A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 349

A.G. Gancarski

Rick Scott is ‘committed’ to JAXPORT dredging

After making the case for Enterprise Florida in Jacksonville Monday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott addressed other issues in a gaggle, including JAXPORT.

Scott’s new budget has $176 million for ports, and — crucially — $31M for the long-delayed dredging of the river to deepen the channel for bigger PANAMAX ships.

In Jacksonville, Scott addressed the near-term future of the port and when money might be dispersed for the project.

“Let’s just think about JAXPORT for a minute. When I came into this job, we’d hardly invested anything into our ports. We’ve invested $1.2 billion into ports, and JAXPORT has gotten some of that. We had to fix Mile Point first,” Scott said.

“I’m committed to make sure we get the dredge done. Here’s the difference,” Scott said, “we have the money to do it.”

“When I came in, we didn’t have it,” Scott said — but job creation has helped.

“250,000 trade jobs in the state since I got elected. How did we do it? We have a good economy, so we’ve got the revenues now. And a budget where we can invest these dollars.”

“I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that we have the state funding. I’ve already been talking to the federal government — the Trump administration about the federal funding. So as long as we have the local funding, which I think Lenny Curry is very supportive of that, I think we’re going to get a lot of good things done at JAXPORT,” Scott said.

“It’s a lot of jobs,” Scott said, telling a story about how he’d met a woman recently at an event who thanked him for helping her husband have a “great paying job at JAXPORT.”

“I was out there the week after that, but he was way up there in the crane, and I had no interest in going that high,” the governor quipped.

The JAXPORT  board this month approved the purchase of 53 acres of land needed for that project.

Rick Scott harangues Duval Delegation, pushes incentives in Jacksonville

When Gov. Rick Scott comes to your town to hold a “Fighting for Florida’s Jobs” round table, that means your GOP State Representatives crossed him on an incentive vote.

Scott started off March in Rep. Travis Cummings‘ district, where he repeatedly jabbed at Cummings and Rep. Paul Renner for opposing Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.

Cummings was just one of many Republican votes against the Scott agenda, however. In Duval County, a few Republicans voted against Enterprise Florida on the House floor.

Reps. Cord ByrdClay Yarborough, and Jason Fischer all voted against incentives, as did Democrats Tracie Davis and Kim Daniels.

They knew they faced a no-win choice. As someone familiar with the thinking of one of the legislators but it, the choice was between Scott’s veto pen and the Speaker’s opprobrium.

They got the speaker’s approval. But in Jacksonville, they got the governor’s opprobrium, with locals on hand as well, including Jacksonville City Councilors, FSCJ President Cindy Bioteau, Jacksonville OED head Kirk Wendland, former State Rep. Lake Ray (head of the First Coast Manufacturers Association) and Karen Bowling, Scott’s former business partner who was CAO for former Mayor Alvin Brown.

Also on hand: people from Nassau and St. Johns County, likewise ringing the alarm for incentives.

Companies like MacQuarie, GE Oil and Gas, and Johnson and Johnson Vision Care all came to Jacksonville because of state incentives. However, the five members of the Florida House who voted against Enterprise Florida were not in office then.

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Scott, battling a cold, discussed the long-term success of Enterprise Florida, including the guarantee of 5X ROI on the state investment.

“We’ve done over 900 projects around the state,” Scott said, “and we don’t put the money out unless the jobs are created.

“There are no expendable jobs,” Scott said, discussing the impact of Enterprise Florida on ports and global trade.

Scott discussed tourism, of course, in the context of Visit Florida.

“In our state, one out of six jobs comes from tourism,” Scott noted. “For every dollar we spend, we get three dollars back on taxes … if we lost all our tourists, taxes would go up $1,500” per household.

“Here’s what’s frustrating to me: we have politicians in Florida turning their backs on jobs,” Scott said, including locally.

“We’ve added 1.3 million jobs in the last six years. Enterprise Florida: it’s transparent. You get a great return on investment. Visit Florida: one in every six jobs in the state comes down to tourism.”

“You’ve got House members in this part of the state that said they want to completely shut down Enterprise Florida. Jason Fischer, Clay Yarborough, Kimberly Daniels, Cord Byrd, Tracie Davis — they want to shut down Enterprise Florida after all that success. And all those members — except Tracie Davis — want to change Visit Florida so it doesn’t work, tie its hands,” Scott said.

