Tommy Hazouri, former mayor and the incoming president of the Jacksonville City Council, has appointed a social justice committee.
Seven council members on the committee will examine alleged racial disparities in the city.
According to a small local newspaper, Hazouri said “It’s a people’s committee to resolve the city’s social, law enforcement and economic issues of this community.”
That’s a pretty big task.
But never underestimate the confidence politicians have that they can solve any and all social problems by passing laws and spending money.
Just recently a former council president called for yet another tax increase, to counter disparities that he could, or would, not detail for Eye on Jacksonville.
Meanwhile, a number of liberal organizations have issued a document alleging disparities they say exist in neighborhoods where the majority of residents are of African descent, along with demands for actions they claim will alleviate the disparities.
They also want the seven black council members to form a “Black Caucus.” The document is not clear on how restricting the caucus membership to persons of one skin color will help achieve the dream of civil rights leaders to have a color-blind society.
Presumably, the committee of self-proclaimed social justice warriors will review what has been done previously to alleviate disparity.
For example, more than 20 years ago, in the Better Jacksonville Plan, the city created a Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund that was intended to address economic issues in that part of town – primarily the area west of Interstate 95 and north of Interstate 10.
The stated goals of the development fund were to:
• Create new service and retail businesses to serve target neighborhoods.
• Create access to jobs for area residents.
• Provide low interest loans and grants to existing businesses located in the area or new businesses desiring to locate in the area to finance the purchase of machinery and equipment and/or leasehold improvements or façade renovations, where the property owner or leaseholder is located in targeted area(s).
• Encourage investment in older and underutilized buildings within the corridors.
• Stimulate new small business investment within the target area that adds to the tax base.
• Provide loans for business expansion and new commercial development by area residents.
As of last Oct. 1, there was $9.5 million in the economic development fund. At that time, it had nine loans outstanding with payments being made and four in default. The local media, to our knowledge, never has provided the public with information concerning how much has been spent in that area to date despite having the resources to do so, including teams of investigative reporters, nor has it sought to reveal what the so-called investment produced in benefits.
In addition, the city for many years was spending a whopping $30 million a year on the Jacksonville Journey, a foray into solving the problems of youth and crime. Much of it went into the Northwest Quadrant. Like many such efforts there has been no attempt to show how much difference it made.
In addition, for a number of years, every council district received $1 million to be spent basically on whatever the councilman for that district wanted – over and above what the city had planned in capital outlay for the area. This has not been done since 2004.
Jacksonville residents should expect the new committee to make an accounting of the miles of roads that have been built or improved, the street lighting, the sewer and water lines installed, the sidewalks built, the parks and other recreational facilities such as swimming pools, and the schools.
The council committee should ask what percentage of the residents of that area currently receive welfare, free or subsidized housing, unemployment benefits, free food, free health care, free or subsidized transportation and other benefits provided by the taxpayers. That might shed light on the question of disparities.
The liberal organizations’ list of allegations and demands says that Jacksonville has a history of inequality in the criminal justice system and racial disparities in sentencing, a higher than average violent crime rate and a high number of unsolved murders.
The new committee should invite Sheriff Mike Williams to respond with facts and figures. Also, local prosecutors and judges.
The organizations also allege “rampant” job discrimination in Jacksonville and income inequality. Job discrimination is illegal, and income inequality is a fact in any nation under any economic system including communism, so its inclusion as a problem is puzzling as well.
It also speaks of the “unfulfilled promises of consolidation” and complains of “52 years of neglect, unfulfilled promises and the maldistribution of taxpayer resources.”
There are still people in the city who were active in the movement to merge the city and county governments. Those still available can speak to what has been done and not done if the committee chooses to call upon them.
Unfortunately, leaders such as Earl Johnson and Mary Singleton, who held office after consolidation, no longer are alive to provide input.
If all of the past decades of programs, funding, task forces – such as the Community Wealth Building Task Force, to cite just one example — studies and effort to date have accomplished nothing, then the council’s new committee should undertake to determine exactly why they have not.
Has the city just wasted a great deal of money, time and effort?
The new council committee has been challenged to show that Jacksonville is not a racist city, in effect. Let us see how it responds after a thorough and impartial investigation of the charges against Jacksonville residents.