fightin' words

Bold City Crack Up

Is reform possible in this era?

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Public comment during last week’s Jacksonville City Council meeting was the shape of things to come in this city.

For roughly two hours, dozens of speakers let fly with specific grievances about a city run by and for, as one orator opined, the interests of “elderly white men.”

Confederate monuments: still a thing.

Terrance Freeman in District 10: also still a thing.

Police tactics: still a thing. And though it’s not yet articulated expressly, the relationship between those who pass the laws and the laws on the books, decades behind the curve in an understanding of civil liberties, with nary a change agent on the council or on the horizon.

The great tragedy of the last three years in this city is that the Jacksonville City Council has not even expressed an interest in expanding civil liberties. Though it did get interesting when a certain councilwoman went up against the police union, but only because a cop ticked her off, not because of any sense of universal principle.

She’s gone now, periodically greeting the media on her way from the air-conditioned nightmare of the federal courthouse (which alumna Corrine Brown used to tout having gotten appropriations for) to her getaway car.

And it seems that, year after year, decade after decade, we avoid the real conversation.

Jacksonville, especially in the Angela Corey era, more than did its part to accommodate heads in beds for the biggest prison industry in the world, a magisterial lobbied-up octopus that always finds a way to grow. We have a jail bursting at the seams, a worn-out husk of a facility that will be adjacent to the entertainment district (assuming build-out happens before the next crash).

And even with all the rhetorical dedication to rule of law, there is the fact that well over half of homicides go unsolved.

The progressives on hand at Council during public comment are increasingly making structural arguments, the arguments that aren’t answered via pious pandering from the dais.

The city is poor, yet incentives go to the rich. People in the worst neighborhoods are aggressively monitored, at the seeming expense of expanding city sewer to them despite having 50 years of consolidation to do it.

We’ve seen, of course, a shift in city budgets. This year offers the fattest capital improvement wish list ($160M+) in recent memory, with $12.5 million city money for the Hart Bridge ramps removal, $13 million for Hogan’s Creek remediation, $10.8 million more to fix long-neglected African-American cemeteries, a six-year, $120 million commitment to UF Health’s crumbling physical plant, and a bevy of other projects across the city.

That money came from the future—specifically, the re-amortization of pension debt.

Pension reform was sold to you, the readers. Two out of three voted yes. Groups of resistance were peeled off—all it took was the emotional appeal. And it bought us some budget relief at the expense of a sunsetting tax. The hopes are that this Trump economy just keeps humming along, like a 30-year-old refrigerator running off a faulty circuit. And growth will pay it all off.

Jacksonville is not making its bet on reform—the HRO and LGBT rights were it, friends. It’s making its bet on growth—the marks from the Midwest and North coming in, getting incentives and sweetheart land deals.

That bet on growth faces potential headwinds beyond a macroeconomic downturn. Florida voters are expected to vote in a homestead exemption increase of $25,000 per home, and the city budget will be out almost $30 million should that happen.

Councilwoman Lori Boyer, the smartest person on the council, noted that the city should look at a millage rate hike. The good times are about to be gone, and when property tanks, the collections are felt for a long time, as millage can only go back up 3 percent a year.

“That’s not very Republican of me to say that,” Boyer joked.    

Or very Democrat, in this city. No one will vote to raise millage, and the closest thing to revenue enhancement pols have political will for is essentially a second mortgage on the future.

The trajectory is set for this generation of leaders, both those currently in office and the understudies waiting in the wings. There’s no appetite or will to address the concerns of the progressives. There are deals to be made, and they lack sentimentality.

The goal is likewise unsentimental: to keep crime out of the areas being marketed, and to keep the crazies on both sides marginalized.

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