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Council Members Brosche, Dennis Raise Concerns About UAE $2.8 Million Gift To Jacksonville

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Abukar Adan
/
WJCT News
Jacksonville City Council members Anna Lopez Brosche and Garrett Dennis held a hearing to discuss whether to try to return a UAE gift Friday morning.

Two Jacksonville City Council members held a public hearing Friday morning to discuss growing concerns about $2.8 million in hurricane relief money donated by the United Arab Emirates.

Council members Anna Lopez Brosche and Garrett Dennis, neither of whom opposed the initial proposal, are having second thoughts about the gift as concerns about the nation’s human rights record have been raised.

“More questions have been asked that really aren’t being addressed and that is causing a lot of community members coming forward with questions which are not being addressed,” Brosche said. “And so it is the questions that have risen after the fact.”

The multi-million dollar gift was given the city to help families affected by Hurricane Irma and it was unanimously passed earlier this year by the City Council.  

Related: United Arab Emirates Donates $2.8 Million To Jacksonville’s Irma Recovery

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration has said there are no strings attached, but most of the people who attended the public hearing weren’t convinced.

“This is blood money,” said Brenda Priestly Jackson, a City Council candidate for District 10.    “It is unconscionable for the city of Jacksonville to use these funds,” she added.  

A handful of others called the funds “blood money,” in reference to the UAE’s poor human rights record.

But leaders of some local nonprofits like Sulzbacher, an organization which aims to end homelessness, expressed being left with no choice but to accept the grant.  

“The United States of America should be taking care of these people, the homeless people, the people whose houses were damaged and are living under tarps after a year and a half, but we haven’t done that,” said Sulzbacher CEO Cindy Funkhouser. “So if a foreign government that is our ally wants to give us aid they’re welcome.”

The Sulzbacher Center for Mobile Clinics is one of five organizations that will receive funding from the grant in the amount of $900,000.

Dennis pushed back on the lack of city funding, saying it’s a matter of the administration not probably allocating funds. He said the city should give back the money.

“We (should) use the money we have right here in our coffers. We’re a rich state, we’re a rich city, we’re a rich country. We don’t need foreign money to take care of the needs of our citizens.”

The grants have already been approved and the agreement with the UAE Ambassador was completed on October 15, but both council members said there may still be time to send it back.

Additional Information: Terms Of The Donation Spelled Out In The City Ordinance