Jax Archives - Florida Politics

Rick Scott joins PGA to announce new global home

The PGA footprint in St. Johns County has sprawled over the decades, now encompassing 17 buildings.

That will change soon.

Gov. Rick Scott joined PGA Tour officials to announce that the  187,000 sq. foot “new global home” of the PGA Tour will be in northeastern St. Johns.

It is expected to be built by 2020 — a state of the art space with open office plans, natural lighting, and all of the other earmarks of the 21st century workspace.

300 new jobs will be created, adding to the 800 now, via this public private partnership.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said that the collaboration between governments and the PGA Tour was “second to none,” as he credited a phalanx of politicians and entities — everyone from Sen. Travis Hutson and the St. Johns County Commission to Gov. Scott, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, and Enterprise Florida.

The plan started to come together 15 years ago, Monahan said.

 “We are excited for the opportunity to continue to grow here in St. John’s County and believe the PGA TOUR’s new home will become a sense of pride for the entire area and state of Florida while allowing us to become more efficient in the way we communicate, collaborate and operate as an organization,” Monahan added.

“Although we have a growing international presence with offices and tournaments around the world,” Monahan asserted, “the PGA TOUR and our employees are very proud to be locally based and active members of the First Coast and Ponte Vedra Beach community.”

Scott, calling Florida the “golfing capital of the world,” cited tax and regulation cuts as reasons PGA opted to consolidate operations in SJC.

In a statement, Enterprise Florida CEO Peter Antonacci asserted that the “board is enthusiastic about the PGA TOUR expanding their global headquarters in Ponte Vedra,” calling the facility build a “win for Northeast Florida families.”

Jacksonville Bold for 1.19.18 — America’s team?

One of two things could happen this weekend.

The Jacksonville Jaguars can shock the world Sunday and beat the New England Patriots.

Or the convergence of Tom Brady, home-field advantage, and the referees can create a more predictable outcome.

We will see soon enough.

The question that many outside of the 904 may be asking: have we reached Peak Jaguar?

Jalen Ramsey’s prediction of a Super Bowl win has become bulletin board material in New England. (Of course, A.G. Gancarski predicted a Super Bowl win weeks ago).

And Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum bet a case of beer with a Massachusetts politician on the game outcome; both of them running for Governor of their respective states.

And more fuel for the hype machine: Vice calling the Jaguars “America’s Team.”

America’s team?

“When you throw in your lot with the Patriots, you do so with celebrity fans like [Donald] Trump and Mark Wahlberg; when you get behind the Jaguars, you stand with … um … remember the woman that growled into the camera that time? Her. Who represents your ideal America more? Two wannabe tough guys that think they could have prevented 9/11? Or Roberta, a homeless woman who loved the Jaguars unconditionally through their darkest times?”

It’s hard to bet against the Patriots — the talent level, the refs, the coaching.

But it’s easy to cheer against them.

Jacksonville is in a unique position this week — able to shock the world and stymie a dynasty.

Feels good, right?

Two more years for John Rutherford, Al Lawson?

Reps. Rutherford and Lawson confirmed to Florida Politics plans to run for re-election in Florida’s 4th Congressional District.

“It is a tremendous honor to serve my fellow Northeast Floridians in Congress,” Rutherford asserted, “and I am proud of all our hard work over the last year fighting for jobs, veterans, a renewed military and secure borders.”

John Rutherford’s re-election bid is all but a sure thing.

“But a great deal of work remains ahead,” Rutherford added, “and I look forward to seeking re-election to continue this work on behalf of the fine people I am so humbled to serve.”

This confirmation is a prelude to a formal announcement later in the election cycle.

There were those in Northeast Florida Republican circles who speculated that Rutherford would stand down, setting off decision-making for local Republicans — incumbents in other offices and otherwise — who might seek to replicate the costly and occasionally fractious 2016 primary.

However, Rutherford has never given any indication that he wouldn’t run to serve at least one more term. And now it is clear that any shaking of the #jaxpol snow globe will wait until at least 2020.

Rutherford faces a clear path to re-election in what Congressional Quarterly calls a solidly Republican district.

Lawson’s district is solidly Democratic; the most significant challenge he may face — a primary battle from former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.

Lawson defends FISA vote

A controversial national security bill cleared the U.S. House last week, with Lawson joining the Republican majority in affirming governmental surveillance rights.

Al Lawson ensured the Trump administration had the tools it needed for surveillance.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows data monitoring via transnational fiber optic cables. While foreign nationals are the target, Americans are subject to surveillance.

The ACLU called it a “dangerous bill.” Lawson sees it differently.

