In the year-end edition of Bold, we look at the stories that shaped 2017.
A pension problem — with a solution that seemed impossible at the end of 2015.
A legendary politician sentenced to prison.
Northeast Florida politicians are moving toward leadership in the state Legislature.
Rights for the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community — finally guaranteed in an ordinance.
A “stimulus budget.”
Reform of children’s programs.
A Council President the Mayor didn’t pick.
Last, but not least — the Jaguars return to relevance.
Happy holidays, and see you in 2018.
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Pension Reform: The biggest Jacksonville story of the year — by far.
The real work began soon after Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry took office. There was the “heavy lift” in Tallahassee, one that required Curry and allies to make the sale to the Senate and the House.
From there, a referendum in 2016 — passed with 65 percent of the vote.
After that, the unions had to agree to terms — that was done, more or less, before winter 2017 ended.
Then, council approval — a fait accompli … after all, it wasn’t like those deals were going to be sent back to the table.
As CFO Mike Weinstein said, the savings add up to “$1.4B less out of the general fund over the next 15 years,” and “without that revenue” from the half-cent sales tax, the city would have “difficulty matching revenue to expenses.”
So that’s the reality.
Worth watching: how the city handles the out years, as savings from the pension reform are consumed by workforce raises.
Corrine Brown goes down
Former Rep. Brown had the worst year of her life. She was convicted on 18 counts related to the One Door for Education scheme. And then she received five years in prison — though she is fighting that sentence.
The sentencing essentially gave voice to the jury’s verdict, with Judge Timothy Corrigan noting that Brown’s comments were “reprehensible” at times, such as when she said the Pulse massacre happened because the FBI was too busy investigating her.
Brown got a sentence that reflected a spirit of “general deterrence,” a sentence “in the mainstream” of public corruption cases in recent years. In other words, the judge did not go easy on her.
“A sentence of probation for a member of Congress convicted of 18 counts would not be sufficient,” Corrigan said.
“The public had a right to expect,” Judge Corrigan said, that Brown would not “abuse public trust and responsibility … this was a crime borne of entitlement and greed … bad business.”
We shall see where the appeal leads, but the odds are good Brown will be in orange in a matter of weeks.
Audrey Gibson ascendant
In November, State Sen. Gibson won a narrow 8-7 vote of Senate Democrats to become Senate Democratic Leader Designate for the 2018-2020 legislative term.
Gibson will succeed current Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II when his term ends next November.
“I look forward to working with Caucus members on their priorities and ensuring their voices are heard on legislation impacting all Floridians. I am also excited about bringing in new Democrat Senators to the Florida Senate to create a legislative balance in the Chamber,” said Gibson.
Gibson, meanwhile, may face a primary challenge from Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown.
We asked Brown what the case would be for running against a caucus leader, assuming Gibson doesn’t run against Lawson. And how he would match her fundraising and endorsements.
“All actions will be taken under consideration,” Brown said.
Time will tell if this challenge happens.
Rob Bradley helms appropriations
November also saw state Sen. Bradley move into the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“I’m just focused on getting the job done with as little drama as possible. There’s been enough drama in politics lately. It’s time to just roll up our sleeves and get the job done,” Bradley said, noting that he’s not new to the appropriations game.
“I’ve spent a lot of my Senate career working in the Appropriations arena,” Bradley noted, “having chaired three different budget subcommittees.”
Bradley is already reaping specific benefits of his role; his political committee raised $124,000 in November — a record high for him.
As well, the region is poised to reap benefits this session, via priority environmental bills headed to Appropriations.
SB 204 approves spending at least $75 million a year on springs projects and $50 million annually on projects related to the restoration of the St. Johns River and its tributaries, as well as the Keystone Heights Lake Region.
Paul Renner on path to Speaker
Along with Sens. Bradley and Gibson, Northeast Florida has hope in the House in the form of state Rep. Renner.
For the Palm Coast Republican, the path to winning June’s 2022 Florida House Speaker election in Orlando — with 16 votes in the first round — was not a sure thing.
But it’s a good thing.
State Rep. Clay Yarborough, the former Jacksonville City Council President who was one of those 16 Renner votes, noted that the outcome lined up with his count.
Yarborough saw “tremendous positives” for the region and the city both — positives that will be seen before 2022, as in the years leading up to Renner’s Speakership, he will be in “conversations with leadership,” and his “place at the table” will help him advocate for regional priorities.
The region, Yarborough said, can be “lining stuff up” that takes years to realize — a generational opportunity for Northeast Florida.
Considering state Sen. Travis Hutson — whose territory overlaps with part of Renner’s House district — is also in the leadership discussion, the region may be positioned to score wins, necessary as legacy costs and infrastructure burdens pile up.
HRO, at last
Valentine’s Day was especially happy for Jacksonville’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, for that was the day the Jacksonville City Council passed the Human Rights Ordinance.
The expansion would add sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to the list of protected categories under the ordinance, which ensures that people aren’t discriminated against in the workplace, the housing market, or public accommodations (restrooms, locker rooms, and so on).
Curry returned the bill to the city council without his signature; the bill is now law.
“As your Mayor, I promised to convene community conversations about discrimination. At the conclusion of those conversations, I exercised an executive action to implement a clear policy for City of Jacksonville employees and contractors. I said then and continue to believe additional legislation was unnecessary. But this evening, a supermajority of the City Council decided otherwise. This supermajority, representatives of the people from both parties and every corner of the city, made their will clear,” Curry said in a statement.
Despite all the drama leading up to it, there have been just two claims — housing discrimination — made since it passed.
There is, meanwhile, a movement toward a citizen referendum to repeal it. Time will tell if that goes anywhere.
