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- 2007 - September - 20th -

JEDC agreement requires DVI to operate in the Sunshine

Mike Sharkey

It may be pouring outside, but soon Downtown Vision, Inc. will have to comply with Florida’s public records and meetings laws.

In the near future, DVI Executive Director Terry Lorince is expected to sign a first amendment to the enhanced municipal services agreement between DVI and the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission. One of the provisions under the agreement is for DVI to operate more as a public entity than as a private not-for-profit.

In complying with Florida’s Sunshine Laws, the DVI board meetings will be open to the public and the media and DVI will be required to “maintain all documents in compliance with the Florida Public Records Laws,” according to the language of the agreement.

DVI is funded through two methods: a special property tax assessment to the businesses within the Downtown Business Improvement District and through City funds. The City contribution accounts for 20 percent of DVI’s budget while the other 80 percent comes from the assessment, which is collected by the Property Appraiser’s Office.

Lorince has stated in the past that DVI’s not-for-profit status makes the organization exempt from the Sunshine Laws. She said she has not seen the amended agreement, but DVI will comply.

“DVI is going to do what it needs to do to follow the law,” said Lorince.

Assistant General Counsel Cindy Laquidara said the issue of whether DVI should comply with the Sunshine Laws has been discussed in the past, but never put in writing.

“They will have to follow the Sunshine Laws regardless if they sign the agreement,” said Laquidara.

DVI opened its doors in August 2001. Today, the organization is best-known for its pith-helmeted, orange-clad Downtown Ambassadors, marketing, Downtown safety initiatives and Downtown beautification. Last month, DVI submitted a budget to the City Council Finance Committee of $912,460. Of that, a little over $800,000 will come from revenue generated by an extra 1.1 mill assessment on the 2006 properties in the BID.

DVI Board President Steve Crosby said he will have a better understanding of how the changes will affect DVI after he has a chance to analyze the amendment.

“DVI exists to represent the interests of its contributing stakeholders, including the city,” Crosby said. “DVI has and will conduct its affairs in accordance with its stakeholders’ objectives to make downtown a better place to live, work, and play - all in full compliance with its charter. As to the proposed amendment, we’ll have to see it before we can react to it.”

Laquidara said she expects DVI to meet with its attorney to discuss the amended agreement.

“If they take a different position and they may want to get a legal answer from someone higher than the Office of General Counsel,” said Laquidara.

Operating in the sunshine, according to Laquidara, will entail advance notice of meetings that are open to the public and the necessity to keep minutes from those meetings. After that, the issue of what’s public record and what isn’t gets hazy.

“It does not necessarily follow that everything they do will have to be public,” said Laquidara, adding there may be a private side. “It’s an interesting question. I will talk with their attorney and walk them through the public process.”

Laquidara added the fact that two representatives from City government sit on the DVI board and DVI must present its budget to both the JEDC and City Council make it “more probable than not” that DVI is a public entity.

Another amendment to the agreement includes elimination of all language pertaining to the now defunct Downtown Development Authority and replacing it with references to the JEDC. Also, City representation on the DVI board and the DVI executive committee will change. The amendment calls for the JEDC chairman or its designee and well as one representative appointed by the Council president to sit on the DVI board of directors and a City representative to sit on the executive committee.

The City’s current representation on the DVI board consists of JEDC Chair Bob Rhodes, an attorney with Foley & Lardner, and Council member Jay Jabour.

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