Court blocks Volunteer Life Saving Corps ballot initiative

Now, the City of Jacksonville Beach and the corps are trying to come to an agreement on how they can work together in the future

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – An initiative to let voters decide the future of the Volunteer Life Saving Corps at Jacksonville Beach will not be on the ballot for the March election after a judge found it to be unconstitutional.

For more than 100 years, volunteer lifeguards with the corps worked the beach for free on holidays and weekends — until the arrangement was found to violate federal labor law.

The corps’ supporters had been hoping to reinstate the organization through a ballot initiative, but Judge G.L. Feltel, Jr. has ruled that can’t happen.

On Thursday, the judge wrote the proposed amendment is unconstitutional and conflicts with general law, noting it would allow the VLSC to take control of and use city-owned equipment and supplies whenever the corps determines they might need them to accomplish its mission — all without city oversight.

“Providing any private party with the power to decide for itself what public property it needs and how it will use it serves no valid public purpose and conflicts with general law,” the judge wrote.

Attorney Tad Delegal, who is not associated with the case, said the judge could have just denied the VLSC request without saying why.

“I think the judge went sort of above and beyond. He just really tried to explain his reasoning,” Delegal said.

The judge also said the language of the ballot initiative would be misleading to voters.

Delegal notes the corps’ supporters can appeal the court’s order.

“But I think that’d be very, very difficult under the circumstances,” Delegal said.

This is the second time the Corps’ supporters have tried and failed to get a measure on the ballot to reinstate the corps’ traditional role. First, they tried for the November election last year and then for the upcoming March election.

Now, the city and the corps are trying to come to an agreement on how they can work together in the future.

Jacksonville Beach Mayor Pro Tempore Cory Nichols told the I-TEAM on Monday that the city is hoping to work out an agreement with the corps.

“The VLSC has served the community and has really developed great people over the years, and I don’t think there’s anybody at the city that just doesn’t want them. I think it’s just trying to find out what’s the right application for their volunteer services,” Nichols said.

He said the city and the Corps have been going back and forth on oversight of the corps if it is to continue its volunteer efforts.

The president of the Corps said they will not be appealing the court’s order. He also said the Corps also trying to come to an agreement on the volunteers’ access to the historic lifeguard station and that he is confident they’ll come to an agreement. He said the VLSC is looking to make the beach safer.

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I-TEAM and general assignment reporter