Charter Ideas Go to Council; Panel's Recommendations Include Education Reform, Power of the Mayor

Article excerpt

Byline: TIA MITCHELL

Historically speaking, the Jacksonville City Council rarely does much with the Charter Revision Commission's recommendations.

But this year, with an ailing school district renewing calls for sweeping reform, there appears to be a willingness to allow voters to weigh in on this and other issues at the polls.

Council President Richard Clark said the council is not likely to stand in the way of continued conversations.

"I'd be very surprised, if any recommendation that they bring to us that would require a voter referendum, if we don't agree to pursue that avenue," he said.

Commission Chairman Wyman Duggan finalized the report Friday and will formally present it to the council on March 9. The 33-page document outlines each recommendation, as well as supporting information to explain how the commission came to its decision.

The hot topic, of course, is whether the mayor should have greater control of public schools by appointing Duval County School Board members.

There is disagreement on whether this change can be implemented by a local voter referendum or a statewide constitutional amendment is required. Regardless, some City Council members say they agree with Mayor John Peyton that it is a conversation that should take place with a ballot initiative being the conversation-starter.

"I think on big charter issues and things that affect, particularly, the election process - that all belongs to the voters, and I think they should weigh in on any changes," Councilman John Crescimbeni said.

But that doesn't mean he supports the idea of an appointed School Board. Crescimbeni, like other council members, said he believes in preserving the right to elect board members.

"I'm just not convinced that an appointed board is a cure-all," he said.

Council Vice President Jack Webb said of the five education-related recommendations, he likes the one with the lowest priority the best. That recommendation calls for the City Council and School Board to work together to change state laws to give school principals more autonomy in decision-making.

"The problems that we have are not so much structural; it's just a question of strong leadership," he said.

It remains to be seen how much of the Charter Revision Commission's recommendations end up on a ballot referendum or if the council pursues other avenues to change the city's constitution, such as a bill in the Legislature.

One recommendation, to change the term of the commission itself, can be done by a simple majority vote of the council.

Past Charter Revision commissions have seen few of their most controversial recommendations embraced by council members.

In 1998, the City Council defeated a suggestion from the Charter Revision Commission for staggered council terms. Their concern was that all 19 council members are elected at the same time, which sometimes creates large classes of freshmen who need weeks being brought up to speed before they vote on the budget and other major issues.

In 1988, the commission recommended term limits for local elected officials but the council wouldn't put the issue on the ballot. Instead, a citizen-driven campaign received enough signatures for a referendum, which passed overwhelmingly in 1991.

tia.mitchell@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4425

THE RECOMMENDATIONS

ETHICS CODE

The recommendation: Create an ethics code that applies to all workers in the consolidated government.

How it came about: It is part of a longer list of suggestions from the Ethics Commission and Ethics Officer Carla Miller.

Pros and cons: Supporters say this clarifies the Ethics Commission's role as a watchdog over all government officials, not just those who work in City Hall. The independent authorities have argued that they have their own ethics officers and internal procedures for investigating allegations, but have indicated they would not oppose the proposal. …