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Councilman wants to ban use of uniformed officers in political ads

Head of officers' union says it's important for police officers to speak out

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In three weeks, Jacksonville voters will again go to the polls to finalize who will serve in five City Council seats for the next four years.

In contrast to the March city election, there are few television ads as this election nears, but the controversy over the use of uniformed police officers in campaign commercials hasn't gone away. Incumbent Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams both included officers in their campaign videos.

The practice was questioned by the Jacksonville Ethics Commission, but the city's top lawyer said the First Amendment, the city's rules and the officers' union contract with the city all allow them to appear in political advertising -- even in uniform.

A News4Jax online poll conducted just before the March election showed a majority of people opposed to officers in campaign ads.

One City Council member has filed a bill for one of those elements -- city law -- to ban the practice.

"There is a lot of concern by citizens on the use of city employees in uniform campaigning," Councilman Garrett Dennis said.

Dennis' legislation would ban the practice of using officers or other city employees in uniform in campaign commercials or the use of any city property.

He doesn't feel this would suppress the rights of city employees to speak out on issues.  

"It is legal for anyone to express their political opinion, but what I have a concern and the citizens of Jacksonville, they have a concern (about) city employees using city resources, whether it is uniforms (or) cars paid for by taxpayers’ dollars to campaign for any candidate," Dennis said.

Steve Zona, the head of the Fraternal Order of Police, takes exception to that. He said Dennis is just a sore loser since the candidate he backed in the mayoral race -- Anna Lopez Brosche -- lost. He said it's important for police officers to speak out on the issues.

"The men and women who wear the boots -- the boots on the ground here in Jacksonville -- the public deserves to know what they think," Zona said. "They deserve to know who they think is best for public safety here in town. And quite honestly, Garrett Dennis has never received the endorsement of the police officers ... or the firefighters."

About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.