Jax Archives - Florida Politics

Cord Byrd to ramp up re-election bid in November

In Nov. 2016, Cord Byrd won election to the state House with 98 percent of the vote against a write-in. The real action was in the GOP primary for what was an open seat.

Next month, Byrd begins ramping up his House District 11 re-election campaign in earnest, with few worries about a primary challenge as the Fernandina Beach Republican looks to defend a deep-red seat.

Byrd is slated for a Nov. 3 event in Jacksonville Beach at Ed Malin‘s Angie’s Subs location that is a usual stop for Republican candidates.

Nov. 13 finds Byrd making his Nassau County launch at the Fernandina Beach Diner.

Both events have 5:30 p.m. start times.

Byrd’s fundraising this cycle has been in low gear thus far: he raised $400 in September, against $2,549 spent, bringing his total cash on hand to just under $16,000.

Expect an uptick in those numbers.

Byrd has been in the news recently as well for endorsing Rep. Frank White for Attorney General — despite the fact that a local candidate, Jacksonville Rep. Jay Fant, is also vying for the Republican nomination for Attorney General.

Opioid lawsuit, Hart Bridge study await Jacksonville City Council Tuesday

Among Jacksonville City Council agenda items this week: moving forward on a lawsuit against Big Pharma for opioids and a study of the future of the Hart Bridge’s off ramps.

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Opioid action: Resolution (2017-674) would allow the city’s general counsel to “investigate and pursue” a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.

The bill allows the city’s general counsel to consider outside representation. Each firm’s financial capability to pursue the matter is among criteria considered.

The bill is on the consent agenda; barring someone deciding to pull it, there likely will be no discussion of the matter.

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Total eclipse of the Hart: No, they don’t want to tear down the Hart Bridge. But they are looking at a way to get federal money to reconfigure the offramps from the Hart, with the current justification being to improve freight traffic headed to Talleyrand.

Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa pushed in committees last week for $1.5 million for a “design criteria project,” a prerequisite for moving forward on this “shovel-ready project.”

This design criteria project could be done in as few as four months, or as many as eight.

This would include a survey of the current conditions, preliminary design alignments (such as lane location and speed rates), and other such basic criteria.

This $1.5 million is important, said Mousa, because the city is pursuing a federal infrastructure grant of $25 million, with $12.5 million from Florida in matching money and $12.5 million from the city.

The bill cleared committees, and won’t get meaningful pushback Tuesday night.

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Eureka, they’ll fund it: Jacksonville City Council resolution 2017-671, which would authorize $90,000,000 in Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority bonds for  Millennia Housing Management (MHM) to “finance, acquire, rehab & equip four Multifamily Rental Housing Developments,” was approved by Council committees of reference last week.

Along with the new money was supposed to come new names; 400-unit Eureka Gardens, 94-unit Moncrief Village, 74-unit Southside Apartments & 200-unit Washington Heights would be known as Valencia Way, Estuary Estates, Oyster Pointe and Charlesfort Commons, respectively.

However, three Finance Committee members with one of these properties in their districts balked at the renaming, saying (correctly) there wasn’t any local connection to the names chosen by Millennia. This led to a floor amendment to strike the new names from the bill.

The Finance substitute will be on the table.

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Pension tension: The full Jacksonville City Council likely will get a chance to do what two committees did last week — reject a bill that would allocate portions of increased general fund revenue in future years to defraying the city’s $3.2 billion unfunded pension liability.

Pension reform restructured the debt on the city’s defined benefit pensions, allowing for payment to kick in, in earnest, in 2030, when a current half-cent sales surtax will be shifted to the defined benefit debt burden.

However, Councilman Danny Becton has advocated for more money to be spent on the obligation ahead of 2030, and — despite no enthusiasm for the concept from Mayor Lenny Curry, a fellow Republican, the Councilman has pushed forward.

The bill was bounced from Finance and Rules last week, with Council President Anna Brosche — a co-sponsor of the measure — sitting in committees as the bill was voted down.

Will the bill come up Tuesday night? It’s still on the agenda. Becton declined opportunity to pull the bill and workshop it further, despite suggestions to do just that in Finance.

Jax Jaguars President punts when questioned about Shad Khan controversy

Friday saw Mayor Lenny Curry join Jacksonville Jaguars President Mark Lamping, to announce the 2017 recipients of the Jacksonville Veterans Resource and Reintegration Center community grants.

Ordinarily, the main interest would be in the organizations, and the Jaguars’ tangible multi-year commitment to military and veterans’ organizations.

This year, there was gaggle interest in the comments of Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan, who has lambasted President Donald Trump in the wake of Trump’s criticism of national anthem protests.

“You have to give Trump credit, people are confused on the First Amendment versus patriotism, that if you exercise your First Amendment, you’re not a patriot, which is crazy … People are confused on it, (Trump) knew he could hit on it and take advantage. I think what we’re seeing is the great divider overcoming the great uniter.” Khan said earlier this month.

Khan also lambasted Trump’s response to the death of a serviceman,  Army Sgt. La David Johnson, recently.

“It’s so bad,” said Khan to USA Today. “It’s below the lowest of the lowest expectations. It doesn’t sound rational. It’s bizarre.”

Khan then said that the President was more offensive than NFL protests of the national anthem.

