City Council, Mayor’s Administration Clash Over Chief Resiliency Officer Bill

Dec 1, 2020

A piece of legislation regarding the hiring of a chief resiliency officer caused some disagreements between the council members who brought forth the bill, and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration.

The bill was a product of the City Council’s Special Committee on Resiliency, which spent the year evaluating recommendations from experts and discussed the impact of climate change and sea level rise.

As originally written, the bill would create a chief resiliency officer (CRO) position for the city, along with a resiliency division in the city’s Planning and Development Department. With  $300,000 allocated for the department, it would allow the CRO to hire administrative staff, along with other resources they deem necessary.

However, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Stephanie Burch said that the City Council shouldn’t have the ability to create a new division within the city department.

“The bottom line really is we feel this is an overreach by the legislative branch of our government here,” Burch told the Finance Committee Tuesday morning.

Burch and Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes told the committee that the administration’s ideal situation for the CRO would be giving the City Council six months or longer to evaluate the needs of the city, and then come to the mayor’s administration with a list of recommendations on what is needed to properly do the job.

“The expressed concern is that the cart in front of the horse doesn't move as smoothly as [the] horse in front of [the] cart,” Hughes said. “So telling a CRO, who we haven't hired yet, the size of his staff, where he works, what division he runs, seems premature to us.”

Burch also said a reason for creating a division before giving the CRO time could be a financial strain on the city, although she admitted there had been no analysis on what the fiscal impact of creating a division would be.

Council members Matt Carlucci and Randy DeFoor, who both are leaders of the Special Committee on Resiliency, were visibly frustrated with the pushback from the city.

“This is a surprise to me, because when I spoke to the administration, I said I wanted it to be a division, and they agreed,” Carlucci said. “They did not say they had a disagreement, they'd mentioned nothing about an overreach at all.”

Carlucci also said it would cost no more to have a division than it would to have a CRO position filled without one.

Meanwhile, DeFoor said the city needed more than just a budget item to fill the role, but an actual division to show citizens that the city is serious about resiliency.

“Our community is demanding it,” DeFoor said. “If you look at what's been done all over the country, metropolitan [and] urban areas have all begun having resiliency divisions. If we're going to be the kind of city that we think we are, then in this modern age, then we need a resiliency division.”

“We find ourselves, once again, having a power play at the 11th hour when this, as we understood, was completely agreed to by everybody involved,” DeFoor said.

City administration officials said they did communicate via email that they had issues with the creation of a new division.

Meanwhile, council members LeAnna Cumber and Brenda Priestly Jackson both said they agreed that the creation of a new division would be overstepping the bounds of the City Council.

However, Priestly Jackson said she wants to see consistency from both the City Council and the mayor’s administration on overreach.

“I cannot see how the creation of a division that's clearly already articulated under the executive branch by the legislative branch is not an infringement on the authority of the executive branch,” Priestly Jackson said. “And if it is not, then the next time it comes up with something folks aren't favorable on, I want us to act the same way. Because it was this very reason that Councilman Dennis was told he had to bring a referendum to change who appointed the members of the JEA board.”

After nearly an hour of discussion on the subject, Carlucci offered to take the creation of a resiliency division off of the bill, and in turn just create the CRO position, which would have its own office that would report to the City’s Planning Director, Bill Killingsworth.

According to the language of the bill, the CRO will “serve as the chief liaison for all city operations relating to resiliency and shall be responsible to the Director for the development of and coordination of Jacksonville’s resiliency strategy across all departments.”

The job will require a master’s degree or higher in engineering, environmental sciences, biology, sustainability, planning, or a closely related field. Candidates must also have at least four years of work experience in sustainability planning, resiliency planning, or another related field.

The job will be listed at $125,000, according to city officials.

Carlucci told WJCT News although the bill isn’t being passed as originally planned, he still believes it will be pivotal to Jacksonville’s future.

“The main thing is we're getting the people in place, that cities in Florida and in the country have had in place for 10 years or so,” Carlucci said.

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.