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'Now it's an emergency': Anti-Confederate protest prompts new signage barring uninvited visitors from City Hall

New records show a flurry of emails in 24 hours before a planned protest, as city lawyers scrambled to draft language limiting access to the public building.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — New signs prohibiting uninvited visitors at City Hall were a direct response to protests by activists demanding the removal of Confederate monuments.

According to records obtained by First Coast News, city officials deemed a second planned protest by the Northside Coalition an “emergency,” and scrambled to create signage prohibiting “disruptive” behavior along with any visitors not invited or given explicit consent to enter.

Previously, City Hall was open to all guests who underwent a security screening.

The Northside Coalition held its first protest on Sept. 1, entering the atrium of City Hall and taking the elevators to the Mayor’s Office on the fourth floor, where they found the doors locked. They continued to protest with signs and a bullhorn. They were asked to leave by a security guard, and initially refused but eventually left, promising to return. And return they did on Sept. 14, only this time they were met by a group of pro-Confederate counterprotesters.

RELATED: New sign in City Hall sparks controversy following protests

The Northside Coalition is demanding the Mayor fulfil promises he made during the summer of 2020 to remove all Confederate monuments and markers.

City officials have given a steadfast “no comment” when asked about the timeline to remove Confederate icons, but records show they had significant internal communication ahead of the second protest on Sept. 14.

First Coast News requested all notes, emails and texts since Sept. 1 related to the new security signage. The oldest document released is an email is from Brian Hughes, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, setting a Sept. 9 meeting with Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Stephanie Burch and Deputy General Counsel Jon Phillips to discuss “Public Property.”

RELATED: VERIFY: Yes, Jacksonville Mayor Curry said all Confederate monuments in the city would be removed

There were no notes from the meeting, evidently, but the discussion about building access amped up on Sept. 13, when a city attorney notified Jon Phillips and others about a second planned protest the following day. Minutes later, Phillips fired off an email to Assistant General Counsel Craig Feiser. “Ok now it is an emergency,” he wrote. “Please see me asap.”

What follows is a flurry of emails over the next 24 hours in an effort to get limiting signage up.

The records released also include a screen grab of a letter published in the Florida Times-Union by a pro-confederate activist who’s drawn outrage for holding up white power symbols while speaking at City Council meetings. His letter says the Sept. 1 protesters at City Hall “should have all been arrested for Insurrection like those in Washington D.C. who were arrested." He added, “Since it is now allowed to go inside city hall with signs and stand in front of the Mayor’s Office I think me and some friends will do this with a megaphone and with Confederate flags and sing Dixie.”

The letter was sent with the comment “Please get with me Monday. We have a task assigned.” First Coast News has asked who was involved in the text exchange and when it was sent, and have not yet heard back.

The main email exchange is summarized in the timeline below.

  • Sept. 13, 10:58 am 
  • From Gaby Young, Assistant General Counsel
  • To Jon Phillips

Subject: Dream defender – Northside Coalition planning another protest.
I received word this morning that the northside coalition plans to protest at City Hall tomorrow, Sept. 14th at 16:00. I have informed Joe Quinn who is coordinating safety protocols. We can discuss other plans offline.

  • Sept. 13, 11:08 am
  • From Jon Phillips
  • To Craig Feiser

Ok now it is an emergency. Please see me asap.

  • Sept 13, 1:06 
  • From Asst. General Counsel Craig Feiser
  • To Jon Phillips, General Counsel Jason Teal

Here’s my first crack at it. The second graph of the elevator sign is the one we’re working on to capture everything but still allow normal office business to occur.

  • Sept 13, 4:10 pm 
  • Importance HIGH
  • From Craig Feiser
    To Jon Phillips, Jason Teal

New version. Thanks

[Version added line that “this also includes continuing to photograph or video any employee stationed in city hall without his or her consent."]

Credit: First Coast News
  • Sept. 13, 4:31 pm
  • From Craig Feiser
  • To Jon Phillips
    Subject: Signs (City Hall protest)

Attachments GC- #1453184-v1-Signs_(City_Hall_protest).DOCX

Importance: High

[No message]

  • Sept. 13, 4:43 pm
  • From Craig Feiser
  • To Stephanie Burch and Jon Phillips

Subject: Signs (City Hall protest) -- REVISED

Revised version. Thanks

  • Sept. 13, 4:51 PM
  • From Stephanie Burch Deputy Chief Administrative Officer
  • To Jon Phillips, Craig Feiser

Exactly what we needed. Thank you!