“With today’s increasing reliance on advanced technology, threats present themselves in forms that have never been encountered and are becoming increasingly harder to detect. It is important that we provide law enforcement and national security agencies with the appropriate tools needed to secure the safety of all Americans,” Lawson asserted.

“While I agree there should be stronger warrant provisions protecting the rights of our citizens,” Lawson continued, “this program equips our agencies to defend the nation against domestic and international terrorism threats.”

“Voting ‘yes’ on this bill does not give a free pass for the National Security Agency, or any law enforcement agency, to spy on Americans, and the actions of NSA under FISA should be reviewed when necessary,” Lawson maintained.

“Though some of my colleagues and I were split on this legislation,” Lawson added, “I voted to provide our law enforcement and intelligence communities with the necessary resources that will ensure the greater safety of our country.”

Airbnb boo-boo

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine made his way to Jacksonville as part of his campaign for Governor. And the story ended up being about Airbnb, per the Miami Herald.

Phil Levine’s Airbnb beef overshadowed his Jacksonville stop.

Levine — who, per the Herald, went hard after Airbnb owners — had his Jacksonville event at an Airbnb property.

When asked about it by Herald reporters, Levine’s response was interesting.

“Maybe that’s what Airbnb wants you to think,” Levine said as his bus headed from Jacksonville to Tallahassee.

Levine’s spokesman clarified his position, saying that Levine’s local opposition to Airbnb was about “local control.”

Ron DeSantis to White House

Rep. DeSantis is Trump’s choice for Florida Governor — nettling Adam Putnam, who has run to the right as much as possible for months in the hopes of keeping the president’s supporters in play.

Trump reminded Florida voters of his choice — however subtly — this week, inviting a DeSantis to the White House for a women’s forum, via the Miami Herald.

Ron DeSantis and his wife, Casey Black DeSantis, were invited to the White House for a women’s forum.

Casey Black DeSantis, the congressman’s wife, was on hand — along with Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Mrs. DeSantis, of course, has been a fixture on Jacksonville television — her current slot is hosting the infotainment-heavy First Coast Living on weekday afternoons.

Modest December fundraising for Northeast Florida Senators

Northeast Florida tate Senators Audrey Gibson, Aaron Bean, and Travis Hutson face no serious opposition; however, fundraising continued apace in December.

An Audrey Gibson primary challenge has yet to manifest.

Gibson, who may face a 2018 primary battle from Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown, brought in $12,750 in December off 16 checks — half of them from consultants and political organizations.

Bean, unopposed this year, topped $90,000 on hand after raising $18,250 in December through 25 checks from industries and lobbyists. He spent over $12,000, much of it on political consultants, which would seem curious given that he is a safe Senator in a safe seat.

Bean brought in $19,000 more via his Florida Conservative Alliance political committee, which now has $115,000 on hand.

Sen. Travis Hutson, who won’t face voters until 2020, raised $2,000 in hard money in December; this gives him $38,000 in hard money.

His Sunshine State Conservatives political committee raised nothing and has $90,000 on hand, after $1,000 contributions to the campaigns of Reps. Keith Perry and Debbie Mayfield, and $6,000 to the Responsible Leadership political committee.

Hutson is locked in a sub rosa race for the 2022 Senate presidency with Dana Young. Young has a sizable financial advantage, which may or may not prove dispositive.

House incumbents keep trucking; HD 15 still a race

In Northeast Florida for state House races, unopposed incumbents kept trucking in December, while the race for HD 15 remained competitive in fundraising.

HD 11: Incumbent Cord Byrd, a Jacksonville Beach Republican, brought in $12,400 to push him to $29,700 cash on hand. Among the donors backing the unopposed lawyer: The Geo Group.

The GEO Group is a frequent donor to Florida Republicans.

HD 12: Incumbent Republican Clay Yarborough was just one more check away from $100,000 cash on hand. A $9,000 December — driven by insurance, CPA, and restaurant and lodging committee checks — brought the Southside Jacksonville conservative over $99,000.

Democrat Tim Yost raised nothing in December and has $1,800 on hand.

HD 13: Unopposed Democratic incumbent Tracie Davis brought in $7,000 in December, with beer wholesalers and firefighter unions standing out. Davis has raised $35,715 and reported no spending thus far in her campaign.

HD 14: Unopposed Democratic incumbent Kim Daniels raised $4,000 in December; $2,000 was from the Fraternal Order of Police, and $1,000 came from beer wholesalers to Daniels, whose day job is as a charismatic evangelist.

HD 15: Republican Wyman Duggan, a Jacksonville lawyer seeking to replace departing Jay Fant in House District 15, scored big in December on two fronts.

