A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 336

A.G. Gancarski

Jacksonville council panel clears ex-offender bill, body camera and rape test kit funds

The Jacksonville City Council’s Public Health and Safety committee cleared three bills with a public safety impact on Wednesday morning.

Ex-offender jobs: PHS passed Councilman Garrett Dennis’ bill (2017-35) strengthening requirements that companies doing business with the city of Jacksonville hire ex-offenders that have gone through rehabilitation programs funded and authorized by the city.

The city currently budgets a total of $1.3 million a year for ex-offender skills training, via third-party non-profit agencies.

Dennis’ new bill would require companies doing $200,000 or more of business with the city to commit to hiring ex-offenders who graduated from the city’s third-party service provider re-entry programs.

“Every year we procure $250 million in Jacksonville, and $150 million of that is in contracts of $200,000 of more,” Dennis said.

“What I found out is the contractors aren’t talking to the providers. This bill mandates the two to talk, so the providers know the contractors are out here [and vice versa],” Dennis said.

“Full and fair consideration” is the goal of the bill, which is “adding a little more communication to the already existing ordinance,” Dennis said.

“I’m all for employing ex-offenders,” said Councilman Bill Gulliford, “but we don’t need to throw more regulations at our bidders.”

“I know businesses in this town who won’t bid with the city of Jacksonville because of the onerous bid package,” Gulliford said, adding that Dennis’ bill does little.

“It’s well-intentioned,” Gulliford said, “but it’s ineffective … it needs to be expanded.”

Gulliford suggested extending a credit to contractors that comply, “to encourage financially.”

Gulliford and Dennis bantered impassionately for several minutes, with Dennis saying that the bill would help public safety, and likening it to the Rooney Rule relative to NFL coach hiring.

Mary Tappouni, of the Associated Builders and Contractors, signaled her own qualms.

“The goals are being accomplished through the current ordinance, and EEO policies, and we have the data to support that,” Tappouni said, worried that the additional communication imposed another burden on contractors with no clear benefit, and wondering why the city funded programs aren’t reaching out.

“Why only these providers? These three organizations do not provide training, which is critical to those of us in the construction industry,” Tappouni added.

“We all want a long-term solution. We don’t believe these changes will make that happen,” Tappouni concluded.

Gulliford piggybacked Tappouni’s points in opposition. And he had support.

Councilman Al Ferraro characterized more regulations as potentially “crippling” to contractors.

“I would say to the committee, tread lightly. If you add more things on the contractors, the taxpayers lose, and potentially so do the ex-offenders,” Ferraro said, locking up the ABC endorsement for his re-election bid.

Despite qualms from various committee members about the mechanism of the bill, the measure passed … though Gulliford said he would offer contractor-friendly amendments in the Finance Committee.

The bill goes to Rules Wednesday afternoon, and Finance on Thursday morning.

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Body cameras and rape test kits: Two bills that could help with public safety and public perception crises were also approved unanimously by the panel.

One bill (2017-51) would appropriate $883,519 from the budget of the State Attorney’s Office to test sexual assault kits. Via a federal initiative, this money funds two cold case detectives, who will be devoted to this testing for three years.

The other bill (2017-56) would appropriate $2.7 million of general fund dollars to replace antiquated network equipment used by the sheriff’s office. This replacement will be necessary for the body camera program that the sheriff’s office looks to begin, in pilot form, later this year.

The money would fund a “complete overhaul,” including deferred replacement costs of equipment dating back to 2004.

Just $400,000 has gone to sheriff’s office IT since 2009.

Councilman Aaron Bowman noted that this need isn’t solely linked to the body camera program.

Without that program, a JSO representative said $1.7 million would be needed to catch up with the backlog of system needs.

Councilwoman Anna Brosche noted that in last year’s budget, a $1.8 million request from JSO to the city for IT was spiked.

JSO didn’t push the issue then, as there was not awareness of the need for new equipment for the body camera rollout.

Meanwhile, another wrinkle: the Fraternal Order of Police still wants to bargain body cameras, and the union has filed a complaint with PERC.

The sheriff’s office contends that body cameras are not subject to body cameras.

