My, my, how attitudes do change from one mayoral administration to the next.

 

In 2011, Mayor Alvin Brown sought to lessen the autonomy of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, to have the power to hire and fire the commission’s top leader, and to combine the commission and the Jacksonville Journey into one organization.

Blowback would be an accurate description of what followed with some of the harsh criticism coming from City Council members.

Now some of those same council members are lined up squarely behind Mayor Lenny Curry’s plan to do pretty much the same thing.

Curry announced his proposal last week for a new organization called Kids Hope Alliance that will supplant the Children’s Commission and the Jacksonville Journey.

Legislation now filed with the City Council makes it clear that the alliance “shall exist as a board under the Executive Branch of the consolidated government.”

The alliance will have a seven-member board appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council.

Those members will serve at the pleasure of the mayor and may be removed by the mayor.

The mayor also will choose the board’s chairman and will have to concur with the board’s choice for a chief executive officer.

Brown was accused of a power grab. The 14 City Council members attending Curry’s announcement last Wednesday raised their hands in support of what Curry was proposing.

Curry hasn’t said who the seven board members will be, but a hint can be found that they won’t have to be Duval County residents if “they have a substantial business interest in Duval County.” Hello, Ponte Vedra.

Look, clearly this legislation is going to pass, and it could be a workable approach to the violence among too many of the city’s young people and to provide opportunities for children to choose better paths.

Curry was right when he declared: “Here’s what I can tell you: We have to get this right. It’s not going to be an easy road, but we’ve got to get it right.”

After having listened to Curry talk several times about the often devastating conditions some of our city’s children face, it’s evident that he is sincere in what he is trying to do.

The question that will be played out over the next several years is whether this is the right approach.

About his reform proposals, Curry said he believes they reflect the legacy and vision of former Mayor Ed Austin, who established the Children’s Commission in 1994 during his term in office.

That’s not exactly right.

Austin, the long-time state attorney who was more than familiar with the cycle of violent crime among young people, favored setting up a totally independent commission with its own taxing authority similar to those in some other Florida counties, such as Miami-Dade.

That would remove choices about what’s best for children from what can be ugly political fights over picking one interest over another in deciding what programs to fund.

Instead it would put decisions in the hands of a knowledgeable board.

Voters in Miami-Dade have liked its board’s work so much that they approved continuing it after a sunset provision required another vote.

But in 1990, Duval County’s voters turned down the “Save Our Children Act” by a mere 1,886 votes of 150,000 ballots cast.

After that defeat, Austin proceeded to set up the Jacksonville Children’s Commission with as much autonomy as possible.

A key to success for Curry’s Kids Hope Alliance will be the people he appoints to the board.

They must have expertise in children’s issues. As one friend described, this isn’t like producing lawn mowers. There are all kinds of factors involved.

They must be vigilant for all of the city’s children who are facing difficult circumstances, not just those in certain areas of town.

And they must be strong enough to speak the truth even if it might offend a mayor who will have the power to fire them.

ron.littlepage@jacksonville.com; (904) 359-4284