A.G. Gancarski – Florida Politics

A.G. Gancarski

Potential Jacksonville City Council consultant predicts piecemeal sale of JEA (if it happens)

During a Wednesday public notice meeting regarding the pros and cons of selling JEAJohn Crescimbeni, who chairs a special committee on the “potential sale” of JEA, advised a Council colleague who thought the local utility’s electrical component could fetch $5 million on the open market to “stay tuned to our special committee.”

That special committee meets Thursday afternoon in Jacksonville City Council chambers and will consider three major agenda items.

Perhaps the most compelling narrative point: progress being made on hiring an outside consultant to help Council get an unbiased take on whether a sale is a good idea. The consultant being considered has already talked to media, and has said that if a sale happens, it would be done in components — another potential complicating factor for the transaction.

Per minutes from a March 19 meeting, the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund is willing to fund an outside consultant, via “the Public Utility Research Center at the University of Florida to gauge their interest in undertaking the task and to invite Ted Kury, Director of Energy Studies for the Center, to attend a future special committee meeting to discuss the project and the Center’s potential interest.”

Kury has already gone on record with preliminary thoughts on a sale. He thinks the utility would have to be split up among two or more entities, and with skepticism on a sale ruling the committee, it’s easy to see how Kury’s testimony will help to guide said skeptics’ talking points in terms of the very real considerations of divesting local control to private operators.

Council Auditor Kyle Billy will offer reports discussing “things to consider” regarding a potential JEA sale, including a look at franchise fees and taxes, a look at JEA revenue, expenses, and debt retirement over the last ten years, and a schedule of future contributions from the utility.

Billy is not expected to cheerlead a sale. The Council Auditor’s office has been bearish in the past when the sale question came up, and Billy questioned the “unusual” use of a third party group (one that was at least strongly considered to help with the mechanics of the sale) to provide what skeptics see as an optimistic valuation report.

In 2012, City Council Auditor Kirk Sherman noted that while the city would receive an infusion of cash that could be as high as $50 million in 2012 dollars, it would be offset by variables, such as a loss of jobs, the loss of the JEA contribution, and other factors.

Also to be discussed: subpoenas, via the Office of General Counsel.

Much of the discussion last Thursday revolved around a subpoena authorized, by the end of the meeting, for JEA CEO Paul McElroy, who would not testify under oath without a lawyer on hand.

Council members stopped short of subpoenaing the city’s Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa.

If elected governor, Adam Putnam won’t commit to repealing gun control bill

Adam Putnam did not support the efforts of Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran to enact the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Safety Act. The Republican gubernatorial candidate has also went on record during a TV interview he would “likely not” have signed the bill.

Yet despite taking to NRA TV this weekend to once more condemn the legislation, Putnam will not commit to working to repeal the legislation if he is elected governor.

Putnam noted that he was “very public in [his] concerns about elements of the bill [he] disagreed with.”

“Raiding the law abiding citizens trust fund, raising the age [of gun purchase] to 21, and the extended waiting period. And with the press corps’ help, everyone knows where I am,” Putnam said.

We asked if Scott should have vetoed the bill, in order to push forth a more NRA-friendly product in a Special Session.

“What I have said is I would have worked with the Legislature to include many of the things they included on mental health, securing our schools to create a safe learning environment,” Putnam said.

“I do have concerns about some provisions of it,” Putnam continued, “and had I been governor, I would have worked with the Legislature to produce a bill that I could sign.”

We asked Putnam if he would change the law were he elected governor.

He didn’t say yes.

“We’re going to enforce the law. I mean, that’s what governors do. You enforce the laws that are on the books,” Putnam said, wrapping the interview.

Adam Putnam calls for return of statewide drug czar – a reversal of Rick Scott policy

If Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam becomes Governor, expect the “drug czar” position to be revived to lead the state’s battle with opioid addiction.

For the record, that would be a reversal of current policy.

In 2010, incoming Gov. Rick Scott was cutting costs, so he eliminated the Office of Drug Control, which was formed when Jeb Bush was in office.

Putnam, speaking at an opioid roundtable in Jacksonville, floated the drug czar concept. 