“Let’s get real,” Khan said. “The attacks on Muslims, the attacks on minorities, the attacks on Jews. I think the NFL doesn’t even come close to that on the level of being offensive. Here, it’s about money, or messing with — trying to soil a league or a brand that he’s jealous of.”

In that context, the response of the Jaguars President — who issued a formal apology letter for the Jaguars kneeling in London, a letter that has seen its veracity questioned — and Mayor Curry, a political ally of Trump, were of interest.

To sum: Lamping showed an elusiveness the Jaguars haven’t seen since the Fred Taylor years, while Mayor Curry gave a direct enough answer, one that reconciled the incompatibility of views between his biggest donor and his party’s President.

Lamping attempted to avoid discussing the comments, instead discussing the Jaguars as “the sports franchise that does the most to honor the military … a model franchise.”

“What we control is what we do here in Jacksonville,” Lamping said, as if the comments of the team’s owner are somehow separate from that.

“I don’t think there’s anything inconsistent with what the Jaguars do in this community to support the military,” Lamping said, dodging yet another direct question about Khan ethering Trump and his adviser, Steve Bannon, as intentionally dividing people and playing to the right-wing base.

“I’m not sure if it really matters what I say,” Lamping continued, saying that what mattered was that “Shad, Tom Coughlin, and I got together with a group of military leaders representing current and retired military members and their families.”

“We had a wonderful discussion,” Lamping asserted. “We talked about things that are important to them, what our experience was, and we left that meeting with a very clear path.”

That path, said Lamping, was illustrated at the Jaguars’ last home game, where the players asked “everyone to join them in a prayer, a moment of reflection, for those that are serving and have served our country, for first responders … for people that suffered through Hurricane Irma … for the tragedy in Las Vegas.”

Lamping contined in that vein for a while longer, clearly deciding that — despite multiple opportunities to address the Jags’ owner becoming the sports world’s leading critic of the President — it was better to spin and move on.

Curry was more direct.

“You know where I stand. I’m a Republican. The President’s position — he’s a businessman, his position on job creation, economic development … as inartfully as it is expressed at times….”

Curry then pivoted to a description of a policy dinner recently, in which the speaker was asked to sum up much of what comes out of the Trump administration.

“If I’m a passenger on the plane,” Curry said, “I’m pulling for the pilot … Right now, we’re all passengers on the plane. Last time I looked, we’re still in the air. And I’m rooting for the pilot. The President’s the pilot.”

“As inartfully as the policies are expressed at times, we’re all passengers on the plane right now. I’m pulling for the pilot,” Curry said.

We then asked Curry if he thought Khan was still “pulling for the pilot.”

“I don’t comment on other people — look, I have my positions. I am aligned with the Jaguars organization in terms of support for the military. We are aligned on economic development, jobs, trying to do things to make this a better city,” Curry said.

“I have been very clear on my position with the [Trump] administration,” Curry said. “And my support in the past, and I remain where I was yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that.”

We asked Curry to evaluate Khan’s acidic comments about Steve Bannon; the mayor pivoted.

“I have been crystal clear in the campaign and since the election that as inartfully sometimes as the policies have been expressed,” Curry said, “I’m a passenger on the plane, I’m rooting for the pilot, and we’re still in the air.”

Jacksonville area sees lower unemployment in September

Friday saw Gov. Rick Scott‘s Department of Economic Opportunity release September job numbers for Northeast Florida, a mixed bag in the wake of Irma.

The good news, via the DEO: the Jacksonville area’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.4 percent in September, down 1.4 points from September 2016.

Unemployment rates ranged from 2.7 percent in St. Johns County to 4.5 percent in rural Putnam County.

The governor’s office prefers year-over-year comparisons, and to that end some results are interesting.

Two industries that have lost jobs over the year augur a potential economic slowdown: leisure and hospitality (-3,800 jobs) and mining, logging, and construction (‐500 jobs).

All told, non-agricultural employment in the Jacksonville MSA was 677,000, an increase of 2,900 jobs (+0.4 percent) over the year.

Julian Castro heads to Jacksonville as Duval Dems gear up for 2018

On Thursday, Oct. 26, the Duval County Democratic Executive Committee brings a big name to town for a fundraiser.

Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, who may be in the mix for the 2020 Democratic Presidential race, is headed to Jacksonville for a fundraiser event designed to appeal to all price levels: a $50 “meet and greet” option is available for those going blue on a budget, as is a $1,000 VIP selection, suitable for trial lawyers and the like.

Also notable: the location of the fundraiser event.

Castro will be at the home of a local candidate: House District 15 hopeful Tracye Polson, who is making a bid to turn Republican Rep. Jay Fant‘s district from red to blue.

Polson — unlike many local Democratic candidates for State House races in traditionally Republican-leaning districts — has a nest egg that compares with that of her likely Republican opponent.

Republican hopeful Wyman Duggan has roughly $60,000 on hand after two months in the race.

Meanwhile, Polson brought in $51,099 in September (half of that self-financed), with over $47,000 of that cash on hand.

Polson faces an uphill battle in some respects. HD 15 includes the tony enclaves of Avondale and Ortega, expanding out deep into the Westside of Jacksonville. It’s hard to imagine her getting many votes from the pickup truck and gun rack set, especially given that Tim Baker and Brian Hughes are running the Duggan campaign.

