Nearly five years have passed since the first attempt to expand Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance.
This time, there is reason for optimism.
For starters, we hear that Shad Khan — owner of the Jaguars, as you may recall — has “made some calls.”
Khan is worried that the amphitheater may have a hard time drawing big league acts in light of Jacksonville’s small-ball approach to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
After a couple of calls to Councilmembers, made before the end of the year, Khan exclaimed that he couldn’t believe LGBT rights in Jacksonville are even up for debate.
That’s what he told us, also, early in 2016 when we asked him about the HRO introduced earlier that year.
The goal is to get up to 13 votes — a magical supermajority that would render moot the verdict of Mayor Lenny Curry, as it would become veto-proof.
We understand that certain power brokers have been charged with making the sale to individual Councilmembers.
Mike Hightower, we are told, is impressing on Republican Sam Newby the importance of moving forward on legislation. Bob Shircliff, we hear, is making the pitch likewise to Matt Schellenberg (both are Catholic).
And Paul Harden? Who doesn’t he talk to when it’s time to move a bill?
After a well-publicized meeting Wednesday introducing the bill, Councilman Aaron Bowman — another Republican, and one who voted for the President-elect — noted that the City Council is about as nonpartisan as a political body can get.
Indeed, that’s the case. In part, that reflects the coalition-building needed in a city as big and diverse as Jacksonville. And, in part, that reflects a disconnect between Councilmembers of both parties and the local parties themselves.
With that in mind, the sales pitch — specifically, the personal touch from political mentors in some cases, patrons in others — is essential.
A big question going into the HRO process, which is expected to culminate at the council meeting on Valentine’s Day: was enough time allotted for the personal touch approach to work?
Councilmembers like bill co-sponsor Tommy Hazouri were fired up and ready to go. Those with less of a personal investment in the bill getting passed and becoming part of the ordinance code wanted a cooler, more calculating approach.
The gap there denotes a potential place where what momentum exists — a lot of it driven by the donor class — could be diffused.
Some councilmembers will say they support the measure — but won’t go on the record. This is in part because of the volume and the ferocity of the negative reaction they get from churches — specifically preachers.
The time to go on the record is nigh.
The committee process will compel that before the floor vote. And in that context, board meetings during the week of Feb. 6 will be must-see TV.
The HRO bill will be paralleled in committees by a measure from Councilman Garrett Dennis, who seeks to add some teeth to the city’s Equal Opportunity/Equal Access program.
The program, launched in 2004, hasn’t had to fund a director for many years.
Dennis’ proposal: To provide that funding and to give that director oversight over diversity initiatives, to ensure that the city and independent authorities work toward the goal of a discrimination-free workplace.
Dennis strikes some observers as enigmatic; they expect more bluster. But he’s a careful, smart politician who wins key battles while avoiding running into ambushes.
Already in his term, Dennis collaborated across party lines with Curry and Sen. Marco Rubio to remedy the horror show conditions at Eureka Gardens.
On this issue, Dennis — chair of the Rules Committee — will use some political capital, build some more political capital, and restore the intent of a program previously eviscerated by budget cuts.
Worth watching: if this bill links up with the HRO — as both are intended as remedies against the kind of institutionalized discrimination that simply doesn’t jibe with the way Jacksonville markets itself to the world.
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Downtown Friction: Before the television news had its first fragmentary reports of the once unthinkable gunshots fired at Jacksonville’s ArtWalk, social media was lit with tweets about the subject.
The fascinating thing about the tweets and Facebook posts, in aggregate: they were first-person accounts of what was going down, in real time, without the framing provided by reporters or the JSO investigation.
More than a few of the tweets — none of them from anyone famous, or even FFJ (famous for Jacksonville) — expressed dismay about the future of ArtWalk.
Some folks said they won’t be attending ArtWalk anymore. Others speculated that the monthly event might be canceled altogether.
And others pointed to changes in the composition of those attending the event.
More kids were in attendance — a function of school being out.
And those kids weren’t there for the art or the vendors, particularly; they were there to stunt, to see and be seen.