“I have asked this question every time I’ve been in an audience with folks where the focus of attention has been on how to solve the opioid crisis,” Putnam said.

“That’s included law enforcement, clinicians, medical professionals, and there seems to be pretty close to unanimous support that someone needs to be the quarterback, because the opioid crisis and its response touches virtually every agency of government, from health care to practitioners to the insurance providers to the law enforcement and prosecutors and judicial system,” Putnam added.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a reinvention of the old drug czar,” Putnam said, “but we need a coordinator of the response to this crisis.”

We asked if Scott had dropped the ball in phasing out the position.

“No! I don’t believe that Gov. Scott dropped the ball. He proposed a very aggressive response to the opioid crisis and the Legislature picked it up and passed it,” Putnam said.

“We all know that our work is never done. We’re in better shape today because of what Gov. Scott has done. We’re looking for the next steps,” Putnam said, “because clearly this isn’t a problem that’s going away overnight.”

We asked Putnam about President Donald Trump’s call, made in a recent speech, to execute serial drug dealers.

Putnam ruefully smirked, then fielded the question.

“Well, look, we need to be as aggressive as we possibly can. We need to be constantly reviewing the laws, the sentencing guidelines, to make sure that these drug dealers who are killing our kids are meeting the full consequences of their actions,” Putnam said.

“Many times you have these drug dealers in prison who have killed people,” Putnam added. “Whether that’s what they were prosecuted for or not, that’s the net effect of their action.”

“That’s a federal issue, and we’ll see how that plays out,” Putnam continued. “Here in Florida, I’m focused on listening to folks who are on the front lines every day, and we’re looking for ways to give them the resources and the tools to eradicate this scourge in our state.”

Adam Putnam: ‘Opioids are eroding our state from within’

In a campaign capacity in Jacksonville Wednesday afternoon, Agriculture Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial hopeful Adam Putnam helmed an opioid roundtable.

Putnam heard about Jacksonville’s own efforts on this front, as the city deals with an overdose crisis that has led to action on the local level.

But even with that action, the problem is crippling the city, impacting law enforcement and medical professionals, even as the main killer — fentanyl, a synthetic opioid — is becoming more readily available to more demographics.

The city has an opioid treatment program; the goal of the six-month, $1.5 million pilot is a simple “reduction” in overdoses, recidivism, and death.

Fentanyl — and diluted acetyl fentanyl — is the major issue locally, with the diluted analogue potentially lowering the user’s tolerance and possibly creating another overdose death crisis down the road.

Another complicating factor that could rear its head in the coming months: the current use of fentanyl to cut cocaine.

Local Medical Examiner Valerie Rao told Putnam that the morgue was being expanded; this is something that is happening in Palm Beach also, Putnam said.

Putnam noted that the opioid crisis is an issue statewide, with law enforcement especially concerned about budget impacts, treatment, and the tools needed for prosecutors to build cases.

“It’s a multi-headed monster and it’s eroding our state and our communities from within,” Putnam said, noting the Jacksonville program is well-regarded, a tool that could “rescue a generation from opioids.”

Crack and meth have been issues in the past, Putnam noted, though opioids have overtaken meth on the “interstate corridor.”

“This is different,” Putnam said, than previous drug waves, and requires different solutions.

Jacksonville’s program director, Dr. Raymond Pomm, noted that many patients would rather die than get off their drugs.

One woman called her Narcotics Anonymous sponsor right before taking “her last bag,” Pomm said, with a request: “Don’t let my son see my body.”

Pomm noted the risk of OD has gone down in recent months, but the problem is “messy,” and diluted acetyl fentanyl is adding to the problem. Acetyl fentanyl is still more potent than heroin.

“It only expands the problem, and the potential problem is even worse,” Pomm said, noting that cocaine is laced with fentanyl now.

“We’re starting to see people OD on fentanyl through cocaine. We’re starting to see it on methamphetamine, marijuana. It’s being put in everything,” Pomm said.

Pills led people to heroin and the fentanyl issue, Pomm said. With cocaine and marijuana, Big Pharma is not to blame.

But because fentanyl can be used to cut everything, it’s an equal opportunity killer, targeting all demographics.

