Looking a gift horse in the mouth is supposed to be something to avoid, but what if it is a Trojan horse?
At a meeting in City Hall Friday, two city council members held a meeting to gain additional information on a measure that already had passed the council – unanimously.
The rather strange procedure ensued after Council Members Anna Lopez Brosche and Garret Daniels began having second thoughts about a gift.
The gift of $2.775 million would go to help residents affected by last year’s Hurricane Irma and is part of $10 million being donated in Florida.
Brosche and Daniels both agreed the proposed projects were worthy.
It was the source of the funds that has some people worried.
For whatever reason, the United Arab Emirates is donating the money to the city in the wake of Irma.
Administration officials say there are no strings attached.
Chief of Staff Brian Hughes did not attend the meeting but sent a “fact sheet” that described the UAE as a longtime ally and strategic partner of the United States.
But one citizen attending the hearing said the money was a Trojan horse. For what reason, he did not say.
Another called the gift “blood money.”
The money has been received by the city and the city’s lawyers say there is no quid pro quo. The money is to be spent on Raines and Ribault high schools, the Sulzbacher Center downtown and rehabilitation of the area around Ken Knight Drive, which was hit hard by the hurricane.
Those projects were selected after various non-profit organizations and community leaders were asked for input last Spring.
Mary Kay O’Rourke of Habijax said her organization gladly accepted the proposal to repair and restore homes.
Brosche asked a city lawyer if the agreement, approved by the council Sept. 11, could be terminated. The lawyer said the council could not terminate the agreement but could pass a resolution showing a strong desire to terminate the contract, which might influence the mayor’s office.
One speaker at the hearing asked if the reaction would have been different if “the queen of England” had sent the money.
That hit upon the crux of the matter. Many Americans do not trust Arab Muslims and see the gift as an attempt to curry favor. They would prefer to include the spending projects in the city’s budget.
However, it isn’t clear what favors Jacksonville could do for the Emirates, a wealthy nation of nearly 10 million people on the other side of the world.
In 2013, the UAE spent more than any other country in the world to influence U.S. policy and shape domestic debate by funding former high-level government officials who worked with it to carry out its agenda within the U.S.
It is not considered a free country. Kissing in public is illegal. Stoning and flogging are legal punishments. It has a poor record for human rights.
Still, many favor accepting the gift and using it for the designated projects. It could be argued that the money would be better spent helping people in Jacksonville than helping the Saudis wage war in Yemen, even though the amount is relatively small.
In any event, the two council members who are having second thoughts apparently plan to pursue returning the gift and using local taxpayer money for the hurricane repair if they can garner sufficient support.