Jax – Florida Politics

Jacksonville City Councilors to talk ‘pros and cons of JEA sale’

Lost in all the drama and metadiscourse regarding Jacksonville’s potential sale of local utility JEA: whether the sale is good for the city or not.

A meeting at 1 p.m. at Jacksonville City Hall between two City Council members will, at least in theory, resolve that question.

Councilman Matt Schellenberg (the Council liaison to JEA, who is as open to the concept of privatizing the city’s utility as anyone) will meet with colleague Bill Gulliford, an ally of the Lenny Curry administration that has been politically battered throughout the now months long discussion of the viability of selling the utility.

This process kicked off in November, when exiting JEA Board member and Curry backer Tom Petway suggested that perhaps the time has come for the municipal utility to move into a “private sector marketplace” model.

“The majority of people in Florida are served by a private-sector marketplace,” Petway said, asking the board to consider where JEA “fits” in that emergent paradigm.

Proceeds, asserted a valuation report commissioned by JEA, could be between $2.9 billion and $6.4 billion after the retirement of debt. Mace stressed that is a range of values, and he verbalized the range as “three to six billion.”

Values range from $7.9 billion up to $10.1 billion, based on cash flow, price/earnings ratios, and other metrics.

Despite this push, a Jacksonville City Council special committee has pushed back hard.

Dissatisfied with an unwillingness to answer questions under oath, the committee will subpoena JEA CEO Paul McElroy next week.

The committee meets Thursday as well, and reasonable expectations are that administration critics on the panel, including Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche and Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, will again have their say.

Meanwhile, the JEA Board looks poised for its own deep dive into a potential sale, almost four months after Petway’s pitch.

Adam Putnam comes to Jacksonville, will hear about opioid treatment program

In a campaign capacity in Jacksonville Wednesday afternoon, Agriculture Commissioner and Republican Gubernatorial hopeful Adam Putnam will host an opioid roundtable.

Putnam likely will hear about Jacksonville’s own efforts on this front, as the city deals with an overdose crisis that has led to action on the local level.

In January, at a special Jacksonville City Council committee on the opioid crisis,  Dr. Raymond Pomm, director of the city’s opioid treatment program, described the program as a “pilot … an experiment.”

Pomm said that the goal of the six-month, $1.5 million pilot is a simple “reduction” in overdoses, recidivism, and death.

Pomm noted that the pilot, which runs four days a week (Thursday through Monday, both as a “control group” to test program effectiveness, and as a budgetary measure), is more successful than he imagined.

As well, the program currently is on track to come in under budget, which is an encouraging sign for those on Council who want to see it expanded, perhaps with state money helping.

Fentanyl — and diluted acetyl fentanyl — is the major issue locally, with the diluted analogue potentially lowering the user’s tolerance and potentially creating another overdose death crisis down the road.

Another complicating factor that could rear its head in the coming months: the current use of fentanyl to cut cocaine.

Some Council members want more aggressive use of the Marchman Act to compel treatment.

Putnam’s trip to Jacksonville comes at a time when his campaign is besieged on all sides.

His previous descriptions of himself as an NRA sellout have left him open to repeated critiques from Democrats, even as he takes to NRA TV in opposition to the recently passed gun control/school safety bill.

Meanwhile he struggles, per a recent poll, to hold off Rep. Ron DeSantis, who is posing strong competition to a candidate who not so long ago was the undisputed frontrunner in the GOP gubernatorial contest.

In Jacksonville, Christian Bax defends medical marijuana rulemaking process

Amendment 2 was approved by 71 percent of Florida voters in 2016, yet nearly two years later, the Office of Medical Marijuana Use is still workshopping rules.

The road show came to Jacksonville Tuesday afternoon, to a Southside hotel in the absolute doldrums of renovations.

From peeling wallpaper in the single-occupancy bathroom to a stale, moldy smell in the conference room itself, the facility had myriad issues.

