged via a floor amendment his colleagues to ensure that “future generations” aren’t paying for today’s unfunded liabilities, with a “year one priority” added to address the unfunded liability of the city’s defined benefit pension debt (well over $3 billion at this time).

However, the amendment failed, a condition “really disappointing” to Becton, who opted to vote against the bill along with Councilman Garrett Dennis.

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Also, expect more tourist draws at the T-U Center soon.

2018-837 spends roughly $2 million in tourist development “bed tax” funds for a visitors center on the Riverwalk at the Times-Union Performing Arts Center and for an outdoor wall projection center and lawn seating on the CSX building (similar to one in Miami, used for Art Basel and the like).

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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