July 6, 2020
In The Public Interest

An Enlightened City?

In the wake of local protests highlighting police brutality and the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, city council president-elect Tommy Hazouri announced creation this week of the Social Justice and Community Action committee.  Co-chaired by Matt Carlucci and Brenda Priestly Jackson, the committee, Hazouri said, is charged with  “acting expeditiously with particular measures around social justice, law enforcement and economic development: infrastructure, jobs and education.”  

According to Hazouri, the Social Justice and Community Action committee is envisioned to be the first step in creating “the Bold New City of Enlightenment,” a place where none of Jacksonville’s people will be – or feel – left behind.

Hazouri announced the committee during a special council public meeting entitled, “Council Member Public Meeting: Form and Solidarity.” In attendance were most Council members, the Mayor, the Public Defender, and the Sheriff.

The committee was announced during what looks like an historic week for Jacksonville.  

Other significant happenings included:

— JEA’s Interim CEO Paul McElroy letting go of all of JEA’s top level executives; 

— City Council’s 15-4 vote repairing Jacksonville’s overturned protections for LGBT+ people, and Mayor Lenny Curry’s stating that he will sign the newly-adopted Human Rights Ordinance protecting LGBT+ people, contrary to his allowing the original 2017 bill to become law without his signature;  

— Curry’s order to remove the Confederate War Monument from the center of Hemming Park and his  pledge to remove all Civil War memorials from publicly owned parks, buildings and properties; and

— Curry’s successful courting of the Republican National Committee to hold its nominating convention right here in Jacksonville, Florida.  

What a week!

CARLUCCI AND PRIESTLY JACKSON

Matt Carlucci, At-Large Group IV

As Jacksonville natives, Carlucci and Priestly Jackson represent two distinctly different takes on the City, its history, challenges and opportunities. At first look, it appears that Carlucci is firmly focused on the future while Priestly Jackson pledges to honor the promises of the past.

Brenda Priestly Jackson, District 10

But they agree that significant success will depend on an honest examination of the past while ensuring a future where everyone can enjoy a better quality of life.  

The council members will lead the two most important standing committees of the council – Carlucci as head of Finance and Priestly Jackson has head of Rules – committees through which virtually all legislation and City Council actions must flow.

Carlucci and Priestly Jackson share a genuine enthusiasm for addressing the infrastructure needs of the city, with a particular emphasis on the Consolidation promises that have yet to be fulfilled in many underserved neighborhoods. Both council members also have a clear sense of how community investment through the City’s Capital Investment Plan (CIP) contributes to social justice or the lack thereof.  

 “This has been a hugely historical week,” Carlucci told me, “and I think we have a historic opportunity on this Council. We’ve spoken for years about these Confederate monuments, we’ve talked for years about the proposals of Consolidation, promises that have fallen short for many years.” 

Priestly Jackson agrees, and is determined to invest in Jacksonville’s neglected neighborhoods, honoring the long-forgotten promises of Consolidation. “I have a loaded historical view of Consolidation. I understand that we have not fulfilled those obligations so that everyone can have a good quality of life. I think we have to have a long-term plan so that we know that the needs of minority districts and rural communities, too, are addressed.”   

PUBLIC INPUT INTO BUDGET PROCESS

A consideration of CIP projects will begin when the mayor’s office releases its list of budget priorities later this summer. Moving forward, priorities will be established between the council and the mayor’s office as a part of the budgeting process. It’s not clear how the public is able to influence those priorities. Carlucci advises citizens to activate around their districted CPACs (Citizen Planning Advisory Committees). Priestly Jackson maintains a District 10 advisory group made up of representatives from each of the 16 precincts that she represents. People are advised to be in touch with their City Council representatives, both their district and at-large members, to learn more about how to amplify their voices in setting the city’s neighborhood investment priorities.

But it’s more than that.

As we consider the civic implications of monument removal, police reform and even the upcoming RNC, the importance of prevention, intervention and education (PIE) for changing attitudes, creating opportunities and building Hazouri’s vision for Bold New City of Enlightenment must be considered. 

And that’s a heavy lift. 

In this, Carlucci and Priestly Jackson agree, too, that there are definite, even remarkable, opportunities to further fund and support Jacksonville’s Public Service Grants (PSG) Program. It is important to note that, as agents of the City’s commitments to the health, welfare and safety of its people, PSG recipients remain profoundly underfunded at less that one-quarter of 1% of the City’s budget. 

For the most part, and ahead of the budgeting process which will begin in July, council members attending the public meeting on “Form and Solidarity” were quick to rally around this new effort:

— Ju’Coby Pittman said “the upcoming year is going to be a banner year for us as a council to address issues that we don’t talk about.”

— Joyce Morgan stated that “this is the time to be most respectful of each other, of where people come from, and what they have experienced to get their perspectives. I will help in any way possible to make this be that kind of discussion,” and 

— Terrance Freeman declared that he is “willing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, hand-in-hand to have these conversations.”

Even so, many council members observed that the conversations around social justice and community investment – and how to fund those initiatives – will be difficult.

Adding to the challenge is the fact that Mayor Curry is simultaneously convening his own committee. “It is my understanding that [Curry],” Hazouri said, “is going to create a body politic of himself, the sheriff . . .  I can’t speak to their mission. They are not against what we are doing but in conjunction with what we are trying to do and, knowing that legislation will come through the clearing house of our council, I feel very comfortable.”

Time will tell.

But this was a head-spinning week.

Written by
Robert Arleigh White

Robert Arleigh White has many years of experience managing nonprofit arts organizations in North Florida where he has also been active in promoting a host of arts related initiatives. In recognition of over 20 years of successful legislative and community advocacy, the City of Jacksonville proclaimed August 12 as “Robert Arleigh White Day,” and Jacksonville’s City Council similarly authorized a resolution in his honor. Previously, Mr. White served as the executive and artistic director for Theatre Jacksonville where he led the organization from near fiscal insolvency to become one of the State of Florida’s most successful artistic venues. While there, he also was directly responsible for the artistic direction of fifty plays and worked to produce dozens more. Currently, Bob is the principal for Robert Arleigh White + Associates where he consults with nonprofits on development, infrastructure and organizational storytelling.

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Written by Robert Arleigh White

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