Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has invested a lot of political capital into the Kids Hope Alliance, a proposed reform of Jacksonville children’s services.
The reform bill, which now has 13 of 19 people on City Council as co-sponsors, would replace the Jacksonville Journey and Jacksonville Children’s Commission with the KHA.
While the bill cleared two of three Council committees this week, it was not voted out of Finance, where questions remained.
Those questions will be answered, presumably, at a Committee of the Whole meeting 1 p.m. Monday, one followed by a special finance meeting–one that will allow the committee to clear the bill for the full Council meeting the next day, if the committee votes the bill out.
Odds look favorable: the bill now has thirteen co-sponsors in its current form … a clear suggestion that there would be majority support on a simple up or down vote.
Curry met with many Council members on Thursday and Friday … except for the chair, who is on a collision course with Curry over the Kids Hope Alliance proposal. Those meetings paid off.
Councilman Reggie Gaffney jumped on board Friday afternoon, joining fellow Finance Committee members Lori Boyer, Aaron Bowman, Matt Schellenberg — meaning that even a majority of the Finance Committee was on board.
In Tuesday’s Finance meeting, that wasn’t a given.
Chair Garrett Dennis took the unusual step of allowing unlimited speaking time to public commenters, while Council President Anna Brosche introduced 17 questions she had about the bill right before the committee had to make a hard stop.
On Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, we asked Curry, Brosche and Dennis their thoughts on where the KHA process is, and the path forward. Curry, appearing at a media event at JAXPORT on Wednesday afternoon, was first up — and in a philosophical mode regarding the “process.”
“This is the process,” Curry said. “I think the bill’s on its fifth iteration now. If you add in my first bill, the substitute bill, the amendments that were made in the committees in the last couple of days.”
“So, it’s just the process of making it the best possible bill that it can be,” Curry said, adding that the amendments “absolutely” make the bill a better one.
“We welcome the revisions to the bill. We’re on the fifth iteration, I believe. I expect it will end up in a place with a bill that is exactly where it should be, to serve our kids — the kids of Jacksonville in the best way that they can be served, and to improve the way they’re served today,” Curry added.
“Whatever it takes to get this bill to where it needs to be to get on with the business of serving kids,” Curry said, “in a more focused way and a more outcome-driven way than we’re doing today, I’m on board with.”
Council President Brosche told us Thursday morning that she was “concerned that the public has not had the opportunity to become involved.”
Brosche expanded on these comments Thursday afternoon in a public forum at the Urban League.
Brosche noted that she was trying to understand “what needs fixing” with children’s services, trying to “reconcile why we’re creating a new entity when the work today … is defined as excellent.”
“For me, this is about serving the kids. We’re already not serving enough kids in Jacksonville … I’m trying to understand what is broken,” Brosche said about the Curry plan, which is predicated on a contention that the Jacksonville Children’s Commission is outmoded and ineffective.
FloridaPolitics.com obtained a copy of Council questions and administration-provided answers [KHA Memo to Councilmembers], and Council President Brosche — who is reviewing the current crop of answers — may yet have additional questions for the Curry administration.
A number of the questions and answers bear closer scrutiny in light of committee discussion.
Among the revelations: according to the Curry administration, there is — as of yet — no candidate for the CEO position identified; however, “we anticipate Mayor Curry making the appointment shortly after the enactment of this legislation.”
The Curry administration also addressed criticism from some quarters that there wasn’t sufficient input from subject matter experts: “A multitude of stakeholders were consulted including but not limited to providers, philanthropic partners, elected officials, current and former JCC Board Members, community leaders and citizens. The collective experiences, input and recommendations were considered and to the extent appropriate incorporated in the legislation as proposed. As a result of the actions this week, the current legislation is in its fifth version. All of the changes came from the stakeholders listed above.”
Perhaps the most interesting descriptive language of this week’s committee meetings was when a member of the Curry administration used the word “rubber stamp” to describe board members, as well as a feeling of “entitlement” from providers.
“Certain service providers expect these taxpayers dollars regardless of their performance, and this will no longer be the tolerated. These words simply emphasize the mayor’s expectations of a results-driven board. Under the Kids’ Hope Alliance, performance will be mandated and measured ensuring better [outcomes] for our children and the taxpayers of Jacksonville,” the response read.
Meanwhile, when asked about the “biggest weakness” of the current JCC/Jax Journey structure, the response was deliberately forward-looking: “Citing specific weaknesses and attempting to assign blame for the past, seems counterproductive.”
While it appears that Brosche’s questions are at least in the process of being answered, a new wrinkle emerged this week, with Finance Chair Dennis filing legislation that he believes merits parallel consideration.
This would necessitate a six-week deferral of the Kids Hope Alliance bill; Dennis believes that Mayor Curry “should welcome a frank public discussion” comparing and contrasting the two proposals.
The Dennis bill would repeal the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and replace it with the Ed Austin Children’s Services Council.
This body, per the bill, would “exist as an autonomous body within the Executive Branch of the consolidated government but shall not be a part of the organizational structure of any executive department.”
Some of this looks the same as the KHA bill — including the seven-person board comprised of Duval County residents, and a requirement of a 2/3 vote of Council for removal of board members.
“Bill 2017-697 is about kids. After listening to my fellow council members and hearing from the community and feeling the need to get this right for the kids of Jacksonville, I am proposing an alternative solution that builds upon the recent improvements to JCC,” Dennis asserted.
“The recent audit shows that JCC is improving outcomes for kids. I also wanted to honor the legacy of the founder of JCC by renaming it the Ed Austin Children’s Services Council and make improvements to existing JCC ordinance that has lasted 25 years and can continue to improve the lives of our kids and ultimately Jacksonville. It’s about our kids,” Dennis asserted.
Meanwhile, Sen. Audrey Gibson expressed her own concerns with the Curry bill this week in the Florida Times-Union.
Gibson, who last battled the Curry Administration ahead of 2016’s pension reform referendum, called the Kids Hope Alliance bill a “proposed fast track of city legislation to offer ‘hope’ to our children in need of opportunity to become the best they can be through after-school programming.”
With thirteen co-sponsors, KHA may already be a done deal. But at the very least, Monday and Tuesday will have drama before the votes.
When told of KHA having 13 cosponsors, Finance Chair Garrett Dennis — who has just filed competing legislation — was unmoved.
“Wait until Monday,” he said.