A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics

A.G. Gancarski

Jax Chamber backs Confederate monument ‘inventory’; Anna Brosche modifies position

On Friday, the Jax Chamber issued a statement after its Board of Directors meeting, backing the City Council President’s call for an inventory of Confederate monuments.

However, they did not call for removal of those monuments — as the Council President did on Monday … before seemingly walking back that position under fire this week.

Chamber Board Chair Darnell Smith asserted that the Chamber “support[s] the effort to inventory all of Jacksonville’s public monuments and conduct a swift, honest and thoughtful look at who we honor, and more importantly, who is missing from our public landscape. Discussions should include how we heal wounds that may still persist from our past.  Among those should be a consideration of how we memorialize our city’s history in public spaces, and will most certainly involve additional tributes to Jacksonville’s historical leaders.”

Council President Anna Brosche this week called for an inventory of monuments, ahead of an “appropriate plan of action to relocate Confederate monuments, memorials, and markers” and initially called for “legislation to move Confederate monuments, memorials, and markers from public property to museums and educational institutions.”

The Jacksonville Civic Council backed Brosche’s play, with its head Ed Burr lauding Brosche and Mayor Lenny Curry for “taking the lead to thoughtfully consider removal of Confederate monuments from local public property, particularly in light of the tragic events of last weekend.”

Mayor Curry, meanwhile, had not fully endorsed Brosche’s audacious play, noting to local media that removal of monuments is not among his top priorities.

And it seems Brosche, who has taken considerable pressure inside City Hall and from the general public (including hate mail), is open to not removing the monuments after all

“We can develop a measured plan of understanding what we have — why it’s there, why it was erected — and be able to develop a very measured response, including understanding private funding, over how many years what’s going to happen, (and) where would they go if they went anywhere,” Brosche told WJXT Thursday.

We asked Brosche about the seeming daylight between her position at the start of the week and at the end, and she told us the following.

“I asked for an inventory to start a process of understanding what we have to determine next steps. Removal of the monuments remains an option,” Brosche said, “and I’ve received many alternative suggestions for consideration this week.”

 

Dredging draws intense scrutiny in JAXPORT budget review

Friday afternoon saw the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee mull the JAXPORT capital budget — and the big item of interest was dredging.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri — not a member of that committee — visited and raised standing questions he’s had about a lack of public discourse on dredging. And he wasn’t the only Council member to raise such concerns, specifically relative to the city contribution down the road.

For FY 18, JAXPORT has $42.1M budgeted for the dredge: $23.3M from its own finance, and $18.8M from the state.

While that’s definitely a start for the project, there is no guarantee of recurring funding. And for those who have environmental concerns about the impact of the 11 mile dredge to a 47 foot depth, time is running out for any real dialogue.

These conditions made Friday afternoon a bit more interesting than normal in Jacksonville’s City Hall.

Councilman Reggie Gaffney, noting a hike in Asian container traffic, wanted to know how dredging would help.

JAXPORT CEO Eric Green noted that dredging had come in under bid by roughly 50 percent.

Then Hazouri took over with a series of questions.

“If you can’t answer some of these things because of what your attorney tells you, too bad because this is on the record.”

The first question: the length of the dredge, adjusted down to 11 miles from 13.

Green noted the board discussed this, and that those extra two miles may be needed down the road.

Hazouri continued to press Green with questions.

“What concerns me,” Hazouri said, “is I know y’all are anticipating 2020 before you come to the Council [for money] … I don’t want our hands to be tied.”

Hazouri pressed Green on cancelled board meetings.

“The July meeting was cancelled because there were no board items.”

Hazouri also pressed questions on mitigation — budgeted for $32M — expressing intense skepticism regarding the project affecting water quality.

“That particular question on mitigation is a slippery slope,” Green said, in light of the lawsuit.

“Where does that leave us in terms of a public entity knowing what you are doing? I don’t feel like you’re open to the public”

Hazouri expressed intense skepticism about impact on secondary tributaries, and flatly said he didn’t buy the job projections.

“The public wants to know. I hear them all the time … I don’t want to look like I’m trying to stave off the ability for the port to move on,” Hazouri said.

