One thing Jacksonville could use is an independent think tank.
For 40 years or thereabouts, the old Jacksonville Community Council Inc. sought to fill this role, with mixed results.
Eventually it drifted so far left that it lost all its private funding and closed.
But when it started under the tutelage of Jacksonville civic leader J.J. Daniel, it was intended to be an organization that would examine public policy with an even hand and recommend ways to resolve problems.
JCCI’s mission was “to bring people together to learn about our community, engage in problem solving and act to drive positive change.”
Richard Bowers, first director of JCCI, told Eye that JCCI evolved from a planning council within the United Way. “Its initial purpose was to do a staff assisted study on a major issue, followed by findings, conclusions and recommendations,” he said. About 1980 after Bowers left, they added implementation committees to follow up on recommendations.
It operated by forming committees, using local residents as members, to study various aspects.
For example, I was on one some 25 years ago that looked at local voting patterns. I had developed a computer program to examine local election results based on race, income and geography, before they became readily available.
But eventually the JCCI reports all came back essentially the same. Every problem was because of racism or free markets and the solution always was to expand government, raise taxes or create new regulations.
It also attempted to do a “quality of life” study annually. It had some value but, again, the left-wing slant was evident when it listed as one measure of quality in the area of education the salaries paid to local teachers. Eventually it dropped that measure after criticism from the media.
But a private, independent think tank probably would be an asset. The local media doesn’t really do the job of examining local issues and neither do the political science departments in higher education institutions nearby.
The Jacksonville Civic Council appears to be an organization that will study local policy, already being involved in the question of selling the JEA, but will it be impartial? Some among its leadership have a definite leftward lean and because it is mostly businessmen, there will always be those suspicious of individual profit motives having too much sway in policy recommendations. In any case, there is nothing wrong with having other viewpoints available.
At the federal level there are organizations like the Heritage Foundation and at the state level, the James Madison Institute. Both do formidable work in examining public policy.
A local organization with such a mission could be helpful not only to citizens but to public officials, if it could operate on an objective, non-partisan basis and sustain private funding.