In a split vote Tuesday night, Jacksonville City Council voted to move the Supervisor of Elections Center out of Gateway Mall. Minutes later, council voted 13 to 6 to approve a lease at One Imeson Center on the Northside.
U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown put up the biggest fight against the move. She said city council is not usually where she goes to voice her opinion, but that’s exactly what she did Wednesday night.
“I am very disappointed about what's going on here today. You need to know that. Very disappointed relationships is not just one sided. If the people I represent feel that you are disenfranchising them, there’s a problem. It's a problem for them and it's a problem for me,” Rep. Brown told council members.
The congresswoman was joined by about 25 ministers and Southern Christian Leadership Conference members as she spoke in support of keeping the Supervisor of Elections Center at Gateway.
“If you look at low bid, clearly Gateway is the best, but what you have here is another attempt to disenfranchise the African-American vote in Jacksonville. And there's no other way to look at it,” said Brown.
The vote came after months of discussions about possible options.
Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland wanted to move his office from Gateway, which had maintenance and operational issues for years. The center went through a foreclosure and change of ownership last year.
Holland told the council he could save $3 million by signing a 10-year lease at Imeson.
Mayor Alvin Brown recommended the center remain at the mall under the terms of a new, reduced lease that included building improvements.
“My job here is to make sure every time we do an election, we do a better job of it and to make sure when we leave here, we've got the most efficient operation, and at the lowest cost we can do it for taxpayers,” said Holland.
“We need a supervisors of elections office for the people and not for the supervisor,” said Congresswoman Brown.
The congresswoman said Gateway is only a few miles from downtown, and if moved, African-American voters would have a harder time participating in elections.
“When you look at HUD, it's downtown because it's the anchor of downtown. When you look at Army Corps -- downtown; IRS -- downtown," Brown said. "And so it's very important that the Supervisor of Elections Office is in Gateway.”
Holland noted that the Supervisor of Elections Office downtown was not going to close.
Wednesday’s vote doesn’t make it a done deal. The mayor can still veto the plan. He can also sign it, or leave it unsigned and it would automatically go into effect after a certain amount of time.