INVESTIGATES: Council President helps grant $25K before hiring recipient

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — More than two months after Council President Sam Newby helped a Westside small business owner get a $25,000 grant, he hired her as his new executive assistant.

Pamela Wilcox owns Gown & Garter Studio on Normandy Boulevard. On Sept. 14, Newby received approval from the city council to award her money from the American Rescue Plan.

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“That industry got hit more than anybody. So that’s why. She’s a small business owner and I submitted her name,” he told Action News Jax’s Robert Grant.

It was one of the four businesses he chose to help with $25,000 each, including both nonprofits and for-profits.

Each council member was given $100,000 to divvy up and award an organization that met qualifications for a total of $1.9 million. Newby said he chose Wilcox in August for the grant.

According to documents obtained by Action News Jax, Wilcox received the money Oct. 29. Four days later she received an offer to serve as Newby’s executive assistant.

“I had no idea that I was going to be needing an assistant in November. If I would have — then I wouldn’t have submitted her name,” Newby said.

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority tells Action News Jax Newby’s former executive assistant was hired Oct. 22. Wilcox was hired Nov. 2. She started the job, with a more than $70,000 salary, on Nov. 15.

Action News Jax met with Wilcox at her wedding store. The small business of six years offers custom-designed wedding and prom gowns.

“I like the moment when the girl puts on her dress and she doesn’t want to take it off because it’s her dream dress,” Wilcox said.

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, the wedding industry took a major hit. Wilcox said not only did she lose business, but also had to refund several gown orders.

The industry picked back up in June and Wilcox explained the relief dollars helped her catch up on rent and rehire staff.

She will continue to run the business while serving as Newby’s executive assistant.

“Most business owners — especially when you start a business — have a job, because the business can’t sustain their lifestyle. So this is nothing unusual,” Newby said.

Wilcox previously worked for the city at Jacksonville Fire & Rescue for seven years, which Newby said gave her the experience necessary for the job.

“I’m a veteran, I’m a single mother, and I built this business from my own dollars — literally going broke,” Wilcox said. “This is all built by me. I think President Newby saw that and wanted to help a small, black, veteran business grow.”