The future of a longtime website and community discussion forum is up in the air after a feud among the founders of Metro Jacksonville prompted a corporate split and threats of legal action.
For the past 11 years, Metro Jacksonville has been a locally influential website with a focus on urban planning. It's known for its lively discussion threads on everything from food truck trends to politics to code enforcement complaints.
But last year, co-founder Stephen Dare was removed from Metro Jacksonville's articles of incorporation. Dare, a fixture on Jacksonville's cultural scene and driver of considerable content on MetroJacksonville.com, also has been scraped from the site, his articles removed, along with what he estimates to be some 46,000 discussion posts. His account was suspended in December. He attributed the split to a difference of opinion about the direction of the site. He called the situation "sad," and told First Coast News he plans to sue his former partners (though no litigation has been filed).
"It's turned nasty and mean," Dare told First Coast News.
Ennis Davis, co-owner, declined to get into the weeds of the dispute, but acknowledged the future of the site and its forums is up in the air. In a statement from the remaining corporate officers of Metro Jacksonville, he says it's the organization versus Dare. "We are working to create some type of resolution to separate the rest of us from him."
For fans of Metro Jacksonville, news of the split was an unwelcome surprise. Tony Allegretti, director of downtown engagement for the Jacksonville Chamber and co-founder of Burrito Gallery, says, "it's disappointing news to hear. Over the years Metro Jacksonville provided history -- things that the mainstream media may not pick up, but were important to neighborhoods."
He adds that Dare and Davis will continue to be part of the larger city conversation, even if they aren't working together. "I know they want the same things for the city. So I would say I wish them both well. I hate that it's going down bitterly."
Abel Harding, a former political columnist for the Florida Times-Union and board member of the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, says the site was especially important before the age of social media.
"Metro provided a forum for people to talk about what's going on in the city," he says. "There were some great conversations about transportation and downtown development and city priorities."
He adds that Davis and the site's staff did great work on the history of Jacksonville.
The internal dispute recently spawned a thread on one of the site's discussion forums. Some users expressed suspicions that it is connected to a new, competing website Modern Cities, which Davis helped create. Others say they are happy to see Dare gone. Quite a few said commenters should reserve judgment and see what happens.
Some content from Metro Jacksonville now links directly to Modern Cities, a site started in 2016 by Davis and a few others from Metro Jacksonville. Davis says Modern Cities is about urban development on a national level.
He also points out while he's been instrumental in the founding of Modern Cities, Dare has also started a website of his own - MetroJaxNews. Neither have a direct relationship to Metro Jacksonville, he says.
Metro Jacksonville, Inc. released a statement in response to a request for comment, which references Dare by his given name, William Stephen Griffin. It reads:
"Metro Jacksonville, Inc. regrets the recent actions by Mr. Griffin that caused his removal as an officer/director of the corporation. There is an active investigation into associated financial discrepancies so we cannot comment any further on the situation with Mr. Griffin."
The statement has since been posted to the Metro Jacksonville website.
Dare denies any wrongdoing. A letter from his attorney Mike Yokan says, "a suit will be filed within days to address the wrongdoings of Mr. Ennis, Mr. Herbin, Mr. Fields and Modern Cities, LLC."