Fight Over ‘Equal Opportunity’ Ordinance Will Move To Full Council Vote

Feb 8, 2017

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For the second day in a row, a Jacksonville city council committee Wednesday approved proposed workforce-diversity ordinance.

Despite some misgivings, the bill has cleared its last hurdle before going up for a full Council vote.


Because they receive federal funding, city agencies send demographic reports to the federal government. Now, Councilman Garrett Dennis wants them to present those findings annually to city council. He also wants funding for the position of diversity manager, which has been vacant for years because of budget constraints.

But Councilman Matt Schellenberg criticizes Dennis’ bill as unnecessary and asks where the diversity tracking would stop.

“I find this, quite frankly, (an) affront to the American way and quite frankly, why don't you apply it to all businesses. So, if that’s the case, all businesses have to follow into this thing. It just balloons out of proportion,” he said.

Schellenberg said city authorities should not be liable for natural ebbs and flows in diversity.

Dennis pushed back, saying the bill doesn’t mandate hiring quotas or impose penalties.

“In no way, anywhere in this bill it says hire a certain person … based on race. It’s basically forcing the issue to cast a broader net to look in the underrepresented areas,” he said.

Dennis said he drafted the measure with full support of the mayor’s office after five JEA employees filed federal discrimination charges against the community-owned utility.

Demographic data from JEA shows around 17 percent of its workforce is black, while Census data shows African-Americans make up 30 percent of the city’s population.

The bill passed the committee 6-1 and now moves to a full council vote Tuesday.

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