Jax Archives - Florida Politics

Fiesta forever: Block party moratorium bill withdrawn from Jacksonville City Council

A bill to impose a 90 day moratorium on block parties in Jacksonville was withdrawn from the city council Tuesday evening by NW Jacksonville Democrat Reggie Brown,

The legislation (2017-196) posited “a legitimate public purpose in imposing a temporary moratorium on permitting recreational street closings … ‘block parties’ within the City, to allow the City time to create appropriate local regulations and standards.”

Brown’s legislation had ben slated for an emergency vote.

However, he believes the looming threat of a moratorium led to moves toward a change in the process, with cooperation from Public Works and the Office of General Counsel.

Brown expects revision of ordinance code going forward.

With that, a long and winding committee process, which included a public notice meeting, is wrapped.

Though no legislation resulted, Brown clearly was satisfied enough with the evolution of the process to pull the bill.

Key Jacksonville councilors warm to Lenny Curry pension bills

Two of the most veteran politicians on Jacksonville’s City Council, Bill Gulliford and Tommy Hazouri, discussed the newly-introduced pension legislation with Mayor Lenny Curry Tuesday.

In what may be a sign of a smooth process to come, as the council spends much of April workshopping and mulling the changes to the city’s pension plans, both Gulliford and Hazouri came out of the meeting favorably disposed to the reform legislation (though with questions about the financial impact, numbers which have yet to be rolled out to the public).

Gulliford, a key architect of the 2015 pension reform plan, spoke positively.

“The direction we’re going in is the right way to go,” Gulliford said, especially considering that “there are not a lot of alternatives.”

Gulliford has not seen the financial projection, but he believes “the numbers will support the proposal.”

Gulliford is interested in seeing the breakdown of financial numbers; those will be introduced to the city council Apr. 6, during a council workshop.

Hazouri, meanwhile, says his “questions were answered,” though he wants to talk to the council auditor to get his take.

The ultimate goal: “addressing the horrific $2.8 Billion unfunded liability.”

“We need to address that responsibly, which the mayor is attempting to do,” Hazouri said.

_____

The council will embark on an ambitious schedule regarding pension reform.

A workshop is slated for April 6 to discuss financial particulars of the legislation.

The Police and Fire Pension Fund impact statement is expected Apr. 10.

Council will have a public hearing on Apr. 11 on the pension bills. If the hearing doesn’t wrap by midnight, discussion will have to continue on a future date.

A committee of the whole is expected to convene Apr. 19.

And there may be a special council meeting on Apr. 20 or Apr. 24, ahead of the regular meeting on Apr. 25.

Pension reform legislation introduced to Jacksonville City Council

Tuesday night saw a raft of bills introduced to the Jacksonville City Council, with the expected final result being implementation of comprehensive pension reform.

While the mayor’s office negotiated pension reform, it is up to the 19-person legislative body to enact it.

Bill 2017-257 would, if passed by the council, levy the 1/2 cent discretionary sales tax approved by voters via referendum in August.

The tax would take effect when the Better Jacksonville Plan obligation is paid off, or in 2031, whichever comes first.

2017-257 creates a new ordinance section:  Chapter 776 (Pension Liability Surtax).

Bill 2017-258 affects the general employees and correctional worker plans, closing the extant defined benefit plans to those hired after Oct. 1, 2017, and committing the city to a 12 percent contribution for those general employees and a 25 percent contribution for correctional officers hired after October.

That bill requires the city to meet certain liquidity targets for the defined benefit plan, mandating additional contributions if that target isn’t met, though those targets aren’t defined in the legislation as introduced.

As well, the bill maintains a “ten-year agreement,” of sorts, able to be revisited on a bilateral basis three years, six years, and nine years after implementation.

Bill 2017-259 implements revisions to the Police and Fire & Rescue plans.

Post-October hires will get a 25 percent match from the city on their defined contribution plans.

Raises for workers throughout the city will be part of the pension reform package, with the most generous raises going to police and fire, then corrections, then general employees.

