Mayor, City Council Vying for Power Lawmakers Want Say in Decisions

Article excerpt

Jacksonville city officials and members of the City Council are wrangling over a bill that would give the council greater authority over the day-to-day running of city government.

A proposed bill would force Mayor John Delaney to seek council approval when privatizing "essential public functions" within a city department or division.

Delaney says the proposal infringes on his executive powers. Council members say it merely allows them to check the mayor's decisions.

In part, council members say, a revamped privatization law would prevent the council from learning after the fact about changes in government, which happened last year after the administration turned City Hall's print shop over to a private company.

While the details of the proposed law still need refining, the matter became clearer last week when General Counsel Rick Mullaney narrowed the terms of the bill. A more restrictive proposal that calls for council review if the mayor wants to privatize a department, a division or "25 percent or more of the budgeted employee positions" in a division passes muster with the city charter, Mullaney told a special council subcommittee.

"I'm disappointed in that legal ruling," said Delaney, adding that he considers privatization a tool to save money and improve services. "I'm very disappointed that the legislative branch [the council] can have a say in the day-to-day administration of the executive branch."

Still, Mullaney's ruling requires a retreat from the original bill, which didn't define privatization and could have meant that any contract signed with a private firm -- from cutting grass along city streets to filling potholes -- needed council approval.

"It would shut us down. I'd really have a backlog of services," said Sam Mousa, acting director of the Public Works Department and the mayor's chief liaison to the council.

In Public Works, which has a $67 million annual operating budget, the amount of work done by contractors ranges from 3.5 percent in the Building and Inspection Division to 61 percent in the Streets and Drainage Division. Overall, 29 percent of the department's work has been privatized or is performed by contractors, Mousa said.

Nonetheless, the 25 percent solution might not go far enough for the bill's sponsor.

"I want it so that any area of a department or any segment of the city [to be privatized] must come before the council," said Councilwoman Pat Lockett-Felder.

The percentage that forces the mayor to submit a formal privatization plan will be debated in two council committees this week, said Councilman Warren Alvarez, who will consider the matter as a member of the Finance Committee. …