Phone lines prematurely shut off to suspended council members' offices

2 at-large City Council members take over until Jacksonville gets new reps

By Jim Piggott - Reporter, Francine Frazier - Senior web producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - In the wake of the governor's suspension of two indicted Jacksonville City Council members, the mayor's office inadvertently shut off their phone lines Friday, temporarily cutting off constituents in districts 8 and 10.

Residents calling their City Council representative usually hear an aide on the other end of the line, but with phone lines turned off in the offices of Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown, concerned citizens heard only a recording.

According to the Mayor's Office, disconnecting lines is typical procedure when a politician leaves City Hall, but it should not have been done in this case. The mayor's staff said the mistake was corrected Monday.

Two at-large council members will be handling the duties for the Browns' districts until the governor appoints replacements for them.

The Browns, who are not related, were both named in a 38-count federal indictment, unsealed last week, that accuses the two of money laundering and fraud in connection with a failed barbecue sauce plant. Prosecutors said the two personally profited from a city loan and from the federal government.

Attorneys for the Browns said the business failed and no one made any money.

RELATED: Katrina Brown, Reggie Brown timeline

Gov. Rick Scott suspended the City Council members Friday and will appoint replacements, who would likely serve until their terms end June 30, 2019, or the federal investigation ends, whichever comes first. Scott is now accepting applications for the positions. Anyone wishing to be considered must live in either District 8, which covers a large swath of Northwest Jacksonville, or District 10, which runs from the Northside to Argyle Forest along I-295.

Until Scott announces his appointments, Anna Lopez-Brosche will take over responsibility for Reggie Brown's District 10 seat, and Sam Newby will assume duties for Katrina Brown's District 8. Both Lopez-Brosche and Newby are at-large City Council members.

“I just tell the residents, 'Don’t be concerned.' Like I said, I am going to take District 8 and Anna Brosche is going to take District 10, so they will still be represented,” Newby said.

City leaders said files from the Browns' offices will be placed into storage and all the public records will be preserved until replacements take over.

Incoming City Council President Aaron Bowman said he will rely on other representatives to help get whomever takes over the districts up to speed.

“I am going to lean heavily on past presidents to help them get some training to understand how the process works and be ready to go,” Bowman said, adding that he'll accept the governor's decision. “I'll take them once they get appointed. He's had to do this before, and he is very competent to do it.”

The Browns' attorneys, some religious leaders and some Northside residents have raised questions about whether federal prosecutors are targeting black politicians in Jacksonville, but finance chair Garrett Dennis, who happens to be a black City Council member, said that's not a concern for him.

“I think you have to look at each individual elected official, each individual public servant, and they have to stand on their own merits,” Dennis said. “I don’t think it's a target. I don’t think that's a fair statement or a fair question to ask.”

Members of the Northside community said they plan to hold a town meeting to get some answers.

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