A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 400

A.G. Gancarski

Al Lawson calls for federal food assistance post-Irma

Rep. Al Lawson‘s Congressional District 5 sprawls from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, and a common thread in much of his district is food scarcity.

If Hurricane Irma makes landfall as expected, food scarcity issues could be a reality for many Floridians; Lawson, a member of the House Agricultural Committee, asserted Friday that Florida should “petition the U.S. Department of Agriculture for additional support.”

“Like Texas’ requests for disaster food assistance during Harvey, the state of Florida is in an excellent position to ensure Floridians have adequate nourishment in what could be difficult times. If Irma makes landfall,Florida can make several requests of the USDA that lighten the load for Floridians,” Lawson wrote in the Tallahassee Democrat.

Among Lawson’s recommendations: allowing for purchase of hot meals via food stamps when other options aren’t available; “an evacuee policy that allows affected residents to receive Food Stamps if they have evacuated to another state, and were not eligible prior”; boosting supplies for food banks; using FEMA to deliver commodities to shelters and people who need them; food help for low-income mothers with young children; and food stamp benefits for food replacement.

“If Irma is anything like Harvey in terms of damage,” Lawson writes, “I look forward to working with local, state, and federal officials to guarantee that food assistance is a vital part of Florida’s recovery efforts.”

Lawson has called attention to food deserts multiple times since becoming a Congressman; what he anticipates here is a crisis of an even more epic dimension.

Jeb Bush: Donald Trump has ‘done well’ ahead of Irma

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, appearing on MSNBC Friday afternoon, had some praise for President Donald Trump‘s handling of hurricane preparation.

Bush, who saw eight storms during one two-year period in his tenure, noted that Irma is “bigger and meaner” than anything he dealt with before.

On Friday, he expressed confidence in the Trump Administration’s handling of the twin-bill of Harvey and now Irma, lauding an “understanding in Washington,” noting that “support from FEMA will likely be there” for Florida after Irma.

“They’ve done well. The President has had the right balance,” Bush said, “going [to Texas] without creating distractions from recovery efforts. FEMA has done its job.”

Bush was less laudatory about the disaster relief/debt ceiling hike bill that Trump pushed through with the help of congressional Democratic leadership.

While Bush is “thankful for FEMA funding,” his gratitude does not extend to a real faith in Trump’s philosophical consistency.

“I’m not surprised about anything the President does or says,” Bush said.

Bush noted that America is in a “fiscal crisis,” with $20 Trillion in debt, and $60 Trillion in “contingent debt.”

Trump is “going to have to rely on conservatives and Republicans to carry out the agenda,” Bush said, though how much buy-in Trump has with conservatives at this point is an open question.

Bush’s unease over the bill mirrors that of Sen. Marco Rubio, who messaged heavily Thursday about the “politically cynical” bill that allowed for $15.25B in Harvey relief funds in exchange for another debt ceiling hike.

As Irma looms, Jacksonville preps for Cat 1 wind, ‘unprecedented flooding’

Friday morning saw Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry hold another of what will be an expanding series of Emergency Operations Center press briefings.

Announcements on Friday included mandatory evacuation of the beaches, trailer parks, and low-lying areas that comprise the city’s Evacuation Zones A and B (which contain 250,000 people) … following up a voluntary evacuation order earlier in the week.

Beyond that, the city has been in preparation mode: pre-positioning assets ranging from utility vehicles to generators and food and water for those who may need them in the storm’s wake.

Mayor Curry, in his morning briefing, noted the potential for “unprecedented flooding” from the storm, which could bring 10 to 15 inches of rain to the coast, with less rain inland.

“This is not a Matthew storm,” said a metereologist on hand from the National Weather Service.

As of Friday morning, Irma is expected to bring sustained winds of 60-70 MPH to Jacksonville, with 80 MPH gusts possible at the coast and on the river.

Those winds are a concern for city policymakers, especially regarding manufactured homes; to that end, Curry went through a neighborhood in Arlington Friday morning warning people in such structures to seek shelter space.

