Jax Archives - Florida Politics

Jacksonville civil rights groups plan to take control of MLK Breakfast

There were rumblings last week that some civil rights leaders in Jacksonville were unhappy with the yearly Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast.

This week, there is written confirmation.

A letter in the mailbox of Mayor Lenny Curry from Jacksonville NAACP President Isaiah Rumlin let it be known that while the NAACP, the SCLC, and the Urban League will not be “pulling out of participation,” they have decided to “take the lead on planning this annual event effective immediately.”

“We believe that by bringing this breakfast back to the civil rights organizations,” Rumlin wrote this week, “it will more accurately reflect the vision and dream of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.”

This year’s program showed cognitive dissonance at times, between an excerpted version of the King legacy and the realities of Jacksonville’s socioeconomic and cultural divides. For more on that, read last week’s recap of the MLK Breakfast in Jacksonville.

There seems to be dispute among the groups as to whether Rumlin’s letter represents consensus.

As Juan Gray of the local SCLC told WJCT Friday, “I don’t know what [Rumlin] wanted to do [with the letter], but that wasn’t the accurate message to send to a mayor who’s already confused.”

The mayor’s office notes that Curry and Rumlin are going to meet, but that they are waiting to hear from Rumlin regarding an acceptable date and time for the meeting.

The city’s office of special events collaborates with these organizations on the planning of the event, with four planning meetings with the principals.

The Curry administration met with the groups in October, 2015. They had complained of not being included in the planning, and the current administration made sure that they were central, with slots to speak, seats on the dais, and complimentary tables.

Finances, meanwhile, may dictate that the city continue running the event.

2016‘s cost to the office of special events: $133,000.

That number increased in 2017, toward the $150,000 range, but final numbers are not yet available.

Northeast Florida reacts to ‘beautiful day’ of Donald Trump inauguration

With the inauguration of President Donald Trump on Friday morning, it was predictable that Northeast Florida pols would post thoughts on the event.

Some thoughts were sanguine, such as those from Mayor Lenny Curry and former State Rep. Lake Ray.

“It’s a beautiful day,” Curry Tweeted Friday morning.

Ray had more to say.

“The peaceful transition of power is unique to countries that value freedom for its people,” Ray wrote Friday on Facebook

“As we celebrate the inauguration of a new President, Donald J. Trump, may we come together as a people that value fair and free elections and may we wish success on the incoming President, his administration and outgoing President Obama.for wisdom as you lead our nation,” Ray added.

Cindy Graves, who succeeded Ray as chair of the Republican Party of Duval County, is in D.C. for the festivities.

She is wowed.

“It is hard to describe the patriotism, the emotion, the pride as we approach our nation’s Capitol among citizens from across America. I am almost overcome with emotion,” Graves opined.

Others were a bit more subdued, such as Rep. Al Lawson, who felt the need to message about his decision to attend the inauguration to two different reporters in the last few days.

That decision, we hear, was grist for internal debate in Lawson’s office.

On Inauguration Day, Lawson’s thoughts were of the end of the Barack Obama era.

“With the last few hours under the Obama administration, I simply want to say thank you Obama for everything you have done for the American people. You will be missed.”

Former House District 14 Democratic candidate Leslie Jean-Bart had a novel idea regarding protest.

“ACTION: TO BOYCOTT INAUGURATION, DONT TURN OFF TV. Instead, turn tv ON (but not to inauguration channel),” Jean-Bart advised.


Jean-Bart’s take: “if we turn off the TV entirely, it looks like the vast majority of all people watched Trump. But, if our TVs are tuned to other shows, it takes away from the ‘market share’ and makes the relative inauguration viewing percentage appear much lower.”

UNF Professor Parvez Ahmed, a member of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Commission, issued his own pointed criticism.

“Trump has assembled the Wealthiest, Whitest, and least educated cabinet in modern American history. They are not the only problems. As [a Washington Post article he linked to] makes it clear, “never before has one president assembled such a remarkable collection of individuals who are either unqualified for their jobs, devoted to subverting their agencies, or both, not to mention the ethical questions that will continue to swirl around this administration.” No wonder Kremlin is rejoicing while most Americans are scared,” Ahmed wrote.

This post will be updated as more politicians post their thoughts.

Jacksonville Bold for 1.20.17 — Inauguration Day

The world has changed; Northeast Florida is no exception.

Barely 10 months after last year’s GOP presidential primary, where virtually every important Republican in Northeast Florida tested the limits of their political capital in doomed support for Marco Rubio over Donald Trump, it is as if #NeverTrump never existed in Florida’s First Coast.

Truth be told, by early August, they were all consolidated under the Trump banner, when the soon-to-be President held a rally in Jacksonville, drawing upward of 10,000 people.

But the reality is this: after eight years of Barack Obama, and in an election cycle where it was all-but-assured Trump had no chance against the Hillary Clinton machine — even to the point votes were being counted — Trump’s inauguration is striking people as sweet vindication.

And, as one would expect, Jacksonville-area politicos faced a decision this week: should they go to the inauguration today?

For some, the answer was simple.

Former Duval County Republican Party chair Cindy Graves, heading to Washington D.C., shows a picture of her suitcase on Facebook with a “GONE” sticker — the “O” being the Obama logo.

“Never had so much fun packing a suitcase in my life,” Graves commented.

For Susie Wiles, who ran the campaign down the stretch in Florida, the decision was also easy.

Wiles “headed up to DC again on Wednesday for events Wednesday night the ball on Friday night. ll schedule but all fun … Many Florida folks will be at various events, and I look forward to celebrating with everyone.”

However, not every prominent Jacksonville Republican will be in attendance.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry will not be there, asserted a spokesperson this week.

Curry has more than enough to keep him busy on the home front, and — aside from emceeing Trump’s August rally in Jacksonville — the mayor hasn’t exactly gone to the (great big beautiful) wall for The Donald.

