A.G. Gancarski – Page 3 – Florida Politics

A.G. Gancarski

Jacksonville affordable housing crisis continues, outside of media spotlight

Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Gulliford cut a solitary figure at the front of the Lynwood Roberts Room, as a few dozen stakeholders and interested parties convened to discuss the city’s continual struggle with affordable housing.

Gulliford, not for the first time, described “neighborhoods in serious decline” locally, as spotlighted by the Block by Block study. And he had a vision: an affordable housing coalition, that could — perhaps — remedy issues of housing scarcity and issues created by vacant homes that push neighborhoods past the tipping point.

“A huge problem like this can’t be solved in a year or two,” Gulliford said, “but there’s got to be some community effort. We can’t just fix it by meeting over and over again in the present format.”

More has to be done.

Two-thousand foreclosed properties and an unknown number of vacant ones citywide create issues for neighborhoods, even as there is need for affordable housing for single mothers, veterans, and other groups, amidst skyrocketing rents ($1,000 median rent, per Gulliford).

“The strain on families, especially those on the affordable end of the spectrum, is huge,” Gulliford said.

For the city to foreclose on liens, Gulliford said, it could take up to a year.

“Outside of having meetings, nothing really happens. How do we shake that tree in a bold manner, and end up plowing new ground? You’ve heard everything discussed from tiny houses to you name it,” Gulliford said.

“The price has got to go down, below the median price range (for home ownership) of $130,000,” Gulliford added.

Those on hand talked of houses from bygone eras, with large families still living in under 1,000 square feet, a paradigmatic shift from the bigger houses of today.

Apartment complexes offer another potential solution, said some on hand, though many older units have accessibility issues that make them non-compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, thus marginalizing a population that needs them.

“You have people with severe disabilities and they just can’t get housing in general. There’s just nothing there,” said one person on hand.

“I think the first step that we need to take as a community is to form an affordable housing coalition,” Gulliford said.

Someone from the crowd suggested an amendment: an “affordable and accessible housing coalition.”

Gulliford noted that engaging the private sector and getting seed money is necessary, as city government can’t do it alone.

“We need property that we can acquire quickly,” Gulliford said. “We as a city put liens on property. If it’s in a declining neighborhood, there is no equity.”

“We need some entity that goes out, makes contact with that owner, and asks ‘are you willing to give that property up? A coalition is one way to do it,” Gulliford added.

Tiny houses, said Gulliford, would create zoning challenges.

“You’d have to amend your code,” said Gulliford, “but in some communities you have clustered tiny houses. 650,700 square feet. For a single woman with kids, it may not be the ideal thing she’s dreamed of all her life, but it does allow her to get her feet on the ground.”

Conventional mortgages? “Pie in the sky stuff,” said Gulliford.

“These people have not been homeowners,” Gulliford noted.

“We have declining neighborhoods,” Gulliford added. “There is some percentage of homeownership where that neighborhood begins to stabilize [and] there’s impact on the neighborhood overall.”

Jacksonville City Council panel wrestles with park security, vandalism woes

A Jacksonville City Council special committee on parks continued its inquiry into the system Thursday.

Council President Anna Brosche, when she took over the gavel last July, identified parks as a priority; the committee continues to explore ways to restore Jacksonville’s massive though unevenly maintained system of 400 parks, one that ranks among the worst in the nation.

Efforts to improve local parks are nothing new; as far back as 2003, there was a concerted effort to improve parks that were ranked poor. However, as is often the case with city initiatives, little came of the effort but good intentions.

Thursday’s discussion of 2003 revealed what happens when there is no follow through.

A discussion of live-in security from Jacksonville law enforcement at the 39 parks that have it led to allegations from Councilwoman Lori Boyer that the property was “trashed … blighted” at one park (Baker-Skinner Park) she surveyed.

Other members peppered parks director Daryl Joseph with questions, after which he allowed that the program needs to be revisited, given gaps between the original intent of the live-in security program and how it functions in practice.

“The presence certainly has value, but the whole thing needs to be re-thought out,” said Councilman Bill Gulliford. “2003, it’s been running for a long time without much oversight.”

“This program … when it first started worked pretty well,” said Councilman Doyle Carter, “but you’ve got to have criteria that you need to do … the more you get knuckleheads going out and messing up stuff, the more you need to do.”

Sometimes, said Joseph, the trailers in the parks are vacant, as officers move in and out. Criminals apparently know when that is the case and schedule their nefarious activity accordingly.

Vandalism was identified as an issue on the upswing in recent years, with a $150,000 annual price tag, which raised the ire of Councilman John Crescimbeni.

