Jacksonville City Council strikes down proposed transparency reforms

The Florida Times-Union by Christopher Hong

November 27, 2018

The City Council on Tuesday struck down a package of transparency reforms that would publish emails and text messages lawmakers exchange with lobbyists and force city officials to reveal details about trips they take on the dimes of political committees, which are shrouded under existing disclosure requirements.

The bill died in a 16-3 vote, a result foreshadowed last week after a council committee criticized it as draconian, burdensome and demeaning to the council’s reputation with the public.

The bill’s sponsor, Councilwoman Anna Brosche, acknowledged its fate Tuesday before the final vote, saying she wanted “the public to know” her colleagues denied her request for more time to change her proposal and instead moved to “kill” an attempt to bring more transparency to local government.

“Transparency is about the people, providing access, facilitating accountability, and ultimately building trust in your elected officials,” Brosche said.

Her three-pronged bill would have required companies seeking to do more than $1 million worth of business with the city to disclose their political giving and for council members to submit emails and text messages they exchanged with lobbyists, which would then be published online.

The legislation would have also required elected and appointed city officials to disclose information about official travel costs that were covered by political committees.

Political contribution records and council members’ emails and text messages are already public under Florida’s Sunshine Law, although Brosche said her bill would make them more easily accessible to the public.

However, the disclosure requirements for travel costs would have been a major reform — even though several council members last week incorrectly asserted the requirements already existed.

City officials are not required to disclose any information about official travel costs that have been covered by a political committee, which is allowed to cover the costs of an official’s business travel as long as the official conducts some political business.

The committees must only provide basic information about the transaction and are not required to provide any details about the nature of the trip.

That provision of the legislation was tailored-made response to a string of below-the-radar Mayor Lenny Curry has taken on private planes, including a two-day, three-city trek to discuss downtown development ideas on a jet owned by Jaguars owner Shad Khan, who is in negotiations with the city for a mega-development on the St. Johns River in downtown Jacksonville that will likely receive a handsome package of public incentives.

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