‘Past the point of no return’: JSO sheriff says RNC security a dealbreaker

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Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, a Republican, wants to put the brakes on the Republican National Convention next month, and national media is reporting it.

“With less than forty (40) days until the expected Republican National Convention is slated to arrive in Jacksonville, I am compelled to express my significant concerns with the viability of this event. At this point, we are simply past the point of no return to execute the event with safety and security that is our obligation,” said Williams Monday, in a statement on Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office letterhead.

Those comments were amplified in comments to media, as reported by POLITICO’s Marc Caputo, that “we are still not close to having some kind of plan that we can work with that makes me comfortable that we’re going to keep that event and the community safe.”

The Sheriff added that “what has been proposed in my opinion is not achievable right now … from a law enforcement standpoint, from a security standpoint.”

With just weeks to go before the event’s August 24 launch, Williams says that deals are not in place for security to be supplemented as is needed.

“But there’s a lot of things that need to happen: an event schedule nailed down, and being able to sign contracts and spend money so that we can prepare for this event. And none of that has happened yet,” he said. “So here we are inside of 40 days, and I haven’t really pulled the trigger on anything RNC-related when it comes to finances or contracts and so, you know, only related to security, mind you, nothing, nothing related to any of this.”

The Sheriff is the latest in a series of public officials to express qualms. Unlike some of those critics, Williams has been tightly yoked to Mayor and Republican National Convention co-chair Lenny Curry for most of the last five years.

Williams said Curry has been apprised of his concerns.

The Republican National Committee, for its part, is unmoved.

“The RNC continues to work closely with local leadership in Jacksonville on planning for the convention, including on health and security measures, and the Department of Justice is in the process of allocating millions of dollars in a safety grant. Jacksonville has accommodated upwards of 70,000 people for football games and other events, and we are confident in state, local and federal officials to be able to ensure a safe event for our attendees,” said Emma Vaughn, spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

The security concerns parallel qualms about COVID-19 that downscaled the event and have kept planning in flux.

The Republican National Convention is headed to Jacksonville still, but the event will be held largely outdoors and with capacity caps, according to a memo from the Host Committee.

“We plan to utilize a number of indoor and outdoor venues in this multi-block radius of Jacksonville, including the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, TIAA Bank Field, Daily’s Place Amphitheater, 121 Financial Ballpark and several others.”

As well, expect that for much of the event, crowd size will be limited.

“Admittance to the convention venue for the first three days of the convention celebration in Jacksonville (Aug. 24, 25, 26) will be limited to regular delegates only. For the final day (Thursday, Aug. 27) when President Trump will publicly accept the nomination, we plan that each delegate, their guest, and alternate delegates will be permitted to attend.”

Expected political opponents of the event, meanwhile, are seizing on the sheriff’s qualms.

“Trump is putting the Jacksonville community at risk by recklessly pushing forward with this last-minute convention despite the obvious health and safety concerns. Jacksonville voters are seeing firsthand the consequences of Trump’s chaotic and self-absorbed leadership – and will be holding him accountable in November,” asserted the Florida Democratic Party in a statement.

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for more than two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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