City Council votes for return of volunteer lifeguards at Jacksonville Beach

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – After more than a year of back-and-forth negotiations, the Jacksonville Beach City Council unanimously voted Monday to pass an agreement between the city of Jacksonville Beach and the Volunteer Life Savings Corps.

Since the city council approved the agreement, the Corps will withdraw its lawsuit Tuesday and the volunteer lifeguards can return to their duties at Jacksonville Beach on Memorial Day.

The agreement is a five-year term with an option of a five-year renewal. Under the agreement, the Corps will return to providing services on Sundays and holidays with access to and from the lifeguard station.

City Councilman Cory Nichols said he was disappointed they did not solve this issue sooner.

“I truly believe that there’s not one person on this desk that was ever anti-VLSC or against them,” Nichols said. “I feel like mine was my heart that we want to find a way to get to an agreement that was legal, something that everybody can agree with.”

Since 1912, the Corps has served as volunteer lifeguards in Jacksonville Beach.

A dispute between the Corps and the city began in 2021 when the Department of Labor found the Corps in violation of fair labor laws because the lifeguards were providing free services, while others got paid.

In turn, the city ended its partnership with the volunteers, kicking them out of their lifeguard station.

Mayor Chris Hoffman said it was not an easy process.

“We have to take two organizations that had been really intertwined. You didn’t always know where one ended, and the other began and pull it apart, and then figure out how to put them back together. Really, until we got to the mediation table, we weren’t really ready to do that for a long time,” Hoffman said.

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Out of frustration, the Corps filed a lawsuit against the city in April 2022, claiming the city breached its contract with the organization.

After multiple attempts to resolve this, the Corps and the city finally reached an agreement following a mediation meeting on April 11.

VLSC Board of Director President Jim Emery said the agreement was a “very fair deal” and a " great deal for the city.”

Ahead of the vote, the city of Jacksonville Beach-Government shared a post on Facebook sharing a statement from Hoffman, saying, in part:

“It took a lot of time and effort to re-imagine this relationship, and I’m thankful to everyone who rolled up their sleeves to make it happen. This is a new era between the two organizations and with it, a new opportunity to grow and work, together.”

The Corps also took to its Facebook page to thank the community for its support, saying: “We can’t thank you enough for the love and support we have received from our community during these trying times. We CAN’T WAIT to get back on the beach, back in the station at #2 Ocean Front, back to work with JBOR to keep you all safe!”

About the Authors:

This native of the Big Apple joined the News4Jax team in July 2021.