In Jacksonville, we vote in spurts. Instead of spacing out our elections or combining them, we put our first municipal elections a mere four months after the midterms, and then follow those March contests with runoffs in May. As I walked each neighborhood in District 14 over the last 13 months, people were constantly confused: “What are you running for?” “When do we vote for this?” “Is this a special election?” Compound this with a lack of competitive races at the top of the ticket, and it should come as no surprise that only 24.5 percent of registered voters decided to exercise their right to vote for city leadership in March, and only a fraction of those are expected to show up in May.
This lack of engagement has a lot to do with how decisions are made in City Hall—the few people who vote decide what happens, how it happens and when it happens. They also decide what doesn’t happen. Municipal elections set the priorities for the city, and low voter turnout means those priorities won’t necessarily reflect the needs of the entire city.
We are a city of bridges, and are fortunate to have more beautiful waterfront property than most, but we haven’t invested in our infrastructure to address drainage issues. A light rain can cause flooding in many of our urban-core and riverfront neighborhoods. Even high tides cause problems on the Southbank. Imagine the compounded flood risk we face the next time there’s a really big storm.
Hurricanes Matthew and Irma left us stranded in our homes and powerless for days or even weeks. During and after Irma, we had more than 2,200 power outages to above-ground power lines and only about a dozen underground outages, several of which were tied to those above.
We have about 65,000 septic tanks currently in Duval County, and we’re still permitting new ones as we watch many of the older units leak into our river and groundwater. The existing $45 million septic remediation program will cover only 1,600 of those 65,000 tanks.
There’s no question that fixing these issues isn’t a short-term project. It will require long-term investment, but it will create long-term job opportunities. It will increase property values. It will protect our city from the next big storm and from slow decay. Indefinitely deferring action on these projects—from undergrounding our utilities to addressing drainage to replacing outdated septic systems—has weakened our city and made entire neighborhoods feel forgotten. These foundational issues are core to Jacksonville’s success. The answers are simple, but implementing solutions takes a commitment to action that we haven’t seen from our leaders, despite public demand.
This isn’t something I’ve been thinking about just over the last year while running for City Council. During my years as a resident of Riverside and Avondale, and as a member and chair of the Riverside Avondale Preservation board, I’ve seen these issues impact my neighborhood and I’ve met many residents who shared my concerns. They believe, like I do, that this isn’t just about our infrastructure—it’s about the very future of our city. It’s about walkable streets. It’s about slowing traffic so it doesn’t fly through residential neighborhoods. It’s about parks that are well-maintained with proper equipment, and commercial districts building thriving local businesses. These things affect our daily life, and the time has come to make sure we’re taking care of our city.
We must build a stronger Jacksonville from the ground up. These projects are investments in more than just our sewers, drains and power lines. They are investments in the Jacksonville we want to leave for our children. They will create long-term jobs, increase our property values and ensure we’re ready to face new challenges as they arise.
To get this done, we must be ready to ask tough questions and hold city leaders accountable when they can’t answer them. Asking questions isn’t a hostile act—it’s how you get to good policy. The city must be better at notifying residents when projects are being proposed in their neighborhoods. We must do more to empower our residents and keep them engaged.
We need representatives who are not waiting for others to set the course, but who are actively working to find big solutions to big problems. We need leadership that isn’t just about the short-term win, but about the sustained success of Jacksonville and all of its residents. Let’s work together, all of us, to build a brighter Jacksonville for everyone.
Gettinger is a candidate for Jacksonville City Council District 14.