The subject of the Tuesday afternoon workshop was testing lab certification and standards.

Spoiler alert: the discussion on this is not near a conclusion.

Christian Bax, the director of the program, noted that the rulemaking process would go through the spring and summer.

As thunder boomed outside, speakers voiced their concerns on laboratory testing first, with numerous speakers representing laboratory interests wanting specified quality attributes in their product, and rigorous testing through a competent, accredited laboratory with ISO Standards.

Testing of both pesticides and potency dominated much of the discussion over the course of the afternoon.

Jody James of the Florida Cannabis Action Network wondered what the fees were actually for and how they impact the consumer paying a premium for industry certification.

“Obviously the fees of the lab program would be going for the cost of sending our inspectors out,” Bax said.

James wondered if the proposed program as it expands might have the “fox guarding the henhouse.”

“It’s important to us to be able to take the product to a third party and test it themselves,” James said, rather than rely on politically-connected companies to handle the testing.

Bax urged those on hand to offer solutions to potential testing problems, rather than just spotlight the problems.

“We would like concrete suggestions,” Bax said.

Dr. Wilson King, medical director of Treadwell’s Nursery in Eustis, advocated for testing at a reasonable cost.

“Unnecessary costs from financially burdensome rules,” King said, are passed on to the consumer.

King urged tests of bigger batches — 15 grounds, with plants of the same strain and growing conditions being considered the same.

Another speaker challenged the department to be less “opaque” regarding questions on testing and other rules, and to be clearer about who the state is working with to write regulations — be it other states or independent contractors.

“We would like to see the state act a lot more proficiently in putting these regulations together,” he said.

Bax noted that in larger markets, there are sometimes just a handful of labs, fighting for survival.

“You have an incentive to race to the bottom with these labs, with the labs that play ball getting a lot of customers,” Bax said, adding later that he wanted to ensure such “perverse incentives” aren’t baked into the Florida structure.

Bax noted the department wants to improve communication, reiterating that during the spring and the summer, the department would like to get as many rules set up as possible.

“What you see is what you get as far as rulemaking,” Bax said. “There’s not a whole lot of conversations or meetings happening with the industry outside of public record.”

“There are lots of different models around the country … lots of expertise … we want to harvest that knowledge as much as possible,” Bax added, noting that Washington and California models have been examined with an eye toward potential issues

“We’re not just going to paper over issues we’ve seen in other states,” Bax said, including unsustainable regulatory structures.

“There are over 85,000 patients in the state of Florida … we are growing quite quickly,” Bax said, noting that “the department has no authority to operate outside of the legislative framework.”

Bax, when we asked him after the meeting, said that he didn’t think that the department needed further guidance from the Legislature. The department continues to notice and workshop rules at an acceptable pace, with 13 rules noticed last month, he said.

That said, he understands why the Legislature would withhold pay for senior staff in DOH next fiscal year.

Bax says the “department shares frustration with the timeline.”

A familiar opponent files to run against Travis Cummings

Travis Cummings, the Republican incumbent in House District 18, has drawn a familiar Libertarian challenger, Ken Willey, in his re-election bid.

The odds are with Cummings, who won more than 81 percent of the vote when the two faced off in 2016. Willey also ran in the 2014 race which produced the same result, give or take a few tenths of a point.

Cummings has just under $85,000 cash on hand, and will again face no opposition on the primary ballot.

To put that number in perspective, Willey raised just over $2,000 during his 2016 campaign and fared similarly in the 2014 race. Cummings has smashed the six-figure mark in each of his bids.

The major population center in HD 18, a district by and large in Northern Clay County, is Jacksonville bedroom community Orange Park.

Cummings was once mayor of Orange Park and served on the city council from 2002 through his election to the Clay County Commission in 2008.

He was elected to the House in 2012 after going unopposed in both the primary and general elections, and the cycles since were likewise devoid of major party challengers.

