A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 400

A.G. Gancarski

Jacksonville in pre-Irma ‘state of emergency’

Hurricane Irma’s catastrophic path almost guarantees some impacts in Northeast Florida, and Jacksonville is readying for the worst.

Wednesday morning saw Mayor Lenny Curry lead a tour of a city warehouse in an undisclosed location that has supplies that may prove necessary for the recovery period that seems all but unavoidable.

The Mayor’s message: The city “is preparing and has prepared.”

The warehouse — a former lazy asset repurposed with a federal grant — holds necessities ranging from Generac generators to 120,000 bottles of water.

The message: “be ready, be prepared … we as a government are preparing on all fronts.”

That preparation included identifying 12 shelters, even as other decisions were forestalled.

Among the decisions being mulled early Wednesday afternoon: whether to mandate evacuations, and whether to give city workers Friday off.

Those decisions — and then some — were made, with others clearly in process as Jacksonville is under the “five day cone of uncertainty,” per Curry.

The big takeaway: Jacksonville is now under a state of emergency. The beaches communities are under a similar state of emergency.

The state of emergency affords access to resources and funds should they be needed. St. Johns County is under one already.

Schools will be closed Friday, as will city government.

And evacuations — especially from the beaches and zones A and B — are already being strongly encouraged, with Sheriff Mike Williams noting that those who wait until Friday “could be on the interstate going 10 miles an hour.”

Those with long memories in Duval may remember the cataclysmic evacuation for Hurricane Floyd, one which saw cars lined up and stalled out on the interstates headed out of town.

“We could have major traffic issues in the event of a mandatory evacuation,” Curry said. “If the storm continues on this track or it worsens, we could see mandatory evacuations on Friday.”

Those evacuations could create “major, major road clogs,” Curry added.

While local evacuations wouldn’t involve a “policeman dragging somebody out of their home,” Sheriff Williams said, mandatory evacuations are the strongest possible dictate from governments.

At the beaches, there may not be police or fire resources available during the storm.

Curry will brief the Jacksonville City Council on Thursday.

In FEMA cash crunch, Jacksonville gets short shrift

As Irma bears down on Florida, Jacksonville still awaits monies from FEMA for Hurricane Matthew recovery. That money isn’t coming anytime soon.

An internal email from Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Assistant Chief Todd Smith reveals that the cash-strapped federal relief agency has a priority list — and the roughly $26 million Jacksonville awaits is not at the top … especially given the fund is down to $541 million.

While raising the debt ceiling will increase FEMA’s capacity to act, absent a radical cash infusion, city policy makers shouldn’t expect FEMA money soon.

“Bottom line is that we will likely see impacts to some of our long term recovery projects from Hurricane Matthew,” Smith wrote to Mayor Lenny Curry‘s senior staff.

“When the [Designated Relief Fund] balance is within the range of $800 million to $1 billion, they initiate a fiscal strategy called ‘Immediate Needs Funding’ — which prioritizes the immediate needs of disaster survivors, states/tribes/territories, and communities during disasters,” Smith wrote.

Jacksonville’s needs, in other words, fall behind Hurricane Harvey impacts.

The formula, Smith adds, “prioritizes funding for current disasters, so that FEMA can continue its focus on response and urgent recovery efforts without any interruption.”

“Longer-term recovery projects will be temporarily impacted by INF.  This includes the rebuilding of public infrastructure — schools, roads, bridges, and libraries. Funding is not being eliminated for projects in the restricted categories, but merely delayed until additional appropriations are available,” Smith adds.

This email circulated to Curry’s senior staff two days before he expressed confidence that FEMA would make good on its obligation from 2016.

“I am in touch with the right people in the White House and around the White House to get our FEMA reimbursements,” Curry said. “We’re going to get what’s owed to us.”

Curry discussed delayed FEMA payouts Wednesday in a gaggle.

