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Magazine's $10,000 class for city called extortion

A national business magazine that rated Jacksonville 27th in municipal management skills among the nation's 30 biggest cities says it will help city officials improve their grade.

For a price.

Financial World magazine wrote Mayor Ed Austin last week offering to give City Hall a one-day, $10,000 seminar aimed at changing the city's grade from a C this year to an A+.

"It's extortion," Bert Rohrer, Austin's spokesman, said Friday. "It's a shakedown, pure and simple. . . . It's a scam."

Financial World president Douglas McIntyre's letter said the rankings by the 500,000-circulation magazine "affect elections, bond rating agency perceptions, Wall Street perceptions and economic development opportunities."

Austin dismissed the offer, scribbling in a corner of the letter, "This is offensive."

General Counsel John Delaney said he reviewed the letter and concluded there was nothing criminal about it.

McIntyre said he sent 200 letters promoting seminars to senior officials of the bottom 20 cities this year.

"If I was going to blackmail someone, I wouldn't send out 200 letters," he said from the magazine's office in New York.

McIntyre said city officials are just venting steam over Jacksonville's poor showing in the survey published Tuesday. Only Washington, Detroit and Philadelphia ranked lower.

"I think it's an attempt to discredit the article," said McIntyre.

Financial World's seminar is titled "How to Create an A+ City Management," but he said any implication that cities that pay for the seminar would get an A+ next year is "mad."

McIntyre's letter to Austin called the $10,000 cost "a relatively small sum given the number of dollars an improved bond rating or one corporate relocation could mean to Jacksonville." The fee does not include air fare for three magazine staffers.

But University of Florida journalism chairman Jon Roosenraad described the proposal as akin to a reviewer's trashing a play and then offering to provide pointers for a price before writing a positive review of the overhauled production.

The letter said Financial World editors, bond rating agencies, bond insurers and corporate relocation executives would give their view of city management and fiscal health as part of the seminar.

The top 10 cities, led this year by Dallas, weren't offered a seminar because they don't need the help, McIntyre said, adding that officials at other cities have given him positive feedback, but none has signed up yet.