“The knuckleheads, if they see a security car driving around as opposed to a police car, they see that as a substitute teacher,” Crescimbeni said, pushing for more police officers to live in parks. “I want to hear how we can recruit more police officers. How are we marketing this opportunity?”

Expect legislation, sooner or later, to redress this issue.

Quiet February fundraising for Mike Williams, Lenny Curry

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams both showed quiet February fundraising for their re-election bids.

Curry, who filed this month for re-election, did not report fundraising yet for his campaign account. The same holds true for the local “Jacksonville on the Rise” committee set up to support the re-election (though with a six-figure ad buy, it follows that committee will have impressive March numbers.)

Curry’s statewide “Build Something That Lasts” committee did register fundraising; however, with $12,500 brought in ($10,000 of which came from Ed Burr), it was the single slowest month for that account since Dec. 2016.

The account spent $12,803, mostly on consultant fees, though there was $1,000 given to City Council candidate Rose Conry.

All told, the committee still has over $600,000 cash on hand. And Curry lacks a credible opponent.

Like his counterpart in the Mayor’s Office, Sheriff Williams had a slow month, but it ultimately won’t matter.

Williams’s committee brought in just $1,000, leaving it with $194,000 as February ended.

Williams brought in $10,000 in hard money off 10 maximum $1,000 contributions, giving him $148,000 in his campaign account; Vestcor and Gate Petroleum were among the donors.

Williams’ opponent, Democrat Tony Cummings, raised nothing in February, and has just $260 cash on hand.

Jacksonville panelists to talk ‘implicit bias’ in justice system

Does “implicit bias” affect law enforcement? The justice system at large?

On Thursday evening at Edward Waters College, a five-person panel of local experts (Chief Judge Mark H. Mahon, State Attorney Melissa Nelson, Public Defender Charlie Cofer, Sheriff Mike Williams, Senior District Judge Henry Lee Adams, Jr. and A. Wellington Barlow, Esq.) will explore the concept, under the aegis of the D.W. Perkins Bar Association.

The most interesting parties in the discussion, at least in terms of the general audience, likely will be Nelson and Cofer (both elected in 2016) and Williams (elected the year before).

Each of the three has had to embrace reform in both rhetoric and policy, especially Nelson, who replaced hardliner Angela Corey as State Attorney.

The Florida Times-Union noted earlier this week that Nelson’s office is one of four nationwide whose metrics are being tracked with an eye toward how this bias manifests in outcomes.

“They’ll take a look at questions of bias in our work,” Nelson said about the study, “and depending on what they find, we’ll take it and it’ll inform how we train our lawyers and what we do.”

Meanwhile, Sheriff Williams’ office has come under fire for inconsistent applications of pedestrian ticketing laws, with a disproportionate amount of citations for jaywalking and the like written in African-American neighborhoods.

Williams has insisted that there are no ticket quotas, and has pushed back against primary reporting from the Times-Union and ProPublica on the topic.

Expect a lively turnout for Thursday’s event, which kicks off at 6 p.m. at EWC’s Milne Auditorium.

Positive signs for Talleyrand Connector money from Lenny Curry’s latest D.C. trip

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry made a trip to Washington D.C. earlier this week, and has been the case before, he met with members of the Donald Trump administration.

The subject, as it so often has been, was infrastructure — both the Talleyrand Connector project that the city seeks $25 million for in infrastructure money via the Department of Transportation’s Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program, and other local infrastructure projects.

“Mayor Curry’s meetings were in regards to the Talleyrand Connector, as well as to advocate for Jacksonville infrastructure as a whole, and the priorities that he has laid out,” asserted Curry spokesperson Tia Ford Wednesday afternoon in response to inquiries from this outlet.

Decisions on the grant are expected to be made “soon,” per Ford, who said that Curry thought the meetings went “very well.”

The Talleyrand Connector money, should it come through from the Trump administration, will offer major funding for a wishlist item for the Curry administration dating back to 2016. The alterations to the Hart Bridge Expressway are purported to improve traffic flow, including for trucks bound to and from the port.

Curry had met last year with Trump administration members discussing the same project, including intergovernmental affairs staffers and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

The state budget, which currently is awaiting Gov. Rick Scott‘s review, has an additional $12.5 million for the project.

When asked about the line item Tuesday, Gov. Scott would not commit to it, despite Curry having lobbied him personally on it.

“So the budget came out on Sunday. We’re starting the process to review the budget. I look through it line by line. There’s about 4,000 lines to the budget, and my goal is to make sure all taxpayers get a return on those investments,” Scott said.

If the state and federal money comes through, Jacksonville will have $37.5 million of outside money for the Talleyrand Connector project, a strong illustration of how Curry leverages relationships throughout government for his administration’s priorities.