Mac Heavener of the state attorney’s office noted a paradox: dealers cut the contraband historically to maximize profits, but when cut with fentanyl, potency increases along with profit.

A mother of an overdose victim named Derek Patrick described his downward spiral from pain pills in his college football locker room to “shooting up … rehab … jail.” He cleaned up, got back into college football, then relapsed and overdosed. And he was found dead in his dorm room.

“He was never prescribed pain pills. They were shared easily. They were everywhere,” she said.

A representative of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office noted that the drugs come in via mail from outside local jurisdictions. Some can be intercepted, but putting charges on someone for receipt of contraband is a different matter.

One participant from the law enforcement world noted that unlike cocaine dealers, who change their numbers frequently, heroin dealers don’t change their numbers. And many of the users “like fentanyl … like teetering on the edge of death.”

“If they get pure heroin, they aren’t happy,” he said, hoping there would be grant money for better software to break phone encryption.

“These patients know they’re going to die and still take the risk,” a participant from the medical community said.

Putnam’s trip to Jacksonville comes at a time when his campaign is besieged on all sides.

Even this visit to Jacksonville got pushback from the Florida Democratic Party.

“Adam Putnam has been in office for twenty years and consistently opposed solutions that would help Floridians suffering from substance abuse get the care they need,” said FDP spokesperson Kevin Donohoe.

“From opposing Medicaid Expansion to supporting Trumpcare,” Donohoe continued, “Putnam has spent much of his political career fighting policies that would help Floridians get the care they need. Only a career politician like Adam Putnam would have the nerve to host a roundtable about the opioid crisis while opposing policies that would actually address this epidemic.”

Jacksonville City Councilor seeks $5B net for JEA electric sale; colleagues skeptical

Lost in all the drama and metadiscourse regarding Jacksonville’s potential sale of local utility JEA: whether the sale is good for the city or not.

A meeting at 1 p.m. at Jacksonville City Hall between City Council members moved to resolve that question.

Councilman Matt Schellenberg (the Council liaison to JEA, who is as open to the concept of privatizing the city’s utility as anyone) met with colleague Bill Gulliford, an ally of the Lenny Curry administration that has been politically battered throughout the now months long discussion of the viability of selling the utility.

Also in the house: Councilmen Danny BectonAaron Bowman, Greg Anderson, Tommy Hazouri and John Crescimbeni.

Crescimbeni and Becton serve with administration critics Anna Brosche and Garrett Dennis on a special committee that has pushed back hard against a sales push.

The process of exploring a sale kicked off in November, when exiting JEA Board member and Curry backer Tom Petway suggested that perhaps the time has come for the municipal utility to move into a “private sector marketplace” model.

Net proceeds, asserted a valuation report commissioned by JEA, could be between $2.9 billion and $6.4 billion after the retirement of debt.  Values range from $7.9 billion up to $10.1 billion, based on cash flow, price/earnings ratios, and other metrics.

Gulliford noted that a minimum net he’d consider selling for is $5 billion, with money going to general fund debt ($824 million), Better Jacksonville Plan debt ($1.173 billion), sewer and water improvement ($500 million), affordable housing ($100 million), out of $2.758 billion. Another $2.241 billion would go to future capital improvement.

“From my starting point, that’s the number that would really excite me,” Gulliford said.

Gulliford noted that he’d be flexible, shifting revenue to unfunded pension liability (now $3.2 billion).

Gulliford noted also that there would be savings: $158 million in taxes, which would make up for the JEA revenue loss and even pay for property tax rollback.

Sewer and water would be kept by the city under the Gulliford plan. Rates would have to be at the same level of Florida customers the private buyer would have. Fired JEA workers would get a one year severance. And Gulliford said that, if this goes through, it would be possible that Jacksonville would be among the most stable and sound cities  — financial at least — in this country.

“What this is telling us is we have a fiduciary responsibility for our citizens … as such, I want to see that looked at objectively,” Gulliford said, rather than in a “politically motivated” way.

Gulliford noted that if less money came in, it might be palatable also.

Becton appreciated the level of analysis in the Gulliford proposal, adding that there may be “pros and cons if we consider JEA priceless.”

