Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Council Impact Not Seen in Vote; Election Turnout Usually Weak

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Council Impact Not Seen in Vote; Election Turnout Usually Weak

Article excerpt

Byline: Matt Galnor, Times-Union staff writer

President Bush has nothing to do with fixing potholes in Jacksonville's Riverside area.

Gov. Jeb Bush doesn't have a say on how often the city collects homeowners' trash.

Members of Congress can't do anything about the local property tax rate, and state legislators don't issue building permits.

These fundamental facets of local government -- along with where parks are built in the city, what future developments look like and how often your neighbor's dog can bark -- are the Jacksonville City Council's territory.

"If you really think about it, there's really no way we don't affect people's lives in Jacksonville," council President Jerry Holland said.

Yet when council elections roll around every four years, voters know very little about the candidates and vote in far smaller numbers than when presidential and gubernatorial candidates are on the ballot.

Stephen Baker, a political science professor at Jacksonville University, agreed with Holland about City Council members' impact on voters.

"Each time you go up the chain [from there], you have a greater level of remoteness," Baker said.

About 23 percent of registered voters showed up at the polls in the 1999 city elections. That's less than half the 55 percent who voted in the governor's race in November and only one-third the number that voted in the 2000 presidential election.

Most residents don't even know who the 19 council members are, according to a 2002 Jacksonville Community Council Inc. study on the quality of life in Jacksonville. When asked, 64 percent of the 425 people polled in a telephone survey couldn't name more than one council member, said Laura Lane, a JCCI community planner.

Republican Scott Shine, who is challenging Holland for his west Beaches council seat, said he has been amazed during some polling how little people know about the council.

"If you want to be anonymous," Shine joked, "run for City Council."

Each fall, the council examines the mayor's proposed budget and holds the city's purse strings. The council must sign off on the budget, which includes how much funding each department receives. …

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