Still, there will be a competitive race in HD 15 — a stark difference from 2016, when Fant ran unopposed by a Democrat and burned $70,000 on television ads the month before the election anyway.

Democrats, as we wrote last week, are making plays in Northeast Florida that they hadn’t in recent cycles.

Local college instructor Tim Yost is challenging Rep. Clay Yarborough in House District 12 on Jacksonville’s Southside, but odds are longer for Yost. Yarborough is consistently fundraising ($53,000 banked) and Yost ($1,700 banked) is still finding traction.

For U.S. Rep. John Rutherford‘s Congressional District 4 seat, Monica DePaul, a Jacksonville woman who was Florida’s first transgender delegate to a major-party nominating convention, is making her bid for the Democratic nomination.

Outside of the immediate Jacksonville area, a candidate with no questions about fundraising: Ambassador Nancy Soderberg, who reports a $336,000 haul in her first quarter as a candidate in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

The 2016 cycle was one in which Hillary Clinton actually beat Donald Trump in the city of Jacksonville (though the larger county went to Trump, thanks to the Beaches and Baldwin).

Yet Democrats had very little downballot traction, in part because candidates weren’t fielded for State House seats held by Republicans, for the State Attorney’s Office, and for the Public Defender office.

It’s looking like Democrats will avoid those mistakes in 2018.

Helping the Democrats: absolute disarray in the Duval County Republican Party, where the chair is so freaked by leaks that she is threatening to make Republican Executive Committee members sign non-disclosure agreements.

The Duval REC is also facing a cash crunch, and there are questions among many of those REC members about whether or not the chair even has a strategy to bring money in. The local party has eschewed Lincoln Day events, which are historical cash grabs for county RECs.

One longtime observer says the party is at its weakest point since the early 1980s locally, a time when Southern Democrats still ruled the roost. Many others wax nostalgic for former chairs, such as Cindy Graves and Mike Hightower.

While most major Republican candidates run operations through committees now, making the party structure less necessary than it might have been previously, what is clear is that Duval Democrats see that they have real opportunity — and that they aren’t wasting it.

Jacksonville Bold for 10.20.17 — Winning is everything

Politics in Northeast Florida — except when hot-button social issues like lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights or Confederate monuments are in play — is often a matter of mechanics.

Much of what we see in this week’s Bold: a matter of fundamentals, blocking and tackling.

We see it with our region’s two congressmen, raising money for the re-election and working together on a veterans’ bill.

We see it with a House Speaker of the future, who looks to use state law to take on “rogue” liberal cities run by “Bernie Sanders” types.

And we see it in City Hall, where the Mayor essentially is Ric Flair, his team The Four Horsemen, and everyone who gets in their way is grist for the mill.

While chaos and drama are typically what get the TV cameras to City Hall, the real action is far more quotidian and subtle: behind-the-scenes conversations, allegations and counter-allegations, and a well-timed forearm shiver for a pol who may have gotten ambitious at the expense of a larger agenda.

And just outside of City Hall, what bears watching is a rapidly developing 2019 field of Council candidates — men and women who could prove to be a dispositive, influential bloc of voters after those elections.

The idea behind Jacksonville Bold: to provide actionable, meaningful insight into the process.

Anyone can tell you who wins after the fact. We generally tell you before a lot of observers even know a game is being played.

House incumbents bank cash during third quarter

Republican John Rutherford of Congressional District 4 and Democrat Al Lawson of CD 5 continue to sock money away for 2018 re-election bids.

Of the two, Rutherford had the more active third quarter of 2017.

Northeast Florida’s Congressmen are prepping for re-election bids. Via WJCT

Rutherford’s total receipts are now up to $241,484, with $146,044 cash on hand.

Rutherford hauled in over $155,000 of that $241,000 total from January to June 2017, meaning he raised over $85,000 during the last three months.

Lawson has $190,126 raised (all but $51,000 of that from committees), with $97,876 cash on hand.

As of the last quarterly report filed in July, Lawson had brought in over $158,000, doing even better than Rutherford. However, it’s clear that fundraising momentum slowed down, with roughly $32,000 delivered in this quarter.

Rutherford, Lawson collaborate on veterans’ bill

Rutherford and Lawson, meanwhile, have joined forces for a new piece of veteran-friendly legislation.

HR 3965 — the “Veterans Armed for Success Act” — would appropriate $5M for job-related training and “transition assistance” for military veterans.

John Rutherford addressed media about his latest vet-friendly bill.

That $5M would go to eligible organizations in the form of federal matching funds, defraying up to 50 percent of costs.

In Jacksonville Tuesday afternoon at “Operation New Uniform,” Rutherford — who introduced the legislation —  addressed local media, explaining how the bill would work in helping military veterans with “transitioning into stable-long term employment.”

“Veterans get the job done and get the job done right,” Rutherford said, adding that his bill would help “set up veterans for success.”

Paul Renner takes on ‘rogue’ local governments

Rep. Renner foreshadowed some of what his speakership may look like in a recent interview noticed by Flagler Live.

Paul Renner takes aim at ‘Bernie Sanders’ type rogues in liberal local governments.

Urban values — more “liberal” than the rest of the state — look likely to be challenged.

“Part of this, to be real blunt about it,” Renner said, “what you’re seeing and this is part of a larger conversation could have is the concentration of support for a more center-left or left-wing viewpoint, and this is again not Flagler County, but our major cities, San Francisco, New York.”