“If I was Council President right now,” Gulliford said, “I would have set up a committee of the whole so every council member could participate in the process. I’m a little disappointed that wasn’t done.”

Councilman Bowman, the next President of the body, said the Gulliford proposal was serious, and that he had concerns about the future of electricity.

“I’m convinced that the next 15 to 20 years you’re going to have communities built on solar farms,” Bowman said, with cities like Jacksonville “stuck with the utility,” as people begin to have solar batteries built into their homes.

Bowman also noted that interest rate hikes would further cut the profit margin, adding that there isn’t even consensus on what to ask the public should there be a sale.

“If we made the decision to do it, we could protect jobs and protect rates,” Bowman said. “But I’m not ready to make that decision today.”

Schellenberg, who has pushed to explore value since he got on Council, said “there’s a lot of things going on under the surface at JEA that have concerned me for some time.”

“The economy and the world is moving fast,” Schellenberg said, with changes in retail and corporate structures favoring companies like Amazon over local governments in terms of readily available capital.

Big commercial vendors will move away from JEA, Schellenberg predicted, with the onus of costs shifted to poorer, residential customers.

Schellenberg noted, malapropistically, that JEA is a “one horse pony,” describing a utility that struggled over the years to keep up with changes in power sources, with bad bets on coal and nuclear plants and natural gas futures along the way.

Councilman Greg Anderson noted that a sale would be “conditional,” and that with more conditions, value is inexorably drained from the transaction.

“We find ourselves pinned down by politics right now … the longer this goes on, the more we weaken JEA and its employees. We need to figure this out and figure it out quickly,” Anderson said.

Crescimbeni was more dismissive, saying the Gulliford scheme was “pie in the sky” given the fact that water and sewer are more profitable and valuable than electric, and that the profit was speculative.

“Stay tuned to our special committee,”  Crescimbeni said, as the Council Auditor will offer a report that will push back on Gulliford’s “irresponsible” numbers.

The committee meets Thursday as well, and reasonable expectations are that administration critics on the panel, including Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche and Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, will again have their say.

Dissatisfied with an unwillingness to answer questions under oath, the committee will subpoena JEA CEO Paul McElroy next week.

Meanwhile, the JEA Board looks poised for its own deep dive into a potential sale, almost four months after Petway’s pitch.

In Jacksonville, Christian Bax defends medical marijuana rulemaking process

Amendment 2 was approved by 71 percent of Florida voters in 2016, yet nearly two years later, the Office of Medical Marijuana Use is still workshopping rules.

The road show came to Jacksonville Tuesday afternoon, to a Southside hotel in the absolute doldrums of renovations.

From peeling wallpaper in the single-occupancy bathroom to a stale, moldy smell in the conference room itself, the facility had myriad issues.

The subject of the Tuesday afternoon workshop was testing lab certification and standards.

Spoiler alert: the discussion on this is not near a conclusion.

Christian Bax, the director of the program, noted that the rulemaking process would go through the spring and summer.

As thunder boomed outside, speakers voiced their concerns on laboratory testing first, with numerous speakers representing laboratory interests wanting specified quality attributes in their product, and rigorous testing through a competent, accredited laboratory with ISO Standards.

Testing of both pesticides and potency dominated much of the discussion over the course of the afternoon.

Jody James of the Florida Cannabis Action Network wondered what the fees were actually for and how they impact the consumer paying a premium for industry certification.

“Obviously the fees of the lab program would be going for the cost of sending our inspectors out,” Bax said.

James wondered if the proposed program as it expands might have the “fox guarding the henhouse.”

“It’s important to us to be able to take the product to a third party and test it themselves,” James said, rather than rely on politically-connected companies to handle the testing.

Bax urged those on hand to offer solutions to potential testing problems, rather than just spotlight the problems.

“We would like concrete suggestions,” Bax said.

Dr. Wilson King, medical director of Treadwell’s Nursery in Eustis, advocated for testing at a reasonable cost.

“Unnecessary costs from financially burdensome rules,” King said, are passed on to the consumer.

King urged tests of bigger batches — 15 grounds, with plants of the same strain and growing conditions being considered the same.

Another speaker challenged the department to be less “opaque” regarding questions on testing and other rules, and to be clearer about who the state is working with to write regulations — be it other states or independent contractors.

