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Jax Daily Record Friday, Feb. 12, 201012:00 PM EST

Ethics amendment recommended, debate continues on school board

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by: Joe Wilhelm Jr.

by Joe Wilhelm Jr.

Staff Writer

A winter storm kept away one of its speakers, but other political storms will hit closer to home as the City’s Charter Revision Commission continues to discuss recommendations for amendments to the City Charter.

The Commission met Thursday for its weekly meeting to discuss issues relating to the City’s Ethics Code and Commission, School Board and to hear a presentation from Dist. 10 City Council Reggie Brown.

The Commission has received presentations to request that the City’s Ethics Code, which is enacted by Council ordinance, be placed back in the City’s Charter. Steve Rohan, the Commission’s legal counsel from the City’s Office of General Counsel, was tasked by Commission member Jeanne Miller with drafting an amendment that would place the City’s Ethics Code in the Charter and eliminate any ambiguity regarding the Ethics Commission’s Authority.

“If there is a dispute amongst the independent agencies as to whether the Ethics Code can regulate the independent agencies, this ends that dispute and makes it clear,” he said.

There was previous discussion about editing a sentence in the amendment to read, “The Ethics Code shall provide for an independent Ethics Commission...” Commission member Gary Oliveras was worried that the legislation would be a “toothless tiger” without changing the language. Miller explained how this fear was unwarranted.

“We have stated a policy of intent and expectation of public officials that was in the original charter. We have expanded the scope and authority of the Ethics Commission to all parts of consolidated government,” said Miller. “When we have those matters of scope and authority, those should certainly be in our constitution and in our charter.”

The Commission voted 12-1 to recommend the amendment to the Council, with Commission member Jim Catlett abstaining from voting because he sometimes works with the City’s independent authorities.

The Commission also continued its discussion of recommendations regarding Duval County Public Schools. It has been debating the merits of an appointed board as opposed to an elected board.

Commission member Geoff Youngblood made a motion to leave the School Board seats as elected and focus instead on the public’s ability to recall elected officials. Some members of the Commission supported the measure due to concern over granting power to one person.

“My chief concern is the appointed School Board,” said Gary Oliveras, Commission member. “I’m reluctant about this. I don’t see this as other Commissioners might.”

The Commission voted 9-3 not to recommend leaving the School Board seats as elected position as it states in the Charter. Both Catlett and Bill Catlin abstained from voting due to business interests with the School Board. Oliveras informed the Commission that he conferred with the Office of General Counsel on his ability to vote on the motion because he has filed to run for a seat on the School Board in the fall. He was advised that, because the outcome of the election was speculative, there was not a conflict with him voting on the motion.

After further debate, the Commission agreed to develop a list of recommendations it would submit to Council regarding the Duval County Public Schools.

The Commission also heard from Brown regarding some issues he wanted to suggest the Commission look at including prohibiting residents of the Beaches and the City of Baldwin from voting on the mayor of Jacksonville, returning a residency requirement for City employees and requiring studies of public policy issues to be formally presented to Council.

“Why am I prohibited from voting for the mayor of the Beaches and Baldwin when I live in another part of the city if those residents are able to vote for two mayors?” said Brown, who also offered a fix to the situation. “Why do we have more than one mayor? If it’s truly a consolidated government, then we need one mayor.”

The Charter Revision Commission has two meetings left before its final report is due to the City Council and its next meeting is Feb. 18 at City Hall.

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