Summer doldrums, finally, in Jacksonville City Hall for the next couple of weeks … until the Mayor introduces his budget to Council July 17.
The installation of a new Council President, supplanting old power dynamics with a new hierarchy.
And there are questions.
Will institutional knowledge still be there? Will the budget go as smoothly as it did in Lenny Curry’s first two years?
As you will see below, Curry — at the midpoint of his term — wants a third year of “winning.” But does everyone define victory the same way?
Meanwhile, there are other stories: business development, a Democratic congressman fundraising off the GOP’s botched health care effort, a local State Representative scoring key endorsements in his bid for Attorney General.
You may notice this is a supersized edition of Bold; we will be taking next week off, our Jacksonville correspondent heading to a secure and undisclosed location, with limited access to email.
Happy July 4, in advance.
Below, the biggest stories of a consequential week.
Al Lawson: Trumpcare is mean, give me money
It was only a year ago that candidate Lawson was being introduced to Jacksonville media by Susie Wiles, chair of the Donald Trump Florida campaign.
Lawson was presented as an alternative to the fiercely partisan Corrine Brown, and was lauded as someone willing to work across the aisle.
However, incumbent Lawson is a different story, as a white-hot Tuesday fundraising email (“Stopping MEAN Health Care”) makes clear.
“During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised America that he would not cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. Now with the help of his friends in Congress, TRUMP IS BREAKING HIS PROMISE,” the email reads.
Noting that Senate Republicans are mulling over whether to vote for health care reform or not, Lawson — whose legislative body has already voted for a version of the “American Health Care Act” — urges prospective donors to “stand with [him] against this bad Republican bill.”
“Trump and his Republican cronies are trying to take away your health care,” the email continues, recycling very familiar boilerplate about the reform package.
Prediction: Susie Wiles won’t be showing Lawson around Jacksonville anytime soon.
Not that it matters: this seat will be decided in the Democratic Primary, and Jacksonville candidates seem reluctant to jump in.
Motion theater for Corrine Brown
Federal prosecutors oppose both the acquittal motion and the motion for a new trial.
The feds contend, contra Brown’s contention, that evidence was actually sufficient to convict her of 18 of 22 counts in her fraud trial for phantom educational charity One Door for Education. And the feds still maintain that the juror who was bounced for believing the Holy Spirit told him Brown was innocent had just cause to be bounced.
Brown’s lawyer has a new deadline for response: July 7, at which point memos of no more than 10 pages are due in response to the Feds panning acquittal and new trial motions.
The Strong Mayor model
Jacksonville runs best when using the “strong mayor” model of leadership, say many. If the mayor functions as city manager, there is policy drift. Exhibit A in the “strong mayor” column: former Mayor Jake Godbold, who regaled a packed crowd at a Jacksonville Historical Society meeting.
Godbold backed Curry’s play to “take back” the Jacksonville Landing from Toney Sleiman, the strip mall developer who is running the cornerstone piece of riverfront property into the ground with crap retail that draws no one in.
Godbold also described his own time in office, including a Curry-esque dedication to public works projects that got Jacksonville moving after entropy in the Hans Tanzler era.
At one point, Godbold issued a salvo at Alvin Brown, whom he endorsed in 2015, saying Brown didn’t even build roads and other projects in neighborhoods that comprised his base.
Curry was criticized by some, ironically, for lacking the vision of Brown to transform downtown. But the reality is that, at least for two years, it has been Curry’s vision that has dominated city discourse in a way Alvin Brown would never have dared.
Family leave for COJ workers?
Curry rolled out a family leave proposal this week, and unions and council members are on board.
“I conceptually agree with the Mayor’s plan to support families and provide a great start for children. The Mayor’s history shows he doesn’t introduce proposals without study and understanding fiscal impact. I look forward to seeing the details and timeline,” Council President Anna Brosche told us Thursday morning.
