Update: Mayor Alvin Brown's office said Friday evening the water taxi service would not return Saturday as previously announced.
Instead, because of required Coast Guard reviews and inspections, the service will return by next Friday.
The city’s emergency purchase of two boats for $333,000 was against the law, even if there was no intent, says one City Council member.
“This was way out of bounds,” said council member Richard Clark. ”We don’t want to break the law … but you did if you spent this money.”
That’s not the case, the administration said.
The city bought the 102- and 50-person vessels to continue the Downtown service Saturday, a day after the company that has been providing the service ceased local operations.
Clark said the water taxi issue doesn’t reach the level of emergency spending and the funding should have been approved by council.
“They wanted to create an emergency so they could spend it,” Clark said. “There is no such thing as an emergency for water taxis.”
David DeCamp, Mayor Alvin Brown’s spokesman, said both the Parks, Recreation & Community Services and the Procurement Division made a “clear and convincing” decision on an emergency that involves a valuable public service with an economic impact. The Office of General Counsel, he said, was involved in the process from the beginning.
“He’s not an attorney,” DeCamp said of Clark. “It’s not a created emergency … we are going to rely on the advice of multiple attorneys in City Hall.”
Clark said he wasn’t contending there was any type of “nefarious plot,” but spending the money on the boats was “positively not our core mission” and requires council approval.
“I expect them to go get our money back,” Clark said. “It happened. Let’s cure the situation by getting it back.”
Clark said he talked to city Chief Financial Officer Ronnie Belton about the situation to express his concern and that there is a “fundamental disagreement” between to the two sides on the matter.
“I simply say I don’t believe they can legally spend this money,” he said. “There’s a reason we have processes in place.”
The water taxi service is slated to continue operations as normal at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Council member John Crescimbeni was bothered that the situation was treated as an emergency. The contract for HarborCare LLC ended Jan. 31.
The city sought bids and ultimately rejected HarborCare’s proposal on May 19. That was the only bid received. Four days later, the company it was leaving Jacksonville.