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Jacksonville Bold for 12.6.18 — Wrap it up

Wrap it up

The year, in terms of Jacksonville city government, is nearing an end.

Next Tuesday sees the final City Council meeting of 2018. For those interested in getting autographs, a Holiday themed meet-and-greet will also be held Wednesday afternoon.

Hors-d’oeuvres will be served at the latter event. Reminder: keep gifts under $100 in value.

When local political types look back at 2018, what will they recall?

The turbulence at JEA?

The push for a challenger for Lenny Curry?

Or something else?

There is a belief that just because a challenger manifests, there will be a groundswell of support.

Social media, via likes/retweets, may reflect that. But as has been said before, and reported in that off-record way that doesn’t attach names to quotes, the oppo awaits any challenger that jumps in against the machine.

Third time the charm?

For a third straight Legislative Session, Aaron Bean, the Republican Senator from Fernandina Beach, seeks in 2019 to make Secretary of State an elected position, elevating the position to what would be the fifth Cabinet slot.

Third time’s the charm? Aaron Bean hopes so.

The question is one of whether this bill has more traction this year than previous sessions.

Bean has pushed this concept twice already, contending that an odd number of Cabinet members is better for state business. The current SJR 118 would put the measure on the 2020 ballot, spurring a reorganization of Cabinet duties and a 2022 election for the position.

Hutson pushes financial literacy

Late last week, St. Johns County Republican Sen. Travis Hutson filed legislation that would help Florida students with their financial literacy.

Fitting tribute: Travis Hutson is carrying on Dorothy Hukill’s legacy.

Hutson’s bill would “will amend Florida Statute to require all students entering the 9th grade beginning in the 2019-2020 school year complete one-half credit dedicated to personal financial literacy and money management.”

Students will learn how to balance checkbooks, figure out local and federal taxes, and manage personal debt.

Hutson named the bill after a recently-passed Senate colleague, Dorothy Hukill, who advocated for this legislation.

“Senator Hukill understood that all students need adequate instruction in financial literacy to be successful, Hutson said, saying he was “proud to continue [her] legacy in the Florida Senate and ensure that all of our students are prepared for life after high school.”

The bill already has a House companion and sponsor.

Drone bill on

State Rep. Clay Yarborough, a Jacksonville Republican in his second term, has for the third straight Legislative Session filed legislation pertaining to drones.

Another drone bill for Clay Yarborough in 2019.

The 2019 iteration: HB 75, would allow law enforcement to use unmanned aircraft as a “tool in the toolbox” to get perspective on traffic accidents, to collect evidence at a crime scene, and to assist in crowd control at public events such as concerts.

Yarborough, in conversations with law enforcement, has heard support of the concept.

The bill would add language to Florida Statute 934.50 (“Searches and seizure using a drone”), which contains verbiage banning “surveillance” violating a person’s “reasonable expectation of privacy without his or her written consent.” That protection of privacy, Yarborough says, guards against potential overstretch.

Drones, says Yarborough, “are not going to be chasing a guy around his neighborhood.”

Williams launches re-election

Expectations are that the re-election campaign for Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, launched last weekend, will have less drama than his first campaign four years ago.

Mike Williams launches his bid for another term.

Whereas he had six opponents in 2015, he has one (Democrat Tony Cummings, who got under 5 percent of the vote last March) this year.

Despite media reports that the murder rate is up and the clearance rate is down, Williams was undaunted in comments Saturday.

“We’re headed in the right direction. We are always going to have the bad day. The bad weekend. We have to stay focused on the work. I think that’s the important thing. Staying consistent in the work and consistent in that is what will get us over these challenges overall,” Williams said.

No sale, JEA says

Yet another valuation report for Jacksonville’s public utility was released this week, with the Jessie Ball duPont Foundation releasing a study that values the utility at somewhere near $7.5 billion.

That is the low-end of the value range posited earlier this year by another valuation study put forth by JEA, which said the utility could fetch anywhere between that and $11 billion.

