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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Jul. 28, 202003:40 PM EST

Mayor Curry says canceling RNC was the right decision 

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The City Council Auditor is looking into the amount of time city employees spent on preparation for the convention.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said canceling Republican National Convention events in Jacksonville planned for late August was the right decision.

Curry said in a July 28 virtual news conference that his administration provided White House officials the latest Duval County coronavirus trend data hours before President Donald Trump’s July 23 announcement that he would move RNC events to virtual “telerallies.”

Curry said Trump’s announcement didn’t come as a surprise.

“While we were hopeful and motivated by the potential economic impact of the convention, especially for the many businesses struggling in the wake of this pandemic, public safety is our top priority,” Curry said. “I think given the current trends it was the right decision.”

The Jacksonville 2020 Host Committee received about $20 million in commitments from private donors since it began fundraising in mid-June to pay for convention expenses, Curry said. 

The money will be used for the committee’s outstanding contractual obligations and expenses, Curry said.

Host committee President Trent Morse told the Southside Business Men’s Club on July 22 that the committee had contracts with 44 hotels in Northeast Florida that will accommodate “a little under 10,000” people for the convention. 

Curry said he spoke with Trump for about 15 minutes on July 24, but he doesn’t know if Jacksonville will have a role in the virtual convention “telerallies” the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee are planning.

“We planned it when our (COVID-19) positives were low,” Curry said. “We’re with a virus that’s unknown. It spreads. We don’t have a vaccine. Things can literally change on any given day or any given week. It’s unfortunate that it had to be canceled, but it had to be canceled for health reasons and health concerns. We’re going to continue to support our small businesses and businesses in our city.” 

Curry said local hospital leadership reported during a July 28 conference call that COVID-19 hospitalizations are stabilizing and some facilities are seeing a slight decline.

Duval County medical facilities had 481 patients admitted for COVID-19 as of July 28, according to Curry, with 106 cases in intensive care units. 

Curry said the local percentage of positive COVID-19 tests and daily reported cases are beginning to drop.

According to the Florida Department of Health, Duval County reported 133 new COVID-19 cases July 23, down from the two-week high of 837 on July 15.

State health department data shows Duval County’s daily positive testing rate was 7.2% July 27. The rate was 13.7% positive July 19.

RNC and taxpayer dollars

Curry repeated his Chief of Staff Jordan Elsbury’s statement to City Council July 24 that City Hall spent no taxpayer dollars on the RNC, although the mayor acknowledged that city employees did expend staff hours on preparation. 

“To be clear, there were no taxpayer dollars expended on the planning for the Republican National Convention,” Curry said.

Council Auditor Kim Taylor said July 24 that 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.

Curry confirmed during the news conference that the Council Auditor’s Office will provide an RNC work-hour calculation to Council “some time in the coming days and weeks.”

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