When General Counsel Cindy Laquidara retires from the city July 1, her successor will have big shoes to fill, says Mayor Alvin Brown.
Even though she wears a size 5.
Laquidara, the longtime city attorney who became the first female general counsel in 2010, will return to the private sector when she joins the local Akerman Senterfitt office this summer. She and the mayor made the announcement Wednesday.
“I have enjoyed every day,” she said. “Some days better than others.”
Clerk of Courts Ronnie Fussell and JEA CEO Paul McElroy also took part in the news conference, offering words of appreciation for her years of service.
“When she is with you, she knows exactly what she’s talking about. She understands, she knows how to debate it, she knows how to win it,” said Fussell, who served with Laquidara as part of Mayor John Delaney’s administration before working with her as a two-term City Council member and now a constitutional officer.
Brown called her a “legal straight shooter” he wanted on his side when he came into office in 2011.
Laquidara was appointed by Mayor John Peyton to replace Rick Mullaney in May 2010 when he stepped down to run for mayor. She agreed to stay on at the start of Brown’s administration, but filed a resignation letter coinciding with the start of fiscal 2012. The decision was to head back to the private sector, but Brown didn’t accept her resignation.
Some City Council members questioned the legality of that move, as appointing a general counsel requires the mayor to name a selection committee to conduct a search for a replacement.
The decision spurred a lawsuit last year against the city from the Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County, which sought to have Laquidara removed and the selection process followed. That suit was thrown out by a judge this year before its merits were heard.
Brown will name an acting general counsel to serve for the remaining year of his term and will not require a selection panel because of the short time period. Council will have to confirm the selection.
Laquidara had a stint with the city from 1985-87 before she went to the private sector, returning to the public side in 1998.
“She’s an excellent, excellent lawyer,” said former Mayor John Delaney, who served from 1995-2003.
Delaney called Laquidara an “aggressive litigator” who’s “done a lot of the people’s work” in her time with the city, including working closely with him on the Better Jacksonville Plan.
“She’s tough,” he said. “It’s not an easy job to survive.”
There have been criticisms and praise over during that survival.
In 2012, she apologized for sending a letter to the Jacksonville Jaguars claiming the team had defaulted on its stadium contract because it recommended the city continue to use SMG to manage EverBank Field and other facilities without completing the appropriate process.
That letter was responded to by team owner Shad Khan, who wrote he was “shocked and perplexed” and refuted the claim.
There also have been public disagreements with council members, who at times questioned whether Laquidara had their best interest at heart. That led to council member Kimberly Daniels filing legislation that the council had “no confidence” in Laquidara. The legislation was later withdrawn.
Another resolution by council member Matt Schellenberg called for her resignation and ultimately was defeated 15-1.
Such criticism “comes with the territory” Laquidara said Wednesday, while praising the jobs and workloads council members endure.
She’ll be ending on a high note after the city received a $13.4 million settlement in a bankruptcy suit against the former developer of the Shipyards, which Brown praised at length Tuesday.