Leaders react to city's Sunshine Law violation

Circuit judge rules Jacksonville should have violated pensions in public

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The settlement between Jacksonville and its Police and Fire Pension Board that Mayor Alvin Brown trumpeted over the summer as the solution to the city's biggest problem was illegal, a judge ruled on Tuesday.

The Florida Times-Union filed lawsuit against the city, claiming that Florida's Sunshine Law requires the negotiations that involved billions of tax dollars over the coming decades be conducted in public, not in closed-door meetings.

The editor of the Times-Union Frank, Denton, told Channel 4 the ruling makes sure the public will be informed on very important issue to the future financial health of the city.

"The public had no opportunity to do this. The mayor and the general counsel and the Police and Fire Pension board came out and just announced they had a solution, which the City Council then rejected. And the pension issue is a very big one for the future of the city of Jacksonville, and it has to be resolved in the sunshine in the public so the public can be involved. That's what we argued and Judge Wallace agreed with us entirely."

RULING: City violated public meetings law in pension negotiations

City Hall was closed for the New Years holiday, but city leaders and union officials were still reacting to the ruling.

Since City Council ultimately rejected the deal, Council President Bill Guilford said the ruling by Circuit Judge Waddell Wallace was a victory for everyone involved.

Guilford says if the Council had based the new budget on the deal the mayor made with the pension board, the city would be in a $40 million hole right now..

"I think because of that council action, we did not dodge a bullet, we dodged an artillery shell," Guilford said.

The court ruling also addresses future pension negotiations.  A federal mediator, who overseeing the pension dispute, could still approve the settlement and it could appear before City Council again.

Others are still grasping the implications of the ruling.

"I am not familiar with the exact contents of the civil action the newspaper brought against us," said John Keene, president of the pension board. "We will review it with the city and the board of trustees and then make a decision."

The mayor's office say they will meet with the city attorney to discuss the issue. General Counsel Cindy Laquidara isn't commenting at this point.

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