Finance Chair Garrett Dennis lauded the move: “As usual,” Dennis said Thursday morning, “Mayor Curry puts families first … I can’t wait to see the details, and I will be a partner with the Mayor as he works to improve lives in our city.”
Police Union head Steve Zona — also on board.
“I have always told people that work with me “family first always.” There is nothing more important. I applaud Mayor Curry for his leadership on this issue and willingness to take a bold step in that direction,” Zona said.
Strong Mayor, meet strong Council
Is there a rift between Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Council President Brosche?
No one is doing a news conference discussing this, but an open secret in Council is that Curry wanted John Crescimbeni to become Council President.
To that end, extremely credible sources have claimed that a senior staffer in the Mayor’s Office — one who deals with Council regularly — was trying to whip votes for Crescimbeni over Brosche. While that claim was refuted off the record by said staffer, with said staffer asserting that claims of that sort were also made in the past, the narrative is clearly believed in Council.
Other credible sources have argued, meanwhile, that the Mayor’s Office is looking for someone to run against individual Council members who backed Brosche over Crescimbeni.
Such narratives can’t be easily refuted — not in the cauldron of gossip that is Jacksonville’s four-story City Hall, a building that once was a May Cohens department store and still does as brisk a business in insider gossip as that store did in mid-priced consumer goods back in the sepia-tinged olden days.
Our prediction: a rapprochement is in the works … though with the Finance Committee being majority-Democrat (a big reason Brosche won: those pledges from Dems from minority-access districts) and with independent-minded Danny Becton as Finance Vice-Chair, expect that Finance (and by proxy, Council) will present tougher sledding this budget process — unless tangible gains are presented in what could be an ambitious capital improvement budget this year (per Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa).
For what it’s worth, Brosche and Curry met this week. Brosche wouldn’t address the narrative of the Council presidency race, except to say “you can’t make money yesterday.”
For Brosche, a Republican who won a Council race in 2015 with no actual help from the Duval GOP, pragmatism will prevail. But others on the Council — including Finance Committee — aren’t necessarily so pragmatic.
Bye Bye Boyer
No, Lori Boyer is not leaving Council — she is, however, done with the Council presidency … and she told us she’s happy to relinquish the gavel.
Boyer noted that she is glad to be “free of the imposed neutrality” that comes with being Council President.
Boyer maintained neutrality in policy discussions, serving as a facilitator of the debate. And that facilitation proved essential on matters like pension reform and the HRO; in each case, her process was that of a “deliberate structure,” with a “beginning, middle and end in sight.”
Boyer also evaluated the State of the Council.
Looking at the Council as it is and as it will be next year, Boyer is encouraged by the development of those first-term members who served as chairs of committees; they “learned the role and understand the process.”
Others, she suggested, can stand to develop “maturity in the relationship aspects” of being on Council.
“The risk is in not knowing how the process works … there’s always another bill, another occasion, another deal where you’ve got to work with somebody.”
Council greenlights opioid pilot program
The vote: 16-1, with Danny Becton as the no vote … after a lot of noise and drama, documented below.
But as in committees, the discussion was robust at times; surreal at others. And — underneath it all — intensely personal against the sponsor, with a cadre of Councilors pulling out every procedural trick imaginable to kill the bill and to frustrate sponsor Bill Gulliford.
Floor amendments, motions to defer for a cycle, and even some talk of sending the bill back to committees — all were there. Fans of a smooth process will note, meanwhile, that those who made it roughest will be on the Council’s Finance Committee starting in July.
Beach restoration victory lap
Just in time for the Holiday weekend, Curry was able to announce that beach restoration is “done.”
Of the $22 million that went into beach restoration, $7.5M of that came from the Jacksonville City Council, and Councilman Gulliford was key in ensuring those funds came to pass.
Gulliford, who lives just a short walk from the presser, deemed it “incredible” that dunes are getting restored so quickly.
“The Mayor was behind us the whole time,” Gulliford noted.
