Rick Mullaney: The Benefits and Future of Consolidation

October 29, 2009 87 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The third and final installment of the series. Rick Mullaney, as the General Counsel for the City of Jacksonville, has an engineer's view of how our Consolidated government works. Join us as he explains the machine that is our unique form of government, its history, things we learned along the way, and how structural changes and political fads have altered the original intentions. The following is an adaptation of a speech by Mr. Mullaney to the Charter Revision Commission in which he outlines the advantages of Consolidation and talks eloquently about the benefits that Consolidated Government has brought the city over the past 40 years. And finally challenges us all to consider what changes might be needed in the City Charter.

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

Thank you for having me here.

Over the last 40 years, how has this worked and what have we gained and what has our experience been?

Id like to talk about a few, if I could.

One -- and I'll start with the one that the Florida Legislature wanted to talk about -- is ad valorem. We clearly do enjoy an ad valorem "dividend:, so to speak, as a result of Consolidated Government. That's in part because of the greater efficiency and economies of scale that we can have as a result of this countywide jurisdiction.

The Better Jacksonville Plan can be considered a result of consolidation.

We don't have 35 Public Works Departments.

We don't have 35 City attorneys and one county attorney. We have one. That may be a flaw. But, regardless, I would suggest that it's duplicative in other counties around the state and there is an ad valorem dividend. We still have-by far---the lowest in any large metropolitan area in the state for many reasons, but one of them is our structure.

Let me mention a second. Because of this structure and setting this up, we are less regulatory and less bureaucratic than the other 66 counties, in particular I'm talking about development: in terms of economic development and policy initiatives, the ability to be streamlined here in Duval County. I once asked Sergio Gonzalez, the chief of staff for the City of Miami, how do you get anything done with 35 municipalities and a county government?  

I asked. He said, Rick, we don't. We don't.

We had a health care symposium out at UNF recently and Marshall Criser, who is from Palm Beach, spoke. And he talked about Scripps and economic development and how they hoped to develop all these technology companies as a result of what Governor Bush had done, and then he described how Palm Beach drove them all away with their 38 municipalities in what he called Afghani Tribal Warfare.  In the end the county beat up itself and drove everybody out.

Imagine trying to do economic development in a community where you have 30 layers of cities and regulations to deal with and a county overlay.

In Miami-Dade, they have an appointed sheriff, the only one in the state that I'm aware of, and then they have 35 police departments.

So when I say it's less regulatory and less bureaucratic, I'm not suggesting it's perfect here, but I am suggesting that the structure allows us to be more streamlined, it allows us to be friendly towards economic development, it gives us the opportunity for greatness.  

Whether we accomplish that or not is a separate matter, but we don't want structure to prevent us from getting there.  So that's number two. These aren't in order.

Number three, intragovernmental litigation. I had a bond lawyer from Tallahassee once say to me -- Mark Mustain.

He said to me, "Rick, how has Jacksonville managed to avoid the kind of intragovernmental litigation that exists around the state?"

Around the state, counties sue municipalities, municipalities sue counties, they all sue various subdivisions, the authorities -- they're all in litigation. How has Jacksonville managed to avoid that?

I said, Mark, it's very simple. We gave them all the same lawyer. Got a little chuckle out of that. I said  'that may be good for public policy, kind of hard on the lawyer, but there was some truth in it."

I want you to imagine Microsoft, for example, or GE -- I used to use General Motors, but I don't use them anymore. Use GE or Microsoft and picture one of the various subdivisions of those entities having a disagreement in the browser group versus the operating group, suing each other. Imagine it. Do you think Microsoft or GE is going to speak with multiple voices to the public? Internally, they can have whatever debate they want, and it can be loud and vigorous.

Externally, they speak with one voice.

You look at local governments around the state, they have external debates in which they disagree. Here in Jacksonville we are fortunate to have a structure in which we can debate vigorously internally, loudly, as much as we want. But hopefully with this structure, we can speak with one voice to Tallahassee, we can speak with one voice to Washington D.C., and we can speak with one voice to a prospect for economic development. And a piece of that is, we don't create silos in which we sue each other, we don't create silos of autonomy in which we work at cross-purposes.

We tried to create a structure in which there can be debate, there can be disagreement, but there's also the opportunity to shake public policy to address big issues that we reach a consensus on to move forward, and that's why we have such a structural advantage. So the third thing is we, fortunately, under this system, don't sue each other.

Number four -- and some people would put this number one in importance. When we were in Pensacola, the people there in Escambia County turned to Former Mayor Ed Austin and said, "Would you name the three biggest advantages of consolidated government? "

He said, "Let me list the top three for you: Accountability, Accountability, and Accountability."
Because what this structure created was a strong CEO form of government and pinpointed responsibility, executive and legislatively, where it didn't exist before. And the example was given -- if you look at football teams, if you look at presidencies, if you look at governments, if you look at private enterprise, they have a CEO. It's true everywhere, except in local governments around the state.

