JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – Volunteer lifeguards on Monday evening rallied outside Jacksonville Beach City Hall -- urging city council members to allow voters to decide the future of the Volunteer Life Saving Corps (VLSC).
The corps provided volunteer lifeguards at Jacksonville Beach on Sundays and holidays until earlier this year when a Department of Labor investigation found the volunteer work was actually unpaid work for the city, as many of the volunteer lifeguards were also paid lifeguards for the city.
The corps and its supporters have been hoping to let the voters decide on the organization’s future with a ballot referendum in November. The corps has received thousands of signatures for a petition to let voters decide on a proposed amendment to the city charter that would allow volunteer lifeguards to work in parallel with Jacksonville Beach Ocean Rescue lifeguards.
“The city locked us out of the lifeguard station back in April and discontinued our contract back in December, and what we did is we asked the citizens of Jacksonville Beach if they want to vote on this issue themselves,” said Charles Bond with the VLSC. “We garnered 19% of registered voters of Jax Beach, which is the minimum requirement.”
But on Monday night, council members voted unanimously to strike down the ballot referendum, after expressing concern over its legality.
Before the vote, Mayor Chris Hoffman said she’s worried about what would happen to the lifeguard station if the amendment were to pass.
“If this amendment passes and you take the city of Jacksonville Beach out of the equation under that deed restriction, the (American) Red Cross can do what they want with it,” Hoffman said. “And it says in there the national Red Cross. So now, you have someone in Washington D.C. making the decision what to do with this very valuable piece of property.”
Council members also approved authorization to send formal notice to the American Red Cross for the reversion of subject parcels to the city of Jacksonville beach.
That means the city will notify the Red Cross that the city believes by operation of law -- the city owns the lifeguard station property -- but if the Red Cross has items they would like to claim, they can come pick them up.
The volunteers say their legal battle is not over.