There’s still work to do, of course, beyond restoration.
The Jacksonville Beach Pier lost 300 feet of span in Hurricane Matthew; Gulliford noted that assessment is underway to determine what can be saved and, perhaps, reused — though there is no fixed timetable for when that may come to pass.
Curry leaves U.S. Conference of Mayors
One significant difference between Curry and former Mayor Alvin Brown: their dispensations to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Brown was a frequent fixture at meetings; Curry never attended an event.
Curry’s politics hew closer to the White House than the USCM. And in that context, Curry’s decision to leave the USCM was not surprising — though it went unremarked until this week.
On Monday afternoon, Curry explained the reasons for leaving the group, which happened in late 2016 or early 2017, he said.
Curry wanted to know if the Mayor’s Office had paid the invoice for the current year, and it had not — so given the Conference’s political positions and lack of value add for his office, he didn’t think that membership was a “good use of taxpayer dollars.”
Curry is the most important big city mayor to leave the conference, which though ostensibly bipartisan, has taken an adversarial role to President Trump in recent months.
Props for Melissa Nelson in T-U
It’s a measure of how badly Angela Corey botched the administration of justice in Florida’s 4th Circuit that even a common sense move from Melissa Nelson receives plaudits in the Florida Times-Union.
The latest: Nelson’s decision to drop charges on a woman who shot her abusive, drunken husband in self-defense, as he pummeled her while driving her car.
Angela Corey was the queen of punitive quasi-justice, and she always seemed to have a special animus for African-American women. Consider the case of Marissa Alexander, who was set up for 60 years in prison because of firing warning shots in self-defense from her abusive ex.
Nelson got back up from one of her earliest endorsers — National Rifle Association lobbyist and gun rights advocate Marion Hammer.
“That’s the kind of flawed logic you get out of a state attorney who is more concerned about convictions than justice,” Hammer said about the Corey charges. “The fact that a new state attorney would investigate it and drop the charges shows the correctness of [that] decision.”
Children or politics?
Curry discussed reforms he intends to roll out regarding the embattled Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jacksonville Journey.
“This wonderful organization — the Children’s Commission — was created at a time for a good purpose and it has served its purpose,” Curry said.
One former Commission member told the Florida Times-Union that Curry and City Council members wouldn’t know what that purpose was.
“But everybody used to be a child. And most adults have children. So everybody thinks they’re an expert on children. Well, they’re not,” said Linda Lanier, a former member from 2003 to 2012.
“Our council members and our mayor, when it comes to children, they’re average people. They don’t have any greater depth of knowledge about children than the average guy walking down the street.”
“Please don’t mess with this. Abide by the ordinance. Give the Children’s Commission board whatever it needs,” Lanier added.
Are ordinances Talmudic, the same in perpetuity? Or are they, like most things in the world, subject to change? The answer to that is obvious to anyone who’s intellectually honest.
$11M for Jax from HUD
Jacksonville is in line to receive just over $11M in money from Housing and Urban Development for FY 2017, per a letter from HUD dated June 15.
Over half of that sum — $5.661M — will come in through Community Development Block Grants, a category that the Donald Trump Administration has questioned.
This is down significantly from the $17M figure stated by a city employee at a press event promoting CDBGs.
For locals who made a call for CDBGs, such as Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis, this award letter means that — at least for another year — federal money will boost Jacksonville’s budget to deal with populations that need the help.
Given Trump’s position on these grants, the Curry Administration was agnostic on the future of these programs when asked earlier this year.
“As long as the program exists and funds are available, we will utilize them,” spokeswoman Marsha Oliver said.
Florida Sheriffs love Jason Fischer
To quote Whodini: “Friends! How many of us have them?”
State Rep. Jason Fischer can answer that question affirmatively after garnering a “Friend of Sheriff” award from the Florida Sheriff’s Association.
