Potential changes in the consolidation charter were suggested recently that might have provided a different way to resolve the impasse between the School Board and city over a sales tax referendum.
The Charter Revision Commission heard a presentation from Mike Weinstein on the matter of consolidation of the city and country governments, which took effect more than 50 years ago.
Weinstein has a wealth of experience, as a lawyer who has held a variety of posts in the government, including chief financial officer. He was addressing one of the key features of consolidation, which is that the mayor’s office is a relatively strong position with broad powers.
This occasionally causes the City Council to chafe about its role in formulating the budget.
Both the state legislature and Congress have much more control over the budget than the chief executive. But, as Weinstein pointed out to the Charter Revision Commission, the council simply doesn’t have resources to formulate a budget. Its role is to set policy for the mayor to carry out.
In his lengthy discussion, Weinstein laid out certain quirks in the government structure but made only one suggestion regarding any change in the charter.
It deals with the Office of the General Counsel. Like other central services in the local government, there has been fragmentation since consolidation.
In areas such as the motor pool and computer services, various departments have been allowed to use separate services instead of using the central services function of the government.
That increases overall costs even though it may increase the convenience of the department affected.
But, also, various boards and departments have been allowed to employ outside legal counsel.
Weinstein told Eye on Jacksonville that fragmentation generally is not good, especially in the case of legal services.
The original idea was that the general counsel would be the clearinghouse in disputes between government agencies., resolving the issue according to the law, and avoiding litigation.
But Weinstein told the commission there have been cases where a general counsel would get too close to clients, tilting the scales.
He suggested two possible fixes. One would be a two-year limit for the term of a general counsel.
Another is that disputes could be resolved by seeking a declaratory judgment from Circuit Court.
If the charter allowed this to happen, by a super majority of the council and the School Board, for example, it might have resolved the fracas between the School Board, which wanted an early referendum on the proposed sales tax, and the council, which wanted to defer it until next year. The general counsel’s office sided with the council, although some private lawyers thought the School Board’s argument was better. It is now in litigation.