 

John Rutherford: ‘I thought I was facing death’

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. John Rutherford addressed a group of young Catholic professionals at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Jacksonville.

Though the speech was about faith, there were some intersections with the political world — including Rutherford discussing his ongoing recovery from a January medical episode (he collapsed in the cloakroom of the House of Representatives), and how the rosary proved to be the key to his survival.

Rutherford described the situation in vivid detail.

“I thought I was having a massive heart attack,” Rutherford said. “The panic was off the scale.”

Feeling consciousness fading, Rutherford surmised that if he passed out, he might not come to.

“I thought I was facing death,” he said. “But I thought it wasn’t the ending, only the beginning … I was not afraid.”

Rutherford started saying the rosary, and the pain and hyperventilation subsided.

“The rosary forces you to control your breathing,” Rutherford said. “I never did pass out.”

A doctor allayed his initial fears of a massive heart attack.

“Your heart’s fine,” Rutherford was told, “but your pancreas is the most inflamed I’ve ever seen.”

KJB Specialties hires attorney specializing in bankruptcy cases

The long and winding battle of KJB Specialties, a business owned by the family of Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown, may be reaching a denouement.

In response to a foreclosure action was filed in Duval County by Florida Capital Bank on a property associated with “KJB Specialties.”, KJB filed a motion this week to extend time to file a responsive pleading.

Councilwoman Brown was a managing partner of KJB through January, though she has since been removed from the Sunbiz listing for the business

The property, located at 1551 W. Edgewood Avenue, corresponds to the location of “Jerome Brown BBQ.”

KJB owes $100,902 on its note.

The Browns — Jerome Brown and JoAnn Brown — had that motion filed by Jason Burgess, a Jacksonville-area attorney specializing in bankruptcy cases.

The Brown family businesses have had a rough decade, with CoWealth LLC, another in their group of nebulously named companies, being sued by the city of Jacksonville for failing to create jobs in a 2011 economic development agreement intended to help the Browns take their BBQ sauce business to the next level.

Katrina Brown is still listed as a registered agent of CoWealth.

Scott Wilson launches run for Jacksonville City Council VP

2016’s race for Jacksonville City Council VP was full of twists and turns and betrayals.

John Crescimbeni pulled it out, after a pledge for opponent Doyle Carter flipped.

On Tuesday, 2017’s race for the slot — a prerequisite for the presidency — started in earnest, with Southside Republican Scott Wilson declaring his candidacy.

In his letter to council members requesting a noticed meeting to discuss the candidacy (necessary under the Sunshine Law), Wilson cited his 28 years in city government, including stints with the clerk of court and as a council assistant, as a unique value add.

Wilson chaired Land Use and Zoning as a freshman council member, and chairs Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services this year.

When we asked him about his candidacy, the sales pitch was likewise based in experience.

Wilson, having worked in the council for nearly ten years, has gained an “incredible amount of experience” in that time frame.

“Serving as chairman of LUZ and NCIS gave me a chance to lead and prepare for VP,” Wilson noted.

Wilson came in with 11 other council members, some of whom (such as Garrett Dennis and Anna Brosche) look like natural competition.

We asked Wilson if he was ready for competition.

“It will be interesting to see how the other members react to my candidacy,” Wilson said.

Wilson has been his own man on the city council, willing to take positions that those outside the process might not have expected.

Given that he worked for Christian conservative Don Redman for eight years, there were those who expected Wilson to oppose expanding LGBT rights via the expansion of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance.

Wilson supported the measure in committee, and offered a common-sense friendly amendment on the council floor to remove the chance of jail time for those violating the HRO.

Meanwhile, Wilson’s major initiative has been an attempt to get the city of Jacksonville to invest in parts of his district that are in decline.

To that end, he took a stand against the Jacksonville Journey budget last year on budget night, as part of a longer quest to get the city to invest those crime prevention resources outside of the ten zip codes that receive them.

Under fire from the right, Lenny Curry responds to HRO critics

Pastors from Jacksonville’s First Baptist Church took a provocative position in the wake of Jacksonville expanding its Human Rights Ordinance to include the LGBT community.

