JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s $1.3 billion budget for 2021 got the thumbs up from City Council on Tuesday night, but not before a spirited discussion over a councilman’s proposal that called for changes to the way the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is funded.
Councilman Garrett Dennis moved to withdraw the amendment during a meeting of City Council.
“I want to withdraw this bill because I don’t want to put any of my colleagues in a tough spot tonight,” Dennis said. “And the only commitment that I ask, council president, is that we have a committee in the near future to address these issues.”
City Council President Tommy Hazouri then withdrew the amendment.
The amendment Dennis offered would have changed how the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office received its $484 million in funding allocated by the city. It would have allocated $234 million to the Sheriff’s Office off the bat and then release the rest in increments as the agency reports back periodically.
The decision came after much feedback from council members. Councilman Rory Diamond said he “absolutely opposed this 100 percent.”
“Let’s be clear about what’s happening here. All across America there has been a systematic attack on our police officers. There has been an effort to dehumanize them, to make them the target of violence and to even laugh at their funerals, to laugh at their attempts to get healthcare when they’ve been shot in the line of duty,” Diamond said. “This amendment is absolutely part of that effort and to pretend that taking half the funding from our JSO is not defending our police is just completely irrational.”
Other council members also said they could not support the amendment. “I really thought this was a joke bill when I first saw it,” said Councilman Aaron Bowman. “I’m a proud supporter of the police, and I will continue to do so.”
Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson said she “would not necessarily advance” the amendment.
“But I understand the nature of what he (Dennis) wanted to do,” she continued. “Dennis like to disrupt the system. And so in his estimation, a good way to disrupt the system is to have this conversation, which, let’s be clear, would have not occurred.”
With regard to the budget, there was a group at the meeting pushing for the approval of the “people’s budget,” which, according to its website, allocates 20% of the city’s budget to JSO. It called for remaining funds to be used on things like mental health services and strengthened city infrastructure.
Michael Sampson, with the Jacksonville Community Action Committee, said he hopes the council with take more action for social justice.
“We’re disappointed that the City Council chose to go with the status quo," Sampson said. "We appreciate Garrett Dennis and the other council persons for the type of social justice and change that so many demanded in the form of the people’s budget.”
Ben Frazier, the president of the Northside Coalition asked for more money to go to impoverished areas.
“We are demanding that by an immediate and emergency measure that you allocate special funding designed to rejuvenate, revitalize and redevelop economically ravaged areas and ZIP codes. If you don’t want it to come from the half billion dollar JSO budget, then you need to figure out where to get it from," Frazier said.
After hours of public comments and a discussion by the council, the mayor’s $1.3 billion budget for 2021 passed 17-2 in favor. The two no votes came from Dennis and Diamond.
The 2021 budget is about $100 million more than the budget that was approved last year.