LOVE WINS: The big story of the week — Jacksonville finally, after five years of debate and false starts, ratified an expansion of the city’s Human Rights Ordinance.
The HRO expansion protects the city’s LGBT community in the workplace, the housing market, and regarding public accommodations (read: the right to use the bathroom in a public place).
Council voted it up 12-6. Mayor Lenny Curry didn’t sign the bill but made it clear it was law while celebrations were still ongoing outside of City Hall. And he’s also made it clear that discussion of the issue is “over.”
“The city council is the legislative body. night, they took up the issue … and it got a supermajority vote. They demonstrated their will … Republicans and Democrats, council people from all over this city,” Curry continued.
“It’s law without my signature, and we’re moving on,” Curry said. “It’s closed. It’s over.”
A decisive factor this time around: the very active and vocal role of Jaguars owner Shad Khan, who personally lobbied council members — especially some of those we identified as being swing votes in earlier reporting on the subject.
But victory has many fathers, according to the account of Jacksonville Coalition for Equality’s Jimmy Midyette.
That staunch advocacy, coupled with a disciplined process that Council President Lori Boyer refused to let be derailed, saw a fully-inclusive HRO pass.
The national media didn’t descend on Jacksonville this time. The religious right pulled out its usual tricks, but couldn’t get traction.
Tuesday night might look like a victory for progressives. In fact, it was a win for pragmatists — a piece of real anti-discrimination legislation from a GOP city council, with a conservative mayor not standing in its way.
It is that pragmatism that will carry Jacksonville forward.
LET’S MAKE A DEAL: Saturday afternoon saw a couple of disgruntled print reporters and the skeleton crew on local TV breaking a big story: a potential 10-year pension deal between the city and its police and fire unions.
How much does it cost? Who knows! The city doesn’t have to tell anyone until the deal is ratified.
But how much is peace of mind worth? Police and fire get their benefits restored, after a cut to new hires in 2015. And a 20 percent pay raise over three years. And a defined contribution plan — with a 25 percent city match — that vests in three years.
Jacksonville, assuming the unions and the council ratify this, would be the first — but not the last — city to push defined contribution plans instead of pensions.
The Police and Fire Pension Fund meets Friday. You know this will be a topic.
Meanwhile, the Curry CFO rumor mill continues to churn out product.
UNFINISHED BUSINESS: The Jax Daily Record, via a News Service of Florida story, advanced in print a meme that local reporters had discussed on Twitter: Curry as CFO.
Curry’s name was buried in a mix of other potential names to replace Jeff Atwater, who scored a plum gig at Florida Atlantic University, taking him out of the politics game at least for a while.
Curry is definitely qualified for the job. His name has been linked to CFO for a while. But the timing may not be right.
For one thing, the unions and the city council still have to ratify the pension deal. For another thing, Curry ran on a public safety platform — but violent crime has not abated in the city.
Still, Atwater told the Daily Record that Curry “should be in the mix.”
Curry, meanwhile, is holding his cards close to the vest.
“I love this job, and I plan on being Mayor of Jacksonville. I’ve got a lot of work to do,” Curry added.
When asked if he would definitively rule out an appointment to finish Atwater’s term or run for statewide office, the Mayor avoided a firm commitment.
“I don’t deal in hypotheticals. I’m not pursuing anything. I haven’t talked to anyone. I’ve got a job here to do. I don’t deal in hypotheticals, but I’m the mayor of Jacksonville. I love this job, and you’re going to continue to see big issues attacked, problems solved, and opportunities capitalized on in Jacksonville,” Curry said.
Meanwhile, for those keeping track, Curry’s PAC raised $63,000 in local money last month.
SAUCE LOSS: From unfinished business to failed business …
Awkwardness abounded late last week when the city of Jacksonville sued companies run and owned, in part, by Councilwoman Katrina Brown.
The Brown family took $640,000 in city money in 2011 to start up a barbecue sauce factory that was supposed to employ 56 people for two years consecutive. That didn’t happen. And the city wants back $210K, give or take.
The Browns’ companies are delinquent on sales tax and are being sued by other banks. The building itself was raided by the FBI two months ago.
Brown won’t talk to the press to come clean. Instead, she has taken to prattling away on Facebook about unrelated ephemera.
The top topic of conversation in City Hall: what’s happening with Katrina? And how long does she have left?
