The Cawton Report: Legislation targets ethics, strategic planning
City Council member Anna Brosche wants more transparency in city government and plans to begin addressing the issue with legislation aimed at requiring disclosure of certain activities and donations to elected officials.
Brosche, who represents Group 5 At-Large, introduced a bill Wednesday that would require anyone contracting with the city to disclose campaign contributions they’ve made in the past five years.
“I think this is just an opportunity for transparency,” Brosche said. “The citizens have the right to understand who the city is doing business with and any influence that may exist through contributions or communications.”
The disclosures would be included in bids responsive to a request for proposals.
Brosche’s bill also would require elected officials to disclose certain details concerning flights with lobbyists on privately owned aircraft.
Those disclosures, due within five days of travel, include the name of the aircraft owner, name of the person paying for the flight, dates of travel, destinations and the names of any lobbyists who traveled with the elected official.
Finally, Brosche wants some email or text message exchanges between council members and registered lobbyists to be posted to an online portal for public view.
“We are a government that should be operating very publicly and in the sunshine,” said Brosche, referring to Florida’s open government laws which concern public records.
Mayor Lenny Curry’s emails, along with those of Chief of Staff Brian Hughes and Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa are posted to an online portal. The only emails from council members readily available are those sent to all 19 members.
Text messages and other electronic information can be requested through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Some, including council President Aaron Bowman, previously said council members’ emails and text messages could contain sensitive information, including proprietary company strategy or issues of security and therefore shouldn’t be immediately posted for public view.
According to Chapter 119, Sec. 1 of the Florida Statutes, “all state, county, and municipal records are open for personal inspection and copying by any person.”
However, state lawmakers have approved exemptions that shield public records in some cases. For example, details of economic development agreements between the city and companies often are shielded to protect proprietary or corporate strategy.
Brosche said her bill is the result of recommendations that came from the Task Force on Open Government she established during her term as council president.
She said the bill is not a reaction to any specific example of negligent behavior, “although, I’m sure that I wouldn’t have to reach back very far to find examples.”
“In no way, shape or form am I suggesting that there’s been any inappropriate activity or that any bids might have leaned one way or the other,” she said.
The council Rules Committee will review the bill before a full council vote in September.
Bowman introduces strategic plans
When Aaron Bowman became City Council president in June, he said he wanted to establish a strategic plan for council to adhere to during the next one, three and five years.
The idea: Attempt to steer the 19-member legislative body into a clear direction to address issues representatives say need more attention.
Reducing crime, accelerating Downtown development, updating the city’s zoning code and addressing the growing homeless population in the urban core are items included in a resolution introduced to council Wednesday.
The goals for one, three and five years came after a June 20 discussion between council members moderated by Haskell Co. CEO Steve Halverson.
By the end of Bowman’s presidency, he wants council to complete a comprehensive crime reduction inventory; increase maintenance at public parks; develop a litter control plan; continue Downtown development of public land; update and clarify the city’s zoning codes; and begin development of riverfront property in Mayport.
In three years, Bowman identified five items including the development of a comprehensive capital reinvestment plan; initiating and funding the next phase of the Jacksonville Journey; accelerating Downtown development; building a new “St. Johns River Park,” along with a performing arts venue, waterfront park and the Emerald Neckless trail of parks.
For 2023, Bowman wants Jacksonville to be the safest and cleanest urban center in the country. He also wants to develop and fund a resilience strategy for natural disasters, economic and environmental threats.
According to the legislation, the strategic plans don’t bind future councils, including the next group that will take office in 2019.
The resolution states that the plans are “intended to develop a shared sense of priorities and directions with the goal of supporting and investing in the vision for the future of the city that these priorities embody.”
Bowman could not be reached for comment this week. His bill also was introduced to the Rules Committee, ahead of a council vote in September.
‘The District’ takes next step
Elements Development of Jacksonville LLC is moving to create a Community Development District ahead of a mixed-use project on the Downtown Southbank.
“The District CDD” would comprise 32.21 acres formerly owned by JEA.
If approved, the CDD could issue bonds to pay for about $24 million of infrastructure construction for the project.
The group has until Dec. 31, 2040, to repay the bonds through proceeds of a Recapture Enhanced Value grant worth up to 75 percent of the taxes generated from the property improvements.
Through ordinance 2018-563, introduced to council Wednesday, Elements would create a governing board of supervisors for the CDD.
Those members are Leadership Jacksonville Inc. CEO Jill Langford Dame, former St. Joe Company executive Bob Rhodes, Impact Properties Inc. Executive Vice President Kish Kanji, Dr. Vikram Gopal of the Borland Groover Clinic, and Matt Brockelman, a partner at Southern Strategy Group.
The Transportation, Energy and Utilities Committee will review the legislation before it heads to a full council vote in September.
The estimated $600 million project includes 1,170 residential units for sale and lease; 200,000 square feet of office space; more than 200,000 square feet of retail; riverfront restaurants and bars; a 3.5-acre riverfront park and an extension of the Southbank Riverwalk; a 125-slip marina; and a 200-room AC Hotels by Marriott.