JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Another round of infighting at City Hall broke out on Friday during a low-stakes orientation session for the new class of City Council members who will soon be sworn into office, adding a new wrinkle to the complicated web of strained relationships and bad blood between Jacksonville’s elected officials.
Like most of the recent drama in Duval County politics, the latest feud unfolded on social media, according to a report from the Florida Times-Union.
In a sharply worded Twitter post-Friday, Brenda Priestly Jackson, a councilwoman-elect for Jacksonville’s District 10, accused Council President Aaron Bowman of discriminating against her and another African-American councilwoman, Ju’Coby Pittman, for ending a presentation by Sheriff Mike Williams before Pittman and Jackson could ask a question. Two other council members asked questions earlier in the presentation.
Bowman said he was simply trying to move forward with the orientation, which was already nearly an hour behind schedule, and said Jackson’s accusation wasn’t worth responding to. Pittman said she didn’t feel discriminated against and was surprised the situation had escalated.
A video of the meeting showed a seemingly nondescript episode: After Williams finished his prepared presentation, Councilwoman-elect Randy DeFoor asked Williams a question. After Williams finished his response, Councilman-elect Ron Salem asked a question. As Williams responded to Salem’s question, Bowman left his seat in the audience and walked up to the podium behind Williams.
Williams then called on Pittman, who said she had her hand raised, but Bowman made a quick hand gesture to Williams and walked up to the microphone. “Sorry, I’m going to have to ask us to move on,” Bowman said.
Pittman, who was sitting behind the camera, can be heard saying “You cut me off.” Bowman responded by laughing and then introduced Mayor Lenny Curry as the next speaker.
In an interview on Monday, Pittman said her comment was a joke.
“I didn’t know all of that happened until the break. That’s when I realized it went farther than that,” she said.
Jackson, who said she also raised her hand after Williams finished answering the second question, said she became “incensed” after Bowman ended the presentation and immediately left the meeting. Later that day, she published several posts on Twitter, describing the incident as “disconcerting at best and marginalizing and discriminatory at the least.”
“I will address this treatment more formally, but I serve notice that I will not accept any second class treatment for my neighbors, our city or myself,” she wrote. “This is our city and not a plantation.”
Several hours later, Bowman responded on Twitter, calling Jackson’s accusation “slanderous.”
“I do miss my navy days working with adults,” he wrote in another post.
Councilman Garrett Dennis, a vocal critic of Curry and Bowman’s frequent internet-bickering partner, later chimed in, firing a few jabs at Bowman over the weekend.
In recent years, Twitter has become the premier venue for local politicians’ sparring. With an ever-present audience and absence of the standards of conduct that govern official meetings, council members, mayoral staffers and Curry himself have used the platform to disparage adversaries.
Only time will tell if the incident between Jackson and Bowman will escalate into another official estrangement between council members, although as of Friday, Jackson had blocked Bowman on Twitter.