Pension reform has been a priority of Mayor Lenny Curry, who spent 2016 selling the idea of a dedicated sales surtax to pay off the city’s $2.7B unfunded liability in Tallahassee, then used his political capital and machine to score a stunning 65 percent margin in favor of the plan in an August referendum.

Though negotiations were not without their quotable moments, Curry’s team, helmed by CAO Sam Mousa and CFO Mike Weinstein, was able to overcome objections and get key agreements with even the public safety unions early enough in March to where this financial security may be apparent as soon as the next fiscal year.

As locals know by now, the current defined benefit plans have to be closed to new hires, who will get defined contribution plans — that have as much as a 25 percent employer match for public safety employees.

Questions remain among the council about the specifics of the plans. Curry has been talking with them one on one about the conceptual framework of the plan, he told us Tuesday.

“Meetings with council members — we’re talking conceptually, big-picture. It’s important that we lay the information out so they can make a responsible decision. They’re all getting that information together.”

“In the weeks ahead, in a big, public, transparent workshop,” Curry continued, “we’ll be laying all of this out.”

“I would remind you that all of the collective bargaining, all of the agreements that have been reached, were done in the sunshine — transparent for the public to see.”

That workshop, slated for Apr. 6, will “lay out the budget impact and the actuarial impact … everything that council needs to make a decision will be laid out for them publicly and you’ll all have that information available for you,” he told the press Tuesday

Council members have already met to discuss the schematics of pension reform, with a 90 minute historical overview of pension from General Counsel Jason Gabriel on Monday.

Rob Bradley, Aaron Bean get facetime with Rick Scott

Amidst a phalanx of meetings with Florida legislators for Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday were talks with two Northeast Florida Senators: Rob Bradley and Aaron Bean.

As a measure of the governor’s efficiency, the meetings were back to back in the 11:00 hour, with a meeting with Ocala Sen. Dennis Baxley in between.

Bradley’s summation of the meeting: “The Governor is a good friend. We discussed a wide range of substantive issues, from EFI and Visit Florida to medical marijuana to water. We also shared some laughs about the absurdity of the political process. His sense of humor is underrated.”

EFI and Visit Florida, of course, are gubernatorial priorities.

Meanwhile, Bradley has a medical marijuana bill in the Senate, and is focused heavily on water resources in North Florida this session.

Bean, meanwhile, called his meeting with Scott a “truly happy visit.”

“Nothing was asked for,” the senator said. “I expected to be lobbied.”

Bean thanked the governor for helping with flexible federal dollars for the VPK program, which the senator said would help Jacksonville.

The two also discussed SB 476a bill Sen. Bean filed, which amends and expands existing statute regarding terrorism.

The bill creates a more expansive definition for “terrorism” and “terrorist activities” in the wake of the Pulse massacre in June.

Additionally, the measure explicitly prohibits “using, attempting to use, or conspiring to use” training from a “designated foreign terrorist organization.”

Terroristic crimes, intended to “influence … affect … or retaliate against” a government via attacking citizens, would be defined as felonies of the first degree in the legislation, drawing a maximum prison term of 30 years.

The governor asked Bean to push this bill earlier in the year; while it has cleared two of three committees in the House, the bill has yet to be agendaed in the Senate.

Jacksonville leaders observe sexual assault awareness month

The national observation of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is in April, yet Jacksonville kicked off the month days early on Tuesday, with city leaders convening in the atrium of the city hall.

Jacksonville’s Sexual Assault Advisory Council was created in 1998, intending to bring awareness to the issue and to let victims know they have recourse.

And in Mayor Lenny Curry, Sheriff Mike Williams, and State Attorney Melissa Nelson, those dealing with these issues have three powerful and committed allies and advocates.

“I stand her with the people behind me, who signed up every day to protect you,” Curry said. “I stand with them in my budgets [and in] my heart.”

Curry read a proclamation, denoting the widespread nature of sexual violence, which he said impacts every person — as a review of the statistics made clear.

One in five women, and one in 71 men will be raped. One in six boys and one in four girls: sexually-assaulted before they turn 18.