They claimed that the expansion of the ordinance, which allows for civil fines for discrimination against the LGBT community in housing, employment, and public accommodations, turns Christians into “targets.”

And they lay the blame at the feet of a Republican-dominated city council and mayor.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry also took criticism last week from members of the public for not vetoing the bill.

In 2015, Curry said that he would have vetoed the 2012 version of HRO expansion.

We asked him what changed between the 2015 campaign and his decision not to veto the bill, which the city council passed 12 to 6 last week.

“Everyone here heard what I said last Tuesday night. The city council debated this, and voted the legislation into law with a supermajority,” Curry said.

“Those city council members were Republicans and Democrats, represent the city of Jacksonville, a supermajority from both parties. It’s law,” Curry said.

Curry cited his departmental directive banning discrimination against city workers and employees of contractors and vendors last year.

“I said that I didn’t believe additional legislation was necessary. I hold that position,” the mayor noted.

“But they got a veto-proof number of folks who thought this ought to be law. It is. And I remain focused on the issues I care about, the issues I campaign on, the issues people in Jacksonville care about.”

Those issues: crime, infrastructure, and jobs.

Arlington residents express crime concerns to Lenny Curry

The Arlington area of Jacksonville has seen better days, and the enclave of mid-century apartment buildings on Justina Road is no exception.

That’s where Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry went on Tuesday afternoon, on one of his regular neighborhood walks in areas that have localized challenges.

“There’s a lot of people that come to my office on any given day with ideas,” said Curry, “but the best input I get is in these neighborhood walks.”

Curry chose this part of Arlington, he said, because it’s seen “decline over the years … issues in terms of income here … crime issues.”

“I want these people to know that we’re here for them. I want to hear directly from them. This is the kind of information I can take back,” Curry said, with an eye toward crafting future budgets from the mayor’s office.

“It’s the most powerful information that I get from anywhere,” said Curry about these walks.

“When I’m out talking to people at their front doors in their neighborhoods, that’s when it gets real. You get to see families, hear them say what they like, what they’re struggling with, and what I can do in my role to make their lives better.”

Curry was greeted with hugs from the young and the old, amidst a series of appraising handshakes from locals who are not used to such attention from politicians when they aren’t running for office.

Some of the interactions were heartwarming, such as the mayor talking to a grandmother, who was sitting on a bus stop bench with a puzzle book, looking like a throwback from a pre-digital era.

And then there was the series of hugs from a elementary school girl who sported a Batman crest — one of Curry’s favorite totems — on her backpack.

“I wish my own kids were this happy to see me,” the mayor exclaimed.

But it wasn’t all sunshine and bon homie for the mayor.

The downside of the struggling neighborhood was brought into relief by a young woman, a mother of three, who spoke with great specificity about the issues in the neighborhood.

“It’s crazy out here,” she told the mayor, “and getting worse all around here.”

A story was told about a futile one-woman war against street crime, which ended up making her a “target.”

“They slash my tires, key my car,” the woman said.

Police response?

“Sometimes they come,” she said, “and sometimes they don’t.”

The woman’s suggestion: a police substation in the area.

It is precisely that kind of insight Curry will consider as his team works through its third budget later this year.

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Curry was expected to be accompanied on this walk by Rep. Al Lawson, who cited a last-minute schedule conflict by way of no-showing the event.

When asked about this, Curry noted that he reached out to the congressman a couple of weeks ago, and asked him to do a neighborhood walk with him.

“A couple of hours ago I found out there was a scheduling conflict,” Curry said, “and I look forward to walking with him in the future.”

Curry had also hoped to introduce Lawson to members of the “business community,” but that hasn’t come to pass.

Schedule confusion characterizes Al Lawson in Jacksonville

U.S. Representative Al Lawson may have had good intentions when choosing to spend the first part of an off week in Jacksonville.

But intentions are one thing. And delivery is another.

Lawson’s itinerary, arrived at last week, was pretty straightforward.

Among other things: the first-term Democrat from Tallahassee was to go to Eureka Garden on Tuesday afternoon, accompanied by Mayor Lenny Curry and Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis.

