A takeaway from a conversation we had with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on Thursday evening: Big changes are coming to children’s programs in Jacksonville, and the Mayor is frustrated with how the city is handling public safety right now.
When Curry was on the campaign trail in the Spring of 2015, he pledged to turn around trends in underfunding public safety resources.
The money has gone into these, as available: new equipment and new officers for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and a revival of the Jacksonville Journey to house prevention and intervention programs.
Two years into the administration, Curry is frustrated with progress on public safety.
“No, I’m not happy with where we are on public safety right now. That’s an across-the-board statement. I’m going to continue to provide the resources that I deem necessary, and work every day to tweak things to where we get the best results.”
And as he told us Thursday evening in New Town, programs such as the Jacksonville Journey and the Jacksonville Children’s Commission are “beyond tweaking” and headed for “big reforms.” Decisions will be made in a matter of weeks, he said.
“We are beyond tweaking when it comes to these programs we deliver to children, and big reforms are coming,” Curry emphasized.
“We’re working through exactly what those reforms are going to look like. I will have reached a decision inside of two weeks.”
When asked if he was looking to roll the Jacksonville Children’s Commission up into Jacksonville Journey, as seemed to be suggested in Thursday’s budget meeting, Curry was blunt — and sought to defray speculation as to what he would eventually decide.
“Nobody knows what I’m looking at. I’m working inside a very small group — anything you’re hearing is pure speculation.”
“I’m looking at making sure that we have programs that are very clear and meeting the needs of specific ‘at-hope youth’ that are the solution to prevention and intervention,” Curry said, using a phrase he first used two weeks prior when announcing $988,000 of new money available for youth summer camps.
“We’ve got to be very clear about how we deliver those services and make sure we’re getting results, and make sure that the management team is aggressive in terms of pursuing those goals, and that the whole governance structure is aggressive as well, and hold them accountable,” Curry said.
As was demonstrated Thursday in the Jax Journey budget meeting, plans for the future of the program are in limbo, as Curry considers how to align its mission with that of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission (which provides an overlap in services with the Journey), and the larger public safety budget itself.
Thursday saw Journey director Debbie Verges note that Journey and the JCC were increasingly aligned — and that she sees the Journey as a $9M program rather than a $5M program, with the JCC administering “Journey programs.”
Verges would like to see more budgeting for analytics to measure the effectiveness of the programs, and more money for “neighborhood accountability boards” — a priority of State Attorney Melissa Nelson.
What is clear: Mayor Curry feels the urgency of getting these programs right as his term nears the halfway mark.
The Jacksonville Children’s Commission, whose CEO Jon Heymann retires at the end of July, is slated for a Friday afternoon budget hearing.
And we are slated to cover it.