A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 400

A.G. Gancarski

Jax Irma costs: ‘Equal or a bit more’ than Matthew

Monday’s Jacksonville City Council meeting saw local officials address the body regarding Hurricane Irma. Expect a big budgetary hit from this year’s storm, with infrastructural damage that is still being tallied.

That cost was buried in the mix of a few speakers on Monday, but will be the long-range policy impact of the storm.

The city’s Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa spoke about the progress of cut and toss crews and debris removal: the city’s sites are almost ready, Mousa said, to “accept debris.”

Up to a million cubic yards of debris is expected, more than Hurricane Matthew’s tally, Mousa said, before going into details of damage caused by the storm.

The city is dealing with roof and window leaks from the storm, as well as septic tank and lift station repairs, and “various infrastructure damage around the county.”

“We estimate that 33 to 50 percent of the sand we placed during Matthew has been eroded,” Mousa said.

“We’re just beginning the recovery,” Mousa said, noting that damage could be “equal or a bit more than Hurricane Matthew.”

Matthew cost the city $50M in general fund costs, and the city is still out $27M of unreimbursed FEMA costs; Mayor Curry said earlier this summer that the city could handle a Matthew-sized hit to the the general fund, though it is uncertain what choices a “bit more” costs would require.

Worth noting: the city estimated, in the wake of Matthew, that costs could be up to $100M; that estimate turned out — luckily for the city, given FEMA’s slow reimbursement, to be high.

“We’re still trying to get our arms around infrastructure damage,” Mousa said.

FEMA is in contact with the city, Mousa said, with a visit to the Emergency Operations Center Monday.

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Sheriff Mike Williams was next up, extolling cooperation among first-responders.

Williams noted there was some infrastructural damage at JSO facilities, but nothing major — some minor structural damage, yet no damaged vehicles.

Williams noted, in response to worries about looting, that residential and commercial burglaries were a bit up — and that State Attorney Melissa Nelson was handling special prosecutorial detail for those burglaries.

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Also addressing the legislators: JEA CEO Paul McElroy, whose performance was criticized roundly in the days after the storm by the Mayor and by City Council members, with Councilman Bill Gulliford offering the staunchest criticism.

Those criticisms faded, apparently, sometime over the weekend.

McElroy put forth familiar talking points, including noting that Jacksonville’s restoration started later than the rest of the state, noting that the local utility had resources from across the country.

McElroy said JEA “restored very well … in the top decile of the state.”

“During the process, we were at or ahead of the pack,” McElroy noted, an especially laudatory detail given the city’s tree canopy and large land mass.

McElroy noted that water service held up well countywide, while wastewater service was a bit dodgier — 700 of them lost power during the peak, and “most of them” had backup power.

“We lost about two million gallons,” McElroy said, adding that’s a “heck of a lot better than last year,” and that most of the failings were attributable to “double or triple contingency failure.”

Jacksonville City Council drama will extend beyond light agenda Monday

The Jacksonville City Council will meet Monday, a reschedule of last Tuesday’s meeting.

There will be drama — even with a Council agenda Tuesday that is bereft of bills readers will care about.

Expect that Jacksonville City Council members will push to alter the budget, which will have to be approved next Tuesday at the regularly scheduled Council meeting, based on storm impacts and realizations.

Councilman Garrett Dennis, for example, told us earlier this week that he wants money for sandbags in the budget — they weren’t provided before Irma’s epic floods.

The Jacksonville Beach pier suffered damage for a second straight year; yes, that will come up also, as will damage on the Riverwalk and elsewhere throughout the city after Irma.

Jacksonville is out $26M in delayed FEMA reimbursements from last year’s 100-year storm. Councilors will be interested in the impacts of this year’s event, though only preliminary answers may be ready this week. The city has roughly $125 million in reserves, but caveats abound as the city needs to maintain minimum reserve levels.

Luckily, bond ratings are on point — as some borrowing may need to be authorized soon.

Beyond general fund spending, expect scrutiny of an independent agency: the JEA.