“We would like to see the state act a lot more proficiently in putting these regulations together,” he said.

Bax noted that in larger markets, there are sometimes just a handful of labs, fighting for survival.

“You have an incentive to race to the bottom with these labs, with the labs that play ball getting a lot of customers,” Bax said, adding later that he wanted to ensure such “perverse incentives” aren’t baked into the Florida structure.

Bax noted the department wants to improve communication, reiterating that during the spring and the summer, the department would like to get as many rules set up as possible.

“What you see is what you get as far as rulemaking,” Bax said. “There’s not a whole lot of conversations or meetings happening with the industry outside of public record.”

“There are lots of different models around the country … lots of expertise … we want to harvest that knowledge as much as possible,” Bax added, noting that Washington and California models have been examined with an eye toward potential issues

“We’re not just going to paper over issues we’ve seen in other states,” Bax said, including unsustainable regulatory structures.

“There are over 85,000 patients in the state of Florida … we are growing quite quickly,” Bax said, noting that “the department has no authority to operate outside of the legislative framework.”

Bax, when we asked him after the meeting, said that he didn’t think that the department needed further guidance from the Legislature. The department continues to notice and workshop rules at an acceptable pace, with 13 rules noticed last month, he said.

That said, he understands why the Legislature would withhold pay for senior staff in DOH next fiscal year.

Bax says the “department shares frustration with the timeline.”

A familiar opponent files to run against Travis Cummings

Travis Cummings, the Republican incumbent in House District 18, has drawn a familiar Libertarian challenger, Ken Willey, in his re-election bid.

The odds are with Cummings, who won more than 81 percent of the vote when the two faced off in 2016. Willey also ran in the 2014 race which produced the same result, give or take a few tenths of a point.

Cummings has just under $85,000 cash on hand, and will again face no opposition on the primary ballot.

To put that number in perspective, Willey raised just over $2,000 during his 2016 campaign and fared similarly in the 2014 race. Cummings has smashed the six-figure mark in each of his bids.

The major population center in HD 18, a district by and large in Northern Clay County, is Jacksonville bedroom community Orange Park.

Cummings was once mayor of Orange Park and served on the city council from 2002 through his election to the Clay County Commission in 2008.

He was elected to the House in 2012 after going unopposed in both the primary and general elections, and the cycles since were likewise devoid of major party challengers.

That trend is likely to continue in 2018, Cummings’ final lap before term limits force him to move up or move on.

More than half of HD 18’s electorate are registered Republicans, while Democrats’ anemic 22 percent share clocks in just a hair above the no affiliation crowd.

Joceline Berrios becomes third Democrat challenger to file against John Rutherford

John Rutherford is a favorite to win re-election in Florida’s 4th Congressional District.

After all, he was elected in 2016 with 70 percent of the vote. He already has $183,000 cash on hand.

Yet Democratic candidates are lining up to run against him.

A third Democrat in the CD 4 race, Joceline Berrios, filed to run this month.

Berrios wants tougher gun laws, Medicare for All, and the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

Berrios will have a competitive primary.

Ges Selmont, a lawyer making his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, rolled out his campaign recently.

A third candidate in the race, author Monica DePaul, has been running for several months.

All three campaigns lack a real structure currently, and have yet to report fundraising; with this in mind, the quarterly reports due next month bear watching.

Andrew Gillum rallies Duval Democrats with familiar themes

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum addressed a crowd of Jacksonville Democrats Monday evening, his second Northeast Florida foray in three days.

Gillum is no stranger to the region; in fact, he was campaigning here even in his pre-candidate phase.

Though Gillum’s remarks were familiar to those who have heard his stump speech, they were welcome expressions for Democrats in a county where the party message is often subverted by the Republican machine.

Gillum worked a call and response intro, around the Dems’ signature “BLU-VALL” phrase, before extolling the activism and work necessary to “flip the county all the way blue.”

“There are more of us than there are of them,” Gillum said, launching into his standard themes, including a defense of public education and health care equity.

“We have to ask ourselves why it is that we can’t win statewide elections. I have a small theory,” Gillum said, which involves “running as Democrats” — and doing it statewide.

