Winding up their term, district council representatives reflect on accomplishments

As Lori Boyer and Jim Love run the home stretch of serving two terms on City Council, they recollect the triumphs and the trials of being in office, talk about what they would like to achieve during their final six months of service, and impart some words of wisdom to those who will follow in their footsteps. 

During the past seven and a half years, Boyer and Love have been at the helm of much growth and many changes in their respective districts – 5 and 14. Additionally, they have both served on numerous committees and special assignments that wielded influence well beyond their districts. 

Lori Boyer

“You have to keep the constituents informed and explain why you voted the way you did, and you need to have a good reason for it.” 

– Lori Boyer, District 5 Councilwoman

Their early days of service were not without challenges. When Boyer came into office in 2011, the very first thing she encountered was backlash from constituents who were not happy about a tree planting project on Hendricks Avenue.

“I got a lot of angry emails,” Boyer said. “I had to develop a thick skin about things I wasn’t responsible for but had to take the heat for.”

Also, learning the budget was a process that took a couple of years to fully understand, and there was a learning curve when it came to constituent issues and being prepared for how to vote on upcoming bills. 

“There were a large number of constituent issues, and I had to learn who to go to in order to get those issues addressed,” she said. “When it comes to bills, there are lots of nuances to the specific bills that need to be voted on. You have to keep the constituents informed and explain why you voted the way you did, and you need to have a good reason for it.”

Sometimes constituents are not clear on the roles and responsibilities of a council member, and they become exasperated when they feel as if they aren’t being heard and actions are not being taken to resolve their issues.

“One of the greatest challenges is that, in general, our constituents do not understand our job. There is a lot of frustration around what we can and can’t do and what they want us to do,” Boyer said.

She explained that City Council is a legislative branch, and while members can pass bills on different issues, they can’t always make things happen for people immediately – they have to funnel issues to the appropriate person or department, who in turn would take action on the issue.

“I really do try to help address their concerns, but so many of them are out of my control,” said Boyer. “There are pros and cons to consolidation – it’s a big, bureaucratic government. When you call 630-CITY you are given a number and the issue is sent to the right person. It’s impersonal, and it can make you feel like you are disappointing people when you are trying to help them.” 

Love came in second in his first election in March 2011, but he made the runoff. He won the May general election by just 134 votes. 

“It was very exhilarating to be elected but also very daunting,” he said.  

Love was appointed by the council president to be a member of the Land Use and Zoning Committee as well as the Transportation Energy and Utility Committee.

“I did not know at that time the Land Use and Zoning Committee would be one of the most time-intensive committees on the council,” he said. “This would become most apparent when the Avondale Mellow Mushroom bill was introduced in June 2012, which would involve dozens of meetings as well as several contentious townhall meetings.”

When Love entered office, the challenges were already in place. The country and the city had been in a recession for a number of years. The unemployment rate was high and real estate values were dropping. By 2012, the city revenue dropped 14 percent. The council, in a move to prevent losing more police officers, fire stations, libraries and city personnel decided to raise the millage by approximately 14 percent to cover the lost revenue. 

Jim Love

“My advice to my successor is to listen to the people – their issues and ideas. Almost all of the good ideas and projects have come from the dreams and hopes of the good people of District 14.” 

– Jim Love, District 14 Councilman

“So many of us did not want to raise taxes but the alternative was even more dire,” Love said.  “Since many of our residents had seen decreasing real estate taxes over the last three years the increase was not as objectionable considering the other option was to lay off 300-plus police officers and close several fire stations and libraries, and almost nobody wanted to do that.”

Since that time, city employees have received raises, police officers have been added, library hours are being restored, and several more fire stations have been approved in growing areas of the city. 

Another challenge Love faced, and one that is a work in progress, is gun and gang violence. 

“This hit home with me with the shooting in February 2014 at the Fat Kat Night Club in Murray Hill and in July 2015 with the shooting death of an employee at the Blind Rabbit Restaurant on King Street,” said Love. “In the Fat Kat Nightclub shooting three people were injured and one was killed. Eventually both shooters were brought to justice, thanks to the good work of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO).  Unfortunately, we continue to see shootings around the city, including the recent shooting at the Landing and on A. Philip Randolph [Boulevard].”  

Though the City Council has authorized more police officers and equipment, such as shot spotter and a bullet casing identification system, and senior leaders in the JSO have attended a seminar from the prestigious John Jay College of Criminal Justice to help with gang violence, it’s still not enough, according to Love. The problem persists. 

Savoring the wins

Along with the various challenges of being in office, there were also victories for the council members. 

