JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Jacksonville City Council President Aaron Bowman on Tuesday slammed two council members who are championing an effort to return $2.7 million in disaster relief funding from the United Arab Emirates.
Bowman criticized his predecessor, Anna Brosche, and council member Garrett Dennis for unspecified "derogatory comments" made at an Oct. 26 hearing and for championing a bill to spurn the donation.
"I see it as an attack on beliefs and religious freedoms," said Bowman. "I want the residents of Jacksonville to understand that I do not support attacks on other faiths and ethnic populations."
Bowman's remarks came out hours before the council discussed a bill backed by Brosche that calls for the city to reject the UAE's donation and look elsewhere for money to fund the projects it will pay for.
The $2.7 million foreign aid donation to Jacksonville is part of a larger relief effort from the UAE that will award a total of $10 million to storm-ravaged communities throughout the state of Florida.
"It really is needed, so, we appreciate everything they've done for us," Bowman said during Tuesday's meeting.
Neither Brosche nor Dennis questioned the UAE's donation when the council approved it in September. Now, both have changed their minds, citing questions raised about the nation's human rights record.
"We have the dollars to fund and take care of our own citizens here," Dennis said. "Taxpayers that are paying into our general fund."
Dennis has questioned if there are strings attached to the money and says the city is supposed to take care of problems on it own.
Jacksonville's share of that funding would help storm-stricken neighborhoods, like Ken Knight Drive on the Northside, recover after they were hit hard in 2017 by Hurricane Irma.
Dennis and Brosche believe the money should come from somewhere else. Specifically, Brosche's bill calls for the council to look within the city's $1.2 billion budget or its $166 capital improvement plan.
In a resolution introduced by Brosche:
"The City Council of the City of Jacksonville does hereby urge the Administration to terminate the donation agreement approved by Ordinance 2018-544-E and return the $2,775,000.00 grant received to the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates. The Council urges the Administration to find funding within the City’s existing $1.2 billion 2018-2019 budget or $166 million 2018-2019 capital improvement budget to address the projects and programs outlined in the funding request which was made to the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates."
READ THE FULL DOCUMENT: Resolution 2018-813
An ordinance introduced by Dennis calls for the $2.7 million to be appropriated to various accounts to fund community projects.
It calls for agreements with groups including the Duval County School Board, Builders' Care and Habit for Humanity to make these projects happen.
It also states the funds appropriated in the ordinance would not lapse, but would carry over into the next fiscal year or until the projects are completed, whichever happens first.
READ THE FULL DOCUMENT: Ordinance 2018-790
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