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Council Kills School Tax Bill Without The Public Present

Council President Scott Wilson addresses a speaker at a June public hearing.

The Jacksonville City Council Tuesday night voted down a half-cent sales tax referendum. The vote took place without the public present, after Council President Scott Wilson tossed the audience out for excessive boos.  

Related: Dozens of Supporters Ask City Council To Allow Duval Schools Sales Tax Referendum

“Allow us to do our business here and don’t disrupt us please,” said Wilson, as the packed crowd booed at a motion to withdraw by Councilman Rory Diamond. “Sergeant in arms please begin to clear the chambers.”

The legislation was withdrawn completely on a vote of 14 to 5. That means the Duval County Public Schools Board would have to refile the bill to put it on the 2020 general election ballot—a move that’s gotten support from top city leaders, including Mayor Lenny Curry.   

The half-cent tax, which would raise an estimated $1.3 billion over 15 years for the district’s aging school buildings, has broad public support. But it saw mixed results during committee meetings last week. 

Related: Voters Favor Tax To Repair, Replace Duval Public Schools

While the Finance Committee recommended to the full council that the legislation should be voted down, the Rules Committee gave it a green light. 

A major point of contention was how the district should share the tax dollars with charter schools. 

“They offered $17 million on top of the $120 million that the state will give to charters over the next 15 years,” said City Council Vice President Tommy Hazouri, who is also a former Duval School Public Schools Board member. “When I suggested to [Board Member Warren Jones] Mr. Jones 11% [for charters], a small token out of the $2 billion. You’re talking about $210 million.”

Another complaint council members made was that the board hadn’t provided a timeline of when schools would be repaired. 

Ahead of the crucial vote, the board released its priorities for spending the revenue, including a school maintenance timeline council members had requested. 

The move got City Councilwoman Randy DeFoor to change her position and vote for a public referendum.   

“This whole time I was thinking how could you have a $2 billion - you know, my private sector hat on - how can you have a 2 billion project to go to your shareholders for funding and not have an implementation plan? Well folks, we got it today,” she said. “Our role has been met.”      

DeFoor supported an amendment by City Councilman Matt Carlucci to put the referendum on the November 2020 ballot. But that amendment was defeated by a vote of 17-2.

Related: Councilman Carlucci Will Offer Amendment To Put School Tax Vote On 2020 Ballot

The amendment initially had more backing, but lost support after City Councilman Reggie Gaffney asked Board Chair Lori Hershey if the board would return in three weeks with “real solutions.” 

“If you’re asking me if I think in a few weeks the response from the board is going to be different than today, based upon the conversation at the table yesterday, I am not convinced that you would be getting a different answer,” said Hershey. 

Some who were on the fence, like City Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman, pointed to Hershey’s response as a reason for why they wouldn’t support the amendment.   

“I had to tell you I am really disappointed,” said Pittman. “So I can’t, because of what [Hershey] said, I can’t support it.” 

Council members Randy DeFoor, Matt Carlucci, Garrett Dennis, Joyce Morgan and Brenda Priestly Jackson voted against killing the bill.

Contact Abukar Adan at 904-358-6319, or on Twitter at @abukaradan17

Abukar Adan is a former WJCT reporter who left the station for other pursuits in August 2019.