However, the plan did not come together.

For one thing, Lawson called an audible and made his Eureka Garden visit on Monday — Presidents’ Day.

Mayor Curry was camping with his family.

Councilman Dennis likewise was busy with personal business.

The end result?

With no local political backup, Lawson arrived with representatives of the management company and police officers inside and outside the community center at the Westside Jacksonville apartment complex.

He spoke in generalities about the improvements on the property, discussing potential collaboration with Sen. Marco Rubio on HUD reform.

Even so, there was a tone deaf quality to his remarks. From “Whenever I get my pay check, I think of you” to  his assertion that Eureka apartments — which made national news for months because of their issues — are “better than [his] apartment in D.C.,” Lawson’s presentation confused media on hand — especially those who have been immersed in the Eureka Garden story.

On Monday, Lawson announced his plans to accompany Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on a neighborhood walk — something Curry does regularly in neighborhoods left behind by Jacksonville’s progress.

However, those plans were for naught.

Lawson decided to cancel his participation on the walk Tuesday, hours before it was to kick off.

This visit to Jacksonville was pivotal for Lawson, replacing Corrine Brown — who was an effective legislator in terms of constituent service.

Brown was a Jacksonville Congresswoman, no matter how far her district stretched.

Locals, before this week, saw Lawson as a Tallahassee guy.

How do they feel now?

Rep. Lawson had an opportunity to prove to locals that he was as committed to the needs of Jacksonville, the biggest city in the district, as to the farmland out west and the state capital.

He needed those photo ops with the mayor and Councilman Dennis.

More importantly, however, he needed those insights from politicians who understand, better than most, the challenges of the local community.

Agency for State Technology gets softballs in Senate committee

On Tuesday, the Florida Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee heard from the Agency for State Technology.

The AST, legislated into existence in 2014, appears on the outside to be in flux.

A recent audit of the AST hammered it for a lack of internal controls.

Meanwhile, CIO Jason Allison is on his way out the door, headed to Foley and Lardner to do public affairs (or what committee chair Dennis Baxley called “newer and higher callings.”)

“I have a real concern about how we buy IT around the capital,” Baxley said, by way of introducing Eric Larsen, the interim executive director.

That concern, sadly, did not translate into a robust discussion.

Larsen offered a positive, big-picture narrative that went unchallenged by committee members.

Larsen contended that there have been improvements in Florida’s IT sector and policy since 2014, citing one independent authority (the Center for Digital Government) calling it “most improved” in 2016.

Larsen also discussed the state data center, noting that all costs expended are recovered from agencies.

Larsen also extolled facility consolidation as being “on time and under budget,” and discussed the agency’s role in IT security.

“There is no one size fits all approach to cybersecurity … no silver bullet,” Larsen added.

“We must protect the state’s data in our custody,” Larsen continued, noting funding was needed for continuing efforts.

Larsen advocated for a chief data officer also.

Despite the blistering audit earlier this year, the committee did not deliver tough questions that might have been asked. Or any questions at all, really.

Sen. Baxley lamented the lack of a “high-quality map” of his recently redrawn Senate district.

Baxley pointed to the agency’s “outstanding improvement.”

“I hope we will better use your obviously competent service,” Baxley said, thanking Larsen for handling “cybersecurity.”

“It’s good to know somebody’s watching. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance,” Baxley concluded.

After a blistering audit that raised myriad questions, one might have expected more from this committee than was delivered.

Meanwhile, the Florida House Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee addresses the same material Wednesday afternoon.

Jacksonville council panel weighs blight impacts of sketchy businesses

On Tuesday morning, a Jacksonville City Council committee mulled the impact of auto repair shops, internet cafes, nightclubs, and liquor stores in certain neighborhoods.

Such questionable businesses exacerbate the city’s pervasive blight issues, legislators agree.

The fix, it turns out, may be in zoning. But there is no clear consensus on what that fix may be. And a comprehensive plan may be as much as 18 months away.

The Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services committee heard a presentation from Planning Director Bill Killingsworth and Planning Chief Folks Huxford about the adverse impacts of a preponderance of these shops in certain neighborhoods.