“I want to thank Jay Fant: he was passionate, understands the importance of a job, understands the importance of Enterprise Florida. Jay completely supports job creation and I want to thank him for that,” Scott said.

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Scott described the current House position re: Visit Florida as “making it more difficult to operate.”

“When people ran for office,” Scott said, “did you see any ads saying they wanted to get rid of Enterprise Florida?”

“We had one House member vote the right way, and that’s Jay Fant,” Scott said.

“I’ve never met a person who got out of high school and said ‘I’m interested in unemployment. Food stamps are for me’,” Scott said.

Scott also called out Rep. Paul Renner during a part of the discussion related to St. Johns County.

“He’s the leader,” Scott said, of the resistance to incentives.

And a Flagler County leader noted the importance of incentives in her county, saying that for smaller counties, incentives can make the difference.

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Locals, such as Jacksonville councilor Jim Love, noted that “we’re going to go right to the bottom of the list of the site finders” if Enterprise Florida is scuttled.

“Jobs aren’t going to grow themselves. We’re going to have to go out and get them,” Love said.

Councilor Aaron Bowman, who also is Senior VP of JAXUSA, noted that 2,500 Amazon.com jobs wouldn’t have come to Jacksonville without incentives.

“This is crazy that we’re going to let all this slip away,” Bowman said.

And consultants are telling Bowman “when it’s over, call us.”

Councilor Danny Becton, whose district houses Johnson and Johnson, noted that “it was close” between Jacksonville and Ireland — and incentives make the difference.

Johnson and Johnson is looking to expand, Becton said. But without incentives, that very well may not happen.

“What I can hear them saying is that … this would definitely set it back in terms of when we go against Ireland again,” Becton said.

Becton’s district has seen Deutsche Bank and City Refrigeration move in, among others, and he adds that every deal has measures to “make sure we’re getting the bang for our buck.”

Benefits of incentives go beyond Duval. In Nassau County, the Lignotech deal — trumpeted months back as a source of high-wage skilled jobs — may be an anomaly, if incentive money dries up.

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Scott noted that the end of the Quick Action Closing Fund last year has caused a regular stream of job creation to dry up since July.

“Corporate offices — they don’t have to be here. If we don’t have the money to compete, we’re not going to get them.”

The case for Florida, Scott said, is made in “telling our story.”

In that context, incentive programs offer the megaphone.

The social gospel of Andrew Gillum

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum continues to make good on his promise to campaign in and compete for all 67 Florida counties during his campaign for governor.

Following up a well-received speech in Tampa, where he cautioned against a “Democrat lite” approach, Gillum hit Jacksonville on Sunday.

Jacksonville’s major challenge for Democrats: bridging the divide between various intraparty groups, including younger people inspired by Bernie Sanders and the older establishment types who reflexively backed Hillary Clinton a year ago in the presidential primary.

Finding a way to excite Democrats down-ballot locally has been tough for statewide candidates of late, despite a Democratic edge in party registration.

With that trend in mind, Gillum is smart to get going early.

Putting in the work in Jacksonville, including engaging young grassroots supporters, is key. And in Jacksonville, he found himself evangelizing for a brand of social justice absent from local politics and politicians.

It is a message activists have yearned to hear for a while now. And in Gillum, they have a ready exponent.

But the trouble comes in getting people to hear it. During a day in Jacksonville, Gillum made three stops and worked a national TV hit in. But he didn’t draw much local media interest.

For them, 2018 is remote. However, for Gillum – who regularly talks about his “18-month strategy,” – the time to launch and to get attention is now.

With that in mind, Gillum made many stops: the first at a popular Jacksonville church.

“I don’t know if we’re in a bad reality show or another season of 24,” Rudolph McKissick, Jr., the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church said about this “strange political season,” by way of introducing Gillum at the 7:45 a.m. service.

The pastor referenced VP Mike Pence and Gov. Rick Scott being in town Saturday, saying “the only thing that changes anything is a vote … seems like anytime we have the chance to shift things in the right direction, we don’t vote.”

“Anything I can do to get him elected the next governor of Florida, I will do,” the pastor said, noting Gillum’s family ties locally.

