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City of Jacksonville Budget Workshops & Citizen Input

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Imagine my excitement this past Tuesday when I got my confirmation to have a seat at the table at one of five City of Jacksonville budget workshops scheduled between February 23rd, and April 16th of this year. Immediately, my first thought was of Jack Nicholson’s malevolent character “The Joker” in Tim Burton’s “Batman” when he turned to the camera and uttered this warning followed by a chilling cackle, “Wait’ll they get a load of me.” All kidding aside I was actually thinking this opportunity, if anything, will be a sobering experience and a privilege to be taken with a great deal of seriousness.

I’ve always been annoyed at candidates for Mayor and City Council [or any other public office for that matter] whenever they would try and qualify their candidacy with their successful business background or burnish their credentials with free market theories regarding matters of public sector accounting. Private and public sector spending and accounting work under not only two different sets of accounting principles [for the uninformed that would be GAAP for private and GASB for public] but under two different sets of goals and means with which to achieve their bottom lines. To set the record straight I am not an accountant nor do I play one on TV. Heck I haven’t even gotten a good night’s sleep at a Holiday Inn to claim as a qualification. But my toils at the University of Florida to get a degree in history and a minor in political science has given me some knowledge in the rudimentary workings of federal, state and local governments. Civics lessons aside I think I can get most of the plumbing details down enough to understand how these government sausages are eventually made.

I hope to take this as more of a learning experience than to have any real expectations of an impact from a private citizen such as myself who happens to be a property owner. And by the way being a property owner does not nor should it give me any special weight at one of these things. I’m just gratified to see that any citizen, regardless of their circumstances economic or otherwise, is open to register for a seat at the table.

On February 23rd I’ll be at the Regency Square Library location with issued workbook in hand. With my registration they even gave me some homework to do before arrival: reviewing the budget process (including decision making & timelines); the current city budget breakdown (including revenue, expenses, cap improvement and pensions); and millage rates (for police, children, fire, parks and water works). Looks like I’m in for quite an evening. As I’ve already indicated I don’t expect to have much input into this process at all but I’m looking forward to the sausage making process so I can be a little more informed while I’m throwing darts at the lobbyists, special interests and individuals who have agendas outside the best interests for the city and communities.

I’ll be sure to take pictures and be ready with commentary. Perhaps I can even live tweet the event! Stay tuned.