Meanwhile, plans for Congressman John Rutherford, who suffered a medical scare last week, are still up in the air (as of the moment).

And at least one Democrat, with part of his district in the Jacksonville area, will be in attendance.

Rep. Al Lawson sidestepped inquiries from FloridaPolitics.com, and instead let the Tallahassee Democrat know he intends to appear at the Trump inauguration.

“I never planned to boycott the president of the United States,” said Lawson. “The campaigns are over. Yes, there are differences of opinion, but that is what democracy is about.”

One could take Lawson’s statement at face value. Nevertheless, there was pressure from his district to join Rep. John Lewis, as well as dozens of other congressional Democrats, and boycott the event.

That pressure didn’t make it into the Tallahassee paper’s write-up.

“The only way to break is for us to stop right now. You don’t want to further divide America,” said Lawson. “Communication is the key. I’m going to encourage President Trump to reach out and talk to Congressman Lewis. John is a reasonable man.”

Will the Trump/Lewis conversation happen? If so, we’re interested in it — bigly.

Given that Lawson has a close relationship with the Susie Wiles, he may be able to broker an outreach.

“Jacksonville women march against Donald Trump” via Amanda Williamson and Beth Reese Cravey of The Florida Times-Union – Activists from a cross section of Northeast Florida groups dedicated to promoting equality and diversity want the incoming presidential administration to know they won’t be backing down. The groups plan to hold a rally in downtown Jacksonville the day after President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration to show solidarity with the much larger Women’s March on Washington in the nation’s capital. The event allows those who can’t make it all the way to Washington, D.C., to support the cause. “We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for protection of our rights, our safety, our health and our families, recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country,” said Marianna Smith, an event organizer and a former head of the American Trial Lawyers Association.

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“HRO expansion looms over job creation presser’ via Florida Politics – Mayor Curry called a news conference to announce “Project Green” … code for an agreement with Formativ Health, which offers management services for doctors’ offices. Formativ expects to bring 500 jobs to Jacksonville in 18 months … At the presser: Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Chair Darnell Smith, a big backer of the expansion of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Also in attendance: Councilman Aaron Bowman, a key part of the local Chamber and a co-sponsor of the latest attempt to expand Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance. Thus, a functional paradox again resurfaced, with the mayor (according to some critics) lagging behind the business community when it comes to HRO expansion.

Jacksonville business, civic leaders back HRO ordinance” via Christopher Hong of the Florida Times-Union – A group of Jacksonville’s top business and civic leaders sent a letter to City Council members urging them to pass a law that would protect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community from discrimination. Passage of the anti-discrimination legislation, which is being considered by the council, is a top priority for the organization and the city’s business community … “It is time for Jacksonville to join the majority of Florida and U.S. cities in affirmatively protecting its citizens from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Ed Burr, the group’s chairman.

“State says ‘maybe’ to Jacksonville phasing in $44M pension hit” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union – The board of the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund decided in a workshop to move forward with the request to the state Division of Retirement. The $44-million increase in pension costs would be heavy load for the city, which has struggled for years to keep up with escalating pension expenses. If the pension fund cannot convince the state to allow a three-year phase-in, the expense would all kick in during the 2017-18 fiscal year. Douglas Beckendorf, the state actuary in the Division of Retirement, which oversees local pension plans, wrote Jan. 4 to the pension fund that a three-year phase-in “may be permissible” if the pension fund can show that “changes in the assumptions are reasonable.” … “The division will permit changes to the plan assumptions as long as the changes can be supported,” Beckendorf wrote.

“Ex-offender employment bill filed in Jacksonville City Council” via Florida Politics  – Ordinance 2016-35, filed by Councilman Garrett Dennis, is the councilman’s second ambitious piece of legislation currently live. Two weeks ago, Dennis filed a bill to fund a currently unfunded position in the Equal Opportunity/Equal Access program, to ensure that the city’s independent authorities, such as JEA and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, were committed to workforce diversity. The city currently budgets a total of $570,000 a year for ex-offender skills training … Dennis’ new bill would ensure that companies doing $200,000 or more of business with the city commit to hiring ex-offenders who graduated from the city’s third-party service provider re-entry programs. If employers do not engage with the providers of such training as intended by procurement code, payment will not be processed.

“Jacksonville Finance committee clears bills for council approval” via Florida Politics – A bill adding “code enforcement liens” to the list of claims, bills and judgments that may be settled by the Finance Director, Office of General Counsel or Mayor (Resolution 2016-766) was the first of these measures to go through. Ordinance 2016-795, authorizing moving money from closed capital project accounts to ShotSpotter and other city priorities, was another key bill to meet with committee approval. Ordinance 2016-797, authorizing the disposition of 101 pieces of surplus property in Council Districts 7 through 10 and 14, also met with committee approval. Finance also approved an ordinance (2016-800) authorizing a memorandum of understanding with JAXUSA, an arm of the local Chamber of Commerce, to implement an export plan and develop a foreign direct investment strategy.

Overdoses and homeless: The Jacksonville City Council Public Health and Safety Committee addressed two chronic problems in Jacksonville Wednesday: overdose deaths and the homeless population.

On overdose deaths, the numbers are spiking.

An email from Duval County’s Medical Examiner’s office laid it out: from the beginning of January until mid-November, Jacksonville experienced 345 drug overdose deaths; a number roughly triple the city’s homicide rate.

Regarding casualties, whites and males are the most vulnerable, dying in numbers outsized compared to their proportion of the population.

Councilman Bill Gulliford dubbed the issue an “epidemic.”

“I think bringing attention to this should be the number one priority of the Public Safety Committee in 2017. Attention is just the first step. Maybe bringing attention to the numbers alone will help scare some young people to avoid drugs,” Gulliford noted.

