Arena Investigation: Council Members Speak Out | News
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- New information in our investigation of construction problems at the Jacksonville arena. We are still trying to find out how a potential safety issue was overlooked years ago. Now, two city council members say someone in the Mayor's Office told them, basically, don't fan the flames about this arena investigation.
After a nearly hour-long interview Wednesday with the city's senior project manager David Schneider, we were left with more questions.
"We believe the bricks are all connected together, that none have fallen in nine years and none are going to fall anytime soon," Schneider said. "The main problem that could be caused by the tie backs would be bricks falling, that would be the ultimate worst case you could have by the bricks not being tied back would be bricks falling."
So we went looking for more answers with city council members. Councilman and architect Bill Bishop said, "Basically what I found out earlier this afternoon was that there is a significant problem with how the exterior brick is anchored to the face of the building and they don't know the extent of it."
During this interview, unlike the past two FCN conducted with Bishop, something seemed different. So we tried to figure out if anyone from the Mayor's office or the city had spoken to Bishop about what he would say to us during our interviews. "Well, they've asked me not to say things that are unnecessarily inflammatory, and I wouldn't do that anyway, because that's not the point here," Bishop said. "Well let's just say it was representatives of the administration. I don't want to throw anybody under the bus here and that's not the point, that isn't really the point, and I really don't want to go there on that," he added. "The administration is asking me not to throw fuel on the fire, and I'm not going to do that anyway," Bishop said. "How the administration deals with the media is their problem, it's not mine," Bishop said.
"I'm not treating this any different today than I've treated it the entire time. When we met before I had questions about things and I expressed those questions. And I expressed them that way because I didn't know anything and I wasn't getting any answers from anybody either," Councilman Bishop said.
During our interview with a second council member, Johnny Gaffney, we asked if the mayor's administration tried to influence what he would say in his interview with us.
"I had an individual contact me," Gaffney said. "Uh, just someone from the administration." "From the mayor's administration?" Jeff Marcu asked. "Yes," Gaffney replied.
We asked Gaffney what this person from the mayor's administration told him. "They were just basically concerned about the perception," Gaffney said. "Looking in a negative connotation. Looking bad, yeah."
Gaffney said, "That's insulting, because no one can tell me what to say and what not to say. I'm an elected official, I was elected by the people. That's who I represent, those are my bosses. My biggest concern is to get the answers. Naturally, I'm insulted, I'm insulted, because I have to get answers for the people for my constituents and they want straight answers."
"I only answer to God and I answer to my constituents. Those are the individuals that elected me. And, the only thing I'd say and I'll say this today, is I don't think it's a direct reflection on the new administration because they were not in office. However, we all have a responsibility to do the right thing, which is to tell the truth. Never, I could never compromise my principles, my values, my morals, my opinion, no. I basically would hope that any questions would need to be answered the mayor's office would answer," Gaffney said.
We took these statements directly to Mayor Alvin Brown, who agreed to an interview on short notice. We started by asking about what Councilman Bishop told us. This is a transcript of the interview between Mayor Alvin Brown and Marcu:
Marcu: "He said that someone from your office said not to say anything inflammatory about this situation with the arena."
Brown: "I can't speak to that. I would hope that that didn't happen."
Marcu: "Who do you think in your office could have done that?
Brown: "I have no idea sir, I have no idea."
Marcu: "He also said that someone from your administration, that same person possibly said not to add fuel to the fire."
Brown: "I, your, I have no idea. I came, I was told this interview was about the arena."
Marcu: "This is the issue about the arena."
Brown: "Sure, I couldn't tell you who said what about what."
Marcu: "Mayor Brown, Councilman Johnny Gaffney just told me on camera that someone from your administration told him not to make your administration look back when talking to me about the arena."
Brown: "First of all, I know nothing about the conversation, I haven't talked to any council members about this, and you're just sharing new information with me about staff talking to Johnny Gaffney. I can't answer that. I hope it didn't happen."
Marcu: "What is your response? That's very serious to try and influence a council member on what they say to the media."
Brown: "That would be unfortunate if someone tried to do that. That's not responsible, I would hope the team would brief the council members on the issue that was raised about the arena and keep them informed and updated, but to really, that's what I really hope, and I hope and pray that's what happened."
After our interview with Mayor Brown, we called both Bishop and Gaffney to find out who allegedly said these things.
Bishop said Chris Hand, the Mayor's Chief of Staff told him these things.
Councilman Gaffney would not give us a name.
We also called and e-mailed the mayor's spokeswoman Angela Spears tonight, and said we needed to speak with the mayor about something important.
She e-mailed us back saying she could get him a message, but we replied that we needed to speak with the mayor directly. At the time of this posting, we are still waiting for that call.
We understand the city is going to do more testing on the bricks at the arena Friday. We will be there.