Port representatives noted that 15 years after the dredging wraps, the job projections will be fulfilled.

Councilwoman Lori Boyer suggested a shade meeting to resolve these questions, given that the independent authority is subordinate to the larger government in the charter.

“I want to crack the egg so we can get some light on this thing,” Hazouri said.

Finance Vice-Chair Danny Becton questioned the assertion that the dredge would provide ROI and draw business from Savannah.

A port representative noted that Jacksonville is new to the Asian market, and it’s already 30 percent of the port’s business.

“It’s the low-hanging fruit, and Savannah’s been doing it 20 plus years, maybe 30. We got into it in 2010 at the height of the recession.”

The port’s “aging infrastructure,” added Green, required capital investment. And because the harbor isn’t deep enough, Panamax ships come in and leave 40 percent loaded.

“You miss out on opportunities like that when you don’t have the facilities you need, as well as the depth of the harbor,” Green said.

The Council Auditor meanwhile wanted hard numbers and detail.

“I’d like the support that backs up the numbers,” Council Auditor Kyle Billy said.

‘Gangs can’t have our kids’: Lenny Curry boosts Jax after-school program funding

On Thursday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry teased an “important announcement” Friday regarding after-school program funding.

Curry Tweeted a picture of himself with Finance Committee member Reggie Brown and members of the Boys and Girls Club, suggesting a compromise solution that would, perhaps, preempt Finance Chair Garrett Dennis‘ latest bid for more after-school funding by essentially providing the funding.

Word going into Friday was that a wide swath of programs would be funded.

And sure enough, that will be the case, reads a release from Curry Friday afternoon.

“With his proposed recommendation to City Council of $2.69 million in additional funds, 21 sites throughout Jacksonville could now open, serving approximately 1,720 additional children. City Council (District 10) and Finance Committee member Reggie Brown plans to introduce an amendment at the proper time during the budget process to appropriate the funds,” reads a release from the Mayor.

“We are making every effort possible to maximize resources to meet the needs of at-hope children in our community,” said Mayor Curry. “When kids leave school campuses, they should be able to go to a community center or site to participate in recreational and enrichment activities. Gangs can’t have our kids!”

“As I’ve stated many times before, government has a role to play in making sure at-hope kids do not fall through the cracks. If there are ways for us to improve the lives of children, we’re going to do that responsibly and orderly with proper vetting and appropriate budgeting.”

Councilman Dennis is on board also, “very pleased that the Mayor has agreed to fund and expand the after-school programs throughout Jacksonville.”

“On Wednesday, once again, I filed emergency legislation to secure funding to reinstate and expand this very important program. I was not in the meeting with the Mayor, Mr. Martinez, Councilmember Brown and Mr. Tritt, but apparently something positive came of it, and for that, I’m grateful,” Dennis added.

“Over the past several weeks, I have received calls to my office pleading for me to do something to help the children of Jacksonville. I heard those pleas loud and clear! Now that funding has been reinstated and the after-school programs will be expanded, I am excited to withdraw my emergency legislation. Today, our kids won!”

This follows on a proposal floated Thursday in City Council budget hearings, to allocate $288,000 to open six currently unprogrammed community centers  and program them for similar programs — though there are still logistics to be worked out there, the Curry Administration supports the play.

Jax City Councilors mull JEA budget, ‘broken promises’ of Consolidation

Friday morning saw the Jacksonville City Council’s Finance Committee review the Mayor’s proposed capital budgets for JEA.

The discussion sprawled close to 90 minutes — double the allotted time — and was one in which budget line items were often directly related to equity in services throughout the city.

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JEA was up first. The agency’s operating budget: $1.79B, with $1.26B in electric and $516M in water/sewer.

JEA’s capital budget for the year: $444M, including $153M in sewer projects; $205M of electric ($102M in electrical distribution projects, $27M in generation), and $75M in water projects.

75 percent of JEA’s capital budget goes to Duval County, with St. Johns and Nassau taking up most of the balance.

The first interesting discussion point: Councilwoman Lori Boyer asking about failed lift stations during Hurricane Matthew.