And college campuses are no safer, with one in five women and one in 16 men likely to suffer sexual assault.

Curry urged those in attendance to “use our voices to change the culture.”

“Prevention is possible when everyone gets involved,” Curry said.

Melissa Nelson, the region’s state attorney, noted that “these crimes are often some of the most underreported,” urging the community as a whole to “step up and speak out.”

Survivors and loved ones, as well as bystanders, were urged by Nelson to say something if they see something.

Sheriff Williams noted that the JSO participates every year in this awareness raising, and this year asked local students, including fraternities and sororities, to increase awareness.

Williams noted Jacksonville has worked very hard on this front, but there is still a ways to go.

Of 405 sexual battery cases in 2016 locally, there has been a 48 percent clearance rate.

That rate, low as it sounds, compares favorably to the 36 percent rate of clearance nationally.

After the event, Curry summed up the impact.

“Sexual assault is underreported. Victims often feel shame they should not feel. There are resources available to them,” Curry said.

“Today is about letting victims know that we see them, we hear them,” Curry added.

Lenny Curry talks ICARE, pension reform, Nikolai Vitti

It’s an interesting political week in Jacksonville. And on Tuesday, Mayor Lenny Curry discussed a potpourri of current topics.

At Monday evening’s ICARE event, a consortium of local pastors upbraided Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry for not showing up to commit to a homeless day resource center.

And on Tuesday evening, expectations from the city council were that Curry’s administration would introduce 11 pieces of legislation — necessary for the enactment of pension reform.

And on Wednesday, it’s possible that a political ally — Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti — may be hired to run the school district in Detroit.

The mayor offered insight on all of the above in a gaggle setting.

____

ICARE: “I’m surprised that they were surprised that I wasn’t going to be there,” Curry said.

“We communicated with them, as we do with any number of organizations, that we had a conflict last night. I wasn’t publicly available last night. I was at a baseball game with my son, my family, that was previously scheduled,” Curry added.

“I’ve had numerous meetings with ICARE, as have many members of my administration, so I was surprised they were surprised,” Curry continued.

The big policy question: is the homeless day center off the table?

“There have been a number of discussions with them on their priorities and my priorities. Some we align on. Some we’re still working through,” the mayor said.

“For example,” Curry added, “ex-offender re-entry programs. I went to Tallahassee last year and brought a significant amount of money back for that issue.”

The state appropriation last year in that category for Duval: $900,000.

“Homelessness is an issue,” Curry said, “but as you probably saw in the Times-Union today, many experts on the issue have stated concerns: did the day resource center really work?”

“We’re evaluating in a thoughtful way the best way to move forward to take care of the least of those in our community,” Curry said.

Pension reform: The mayor also addressed legislation expected to be filed Tuesday, which would allow the city council to ratify the collective bargaining agreements negotiated with unions in recent months.

And he discussed meetings with councilors, five of which are being conducted Tuesday ahead of the council meeting.

“The first thing to recognize is my gratitude to the unions,” Curry said. “Employees, police and firemen haven’t been treated well over the years. That comes to an end now with these agreements.”

“Taxpayers have been disrespected,” Curry continued. “These agreements that we’ve reached respect taxpayers and will, once and for all, stabilize our budgets.”

“Meetings with council members — we’re talking conceptually, big-picture. It’s important that we lay the information out so they can make a responsible decision. They’re all getting that information together.”

“In the weeks ahead, in a big, public, transparent workshop,” Curry continued, “we’ll be laying all of this out.”

“I would remind you that all of the collective bargaining, all of the agreements that have been reached, were done in the sunshine — transparent for the public to see.”

That workshop, slated for Apr. 6, will “lay out the budget impact and the actuarial impact … everything that council needs to make a decision will be laid out for them publicly and you’ll all have that information available for you.”

Vitti: Curry noted that Vitti is “working through what he thinks is the best option for him and for his family.”

“He’s been a strong advocate for our schools. Has been a reformer. Whatever he decides to do,” Curry said, “I’ll stand in support.”

