The debate over the future of children’s programming in Jacksonville lasted well into the evening Tuesday, as skeptics and opponents of Mayor Lenny Curry’s Kids Hope Alliance seized the chance to make themselves publicly heard — and to try to run out the clock.
But, Curry ultimately scored a big victory when just after 10 p.m., City Council passed his proposed Kids Hope Alliance in an 18-to-1 vote. Councilman Garrett Dennis was the lone ‘no’ vote.
With 24 speaker cards for the bill that would merge the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jax Journey, public comment lasted until just shy of 9 p.m., pushing council debate even later.
Throughout a special-called meeting and the full council meeting after, tensions among council members were on full display. Council President Anna Brosche’s decisions as chair were frequently challenged by her colleagues, especially for the time she allowed Finance Chairman Garrett Dennis to question each public commenter with the same line of questions.
Jacksonville Mayor Curry’s Kids Hope Alliance moves towards council vote
New version of Kids Hope Alliance would give less power to mayor
A number of Children’s Commission employees spoke about their fears of losing their jobs if the Kids Hope Alliance is passed. It was the first time any commission employee spoke publicly about their feelings on the bill, and Dennis used the chance to ask many of them about their families, mortgages and livelihoods. He was nearly always the first in the queue with questions.
Dennis’ colleagues were not amused. Councilman Bill Gulliford wanted to overrule Brosche’s decision to allow each council member five minutes to question each speaker
Councilman Scott Wilson repeatedly called Dennis’ questions “disgusting.”
“Madam President, I think this is out of order,” Wilson said. “It’s disgusting, to be honest with you.”
Vice President Aaron Bowman also challenged Dennis, saying he delayed the process of good order.
“I feel my colleague is making this a kangaroo court,” Bowman said
A voice yet unheard on the Kids Hope Alliance before Tuesday night was Steve Austin, son of the former Mayor Ed Austin — the mayor who launched the Children’s Commission more than 20 years ago. Because the late mayor played such a key role in the commission’s history, his name, his wishes and his intentions have been frequent talking points in the ongoing KHA debate.
Steven Austin said his father “wouldn’t create something new just to stick his name on it” and he urged the council to keep the “spirit of the commission alive.”
“Dad taught us that it was incumbent on all of us, the whole community, to care for the most vulnerable” Austin said. He also quoted his father, who was fond of saying, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”
A special committee meeting was called for 3:30 Tuesday afternoon, presumably so the council could discharge the Kids Hope Alliance bill from the Finance Committee, where Dennis had deferred it last week.