The Jacksonville City Council on Tuesday night voted to slot American Rescue Plan funds to various businesses handpicked by Council members.
It also offered some sharp critique of local media for tough coverage as the clock ran well into the 11 p.m. hour.
The 18-member Council doled out $4.6 million in funding on a one-cycle basis as local newscasts wound down, over the objections of some who wanted to slow the process down.
“Pump the brakes a bit,” advised Council member Matt Carlucci. “I’d like to see the Council have a little more time. Let’s put a little more sunshine on it. In fact, let’s put a lot of sunshine on it.”
Carlucci noted the “unusual” situation — $4.6 million of federal money with little oversight — as something that may require more public attention.
“The optics would be bad if we passed this as an emergency tonight,” cautioned Carlucci, who ultimately was one of just two no-votes. The other was Republican Rory Diamond.
But expediency prevailed over optics, as the vote passed just shy of the midnight hour, after lengthy and heated debate.
Council member LeAnna Cumber, who’s running for Mayor in 2023, backed the emergency. She defended funds going to the Women’s Center of Jacksonville and Lutheran Social Services, and said the budget offered precedent for this so-called “direct contracting” with nonprofits.
“We direct contract all the time,” Cumber said.
Cumber noted there was much less “outcry” in other recent federal appropriations, such as when the City Council appropriated $40 million in relief checks.
“There is a double standard,” Cumber said. “Why is there this outcry now?”
“The news media’s out there trying to make things look very nefarious,” added Danny Becton, grousing about coverage on money going to organizations associated with a political donor.
Democrat Ju’Coby Pittman lamented, “It’s damned if we do and damned if we don’t.”
“It’s always one-sided,” complained Pittman, who is in charge of the nonprofit Clara White Mission.
Council member Michael Boylan, who slotted money to the Havana Publishing Company, likewise defended that allocation.
“They provide a free paper to everyone in the district,” Boylan said.
Council President Sam Newby spoke in favor of the emergency and against “double standards.”
“I looked at that list. I am proud,” Newby said.
Republican Council member Randy DeFoor was also emphatic in support of moving the bill.
“Who knows our constituents better than we do?” she mused.
DeFoor routed funds to the Downtown Jacksonville Ecumenical Society and, like Carlucci, the Jacksonville Historical Society.