City officials not regarding public money the way they would regard their own money was an issue 40 years ago and it remains an issue today.
That was the gist of former State Attorney for the 4th Judicial Circuit Harry Shorstein's presentation Monday to the Rotary Club of Jacksonville.
Shorstein said when he was named the general counsel in 1974, the issue that first caught his attention was the city's effort to secure the headquarters of Offshore Power Systems.
The company was a partnership between Westinghouse and Tenneco and proposed to construct nuclear power generating facilities that would float in the ocean.
The proposed project never came to fruition, but the idea that the company might set up its manufacturing operation in Jacksonville appealed to the community, based on thousands of new jobs expected to be created and the potential $100 billion long-term economic impact, Shorstein said.
"Just about every businessman in town thought he was going to be rich," he said.
For its part, Shorstein said, the city had given Blount Island to OPS for its assembly line and was ready to issue $180 million in tax-exempt bonds to support the proposed manufacturing business.
Shorstein said even though he was accused of "trying to stop the greatest thing that ever happened to Jacksonville," he looked at the deal from a common-sense perspective.
"I wondered why, if it was such a good idea, weren't the big power companies like Duke Energy financing the project," he said.
Eventually, no floating nuclear power plants were built in Jacksonville due to the company failing to secure federal permits and customers, including the state of New Jersey, canceling orders for the reactors.
Shorstein said since the OPS issue in the mid-1970s, the city has faced other choices that involved the use of public funds that have turned out to be controversial.
He cited the County Courthouse element of the Better Jacksonville Plan that escalated from a $190 million project approved by voters into the almost $400 million courthouse that was built.
Shorstein cited the Trail Ridge landfill contract and said that when the contract between the city and the operator was about to expire, the city didn't want to put the contract out to bid, preferring to instead extend the agreement with the operator.
"That was the dumbest thing I've ever heard," Shorstein said. "Landfills are gold mines."
On a current issue, Shorstein said the city's handling of the pension issue has the traits of the other topics he mentioned when it comes to stewardship of taxpayer-provided resources.
"You have to treat the public's money as you would treat yours," he said.