The problem, at least in theory, should not recur.

“We have inspected and evaluated all the electrical feeds to the 1,400 sewer lift stations. We have added backup generators; half of those are fixed,” said JEA CEO Paul McElroy, with portable generators available that weren’t before.

Boyer was also concerned about “overflows” related to flooding this summer, noting she was told that a report pending in September would address those flooding issues.

McElroy noted that some of the flood areas were low-lying, and that evaluation is ongoing. However, Boyer was chagrined that the capital budget did not include more detail regarding remedial efforts to address the flooding problems.

“Next time we have the same kind of storms, we’ll have the same kind of spills, and I don’t want to perpetuate this,” Boyer said, requesting more detail within the next week.

Councilman Reggie Brown pressed for detail on a lift station on New Kings Road, which Brown did not see in the FY 18 budget.

Councilwoman Katrina Brown brought discussion to the septic tank phaseout project, funded by the city and JEA with $30M over 5 years. Brown wanted that project expanded.

Councilwoman Brown also wanted to know about the JEA’s LED streetlight conversion. Major roadway lighting is complete; neighborhood lighting about halfway done. With 8,000 light changes a month, the project is on pace to wrap by 2019.

Councilman Brown tagged in from there, asking about pre-Consolidation neighborhoods and state funding; worth noting, Rep. Travis Cummings filed a bill for $15M of state money for this, but it didn’t clear last session.

Brown wanted more of a JEA contribution for septic phaseout; however, Boyer noted that the contribution formula was codified already.

Brown was still adamant that more needs to be done to address what he called “the area of broken promises.”

Councilman Reggie Gaffney was next to bless the mike, and his concern was old pipes in the Springfield neighborhood and beyond.

CEO McElroy noted there is an ongoing review of large pipes, to “evaluate the pipes’ health” and see what type of remediation or maintenance are required.

Older neighborhoods have older pipes, and JEA will formulate a plan to replace what needs to be replaced over the next five years, McElroy added.

McElroy went on to give happy talk about growth, but for Democrats representing older neighborhoods with shoddy, outdated infrastructure, growth doesn’t solve their problems.

“Some areas haven’t even come up to par with the standard,” Chair Garrett Dennis said. “Some segments of some areas have been left behind.”

McElroy cautioned him not to get his hopes up, noting that JEA lacks the “legal framework” to redistribute resources from affluent neighborhoods to those that lag behind, and any capital investment of that type would be done in conjunction with the city.

“We can do repairs,” McElroy said, but not “new connections.”

Vice-Chair Danny Becton encouraged JEA to find new products to sell, saying that the company would run out of customers in the decades ahead.

“I was trying to figure out how JEA could get more customers,” Becton said.

McElroy, noting that “we haven’t met the challenges presented in this meeting,” vowed to work further on getting resources for “initial capital costs” to connect unconnected neighborhoods.

The $30 million, he said, is just a start.

Other issues, including moving electric lines underground, will be held in abeyance beyond where they are already — as a full project would be $3-$5B.

“I don’t see us getting there anytime. We don’t have a plan to do that,” McElroy said, noting that while underground outages are fewer in number, they are much longer — with up to ten times the cost to go underground to repair.

As is the case with all of Jacksonville’s infrastructure, new construction neighborhoods get a better deal from JEA in terms of capital investment. And that’s not going to change.

McElroy also had to account for “miscommunication” in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, a storm in which he was out of state.

 

Aaron Bean introduces bill to help special needs children in court

State Sen. Aaron Bean introduced his first bill ahead of next year’s Legislative Session, and it’s one that could help special needs children in courts of law.

The Pro Bono Matters Act of 2018 (SB 146) is designed, per a press release from Bean, “to provide case related due process costs to attorneys who provide pro bono services to dependent children with special needs.”

Bean contends that there currently is a service gap for those children.

“My hope is that this bill will encourage attorneys to offer pro bono services to a dependent child with certain special needs,” Bean asserted. “Removing the costs associated with volunteering to take the case could increase the number of attorneys who step forward to help these children.”