Killingsworth noted that there are zoning tools available to mitigate impacts.

Visual blight from a used car lot or auto repair shop could be mitigated with fencing or parking density regulations, Killingsworth said.

As well, “distance limitations” between certain establishments could be used — but Killingsworth alluded to “challenges” associated with that.

Council members discussed the overuse of planned unit developments.

“We use it for just about everything,” Councilman Bill Gulliford noted.

In Atlantic Beach, where Gulliford was once mayor, an ordinance was passed to restrict PUDs to properties over 7 acres.

“What I fear the most is that if you’re not consistent in application, we’re going to see ourselves … vulnerable legally,” Gulliford added.

Councilman Reggie Brown, whose district is hit with these blighted areas, had his own concerns.

“If you follow the news in Jacksonville, Moncrief, Avenue B, Soutel … pop up as high-crime areas,” Brown said, noting the adverse impact of internet cafes, nightclubs, and pawn shops.

“You take a convenience store — they close down. By right [in zoning], they can become a liquor store,” Brown added.

In a “dark year” period after one business closes, another one can swoop in and exploit zoning.

“Anything that goes to a different owner,” Brown added, “should come to council.”

Brown advocates a common-sense approach, balancing the profit motive with the adverse impact of these businesses.

“I’m looking for some distance between all these things. I’m not trying to violate anybody’s constitutional rights,” Brown said, “but when you see a community decline, this is what you see.”

“The community,” Brown said about his district, “is a food desert. Banking’s out of reach.”

Brown also contended that the JAX Chamber hasn’t effectively marketed his district compared to other areas of the city.

“Let’s look at their plan to see how inclusive it is,” Brown urged.

Councilman Gulliford also wanted to “investigate” potential restrictions on how many liquor stores can open in the county.

Gulliford noted chronic difficulties in getting national grocery chains to open up in these neighborhoods in decline, and suggested that the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development fund take an existing location, franchise it, and absorb the risk for the corporation.

“To solve the food desert problem,” Gulliford said, “take the risk away. They’re not going to invest millions of dollars to put a grocery store in a [blighted] area.”

Councilman Brown noted that one guaranteed income stream for a grocery chain would be EBT cards.

Customers parking in front of people’s homes and in the city right of way was also identified as an issue.

Understaffing is a problem, said Peggy Sidman from the Office of General Counsel, as well as a “it’s not my job” mentality from people who would enforce parking regulations that are routinely flouted.

John Rutherford to meet constituents at Jacksonville Catholic Church on Tuesday

U.S. Rep. John Rutherford has no plans for an official town hall while in his Jacksonville-centered district this week.

Yet those interested in catching the first-term Republican have an opportunity Tuesday evening, when Rutherford addresses the Young Catholic Professionals at St. Joseph’s Church in Mandarin.

The event, which will be held at the “Cody Family Enrichment Center” on site, will kick off with beer, wine, and appetizers at 7:00 p.m.

Rutherford will speak and take questions from the assembled at 7:45.

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In lieu of an actual town hall from the congressman, a constituent-hosted town hall is planned for Thursday at noon outside his district office (4130 Salisbury Road).

Predicated on the assumption that President Donald Trump‘s “hateful agenda is unacceptable and politically toxic,” organizers assert that Rutherford’s staff cited his health problems last month as a reason for not scheduling a town hall event while in town.

This assertion was disputed by Rutherford’s communications director, Taryn Fenske, who said that the health issue claim is “false.”

As well, Fenske asserts that Rutherford has been meeting with constituent groups while in town.

“Listening to the citizens of Florida’s 4th District is the most important part of Congressman Rutherford’s job and he takes it very seriously, he cannot represent their views in Congress without doing so,” Fenske asserted.

“We look for every way to engage with constituents – by phone, email, our website, social media, and of course in person meetings. He meets with dozens of constituents each week in Washington, D.C. and in Northeast Florida,” Fenske added, “and will continue to do so.”

Constituents who would like to meet Rutherford have the opportunity to do so on Tuesday evening.

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