Jacksonville Council panel seeks inmates to beautify neighborhoods

Wednesday saw a Jacksonville City Council committee delve deeper into the concept of using local inmate work crews to clean up city streets.

The concept is not a new one. A Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office undersheriff noted just last year that there were plenty of inmates, but a surfeit of supervisors in the budget.

At the time, the JSO voiced a preference for correctional officers as supervisors, as civilians “don’t look at the dope man and say ‘hey, get away from my crew’,” and because sexual contact had occurred in recent months between women inmates and civilian supervisors.

In recent months, Jacksonville City Council members have become enthused with the concept, as a corrective to blight issues.

This set up Wednesday’s panel discussion on “utilization of inmates with tipping communities.”

Chairman Reggie Brown asked “wouldn’t it be nice to get inmates … to clean up the area” in downtown and other parts of town.

Assistant JSO Chief Claude Colvin noted that since 2008, the move has been toward four 10 hour days, a response to budget cuts after the recession.

He has one officer and four inmates at his disposal; the inmates are a rotating crew, Colvin noted, and often require training and specific classifications. 100 inmates currently qualify. Violent offenders or pedophiles do not qualify.

Colvin noted that, despite these budget cuts, inmates have been used for labor that has achieved budget cuts. After a hurricane, they were even involved in demolition of a barge.

Colvin would like two more community officer positions, to augment the current one he has access to.

“We actually have less inmates this year than what we had last year,” Colvin said, though he eventually would like to have five officers to command the crews, with a priority toward clearing areas used for drug dealing and the like.

Council members lamented that they couldn’t earmark officers toward this specific purpose, as use of appropriations is up to the sheriff’s office; however, they sought to explore alternative supervisory setups, such as the Salvation Army.

“We had this very conversation with the sheriff last year,” said Councilwoman Lori Boyer, “and he did not want us directing the use of his resources.”

Leasing officers was another potential mechanism explored.

While part-time positions have been allocated in the budget ($17.25 per hour), Chief Colvin noted that officers “don’t want to come out of retirement to manage inmates,” and they didn’t want to work in the elements, so they went unfilled. [One suggestion from the chair: to hike the pay to $25 an hour.]

Inmates are already going out with other city entities, such as right of way and grounds for ditch cleanup and the like, which Colvin said “does enhance the city of Jacksonville.”

Council members located $45,000 in a local law enforcement trust fund, and Councilwoman Boyer noted that cleanup crews would fall under the aegis of safer neighborhoods.

Jacksonville moves to market, monetize its civil rights history

Wednesday saw the first meeting of Jacksonville’s new “civil rights history task force,” a 28-person group that seeks to affirm — or more correctly, to promote and monetize — the city’s place in civil rights history.

The genesis of the task force was earlier this year, when locals were irked by the city not being included on the U.S. Civil Rights Heritage Trail, which covers 14 states and 100 landmarks, made notable between 1955 and 1968.

Co-chair Warren Jones noted that inclusion on the trail would be a potential boost to tourism, kicking off an occasionally spirited discussion among the sprawling group that was as much a marketing 101 class as a historical discussion.

Council President Anna Brosche, who filed the legislation to form the task force, noted that Jacksonville’s “rich history” mandates that Jacksonville be on the Heritage Trail and that despite the large board, others wanted to be on it.

“Of the 18 inductees to Florida’s Civil Rights Hall of Fame, six of them are from Jacksonville,” Brosche noted.

Task force member Monica Smith, also of Visit Jacksonville, noted that the states involved are part of Travel South USA, which “markets the south for tourism efforts.”

The civil rights trail concept kicked off in Alabama, Smith said, with other Travel South USA states signing on to the idea, which is intended to educate young people regarding the civil rights struggle from generations gone by.

“Visit Florida is not a member of the Travel South USA organization,” Smith said.

She called Ken Lawson of Visit Florida, and learned that the process would be longer than she thought given the genesis of the civil rights trail concept; however, future destinations may be added as early as next year.

“Visit Florida is going to do what they need to do to become part of Travel South USA,” Smith said, and will support local efforts.

At least one board member was “irritated” by what he perceived to be an “audition period” and “hoops to jump through” for the trail, noting that Florida has as much civil rights history as anywhere.

Smith noted that Jacksonville or the state could form its own program, a parallel to the “marketing effort” of the Travel South USA affiliates.

Chairman Warren Jones suggested engaging state legislators to this end, with a potential local “black heritage trail” as a corollary option, even as other board members noted the irony of cities that tried to suppress civil rights now looking to profit off the commemoration of the struggle.

A member of the city planning department offered a lengthy recitation of a timeline from 1945 to the early 1970s; once he wrapped, board members thanked him for reading, then said significant revisions would be needed.

