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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Jul. 21, 202011:00 AM EST

Hazouri: Bill will appropriate $33 million for federal RNC security funding 

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How much federal money Jacksonville could get for security hasn't been finalized.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

City Council President Tommy Hazouri said he expects legislation will be filed July 21 asking city lawmakers to appropriate about $33 million in federal grant money to pay for public safety during the Republican National Convention. 

Hazouri told the Council Transportation, Energy and Utilities Committee on July 20 he will hold a noticed public workshop 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 24 for Council members to question Jacksonville 2020 Host Committee representatives and Mayor Lenny Curry administration officials about public safety for the Aug. 24-27 convention in Jacksonville.

The bill will contain an agreement with the Republican National Committee and details of the U.S. Department of Justice grant. Hazouri said the bill will be introduced and possibly considered by Council for an up-or-down vote at its July 28 meeting. 

Council Finance Committee Chair Matt Carlucci said July 20 that he met with Curry administration officials and was told Jacksonville’s grant award has not been finalized. 

He said the DOJ and the national Republican Party are negotiating with the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, on the amount of convention security funding Charlotte will receive.

Although the GOP pulled the convention’s “celebration” events from Charlotte, including President Donald Trump’s nomination acceptance speech, the RNC’s official business will still take place there.

The justice department awarded $50 million to Charlotte for security, but Carlucci said it’s unclear how much of that money will come to Jacksonville.

“There were a lot of questions that are not answered,” Carlucci said. “The administration said they would not expect (Council) to vote on anything that had unanswered questions,” he said.

“I don’t want to find a reason that we can’t make this (convention) happen, but I cannot get up there and not have a few briefings on this (bill).” 

City Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes told Hazouri in a July 15 email, obtained in a public records request, that the city would cap its security budget at the amount of the DOJ grant.

Hughes said the grant award was not finalized, but Curry administration officials are budgeting for $30 million to $40 million, according to the email. 

“I am unaware of any plan to expend (city) dollars without having reimbursement in place,” Hughes said. “DOJ has committed that approved grant expenditures would not require (the) return of funds to DOJ, even if the event was canceled.”

Hughes was responding to a series of questions Hazouri sent Curry’s office in a July 8 memorandum.

Curry’s Chief of Staff Jordan Elsbury said during a July 7 news conference that the city submitted its convention security budgets to the DOJ. 

When the Daily Record requested a copy of the budget documents, the City’s Office of General Counsel said by email that the city charter exempts security details, including the RNC budget, from disclosure. 

Council’s unanswered questions about the RNC are building as Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams publicly said he could not guarantee a safe event with 32 days remaining to plan. 

Williams said in a July 20 news release that challenges with finances, communication and timeline have shaken his confidence that the RNC and the public “will not be at risk.” 

Williams told national news outlet Politico that a pledged $50 million grant to help with security has been pared to $33 million and that attached provisions will make it difficult to let contracts, according to Daily Record news partner News4Jax.com. 

“My team identified the key resources critical to this plan and, to date, I can only confirm that (25%) of the ask has been answered,” Williams said in the news release. “Some of this is due to concerns for reimbursement, while additional issues are related to the pandemic we are still facing.”

A city spokesperson sent the Daily Record a statement from Elsbury on July 21 in response to Williams’ security concerns.

“From the onset of this process, the mayor and our administration have remained in constant communication with JSO, state and federal law enforcement on providing safety and security for our city,” Elsbury said. “Over the next few days, we will continue to meet with Sheriff Mike Williams and his team on how to prioritize public safety related to this event.” 

Hazouri told Council members during the July 20 committee meeting that the workshop is not meant to be a show of partisan politics. 

“It’s about financing, it’s about (the) pandemic, it’s about the questions we could ask and should ask,” Hazouri said.” 

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