After a spot on MSNBC, Gillum’s next public stop was at the New Town Urban Farm near Edward Waters College.

The Urban Farm took an unused plot of land and turned it into a community garden – a real need in a food desert.

The land, founder Diallo-Sekou told us, was a vacant lot that had rubble in it previously.

The neighborhood is still transitional: an interesting backdrop to the speech was a pickup truck blaring Barry White as it trolled the block, with a sign on the side soliciting donations of clothes for military veterans.

But the Urban Farm is an oasis in the middle of an area always on the news for the wrong reasons, and it was an appropriate venue for Gillum talking about subjects at the heart of his appeal: finding ways to ensure that people have the leg up they need so they don’t end up a statistic.

“There’s a budget director in Washington, D.C. who said that there is no evidence that after school food assistance programs did anything to change the outcomes for kids,” Gillum said.

“That’s what I want as an educator: a hungry kid – attempting to get them to learn a lesson, understand, comprehend … if I’m that kid, and all of us have been there, if your stomach is growling, you can’t think of anything but the sound,” Gillum said.

His thirty-minute Q&A wasn’t one with applause lines or rah-rah moments: it was Obamaesque in its relating policy to real life for those in this state trapped by poverty and its myriad incapacitations and indignities.

Gillum spoke of a farm in his own youth, on his grandparents’ property in South Dade, where collards, squash, tomatoes, and fruit grew in a residential area.

“We lived off the land. Literally. In a place as urban as this, Miami-Dade, Florida. Here, you’ve got land and opportunity,” Gillum said, to do the same thing.

In much of Jacksonville, the physical hunger is palpable. But so too is the hunger for civil rights. Gillum addressed an issue close to his heart: the re-enfranchisement of the state’s 1.5 million who have lost their rights to vote.

“They paid their debt to society. Yet they come back into communities, and they still lack the ability to participate fully in our democracy. The majority of these individuals have committed crimes that are nonviolent – largely, drug-related crimes,” Gillum said.

“We cannot be tried twice for the same crime,” Gillum says. “Yet it seems you can be punished forever for having made a mistake.”

In addition to the vote, re-entry, such as through Ban the Box, is a Gillum priority.

And it’s personal.

“I’ve got brothers who have lost their rights. They’ve committed wrongs, and they have to pay the penalty for that. When they got back out and started trying to reintegrate into society, it was very difficult for them to find a job,” Gillum said.

“I’ve got some real entrepreneurial brothers. But actually, it’s survival. If they had a choice, they’d probably be working somewhere with somebody making a decent, honorable wage to take care of themselves and their families. But because door after door after door got shut to them, they had to create a way for themselves,” Gillum said.

“And that meant, for my brother Chuck who lives here in town, opening up a carwash. And going around with his mobile detailing unit and power-washing businesses and cars and sidewalks, and hiring other former felons,” Gillum said, emotion driving his voice.

Then he dialed it back.

“I think it’s a no-brainer … felon re-enfranchisement … to democratize those brothers and sisters,” Gillum said.

Leaving the Urban Farm behind, Gillum’s next stop was a fundraiser/meet-and-greet at a downtown art gallery 3 miles away.

A different venue and largely a different crowd.

Gillum smiled and posed for selfies, looking relaxed, as people like Sen. Tony Hill and other local political types mixed and mingled.

There was no charity truck blasting slow jams inside the gallery space. However, wine was available.

The key to Gillum’s viability is going to be bridging environments like the Urban Farm with the fundraising circuit, succeeding in both spheres – especially while he’s the most prominent Democrat in the race.

And, before it’s too late, ensuring that local market media in the state is paying attention to his message.

Rick Scott comes to Jacksonville Monday with message for Duval Delegation

The best political theater in this state so far this year: arguably, Gov. Rick Scott‘s “Fighting for Florida Jobs” roundtables.

Jacksonville gets its version of the roadshow Monday morning at Harbinger Signs in Mandarin.

Scott started off March in Rep. Travis Cummings‘ district, where he repeatedly jabbed at Cummings and Rep. Paul Renner for opposing Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.

Cummings was just one of many Republican votes against the Scott agenda, however. In Duval County, a few Republicans voted against Enterprise Florida on the House floor.

Reps. Cord ByrdClay Yarborough, and Jason Fischer all voted against incentives.