One of Boyer’s biggest accomplishments was helping to bring clean drinking water to residents in the Larsen Acres neighborhood, which is located off Philips Highway, near the Walmart. When she saw a sign on the fence at a neighborhood church offering free drinking water for residents, she knew she had to do something about it. She was instrumental in getting the neighborhood hooked up to municipal water in 2015. 

“I was appalled that there were places in our city – in my district – where people couldn’t drink the tap water,” she said. “It was unacceptable.”

Boyer also served as City Council president and chaired the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) special committee, which introduced numerous bills; closed the books on over 1,200 projects – some that were completed over a decade ago; identified more than $50 million dollars available for future capital projects; transferred or appropriated $25 million to ongoing projects to allow them to move forward without borrowing; and cleaned up years of accounting errors and discrepancies that totaled well over a hundred million dollars.

“Locating those tens of millions of dollars to use for new projects and getting debt off our books benefitted the city and the taxpayers,” Boyer said. 

Love has also had many high points during his time on the City Council.  

“When I was first elected to City Council one of the main platforms I ran on was to improve the economy. The unemployment rate in 2011 was 11.2 percent, and this was substantiated when I knocked on doors and met many good people who were unemployed. The unemployment right now is about 3.5 percent, thanks to the many businesses that have called Jacksonville home, including Amazon, Deutsche Bank, a second Costco (in District 14) and FIS.”

On a district level, he helped the Westside’s Ringhaver Park get new field lights, Ortega a new sidewalk, Riverside a dog park and a community garden, Murray Hill a new playground, and in Avondale a renovated playground in Boone Park. 

“Several future plans are funded and are in the works to include a much-needed third exit for Ortega Hills, a multi-use path across the Fuller Warren Bridge, an extension to the Riverside Arts Market, renovations to Edgewood Avenue South and renovating the Five Points intersection,” he said. 

He also played a part in passing the Human Rights Ordinance and helping pass new pension legislation for city employees, which included as part of the package pay increases, which had not been given for over seven years.

In other areas he worked with the Jacksonville military veterans and the Mayor’s Office to help move the Vietnam Memorial marker to the arena and worked with Councilman Bill Gulliford in the fight against the opioid crisis.

Heading into the final stretch

During the next six months, both Love and Boyer are working on crowning achievements that they hope to see come to fruition before they leave office. 

“For me, there are three big areas,” Boyer said. “They are big and have lots of implications.”

First, there are the Downtown Design Standards, which includes zoning for downtown – what’s in the code is outdated – and riverfront design standards. Second are Planned Unit Development (PUD) revisions.

“We use way too many PUDs to solve other issues,” said Boyer. “One problem is our buffers are not adequate and well defined. We need more objective and more robust buffer language, and then we can eliminate some of the PUDs. I’m going to work between now and June to try to get all the issues addressed, one way or another, in the PUD project.”

Lastly is drainage and flood planning. 

“We have to do something, to the extent we can, to regulate how wetlands are filled and impacts on associated property,” said Boyer. 

Love is currently working on a bill with other council members that would regulate short-term rentals like Airbnb and VRBO.

“Most of the other counties have worked out the regulations but they have not all been done well,” he said. “It is so important to get this right and we may have to ask the legislature in Tallahassee to rewrite some laws to help us.”

Additionally, Love just finished working on a bill concerning safe parking on Ortega Boulevard for a proposed restaurant called Edley’s Bar-B-Que. The bill, passed unanimously in November, should allow the restaurant owners to start on an old gas station location at the corner of Roosevelt Boulevard and Ortega Boulevard.  

Listen to the constituents

Based on their many years of experience, both council members have some parting advice for their successors. 

“Generally, District 5 is well-informed as a group, but has high expectations. There are a lot of old areas that tend not to have gated communities and master associations that handle issues, so they all become city issues – roads, parks, etc. all managed by the city. There is a much higher demand on services and more people needing a response than in some of the other districts,” Boyer said. 

She advises her successor to do as much as possible to educate constituents on what the role of a council member is – what a council member has the ability to do and what they cannot do. She also said those same people, who are well informed and engaged, can help with solutions to problems and their voices should be heard and their ideas well considered.

Love’s top advice was also to pay attention to the constituents.

“My advice to my successor is to listen to the people – their issues and ideas. Almost all of the good ideas and projects have come from the dreams and hopes of the good people of District 14 and my job was just to help find a way to get them done,” he said.  

He also suggested that his successor should meet with the future president of the City Council to discuss committees they would like to be on and the future goals and projects for District 14; he recommends they should not give up their outside activities – particularly with service clubs or nonprofits as they can be a good source of information and ideas. Love further suggests they should consider visiting with all the department heads of the City as well as the CEOs of the independent authorities, rely heavily on the Office of General Counsel when trying to get a project done, and hire the finest executive assistant possible with outstanding people skills.

By Kandace Lankford
Resident Community News

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