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Jacksonville City Council clears chamber, withdraws Duval school tax referendum

‘We are very close.’

The meeting started off in a full room. It ended in a largely empty one, a raucous crowd thrown out as debate heated up.

On Tuesday night, the Jacksonville City Council withdrew a referendum on a half-cent sales tax to benefit Duval County’s school capital needs.

In the end, they are starting over. The bill may be back, starting a new cycle of discussion like that just concluded.

This withdrawal was the latest twist in a months-long saga that has seen bill deferments and no clear consensus: a choose-your-own-adventure novel with a circular narrative.

Tuesday night represented the apex of that.

Two divergent committee reports last week set the stage for drama.

The Rules Committee approved a 2019 vote last Tuesday; the Finance Committee, meanwhile, voted for a straight withdrawal.

Agenda meeting saw Carlucci battling to get the Rules bill up first, but the will of the Council was to take Finance’s withdrawal recommendation first.

With word going in that at least 11 people supported withdrawal, the packed crowd of those who wanted the tax to be on the ballot in 2019 looked poised for a disappointment.

Councilman Rory Diamond said that the withdrawal offered an opportunity for everyone to align on new language.

“We are very close,” Diamond vowed. “We need everybody pushing together.”

Diamond was jeered by the partisan crowd, vexed by months of what they’ve seen as stalling.

Republican LeAnna Cumber was jarred by the reaction of the crowd, which was removed after an outburst.

Media was allowed in the room, and elected officials soon thereafter.

The debate continued, with consensus elusive. Democrat Brenda Priestly-Jackson pushed for the 2019 vote, but she and Carlucci and the remnant of advocates didn’t have to vote. Republican Randy DeFoor changed her position, backing the vote.

Finance Chair Aaron Bowman noted his problems with the bill, saying he “wished the School Board asked for help” with the proposal.

“I’d be their worst nightmare right now because I don’t support it,” Bowman said.

Councilman Carlucci issued another motion: a postponement until Oct. 8’s Council meeting to work out the charter carveout.

The pitch struggled to get traction.

Councilman Danny Becton said this would be a close vote, noting a St. Pete Polls survey that shows a referendum at 56 percent support.

A postponement, he suggested, might help shore up backing.

Diamond urged that a withdrawal was “cleaner,” but momentum was moving toward postponement.

School Board Chair Lori Hershey cautioned that a postponement might not change anything, leading Councilman Reggie Gaffney to reconsider the postponement.

“If they choose not to come back in two weeks with solutions, shame on them,” Gaffney said.

“We need a break,” countered Republican Ron Salem, who met with Mayor Lenny Curry before the meeting.

Democrat Joyce Morgan said the Council has “stalled and delayed it as long as we could.”

“I don’t think we need to wait any longer,” Morgan said, advising a “hard look” at structural issues in Duval schools going back decades.

“If they vote it up, it’s their choice,” Morgan said.

Carlucci wrapped up debate noting that Hershey’s comments “lost him a lot of votes.” Then he left the dais to talk to Mayor Curry’s CAO, returning to the platform looking less than thrilled, the debate clearly all over except the vote.

The postponement failed 2-17. The withdrawal would not fail.

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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