They knew they faced a no-win choice. As someone familiar with the thinking of one of the legislators but it, the choice was between Scott’s veto pen and the Speaker’s opprobrium.

The one Jacksonville Republican supporting Enterprise Florida, Jay Fant, filed no appropriations bills this session. And there are strong indications he may not even want to return to the Florida House in 2018.

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Scott typically counts on Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry to be by his side at Jacksonville events, such as the job creation events in the past.

Curry won’t be there in this instance; he is on a spring break trip with his family.

Scott and Curry were together at VP Mike Pence‘s business roundtable and rally Saturday in Jacksonville, where both sang from the same hymn book about the Obamacare “death spiral.”

Though it clearly didn’t move the Duval Delegation, Curry issued an extended endorsement of Enterprise Florida a few weeks back.

“Without the state funding,” Curry said, “we would have had trouble closing some of the big deals that we closed.”

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Curry is far from alone in Jacksonville’s city hall when it comes to enthusiasm for incentives.

Jacksonville OED head Kirk Wendland explained it this way: “Just the discussion of Enterprise Florida not being there, and not having a state economic development agency, has absolutely affected the deal flow that we have seen over the past couple of months.”

Local leaders note that Jacksonville especially needs incentives, with cross-border competition and not having the unique value adds of Tampa, Miami, and Orlando.

Gov. Scott is making a strategic move: a stand in Jacksonville, an attempt to rally support in a place that relies on these programs, the rare big city with a GOP mayor — and one who is a political ally of longstanding.

It will be interesting to see if this helps more than the one in Clay County did.

Jacksonville swing for Andrew Gillum on Sunday

Despite an inauspicious launch to his gubernatorial campaign, one which included revelations that city money was used to buy campaign software, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is undeterred from his campaign for the 2018 Democratic nomination.

Gillum will make two advertised stops in Jacksonville, with the first being morning services at Bethel Baptist Church at 7:45 a.m.

Bethel is a traditional stopover for Democratic candidates, and this appearance will be pivotal as Gillum introduces himself to Jacksonville’s large faith community.

Sunday afternoon finds Gillum remaining in Jacksonville, for what organizers are calling one of “his first round of fundraisers in the First Coast.”

The event will be held March 19 at The Space Gallery (120 E. Forsyth Street), starting at 3 p.m.

Suggested donation levels are as modest as $50, though attendees are urged to splurge, donating up to $3,000 if so moved.

Gillum’s last public appearance in Jacksonville was roughly a month ago, during what can be called the pre-candidacy phase of his effort.

At that appearance, Gillum previewed a strategy: an “18 month view of engagement,” one that would be central to his strategy of going beyond supervoters to reach less frequent voters who lean Democratic.

Gillum described Democratic values being “under attack” in Florida for a long time, framing the 2018 election as a “real pivotal moment not only in the country but in the state.”

“My hope,” Gillum said, “is that after 20 years of turning the state over to the Republican Party,” that Democrats have a “fighting chance.”

To that end, engaging “black and brown” voters was key, Gillum said.

Gillum, during a conversation after his remarks, noted his belief that the race for governor won’t come down to who has the biggest regional base of voters, but “what the candidate is saying” and “energy.”

Energy is key. But so are contributions.

On Sunday, local Gillum partisans will have a chance to determine, with their pocketbooks, how much that energy is worth to them.

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Nikolai Vitti is a finalist to become Detroit’s school superintendent

Could Duval County’s loss be Motown’s gain?

In what U2 might call “a sort of homecoming,” The Detroit Free Press reported Friday that Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is a finalist to become the next the Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent

Vitti, a Detroit native, was selected as one of three finalists during a Thursday meeting of the Board of Education.

The rollout of the names was delayed to give candidates time to notify current employers..

“What happens next is unclear. A first round of interviews originally was scheduled for Monday, and a second round on March 29, if needed. But those dates are up in the air now,” the Detroit report states.

There may be interviews with board members, and public forums … all of which would take Vitti’s time away from his current position, which has its own myriad challenges.

Vitti’s job security was an issue in Jacksonville last year, with a public dust-up between the then-current school board chair and the superintendent.

The business community rallied behind Vitti, and the points of conflict then mysteriously abated.