Accompanied by District Councilwoman Joyce Morgan, Curry shook hands with residents.

“We care for you,” Curry told one resident. “When we walk out of here, we’re going to hold hands and say a prayer for you.”

Mayor Curry may have another neighborhood awareness event Friday afternoon, but conditions are expected to deteriorate Saturday, as storm planning moves into another phase.

“By 8PM tomorrow night,” Curry said Friday, residents should be “in a secure place.”

That planning will include widespread electrical issues. Curry said that everyone should plan for power outages, given expected tropical storm force winds starting during daylight hours on Sunday.

Jax general counsel wants forensic accounting of Councilwoman’s business

The city of Jacksonville has been frustrated in attempts to clawback almost $640,000 from the city of Jacksonville in grants and loans from the businesses of a Jacksonville City Councilwoman’s family business.

Earlier this summer, the city won a default judgement against CoWealth LLC for $222,000, related to failure to create any of the 56 jobs required, via a 2011 economic development agreement to help Councilwoman Katrina Brown and her parents start a BBQ sauce plant that was intended to be an economic development engine in Northwest Jacksonville.

However, the company is insolvent. And the city wants to know what happened to the money.

With that in mind, the city’s general counsel this week requested a trove of forensic accounting documents from CoWealth and another Brown shell company (“Basic Products, LLC”), to determine where the city’s money went. (Notable: the city has secondary position, as a $2.6M Small Business Administration loan is primary).

The city wants copies of the Councilwoman’s company’s income statements. bank account books going back three years, a year’s worth of credit card statements and cancelled checks, as well as a year’s worth of property titles and bills of sale.

But wait, there’s more.

Motor vehicle titles, such as that of the Councilwoman’s Porsche SUV, are desired. As are meeting minutes and resolutions of CoWealth members.

We caught up with Councilwoman Brown Thursday at City Hall; she said that she had no comment on the legal action, as she was focused on the hurricane.

Brown’s colleagues like her personally, so we’ve found it to be pretty useless to ask Council members questions about the attempted clawback provisions on the failed business interests of a member of the legislative body’s Finance Committee.

Marco Rubio maligns ‘politically cynical’ disaster relief bill

The GOP controlled United States Senate passed a $15.25 relief bill for Hurricane Harvey relief on Thursday, lifting the debt ceiling in the process.

Sen. Marco Rubio, who missed the vote as he is preparing for Hurricane Irma, takes issue with the “politically cynical” package, essentially the product of a deal between President Donald Trump and Congressional Democrats.

“I consider the manner in which this measure was structured, linking emergency disaster relief for victims in need of immediate assistance with other controversial measures we still have time to debate through regular order, to be among the most politically cynical efforts I have ever witnessed,” Rubio said Thursday, adding that he would have voted for the bill “despite significant reservations” about certain elements.

Rubio’s qualms are myriad, and he lays them at the feet of President Trump.

“I strongly disagree with the decision made by the administration to agree to pair funding for FEMA and emergency disaster relief to short-term extensions to the continuing resolution, the debt ceiling and the National Flood Insurance Program unaccompanied by significant reforms,” Rubio asserted.

Short-term continuing resolutions, Rubio said, are “an incredibly inefficient way of spending taxpayer dollars and fails to provide the certainty required for effective planning.”

“Additionally, I am frustrated Congress has once again temporarily reauthorized the outdated National Flood Insurance Program without enacting a long-term solution that provides much-needed improvements for the people of Florida and places this vital program on a sustainable path for the future,” Rubio added. 

“It is shameful these necessary and important measures are not being considered separately. Linking them to funds needed to assist our fellow Americans recovering from a devastating natural disaster is an unfortunate effort to avoid subjecting these measures to the scrutiny and debate they merit,” Rubio continued.

Despite these philosophical qualms, Rubio would have voted for the bill.

