It was Samuel Johnson who said that great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance. It’s that kind of persistence and determination that paid off earlier this week when Florida’s First District Court of Appeal decided in favor of Jacksonville taxpayers in a case that was more than a decade in the making.
To understand the significance of the case, let’s go back 15 years to a private meeting that was held between the City and the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund. The result of the meeting was a 30-year agreement giving pensioners a 3 percent cost-of-living increase, among other benefits. The problem with the meeting, what was soon to be contested, was that it violated the state’s sunshine laws.
Then, fast-forward almost 10 years. Concerned citizen activist Curtis Lee filed suit against the city and the pension fund for violating the open meeting laws. Lee, who’s been referred to as Don Quixote, a hero to the people, was joined in the suit by government watchdog group, Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County. They contended that the City and pension fund met privately to bargain over and finalize pension matters, strangle holding the city’s attempt at true pension reform.
For four years Lee fought the pension deal—a battleground on which he spent thousands upon thousands of his own dollars and traded more than 1,100 emails with City Hall. In March 2015, his efforts paid off when a circuit judge ruled that the pension deal was created illegally and was therefore void.
And…the pension fund appealed. So, add on another year, more time, emails and money spent on legal fees. It must have seemed like a never-ending cycle for Lee and the taxpayers’ group. That was until this week, when the Court of Appeal not only upheld the lower court’s ruling, but made it impossible for the pension fund to make an appeal to the State Supreme Court.
It is citizen activists like Lee and the Duval County taxpayers’ group, whose relentless fight for a more open and transparent government, that are true heroes, and therefore, RSI’s Heroes of the Week.