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Sparks fly over nomination of city's top lawyer

Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson
Raymon Troncoso
City of Jacksonville Livestream
District 10 Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson criticizes the nomination of acting General Counsel Jason Teal.

The man who's up for the job of Jacksonville's top city lawyer touched off a furious debate Tuesday over whether he's suited to the job because he's had a relationship with a coworker.

Jason Teal disclosed to city officials last year that he was in a relationship with a coworker in the Office of General Counsel, where he has worked for 21 years.

That was before Mayor Lenny Curry appointed Teal as acting general counsel in August after the resignation of former General Counsel Jason Gabriel. But Teal then signed off on salary increases last month for 11 employees, including the one he had disclosed a relationship with.

District 10 Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson, who has opposed Teal's nomination and the the failure to field other applicants, caused an uproar when she repeatedly cited the allegations during debate on a bill she introduced to reopen the search for a candidate.

The outburst led to push-back from other council members and the mayor's chief administrative officer, Brian Hughes.

"There are issues that I have with the fitness and suitability [of Teal]. There is a clause and a provision that we have with the city of Jacksonville that says no supervisor shall manage a subordinate that they have a relationship with. So if you want to know now, I received information that Mr. Taylor approved the salary increase for someone he has an intimate relationship with in the office," Jackson said.

"Not true, not true." Hughes called out while the councilwoman was speaking.

"This is what I want to talk about at Rules [Committee]. These are facts, and I have the documentation," she answered.

The raises, which did require Teal's signature, were ultimately approved by the Mayor's Budget Review Committee, which Hughes chairs.

"I think it's abundantly clear right now that there's not a problem with the process," District 5 Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber said after the exchange. "This is clearly about Jason Teal. And if the Rules Chair does not like him, she can vote no. We all have that button. But smearing his name without facts ... everyone is free to vote how they want to vote."

Teal's nomination will go next Tuesday before the seven-member Rules Committee, which Jackson chairs. While Jackson has promised to present evidence proving her allegations at the hearing, the committee is unable to block the nomination. It can only make a recommendation to the larger council whether to confirm or deny Teal.

That vote will likely take place Oct. 26, when Teal needs 13 out of 18 votes to get approval.