“I would like to thank the Florida Sheriffs Association for the Friend of the Sheriff Award. It’s an honor to work with the Florida Sheriffs Association to keep our state safe. This past session, I sponsored HJR721 which would have ensured sheriffs in all 67 counties of Florida are elected and are only accountable to the voters,” Fischer noted, referencing a bill that addressed an appointed sheriff in South Florida.
“I would also like to thank FSA President and Orange County Sheriff, Jerry Demings, and FSA Legislative Chair and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, for their dedicated service to the protection of Floridians. The great citizens of Florida are forever indebted to the men and women of law enforcement that serve our communities.”
State Rep. Jay Fant, now running for Attorney General, got some wind in his sails via Associated Industries of Florida this week.
Fant was honored, per the AIF news release, for “finding a solution to Florida’s current unconstitutional workers’ compensation system. Although he did not sponsor the full workers’ compensation legislation, Representative Fant fought hard for his amendment to the full House bill (HB 7085) that would have moved Florida to a claimant paid system. This amendment would have put Florida in line with 32 other states and had the united support of the business community.”
Fant also scored some endorsements this week, via Reps. Chuck Clemons, Bobby Payne and Fischer.
Big boat lands in Jaxport
The Jacksonville Business Journal had a story that indicated just a bit of the economic boom that may/can/will come to Jacksonville … once the planned dredge to 47 feet is complete.
“The largest container ship to ever visit a Florida port stopped June 24 at Jaxport and the TraPac Container Terminal at Dames Point. The 10,100 container vessel MOL Bravo came from Asia via the Suez Canal. The cargo ship was not filled to capacity because it would sit too deep in the water,” JBJ reports.
“When our harbor is deepened to 47 feet, a ship like the MOL Bravo will move twice as much cargo in and out of Jaxport,” Dennis Kelly, regional vice president and general manager of TraPac Jacksonville, told JBJ.
This week has been a narrative triumph for Jaxport: Monday, reports Splash247, the Jaxport board gave the green light to the harbor deepening project.
Dredging is slated to begin early in 2018.
Cannabis decriminalization for St. Augustine?
First Coast News reports that the city of St. Augustine is mulling a proposal to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis … and local Sheriff David Shoar is a supporter of said plan.
City Commissioners may be on board — if the local police chief gives the OK at a July 24 meeting.
“I think that it’s an excellent idea,” St. Augustine Commissioner Leanna Freeman said. “I would like to have feedback from our chief of police to see if he agrees with that, and if he does I would strongly consider … if you all agree that, [that] we make a show of support.”
We asked Jacksonville Mayor Curry if such a move would work for Jacksonville. It is not on the Mayor’s agenda. Likewise, it is anyone’s guess who on City Council would bring up that subject.
Marissa Alexander backs Stand Your Ground changes
Another one from First Coast News this week, which got Alexander to weigh in on this year’s changes to the Stand Your Ground law.
“You [shouldn’t] have to prove yourself in the case when in every other case that burden is on the prosecution,” Alexander said. “I think it’s a step in the right direction.”
Alexander, who faced 60 years in jail via former State Attorney Angela Corey for firing warning shots when her abusive ex threatened her, presented a test case of holes in the law as it was.
“It perhaps it would have made it where I didn’t have to prove my action, but the state would have to prove that I was wrong and not justified in at least being able to defend myself,” she said.
Peter Schorsch: Why we need a San Marco Avenue transit lane in St. Augustine
Congestion has become increasingly worse in St. Augustine, particularly along San Marco Avenue.
The Visitor Information Center — Historic Downtown Parking Facility is increasingly reaching capacity, and closed for extended periods of time during busy weekends — especially holidays and special events.
Parking in the downtown area has reached its limit.
Over the past couple of decades, growth has exploded in the northern parts of St. Johns County, with many of these new residents becoming regular visitors to St. Augustine, particularly on beautiful weekends.
A majority of visitor traffic flows from the north toward St. Augustine via Downtown via I-95, SR 16, US 1 and A1A.