JEA’s lines workers were beyond reproach this week, yet the Mayor and the City Council both expressed disquiet with communication with customers, transparency with City Hall, and deployment of resources.

Perhaps tempers will simmer down from the low boil earlier this week; however, don’t be surprised to see at least one Council member bring it up.

As well, with the storm over, a familiar non-weather storm will recur, in the form of the Confederate monument conundrum. Recall that last month, public comment sprawled out into the night, delighting city employees and media alike on hand for the uniformly thrilling and reasoned discourse until close to Midnight.

Once Council gets through that, committees follow — with their own unique sets of challenges, which will require a preview of their own later this week.

Bill Gulliford vexed by JEA communications, performance flaws

Sewage spills. Flawed communication with customers. Dead stoplights and live wires in the street. A board not accountable to City Hall.

These are just a few of the issues vexing local policy makers as the week ends.

A story percolating just beneath the surface of Jacksonville coverage of Irma: disquiet of local officials with the efforts in the JEA C-Suite.

In a “politicians only” conference call this week, we heard that as early as Tuesday, the Mayor and members of the Jacksonville City Council took umbrage with JEA’s communications issues throughout the storm, on issues ranging from telling customers when they would get their power back, to getting a sense of resource deployment on a district to district basis.

Mayor Curry himself stands by that frustration.

“The adversity brought upon our city by Hurricane Irma has been prolonged for many by continued power outages,” said Curry. “I am frustrated by conflicting information citizens have been receiving stating that power has been restored when it has not.”

Some Council members may, in the days ahead, be photo-opped away from their previous positions. However, Councilman Bill Gulliford stands by criticisms he’s made of JEA’s post-storm performance relative to Beaches Energy.

And on Friday, in a call with us, the Republican representing Jacksonville’s beach communities amplified them.

We caught up with Gulliford by phone; he answered in his hot, dark office in the Bayard area in South Jacksonville, where the power is currently not on.

“The office doesn’t have power,” Gulliford said, noting that some area businesses have power, and others do not.

The same holds true for various traffic lights in the high traffic area, and Gulliford has seen some “near misses” in terms of accidents.

Gulliford believes the culprit is a tripped breaker in the lines — a two-minute fix, he said.

But the company, even with reinforcements from across the country, isn’t able to remedy that.

Nor is it able to handle potential downed live wires, such as one near his business on Greenland Road, or other potentially life-threatening live wires and other equipment through out the city.

“Is the wire live? If it’s live, it’s dangerous; how do we convey that? If the line’s live, someone could get killed.”

Gulliford suggests a line for emergency complaints.

“Beaches Energy took eight people out of City Hall to take calls,” Gulliford noted, saying that in matters of customer communication — including a JEA Outage Map that many have said doesn’t mirror objective, real-time reality — “JEA’s communications skills leave something to be desired.”

“I’m frustrated,” Gulliford said, “because they can’t tell us anything.”

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Much of Gulliford’s district is handled by Beaches Energy — and, he points out, there are in fact trees at the Beach, such as in the neighborhoods abutting Penman Road.

A common JEA response to restoration critiques has been that tree damage slowed down work.

Beaches Energy was way ahead of JEA’s restoration timetable, Gulliford noted.

“Based on performance,” Gulliford said, “Beaches Energy whomped JEA pretty good.”

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Another performance issue: as WJXT reports, 1.5M gallons of sewage spilled during the storm.

Sewage spills occurred during Matthew also, with JEA vowing to remedy the issue with generator backup.

12 million pints of raw sewage later, with failings at dozens of sites, what’s clear to Gulliford is there is room for improvement.

The utility was “challenged and castigated by the community,” Gulliford said, and Gulliford doesn’t think that “batting that percentage” fully addresses the challenge.

“I’m not impressed,” Gulliford said. “They didn’t respond well enough.”

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Gulliford was unsparing in his assessment of JEA CEO Paul McElroy also.

“I don’t know if someone with an accounting background makes the best CEO,” Gulliford said, saying that accountants, generally, are not “people-oriented.”

