Judge kills Jacksonville Beach lifeguard referendum, calling language ‘deceptive and misleading’

Effort was latest development in ongoing spat between city of Jacksonville Beach, Volunteer Life Saving Corps

File photo

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – Jacksonville Beach voters won’t get to decide on the future of the Volunteer Life Saving Corps after a judge deemed a ballot statement for the November referendum was “deceptive and misleading.”

The VLSC had collected petition signatures for a ballot referendum related to who can access the lifeguard station at Jacksonville Beach.

But according to court documents, a judge found there was a discrepancy between the ballot summary and the ballot title that would have been placed before voters.

RELATED: Volunteer lifeguards collecting signatures to put issue of lifeguard station access on November ballot | Jacksonville Beach countersues volunteer lifeguards in ongoing spat | Jacksonville Beach responds to ongoing dispute with volunteer lifeguards | Volunteer lifeguards push to return, take fight to Jacksonville Beach City Hall | Volunteer lifeguards now suing Jacksonville Beach in ongoing spat | Changing of the guard: Jacksonville Beach does away with volunteer lifeguards after spat

The court order explains a ballot summary should thoroughly explain the amendment in 75 words or less. The ballot title is also not supposed to exceed 15 words, and the two together are essential for voters because they won’t have the actual text of the amendment before them in the voting booth.

The proposed ballot summary on the petition states:

“Amending the Charter adding a section continuing the practice of the Volunteer Life Saving Corps (”Corps”), working together with the Jacksonville Beach Ocean Rescue Division (from the location of the American Red Cross Lifeguard Station), to save the lives of residents and visitors of Jacksonville Beach. The City will execute a deed permitting the American Red Cross to convey the Station to the Corps and to allow the Corps to resume its operations.”

The judge argued that the language in the summary would clearly lead a voter to believe that if the city’s charter is amended, the American Red Cross Lifeguard Station would go to the Volunteer Life Saving Corps.

READ: Judge’s order denying referendum

However, the proposed ordinance itself states:

“The City shall immediately execute a (new) deed of conveyance permitting the American National Red Cross to convey a fee simple absolute interest in the Station and the property on which it sits… with the City of Jacksonville Beach retaining no title or interest in said Property. The Corps will continue to allow the JBOR to work alongside and together with the Corps in substantially in safeguarding the beach in the same manner the parties have historically worked together.”

The judge argued that according to the proposed ordinance, the American Red Cross would own the property and could do what it wants with the property, including deciding whether to prevent the corps or the city from using it.

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The judge ruled the ballot title and summary are misleading and don’t clearly inform the public that the lifeguard station would be given to a third party and that the transfer doesn’t mean the corps would continue operating from the station.

The corps contended, according to the court document, that it’s the city’s responsibility to draft a ballot summary that complies with the statute.

But the judge said she had to rule based on the ballot summary and title as they were currently written — and they don’t work, particularly because there was an error in the petition language.

A portion of the petition states:

“I am a registered voter of Florida and Duval County with a residence within the city limits of Jacksonville Beach, and I hereby petition the Consolidated City of Jacksonville, in care of the Duval County Supervisor of Elections, to place the following proposed amendment to the Charter of the Consolidated City of Jacksonville Florida on the November 8, 2022 general election ballot.”

According to the court document, the petition is directed to the wrong municipality. By signing the petition, residents in Jacksonville Beach are petitioning the Consolidated City of Jacksonville, which is not Jacksonville Beach.

The judge concluded that while citizens should have the right to “exercise their political will,” but “these same citizens are entitled to an accurate recitation of an amendment’s purpose and effect so that they will not be misled and can cast an intelligent and informed ballot.”

She also ended by chiding those involved to this point, saying “one can only hope that an issue of such import to the citizens of Jacksonville Beach will be handled with more care and respect in the future by all parties and their counsel.”

About the Authors:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.