Gateway sues over elections center move
U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown "strongly supports" the Gateway Retail Center LLC lawsuit against the City over moving an elections center.
The complaint contends the decision to move the warehouse and training facility from the Gateway Shopping Center to One Imeson Center violated City ordinance code and seeks damages, injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment to prevent the move.
Part of the lawsuit, filed Monday, alleges the City Council "unlawfully" voted to move the center from Gateway in retaliation because "the Gateway Lease allows greater African-American participation in the election process whereas the Imeson Lease effectively stifles African-American participation" because of the location. Gateway serves as an early-voting site.
Brown told the City Council at its Aug. 13 meeting that the move disenfranchised African-American voters, a stance she still maintains.
"The message this move sends to my constituents is that the city of Jacksonville does not care about them or their vote, and in fact, that city officials will make it as difficult as possible for African Americans to vote in upcoming elections," Brown said in a statement issued Monday.
City Council voted 13-6 to move the center to One Imeson from Gateway, where it has been since 2006 and costs $51,000 a month in rent.
Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland on Monday disagreed with the allegations of the move hurting the black community. He said he has identified two potential early-voting sites in the Gateway area, in addition to the possibility of working out a deal with Terranova Corp., Gateway's owner, for a site at the shopping center.
"I have made a commitment to voting in the Gateway community," Holland said..
A 2 p.m. Tuesday conference call is scheduled among the City Office of General Counsel, attorneys with Terranova, attorneys for GIV Imeson LLC and U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan about the complaint.
Holland & Knight attorney Daniel Bean, who will represent GIV Imeson, said Tuesday he will attempt to intervene on behalf of One Imeson.
Jason Isaacson, president of IP Capital Partners, which owns One Imeson, said Tuesday the lawsuit was "upsetting" and not based on facts. He maintains that One Imeson is the best deal and fit for the center and the lawsuit is a way for Gateway's owners to "bully" the City.
After much debate, Council members lauded each proposal for saving taxpayers more than half of what the City currently pays over 10 years.
Mayor Alvin Brown's administration favored Gateway. Holland wanted One Imeson.
The lawsuit says the City Public Works and Real Estate Division recommended Gateway, but Council "purposely ignored the recommendation of its real estate experts" when it decided in favor of One Imeson. City Council President Bill Gulliford said that allegation "sounds like sour grapes on their part."
"Recommendations by City departments are not binding on us. We can do what we want," said Gulliford, who was one of the 13 Council members in favor of One Imeson.
He said he hoped the complaint was thrown out of court and questioned whether the City should be associated with such a landlord, saying it further enhances Council's decision to move to One Imeson.
The complaint further claims Council members believed the matter in which the City handled the negotiation and approval was "contaminated" and should have used a Request for Proposal pursuant to the City Procurement Code.
Holland said if the matter were to move to the courts, he would push for it to be expedited because of the time-sensitivity of the issue. He said he hopes to listen in on the conference call to dispute the allegations.
He said after the Aug. 13 vote that he wanted to provide Gateway with 30 days of notice for departure, vacate by Sept. 30 and start storing voting equipment at One Imeson during an expected four-month build-out. He said the goal was to be operational by Feb. 1.
Mayor Brown has until the end of the Council meeting Tuesday to sign the One Imeson legislation, let it become law without his signature or veto it.
His office did respond to requests for comment Monday evening or Tuesday morning.