JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Florida. – There were fireworks inside Jacksonville Beach City Hall Monday night as a group of longtime volunteer lifeguards continues to fight to be back on the beach.
Volunteer guards and their families addressed the council for the first time since the city ended negotiations with the Volunteer Life Saving Corps.
The News4JAX I-TEAM has been telling you about the talks for over a month now.
RELATED: Volunteer lifeguards are now suing Jacksonville Beach in an ongoing dispute
They were sparked by a federal labor investigation into the number of hours that lifeguards were paid and volunteered. But things took a turn two weeks ago after city leaders accused the volunteers of disrupting and harassing paid city guards.
The corps is now pursuing the town to regain access to the aid station.
It was a passionate and large crowd at City Hall and there were dozens of people to show their support. The line wrapped around the building.
The volunteers are eager to get back to serving the community, but the mayor said that could be different in the future.
“I’m not going to be silent overnight as this organization that has given me so much is under attack,” said Jake Crismon.
Crismon became a lifeguard in 1989.
“It absolutely breaks my heart. There isn’t a single lifeguard that works for the beach patrol that wasn’t originally trained by the corps,” Crismon said.
On Monday, Mayor Christine Hoffman responded to the crowd.
“Your 110 years of history are written. We know your story…. We are all proud of your story and we celebrate it. What we need to do now is write the future,” Hoffman said.
AFTER: Changing of the guard: Jacksonville Beach cuts volunteer lifeguards after dispute
Charles Bond is a former Chairman of the Corps Board.
“It was definitely an overshoot and a knee-jerk reaction,” Bond said.
The city said it was the result of a lawsuit filed by a former lifeguard and a federal labor dispute.
Volunteers served on Sundays and holidays while city guards patrolled the beaches Monday through Saturday.
Now guards can no longer be paid on some days and volunteer on others.
“Volunteers installed a total of 22 towers on holidays and Sundays which are historically the busiest days of summer and the city typically puts 8-12 in. So there would be fewer eyeballs on the water and more money in the pockets of citizens,” Bond said.
The city responded to the lawsuit with a statement saying in part that it is aware of and saddened by the lawsuit, adding that it will continue to provide uninterrupted vital services to all citizens and visitors who enjoy its beaches year-round.
The mayor acknowledged the importance of this organization for the city, but no official decision or modification was made Monday evening.
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