“We can go to all those places and explain our message loud and clear,” Gillum said, extolling the opportunity “all across our state.”

“We’re not going to do it by being afraid of our own shadow … afraid of being Democrats … I believe in fighting for what we believe in. Whether it is early childhood education,” Gillum said, or “46 percent of people not being able to make ends meet at the end of the month.”

“In Rick Scott’s Florida, we have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet, so he’d better be the jobs governor,” Gillum quipped — not for the first time.

Re-enfranchisement of former felons: another theme, emphasized by Gillum because of the closeness of the elections in recent years.

“Y’all need to say this with me, ‘that’s a shame,” Gillum said.

And lo, the crowd responded.

“If you’re not at the table, you’re what?” Gillum asked.

“On the menu,” the voices cried.

With Gillum getting nationwide attention and fundraising help, including a California fundraiser over the weekend, the real test will be whether he can get the resources he needs to combat Gwen Graham‘s name ID and establishment support and Philip Levine‘s bottomless resources.

That’s been the question for a year. And will be the question through August, as he — like the other major candidates — takes his campaign well beyond Democratic strongholds.

Adam Putnam staff slams Jared Moskowitz for ‘untruths’ about Parkland reaction

On Monday morning, Democratic state Rep. Jared Moskowitz and U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch (both representing Parkland) charged that Republican gubernatorial candidates Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis are in fact representing the NRA in their opposition to gun control.

Putnam famously described himself as an “NRA sellout” and broke with Gov. Rick Scott on the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Safety Act.” DeSantis shares Putnam’s position, saying the requirement to be at least 21 to buy a gun imposes a “blanket ban” on certain adults.

The major news from the call: Moskowitz slamming Putnam, and Putnam’s team responding to what it framed as untruths.

Moskowitz said Putnam was the only one in the cabinet who had not visited Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and “hid in his office,” “was an empty suit … missing in action” as people from Parkland attempted to lobby Tallahassee.

Notable: Putnam’s schedule for Feb. 20, provided by his office, contradicts this read. Putnam visited the school on the morning of Feb. 20 and met with students in the afternoon.

Putnam’s spokesperson Amanda Bevis went on the record to slam what she framed as misrepresentations.

“It’s no surprise the Democrats are selling a story full of untruths. If they did their research, they would know that Adam Putnam has in fact visited the school, has met with the students and mourned with them for their loss, and has met with law enforcement officials and the Governor to discuss what we as a state can do to prevent further tragedies like the massacre that took the lives of so many innocent Floridians,” Bevis said.

“It’s the Democrats who are politicizing this tragedy – using falsehoods to further their own agenda of limiting our Second Amendment rights. The monster in Parkland, who was a red flag that should have never gotten his hands on a gun, cannot and should not be compared to law-abiding citizens who seek to defend themselves and their families,” Bevis added.

Beyond that significant divergence, the call went as could be expected.

Moskowitz offered again to debate DeSantis on the bill and gun issues, then extended the offer to Putnam in response to a reporter’s question.

“Would he have signed the bill? Does he disagree with Gov. Scott? He should answer the question,” Moskowitz said.

Deutch said that both Putnam and DeSantis “have chosen their A rating from the NRA over their concern for public safety, the lives of kids, Parkland, and the state of Florida,” which makes them “unfit” to be governor.

Deutch singled out DeSantis as having “consistently stood on the side of the gun corporations,” having opposed universal background checks and “having voted at least 10 times” against the terrorist gun loophole.

“He said he would be opposed to a ban on high-capacity magazines, an assault weapons ban,” Deutch added, describing an “utter disregard” to the concerns of gun reformers.

“He still won’t even say whether he would have signed the bill,” Deutch said, “but does call it constitutionally vulnerable.”

Deutch said Putnam was “just as bad,” noting that Putnam contends that the “new gun law strips the Second Amendment rights of American citizens.”

“The people of Florida are fed up with the bowing down to the gun lobby,” Deutch said, repeating the “NRA sellout” quote.

“Neither Putnam or DeSantis should be proud of selling out to the NRA,” Deutch said.

The Democrats expect this issue to drive the vote in 2018.

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