“We know we’ll be reimbursed. We’d like that to be sooner rather than later. But this isn’t a time to squabble about timing; this is a time to care for each other,” Curry said.

We asked Curry if FEMA needs more funding — which would require Congress to raise the debt ceiling.

“I’d ask Congress to do whatever they have to do to … make sure we have the resources to make sure people are safe, and their needs are taken care of,” Curry said.

“Right now, the first priority is the safety of the people in my city — and for Congress, anyone who has been impacted or could be impacted by a storm,” Curry added.

This was the second straight day of FEMA questions for the mayor.

On Tuesday, Curry addressed some FEMA-related questions from the local press corps.

Curry is confident that, even with delayed reimbursements, the city can weather financial impacts from Matthew until federal money comes through … a key factor with Cat 5 Irma looming in the Caribbean, with eventual impact on Northeast Florida unknown at least for now.

Between cash and reserve levels (which, between the operating and emergency reserve, will be somewhere between $135 and $165M at the end of the fiscal year), Curry is confident the city is ready financially for Irma impacts.

And, as Tuesday’s mayoral briefing at the city’s Emergency Operations Center reveals, that readiness will be tested in the days and weeks ahead.

When asked if the city had sufficient resources for a major storm, in its roughly $150 million of reserve monies, Curry’s answer was an interesting one.

The city has “adequate reserves” for an impact created by a storm like Matthew, Curry said. However, a bigger impact — such as this year’s Harvey — would create decisions for policy makers.

“In the event of another Matthew, we have adequate reserves,” Curry said. “In the event of a — of a catastrophic event, we’ve got a budget; we’ve got priorities. Safety comes first, so if we ever had to realign priorities in an emergency situation, we would do just that.”

If Jacksonville is indeed going to be stranded without federal money, then budget priorities almost certainly will be realigned. Even if the debt ceiling is raised, expect finite federal resources to be diverted to bigger, more immediate priorities.

As Irma looms, Confederate monument debate gets pushback in Jax City Hall

Even as Jacksonville’s Mayor and City Council President stand shoulder to shoulder during storm prep pressers, they diverge on another storm of a different matter.

That storm is a Category 5, but of a different type: namely, the future of the city’s Confederate monuments.

Council President Anna Brosche was provided an inventory by Jacksonville’s Parks Department last month. Though she sidestepped specific comment when we asked her about the path forward, an email “obtained” by First Coast News delineates Brosche’s position.

To sum: the inventory is incomplete and not “responsive” to her request. Brosche asserts that at least one monument was elided.

“I do not believe the document is responsive to my statement issued on Monday, Aug. 14, or my specific clarification in our meeting on Monday, Aug. 21 in which I requested an inventory of ‘Confederate monuments, memorials, and markers on public property.’” Brosche asserted.

“As such,” Brosche added, “I am asking you to review your list to determine if you believe it is responsive to my request, i.e., Confederate monuments, memorials, and markers on public property.  If it is, please change the filename and file title (within) to reflect a response to my request, and for clarity given that many outside parties are requesting a copy of the inventory you provide.”

Brosche wants “updated pictures of the Confederate monuments, memorials, and markers on public property that you were inventorying.”

Citing the Southern Poverty Law Center (an unusual move for a Republican in Northeast Florida), Brosche noted a significant omission.

“In addition to the above clarification request, the Southern Poverty Law Center issued a report in 2016 that includes a monument not on your list:  Yellow Bluff Fort Monument. So that I may respond to anyone inquiring as to why such monument is not on your list, but contained on a readily available document inventorying monuments throughout the nation, please let me know your reasoning for not including that monument.”

The Yellow Bluff monument is on state property, leaving the city no recourse to remove it independently, asserted the Parks director.

The inventory provided by the Parks Department revealed three monuments, put in place between 1898 and 1926; and eight historic markers.

The monuments include the Confederate Monument in Hemming Park, the ‘Monument to the Women of the Southland’ in Confederate Park in Springfield, and a Confederate Memorial Services grandstand at the Old City Cemetery.