At least one of Vitti’s allies on the board supports the potential move.

Scott Shine noted that “Dr. Vitti is from Detroit and still has family and many friends in that community. We talked at length about his decision and I know the idea of returning to his home city is a significant factor in his interest in Detroit Schools.”

“I will support him and recommend him in seeking the Superintendent position in Detroit, if that is the direction he wants to take,” Shine added.

 

Rick Scott to Feds: Give us a Medicaid block grant

Florida Gov. Rick Scott appears in Jacksonville with Vice-President Mike Pence Saturday, and the governor set up that meeting with some direct words about the future of Medicaid in the state.

“Today, the State of Florida is requesting greater flexibility from the federal government in running our statewide Medicaid program so we can deliver high-quality care without layers of government bureaucracy,” Scott said.

“My goal is to turn the top-down, Washington-knows-best approach of the Obama administration on its head by requesting flexibilities from the Trump Administration to manage our own Medicaid program based on the needs of Florida families. It is important to me that we have these flexibilities while not removing anyone from our current Medicaid program,” the governor added.

Scott, to the consternation of former President Barack Obama, resisted Medicaid expansion, contending that the state could handle administering low-income health care better than the federal government.

On Friday, Scott reiterated that stance.

“I firmly believe states can administer Medicaid far more efficiently than the federal government and that health care decisions made at the state level will be more successful than decisions made in Washington,” Scott said, vowing “to fight to get rid of the burdensome, duplicative and costly federal requirements put in place by the Obama administration.”

“Unfortunately, the previous administration was determined to micromanage every aspect of our health care system from Washington, which led to the high costs and limitations of services we currently see across the nation. Their excessive strong-arming put politics before the needs of families in our state,” Scott said.

The governor’s requests include a block grant of federal funds to replace supplemental payment programs, “flexibility regarding retroactive eligibility,” assistance with strengthening ties between primary care providers and Medicaid enrollees, streamlining the process to eliminate duplicative bureaucracy and administrative burdens.

The news release from the governor’s office was intended to amplify a letter from ACHA Secretary Justin Senior letter to HHS Secretary Tom Price that went out Friday.

Senior reiterated Scott’s optimism that Florida can provide “the best Medicaid services without removing anyone from our current program.

Lenny Curry blasts ‘egregious decisions’ of Jax PFPF Board Chair

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry didn’t make it to Friday’s meeting of the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund.

But he dropped a bomb in the aftermath of the contentious conclave.

Curry started off genially: “I’d like to thank four of the five board members who met with our team leading up to today’s meeting and working with us to solve this pension crisis.”

Then, the mayor took the gloves off.

“It’s no surprise that one of the five – the board chairman Richard Tuten – a crony left over from the Keane era – continues to conduct himself with little regard for taxpayers. In fact, Chairman Tuten has been a PFPF board member since 2003 . During these times, he was a part of some of the most egregious decisions in the history of the board which involved outrageous payouts of taxpayer dollars,” Curry noted.

We’ve reached out to the mayor’s office for more detail on these “egregious decisions” and the resultant “outrageous payouts of taxpayer dollars.”

The PFPF Board meeting was interesting, in that Board Chair Tuten was singularly vexed and disputative, being charged with a “diatribe” from a board colleague.

“I think the mayor’s deal is terrible,” Tuten said, raising questions repeatedly over the lack of specific detail in the proposal, which would remove provisions of a 2015 pension deal that Tuten voted against at the time.

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Discussion got more heated during the discussion of the need for an actuarial study, with Tuten comparing General Counsel Jason Gabriel’s words to a pitch from a “used car salesman.”

“It takes time. We need to get something from the state saying we aren’t wasting our time,” Tuten said, regarding guidance from the state on the city’s optimistic rate of anticipated payroll growth — which, at 1.5 percent, is more than twice the real rate over the last decade.

Tuten also had issue with Gabriel deciding the board didn’t have a vote on the deal … a position arrived at this week by the OGC, which is locked in an extended tango of power struggle with the PFPF.

“It seems all of a sudden you don’t need the board approval … There’s a whole host of theories as to why you came out with this opinion when you did … days before we meet,” Tuten said.

Tuten wondered how an agreement between the city and the unions could loop out the PFPF from a “former contract of the past.”

