JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Relations between Jacksonville City Council and Mayor Donna Deegan hit yet another rough patch Thursday, as a council committee voted to defund the position of Chief of Diversity and Inclusion within the mayor’s office.
When Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan announced her first round of appointments in June, Dr. Parvez Ahmed was named the city’s first Chief of Diversity and Inclusion.
But now that appointment has hit a major snag.
The council Finance Committee voted Thursday to pull funding for the $185,000-a-year salaried position, citing fiscal concerns.
“When you look at the mayor’s budget, it’s going up 28 percent compared to the overall general fund going up 14 percent. When you look at the mayor’s salary budgets, they were going up 33 percent,” said Councilmember Nick Howland (R-Group 3 At-Large).
Other councilmembers, like Matt Carlucci (R-Group 4 At-Large) didn’t buy the argument.
“It was a drop in a 200-gallon bucket,” said Carlucci.
Carlucci said he sees the decision to pull funding for the position as just the latest in a growing list of mayoral appointments receiving pushback from the council.
Those disputes also include two former Republican Councilmembers Al Ferraro, who Deegan had appointed to head the Neighborhoods Department, and more recently, Randy DeFoor, Deegan’s pick for General Counsel.
“They can’t criticize the qualifications of the folks. It’s politics,” said Carlucci.
UNF political science professor Dr. Michael Binder argued in this latest case, state partisan politics are likely at play, with ‘DEI’ becoming an increasingly dirty acronym in GOP circles.
“This is really just an outflow of that and you know, to say it’s something else is really misleading and you know, not right,” said Binder.
[SIGN UP: Action News Jax Daily Headlines Newsletter]
But Howland maintained the decision was based on cost, and his belief the Chief of Diversity and Inclusion’s duties are already largely carried out by the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission.
“For us, it was both a redundant cost to the city and not necessarily the proper role of government,” said Howland.
The mayor’s office disputed the idea the Chief of Diversity and Inclusion’s position would have any overlap with the Human Rights Commission, noting the Chief of Diversity and Inclusion will develop policies, programs, and initiatives aimed at promoting a culture of collaboration in city government and the community writ large.
It’s a mandate the mayor’s office argues no city agency is tasked with.
“This is a critical position that we need to be on par with our peer cities who already have one. It is not a ‘nice to have’ for our diverse and growing city. We’re looking at all our options to keep this important position despite the Finance Committee’s shortsighted decision today,” said Mayor Deegan in an emailed statement