- 2012 - April - 25th -
Council member Robin Lumb (left) poses a question to Council members Doyle Carter and Matt Schellenberg during Tuesday’s Council Recreation, Community Development, Public Health and Safety subcommittee meeting.
Photo by David Chapman
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Council committee questions independent Downtown Investment Authority

by David Chapman, Staff Writer

City Council members began taking a closer Tuesday at Mayor Alvin Brown’s proposed economic development reform, seeking an answer on a “fundamental question” of how independent they want the Downtown Investment Authority to be.

“You basically have to decide how much power you want to give them,” City General Counsel Cindy Laquidara told a three-member Council Recreation, Community Development, Public Health and Safety subcommittee.

The same question is asked in the Office of General Counsel’s response to the Council Auditor’s comments on Brown’s reform, outlined in two pieces of legislation.

One ordinance calls for the Council to annually set the budget for the newly created authority, which would focus solely on Downtown development.

The mayor would appoint the nine-member authority, which would then hire an executive director to oversee operations.

In its comments issued last week, the auditor’s office stated that the powers and duties should be subject to Council approval and described the powers given to the authority as “very broad with little or no oversight” and labeled it as a “major concern.”

The administration provided a response to the auditor’s comments shortly before the 1 p.m. committee meeting began. The Office of General Counsel also provided a response.

To the major concern, the administration said the budget process served as Council oversight, while the general counsel said the issue is a policy discussion and the powers “were akin to other independent agencies.”

The legislation also would transition the role of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission into a new Office of Economic Development.

The auditor’s comments also suggested the appointment of the chief for that office should be approved by Council.

The administration’s response was that there is no precedent for the mayor’s staff to be approved by Council.

Unlike appointed department heads, mayoral staff has not been subject to Council approval, but Council could determine if the economic development position should be.

Among the other responses by the administration to the auditor’s office comments:

• The City does have the authority to create an independent authority, but the authority does not have the ability to impose fees or taxes. The auditor’s office questioned both.

• Funds to operate both will be determined in the 2012-13 budget process.

• Downtown Vision Inc., a separate entity that operates the City’s Downtown business improvement district, would exist independently of the Downtown Investment Authority, but “a strong coordinating relationship is anticipated.”

• The Downtown Development Review Board will not be dissolved and would be housed under the authority.

• The authority’s intent will be to perform work in coordination with City departments and provide incentives.

• The authority would manage the City’s properties Downtown that are leasable.

• Qualifications of the authority’s CEO will be developed by the board. Qualifications for the economic development officer were more exact: a bachelor’s degree in real estate, finance, public administration, business, urban planning, economics or a related field; a master’s degree is preferred. The person also must have at least 10 years of professional experience in real estate deal structuring, fundamental economics, banking or related legal experience and high-level negotiations, which must include at least two years of economic development and financial analysis.

• Eminent domain is needed. The auditor suggested deleting authorization for it, but the administration said “the elimination of this tool for the DIA (acting as a Community Redevelopment Agency) would severely limit the ability of the DIA to be successful.” All eminent domain requests require Council approval, it said.

Council member Bill Gulliford, chairman of the recreation committee, also asked during the meeting the reason for combining the creation of the Downtown Investment Authority and the Office of Economic Development into one bill. He said the two were distinct items that could be discussed in separate measures, a point conceded by Laquidara.

The three-member subcommittee consists of Council members Doyle Carter, Robin Lumb and Matt Schellenberg. Carter serves as the chairman.

The committee plans to schedule another meeting.

Council’s Finance and Rules committees will jointly meet at 2 p.m. today to discuss the two pieces of legislation.



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