Many have noticed that there has been a significant decline in the number of posts on the My Social Jacksonville Facebook page over the last few months.
Some – including a former Village employee – have gone so far as to accuse my wife and I of viewing the goings on in the Village as “old news to you now”. While it is certainly true that the amount of information that has been shared and the investigative work that we did in the past has diminished, our desire for the Village of South Jacksonville to continue to grow, prosper, and see citizen trust in its government become stronger has not dropped, in any way. In order to both allay the concerns of a certain group of people and to be fair to all, it’s time to tell you a little bit more about the behind the scenes of this website and page.
A few weeks prior to the election that saw Harry Jennings become Village President, I had additional responsibilities given to me, both by my employer at the time in Springfield and a couple of freelance projects that I had been working on. With those new responsibilities, I had to make a choice of whether to try to take those responsibilities and continue the previous intensity of work involving watchdog efforts in the Village… or to focus on those items that paid bills, put food on the table, and provided for the needs of my family. As at least one of my colleagues in the watchdog efforts over the last couple of years can attest, it’s not cheap to do, both in terms of real financial cost and in terms of cost to family life. When you file a Freedom of Information Act with a government body and they respond by giving you tens, dozens, or even hundreds of pages of material that you then have to read, digest, and then make a written conclusion from, that is extremely time-consuming. As we all know, there are only so many hours in a day.
I made a commitment to myself that I would see the election through, no matter whom emerged victorious in the Village President’s race, although I had my chosen candidate. At that point, I intended to allow whichever candidate – Harry Jennings or Dani Glascock – get into office, get acclimated, and begin to form the path of their administration. At the very least, I was going to back off for ninety days, if not longer, before really jumping back into things. I felt then, as I do now, that that was a fair thing to do. Harry Jennings knew that, as I had privately disclosed to him that sentiment. Dani Glasock, had I felt comfortable in approaching her at the time (I didn’t, for reasons that anyone who followed the last few months of the campaign season can probably figure out), would have been given the same knowledge.
On April 4th, we all had the opportunity to go to the polls and speak out. By a dozen votes, probably the closest election in Village of South Jacksonville history, Harry Jennings defeated Dani Glascock to win the President’s office. On May 4th, President Jennings took office, starting the ninety-day clock, a “grace period”, if you will. I sat back, observed, and made notes about things I thought might be worth looking into. A ninety-day “grace period” from the day that President Jennings took office would have expired on August 2nd.
August 2nd arrived and, in my personal life, so had a few other things that had taken a greater position of importance than My Social Jacksonville and its zero revenue status. Those who know my wife and I personally are aware of one obvious item. I had also begun the application process for a new job, having made the decision that continuing in my previous career field simply wasn’t feasible anymore, due to changes outside of the workplace. However, part of the process of applying for the new position meant that I would have to dial back my online presence. So, the decision was made to do just that and be very quiet for awhile.
Let me be clear – I am not ashamed by any of the watchdog work that I have participated in over the last two years. I was wrong about a couple of things and came to the wrong conclusion on some of those items. I’ll take this opportunity to publicly apologize for those conclusions and any and all problems they may have caused. Please know that nothing I did was intended to be malicious and that my goal was the betterment of our community in the long run. In some ways, I – and others – succeeded, but in still other ways, I – and others – failed.
On August 31st, I – and another person – received the following text message from a former Village employee:
“I’ve been contacted by several people that find it extremely interesting that since the new administration has taken over at SJax that neither of your sites are exposing the behind-the-scenes goings on. Contracts being signed without approval, Trustees and Mayor fighting like children, or the entire Board is meeting tonight and no agenda is posted online. Or, maybe they feel chief of police interviews wouldn’t be violating OMA. Supposedly you both claimed to be unbiased, but clearly this isn’t the case. Just passing along what is being discussed in the Village. Guess the Village is old news to you now.”
I’m not here to debate whether that meeting did, in fact, violate the Open Meetings Act. As we all know, our current chief, Tim Mann, was eventually hired as a result of that meeting. The other accusations – contracts, in-fighting among elected officials, etc – have all been brought up to several elected officials, who have denied them. Whatever the case may be, I’d like to remind you that, as a citizen, you have just as much of a right to file a Freedom of Information Act with the Village or to ask questions of your community leaders as I, Tyson Manker, Mike Woodyard, Kim Rawe, or anyone else involved in the watchdog efforts of the last several years. If you have questions, ask them. I believe that the current administration – and, quite honestly, the Waltrip administration, as well – want to have absolutely nothing to hide from South Jacksonville residents. They want transparency and will work with anyone that asks to help make that a reality.
As to the future of My Social Jacksonville, here’s where things stand:
I was, a week ago, offered the position for which I applied in July. As luck would have it, the timing of certain personnel restructuring at my previous employer allowed me to begin my new position this week. As a condition of that employment, I have been told that I must give up My Social Jacksonville, due to the possibility that, in the course of my employment, I may gain knowledge of privileged information that I would not be able to write about on the website or Facebook. It would be a conflict of interest for me to continue to maintain a website such as MySocialJacksonville.com, in my new position.
I have approached an individual about acquiring the intellectual property, as well as control of the website domain, for My Social Jacksonville. At the time of our conversation, it was purely a hypothetical. Over the next few weeks, I will continue that conversation with them and see if it makes sense for them to take over the site and Facebook page or if I should seek other interested parties. But, the one absolute change – effective immediately – is that I am no longer an administrator for My Social Jacksonville. My new job demands that I do this and I am happy to oblige. For the time being, it remains in the control of my wife, until such time as we decide if she is going to keep the site and run it completely on her own, if we will sell it, or simply shut it down.
It has been an honor to have been a part of so many great things that have happened in our community since March of 2015. I hope to see many more wonderful things happen, now and in the future. I will be right here alongside all of you, but in the role of average citizen just wanting to pitch in, rather than a “loud mouth with a Facebook page and a blog”, as I have so affectionately been referred to on more than one occasion in the last two years.