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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Jacksonville, this is no way to run a city

Begin soliloquy

Jacksonville has always had a little bit of an inferiority complex. Despite the Jaquars, being the biggest city land wise in the continental 48, most populated city in Florida and a medical and banking hub we have never been able to shake that podunk cowford feeling that we just don't quite measure up. One of the biggest reasons is the good old boy network that has run city hall since incorporation, and that's been on center stage with tax referendum.

End of soliloquy   

You would think if the city was to choose to abandon it's children and schools, to side with a handful of rich donors with deep charter school interests it would do so with more than a memorandum from a junior (incompetent or corrupt?) attorney in the general counselors office. You would think anyways, but nope, we went with a memo that doesn't have the force of law and has all the legal authority of a rat dragging a discarded piece of pizza crust.

Councilman Dennis has been one of the fiercest advocates of our schools and loneliest sadly but that hasn't stopped him. Recognizing the memorandum was in reality just some guys opinion, he got the city attorney (corrupt and incompetent as well?) to admit so, and he has demanded that we get an opinion based on the law.

Dear CM Dennis –

You recently sent a couple of questions to me – set forth below – concerning the memorandum Stephen Durden provided to me and then to various clients concerning the state legislature's grant of authority to the City Council pursuant to Section 212.055(6). It’s the law of Florida, not our opinion, that places the matter before the Council for a vote, prior to it appearing on the ballot.

The memorandum is addressed to me from one of my attorneys and as such it is not binding. Only opinions delivered by the General Counsel become binding on the Consolidated Government. Whether the opinion is binding is not relevant here. Rather, to frame it to the issue at hand, the question should be whether the memo reflects an accurate reading of the statute (ie, that the Council is the correct body to vote on placing the tax measure on the ballot); and it is.

It is the Florida Statute, not our office’s memo, which requires the Council to act on whether to place the matter on the ballot or not. Regardless of our office’s opinion, the City Council must vote on the matter. Any change to that format can be amended by the Legislature, and as noted in the memo, the Legislature has in fact empowered school boards to put some items on the ballot directly (without the need to go to council). It could have done so here for the discretionary sales surtax, but it did not. Council was charged with that vote. 

Were I to issue a binding opinion, the analysis would take into account not only the statutory, constitutional and separation of power analyses provided in Steve Durden’s memo, but also, the as-yet unexplored and unique relationship the Charter creates between the Consolidated Government and the School Board by making it an independent agency of the City. For example, Article 13 of the Charter authorizes City Council to set the compensation of School Board members. It authorizes City Council to redistrict School Board districts at the appropriate time, it allows Council to direct the School Board on the use of internal services (with some limitation). This is not to say the School Board is ultimately subordinate to the Council; in fact the School Board is primarily charged with the responsibility to run the public school system. However, with respect to the sales tax issue, and the resultant fiscal ramifications, the state of the law (both statutorily and locally) gives Council the final vote on approving the measure for the ballot.

Second, General Counsel Opinion 97-1 concluded that the Charter provides for no appeal from an opinion issued by the General Counsel. In that opinion, the General Counsel explicitly stated that in a case where the City Council and the Mayor had different views as to the power of the Mayor, neither the Mayor nor the City Council would have the authority to hire an attorney to appear in court to take a legal position different than that taken by the General Counsel. The same would be true for a General Counsel opinion concerning the powers of any officer or agency of the Consolidated Government.

Third, Mr. Durden's opinion is not the sound-bite "shall means may."  Mr. Durden's memorandum engages in a scholarly and in-depth analysis of a variety of legal issues befitting a memorandum concerning a matter of great importance to the City and the Consolidated Government.  That in-depth analysis leads inevitably to the conclusion that the Legislature granted the City Council the power to decide when and whether to place a sales surtax referendum on the ballot.

If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

-Jason G.

Councilman Dennis recognizing Jason G. (seriously what the beep) was flailing and not in a position to offer a ruling and he replied.

Thank you for your response. I hereby request a legally binding opinion on this matter. 

Despite Jason G.'s assertion we are here because a corrupt and or incompetent attorney beholden to a mayor who dislikes public schools with mega donors with close ties to charters, changed the meaning of the word shall and if the city's going to sell out our children and schools, they should at least have to make it official.

This is no way to run a city. 

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