“This is of some sort of urgency,” Tuten said, “you met with the four trustees then pop up and say ‘hey, we don’t need you anymore’.”

“Nobody knows what he’s proposing. It’s all hush-hush, hurry-hurry … a cynic mght say the mayor’s trying to avoid bad press and controversy,” Tuten thundered, wondering if the mayor thought the vote would go bad for the deal.

Tuten and Gabriel engaged in spirited cross talk as to whether the general counsel was the lawyer for the plan or not, with Tuten saying the plans were taken from the city oversight by the state, and that there was a potential of “conflict of interest.”

“Who hired you? Who fired you? The mayor is the one who tells you what to do,” Tuten said, “not us.”

Tuten, as the morning progressed, found no backup from board members in his arguments — indeed, at least one colleague was being lauded for his even keel by a member of the Office of General Counsel after the meeting.

“For the record, I think the mayor’s plan is terrible,” Tuten said, regarding “putting off a problem now for a problem 20 or 30 years from now.”

“I don’t see them deviating from the plan,” Tuten added, asking “are we going to have to sue them to stop?”

The board would need the state Attorney General’s approval to sue, and that isn’t likely.

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We’ve reached out to Curry’s office for specific examples of the aforementioned “egregious decisions.”

Though it’s late on Friday, history reminds us that when Curry is vexed by an adversary, he often puts in overtime to make his point.

Check back for updates.

Jax PFPF Board Chair: ‘I think the mayor’s plan is terrible’

The slow walk by the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund toward policy marginalization continued apace Friday, as the five-person board of trustees offered “review and discussion” of the city’s latest pension proposal.

The General Counsel contended earlier this week that the PFPF had no role in the pension decision, arguing that the 2015 pension deal removed the pension fund out of a decision making capacity.

The unions decide, according to the OGC, and they ratified the deal … one which the Lenny Curry administration says is essential to unlocking the guaranteed revenue of a future half-cent sales tax, and finally resolving the current $2.7B unfunded pension liability.

The proposed pension deal loomed over the entire meeting. And discussion went beyond whether or not the board could vote on the deal, as the board’s fiduciary duty to the plan requires board input regardless of the need for a vote.

Long story short: the lack of a need for a vote doesn’t eliminate the PFPF board role in the pension reform process.

And the review process looks likely to sprawl into at least April, including a need for a financial analysis, an impact statement, and input from Tallahassee.

Meanwhile, General Counsel Jason Gabriel explained why he decided the board didn’t need to vote after all.

And, by the end of the meeting, board members raised their voices at each other, with the pension board chair being upbraided for a “diatribe” about Gabriel.

All in a day’s work in #jaxpol.

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The pension deal offers raises and uniform benefits for current public safety employees, and a defined contribution plan for new hires. Questions abound about the actuarial projections for the plan, including repurposing the PFPF reserve account for a share plan, and while the Jacksonville City Council will have a vote — and it will be contingent on that projection making sense for the city — those questions were to have no answers on Friday.

That said, something was provided to at least some council members, via a shade meeting this week.

Trustees came into the meeting with questions about the specific proposal, and the general counsel’s position that no board vote was needed.

Bill Scheu, one of four trustees who met with the city, noted that no specific numbers were provided in those meetings.

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 As the meeting progressed, questions were raised about the mayor’s proposed plan even before Gabriel’s portion of the program.

Treasurer Joey Greive noted the city’s projection of 3.75 to 4.25 percent annualized sales tax growth (optimistic in light of past performance), urging that the PFPF actuary review projections be done before the end of March for the benefit of council review.

“That’s going to be tight for us,” the actuary said.

The projection of 1.1 percent payroll growth from the city also got brought up. The PFPF growth rate projection was far more conservative: 0.67 percent a year.

“Now the city’s expecting us to sign off on something that hasn’t been approved anywhere,” Tuten said, calling it a “cart before the horse situation.”

As discussion progressed, there was a movement to refer the specifics to the Financial Investment Advisory Committee, which could provide advice in the coming weeks.

“The city needs this in two weeks, let’s give it a shot, but the FIAC should look at it,” actuary Pete Strong said.

General Counsel Jason Gabriel suggested that there would be a 5-6 week legislative cycle, with a “milestone” public hearing in this process after the board reviews the plan, at which point the board can provide an “impact statement” that can guide the council’s thinking, and can also offer guidance to the state of Florida.