Bean’s bill would allocate up to $1,000 per child per year to appointed attorneys and organizations, including pro bono attorneys, to cover litigation-related costs, including expert witnesses, depositions and filing costs.

This bill is supported by the Florida Guardian Ad Litem program.

Rick Scott lunches with Donald Trump ‘solely to promote Florida’

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has often spoken of President Donald Trump as his long-awaited “partner in the White House.” And that partnership was again exemplified Thursday with Scott taking a jaunt to New Jersey to lunch with the vacationing President.

A statement from Scott’s office stressed that Scott’s visit was “solely to promote Florida.”

“Governor Scott had lunch today with President Trump following an invitation from the White House last week. Governor Scott was solely there to promote Florida,” asserted Scott’s Communications Director John Tupps.

“They discussed a wide range of topics including the President’s commitment to partner with Florida on needed repairs to the federally-operated Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee. Governor Scott wants to do all he can to protect Florida’s environment and President Trump is very supportive to help.”

“Additionally, they discussed the terror attack in Barcelona and the efforts President Trump is taking to keep America safe,” Tupps added.

Scott has spent much of the last week fielding questions about Trump’s erratic reaction to the violence in Charlottesville last weekend — reaction that has fueled criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike over what some call Trump’s moral equivalence and others call the President’s latest flirtation with white supremacists.

“I’m not going to parse the president’s words, but here’s what I’ll say: It’s evil. It’s horrible. I don’t believe in racism, I don’t believe in bigotry,” Scott said Monday. “I believe that the KKK, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, they don’t belong in our society.”

On Wednesday, Scott said that he didn’t serve in the Navy “to defend neo-Nazis.”

Some will question Scott’s unwillingness to criticize the president on this issue directly. Others, meanwhile, will frame it as the cost of doing business with a White House as mercurial as any in recent memory.

Public safety drives Jax City Council Parks budget discussion

Jacksonville’s Parks and Recreation Department is in the headlines a bit more this summer than usual.

For one thing, there is a public safety crisis at parks, specifically those in Northside and Northwest Jacksonville.

For another thing, Council President Anna Brosche prioritized improving the park system in her inauguration speech.

And for still another thing, Brosche has discussed enlisting parks to remove Confederate monuments.

With all that in mind, the $44M Parks budget was of keen interest.

Among the interesting items in the budget: a $500,000 capital outlay for cameras and enhanced lighting in certain problem-plagued parks that are “in and around hot spots for crime.”

Another safety related item: five positions for Mayor Lenny Curry‘s year-round swimming lessons program.

Councilwoman Lori Boyer turned discussion to community centers, which she linked to public safety.

Boyer noted that the public library has become a “safe place” for kids to go to, supplementing community centers.

“To me, it’s an umbrella,” Boyer said, noting that there may be cost savings in ramping up community centers’ hours after cuts years back, instead of paying so much for third-party after school programs.

Six community centers are dormant. If they were open 2:30-6:30 M-F during the school year, and during the summer for twelve hours, the cost would be $288,000 total.

“We absolutely need this,” added Councilwoman Joyce Morgan.

While the enhancement wouldn’t be taken up Thursday, Boyer called the $48,000 price tag per center “pretty cost-effective” compared to other options. The facilities are still available for rental, and are therefore being maintained.

Boyer also suggested that libraries could be improved with money spent on after-school programs.

Councilman Reggie Brown discussed senior centers, noting the early close times for most of them, and urging that senior centers could serve a community center function. Brown noted that, in terms of youth crime, teen centers and programs may help. There are no standalone teen centers, but there are programs throughout the city.

“I’m prayerful that we don’t have youthful criminals — K-8. I’m concerned about the lack of focus on our teenagers,” Brown said. “If the seniors are leaving at one, we can start a teen center at these sites from 3 to 7 p.m.”

Dennis pressed Mousa and Curry administration members to find a way to create $288,000 of room in the Parks budget for the aforementioned community centers.

“I know you’re very sharp with the numbers,” Dennis urged.

“We will take on the $288,000 to open these community centers,” Mousa said, “but any other request during the year will be difficult to handle. There’s a lot of things that come up during the year … we can’t make this a practice, but we won’t object to that $288,000. It’s a good investment and we will put it in the Parks budget.”

