Revelations about $173,928 in bonuses being paid to employees of the Duval County Clerk of Courts office resulted in a last-minute budget change that reduced the city of Jacksonville's funding of the clerks office by the same amount.
Councilman John Crescimbeni, the most verbal critic of the bonuses, offered a floor amendment before Tuesday night's 2012-2013 budget vote to reduce the city's contribution to the clerk's office by $174,000. The amendment passed.
"It would take me an hour to give me all my reasons why this is terrible," Crescimbeni said. "It’s a long list of words to describe how bad mismanagement this is.… If this were an election year, Mr. Fuller would not be handing out bonuses."
The clerk's office office says 35 appointed employees were given bonuses of up to $8,000 for going above and beyond their duties. But Channel 4 investigators learned that civil service employees of the clerk's office have taken 2 percent pay cuts and were forced to take a furrow day without pay.
Four days after the bonuses were first reported, Clerk of Courts Jim Fuller responded to the critics.
The incentives I have out were all out of state money -- had nothing to do with state money whatsoever," Fuller said. "I'm surprised that the news would pick up and say something like that."
Channel 4's Jim Piggott also learned Tuesday that 10 of the 35 employees who got bonuses made a $500 political contribution to Fuller during either his 2008 or 2012 campaigns. Fuller was running for a fourth term as clerk of courts until he failed a court challenge to term limits.
There is nothing illegal about that, but Crescimbeni says it raises questions.
"It's certainly troubling to see so many names on the bonus list that are also on the campaign contribution list," Crescimbeni said. "It's disheartening."
In the day's before Fuller responded to his critics, his wife sent emails to Crescimbeni.
"While I regret sending my previous email in anger, I still don't think you understand the Clerk's budget," Barbara Fuller wrote. "Once again he is efficient and works within a balanced budget; he has realized a surplus and he has not fired any employees nor had any layoffs."
She continued: "Your Philosophy is that because the city is hurting financially no one should be allowed incentives. Because the clerks office is operating in the black he feels he has the right to properly compensate his employees to suggest otherwise is not a republic form of government."