Currently the way our (Jacksonville) charter is written, the general counsel is hired and fired by the mayor. The hired attorney (the general counsel) is supposed to represent all of the constitutional officers of the local government. He has a staff of 40 attorneys. I posit that he is not fairly representing all of the constitutional officers.
How does the current general counsel interpret “any activity” as used in 21.04? JEA is not keeping the city council informed about activity related to the sale of JEA which seems to me is a violation of our city’s charter. Quote from 21.04:
“ provided, however, that JEA will not enter into any activity … without first providing written notice of such activities to the council auditor no less than 30 days before the commencement of such activity.”
The city council and the school board (not the mayor) should hire and fire the general counsel. According to 3.01 of our city’s charter, the voters would have to approve the change. Please ask the city council to put that option on our March 2020 ballot, i.e. the sooner the better before the general counsel does further damage to our city by blocking the elected city council and the elected school board from carrying out their duties.
Our current mayor was elected by 14% of the registered voters. We have seven school board members each elected by a school board district and each tasked with following Florida’s Constitution Article IX which calls for a quality free public education system. We have 14 city council members each elected by voters in his or her particular district. And we have five at large city council members elected by all of Jacksonville. The general counsel is supposed to represent all of them but appears to favor the mayor. The general counsel needs to be hired by the city council and the school board not the mayor.
Let’s posit the following:
1. The mayor wants to sell JEA (the city owned utility) to the highest bidder but the majority of the city council does not.
2. The mayor wants control of the school board’s budget but that is the responsibility of the elected school board per Florida’s Constitution.
What harm has the general counsel done regarding the sale of JEA (the city owned utility)?
If the city council had its own attorney, what advice would the attorney have offered when JEA started taking steps to sell? At the beginning of this fiscal year, the mayor and the JEA board—appointed by the mayor— aggressively started spending money to sell JEA. Consultants were hired. Agreements were made guaranteeing executive bonuses and the city absorb the pension debt if the sale should take place. Bid requirements were drafted without the city council’s knowledge. The city council has now hired its own attorneys, but is it too late? How much money has been wasted if the voters ultimately don’t approve the sale? Or worse, what if the mayor with the help of the general counsel finds a way to say the voters don’t have to approve the sale? In other words, will the mayor sell JEA whether the voters want it or not?
In May of 2019 the OGC (Office of the General Counsel) interpreted “shall” to mean “doesn’t have to” thereby stopping the school board from getting a dedicated revenue stream to repair the neighborhood schools. Florida Statute 212.055 (6)(b) reads as follows:
The statement shall conform to the requirements of s. 101.161 and shall be placed on the ballot by the governing body of the county.
Parents of kids in crumbling school buildings are suing to say that “shall” means “must.” Hopefully the courts will agree and the school board’s referendum will be on our November 2020 ballot. However, the delay will be a huge cost to the school board’s budget. The delay was caused by the general counsel advising the city council that they didn’t have to put the school board’s referendum on our November 2019 ballot.
Another example of how the general counsel is harming the elected school board is the two versions of State Representative Jason Fischer’s J-1 bills. They were both written by the general counsel’s office and they appear to be another attempt by the mayor to take over the school board’s budget. The first version suggested a change to our (Jacksonville’s) charter that would allow the mayor to appoint the school board. I assume that was withdrawn because of the outcry that it violated Florida’s Constitution Article IX Section 4. The second version of the J-1 bill made the suggestion that the city’s charter be changed to take away the ability of the seven elected school board members to hire and fire the main administrator that runs the school district. The city council wouldn’t make that change for the mayor so he asked Jason Fischer to do it via a local bill called a J bill. The problem is that J bills are a way to ask the state legislature to exempt Jacksonville from certain state laws. They are not a way to change our city’s charter, which is up to the city council, citizen initiatives, and to a limited extent the elected school board. Jason Fischer has been saying it is Florida’s Constitution Article VIII Section 9 that gives his J bill authority. The general counsel drafted a memo offering the same opinion.
However, Article VIII Section 6(e) clearly states Section 9 is no longer valid once Jacksonville has a charter, which we do. I hope someone sues to make that clear, i.e. Representative Fischer’s J-1 bill has no authority since Section 9 is no longer valid.
Our (Jacksonville) city council can put a referendum on our ballot to ask the voters to change our charter. It is time for a change in the way the general counsel is hired. When someone abuses power and reveals a weakness in the rules, it is time for a change.
I asked the city council not to confirm Gabriel back in July as did the second speaker in this clip:
Article about the general counsel and the sale of JEA:
Screen shot of our charter