The board will meet biweekly through June 13.

Rick Scott non-committal on whether he’ll veto Jacksonville Talleyrand Connector funds

Jacksonville’s biggest priority in the 2018 state budget came through in the form of $12.5 million for the Talleyrand Connector.

The money, which is a full 25 percent of that needed for a project that would include tearing down Hart Bridge offramps to both route traffic onto Bay Street and facilitate truck traffic to the Jacksonville port, was something for which Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry lobbied both state lawmakers and the Governor in late January.

Yet, despite Curry having made the case to him personally, Scott wouldn’t commit Tuesday to not vetoing the money from the budget.

“So the budget came out on Sunday. We’re starting the process to review the budget. I look through it line by line. There’s about 4,000 lines to the budget, and my goal is to make sure all taxpayers get a return on those investments,” Scott said before wrapping the gaggle.

Scott was in Jacksonville signing a couple of bills that would benefit veterans.

The other highlight of the Tuesday gaggle was the Governor’s defense of a gun control bill he signed Sunday, one that now sees the state sued by the National Rifle Association.

In the face of NRA lawsuit, Rick Scott proud of gun control bill

The Legislative Session ended with a flourish from the National Rifle Association: a lawsuit against the state for the newly-passed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.

The law bars most groups of people under 21 from buying guns, mandates a three-day waiting period before buying a firearm, bans bump stocks, could arm some school personnel, mandates a law enforcement presence in schools, and allows police to confiscate guns from people perceived to be a threat.

Gov. Rick Scott, up until the bill passed, enjoyed NRA acclamation; in the wake of the bill signing, Scott has been criticized from the right for what is perceived to be gun control legislation.

In Jacksonville on Tuesday, Scott stood his ground.

“I’m proud of what the Legislature did,” Scott told reporters. “I worked with the Legislature to pass a bill that would improve school safety. I asked them to come back with a bill that is going to increase the amount of law enforcement officers at schools. All schools will have law enforcement officers. They did that.”

“I said I need a bill that’s going to increase hardening in our schools, safety in our schools; they did that. I said I need a bill that’s going to say we’re going to have more mental health counselors to help the individuals struggling with mental illness in our schools. They did that,” Scott said.

“I also said that if you are an individual struggling with mental illness, or you threatened others or yourself, you shouldn’t have access to a gun. They did that,” Scott added.

“I’m an NRA member. I’m going to continue to be an NRA member. I believe in the Second Amendment,” Scott continued. “There’s three branches of government. I’m going to continue to fight for this legislation.”

In addition to fighting for the legislation despite the NRA legal challenge, Scott is also attempting to get help from U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee members today regarding inaction on tips about Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz.

“The Governor spoke to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to urge them to push for answers from the FBI on their inaction after receiving multiple, credible tips regarding Nikolas Cruz. The FBI has failed to hold anyone accountable. The Governor strongly believes that victims and their families deserve answers,” said McKinley P. Lewis, Scott’s Deputy Communications Director

Also on hand at the Jacksonville event: Rep. Jay Fant, a candidate for Attorney General who opposed the bill in the Legislature.

Fant said the bill presents a “true constitutional question.”

“As Attorney General, my policy would be to see that portion of the law rescinded,” Fant said.

The age restrictions strike Fant as the most “inflammatory” part of the legislation.

“From a leadership standpoint, I’ve not been a big fan of that aspect of the school safety bill. We’ll have to see what happens,” Fant said,

Fant noted that, as opposed to his position on the legislation, the current Attorney General was “quite favorable toward the bill” before it became law.

“These are true constitutional issues. These aren’t regular bills. These are the Bill of Rights. So it’s a different stratosphere for analysis,” Fant added.

Philip Levine, Andrew Gillum plan Jacksonville area fundraisers

Two major Democratic candidates for Governor plan Jacksonville area stops this week, as fundraising efforts continue for the August primary.

Philip Levine will hold a “cocktail party” event Thursday evening, with a nascent host committee including Mark FrischMatt Kane, and Ted Stein among others.

The event honoring the Miami Beach Mayor will be at the Beaches Museum in Jacksonville Beach, and will kick off at 6 p.m.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum will have his own Jacksonville area event as well, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 17, 2018, at the home of Erica & Colin Connor in Ponte Vedra Beach.

A minimum $50 buy-in is requested to attend the Gillum affair.

Levine and Gillum have had different approaches to campaign finance in this campaign.

Levine has spent over $4.6 million of personal funds on his campaign.

Gillum, without recourse to that kind of personal wealth, has had slower fundraising than other major candidates, and has just under $800,000 cash on hand.

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