Duggan finally hit six figures in fundraising, reporting $10,124 of new December money, which pushed him up to $103,674 raised (and over $92,000 on hand).

Close behind: presumptive Democratic nominee Tracye Polson. Polson closed December with $69,642 cash on hand: she has raised $89,345 in hard money and an additional $15,665 in the account of her political committee, Better Jacksonville.

HD 16: Unopposed Republican incumbent Jason Fischer brought in $4,500 of hard money in December; he closed 2018 with over $76,000 in his campaign account. $5,000 of new money into his Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville committee left that tally near $40,000.

HD 17: Down in St. Johns County, Republican incumbent Cyndi Stevenson brought in $10,481; she closed the year with just over $80,000 on hand.

HD 18: Safe incumbent Travis Cummings, a Clay County Republican, brought in $16,000, closing 2018 with $80,000 on hand.

Money-go-round

December saw some significant numbers for state and local candidates alike.

December fundraising for 2019 Jacksonville City Council candidates saw at-large Group 4 Republican Matt Carlucci leading the pack: $200,000 raised — with nearly $189,000 of that on hand — after $18,374 in December.

Matt Carlucci — and family — appreciate donor generosity.

In City Council District 5, Republican LeAnna Cumber has raised $145,000; $142,000 on hand.

Three other Republicans  — AL-2’s Ron Salem, District 13’s Rory Diamond, and District 14’s Randy DeFoor — are likewise over the $100,000 threshold. Only Salem faces competition as of yet.

Amazon says no

This week, Amazon narrowed down options for its HQ2 site selection to 20 cities. Jacksonville is not among them.

20 likely HQ2 cities; Jacksonville didn’t make the cut.

“We expect sometime before the end of the first quarter, maybe that Amazon will come out and say, ‘OK, we’ve done all our research, and we’ve narrowed it down to X number of cities.’ We don’t know how many those will be,” Bowman told a business group earlier.

Initially, 238 cities were in the running.

We covered the pitch weeks back, in which Jacksonville proclaimed itself to be “Amazon-centric,” with an ambitious futuristic vision for a future Amazon campus at the Shipyards property.

Miami is the only Florida city in the running; the Shipyards, meanwhile, will likely find another purpose.

Sheriff Mike Williams draws 2019 opponent

It looks like a competitive-ish 2019 race for Jacksonville Sheriff is imminent; incumbent Republican Williams will be challenged by Tony Cummings, a reform-minded Democrat.

Tony Cummings looks to make Mike Williams a one-termer.

Cummings got just 6 percent in a seven-way vote in 2015, so he definitely has room to increase his turnout.

His platform: stopping violent crime; the murder rate has continued to spike throughout the Williams era, with 148 murders last year.

His most prominent challenge: getting the money right.

After just two months in the race, Williams has amassed $138,800 in hard money and has another $192,000 in his political committee.

There is no way Cummings approaches those numbers anytime soon. And there is plenty more money for the incumbent out there.

Power switch not subject to popular vote

The people don’t have the ability to decide on whether or not Jacksonville’s JEA utility can be sold off, per the city’s general counsel.

General Counsel Jason Gabriel said the decision to sell off JEA is up to elected officials. Photo courtesy Florida Times-Union.

The Florida Times-Union reports that General Counsel Jason Gabriel said: “It’s a process that would result in the City Council and mayor ultimately making that decision.”

Council President Anna Brosche has tasked the City Council auditor with a report detailing what can be gained from privatization.

Two other reports have been done on this front since 2007; thus far, they have not convinced Council to move toward this.

Challengers line up against Katrina Brown

How vulnerable is Jacksonville City Councilwoman Brown, 14 months out from the first election? Six people already filed to replace her (Brown has not filed for re-election yet).

And two of them were in just the last week and a half.

Tameka Gaines Holly added her name to the Jax City Council race.

Last week, community activist Tameka Gaines Holly added her name to the race. A Leadership Jacksonville graduate with an aversion to taking strong positions on issues, she will try to win the seat by taking the high road.

This week, former Soil and Water Commissioner Albert Wilcox filed.

Wilcox, current Teacher of the Year at a local elementary school, cited Brown’s “problems” as creating a “void in leadership.” [Among those problems: a city lawsuit against her family business, which is now on its way to resolution; and a recent beef with the local police union about racial profiling].

Wilcox, a former legislative assistant for Sen. Betty Holzendorf, also has interned for then-Councilman Terry Fields and former Rep. Corrine Brown.

Holly and Wilcox have competition. Diallo SekouSeabrooks, Michael Sell, Brandon Byers, and Joenetta Dixon are all in the race, almost ensuring a May runoff will decide this.