Whether young people tuned in and turned on to the dulcet tones of PHS Wednesday morning is debatable. However, the committee did discuss the epidemic.

An understanding of the problem seemed to outstep a viable solution.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri noted, vis-à-vis OD deaths, that “the state should have some kind of numbers for us” and local hospitals should also have them.

And the committee chair had a cautionary tale about a woman of his acquaintance.

“She kept going searching for pills. She wound up getting arrested … losing her kids, losing her marriage,” Councilman Sam Newby said of a “30-year-old housewife who lost everything because she got hooked on prescription pills.”

America struggles with an opioid and heroin crisis, and Jacksonville is no different.

Another major local issue — homelessness — likewise seemed to daunt the committee, which sketched out some potential solutions, but couldn’t even agree on how many homeless people are in Jacksonville.

“We probably need to get much more innovative,” Gulliford said, noting that other cities in the country are putting up “mini houses.”

While “there’s a really good size male homeless population,” Gulliford’s concern is “women and children,” especially children in school.

The homeless population, according to a city staffer, had a count of 900 — but she then suggested that seemed low.

Councilman Hazouri noted that other estimates show 2,000 homeless people in Jacksonville.

Regarding the homeless, Hazouri said, “every city has them, but many of them do something about it.”

“They need to be someplace and not be so prolific down here,” Hazouri added. “It’s not good for us, and we need to have a better solution.”

The chronically homeless, said a city staffer, are difficult to deal with because of addiction issues.

The Neighborhoods Department, meanwhile, is looking to create a new “strategic plan” for its component agencies, to break “distinct silos between each division,” said new director Stephanie Burch.

Homelessness, Burch said, is “on our radar,” and the hope is to use federal dollars to “create solutions.”

Councilman Aaron Bowman, representing Jacksonville’s Southside, noted that “homeless camps” abound in his District 3.

“JSO cleans it out, but it doesn’t solve the problem,” Bowman said, likening police response to panhandler camps to a “game of hopscotch.”

And more from Chairman Newby: “As I drive home from work, I see the homeless on sidewalks and everywhere.”

Newby contended that job training and a “one stop shop” to evaluate issues with the individuals, such as addiction, is necessary.

Burch asserted that a “holistic approach” to address the issue, with collaboration between the city, nonprofits, and law enforcement, might be a way forward.

“We’ve got to solve this problem. Not in two years, we need to solve it now,” Newby said.

“Search for Jacksonville inspector general continues” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics  – City Hall veteran Steve Rohan has been the interim IG for several months, as the city has searched in vain for a permanent replacement for Thomas Cline, who left early in 2016 amid considerable criticism from the city council. Among the requirements: working closely with the office of the state attorney on criminal investigations. The committee seeks someone with 10 years of experience in an auditing or a business administration capacity, a person who can provide satisfactory regular and detailed reports to the city council and the IG selection and retention committee. Cline’s reports were less than satisfactory during his tenure. The current council president and council VP both excoriated the quality of his output in a fractious committee hearing in fall 2015. Salary range: $120,000 to $160,000.

Jax Daily Record gets out-of-market buyer: The locally owned era for the Jacksonville Daily Record is no more, asserts longtime Record reporter Karen Mathis.

Jim Bailey sells his 104-year-old Financial News and Daily Record to Daily Record & Observer LLC, headed by Matt Walsh, CEO and owner of Sarasota-based Observer Media Group Inc.,” Mathis posted to Facebook Wednesday.

This is the second seismic change in recent weeks for the Daily Record: ace city hall reporter David Chapman is handling communications for new State Attorney Melissa Nelson now, leaving a gap in that coverage that affects not just the paper, but city hall denizens who rely on its coverage.

In an article on the Jax Daily Record website, Walsh repudiated any interest in carrying on the Bailey family legacy, noting that he first expressed an interest in the paper a few years back.

Bailey, in the months ahead, will introduce Walsh to Jacksonville stakeholders.

While the Daily Record piece indicated a smooth transition, questions may emerge about what the future holds for employees, who will move from a one-paper operation — with delimited roles and expectations — to being part of a larger group with outside ownership; a least a few folks found that be mercurial.

Walsh, as happens with Glassdoor reviews, was panned by several former employees.

“The CEO, Matt Walsh, seemed to have temper tantrums every now and then and make silly and thoughtless business decisions,” wrote one former staffer. “He is the kind of free-market conservative that simultaneously thinks it’s OK to treat employees like crap to save a buck, but doesn’t like it when the free market signals that his own business practices may need to change.”

Another employee said: “Low salaries, worsening benefits, and workplace structure that is based on “who you know” and if you fit in with the popular kids rather than merit or any real management are the best ways to describe this dying company … Salaries are low, and workload is high. Unpaid overtime is considered the ‘Observer Way.’ Benefits and employee incentives are dwindling. You will be constantly told that the newspaper business is going strong, but you don’t have to be employed here long to realize that’s just not true. Departments are being cut, employees are being fired, annual profit-sharing has ceased … that’s not the behavior of a healthy company.”

“WJXT parent company buys a second Jax station” via News4Jax – The owner of WJXT Channel 4, Graham Media Group Inc., has acquired two television stations, including WCWJ Channel 17 in Jacksonville. Graham, a Graham Holdings Co. subsidiary, also acquired WSLS, the NBC affiliate television station in Roanoke, Virginia. WJXT’s general manager, Bob Ellis, will manage both Jacksonville stations. The deal is valued at $60 million in cash and the assumption of some liabilities, including pension obligations. The acquisition was announced last year, but the purchase was approved by the Federal Communications Commission in the last few days.

Beach restoration, like everything else, is a process: FloridaPolitics.com caught up with Rep. Paul Renner after Wednesday’s meeting of the St. Johns County Legislative Delegation.

