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General counsel's nomination moves forward amid controversy

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The City Council will vote next week on Jason Teal's nomination as general counsel, the city's top lawyer. He needs 13 of 18 votes to be approved.

A Jacksonville City Council committee approved acting General Counsel Jason Teal's nomination to officially occupy the position Tuesday, after fiery debate last week over Teal's alleged misconduct during his short tenure as the city's top lawyer.

Teal has been accused by Rules Committee Chair Brenda Priestly Jackson, councilwoman for District 10, of improperly giving a raise to a subordinate with whom he is in a personal relationship. He also signed off on a payment to a law firm that hired his predecessor while the predecessor was on the nominating committee that selected Teal for the job.

Teal has worked in the office of general counsel for over two decades. The Rules Committee approved his nomination to run the office in a 5-3 vote. Jackson and council members Randy DeFoor and Garrett Dennis voted against him. The four other members of the committee voted in favor along with Council President Sam Newby, who invoked his presidential powers to vote on the nomination.

"The general counsel for the consolidated government — and we're almost a million strong in our city — that individual to me has to be beyond reproach," Jackson said before calling the vote. "Will you be able to put the needs of the consolidated government above your personal perceptions and personal beliefs and personal relationships? Unfortunately, I don't necessarily feel comfort and see that right now."

During his interview, Teal told the committee that he believes all his actions as general counsel have been ethical.

In September of last year, Teal disclosed — in accordance with city policy — that he was in a relationship with a co-worker in the Office of General Counsel.

After assuming the role of acting general counsel, Teal approved salary raises for 11 of his subordinates, including the one he was in a relationship with.

When Jackson questioned him about the appropriateness of the raise, Teal stated that the employee, as a supervisor for other lawyers and advisor for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, was paid significantly less than people in similar roles and the raise was intended to bring parity to office salaries.

"I think it's important to point out that she was one of 11 people that I went before the mayor's Budget Review Committee to request they approve the raises for," Teal said. He also told the committee he ran the situation by former Inspector General Steve Rohan, who currently does not serve the city in any capacity, to ask if there were any ethical violations.

"So with your indulgence I'd like Mr. Rohan to come up ... "

"No, Mr. Rohan is not before us for general counsel," Jackson said. "My questions are directly to you for the actions that you have every opportunity to explain."

Jackson and DeFoor also questioned a payment Teal authorized to the employers of the man who was nominating him for his current position.

On July 19, Teal signed an engagement letter as acting general counsel authorizing $30,000 to go to the law firm Burr and Forman for legal work they did for the city in June. Teal did not become the acting general counsel until Aug. 7, and outgoing General Counsel Jason Gabriel had announced July 9 that he was resigning to work for Burr and Forman.

Teal explained to the committee that as deputy general counsel at the time, he had been delegated as acting general counsel by Gabriel before Mayor Lenny Curry officially appointed him.

Both DeFoor and Jackson disputed that the act was legal.

"Jason Gabriel does not have the authority to make you acting general counsel," DeFoor said. "You signed your name as acting general counsel."

Teal's nomination now heads to the full City Council, where he needs 13 of 18 votes to be confirmed.