The only other incumbent facing a challenge: Katrina Brown’s ally, District 7 Democrat Reggie Gaffney, who has four opponents.

Beyond those races, the other crowded race — five entrants and counting — is in District 10, where five people are in to face termed-out Reggie Brown.

Project Volt moves forward

Project Volt,’ an economic development deal moved Wednesday through a Jacksonville City Council panel, could potentially juice the local economy — bringing hundreds of solar jobs into the area, and allowing Jacksonville to enter a new industry that will grow in the coming years.

Jacksonville City Council will have to approve the deal Tuesday.

The unnamed company, which makes solar panels at eight locations around the world, is new to America: per the fact sheet, Jacksonville would serve as the company’s American headquarters.

And at least 800 jobs would be created and retained for at least four years locally — and those jobs would be on the Northside and Westside, economically challenged areas that could use employment diversification. While 100-150 people would come to get things started, city officials expect that most permanent hires would either move here from elsewhere or be of local origination.

Eight of the top 10 solar panel manufacturers in the world are in Asia, which means chances are very good that this would be the American outpost for a Chinese or Korean company.

It would occupy two buildings on the Westside: a manufacturing plant at the Cecil Commerce Center and an assembly and distribution facility on Faye Road. And they would put their money where their incentive pitch is, dropping $153 million into real estate upgrades and another $275 million into equipment (imported from Germany) in what is called “project investments.”

District hurdle cleared

Peter Rummell is one of the leaders of Jacksonville’s political donor set, and for the second straight week, he got news from a Jacksonville board regarding his District project.

The news was different from that coming out of last week’s Downtown Investment Authority meeting, which had the city of Jacksonville buying the land from JEA for the private development.

The good news continued for Peter Rummell’s District development, though the city may be spending in the end.

That proved controversial to City Council. The latest changes — a return to earlier expectations and terms — remove that controversy.

On Tuesday, the JEA Board approved a plan for Elements, the development company of Rummell and Michael Munz, to purchase the former Southside Generator Plant from the utility for $18.6 million.

Closing would be in July.

That was the deal before the DIA meeting last week.

The city may also invest over $26 million into infrastructure, though that’s still to be determined.

Munz explained the decision to remove the step that had the city purchase the land from JEA as a practical one, as the city component made the deal “more complicated than it should be.”

There was much acrimony last week from Rummell toward Council members. Apparently, it was only theater.

Corrine Brown clickbait

Tongues wagged in the comment thread set when the Florida Times-Union reported that Brown spoke at a Martin Luther King Jr. event Monday.

Friends … how many of us have them?

But no one should have been surprised.

Dr. King’s son — Martin Luther King III — has been a friend of Brown’s for decades, often appearing with her at political events.

During what passed for her 2016 re-election campaign, Brown brought King in as a special guest.

King showed up for a court hearing in 2017 with Brown, and held another fundraiser for her then.

Notable: King spent the day honoring his father making news of his own, comparing Trump to former to Alabama Gov. George Wallace, a well-known segregationist.

University of North Florida police embracing body cameras

To increase student safety, the University of North Florida police department will equip all officers with body cameras. A $29,000 grant, plus a similar amount from the college, will be used to help pay for the program.

“There’s a lot of measures that go into making me feel safe here on campus,” UNF student Hannah Melendez told Action News Jax.

All UNF police officers will soon have body cameras.

A recent overview of reported campus crimes in 2016 shows 5 rapes, 3 burglaries, 2 aggravated assaults and 5 motor vehicle thefts. UNF officials hope the body cameras will help cut those numbers down.

While the department already has about a half-dozen body cameras, officers say that isn’t enough.

UNF will hold a student feedback session on the body camera policy Friday, March 2, from 11 a.m. to noon.

First Jacksonville Zoo manatee critical care patient released

The Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens’ Manatee Critical Care Center released the first manatee patient into her new Florida home this week, reports News 4 Jax.

Carolina the manatee arrived at the Center Nov. 28, one of more than 10 of the sea mammals relocated from cold waters in South Carolina to warmer waters of Florida. Carolina, rescued from Charleston, South Carolina, was the first critical care patient at the Zoo’s facility. She was part of a larger operation to save those manatees that wandered into the Cooper River as temperatures quickly dropped in November.

Carolina the manatee is released into warm Florida waters after a six-week rehab at the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens’ Manatee Critical Care Center. Photo courtesy SeaWorld.

Showing symptoms of cold stress, rescuers decided to wait before releasing Carolina. She spent six weeks in rehabilitation, before her release with another manatee rescued from Brevard County.

“We helped give her some tube feedings and antibiotics and pain medications and made sure she was eating well and that her systems were working right,” said Zoo veterinarian Meredith Persky. “That’s how we were able to successfully release her.”

Rick Scott to roll out December jobs numbers with PGA in Ponte Vedra

Expect good news from December jobs numbers.

Gov. Rick Scott is making the announcement in the Jacksonville media market on Friday — by far the friendliest major metro press corps he deals with.

Scott will be in Ponte Vedra at the PGA Clubhouse; the PGA will have a job announcement of its own.

The Governor has been messaging on jobs this week. He made a trip to New Orleans for corporate recruitment, a voyage derided by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards as a campaign stunt.

November numbers saw Gov. Scott messaging on record low unemployment and 14,000 new jobs created.

“Over the past seven years, we have turned around Florida’s economy which has allowed us to make record investments in education, transportation and environmental protection. I look forward to kicking off 2018 by working to continue cutting taxes, supporting job creation and education opportunities, and doing all we can to help secure Florida’s future for every family. Florida is a national leader in job creation and the rest of the nation should follow our lead,” Scott added.

While job creation has tended to be an urban phenomenon, Scott stands by his record.

“It’s been exciting what’s happened these last seven years. We’ve added 1.5 million jobs. Our unemployment’s gone from 10 percent down to 3.6 percent. Every county in the state has seen a drop in their unemployment rate,” Scott said in January.

“We’re going to continue to work both in our large counties and our rural counties to get more jobs,” Scott said in January.

“What you see in our state is the labor force is growing at multiples of what the rest of the country is. The job market is growing at multiples of what the rest of the country is. People are coming to Florida. Numbers came out last week — over 340,000 people have moved to the state since last June. We’ve had a significant number of people move here from Puerto Rico and they’re getting jobs,” Scott said.

Kim Daniels seeks dismissal of ethics complaint

Rep. Kim Daniels is seeking to have a Florida Ethics Commission complaint against her dismissed Friday morning. Her rationale? It was filed too close to the 2015 election.

Daniels, who was unsuccessfully running for re-election to the Jacksonville City Council, had a complaint regarding her financial disclosure forms filed just four days before that vote.

State law says that the complaint can’t be filed within 30 days before the election, and Daniels contends the complaint should be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

The original issue was alleged omitted disclosures on 2012-2014 financial disclosure forms, including mortgages for properties that belonged to her church.

Daniels failed to list properties owned by her churches, which added up to $1,000,000 of undeclared assets. Indeed, her churches had multiple properties — “parsonages” in multiple cities, timeshares, and over a dozen cars.

Ironically, one of the properties owned by one of her churches — a parsonage in Davie, owned formerly by “Spoken Word Ministries” — was sold in a foreclosure auction Thursday.

The price: $640,000, to a third party bidder.

The sale had been forestalled for months, most recently because of Hurricane Irma … a storm that the evangelist/legislator said “prophets” saw coming.

No word on whether prophets will issue an opinion on the Ethics Commission reconsidering her case.

Florida Times-Union cuts newsroom staff, blames plunge in print revenue

It’s yet another sad day for Jacksonville journalism: the Florida Times-Union is laying off newsroom staff, as new owner GateHouse continues restructuring.

Florida Politics reported about these layoffs prior to the paper confirming they were happening.

Official sources won’t confirm the names involved, FP is hearing the layoffs include: Reporters Roger Bull, Drew Dixon, Terry Dickson, and Tiffanie Reynolds, photographers Bob Mack and Dede Smith, graphic artist Steve Nelson, editor Carole Fader, and office manager Brenda Compton.

The impact of these losses — again, unconfirmed as of yet by official sources — will be staggering to the print product.

Fader was an editor. Smith was head of photography. Nelson was the sole graphics person. Bull and Dixon handled business coverage for the paper. Reynolds handled the Shorelines column, offering coverage for the Jacksonville Beaches. Dickson was the paper’s primary conduit to Southeast Georgia.

The paper, says one informed source, is down to just two photographers now – a stunning staff shortfall for a major metro paper with regional presence.

The newsroom cuts are part of a larger package of two dozen cuts from the GateHouse property, representing 10 percent of its workforce.

Official rhetoric was optimistic.

“We remain committed to providing our readers with the very best local coverage,” said T-U President Mark Nussbaum.

He expressed the hope that “this re-set will put us on a long-term path to financial success,” though it’s uncertain how axing tenured staff accomplishes that goal.

However, for the Florida Times-Union, these losses are more proof that new ownership is cutting costs in every way possible.

The paper is in the process of outsourcing printing operations; by the middle of next month, fifty Jacksonville employees will have been let go from production. Expect this to impact print subscribers, especially those who want the previous evening’s news in their morning paper.

This follows on moves in late 2016 by previous ownership, Morris Communications, which rolled out a “centralized news design” operation in Augusta. Copy editing and page designing moved out of state.

Expect graphics likewise to be moved elsewhere: perhaps to GateHouse’s design hub in Texas.

The paper has lost its cornerstone columnist, Ron Littlepage, to retirement.

And the paper will no longer have a dedicated Tallahassee reporter; GateHouse seeks a statewide political scribe. Despite Session being well underway, the position is still posted.

The paper’s building is being sold by previous owners Morris; the plan is to move newsroom operations downtown in 2018.

With each passing month, they seem to require less space. And rumors that the paper may not be a daily forever persist.

The hope among insiders is that the paper is able to withstand these staff cuts and continue doing the work it has won awards for in recent years, with continued deep dives into issues ranging from the justice system locally to city politics.

Time will ultimately tell if this round of cuts was a “rightsizing” that served as a course correction, or the first of more newsroom jobs lost, never to be replaced.

Jacksonville is not alone in corporate layoffs today; GateHouse is also letting staffers go in Topeka.

Hopefuls vie for Jacksonville City Council Veep slot

The Jacksonville City Council Presidency is set for the 2018-19 year that starts July 1: current VP Aaron Bowman, an executive at the local Chamber of Commerce, is a slam dunk.

Re-election campaigns are just around the corner — and no one is going against the Chamber.

More flux exists in the race for Vice President for the 19-member Council, however.

Three declared candidates — Republicans Sam Newby and Danny Becton, along with Democrat Tommy Hazouri — are in the race and soliciting pledges. Newby actually scored one early, in fellow first-term Republican Al Ferraro.

Two other candidates — Republican Scott Wilson and Democrat Garrett Dennis — are exploring a run.

It takes ten votes to win, which looks difficult given the topography of the race.

Stakes are high.

Typically but not always, the VP moves on to the Presidency; however, 2017’s race was an exception, with Anna Brosche winning the Presidency against then-current VP John Crescimbeni.

Pledges are a precursor to a formal vote in the Spring.

Thursday sees a slate of meetings between candidates and pledges. Expect updates through the final meeting on Thursday afternoon … which by no means is the final meeting in the process.

Not even close.

____

No sale at 9: The 9 a.m. meeting saw Wilson and Newby meeting — with Newby attempting to solicit Wilson’s pledge.

Worth noting: Wilson had wondered if Newby and his instant pledge, Al Ferraro, understood the Sunshine Law, as the pledge happened outside of noticed meetings.

I guess I missed the noticed meeting,” Wilson asserted last week. “I don’t think they understand the sunshine law. Why would you break the law and tell the media?”

That didn’t come up in the meeting … though before the meeting in a conversation with this reporter, Newby vociferously objected to the idea that anything had been done that was wrong, given that the written pledge had been filed and that pledges aren’t even worth the paper they’re written on — a real truth given how many people have flipped pledges over the years.

Newby outlined his leadership credentials to Wilson, including being two time chair of the Republican Executive Committee and Chairman of the National Association of Black Republicans.

Eventually, Wilson spoke up. He noted that these leadership races “seem to start earlier every year,” and indicated his own interest in the VP role.

The two discussed priorities, with Wilson noting the importance of ensuring that city resources, such as children’s programs via the Kids Hope Alliance and senior services, are brought to his Southside Jacksonville district — one that has pockets of poverty and violence comparable to other areas in the city that have received a greater focus.

The meeting, collegial as it was, did more to establish the early contours of the leadership race than it did to resolve which of these two men would move on to the VP slot.

Wilson wasn’t done with meetings with VP candidates/competition for Thursday; a 10:30 conclave with Hazouri was up next.

____

Hazouri makes his pitches: Councilman Hazouri was the next to pitch someone who could be potential competition.

“It’s an honor to run, but it’s an honor to talk to someone potentially running as well,” Hazouri said.

Hazouri cited his “institutional knowledge,” pitching Wilson on the concept of “some districts getting left behind.”

“I feel like my time is now,” Hazouri said, pitching the idea of “continuity” moving the Council forward — especially as the next VP will be the favorite for the Presidency during the first year of Council members next term.

“I still really have an interest in leadership myself,” Wilson contended, reiterating the needs of his district, which include dilapidated infrastructure and outmoded commercial zoning that causes pockets of the neighborhood to cascade toward disrepair and decrepitude.

“If we were able to invest some dollars in that corridor … the gateway to the Beaches,” Wilson said, the spend would pay off.

“Hopefully,” Hazouri said, “if you don’t bite the bullet and run, you can support me.”

Wilson, if anything, sounded more like a candidate as he met with the (potential) competition.

