Jax Archives - Page 2 of 320 - Florida Politics

Andrew Gillum to discuss ‘vision’ in Jacksonville

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who looks very much like a candidate for Florida Governor in 2018, will be in Jacksonville Wednesday afternoon.

The topic of what is being billed as “intimate roundtables” by local Democratic organizers sounds like what one might hear from a statewide candidate also.

Gillum will discuss his “vision for the great state of Florida,” with “regard to specific issues relevant to young professionals.”

The firsr event runs from 4:30 to 5:30 on Wednesday afternoon at “Spliff’s Gastropub.”

A second “intimate roundtable” follows at 6:00 p.m, at the “Urban Oasis in Historic Springfield.”

Jacksonville is not, in terms of recent history, a major priority for Democratic candidates running statewide.

In 2014, Charlie Crist did very little in Northeast Florida in either the primary or the general elections.

In 2016, while Alan Grayson made plays in the local market, Patrick Murphy‘s visits to Northeast Florida were few and far between both before and after the primary.

The 2018 race for Florida Governor will be different, as Jacksonville is the second-most major market in the state without a potential local favorite.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine would seem to have homefield advantage in South Florida. The same holds true for Bob Buckhorn in Tampa.

In this context, getting traction in Northeast Florida can potentially loom large, especially in a primary likely to be crowded with well-funded, qualified candidates.

Gillum has visited Jacksonville before, of course, including remarks in 2015 on topics like restorative justice and the Ban the Box movement.

But every visit going forward necessarily will be viewed in the context of retail politics.

Jacksonville passes HRO expansion, secures LGBT rights

The skinny: Almost five years after it was first put up for a council vote, Jacksonville’s legislators finally passed an expansion of the city’s Human Rights Ordinance on Tuesday.

The bill passed 12-6, with Councilmen Matt SchellenbergSam Newby, Danny Becton, Bill Gulliford, Doyle Carter, and Al Ferraro in opposition.

The HRO expansion offers long-awaited protections of the city’s LGBT community … if the mayor doesn’t veto it. If the mayor does veto the bill, the council would have to vote to override the measure.

The expansion would add sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to the list of protected categories under the ordinance, which ensures that people aren’t discriminated against in the workplace, the housing market, or public accommodations (restrooms, locker rooms, and so on).

Mayor Lenny Curry returned the bill to the city council without his signature; the bill is now law.

“As your Mayor, I promised to convene community conversations about discrimination. At the conclusion of those conversations, I exercised an executive action to implement a clear policy for City of Jacksonville employees and contractors. I said then and continue to believe additional legislation was unnecessary. But this evening, a supermajority of the City Council decided otherwise. This supermajority, representatives of the people from both parties and every corner of the city, made their will clear,” Curry said in a statement.

“Now, with the issue resolved, I invite City Council and all the people of Jacksonville to join me as we confront serious issues like the final steps of pension reform to bring us financial security and increase our efforts to end the violence and crime hurting innocent people in our city,” Curry added.

Supporters went into the vote confident that the council would pass the bill; however, the amendment process was worth watching, with two amendments (one to remove transgender people from protections, and another to remove the prospect of jail time for those who violate the ordinance).


Religious Exemption: As discussion began of the ordinance, the first major talking point was the religious exemption.

General Counsel Jason Gabriel discussed what would make an organization a religious organization, allowing it to be exempt from the legislation.

Gabriel, outlining the potential room for interpretation, noted the ultimate arbiter would be the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission.


No Jail: After that, Scott Wilson advanced an amendment striking jail time as a potential penalty for violating the HRO.

That was a concern in one committee.

The amendment was unanimously approved.


Referendum redux: Then, a second amendment from Bill Gulliford, to amend the bill and make it effective based on a charter referendum in 2018.

Gulliford had advanced this in committee.

The Beaches Republican noted division in the community on this issue.

“This may go down in flames … but I submit to you a referendum is the only way this issue will end,” Gulliford said, noting that legislation can always be introduced to tweak the bill after passage.

Gulliford asserted, meanwhile, that the idea that civil rights would not have passed referendum was unprovable.

This got a gasp from the crowd, but Gulliford persisted, insisting that opponents of the referendum may be “afraid to trust the people.”

Councilman Brown took the opposing view from Gulliford, urging that a referendum be a state issue.

