Jacksonville, FL - It wasn’t on the agenda, and that is one of the main reasons there was some protest from city councilmembers about whether they should vote on the pension reform proposal Tuesday night.
But despite at least four efforts to push the vote off, it happened, and the reform plan was rejected.
“I applaud the effort that went in to it, I think it was a good attempt. The end result is not a long-term financially prudent solution for the city,” says Councilman Bill Bishop.
The proposal is a deal struck between the Mayor’s Office, Fraternal Order of Police, Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters, and Police and Fire Pension Fund. Passing the deal on the table would significantly cut down the budget hole which council needs to fill, according to current estimates.
The Mayor’s pension reform plan was “discharged” during the agenda meeting before Tuesday’s full council meeting, meaning it was put on the agenda for a vote, even though it was not scheduled for such beforehand. Councilman Robin Lumb was perhaps the most vocal critic of that move by Council President Bill Gulliford.
“To the extent that you’re planning on springing surprises on city council, I hope this fulfills your quota for the year,” Lumb said to Gulliford during the meeting.
Lumb says bringing the vote now both prevented the concerned citizens following the issue from making any final appeal to council, and also belittled the efforts of the Mayor’s special committee now looking in to the proposal. Some other councilmen say simply they wanted more time to review it.
“If I vote yes for this, I’m voting for this pension; if I vote no, I’m killing it. I don’t want to vote either way. I’m not ready to kill a bill we haven’t vetted in this council,” says Councilman Warren Jones.
Mayor’s Office Chief of Staff Chris Hand says it’s a proposal the Mayor still stands behind, and this vote is only a minor setback.
But the “setback” could actually now be years.
“This development could mean the case is now heading to full blown federal litigation, which could last for three to five years and cost tax payers millions of dollars,” Hand tells WOKV.
In addition to figuring out whether the city can negotiate a new deal, or if it is bound to the current one, the litigation needs to determine who the city is actually supposed to be bargaining with. Councilman Stephen Joost most directly expressed that concern Tuesday.
“We need to clarify the process. Half the time we don’t even know who we’re negotiating with,” he says.
He’s referring to the continued debate on the collective bargaining units in this debate. The City took the pension reform proposals to the police and fire unions, but the unions deferred that action to the Police and Fire Pension Fund. The standoff over who should be at the bargaining table was a main factor driving negotiations to impasse before this deal.
While many of the councilmen were not happy about having the vote, saying they wanted more time to vet the proposal, those who voted against it were nearly unanimous in their concern over the long-term burden the deal may put on the city.
“I don’t want to see us become a city that cannot afford public services, that cannot afford infrastructure improvements, that is in a state of decline. We have to do better than that,” says Councilwoman Lori Boyer.
Ultimately the vote was 7-11, meaning the reform proposal failed. It was a package that had not been favored by either the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors or the Jacksonville Civic Council.