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Jax Daily Record Friday, Jul. 24, 202001:00 PM EST

Council wants account of city resources, dollars spent on canceled Republican National Convention

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Mayor’s chief of staff says employee man-hours were the only taxpayer resources used. 
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

Jacksonville City Council members want to know what the canceled Republican National Convention cost Duval County taxpayers.

During a July 24 special meeting, Council members Ron Salem and Garrett Dennis questioned Mayor Lenny Curry’s Chief of Staff Jordan Elsbury on what city resources were used to prepare for the RNC.

On July 23, President Donald Trump called off the event planned Aug. 24-27 Downtown. Delegates will meet in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the RNC’s official business of nominating him as the GOP presidential nominee.

Dennis asked for a record of the money spent by the city Office of Special Events and for the Curry administration and other departments to quantify employee time spent related to the convention.

 “To the best of my knowledge” no Duval County taxpayer dollars were spent for the RNC other than staff hours, Elsbury said.

“We’ve stated on numerous occasions that, other than staff time related to planning an event that we undertake for any special event that the city hosts — some times those happen, sometimes they don’t — but this one, specifically directed from the mayor’s office from the beginning, we weren’t going to allocate city resources until we had the DOJ funding in hand,” Elsbury said.

Council Auditor Kim Taylor said city employees may not have tracked work on the convention separately from daily duties, but she told Council members her office will gather what data it can. 

“The difficult part will be that a lot of staff members just diverted their time from normal projects like I did,” Taylor said. “Saying no additional costs, but I got diverted from working on the (city fiscal year 2020-21) budget working on things related to (the RNC).” 

The city Office of General Counsel does generate separate billing hour statements for different clients, a city attorney said during the virtual meeting. 

Elsbury said the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office would have been involved in security for Vice President Mike Pence’s convention-related visit to Duval County on July 11. 

The city Public Affairs Office told the Jacksonville Daily Record in an email July 24 that invoices, billing statements and documents showing any city expenditure linked to the RNC could not be compiled until early this week. 

Elsbury said the city received assurances from the U.S. Department of Justice that if city resources were used and the event was canceled, it would be reimbursable.

City Council President Tommy Hazouri officially withdrew an emergency omnibus bill July 24 that appropriated a $33 million DOJ 2020 Presidential Nominating Grant that Curry administration officials expected to receive to pay for the city’s security obligation.

“The man-hours are costly and we can’t recoup that, I know. But if there were some dollars spent, Jordan (Elsbury), that are unknown, we don’t want this to leave the city and not get reimbursed,” Hazouri said.

Before the president’s announcement, Hazouri said he’d received a call from Elsbury that Curry’s staff was not prepared to answer Council’s questions on the RNC legislation and requested the weekend to finalize details.

Hazouri said during the special meeting that Ordinance 2020-339 “was not ready for prime time.”

“As we got closer to the convention, I didn’t want to do a hurry-up offense and take up the bill under a lot of pressure that we had to get passed,” Hazouri said. “That wasn’t going to be acceptable.”

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams told reporters at a July 20 news conference that JSO did not have enough time or resources available to keep people safe at the RNC.

Elsbury said Curry’s staff worked with Williams after his announcement to address RNC security concerns. 

Ultimately, Elsbury said, Trump’s decision to cancel the Jacksonville portion of the convention in favor of “telerallies” was based on protecting the health and safety of attendees and Jacksonville residents with Florida’s surge in COVID-19 transmission.

“The mayor’s commitment from the beginning of this, from the onset of the convention discussion, was to ensure he’d put public health and safety above all things when working to pull off this event,” Elsbury said. 

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