And one other tweeter noted, correctly, that not too far from ArtWalk’s nexus in Hemming Park, gunshots and sirens soundtracked many an evening.
ArtWalk has grown over the last decade, and become a draw for a downtown subject to perpetual Sisyphean attempts at gentrification. And with that increased draw of people outside Jacksonville’s perpetually underpaid community of artists and craftspeople, it follows that the event would draw more people with no interest in art, per se — much like shopping malls did during their heyday.
In other words, if ArtWalk weren’t a successful event, it wouldn’t have drawn the kind of crowd density that makes gunplay more likely.
But “success” doesn’t justify gunshots to most of those from the burbs who roll in to attend.
The city has to consider how to address security at these events.
More police? Probably a necessity.
An earlier shutdown in the winter months? May need to be considered also.
While these shots are an anomaly in the history of the event, the reality is that policy makers in council, the mayor’s office, and Downtown Vision can’t function as if they won’t happen again.
For better or worse, the era of innocence for this event is over.
“Jacksonville City Council panel backs three local bills in Tallahassee” via Florida Politics — One local bill, “J-2,” asks for “special zones” in older neighborhoods, such as Murray Hill, Springfield and San Marco, to lower the required seating for a restaurant serving liquor from 150 to 100. Legislative bill J-3 would amend the Florida Statute chapters regulating beer and wine sales and consumption to provide that for purposes of the application of the state law, the open container law exemption in Jacksonville’s special events district shall apply to “premises” licensed for “consumption on premises” that are either within or located contiguously to the A. Philip Randolph Entertainment District. “J-1” was presented also, affecting the school board. Resolution 2016-782, sponsored by Councilman Aaron Bowman, would express support for a J-Bill that would amend the Florida statute so that the vote of the Duval County School Board chair would not break a tie. In 2006, the Legislature adopted a measure for Orange County that dictated that, in counties with between 800,000 and 900,000 people, the school board chair’s vote breaks the tie. All of these bills were unanimously approved and will undoubtedly be approved next Tuesday by the full council.
“How to work the press” by Florida Politics — The Katrina Brown and Reggie Gaffney stories have some commonalities: Both are Democrats on the City Council, and both find themselves occasionally going against the grain of the rest of the body. Also a commonality is that neither of them gave real thought toward crafting a damage control narrative until the damage could no longer be controlled, thus hazarding unnecessary risk to political capital they otherwise might have had. Smart politicians avoid these pitfalls. They get ahead of narratives before they hit the front pages, cultivating members of the media to present them in sympathetic ways. Consider Jacksonville’s mayor, whose political operation is active and separate from the policy operation inside City Hall. Other smart politicians hire the best and the brightest from the local press corps to handle their messaging.
“Drug OD ‘epidemic’ worries Bill Gulliford” via Florida Politics — An email from Duval County’s Medical Examiner’s office laid it out: from the beginning of January until mid-November, Jacksonville experienced 345 drug overdose deaths. In terms of casualties, whites and males are the most vulnerable, dying in numbers outsized compared to their proportion of the population. Of the 345 deaths, 214 decedents were male. And 299 — or 86.67 percent — are white. Almost 30 percent of those who perished during the period of tabulation were in their thirties. People in their fifties comprised another 23 percent of those who passed on.
“Renee Hunter tapped as Jax real estate chief” via Florida Politics — Hunter, an alumna of the University of Wisconsin’s journalism school and of the Florida Coastal School of Law, will be “official” pending confirmation by the city council. Hunter is no stranger to work in the public sector. She served as an assistant state attorney from 2007 to 2013, with a tenure spanning the end of the Harry Shorstein era and the bulk of the Angela Corey epoch. Hunter’s specialty in that capacity: land use and zoning issues and property law. From there, Hunter moved into the private sector, where she continued her work with property law, including issues with deeds, titles and other real estate issues.