Missing mayor casts shadow over Jax ICARE event

The Jacksonville religious group ICARE has been pressuring Mayor Lenny Curry to bring back a homeless day center that was once in Jacksonville.

However, already-fractious discussions between Curry and the clerics broke down last month, and he wasn’t to be at the Monday ICARE “Nehemiah Assembly.”

Moreover, the city’s data suggests there are better ways to spend finite resources, as the homeless day center was not completely effective in terms of the city’s goals, and took away resources that would otherwise go for getting homeless people into homes.

And the original funding for the day center came from Obama-era community development block grants that Donald Trump looks to zero out of the budget.

With all that in mind, the ICARE show went on anyway.

So how did it play?

_____

The program for the event, distributed upon entry, referenced the ICARE version of the homeless day center narrative, ignoring the lack of a dedicated facility or of the federal funding that got the original facility online.

Also included: Curry’s contact information, with a stock message. “I am disappointed that you did not attend … and I want you to fund the homeless day resource center,” the message read.

_____

As the event kicked off, a speaker noted that when opposed to something, the crowd was to respond “not with boos, but deafening silence.”

That was true, he said, even when considering concepts like “homeless men and women in our city don’t even have a place to shower” — the first of numerous allusions to the homeless day center dispute.

The call: “to demand justice from our public officials.”

For minutes before the official program began, the crowd practiced responses in unison at the urging of the pastor, who let them know that ICARE pastors would be holding the microphone at all times, even when public officials were speaking.

And that there would be no questions from the floor, as ICARE had spent months researching the answers.

_____

The pastors had their say, of course.

Catholic Bishop Felipe Esteveznotable for recently comparing objectors to LGBT rights expansion to people objecting to serving in combat during the “darkest days of World War II,” invoked Pope Francis in his argument for a homeless day resource center.

Rev. Tony Hansberry likewise argued for a homeless day center, saying “we keep displacing the homeless to hide them,” and that the homeless day center would help address that cohort’s needs.

“I urge all of you to continue to hold his feet to the fire,” Hansberry said.

Myrtle Collins said that homelessness increased 33 percent in 2015 and 2016, constituting a “crisis.”

“A year ago at this assembly, we called on Mayor Curry to open a day resource center. He said the pension tax had to pass first. That tax passed last August,” Collins said.

“At our meeting with him in the summer, Mayor Curry cited a commitment to make sure the most vulnerable people in the city receive service,” Collins said.

Collins noted that Curry said that he would not attend the assembly if ICARE “went to the press.”

Press coverage followed, then Curry’s “prior commitment,” Collins said.

Radio DJ Kenny Leggett called on Curry to be a “man of [his] word.”

Pastor James Wiggins said Curry “clearly said [he] would” support a day center, showing video of last year’s event where he emphatically said “yes” when asked.

The hard sell continued, despite Curry’s absence, as members of the crowd began to filter to the exits from the balcony and floor levels.

____

Curry’s absence wasn’t the only schedule disruption. In lieu of Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, who looks poised to move back to Detroit and run the district up there, the chief of schools (Iranetta Wright) “brought greetings on behalf” of Vitti.

Sheriff Mike Williams and State Attorney Melissa Nelson did show, during a segment of the program when the focus was civil citations for young people and other restorative justice mechanisms, an ongoing concern of the group that has been rolled out slowly in Jacksonville.

Williams committed to offer civil citations to 90 percent of eligible youth by March 2018, and to expand community accountability boards … though got pushback when he urged “officer discretion” in a statewide rollout of the program via SB 196.

Williams said his department moved from 10 percent to 83 percent issuance of citations, but that wasn’t enough for his questioner.

Nelson vowed, meanwhile, to divert non-violent youth to neighborhood accountability boards, and to use diversion program.

“You’ve already seen an increase in that,” Nelson offered, compared to the previous state attorney.

Nelson, in addressing ICARE, noted the cumulative effect of its collective concern.

Lauding the “energy in the room,” Nelson said she’s “paid attention and I’ve acted” and will continue to “work with ICARE and listen to ICARE.”