Some caveats: part-time hours may be needed in addition to that $288,000. And some facilities may be too far away from schools to be useful for this purpose.

“There’s not one thing that can stop the issues we’re facing,” Parks Director Daryl Joseph said. But a combination of tactics could contribute to turning the tide against violence among the city’s young.

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“We’ve had a number of violent incidents in parks. Some were drive-by. Some were in the parks themselves,” Councilwoman Boyer said, asking Joseph if they were safe.

Boyer also spotlighted vandalism in the parks, wondering how much was spent to clean up “criminal acts of vandalism.”

“If we’re spending a lot to recover that, it might make sense to spend up front to prevent it,” Boyer said.

Vandalism, Joseph said, eats up about 20 percent of the Parks capital budget: $300,000 to $500,000 a year. Activating the parks helps to take away the opportunity for vandalism, creating ownership for legitimate patrons. Security cameras are another fix.

“Something’s got to give. We’ve got to stop this,” Boyer said, citing sprinklers stolen the day after installation.

“So much of what we do is we are designing it so it can’t be vandalized … what you end up with is something that’s not very desirable. I hate it that we back into this. You go to other places,” Boyer said, citing the Tampa Riverwalk, “and it isn’t that way. Why do we have to take a back seat?”

Boyer suggested that security services to protect parks may be a viable option. “Park rangers” were also discussed.

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It wasn’t all public safety though.

Huguenot Park is having issues. Sufficient revenue isn’t coming in. The subfund is underwater, consistently year over year. And a fix is months away for some of the more existential problems.

One such issue: the campground has been closed since Hurricane Matthew so people could drive through to access the park, but Parks expects to open the campsites and pavilions once the new road is built this winter.

Jax City Council mulls Public Defender, State Attorney budgets, processes

The Thursday morning agenda for the Jacksonville City Council’s Finance Committee’s budget review was filled with an assortment of departments.

The Public Defender and the State Attorney. The Tax Collector. The Supervisor of Elections. All of these and a couple more besides.

Of the greatest interest: the PD and the SAO, both of those offices helmed by newly-elected officials in their first budget process.

The budget questions were secondary to those of policy, however, when it came to those departments. Council members wanted details on reform and progress after the shambolic eras of Matt Shirk and Angela Corey.

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The mood as proceedings began was filled with frivolity: Finance Chair Garrett Dennis joked that he was surprised to see Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa.

“I thought you’d be on a one-way trip to an island,” Dennis joked, alluding to last week’s fractious discussion

And Vice-Chair Danny Becton urged the committee to expedite the process, given the pivotal second Jaguars’ pre-season game tonight.

Soon enough, the jokes stopped and the deliberation began.

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Public Defender: Charles Cofer‘s budget had no recommended changes from the Council Auditor, but Cofer did get questions from Councilwoman Katrina Brown.

Cofer was asked to discuss changes in the office, which include “making sure we are doing well with our budget; we were in some bad ways in the budget.”

“We have restored respect in the system to our office … refocused the mission to our clients,” Cofer said.

Cofer eliminated 14 employees and replaced them with 7, allowing an increase in pay for lower and mid-level employees and facilitating keeping experienced barristers.

“The office historically has had … a 22 percent turnover rate for attorneys,” Cofer said, making the case for equitable pay.

“It’s a place where people are proud to work,” Cofer said. “We are emphasizing doing what good lawyers do.”

Brown quipped that “my colleague Mr. Hazouri wanted to know if you removed the shower”; the shower, made famous by Cofer’s predecessor’s peccadillos is still there.

Also there still: a case load backlog, which is roughly 250 cases per division.

“Generally, the case loads are manageable, but it’s tough,” Cofer said.

Cofer noted that he and State Attorney Melissa Nelson have a cordial adversarial relationship, which allows them to work more effectively than did their predecessors in their respective roles.

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State Attorney: Melissa Nelson’s budget had no significant adjustments, but councilors had questions.

“The biggest question in the community,” said Councilwoman Brown, “is the prosecution of police officers.”