The historical markers are on the Northbank Riverwalk, Walter Jones Park in Mandarin, the Old City Cemetery, the Prime Osborn Convention Center, Lenox Ave. near Cedar Creek (memorializing a “skirmish”), Confederate Park, and Camp Milton Historic Preserve.

Brosche will be discussing Confederate monuments at a Thursday afternoon “FirstThursday” meeting of the Jacksonville Urban League, one where she should expect a warm reception.

The email promoting the event lauds Brosche’s “fresh, innovative and transparent leadership style as the new President of the Jacksonville City Council.”

“FirstThursday Jacksonville is honored and humbled that Council President, the Honorable Anna Lopez Brosche has agreed to address our members, friends and the community during our post-Labor Day meeting,” said FirstThursday Jacksonville’s Chairman, W. Larry Williams.

“Our community is anxious to hear what the Council President’s thoughts are regarding Jacksonville’s Confederate monuments, urban and inner-city communities and the overall economic disparities that exist in these communities,” Williams added.

Amid all of the policy drama, an indication surfaced overnight Tuesday of resistance to monuments — specifically, the high-profile monument in Hemming Park, which was defaced with red spray paint.

The tarp covered most of the paint.

On Wednesday morning, Curry noted that JSO is investigating the “disgusting” incident, but that public safety workers are more focused on the coming storm, “potentially about to put themselves into harm’s way.”

In this context, one veteran elected official believes that there should be a 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.

And 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.

Regarding the ongoing debate, meanwhile, Curry said he was focused on doing his job and ensuring the “people of Jacksonville are prepared … and safe” for the storm.

“I’m focused on my job,” Curry said.

Lenny Curry: Jacksonville has ‘adequate reserves’ for Matthew-level impact from Irma

Not even a year ago, the city of Jacksonville was sideswiped by Hurricane Matthew: a mega storm that clipped Florida’s East Coast.

Power was out in some parts of town for close to a week, and even today, Jacksonville still awaits a big chunk of reimbursements from FEMA.

Of $50M in damage from the big storm of 2016, the city is still $26M in negative cash position due to unreimbursed storm damage post-Matthew; to put that number in perspective, it is roughly the cost of the city’s annual contribution to UF Health.

However, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is confident that, even with delayed reimbursements, the city can weather financial impacts from Matthew until federal money comes through … a key factor with Cat 5 Irma looming in the Caribbean, with eventual impact on Northeast Florida unknown at least for now.

Between cash and reserve levels (which, between the operating and emergency reserve, will be somewhere between $135 and $165M at the end of the fiscal year), Curry is confident the city is ready financially for Irma impacts.

And, as Tuesday’s mayoral briefing at the city’s Emergency Operations Center reveals, that readiness will be tested in the days and weeks ahead.

When asked if the city had sufficient resources for a major storm, in its roughly $150 million of reserve monies, Curry’s answer was an interesting one.

The city has “adequate reserves” for an impact created by a storm like Matthew, Curry said. However, a bigger impact — such as this year’s Harvey — would create decisions for policy makers.

“In the event of another Matthew, we have adequate reserves,” Curry said. “In the event of a — of a catastrophic event, we’ve got a budget, we’ve got priorities. Safety comes first, so if we ever had to realign priorities in an emergency situation, we would do just that.”

Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson have qualms on path forward for DACA

The Donald Trump administration announced Tuesday plans to scrap DACA: the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The program was instituted by President Barack Obama via an Executive Order that current Attorney General Jeff Sessions will not defend.

With six months for Congress to perhaps institute a legislative fix to DACA, Florida’s Senators both have concerns about the way forward.

Sen. Marco Rubio agreed that the program as currently constituted violates the U.S. Constitution — but has questions about where the White House wants to go.

