Rick Mullaney: A History of the Consolidation Movement

October 27, 2009 87 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Corruption, duplication of services, raw sewage being dumped in the St John's River. A majority of the City Council under indictment, a business climate in crisis, and the humiliating dis-accreditation of our Public School System. City of Jacksonville General Counsel, Rick Mullaney has an engineer's view of how our Consolidated government works. Join us as he explains both the legal and historical backdrop that led to our unique and efficient form of Consolidated City Government. The following is an adaptation of a speech by Mr. Mullaney to the Charter Revision Commission as part one in a three part series on the importance of the Charter Review.

My name is Rick Mullaney, and I'm General Counsel for the City of Jacksonville.

Thank you for having me here.

In trying to understand this charter and taking into account the principles to consider in changing this charter for the better, I begin this discussion in 1934, because in 1934 we had one of the most significant structural changes that would allow all of us to sit here today.

In 1934 there was an amendment to the Florida Constitution, the 1885 Florida Constitution, that put in a specific provision that related just to Jacksonville. We call it The Jacksonville Constitutional Amendment, as it was a specific provision that related just to us.

Under that constitutional provision, Jacksonville was given this extraordinary opportunity and authority under the constitution to abolish its county government, to abolish its city government, and to put in its place, quite frankly, whatever we chose. And, most importantly, particularly in 1934 when there was such limited home rule around the state, it gave us the authority to have the most extensive home rule authority of any local government in the state of Florida.

The technical definition of "home rule," of course, relates to the authority of local governments to do things. And the technical definition is, Does the constitution grant it to you or do you have all powers not given by the constitution?

Let me make it simpler. Home rule is our authority to govern ourselves. Home rule is our authority for self-determination. Home rule is our authority to make decisions that shape our future. And, I believe, home rule is the basis for the transformation that we've seen in Jacksonville, and that the transformational changes we have seen here have not come as a result of Tallahassee, have not come from Washington D.C., have not been imposed upon us, but because of this structure and this home rule authority which found its basis in the 1934 amendment to the Florida Constitution, structural change, significant structural change -- which, by the way,  was not effectuated until many years later, but the structure was critical for allowing it to happen.

You may say to yourself, why was it in 1934, out of the clear blue, that this remarkable structural change took place? And I'll give you two answers to that.

One, in the 1930s, we had the first of what would be three waves of public corruption in Jacksonville, 75 indictments were issued. And, as a result of that corruption, as a result of grand juries meeting, civic-minded people went to the Florida Legislature and they got the Florida Constitution amended to provide this constitutional, structural opportunity for Jacksonville.

The other is that Jacksonville's governmental structure in 1934 was overlapping, duplicative, wasteful, and if you wanted to create a structure, or a model for lack of accountability and responsibility, we were it. We had a Board of County Commissioners, we had a Budget Commission, we had constitutional officers, a City Commission, and a City Council.

And, by the way, the Mayor actually sat on the City Commission. That structure is known, in part, as a Weak Mayor form of government. There was no real executive authority.

If you take a look at this governmental structure where there's this county government that was duplicative and you had the City government that was duplicative---and they were often at odds with each other---and there was waste and lack of responsibility and lack of accountability, that describes many of the 66 counties in the state of Florida today. That is the norm for local government structure that you see.

In Miami-Dade today there are 2.4 million people, 1.2 - in the incorporated areas, 35 municipalities. In Palm Beach, 38 municipalities. In Broward, 35 municipalities. Orange County, 13. And I would suggest there's a big difference between the public debates we have here in Jacksonville and those in other parts of the state which are often just disputes between coequal branches of government.

It's a contrast of democracy versus jurisdictional battles between competing entities---all with their own separate powers.

And around the rest of the state we have seen this local government structure with a county government, multiple municipalities. In Miami-Dade, for instance, there are 35 police departments and a county police department, 35 Public Works Departments, 35 City Councils--- a number of different structures, very difficult, very challenging.

And in 1934, we were among them, among the 67 counties. We had that county, city, overlapping, wasteful structure, and no accountability.

So one would see that and say, well, given that structure, given the waste, given the corruption, it would seem safe to assume, of course, that we consolidated in 1934.

The answer is we did not. And we did not for the same reasons, quite frankly, that it doesn't happen around the rest of the state.

The effort to Consolidate has launched many times around the state and failed.  The reason it's failed in Tampa, it's failed in Gainesville, the reason it's a challenge in Escambia County is because, quite frankly, absent crisis and statesmanship, it typically does not take place. There are vested interests who don't want to lose their jobs because consolidation requires that the county government goes out, the city government goes out, and you have a new one in its place. There are those who simply fear change, there are those with vested interests in the current system. So in 1934, it did not happen.

But the structural provision in the Florida Constitution remained in place related to Jacksonville. And 30 years later, in the 1960s, Jacksonville was gripped with its second wave of public corruption and, quite frankly, an even bigger crisis.

At that time, grand juries were meeting and state grand juries issued presentments. Four of nine City Council members were indicted. The property appraiser was indicted for low evaluations of ad valorem revenues. In fact, we had the lowest per capita spending for students of anywhere in the state of Florida and our schools became disaccredited.

I often tell a personal story as a little boy on the Westside going to Wesconnett Elementary School. The school had become disaccredited. My mother, the daughter of an immigrant who didn't learn to speak English till grade school, went to work to pull my brothers and I out of public schools in 1964 and put me at Sacred Heart over on the west side of Jacksonville.

Just an illustration of how it personally affected families because in the 1960s: we were gripped with a serious crisis, raw sewage being dumped into the river, smelly town, indictments, waste, fraud, inefficiency, services not being delivered to the rest of the county, racial tensions. And in the midst of this crisis, civic-minded people -- quite frankly, like all of you -- the business community, the Times-Union, Channel 4, the media, others all came together and said we have got to do something for reform, put together a package.

And in August of 1967, something very remarkable happened. We went to the polls here in Jacksonville -- and at the same time it failed in Tampa -- by a two-to-one margin we voted -- pretty remarkable -- to abolish the county government that existed at that time, to abolish the city government, and to adopt our Charter, a very dramatic and revolutionary reform. And on October 1st of 1968, this charter went into effect.

It was Consolidated Government.

Part Two: Understanding Consolidation with Rick Mullaney

Part Three: Advantages of Consolidation

Rick Mullaney.

Tomorrow, the second part of this series, "Understanding Consolidation" will premiere and Metro Jacksonville will be joined live throughout the day by Mr. Mullaney to discuss Consolidation with our readers and ask any questions they may have on the subject.

This will be a first for our site, and probably a first for Jacksonville to have this information and the considerable resources available through Mr. Mullaney's expertise to such a wide live audience.

We look forward to this experience and encourage all of our readers to take advantage of this unique opportunity.