Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

`Special Relief' Attacked Waivers Illegal, City Attorney Says

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

`Special Relief' Attacked Waivers Illegal, City Attorney Says

Article excerpt

Jacksonville General Counsel Rick Mullaney stated unequivocally yesterday that the City Council's long-standing practice of granting so-called "special relief" waivers to city laws is illegal and should be stopped.

In a legal opinion sought by new council member Suzanne Jenkins, the city's chief lawyer noted there is nothing in city code to back up the procedure, and therefore no reason to think the courts would recognize the validity of the practice -- which appears to be unique in Florida, he said.

"The greatest defect of all is the absence of any established criteria, standards or guidelines by which special relief bills, once introduced, will be judged," Mullaney said. "Even the most fundamental and basic standards have not been established for special relief."

Jenkins said yesterday she was relieved to hear what Mullaney decided. Since 1991, the council has granted 101 requests for special relief, with about half going to residents and almost that many to companies, for waivers including those for signs, zoning, trees, alcohol, business permits and mobile homes.

"I'm just looking for fairness and equity across the board for everybody," Jenkins said. "It was starting to get a little out of hand."

Mullaney essentially agreed, saying the practice, which has increased significantly over the past few years, is insupportable because it can be unfair both to residents who attempt to use it and to those who don't know about it.

And in answer to supporters' chief argument for the measures -- that the council is just trying to help some residents avoid unfair consequences of the law -- he cited a 1990 Florida Court of Appeal decision involving Jacksonville and a company called C.J. Ventures.

In that case, the court said "good intentions and well-meaning efforts of public servants are not a substitute for due process of law. …

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