“The Democrat Party has really become a party of dense urban areas, and the rest of the country tends to be more conservative, more Republican,” Renner added.

He continued: “So part of the fight, part of the sub-context of this whole discussion, is the reason we think they’re going rogue is because it’s Bernie Sanders in charge of your local city government or county government in some cases, and doing things that really are sharp departures from the way the country has become so prosperous, so strong and so free, and so states are stepping in to say, look, we’re not going to let you destroy all the good work that we’re doing and all the economic growth we’re creating in the state for people by trying to ban or shut down particular industries that you don’t like.”

“So there is that ideological struggle that I think may become more and more prevalent,” Renner added, “where you see battles nationwide, more battles between states as a whole that tend to be more as a whole, center-right and cities, again as a whole more big cities than Palm Coast, tend to be more to the left.”

Sanctuary cities were an example spotlighted in the article. But some fear an expansion of discussion parameters to matters like Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance as well, expanded in 2016 to include protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in public accommodations, housing and employment areas.

Business as usual

Florida Times-Union writer David Bauerlein has been routinely frustrated in his attempts to get an interview with Councilwoman Katrina Brown regarding $590,000 of city money that went to her family business for a BBQ sauce plant that ended up flatlining.

Sauce loss: Councilwoman Katrina Brown’s company has ‘jerked’ the city around.

Fifty-six jobs were supposed to be created in the 2011 deal, but none were.

Bauerlein’s piece amply documents a slipshod review and oversight process that spanned two mayoral administrations, while avoiding editorial comments.

It would be interesting if city officials were willing to review the incongruity of Brown sitting on the Council’s Finance Committee even as she deals with these issues. However, the reality is that is not going to happen. There will never be moves to remove Brown from Finance.

The Council lacks a willingness to police its members. And the head of the Ethics Commission is subject to Council approval in an upcoming legislative cycle.

Opioid lawsuit from Jax seems inevitable

On Monday and Tuesday, Jacksonville City Council panels OK’d a resolution (2017-674) to allow the city’s general counsel to “investigate and pursue” a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.

Will Big Pharma make a big payout to Jacksonville? Council seems to want it.

Full Council approval will be a formality and will almost certainly be conferred next week.

The resolution calls out “pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors” as potential lawsuit targets, yet does not rule out other targets.

The bill allows for general counsel to consider outside representation. Each firm’s financial capability to pursue the matter is among criteria reviewed by general counsel, and no out-of-pocket costs would be absorbed by the city.

The city would need its own legal action to secure its own potential recovery. This would not be a class action suit, as each city has its individual impacts.

Jax poised to move forward on Hart Bridge study

$1.5M looks poised to be earmarked for a “design criteria study” or changes to the Hart Bridge in Jacksonville — a priority of the Lenny Curry administration, albeit one with shifting rationales.

Curry first floated the project last year, telling the Duval Legislative Delegation that the idea was to route traffic onto Bay Street to drive traffic toward the Sports Complex and related attractions.

Now the rationale is different: the goal is to help semi-trucks drive freight.

Will Jacksonville get a federal grant to change traffic flow on the Eastside? Time will tell.

The project, supported by FDOT, would provide for “free-flowing truck traffic,” with a T intersection at Gator Bowl Boulevard to route traffic onto Talleyrand Avenue, to help improve freight transport.

This $1.5 million is important because the city is pursuing a federal infrastructure grant of $25 million, with $12.5 million from the state of Florida in matching money and $12.5 million from the city.

Stakes are high: if the federal money falls through, so does matching money from the state.

Jacksonville has one of three similar grant applications pending with the federal government, currently, though there is no timetable on when a grant may be approved.

Curry wins another pension argument

To the surprise of few, Councilman Danny Becton’s latest attempt to sock away more money for pension liability went bust in Council.

Becton sought increases in general fund revenue earmarked toward pension obligations. The Mayor’s Office doesn’t support the bill, yet it has been around for months.

It was killed again this week in Finance Committee, where Becton is a Vice-Chair, and co-sponsor Garrett Dennis is the Chair.

Another co-sponsor — Council President Anna Brosche — was in committee but didn’t speak up.

Danny Becton-nomics: a “no sale” to Council colleagues, despite leadership backing.

CFO Mike Weinstein threw cold water on the bill early on, saying “we thought pension was basically finished,” noting that changes to the bill haven’t changed the Mayor’s Office’s position on the bill.

Weinstein also noted that, even when growth abates, the compounding of interest hikes will demand higher payments regardless — creating a potential unfunded mandate.

“If we’re neutral one year, we still have to make a compound increase to the pension fund,” Weinstein said.

Another win for Curry. Another political lesson for those who stand in the way of the machine. In the words of Rocky Horror Picture Show, let’s do the time warp again.

Ron Salem gears up for race against Bill Bishop

A Jacksonville City Council race worth watching in 2019 features two Republicans: former Councilman Bill Bishop against Ron Salem, a well-connected 61-year-old making his first run for office.

Ron Salem finally has competition in the 2019 Jax Council derby.

Salem had the same reaction as many did when Bishop announced he was running for Council.

Given that Bishop declared his intentions to run again for mayor after the 2015 race, Salem wondered why Bishop had deviated from his confident declaration.