And we were fortunate, through genius and luck, to get one here, and we have that accountability.

Number Five: Public Policy creation that transforms your community.

We have a structure that gives us the ability to develop public policies countywide and potentially regionally in terms of infrastructure, transportation, environment, and now municipal finance. We enjoy an inherent public policy advantage.

Let me give you one that some might argue the most important -- it's somewhat subtle, but I'd like you to think about it. I simply call it -- Clout, a seat at the table.

Because of this structure, we have the opportunity to leverage a $4.5 billion enterprise and our civic and community assets to achieve public policy goals that are transformational and it gives us a seat at the table and it gives us the ability to carry it out.

Camp Milton is a product of the Preservation Project

If somebody is wondering how the smallest market in the history of the country got a franchise in the NFL...If you're wondering how in 1993 the greatest upset in sports history took place, I'm telling you, in part, it's because we had a seat at the table and we had the clout and the ability to speak with one voice and to leverage a $4.5 billion enterprise, along with civic and community assets and a common purpose. These principles, this leverage, this streamlined approach are the principles that carried us with the NFL, the Super Bowl, River City Renaissance, the Preservation Project, Jacksonville Journey, and has literally transformed us over the last 40 years, in my opinion.

And, by the way, that structural advantage continues this moment as I address you and as we speak.

Around the state and around the country everybody is struggling with pension reform,
privately and publically. I read in the Wall Street Journal about $6.2 billion being spent for an auto supplier subsidiary of GM to help bolster up the pension fund. This challenge is the largest since United Airlines. Public pension funds around the country and around the state are all struggling with public pension reform.

In the near term, the mayor's office will be presenting a comprehensive package of pension reform at the collective bargaining table.

However, unlike other counties and municipalities around the state in which the county government for public safety is a part of FRS and multiple municipalities which have multiple pension reform packages with municipal pension funds and varying pension funds throughout those counties, we have the structural opportunity to address this comprehensively for comprehensive reform.

Trying to accomplish that with 38 Interlocal Agreements in Palm Beach or 13 Interlocal Agreements in Orange County, plus an additional one for the county is very, very challenging, but we have an opportunity -- because the whole state is facing an economic crisis. We are not alone in this. We do have the opportunity, however, to restructure.

This also applies, by the way, to progressive policies in our restructuring of procurement and purchasing. We have the opportunity with this Consolidated structure to leverage our size and entities in terms of purchasing and procurement for savings to the taxpayer.

If you purchase fuel, it works the same at the school district as it does at the airport, as it does with the Sheriff's Department, and certainly you could leverage that size in terms of commodities and in other areas. And I would suggest that when the stimulus package first came out in the winter, the competition is fierce. We had the opportunity to speak with one voice, for a stimulus package that is appropriate for this community! So the structural advantage continues.

You may look at what are the defining characteristics of this consolidated government to make it work. But let me quote the words of someone else. A few weeks ago, we had a lunch honoring Judge Bill Durden for his service as the first General Counsel. He was very articulate and very smart, and we honored his service. He issued over 200 binding legal opinions. And he talked about the two key characteristics, in his view, that were a linchpin to this community speaking with one voice and to consolidated government working: Centralized financial authority---meaning the legislative branch review of all the money --constitutional officers, independent authorities, the City's budgets -- and Centralized Legal Services.

Those are the words of Judge Durden, and I agree. Let me add the critical notion of separation of powers, checks and balances, and a strong mayor form of government because there is a big difference between the jurisdictional battles that occur around the rest of the state and the public policy debates we have among our branches of government.

Sometimes looking at us make public policy may appear messy, slow, inefficient, even for some disappointing. As Winston Churchill once said, "You know, democracy is the worst form of government ever created in the history of mankind, except for all the rest." And I suggest that this process of debate is actually a very healthy one and that the checks and balances we see, whether it's a council vote and a veto, whether it's an appointment and the failure to confirm, that the checks and balances and separation of powers is unique with us and is a part of our success.

Without consolidation, there is a good chance that Jacksonville would not have become an NFL city.

One final note:  (and I say this with no disrespect to the sheriff or the other independent authorities) One of the hallmarks of this Consolidated government is also one of the most difficult things for its participants, and that is letting go of some sovereignty, the idea that they are autonomous. You have to give up some of that authority to be a part of this consolidated government. That is true of the constitutional officers, it's true of the independent authorities, it's true of the Mayor's office, and of the legislative branch.

And I will tell you, historically, that has been one of our challenges because the pressure is to develop greater independence, greater autonomy, all in the name of fulfilling a mission in which we need to come back and ask:

What truly is the mission?

-Rick Mullaney.

For a companion discussion between Rick and Former Mayor Ed Austin, check out today's History Section at metrojacksonville.com/history

Part One: A History of the Consolidation Movement

Part Two: Understanding Consolidation with Rick Mullaney

Related discussion: Tommy Hazouri's Charter Presentation on School Board.