Some clerk of court bonuses on hold amid legal questions

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Tuesday night's vote to take $174,000 out of the Duval County Clerk of Courts budget to make up for bonuses given to 35 appointed staff members hasn't ended the controversy.

About $126,000 of those bonuses scheduled to be awarded in Friday's paycheck are on hold, the city's attorneys are investigating whether the one-time cash payments are legal, and two candidates vying to be the next clerk of courts are weighing in on the controversy.

"So there will not be any incentives this week. I will review it when I get back and figure out what we want to do," said outgoing Clerk Jim Fuller, who has been out of town since the controversy began late last week. "So I guess everyone can calm down now and not treat me like a criminal."

Fuller says it is state money, not city money, being used to pay the incentives and he is allowed to do that. When Channel 4 asked the state Attorney General's Office if that is true, it said it would have to investigate the matter.

Three-term clerk Fuller will leave office at the end of the year not because he wanted to retire, but because he lost a legal challenge to term limits. The candidates seeking the job both question his decision to award bonuses to employees at a time when other city workers were being laid off or demoted.

One of those candidates, John Winkler, is the head of Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County.

"I have always maintained, everybody at the Concerns Taxpayers maintained, every citizen should maintain it's state money (but) it is still my taxpayer money," Winkler told Channel 4's Jim Piggott. "The problem here is Jim Fuller has always treated the money coming into the clerk's office as his beck and call and disposal and not being taxpayer money that he is charged with the public trust over."

Former school board chairman Brenda Priestly Jackson, who is also running for the office, says the whole matter should be investigated.

"It's good to be reviewed," Priestly Jackson said. "I don't think Jim came from a bad place of what he wanted to do, but it's not always what you do or able to do, but should you do it or should you not."

Two other candidates for clerk, former city councilman Ronnie Fussell and lawyer Averrell Thompson, did not return calls for this story.

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