The Cawton Report: Aaron Bowman says no ethics concerns with new role
Bowman is the senior vice president of business development for the JAXUSA Partnership, the chamber division responsible for job recruitment and economic development.
He was elected unanimously Tuesday by the 19-member council to become its next president after his current year as council vice president.
His job with JAXUSA, among other duties, includes persuading advanced manufacturing and aerospace companies to set up operations in North Florida.
Bowman said he anticipates the responsibilities of being council president to come with heightened expectations that will require him to balance his time more so than in years past.
“It is going to be different,” Bowman said. “On a positive note, a lot of my time in the past has been spent sitting on (council) committees, which I won’t be doing as president.”
Bowman said he’ll monitor activities, but won’t be as directly involved.
At JAXUSA, Bowman is directly involved in working on economic development agreements with companies such as JinkoSolar (U.S.) Industries Inc., the Chinese solar-panel manufacturer slated to receive $3.4 million in city-backed financial incentives.
Council unanimously approved the deal in March.
The company plans to build a $50.5 million solar-panel assembly and distribution center in AllianceFlorida at Cecil Commerce Center, creating 200 jobs by 2019.
JinkoSolar’s plant will be the first one established in the U.S. by a Chinese company since President Donald Trump announced in late January tariffs of up to 30 percent on imported solar equipment.
Another part of Bowman’s job at JAXUSA requires hosting and entertaining officials from businesses the chamber wants to recruit to town. That was the case when he brought JinkoSolar representatives to a Jacksonville Jaguars game and other events during negotiations last fall.
He acknowledged those activities could be viewed as potential conflicts of interest, since as a council member he votes on bills tied to the economic development agreements on which he worked.
Bowman said he has addressed those concerns with the Florida Commission on Ethics.
“We went to that office before running for office to make sure I could vote on projects and that I could continue to do those job functions,” Bowman said.
“The Ethics Commission came back and said being a public elected official is not supposed to inhibit you from doing your job and I got full approval to do all of those things,” he said.
Bowman said there have been situations when businesses initially didn’t want to work with him because he is a council member.
“The last thing they want to find out is that they’re working with someone in elected office,” he said.
“Others feel it’s to their benefit, although I’m careful to explain the separation that exists between those roles.”
Bowman’s position at JAXUSA could grow with partnership President Jerry Mallot retiring in September, although it is unclear whether Bowman will apply.
Bowman said he promises “that you’re never going to see me forward a project that isn’t worthy and shouldn’t be introduced to council in the first place,” he said. “I think my colleagues know my integrity.”
Bowman will be joined in council leadership by Vice President-elect Scott Wilson.