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City Council members handpick who gets $4.6 million in COVID-19 relief money

Although the Jacksonville City Council unanimously approved a plan to redevelop the Shipyards, there was a heated debate over how to spend millions in coronavirus relief money. A couple council members weren't happy with how this process played out.
Although the Jacksonville City Council unanimously approved a plan to redevelop the Shipyards, there was a heated debate over how to spend millions in coronavirus relief money. A couple council members weren't happy with how this process played out.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville City Council moved forward Tuesday night with how it plans to distribute more than $4.6 million in federal COVID-19 relief money.

During the Council meeting, members voted 15-2 to approve grants for organizations hand-picked by each member.

Matt Carlucci and Rory Diamond voted to delay the distribution of money so it could go through the committee process first.

“The optics are bad. We don’t really have a process to handle these. We’ve never really been given these federal funds before,” Carlucci said.

Despite their opposition to moving forward with committee vetting, both Carlucci and Diamond did pick organizations to receive funding. Carlucci chose Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and the Jacksonville Historical Society. Diamond directed his grant money to Angelwood and Mission House.

Several of the agencies chosen to receive money have connections or personal ties to council members, putting into question whether the distribution process was unbiased.

Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber suggested the choice to distribute money was simple.

“They need the money. End of story,” she said during the council meeting.

More than three dozen nonprofits, community centers and organizations were chosen, including The Florida Theatre, Salvation Army, Edward Waters University and the Women’s Center of Jacksonville. Some organizations received grants from more than one council member.

Ju’Coby Pittman chose River Region Human Services and the Jacksonville Health and Educational Resource Center.

“The agencies I gave to are very impactful in my district and I feel very good about what I did,” Pittman said.

Most will get about $120,000, but a few will receive twice that or more. (See the chart below for the full list.) The federal money is intended to help agencies make up for funding lost due to the pandemic.

The distribution comes days after councilman Reggie Gaffney faced criticism for accepting nearly half a million dollars in federal relief money to help his nonprofit, The Community Rehabilitation Center.

The allocation from the late Tommy Hazouri went to The Florida Theatre.

Distribution of COVID relief funds