“Today, I was informed by Administrator Long that FEMA has less than two days of emergency funds remaining. Given that Texas continues to recover from the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Harvey and that the state of Florida is facing the most powerful Atlantic storm ever recorded, I have no choice but to support this measure.”

JEA issues loom over Jacksonville Irma prep

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry briefed the City Council on Irma preparation — and an interesting question regarded JEA.

In 2016, JEA was criticized for power restoration that took nearly a week in some parts of the city. And in 2017, a repeat performance was a concern.

“They have mutual aid agreements. We have assured they are prepared,” Mayor Curry said, noting that Florida Power and Light is available … at least contingently.

Given Irma’s swath through South and Central Florida will precede arrival in Jacksonville, Curry noted that “there could be availability issues there.”

“There will be more conversations [with JEA] tomorrow,” Curry said.

JEA is looking to decrease outages, with aggressive vegetation management around lift stations, and state forestry workers on call, asserted JEA spokeswoman Judi Spann.

Sewage spills were also an issue in Matthew, and those should be rectified with both portable and fixed generators that were not in place in 2016.

Fuel distribution looms as major concern before Irma

As Irma looms in the Atlantic, Duval County residents remember very well Hurricane Matthew and the aftermath.

Gov. Rick Scott was on the ground locally both before and after the storm, offering meaningful material assistance to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and other Duval County Mayors.

Power outages, fuel and supply shortages, downed trees: all were impacts during Matthew … and the reasonable expectation is more of the same — if not worse — as Irma makes its way through.

With Irma days away from menacing Northeast Florida, Scott was in Jacksonville briefing the media Thursday.

And all of those issues from Matthew were addressed in the press conference, with fuel shortages at pumps proving to be a hot topic.

Scott noted that he had been talking to retailers and suppliers, including oil companies, and urged gas stations to stay open as long as possible in evacuation zones.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam earlier in the day said his department also is closely monitoring the distribution of gasoline in Southeast Florida where many stations have already run out.

“This is not a fuel shortage problem but a distribution problem,” Putnam said. “There is gas in the state; we are now working to get it distributed to areas needed.”

To that, Scott added: “We know fuel is important,” and to that end three 1.2 million gallon tankers came into Tampa today.

Usage — specifically choices made by drivers to top off their gas tanks — are creating pressures; Gov. Scott noted that at gas stations, “people are buying all the gas before the truck gets back.”

Federal waivers, including through the EPA, are allowing the state to “keep getting fuel in, to stores quickly,” Scott said.

And while gas has been coming into Port Everglades and Port of Tampa, those ports eventually will close, shifting shipments north.

 “There are parts of Jacksonville that don’t have fuel,” Mayor Curry said, calling it a “distribution issue” rather than a “supply issue.”

Augmenting the fuel issues — traffic issues, with slowdowns and logjams headed north from South Florida.

Scott and Curry noted that outside of accidents, traffic is moving — and they urged people to evacuate quickly.

Scott’s rhetorical question: “Why would you want to wait?”

___

Another talking point: power outages. Scott and Curry noted that they are inevitable.

“In a major storm,” Curry said, “you will see major power outages.”

In Jacksonville, tropical storm force winds are anticipated 8 a.m. Sunday, with hurricane force winds expected Monday morning.

Gulf Power does not expect impacts from the storm; they and other power companies will offer resources, and Scott is confident that those resources will come to pass after the storm.

Garrett Dennis wants answers on Jacksonville’s minority engineer shortage

One of the many discussions that enlivened Jacksonville City Council budget hearings in August was the city’s surfeit of minority engineers.

Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa noted that some categories — such as “African-American engineers” — are “difficult to find.”

“Most African-American engineers graduate from Northeastern universities and stay in the [Northeast],” Mousa added, explaining a shortfall in minority engineers in Jacksonville city employment.

That explanation isn’t enough for Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, who wants answers from the city’s independent authorities by Sept. 19 — the next Finance Committee meeting.

Dennis requested particulars from JEA, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, and JAXPORT regarding the following.

How many engineers have been hired in the last two years, and were they recruited from out of town?

How many engineers are employed at each agency, and the “racial/ethnic background and gender” for each?

Tenure of employment and alma mater are among the other requested criteria, but the real focus of discussion will be demographic.

For Dennis, equal opportunity issues have been central this year.

He had requested information regarding equal employment practices from Jacksonville’s Independent Authorities, the Mayor, and Constitutional Officers, ahead of the budget process this year.

That memo reminds all parties of diversity goals set forth in city ordinance: “the Equal Opportunity/  Equal Access program progress and state, as is contemplated in Sections  400.217 and 400.221, Ordinance Code.”

“To the extent that new positions or hiring are being requested in the budget,” the memo asserts, “the Finance committee should be apprised of each departments’ success in this area inclusive of the goals and objectives for each department.  We look forward to working with the Administration over the following months to develop the budget and policies for the City of Jacksonville.”

Dennis also introduced equal-opportunity legislation and ex-offender employment legislation months back; both bills became law.

 

Wyman Duggan hauls in $53K to kick off HD 15 bid

Jacksonville attorney Wyman Duggan started off his run for the GOP nomination in Florida House District 15 with strong August fundraising.

Duggan, in what has to be read as a warning shot across the bow of potential competition, brought in $53,450 off 70 contributions in August — historically a slow month for fundraising.

The donations — most of them maxed out at $1,000 — reflect Duggan’s base of support.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s “Build Something That Lasts” political committee was in for $1,000, as was former Mayor John Peyton‘s Gate Petroleum.

Marty Fiorentino gave $500; his Fiorentino Group added $1,000.

Best Bet, the Jacksonville Kennel Club, First Coast Energy, and RummellMunz Partners: still more $1,000 donors.

Duggan has one Democratic opponent: Dr. Tracye Polson.

Polson entered the race Sept. 1, and thus has no fundraising to report as of yet.

Anna Brosche remarks on Confederate monuments postponed

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche will not be talking to the Urban League Thursday about Confederate monuments after all.

The meeting was rescheduled “due to Hurricane Irma’s possible disruptions,” and the event organizer noted at 3:29 on Wednesday afternoon that Brosche “sends her regrets.”

We spoke to Brosche, who at one point advocated the removal of the monuments, minutes before the cancellation, and she noted that she was “focused on the storm,” even as she was unwilling to say at that point whether or not she would fulfill the speaking engagement.

“That’s where my focus is going to be until we understand everything that’s happening here, and we can always pick back up when we need to,” Brosche said.

In postponing the engagement, Brosche — whether meaning to or not — accommodated Council critics, one of whom argued for pause in the debate as a potential public safety crisis looms in the Caribbean.

“There is nothing more important today than preparing our City for the devastating and dangerous Hurricane Irma. We need to stay focused on standing with our Mayor and emergency personnel to keep our City safe. As a former Mayor and now Councilman, I know the hard decisions Mayor Curry is currently facing, and nothing should distract from our attention on the safety and welfare of all of our citizens,” Councilman Tommy Hazouri said.

Another veteran public official, Councilman Bill Gulliford, believes there needs to be a hard stop to debate without a legislative solution at present.

“I think she should stop period. She has unilaterally initiated the discussion so how does she go forward? Introduce legislation?”

“Right now we are debating a phantom bill that doesn’t exist. Whether I agree or not either we need to let it die, or someone needs to do something concrete,” Gulliford added.

While Gulliford and Hazouri are not allies of Brosche, even those who agree with her proposal to remove the monuments are anxious for some sort of movement on the issue one way or another, such as Councilman Reggie Brown.

“This is what happens when you don’t make a command decision. I think we’re taking too long,” Brown said, exclusively to Chris Hong in the Florida Times-Union. “I believe it’s time to get our hands on this matter. Vote it up or down.”

If a command decision is pending, it won’t be until the threat of Irma passes.

Meanwhile, a Council meeting looms Tuesday night; those in attendance will be treated, if three weeks ago was any indication, to a public comment period sprawling deep into the night.

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