JEA CEO Paul McElroy is a “very nice guy,” Gulliford said, but “sometimes nice guys finish last.”

“The rank and file are not the problem,” Gulliford added, saying issues were “management-related,” with executives not having “come through” on expectations.

What’s more: despite revamping the JEA Board with some major donors and supporters, Gulliford is pessimistic that Mayor Lenny Curry has direct control over moves.

“Once you appoint these guys and gals,” Gulliford said, “you lose control.”

“Maybe part of the problem with the structure is that the board is not as engaged as it should be,” he added.

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At this writing four days after the storm, JEA customers are headed toward full restoration: 93 percent have power, with 31,000 still in the dark.

If Gulliford’s comments are any guide, however, Council members will expect answers and a plan for future improvements.

Matt Carlucci sets the pace in Jax 2019 campaign fundraising

Though it’s still early in the fundraising race for 2019 Jacksonville candidates, City Council hopeful Matt Carlucci continued setting the pace in August.

Carlucci brought in $28,051 in new money last month, spending $4,489; all told, the former Councilman and State Ethics Commission chair has roughly $125,000 on hand.

The Republican candidate will need that and more for his citywide race to replace termed-out At-Large Councilman Greg Anderson.

Among Carlucci’s donors: Best Bet, Sleiman Enterprises, Nocatee Development, Councilman John Crescimbeni.

Most of Carlucci’s spend: to the “Nolan Group” for “website development.”

Beyond Carlucci’s respectable haul, most other candidates running for City Council in 2019 didn’t focus on rainmaking in August.

Ron Salem, a Republican running to replace termed-out John Crescimbeni in his at-large seat, cleared $100,000 cash on hand in August, with $3,350 in new money making the difference.

After a strong start for Salem’s fundraising, the pace has slowed: in the last three months, Salem has raised just under $10,000 all-inclusive.

Other citywide candidates have no fundraising momentum whatsoever. Only District 7 Democrat Marc McCullough and District 8 Democrat Diallo Sekou have more than $1,000 on hand.

 

Northeast Florida jobs numbers strong again in August

As Northeast Florida continues the recovery phase after Hurricane Irma’s storm surge inundated large swathes of the city, the DEO offered good news on the jobs front Friday.

Unemployment in the six-county Northeast Florida region stands at 4.2 percent, down from 5.1 percent last August, and in line with state numbers. And there are 2.5 percent more jobs in the region year over year; compared to the 2 percent population growth, that’s another encouraging indicator.

County by county, unemployment numbers are mostly trending better than the state average.

“St. Johns County had the lowest unemployment rate (3.2 percent) in the CareerSource Northeast Florida region followed by Clay County (3.8 percent), Baker County (3.9 percent), Nassau County (3.9 percent), Duval County (4.4 percent), and Putnam County (5.5 percent),” asserts the Department of Economic Opportunity.

Job growth, year over year, has been especially strong in education and health services (up 4,500 jobs), and n trade, transportation, and utilities (up 5,000 jobs) and professional and business services (+4,400 jobs).

The only sector with year over year declines: leisure and hospitality, down 900 jobs year over year.

Bail bonds money pushes Jacksonville sheriff’s political committee over $100K

“A Safe Jacksonville,” the political committee of Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, cleared $100K cash on hand in August.

August, of course, was the first deployment of the committee’s muscle: a well-timed poll from the committee, dropped during budget hearings, helped the Sheriff make his case that his department needs 100 new officers.

Williams’ committee brought in 17 contributions totaling $27,500 in August (against $1,050 spent). Ten of those contributions are from bail bonds companies, with the most evocatively named of them all being “Ankle Monitor Bail Bonds.”

The poll mentioned above was not reflected in the August campaign finance report.

All told, Williams’ committee has over $105,000 banked.

His next election is in 2019, and no competition has emerged yet.

This allows Williams’ committee the flexibility to devote resources to messaging and, perhaps, backing candidates who align with his vision for public safety.

Duval Delegation talks recovery from Irma’s ‘unprecedented destruction’

The Duval County Legislative Delegation discussed its role Jacksonville’s continuing efforts to recover from Hurricane Irma on Thursday afternoon.

