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What Kind of City? (Part 2)

Tom PattonThe formation of the Jacksonville Civic Council from the remnants of the “shadowy” “non-group” again brings into focus the question “what kind of city do we want to have?”  

But as they emerge from the shadows, they do so with a survey that tells us nothing much new.

The JCC is primarily comprised of the city’s behind-the-scenes power brokers, names those who follow politics in town recognize. The group emerges from the background with instant credibility, ensuring that they will be taken seriously. And the first survey from the group mostly goes to re-affirm what has been known for some time. People are concerned about public schools, the Jaguars are important to the city,  and it is important to fund cultural activities and “economic programs.” Also not surprising is a finding that Democrats are more willing to pay higher taxes than are Republicans.

Interestingly,  the only group of which a majority thinks the city is on the wrong track are independent voters. Slight majorities of both Republicans and Democrats say the city is headed in the right direction, even under the cloud of high unemployment, tight city finances, and a difficult economy.

The JCC survey clearly says we want to be an NFL city, and to be honest if we blow it with the Jaguars we’re very, very unlikely to have a second bite at that apple. We seem to also be a city that wants a vibrant downtown, though Democrats seem to think that is more important than do Republicans. Or at least, Democrats are more willing to spend city money on downtown than are Republicans.

So we come back to a discussion of what kind of city we want to be.  The JCC survey doesn't show a major shift in what people want: better schools, their NFL team, a vibrant cultural scene, economic development… and relatively low taxes.

To have the Non-Group working more openly with city leaders and interacting more regularly with the public as the Jacksonville Civic Council will likely have a positive impact on achieving those goals. Public-Private partnerships are going to be necessary to move the city forward while not increasing the tax burden on citizens significantly, and the members of the JCC, who pay up to $15,000 just for the privilege of belonging to the group, have not only the political clout but the economic firepower to make that happen.

It’s a sure bet that, in these difficult economic times, local government is not going to be able to do it on its own. They’ll have their hands full just providing the basic services the government has to provide. So particularly in areas like cultural activities, the business community is going to have to step up and help make things happen. They could also be helpful in working with the city to improve maintenance and other care of the vast network of city parks.

But all of this will take a meaningful commitment on the part of those businesses that can.  That is, local businesses who aren’t still teetering on the ragged edge of layoffs, or worse.

As is so often the case, there are no easy answers. The survey is a starting point for the conversations that need to be had to determine the way forward for the city. But with the “behind the scenes” group taking a more out front and active role, they will bring a lot of firepower to the table.

What should be watched is if their actions back up their stated intentions.

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