Gateway owner sues to stop elections office move


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As the deadline approaches for Mayor Alvin Brown to decide whether to sign or veto a Jacksonville City Council bill to move the elections office out of Gateway Mall, its owner has filed a lawsuit to stop the relocation.

Two weeks ago, City Council voted to move the Supervisor of Elections Center out of Gateway Mall.  Minutes later, council voted 13-6 to approve a 10-year lease at One Imeson Center on the Northside.

On Monday, Gateway Retail Center LLC a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in Jacksonville asking for an injunction to prevent Brown from signing a lease with Imeson Center.

Among the claims in the lawsuit, "...the City Council unlawfully voted to move the SOE Center from its current location in retaliation against Gateway because the Gateway Lease allows greater African American participation in the election process whereas the Imeson Lease effectively stifles African American participation due to its location."

DOCUMENT: Gateway sues to stop elections office move

The court filing goes on to say the council's decision "was in retaliation against Gateway, racially motivated, and effectively prohibits and chills political free speech."

Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland says these claims are groundless, and the move will in now way diminish the ability of blacks living in and around Gateway to vote.

"I am fully committed to having early voting in the Gateway community," Holland said Monday night. "As late as today, working with the mayor's office to try to either, one, rent space their at Gateway, or we have two public buildings, one within site of Gateway -- one which is the training room, a public building on 44th Street, and also the Joseph E. Lee Community Center. So, there will be voting there. The community is not going to lose early voting in future elections."

According to Gateway's attorney, a telephone hearing will be held Tuesday with the federal judge and the principals in the lawsuit.

The City Council vote to move the elections center incensed U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, who had personally appeared before the vote asking they leave the elections warehouse in the Norwood Avenue mall since it is only a few miles from downtown, and the election center moved, African-American voters would have a harder time participating in elections.

The next day, joined by about 25 ministers and Southern Christian Leadership Conference members, 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, but council sided with Holland.