A 31-member panel charged with reviewing the City's consolidated form of government began its work Wednesday with a history lesson and opinions from several people who participated in the original practice or have extensively studied it.
"We needed to consolidate all government in Jacksonville," Bill Birchfield, a member of the original consolidation commission, told the group in his opening remarks.
Birchfield; Jim Rinaman, a member of the original commission who also serves on the task force; Jim Crooks, a University of North Florida professor and historian; and Rick Mullaney, former City general counsel and consolidation historian took part in a panel discussion about the history and issues surrounding the 1968 consolidation of City and County government.
Discussion among the panelists and several task force members included the need to review the relationship between the City and its independent authorities; a look at infrastructure improvements promised to areas, especially African-American neighborhoods, that have not been fulfilled; and the interlocal relationships with the Beaches and Baldwin communities.
The panelists reflected on what consolidation improved — such as government efficiency and professionalism — but when asked by task force member Ray Treadwell of any hindrance the structure caused, there was one common answer.
"One that leaps to mind is Downtown development," Rinaman said, saying that while addressed, it "accomplished very little."
Crooks said that while consolidation kept most of the middle class in Duval County, it also caused suburbia to have little interest or stake in Downtown compared to other, more compact cities.
Mullaney countered that it can work when mayors, such as Ed Austin and John Delaney, make Downtown a priority. He said those leaders invested millions into the neighborhood through programs.
Council President Bill Gulliford charged the committee, led by Council member Lori Boyer, to review the structure of the government, which has been in place for more than 40 years.
He addressed the committee at its onset and said the diversity of the group will result in a better product and asked members for "unrestricted, passionate and open debate" when determining what's best for the community as a whole.
Boyer said the group will meet weekly through Oct. 10, hearing presentations on topics affected by consolidation, before determining how to break into subcommittees to address individual topics. She said after the meeting she anticipates about six subcommittees, but the topics and final number would be determined through the task force work.
The next meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday in the Council Chamber at City Hall.