“Fred Newbill clears panel on way to JEA Board” via Florida Politics — A prominent Jacksonville pastor who teamed up with pastor Ken Adkins to oppose the 2016 version of the Jacksonville Human Rights Ordinance expansion was cleared by the Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee to serve on the JEA Board … Despite two of the HRO co-sponsors, Jim Love and Tommy Hazouri, serving on Rules, no questions were asked of Newbill about the inconsistency of his anti-HRO stance with the anti-discrimination guidelines under which JEA and the city’s other independent authorities operate. Multiple council members, including Love and Hazouri, lauded Newbill, with Hazouri saying that Newbill has “seen the light on the HRO.”
“Rob Bradley files bill earmarking Amendment 1 money for St. Johns, tributaries” via Florida Politics — Bradley introduced Senate Bill 234, which is intended to change the appropriations formula of 2014’s Water and Land Constitutional Amendment. Specifically, Bradley wants to ensure that the St. Johns River Water Management District gets its share. And as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources, the Clay County Republican is well-positioned to get this bill through. The bill would annually earmark $35 million, minus money for debt service, for projects related to the St. Johns, its tributaries and the Keystone Lake region. Included among those projects: land management and acquisition, and recreational opportunity and public access improvements. For Bradley, this is personal.
“New PD to review contracts, including lobbyist deal” via Andrew Pantazi of The Florida Times-Union — On his second day in office, Public Defender Charlie Cofer said he’s doing what he can to bring the office’s budget and salaries under control. He’s already brought in seven new employees to replace 14 outgoing ones, saving about $26,346 a month due to the lower salary costs. And he said he is examining salaries in the office to determine whose pay may need to be cut and whose might need to be raised. Once he feels comfortable with the budget, he said, he hopes to hire more investigators or information technology staff. Former Public Defender Matt Shirk’s pay structure was the subject of a Times-Union story this week that examined how he had paid friends and political allies high salaries while attorneys had the lowest average salaries in the state. Cofer said he wants to look at all contracts the office has
“Florida Bar to review former PD’s conduct” via Andrew Pantazi of The Florida Times-Union — After eight scandal-plagued years, former public defender Matt Shirk has said he’s hoping for some quiet. He may be disappointed. Shirk has been protected from Florida Bar complaints by state rules that say the Bar doesn’t have jurisdiction over constitutional officers. Now that he’s left office, the Bar and the Florida Supreme Court may hear arguments that he violated attorneys’ code of conduct. “We do have information about Mr. Shirk’s conduct,” Florida Bar spokeswoman Francine Walker said … “We are reviewing it. We will take appropriate actions.”
“Two gunshot victims at first 2017 ArtWalk” via The Florida Times-Union — Two teenagers were shot at the First Wednesday Art Walk in downtown Jacksonville Wednesday night, police said. Witnesses said there were large crowds of young people loitering 15 deep along both sides of North Laura Street between The Jacksonville Landing and Hemming Park about 9:30 p.m. when gunfire erupted. Off-duty officers responding to a report of shots fired near Bay and Laura streets found one shooting victim at the scene and located a second victim at the Landing, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The victims were taken to UF Health Jacksonville with injuries to their lower bodies, but they are expected to survive, Sgt. C. Jones said.
“Central Florida dispensary makes first medical marijuana delivery in Jacksonville” via Ryan Benk of WJCT — … the same day a constitutional amendment goes into effect that will make more types of medical cannabis available to Floridians. Knox Medical is one of a handful of Florida dispensaries that have been allowed to open under a 2014 law. The state awarded Knox the license for Central Florida, and it was finally given the go-ahead in December to sell its product after an extended court battle. Growers challenged the state as it made rules governing who can grow and sell non-smoked, non-high-inducing marijuana, starting in 2014. The state has decided on a maximum of six facilities, four including Knox are already doing business, while two more are awaiting licenses.
