PerspectivesAndrew Moss Jacksonville Today Contributor
Jacksonville City Councilman Nick Howland has filed legislation that would require a council vote on any no-bid contracts. | File photo, Will Brown, Jacksonville TodayJacksonville City Councilman Nick Howland has filed legislation that would require a council vote on any no-bid contracts. | File photo, Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

OPINION | Deegan, DeFoor and the paradox of change

Published on September 7, 2023 at 8:40 pm

“I don’t think hyper-partisanship belongs in city government. I think we need to be problem solvers and I think we need to work together and across the lines to make sure that we do the best things for the city.” This quote from Mayor Deegan one day before she took office was the ethos of her entire campaign, “change for good” to rid the corrosive divisiveness that allegedly gripped Jacksonville’s politics for the past eight years. 

However, the past two months have shown the mayor’s promise to be little more than a Potemkin village, and the battle over Randy DeFoor appointment as the next general counsel is its clearest example. Former Councilwoman DeFoor endorsed the mayor at the 11th hour and was the mayor’s selection as the city’s next general counsel. Potential ethical issues related to a possible violation of Florida law prohibiting former elected officials from lobbying the body they previously served on has sidelined the process of a final vote on DeFoor’s nomination.  

Due to this potential conflict, the City Council voted in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion to seek an opinion from the Florida Commission of Ethics before proceeding with DeFoor’s nomination. After the Council’s vote, the mayor’s best course of action would have been to take a simple position: While she disagrees with the City Council, she will wait to receive the opinion from the Florida Commission of Ethics and go forward from there. 

Instead, what followed was a Trumpian-like press conference in which she blamed “punishment politics,” “sexism,” and a “smear campaign” allegedly spearheaded by two political consultants that less than 10% of the electorate could identify. Further, she stated, “The same forces who tried to sell JEA are now actively working against [DeFoor’s] nomination and are putting pressure on our Council people.” Of note, the same people who complained about the politicization of JEA during the Curry Administration are somehow comfortable with the mayor’s trotting out JEA’s CEO to make comments to support a political appointee, but that’s for another column. 

Besides the suspension of disbelief one would need to follow the mayor’s logic, the mayor’s comments are dripping with irony. Privately, city Council members have groused about numerous phone calls they’ve received from the mayor’s donors imploring them to support DeFoor’s nomination. Some of these Council members have stated they have never seen anything like this before, including during the Curry administration. The members are shocked by the administration’s audacity in using the donor class to influence city business, particularly given the mayor’s rhetoric on the campaign trail. 

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Five Council members have stated they will not vote for DeFoor. Section 7.03 of the City Charter requires 13 yes votes to confirm DeFoor. With Councilman Diamond’s absence, one more Council member in the no column will end DeFoor’s nomination. 

In a bold attempt to overcome this political predicament, the mayor might appoint DeFoor as acting general counsel before October 20th, the expected date City Council would receive an opinion from the Florida Commission of Ethics, City Council President Ron Salem claimed this week (Deegan later denied this was her plan in a statement to reporters). Nevertheless, Councilman Salem, who was probably the best partner the mayor could have had become Council president, felt he was backed into holding the vote on DeFoor’s appointment on September 26th. 

The likely defeat the mayor will suffer is one of her own doing. Mario Cuomo once said, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” The flowery campaign rhetoric about being a change agent had its time and place. Governing requires building a consensus and making sacrifices for the bigger picture of passing an agenda. 

Instead, Mayor Deegan has decided to launch a war with the City Council, which will only alienate her against Council leadership and likely put members of her party in an awkward position to cast a vote against her appointee. Day by day, the solid foundation of “change for good” appears to be an illusion masking the sinking sand of hypocrisy.  


author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

Andrew Moss is a lawyer who has resided in Jacksonville for over two decades. After returning home from his service in the Marines, Andrew has been involved in Republican political campaigns for over a decade, serving as a communications and legal advisor.

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

Andrew Moss is a lawyer who has resided in Jacksonville for over two decades. After returning home from his service in the Marines, Andrew has been involved in Republican political campaigns for over a decade, serving as a communications and legal advisor.