Despite City Council president Tommy Hazouri’s announcement Saturday night that he will not include the Lot J taxpayer subsidy bill (2020-648) in Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the Florida Times-Union reported Sunday morning that Mayor Curry and the Jaguars “are pressuring the council to approve the deal before the end of the year.” https://www.jacksonville.com/story/news/local/2020/12/06/city-council-president-tommy-hazouri-pushes-lot-j-vote-january/3829163001/
Council can move the bill by a vote of 13, and can approve the bill also by 13. In other words, it takes 7 members voting no to stop the rush to approve the largest taxpayer subsidy of any single private development.
Nine members, according to the TU, say they do not have enough information to make a final decision. These members include Hazouri; Finance committee chair and vice-chair Matt Carlucci and Randy DeFoor, respectively; Joyce Morgan; Michael Boylan; Garrett Dennis; Al Ferraro; Ron Salem; and Danny Becton. Becton, notably, has released memos outlining a list of significant questions he wants answered. http://apps2.coj.net/City_Council_Public_Notices_Repository/2020-648%2038f%20Memo%20-%20Lot%20J%20Questions%20from%20CM%20Danny%20Becton%2011-30.pdf
The lingering question: What’s the rush?
During City Council’s Committee of the Whole four-hour meeting held Thursday, Jaguars representative Paul Harden said approval of the Lot J deal before year end is necessary because of negotiation fatigue and the possibility of increased taxes under a new administration in Washington. Mark Lamping, Jaguars president, noted that the developer and Lenny Curry’s administration have been negotiating this deal for two years. Hazouri, however, pointed out that City Council only recently received the bill and needed more time to understand the details and exercise its fiduciary responsibilities to taxpayers. According to the city’s website, the bill was filed October 27th, some six weeks ago.
City Council finds itself in an untenable situation, created by the Curry administration’s having exempted the Lot J deal from the city’s normal review and negotiating processes. Without the normal review, which includes a market study and deep financial analysis, City Council asked the Downtown Investment Authority to be as thorough as possible over just one week which included the Thanksgiving holiday.
DIA met on Wednesday afternoon, December 2, voted to recommend the deal for approval by City Council, delivering its report to Council members that evening, all while admitting that its review was not as thorough as it would have been if the normal process had been followed. The Committee of the Whole met the next morning.
With some but not all questions answered, president Hazouri chose not to move the Lot J bill out of the Committee of the Whole, a measure normally required if Council is to vote to approve the bill on Tuesday, December 8th, its last meeting of the calendar year. However, the Jaguars and the City Council Auditor agreed to meet the following Friday morning in an effort to answer some of council member’s outstanding questions.
As noted in the TU article yesterday, Council Auditor Kim Taylor said the Friday meeting resulted in some changes, but that the developer would not agree to seven items. These items are outlined in a letter from the Jaguars. They include the city’s stopping payment if the developers default on the agreement: http://apps2.coj.net/City_Council_Public_Notices_Repository/Parekh%20Open%20Items%20List.pdf
All documents related to Lot J may be found at coj.net. https://www.coj.net/city-council/current-issues/lot-j
Meanwhile, two recent polls show that Jacksonville voters do not want taxpayers to subsidize the Lot J development. In a poll released Thursday morning, as City Council members were gathering as the Committee of the Whole, University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab released a poll showing that 54% of Jacksonville’s voters either strongly oppose or oppose the Lot J deal, while 62% oppose splitting Lot J’s cost with the developer. https://www.unf.edu/uploadedFiles/aa/coas/porl/UNF%20LotJ%20Press%20Release%20(1).pdf
During Thursday’s Committee of the Whole discussion, council member Garrett Dennis cautioned his colleagues to take a look at the city’s overall financial condition, especially its indebtedness, and ask themselves what the city won’t be able to accomplish given the Lot J financial obligations.
Call to Action
You can still make your voice heard on the Lot J taxpayer subsidy. Call or write city council members. http://apps2.coj.net/City_Council_Public_Notices_Repository/Council%20Member%20Roster%202020%2011%2017.pdf
While the bill is not on Tuesday’s agenda, remember that folks expect a move from the floor to approve the bill, despite remaining unanswered questions.