Councilwoman Boyer shares task force update

Councilwoman Boyer shares task force update

Leadership Jacksonville gets glimpse into process

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

Although District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer was not herself a graduate of the organization, the guest speaker at the annual Jacksonville Leadership reunion luncheon on Sept. 26 began her remarks with an acknowledgement of its success. “I think this organization is a jewel for the city, and all of you, in one way or another, are contributing to make the city all we can be,” she began.

The focus of Boyer’s speech was on the process and progress of the Task Force on Consolidated Government. She was asked to chair the committee in June by newly elected Council President Bill Gulliford.
Boyer made clear that those attending the luncheon were critical to the success of the task force.

Members of the New Leadership Summit XI attended the Leadership Jacksonville reunion luncheon last month –   Greg Montana, Tiffany Green and Paul Astleford

Members of the New Leadership Summit XI attended the Leadership Jacksonville reunion luncheon last month –
Greg Montana, Tiffany Green and Paul Astleford

“In your role as community trustees, I want to hear from you. Each of you will have a unique perspective on what is working and isn’t working in our city,” she said. “This is the information we need.”
The councilwoman explained that the goal of the task force was not to deconsolidate government, but to take a very high look at what has been done in the last 45 years, to evaluate how it’s doing, and propose ways the city-county administrators and legislators can do some things better.

“What can we improve? I think that’s a noble mission because we should always be looking for ways we can do things better,” Boyer stated. “In my role, I become so enmeshed in particular pieces of legislation and particular issues that I don’t get to take step back and take that broader perspective very often.”

The charge of the task force is to undertake an in-depth review of the history, formation and operation of consolidated government, including a full examination of all departments, divisions, boards, commissions and independent authorities, studying the relationship between the Beaches, Baldwin and the City of Jacksonville.

“We could look at anything and be within the scope of that charge; we have a very broad-based opportunity to look at things. What we look at will be driven not only by the task force but by comments we receive by members of the public,” Boyer said.

There are 30 members on the task force plus alternates and it has an advisory committee who are not voting members. They meet weekly on Thursdays, 9 a.m. to noon. The task force’s report is due April 30, 2014, at the very latest June, but Boyer is committed to meeting the April deadline.

Boyer provided a thoughtful background summary of the why, the what and the how of how consolidated government was put into place in 1968.

She noted that it was a culmination of several issues that were present in the city and county 45 years ago, including serious racial unrest, a de-accreditation of the public schools, major infrastructure problems in the urban areas, a lawsuit that resulted in major changes in property tax assessments and a series of indictments primarily of city and county commissioners, which was the straw that broke the camel’s back, according to Boyer.

She noted that while some great things have been accomplished since the 1966 Blueprint for Improvement was released and government was consolidated two years later, some of the exact same issues in that report are still challenging Jacksonville and Duval County today, including pension reform, infrastructure and the influx of commuters who live across county lines, but work here and get the benefits without paying taxes for those services.

“The form [of government] you see today with the 19 council members, four at-large, and the fact that the Beaches, Baldwin areas are urban service districts with some of their own autonomy, and our independently elected constitutional officers happened during that legislature,” Boyer shared.

According to the task force chair, that structure was chosen for several reasons: to streamline and avoid inefficient and overlapping services to save money; to make it more easily understood and increase voter participation; to provide the ability to pinpoint the responsibility for operations in a strong mayor with full responsibility for an executive branch; to provide high quality urban services county-wide; to mandate the use of central services; and to create better racial balance and representation.

Now 45 years later, Boyer offered some initial observations of what has changed.

She mentioned a de facto deconsolidation of many functions and services, despite that the Office of General Counsel had issued an opinion right after consolidation requiring everyone to use Central Services.

For example, the library system now contracts its own janitorial services because it was unhappy with the services received as part of the Central Services “In many cases there may be very good reasons why certain things have branched out,” Boyer said. “There are entities with very specific technical requirements that no one would have thought about in 1966.”
The members of the task force will break out into subcommittees to look at issues such as governance; functions – such as the Agricultural Extension Office and the Duval County Health Department – that were not included in the 1968 consolidation; implementation of a common vision or strategy; procurement; the Office of General Counsel; City Council, and more.
“Are there things we can do better?” asked Boyer. “We have a strong mayor-city council form [of government] typical of most large cities; however, there is a trend across the country to incorporate city-county managers in some form, to have a professional, continuous management level, particularly when you talk about municipal corporations as large as ours.”
Regarding health care, the councilwoman noted, “We have amazing health care facilities here in Jacksonville. We are known nationwide, if not internationally, for the fantastic hospitals and facilities we have here, but we’re not a particularly healthy city. That’s part of the role of the Health Department. Are there things we can do on the front end? Are there ways we can be a healthier city?”

Boyer concluded her remarks on a positive note. “We have a wonderful city to call home. We have great human resources and we have great natural resources. It is a very positive effort when you reflect on yourself honestly and ask, what can I do better?” she said. “That’s what I see this task force doing. Our city council is really dedicated to tackling the challenges we face. If we can step out and try to tackle some of those challenges we can keep this city moving

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