The full Jacksonville City Council is set to vote this month on Mayor Donna Deegan’s appointment of former Councilwoman Randy DeFoor to head up the general counsel’s office.
Council President Ron Salem announced during a Rules Committee meeting Tuesday that, while legal questions are pending with the Florida Commission on Ethics, he has decided not to wait for the state board to weigh in before a full council vote.
“I decided to place the DeFoor legislation on a regular cycle,” Salem told council members Tuesday. He said he was concerned that DeFoor could be appointed as interim general counsel before the ethics commission rendered an opinion.
“It became clear to me last week that the DeFoor nomination was being considered as an acting general counsel as of Oct. 1, and that greatly concerned me, because of opinions that may come out of that office between Oct. 1 and the 20th.”
Oct. 20, according to city documents, is the date of the next Florida Commission on Ethics meeting, when Salem had requested that the board consider legal questions about DeFoor’s ability to serve in the top attorney post without ethical problems.
Deegan’s team said in an email that the mayor was not going to appoint DeFoor as interim general counsel.
Both City Council and the mayor’s office are asking the commission whether DeFoor’s appointment would conflict with a state law that restricts former council members from lobbying people or entities before City Council for two years.
The mayor called the shift in council plans “perplexing.”
“This is perplexing,” Deegan said. “My understanding was that Council wanted to hear from the Florida Ethics Commission. If they are moving forward regardless, then this vote should be about Randy’s qualifications for the job. She brings extensive experience as a general counsel, and she stood strong against the sale of JEA. That leadership and integrity is what Jacksonville needs.”
Either way, Salem said he expects the vote on DeFoor’s nomination to held Sept. 26.
While not everyone at the Rules Committee meeting discussed their voting plans regarding DeFoor, some were absolutely candid.
Councilman Kevin Carrico, who visited the Rules meeting to speak on a separate topic, said he wanted to “clear the air.”
“You know, we live in this world of speculation,” Carrico said. “I just wanted to put on the record that, you know, I am not in support of the decision — of the choice, if you will — for the Office of General Counsel. … I’d rather just put it out there and not have people speculate and write articles about what we’re doing and what we’re thinking.”
Councilman Chris Miller, later in the meeting, also weighed in with his voting decision at this time.
“To me, there are two things that I’d like to recommend that we keep in mind,” Miller said. “The person who will be general counsel for our city will not just be the general counsel for the executive branch of our government. This person will also be the general counsel for the legislative body.”
Miller said that over the past 10 years, City Council has had over three times the number of binding legal opinions from general counsel as the executive branch has.
“I always look at, do we have the right person with the right experience in the right position,” Miller said. “And after going through that process, I just wanted to be on the record of saying I will not be able to support this nomination and I will be voting no when it comes before us on this matter.”
Ferraro’s future unknown
Another of the mayor’s more debated appointments was her nomination of former City Councilman Al Ferraro to lead the Neighborhoods Department.
The mayor’s office announced Friday that Ferraro had withdrawn his name from consideration.
Rules Committee Chair and Councilman Terrence Freeman said that while he did not feel Ferraro would have been a good fit to head of the Neighborhoods arena, he asked the mayor’s City Council liaison, Scott Wilson, whether the Deegan administration had found a place for Ferraro elsewhere.
“I’ve had many constituents ask, ‘Where did Al Ferraro finish,'” Freeman said. “We want to make sure that he would still be able to play a role in working for the city.”
“As of today, he’s still sitting in as acting director of neighborhoods,” Wilson told the committee. “We don’t know exactly what the future holds. I have heard many ideas from several of you — where you think he might land — and so I’m presenting those ideas to the administration and they will review them and we’ll know more in the future.”
Phil Perry, the mayor’s chief communications officer, said Ferraro “absolutely will have a role in the administration.”
“Mr. Ferraro just withdrew his name at the end of last week, and his nomination still needs to be officially withdrawn the appropriate City Council committees,” Perry said in an email. “We are looking at our options as that process plays out and will announce next steps soon.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Sept. 6 with a response from Mayor Donna Deegan.