Jacksonville’s county sheriff dealt a new blow to the Republican National Convention on Monday with an announcement that his department likely won’t be able to provide security for the event next month in Florida.
“With less than 40 days until the expected Republican National Convention is slated to arrive in Jacksonville, I am compelled to express my significant concerns about the viability of this event,” Duval County Sheriff Mike Williams said at a news conference. “I cannot say with confidence the event or the community will not be at risk.”
His department doesn’t have enough funds or manpower for the event — and the Republican National Committee has failed to provide a “solid plan” for the convention, Williams explained. “This is not going to work,” he added.
The Republican sheriff left open the very slim possibility that something might still be worked out. But he emphasized at least twice that the department had “passed the point of no return” because of tight time constraints. A convention would typically be planned over an 18-month period, he said. Planning for this one started last month.
“I can’t predict the future, [but] as it stands today, we can’t support the plan moving forward as is,” Williams said. “I don’t have what I need to keep this event and our community safe.”
The sheriff emphasized that his primary goal is to protect the community.
“It’s easy to build a giant fence and put somebody in the middle of it and keep them safe,” he added, referring to the convention.
“We’re concerned about what’s happening outside the fence and dealing with the repercussions of that for who knows how long,” he said, apparently referring to an expected spike of COVID-19 in the wake of the mass gathering. “We need to be supported in that or we can’t move forward.”
Williams said it won’t be his decision whether or not to cancel the event.
The RNC is “confident” local officials can “ensure a safe” convention, a GOP spokesperson told First Coast News TV, and city officials are continuing talks about the event, including with Williams.
“This is not going to work.”
Plans for the convention, scheduled from Aug. 24 to 27, have been in flux as GOP officials grapple with the challenge of soaring cases of COVID-19 in Florida. Several Republican leaders have already announced they don’t plan to attend because of the health risk. The convention has already been scaled back, and portions were scheduled to be held outside to make it safer.
The event would be further complicated by expected larger-than-usual protests as Black Lives Matter demonstrations continue across the country.
The situation is exacerbated by the Trump campaign’s reputation for not paying its bills to municipalities for law enforcement and other costs for rallies. The campaign’s total unpaid tab to 14 cities hit a total of $1.8 million in April, Newsweek reported. Williams referred to “concerns over reimbursement” as a factor in his announcement.
President Donald Trump and the Republican Party announced last month they were yanking most of the national convention events from North Carolina, where it was originally planned, because of state guidelines regarding masks and social distancing to help stem the spread of COVID-19. Trump wanted assurances he could make his nomination acceptance speech inside a packed Charlotte arena, with masks optional.
Jacksonville now requires masks in public spaces and indoors where people can’t stay 6 feet apart.
“When we made these changes [to Florida], we had hoped to be able to plan a traditional convention celebration to which we are all accustomed,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel wrote in a letter Thursday to delegates announcing the latest alterations, The Washington Post reported. “However, adjustments must be made to comply with state and local health guidelines,” she added.