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Jacksonville Voters – Is Their Voice Being Heard?

Do you think that the citizens of Jacksonville should be able to repeal laws passed by the City Council that are unjust?

Citizens do not have the right to repeal laws enacted by the Jacksonville City Council

This is a question that Harry Lewis, co-chairman of Empower Jacksonville, intends to ask city leaders soon. A little-known feature of the Jacksonville City Charter—that the citizens do not have the right to repeal laws enacted by the Jacksonville City Council—a ruling that could impact the nation, is at the forefront of the group’s concern. Empower Jacksonville is putting forth a valiant effort in their mission—an initiative to change the Charter, with an end that the voter voice in Duval County might hold more gravitas in city decision and policy-making than it currently does. If they’re successful in getting the word out about their mission, it is likely that you’ll see a spot on the August ballot asking citizens to check Yes or No on the issue.

“There is a sweeping movement within our country, that people want the power back. They don’t have confidence in the government officials because they have been so heavily influenced by lobbyists.”  Harry Lewis, Co-chairman, Empower Jacksonville

The group that Harry is involved with, Empower Jacksonville, is made up of pastors, businessmen and women, and other concerned citizens who think that the citizens of Jacksonville should have a way of recourse in the event that bad laws are passed by the City Council. “There is a sweeping movement within our country, that people want the power back,” Harry noted, “They don’t have confidence in the government officials because they have been so heavily influenced by lobbyists. And our city is no different than Washington, or than any other state. Lobbyists have sway. And they’ve proven that. Voters want to have the right to repeal laws that they don’t agree with.”

The right that he and Empower Jacksonville are pushing for is something that other major cities in Florida, such as Miami and Tampa, already have in place. He said that when the charter was drawn up, during the time when Jacksonville was consolidated, it was worded in such a way that makes it difficult to change. And not only that, but such a process of refashioning involves jumping through a multitude of hoops.

To move forward with their mission, Empower Jacksonville has created a petition for supporters to sign. The petition summary states the following: “This amendment to the Charter of the City of Jacksonville gives voters the right to repeal laws enacted by the Jacksonville City Council.”

March 1st is the deadline to collect the minimum number of 30,000 signatures.

March 1st is the deadline to collect the minimum number of 30,000 signatures, in order for this proposal to gain a spot on the August 28th ballot sheet. They’ve joined up with local churches to implement petition drives and built bridges with pastors and churches of varying denominations. “One of the things I’ve been most encouraged by is the unifying force it’s had within the body of Christ,” Harry pointed out, “Our goal in Empower Jacksonville and my personal desire is to see this unity.”

If this initiative is successful—if enough petition signatures are collected to ensure a spot for it on the upcoming ballot—and subsequently, should it win favor with voters in August, the citizens of Jacksonville will then have the right to gather resources (again, petition signatures) to repeal any law they deem unfair or unjust.

I asked Harry if the resulting petition process—the method for future repeals—would be similar to what his group is working through right now, to gain the 30,000-plus names? He gave me the lowdown, and it sounds much more manageable than the method in place now, where petitions laboriously migrate from one entity to another.

As it currently stands, a circulator, who collects each petition that he has witnessed, brings them to a notary, who notarizes an affidavit. The affidavit and the stack of petitions are then brought to the Supervisor of Elections office, where each one is verified. Going forward, it will be as simple as mailing, emailing, or handing someone a petition, and it’s done. “We’re not only fighting for the citizens to overturn unjust laws, but we’re fighting for them to be able to do it with ease…The deck is stacked against the citizens of Jacksonville because of the way in which the charter was written. That’s why we call it Empower Jacksonville—because we want to empower Jacksonville to have those abilities they should’ve had in the first place.”

With the support and involvement of community churches, and with the participation of concerned citizens, Empower Jacksonville is moving forward with the goal to positively change our city policies, to put the power into the hands of the people. “If you’re a representative government, then you’re gonna represent the people,” Harry commented, “You want the validation that the things you do are either validated or invalidated by those whom you represent, and if you’ve missed the mark and somehow put something on the books that is not representative, wouldn’t you want them to correct you along the way?”

To view the petition, to volunteer, or for further interest in Empower Jacksonville visit them on Facebook, Twitter, or on the web. They are also holding an informational meeting on Monday, December 18th for all who are interested in learning more about the movement.

Facebook: EmpowerJacksonville

Twitter: @EmpowerJaxville

Website: EmpowerJacksonville.org

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