Jacksonville, FL (December 20, 2016) Concerns of fiscal waste and potential ethical conflicts saw District 11 Council Member Danny Becton and District 2 Council Member Al Ferraro voting “no” on ordinance 2016-489 at the last City Council meeting of 2016.
The ordinance that passed 17-2 allows for Council members to use city general funds to host special community events with a list of stipulations including one specific to the exclusion of “town hall” meetings. The bill defining the special community events “as a gathering on public property expected to draw 500 or more persons as participants” spells out the many steps a council member must complete, including getting council president approval to spend up to $3,500 each annually “for events benefiting persons residing in their district or city in the case of an at-large council member”.
Council Member Becton was the first to speak in opposition of the bill. He contended “it did little more than waive a current requirement of a $100 permit fee and allocate funds to throw a party at tax payer’s expense all the while, spelling out the same current requirements that already exist in our code”. The bill from its original draft, in committee was modified to setup a special events trust fund of $70,000 for this use.
Becton continued saying “he could not support this bill as it did nothing to make council members better or more efficient in doing their jobs representing their constituents”, referencing the town hall exclusion. “As the bill called for no political activities involved in these neighborhood events, there is no way to control constitutes or supporters of a prior campaign deciding to wear campaign clothing”, “that this was setting up council members to fail” regarding media criticism.
“There was also an estimated attendance clause”, Becton explained, “where by, higher attendance could mean the need to have more resources and potentially increasing the costs”. “How would those costs get approved?” “A council member has no control over how many people show up at a public neighborhood event” Becton stated. There was also a concern about placing the council president in the difficult position of denying one request while approving another, possibility leading to criticisms of “unfair favoritism”, which could cause friction within the legislative body.
Council Member Ferraro added by saying his constituents see too many other priorities in the way of roads and drainage to spend any general fund money on events.
Bill sponsor Reggie Brown said he drafted the bill to put the council in compliance with existing legislation. Over the years, if a group needed bleachers or a stage, it was not uncommon for a council member to be approached and asked for a waiver of fees for such equipment.
Although in the minority on this vote, Becton said “he will continue to speak out on what he sees as government waste, especially in these tight budgetary times.”