That trend is likely to continue in 2018, Cummings’ final lap before term limits force him to move up or move on.

More than half of HD 18’s electorate are registered Republicans, while Democrats’ anemic 22 percent share clocks in just a hair above the no affiliation crowd.

Andrew Gillum rallies Duval Democrats with familiar themes

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum addressed a crowd of Jacksonville Democrats Monday evening, his second Northeast Florida foray in three days.

Gillum is no stranger to the region; in fact, he was campaigning here even in his pre-candidate phase.

Though Gillum’s remarks were familiar to those who have heard his stump speech, they were welcome expressions for Democrats in a county where the party message is often subverted by the Republican machine.

Gillum worked a call and response intro, around the Dems’ signature “BLU-VALL” phrase, before extolling the activism and work necessary to “flip the county all the way blue.”

“There are more of us than there are of them,” Gillum said, launching into his standard themes, including a defense of public education and health care equity.

“We have to ask ourselves why it is that we can’t win statewide elections. I have a small theory,” Gillum said, which involves “running as Democrats” — and doing it statewide.

“We can go to all those places and explain our message loud and clear,” Gillum said, extolling the opportunity “all across our state.”

“We’re not going to do it by being afraid of our own shadow … afraid of being Democrats … I believe in fighting for what we believe in. Whether it is early childhood education,” Gillum said, or “46 percent of people not being able to make ends meet at the end of the month.”

“In Rick Scott’s Florida, we have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet, so he’d better be the jobs governor,” Gillum quipped — not for the first time.

Re-enfranchisement of former felons: another theme, emphasized by Gillum because of the closeness of the elections in recent years.

“Y’all need to say this with me, ‘that’s a shame,” Gillum said.

And lo, the crowd responded.

“If you’re not at the table, you’re what?” Gillum asked.

“On the menu,” the voices cried.

With Gillum getting nationwide attention and fundraising help, including a California fundraiser over the weekend, the real test will be whether he can get the resources he needs to combat Gwen Graham‘s name ID and establishment support and Philip Levine‘s bottomless resources.

That’s been the question for a year. And will be the question through August, as he — like the other major candidates — takes his campaign well beyond Democratic strongholds.

Jacksonville City Council committee defers JEA sale straw ballot bill

Committees run Monday and Tuesday for the Jacksonville City Council; high-profile measures ranging from cannabis regulation changes to a JEA sale straw ballot have already been deferred in Monday committees.

JEA Referendum: Ordinance 2018-141 would set a public straw vote referendum on the November 2018 ballot regarding selling more than 10 percent of JEA. The bill is sponsored by two council Democrats who have issues with the process so far on the grounds of transparency and other woes: John Crescimbeni and Garrett Dennis.

Transportation, Energy and Utilities chair Al Ferraro moved to defer one cycle, so it can sync up with 2018-142, another referendum bill that would require approval of a sale of 10 percent or more of JEA.

A bill sponsor was skeptical of Ferraro’s motives.

“If I detect any shenanigans on delaying 141, we’ll have to do it the hard way and get petitions,” vowed Crescimbeni. “I’ll give it another couple of cycles, but we’re on the clock.”

A citizen’s initiative, asserted Crescimbeni, would have a time-prohibitive impact.

Councilwoman Lori Boyer wanted to know what the difference was between 141 and 142. Crescimbeni mentioned “the importance of having a multi-pronged approach” to this issue.

“My two-pronged approach was to have the citizenry participate in this process,” Crescimbeni said of the “straw ballot” bill.

Marijuana changes deferred: Ordinance 2018-75 would revise extant code relative to medical cannabis. The code was formulated in response to “Charlotte’s Web” low-THC cannabis being the sole legal strain, and after a long period of debate, processing and dispensing were allowed in commercial districts, with cultivation permitted in agricultural districts.

The ordinance would change things, allowing dispensaries anywhere in the city, including within 500 feet of a school. The previous zoning categories would be revoked.

