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Juneteenth now a city holiday and Teal is approved as general counsel

Standing Vote
Claire Heddles
/
WJCT News
City Council meet on Oct. 26, 2021.

The Jacksonville City Council Tuesday established Juneteenth as a new paid holiday for city workers; confirmed the controversial nomination of Jason Teal as the city's top lawyer; moved a bill to relocate a Confederate monument to committee; and finalized the hand-off of the county's misdemeanor probation services from a nonprofit to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

Juneteenth

City workers in Jacksonville now have a 13th paid holiday.

Juneteenth, the recently established federal holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the U.S. two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, is now a city holiday as well.

Councilman Reggie Gaffney, who introduced the legislation, defended the cost of the day off by telling councilmembers they would have to vote their conscience.

"This is very unfortunate when it comes to do a significant value to my community, that we have problems with it," he said.

Councilmen Rory Diamond and Al Ferraro voted against it, saying they support Juneteenth as a holiday but can't support another paid holiday.

Diamond, who also voted against the bill as the sole dissenter when it went through the Finance Committee, asked the Council to wait until the city renegotiates contracts with employee unions before providing another paid off-day.

"I think that the symbolic support of this is much needed," Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson said. "I think that if we sit and talk about services not rendered, my mind immediately went back to 200 or 300 years of service rendered through slavery.”

Brian Hughes, chief administrative officer for Mayor Lenny Curry's office, told the council it was hard to quantify the cost of the ordinance in terms of lost productivity, but that there would be no negative effect on the city budget.

The final vote was 16-2.

General counsel approved

Jason Teal is now officially Jacksonville's top lawyer.

The 21-year veteran of the Office of General Counsel has been confirmed to lead that organization after serving as the acting general counsel since August.

His nomination has been controversial, prompting fiery exchanges between Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson, who chairs the council's Rules Committee, and the mayor's office, as well as with Teal himself.

Priestly Jackson has contended that the city did not properly follow procedure for appointing a replacement following the resignation of former General Counsel Jason Gabriel.

After Mayor Curry appointed Teal to serve as interim general counsel, the city did not hold a candidate search until September. The application window was closed after two weeks, with no other candidates coming forward to fill the position.

She also questioned Teal's judgement and ethics.

Teal signed off on a payment for services by the law firm Gabriel was leaving the office to join, Burr and Forman. Teal signed the document as acting general counsel in July, before he was officially appointed by Mayor Curry.

One month after his appointment, Teal requested and received raises for 11 employees in the Office of General Counsel, including a subordinate he was dating. Teal had disclosed the relationship last year in line with city regulations.

According to Teal, he has signed off on the payment to the law firm at Gabriel's direction, and he requested the raises to bring those employees' salaries in line with those in similar positions both within the office and in comparable cities.

"I am an ethical lawyer, and my 21-plus years of public service to the city of Jacksonville, as a servant for those 21 years, demonstrates that I have the character, that I have the integrity, that I have the knowledge, that I have the experience to be able to serve the citizens of Jacksonville and the consolidated government with the same passion, with the same ethical responsibility and with the same requirements that the canons of our professional responsibility require of me," he said.

Priestly Jackson told the committee she was unable to reconcile her concerns about Teal, and was the sole dissenter in the 17-1 vote to confirm him.

Councilmembers Randy DeFoor and Garrett Dennis, who voted against Teal's nomination in the Rules Committee, supported him Tuesday night.

Teal will now serve as legal counsel to the consolidated government— City Council, the mayor's office, the Duval County School Board and the city's independent agencies— for the remaining 20 months of Mayor Curry's term.

After that, the new mayor can reappoint Teal or nominate a new general counsel.

Confederate monument

The City Council also took up a proposal to remove the Tribute to the Women of the Confederacy Monument from Springfield Park on Tuesday. Committees will consider it next.

The bill would appropriate $1.3 million to remove— not demolish— the monument, which will be transferred to storage.

More than 40 speakers came to debate for and against the removal of monument.

Three committees will hold hearings on the bill next week before sending it back to City Council for a final vote in November. Because the bill makes a significant changes to the city budget, it will require a supermajority 13 out of 18 votes to pass.

Probation changes

City Council also unanimously approved an ordinance transferring operation of the county's misdemeanor probation system from the nonprofit Salvation Army to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. The city canceled its contract with the nonprofit earlier this year, requiring JSO to pick-up service starting Dec. 1.

The ordinance also gives JSO $1.4 million to operate probation services including monitoring and drug testing for the program's first fiscal year. After that, JSO says it can run the misdemeanor probation program at a profit, despite the Salvation Army's saying it had lost money for several years.

Florida-Georgia lives on in Jax

With the much anticipated college football game between the University of Florida and the University of Georgia this weekend, the Council also approved an emergency ordinance authorizing Mayor Curry to execute the city's renegotiated five-year contract with both universities.

Jacksonville will continue to host the Florida-Georgia game through 2023, with an option to extend to 2025. The city will also pay the schools $400,000 each this year for removing temporary seating that would normally seat students, as compensation for lost revenue.

The contract also guarantees each school $1 million in royalties for Saturday's game, and more for future games.

Reporter Raymon Troncoso joined WJCT News in June of 2021 after concluding his fellowship with Report For America, where he was embedded with Capitol News Illinois covering Illinois state government with a focus on policy and equity. You can reach him at (904) 358-6319 or Rtroncoso@wjct.org and follow him on Twitter @RayTroncoso.