“I would not have been confident that in 1864,” a referendum would have been passed “that black people should be free,” Brown said, drawing a burst of applause from the crowd.

“Let’s make the hard decision — and let the chips fall where they may,” Brown added.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri, the leading vote recipient in the May 2015 election, noted that he was elected to pass the HRO.

Councilman Al Ferraro saw a difference between the HRO and civil rights legislation, with people potentially losing “freedom of speech.”

“I’m not against anybody who’s gay or transgender or anything like that,” Ferraro said, adding that a “business will go broke because they’re innocent, just because of the financial burden.”

“This is a bad bill because of the way it’s written,” Ferraro added. “I do believe everybody’s equal … [but] the bill is going to harm people.”

“The Chamber is telling us,” Ferraro added, that there would be consequences if the bill doesn’t pass.

Councilman Danny Becton, another expansion opponent, bemoaned council members talking about emails and cards on the issue.

“All that to sway your vote. What is that? It’s a referendum,” Becton said.

The referendum failed 13-5, with Newby, Becton, Gulliford,  Carter, and Ferraro in opposition.


Closed Companies = Closed Minds?: Becton floated a second amendment, to exempt “closed” companies from this law.

“Anybody who is 100 percent in ownership of their business,” Becton said.

Councilman Hazouri said the Becton amendment would “emasculate” the bill.

Ferraro told Hazouri he didn’t know what it was like to start a business.

“These small business cannot take and afford — the lawsuits are going to go left and right,” Ferraro added.

Councilman Jim Love, a bill sponsor, noted that such lawsuits are not happening in Tampa and Orlando.

“We need to get this done now,” Love said, noting that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told him that Tampa had an advantage over Jacksonville because of this bill not having passed yet.

The Becton amendment failed 13-5, along the same lines as the previous amendment.


No-T Time: Bill Gulliford wasn’t done. He sought a reboot of the compromise bill from 2012, which struck “the transgender issue” from the legislation.

“Why not expand it on feelings? I can feel like I’m 23, and ask people to bake me a cake, and if they don’t do that, I can sue them?”

“Feeling but not fact is a bad way to pursue this,” Gulliford said.

Reggie Brown, who voted against the bill in 2012, spoke as a member of the military.

“We need to take a page out of the military,” Brown said. “[Transgender] people will fight for the flag … some will die for the flag … and that’s just the way it is.”

“When I listen to the recommendations to leave out one particular part of the population,” Brown said, “I’m concerned.”

“If they’re willing to die for you … why would we leave any soldier out?”

The amendment failed 13-5, with the same people on the losing end.


Nikolai Vitti: ‘Expand the HRO’

Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti serves in an appointed role, yet on Tuesday, he offered epistolary advice to the Jacksonville City Council.

That counsel? Expand the city’s Human Rights Ordinance to protect people at work, in the housing market, and in the realm of public accommodations on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Vitti called the vote, which will be held Tuesday evening at City Hall, an “opportunity to play an important part in this city’s movement toward equal rights.”

“Our city has not moved forward as quickly as it should have because historically its leaders have shirked from critical issues and decisions,” Vitti wrote.

“Please do not place yourself in a position to explain to your children or grandchildren why you voted against equal rights,” Vitti added.

A No vote, Vitti added, “signals that the city, through the City Council, is rejecting the LGBTQ+ community.”

Vitti’s position is not a surprise.

The Duval County School District has protections similar to those offered in the HRO to students and teachers.

And some of Vitti’s biggest backers are the Jacksonville Civic Council and other community stakeholder types, many of whom have been the staunchest supporters of HRO expansion.

As well, it’s uncertain how much political cover Vitti’s position offers a council member worried about a re-election campaign in 2019, given that a school superintendent doesn’t last indefinitely in Duval County.

However, HRO expansion supporters will likely note that, as opposed to some politicians whose position on the issue is opaque, Vitti at least took a stand.

State money sought for ‘Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing’ Park

The song “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing“, called the “black national anthem” by some, is among the most iconic in American history … and it has a Jacksonville connection.

James Weldon Johnson wrote the lyrics as a poem.

His brother set the words to music, and 117 years ago this month, the song was performed by 500 school children in the Johnsons’ hometown.

The song was soon thereafter adopted as the official song of the NAACP, and has offered inspiration for generations in the ongoing struggle for civil rights.

