• Two Jacksonville council members want to give back United Arab Emirates donation

    By: Jenna Bourne , Action News Jax

    Updated:

    At least two Jacksonville city council members want to give back a nearly $3 million foreign gift.

    United Arab Emirates Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba stood next to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry at a press conference on Oct. 15 to bring attention to the $2,775,000 grant, meant to help neighborhoods hit hard by Hurricane Irma.

    STORY: Jacksonville accepts millions from United Arab Emirates for Hurricane Irma recovery

    The city is funneling most of the money to projects in Northwest Jacksonville, more than half going to the Ken Knight Drive area.

    During a public meeting on Friday, council members Anna Brosche and Garrett Dennis said they now want the city to give the money back.

    The bill to accept and distribute the money passed unanimously in city council last month.

    Brosche voted in favor of accepting the donation at the time but said on Friday that she now has questions after hearing the community’s concerns.

    STORY: Some council members now questioning United Arab Emirates donation to Jacksonville

    “I feel like there was some bamboozling happening along the way,” said Brosche. 

    Dennis voted to approve the grant in committee and was absent for the full council vote.

    Sulzbacher Center CEO Cindy Funkhouser said she has no problem accepting the money for mobile medical units for the homeless.

    “Anybody who wants to help homeless people in Jacksonville, Florida and is an ally of the United States, I am more than happy to take that money,” said Funkhouser.

    Northwest Jacksonville resident Brenda Priestly Jackson called the United Arab Emirates donation “immoral, unethical and unconscionable money,” even though much of it would go to fixing up the area where she grew up and raised her own family.

    Jackson said these are projects the city should be paying for with its own budget.

    “I’m a taxpayer. I’m a homeowner. And so, I want to make certain my taxes are supporting, equitably, all areas of our city. And that appears to not happen,” said Jackson. 

    Councilman Dennis asked the council auditor to look for ways to fund the projects within the city budget.

    No one from the mayor’s office showed up to Friday’s meeting.

    The mayor’s chief of staff Brian Hughes sent Action News Jax this statement by email:
    “Public safety and neighborhood improvement have consistently been, and continue to be, major priorities for Mayor Curry and his administration. The United Arab Emirates presented our city with an opportunity to address challenges in a historically underserved, vulnerable Jacksonville community created by one of the worst natural disasters in Jacksonville history, with no strings attached.  The funding opportunity also addressed ongoing community needs through projects and partnerships designed to make our city stronger. Acceptance of these funds required City Council support, which was received unanimously at both the committee and full City Council levels. The funds, received by the City of Jacksonville on October 19, will support Jacksonville families and citizens in need."

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