A big part of their vision, whether in a Special Session dedicated to Hurricane Irma or beyond, is ensuring that “Jacksonville gets what it needs,” as Chairman Jay Fant put it, after the “unprecedented destruction” of the storm.

Jacksonville is in recovery mode finally, after a storm that affected the area — in terms of storm surge/high tide flooding and wind damage — like few other events, with massive flooding Downtown, and in Riverside, Avondale, San Marco, and other low-lying areas.

While Mayor Lenny Curry has expressed confidence that the city has adequate resources for recovery, especially given strong relationships with the Governor and the White House, the delegation will have a key role in securing resources through the legislative process.

Delegation chair Fant’s district, which includes Riverside, Avondale, and Ortega, saw some of the worst impacts of the storm.

The district, Fant said, “got hit as hard as any.”

Fant noted that there may be infrastructure money available, though he believes the storm drains installed in recent years are sufficient for most storms.

However, Fant notes that the current power delivery system in the area — “lines in the air” — may not be optimal going forward.

New neighborhoods, he said, have underground systems in place; older neighborhoods, meanwhile, aren’t currently afforded that option. Combined with a tree canopy, outage issues can be created — and, as is the case with prolonged outages from Irma, can very easily create public safety concerns.

“This is not just a convenience issue,” Fant said. “It’s a public safety issue.”

“Lines in the air are the key. If we can accelerate programs to get these down,” Fant said, power outages of the sort seen in older neighborhoods may be avoided.

Fant has been in communication with House Speaker Richard Corcoran. The Delegation, he said, is “very serious” about bringing local needs to Tallahassee.

Sen. Aaron Bean noted that Nassau County — a big part of his district — has thus far been exempt from the FEMA major disaster declaration that encompasses other Northeast Florida counties; he’d like to change that.

Rep. Cord Byrd, who likewise represents Duval and Nassau, has spoken with Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. John Rutherford and Speaker Corcoran about pushing the ball forward.

And Rep. Jason Fischer noted that “we as a state should do everything we can to fill the gaps left by” federal and local governments.

We asked Rep. Fant about the Speaker’s dispensation toward Jacksonville pushing for resources, given the tensions regarding Fant’s positions on Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, incentive programs the Speaker and allied vigorously worked to scuttle.

“Legislators may disagree on legislation,” Fant said, but all are “still teammates,” especially in light of the “catastrophic” Irma.

Fant’s take: the House and the Senate, and their respective leadership, are aligned on this one.

 

 

 

Al Lawson is fighting for Jax FEMA funds

Rep. Al Lawson has been in Jacksonville this week, helping out with post-Irma relief efforts, and meeting with local political leaders, such as the Mayor and the City Council President.

And though he shares Mayor Lenny Curry‘s confidence that Jacksonville is financially positioned to shoulder the recovery burden until FEMA reimbursement comes through, the first-term Democrat from Tallahassee believes that FEMA needs to pay out more expeditiously — specifically regarding $26M in expected reimbursement from 2016’s Matthew.

“I talked to the Mayor,” Lawson said, “and what I told him is that I know there’s some $26 million that the city hasn’t gotten from FEMA for the last hurricane, Matthew. That’s one of the things that we’re working on to try to make sure they get those funds, because of the devastation in this area.”

Matthew’s impact was brutal on Jacksonville, with winds and rain causing $50M of direct costs to the city government.

Lawson also believes Duval suffered almost as much as anywhere else from Irma.

“In my opinion,” Lawson said, “there was more devastation in Key West and Duval than any other place. I told him I would work with Congressman John Rutherford and Vern Buchanan,” Lawson said about getting those funds.

Lawson has toured some of the most devastated areas in Jacksonville this week, such as the area near the Ribault River, and in his visits to shelters such as the Legends Center, he has spoken to people there about how FEMA can offer residential help for those who suffered damage to their homes during the storm.

“Our goal is to get the resources down here quickly as possible,” Lawson said, noting that House Speaker Paul Ryan may be in Northeast Florida next week to help that along.

