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Ed Austin and Rick Mullaney on Consolidation's Future

A fascinating discussion between Ed Austin, who has the distinction of being the former Mayor of Jacksonville and long time State's Attorney and General Counsel Rick Mullaney. Austin is a member of the Charter Review Commission charged with recommending changes to the form of government that defines the city. Rick Mullaney is the attorney for the entire City and all of its component authorities, boards and bodies.

Published October 29, 2009 in Opinion      3 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


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Ed Austin: We've had testimony here, Mr. Mullaney, about the advantage of being elected, being closer to the people, hearing the people during campaigns, being responsive and so forth. Do you think the General Counsel should be elected?

Rick Mullaney:
No, sir, I do not.

Ed Austin: How about the director of Public Works, the director of JEA, the Airport Authority, roads, parks and playgrounds, should any of those be elected?

Rick Mullaney:
The short answer is no. You commingled different groups -- the executive departments, Public Works, Human Resources, I would not elect the department heads of the executive branch of government. I would not elect the executive authorities or the independent authorities, no, sir, I would not recommend that.

Ed Austin: What you've told us here was that the philosophy of the people who put this charter together, to have a strong mayor who would -- who would do -- make policy and handle all of the executive functions with a -- with a council that balanced it with the balance of power that we have at the federal system?

Rick Mullaney:
Yes, sir.

Ed Austin: At the federal level, if I'm correct, you have an elected president and an elected congress, and nothing else elected, right?

Rick Mullaney:
Yes, sir.

Ed Austin:And at the state level, for the whole state apparatus, you have a governor, legislature, and maybe -- I don't know, do we still elect some cabinet officers? Not many.

Rick Mullaney:
Not many.

Ed Austin: Not many. But basically you have a governor and a legislature for the entire 20 million people inthe state of Florida?

Rick Mullaney:
Yes, sir.

Ed Austin: And one president and the council.What we have at the local level, we have an elected sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, Clerk of the Court, sheriff I think I said. Do you have any comment on that, or does it suggest comment, or do you want to -- do you think these people should all be elected?

Rick Mullaney:
I want to be careful as to which groups we talk about, which ones we're not.

Clearly, I do not think you should be -- the departments of the executive branch should be elected. I also do not think the independent authorities should either.

 I believe, if you extend the elections, like you're just talking about, you will create the very anticonsolidation problem that -- I don't know how well I communicated -- which is interfering with our ability to speak with one voice; interfering with the public policy debate; and, quite frankly, interfering with a strong mayor form of government, who, in the end, as the mayor goes at consolidated government, so goes consolidated government.

 So my short answer to you is -- is that -- to the extent you create silos of authority and independence and fragmentation, I believe you undermine consolidated government.

Ed Austin: The charter originally recommended an appointed sheriff, right?
 
Rick Mullaney:
Yes, sir, it did.

Ed Austin: And appointed a non- -- recommended a nonsalaried school board?
 
Rick Mullaney:
Yes, sir.

Ed Austin:Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Mullaney. If I might say, I've been listening to these presentations on consolidated government for 40-plus years, and that's the best I've ever heard.

Thank you.

Rick Mullaney:
Thank you.







3 Comments

stjr

October 29, 2009, 12:52:49 PM
Quote
I believe, if you extend the elections, like you're just talking about, you will create the very anticonsolidation problem that -- I don't know how well I communicated -- which is interfering with our ability to speak with one voice; interfering with the public policy debate; and, quite frankly, interfering with a strong mayor form of government, who, in the end, as the mayor goes at consolidated government, so goes consolidated government.

So my short answer to you is -- is that -- to the extent you create silos of authority and independence and fragmentation, I believe you undermine consolidated government.

Looks like Rick may favor non-elected officials across the spectrum of offices including school board, sheriff, etc.  It will be interesting to see how this is handled by the Charter Revision Commission.

I am wondering why the elected positions were created to start with?  What was the original thinking?  Did they really think the voters cared enough to select these positions?  I mean Tax Collector, Supervisor of Elections, and Clerk of the Courts?  What happened to Dog Catcher?  Very few voters participate in these elections and it appears to be more of a popularity contest than based on qualifications.  Witness that most victors in these positions were elected previously for other offices.  The Civil Service employees do most of the heavy lifting in these departments to boot.  How many voters have any real idea of how the elected officials are doing their jobs, short of a major scandal.

Disadvantages to the elected position would seem to include:  expense of elections and campaigns, politicizing the offices, eliminating the opportunity to hire apolitical professionals that are "best in class" and may be from out-of-area, creating political indebtedness for the office holders to certain constituencies and/or supporters, lack of integration into the executive branch,  more bureaucracy and inefficiencies interrelating with the rest of City government, and dilution of the consolidated government model.

stephendare

October 29, 2009, 01:06:13 PM
This are absolutely excellent points, Stjr.

I think there are upsides to electing the constitutional officers, and that is that it tends to deconsolidate personal power.

Its expensive, but can you imagine a corrupt mayor with the power to appoint his corrupt friends to sheriff, school board and superisor of elections?

But maybe the mayor would be the incorrect person to entrust appointments to.

Perhaps it would be Council?

I do think that the School Board should be more integrated.

stjr

October 29, 2009, 01:38:47 PM
But maybe the mayor would be the incorrect person to entrust appointments to.

Perhaps it would be Council?

The answer, Stephen, may be the Federal cabinet model.  In that model, these elected positions would be treated like a cabinet position.  The mayor appoints them and the City Council vets them in hearings and approves their appointments.  That way the mayor picks his team, but with public scrutiny.  I think that would work well.

This might actually be a good way to handle other "boards" including the authorities and the school board.

Of course, I would want to restructure the City Council as a prerequisite with at-large holders on it having equal or majority control.  That would wring even more favoritism out of the system.

No system is fool proof.  We have had plenty of corrupt "elected" officials.  Heck, the mayor of Birmingham just got indicted and he was elected.
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