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Sheryl Steckler
Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Aug. 19, 201412:00 PM EST

Council committee's changes to bill would ensure inspector general remains independent

by: David Chapman

As City Council pushes forward to create an Office of Inspector General, members continued Monday to ensure the independent office remained just that — free from outside influences.

In its first discussion, the council Rules Committee passed a slew of amendments to the bill that will establish the office to identify fraud, waste and abuse within city government.

Among the amendments, the inspector general will no longer be selected by the Ethics Commission.

Instead, the decision will be made by a seven-member committee comprising the council president, mayor, state attorney, public defender, ethics commission chair, 4th Judicial Circuit chief judge and the chair of the Taxation, Revenue and Utilization of Expenditures Commission.

Removal of the inspector general would come from the same committee. The panel also will negotiate the person’s contract.

Sheryl Steckler, the former Palm Beach County inspector general helping create the office, told the group those safeguards would protect the person by allowing them to work and “not be afraid to lose the job by doing the right thing.”

The committee also altered the bill to include a review of city contracts to determine if a vendor fee could be added to fund the $400,000 needed for the office.

Council member Warren Jones called the funding source “critical” for maintaining independence. If a group thought the office was overstepping its bounds, funding could be slashed that in effect could minimize the office’s work.

“I think we’re going down the right road,” Jones said.

Bill Gulliford, one of the bill’s sponsors, said he’s been told by various contractors of questionable city practices. Although the funding would come from a vendor fee, he said he thought it was an opportunity for people to understand the money was helping them receive a “fair shake” at business.

Another added measure to bolster independence is banning the office from hiring current city employees or those who have worked for it in the past two years.

The council Finance Committee will take up the bill today.

Other points from Monday’s committee:

• The battle for Jacksonville billboards continued with discussion, but no action, at the committee. Proponents argued the legislation further regulates the media industries in how and where they are able to erect electronic billboards and replace older static ones. Opponents maintain no more billboards should be built, as voters intended when they passed a referendum more than 20 years ago. There currently are two cases in court, one relating to a settlement agreement approved after the referendum and the other involves construction of the electronic billboards. The two sides disagree as to whether the bill affects those cases.

• A bill to create a regulatory section in city law for food trucks was passed 6-0. Introduced by Reggie Brown, the bill sets hours and establishes minimum-distance requirements from existing restaurants among other additions. The committee did make one change to the bill. Non-Downtown food trucks must now be 50 feet away from existing establishments, up from the 15 feet originally in the bill.

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