And now, State Rep. Tracie Davis seeks to ensure, via an appropriations bill, that the song is never forgotten by locals.

HB 3123 would appropriate $100,000 for the use of the Durkeeville Historical Society for the purposes of establishing a permanent historical location to commemorate the signature work of the Johnson brothers.

Conceivably, the park could serve as a tourist draw.

Beyond that, it would also serve as an educational tool for school children and for at-risk youth, asserts the appropriations request.

Ron Salem kicks off 2019 Jacksonville City Council race with high-powered fundraiser

Last week, Ron Salem became the first candidate to file for 2019’s Jacksonville City Council races.

The Southside Republican, running to replace termed-out John Crescimbeni in At-Large Group 2, is almost immediately set up as the candidate to beat in that race.

The proof: an invite for a fundraiser next week, featuring an all-star list of supporters that includes two former mayors, myriad lobbyists, and the crown jewels of the donor class.

Among the almost 100 listed supporters: big donors Peter Rummell, Gary Chartrand and J.B. Coxwell; former Mayors John Delaney and John Peyton; lobbyists Marty Fiorentino and Deno Hicks; former Jax Chamber Chair Audrey Moran; Jacksonville’s chief administrative officer, Sam Mousa; and dozens of other names of similar prominence and legacy in Jacksonville.

Salem is going to put these resources to use: Tim Baker and Brian Hughes will serve as consultants for his campaign, launched over two years even before the first election in March 2017.

Former two-term Jacksonville City Councilman and mayoral candidate Bill Bishop has discussed running for this seat.

Bishop, who had no answer for the Baker/Hughes barrage in his 2015 mayoral race against Lenny Curry, will face challenges against Salem, an insider’s insider who clearly has the building blocks for a formidable campaign.

HRO expansion is not the only story in Jacksonville City Council Tuesday

While the Human Rights Ordinance expansion is the biggest item being considered Tuesday by the Jacksonville City Council, it’s not the only one.

Below, a preview of what to watch in Council Chambers.


Margin Call: On Tuesday, the Jacksonville City Council has a decision to make: will the city protect LGBT rights as other major metros do or not?

As discussed extensively on this site and elsewhere, the 19-person council will vote on expanding the city’s Human Rights Ordinance.

The expansion would add sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to the list of protected categories under the ordinance, which ensures that people aren’t discriminated against in the workplace, the housing market, or public accommodations (restrooms, locker rooms, and so on).

If 10 vote for it, the law is subject to a potential veto or signing from Mayor Lenny Curry, putting the mayor on uncertain political sands no matter how he moves.

If 13 vote for it, it’s out of the mayor’s hands.

Thus far, five different council members have voted against the measure in committee. A sixth, Al Ferraro, almost certainly will join them Tuesday.

Thus, for advocates, there is a simple math: ensure that everyone who isn’t part of that group of six shows up and doesn’t get cowed into voting no.

Both HRO expansion advocates and opponents will demonstrate their positions outside the building in various ways. Advocates plan to congregate in Hemming Park. Opponents are expected to have prayer circles outside the building.


Northwest Passage: The Jacksonville City Council is expected to approve a revamp of the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund, via Ordinance 2016-779,

Among the policy changes:  an emphasis on loans (backed by title liens) rather than grants; a limit on NWJEDF funding of no more than 25% of the total project cost.

One council person can speak with certainty to how things went wrong with the NWJEDF formula previously.

Councilwoman Katrina Brown‘s family businesses are currently being sued by the city for failing to create sustainable jobs via the NWJEDF; the Browns’ CoWealth LLC was granted money to create 56 jobs, and now the city is attempting to settle up in court, as the company created no jobs … falling just shy of the goal established two mayors ago for what was to be a bustling barbeque sauce plant.

Brown has not returned press calls on this or any subject, and disconnected her phone. So far, the council has managed to discuss reforming the program without discussing Brown’s issue — despite her being in one committee during discussion of this bill.

Expect no discussion of Brown’s situation during Tuesday evening’s meeting. After all, she’s a connected person in the city, and connected people play by different rules than the rest of us in One City, One Jacksonville.


Hemming Happenings: Ordinance 2017-1 will set up new rules for an old problem: issues with public comportment among the denizens of Jacksonville’s Hemming Park.