Renner, whose District 24 encompasses parts of St. Johns, Flagler, Volusia and Putnam counties, definitely has his share of opportunities to hear from county delegations.

Touted as a candidate for House Speaker down the road, Renner wasn’t in a position to talk about that. However, he did talk with us about what he hears in delegation meetings, and about his expectations for the upcoming session.

Renner noted that Wednesday’s meeting of the St. Johns delegation “differed” from what he’d heard in Volusia and Flagler.

“We heard in Volusia and Flagler on education issues, Second Amendment issues. The one thing that has been consistent is beach restoration,” Renner said. “Less so in Volusia, but certainly in Flagler and St. Johns County. My assessment has been they’ve been hardest hit.”

“Finding the best mechanism to restore sand on the beach, to restore the dune system, decide whether any form of sea walls need to be constructed to protect private homes and other areas, what those sea walls may do that may be negative that we want to avoid and not have a seawall … all issues that require a great deal of coordination — local, state and federal,” Renner said.

“Those conversations are ongoing. We have a role in that, though not a primary role. Sen. [Travis] Hutson, Rep. [Cyndi] Stevenson, and I have all been actively involved in multiple conversations with our county officials, city officials and our state secretaries — both DEP and DOT, as well as our counterparts in the two chambers,  to see where we can free up some money,” Renner added.

“My current understanding is that there may be some dollars available … some emergency funding and current dollars that we can pull aside and perhaps give some more immediate help.”

However, just because Hurricane Matthew is a memory doesn’t mean further damage can’t be suffered.

“The challenge,” Renner said,  “is going to be the Nor’easters we experience in this part of the state. How do we bring those dollars and get sand on the beach quickly? Because right now, we’re really facing a situation where I don’t know that’s going to happen before we get through the winter.”

“We just have to hope that we don’t face any strong storms between now and the time that restoration effort gets underway,” he said.

Much noise has been made about potential dysfunction between the Senate and the House on appropriations issues. On this matter, however, Renner doesn’t see it as a factor.

Despite “all the differences on many issues,” he is encouraged by harmony on this one.

“I know Sen. [Jack] Latvala has been here to tour. He’s been very concerned about what we’re doing for the beaches, and I appreciate that very much. I know there’s concern on the House side as well, to try and work together to find a solution.”

“It will be in multiple buckets. There will be a federal bucket that provides the largest share of funding, and then the state will provide a match of dollars.”

However, there is a caveat.

“That assumes that the counties will be able to make that match. Typically, it’s been a 50/50 match with state dollars so many counties, such as in the case of Flagler, have been challenged to come up with dollars that will match what the state can provide,” Renner said. “The state’s only going to match what is given by the county. If the state’s offering $10 M, but … the county only has a million or two to provide, that’s where we’re facing some challenges.”

In short, for sparsely populated beach counties, such as Flagler, the road to beach recovery is going to be more uncertain than for St. Johns and Volusia.

“Audrey Gibson files judicial accountability bill” via Florida Politics – Gibson and Rep. Kionne McGhee … filed “judicial accountability” bills in both chambers. Each proposal calls for sentencing data to be compiled annually, according to a news release. Once compiled, data will be “presented to trial and sentencing judges, the Legislature, Governor, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and posted for the public on Florida Legislature’s research arm, the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability website,” according to a news release.

Clay School Board sets legislative priorities” via Teresa Stepzinski of the Florida Times-Union – The following made the final cut: Revise Florida statutes and related state Board of Education rules regarding third grade promotion and retention to: Provide clearly defined alternative pathways for student promotion and retention … Ensure that the final decision on student promotion and retention is made at the local level … that student promotion or retention is not dependent upon, or denied by, a single assessment result. Restore and support the authority of school district to levy, by simple majority vote, up to 2.0 mills for capital outlay purposes and maintain the current authority of school districts to determine the use of local capital outlay millage revenue. Provide sufficient per student funding to place Florida in the upper quartile nationally.

“St. Johns Delegation hears wish list” via Florida Politics – The ambitious 73 page plan covers “transportation funding, water quality, beach renourishment, open space and land conservation grants, and unfunded state and federal mandates.” Transportation asks for the fast-growing Northeast Florida county are significant, including $95 million for the proposed State Road 313 (SR 313) Extension/Bypass from State Road 207 (SR 207) to State Road 16 (SR 16) (and $30 million more for right of way acquisition and design. As well. St. Johns County seeks another $90 million for the proposed County Road 2209 (CR 2209) from County Road 210 to SR 16. These have been priority projects for a while.

Curry, Formativ Health announce agreement to bring up to 500 new jobs to Jacksonville — Mayor Curry and Formativ Health announced the company plans to lease 65,000 square feet of office space and hire up to 500 employees for a new Patient Access Services Center. “No one can deny the momentum that is building in Jacksonville, especially in the health and life science sector,” said Curry in a statement. “As a company that supports the medical community by making their operations more efficient and productive, Formativ Health will enhance Jacksonville’s presence in this all-important sector of our economy.” The space being leased by the company will encompass four floors in the office complex located at 4875 Belfort Road. Build out was to begin immediately and is expected to be completed by mid-2018. “The Jacksonville region has a strong health care market and Formativ Health’s decision to locate a service center here further solidifies our standing as a leader in the health and life sciences industry,” said Darnell Smith, JAX Chamber Chair and Florida Blue’s North Florida market president. “The hundreds of jobs the company has committed to create will not only put more of our citizens to work, but will also enhance the physician experience and patient care in Northeast Florida.”

