The reporter, Jake Stofan, said he had tried for weeks to get public records and was told they didn’t exist. He found them anyway.
Ten minutes after he sent copies to the city’s public records gatekeeper, the gatekeeper said the records had just been found and he was about to send them.
If you think that sounds like a flimsy story, you’re right.
The records at issue were previous pronouncements by the city’s general counsel on the mayor’s authority to take down public monuments.
Mayor Donna Deegan recently went through an exercise where she got a “draft” legal opinion that she has considerable power. Later, after questions were raised, she got a revised opinion declaring her to have lesser authority, but still enough to take down a monument in Springfield Park – which she had already done.
The earlier opinions were issued during the administration of Deegan’s predecessor Lenny Curry. Action News said one memo “concluded the mayor did not have the unilateral authority to remove or relocate the monument.”
The memo clearly said the City Council must approve such action.
The gist of Deegan’s claim is that taking down the monument was legal because she found a private source of funding and did not require council approval.
If that is the case, maybe Deegan can find someone who will pay $1 billion for the new stadium to be used by the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the City Council won’t have to approve the deal.
As for the series of legal opinions, the general counsel is supposed to represent the entire government, not be the mayor’s personal lawyer. What Action News uncovered appears to be a case of tailoring legal opinions to fit whatever the mayor wants to do or already has done.
In any case, the Action News reporter deserves credit for bulldogging the story.