The solution this time around: to strengthen trespass orders, requiring that they be doled out in writing, with associated case numbers and a legal appeal process.

Hemming Park already has security on premises, but they typically are outmanned by the dozens of people in the park during normal business hours.


Access Granted: Ordinance 2017-16 will provide funding to a position intended to ensure equal employment opportunity on racial grounds in city hiring, including the independent authorities.

The position was established during the John Peyton administration, but was defunded and funding has yet to be restored.

Though one opponent in a committee said the measure was “discriminatory on its basis – what you’re dealing with is race and gender,” this bill will pass, and will be touted as a political victory by sponsor Garrett Dennis.

Time will tell if the bill fixes the problem of racial disparities in hiring and employment on the city level, however.

Outgoing CFO Jeff Atwater extols Florida’s economic performance, talks ‘legacy’

Late last week, Florida CFO Jeff Atwater announced that, instead of running for another office in 2018, he will take a gig at Florida Atlantic University later this year, vacating the office of CFO.

That announcement gave a speech from Atwater to Jacksonville’s Economic Roundtable — his first major speech since announcing his plans to leave the CFO slot — a bit more weight and general interest than it might have had otherwise.

Media was told at first, regarding the scramble to replace him as CFO, that the decision was “too new” for him to talk.

But it came up, even in the introductory remarks, when the speaker quipped that “47 people” had told him Atwater was leaving … however, the show goes on all the same.

“I’ve had the privilege to be in Tallahassee for 17 years, and Mrs. Atwater’s calling me home,” Atwater said. “I have about 120 days to go.”

Among Atwater’s new mission: building “strategic partnerships” for the university in his hometown.

“It’s been the honor of a lifetime,” Atwater added, drawing a line between his political endeavors and the beginning of his career with Barnett Bank in Jacksonville in 1981, before discussing changes that hit Florida’s and the United States’ economy since the latter part of the last decade, when contraction set in.

Unemployment rose. Housing prices fell. Credit ratings were imperiled.

Atwater then discussed the process of moving forward from the doldrums of the last decade.

“The gap in our books was not as critical,” Atwater said, “as the gap in the books of every small business in Florida.”

The newspapers, except for the Florida Times-Union, didn’t buy in.

But “we had to make some really hard decisions,” said Atwater, including cutting taxes and spending, while boosting reserves — at a time when other states were hiking taxes.

By 2015, top line revenue was up, population was booming, and housing prices were nearly up to where they were in 2006 .. before the last bubble popped.

45 states, meanwhile, increased taxes. Over half of the states increased their debt ratio.

Florida was one of three that took a different path, Atwater said.

Florida’s AAA credit rating speaks to the enduring benefit of moving “quickly and decisively.”

“New York is smaller now than Florida,” in terms of economic performance, despite a budget with half the money in it than the Empire State has.

The influx of residents and income into Florida: $75 billion of household income over the last decade, coming at the expense of big states elsewhere, such as New York, Illinois, and California.

A low debt burden and new economic influxes give Florida an advantage other states do not, Atwater said.

“It took a tremendous amount of being in sync to accomplish all of this,” Atwater said, crediting Gov. Rick Scott for his attention to these issues.

“I know it doesn’t look that way all the time, but it takes a lot of teamwork,” Atwater said.

There are challenges: the expanding cost of Medicaid, said Atwater, threatens the state’s finances.

Because of Medicaid and educational costs growth, Atwater issued a common refrain: “it’s going to be a very tight fiscal year” with “hard decisions.”

Atwater did make time for questions from this outlet after the meeting.

The one of most interest: was he leaving too soon, with Gov. Scott headed into the lame duck portion of his second term.

Any “apprehension … second thoughts … or misgivings” Atwater feels about leaving, he said, only has to do with himself and the timing of the departure.

“I hope I can leave a legacy,” Atwater said.

With challenges around the corner, expect that the governor will want someone as dedicated to “fiscal discipline” as Atwater in the role.

The question soon enough will become who that person is.

Monday, however, was a victory lap for Atwater, who served as the state’s CFO as Jacksonville and the rest of Florida recovered, for the most part, from the bubble and the crash of last decade.

Jacksonville freshman legislators are already fundraising for 2018

Three Jacksonville Republicans who are in their first terms in the Florida Legislature have already begun fundraising for 2018.