Nelson noted that officer infractions are treated “just as seriously” as they would be by “any civilian layperson,” with a timeframe for prosecution dependent on the complexity and time impact of the investigation.

Nelson noted her office is responsive to the community, including timely response to email requests and two hotlines to report crimes.

Nelson noted that intraoffice changes include improved efficiency in work flow, creation of a strategic prosecution unit, and a human rights division that reviews everything from human trafficking to police misconduct.

Councilman Reggie Gaffney wanted to know more about juvenile prosecution changes. These include expanded use of civil citation, with greater discretion to law enforcement and the SAO no longer obstructing use of this reform. An MOU is in place across the circuit, ensuring uniformity.

“All of the law enforcement agencies are increasing their usage,” Nelson said, with a six-month review of process set for December, and SAO serving as a “backstop” to educate law enforcement on opportunities to use civil citations as effectively and fully as possible.

A diversion program is on the verge of being implemented, and to that end outside consultation is being sought nationwide.

Councilwoman Lori Boyer lauded the positive changes in the offices of State Attorney and Public Defender, but had questions about supplementary officers — like Community Service Officers and School Resource Officers.

Boyer is interested in an “intermediate policing capacity” for these officers; Nelson noted discussions between the Sheriff and herself about expanding civil citations to adults.

“What you’ll see in the future months,” Nelson said, would be JSO expanding civil citations with the SAO support.

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Tax Collector: The Tax Collector’s hearing was highlighted by a recommendation to boost projected delinquent sales tax revenue by $102,630 to $450,000; the idea, to reflect current year revenue. That recommendation would decrease a general fund transfer, and increase council contingency.

Tax Collector Michael Corrigan also noted that there simply aren’t enough employees to handle current business. E-Checks were encouraged as a potential solution.

“Anytime you’re processing paper, it takes more time,” Council Auditor Kyle Billy said.

Becton proposed letting the Tax Collector use $60,000 of the proposed $102,630 adjustment to “help give us more compliance on e-checks.”

Corrigan expressed the urgency of expanding services as the city grows, noting that he needs more employees.

A suggestion from the Council Auditor: carrying over $541,000 from a capital account for new hires.

Becton noted issues with “people in line, processing, and those kinds of things,” pushing for the e-payment expenditure, adding that he doesn’t care how it’s funded as long as it’s “logical.”

“I’m constantly trying to get enough people,” Corrigan said, urging that money not be moved from the capital fund.

CAO Mousa said that excess salary dollars could be transferred if there is an overage beyond $60,000, avoiding the capital transfer. And so it went.

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Another talking point during the Tax Collector hearing had to do with diversity.

Corrigan maintained that his department follows mandates and executive orders, adding that of the 213 employees the department has, 46.9 percent are “minority.”

Dennis noted the city’s commitment to “Equal Opportunity/Equal Access” was an effort to “cast a broader net” in hiring, not a “quota system” or “affirmative action.”

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Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan was next up, and the major budget recommendations from the Council Auditor had to do with part-time hours.

One such recommendation: moving 8,734 part-time hours to registration from elections.

“That was a request from the Mayor’s Office. They wanted to more correctly identify where those part-time hours were,” Hogan said.

The second recommendation: reducing part-time salaries by $30,800 given adjustments in site hours.

Chair Dennis wondered why budget was going up year over year for salaries.

“You have an increase in salaries … internal services … operating expenses,” Dennis said.

Hogan noted poll workers got their first raise in “many years” in November, with daily pay from $200 to $275.

Dennis said that was in the previous year’s budget, so the raise still didn’t make sense.

Noting that the SOE will come in half a million under the current budget, Dennis was surprised by a 2.5 percent increase year over year.

Councilwoman Lori Boyer wanted to know the specific line items that accounted for the increase.

“Last year’s election was unlike anything else in the state of Florida,” Hogan said, noting that “election fraud” and other variables required the department to “do things differently,” such as hiring more rovers to go from precinct to precinct, and using more poll workers.

Hogan pointed to cost-reduction measures: eliminated mailings and cutting down two FTEs are among them.

