Former Jacksonville mayor says his relationship with council members was “honest and open.”
When former Jacksonville Mayor Jake Godbold speaks, people listen.
“I’m not going to make a big speech or anything, I just want to touch on a few topics,” Godbold said Monday to about three dozen former and current City Council members, candidates running for various offices, retired city employees and those who didn’t want to miss hearing the outspoken former mayor speak his mind.
The group, the Former Council Presidents club, meets regularly at The Mudville Grille in St. Nicholas. Godbold hadn’t addressed the group “in some time.”
“I don’t show up at these things because if I do, I’m gonna tell you how to run things and that might make y’all mad,” he joked. “So, I tend to keep to myself unless I feel the need to say something.”
Godbold recently has given his opinions on the potential sale of JEA, the ongoing legal battles between the city and the Jacksonville Landing operators and the disconnect between council President Anna Brosche and Mayor Lenny Curry.
Godbold spoke about what he feels are Curry’s few shortcomings since taking office in 2015, including the tense relationship with Brosche.
Godbold said times were different during his two terms in office, from 1978 to 1987.
“I learned two rules that I wish Curry would learn,” he said.
“One is you don’t get involved with who will be the next president,” he said. “And you don’t get involved in trying to take their meetings over.”
Godbold described his relationship with council members and presidents as open and honest.
“Everything we did, if it was (Joe) Forshee, (Bill) Basford, or Lynwood (Roberts), I had those presidents in my office letting them know what was going on,” Godbold said.
“They knew as much about the next project we were going to do as I did, whether it was the Riverwalk, or the Landing, or the convention center,” he said.
Godbold said he believes Curry has struggled to detach himself from his days as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, a post he held before pursuing public office.
“You have to remove the hat of head of a party,” he said. “When you become mayor, you become mayor of all the public.”
Critiques aside, Godbold said he supports Curry.
“I think he’s been a very good mayor,” he said. “I think he’s made good decisions, decisions I’ve believed in.”
Curry on Wednesday said in response, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion.”
For two hours, Godbold weaved stories, touching on the milestones and struggles he said defined his terms as Jacksonville’s second mayor after consolidation.
One issue complicating his job in the late 1970s, according to Godbold, was that he felt the city “oversold consolidation.”
“We told people we were going to cut taxes,” he said. “So, every year we cut taxes and let the infrastructure go to hell.”
He said at the time, business groups like the chamber of commerce were frustrated with the state of Downtown because promises made during the pitch to consolidate the county and city governments were not fulfilled 12 years after voters approved the move.
“About 10 days after I was elected, a guy named Albert Ernest came to see me,” said Godbold, referring to the former Barnett National Bank president and CEO.
Godbold said Ernest impressed upon him the need to be a strong mayor and one that can speak on behalf of the local government and the business community.
“He said the Legislature doesn’t know who’s leading the city,” Godbold said.
Ernest told him that if he would make the choice to lead, the chamber would follow.
“You’ve got to be the leader. Consolidation is a strong mayor government,” he said. “If the mayor’s not strong, the charter’s not working the way it’s supposed to.”
Toward the end of the discussion, Godbold turned his attention to the possible privatization of JEA.
In April, Godbold sent Curry a letter suggesting that the mayor was not acting in the best interest of the city and not being honest with his public statements on the matter.
“Despite your frequent statements that you’ve not made up your mind on the JEA’s future, I am one of a whole lot of people in Jacksonville who are having a hard time believing you,” he wrote.
Godbold said Monday that public utilities like JEA should be mindful, especially of its water assets. He said water, not electricity, is the commodity with the most uncertainty for the future.
“I don’t want to turn our water rights over to a board that has one interest and that’s money,” he said. “So they can ship water to Georgia, South Florida or anywhere else they want to.”
Finally, Godbold touched on the changes to the Jacksonville Landing teased by Curry’s office last week.
A version of that idea – an urban park in place of the three-building mall complex – is something Godbold considered in the early 1980s.
“The federal park service wanted to build it to show that you could have urban parks and still be safe,” he said.
Godbold had secured federal funding for the “St. Johns River Esplanade,” but because of state budget shortfalls, the idea evolved.
The Rouse Co. eventually built the Jacksonville Landing in 1985.
The mall’s owners, Jacksonville Landing Investments Inc., continue to engage in two lawsuits with the city over parking and breach of contract.
Godbold did not say who he thinks should operate the mall, other than he’d “hate to see something we worked so hard to build get torn down so easily.”