Ahead of legislation, Lenny Curry talks pension with Anna Brosche

Amidst a series of private appointments on the calendar of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was a meeting with Anna Brosche, the chair of the Jacksonville City Council’s Finance Committee.

The timing of the meeting was purposeful, Brosche said.

“I believe it’s going to be introduced tomorrow,” Brosche said, regarding a raft of legislation that may be introduced regarding ratifying the agreements by the unions and the mayor’s office

“He just explained the presentation that they’re going to be speaking to the entire council at one time,” Brosche said, saying this was “process, not really numbers. Just their overall plan for the process.”

When asked if the conversation gave her a sense of comfort. “I can’t say that. I can’t say that. I have to see the stuff and that’s going to come forth when we all get a chance to see it.”

Emergency hearing looms in Jax councilor’s family biz bankruptcy case

Earlier this month, “KJB Specialties D/B/A Jerome Brown BBQ” a business owned by the family of Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

With that filing comes a need to work out details: among them, salaries of the company’s officers.

Last week, the councilor’s parents, JoAnn Brown and Jerome Brown, filed motions for an emergency hearing to ensure they kept their salaries as they were in 2016: north of $74,000.

As the filing on each Brown’s motion asserted, “it would cost the company substantially more to find a replacement … if they were even willing to step in.”

“An emergency hearing is necessary to avoid immediate and irreparable harm to the estate,” the motions declare.

That salar hearing is slated for 2:30 PM on April 3 in Courtroom 4-D of the Duval County Courthouse

KJB Specialties is a guarantor of a loan taken out by another Brown family business, CoWealth LLC, which is being sued by the city for failing to come through on job creation tied to loans and grants via the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund.

_____

A cynic might say that “immediate and irreparable harm to the estate” is not the major issue here, as the Browns owe big-league money to a variety of creditors.

Below, a brief recap of some of the issues.

In February, KJB hired the aforementioned bankruptcy lawyer, in response to a foreclosure action on the Browns’ flagship restaurant, Jerome Brown BBQ.

The Browns owe roughly $100,000 on that note.

The Brown family businesses have had a rough decade, with CoWealth LLC, another in their group of nebulously named companies, being sued by the city of Jacksonville for failing to create jobs in a 2011 economic development agreement intended to help the Browns take their BBQ sauce business to the next level.

As is the case with KJB, CoWealth is subject to its own foreclosure action.

The latest property being foreclosed upon, according to the Lis Pendens notice, is bordered by Ellis, Broadway, and Commonwealth Avenue on the Westside.

This property corresponds with the Browns’ barbeque sauce plant (5638 Commonwealth Ave.), which is currently listed at $1.3 million — down from $1.5 million months ago, indicating a motivated seller. That asking price is less than half of Biz Capital’s claim: $2.772M is what they claim is owed.

CoWealth originally borrowed $2.65 million from Biz Capital, in addition to $380,000 from the city. The city’s interest is subordinate to that of Biz Capital.

However, Chapter 11 will frustrate the purposes of the Browns’ businesses’ creditors on these and more picayune fronts.

Ahead of ratifying pension reform, Jacksonville City Council looks backward

A Monday “lunch and learn” of the Jacksonville City Council involved members getting educated on the finer points of collective bargaining.

Not a moment too soon for that, as the council will have to vote later this spring on whether or not to ratify the latest pension reform package from the mayor’s office via 11 different ordinances: five on the city side, five from JEA side, and one from police and fire.

Introduction of legislation is imminent, with a slew of collective bargaining agreements being advanced to the council this week — potentially as soon as Tuesday.

The best deals are for police and fire, of course.

The deal offers long-delayed raises to current public safety  employees (a 3 percent lump sum payout immediately, and a 20 percent raise for police and fire over three years) and gives all classes of current employees the same benefits.

As well, all police and fire officers will have DROP eligibility with an 8.4 percent annual rate of return and a 3 percent COLA.