“[Bishop] decided to run for Council for reasons that were unclear to me,” Salem said.

In what has to be seen as an irony, Bishop may not be running for mayor again — but he will get a second chance at Curry’s political team, as Tim Baker and Brian Hughes are running Salem’s campaign also.

Currently, Salem has banked $101K.

In 2015’s mayoral race, Bishop garnered roughly 17 percent of the vote. He endorsed then-incumbent Mayor Alvin Brown, a Democrat, after his loss in the “First Election.”

LeAnna Cumber, Rose Conry launch Council runs

In the last week, LeAnna Cumber and Rose Conry each filed paperwork to launch long-expected campaigns for Jacksonville City Council.

Cumber, a well-connected Republican, will be running to replace termed-out Lori Boyer in District 5. Conry, a likewise well-connected Republican who will be a Jax Chamber favorite, is running to replace Matt Schellenberg in District 6.

LeAnna Cumber is well-suited to continue the Lori Boyer tradition in the district.

These campaigns — like those of District 13 candidate Rory Diamond, District 14 hopeful Randy DeFoor, and at-large candidate Ron Salem — will be run by Tim Baker and Brian Hughes, Curry’s political advisers who seem to be cornering the market on pragmatic Republican candidates.

There are those who wonder how Baker and Hughes are able to shape narratives. Spoiler alert: they outwork their competitors in this market, as insiders and those who cover the game know better than those who watch from a safe remove.

RIP, Jim Tullis

Jacksonville lost a former City Councilman this week; Jim Tullis died at the age of 75.

Former Council colleague Eric Smith was quoted remembering Tullis in the Florida Times-Union.

Jim Tullis was an insurance agent by trade.

“He was all about what was best for his constituents and the city of Jacksonville,” Smith told the T-U. “He was a very fair council president, fair with the public and worked very well with his colleagues.

“Jim always embraced the tough assignments and relished a hard task,” Smith said.

“ … He spent months on working out the comprehensive plan, which included zoning and other issues.”

So sorry, I said

Just as the Jacksonville Jaguars roll over on the field, their president did so in a grovel-by-numbers letter to Jacksonville City officials, apologizing for team members protesting in London during the U.S. national anthem.

Jaguars’ apology for national anthem protest — will it help with restive fans?

The team “was remiss in not fully comprehending the effect of the national anthem demonstration on foreign soil has had on the men and women who have or continue to serve our country.”

“Similarly, we today can better appreciate how standing for God Save The Queen may have been viewed negatively by our armed forces here in Jacksonville and beyond …  today we can understand how the events in London on Sept. 24 could have been viewed or misinterpreted. We owe you an apology and hope you will accept it.”

One meeting attendee has already come out saying the apology was bunk.

April Green to JEA Board

Jacksonville’s JEA Board will have a new member soon — pending City Council approval.

April Green has been selected to fill a vacancy left by Ed Burr, who stepped down from the board earlier this year.

Ed Burr’s spot on the board took some months to fill, raising questions for some media.

Legislation will be introduced by Curry this week, and City Council approval will be necessary for Green to join the utility’s board.

Green, an Air Force Veteran who served in Desert Storm, brings to the table extensive experience in business and marketing, along with a deep-seated connection with the community through religious faith and philanthropy.

Currently, Green is the chief operating officer for Baxter Technology, in addition to being the CFO/chief operating officer for Bethel Baptist Institutional Church in Jacksonville.

Previously, Green served as corporate tourism director for the Jacksonville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

A member of the Board of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, Green also is a 2015 Leadership Florida graduate.

Buc-ee’s to SJC; 120 gas pumps

In the world of convenience stores, bigger is better, apparently. And Texas chain Buc-ee’s will test that theorem as it brings one of its supersized one-stop-shops to St. Johns County.

This will be, reports the Jax Daily Record, a 52.6K square foot facility at the World Golf Village exit on I-95.

Expect these billboards up and down I-95 next year.

The board of county commissioners will mull the proposal within the next three months and could greenlight it from there.

If variances are needed, the process could take another three months, the Daily Record adds.

St. Augustine’s monumental decision

All those people gassing up in St. Johns County will need something to look at afterward. So why not Confederate monuments in St. Augustine?

First Coast News reports that the city manager is poised to recommend that the city keep its monuments — but with added verbiage offering “contextualization.”

‘Contextualization’ of monuments should solve everything.

“There are two options not being recommended by staff. First would be to do nothing, and miss an opportunity to tell the city’s complete history. The other would be to relocate it which raises a number of challenges including how to move it without physically destroying it, the cost and who would pay, and identifying a place for relocation,” a news release from St. Augustine city government said.

Staff recommendations will be discussed Monday at a city government meeting.

Debbie Buckland Chair-elect of Jax Chamber

The Jacksonville Daily Record reports that Debbie Buckland is the chair-elect of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

“The chamber is on the forefront of what is happening in our city and leads on important issues,” Buckland said in a news release.

Buckland is the fifth female chair since 1901.

She will be the chair in 2019 after former Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton wraps his tenure.

Jacksonville University highlights new downtown campus

JU is showing off its new downtown Jacksonville campus this week, a return to the neighborhood helped by a $274,000 renovation loan from the Downtown Investment Authority.

