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City Council member Richard Clark is head of the Finance Committee, which will tackle both the budget and pension issues.
Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Jul. 1, 201412:00 PM EST

'Big, big subjects' await new council committees

by: David Chapman

As City Council embarks on its new year today, two old issues loom large for the months ahead.

Balancing a budget before the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year is an annual challenge.

Pension reform will affect city finances for years to come but isn’t always on council’s plate.

“Those are each big, big subjects,” said council member Richard Clark.

Clark is chair of Finance Committee, which is the only group that will review both issues at length.

He said Monday he expects the nine-member committee to put in the necessary work on reviewing the pension deal currently on the table, but there would be no rush. No deal will pass until everyone — both the members and the public — understand what the deal means.

“We’re going to solve it for the long haul … we’re not going to saddle this on future administrations,” he said.

Brown will present his budget to council July 14, which starts the review period throughout July, August and September. Pension review will come during the same time frame — a timing issue Clark said is unavoidable.

But, he said, the two won’t be linked. Clark said he’s been forthright with Brown’s administration that whatever budget is presented has “absolutely nothing” to do with pension proposal. Brown’s budget last year had savings linked to reform that ultimately was rejected.

On the budget, Clark said he is more comfortable in his second turn as Finance Chair.

When he served as chair in 2011-12, it was a learning process — where the dollars are, how money is spent, what the “tricks” are for departments.

That experience, along with serving on an early budget review committee since January, has better prepared him for the coming review.

“I think I am in a much better place to understand,” he said.

Council member Bill Gulliford served as president for the group last year, but won’t have any down time. For the past several years, immediate past presidents haven’t been committee chairs — but Gulliford will be chair of the Rules Committee this year.

It’s the other group that will review pension reform before it heads to the full council.

He said he’d like to take a more proactive approach to the committee, possibly reviewing council rules themselves over the course of the year.

Robin Lumb was Yarborough’s initial choice for Rules chair, but Lumb decided against it to focus on his campaign for Supervisor of Elections.

Clark and Gulliford were among the leadership and members for this year’s five standing committees council President Clay Yarborough announced Monday.

Like former President Stephen Joost during the 2011-12 council year, Yarborough combined the Recreation and Community Development Committee with the Public Health and Safety Committee. The reason, he said, is because those two groups typically only average four to five bills each cycle and their subjects are often similar.

Council member Don Redman will head the combined group. He is joined in the leadership role by Land Use and Zoning Chair Ray Holt and Transportation, Energy and Utilities Chair Reggie Brown. There already could be some shakeups, though.

Council member Denise Lee said Monday she did not wish to serve on land use nor the combined recreation and public safety committees. With the land use meetings in the afternoon and often running hours, she said she had personal obligations to handle those days.

If the combined recreation and public safety meeting is held on the same day, she said she might be able to serve on it. She said she didn’t want to commit to the two, only to not be able to attend.

Yarborough said the combined recreation meeting would remain at 2 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of each month.

He said Lee told him she preferred to serve on the Rules and Finance committees, but there wasn’t an indication that was the reason she declined.

Lee said Monday evening she had known for some time she wasn’t going to be on Rules or Finance, and it wasn’t a matter of being upset by serving on either of the two “major” committees.

“Every committee can be major,” she said.

Yarborough said 12 members requested to serve on finance.

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