The Florida Times-Union by Nate Monroe
February 12, 2019
COMMENTARY | This current band of Jacksonville City Hall politicians is the most dysfunctional, debased group of people elevated to local public office in years.
Two of the 19 City Council members are under federal indictment on fraud charges and have since been suspended from office. A third member — Reggie Gaffney — had unflattering tiesto the federal trial that resulted in ex-U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown heading to prison on fraud and tax crimes last year. And now, State Attorney Melissa Nelson’s investigation into alleged Sunshine Law violations by City Council members gives voice to something reporters and insiders who spend any time around city government have known for a few years: Petty grudges and personality clashes have consumed otherwise reasonable people and contributed to a toxic environment in City Hall.
Partisans will use Nelson’s investigation — which closed and will result in no charges — to bludgeon their political opponents. The reality is this: It reflects poorly on everyone.
To simply tell this story almost requires providing an exhaustive almanac of the tedious, childish bickering that rules the day in City Hall from the mayor and council on down, a sad statement on this particular moment in time. Not every person in office right now is a scoundrel, but what’s that platitude again? Oh yes, you’re only as strong as your weakest link — and boy oh boy is this one rusty chain.
Not since the early days of former Mayor John Peyton has city government seen so much high drama.
The head-shaking part of this recent embarrassment is that last year’s council presidency race — i.e., the group’s annual popularity contest — is at the center of what Nelson’s investigators had to spend much of 2018 and 2019 scrutinizing, all because City Council members Garrett Dennis and Aaron Bowman don’t like each other.
Apparently, this feud was the topic of much out-of-the-Sunshine conversation among council members and the mayor’s office last year, as Jacksonville’s elected leaders scrambled to tell each other who was talking trash about who.
In a nutshell, a rumor began making the rounds in City Hall that Dennis, seeking to block Bowman from winning the presidency, had handed City Councilman John Crescimbeni a business card with the names of a coalition of council members who would support Crescimbeni if he ran against Bowman last year. Crescimbeni ultimately denied the rumor to investigators, but it nonetheless set off a wide-ranging investigation.
A BAD LOOK ALL AROUND
Let’s review those tainted by Nelson’s investigation into this episode:
‒ Dennis and City Councilwoman Anna Lopez Brosche — who is challenging Mayor Lenny Curry’s re-election — look bad because they simply have had far too much contact with one another outside public meetings to easily believe it was all innocent banter. Investigators pulled Dennis’ phone records and found 450 calls to Brosche, and a whopping 1,771 calls to Brosche’s council assistant between October 2017 and the end of February 2018. That second number exceeds the number of times Dennis phoned his own wife.
Dennis and Brosche are well-known political allies, and Dennis is now helping Brosche’s campaign to unseat Curry. What are the odds Dennis, Brosche and her assistant never improperly discussed public business like the council presidency in the course of these private conversations?