“It’s a proud moment for us,” JU President Tim Cost said in remarks reported by the Florida Times-Union. “It’s a red-letter day for Jacksonville University to re-engage its presence downtown.”

JU is showing off its new downtown Jacksonville campus at the SunTrust tower this week.

Three days a week, around 100 students will attend classes in the SunTrust Tower, which will be staffed by 30 faculty and support members full-time. With the planned executive MBA program this spring, more students, including some who will fly into the region, will be taking classes on the 18th floor.

According to the T-U: “The downtown campus is oriented to older students who don’t care as much about the traditional trappings of college life. They are more interested in being in an urban setting, and the SunTrust Tower fits that bill, university officials said.”

Burrito Gallery to open near St Johns Town Center

Local casual food chain Burrito Gallery is opening in the growing Southside area, nearby the St Johns Town Center.

Metro Jacksonville notes the restaurant’s fourth location will be at the southwest corner of Gate Parkway and Deerwood Park Boulevard, roughly between St Johns Town Center and the 335,000-square foot Ikea set to open in November at the corner of Gate Parkway and the I-295/9A East Beltway.

Burrito Gallery will be located in Gateway Village at Town Center, an 18.5-acre mixed-use development owned and developed by Cantrell & Morgan. Metro Jacksonville also reports that long-term plans for the $75 million Gateway Village at Town Center include “a 289-unit luxury apartment complex, a RaceTrac gas station/convenience store, an urgent care facility and over 38,000 square feet of retail uses.”

The proposed Gateway Village at Town Center site at Gate Parkway and Deerwood Park Boulevard. Image: Cantrell & Morgan.

Launched in 2005, Burrito Gallery was part of a wave of new businesses opening ahead of Super Bowl XXXIX. It soon expanded to Jacksonville Beach and Jacksonville’s Brooklyn neighborhood.

Specializing in handmade tacos, burritos, quesadillas and salads, Burrito Gallery was a local leader in the ‘Jax Mex’ concept, named ‘best burrito’ by Folio Weekly as “Best of Jax” and “#1 in the 904” poll every year by Void Magazine.

Jacksonville Zoo 30th anniversary ‘Spooktacular’

In October, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens celebrates the 30th year of “Spooktacular” Halloween.

The popular fall event will be three weekends:

— Oct. 13-15

— Oct. 20-22

— Oct. 27-31

Visitors of all ages are encouraged to take part by wearing family-friendly costumes for trick-or-treating, music, dancing and special scare zones.

Jacksonville Zoo celebrates 30 years of “Spooktacular” Halloween.

This year’s features include Sweet Pete’s Candy Trail, an all-new scare zone, zombies, pumpkin sculptures, and a two-way guest path.

“This is such an exciting time of year here at the zoo,” Zoo executive director Tony Vecchio tells News 4 Jax. “The entire staff pulls together to put on what has become Jacksonville’s premier Halloween event. We have been thrilling Jacksonville for 30 years and this year will be better than ever.”

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens will open each night from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Ticket sales end at 9 p.m. nightly.

‘Tons of fun’ at ZOOLights

Welcome the holiday season among sparkling lights and brilliant hues at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ Fifth Annual ZOOLights. Thousands of LED lights will transform the Zoo into a luminous winter wonderland filled with “moving sculptures, forests of lighted trees and animal silhouettes.”

The event will feature sculptures and performances by local artists — including some from UNF — a fairy village in the Range of the Jaguar courtesy of Rockaway Garden Center, and votives created by students of JU’s ceramics program. Along with thousands of lights and holiday music, guests can enjoy a unique view of ZOOLights by boarding the Zoo’s lighted train (the train only runs from the back of the Zoo to the front).

Guests can also enjoy carousel rides, the 4-D Theater featuring the Polar Express, marshmallow roasting, warm weather “ice” skating and more for an extra charge.

ZOOLights will be Dec. 9 -11 and Dec. 16 — Jan. 7. Closed Christmas Day.

— 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday — Thursday

— 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday & Saturday

The Zoo closes at 5 p.m. and will reopen for ZOOLights at 6 p.m.

Tickets are $10/Non-Members; $8/Zoo Members; save $1 when you order online. Special activities are an extra cost.

New this year: ZOOLights Value Tickets! Adults: $15/Non-Members; $12/Zoo Members.

Includes train, 4D Theater, Stingray Bay and Carousel (Children 12 and under).

Armada playoff hopes dented, tied for fourth in NASL

North Carolina FC earned a valuable point on the road Friday night at Hodges Stadium with a 1-1 draw against Jacksonville Armada FC. The draw keeps NCFC five points ahead of Jacksonville in third place and puts a dent in the Armada’s playoff hopes. The top four teams in the NASL table qualify for the playoffs and Jacksonville currently sits in a fourth-place tie.

In the 21st minute, Jacksonville broke open the game with a goal from Zach Steinberger. The Jacksonville midfielder found an opening in the NCFC defense and converted a chance that ended a 380-minute shutout streak for NCFC.

North Carolina FC dented the Jacksonville Armada playoff hopes at Hodges Stadium with a 1-1 draw.

NCFC responded just before the halftime whistle in the 36th minute, as Renan Gorne slotted home his sixth goal of the year. Combination play from Nazmi Albadawi and Steven Miller freed up Albadawi behind the Armada defense. The Raleigh native fed Gorne who converted the chance at the back post.

