Nate Monroe has had quite the year.
The Times-Union columnist has gotten engaged, set up shop in Neptune Beach and continued to report on the controversies that swirl around City Hall. His columns, which range from statewide news to block-specific local issues, have become must-read-material for the Jacksonville political sector. They say that all press is good press, but no one from City Hall wants to find themselves the subject of a Monroe column.
Interviewing Nate Monroe is like stepping back in time, a time before Twitter, the 24-hour news cycle or Qanon. I was expecting to interview a firebrand, but instead I met a fire extinguisher, constantly directed toward Jacksonville’s city hall.
His 2019 and 2020 columns, which largely focused on the JEA and Lot J controversies, were a guiding light to Jaxsons dipping their toes into city politics. But while Mayor Curry’s proposals may have enraged the electorate, Monroe also believes they’ve caused a rift in City Council, “The irony is that Lenny is not wrong when he says vendettas against him are partially responsible for killing LOT J,” said Monroe, “The part he leaves out is that vendettas go both ways: council members have a problem with him because he has agitated some of them, that sort of politicking should have been baked into the cake when you were lobbying the council on this issue.”
These scandals have harmed Mayor Curry’s approval ratings while seemingly increasing the columnist’s notoriety. During the height of the JEA scandal, Monroe said he would often hear discussions about the subject around town, “I think JEA probably resonated more than I had anticipated, it had resonated more than any other story I had worked on. It was the one story where if I was at the bar and got caught up in some conversation with a regular person, it would come up.”
JEA, for many, was the first time reading Nate Monroe with intention. Around every corner, every word, a new revelation would appear—but these revelations don’t simply reveal themselves, “During the height of this stuff… there were plenty of weeks where the entire week, 40 hours, were devoted to just talking to people about JEA stuff or combing through thousands of records,” Monroe said. Government oversight is important, but it doesn’t come easy.
Consolidation is the topic du jour of Jacksonville politics, Councilman Rory Diamond, who lives on the water at the Beaches, recently opined on Twitter that “Deconsolidation needs to be properly evaluated.” This received applause from Republicans and Democrats alike—not because it favored deconsolidation (it’s worth noting, one possible outcome of deconsolidation would be Diamond losing his seat) but because it simply proposed looking at the issue. In Jacksonville, forming a committee to look at an issue is chicken soup for the soul.
Monroe, who is no stranger to the subject, believes that deconsolidation would be challenging, “I think it would be really really difficult to unring that bell. And I’m not sure that it would be super practical.”
In his eyes, City Council Members have all the answers they need regarding the 1968 effort, “I think the city needs to take a hard look at some common sense reforms, one of them might be the question of the beaches, what to do about the beaches,” he said. “And obviously the funding, fulfilling these promises, but that’s less a consolidation issue now and more just a matter of political will.”
With Lot J and JEA done for now, (although he fully expects both issues to continue to make headlines), he says he wants to focus on long term projects. But he also doesn’t expect the break to be for long, “Every time that people expect a lull, something else happens,” Monroe said, “I have no doubt that city government will yield some new controversy or issue that’s rich for commentary.”
“I think JEA will continue to be a topic for this year, the question is when,” the columnist said. “Lot J will come back.”
Monroe is aware that his columns have crossed some in City Hall, but he doesn’t mind, “Complaining about newspapers offering criticism without solutions is a very common complaint about newspapers, I’ve heard it in every job I’ve worked at.”
“The people whose job it is to come up with solutions ought to be the ones coming up with the solutions. We have armies of people who are well compensated to do that.”
Monroe makes it clear that he has no urge to enter the revolving door of commentators and government officials anytime soon, “Oh no, no, no, no,” which he said with a laugh,“Elected office is totally out. I would like to think that I’m someone who is self-aware enough to know that I would be a bad politician. I would be a bad public servant.”
The story of Nate Monroe, however, is that he is a public servant, constantly putting out a fire he didn’t start––and, thankfully, he gets there before it’s too late.