Brown didn’t help her case in the court of public opinion by no-showing Tuesday’s meeting of the city council, where she was expected to vote yes on LGBT rights.
GUNS OF COWFORD: Hours after letting the HRO become law, Curry moved away from the polarizing issue to discuss something more on-message for him: public safety.
Curry, Sheriff Mike Williams, and State Attorney Melissa Nelson described their shared intent to have Jacksonville participate in the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), which will help identify and target shooters for the purposes of prosecution and getting them off the streets.
NIBIN is a national database of used bullets and shell casings that are either found at crime scenes or test-fired from confiscated weapons.
This program has worked well in Denver. Curry, Williams, and Nelson will travel out west later this year, hoping to see how NIBIN is being used in a city that otherwise is as culturally different from Jacksonville as could be imagined.
Curry sold the program with emotive language, saying at one point that he was “pissed” at the wave of gun violence, and opening and closing with the following quote, intended to strike fear in the hearts of miscreants.
“If you’re stupid enough to commit a crime in this city — especially a crime with a gun — this group of people is coming after you,” the Mayor said.
MATCH GAME: St. Johns County was facing erosion issues before Hurricane Matthew last year. The state has a program to help the county restore its beaches. However, reports the Florida Times-Union, that program requires a 50 percent match.
If the state puts in $30 million of a $60 million project, the other $30 million has to come from somewhere. Local groups seem to believe that the state should go 75/25 with the county.
That’s a mistaken premise.
St. Johns County has been functioning on the cheap for a long time, aggressively cutting taxes while expanding the tax base. Local politicians have built their reps on that. Now, however, the bills are coming due.
The school system already had to push for a half-cent sales tax last year to deal with infrastructural issues. While that referendum was successful, the need for it points to a larger problem: the county lacks the recurring revenue to deal with increasing costs of infrastructure and, soon enough, legacy costs.
It’s bad business for Tallahassee to go beyond a 50/50 split on these costs. And SJC pols need to think about not just what the county looks like now, but is going to look like after decades of laissez-faire planning and land use management.
WINNERS AND LOSERS: Gov. Rick Scott has a bone to pick with Rep. Paul Renner, the Palm Coast Republican who may or may not be in contention to be House Speaker down the road.
Writing in the Palm Coast Observer, Renner discussed his beef with Enterprise Florida, including sponsoring “a bill that would end these programs, which pick winners and losers among competing businesses through ‘economic incentives,’ in which the state essentially pays companies to come to or stay in Florida.”
“This legislative session, we have the opportunity to end special incentives and promote economic development that benefits every business and every resident in our community. This effort will have bipartisan support, including fiscal conservatives like me, as well as principled liberals who share a distaste for corporate welfare,” Renner added.
Renner doesn’t have much in the way of approps asks this session, beyond sewage projects for Palm Coast and Flagler Beach. And given his opposition to a prized gubernatorial initiative — really, a philosophy — it’s best for all parties that he has modest requests.
As Aaron Bean can attest, Scott knows how to hold a grudge.
BRUSHBACK FOR BEAN: Speaking of Bean, The Capitolist deconstructed an appropriations bill as being a potential “windfall for a local constituent.”
Senate Bill 712, a technical bill, tweaks Medicaid reimbursement rates for nursing homes.
However, the Capitolist discerns the actual purpose: River Garden Hebrew Home would not make as much money under the proposed reimbursement matrix as they could under Bean’s bill.
Under the proposed model, the home would gross an extra $174,000 a year. Under the Bean bill, $580,000.
IN THE NAVY: Jacksonville’s Navy presence is going to increase by 400 sailors (and families) soon, with the East Coast Forward Operating Base of the MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aircraft System (Triton UAS) planned for Mayport.
The drone system offers maritime information, handling both recon and surveillance. From Mayport, it will be deployed over the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
Among those celebrating with news releases: Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. John Rutherford.
“I have long advocated for the Navy to base the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft in Mayport, so I am very pleased it decided to do so. We look forward to welcoming four new aircraft and the more than 400 sailors and their families who will soon call the Jacksonville area home. Florida’s military community plays a vital role in defending our nation, and the Triton system is a key component of the Navy’s maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions,” Rubio said.
