‘Equal Opportunity’ Bill Passes First Test In Jacksonville City Council

Feb 7, 2017

Assistant to Councilman Garret Dennis (from left to right), Councilman Garrett Dennis, Councilman John Crescimbeni.
Credit Ryan Benk / WJCT News

A proposed Jacksonville ordinance aimed at diversifying the city’s workforce Tuesday unanimously passed through its first committee, but not without significant skepticism from some Council members.

Councilman Garrett Dennis filed the bill in response to a continuing federal investigation into alleged workplace discrimination at public utility JEA.


Dennis’ bill would mandate city entities report staff demographics to the council annually, as well as develop strategies to improve diversity. The bill also creates the position of equal opportunity manager within the city’s Human Rights Commission.

That last stipulation is what gave some on the rRules cCommittee pause. The equal opportunity manager position was cut during the economic recession, and Councilman Danny Becton said he’s unconvinced it needs to be reestablished.

“It just seems like we’re going to have this person sitting over here in this agency that’s not going to have really any stick to make this happen and they’re just going to be a watchdog so to speak,” he said.

Becton argues the position would be better suited in the city’s human resources department, but Human Rights Commission Director Charlene Taylor Hill said that presents a conflict of interest — the city’s HR department should not be monitoring its own diversity progress.

Council President Lori Boyer agreed. She also said requiring diversity reports without having a manager oversee the program rings hollow.

“If we’re going to adopt programs where we set goals and we have objectives that we are trying to achieve in terms of diversity —, and then we have people come down who complain to us that we’re not meeting them —, but we don’t do anything affirmatively to try to improve the situation, shame on us,” she said.

There are no penalties in the bill for agencies that don't meet diversity goals. Dennis said he wants to steer clear of instituting anything akin to quotas.

The bill’s has one more committee stop before a Council vote.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at rbenk@wjct.org, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk.