Jax Archives - Florida Politics

Jax Chamber backs Confederate monument ‘inventory’; Anna Brosche modifies position

On Friday, the Jax Chamber issued a statement after its Board of Directors meeting, backing the City Council President’s call for an inventory of Confederate monuments.

However, they did not call for removal of those monuments — as the Council President did on Monday … before seemingly walking back that position under fire this week.

Chamber Board Chair Darnell Smith asserted that the Chamber “support[s] the effort to inventory all of Jacksonville’s public monuments and conduct a swift, honest and thoughtful look at who we honor, and more importantly, who is missing from our public landscape. Discussions should include how we heal wounds that may still persist from our past.  Among those should be a consideration of how we memorialize our city’s history in public spaces, and will most certainly involve additional tributes to Jacksonville’s historical leaders.”

Council President Anna Brosche this week called for an inventory of monuments, ahead of an “appropriate plan of action to relocate Confederate monuments, memorials, and markers” and initially called for “legislation to move Confederate monuments, memorials, and markers from public property to museums and educational institutions.”

The Jacksonville Civic Council backed Brosche’s play, with its head Ed Burr lauding Brosche and Mayor Lenny Curry for “taking the lead to thoughtfully consider removal of Confederate monuments from local public property, particularly in light of the tragic events of last weekend.”

Mayor Curry, meanwhile, had not fully endorsed Brosche’s audacious play, noting to local media that removal of monuments is not among his top priorities.

And it seems Brosche, who has taken considerable pressure inside City Hall and from the general public (including hate mail), is open to not removing the monuments after all

“We can develop a measured plan of understanding what we have — why it’s there, why it was erected — and be able to develop a very measured response, including understanding private funding, over how many years what’s going to happen, (and) where would they go if they went anywhere,” Brosche told WJXT Thursday.

We asked Brosche about the seeming daylight between her position at the start of the week and at the end, and she told us the following.

“I asked for an inventory to start a process of understanding what we have to determine next steps. Removal of the monuments remains an option,” Brosche said, “and I’ve received many alternative suggestions for consideration this week.”

 

Dredging draws intense scrutiny in JAXPORT budget review

Friday afternoon saw the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee mull the JAXPORT capital budget — and the big item of interest was dredging.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri — not a member of that committee — visited and raised standing questions he’s had about a lack of public discourse on dredging. And he wasn’t the only Council member to raise such concerns, specifically relative to the city contribution down the road.

For FY 18, JAXPORT has $42.1M budgeted for the dredge: $23.3M from its own finance, and $18.8M from the state.

While that’s definitely a start for the project, there is no guarantee of recurring funding. And for those who have environmental concerns about the impact of the 11 mile dredge to a 47 foot depth, time is running out for any real dialogue.

These conditions made Friday afternoon a bit more interesting than normal in Jacksonville’s City Hall.

Councilman Reggie Gaffney, noting a hike in Asian container traffic, wanted to know how dredging would help.

JAXPORT CEO Eric Green noted that dredging had come in under bid by roughly 50 percent.

Then Hazouri took over with a series of questions.

“If you can’t answer some of these things because of what your attorney tells you, too bad because this is on the record.”

The first question: the length of the dredge, adjusted down to 11 miles from 13.

Green noted the board discussed this, and that those extra two miles may be needed down the road.

Hazouri continued to press Green with questions.

“What concerns me,” Hazouri said, “is I know y’all are anticipating 2020 before you come to the Council [for money] … I don’t want our hands to be tied.”

Hazouri pressed Green on cancelled board meetings.

“The July meeting was cancelled because there were no board items.”

Hazouri also pressed questions on mitigation — budgeted for $32M — expressing intense skepticism regarding the project affecting water quality.

“That particular question on mitigation is a slippery slope,” Green said, in light of the lawsuit.

“Where does that leave us in terms of a public entity knowing what you are doing? I don’t feel like you’re open to the public”

Hazouri expressed intense skepticism about impact on secondary tributaries, and flatly said he didn’t buy the job projections.

“The public wants to know. I hear them all the time … I don’t want to look like I’m trying to stave off the ability for the port to move on,” Hazouri said.

Port representatives noted that 15 years after the dredging wraps, the job projections will be fulfilled.

Councilwoman Lori Boyer suggested a shade meeting to resolve these questions, given that the independent authority is subordinate to the larger government in the charter.

“I want to crack the egg so we can get some light on this thing,” Hazouri said.

Finance Vice-Chair Danny Becton questioned the assertion that the dredge would provide ROI and draw business from Savannah.

A port representative noted that Jacksonville is new to the Asian market, and it’s already 30 percent of the port’s business.

“It’s the low-hanging fruit, and Savannah’s been doing it 20 plus years, maybe 30. We got into it in 2010 at the height of the recession.”

The port’s “aging infrastructure,” added Green, required capital investment. And because the harbor isn’t deep enough, Panamax ships come in and leave 40 percent loaded.

“You miss out on opportunities like that when you don’t have the facilities you need, as well as the depth of the harbor,” Green said.

The Council Auditor meanwhile wanted hard numbers and detail.

“I’d like the support that backs up the numbers,” Council Auditor Kyle Billy said.

‘Gangs can’t have our kids’: Lenny Curry boosts Jax after-school program funding

On Thursday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry teased an “important announcement” Friday regarding after-school program funding.

Curry Tweeted a picture of himself with Finance Committee member Reggie Brown and members of the Boys and Girls Club, suggesting a compromise solution that would, perhaps, preempt Finance Chair Garrett Dennis‘ latest bid for more after-school funding by essentially providing the funding.

Word going into Friday was that a wide swath of programs would be funded.

And sure enough, that will be the case, reads a release from Curry Friday afternoon.

“With his proposed recommendation to City Council of $2.69 million in additional funds, 21 sites throughout Jacksonville could now open, serving approximately 1,720 additional children. City Council (District 10) and Finance Committee member Reggie Brown plans to introduce an amendment at the proper time during the budget process to appropriate the funds,” reads a release from the Mayor.

“We are making every effort possible to maximize resources to meet the needs of at-hope children in our community,” said Mayor Curry. “When kids leave school campuses, they should be able to go to a community center or site to participate in recreational and enrichment activities. Gangs can’t have our kids!”

“As I’ve stated many times before, government has a role to play in making sure at-hope kids do not fall through the cracks. If there are ways for us to improve the lives of children, we’re going to do that responsibly and orderly with proper vetting and appropriate budgeting.”

Councilman Dennis is on board also, “very pleased that the Mayor has agreed to fund and expand the after-school programs throughout Jacksonville.”

“On Wednesday, once again, I filed emergency legislation to secure funding to reinstate and expand this very important program. I was not in the meeting with the Mayor, Mr. Martinez, Councilmember Brown and Mr. Tritt, but apparently something positive came of it, and for that, I’m grateful,” Dennis added.

“Over the past several weeks, I have received calls to my office pleading for me to do something to help the children of Jacksonville. I heard those pleas loud and clear! Now that funding has been reinstated and the after-school programs will be expanded, I am excited to withdraw my emergency legislation. Today, our kids won!”

This follows on a proposal floated Thursday in City Council budget hearings, to allocate $288,000 to open six currently unprogrammed community centers  and program them for similar programs — though there are still logistics to be worked out there, the Curry Administration supports the play.

Jax City Councilors mull JEA budget, ‘broken promises’ of Consolidation

Friday morning saw the Jacksonville City Council’s Finance Committee review the Mayor’s proposed capital budgets for JEA.

The discussion sprawled close to 90 minutes — double the allotted time — and was one in which budget line items were often directly related to equity in services throughout the city.

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JEA was up first. The agency’s operating budget: $1.79B, with $1.26B in electric and $516M in water/sewer.

JEA’s capital budget for the year: $444M, including $153M in sewer projects; $205M of electric ($102M in electrical distribution projects, $27M in generation), and $75M in water projects.

75 percent of JEA’s capital budget goes to Duval County, with St. Johns and Nassau taking up most of the balance.

The first interesting discussion point: Councilwoman Lori Boyer asking about failed lift stations during Hurricane Matthew.

The problem, at least in theory, should not recur.

“We have inspected and evaluated all the electrical feeds to the 1,400 sewer lift stations. We have added backup generators; half of those are fixed,” said JEA CEO Paul McElroy, with portable generators available that weren’t before.

Boyer was also concerned about “overflows” related to flooding this summer, noting she was told that a report pending in September would address those flooding issues.

McElroy noted that some of the flood areas were low-lying, and that evaluation is ongoing. However, Boyer was chagrined that the capital budget did not include more detail regarding remedial efforts to address the flooding problems.

“Next time we have the same kind of storms, we’ll have the same kind of spills, and I don’t want to perpetuate this,” Boyer said, requesting more detail within the next week.

Councilman Reggie Brown pressed for detail on a lift station on New Kings Road, which Brown did not see in the FY 18 budget.

Councilwoman Katrina Brown brought discussion to the septic tank phaseout project, funded by the city and JEA with $30M over 5 years. Brown wanted that project expanded.

Councilwoman Brown also wanted to know about the JEA’s LED streetlight conversion. Major roadway lighting is complete; neighborhood lighting about halfway done. With 8,000 light changes a month, the project is on pace to wrap by 2019.

Councilman Brown tagged in from there, asking about pre-Consolidation neighborhoods and state funding; worth noting, Rep. Travis Cummings filed a bill for $15M of state money for this, but it didn’t clear last session.

Brown wanted more of a JEA contribution for septic phaseout; however, Boyer noted that the contribution formula was codified already.

Brown was still adamant that more needs to be done to address what he called “the area of broken promises.”

Councilman Reggie Gaffney was next to bless the mike, and his concern was old pipes in the Springfield neighborhood and beyond.

CEO McElroy noted there is an ongoing review of large pipes, to “evaluate the pipes’ health” and see what type of remediation or maintenance are required.

Older neighborhoods have older pipes, and JEA will formulate a plan to replace what needs to be replaced over the next five years, McElroy added.

McElroy went on to give happy talk about growth, but for Democrats representing older neighborhoods with shoddy, outdated infrastructure, growth doesn’t solve their problems.

“Some areas haven’t even come up to par with the standard,” Chair Garrett Dennis said. “Some segments of some areas have been left behind.”

McElroy cautioned him not to get his hopes up, noting that JEA lacks the “legal framework” to redistribute resources from affluent neighborhoods to those that lag behind, and any capital investment of that type would be done in conjunction with the city.

“We can do repairs,” McElroy said, but not “new connections.”

Vice-Chair Danny Becton encouraged JEA to find new products to sell, saying that the company would run out of customers in the decades ahead.

“I was trying to figure out how JEA could get more customers,” Becton said.

McElroy, noting that “we haven’t met the challenges presented in this meeting,” vowed to work further on getting resources for “initial capital costs” to connect unconnected neighborhoods.

The $30 million, he said, is just a start.

Other issues, including moving electric lines underground, will be held in abeyance beyond where they are already — as a full project would be $3-$5B.

“I don’t see us getting there anytime. We don’t have a plan to do that,” McElroy said, noting that while underground outages are fewer in number, they are much longer — with up to ten times the cost to go underground to repair.

As is the case with all of Jacksonville’s infrastructure, new construction neighborhoods get a better deal from JEA in terms of capital investment. And that’s not going to change.

McElroy also had to account for “miscommunication” in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, a storm in which he was out of state.

 

Jacksonville Bold for 8.18.17 — Are we kingmakers?

Gov. Rick Scott pitched his tax-related ballot initiative in Jacksonville this week. By his side was House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

That was no coincidence.

All smiles for Speaker Richard Corcoran, Gov. Rick Scott in Dirty Duval this week.

Corcoran was there to support the plan — but clearly, he was also there to make his presence known to a Jacksonville press corps often obtuse when it comes to statewide issues and pols.

Corcoran was quippy, making jokes about how he’d be a “horrible statewide candidate” since he couldn’t feign enthusiasm about teams outside of Tampa. And he was relatable, extolling Mayor Lenny Curry with specificity. In turn, Curry extolled Corcoran for his consistent political philosophy.

Democratic candidates for Governor have been playing in the Duval sandbox (Gwen Graham primarily, though Andrew Gillum also has shown up). However, the expectation is that Jacksonville will mean much more in GOP primaries and it’s interesting to see how everyone is playing it.

Adam Putnam has been through the area off and on since declaring his candidacy, and he can always count on coverage, though it’s hard to think of anyone in the local press corps who really “gets” Putnam or gets particularly excited about covering him.

Jack Latvala was through here earlier this month to meet with political allies at the Fraternal Order of Police.

In statewide general elections, Democrats don’t make aggressive plays here (see, Patrick Murphy 2016, Charlie Crist 2014, Alex Sink 2010). In part, it’s because the kind of milquetoast, vaguely center-left campaigns run are tailored for the I-4 Corridor, not for Jacksonville’s brand of Dems.

It will be, in 2018, a Republican year. And expect every Republican with a shot to come through and kiss Curry’s ring.

He has multiple friends in this race, and expect Curry to let the process play out before he endorses.

November sentencing for Corrine Brown

On Wednesday, motions filed by former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown for a new trial and acquittal were denied, setting the stage for a November sentencing.

Brown’s motion for a new trial was predicated on a claim that a discharged juror was incorrectly removed.

Sad times for Corrine Brown, who may be gone in November.

Judge Timothy Corrigan rejected that premise: “Corrine Brown is entitled to a fair trial with an impartial jury that reaches a verdict in accordance with the law. That is what she received.”

“I determined beyond a reasonable doubt that there was no substantial possibility that he could base his decision on the sufficiency of the evidence and the Court’s instructions,” Corrigan added.

Regarding the acquittal motion, Corrigan said that “Suffice it to say there was more than sufficient evidence to justify the jury’s verdict on each count of conviction.”

Brown’s contention was that she was careless with her finances, leaving herself open for exploitation by her former co-defendant and chief of staff. However, Corrigan said the evidence said otherwise — that Brown was active in the scheme to defraud.

Confederate monuments to go?

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche seeks the removal of Jacksonville’s Confederate monuments in the wake of Charlottesville. The Jacksonville Civic Council backs her play.

The mayor thinks Jacksonville has some bigger issues than statues, meanwhile. And Brosche’s Council colleagues … well, let’s just say there is no consensus on this one yet.

Will the Confederate monument issue be as divisive as the HRO discussion was?

Those close to Curry have their concerns. One person wondered why this had to be hot-shotted in the way he believes it has been, when a more deliberate, less headline-grabbing process would have been more appropriate.

Regardless of timing, the band-aid has been ripped off. Jacksonville will have its own dialogue on Confederate reliquary.

For our writers, that means readers. For city officials, including those charged with public safety, more existential challenges — such as activists on the left and on the neo-Confederate side — are posed.

Mayor warns of ‘chatter’ from Confederate enthusiasts

During a Jacksonville press gaggle Tuesday, Curry warned of “chatter” heard by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office in the wake of Brosche‘s proposal to remove Confederate monuments.

‘Chatter’ from Confederate enthusiasts concerns Mayor Lenny Curry.

Curry commented in the wake of questions posed to Gov. Rick Scott and him regarding the proposed removal of these monuments — a proposal fraught with controversy locally, with that controversy even extending to the Council.

“I do think it’s important when we talk about public safety to recognize that how this is pursued in our community is important,” Curry said.

“I get briefed by the Sheriff regularly. I can tell you right now from discussions with him, based on Council’s wanting to outright say they want to remove these — there’s chatter from these outside groups. People in Charlottesville are already talking about coming to Jacksonville. We want to keep those groups out of our city, and we want to work together as a community to have a civil discourse.”

“I’m not proposing we remove these monuments,” Curry said. “Certainly, if the public wants to have that conversation — now the Council President has said this is her priority to remove them.”

“I urge the Council to have that discussion, that debate, Whatever they decide, I’ll evaluate it when it lands on my desk at that time,” Curry said, refraining from a commitment to sign or veto the bill when asked.

Brosche addressed Curry’s comments later Tuesday afternoon, saying that she’s “kicked off a process for defining an orderly and respectful solution for consideration by the Council and Mayor. I hope the community can allow that process to work.”

Spotted — Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown at this weekend’s annual Congressional Black Caucus Institute’s policy conference in Tunica, Mississippi hosted by Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson.

Hate mail hits Council President’s inbox

More fallout still from the proposal to remove Confederate monuments, in the form of emails to the Council President.

One such email purported to be from a senior administrator at a local university which, it turns out, had a cybersecurity breach that this episode uncovered.

Anna Brosche is in the middle of the maelstrom, yet undeterred.

“I find your caving-in to nasty commie anarchist hebes and their black jungle-bunny friends to be repulsive,” the email wrote.

“You are an Asian!  You don’t belong here. You aren’t from here. You just can’t cave-in to these sorry people and screw everyone else. You should not even be on the city council,” the email added, saying “liberals and their n*** allies are making you look bad.”

We asked Brosche her thoughts.

“While I’ve received an email with a closing salutation of ‘FU,’ that was the worst email so far. It does not change my position either way,” Brosche said.

Red light cameras to go

Good news for those who hate red light cameras in Jacksonville; this is the last year for them, per Sheriff Mike Williams.

The technology isn’t where it needs to be, Williams said.

Red-light cameras soon to be extinct in Jacksonville, says Sheriff Mike Williams.

“That contract will end in December. We wanted to add crash avoidance to a number of intersections in Jacksonville,” Williams said, “but the technology just isn’t there yet.”

“That was the appeal of having a red-light camera to me. If we can’t do that, we know from the data that it’s not really reducing crashes in the intersections, maybe we just let this contract sunset and take a look at it years down the road,” Williams said.

One suspects that may be many, many years down the road.

White males abound on Jax boards and commissions

The slogan du jour: One City, One Jacksonville. But the city’s boards and commissions are mostly white and male. However, that could change soon.

Of 332 people currently serving, 65 percent are male — a number not substantially different between City Council appointees (64 percent male) and appointees from other parties, such as the Mayor (66 percent).

Seventy percent of all appointees: Caucasian. The percentage of Council representatives is even higher: 80 percent, per the most recent Boards and Commissions diversity report.

This ratio holds true, more or less, no matter who is in office.

Jacksonville City boards and commissions have an overabundance of white dudes.

And some would contend that needs to change.

On Wednesday morning, Brosche held a public-notice meeting to that end.

“The meeting is intended to increase awareness of opportunities to serve in hopes of broadening the pool of candidates that apply,” Brosche said.

“I will always choose the most qualified candidate among the pool of applicants that apply; I’d like to have a ‘pool’ of candidates larger than one application,” Brosche added.

Brosche has made an active push in diversity/social justice initiatives, as seen by her push to remove Confederate monuments from public display in Jacksonville just this week.

JEA nuclear deal safe from failed project fallout

Despite a major blow to the nuclear power industry this week, JEA is still on track to add nuclear to its fuel mix around 2020.

After a South Carolina nuclear project was scuttled Monday, the Waynesboro, Georgia, plants being built by Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia became the only active nuclear construction project in the country.

The owners of the dead South Carolina project pointed to Westinghouse Electric Company’s recent bankruptcy filing as the culprit. The Toshiba-owned company was contracted to construct the new nuclear reactors and was also at one point the contractor for the Georgia plants.

JEA has a 20-year agreement in place to purchase nuclear power from the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia plants.

JTA autonomous vehicles move to test track

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s autonomous vehicle program is progressing apace, and the next step: a test track.

Emails between city officials reveal that track may be in one of the highest-visibility areas in the city.

A Friday email from Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa laid it out.

Autonomous vehicles: The time is now, per JTA.

Mousa wrote that “the JTA has approached the City about utilizing a section of asphalt pavement (driveway) in the Sports Complex as a test track for their autonomous vehicle program. The driveway is located south of and adjacent to Lot K, and controlled for the City by SMG. The City, SMG and the JTA have met and based on the attached memo, all seem to be in concurrence with this driveway use, pending further plan development, coordination, etc.”

AVs are the next generation for JTA’s fleet, intended to supplement and eventually replace the outmoded Skyway vehicles.

Mystery deepens on Times-Union ownership

Jacksonville residents are still trying to figure out what the recent sale of the Florida Times-Union means, and a recent Jax Daily Record write-up may or may not offer clarity.

It was previously reported that Gatehouse bought the T-U and other Morris Communications papers. And while that’s true, Gatehouse itself has an external owner after a 2013 Chapter 11 restructuring.

“New Media was created just four years ago to take control of the newspapers owned by GateHouse Media Inc. in a prepackaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy restructuring … formed by a real estate investment trust called Newcastle Investment Corp,” writes the Record’s Mark Basch.

The Times-Union has branded itself as aggressively local journalism — and that branding has stepped up in the last year, especially after a Morris mandate to endorse Donald Trump for President. The paper has gone hyper local with niche publications for Downtown enthusiasts (“J”) and aging scenesters (“Jack.)

Will the future of this branding and these initiatives change soon? Re-orgs are always interesting.

What the donor class can buy

Marc and Nicole Padgett are among Curry’s strongest supporters, and the Jax Daily Record reports that their future fundraisers for the Mayor will be held in fine style.

The couple is building a multi-story mansion in Fort Caroline, an older neighborhood in Arlington that has some of the highest terrains in the city.

Mrs. Padgett reckons that on a clear day, the couple will be able to see Fernandina Beach from the top floor of their building.

Mr. Padgett is on the Downtown Investment Authority; Mrs. Padgett, on the city’s Planning Commission.

What Aaron Bean is up to

On Monday, Aug. 21, state Sen. Bean will speak to the University of North Florida Student Government Senate at their first meeting of the fall semester, beginning 7 p.m. at 1 UNF Drive In Jacksonville.

The Fernandina Beach Republican will then speak to the Joseph E. Lee Republican Club Thursday, Aug. 24 to give an update on the 2017 Legislative Session, beginning 6 p.m. at The Salem Centre, 7235 Bonneval Road in Jacksonville.

Bean will give another 2017 legislative session update Monday, Aug. 28, at the Republican Club of West Jacksonville’s monthly meeting beginning 6 p.m. At the Harvest Time Church of God, 4502 Old Middleburg Road in Jacksonville.

The next day, Tuesday, Aug. 29, Bean will also give an update to the Rotary Club of South Jacksonville at 12:30 p.m., River City Brewing Company, 835 Museum Circle In Jacksonville.

Save the date

Atlantic Beach kickbacks?

Eleventh-hour drama in the Atlantic Beach Mayor’s race, where Mitch Reeves is dealing with an untimely ethics flap two weeks before Election Day.

Untimely bad press for Mayor Mitch Reeves. Will it matter?

“Atlantic Beach resident and mayoral candidate Ellen Glasser brought the possible conflict to the attention of city officials when she filed a complaint about Reeves July 27. In the letter, she said she believes his employment with G.T. Distributors is a violation of Section 66 of the Atlantic Beach City Charter,” reports the Florida Times-Union.

“Glasser said she felt she needed to raise the issue after looking over city emails and transactions between the city and G.T. Distributors since October 2016. Reeves is a copied recipient of at least four emails regarding specific sales between the company and the city,” the T-U adds.

Not a good look.

Three candidates will face off Aug. 29. If a runoff is needed, that will be in November.

Amazon in NW Jax: Ready to start processing orders

The Jax Daily Record reports that Amazon has begun hiring associates in NW Jax, with the fulfillment of orders set to begin Sept. 1.

Amazon is bringing thousands of jobs, with many in the $12-$16 per hour range

All told, the Pecan Park Road center will focus on small goods, and employ 1,500 people.

The Cecil Commerce Center location will focus on large goods, opening later in September.

“The city and state approved $25.7 million in incentives for the two large fulfillment centers. [The] legislation says the company’s total investment will be $315 million,” the Daily Record report adds.

AppointedMike Bell to the District Board of Trustees, Florida State College at Jacksonville. Bell, 53, of Fernandina Beach, is the vice president of public affairs at Rayonier, Inc. He succeeds Dr. Patricia White and is appointed for a term ending May 31, 2021.

Loop Nursery wins medical marijuana license

Jacksonville-based Loop’s Nursery & Greenhouses, Inc. reached an agreement with the Florida Department of Health, reports the Daytona Beach News-Journal. The arrangement settles an extended legal dispute over the license and brings the number of firms approved to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana to 12.

Loop’s struggle to get a license began in 2014, after the passage of a law allowing the use of non-euphoric cannabis for limited types of patients, such as children suffering from epilepsy. The law, which opened the door to wider medical-marijuana legalization, created a process to award one license in each of five different regions of the state. Competition for those licenses sparked lawsuits from several growers, including Loop’s, ultimately reaching the 1st District Court of Appeal.

Now there are 12: After three years of legal fighting, Loop’s Nursery finally wins medical marijuana license.

State Surgeon General Celeste Philip, who is secretary of the Florida Department of Health, signed an order this week approving the settlement and Loop’s license. The DOH now has 10 days to formally license and register Loop’s as a “medical marijuana treatment center.”

Editorial: Deepen JAXPORT for stronger Jacksonville, Florida

A Florida-Times-Union editorial says for Jacksonville’s port to stay competitive, it should not turn away “from all the opportunities before it.”

“That means deepening the port, as has been done for over 100 years,” the T-U writes. “Ships are getting bigger. With federal and state help, Jacksonville is on the way to funding a necessary port deepening plan.”

History of the port is filled with naysayers, the paper notes, including the “black hat” who sought to retain the status quo a half-century ago, keeping intact the “corrupt city government and an underperforming County government.”

JAXPORT deepening: Good for Jacksonville, good for Florida.

Deepening the harbor will have a significant economic impact on both Jacksonville and the state of Florida.

Data from the Florida Department of Transportation shows that for every dollar invested in the deepening project will return $16 to $24 to the state’s economy: “JAXPORT is likely to be at the high end of that ratio, given its growing stake in the Asian trade market — which has increased by 57 percent in a five-year period.”

Conservatively, the Port supports about 130,000 jobs in Northeast Florida — more than 24,000 directly in Jacksonville — with the dredging creating 15,000-plus new jobs.

Uber, JAA reach agreement over trip fees

Action News Jax reports that Jacksonville’s main airport and ride-sharing service Uber have come to an agreement in principle over per-trip user fees.

In a statement, Uber gave details of the agreement: pickup fees for transportation network companies and taxi companies will be set at $2.50, changing to $3.25 for both as of Sept. 1, 2017.

JAA and Uber make nice over per-trip fees.

“We thank the airport’s leadership for working to ensure that Jacksonville residents continue to have access to affordable and reliable transportation options, said Uber Florida General Manager Kasra Moshkani.

Uber Florida Public Affairs Manager Javi Correoso told reporters JIA had been charging Uber $3.25, while Gator City cab paid $2.50 for the same per-trip fee.

“We are willing to pay fees at the airport, but we are just asking the leadership at the airport to be fair,” Correoso said.

After early scoring, Armada ends North Carolina match in draw

Jacksonville Armada FC scored twice early and held on for a 2-2 draw against league leaders North Carolina FC (NCFC) in Cary Saturday night.

Recently acquired forward Tony Taylor scored his first goal of his career with the club in just the third minute. In the 18th minute, Jack Blake scored on a penalty kick after a foul on Tony Taylor in the area to give the Armada a 2-0 lead. Just before halftime, North Carolina midfielder brought his club within one goal after a turnover in the Jacksonville box.

Newly acquired forward Tony Taylor shined once again in just his third match with the club.

“You give yourself no breathing room when it’s 2-1,” said Armada Head Coach Mark Lowry. “North Carolina has a lot of bodies coming forward, a lot of players going past you, and is a very hard team to go against if you don’t take your chances.”

“The first half we were good,” said Lowry. “One moment we fell asleep in the box, we didn’t clear our lines properly, we switched off for a second, and we got punished to make it 2-1. Then the second half was a completely different game.”

Following the break, North Carolina’s strong attacking play continued. NCFC broke through to level the match in the 69th minute when Lance Laing was in the right place at the right time for his seventh league goal of the year. The score remained level at 2-2 for the duration.

“If you take away the first 10 minutes, we were exceptionally good,” said NCFC Head Coach Colin Clarke. “But, you can’t to do that, so we’re still answerable for those poor goals we gave up at the beginning. The reaction after [Jacksonville’s] early goals was very good with our play and passing. With a little bit more luck and some better finishing, we could have gotten all three points.”

The Armada play Puerto Rico FC at Hodges Stadium Wednesday.

 

Aaron Bean introduces bill to help special needs children in court

State Sen. Aaron Bean introduced his first bill ahead of next year’s Legislative Session, and it’s one that could help special needs children in courts of law.

The Pro Bono Matters Act of 2018 (SB 146) is designed, per a press release from Bean, “to provide case related due process costs to attorneys who provide pro bono services to dependent children with special needs.”

Bean contends that there currently is a service gap for those children.

“My hope is that this bill will encourage attorneys to offer pro bono services to a dependent child with certain special needs,” Bean asserted. “Removing the costs associated with volunteering to take the case could increase the number of attorneys who step forward to help these children.”

Bean’s bill would allocate up to $1,000 per child per year to appointed attorneys and organizations, including pro bono attorneys, to cover litigation-related costs, including expert witnesses, depositions and filing costs.

This bill is supported by the Florida Guardian Ad Litem program.

Public safety drives Jax City Council Parks budget discussion

Jacksonville’s Parks and Recreation Department is in the headlines a bit more this summer than usual.

For one thing, there is a public safety crisis at parks, specifically those in Northside and Northwest Jacksonville.

For another thing, Council President Anna Brosche prioritized improving the park system in her inauguration speech.

And for still another thing, Brosche has discussed enlisting parks to remove Confederate monuments.

With all that in mind, the $44M Parks budget was of keen interest.

Among the interesting items in the budget: a $500,000 capital outlay for cameras and enhanced lighting in certain problem-plagued parks that are “in and around hot spots for crime.”

Another safety related item: five positions for Mayor Lenny Curry‘s year-round swimming lessons program.

Councilwoman Lori Boyer turned discussion to community centers, which she linked to public safety.

Boyer noted that the public library has become a “safe place” for kids to go to, supplementing community centers.

“To me, it’s an umbrella,” Boyer said, noting that there may be cost savings in ramping up community centers’ hours after cuts years back, instead of paying so much for third-party after school programs.

Six community centers are dormant. If they were open 2:30-6:30 M-F during the school year, and during the summer for twelve hours, the cost would be $288,000 total.

“We absolutely need this,” added Councilwoman Joyce Morgan.

While the enhancement wouldn’t be taken up Thursday, Boyer called the $48,000 price tag per center “pretty cost-effective” compared to other options. The facilities are still available for rental, and are therefore being maintained.

Boyer also suggested that libraries could be improved with money spent on after-school programs.

Councilman Reggie Brown discussed senior centers, noting the early close times for most of them, and urging that senior centers could serve a community center function. Brown noted that, in terms of youth crime, teen centers and programs may help. There are no standalone teen centers, but there are programs throughout the city.

“I’m prayerful that we don’t have youthful criminals — K-8. I’m concerned about the lack of focus on our teenagers,” Brown said. “If the seniors are leaving at one, we can start a teen center at these sites from 3 to 7 p.m.”

Dennis pressed Mousa and Curry administration members to find a way to create $288,000 of room in the Parks budget for the aforementioned community centers.

“I know you’re very sharp with the numbers,” Dennis urged.

“We will take on the $288,000 to open these community centers,” Mousa said, “but any other request during the year will be difficult to handle. There’s a lot of things that come up during the year … we can’t make this a practice, but we won’t object to that $288,000. It’s a good investment and we will put it in the Parks budget.”

Some caveats: part-time hours may be needed in addition to that $288,000. And some facilities may be too far away from schools to be useful for this purpose.

“There’s not one thing that can stop the issues we’re facing,” Parks Director Daryl Joseph said. But a combination of tactics could contribute to turning the tide against violence among the city’s young.

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“We’ve had a number of violent incidents in parks. Some were drive-by. Some were in the parks themselves,” Councilwoman Boyer said, asking Joseph if they were safe.

Boyer also spotlighted vandalism in the parks, wondering how much was spent to clean up “criminal acts of vandalism.”

“If we’re spending a lot to recover that, it might make sense to spend up front to prevent it,” Boyer said.

Vandalism, Joseph said, eats up about 20 percent of the Parks capital budget: $300,000 to $500,000 a year. Activating the parks helps to take away the opportunity for vandalism, creating ownership for legitimate patrons. Security cameras are another fix.

“Something’s got to give. We’ve got to stop this,” Boyer said, citing sprinklers stolen the day after installation.

“So much of what we do is we are designing it so it can’t be vandalized … what you end up with is something that’s not very desirable. I hate it that we back into this. You go to other places,” Boyer said, citing the Tampa Riverwalk, “and it isn’t that way. Why do we have to take a back seat?”

Boyer suggested that security services to protect parks may be a viable option. “Park rangers” were also discussed.

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It wasn’t all public safety though.

Huguenot Park is having issues. Sufficient revenue isn’t coming in. The subfund is underwater, consistently year over year. And a fix is months away for some of the more existential problems.

One such issue: the campground has been closed since Hurricane Matthew so people could drive through to access the park, but Parks expects to open the campsites and pavilions once the new road is built this winter.

Jax City Council mulls Public Defender, State Attorney budgets, processes

The Thursday morning agenda for the Jacksonville City Council’s Finance Committee’s budget review was filled with an assortment of departments.

The Public Defender and the State Attorney. The Tax Collector. The Supervisor of Elections. All of these and a couple more besides.

Of the greatest interest: the PD and the SAO, both of those offices helmed by newly-elected officials in their first budget process.

The budget questions were secondary to those of policy, however, when it came to those departments. Council members wanted details on reform and progress after the shambolic eras of Matt Shirk and Angela Corey.

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The mood as proceedings began was filled with frivolity: Finance Chair Garrett Dennis joked that he was surprised to see Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa.

“I thought you’d be on a one-way trip to an island,” Dennis joked, alluding to last week’s fractious discussion

And Vice-Chair Danny Becton urged the committee to expedite the process, given the pivotal second Jaguars’ pre-season game tonight.

Soon enough, the jokes stopped and the deliberation began.

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Public Defender: Charles Cofer‘s budget had no recommended changes from the Council Auditor, but Cofer did get questions from Councilwoman Katrina Brown.

Cofer was asked to discuss changes in the office, which include “making sure we are doing well with our budget; we were in some bad ways in the budget.”

“We have restored respect in the system to our office … refocused the mission to our clients,” Cofer said.

Cofer eliminated 14 employees and replaced them with 7, allowing an increase in pay for lower and mid-level employees and facilitating keeping experienced barristers.

“The office historically has had … a 22 percent turnover rate for attorneys,” Cofer said, making the case for equitable pay.

“It’s a place where people are proud to work,” Cofer said. “We are emphasizing doing what good lawyers do.”

Brown quipped that “my colleague Mr. Hazouri wanted to know if you removed the shower”; the shower, made famous by Cofer’s predecessor’s peccadillos is still there.

Also there still: a case load backlog, which is roughly 250 cases per division.

“Generally, the case loads are manageable, but it’s tough,” Cofer said.

Cofer noted that he and State Attorney Melissa Nelson have a cordial adversarial relationship, which allows them to work more effectively than did their predecessors in their respective roles.

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State Attorney: Melissa Nelson’s budget had no significant adjustments, but councilors had questions.

“The biggest question in the community,” said Councilwoman Brown, “is the prosecution of police officers.”

Nelson noted that officer infractions are treated “just as seriously” as they would be by “any civilian layperson,” with a timeframe for prosecution dependent on the complexity and time impact of the investigation.

Nelson noted her office is responsive to the community, including timely response to email requests and two hotlines to report crimes.

Nelson noted that intraoffice changes include improved efficiency in work flow, creation of a strategic prosecution unit, and a human rights division that reviews everything from human trafficking to police misconduct.

Councilman Reggie Gaffney wanted to know more about juvenile prosecution changes. These include expanded use of civil citation, with greater discretion to law enforcement and the SAO no longer obstructing use of this reform. An MOU is in place across the circuit, ensuring uniformity.

“All of the law enforcement agencies are increasing their usage,” Nelson said, with a six-month review of process set for December, and SAO serving as a “backstop” to educate law enforcement on opportunities to use civil citations as effectively and fully as possible.

A diversion program is on the verge of being implemented, and to that end outside consultation is being sought nationwide.

Councilwoman Lori Boyer lauded the positive changes in the offices of State Attorney and Public Defender, but had questions about supplementary officers — like Community Service Officers and School Resource Officers.

Boyer is interested in an “intermediate policing capacity” for these officers; Nelson noted discussions between the Sheriff and herself about expanding civil citations to adults.

“What you’ll see in the future months,” Nelson said, would be JSO expanding civil citations with the SAO support.

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Tax Collector: The Tax Collector’s hearing was highlighted by a recommendation to boost projected delinquent sales tax revenue by $102,630 to $450,000; the idea, to reflect current year revenue. That recommendation would decrease a general fund transfer, and increase council contingency.

Tax Collector Michael Corrigan also noted that there simply aren’t enough employees to handle current business. E-Checks were encouraged as a potential solution.

“Anytime you’re processing paper, it takes more time,” Council Auditor Kyle Billy said.

Becton proposed letting the Tax Collector use $60,000 of the proposed $102,630 adjustment to “help give us more compliance on e-checks.”

Corrigan expressed the urgency of expanding services as the city grows, noting that he needs more employees.

A suggestion from the Council Auditor: carrying over $541,000 from a capital account for new hires.

Becton noted issues with “people in line, processing, and those kinds of things,” pushing for the e-payment expenditure, adding that he doesn’t care how it’s funded as long as it’s “logical.”

“I’m constantly trying to get enough people,” Corrigan said, urging that money not be moved from the capital fund.

CAO Mousa said that excess salary dollars could be transferred if there is an overage beyond $60,000, avoiding the capital transfer. And so it went.

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Another talking point during the Tax Collector hearing had to do with diversity.

Corrigan maintained that his department follows mandates and executive orders, adding that of the 213 employees the department has, 46.9 percent are “minority.”

Dennis noted the city’s commitment to “Equal Opportunity/Equal Access” was an effort to “cast a broader net” in hiring, not a “quota system” or “affirmative action.”

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Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan was next up, and the major budget recommendations from the Council Auditor had to do with part-time hours.

One such recommendation: moving 8,734 part-time hours to registration from elections.

“That was a request from the Mayor’s Office. They wanted to more correctly identify where those part-time hours were,” Hogan said.

The second recommendation: reducing part-time salaries by $30,800 given adjustments in site hours.

Chair Dennis wondered why budget was going up year over year for salaries.

“You have an increase in salaries … internal services … operating expenses,” Dennis said.

Hogan noted poll workers got their first raise in “many years” in November, with daily pay from $200 to $275.

Dennis said that was in the previous year’s budget, so the raise still didn’t make sense.

Noting that the SOE will come in half a million under the current budget, Dennis was surprised by a 2.5 percent increase year over year.

Councilwoman Lori Boyer wanted to know the specific line items that accounted for the increase.

“Last year’s election was unlike anything else in the state of Florida,” Hogan said, noting that “election fraud” and other variables required the department to “do things differently,” such as hiring more rovers to go from precinct to precinct, and using more poll workers.

Hogan pointed to cost-reduction measures: eliminated mailings and cutting down two FTEs are among them.

“As we look at the budget and note multiple needs,” Dennis said, “we just want to make sure we’re [not] giving you more money than you really need.”

The SOE budget, pending better information, will be moved below the line.

Aaron Bean backs Wyman Duggan in HD 15

Another day, another key endorsement for Wyman Duggan in the race in Jacksonville’s state House District 15 — Thursday’s is courtesy of state Sen. Aaron Bean.

Bean joins U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, state Rep. Jason Fischer, and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry in backing Duggan, who very quickly is coalescing the entire establishment behind him.

“Wyman Duggan is a committed conservative who will fight for our shared conservative values in Tallahassee. I’m proud to endorse his campaign for state representative and look forward to serving with him,” Bean stated.

Duggan is “honored by Sen. Bean’s support. He has been a strong advocate for Jacksonville and a champion of conservative values.”

Duggan has no opponent in the race to succeed Rep. Jay Fant as of yet.

Jacksonville Council Finance Chair: ‘I didn’t plan on being opposition to the Mayor’

Beginning Thursday, the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee will review Mayor Lenny Curry‘s proposed budget.

Discussions last week showed an independent streak among the committee’s members, chaired by Curry’s leading City Hall antagonist of the moment, Garrett Dennis.

FP talked to Dennis Wednesday evening, after he gave a well-received speech to the Jacksonville Young Democrats

Though Dennis’ rhetoric is in campaign mode, he assures us that his next campaign is simply a run for re-election — not a bid for the Mayor’s Office, as some supporters have urged.

Dennis also addressed recent news cycles, including discussions of swimming lesson funding and after-school funding, that have seen him at odds with the Mayor.

“I didn’t plan on being opposition to the Mayor. I want to win. I want the city to win. I’m not anti-Curry. He’s a good guy,” Dennis said.

A good guy, but one with whom Dennis has policy differences.

One such difference dominated Jacksonville news cycles this week: Dennis’ latest push for more after-school program money.

Just a week after Dennis’ floor amendments were defeated on a bill allocating $1 million more for after-school programs, including an amendment that would have pushed the total spend to $3 million, with money coming from the city’s reserve accounts, Dennis tried again with an emergency appropriation for more money for these programs.

Dennis’ proposal is ambitious: it would extend offerings for 1,280 kids in 12 of 14 Council districts. Yet the source of financing nettles the Mayor’s Office; the bill seeks to move $1,92M from Council’s contingency account for pension liability to fund these programs.

Dennis defends the ask, noting that the fund is already being drawn upon for $1.1M SAFER Grant matching funds, that the fund still has a $2.3M balance, and that if unspent, the money would be swept into the general fund at the end of the fiscal year.

“If there is a hill I will die on,” Dennis said, “I will die on this hill fighting for these kids.”

Dennis also discussed Curry’s proposal to hire 100 new police officers, which was held in abeyance by the committee last week. 

“I’m confused on the math,” Dennis said, noting that only 80 of the officers are funded in the budget, and that 70 more are expected to retire next fiscal year.

JSO can only train 80 per year, Dennis said, and he’s unconvinced of the JSO plan to train 170 new officers.

“The math isn’t adding up,” Dennis said, noting the new hires will be younger and cheaper than the retirees.

“I don’t want to give more than JSO has the capacity to perform,” Dennis said, wanting a “realistic number” of trainable hires, rather than excess capacity.

Answers to these questions may not be provided until the “wrap up” meeting of the committee, which could be as late on the calendar as Aug. 26.

In the context of a rift between its chair and the Mayor, the committee resumes deliberations Thursday.

Thursday sees the Tax Collector and Supervisor of Elections kick proceedings off; Dennis was a former employee of the SOE, so he should have interesting insight.

The State Attorney and Public Defender also speak — and given their reform paths, coupled with a Finance Committee controlled by African-American Democrats who are getting intense community pressure on reforms to criminal justice, those could be potentially news-making hearings.

The big time commitment: three hours on Parks and Recreation, a hearing that may involve questions for Director Daryl Joseph on the potential removal of Confederate monuments — a priority of Council President Anna Brosche.

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