Hazouri had another pitch at 11:00 — former Council President Greg Anderson and former VP John Crescimbeni were in the house.

Both men will be entering their last year on the Council this summer. And Hazouri and Anderson were early supporters of Crescimbeni’s bid for the presidency in 2017.

Hazouri repeated his pitch about the commonalities driving Council, bemoaning the lack of a “natural process” in the race that saw Anna Brosche defeat Crescimbeni for the top job, one that he believes impeded Council from reaching its full potential in recent months.

“I want to see continuity moving forward,” Hazouri said, especially on the “major issues you can’t leave behind.”

Anderson discussed how, when President, he had Council VP Lori Boyer integrated into pre-agenda meetings.

“It’s important that the VP be able to take over the meeting,” Anderson said.

Crescimbeni chimed in, saying that the “workings of Council members … the process of doing business … has experienced hiccups from time to time.”

“We’ve seen a hiccup this year,” Crescimbeni said, relative to the current Brosche presidency.

Hazouri was not immune to critiquing Brosche either, saying that she’d given “no help” to current VP Bowman.

The Council members also discussed the perils of having information in the newspaper — such as the recent Florida Times-Union editorial endorsement of the District — before they have been briefed.

The colloquy was robust. But no sale. Anderson said it was still early. And Crescimbeni, noting that people hadn’t met with him when he was running, said something similar.

 

Aaron Bean, Jason Fischer seek money for autism treatment

More money could be coming to the Jacksonville School for Autism, if legislation carried in the Senate by Aaron Bean and the House by Jason Fischer passes.

The legislators seek $250,000 for the school’s Strategies and Techniques for Effective Practice (STEP) Program.

“Jacksonville School for Autism has impacted numerous lives since its founding and has provided its students with the support they need to become independent, productive members of society,” said Senator Bean. “This appropriation will allow Jacksonville School for Autism to expand and help more students realize that they are truly capable of anything.”

“Autism touches the lives of many Floridians, and it is our responsibility as lawmakers to ensure they have the support they need to reach their full potential,” said Representative Fischer. “This funding request will provide increased vocational training for JSA students, helping them learn essential skills that will prepare them for employment.”

Jacksonville strikes back against ‘human tragedy’, picks proven opioid suit lawyers

The opioid crisis has hit Jacksonville hard. And now, via engagement of an international class-action law firm, the city is ready to hit back.

Scott & Scott, headquartered in Connecticut, will help the city pursue tangible remedies from opioid manufacturers. This firm has scored significant eight-figure cash settlements from numerous pharmaceutical companies and is currently handling legal actions in New Jersey and Pennsylvania against the same.

The city’s opioid overdoses have spiked in recent years, with 464 in 2016, and still more than that in 2017.

Councilman Bill Gulliford, who sponsored legislation to get an experimental treatment program for those who come to ERs after overdoses, sees the suit as a way to fight back against a “human tragedy” that has wreaked havoc on city resources ranging from emergency rooms to overstretched public safety personnel.

Florida Politics spoke with Gulliford this week, and he discussed at great length the opioid crisis.

“I walked through the morgue and into the cooler yesterday. That slams life and its realities home to you,” Gulliford said.

The morgue, these days, is full to capacity — and then some.

The local medical examiner’s office sees bodies on top of bodies, with processing of new intake delayed by days often of late.

To counteract this, the City Council authorized money for a temporary storage unit and office space — a stop gap until the city can build a new building. Temporary facilities, to be installed in the next 90 days at a cost of $206,000, will encompass the portable refrigerating unit for 40 additional bodies, and a mobile unit will accommodate six additional staffers to handle the case load.

Hard and soft costs will tax the city’s budget, ranging from extra money and overtime for EMTs to shuttle victims to potential recovery, to a need for more and better physical facilities.

The lawsuit, whose target has yet to be determined, will redress some of those fiscal costs.

But compensation for a human loss is a different matter.

800 solar jobs on the verge of coming to Jacksonville

Project Volt,’ an economic development deal moved Wednesday by a Jacksonville City Council panel, could potentially juice the local economy — bringing hundreds of jobs into the area, and allowing Jacksonville to enter a new industry that will grow in the coming years.

The unnamed company, which makes solar panels at eight locations around the world, is new to America: per the fact sheet, Jacksonville would serve as the company’s American headquarters.

And at least 800 jobs would be created and retained for at least four years locally — and those jobs would be on the Northside and Westside, economically challenged areas that could use employment diversification. While 100-150 people would come to get things started, city officials expect that most permanent hires would either move here from elsewhere or be of local origination.

Eight of the top ten solar panel manufacturers in the world are in Asia, which means chances are very good that this would be the American outpost for a Chinese or Korean company.