No sale, no sale, no sale: JEA’s message is clear, but not everyone has ears for it.

All of this is hypothetical, asserted JEA spox Gerri Boyce, as there are no plans to sell.

“JEA’s board and management are not pursuing or analyzing a sale of JEA. JEA and the City have a contribution agreement in place through 2021 and have taken steps to extend the agreement through 2023. The JEA Board voted in May to cease any discussions around privatization in order to focus the enterprise on developing a 10-year strategic plan. And recently, Duval County residents voted to make their voice heard should the discussions resume in the future,” Boyce asserted.

Even people close to the Curry administration, widely perceived as the energy beyond exploring privatization, pointed out caveats including contracts, land use agreements, and other thorny issues that could complicate a sale.

The push to privatize had a time-sensitive narrative, noting that with liquidity reigning in the equity markets, investors may want to buy tangible assets, such as municipal utilities.

With yet another reassurance that privatization won’t happen soon, the window may have been missed for this business cycle.

Health plan changes for cops, fire

Jacksonville City Council committees Monday and Tuesday approved changes in collective bargaining for fire and police employees that could change health plans.

Former CFO Mike Weinstein negotiated the deal, then sold it to Council.

Ordinances 2018-756 and 2018-757 would allow the unions to separate from the city health care plan in 2020. They were passed without opposition in both committees of reference.

Former Jacksonville CFO Mike Weinstein, who helped to negotiate the plan while still in an official capacity, noted Monday that the health changes were of “paramount importance” to the unions, but ultimately were a Council decision.

Weinstein also noted that public safety may have a negotiating advantage on insurance rates, given the overall health of police and fire being better than that of city employees. With defined benefit plans not available for new hires after 2016’s pension reform, better health plans can help with recruitment.

The full Council gets its shot next week. Due to unanimous committee votes, this bill will likely pass on the Consent Agenda.

Ethics reform ahead?

A bill up for a vote next week by the Jacksonville City Council would tighten ethics provisions for employees, officials and board members.

Ordinance 2018-822, filed by Council President Aaron Bowman at the request of the Jacksonville Ethics Commission, would mandate that officials and employees avoid leveraging their positions or resources for personal gain.

Jacksonville City Council President Aaron Bowman (seated) is pushing for stricter ethics guidelines.

The ordinance also sets up limits for personal loans: $100 between subordinates and supervisors on the same team, and $500 for intra-departmental loans.

Carla Miller, the city’s ethics director, offered some insight as to this legislation Monday, as an attempt based on national models to reform legislation from decades ago.

Some of those reforms, including the provision about the misuse of property and campaigning, used to be in the ethics code.

Miller described the bill as an attempt to define in “plain English” codes that often have been esoteric.

Brown defense takes shape

Suspended and indicted Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown will look to undermine defense witnesses in her 2019 trial, the Florida Times-Union reports.

Katrina Brown had been on the Council Finance Committee before her fraud rap.

Brown’s lawyer wanted 60 days before the trial an order requiring personnel files of investigators and “witnesses’ addiction histories and grudges against Brown,” the T-U asserts.

The defense will get it, but five days before the trial.

Katrina Brown and likewise suspended/indicted Council colleague Reggie Brown are accused of a 38-count conspiracy to defraud, say federal prosecutors. The pair is accused of extracting hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal use from a Small Business Administration-backed loan provided for Katrina Brown’s family’s barbecue sauce plant.

The total list of charges: 13 counts of wire fraud, another 13 of mail fraud, five counts of money laundering, and charges of attempted bank fraud for Ms. Brown and failure to file a 1040 from Mr. Brown.

They have petitioned to separate their cases, but no ruling has been rendered yet.

Quid pro quo?

A former Duval County School Board member charges that two of his former colleagues were hired as a payoff by the new Superintendent.

Scott Shine is off the board, but still in the headlines. (Image via WJCT)

Former board member Scott Shine told the Florida Times-Union that board members Becki Couch and Paula Wright were appointed by Superintendent Diana Greene after voting for Greene’s hire.

