For more than 40 years, the Jacksonville Community Council Inc has more than met its mission.
“JCCI has always been,” Board Chairman Kevin Hyde told a recent gathering, “a great convener of people in our community.”
Hopefully, that attribute won’t disappear now that JCCI will no longer exist as a separate nonprofit and instead fold into the Citizen Engagement Pact.
The pact is an initiative aimed at encouraging coalitions of citizens and organizations to carry on the JCCI’s blueprint of studying major local problems and producing reports that offer solutions for them.
It’s a blueprint that deserves to endure.
Over the years, JCCI’s 80-plus reports have bravely tackled Jacksonville’s massive challenges — from our city’s mental health crisis to our heartbreaking rates of infant mortality, from City Hall finances to reducing the murder rate.
They have been exhaustive.
They have been ground-breaking.
They have encouraged and drawn input from across the entire community.
And they have clearly made Jacksonville a better place.
So it’s vital that those reports continue to emerge from the fledgling Citizen Engagement Pact.
The tragic opioid crisis would be a perfect opportunity for a JCCI study.
And the pact must maintain JCCI’s practice of annual “Quality of Life” reports that regularly keep track of where the city has made strides on significant issues — education, environment, public health, the economy, race relations and more. So it’s encouraging that the United Way plans to keep up that tradition.
The progress reports have been valuable. The recently released 2017 edition — the last under JCCI’s banner — is another worthy contribution.
It reveals that the rate of youth poverty in Jacksonville continues to rise in unacceptable fashion — but that more local youths are successfully graduating from high school.
It reveals that while overall crime continues to steadily decrease in our area, there hasn’t been similar, sustained improvement in reducing violent crime.
And the latest progress card shows that Jacksonville still has hard work ahead on many other issues, including the need to close the gaping economic gap between haves and have-nots in our community.
It’s hard work that JCCI has admirably embraced — and it’s noble labor that must continue even as JCCI ceases to exist as before.
WEAPONS IN DUVAL SCHOOLS
Guns and knives should never be as prevalent as textbooks and laptops in a school district’s classrooms.
So Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti and School Board members should be applauded for putting together a multilayered approach to reducing weapons in the district’s schools.
• Setting up a district hotline and app dedicated to reporting tips about weapons in school buildings.
• Giving Duval school officials more authority to conduct random searches in their buildings.
• Having more direct conversations with students on ways to keep both guns and violence out of their schools.
On the surface, this approach strikes the right balance of being aggressive yet inclusive in the push to get rid of weapons in Duval schools.
But to fully succeed, the district’s anti-weapons campaign must also draw support and cooperation from district parents and guardians.
So it’s critical that the district work to empower parents and guardians to speak up when they suspect their children may be carrying weapons into classrooms.
The days of staying silent must end.
The days of clinging to states of denial — “Oh, no, my child wouldn’t have a gun” — must end, too.
Too often, the silence and self-denial can lead to tragedy and death.
To reduce the number of weapons in the Duval school district, there must be an increase in awareness, dialogue and action among all stakeholders.
TAKE THE COUNTIES SERIOUSLY
Generally speaking, you can grade a yearly session of the Florida Legislature by this standard:
The more that the legislative session is focused on addressing practical issues that are actually important to Florida’s 67 counties, the more productive the legislative session tends to be.
So let us hope that during the new session, lawmakers seriously tackle the suggested list of priorities that’s been put forth by the Florida Association of Counties.
Among other things, the group is calling for the Legislature to give the counties:
• More flexibility in addressing water issues that affect their individual communities.
• More control in determining where medical marijuana dispensaries are located in their municipalities.
• More money and resources to deal with mental illness and fight the growing opioid abuse crisis across Florida, which is also ravaging Duval County.
None of these priorities should be controversial.
All of them — as well as others being pushed by the Florida Association of Counties — target the real-life challenges that county officials grapple to handle on a daily basis.
And all of them deserve thorough consideration and discussion by the Florida Legislature.
“We simply want to be partners with the state throughout the process of dealing with these issues,” said Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Schellenberg — Duval’s representative in the Florida Association of Counties — in a recent interview with the Times-Union editorial board.
Florida’s lawmakers should show a mutual interest in fostering that partnership with counties during the legislative session.
Home rule needs to be fact, not fiction.