Upon reaching St. Augustine, traffic funnels downtown via Ponce de Leon Boulevard and San Marco Avenue.
One alternative to easing this congestion — create satellite parking on the north end of St. Augustine. This option has been explored in 2016, and it appears to be gaining traction from residents and business owners.
However, major drawback on satellite parking is the lack of an express lane for the shuttles. When mass transit vehicles our bogged down in traffic congestion, it stunts public participation.
Creating a southbound transit lane along San Marco Avenue — coupled with a northbound transit lane along Ponce de Leon Boulevard — would enable a fluid circulator bus route that would open enormous possibilities for satellite parking facilities.
Furthermore, it would enable easy and time-efficient movement of visitors and residents throughout the northern sector of St. Augustine.
Shuttles, trolleys and other such vehicles would have multiple stops along San Marco, thereby enabling the masses to enjoy businesses along a major gateway of the city.
Growth trends prove that development in northern St. Johns County will continue for many years in the future, which will continue increase traffic along the northern gateway. To ease this expected traffic growth, a satellite parking system, united with an efficient transit route, will provide a fluid system for both visitors and residents.
It is a provable fact: When people see smooth running and dependable mobility, time and again they gravitate toward it.
The opportunity has arrived to have the Florida Department of Transportation realign travel lanes along San Marco in 2018, coming at FDOT expense, thus enabling the beginning of a much-needed “mobility alternative” in St. Augustine.
The City needs to seize this opportunity, and continue to build upon it further developing a transit Lane along Ponce de Leon by the FDOT in 2019.
If acted upon, within two or three years, North City would finally have a cost-effective, dependable mobility alternative. If this opportunity slips by, it would prolong the development of massive mobility alternative — and traffic nightmares could continue for decades to come.
Save the date: Travis Hutson Inaugural Golf Invitational
Palm Coast Sen. Hutson hosts the eponymous 2017 Inaugural Golf Invitational on Thursday, July 27 and Friday, July 28 at World Golf Village, 500 S. Legacy Trl. in St. Augustine.
Thursday events include a putting course challenge, cocktail reception, dinner at the World Golf Hall of Fame Tower. On Friday is breakfast at the resort, golf at the Slammer & Squire Course, lunch at the clubhouse and an optional spa day.
RSVP by July 7 2 Brianna Jordan at (203) 313-4695 or email@example.com.
JAXPORT Board goes full steam ahead on $484M dredging project
JAXPORT Board members, without discussion, unanimously voted to proceed with the first section of the Jacksonville ship channel dredging project, approving its share of about $45 million Florida Times-Union reports. The money is only a fraction of the $484 million overall cost to deepen the ship channel for massive cargo container ships from Asia.
The nonprofit St. Johns Riverkeeper, which promotes the river’s health, warns that JAXPORT is going ahead with the dredging project without giving the public an opportunity to “understand all the pros and cons” in a “transparent community conversation” that considers both environmental and financial ramifications.
“Let’s have that conversation,” St. Johns Riverkeeper Executive Director Jimmy Orth told the board. “Let’s determine and make sure this project is right for Jacksonville and it is right for the St. Johns River.”
After a nearly hourlong meeting to a standing-room-only crowd, the Board vote was met with applause and cheers.
UF Health Jacksonville leader named “2017 Ultimate CFO”
The Jacksonville Business Journal named UF Health Jacksonville CFO Bill Ryan as “2017 Ultimate CFO.” Ryan joined UF Health Jacksonville in December 2001 as a consultant, and became CFO in 2003. He retired in 2009.
Chill out at the Zoo!
“The Big Chill” is a “brrrrand new” summer event at the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens July 8 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Cool zones will be set up to keep visitors frosty, ice and water play stations for the children, and cool ice-enrichment for the animals.
Visitors can receive a free Dippin’ Dots for children 12 and under with coupon received at Main Camp, while supplies last.
The event is free with Zoo admission.