Wright’s job has already been approved by the district. Couch is up for board approval next month.

Shine calls the hiring a “colossal conflict of interest,” saying he was “shocked” by the hires.

Superintendent Greene lauded the new hires’ “tremendous knowledge base of our schools and our community.”

Shine was an advocate for Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, who is in Detroit now.

Shine may be isolated here. Jacksonville Mayor Curry is working well with Greene, and with shared initiatives afoot, Curry likely won’t wade into this mess.

Shine chose not to run for re-election this year. But clearly, he can’t stay away.

Wayfair is here

The slogan is “Wayfair, you’ve got just what I need.” This week, that’s truer than ever: the online shopping outpost will ramp up its operations on Jacksonville’s Westside.

The million square foot facility at Cecil Commerce Center will employ 250 people by the end of 2021.

More jobs for the Westside. (Image via Jacksonville Daily Record)

“We are delighted to welcome Wayfair to Jacksonville,” Curry said. “Their entry adds hundreds of jobs to our community and contributes economic value that bolsters our statewide growth in job creation and demand.”

“We are excited to join the Duval County community as we continue to scale our logistics operations in the state of Florida to support the incredible growth of our business,” said James Savarese, chief operating officer of Wayfair.

 “With the opening of our new distribution center in Jacksonville, we know we will benefit from a strong talent pool and we look forward to contributing to the growth of job opportunities in the region as we welcome hundreds of employees to our world-class team,” Savarese added.

The Jacksonville Daily Record covered the economic incentives package “Project Empire” approved by the Council in October. They reported an average wage of $33,000 for the positions, which will largely be furniture warehousing and delivery.

JTA rolls out micro-transit, rapid bus line

On Monday, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority launched its Red Line service, a nearly 19-mile bus rapid transit line servicing downtown and the beaches.

According to the Jacksonville Business Journal, the new Red Line is the third PRT line since introducing The Green Line In 2015. Half the Red Line’s nearly $34 million price tag was picked up by a Federal Transit Administration grant. Nineteen compressed natural gas-powered buses — Wi-Fi enabled — will service the line, arriving at 15-minute intervals, increasing to 10 minutes during peak hours.

Rapid transit continues to get federal funding in Jacksonville.

Another feature is “traffic signal priority,” where buses can communicate with traffic signals to get more frequent green lights. The start-to-finish time for the Red Line is about an hour, depending on the time of day and traffic conditions.

JTA Chief Executive Officer Nathaniel Ford Sr. praised the new service as a way to provide transit alternatives, connect Jacksonville’s Florida State College campuses and offer additional workforce mobility throughout Arlington. The service also foresees Jacksonville’s anticipated population growth, particularly with millennials.

“Younger people are not buying cars,” Ford told the Journal, noting that millennials expect cities to have mobility solutions. “A transformation is occurring right now across the nation.”

In addition, the Journal reports that the JTA also rolled out a number of new services: Nassau Express-Select, a weekday bus service between Yulee and downtown and unveiled ReadiRide, a shuttle service offered through Owl Inc. that connects five zones — the Beaches, Highlands, Northside, Southeast and Southwest — with JTA’s fixed-route lines. ReadiRide customers schedule through Owl; service within the zones cost $2, while service to connect with JTA’s BRT lines cost 50 cents. JTA also opened the Avenues Walk Park-n-Ride for the Blue Line.

Transit head in Jax

Star power arrived Monday from Washington D.C. to christen the new bus rapid transit line to and from the Jacksonville beaches.

The Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams was in town, lauding the “new East Corridor BRT Red Line,” predicting that it “will connect Jacksonville residents to education and jobs, and improve the quality of life in the region,”

Federal Transit Administration Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams visits Jacksonville, joins JTA Chief Executive Officer Nathaniel Ford Sr. to launch new rapid bus line.

