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Jax Daily Record Friday, Feb. 25, 202208:10 AM EST

Two high-profile names return to city service

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Aundra Wallace is joining the JTA board and Jordan Elsbury the Planning Commission.
by: Mike Mendenhall Associate Editor

The former Downtown Investment Authority CEO and Mayor Lenny Curry’s recently resigned chief of staff will return to city service. 

City Council voted 16-1 on Feb. 22 to confirm JAXUSA Partnership President and former DIA chief Aundra Wallace’s appointment to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority board.

Council also approved Ballard Partners lobbyist and former Curry official Jordan Elsbury to join the city Planning Commission in an 18-0 vote as part of the meeting’s consent agenda. 

Curry appointed both of them.

Aundra Wallace

After five years as the DIA CEO, Wallace succeeded Jerry Mallot as JAXUSA president in October 2018.

JAXUSA is the economic development division of JAX Chamber. The DIA is responsible for governing Downtown development.

Wallace will replace JTA board member Nicole Padgett.

He will serve the remainder of her term that ends May 31, 2023. 

Council member LeAnna Cumber was the sole vote against Wallace’s appointment at the Council Rules Committee and at Council.

During Wallace’s confirmation interview with the committee Feb. 15, Cumber said her vote was related to her opposition to the cost of JTA’s Skyway modernization called the Ultimate Urban Circulator.

Cumber agreed Wallace does “great work” for the chamber and is qualified for the appointment. 

But Cumber said she didn’t like  Wallace’s responses to questions at the committee. 

He declined to support a cap to the U2C’s growing cost and he did not take issue with the JTA board approval of a single-response bid to design and build the project’s first phase. 

“I’m going to look at the numbers. I’m going to talk to staff, and we’re going to see if we got the best cost available. And we’re going to make informed decisions,” Wallace said.

“As a board member of JTA, we’ll make that decision collectively.” 

The transportation authority estimates the entire 10-mile automated vehicle network will cost $379 million to $400 million. 

Wallace worked in two other metropolitan areas, Detroit and Miami-Dade County, that were part of the federal pilot program for monorail “people movers” in the 1980s that funded the Downtown elevated Skyway.

Wallace was executive director of the Detroit Land Bank Authority and a senior vice president at the North Carolina Community Development Initiative.

In Miami-Dade County, he served in roles focused on community and economic development. 

Wallace told the Rules Committee that he will press JTA to have a transportation network competitive with Southeastern U.S. cities including Orlando, Tampa, Nashville, Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina.

“Those cities have viable public transportation networks to make sure that economic development is equitable — that no matter what census tract, no matter what ZIP code you live in, you have the ability to ascertain meaningful, gainful employment and have a way to get there, even if you do not own transportation yourself,” Wallace said. 

Council member Aaron Bowman abstained from the vote. Bowman is JAXUSA senior vice president of business development and he reports to Wallace.

Jordan Elsbury

Council’s commentary was brief during the Rules Committee meeting on Elsbury’s appointment to the planning commission other than praise for the former chief of staff.

Elsbury will have a vote on many of the private development projects citywide, outside of Downtown. 

The commission reviews proposed land use changes; text changes to the city’s Comprehensive Plan; requests for exceptions, variances and waivers to the Zoning Code; and appeals from written orders granting or denying an administrative deviation to the code.

The panel also issues final orders of the Cell Tower Review Committee.

After leaving the Curry administration, Elsbury became a managing partner at the Jacksonville office of the Ballard Partners lobbying firm.

He spent six years in the mayor’s office. Curry appointed Elsbury chief of staff in June 2020 after Brian Hughes was named city chief administrative officer.

Elsbury served as director of appointments and special projects from July 2015 to January 2016 when he was named intergovernmental affairs director.

His two-year term on the planning commission would end Oct. 1, 2024, extending more than a year beyond Curry’s final day in office.

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