“Medicare slashes funding for unsafe Duval hospitals” via Andrew Pantazi and Tessa Duvall of The Florida Times-Union — The federal government cut payments to four Jacksonville hospitals because they are among the worst-performing hospitals when it comes to patient safety. The list includes the Baptist Medical Center hospitals downtown and at the Beaches, Memorial Hospital and UF Health Jacksonville. This is the third year the federal government has reduced pay to hospitals that have high rates of patient injury, also known as hospital-acquired conditions. Memorial and UF Health, along with Macclenny’s Ed Fraser Memorial Hospital, have been dinged by the federal government each of those years. In addition, Baptist Medical Center-Nassau, Flagler Hospital in St. Augustine and Putnam Community Medical Center in Palatka were each in the bottom quarter this year.
“UF College of Medicine-Jacksonville welcomes new dean” — Dr. Leon L. Haley Jr., the new dean of the University of Florida College of Medicine, formally took the helm on Tuesday. “I am thrilled to be a part of one of Northeast Florida’s premier medical and academic organizations,” he said in a statement. “The University of Florida is regarded throughout the country as one of the leaders in educating physicians and providing cutting-edge research, and UF Health has become a symbol for providing the best, most compassionate health care to everyone who needs it. I am proud to now be a part of both organizations.” Before joining UF College of Medicine, Haley rose up the ranks as a professor of emergency medicine and an executive associate dean for the Emory University School of Medicine and as a key administrator at Grady Memorial Hospital, the city’s safety-net hospital. He received his medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a master’s degree in health services administration from the University of Michigan.
“Acosta Bridge ‘blue-light special’ won’t come cheap” via First Coast News — An effort is underway by city leaders to restore the Acosta Bridge’s neon lights that once illuminated the downtown structure. The lights, which were installed in 1999, were reportedly turned off by the Jacksonville Transportation Authority because of concerns about the malfunctioning system. The Acosta was one of 7 bridges that gained attention when the city skyline was highlighted in national coverage of Super Bowl XXXIX. Emails show city leaders are engaged in a potential proposal to restore the aesthetic blue lights on the bridge. An email sent to Mayor Lenny Curry’s chief administrative officer suggests that the city will consider upgrading the lighting system to LED technology. A 2015 estimate provided to First Coast News listed the potential fix costing between $1.6 to $2.1 million.
“Workers at JAXPORT’s Talleyrand Marine Terminal move massive trucks bound for The Bahamas” — Stevedores at JAXPORT Talleyrand Marine Terminal recently moved four Caterpillar 770 specialty dump trucks onto a roll-on, roll-off cargo ship bound for a Morton Salt facility in the southern Bahamas. The trucks will be used to haul salt harvested for water softening and road de-icing. A100-ton multipurpose whirly crane was used to lift the vehicles — each weighing 35 tons, standing 14 feet tall and measuring 30 feet in length — onto the chartered vessel VI-NAIS. The four trucks were transported to Jacksonville via individual flatbed tractor trailers from a heavy equipment dealer in St. Augustine, Fla., where they had been refurbished.
All Aboard: Jacksonville Zoo hosts “Train Days” — Love a good train ride? The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has you covered. Round-trip tickets on the zoo train will be $1 on Jan. 28 and Jan. 29. The trains, according to the zoo, will be operated by CSX employees.
LEGOs are coming to the Jacksonville Zoo — The award-winning Nature Connects: Art with Lego Bricks exhibition by artist Sean Kinney will be on display at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens from Jan. 13 through May 7. The exhibition, which is free with Zoo admission, features 13 LEGO sculptures with over 300,000 bricks.
“PGA wants to move TPC back to March” via Matthew Head of First Coast News — If the PGA takes a swing on this proposal, some Ponte Vedra businesses say they fear it could alter their game. “I’m probably about 400 years as the crows fly to the 17th green,” says Wally Monnig, the owner of Down South Barbecue. “They go together.” And when Ponte Vedra’s busiest week of the year hits the greenway, Monnig says he knows the perfect order for his most famous customers. “Ribs through and through — the guys like home-cooked food,” he says. But Monnig is worried the PGA could be messing with his recipe. PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan wants to restructure the tournament schedule to avoid conflicting the more popular PGA tournaments with NFL games. The decision to move TPC to March would leave Monnig feeling bittersweet.