Mayor Peyton’s administration began its term July 2003 with the promises of running government like a business, growth in downtown and taking our city park system from the biggest to the best. Nearly three years into a four year term, we are still waiting for any of those promises to be fulfilled. The mayor ensured us that government would be run like a business, demonstrating personal accountability and fiscal responsibility. To date, he has fallen far short of these expectations. Nearly every major issue that this mayor has handled has turned into a fiasco.
The promise of not passing the cost of a new courthouse to future generations was like a battle cry from Suite 400 at City Hall. Now, the mayor has said that we will build a partial courthouse, with civil functions remaining in the current facility on Bay Street for the time-being. At the same time, we have encouraged both citizens and business owners to embrace Bay Street as our downtown entertainment district. Business owners have invested large sums of money into storefronts hoping they would be the start of the first centralized town center since downtown’s heyday in the 1960’s. This revitalization can never happen when one side of the “entertainment district” is filled with antiquated and poorly designed government buildings that have no activity after five o’clock. In addition, the administration has acknowledged that by waiting 10-20 years to complete the project, the building will cost more. How is this not passing the cost on to future generations?
The mayor’s latest proposal has been dubbed the “Big Ideas” plan. Whose big ideas are they? Where was the public input? When was the town hall meeting? Why did the downtown core’s district councilperson, Suzanne Jenkins, know nothing about the “Big Ideas” plan until hours before it hit the newspaper? The mayor needs to take the lead from his predecessor, John Delaney, about getting public input. Delaney’s administration brought us “Celebrating the River”, our current downtown master plan. This plan, involved thousands of everyday citizens input. When Delaney wanted to kick-start development not just in downtown, but throughout the city, he worked with the City Council to get the issue on the ballot, so Jacksonville citizens could approve what is now known as “The Better Jacksonville Plan.”
No one is criticizing the concept of expanding our city parks. However, why don’t we focus on better maintenance of current parks, or development of parks in conjunction with the current Downtown Master Plan? One such example is the Hogan & McCoy’s Creek greenway, an eight mile long waterfront park referred to in the Downtown Master Plan as “The Emerald Necklace”. Why don’t we enhance the parks we already own before we create more?
While presenting at Councilwoman Jenkins’ town hall meeting, Metro Jacksonville mentioned the need to build public-private relationships. When developers want to build downtown we, as a city, need to embrace those pursuits. We do not need to encourage development offers and then impulsively terminate those offers when a re-election campaign becomes a priority. This practice not only turns off developers from working with the city, it frustrates taxpayers who have had to endure a multitude of plans with no development action to follow the rhetoric. It is obvious that citizens are passionate about downtown development. At the recent town hall meeting; there was standing room only in the city council chambers - which holds 400 people.
In speech it appears that the mayor’s office has an interest in seeing downtown prosper. In action, a mayor that claims to care so much about downtown scheduled a different public meeting at the same time as a town hall meeting regarding the future of downtown. Surely City Hall isn’t so big that news of a town hall meeting regarding the future of downtown couldn’t circulate from the city council offices to the mayor’s office in two weeks. If the mayor was truly concerned about the public’s feeling regarding downtown, why did no one from the mayor’s office appear at the town hall meeting?