Auchter still battling JEDC residency law

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  • | 12:00 p.m. September 13, 2006
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by Mike Sharkey

Staff Writer

Thursday’s Jacksonville Economic Development Commission meeting will be the last for Dave Auchter. While he plans to resign moments after JEDC Chairman Ceree Harden adjourns the meeting, Auchter doesn’t plan to go away quietly.

Auchter is resigning due to a law passed by City Council earlier this year that makes Duval County residency a requirement for a seat on the commission. Auchter closes on his new home Friday in St. Johns County and, as he puts it, he’s going to abide by the letter of the law. However, he’s been appealing to the Council’s Rules Committee for two committee cycles with no success.

“The issue has been deferred at the last two Rules Committee meetings,” said Auchter, vice president of corporate development for The Auchter Company. “I have been in attendance at those meetings and I’ve been prepared to talk. I fully acknowledge the law and will resign after the meeting. I am living up to the technical terms of the law.”

A resolution was introduced to City Council Tuesday night that would appoint Sylvester Robinson to the JEDC to replace Auchter. Robinson is the plant manager at Anheuser-Busch, Inc. and has been with the brewery since 1999 when he joined Anheuser-Busch in Columbus, Ohio.

“He represents an industry that’s a valuable part of the Jacksonville business fabric,” said Susie Wiles, Mayor John Peyton’s communications chief. “The plant is on the Northside and that is a part of town that’s growing. Sylvester has shown previously to be smart and thoughtful and the mayor likes him.”

Next week, Auchter may try for a third time to plead his case to the Rules Committee. He contends he isn’t battling the law on his behalf, but for others in similar situations. His case isn’t unique, but it is compelling.

By Auchter’s estimates, his company is currently doing in excess of $100 million worth of development in Duval County and the company dossier is impressive: The Strand, The Peninsula, the Main Library, the new Fidelity National Financial building, Villa Riva and 1661 in Riverside and the new county courthouse, to name a few.

Auchter’s argument goes beyond his company’s financial stake in Jacksonville. He’s drafted a three-page letter outlining the downside of the new residency requirement, contending that commercial property taxes and tangible property taxes contribute nearly $400 million annually to the Duval County tax base. Many of those companies are owned and operated by individuals who live outside of Duval County.

“My desire to address the Rules Committee is not for self-preservation and my letter indicates that,” he said. “My desire is to change the rule because it’s the right thing for the community.”

Auchter was originally appointed to the now-defunct Downtown Development Authority in late 2001 by then-Mayor John Delaney. In mid-2004, Auchter was elected vice chair of the DDA under chairman Bob Rhodes. As such, he was also appointed chair of the Design Review Committee, a group of Downtown business people and stakeholders that scrutinize the design aspects of Downtown projects.

In mid-2005, he was appointed chair of the DDA and automatically took a seat on the JEDC. When the DDA was dissolved earlier this year by the Florida Legislature, Auchter was reappointed to the JEDC by Mayor John Peyton.

It’s his nearly five years of experience in dealing with Downtown development and revitalization projects that Auchter believes makes him valuable to an agency like the JEDC.

“I am disappointed because I have a real desire to serve the community and extensive institutional knowledge,” he said.

Auchter also believes the regional nature of the Jacksonville area makes it plausible for individuals living outside the city limits to serve on Jacksonville boards and commissions. He pointed to the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber’s Cornerstone initiative, the convention and visitors bureau, JEA, the First Coast Metropolitan Planning Organization and several others as regional agencies based in Jacksonville.

“We live in a regional community,” said Auchter. “Just stand at (Interstate) 295 and 95 and watch the traffic from the south heading into the city. Stand at the intersection of 95 and JTB (J. Turner Butler Boulevard) and watch the traffic coming in from the beaches. Stand at the Nassau County border and do a vehicle count of the cars coming into the city every day for work.

“The suggestion that those people don’t have a vested interest in the city of Jacksonville is ridiculous.”

Finally, Auchter argues there’s a lack of consistency in the residency requirements for City boards and commissions.

There are approximately 65 boards or commission that require City Council approval. Of those, 43 do not have a residency requirement, according to Auchter, and include two Better Jacksonville Plan committees, the Jacksonville Housing Commission, the Building Codes Adjustment Board, the Jacksonville Housing Authority and Downtown Vision, Inc.

“Are those two-thirds that don’t have residency requirements less effective? No,” said Auchter.



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