The board’s next regular meeting: April 21, which Trustee Scheu framed as an “absolute sort of deadline.”

Tuten noted that “we haven’t even got a green light from the state Division of Retirement Services yet,” which could reset all hastily-rendered calculations.

Scheu noted that “we aren’t being asked to adopt anything,” but to provide actuarial assumptions, including an experience study, for meaningful policy guidance.

Discussion got more heated during the discussion of the need for an actuarial study, with Tuten comparing Gabriel’s urging to push through to a pitch from a “used car salesman.”

“It takes time. We need to get something from the state saying we aren’t wasting our time,” Tuten said.

The board motioned for an actuarial report and to authorize cooperation between lawyers and actuaries.

“It’s going to take us beyond the 31st,” the PFPF actuary said, especially when factoring in a range of hypothetical assumptions.

The board can expect an actuarial impact statement as the next step in the process.

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The board expected in February to have a more extended process, and after a hard break, Executive Director Tim Johnson noted that.

“Jason and his staff have more deeply analyzed these questions … and determined there isn’t an action this board has to take,” Johnson said.

Johnson compelled Gabriel to explain the change in status from February to March regarding the board “role as it applies to accept these agreements” and what happens regarding the surtax as a source of revenue.

Tuten echoed Johnson, noting that “it seems all of a sudden you don’t need the board approval.”

“There’s a whole host of theories as to why you cam out with this opinion when you did … days before we meet,” Tuten said.

Gabriel reiterated his position from a letter this week: that the 2015 pension agreement was intended to remedy “inappropriate” intertwining of the board with pension negotiations.

The relationship was marked by litigation and power struggle since 1990, Gabriel noted.

“2015 culminated with an agreement … right at the end of the Brown administration … a very strong foot forward, putting the parties of the consolidated government back into the traditional and legal roles set forth by law,” Gabriel noted.

That agreement precluded the PFPF involvement in collective bargaining or benefit determination, Gabriel said, a position consistent with Florida law and necessary according to the terms of the pension tax referendum.

“What changed between a month ago and perhaps now? The city and the unions entered into good-faith collective bargaining,” Gabriel said, which had been precluded for decades because of the fund’s outsized role in pension negotiations previous to 2015.

Reserve accounts came into the discussion during the bargaining process, and “there was an agreement regarding the reserve accounts.”

“The board has several roles to play,” Gabriel said, but “action needed to effectuate these bargaining agreements” isn’t one of them.

“A pension board does not intertwine with the constitutionally protected rights of the union and the city to agree on benefits,” Gabriel said.

The Mar. 15 deadline was set by the city in that context, that the board had no “approval” it needed to offer.

“I immediately caucused with my attorneys,” Gabriel said, regarding the disposition of chapter funds and other governance-related concepts, and the analysis revealed that “every dollar in reserve accounts is tied to pension benefits.”

“The action of the board,” said Gabriel, “is inclusive of the actuarial plan reporting … not the collective bargaining agreements.”

As well, the board is expected to offer review and analysis of the implementing ordinance once offered to the city council, Gabriel noted.

Regarding the accelerated payments from the city required as part of the 2015 pension deal, Gabriel noted the potential of a “retreatment of the dollars” and a “change of the disbursement” was in the deal.

“Whether it’s good or bad policy is another debate,” Gabriel said.

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Tuten wondered how an agreement between the city and the unions could loop out the PFPF from a “former contract of the past.”

“This is of some sort of urgency,” Tuten said, “you met with the four trustees then pop up and say ‘hey, we don’t need you anymore’.”

“Nobody knows what he’s proposing. It’s all hush-hush, hurry-hurry … a cynic mght say the mayor’s trying to avoid bad press and controversy,” Tuten thundered, wondering if the mayor thought the vote would go bad for the deal.

Tuten and Gabriel engaged in spirited cross talk as to whether the general counsel was the lawyer for the plan or not, with Tuten saying the plans were taken from the city oversight by the state, and that there was a potential of “conflict of interest.”

“Who hired you? Who fired you? The mayor is the one who tells you what to do,” Tuten said, “not us.”

Tuten wanted input from fund attorney Bob Sugarman.