  • Sept. 13, 4:51 pm
  • From Stephanie Burch
  • To Bryan Mosier Director of Neighborhoods, Chiquita Moore, Neighborhoods Operations Director

Subject: FW: Signs (City Hall protest) -- REVISED

Importance: High

FYI – we are having signs made up for City Hall with this information. OGC was told that Monica instructed the information desk employees that if anyone came to them and asked to see the Mayor, or make an appointment with the Mayor, or anything like that, they were to be given instructions on how to get to the Mayor’s Office. Please see the second page of this attachment – the direction now is for the person to call 255-5000 and talk to the ladies up front to try to make an appointment. No one should be sent past the first floor any longer without an appointment, or by getting permission from the office the visitor is coming to see. So, Bill is going to have to start calling the offices where people want to visit and asking whether it’s ok for the person to go upstairs…otherwise the visitor will need to call the office and try to make an appointment. Let me know if you have any questions. Thank you!

  • Sept. 13, 4:52 pm
  • From Stephanie Burch
  • To John Pappas, Roy Birbal

Subject: FW: Signs (City Hall protest) -- REVISED

Importance: High

FYI. We are working on the signs. If you have recommendations for sizes to print out please let me know. Thanks.

Credit: City of Jacksonville
  • Sept. 13, 4:56 pm 
  • From Andre Ayoub, JSO
  • To Stephanie Burch

Subject: RE: Signs (City Hall protest) -- REVISED

Got it thank you

  • Sept. 13, 5:04 pm 
  • From John Pappas, 
  • To Roy Birbal, Stephane Burch,
  • Subject: RE: Signs (City Hall protest) -- REVISED

Roy,

What size are the signs at the Main Library.

Stephanie…is the thought to have these signs on an easel or attached to the wall?

John

  • Sept. 13 5:08 pm
  • From Jon Phillips
  • To Stephanie Burch and Craig Feiser

Hang on – we need to tweak them again. Craig will you send you revised version momentarily. Call me if you want me to explain the tweaks?

  • Sept. 13, 5:10 pm
  • From Craig Feiser
  • To Stephanie Burch Jon Phillips

Jon made a couple of tweaks, use this one if you can. Thanks

  • Sept. 13, 5:11 pm
  • From Stephanie Burch 
  • To John Pappas, Roy Birbal

Subject: RE: Signs (City Hall protest) -- REVISED

Ideally attached to the wall or door – I know we probably won’t be able to get sticker signs made up for tomorrow, but we need to have print outs at least taped to doors/walls tomorrow for this.

Also, see revised versions attached. Also, I am having Lauren from the PAO make them pretty…so we don’t need to print these versions. We’ll have a much nicer one tomorrow to print out.

  • Sept. 13, 6:30 pm
  • From Jason Teal
  • To Craig Feiser, Jon Phillips

Attachment GC- 1453184 ddox.DRF

Here’s my comments

Sept. 14, 5:41 am

  • From John Pappas 
  • To Stephanie Burch, Roy Birbal,
  • Subject: RE: Signs (City Hall protest) -- REVISED

10-4

Roy…please ensure that these signs are printed and placed prior to noon today. Concerning size…what are the dimensions of the Main Library signs?

  • Sept. 14, 8:49 am
  • From Stephanie Burch
  • To John Pappas, Roy Birbal
  • Subject: RE: Signs (City Hall protest) -- REVISED

I was just notified they’re going to be revised again – Lauren Spencer is creating the signs. She is on standby until I get the revised language. I’ll send the signs to you as soon as I get them all proofed and approved by OGC. Thank you so much!

Credit: CITY OF JACKSONVILLE
  • Sept. 14, 9:25 am
  • From Craig Feiser
  • To Stephanie Burch, Jon Phillips

Subject: Signs (City Hall protest) – REVISED 9/14/21

Importance: High

See attached

  • Sept. 14, 11:47 am
  • Attachments: COJ Demonstration Guidelines 8.5x11 Sinage Update
  • From Stephanie Burch
  • To Craig Feiser Jon Phillips

Are you guys good with these? Thanks.

  • Sept. 14, 11:52 am
  • From Jon Phillips
  • To Craig Feiser

I talked to her. I had her change citation to warning but otherwise I think they look ok?

  • Sept. 14, 11:55
  • From Craig Feiser to Stephanie Burch

Looks like the first outside sign references “trespass citation” a couple of times. If we can change that to “trespass warning” that would be better. Otherwise they look good to me. Thanks Stephanie.

  • Sept. 14, 11:56
  • From Craig Feiser
  • To Jon Phillips

Just emailed her lol. Same though lol. Otherwise they look fine.

  • Sept. 14, 11:57 am
  • From Stephanie Burch
  • To Craig Feiser Jon Phillips

Got it!