Though Representatives Jason FischerClay Yarborough, and Cord Byrd aren’t likely to face any credible opposition in running for re-election, their early attention to fundraising indicates the reality of the perpetual campaign.

Of the three listed, Fischer made the most progress in January toward next year’s run for re-election, with $7,614 of new money in January bringing him close to $8,000 on hand.

Of that new money, $5,000 came from the pari mutuel/dog track industry, with the Jacksonville Kennel Club and Orange Park Kennel Club among those gambling interests maxing out to the Southside Jacksonville Republican representing House District 16.

Clay Yarborough, a Christian conservative representing House District 12 (also on Jacksonville’s Southside), brought in $2,500 between Jan. 10 and Jan. 31 — his first filing period of the 2018 campaign.

Yarborough collected no money from gambling interests. However, he shared other donors with Fischer, such as Kaleo Pharmaceuticals and Southern Gardens Citrus Holdings.

Byrd, who represents Jacksonville Beach and Nassau County in House District 11, brought in $4,500 of new January money. Of that money, $2,500 came from the dog track industry.

Jacksonville strikes historic, tentative pension accord with police, fire unions

The city of Jacksonville on Saturday struck a historic, revolutionary (and still tentative) pension accord with the Fraternal Order of Police and the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters.

And not a moment too soon: Feb. 11 was the city’s “deadline” for the unions to take its offer.

The deal offers long-delayed raises to current 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 total contribution: 35 percent, with the city ponying up 25 percent of that — and making guarantees that survivors’ benefits and disability benefits would be the same for new hires as the current force of safety officers.

Members of both unions, and the Jacksonville City Council, have to approve the deal.

But all parties projected optimism after months of tough talk and hard bargaining from both sides.

“This represents another step toward solving Jacksonville’s pension crisis once and for all in a way that is good for taxpayers, first responders, and the future of our city. I want to thank the union leadership for working with me and reaching this historic agreement. I look forward to next steps with union membership,” said Mayor Lenny Curry.

FOP President Steve Zona had this to day.

“When I chose to run for president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5-30 I committed I would be transparent and include the members in decision making. After much deliberation, I feel negotiations have brought us to a point where the voice of the body needs to be heard by way of a vote on the current proposal offered by the city,” Zona said.

JAFF President Randy Wyse likewise confirmed that the members of his union would decide if the deal was good for them.

“Benefits reduced since 2015 will be restored with wage increases and pension equality for existing employees,” Randy Wyse, the President of the JAFF, said.

“Our main purpose and goal is the safety and security of Jacksonville’s Firefighters and their families. The JAFF has negotiated faithfully and openly a tentative contract that has been long overdue for existing employees,” Wyse added.

Between this and a tentative agreement with AFSCME to put its new hires into defined contribution plans, the city is on a roll when it comes to revolutionizing public pensions.

With a $2.85 billion unfunded pension liability growing every year, time was of the essence for the city to close its plans, which despite best efforts of previous pension reform, were choking out the city’s general fund.

The deal allows the city to stop making the extra payments to the Police and Fire Pension Fund that were required by the 2015 pension reform deal. Those payments were slated to eventually rise up to $32 million a year.

As Florida girds up for 2018 elections, and the post-Jeff Atwater as CFO era, expect the quiet whispers about Curry’s statewide future to get progressively louder going forward.

Jacksonville Bold for 2.10.17 — The long arm of the law

Is One Door Closing on Corrine Brown?: The big story of the week in Jacksonville — the intrigue in the One Door for Education case.

The week started with Corrine Brown and her former chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, as co-defendants facing 24 counts for the allegedly fraudulent charity that turned $800,000 in donations into $1,200 of charity and significant walking around money for Simmons and Brown.

By Wednesday, Simmons pleaded guilty to two of those 24 counts. His sentencing will be delayed, and possibly mitigated, by cooperation with the state. But as of now, he faces 30 years in lockdown, $500,000 in fines, and $1.287 million in restitution.

Thursday revealed the extent of Simmons’ cooperation.

In Brown’s hearing, her attorney signaled the former congresswoman’s “firm intent” to go to trial, noting she refused entreaties for a plea deal from the Feds.

As well, a request for a 60-day delay to the start of the trial was rebuffed. As of now, it’s slated for late April.

