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Jason Gabriel
Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Jun. 17, 201412:00 PM EST

Shipyards $13.4M, general counsel appointment approved by council committees

by: David Chapman

City Council is a step closer to having control of the $13.4 million Shipyards settlement to spend on capital projects of its choice.

It’s also one step away from having the next head of the city’s Office of General Counsel in place for the next year.

Both were approved by 6-0 votes Monday by the council’s Rules Committee, setting up the Shipyards settlement issue in two more committees and Jason Gabriel’s appointment to the full council next Tuesday.

The $13.4 million transfer takes the settlement the city recouped from Downtown’s failed Shipyards project and places it into an account council can only use for capital projects.

It was introduced a week ago by council President Bill Gulliford, who told his colleagues Monday the funds weren’t properly “comingled” into the general fund, according to U.S. Treasury guidelines, but could be safe if they were confined to an account for capital projects — not operational costs.

Deputy General Counsel Peggy Sidman compared the comingling of the funds to pouring a glass of water in the ocean — once it’s been poured, people don’t know what water is what. But by tagging the $13.4 million in the general fund, it’s the equivalent of pouring that same glass of water into a bucket before it floats in the ocean.

Council member Bill Bishop agreed with the capital projects concept, saying infrastructure in Jacksonville has been long neglected and the $13.4 million presented an opportunity to help that situation.

The issue heads to the Finance Committee for a vote today.

The Rules group also approved Mayor Alvin Brown’s choice of Jason Gabriel to succeed Cindy Laquidara as the city’s general counsel.

Laquidara is returning to the private sector July 1 and Gabriel, if approved by the full council, would serve a one-year term that coincides with the end of Brown’s first term as mayor.

On Monday, though, Gabriel faced questions.

Like council member Richard Clark asking Gabriel what his role in the office would be and how he would manage responsibilities. There’s been a “real crossover” into policy-making with general counsels, Clark said.

“Our role is legal advice,” Gabriel said, explaining that the office provides legal pathways, then steps back and lets policymakers decide.

Bishop also had a question, this one relating to Gabriel’s possible re-appointment in a year.

As an acting general counsel, Bishop asked, can he simply be re-appointed without going through the necessary steps of

the selection process by a committee?

The current opinion on record, Gabriel said, would allow it but his personal recommendation would be to have such a committee should the law not change over the next year. If named general counsel, he said he would also be happy to revisit the opinion on record.

Gulliford, Bishop and council member Lori Boyer were among those who openly stood behind Gabriel for the position.

“I have found his advice to be very well reasoned,” Boyer said.

The appointment now heads to council for a full vote.

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