Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan doubles down on controversial General Counsel pick Randy DeFoor
Image via City of Jacksonville

Donna Deegan
Prominent City Council members have concerns, and the Mayor is using the bully pulpit.

Jacksonville’s Mayor crossed party lines in selecting her pick for General Counsel, and she’s trying to resolve a conflict with at least some members City Council to get her choice through.

Democrat Donna Deegan held a press conference Wednesday morning to “discuss the General Counsel nomination and to highlight the support for Randy DeFoor across the community and consolidated government.” This presser follows up on one where Deegan introduced DeFoor as her pick.

This is notable given most Mayors don’t have to work so hard to sell their General Counsel picks, and the new Mayor is investing political capital into a seeming showdown with the supermajority GOP Council.

Deegan, DeFoor, and “community stakeholders” were on hand to talk to media. Meanwhile, Mayor Deegan, via former General Counsel Jason Gabriel, is seeking an opinion from the Florida Ethics Commission. Gabriel, of course, was General Counsel during parts of the Alvin Brown and Lenny Curry administrations.

That request of an opinion came hours before the Jacksonville City Council voted 14-3 to refer the question of whether DeFoor, who served on the City Council through June, is legally able to serve as the city’s lead lawyer to the Florida Ethics Commission.

Deegan defended the pick at great length, saying DeFoor was willing to act when “what was happening with the establishment was not what was in the best interest of the people of Jacksonville.”

She also contended that sexism and political retribution drove the Council’s reluctance to consider the nomination.

“The same forces who tried to sell JEA and are now actively working against Randy’s nomination, are putting pressure on our council people. They’re using their typical playbook, dividing our community, scorched earth tactics, whisper campaigns, and outright lies that impugn Randy’s good character, false and frankly sexist accusations that Randy allegedly doesn’t have the right temperament to lead this office,” Deegan said.

“Can I just tell you as a woman in leadership, if I had a dollar for every time somebody told me that a woman did not have the right temperament to lead, I’d be a very, very rich person right now,” Deegan added.

Gabriel wrote a memo outlining the position that DeFoor would be able to serve despite not having a two year cooling off period after leaving elected office.

“However, the post-office provision of the State Constitution would not in any way prohibit Ms. DeFoor from serving as General Counsel for the City because of the express terms in the Constitution itself and the definitions set forth in Section 112.3121, Florida Statutes,” Gabriel writes.

He argues the “post-office provisions of these specific rules ban or restrict lobbying on issues of policy, appropriations, or procurement, things which are not the province of the general counsel and not relevant to the instant case.”

He also contends “both the express provisions of the State Constitution itself and Subsection 112.3121(12), explicitly carve out public officers from carrying out their duties of public office, define lobbying with activities that are irrelevant to the duties of the City General Counsel and principally carve out legal services and representation altogether.”

Furthermore, Gabriel argues that “because an employment position in the City’s central legal office (the Office of General Counsel) is: (1) within the same political subdivision as the City Council and the Mayor and (2) mandated to provide legal advice and representation (not any other advocacy or lobbying), the Council member cannot exploit special knowledge gained by virtue of the Council member’s former public office.”

The report in the Florida Times-Union notes “concern” from Council President Ron Salem that DeFoor can’t offer “advice” to the City Council for two years due to a lobbying ban, precedent established in a 2019 opinion from the same body governing how Downtown Investment Authority head Lori Boyer would interact with the City Council during her first two years in that role.

While Rules Chair Terrance Freeman hopes for a response “sooner than later,” the reality is that process would happen on Tallahassee’s timeline and not that of the Mayor or City Council. He believes “there is a cloud” over DeFoor’s nomination given the ambiguous nature of whether she can provide advice in the way the city’s lead lawyer typically does.

After the press conference, Freeman issued a fiery statement asserting the prerogative of his committee and the Council at large to vet the pick.

“Last night’s resolution for an ethics opinion received nearly unanimous approval from the City Council – from both Republicans and Democrats alike. Mayor Deegan’s attacks on the duly elected Legislative Branch is disappointing and flies in the face of the positive message of unity that the Mayor campaigned on. The only person ‘playing politics’ with this appointment is Mayor Donna Deegan,” Freeman said.

“In addition, Mrs. DeFoor’s participation in this political stunt raises further questions for me if she can truly be impartial if she is ultimately confirmed. As the Council’s Rules Chair, I will continue to demand transparency, accountability and high integrity from this and all future nominees.”

DeFoor was one of a number of candidates under consideration by Deegan’s appointed Qualifications Review Committee when Deegan told the committee she would be the pick, thus truncating the process.

“Once she submitted a name, our job is essentially over,” remarked member John Delaney, a former General Counsel and Mayor himself, who was on hand at the press conference in support of DeFoor’s pick.

DeFoor will face a high hurdle before potential confirmation. Per Jacksonville municipal code, she will have to be confirmed by “no less than 13 members” of the supermajority Republican City Council.

At least one veteran member says that will be an “uphill battle.” Another points to comportment issues, saying she’s “combative” and “vindictive,” traits that don’t lend well to being General Counsel.

Meanwhile, others question the pick, with one calling it a “political payoff.”

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski

One comment

  • Margaret

    August 24, 2023 at 6:03 pm

    The attacks on Randy DeFoor are unconscionable. Her history as an attorney and as a City Council Member has shown her overall
    integrity as a public servant.
    This behavior by Terrance Freeman and the men who organized this disgusting campaign against DeFoor is designed, not only to attack DeFoor, but to try to hobble Deegan’s administration at the beginning of what will, ultimately, be a successful one. Her election was the harbinger of what is to come for Duval County:
    young voters, women voters and Black voters who are fed up with being denied the advantages of living in Jacjksonville.

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