“We appreciate the Federal Transit Administration’s support for the First Coast Flyer BRT project,” Ford said. “Already the largest BRT network in the Southeast, the new 18.5 mile Red Line nearly doubles the footprint of the existing First Coast Flyer Blue and Green lines and connects more people to jobs, education, health care and entertainment.”

ZOOLights returns

The Seventh Annual ZOOLights event is returning to the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens.

Featuring thousands of LED lights, ZOOLights transforms the zoo into a winter wonderland of moving sculptures, lighted trees, and animal silhouettes.

Guests can walk among lights laced throughout the Zoo, listen to holiday music and enjoy a unique view of ZOOLights by boarding the Zoo’s lighted train (the train only runs from the back of the Zoo to the front). There will also be carousel rides, the 4-D Theater, marshmallow roasting, and more activities for an extra charge.

Jacksonville Zoo becomes a winter wonderland of lights for the holidays.

The dates are Dec. 7—9 and Dec. 14 — Jan. 5 (Closed Christmas Day) Sunday — Thursday 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday & Saturday 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

The Zoo closes at 5 p.m. and will reopen for ZOOLights at 6 p.m.

Prices are $10 for Non-Members; $8 for Zoo Members, with a special of $5 for Zoo Members, Dec. 17 — 20 only.

ZOOLights Value Tickets includes train rides, 4D Theater and Carousel (Children 12 and under): $15 for Non-Members, $12 for Zoo Members.

For more information, visit JacksonvilleZoo.org.

Locker room talk

Stories about former President George H.W. Bush abounded after his death last weekend, but one of the more interesting was from Jacksonville sportscaster-turned-scribe Sam Kouvaris.

Everyone, including at least one Jacksonville sports journalist, had a Poppy Bush story.

Kouvaris was in the locker room at Marsh Landing when Bush 41 came in.

“Conservatively dressed in a blue Ban-Lon shirt, blue slacks and white basketball socks, he was getting ready to go to lunch in the main dining room at Marsh Landing.”

The two exchanged small talk before the President went to the event that (alas) Kouvaris was not invited to.

Kouvaris speculated that his close ties locally were a reason that he was not pushed by Secret Service to clear the locker room before the President’s arrival.

Kessler looking to do more with Jags offense

The good news is, Cody Kessler is 1-0 as a starting quarterback. Despite that fact he did not lead the Jaguars on any touchdown drives they came away with a 6-0 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. With that in mind, there is no bad news.

Kessler threw the ball 24 times and 18 of those were caught — none by the other team — for 150 yards. Numbers like that do not normally lead to wins unless a strong ground game compensates for a lack of air cover.

The good news: Cody Kessler is 1-0 as a starting quarterback, but he needs to do more with the Jaguar offense.

But with Leonard Fournette sitting out a one-game suspension, Kessler became the team’s second-leading rusher with 28 yards. He had the day’s longest run with an 11-yard effort.

That meant the once-vaunted Jaguars’ defense had to step up and it did, holding the Colts to 41 rushing yards. All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey and his teammates kept Pro Bowl quarterback Andrew Luck and his talented stable of receivers out of the end zone.

“Obviously, it wasn’t pretty, and there’s a lot I left out there, but at the end of the day it feels good,” Kessler said after the game. “Especially for me to get the first one.”

In winning for the first time since Sept. 30, Jacksonville knocked off a hot team. To break their 7-game losing streak, the Jags had to beat a Colts team that had won five in a row, including a 29-26 win over the Jags in Indianapolis in November.

As the Jaguars traveled to Nashville Thursday night to face the Tennessee Titans, they knew they would be facing a team against whom they also failed to score a touchdown at home. That came Sept. 23, when they came up on the short end of a 9-6 score.

The Jags have had a world of problems with Tennessee. Going into the game, Titans’ quarterback Marcus Mariota was sporting a 5-2 record against them, his most wins against any NFL team.

Jacksonville was hoping they would not be swept in both games as they were last season.

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