Donna Deegan: Fix the lack of transparency at City Hall

The candidate for Jacksonville mayor emphasizes infrastructure as her top issue.

Mayoral candidate Donna Deegan is interviewed May 11 at the Jacksonville Daily Record's Downtown offices.
Mayoral candidate Donna Deegan is interviewed May 11 at the Jacksonville Daily Record's Downtown offices.
Photo by Monty Zickuhr
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Jacksonville mayoral candidate Donna Deegan says before tackling any other issue, the city’s next leader needs to fix what she sees as a long-standing issue of a lack of transparency at City Hall. 

With five days until Duval County’s May 16 runoff election, the former news anchor, The Donna Foundation founder and Democrat sat down with the Daily Record news staff to discuss her strategies to prioritize and fund city infrastructure to promote private development; emphasize small business programs; bring more diversity to appointed boards; and try to break through hyperpartisanship in City Hall and work with the state government Tallahassee. 

The Daily Record interviewed Republican mayoral candidate Daniel Davis on May 3. Read his story here and his full Q&A here.

Transparency and diversity

Deegan said, if elected, fixing transparency would include diversifying appointees to city boards and commissions to be more representative of Jacksonville’s demographics. 

“I think (the) Planning (Commission) would probably be one of those that I think is really important, but I really just think we needed to take a look at how all the boards are populated,” she said. “Not just trying to get rid of people to get rid of them, but I do think it’s very, very important not to have the same people who have sort of run the same ruts over and over again. We need new viewpoints. We need some fresh eyes.” 

During her debate appearances, forums and campaign events, Deegan has emphasized infrastructure as a top issue. 

Deegan said May 11 that she wants to make sure funding promised by mayors for decades to phase out aging and leaking septic tanks in the city’s older neighborhoods stays in the budget. 

Deegan said she would also take input from the city’s chief resilience officer on the city’s building codes and permitting to ensure developments are not built in areas prone to flooding or other impacts related to climate change. 

Deegan has been campaigning on finding federal government funding to prioritize infrastructure projects instead of raising property taxes. 

The U.S. Congress passed and President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in 2021 with a focus on providing states and cities with money for transportation projects. 

The federal Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 also has money for “green” infrastructure projects.

Deegan said she wants to emphasize drainage projects and roads designed with climate resilience and wants to include tree canopy projects in the city’s definition of infrastructure.

When asked, she didn’t cite any specific grant programs that could be a candidate for getting these projects more money but says she’s consulting experts as well as current city employees.

“I have reached out to a number of different grant writers who work with other cities, who have told me literally that we leave hundreds of millions of dollars on the table,” she said.

“And frankly, I’ve talked to people within our city government, whose names I can’t use because they’re worried about retribution, who have said the same thing.” 

Downtown Investment Authority and incentives

Deegan has been a proponent of the city Downtown Investment Authority’s plan for riverfront parks. 

But she said she wants the agency to come up with a more detailed blueprint for the neighborhood’s road grid system and complete two-way street conversions faster.

On city investment into private development, Deegan said she supports property tax incentives and completion grant payments but not upfront cash. 

She also wants the city to require housing developers receiving incentives to be required to set aside units for affordable housing. 

She also would consider changes to the city zoning codes to allow multifamily housing in more areas of Duval County to encourage affordable and workforce housing. 

Deegan and Davis appear to agree that they see the city’s permitting process needs to be more efficient and faster.

But they differ on whether to increase the DIA’s independence. Deegan said it should stay a city agency and not be an independent authority. 

Davis told the Daily Record on May 3 that he would increase the DIA’s autonomy to reduce the amount of time it takes for private development projects to receive approvals and incentives.

Deegan said she wants to “create levers” for small businesses and have less of a focus on city incentives for big businesses. 

“We see a lot of special deals. We see a lot of, frankly, the same ruts that we’ve run forever because we’re giving everything to the same handful of people. I would have absolutely no hesitation in using my veto pen on some of these insider deals that we see,” she said.

“But at the same time, if we have collaboration and we work across party lines, I think we can accomplish a lot more if there’s a bit of a win for everybody.”

Hyperpartisanship and a multiparty administration 

If Deegan wins the May 16 mayoral contest, she would be the first woman in Jacksonville’s history to lead City Hall and the first Democrat since former Mayor Alvin Brown lost reelection in 2015 to now term-limited Mayor Lenny Curry. 

Deegan says she thinks Duval County voters are tired of hyperpartisanship and hopes that can drive cross-party voters to her on Election Day. 

In the past two weeks, Deegan has been endorsed by sitting GOP City Council members Matt Carlucci and Randy DeFoor. 

Her campaign announced May 11 that Deegan’s received endorsements from three former Council members, two who are Republican — former Republican Council President Scott Wilson; former Democratic Council President Eric Smith; and former Republican Council Vice President Suzanne Jenkins.

Davis has received endorsements from DeSantis, the Fraternal Order of Police and Republican Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters, who has been featured frequently in Davis’ campaign ads.

Deegan’s cross-party endorsements align with comments the Democrat made about having a “team of rivals” in her administration and an intent to hire Republicans, Democrats and independents to run City Hall.

“I think we have lived in a season of really high hyperpartisanship and Jacksonville didn’t used to be that way,” Deegan said.

“We are going to very intentionally bring everybody in because I think otherwise what you’re looking at is a supermajority of one party. And already we see the perils of that,” she said.

Deegan said she’s concerned with the direction DeSantis and the State Legislature’s Republican supermajority have taken to reduce county and city government’s autonomy. 

Despite the political climate, Deegan says her existing relationship with the governor would allow her to work with him when necessary. 

“I used to work with the governor’s wife (Casey DeSantis). I know the governor. I have absolutely no problem working with him. I’m a bit concerned at the erosion of local rule we’ve seen out of Tallahassee recently. I would love to have that conversation with him,” she said. 

“A comment was made recently by a top Republican that really the only thing that a mayor should be allowed to do in a city is to pay the bills. I think we need to be able to do a whole lot more than that, because the city of Jacksonville has a proud tradition of local rule, and I would hate to give that away to anybody,” Deegan said. “But those are the types of conversations we’ll have to have.”

Q&A with Donna Deegan 

The Jacksonville mayoral candidate had a lot more to say on the issues in this story. To read a full, more in-depth Q&A click here.



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