The bill was in the Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health and Safety committee Monday, and there were questions galore.

“This bill puts our code in compliance with Florida statutes,” said a representative from the Office of General Counsel. “The statute prohibits cultivation and processing facilities within 500 feet of a school” but allows a dispensary given a waiver within 500 feet.

Counties do have the right to ban dispensaries entirely if they have nothing codified. But because there was existing ordinance, bill sponsor Matt Schellenberg said the county could not ban dispensaries, even as individual cities have done this.

This bill, which only applies to the city, will be deferred, with multiple council members having questions about how to bring local ordinance in line with state law.

Open government task force: Via 2018-133, Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche seeks to establish a task force to look at transparency in local government.

The bill is in Rules Tuesday.

“The Task Force on Open Government” will “undertake an in-depth review of Jacksonville’s legislative process and the methods by which the public accesses government” and  “make recommendations for how the City of Jacksonville can be more open and accessible to the public.”

School Board bill withdrawn: 2018-77 would allow school board members to work in the public sector. However, there is a catch; this wouldn’t take effect until after the 2018 elections. A University of North Florida instructor named Timothy Groulx would like to run for school board, but it won’t be permitted this cycle.

In the NCSPHS meeting Monday, sponsor Bill Gulliford said he wanted to withdraw the measure, saying that the initiative needed to be studied before legislation went forward.

Councilman Crescimbeni wants a full-scale review of qualifications for all Duval County offices, noting that there have been inconsistencies in the past.

“There’s something terribly wrong,” Crescimbeni said, given that a councilman served in a similar capacity and “no one said anything.”

“It’s due for a big cleanup,” Crescimbeni said.

Joseph Peppers, CEO hopeful, resigns from Jacksonville Kids Hope Alliance board

Joseph Peppers‘ bid for the CEO slot in Jacksonville’s Kids Hope Alliance has been controversial, given he was on the new board.

A resignation tendered Sunday evening should remove some of that controversy.

“After careful prayer and consideration,” Peppers wrote, “I have decided to submit my resignation from the Kids Hope Alliance Board. I am making this decision to ensure the Kids Hope Alliance gets off to a great start and that it’s integrity and reputation remain completely without blemish.”

“I am honored to remain a candidate for the CEO position. If the board and the mayor believe that I am the best person for the job, I will do my best to represent the organization, the board, and the city of Jacksonville in the the very best light which it so deserves,” Peppers added.

The Florida Times-Union reported that two City Councilors had disquiet with the optics of a board member applying to be CEO of the board.

Peppers’ appointment process to the board was also notable.

Councilman Garrett Dennis had a sharp exchange with a member of Mayor Lenny Curry‘s staff during Dennis’ interview of Peppers.

Dennis thought it was irregular that the Mayor’s Office was “babysitting nominees,” and Dennis and Curry had words after the interview, per Dennis.

The Kids Hope Alliance interviewed candidates Friday for the ongoing search for a permanent CEO and Peppers was among them.

‘Fentanyl laced cocaine’ an emergent overdose trend in Jacksonville

A representative of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department noted in a Monday meeting of a City Council panel that ‘fentanyl-laced cocaine’ is an emergent overdose trend.

Jacksonville currently has a pilot program treating overdose victims.

The program tests for 17 different adulterants, spanning a wide pharmacological range.

Previous concerns have been fentanyl-based heroin, suggesting that street dealers are finding new markets.

Councilman Bill Gulliford, who pushed for this program, notes that it seems to be working.

However, the new lacing presents the latest worry.

“Cocaine laced with fentanyl is prevalent now. In recent toxicology reports, every sample of cocaine had fentanyl in it,” Gulliford said. “The scary part of this is it’s becoming more widespread. There are incidents of this used in counterfeit Xanax.”

Gulliford noted that young people often combine Xanax and alcohol, and urged that parents warn kids about the potentiality of a new, dangerous alteration being marketed to them.