“Amazon a gamechanger for Jax economy” via Mark Basch of Jax Daily Record – … as the online retailer builds two fulfillment centers bringing up to 2,700 jobs to the area. Amazon also is possibly the leading game-changer in the entire logistics industry, Stifel, Nicolaus analyst John Larkin said in a research report after the company announced its plan for the second Jacksonville facility. “This extraordinary company has retailers, carriers and 3PL’s (third-party logistics providers) scratching their collective heads,” Larkin said. “The company’s entire infrastructure network is geared for speed and in the case where strategic logistics partners are not up to the challenge, the company begins to provide transportation and logistics services itself,” he said. Its expansion goes beyond the flood of distribution and fulfillment centers it is building in Jacksonville and other U.S. cities.

CSX ends 2016 on high note, stats 2017 on strong footing” via Jensen Werley of the Jacksonville Business Journal — CSX Corp. … ended a long year of struggle on a high note, with net earnings for the fourth quarter of 2016 of $458 million, or 49 cents per share, versus $466 million, or 48 cents per share, for the same period of 2015. After a year of making efficiency cuts to combat the steep decline coal happening since 2014, CSX rounded out 2016 with full-year efficiency savings of $430 million. This was also the second consecutive year the Jacksonville company had a sub-70 operating ratio, the measure of efficiency for railroads. CSX posted an full-year operating ratio of 69.4 percent, down from 69.7 percent in 2015. But even more impressive is its quarterly operating ratio. For the fourth quarter of 2015, CSX had an operating ratio of 71.6 percent. For this quarter, it had shaved that down all the way to 67 percent, very close to its ultimate goal of mid-60s. The company’s quarterly revenue was just over $3 billion, up 9 percent from the previous fourth quarter when it was $2.78 billion.

New York’s largest Health care provider makes a Home In Jacksonville” via Ryan Benk of WJCT – Northwell — is bringing 500 new jobs to Jacksonville’s Southside … partnering with Pamplona Capital Management to create Formativ Health. Formativ offers hospitals, and billing and appointment management for private practices, in addition to advising doctors on business and technology decisions. Formativ CEO Dennis Dowling said he’s looking for workers to staff the company’s new home base on Belfort Road. “We’re looking to hire and have employed and ready to work 150 by April and by the end of the year, or this time next year, up to 500,” he said.

“Jacksonville to roll out UF Health network pilot program for insurance” via Florida Politics  – Ordinance 2017-20 would authorize the city’s employee services department to offer the option to workers and retirees to enroll in the UF Health plan starting March 31. 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.” 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.

Becker’s Hospital Review names Flagler Hospital among the nation’s Top 100 for women’s health programs” — Becker’s editorial team selected hospitals based on national rankings and awards, including U.S. News & World Report national and regional rankings for gynecology, CareChex rankings for women’s health care, women’s health Healthgrades awards, Women’s Choice Award’s Best Breast Centers list and Baby-Friendly designation. “We are honored to be recognized by Becker’s for our performance related to women’s health specifically. In collaboration with our physician partners, we have put a great deal of resources into our breast health program, including a dedicated breast cancer navigator, adoption of interprofessional breast cancer conferences, and the latest in 3D mammogram technology,” said Joe Gordy, president and CEO, in a statement. “Our maternity program is also a source of pride for us, as we offer everything from evidence-based low-intervention birthing techniques to state-of-the-art neonatal intensive care, all in a family-centered environment. We had the privilege to deliver nearly 1,600 babies at Flagler Hospital last year.”

“LignoTech Florida breaks ground in Fernandina Beach” via Suanne Thamm of the Fernandina Observer – During a brief ceremony before about 100 invited guests, speakers expressed gratitude to both the Fernandina Beach and Nassau County communities for their support in helping to bring to fruition a project “decades in the making,” according to Bill Manzer, Rayonier Advanced Material’s SVP for Manufacturing Operations. Manzer and Nassau County Commission Chair Danny Leeper, in addition to touting the new jobs both in plant construction and operation that LignoTech will bring to the community, emphasized that the plant will have a $28M annual impact on the local community.

Nocatee continues rapid growth despite sales dip” via Chris Parenteau of News4Jax — Home sales slipped about 12 percent in 2016, but still Nocatee came in only behind The Villages in Ocala and Irvine Ranch in Orange County, California, in terms of sales. Many homes in the Nocatee area are still under construction. Experts believe the drop in home sales stemmed from builders wanting to be sure homes were delivered on time, not from a lack of interest. … According to numbers from RCLCO Real Estate Advisors, in 2013, 838 homes were sold in Nocatee. That number increased to 851 in 2014 before jumping to 1,105 in 2015. In 2016, sales fell back to 973. “The market response has been even stronger then perhaps what was anticipated,” said Gregg Logan, managing director for RCLCO. “I think it’s been a bit of a challenge to keep up with demand in a place like Nocatee.”

“Transgender Jacksonville woman aims to run Boston Marathon” via Folio Weekly – Few know that standing in the midst of it all is Taylor, a newcomer to the oldest marathon in Jacksonville, and the first transgender woman to openly compete in the event. Her aim: to be the first transgender woman to qualify for the Boston Marathon … Naturally, Taylor is completely at home defying the odds and, unwilling to back down from the difficult elements, she stands poised and ready for the start of the marathon. For the next three hours, 42 minutes and 15 seconds, Taylor battles the weather and muscle fatigue all the way to the finish. Her efforts put her first in her division and 16th overall out of the event’s 142 women. Unfortunately, she did not qualify for the Boston Marathon, missing her qualifying time by just two minutes. According to Taylor, “I was on pace until around mile 18; that’s when the heat and humidity hit.”

Victory II casino cruise ship relocated from Jacksonville” via News4Jax – The Victory II casino cruise ship is temporarily being reassigned due to severe winter sea conditions in Jacksonville. Those who plan to take the cruise, which will be heading out of Port Canaveral, will still receive all the standard benefits, and all the same table games, food and live entertainment. Cruise ship officials said it will honor all offers and point balances.

With Tom Coughlin, Jags find peace” via Gary Shelton — The quarterback is still going the wrong way in his career.

The front office might have a tug-of-war to see who is in charge.

The team is filled with underachievers.

And yet, there is a new peace on the Jacksonville Jaguars. Tom Coughlin is in charge, and suddenly, the Jaguars seem organized. Suddenly, there appears to be a plan.

“There’s no magic to it,” Coughlin told Sports Illustrated. “We gotta change the culture. That’s our job. Mediocrity has set in, and that’s got to change. The only way it changes is with hard work.”

Oh, you can scoff at Coughlin’s age (70), a number that seemed to make the New York Giants blink. But Coughlin has had his successes — two Super Bowls and getting the Jags to the conference finals in their second season). No one can be sure how smoothly Coughlin (the new team vice president) will meld with Doug Marrone, the new coach, but when a franchise is as thoroughly lost as the Jags, it’s worth a try.

A year ago, the Jags were the trendy pick to make the playoffs after a talent infusion. Instead, Jacksonville had its sixth consecutive season of winning no more than five games. In all, it has been nine seasons since the Jags had a winner. They haven’t made back-to-back playoffs since, well, Coughlin was in charge.

True, Coughlin won only 19 games in his last three years with the Giants. But what Coughlin does is instill credibility. He is in charge of expectations. He sets the bar on what this team will accept.

The Jags, frankly, were better than their record. They lost eight games by a touchdown or less. A bit better play at quarterback — Bortles was tied for fourth with 16 interceptions — and the season could have been a little more promising.

“I have a vested interest in this team, and I want to see this team succeed, and I want to see this great community come together in support of it and be proud of this team,” Coughlin said in his opening news conference.

It seems the Jags could make a dent. Houston won the division with a 9-7 record. Tennessee was 9-7, too, but has struggled in recent years. Indianapolis was 8-8 with internal strife.

During his years with the Giants, Coughlin had a reputation as a bit of a taskmaster. Hats were to be worn forward only. Feet were on the floor. Players were early for meetings.

“I don’t like the word ‘satisfied,’” he once said. “That is not a good word for me. It doesn’t work, and it never has. I see things that I like, and I see things that I don’t like, and I see things that have to happen. It’s work in progress.”

With a little more organization, a little more of Coughlin’s intensity, a little bit of a culture change, do the Jags have a chance.

Ask Coughlin.

“What else is there?” he asked. “What the hell else would you be doing this for? We’re trying to win today. Who’s going to get the better lunch? Winning is what this thing is about.”

Jacksonville Zoo hosts ‘Toast to Conservation’ in April — The event, scheduled for 6 p.m. on April 6, is meant to generate awareness and funding for the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Guests will kick off their journey with a stroll through the African Loop to visit with special guests and endangered striped friends. From there guests will take a short walk through the gardens to our award-winning Range of the Jaguar where you will be greeted by Zoo ambassadors and a cocktail reception followed by a gourmet sit down dinner under the stars. Following dinner, our guest speakers will inspire you with conservation messages both globally and locally, and have you uplifted in support of these important programs. The evening ends with a paddles up auction for conservation and live music for your listening enjoyment.


Kim Daniels files ‘religious liberties’ bill for public schools

The first bill in the Florida House filed by Jacksonville Democrat and charismatic evangelist Kim Daniels turned out to be on a subject close to her heart: “religious expression.”

House Bill 303, the “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act,” would ban school districts “from discriminating against students, parents, & school personnel on basis of religious viewpoints or expression,” and would require a school district “to adopt limited public forum policy & deliver a disclaimer at school events.”

The bill would mandate that a school district not “discriminate” against a student, teacher, or employee “on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression.”

The bill also equates “religious” and “secular” viewpoints in the academic space.

“A school district shall treat a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint on an otherwise permissible subject in the same manner that the school district treats a student’s voluntary expression of a secular viewpoint,” reads the Daniels bill.

Students may include religious content and themes in their coursework, the bill continues, and the student may not be penalized or rewarded for such content.

Students may also wear “clothing, accessories, and jewelry” that “displays a religious message,” potentially leaving the door open for all sorts of traditions outside the Judeo-Christian matrix.

Prayer groups and “religious gatherings” can be organized at any time a commensurate (and undefined) secular activity is permitted, including during the school day.

The bill also allows for a “limited public forum” at school events, at which religious expressions are to be allowed, and “vulgar” and other offensive speech is to be disallowed.

Jacksonville council finance committee clears a series of bills

On Thursday, the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee pushed through a series of bills ahead of approval next Tuesday by the full council.

All of these bills were approved unanimously.


Lien Scene: A bill adding “code enforcement liens” to the list of claims, bills and judgments that may be settled by the Finance Director, Office of General Counsel or Mayor (Resolution 2016-766) was the first of these measures to go through.

Nuisance abatement liens with a principal amount of $1,000 up to $4,999 would be settled by the Director of Finance; liens below $10,000, by the general counsel; and liens up to $99,999 would be settled by the Mayor with the concurrence of the General Counsel and the Finance Director.

Liens can add up; code enforcement fines often can be as high as $250 a day.

“This doesn’t necessarily solve all our problems with respect to the size of these liens,” Councilman Bill Gulliford said, urging a cap on liens.

Charges of hundreds of thousands of dollars often are settled for a couple of thousand dollars by the city.

“If it was 20 percent of the property value,” Gulliford said, the next owner may settle the lien at face value.

Currently, when liens reach a certain point of arrears, third-party collection efforts are employed.


Give ShotSpotter a Shot: Ordinance 2016-795, authorizing moving money from closed capital project accounts to ShotSpotter and other city priorities, was another key bill to meet with committee approval.

Ordinance 2016-795 will, among other things, “appropriate $435,001 already allocated in a ShotSpotter reserve account to an equipment purchase account for installation of the test site … acoustic gunshot detection and surveillance technology in a 5 square mile area of Health Zone 1.”

The $435,000 allocation was part of a larger package of $1.356 million of unused capital improvement funds that will be funneled into a variety of projects.

The program, which identifies the source of gunshots, will be rolled out in a 5 square mile area in Health Zone 1, the part of the city that has the most gun violence.


Home Sweet Home: Ordinance 2016-797, authorizing the disposition of 101 pieces of surplus property in Council Districts 7 through 10 and 14, also met with committee approval.

The total value of these properties: just over $783,000, ranging from a vacant lot valued at $140 (a great gift idea) to a single family home valued at just under $60,000.

Community housing development organizations get the first crack at developing these properties for single-family, owner-occupied homes as long as the CHDOs don’t have liens; CHDOs are allowed to handle five at a time.

Previous committees noted that the bulk of these properties come from Districts 7 through 9.

Movement of these properties on the list already has been slow, so the city plans to add some dollars to the RFP to incentivize development.

The cap of dollars offered to community housing and development corporations, and other developers, would be $55,000 of city funds.


Help for the export market: Finance also approved an ordinance (2016-800) authorizing a memorandum of understanding with JAXUSA, an arm of the local Chamber of Commerce, to implement an export plan and develop a foreign direct investment strategy.

The export plan is part of a process that began in 2013, when Jacksonville was one of just eight cities in the Brookings Institution’s global cities initiative, and comes after years of study.

“The MOU calls for JAXUSA to establish a ‘one-stop shop’ to provide interested businesses with information, research and assistance in developing export activities; to create a Global Cities Advocacy Team to lead the implementation effort; to conduct outreach activities to at least 25 potential export businesses,” reads the bill summary.

It is a $60,000 city obligation for one year, with provisions for renewal. The total budget would be $125,000, with JAXUSA pouring in $55,000.

The Chamber will provide quarterly progress reports on this work, which would start Feb. 1, and would therefore see the first quarterly report Apr. 30.

Councilman Aaron Bowman noted that Jacksonville is “very low in the export world compared to surrounding cities that have ports,” and that the Chamber — his primary employer — is “excited” about this.

Councilman Bill Gulliford pushed back.

“Our primary competitors, Charleston and Savannah, have world trade centers. It is to our detriment that we don’t have one,” Gulliford added, saying Jacksonville is “working at a disadvantage” compared to regional competitors.

“It’s something that if we’re serious about this, we really need to pursue it,” Gulliford added.

This initiative would be regional, rather than strictly delineated for Duval County.

Defeated politicians poised for new life on Jacksonville boards

A trio of politicians who suffered recent high-profile losses will be considered by the Jacksonville City Council for board appointments in the coming weeks.

The Ethics Commission will potentially be the landing spot for two pols beloved by liberal Democrats.

Leslie Jean-Bart, who lost a contentious Democratic primary in August to current HD 14 Rep. Kim Daniels, is up for a spot.

“I’m returning to the Ethics Commission. Previously, I was appointed by the chief judge and served in 2014. My current appointment is by Public Defender Charlie Cofer,” Jean-Bart noted.

Jean-Bart is poised to be joined by Maria Mark, who is best known for her efforts to push an anti-discrimination ordinance in Atlantic Beach in 2015.

Mark lost her election later that year to John Stinson. She followed that up by visiting the home of and attempting to confront a supporter of her opponent, at which time Atlantic Beach police warned her to stay away from that person

Also headed to a commission: defeated Jacksonville City Council candidate Mike Anania.

Anania lost his race for council to Joyce Morgan in 2015.

Final votes on these candidates would be at the Feb. 28 council meeting

St. Johns Legislative Delegation hears county wish list

On Wednesday, the St. Johns County Commission presented its ambitious legislative action plan to the county’s legislative delegation in what is destined to be, in the words of Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, a “tough budget year.”

The ambitious 73 page plan covers “transportation funding, water quality, beach renourishment, open space and land conservation grants, and unfunded state and federal mandates.”

Transportation asks for the fast-growing Northeast Florida county are significant, including $95 million for the proposed State Road 313 (SR 313) Extension/Bypass from State Road 207 (SR 207) to State Road 16 (SR 16) (and $30 million more for right of way acquisition and design.

As well. St. Johns County seeks another $90 million for the proposed County Road 2209 (CR 2209) from County Road 210 to SR 16.

These have been priority projects for a while.

There also are the pressures of a small-county government dealing with the Sunshine Law: one ask is for public record and open meeting exceptions for economic development agendas.

Additionally, the county commission seeks the reinstatement of the state’s quick action closing fund; while that may be music to Rick Scott‘s ears, Richard Corcoran is a different matter.

And the county commission wants a total of $31 million for septic tank removal in West Augustine, stormwater remediation in Davis Shores, and the elimination of sanitary sewer overflows in St. Augustine.

St. Johns County Commissioner Jimmy Johns called their document a “blueprint” to bridge the gap between core services and what the state can do.

Johns noted that the county had success in previous sessions, and this year needs sand replacement after Hurricane Matthew at its beaches.

The county is still recovering from the storm, and various asks were delineated, including an increase of the state disaster recovery fund share to 75 percent of a $60 million ask.

Numerous speakers addressed these issues throughout the afternoon, painting nightmare scenarios of beach erosion leading to threats to property and the very viability of local towns.

Sen. Hutson expressed urgency and the hope to get money sooner than later to save the homes most imperiled by the storm, “homes that hang literally off cliffs.”

The county also wants access improvements to the beaches, especially toward the South Ponte Vedra Beach area, along State Road A1A.

The school district needs resources also.

Superintendent Tim Forson noted that the district’s “operating budget” has suffered from issues like the most recent millage rollback, which has led to service and program cuts, and the looming specter of salary increase freezes.

Beyond those significant asks, a couple of dozen speakers discussed matters ranging from mosquito control and coastal armoring to fracking and sea level rise.

“Severe weather coastal storms are occurring with increasing frequency and intensity,” noted Veronica Valentinon the subject of installation of coastal armoring.

“Time is not on our side,” Valentine said, advocating for letting owners build a seawall and maintain it. “We just want permission to protect our property.”

John Rutherford remains in the hospital

While Rep. John Rutherford, who collapsed last week in the U.S. House of Representatives, did not suffer heart issues as was feared, he nonetheless is still hospitalized recovering from a severe allergic reaction.

There currently is no specific discharge date set, asserted his chief of staff Wednesday.

“Congressman Rutherford is much improved and thanks everyone for their continued well wishes and prayers of support.  His doctors are pleased with his recovery, but continue to keep him in the hospital to eliminate all inflammation caused by the allergic reaction he experienced.  Doctors are expected to release him some time over the next several days,” Chief of Staff Kelly Simpson said.

“John, Pat, and the entire Rutherford family ask their Northeast Florida extended family to continue to lift them all  up in prayer as God continues to take John to a speedy recovery,” Simpson continued.

Many of Rutherford’s political allies will be in Washington D.C. for the inaugural events. However, barring a stunning recovery, the congressman will still be convalescing as Donald Trump takes the oath of office.

Ex-offender employment bill filed in Jacksonville City Council

A bill strengthening requirements that companies doing business with the city of Jacksonville hire ex-offenders was filed in Jacksonville’s city council on Wednesday.

Ordinance 2016-35, filed by Councilman Garrett Dennis, is the councilman’s second ambitious piece of legislation currently live.

Two weeks ago, Dennis filed a bill to fund a currently unfunded position in the Equal Opportunity/Equal Access program, to ensure that the city’s independent authorities, such as JEA and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, were committed to workforce diversity.

The city currently budgets a total of $570,000 a year for ex-offender skills training, via agencies like Operation New Hope, Prisoners of Christ, and the Clara White Mission, with more money coming through the sheriff’s office budget. Dennis’ new bill would ensure that companies doing $200,000 or more of business with the city commit to hiring ex-offenders who graduated from the city’s third-party service provider re-entry programs.

If employers do not engage with the providers of such training as intended by procurement code, payment will not be processed.

As with the Equal Opportunity/Equal Access bill, Dennis’ new legislation is rooted in existing statute; specifically, the city’s procurement code, which was updated in 2009 to ensure there were meaningful enforcement options to ensure that ex-offenders were being given a fair shot at employment with city contractors and vendors.

Section 126.112,  describes the rehabilitation of ex-offenders as “essential” to the fight against crime.

An ex-offender, according to the code, would have avoided legal trouble for three years after incarceration.

Likewise, the code offers parameters for deals worth over $200,000. Companies are already required to identify jobs suitable for ex-offenders, and to offer documentation of providing employment for ex-offenders.

The code also stipulates that the city has the right to withhold payments to companies based on failure to abide by these procedures.

Dennis’ bill gives the ordinance code more teeth.

The measure aligns with other ex-offender re-integration initiatives important to the business community, such as Ban the Box and Project Open Door, which ensures that criminal records are not indicated on employment applications.

Lenny Curry addresses MLK day shootings, plans to meet with Melissa Nelson

On Tuesday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry addressed the latest downtown shooting at the Jacksonville Landing, which has already seen one gunshot victim declared dead.

Curry, who ran on a public safety platform in 2015, has seen his rhetoric undermined by not only an uptick in gunplay and homicides, but an uptick at high-profile events downtown this month, such as Jacksonville’s ArtWalk and the Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration.

Curry told assembled media that he had planned a meeting with Nelson well in advance of the latest wave of violence; however, the meeting is well-timed in context of the latest shootings on a high-profile downtown street as Monday afternoon commuters prepared to head home.

“Look,” said Curry, “this violence has been happening all over our city since even before I took office.”

Indeed, the final debate between Curry and Alvin Brown happened hours after a shooting on a school bus, a cataclysmic event which led Curry to say Brown is “never in the game. I will be in the game.”

Curry noted on Tuesday his commitment of resources to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office — “80 cops, 80 additional community service officers.”

“I’ve begun restoring the cuts that were made,” Curry said, “investing in equipment, investing in the resources that the experts — that’s law enforcement — tell me that they need.”

“Anytime this happens in any part of our city, I’m not going away on this issue. I’m going to remain vigilant on the issue. Giving law enforcement what they need and ask for,” Curry said.

“In fact,” Curry added, “I have a meeting tomorrow with the new state attorney, Melissa Nelson, that was set long before yesterday.”

“That meeting is to discuss,” Curry said, “creative and innovative ways we can work together to put an end to this madness.”

“Whatever resources are needed to stop this,” the mayor added, “it’s my priority.”

“I’m concerned about our entire city,” Curry continued. “I’m concerned about every neighborhood. Northside, Southside, Eastside, Westside, the Beaches. Crime has touched every part of this city. The entire city matters. Every zip code matters.”

When asked if he was worried about crime being used as an issue in his potential re-election campaign, Curry said no.

“I’m not worried about a 2019 campaign. I get up every day — I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about families that are impacted by crime and I get up every morning thinking about what I can do, executing on the power that I have to have an impact on this and put a stop to it.”

“It’s why I’ve invested resources in law enforcement, and will continue to, which is why I’m meeting with our new state attorney tomorrow to talk about creative and innovative ways to put an end to this,” Curry added.

Curry backed Nelson’s opponent during the 2016 state attorney campaign, even as his political team ended the political career of Nelson’s opponent.

With all the electioneering over for a while from both the mayor and the state attorney, expect people to watch and see how Curry and Nelson collaborate to stem the blood tide on Jacksonville’s streets.

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