It was a time to look forward, when new City Council leadership was sworn in Friday for the 2014-15 year that begins Tuesday.
But before that, it was a time to recognize the past.
In one of his final duties as council president, Bill Gulliford handed out several awards and honors to his colleagues and others who supported the council’s mission. The awards were:
• The Robert O. Johnson Good Government Award given to Rachel Merritt of council staff services. Named after the former council auditor of 25 years, the award has been given annually to recognize outstanding public service for integrity and honor to the council and Jacksonville residents.
• The Mary L. Singleton Award given to council members Warren Jones and Greg Anderson. Singleton was one of the first women elected to council in modern times and the namesake award is given to the year’s most outstanding committee chair. This year, though, Gulliford chose both his Rules Committee chair in Jones and Finance Committee chair in Anderson.
• One of the newer awards, the Starr Bishop Award, was given to Emily Lisska, executive director of the Jacksonville Historical Society. The award recognizes unsung community service and was created in 2009 by then-president Ronnie Fussell to honor council member Bill Bishop’s daughter, Starr, who died at age 21 from ALS. Gulliford cited Lisska’s “unwavering passion” for the city and its history along with her activism in the Mandarin community.
• The Charles D. Webb Award was given to John Crescimbeni, who Gulliford was surprised had never before won. The award is given to the member who best exemplifies extraordinary commitment to public service. Crescimbeni chaired the Recreation and Community Development Committee along with the St. Johns River Ferry Commission over the past year. In addition, Gulliford said Crescimbeni who had a quick-wit, sharp tongue and aggressive nature when it came to government issues.
After the awards and a brief speech, Gulliford said it was “out with the old and in with the new,” which led to the swearings-in of Anderson as council vice president and Clay Yarborough as president.
Both gave remarks, with Anderson focusing on what defines Jacksonville while Yarborough talked about several key issues facing the council in the year ahead.
First up was the annual budget Mayor Alvin Brown is scheduled to present July 14. Yarborough said he expects it to reflect the needs of the city and start the “open and honest dialogue” that will take up large parts of the council’s work in the coming months.
Pension reform was Yarborough’s other main point, telling the crowd in the council chamber that he wanted a deal that was “complete and truly sustainable.” He emphasized truly, saying the long-term obligation required a long-term solution that needed to identify an appropriate and dedicated funding source to pay down the plan’s unfunded status.
“We cannot afford to take the easy way out,” he said.
A bill has been introduced and the scheduled review is slated to begin in mid-July, after the council returns from its summer break.