Following the break, the sides played an end-to-end game, but neither could find the back of the net in the second half and the game ended in a stalemate.  The Armada had several half chances but didn’t find a breakthrough.

“That was a really high-level game of football. You could tell by the speed of the game from start to finish,” head coach Mark Lowry said. “We did enough to win. I thought the guys were fantastic, we showed tonight that we can beat anybody and play with anybody.”

The result leaves the Armada out of the final playoff position on a tiebreaker with three matches remaining. The most critical of these three matches will come Sunday at Hodges Stadium against the New York Cosmos. The teams are currently deadlocked in the NASL table in the fourth and final postseason position. First, the Armada must contend with FC Edmonton who visits Hodges Stadium Wednesday night.

Jacksonville concludes its NASL season Saturday, Oct. 28, in San Francisco against the Deltas.

Jacksonville Councilman to Pam Bondi: Define ‘student’

A matter of semantics drives a newly-filed Jacksonville City Council resolution: 2017-732, a measure filed by veteran legislator John Crescimbeni.

In regard to another Council resolution — one which would have had the state resolve to support a local bill mandating that the city add crossing guards, at its own expense, to middle schools with 6th graders — Crescimbeni has yet another resolution.

That resolution: A request of Attorney General Pam Bondi, to define exactly what a “student” is.

Crescimbeni noted that “a Duval Delegation local legislator had requested legislation of local impact to Jacksonville (J-bill) to expand the presence of the crossing guards to include 6th grade which would incorporate middle schools in Duval County.”

With that in mind, the question for Bondi: “Whether the definition of ‘student’ set forth in Section 1006.23, Florida Statutes, includes 6th grade students in middle school or whether the term ‘student’ only includes students up to 5th grade in K-5 Elementary Schools?”

The city’s general counsel, perhaps mindful of a cost impact that would be hundreds of thousands of general fund dollars, restricted the definition to K-5 elementary school students.

Even as rumors of Bondi being D.C. bound have swirled recently, it’s hard to imagine her wanting to miss an opportunity to weigh in on this question — one of such colossal import.

No, a John Delaney run for State Senate isn’t happening in 2018

Since University of North Florida President John Delaney left the Jacksonville Mayor’s Office, speculation has swirled seemingly every political season about his next move.

The speculation only increased when he announced his decision to retire from the UNF Presidency, but even before that, he was on the short list of potential replacements for former Rep. Ander Crenshaw in Washington D.C. in 2016.

Delaney ruled out the run in Congressional District 4.

That cleared the way for Rep. John Rutherford.

However, with retirement from the university approaching next year, speculation as to what’s next has recurred, as a recent Jacksonville Daily Record article notes.

Citing a surfeit of “real leadership and lawmakers in positions of power,” Delaney discussed a potential next move, and it was driven by a concern about Jacksonville’s diminished clout in Tallahassee since the Jim King/John Thrasher eras.

“We have Paul Renner in the House now, and that’s great, but I’m looking at possibly the Senate,” he said.

This led the Daily Record writer to note that, in 2018, Delaney could face either Aaron Bean or Audrey Gibson — both functionally unopposed incumbents.

Delaney, who lives at the beaches, is in Bean’s district. But he told us Thursday afternoon that he wasn’t running again Bean.

“Aaron is a buddy,” Delaney said, “so that won’t happen.”

Delaney clarified his comments, transcribed from a speech this week.

“I said that in politics never say never. I don’t plan on running for anything statewide. Or in Washington,” Delaney said.

“So that sort of narrows things.”

With Washington and statewide office off the table, “that left something fun like Neptune Beach or Senate. But I am not running against any incumbent.”

Bean would be termed out in 2022 — could State Senate be an option then?

“No real plans in any event but you are right — 2022. That is forever away,” Delaney noted.

 

Duval Delegation junks ‘crossing guard’ bill, nixes Friday meeting

Cancelled: the Friday meeting of the Duval County Legislative Delegation to discuss a potential local bill mandating crossing guards for students in Grade 6.

Rep. Kim Daniels, a former Councilwoman, sought to have the state mandate these in a bill that would impose a specific requirement on Jacksonville that wouldn’t apply statewide.

Councilman Reggie Brown, who carried the bill in committee discussion, noted that because of changes in school structures in Duval, these students — in middle schools in Duval County — are deprived of crossing guards.

“Most people think middle school aged youth are responsible enough to cross the street. That’s probably true when you get to 14 years of age,” Brown said, but given Jacksonville’s history of pedestrians being hit by cars, caution should prevail.

Council members wondered why this needed to go to Tallahassee, and wanted to know how the city would handle recurrent cost impacts. As well, the estimated cost of $300,000 per year turned out to be a low projection.

Given that the resolution of support for this bill didn’t clear committees, there was only one thing left to do: cancel the meeting of the delegation slated for Friday.

“City Council has indicated the proposal can be accomplished by local authorities,” read the cancellation notice.

We asked Delegation Chair Rep. Jay Fant for his take, including on whether or not the bill would constitute an unfunded mandate.

“The crossing guard bill doesn’t appear to be coming to the delegation via local bill route. It may very well be that such an idea is an unfunded mandate but until any bill language is submitted in Tallahassee, if at all, we cannot be certain. If a bill is filed I will review.”

