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Jax Beach events should not take priority over hurricane damage, residents say

Special meeting ends with decision to not allow city officials to run events

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – After a special meeting of the Jacksonville Beach City Council was called to discuss changes to the special events policy, residents and businesses owners became frustrated that more pressing issues -- including the damage from Hurricane Matthew -- are not taking priority. 

City leaders informally decided at the meeting Thursday evening to prohibit City Council members from organizing local festivals, such as Beaches Oktoberfest, after a report raised concerns that two council members could be personally benefiting from events held at Latham Park and Seawalk Pavilion. 

RELATED: Changes coming to Jacksonville Beach festivals

But many people who live and work in Jacksonville Beach have pointed out other problems that they believe should take priority over the special events policy. 

Business owner and longtime resident Chuck McCue said he and others are more concerned that the damage from Hurricane Matthew is still evident more than three months after the storm swept up Florida's east coast. 

"We should fix all this infrastructure before we worry about councilmen that may or may not be making a profit," McCue said. "At least fix the walkovers. And we need the proper lighting down here at night."

McCue told News4Jax Friday that he understands the concerns about council members' running events, and that he even attended the meeting, but he's worried other issues are being pushed to the back-burner.

"People come up and they see the pier is closed. That's a whole other issue," McCue said. 

Councilman Keith Doherty, who started Oktoberfest in 2013 with fellow Councilman Phil Vogelsang, pointed out the same thing after Thursday night's meeting concluded.

"The beach is a disgrace. The walkovers are unusable. The pier is out of commission for probably two years," Doherty said. "There are other things we need to focus on."

Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham agreed with the policy change, saying it could appear to be a conflict of interest if government officials were involved in the planning of events, especially from the public's perspective.

"We are here to serve them. That's our charge," Latham said.

The city's recommendations to change special event planning indicates that there may be a reduction in the number of festivals held.

Some local business owners don't support the idea, saying popular festivals help boost their profits. 

"I think that's kind of counterintuitive to do that because there's already such a lack of business in the downtown district here," said Janelle Godeaux, owner of 1st Street Loft. "It doesn't make a lot of sense to me."

Though the meeting ended with the decision to not allow council members to organize major events in Jacksonville Beach, it doesn't mean the events will come to an end. The popular festivals will continue, but other people, who are not city officials, will have to take on the roles.