Looking back: Updates on a year of issues
I began writing this weekly column almost a year ago because I have a keen interest in government and its role as well as having a respectful relationship with many City officials.
I believe I have an opportunity to help our readers stay informed and understand why and how issues are the way they are. I often am asked my opinion on matters in Jacksonville.
Since this column started, I've covered a number of subjects.
I was asked last week where some of my thoughts stood. It would be interesting to look at a few of them and, where appropriate, think about "what's happened, and what's next?"
Council of Leaders
In late December 2012, I first pitched for Mayor Alvin Brown to create a Council of Leaders that comprised the heads of our public authorities, the JAX Chamber, the Jacksonville Civic Council, Duval County Public Schools and others.
Most of these CEOs are new to their positions and many are new to Jacksonville.
I asked that with a new slate of leaders who carry first-class credentials, each with a distinct set of professional skills, shouldn't we figure out how to maximize their collective talent to move Jacksonville forward?
So, what's happened? Nothing.
Except that these executives are impressing people by their performances in their own individual leadership roles.
Florida State College at Jacksonville
In March, I wrote about the troubling issues swirling around Florida State College at Jacksonville over fired President Steve Wallace.
"It seems inevitable that as the Florida Inspector General continues to review financial and other records at the school, news about Wallace will continue to make headlines," I said at the time.
Boy, that's turned out to be so true.
Now that the Inspector General's Office has released its report, the college's board has voted to cancel Wallace's controversial consulting contract worth about $1 million.
In that same column about Florida State College, I wrote about the great value the school brings to Jacksonville and offered:
"Interim President Willis Holcombe and the school's board of trustees have their work cut out for them. Let's hope they're up to the challenge."
So, how are Holcombe and the board performing?
From all reports, while still reeling from the Wallace aftershocks, Holcombe is righting the ship and rebuilding the school's credibility, building a better foundation for the college's next president.
'Welcome to Rockville'
In May, after the controversial and successful "Welcome to Rockville" festival at Metropolitan Park that was preceded by weeks of controversy, I wrote:
"The renewed energy and excitement about the future of Downtown provides a great backdrop for Mayor Alvin Brown to put Metropolitan Park on an 'A' list of positive accomplishments."
I advocated for Brown to make needed capital improvements that could include relocating the park's stage so that its rear is to the river, sending music away from residential neighborhoods along the Southbank. Also, I encouraged a park policy to permit and encourage entertainment there while also being sensitive to those living across the river.
So, what's happened?
I don't think Brown has entered the fray, but City Council has a special Metropolitan Park committee once again looking at workable rules for park entertainment.
The elections center
On May 27, I wrote about the seeming lack of Council urgency to make a decision on keeping an elections center at Gateway Shopping Center or move it to another location.
"One concern about moving from Gateway was the loss of an early-voting facility. With the rent savings, it seems possible to have an office for early voting while still providing (Supervisor of Elections Jerry) Holland with an easily accessible warehouse facility where voters are assured of efficiency and security," I said.
Last week, Council approved moving the elections center from Gateway to One Imeson Center in North Jacksonville.
As a result of negotiations with developers of the two properties, Holland will enjoy significant rent savings every month once the move is made.
The savings are much more than enough to maintain an early voting location at Gateway, if all the parties can come to an agreement.
During the hearing, some Council members pressed both Holland and Stephen Bittel, chairman and founder of Terranova Corp., which owns Gateway, to make sure Gateway remains an early-voting location. Neither made a firm commitment and both offered a number of "ifs."
It's understandable that Bittel is unhappy Holland is moving out of Gateway and there is an obvious issue of "trust" between the two.
Moving forward, let's hope Holland and Bittel will work together to continue early voting at Gateway.
In late June, I wrote about then-incoming Council President Bill Gulliford's committee assignments and opined:
"When I think about how the mayor seems to go out of his way to ignore the Council — which Gulliford and others have criticized — and then look at the upcoming budget battle, I think Gulliford has created a big fist."
So far, Gulliford has shown that he does, indeed, have a big fist and he's not afraid to throw it. Just look at the scorecard that features a tentative millage increase and a rejection of Brown's pension reform proposal.
Consolidation task force
About six weeks ago, I discussed Gulliford's plan to create a task force, led by Council member Lori Boyer, that will review Jacksonville's consolidated government.
I made a request that the first amount of time be spent remembering how and why consolidation came about by overwhelming voter approval in 1967.
After reviewing names of the 30 task force members announced last week, there is ample representation to ensure this group will have a good dose of the history of government corruption, incompetence and out-of-control costs that consolidation was intended to cure.
Let's hope they quickly discover that the crafters of consolidation were business leaders who understood what many of them could provide: leadership.
Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater without giving the concept of consolidation a chance.
The fate of Biannela Susana
Circuit Judge James Daniel made the right decision when he let Biannela Susana, mother of Cristian Fernandez, avoid as much as 36 years in prison by accepting a rehabilitative alternative recommended by the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center.
In my July 29 column that talked a little about the case, I asked at what point do we stop and consider the alternatives to prison?
Susana had pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter via culpable negligence in the death of her 2-year-old son at the hands of her oldest son, Cristian.
With Daniel's sentencing, Susana now will spend time at Hubbard House, followed by two years of counseling at Community Connections.
She then will become a full-time employee at the Weaver Policy Center and will be on probation for 10 years.
Weaver Policy Center CEO Lawanda Ravoira, along with the good folks at Community Connections, should realize a couple of aspects.
First, attention will remain focused on Susana, the Weaver Policy Center and Community Connections to see if this prison alternative works.
Don't take anything for granted.
Second, both organizations need to know this alone is not their responsibility.
It provides an opportunity for them to engage the community and use this case to give others the chance to rebuild their lives instead of being sent to prison.