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Confederate monument, citizen review board and Riverside development on deck for City Council today

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Claire Heddles
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WJCT News
Wells Todd, Cate Dobbins, and others with the organization Take 'Em Down Jax have been standing in front of City Hall for three days calling on the City Council to remove the monument to the women of the Confederacy in Springfield Park.

Jacksonville’s City Council could vote Tuesday evening on a plan to remove a Confederate monument from Springfield Park. The meeting could also be the end of the road for two bills aimed at reforming policing.

And the council will hear input from the public on a plan to demolish the former Florida Times-Union building in Riverside to build shops, an apartment complex and parking garage; and on a proposal to move city elections from the spring to the fall to coincide with state and national contests.

Here’s what to watch for:

Confederate monument in Springfield Park

The most high-profile proposal before City Council is whether to allocate $1.3 million to take down the Women of the Southland monument in Springfield Park. The bronze statue was erected in 1915, 50 years after the Civil War ended, amidst white backlash against the rights granted to Black Americans during the Reconstruction Era.

This proposal needs more support than the typical, simple majority for council bills to pass because it modifies Jacksonville’s budget. To pass, the bill needs 13 of 18 council members to vote in favor of it. Ten council members voted against the proposal, and just four voted in favor of removing the monument in committees last week.

Following that signal that the proposal was doomed, local business leaders on the Jacksonville Civic Council started calling on the City Council to delay that vote in order to develop a comprehensive city plan for removing all Confederate symbols and names in Jacksonville. Community organizers with the Northside Coalition have also joined the call for postponing the vote to find an alternative.

“Consideration should also be given to establishment of a creative and unique public-private partnership in the effort to resolve this controversy in an expeditious manner,” the Northside Coalition said in a statement.

Protestors with Take 'Em Down Jax have been picketing in front of City Hall for three days ahead of Tuesday’s meeting. Wells Todd said the removal vote is not about the $1.3 million price tag but about upholding white supremacy.

“It’s not about money. We’re dealing with a moral issue here,” Todd said in front of City Hall Tuesday morning. “If they want this thing removed, it’d be gone, could have been got yesterday.”

Under the bill, the monument would be put into storage until the city makes plans. The cost of the monument’s construction in 1915 was split between United Confederate Veterans and taxpayers via the state Legislature, according to WJCT News partner The Florida Times-Union.

The fate of a Citizen Review Board

City Councilman Garrett Dennis is behind a pair of proposals on police and criminal justice reform, which he’s been deferring in committees for more than a year. Under city rules, bills that have been pending for more than 12 months are automatically put for a full Council vote.

One proposal would create a citizen review board to evaluate the Jacksonville’s Sheriff’s Office’s completed internal investigations. Dennis told WJCT News in September he was waiting for the city’s Safer Together committee meetings to conclude in order to amend the bill according to the committee’s final recommendations. But before that happened, council President Sam Newby abruptly shut down that committee after Vice Chair Michael Boylan stepped down.

“It’s unfortunate because the Safer Together committee members asked me to defer the bill so they had an opportunity to vet it, to talk about it and to workshop it, which I did,” Dennis said. “There was, for lack of a better term, a distraction not to jump on it as soon as the Safer Together committed ended so abruptly.”

Dennis’ other proposal forced onto tonight’s agenda, without committee input, would decriminalize carrying small amounts of marijuana. The proposal would make carrying less than 20 grams of cannabis a civil citation instead of a misdemeanor charge. At least 13 other municipalities in Florida have already taken this action, according to the bill’s summary.

Councilman Dennis said he plans to ask the Council to withdraw both bills instead of voting on them tonight.

“I’m going to ask for withdrawal and maybe one of my colleagues or someone in the future will add upon what I started,” Dennis said.

The majority of the Council has to agree to withdraw the bills. If the council votes instead of withdrawing and the bills fail, they’ll be barred from resubmitting a similar bill for at least a year.

Demolishing the Times-Union building in Riverside

Council will hear input from the public on a plan to demolish the old Times-Union headquartersat 1 Riverside Ave. to build a grocery store, apartment complex and parking garage. Private developers, led by Fuqua Acquisitions, plan to invest $163 million into the project.

The city is offering to pay for about 15% of the development, with a price tag of $30 million in taxpayer-funded grants.

Check out the full agenda for Tuesday's meeting on the city's website.

Claire joined WJCT as a reporter in August 2021. She was previously the local host of NPR's Morning Edition at WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. During her time in East Tennessee, her coverage of the COVID pandemic earned a Public Media Journalists’ Association award for investigative reporting. You can reach Claire at (904) 250-0926 or on Twitter @ClaireHeddles.