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Jax Daily Record Friday, Mar. 20, 202001:42 PM EST

Governor allows local governments to meet via teleconference

Council member Rory Diamond says Council’s Special Investigatory Committee on JEA is reviewing documents.
by: Mike Mendenhall Associate Editor

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order March 20 waiving state statute requirements for local governments to have an in-person quorum for public meetings.

The move allows the Jacksonville City Council and city independent authority boards to do business via teleconferencing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Executive Order 20-69 does not waive any other provision of Florida Sunshine laws for transparency.

Council President Scott Wilson said March 20 that before Council resumes he will consult the City Office of General Counsel about procedures under the executive order.  He also will work with information technology staff to ensure teleconferencing systems are reliable for Council members and public participation.

The Council has not met since March 16, when Wilson ordered a suspension of all board, committee and commission meetings through April 5 in response to the new coronavirus. 

Wilson said Council likely will resume the first week in April, but he’d make a final determination next week.

“It’s good news for us,” Wilson said. “We’ll likely resume the committee structure first so we understand the logistics. It’s a smaller body, so if we have problems it will be easier to solve.”

City policymakers face several issues when they reconvene, including placing a ½-cent sales tax referendum on the ballot to fund Duval County Public Schools' infrastructure needs and appointing a new JEA board.

District 13 Council member Rory Diamond is chair of the Council’s Special Investigatory Committee on JEA. He said committee members are using the city’s social distancing mandate as an opportunity to go over documents related to the probe into the push to sell the private utility. 

Diamond said the committee is “finally starting to get documents.”

The Council investigators were struggling to get JEA to fulfill its 84-point public records request. Utility officials and city attorneys said the slow speed is because of the number of documents that needed to be checked for confidential employee and customer information.

Diamond said the new coronavirus also has delayed the Council’s outside attorneys with Smith Hulsey & Busey from deposing JEA Interim CEO Melissa Dykes under oath.

For regular and standing committee meetings, Diamond agrees that the governor’s order should allow Council to resume as soon as possible. 

“There’s no reason to keep this from going. They’re paying us,” Diamond said. “I think we can handle it if we’re all patient and use common sense. It’s full steam ahead.”

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