Byline: TIA MITCHELL
Jacksonville City Councilman Ray Holt's decision to accept campaign contributions from Waste Management and its lobbyist creates a conflict of interest that sullies his expected vote today on a settlement deal, two groups said Monday.
Holt, who is running for re-election, raised $6,150 during the first quarter of the year. Almost half of that is from $500 donations by Waste Management, lobbyist Paul Harden and three companies connected to Harden, according to campaign finance reports on the Duval County supervisor of elections website.
Holt was among eight council members who voted in committee last week to accept a settlement deal that would allow Waste Management to continue operating Trail Ridge landfill. Nine others voted to reject the settlement, and that recommendation is up for a full council vote today.
The Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County issued a news release Monday that questioned the motivations behind Holt's vote to approve the settlement in light of the contributions he received.
"We believe it is appropriate for public officials who have actual or perceived conflicts of interest to recuse themselves from voting on matters affecting those interests," the group's news release said.
The Jacksonville Young Democrats said Holt should either return the money or recuse himself from Tuesday's vote.
"It is this sort of dishonest behavior that contributes to the apathy and distrust that so many Americans have toward their government and it should not have any place in our politics," the group's vice president, Ryan A. Clarke, said in a news release.
Holt said he will neither return the money nor abstain from a vote.
"I don't think any of the campaign contributions that I've gotten have any strings to them," Holt said.
If that were the case, he said he would give the money back.
"I don't need it enough to compromise my ethics," he said, "although I do have a campaign to run."
Holt pointed out that in addition to the $2,500 from Waste Management and companies tied to Harden, he also accepted $500 from lobbyist Alberta Hipps' company, which works for Republic Services, a company that has pushed the council to allow others to bid on the landfill contract.
He said the criticism of his campaign contributors was about politics, pointing to the Young Democrats' ties to Republic Services during last year's landfill debate. …