Jacksonville City Councilwoman Randy DeFoor has surprised some observers since her election this year.
DeFoor, backed by Mayor Lenny Curry from the launch of her campaign, has taken an independent path on Council.
The Ortega Republican has been especially vocal on JEA, where she has questioned Council being sidelined as a sale appears to move forward.
Curry staffers grouse privately about DeFoor, with at least one wishing her Democratic challenger Sunny Gettinger had won. The complaints: DeFoor is too liberal, has too much of an ego, and hasn’t sufficiently appreciated the difference that Curry’s support and the political operation had in her narrow win.
However, DeFoor represents District 14, which includes Riverside, Avondale, Ortega, and points south toward the Naval base. And she intends to ensure Council prerogatives are not sidestepped, she told us last week.
“Being a lawyer,” DeFoor said, “I really see this as a crisis of the Charter itself.”
“We have a general counsel who is advising all of these groups,” the Councilwoman added, “where there’s an inherent conflict.”
“From my perspective, the process is flawed because each of us has not been properly represented,” DeFoor, who herself is a corporate general counsel, said.
Indeed, many believe General Counsel Jason Gabriel is an adjunct of the Mayor’s Office, siding with Suite 400 and its expansive construction of executive power in one dispute after another.
Gabriel supported Curry’s campaign, and is functionally part of the inner circle.
DeFoor wouldn’t go that far.
“Looking at it literally from the general counsel perspective,” DeFoor said, “we’ve been told a lot of things we can’t do [regarding] JEA. It’s a huge hole.”
DeFoor believes the Council needs outside counsel, and says the Charter allows Council to hire a legislative counsel.
“The general counsel is basically saying we can’t do that without his permission,” DeFoor said.
She sees similarities between the City Council being sidelined on this issue and what was done to the Duval County School Board regarding the half-cent sales tax referendum.
“One of the reasons I didn’t vote for the withdrawal,” DeFoor said of the referendum authorization, “was that our authority was to determine whether there was a viable plan.
The implementation plan and the “clean” OPPAGA Audit satisfied her concerns.
DeFoor added that failure to vote the plan up given those conditions being satisfied could have exposed the Council to legal jeopardy.
“The appearance that we were trying to [strong arm] the School Board to change their plan, which we had no authority to do,” was DeFoor’s concern.
Legal challenges to the referendum not being authorized are pending, and if the city loses, DeFoor says that’s evidence that “we are not getting the type of counsel we should be getting.”
“This is the first time that Gabriel’s reputation has been in question,” DeFoor said, saying she and “a lot of lawyers” are “surprised by current events.”
“At some point,” DeFoor said, “there’s an ethics question.”
She hopes the city lawyer will correct course, but clearly is losing faith that he will.
“I like a lot of what the Mayor is doing,” DeFoor said. “This is not Randy DeFoor versus the administration at all.”
“I’m really trying to ask questions … to make sure we do everything right, what’s best for the city,” DeFoor said.
Time is of the essence.
If Council does not have a seat at the table during the bidding process, she expects the body to be in a “very difficult position come March or April,” when the accepted bid likely will be presented to the body.