“As we look at the budget and note multiple needs,” Dennis said, “we just want to make sure we’re [not] giving you more money than you really need.”

The SOE budget, pending better information, will be moved below the line.

Aaron Bean backs Wyman Duggan in HD 15

Another day, another key endorsement for Wyman Duggan in the race in Jacksonville’s state House District 15 — Thursday’s is courtesy of state Sen. Aaron Bean.

Bean joins U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, state Rep. Jason Fischer, and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry in backing Duggan, who very quickly is coalescing the entire establishment behind him.

“Wyman Duggan is a committed conservative who will fight for our shared conservative values in Tallahassee. I’m proud to endorse his campaign for state representative and look forward to serving with him,” Bean stated.

Duggan is “honored by Sen. Bean’s support. He has been a strong advocate for Jacksonville and a champion of conservative values.”

Duggan has no opponent in the race to succeed Rep. Jay Fant as of yet.

Jacksonville Council Finance Chair: ‘I didn’t plan on being opposition to the Mayor’

Beginning Thursday, the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee will review Mayor Lenny Curry‘s proposed budget.

Discussions last week showed an independent streak among the committee’s members, chaired by Curry’s leading City Hall antagonist of the moment, Garrett Dennis.

FP talked to Dennis Wednesday evening, after he gave a well-received speech to the Jacksonville Young Democrats

Though Dennis’ rhetoric is in campaign mode, he assures us that his next campaign is simply a run for re-election — not a bid for the Mayor’s Office, as some supporters have urged.

Dennis also addressed recent news cycles, including discussions of swimming lesson funding and after-school funding, that have seen him at odds with the Mayor.

“I didn’t plan on being opposition to the Mayor. I want to win. I want the city to win. I’m not anti-Curry. He’s a good guy,” Dennis said.

A good guy, but one with whom Dennis has policy differences.

One such difference dominated Jacksonville news cycles this week: Dennis’ latest push for more after-school program money.

Just a week after Dennis’ floor amendments were defeated on a bill allocating $1 million more for after-school programs, including an amendment that would have pushed the total spend to $3 million, with money coming from the city’s reserve accounts, Dennis tried again with an emergency appropriation for more money for these programs.

Dennis’ proposal is ambitious: it would extend offerings for 1,280 kids in 12 of 14 Council districts. Yet the source of financing nettles the Mayor’s Office; the bill seeks to move $1,92M from Council’s contingency account for pension liability to fund these programs.

Dennis defends the ask, noting that the fund is already being drawn upon for $1.1M SAFER Grant matching funds, that the fund still has a $2.3M balance, and that if unspent, the money would be swept into the general fund at the end of the fiscal year.

“If there is a hill I will die on,” Dennis said, “I will die on this hill fighting for these kids.”

Dennis also discussed Curry’s proposal to hire 100 new police officers, which was held in abeyance by the committee last week. 

“I’m confused on the math,” Dennis said, noting that only 80 of the officers are funded in the budget, and that 70 more are expected to retire next fiscal year.

JSO can only train 80 per year, Dennis said, and he’s unconvinced of the JSO plan to train 170 new officers.

“The math isn’t adding up,” Dennis said, noting the new hires will be younger and cheaper than the retirees.

“I don’t want to give more than JSO has the capacity to perform,” Dennis said, wanting a “realistic number” of trainable hires, rather than excess capacity.

Answers to these questions may not be provided until the “wrap up” meeting of the committee, which could be as late on the calendar as Aug. 26.

In the context of a rift between its chair and the Mayor, the committee resumes deliberations Thursday.

Thursday sees the Tax Collector and Supervisor of Elections kick proceedings off; Dennis was a former employee of the SOE, so he should have interesting insight.

The State Attorney and Public Defender also speak — and given their reform paths, coupled with a Finance Committee controlled by African-American Democrats who are getting intense community pressure on reforms to criminal justice, those could be potentially news-making hearings.

The big time commitment: three hours on Parks and Recreation, a hearing that may involve questions for Director Daryl Joseph on the potential removal of Confederate monuments — a priority of Council President Anna Brosche.

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