The deal, if approved without modification, will bring labor peace through 2027 — though it can be renegotiated by the city or the unions at 3, 6, 9, and 10 years marks in the agreement.

For new employees, however, the plan is historic — a defined contribution plan that vests three years after the new employee for police and fire is hired.

The public sector unions have agreed to this, but the council’s approval is necessary — and not to be taken for granted.

“As of Friday, all the bargaining units have ratified” the deals, General Counsel Jason Gabriel said, including the general employees — an important part of the puzzle, as all plans have to be closed before the funds are available, either to access or to provide certainty to actuaries that the money will be there.

_____

In March 2015, for example, the council deadlocked 9-9 on a reform vote. Though objections were magically mooted weeks after Alvin Brown lost his re-election, the fact remains that council needs to understand the process.

To that end, General Counsel Jason Gabriel — an integral part of the negotiating process — explained recent history on concepts to council, which saw 11 new members since the last pension reform package was approved.

Gabriel referenced the “unorthodox” way the city had of negotiating these terms in the past, but those days are long gone now.

“There’s been a conflation of roles … when it’s come to collective bargaining in general,” Gabriel said.

The council, said Gabriel, will have its “management hats” on when deciding to approve or deny the deal.

Gabriel described the 2015 “settlement agreement” as putting the “final kibosh” on negotiating with the Police and Fire Pension Fund, paving the way for the various pension reform deals negotiated since August 2016 with the unions.

The city has three funds: the general employees fund, the correctional officers fund, and the police and fire pension fund.

These funds were established in 1937; pending ratification of pension reform by the council, they will be closed to new members.

____

Gabriel went back into history: starting a granular analysis in the early 1990s, after some changes in the 1980s led to a city charter amendment that made the police and fire pension fund an independent agency of the city.

The Ed Austin administration imposed an amendment allowing the local PFPF to negotiate pension benefits, and amendments over the years and across administrations changed and elongated the deal, leading to the 2001 “30-year agreement.”

Gabriel reviewed lawsuits related to that agreement, including actions related to violation of agreement terms, Sunshine Law violations, and so on.

Gabriel discussed pension reform deals worked out by the John Peyton administration in 2011, but not approved, as the Alvin Brown administration withdrew the bill related to the police and fire pension fund.

“The Peyton plan kind of comes off the table, and we start fresh with the Brown administration,” Gabriel summarized.

The Brown administration attempted legislation related to a mediated settlement of a sunshine law suit in 2013, a 2014 retirement reform agreement, and a counter-proposal from the PFPF in 2015, but finding common ground between the council, the mayor’s office, and the pension fund proved challenging.

Also attempted: making JEA a funding source. That didn’t float either.

The 2015 agreement that was ratified, said Gabriel, had “two huge provisions.”

One: “that collective bargaining is a constitutional right of the unions and management … and those rights are not waivable.”

“Everything we’re doing today fits into the terms of the 2015 agreement,” Gabriel said, referring to the pension reform package put forth by the Curry administration, one that sees dedicated funding coming from the extension of a current sales surtax.

“None of this is easy,” Gabriel said, referring to the stipulations of the plan, which include closing underfunded plans to new employees, agreeing to a 10 percent minimum employees contribution, an extant surtax with a date certain for termination, and keeping the trustees out of the bargaining.

“It’s almost like a sleeper provision in there,” Gabriel chortled about the latter. “It’s crystal-clear … we have to follow the dictates of the statute, and one of them is that the board of trustees has no role in pension benefits.”

____

If legislation is completed and ready to be filed, the bills will be added to the addendum council agenda meeting Tuesday, setting up a more robust schedule of meetings.

“It’s all a moving target,” Council President Lori Boyer said, with the hope for a marathon meeting about the “financial side” between representatives of the mayor’s office and city council on Apr. 6.

“I’ll hand out a whole schedule tomorrow of potential dates,” Boyer said, floating the possibility of taking up these issues in a separate meeting dedicated to the purpose of pension reform, pending the distribution of actuarial studies.

“This meeting is about us receiving the information … we don’t even have it yet,” Boyer said.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons