Jax Archives - Florida Politics

Feds want Corrine Brown locked up during appeal process

Federal prosecutors filed a motion Sunday opposing Corrine Brown‘s plea to be released on bond, pending appeal.

Brown, sentenced to five years in prison, is expected to report to the Bureau of Prisons in January.

Brown’s motion, per the feds, is “without merit and should be denied.” And while an appeal is pending, the feds believe she should be locked up.

Brown’s appeal is predicated on the removal of a juror who believed that “higher beings” said Brown wasn’t guilty; the Feds dismiss that as an immaterial objection.

Brown was found guilty earlier this year, her protestations of innocence notwithstanding, of a laundry list of 18 charges: among them, conspiracy to defraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, tax fraud, and fraudulent financial disclosures.

All of this tied to a nonperforming educational charity — One Door for Education — that was used as a slush fund by Brown and her co-conspirators for a period of years, with over $800,000 being funneled through the charity by the end.

She has never admitted guilt, except for saying she trusted without “verifying,” in a November plea for “mercy and compassion.”

Jacksonville files motion to dismiss in Jacksonville Landing lawsuit

On Friday, Jacksonville’s Office of General Counsel motioned to dismiss a lawsuit from Sleiman Enterprises, the owners of the beleaguered Jacksonville Landing.

In November, Sleiman filed a lawsuit against the city; as WJCT reported, various breaches of contract made it impossible — per the Sleiman narrative — to run the thirty-year-old riverfront mall.

Friday brought the city’s response in “Jacksonville Landing Investment, LLC v. City of Jacksonville.”

The city asserted that the JLI filing was a “shotgun pleading,” replete with assertions that don’t jibe with the facts.

Among the assertions:

The city noted that in mid-October it gave JLI 30 days to remedy the “depressing state of the Landing” to remedy what the city asserted was a breach of contract. Instead, the ownership group launched a “media blitz” pushing a complaint: “little more than a laundry list of stale grievances, false and incomplete assertions, and gratuitous and self-serving statements.”

That complaint, asserts the city, should be dismissed, as the “relationship between the City and JLI is that of a landlord and tenant” and that certain claims — such as the city allegedly being required to provide parking and security — aren’t borne out by the facts.

The 17-page filing makes the case, repeatedly, that the JLI position isn’t borne out with specifics, including specific causes of action.

And provides another piece of evidence that the gap between the city and the current owners and operators of the Landing is perhaps beyond bridging.

Lenny Curry staffer decries Garrett Dennis’ ‘aggression’ against her

The Jacksonville City Council approved six members of the Kids Hope Alliance board on Tuesday, including Joe Peppers.

Peppers, in fact, was approved unanimously — but by no means does that mean his nomination process went smoothly, specifically with regard to one particular Councilman: Garrett Dennis.

In fact, the process was characterized in an email by Jessica Laird — a liaison from the mayor’s office who sat in on the meeting between Peppers and Dennis — as one in which Dennis showed “aggression” to her during a Nov. 20 meeting between Laird, Dennis, and the nominee, worrying her that there may be “blowback” against Peppers’ nomination.

Peppers, for his part, emailed Laird on the evening of Nov. 20, describing Dennis’ behavior as “bullying.”

Councilman Dennis, meanwhile, had his own version of events — saying that the mayor’s office’s involvement in the process was unusual and raised questions about the “independence” of the nominees.

Dennis also noted that he felt the mayor was trying to intimidate him with follow-up communications, including a phone call and an invitation to an in-person discussion of the matter.

A former chair of the rules committee, Dennis met with what he estimates to be hundreds of nominees, and in all that time he had “never had the mayor’s office babysitting nominees.”

Dennis did not want Laird in the meeting, though he maintains that he was “not aggressive to her.”

“I don’t usually let people sit there,” Dennis said, noting that Laird was attempting to defend Curry.

“If I allow you to speak,” Dennis said he said to Laird, “it will be your last time. I told her to sit and listen, but it was not her place to defend the mayor.”

Dennis, when asked, said his attitude had nothing to do with Laird being female, noting that a meeting between him, Ali Korman Shelton of the mayor’s office, and another nominee reflected no such issues.

Curry and Dennis soon enough had words, Dennis related.

A tense elevator ride, in which Curry was “not a happy camper,” gave way to a very “abrasive” phone call from Curry, which Dennis described as confrontational.

Dennis claims Curry invited him to his office for a follow-up conversation, but Dennis did not walk over.

Dennis also claims that Peppers talked to him on Nov. 21, and said that “the mayor shouldn’t have sent a cub into the lion’s den.”

Peppers confirmed via email that the meeting was tense: “for various reasons, most of which I am not privy. From my perspective, we have resolved the issue and I look forward to working with CM Dennis and Ms. Laird going forward.”

“My hope is that all parties show each other grace as we move forward and we focus on making KHA great for the children of Jacksonville,” Peppers added.

The mayor’s office — via Spokeswoman Marsha Oliver — offered a statement Friday morning.

Their take: the email speaks for itself.

“The email speaks for itself as it relates to whose actions were described as ‘bullying.’ It is not a practice of the mayor or his administration to discuss one-on-one interactions with council members. Mayor Curry did, in fact, contact Council member Dennis to request a meeting,” Oliver wrote Friday morning.

“Mayor Curry is committed to ensuring that all City of Jacksonville employees thrive in a workplace where they are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. As for the KHA board appointments,” Oliver added, “we are delighted that Board member Peppers and the other nominees received overwhelming support for the experiences and contributions they will bring in serving Jacksonville’s children.”

Tensions between the Curry administration and Councilman Dennis have surfaced before, of course, both in the Kids Hope Alliance legislative process and the budget process that preceded this.

But this opens up a new chapter, a new level of tension — and the feeling among many close to the mayor’s office was that Dennis crossed a line, one with particular provenance in this era when men intimidating women in the workplace has become an issue of unprecedented visibility and urgency to resolve.

Kevin Gay to chair Jacksonville’s Kids Hope Alliance

On Thursday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry announced the chairman of the board for the Kids Hope Alliance will be Kevin Gay.

Gay, founder and CEO of Operation New Hope-Ready4Work (an organization that helps ex-offenders re-acclimate to society), will helm a board that includes Rebekah Davis, Nat Glover, Joe Peppers, Tyra Tutor and Dr. Marvin Wells.

All six were confirmed Tuesday by Council. One more slot is left to be filled on the board.

The Kids Hope Alliance is preparing to handle oversight over Jacksonville’s $35 million portfolio of children’s programs, taking over from the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and Jacksonville Journey.

“Kevin is an outstanding leader and advocate in our community,” said Mayor Curry. “He has dedicated his life to ensuring that our most vulnerable citizens have the tools, resources and skills they need to be productive in our community. He will be a wonderful champion of hope for our children and our city. “

‘Amazon-centric’: Jacksonville pitch for Amazon HQ2 includes 200 acres downtown

Like many cities, Jacksonville is making a pitch for Amazon’s HQ2. The value add locally per a video from Burdette Ketchum: land on the old Shipyards site downtown.

The video, which was first reported by Jenna Bourne of Action News Jax, begins with sprightly acoustic guitars leading into a backing track reminiscent of the Postal Service circa 2003.

It touts Jacksonville as “Amazon-centric,” with a “one-of-a-kind urban core campus and transit,” and an “inspired year-round coastal lifestyle.”

The video also touts Jacksonville’s “leading educational institutions and regional partnerships,” and Jacksonville itself as an “emerging city inviting your partnership and social impact.”

“Just like you, we’re customer-centric. So our proposal is built around your team members,” asserts a millennial-male voiceover in a crisp tone devoid of a traditional Jacksonville accent.

“Our job will be to attract them here, inspire them, and keep them productive. Like everyone in Jacksonville, they’ll love living here,” the voiceover adds.

And, asserts the voiceover, they’ll love working here: on a “200 acre live, work, and play campus at the heart of our waterfront city, in our urban core.”

This relationship, the video continues, is one that no other city can offer. It will allow Amazon to “impact the culture and the social responsibility of our city.”

“Shovel-ready land nestled between our established office district and our NFL stadium and amphitheater will be conveyed to Amazon at no cost,” the video continues. “We will shape it together as we grow.”

The video also promises “innovative public transportation” for “Amazonians,” allowing the campus and the city’s “upstart downtown” to grow in tandem.

As well, the video pitch promises “aggressive” pursuit of the project, with the most “competitive costs in Florida.”

Mayor Lenny Curry offered a statement: “I greatly appreciate and value the work City staff and the Chamber have led on the development of this proposal. Proposals are a first step that communicate our genuine interest, commitment, and vision for a project.”

“This Amazon project, like any other project we pursue, will be negotiated against a scorecard to ensure it provides a return to taxpayers and contributes to job growth and economic development. We will continue to work hard on this deal that would result in over 50,000 jobs for Jacksonville,” Curry added.

Deja Vu: Jon Heymann resigns from Jacksonville Children’s Commission

Jon Heymann, CEO of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, this week announced his plans to step down effective Jan. 2.

This was his second and final resignation.

Heyman resigned as CEO of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission previously on May 5th, 2017, “but accepted your agreeable offer to serve for a little longer while the Kids Hope Alliance was announced (August 2, 2017) and created,” Heymann wrote in an email this week to Mayor Lenny Curry and senior staff.

“While it has been an honor for me to  ‘hold down the fort’ for over seven months since my resignation, I am ready to jump forward into a couple of exciting ventures,” Heymann wrote.

Those familiar with the thinking of the Mayor had noted that Heymann was being strongly considered for the CEO role in the Kids Hope Alliance — the nascent board that will replace the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jacksonville Journey.

Ultimately, however, Heymann was ready for something new. And Jacksonville CFO Mike Weinstein became the first leader of the organization.

The Kids Hope Alliance has six of its seven board appointments finalized already.

Rebekah Davis, a former member of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission board of directors; Kevin Gay, a previous Jacksonville Journey board member; former Jacksonville Sheriff and current Edward Waters College President Nat Glover; Iraq War Bronze Star recipient Joe Peppers;  Tyra Tutor, an senior vice president at The Adecco Group North America; and Marvin Wells, a dentist from Ponte Vedra.

Tessa Duvall, a reporter for the Florida Times-Union, tweeted this week that Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche will be Council liaison to the KHA.

Brosche, along with Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, had the most questions about and qualms with the Council process that brought the Kids Hope Alliance into being.

U.S. House approves Rutledge Pearson Post Office in Jacksonville

A Jacksonville post office is one step closer to being renamed after a local civil rights legend, following a unanimous U.S. House vote Thursday.

The post office at 1100 Kings Road would be designated for the honorary name, per the bill from U.S. Rep. Al Lawson.

Rutledge Pearson was both a trailblazer and torch bearer in this community,” said Rep. Lawson.  “It was because of his lifelong commitment toward racial equality and human rights that opened the door for many. His legacy was born out of the hate and discrimination he faced, and used this to inspire a movement rooted in love and acceptance for all.”

Pearson, a former baseball player in the Negro League, was denied the opportunity to play in Jacksonville for an integrated team. He went on to helm both the Jacksonville and Florida NAACP, while coaching baseball at New Stanton High School.

“Pearson made a lifetime commitment to the NAACP and the cause of justice.  This bill serves a dual role to honor the contributions of Mr. Pearson and to remind younger generations of this civil rights champion who paved the way for the advancements we enjoy today,“ Lawson added.

Pearson died under suspicious circumstances 50 years ago, allegedly in a car crash on a way to organize workers in Tennessee.

Forensic evidence told a different story. His brother told First Coast News that it looked like Pearson had been clubbed to death.

Pearson, inducted in the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2016, also has an elementary school named after him in Jacksonville.

Omarosa Manigault, Jacksonville pastor’s wife, threatens to expose White House secrets

It’s day two of the Omarosa Manigault news cycle … and (quelle surprise), there is a Jacksonville connection.

Manigault, the wife of Jacksonville pastor John Allen Newman, was a local connection to the White House.

However, since the advent of the tenure of White House chief of staff John Kelly, Manigault was on her way out.

She’s still on the payroll (at a $179,700 a year salary) through Jan. 20; however, she will be working — so to speak — remotely, as her access to White House grounds was cut off.

With time on her hands, Manigault cut an interview Thursday with Good Morning America, in which she hinted at revelations to come about the Donald Trump administration.

There “were a lot of things that I observed during the last year that I was very unhappy with,” Manigault said.

“But when I have my story to tell as the only African-American woman in this White House; as a senior staff and assistant to the president, I have seen things that have made me uncomfortable, that have upset me, that have affected me deeply and emotionally, that has affected my community and my people. And when I can tell my story, it is a profound story that I know the world will want to hear,” the former Trump aide added.

Manigault once said that “every critic, every detractor will have to bow down to President Trump.”

But that was then; now she is joining the critics and detractors.

Stop the presses … the Florida Times-Union is outsourcing printing ops

It’s the best of times, and the worst of times, for the Florida Times-Union.

The positive, first: the paper just had a who’s who of Jacksonville history celebrate the retirement of columnist Ron Littlepage.

There was a party, where local dignitaries told Littlepage stories, and coverage throughout the local media.

Littlepage, whose column ran for decades, represented the outer fringe of what Jacksonville’s political consensus would accept during his era.

Writing this as someone who has done columns in the local market since people thought the Iraq War was a good idea, I can say this: it’s rare to get star treatment on your way out.

Rare for Times-Union columnists even: two others left in the last fourteen months.

Tia Mitchell — who also handled Tallahassee coverage for the paper, a void as yet unaddressed with a dedicated hire — left for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she is on the suburban DeKalb County beat.

And Tonyaa Weathersbee left for Memphis, where the Commercial Appeal is showcasing her column, on Sundays and throughout the week.

Neither got saturation news coverage of their departures.

But Mitchell and Weathersbee moved on of their own accords, so that can be seen as a mitigating factor … even as questions are raised as to why Weathersbee or Mitchell weren’t groomed to take Littlepage’s place as the paper’s flagship columnist, given that his departure was an open secret.

The world doesn’t stop for columnists who move on, of course, but at least they are recognized.

The same won’t be said for the nameless “approximately 50 people” who are going to be out of a job in a couple of months, as the T-U outsources printing operations.

See, the printing equipment is old. It would be expensive to replace. The employees are welcome to get jobs elsewhere in the GateHouse media family. And the print circulation is shrinking anyway.

The Florida Times-Union has a daily circulation of 45,000 and Sunday circulation of 70,000. That’s down from 106,000 and 158,000 in 2013.

This, despite the paper being in a renaissance of news coverage. Nate MonroeChris HongSteve Patterson — all of them dominated the Corrine Brown coverage.

And arguably the best reporter on the paper, Tessa Duvall, offered a deep dive recently into the end of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission — one informed by years of reporting on the subject.

As a blogger, I know my limits and my silo; while investigative journalism is great, it’s also time-consuming, and doesn’t guarantee page views in the way that more immediate, reaction-driving pieces do.

If a local paper doesn’t do what it calls “accountability journalism,” who does?

Television reporters have two turns a day — at least. Sometimes, they can do four.

Investigations have to be shoehorned in, assuming there wasn’t a shoot-em-up at an apartment complex, or an explosion somewhere, or wacky weather.

Still, as good as the work is that local journalists — named above and otherwise — are doing, the fact is that fewer people read the daily paper in hard copy form all the time.

Changes were made even under previous ownership; last December, Morris Communications rolled out a “centralized news design” operation in Augusta. Copy editing and page designing moved out of state. Jobs were lost then; people were “encouraged to apply” for gigs in Augusta, etc.

And this holiday season: “approximately 50 people” and their families becoming newly acquainted with economic insecurity.

Do people move for new gigs? Some will, sure. And a few will be with GateHouse, the company that took over from Morris this year.

Some others will have to jump out of the business altogether. And some quite likely won’t get any gigs, anywhere, at least not anytime soon.

We won’t know about it, of course.

The Florida Times-Union won’t report on the job search of its former production staff … though it would be interesting if it did, perhaps reporting on one person a day, and what the job search looks like for someone negotiating the death throes of a clearly all-but-bygone print model

These are just more quiet casualties in an industry facing a paradoxical, non-negotiable truth; namely, that even if a newspaper delivers in its core mission of creating compelling news, market forces are such that the people who put together “the paper” are ultimately as ephemeral as Black Friday sales circulars.

Having worked corporate jobs, I know how that goes. All the team building and rah rah claptrap adds up to little when the parent corporation decides that a re-org will drive shareholder value for a really key quarter or two.

Good luck to the production staff — the “approximately 50 people” who right now are scouring Indeed and LinkedIn and Journalism Jobs, hoping against hope that the transition isn’t too painless.

Ethics Commission dings Matt Shirk for pushing ‘Sober 101’

Former 4th Circuit Public Defender Matt Shirk took a hit from the Florida Ethics Commission last week in a closed session.

But despite the finding of probable cause, it won’t matter much.

“The Commission accepted the recommendation of its Advocate, finding probable cause,” read a news release, which added that the commission “also decided to take no further action on the matter, unless he requests a hearing, due to the circumstances including Mr. Shirk losing his bid for reelection.”

“The allegations were that he violated the unauthorized compensation law when his wife accepted a job from a company when he knew or should have known that the position was given to her in order to influence his official action and that he misused his position to contact judges and others in the criminal justice system to promote the company.”

The complaint, filed by Jacksonville’s Thomas Duffy, asserted that Shirk contacted judges and court administrators on behalf of “Sober 101,” a company offering “substance abuse services.”

Mrs. Shirk was also allowed to address assistant public defenders on behalf of the company, which marketed a $299 “online education” course on addiction.

However, she claimed not to have gotten paid for her work for the company. And she claimed to have been “targeted” by the company, both because of her marriage to Shirk, and due to the highly-publicized personal drama in the Shirks’ marriage, related to workplace liaisons between Shirk and certain female employees.

Sober 101 reps also attempted a pitch — in a parking garage, at Shirk’s behest — to current PD Charles Cofer, who was a judge at the time.

Ethics concerns dogged Shirk in his second term, ahead of a crushing loss in the GOP primary to current Public Defender Charlie Cofer.

A grand jury judged Shirk as having indulged in “reckless behavior” in office, including asking female employees to shower with him (the aforementioned liaisons).

That same grand jury recommended Shirk’s resignation.

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