It would occupy two buildings on the Westside: a manufacturing plant at the Cecil Commerce Center and an assembly and distribution facility on Faye Road. And they would put their money where their incentive pitch is, dropping $153 million into real estate upgrades and another $275 million into equipment (imported from Germany) in what are called “project investments.”

Office of Economic Development head Kirk Wendland said the company wanted to ensure that investments the company “financed,” rather than bought outright, would be valued appropriately.

“We feel we’ve done everything we can to protect the city and get a good deal,” Wendland said, adding that municipal ROI on this deal compares favorably with other big-ticket economic development deals the city has embarked upon.

City and state incentives apply. In addition to $4 million in qualified target industry money (all but $800,000 from the state, and the number is pro-rated based on reaching at least 80 percent of job creation targets), the unnamed company would also qualify for $23.8 million in Recaptured Enhanced Value money (cuts on the ad valorem tax) over the next ten years.

The city would start feeling the QTI cost impacts in FY 19-20, and would extend for four or five years, Wendland said.

The city’s process was unique on this, Wendland said, as “there’s nothing of this nature in Jacksonville.”

Council VP Aaron Bowman, who is also Vice President of economic development for Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce business recruitment arm JAXUSA, explained why the deal makes sense for the company.

Bowman told Florida Politics that with solar becoming much more reasonably priced, the Southeast region looks likely to become the next growth market for it.

Jacksonville’s port, already seeing a surge in Asian exchange that is among the most robust growth rates anywhere in the country, likewise is ideal for the company. Dredging will make it more so, Bowman said.

Bowman noted Wednesday in committee that “this has been the most fast and furious project I’ve ever worked on … the largest manufacturing project ever in Jacksonville.”

“We fully expect that suppliers will have to come and support the company,” Bowman added, hinting that the job creation would have a multiplier effect.

“It is going to bring a level of skills and high-tech jobs to the area,” Bowman said, that hasn’t been seen.

Bowman cautioned that other cities are competing on this — and likely were watching the Finance Committee meeting to see potentially exploitable vulnerabilities.

As well, there are the intangibles: Jacksonville’s quality of life, including no state income tax, proximity to water, and professional sports.

Project Volt’s economic incentives are bound to be a point of discussion. But without Jacksonville’s assets, the conversation never would have gotten this far.

Finance Chair Garrett Dennis likewise was bullish on the measure, and hopeful that jobs would go to locals.

“It is important that we make sure that tax dollars invested are dollars that will be realized by local people.  After all, those dollars were originally generated by local people.  When the tide comes into the harbor All ships should rise.  Project Volt is a $410 million tide.”

District project clears JEA board; developers now to buy land from JEA by July

Peter Rummell is one of the leaders of Jacksonville’s political donor set, and for the second straight week he got  news from a Jacksonville board regarding his District project.

The news was different than that coming out of last week’s Downtown Investment Authority meeting, which had the city of Jacksonville buying the land from JEA for the private development.

That proved controversial to City Council. The latest changes — a return to previous expectations and terms — remove that controversy.

On Tuesday, the JEA Board approved a plan for Elements, the development company of Rummell and Michael Munz, to purchase the former Southside Generator Plant from the utility for $18.6 million.

Closing would be in July.

That was the deal before the DIA meeting last week.

The city may also invest over $26 million into infrastructure, though that’s still to be determined.

Munz explained the decision to remove the step that had the city purchase the land from JEA as a practical one, as the city component made the deal “more complicated than it should be.”

Elements now is charged with “working very quickly” to amass the necessary capital and meet the deadline, after the decision to take out the assignment step with the city.

The development, as proposed, could transform the Southbank.

“Upon completion The District will encompass approximately 200,000 square feet of retail space, 200,000 square feet of office space, 1,170 apartments/condominiums, and a 150-200 key hotel,” per a dedicated website to the project, which touts the District as being beneficial to the “body, mind, and soul.”

There are other steps this week. The DIA was slated to meet Wednesday to discuss the aftermath of the JEA meeting; with the controversial step of removing the city purchasing land for the private development removed, that discussion may be anticlimactic.

Likewise rendered moot: a Jacksonville City Council special committee that was formed by Council President Anna Brosche last week to examine the deal, in light of proposed city spending on the deal.

That panel was to kick off on Thursday morning. That committee is now cancelled, per chair Republican Matt Schellenberg, the liaison to JEA.

Schellenberg said that “we’re all in favor of doing something with downtown,” but that — as the JEA Board said — if the deal isn’t closed by July, it should be rebid.

Council President Brosche, meanwhile, is “pleased that it appears the project is moving forward.”

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