Rutherford noted the benefits to both national security and the Jacksonville area, saying that “the Navy’s decision … will not only enhance our national security by helping the Navy carry out its important maritime surveillance missions, but is also a huge victory for the Jacksonville community, further strengthening our partnership with the Navy.”
During the 2016 GOP primary campaign, more than one candidate fretted over the ultimate impact of BRAC closures. With the Trump Administration planning to expand military ships and improve hardware, Wednesday’s decision suggests Jacksonville’s importance in this administration’s nat sec strategy.
INVENTORY CONTROL: The Duval County School Board is considering new and exciting ways to track its students while they are in government custody.
“Nikolai Vitti pitched the BadgePass system from Dowling-Douglas Company to the Board at a workshop Tuesday,” asserted the Action News write-up.
“Students across Duval County would get BadgePass student IDs, which they would swipe when they get on their school buses and in their classrooms. Parents would be notified if their child is not where they’re supposed to be,” Action News continued.
What could go wrong?
Board Chair Paula Wright said that the program was not a “big brother” program, which should allay libertarian concerns.
The program has been used in 49 schools in Duval over the last five years, which has cost the district $2.7 million.
Vitti says the district will save money — $1 million over five years — if the program goes districtwide.
While badges are fantastic, why not take it to the next level? RFID technology is improving every year.
Gov. Scott took to the high seas — or at least near the high seas — to talk about his request for funding for seaport infrastructure projects.
The Naples Republican visited JAXPORT’s Blount Island Marine Terminal this week to discuss plans for investing in state transportation and port projects in the coming year. Scott recently proposed a $10.8 billion transportation plan, which included $176 million for Florida ports.
“Since 2008, job creation supported by JAXPORT has grown tremendously, and today, we are proud to support more than 130,000 jobs throughout Northeast Florida. This incredible growth would not have been possible without the Governor’s commitment to making investments in our port and the area’s transportation system,” said Jim Citrano, chairman of JAXPORT, in a statement. “We are so grateful to the Governor for once again seeking to make important investments in our ports through his ‘Fighting for Florida’s Future’ budget and hope to see this plan fully passed.”
The port achieved record-setting growth in 2016 in containers, auto imports and breakbulk cargoes. It also completed several major milestone projects last year including the new on-dock rail facility serving the Blount Island and Dames Point Terminals; berth, dock and rail upgrades and three new 100-gauge electric container cranes which entered service in December.
JAXPORT wants to help small businesses.
JAXPORT and Mason Construction Co. hosted a free procurement training seminar for small businesses interested in doing business with the port and other Northeast Florida public agencies. The workshop was held at JAXPORT’s Cruise Terminal and focused on strategies for writing a successful bid proposal. Attendees also got to network and learn about open bid opportunities at JAXPORT, the City of Jacksonville and other area agencies.
“We want to be at the forefront of ensuring that small businesses are included in everything we’re doing at JAXPORT,” said JAXPORT Board member Dr. John Newman. “As cargo volumes continue to grow, the opportunities available to small businesses expands as well, creating jobs and prosperity for our community.”
Perry Blackburn got to say “thank you” to the men and women who saved his sister this week.
Blackburn, a paramedic and emergency medical services coordinator in Ware County, Georgia, responded to a serious medical vehicle crash involving his sister last year. Emergency personnel had to extricate, Gina, his sister, from the vehicle and she suffered severe injuries. She was transported by air ambulance to TraumaOne at UF Health Jacksonville.
After she had been stabilized, she underwent surgery and a lengthy stay at in the transitional care unit and the rehabilitation center at UF Health Jacksonville.
“All Waycross and Ware County public safety organizations, along with AirEvac 90 and UF Health, did an outstanding job with my sister’s care,” he said. “That is what EMS is all about — reducing disability and saving lives.”
Gina has recovered well and has since returned home to her family.
It’s always “shark week” at Jacksonville University nowadays.
The University has teamed up with a globally known shark conservation and research group, a move the school sees as bolstering its brand. The Jacksonville Business Journal reported Ocearch founder Chris Fischer will join the school as “explorer in residence.”
As part of the deal, the organization’s boat will be docked in Jacksonville and Fischer will have office and research space at the school.
Ocearch has more than 430,000 people following its Facebook page, and its Android app has been downloaded more than 100,000 times. The iPhone version of the app has been downloaded more than 200,000 times.