In a rare move, Tuesday’s City Council meeting saw City Councilman Matt Carlucci set a motion to appeal the decision of Acting Council President Sam Newby over the placement of four bills in certain committees.
Newby had designated the chair of the Rules Committee, Brenda Priestly Jackson, to recommend where bills would be heard in coming weeks, and decided against putting the four bills in the Finance Committee, which is led by Councilman Matt Carlucci.
Three of the bills were small grants to be appropriated, while the other was a bill to exclude people designated as sexual offenders and predators from receiving grants.
“I did not think that these were controversial decisions,” said Priestly Jackson.
She said that since three of the bills had such a small financial impact on the city’s $1.4 billion budget, she didn’t feel it was necessary to have them heard by the Finance Committee. Since the bill surrounding sexual offenders and predators had no financial impact, she said she felt it should go to other committees as well.
“I thought that would free up time for the Finance Committee to decide more substantive matters,” Priestly Jackson said.
However, some council members argued that it didn’t matter how much money was on the table with those bills.
“We have a Finance Committee for a reason,” Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber said. “All money that flows through the city is supposed to go through Finance. It doesn't mean that it's the only committee it goes through, but to have bills that appropriate money and make decisions on financial policy not go through finance, it’s just completely unacceptable.”
When Carlucci asked Newby to move the bills back into the Finance Committee, the acting president said no. This led to Carlucci doing something that seldom happens in City Council - challenging the council president’s authority.
“I've never challenged the chair, in all of my 13 and 14 years, never wanted to,” Carlucci said. “I try to bend a knee to the council president, even if I don't agree with them sometimes. But I had to do what I had to do tonight, because this is more than tradition. This is rules.”
What is officially called “appealing the decision of the chair” means that “any Council Member may appeal from any such determination or decision of the presiding officer,” according to council rules, and if the full council votes in favor of the appeal, they override the decision of the president.
The city’s Chief of Research, Jeff Clements, told WJCT News via email that situations like this are “pretty rare” for the full council, although it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when they’ve occurred in recent years.
Clements did point to three instances of attempting to overrule the council president in the last decade: 2017, 2015, and 2013.
To avoid the challenge of authority to Newby, Priestly Jackson did ask him to put all four bills back in the Finance Committee.
“Councilman Carlucci took the extraordinary step, which I think was inappropriate and out of order, to challenge the acting president because he didn't like his decision,” Priestly Jackson said after the meeting.
According to council rule 3.202, when Carlucci’s request to move the bills to the Finance Committee were rejected, the full council votes on it, and if two-thirds of the council supports the move, it overrides the president without a full challenge of authority, which is what Priestly Jackson said she expected.
“I cannot impute motives to my colleagues on the City Council, but I can tell you that to take an extraordinary action like this of something of this magnitude makes me question, truly the intent of the purposes behind this from the very beginning,” Priestly Jackson said.
Priestly Jackson said she and Carlucci - who both serve as co-chairs on the newly installed Social Justice and Community Investment Committee - have had no issues communicating with each other before, so she doesn’t understand why he didn’t contact her to resolve the issue, rather than challenge the authority of the acting president.
“To say that I feel an openness and a sense of trust with Councilman Carlucci now would just be disingenuous,” Priestly Jackson said. “I'm not gonna say that because I don't. I cannot believe what happened.”
She voiced her displeasure with the meeting after it was completed on Twitter as well:
A hard truth...when you “challenge the chair” (the acting pres) of CC’s decision because you didn’t agree with it instead off advancing a motion to vote on the item you want included, it reveals your attempt to other or delegitimize the acting pres. I wonder why? ...
— B.A.Priestly Jackson (@Priestjax) August 26, 2020
Carlucci said he didn’t make a motion to vote on his request because he had politely asked Newby to make the change, and he was denied.
“It is the council president who makes the decision, and so when he didn't accommodate my request, I had no other choice than to challenge the chair,” Carlucci said.
Carlucci also said that he felt he had to challenge Newby in order to make sure the council rules were kept intact.
“They are like our Bible, and when you get outside of them, then things can get a little confused and misunderstood,” Carlucci.
The council rules outline all of the bills that “shall” be heard by the Finance Committee regarding appropriations, and it doesn’t include a minimum amount of money for them to be considered.
“It doesn’t say they may, it says they shall,” Carlucci said.
Carlucci said although the debate was heated, he’s hoping that they can quickly move past it, and it won’t be as intense when everyone is meeting in the council chambers again, instead of virtually.
“We all feel strongly about Jacksonville, and even good families once in a while have a little squabble,” Carlucci said.
Sky Lebron can be reached at email@example.com, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.