Regarding backlogs with FEMA payouts, which can take years, Lawson noted that “this hurricane affected the whole state, and one of the things we need to do on the federal level is get that money released earlier.”

Conversations with Sen. Marco Rubio and others give Lawson confidence there may be the legislative will for that, a measure which would help, among others, storm-ravaged families and businesses in Florida and Texas.

Even for a city like Jacksonville, which can shoulder its burden of recovery during the years-long reimbursement process, Lawson described having to float costs while waiting for FEMA reimbursement as a “band-aid approach.”

“They really need the federal dollars because [without them] it’s going to put a tremendous strain on the budget,” Lawson said.

Lenny Curry political committee raises $239K in August, pays for travel with Shad Khan

August 2017 was the biggest fundraising month since 2015 for “Build Something That Lasts,” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s political committee.

$239,050 of new money was brought in last month, compared to almost $69,000 spent; all told, the committee has $376,820 on hand.

The total is especially notable since Curry faces no political opposition to speak of in his inevitable 2019 reelection bid. Yet fundraising seems to be in campaign season overdrive.

The biggest single donation: $40,000 from the “Making a Better Tomorrow” committee, one that — like Curry’s committee and so many others — is based in Venice under the stewardship of Eric Robinson.

Curry’s committee also scored four $25,000 donations, including one from former Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver. As well, $14,500 was brought in by JAXBIZ  — the political arm of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

Of the $68,000+ spent, $30,000 went to Data Targeting Research, $25,000 to Meteoric Media Strategies, $5,000 to the political committee of Sheriff Mike Williams (“A Safe Jacksonville”).

As well, travel expenses totaling $1,416.29 went to Iguana Investments.

The Shad Khan company here is being reimbursed for a three city trip Curry took on Khan’s jet this summer, looking at sports-entertainment districts in different cities, exploring ideas for future development in Jacksonville.

Bucket list: Lenny Curry talks power restoration

The visual for television cameras was vivid: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry up in a bucket truck, on the scene of a JEA restoration.

But what can’t be seen is worth noting as well: crews from all over the country, many of them responding to Jacksonville’s plight as seen on television news, coursing in to help with power restoration and vegetation removal.

That latter detail is worth noting: multiple crews in the field have described Irma restoration as more complicated than Matthew, with more time intensive jobs such as the one Curry visited in Arlington Thursday because of trees impacting lines, transformers, and other equipment.

JEA’s Mike Hightower said that some resources were on standby as an insurance policy; but with this unusual storm, JEA took some days to get up to its current level: 1,050 in the field, and 100 more coming.

Hightower noted that Gov. Rick Scott has been calling, asking what resources are needed; this is a scene seen throughout the Florida peninsula.

Meanwhile, restoration is moving along. All mainline feeders have been restored, allowing for work down the line. A foreman’s analogy: those feeders are the source, feeding smaller tributaries.

Power restoration is exacting and time-intensive, especially with men and women — many from other states, such as the mutual aide crews from South Carolina on this job — pulling 17 hour shifts.

“Crews are working their butts off,” Curry said once safely on the ground.

Curry “never questioned” their dedication to the job, he added, and was in Arlington to show “support” for the work they are doing.

Curry is still concerned about the lack of communication to customers regarding restoration.

“Customers need to know,” he said.

However, the press shop — a smaller operation than Florida Power and Light and others have — has been increasingly responsive to pressure from City Council and the Mayor, holding multiple briefings on Wednesday and Thursday to ensure that the surprisingly esoteric narrative of power restoration is told as experienced by those in the industry.

Curry was not interested in addressing his thoughts on CEO Paul McElroy, telling assembled press that he’d rather “stick where we are” and discuss restoration on the ground rather than the c-suite.

And on the ground, restoration is going well.

One worker from South Carolina — a veteran of this kind of work — said that this power restoration is “about as organized as it gets.”

Numbers as of 11:40 a.m.: 73,000 customers are out of power, down from 316,000 at peak.

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