Andrew Gillum talks importance of ‘allyship’ with black women in St. Augustine

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic candidate for Governor, spoke in St. Augustine Saturday about the importance of the vote of black women — and the importance of “allyship.”

Engaged turnout among black women was seen as a contributing factor to the Democrats taking a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama last year; to that end, Gillum and other Democrats believe that the model can be replicated even in a campaign not involving Roy Moore as the GOP standard bearer.

Gillum, who just got back to Florida after a red-eye flight from a California fundraiser, noted that while black women are the pillar of the black community, they “can’t save this Republic alone.”

The full power of the Democratic Party must back them, Gillum said.

Gillum extolled education as a way out of “intergenerational poverty,” describing how even guidance counselors and lunch room ladies “stood in the gap on behalf of many of us,” helping to “build strong communities.”

Gillum noted that his mother was “doing things to ensure we got by,” a reality that sometimes precluded thinking about big picture political concepts.

The lines elicited applause.

Gillum’s remarks kicking off a panel moderated by Congressional District 5 candidate Rontel Batie and House District 13 Democratic hopeful Roshanda Jackson were brief, but crowdpleasing.

Gillum noted, per women’s issues, it’s “important to be a good ally as a man,” especially given the “me too” moment.

“We have sat quietly and sometimes complictly in certain rooms,” said Gillum, “and we need to be good allies” on issues like “equal pay for equal work.”

“When you’re in positions where you’re hiring and determining certain salary levels,” said Gillum, it’s important to provide “allyship.”

“We have to expand our own definitions of allyship,” Gillum said. “It’s not enough to sit in the cheap seats. We also have to get in the field, get in the fight. If we’re in this thing and we’ve got each other’s backs, we need to speak up even when it doesn’t directly affect us.”

Gillum also extolled Medicaid expansion, noting that many “hard working people don’t earn enough to meet what their medical needs are.”

“How to make sure that health care is not treated as a privilege, but a right,” Gillum said, as an example of the “radical change that is necessary.”

An economic agenda must address the specific needs regarding black and women owned business, including equities in lending, contracting, and so on.

“The $88 million budget that was just passed … how much is spent on [these] businesses,” Gillum said, offering them “the opportunity to compete.”

Accountability from public officials, said Gillum, is key.

“When we demand more … they know people are not going to be satisfied with the status quo,” Gillum said, describing the “Malcolm/Martin analogy” — which was to say that if people in a previous era didn’t deal with Martin Luther King Jr., there were “other forces out there.”

Gillum took questions from the audience also, including one about the West Virginia teachers strike, in which he noted that Florida, as a “right to work” state has structural disadvantages for strikers; however, “teachers need to be paid what they are worth,” especially given that Florida teachers are in the bottom of the ranks of national pay.

“We have the nerve to call our teachers evil and say our kids attend ‘failure factories’ off the conditions our lawmakers have created,” Gillum said, describing an overextended group of professionals hamstrung by legislative mandates.

Gillum would like to see a starting salary of $50,000 for teachers.

“I’d like to create the condition where our teachers aren’t walking out, they’re walking on … we need to pay them what they’re worth,” Gillum said, speaking against the for-profit model as well as constant high-stakes testing.

Gillum will address another Northeast Florida crowd Monday, at the monthly general meeting of the Duval County Democrats.

Jacksonville, Citrus County Sheriffs picked for Criminal and Juvenile Justice Information Systems Council

On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott announced the appointments of two sheriffs to the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Information Systems Council.

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams will fill a vacant seat on the council, and will serve through October 2018.

Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast will succeed Sheriff Larry Ashley, and his term will expire in October 2020.

The group’s mission is “to provide statewide oversight of justice information systems and data while developing plans and policies to facilitate the coordination of information sharing and interoperability, and ensuring appropriate access and security.”

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