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Jacksonville City Councilmembers Workshop Diversity Ordinance

Ryan Benk

Jacksonville councilman Garrett Dennis received input from colleagues Tuesday about his proposed ordinance tackling diversity of the city’s workforce.

Much of the discussion hinged upon how the bill should be expanded.

The “equal opportunity” ordinance recommends funding for a new city director of equal opportunity. The position, which oversees diversity goals and policies at the city, has been vacant since around the 2008 economic recession, Dennis told WJCT last week.

It would also require city agencies to report their progress in diversifying their workforce to the mayor and city council. They would also have to review their CEO’s commitment to equal opportunity employment every year.

Independent city authorities receiving federal grant money already have to file demographic reports with the Department of Justice, but Dennis wants those reports presented to city council at annual budget meetings.

Councilman Bill Gulliford said in addition to diversifying the city’s hiring, he’d like to see the bill include more incentives for minority-owned businesses.

“Procurement is an issue, you’ve got employment is an issue and you’ve got how we help small businesses, or subsidize small businesses, or encourage small businesses, minority businesses in particular,” he said.

Gulliford said he believes people are taking advantage of the city’s minority business assistance programs and would like to see that tamped down on.

Councilman John Crescimbeni said instead of submitting DOJ reports, the city should create its own.

“I have what appears to be the DOJ report here in this handout. (It) doesn’t seem to be very detailed. I’m a detailed guy. I like to drill down into the minutia,” he said. “I was wondering if we could create our own report or our own template, so to speak.”

Southern Christian Leadership Council Board Chair Juan Gray, who also attended the public meeting, echoed City Council President Lori Boyer’s concern the billlacked an enforcement mechanism.

“It doesn't have any teeth in it,” he said. “You can ask independent agencies to do anything. Either you demand it, or you might as well not say anything at all.”

But Councilman Aaron Bowman cautioned against passing anything resembling a quota, saying the city shouldn’t punish agencies for a dearth of talent. Instead, he suggested creating more programs to train and educate potential workers in disenfranchised neighborhoods.

Councilman Garrett Dennis, who sponsored the measure, said he appreciates the extra input, but he wants to keep the bill simple to give it a better chance at passing.

“We’re going to stay focused on this. It’s about employment. It’s not about contracting. It’s not about quotas. It’s all about employment — casting that broader net,” he said.

The bill is a response tofederal discrimination complaints filed against JEA, which exposed racial hiring and promotional disparities in addition to the specific charges of discrimination.

The bill has yet to be heard by orassigned to a formal committee.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.