Sunday, November 14, 2010

Abel Harding: Council seats come with perks

It’s a part-time gig with a starting salary of $44,100 plus benefits. It also used to come with free Jaguars tickets, parking and food.

All were among the perks afforded to Jacksonville City Council members over the last several years. And although those particular pluses fell victim to budget cuts this year, some members have made do with other gifts.

You can learn a lot about council members by reviewing their gift disclosures, which they are required to file quarterly on anything received with a value greater than $100.

Newly-engaged Clay Yarborough hasn’t come by his frugal reputation solely through his insistence on city budget cuts — he’s also lived it. Since taking office in 2007, he’s reported one gift — 12-day passes to the Greater Jacksonville Fair in 2007 valued at $384. And according to the disclosure, he didn’t even use the tickets.

Reggie Brown also garnered an economical reputation. Since Brown won a November 2008 special election to fill the seat of Mia Jones, he’s only reported $369 in gifts — only two of which are valued at more than $100.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Johnny Gaffney. A wide receiver who lettered alongside Cris Collinsworth in 1980 - one year after that unforgettable Florida Gator squad that finished with an 0-10-1 record in 1979 - Gaffney has quite enjoyed access to sporting events, reporting 12 gifts related to local football and basketball games. Since August 2007, he’s reported $7,553 in gifts, nearly all of which were sports-related and all but two of which were courtesy of the City of Jacksonville.

Some lawmakers show meticulous attention to detail, like Brown and Bill Bishop. They choose to report all gifts, regardless of whether they exceed the $100 threshold.

And some pass their perks along, like Ray Holt. He reported Jacksonville Suns tickets valued at $1,200, but the tickets weren’t exactly for his own use — all went to Boy Scout Troop 278.

In all, 13 members of the Jacksonville City Council are eligible to run for re-election in 2011 and 12 have filed to do so. Those who win re-election are one step closer to the ultimate perk: qualifying to be part of the state’s pension program.

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