GENERAL COUNSEL; More Evaluation

The Florida Times Union, September 9, 2007 | Go to article overview

GENERAL COUNSEL; More Evaluation


As Jacksonville's unique consolidated government turns 40 years old, this page has suggested several areas for re-evaluation and consideration.

Among them: more independence for the City Council Auditor's Office, a stronger Ethics Commission and a more frequent convening of the city's Charter Review Commission, with the ability to present proposals directly to the voters.

One item worthy of study by a Charter Review Commission is the reappointment process for the city's general counsel.

The process could use some improvement.

The general counsel is the most powerful public official in Duval County that you do not elect.

The office has been called the glue that holds consolidated government together.

At times, the general counsel issues binding legal opinions.

Millions of public dollars hang in the balance on the legal advice the General Counsel's Office gives the City Council, School Board, mayor, elections supervisor, sheriff, JEA, Jacksonville Port Authority, Jacksonville Aviation Authority and other offices and public boards.

The current general counsel, Rick Mullaney, has been in the job for 10 years. About 40 attorneys answer to him, and Mullaney's $198,999 annual salary is more than the mayor or sheriff makes.

Yet, the City Council recently reappointed Mullaney for four more years with little public assessment. It is no indictment of Mullaney's performance to say that taxpayers could use a more thorough analysis of how effectively this office represents the people's interests.

NO REAL EVALUATION

City Council ultimately decides whether the general counsel is reappointed based on an initial recommendation from the mayor and then a review by the Council Rules Committee.

That makes sense, given the mayor and the council use the general counsel's help the most and deal with the most important issues.

The discussion at City Council about reappointing Mullaney to a record fourth term surfaced in response to State Attorney Harry Shorstein.

Controversy erupted after Shorstein's call to Council President Daniel Davis regarding his concerns about Mullaney's performance.

Shorstein, a former general counsel himself, pointed to Mullaney as "a common thread" in a series of City Hall embarrassments.

Those include a Sunshine Law investigation by the grand jury; a consulting deal with a company owned by a close friend of the mayor that wasn't qualified to obtain work; and the city payout of $36.5 million for public improvements at the Shipyards that have yet to be done.

Mullaney defended his record and said Shorstein had acted inappropriately in his role as a prosecutor, which Shorstein denied.

The council approved Mullaney's reappointment by a 16-0 vote. Unfortunately, no discussion about the general counsel's performance took place during that meeting.

LITTLE CRITERIA

Earlier, the council Rules Committee briefly discussed Mullaney's appointment before approving him 6-0, with council members Warren Jones, Michael Corrigan and Jay Jabour commending Mullaney.

Though city rules require that the clerk of courts, property appraiser, sheriff, elections supervisor, tax collector and School Board chairman be encouraged to provide input to council members on the general counsel's fitness for reappointment, none of them responded to the offer.

And what of the views of such important independent authorities such as JEA, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, Aviation Authority, JPA and Housing Authority? …

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