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Emergency water taxi purchase OK, but whether money was appropriated legally unclear, says Jacksonville attorney

Posted: June 9, 2014 - 8:42pm  |  Updated: June 9, 2014 - 10:15pm

Jacksonville officials were legally entitled to buy a pair of water taxis on an emergency basis – but whether the money was appropriated legally is a question for another day, a city lawyer concluded Monday.

The assessment came hours after city officials stood firm behind their decision to spend $338,500 acquiring a pair of vessels to replace the privately run water tax service that shut down Friday. This amid criticism of the move from City Council members.

The city’s Office of General Counsel “is not in a position at this time to determine whether the funds used to purchase the water taxis were properly appropriated,” Assistant General Counsel Tim Horkan wrote in a memo released a little after 6 p.m.

Attorneys usually rely on the city’s budget office or City Council auditors for guidance on financial matters, Horkan wrote in the memo to General Counsel Cindy Laquidara, adding he was “willing to meet … to discuss the appropriation issues in more detail.”

Money for the boats came from the city’s banking fund, an account used to pay for capital items like long-lasting equipment and then repaid over time, said city budget officer Glenn Hansen.

City managers had put a high priority on keeping water taxis running downtown.

The vessels are part of the city’s brand, Chief Administrative Officer Karen Bowling said, something that’s advertised to visitors and meaningful to downtown hotels and restaurants.

“If this city was going to have water taxi service anytime this summer, the only way was to buy them,” Bowling told reporters.

While Jacksonville might still hire a company that brings its own water taxis to town or leases the city’s vessels, Bowling said the process of advertising for offers from companies, then evaluating them, negotiating a contract and letting a vendor get ready could take six months.

The decision to buy a pair of used boats now – one big enough to hold 102 people, the other 50 people – was meant as a stopgap until a long-term solution was found for the void created when Baltimore-based HarborCare LLC gave two weeks’ notice that it was quitting Jacksonville.

But the fact that the city had been caught unprepared had drawn criticism from City Council members, some of whom also challenged the legitimacy of an emergency purchase the Procurement Chief Greg Pease approved last week.

“My personal opinion is this is certainly not an emergency,” said Councilman Richard Clark, who had criticized the deal.

HarborCare’s contract expired in January and an extension the city drafted had not been signed by the company, Bowling said. She said a division chief overseeing the contract would have done well to spot that as a trouble sign, but that in any event decisive action was needed when the HarborCare pulled out.

Clark said the city should have thought through its plans for water taxis when the last contract was running out, rather than when events had overtaken them.

“It’s infuriating that we’re this far into this administration and they can’t seem to get it,” he said.

Horkan wrote that there was some grounds for considering the water taxi case an emergency.

“Reasonable people may disagree about whether the water taxi service is an ‘essential government service,’ ” Horkan wrote. “…However, the fact that the city has ongoing advertisements of water taxis and relies on them to transport large numbers of people during [special events] … may support” the ruling Pease made last week.

The city had initially planned to have the boats in town and operating by last weekend, but said that timeline slipped when the Coast Guard said required inspections couldn’t be done that fast. The boats are still with manufacturer Trident Pontoons and are scheduled to be delivered this week, said city spokesman David DeCamp.

Still unsettled is who will operate the boats. The city has made an offer to Atlantic Beach company Multi Marine Services Inc., but Bowling said no contract has been signed. The deal on the table now would allow Multi Marine to operate the boats for a token lease and collect fares, and the company would pay for expenses such as fuel and maintenance. Bowling said that arrangement would be reviewed a few weeks after the service begins – if it does.


Steve Patterson: (904) 359-4263

Comments (5)

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johnctaughtme 06/10/14 - 07:48 pm
Premium Member

Part of the city's "brand"?

Part of the city's "brand"? Come on, give us a break. The last time our city had a "brand" was when the City and County consolidated, and really began efforts to look and act like a big city. The effective and adequate delivery of government services, especially emergency services, was a major selling point. Good government can be a part of a city's "brand".

The presence of the U.S. Navy was perhaps the most prosperous aspect of Jacksonville's "brand"; a "Navy town", but now for the most part, if one went by the newspaper, there is at best indifference to that part of our "brand".

Mayor Haydon Burns had a vision for Jacksonville's "brand" when he brought companies like CSX (ACL, SCL,) Prudential, and others. The current crop of transient companies de jour, in rented, nondescript offices and cubicles, hardly provides for a long-time "brand". That is going to take a lot more than a couple of water taxis.

Noillusions 06/10/14 - 12:09 pm

Has anyone added up how much

Has anyone added up how much it's going to cost to get the 2 boats to jax?
Has anyone added up what a Pilot (Operator) & training will cost the town?
Has anyone added up what insurance will cost covering these new boats?
Has anyone added up what maintenance on the boats will be annually?
Has anyone added up what licenses & fees to operate the boat will be?
Has anyone added up what marketing this silly project will be.
Has anyone...well you get the point.
We all know the answer is a definitive NO!

Noillusions 06/10/14 - 07:32 am

Jacksonville = Jokesonville.

Jacksonville = Jokesonville.

Bubba 06/10/14 - 01:57 am
Premium Member

It's RICO baby! Our city's

It's RICO baby! Our city's brand is out of control corruption. Visit Jacksonville!
Where do you want to start. Shipyards and a vague contract.
Is everyone sleeping better about the grand jury exoneration of Wallace at FSCJ and another vague contract. That midnight email for an extra $500,000 to the board and then voted on and approved that same day. JTA and a golden parachute for Blaylock. Cindy Laquidara is out Jason Gabriel is in 2014-378. The entire Jacksonville city council tonight needs to listen to councilman Clark and vote NO. The Public Trust continues to be absolutely destroyed in this community. Environmental Ethics - Vince Seibold who got fired for expressing a concern. Pick and choose the winners and losers. Our city is so broke that we are borrowing from the banking fund and then picking someone. Who should be fired not promoted. Eric Holder, Gov. Scott, Pam Bondi, Angela Corey, Kimberley Scott, Carla Miller, this can't be right. Does everyone remember the No Bid, No Public Comment, No Contract Emergency for 20 new comfy chairs for Jacksonville city council members?
Remember 2013-384 the armory for a buck a year for 10 years and zero access to Hogans Creek. Legislation was withdrawn. At the 4/2/14 Noticed meeting on new docking Rules it was announced by Tera Meeks and Paige Johnston that there will now be one vendor with a 10 year no compete clause at the new yet to be built floating dock on the Southbank Riverwalk. Is there an Ord. Number for that? What defines our brand? Palms Fish Camp- Next to a FIND project. A million bucks and you never even open the door. Forget Eco Tours. You can spend days on the water showing corruption tours. Visit Jacksonville!

Lie Detector
Lie Detector 06/09/14 - 09:15 pm

Is this the same "banking

Is this the same "banking fund" Mockingjay speaks of all the time? So the city basically borrowed money to buy the boats and now they are going to let another company use them for a "token fee" to make money while the city loses money. I can't stand Clark I don't even like to look at him because he disgusts me, but he is right on this issue. Alvin, you and your crew are sad excuses for leaders. I guess if you pay the bills for "your" lawyer they will say whatever you want them to say.

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