JCCI evolving into Citizen Engagement Pact

J.F. Bryan IV
J.F. Bryan IV
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Jacksonville Community Council Inc. is being restructured.

The nonprofit created in 1974 to study community issues and recommend change has evolved into a “civic pact” that will be announced Wednesday.

The Citizen Engagement Pact of Jacksonville is described in an email Wednesday to Mayor Lenny Curry’s Chief of Staff Kerri Stewart as an effort “to ensure the values that foster a culture of civic engagement to improve the quality of life for all citizens will continue to be engrained in the Jacksonville and Northeast Florida community.”

Lawyer Kevin Hyde, the immediate past chair of the JCCI board of directors, and J.F. Bryan IV, board chair in 2013 and a director, will announce the pact. They signed an email to JCCI stakeholders that was attached to Stewart’s email.

Hyde, a partner with Foley & Lardner LLP, was traveling and referred questions to the Burdette Ketchum public relations agency. Bryan could not be reached for comment.

Ginny Walthour, Burdette Ketchum director of public relations and community affairs, did not answer a list of questions.

“We and JCCI leadership look forward to sharing more information with you and other JCCI supporters at the event on the 22nd,” she said.

The letter explained the pact initially will be composed of charter organizations that traditionally have played an integral role in either the work of JCCI “or that serve as a diverse constituency so as to be able to represent their needs and interests going forward.”

The announcement is scheduled at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at WJCT Studios at 100 Festival Park Ave., where JCCI had occupied space.

The letter said the framework “will continue a culture of inquiry, convening and implementation.”

The email to Stewart, from Burdette Ketchum public relations coordinator Halli Bruton quoted from the letter to say a “reflective practice study” took place to better understand the community’s needs around civic engagement. That included a look at “the continued meaning and relevancy of JCCI.”

“The overarching finding is that the community needs can be met if the JCCI mission is served through multiple organizations versus one organization taking on the entire body of work,” Bruton wrote.

The event also will “celebrate the many significant achievements and accomplishments that JCCI has made to this community.”

JCCI has been quiet of late. The jcci.org website is up, but the calendar of events on the site ended in May.

The last annual report posted online was for 2014. The last annual report filed with the state was Jan. 21, 2016. Its phone number is not working.

JCCI’s last community study, “Re-Think Aging: Making Northeast Florida An Age-Friendly Region,” was released in fall 2015.

One of the last requests from JCCI came in August when President and CEO Clayton Davis said the organization wanted community input about what Northeast Florida needs and what residents think about JCCI.

Davis took the role in July 2015, a few months after CEO Ben Warner resigned as his wife’s promotion relocated them to Italy. Warner had been with JCCI for 17 years and was named CEO in 2011. His last day there was May 1, 2015.

The website for HandsOn Jacksonville lists Davis as the organization’s development director. The nonprofit organizes and mobilizes volunteers for community projects.

JCCI’s most recent large project was JAX2025, a 100-page report released in 2013. The group said 16,000 people weighed in during meetings, online and through other avenues to develop a vision for the city over several months.

JCCI considered JAX2025 the broadest consensus vision for the city since the Jacksonville Insight process in 1992.

Warner said the study was privately funded and supplemented with volunteers and in-kind support. It was staffed by JCCI. He said the $565,000 budget funded public outreach, marketing and media; meetings, refreshments, materials and printing; and staffing.

JAX2025 targeted 10 areas of focus. Not in any specific order, they were education; economy; distinctive neighborhoods and a vibrant Downtown; arts and entertainment; a diverse and inclusive community; a place where people matter; a clean and green city; exemplary governance; transportation; and a healthy community.

Later that year, JCCI moved from its longtime offices at 2434 Atlantic Blvd. to WJCT Studios on the Downtown Northbank.

Michael Boylan, WJCT president and CEO, said then that JCCI would occupy about 10 individual offices. At the time, the council had eight full-time employees and two interns, but Warner hinted at growth.

Warner said Thursday that after he left JCCI, he was not part of the subsequent decisions so as to allow Davis the chance to move forward with his vision. Warner said he was a resource for historical knowledge.

“It’s a great organization with a tremendous history and the volunteers who came together around the community issues were fantastic,” he said.

Historically, JCCI produced Quality of Life and Race Relations progress reports as well as one or two studies a year developed by community volunteers, assisted by staff, to address citywide issues.

Warner said JCCI completed about 75 community topic studies For a time, the city helped fund them. The last was in the fall of 2015.

At the September 2009 annual meeting, JCCI Executive Director Skip Cramer sounded the bell about financial challenges as the country grappled with the recession.

The meeting’s theme was “At a Crossroads.” Cramer said the organization was at a crossroads on multiple levels because of “a sea change in our funding sources.”

He said the mission to improve the quality of life in Jacksonville remained the same. However, how that was done could be changed as dedicated funding sources from the city and agencies — once 70 percent of the organization’s budget — had declined. That created the need for funding through means such as gifts and endowments from the community.

Warner said the historical funding model for JCCI was a combination of United Way and city support for about two-thirds of the budget. Fundraising and membership dues made up the rest.

He said that model ended about the same time as the Great Recession of 2007-09.

“We tried to build a new model with stronger local fundraising around bigger projects and external contracting to meet needs,” he said.

When he left, he said JCCI had projects going in New York City and Savannah, as well as wrapping up some work in Germany.

Warner said JCCI had some success with that. The last study he was involved in release to the community was the Mental Health study. “Unlocking the Pieces: Community Mental Health in Northeast Florida” was released Feb. 3, 2014.

Warner said JCCI reached peak employment at 13 staff members during Lois Chepenik’s leadership. She served as executive director from August 1994 to April 2004.

When Warner became president and CEO in September 2011, he said JCCI had been primarily led by three people — Marian Chambers for 19 years, Chepenik for 10 and Cramer for seven, Warner said.

Through the years, top civic and business leaders participated in the organization, which was created as a result of the legendary three-day Jacksonville Community Planning Conference in June 1974 at Amelia Island Plantation.

That was led by Fred Schultz, whose career included serving as a state representative and House speaker and as vice chairman of the Federal Reserve System board of governors. He died at the age of 80 in 2009.

Referred to since as the Amelia Island Conference, that event led to 10 priorities for Jacksonville and ways to reach them. In addition to what became JCCI, it also launched Leadership Jacksonville.

The JCCI site says the conference planning committee, the Community Planning Council and the Commission on Goals and Priorities for Human Services merged to create the Jacksonville Council on Citizen Involvement in January 1975, which was later changed to Jacksonville Community Council Inc.

Businessman and city scion J.J. Daniel was its first chair. Since then, lawyers, CEOs, educators, health care officials and religious leaders have held the position.

JCCI said in 1985, it launched the community quality-of-life indicators project, which it said was the first in the world. In 1999, it launched its young leaders group, Forward, in response to a 1996 community leadership study.

In 2009, it took its work on the road with JCCI Consulting Services.

“JCCI was always a reflection of the best of the community and a gathering place for people who cared deeply about making the community better,” Warner said.

His job, he said, was to make the coffee and listen.

“I feel honored to have been a part of it and look forward to its next incarnation,” Warner said.



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