“This decision is the first one in fourteen years that if we screw it up, we’re held liable,” Tuten said, “frustrated” by the Gabriel presentation that “doesn’t add up.”

Scheu then reminded Tuten that Gabriel was the “legal officer for the whole city — like it or not” and the general counsel gets to decide relative to conflicts in city government, as per the charter.

“The office of General Counsel is the lawyer for the fund,” Scheu said.

Sugarman backed Gabriel up to a point.

“You have no right to vote on the collective bargaining agreement,” Sugarman said, unless the union had offered that approval as a precondition.

“Our work is seeing what your rights and obligations are … on these other things,” Sugarman said, including the board’s rights under the 2015 agreement and the consent decree.

“You’ve got a contract. You’ve got a consent decree. You can’t just throw them under the table and pretend they don’t exist anymore,” Sugarman said.

“Everything that’s happened,” Gabriel added, “fits into the 2015 agreement.”

Worries among the trustees remain about liquidity risk, potential fiduciary liability, and other major issues, but they are going to be worked out — in fact, they’ll have to be.

“For the record, I think the mayor’s plan is terrible,” Tuten said, regarding “putting off a problem now for a problem 20 or 30 years from now.”

“I don’t see them deviating from the plan,” Tuten added, asking “are we going to have to sue them to stop?”

The board would need the state Attorney General’s approval to sue, and that isn’t likely.

The board will hire a financial consultant for guidance in the meantime … a move not precluded by charter.

“We’re just spinning our wheels here,” Tuten opined, before presenting a series of nightmare scenarios about the city not having the revenue to fund pensions for the people on the current plan, and raising questions about not being able to send an accurate bill to the city.

One suggestion emerged to the council: not cutting out the extra supplemental payments to the pension fund, as mandated by the 2015 deal.

Fraud, waste, and abuse: the Jacksonville Inspector General’s look at 2016

Presented at the Mar. 14 meeting of the Jacksonville City Council, the Jacksonville Inspector General’s Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2016   offers a look into “fraud, waste, and abuse” in city government.

Among the details in the 34-page document: “time and attendance fraud, overtime fraud, misrepresentation of educational credentials, failure to meet promotional qualifications for positions held, and secondary employment,” read an email from the IG’s office to various stakeholders in city government.

Among the accomplishments cited by interim IG Steve Rohan: a potential understatement of the city’s capital assets to the tune of $276M), $690,000 secreted away in purchase order and contract accounts that could be reappropriated (of $3.3M identified by the office), and $6,089 in court-ordered restitution relating to employee misconduct.

Rohan’s report described an office scaled back from the ambitious, yet unrealized, vision of his immediate predecessor, “to a new vision of targeted growth based upon demonstrable needs and results.”

“This was deemed to be more consistent with historical notions of Consolidated Government fiscal restraint. For that reason, only one new investigator position and a part-time executive assistant position were pursued and secured in the FY 2017 budget process,” Rohan wrote.

The office budget increased year over year, from $811,000 to $931,000, as a result of those adds.

The office received 83 complaints in FY 2016, with Public Works, Neighborhoods, and JEA generating over a third of them.

In FY 15 and 16, 183 complaints in total were received. Half of them have been closed.

The office cited a number of successful investigations to illustrate its work.

A city employee “had engaged in official misconduct relating to misuse of a City-owned vehicle, and  .. unloaded unknown materials from the City-owned vehicle.”

He also got paid $1,767 in unauthorized overtime, revealing that Traffic Engineering was failing in oversight as to logged overtime for graveyard shift employees.

Similar false reportage of time was made by a Solid Waste division employee, who got $3,751 he didn’t earn.

Misrepresentation of educational credentials was another issue that rocked the hallowed halls of the St. James Building in FY 2016, with multiple instances.

Breaches in confidentiality also were concerns of, and rectified by, the OIG.

One issue:  “ongoing mass email distribution of annual benefit enrollment letters that would have contributed to a citywide breach of confidentiality of JSO employees,” via disclosing their addresses.

Another issue: Employee Services receiving protected information from employment candidates via return email, rather than a more secure medium.

Expect interesting audits in the coming months: including of Sports and Entertainment, the Solid Waste division, and, perhaps most tantalizingly, Procurement Cards.

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