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City Council member John Crescimbeni
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Aug. 13, 201412:00 PM EST

Pension board vote delay angers Crescimbeni, who says 'This council lacks backbone'

by: David Chapman

John Crescimbeni was frustrated.

The longtime City Council member many times has pushed for an initiative to change the composition of the Police and Fire Pension Fund board to allow the fifth member to be selected differently.

In 2012, council fell one vote short of a needed supermajority. In 2013, a local bill filed in the Legislature to initiate the change fell on deaf ears in Tallahassee.

Earlier this year, council again voted for another local bill, approving it by a 17-0 vote. Again, the Legislature did nothing.

This time Crescimbeni stayed local, seeking to put the measure on the November ballot to let voters decide if the mayor should appoint the final member of the five-person board.

On Tuesday night, the council vote fell short.

By a 9-8 vote Tuesday, council ended up postponing the idea for at least another two weeks. That means, should it end up passing, it’s unlikely to be on the November ballot.

Sides started to form early in the emotionally charged debate. It all played out in front of an audience comprised mostly of police and fire union members who showed up en masse to oppose the bill.

Voters would have determined if the fifth member of the pension board would be selected by the mayor and confirmed by council.

Steve Amos, Fraternal Order of Police president, called the idea unfair to public safety members. It would create an unbalance on the board in favor of the city, he said before the meeting.

The members attended to watch and protest in relative silence.

It was their looming presence that Crescimbeni said caused “weak knees” for some members of council. “Folks, I am disappointed,” he said. “I am disappointed that this body would stand fast in January and then cower in August.”

Bill Gulliford and Bill Bishop were among those against postponement and implored others to step up and make a decision. The pension fund’s board wasn’t serving the rank-and-file members properly, Gulliford said.

Crescimbeni said taxpayers are tired of the exorbitant salaries, an illegal pension plan and thousands spent defending simple public records requests.

That the fifth member idea ended up being off the table during pension talks between Mayor Alvin Brown and fund leadership didn’t sit well with Crescimbeni.

“I think they might want to talk about it,” he said, referring to taxpayers.

On the other side, those who sought postponement said they wanted answers during what became a confusing period.

There was talk that passing the referendum was a “deal killer” because it conflicted with what the pension deal on the table has established.

Randy Wyse, Jacksonville Association of Firefighters president, stood before council and said the referendum would be a conflict.

The pension board would have to sign off on any change, which Wyse said the union would lobby against.

According to a city attorney, the bill as it was proposed was a valid way of amending the city charter. It didn’t violate state law, which establishes the makeup of pension boards, because it didn’t reduce the number of public safety representation.

Council’s review of pension is scheduled for next month. Several members said they didn’t want to possibly jeopardize a deal that could help the city’s largest financial problem. Others said they wanted to further review the impact the referendum could have.

David DeCamp, Brown’s spokesman, said after the vote the pension deal should be considered in its entirety and that it’s too early for a piecemeal approach.

As for the thought of the referendum being a possible “deal killer,” DeCamp said there was concern the decision “could lead us down a path of unintended consequences.”

For at least two more weeks, that possibility is on hold.

Council will meet Aug. 27, a day later than usual due to the primary election.

Crescimbeni criticized some of his colleagues, saying after the meeting, “This council lacks backbone.”

After another setback in a series of roadblocks, he said it might be time to do it the “hard way.” That is, rallying volunteers to collect needed signatures.

It wouldn’t require a vote.

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