____

The frustration with the local bill was of a piece with a larger disconnect between the Delegation and the City Council,

Duval County has many needs from the state of Florida.

Money for septic tank remediation, an issue addressed by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry before last session, is one.

“The city’s looking for a match – a big match. That is an issue that’s environmental … that will help us honor promises that were made pre-Consolidation,” Curry said earlier this year.

Ultimately, Rep. Travis Cummings carried the bill — an Orange Park Republican. And Duval didn’t get the $15M it wanted from the state.

Money to change traffic patterns coming off the Hart Bridge: another ask that the delegation didn’t carry last year, and one that the city will want $12.5M at some point (matching funds for a federal grant, designed to help with freight transport).

Most people around City Hall weren’t willing to evaluate the performance of the Duval Delegation on the record — though vivid, expressive language has abounded off record.

City Councilman Matt Schellenberg did, however, writing a blistering editorial in May that lambasted the Delegation’s performance as a “huge disappointment.”

“The Duval legislative delegation received crumbs for Jacksonville during this legislative session,” Schellenberg wrote in the Florida Times-Union.

Schellenberg, who had been mulling a primary challenge to Rep. Jason Fischer, closed with a mic drop: “Let’s fire the legislators who think they know better than local elected officials.”

Hastings dissolution, debt to be mulled by St. Johns Delegation Friday

The St. Johns County Legislative Delegation is slated to meet Friday morning at 9 a.m. at the St. Johns County Administration Building.

Public comment, as is always the case, will feature prominently. As will the 2018 Legislative Action Plan.

Much of what’s being asked for is familiar, such as transportation funding asks that were in play the last time the delegation met in January.

$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. And $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.

A new priority project, however, involves the potential dissolution of the town of Hastings — and the debt the town, which has been shriveling over the years, owes.

Hastings now has somewhere around 644 people, down from 1200 at its peak. The average housing price: around $80,000. There is no in-town high school.

And the town — still intact organizationally, for now — has a unique selling point in a county that has added population like few places in the country this century.

There’s plenty of room.

“Looking for a place to get away from the rigors of congested growth. Well look no further, you’ve come to the right place. The Town of Hastings offers residential, commercial and industrial development opportunities and no impact fees,” reads website copy.

“Also, the town offers a state of the art Reverse Osmosis water plant, with the capabilities to expand. If you are searching for that small town charm, look no further. Come be a part of our unique community, “a community …. small in stature, but, big at heart’.”

Big at heart, yet shrinking in ad valorem base, and teetering on the verge of financial failure.

“I think many of us believe that ultimately the town will fail financially,” St. Johns’ county administrator told the St Augustine Record.

Voters likely will liquidate the structure next month.

There are benefits, such as cheaper city water and other services from the county and from the city, per Historic City News.

But mostly, as a very evocative piece from the Florida Times-Union laid out, its time has passed: “In Hastings’ heyday, potatoes and cabbages flooded in from surrounding farms to be processed, packed and shipped by rail or truck across the country. Businesses lined busy Main Street. The Dixie Highway, the main north-south route from Michigan to Miami, came through town in 1916, paved with bricks and busy with vacationers. Those days are gone.”

In November, Hastings will vote on dissolving as a town and revoking its charter. But its debt won’t be so easily dissolved.

Among monies owed: $237,000 to FDOT, $639,400 in water and sewer Revenue Bond debt, and $72,757 listed in the Ordinance as “Building Maintenance and Improvement Loan.”

Almost $950,000, all told, that the county doesn’t want to be on the hook for.

“Should Hastings voters approve dissolution in November 2017, St. Johns County will assume responsibility for providing programs and services to Hastings residents and will acquire the Town’s debts and obligations in accordance with Statute,” asserts the county in its legislative action plan.

“In consideration of the unique circumstances inherent in dissolution of a Town and the obligations and additional costs St. Johns County would incur as a result of the dissolution, the County respectfully requests consideration of all or partial forgiveness of the debt owed by the Town of Hastings should dissolution occur.”

Though there are bigger ticket items on the agenda, municipal dissolution may be the most interesting — after all, it is rare. Though it is not unprecedented.

In St. Johns County, “New Augustine” was annexed into St. Augustine almost a century ago. Up U.S. 1 just a bit, South Jacksonville was annexed into Jacksonville — a trend in Duval, even before its city/county consolidation, with Murray Hill and LaVilla likewise having been annexed.

But in the case of Hastings, which doesn’t abut a major population center, annexation isn’t the path.

Dissolution may be.

Rep. Cyndi Stevenson addressed the matter in comments Thursday.

“If Hastings votes to combine with the County, it will likely benefit the city residents and businesses because the county will be a more efficient provider of services.  The County will likely incur some costs to improve water infrastructure. The County is already providing some services to unincorporated areas near Hastings, so there are some efficiencies that can be recognized,” Stevenson asserted.

Stevenson does not expect material benefit to St. Johns County itself.

“There isn’t much tax base out there.  Financially, I don’t see much upside for the county,” Stevenson asserted, “but this is what counties do. They serve the people who live there.”

Stevenson also values the Hastings legacy, urging citizens to “maintain their wonderful history and their place name.”

“This is an example of a community that was left behind in many ways with changing modes of transportation.  I hope the rail trail efforts we’ve worked on for years will be helpful in the future prosperity of this area of SJC,” Stevenson added.

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