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JCCI Budget Workshops Offer Plenty of Time For Discussion

patton-postI was disappointed to read an editorial in the print paper the other day which called into question the usefulness of the JCCI budget workshops.

The editorial referenced an incident in which a gentleman felt he had not been given an opportunity to express his opinion in a breakout group. He had chosen to join the JSO table, and was one of 3 people who would have been eligible to vote on the various functions of the Sheriff’s office. He was given a more than ample opportunity to express his opinion.

How do I know all this? Well, when, in his response, JCCI executive director Skip Cramer referred to an “experienced JCCI volunteer” who witnessed the incident … that volunteer was me.

So, it’s unfortunate that the workshops were so mischaracterized in the Op-Ed. The incident, as I observed it, was much different that it was described.

Part of what I’ve been asked to do by JCCI during these workshops is to visit all of the various tables through the course of the session to help prevent exactly what happened last Saturday. One of JCCI’s “Forum Decorum” rules is “No Filibustering”, so that everyone can have an opportunity to express their thoughts, including those who have come to represent the city. When I entered the room in which the JSO and JEDC were having their breakout sessions, the filibuster was already underway.

The gentleman in question was, somewhat animatedly, making his points directly to the two uniformed JSO officers at the table. He mentioned more than once how the citizens pay their salaries. He took issue with the policy that allows officers to take patrol cars home, and he said that there should be NO new police hired in these difficult times.

The first time the JCCI table facilitator asked him to let someone else speak, he interrupted her and said “Let me finish, I’m not staying anyway.”

She let him continue, and it wasn’t until the second time she asked him to please yield the floor, several minutes later, that he left the room.

I’m not sure if he determined before the workshop that he was not going to stay for the voting, which actually would have made a difference in the process, or if he just determined that he was going to leave because he was not going to be allowed to dominate the discussion. Either way, he left before the voting got underway. If he had stayed to vote, his voice would have carried much more weight than it did.

These budget workshops were never designed to be a direct conversation between the mayor and the public on funding levels for the various departments. There will be an opportunity for that in town hall meetings that are scheduled later in the process. They ARE designed to be an conversation between department heads and the public about what the budget PRIORITIES should be.

The overwhelming majority of the people who have attended the workshops has said what a positive experience it has been. I have seen many people who have had strong disagreements with how the city spends its money, but they have all expressed those opinions in the context of the rules of the workshops, and have voted, often a straight “don’t want” line. But that’s the structure that has been established, and it is instructive for city leaders to see that there are those who have those opinions.

To stand up and filibuster men in uniforms with guns, and then not stay to make your opinion count, seems to be counterproductive. If you’d like to see for yourself just how the workshops work, participate. There are three left, with the next one being tonight (Monday). Find out all the details at myjaxbudget.com, register, and make your opinion heard.

But do everyone a favor and follow the rules.

2 Responses »

  1. I have been to this workshop and found it informative and was also at the JSO table. We had nobody filibuster us, we were a calm group that was respectful all the way around. Sounds like this gentleman came with an agenda and come hell or high water, he was going to speak his mind. They were very clear that this was about hearing from department heads about what they do, it was not designed to get into individual spending accounts to determine what needed to be cut. This was to determine what the citizens expect from their government.

  2. Unfairly dominating the discussion is inappropriate and it is a mistake not to vote in the process. I have not attended one of these sessions but plan on doing so, particularly the JSO. If the focus of the budget discussions are on learning about the department functions and deciding which ones are needed, that is useful. That will help the Mayor and the department head know what taxpayers view as value added and non-value added functions and pose that info in a consistent fashion. HOWEVER, it would be value added if the info gathering included less restrictive input e.g. how functions are performed, what functions are missing, streamlining suggestions etc. Nevertheless, the current rules produce useful info, but this more comprehensive info in the one on one setting should be included in the future. Respectively and with a positive view! But taxpayers are outraged over the financial and cultural condition of the City and its schools, for sure.