As the new general counsel, Randy DeFoor becomes the chief legal arbiter for the city.
At the time of consolidation, the Office of the General Counsel was considered of great importance. City officials had to create a new government from the old. It had to be done carefully and according to state law and the city charter.
William Durden was the first general counsel and his expertise was unquestioned. Others followed who also had stellar credentials and impact on the city, such as Jim Rinaman and Ed Austin.
In recent years, the office has had rough times.
In the 1980s, the general counsel was indicted. Bond work formerly done in-house had been put out to politically powerful lawyers, at five times the cost.
Later, a general counsel gave in without much of a fight and settled doubtful claims about incinerator ash, saddling the taxpayers with a debt of more than $200 million they still are paying.
This same office later wrote a contract for the JEA to buy nuclear power from a plant in Georgia, (or reviewed one written by the other party) and assured council members it was ironclad.
When things went south on the project, the city’s lawyer went to court and complained the contract they approved was faulty and should be terminated. The court did not agree.
DeFoor has a long record of achievement and service, including a stint on the City Council.
The nascent attempt to prevent her from getting the job is nonsense. DeFoor didn’t play ball with the Friends of Tim Baker and they are seeking payback through the council members whose strings that powerful political consultant pulls.
As Council Member Matt Carlucci tweeted, “This nonissue is being stirred up by select colleagues of mine that are run by dark political operatives. And it all goes back to the JEA!”
If she is not derailed, one thing DeFoor could do to benefit the citizens of Jacksonville – with the help and blessing of the new mayor — is begin the process of prying open the lid of secrecy imposed by the local government gradually over recent decades.
It is either illegal or just bad policy.
Reporters and other interested citizens once could call employees and get information or visit City Hall without being frisked as if they were potential terrorists. That is no longer the case. Under Lenny Curry, who preceded Donna Deegan as mayor, the flow of information was shut down. One information gatekeeper was allowed to speak to the press, and non-compliant media such as Eye on Jacksonville were shut out entirely.
Even the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is hard to pry information from, but the independent authorities and School Board are more forthcoming.
This is a deplorable situation and 25 years ago would have brought a storm of protest from the local daily newspaper. Today it is meekly accepted by the mostly liberal media.