New Jacksonville Transparency Committee Set To Squeeze Broad Charge Into Small Timeframe

Apr 10, 2018

How can Jacksonville elected officials make it easier for their constituents to be part of the governing process? That’s the question a new transparency committee started trying to answer Tuesday.

Committee co-chair Hank Coxe, who also sits on Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission, said the perception of impropriety can taint the entire process.

“There were great concerns expressed at the beginning of the CRC process that the rules that were adopted did not lend themselves to true sunshine — not sunshine issues, but sunshine commitment  — therefore if you’re not comfortable with the process, you’re not comfortable with the product of the process,” he said.

Coxe was referring to Florida’s Sunshine Law, which attempts to guarantee everyone has access to all public records and meetings.

The CRC adopted rules different from most Florida government entities. Members are allowed to discuss business that could come up during a CRC meeting with one another outside publicly-noticed gatherings, and Coxe said the perception of an unfair process makes people suspicious.

That’s why City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche set up the local committee in the first place: After a controversial debate about whether the city should sell municipal utility JEA began, news reports have cast doubt on whether the public was well informed.

Coxe said he and his colleagues have their work cut out for them.

“It is a short timeframe to get it done, but I’ve got respect for everybody in that room,” he said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Coxe was deputized to be the committee’s spokesperson, as the members agreed that one point person speaking to the press was better than 11 voices speaking to reporters on their own time.

The committee also agreed to mine the community — former and current politicians, civic leaders, and activists — for their thoughts on where their work should focus. At the same time, committee members are working to issue a simple survey that could be filled out online or in person by citizens. It will gauge the overall public’s feelings about the ease with which they can access city meetings, reports or other documents.

Brosche’s transparency team is batting around ideas like a new smartphone app, making the city’s current website more user-friendly, and changing public meeting schedules to account for the fact that most of the voting public also works.

The committee has a little more than two months to submit recommendations to the city council.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at rbenk@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk