Jacksonville council president believes city's top attorney 'influenced' in monument removal

Jacksonville city council members say their trust in the city’s top attorney has been damaged as a result of the way he handled the removal of the Springfield Park Confederate monument.

A big part of that trust issue revolves around a conversation he had with the mayor before releasing his final legal opinion on whether she had the authority to remove the monument on her own.

After General Counsel Michael Fackler issued his draft opinion making the argument Mayor Donna Deegan could remove the Springfield Park Confederate monument on her own, Council President Ron Salem (R-Group 2 At-Large) asked him to write a formal opinion to address concerns raised by council.

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But during a special council meeting Thursday, Salem claimed after making the request, Fackler never talked with him about the opinion before its release last week.

“Can you clarify for me if I had client attorney privilege on that document that you presented at that meeting?” Salem asked Fackler.

“I believe you did,” Fackler responded.

But it was revealed later in the meeting that Fackler did speak with the mayor about the opinion.

Ahead of his meeting with the mayor, Fackler said he’d had “serval sleepless nights”, worried he’d given the mayor the wrong advice in his draft opinion.

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“The direction at that point was that, as far as the historic goes, was that it was contained within the Springfield District, that it was protected under the Chapter 307 of the ordinance code and that the activities did require a certificate of appropriateness,” said Assistant General Counsel Jason Teal, who worked with Fackler on the final opinion.

Teal told council members after meeting with the mayor, Fackler essentially told him they needed to go back to the drawing board on the final opinion.

“I think his words were, I got out of a difficult conversation with the mayor. We need to take another look at the outcome of this memo,” said Fackler.

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In his final opinion, Fackler backed off his original argument that the monument wasn’t historically protected, and instead made the case additional authorization would only be needed for a demolition of, rather than an alteration to the monument.

Action News Jax asked Fackler whether the mayor asked him to change the conclusions of his final opinion during their meeting.

“She did not. She did not ask me,” said Fackler.

Fackler did acknowledge mistakes were made, but stood by his final product.

We asked whether Fackler was concerned those mistakes could open the door for lawsuits against the city aimed at putting the monument back up.

“No, the mistakes were made. The second opinion is consistent with the code. It’s consistent and so, the advice I gave was correct for the wrong reasons,” said Fackler.

Council President Salem and other council members expressed deep concerns about Fackler’s shifting legal logic and questioned Fackler’s claim that the mayor wasn’t involved.

“I believe the opinion changed and I think there was influence,” said Salem.

Moving forward Salem said he’s hopeful Fackler can rebuild trust with the council.

If not, he’s also exploring the possibility of council getting its own legal representation.

As far as what the mayor has had to say about all this, she addressed some of the issues raised by council in an interview with Action News Jax last week, in which she stood by Fackler’s final opinion.

“The current General Counsel is the law of the land. That is the bottom line,” said Deegan

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