It was, indeed, an infusion of capital into perpetually shorted departments — and the kind of political triumph Council could share.
There was a certain irony in the unanimous vote, given the fractiousness of the Finance Committee during August budget hearings — when members said they felt “targeted” by a poll from Sheriff Mike Williams’ political committee that said people wanted more cops on the street.
Curry built a political machine to get into office, and he did so even with many GOP officeholders backing his Democratic opponent’s re-election effort.
In the office are some of the best operators working the room — and he has become increasingly adept at giving Council members photo opportunities, the kind that allows them to take credit for something tangible happening in their districts.
And it is by no means clear that he will even face a challenge in 2019 — not bad, especially given the Democratic registration advantage in Dirty Duval.
Kids Hope, not Kids Hype
Jacksonville Children’s programs were reformed this year, with the Jacksonville Journey and Jacksonville Children’s Commission being rolled up into a new board — Kids Hope Alliance.
The City Council debate was fractious, of course, with objections from Council President Anna Brosche and Finance Chair Garrett Dennis to the pace of pushing the legislation through and the need for a new organization at all.
Six of the seven board picks sailed through Council this week, with Brosche and Dennis voting against one who violated the in-county residency requirement that was part of the ordinance.
However, look for Brosche to be a factor going forward — she is slated to become the Council liaison to the board.
Brosche vs. Curry
The most interesting power play of the year has been the battle between Council President Brosche and Mayor Curry.
Recall that Brosche beat administration ally, John Crescimbeni, in a pitched battle for the presidency in the spring.
Much of the noise from Crescimbeni supporters came back to the Council veteran being more “ready to lead” than third-year member Brosche, given his experience on the Council and in the VP role.
One interesting wrinkle in the race: what seemed to be a certain commonality among many of Crescimbeni’s supporters — primarily older, white males.
Did issues of youth, gender, and other demographic demarcations sway their positions?
“I certainly picked up on what you said … I had not picked up on it until you pointed it out,” Brosche added. “You pointed it out well in terms of the picture that was made. I didn’t necessarily reach that conclusion … at the outset.”
Brosche and Curry have clashed, both on her insufficiently optimistic read on pension reform, and her skepticism on the Kids Hope Alliance.
Expect that friction to be constant as long as both are in City Hall.
JAXPORT Puerto Rico relief update
A new message from JAXPORT Executive Vice President Roy Schleicher gives a December update on Puerto Rico relief efforts.
Thanks to the generous Northeast Florida donors, Schleicher says JAXPORT relief partners distributed 500,000 pounds of goods to more than 20 towns and municipalities throughout the island territory devastated by Hurricane Maria.
With roads and bridges still washed out or in disrepair, making moving large trucks difficult, many of these goods needed to be moved inland by small trucks and cars, going directly to those in need.
Donations also helped with transportation costs to send 13 full-sized shipping containers full of basics such as food, water, batteries and hygiene items from Jacksonville to San Juan. The JAXPORT shipment was over and above those from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other government agencies, and did not include other relief containers organized and transported by groups outside of the JAXPORT-related network.
Residents of Northeast Florida and other areas gathered supplies in the containers, which were then sent to JAXPORT for shipment to Puerto Rico. All the supplies collected traveled to Puerto Rico via the Port of Jacksonville, the No. 1 commercial trade partner with the island.
Going forward, JAXPORT has begun discussions on the best way to continue Puerto Rican hurricane relief during the next stages of their recovery, seeing a need for support remains as the island rebuilds.
Again, Schleicher gives thanks for the donations, which put Jacksonville’s “unrivaled transportation and logistics know-how to work, quickly and efficiently,” to provide emergency aid when it was needed most.
“Along with my heartfelt thanks to all of you,” he says “I would like to specifically send my deep appreciation to [Haskell Co. CEO] Steve Halverson, who did not hesitate for a moment when asked if he could organize help for those suffering after the hurricane … Aqua Gulf Transport, Inc., Todos con Puerto Rico, TOTE Maritime and Trailer Bridge worked together to deliver hurricane relief supplies to Comerio, Puerto Rico. The town’s Mayor, Josian Santiago, and his wife received the container.”
Political preview Jacksonville: Media’s view of the 2018 Session
Members of the Jacksonville and Capitol Press Corps will offer a special preview of the upcoming 2018 Florida Legislative Session hosted by the Fiorentino Group, Tucker/Hall, and Rogers Towers.
Scheduled Friday, January 5 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. at The River Club, 1 Independent Dr., the exclusive, invitation-only luncheon will provide an opportunity to hear top Florida political journalists on what they see on the legislative horizon, with a chance for the audience to ‘turn the table’ and ask questions.
Panelists include Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times; Mike Clark of the Florida Times-Union; Matt Dixon of POLITICO; our own A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics and Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.
Attendees will join Jacksonville business and community leaders for a complimentary lunch and insightful preview of the upcoming Legislative Session. Complimentary parking is available. Registration is at events.r20.constantcontact.com.
To close, some good news …
The Jacksonville Jaguars are a] guaranteed a winning season and b] are playoff bound.
As someone who covered the team on game day for close to a decade of futility, it’s incredible to see one of the best defenses ever assembled in teal and black.
And Blake Bortles — who has taken his share of static — conquered the learning curve and has excelled, even with his top two wideouts on the shelf.
And Leonard Fournette — a little bit Jerome Bettis, a little bit Todd Gurley. The kind of sledgehammer that breaks opposing defenses’ wills.
This year, for the first time in too long, the Jaguars matter in December. And beyond.
To quote the great Jackie Gleason … “How sweet it is!”