“I have long supported accommodating those brought to this country illegally through no fault of their own. However,” Rubio said, “I have always felt that President Obama’s executive action was unconstitutional and that the right way to address this issue was through legislation.”

“Congress now has less than six months to deal with this the right way, through the legislative process. It is important that the White House clearly outline what kind of legislation the president is willing to sign. We have no time to waste on ideas that do not have the votes to pass or that the president won’t sign,” Rubio added.

Sen. Bill Nelson, meanwhile and unsurprisingly, took issue with the decision as a whole.

“DREAMers are our neighbors and our friends. They are our high school valedictorians and our first responders. It’s time for us, as a country, to come together and acknowledge the many contributions that DREAMers have made to our great country, instead of trying to kick them out of the only country they’ve ever known,” Nelson said.

Splitting the distance between the two Senatorial positions last week was Gov. Rick Scott, who issued a preemptive statement, saying that while “President Obama was wrong to address the Dreamers issue by Executive Order,” DACA “kids must be allowed to pursue the American Dream, and Congress must act on this immediately.

Randy DeFoor: Instant frontrunner in race for District 14 seat on Jacksonville City Council?

There are two types of Jacksonville City Council candidates currently filed for the Spring 2019 elections.

One type is the populist; their fundraising is minimal and their rhetoric brims with assurances that he or she will bring new voters to the polls by dint of charisma and word of mouth.

The other type is the Serious Candidate; they are expected to come out of the gate with massive fundraising and endorsements in the first month.

District 14 hopeful Randy DeFoor belongs in that latter category. DeFoor filed to run last week.

Defoor, a Senior Vice President, National Agency Counsel at Fidelity National Financial in Jacksonville, is running as a Republican and will prove to be a formidable candidate in the diverse Jacksonville district that includes Riverside, Avondale, and Ortega.

She is a client of Jacksonville’s dynamic duo of the dark arts of political consulting: Tim Baker and Brian Hughes, a hire that guarantees that no matter which way the campaign goes, her political advisers will have a gameplan.

Plaudits and endorsements are coming in already.

“I can’t say enough about what it means to me that you are willing to serve! After seeing first hand the impact you had while serving as FSCJ Board Chair … I’m with you 100 percent,” said Karen Bowling, a former Chief Administrative Officer for Mayor Alvin Brown.

Former District 14 Councilman and current Duval County Tax Collector Michael Corrigan was also quick to back DeFoor: “I am proud to have served as Randy’s Jacksonville City Council District 14 representative from 2003 to 2011. I am now very excited to endorse Randy to be my City Council representative starting on July 1, 2019!”

If recent history is any guide, there will be a number of candidates in the race — the first election in 2011, the last year the seat was open, saw a seven-way scrum to advance to the runoff.

The challenge for DeFoor — indeed, for any candidate in District 14 — is to offer reassurances to Riverside, while not saying anything that would alienate the donor class in Avondale and Ortega.

The ability to offer something for every part of the district will, if history is a guide, prove dispositive.

Health plan changes could be ahead for Jax city workers, retirees

A potential change in health insurance for Jacksonville city employees and retirees could be in the offing, via a bill that cleared the first of three City Council committees Tuesday.

Ordinance 2017-20 would authorize Jacksonville’s employee services department to offer the option to workers and retirees to enroll in the UF Health plan starting on Jan. 1.

The contract would be administered by a third party, “Integra Administrative Services,” via a no-bid contract.

The bill summary refers to this deal as a “network option under the City’s self-insurance plan that consists primarily of UF Health providers.”

It would be an “employee election,” confirmed Councilman Greg Anderson.

“I think this is a great step forward,” Anderson said, one that “builds on the relationship” between the city and UF Health.

Councilman John Crescimbeni was more skeptical that employees would adopt the plan without some “very innovative marketing.”

The deductible and the maximum out of pocket expense would, said an administration representative, be more favorable for plan recipients — thus offering incentives.

For UF Health, a rollout of a program like this could be a game changer.

The city spends $88 million on health claims a year, with only $6 million going to UF Health.

People in both the mayor’s office and on the council have expressed a sincere desire to get more of a paying customer mix at the city’s safety net hospital.

Jacksonville, unlike other Florida cities of its size, lacks an indigent care tax; this surfeit makes UF Health funding especially vulnerable to flux in state and federal funding.

Estimates from the employee services division are that 500 to 600 of the city’s staff and retirees will choose this option, which would move them away from Florida Blue.

The plan is said to be revenue neutral for the city, yet allows a meaningful cushion for funding formulas that may be shaky from Washington or Tallahassee in the coming years.

This bill will be considered Wednesday by Rules and Finance.

Jax children’s program reform bill deferred in committee

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry unveiled his proposal for the Kids Hope Alliance, a board that he wants to replace the Jax Journey and Jacksonville Children’s Commission, as August began.

At the high-profile presser unveiling the concept, this reporter asked the 14 City Councilors on hand if they would co-sponsor the measure.

14 hands went up.

Since then, the vetting of the concept by the legislative branch has seen that early conceptual support erode, with the City Council Finance Committee vowing not to “rubberstamp” the proposal, followed by a piece in the Florida Times-Union that contended that discussions of the program contravened Sunshine Laws, leaving many parties out of the loop.

Going into Tuesday morning, the first of three committees was expected to review the plan … with indications being that the proposal was on the rocks. Whispers abounded about “substitute” legislation … and the chance that one of Curry’s key reform proposals would take a hit.

Any drama along those lines will be at least delayed for two weeks, as the legislation was deferred in the Tuesday committee at the request of the Curry Administration.

There may, as well, be significant changes in the future legislation — including a potential substitute bill.

As was the case with the previous iteration of the bill, presentations from the Curry Administration will have to be made to the entire 19 person City Council, along with meetings including more stakeholders.

It is unclear how long the deferral will be, or whether the new version of the bill will be taken up before the city’s budget bill is later this month.

Danny Becton is selling Jacksonville pension savings. Who’s buying?

Last week, Jacksonville City Councilman Danny Becton started sales pitches with Council colleagues on a priority bill for him: 2017-348, which seeks an accelerated paydown of the city’s $3.2B unfunded actuarial liability on the city’s pension debt.

Becton had filed the bill earlier in the year, and put it on ice at the request of the Lenny Curry administration, he said.

He had conceptualized the bill to be an amendment to the pension reform package passed earlier this year — an omnibus measure that, among other things, phased out the current defined benefit pension plans for post-Oct. 1 hires, who will be put on defined contribution plans. The reform package also included raises for all current employees, and a half-cent sales tax kicking in in 2030.

Becton agreed with administration members not to “complicate things” and introduce his measure as an amendment; however, as reform passed, he vowed to introduce a bill that he saw as “paying our ‘fair share’ and not leaving such a large debt for the next generation.”

Now, with the budget passed and reserve dollars “squirreled away,” Becton is making his push once more.

His assertion: the future is at stake.

The bill presentation Thursday offered a compromise from the previous concept, which saw 15 percent of general fund growth automatically shifted into pension paydown.

Instead of that, Becton put forth a phased-in approach, moving from a 7 percent rate in FY18/19 and moving that up 2 percent a year, hitting the 15 percent threshold in FY 22/23.

Assuming a 3 percent growth rate, that would add up to an extra $504M in city coffers by the end of FY 30/31, per Becton’s projections.

Becton tweaked his formula between June and the present time, and in a public notice meeting that included the last two Council Presidents, the current Council VP, and the Finance Chair, he expressed a willingness to further modify the formula to elicit buy in.

It was a tougher sell for some than others.

Council VP Aaron Bowman liked the concept, but was “concerned” about “years and years of underspending on infrastructure.”

“Handing infrastructure to our children that sucks doesn’t do us any good,” Bowman contended.

More open to supporting the measure: Council President Anna Brosche, former Council President Lori Boyer, or Finance Chair Garrett Dennis.

There are, of course, qualms: Boyer worried about how increases in payroll and contribution could put the city in a negative posture regarding revenue growth.

“When I walked in, I was not supportive,” added Councilman Scott Wilson.

Now, he’s “thinking about it.”

Becton has met with the mayor to discuss the bill, and — he told us last week — is “continuing to meet with him, to discuss how we can both come together and have something that really helps Jacksonville.”

The “phased in” approach of gradually absorbing the budgetary hit is potentially one way to make the Mayor’s Office more comfortable with the bill than they were in June, though there is no indication from the Mayor’s Office of any position change as of yet.

Becton also discussed reserve levels with us, including the Curry administration’s desire to boost those levels to 8 percent in coming years. However, he doesn’t believe that a hiked up emergency reserve is a substitute for an interest-drawing savings account for pension obligations.

“If we don’t do it in the way I’m [suggesting],” Becton said, savings to defray the pension obligation will “never get done.”

“But let’s say this doesn’t pass. I’m hoping it will,” Becton said, and he perceives “momentum.”

But if it does not pass, the Councilman reserves the right to bring the measure back, year after year, until it prevails.

“There’s 12, 13 years that we have to help the next generation. As I told the mayor, I’m not doing this for me. I have nothing to gain here. I’m not doing it for anything other than to help that generation in 2031, who are obligated to $11-$12B — and I just don’t think everyone understands the implications of that.”

Of that money, $6B comes from the sales tax — which is still taxation, Becton notes.

And the balance? “That’s got to be paid out of pocket.”

“It concerns me that we’ve left them no room,” Becton said about the next generation, “for bad economies, things that may happen in the economy that you have to deal with as a government.”

One worry Becton doesn’t have: the impact of the homestead exemption change.

“That’s $26M out of a very large revenue stream that we have … when you look at the totality of everything, it is a blip … has a little effect,” Becton said.

The real issue he worries about, though, is the pension liability.

“I’m a big pay-your-debts, get out in front of them,” Becton said. “I look at [Curry’s pension reform] as step one of two steps.”

Becton’s bill is step two.

“Everybody has their vision of how to help Jacksonville,” Becton said, “and this is where I landed.”

Democrat Tracye Polson files to run in HD 15

The race to succeed outgoing Rep. Jay Fant in Jacksonville’s House District 15 has its first Democratic entrant as of Friday.

That candidate: Dr. Tracye Polson.

Polson, a clinical social worker and psychotherapist by trade, has mulled a run since the spring.

Her goal in running is to “give people in this district a real choice.”

“I don’t think they’ve had a real choice in a long time,” Polson said.

The first Republican in what will be a crowded field — the widely-endorsed, establishment-backed Jacksonville lawyer Wyman Duggan — got in the race a month ago and will report $50,000 raised in August alone, showing the kind of fast start that is a hallmark of Tim Baker/Brian Hughes clients.

Polson isn’t concerned about that, or the inevitability of serious Republican money coursing into this race.

“I’m not thinking in terms of competing with Republicans,” Polson said.

Her strategy includes going “door to door” to get the message out, “learning more about what’s important about District 15”; she believes “dollars will follow.”

Polson is excited about her campaign team also, “good people who know what they’re doing.”

Polson is not impressed with the incumbent Republican, Rep. Jay Fant, saying that he “doesn’t have a very good track record” of legislative accomplishment.

Among the issues that drive Polson: an economy that “isn’t working for everyone,” and a need for good jobs for working class people.

As well, Polson asserts that “every child deserves a quality public education,” and access to health care.

“This is a serious time for our state and country,” Polson contends.

She’s a candidate who is well-regarded by Democrats from different camps in the local party, and one can expect her to present a spirited challenge to the Republican candidate … and perhaps, to political orthodoxy itself.

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