Brown and her lawyer, along with Martin Luther King III, who was there in support, took questions after the hearing Thursday afternoon.

The leitmotif: Brown was “surprised and shocked” that Simmons turned on her.

Apparently, Brown hadn’t been talking to local media, some members of which may have had a pool on the date that turn would happen.

Brown eschewed the confrontational tone of past gaggles.

Rather, when asked how she felt about Simmons’ betrayal, she asked plaintively how one does “sign language for a broken heart.”

And in this guise, the reinvention of Corrine Brown into her perhaps final public form is apparent.

If there’s one lesson to be learned from Reggie Fullwood’s wire fraud case, which also resolved this week, it is an emotional appeal can mitigate situations where facts aren’t necessarily with a defendant.

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So Much for 204 Years: Arguably the best defense against campaign finance fraud in Northeast Florida history occurred this week: former State Rep. Reggie Fullwood avoided prison time for what was originally 14 felony counts against him.

Fullwood, who kept moving campaign finance funds into personal accounts (a perk of being his own treasurer), managed to plead ignorance of the law, while witnesses (including the father of his estranged wife) had his back.

Crying when he took the witness stand helped. As did a genuinely sympathetic judge, who spent more time noting what Fullwood had overcome in his life — beyond expropriating campaign donations for televisions, jewelry and liquor.

Fullwood will serve 180 days of house arrest starting March. Though he may leave the house for work, it is probably a good time for Fullwood to invest in the MLB Extra Innings package as he rides out the toughest part of that stretch.

MMJ, a sticky mess: This week, the Florida Department of Health has had rules workshops throughout the state, in the wake of Amendment 2.

Monday was Jacksonville’s turn. And the Florida Times-Union reports that, as is the case everywhere else in the state, people who voted for Amendment 2 want access to the palliative that has proved elusive.

“You just make it so hard on us patients,” one person said. “I’m about forced to move to Colorado.”

Others complained about the prohibitive costs, with more than one suggesting the black (green?) market is better than the state-sanctioned alternative.

An apparent consensus: the system, initially set up in 2014 for low-THC cannabis, isn’t working.

Puff, Puff. Pass: The Florida Times-Union had the puffiest editorial puff piece in quite a while this week when it lavished hundreds of words extolling the relationship between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the city.

“The relationship between the NFL Jaguars and the city of Jacksonville continues to evolve in a very positive way. And for this, we are thankful,” the T-U wrote.

The ostensible subject: Opening of the amphitheater (Daily’s Place) near the sports complex, a big piece of a $45 million bonded-out city investment. Coupled with a $43 million buy on scoreboards, the city’s bed tax will be paying for these investments until after their useful life ends.

The Curry administration sold the amphitheater as a way of bringing unique value-added acts to town that otherwise wouldn’t come. But the slate of shows is underwhelming.

Far be it from the T-U to note that sorry selection, though.

Bootlicking is more the paper’s speed: “We’re incredibly lucky to have an NFL owner like Khan, who will throw in 50 percent of this major investment in our city.”

Wake me when he pays for septic tank removal.

Unions Hold Ground in Collective Bargaining: Last year, Mayor Curry got his pension reform bill through both Tallahassee and a voter referendum, but this year, collective bargaining has proved to be more of a slog.

The city is still pushing defined-contribution plans for new hires. The latest proposal, advanced this week from the Fraternal Order of Police and the Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters, concerns individual pension contracts.

The city, meanwhile, offered a ten-year deal, negotiable at three-year windows, with a chance to reopen negotiations for a plan more to the unions’ liking.

That didn’t fly. Neither did the city’s proposal for annuities as a Social Security substitute for new hires.

The Mayor’s Office set a Saturday deadline to accept the current deal on the table. The city’s urgency is driven by budget forecasting, more than economic necessity: starting in March, the city begins to formulate its departmental budgets.

If the city knows it can rely on the actuarial certainty created by the guarantee of future local sales tax money (predicated on closing at least one of the city’s extant pension plans), then it can plan accordingly.

If not? Another lean year for local budgets.

Unless Shad Khan has an ask.

Religious Reconciliation: Two years ago, the African-American Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church merged with the suburban, white Ridgewood Baptist Church.

The Washington Post followed up on this merger recently, and it apparently has benefited all parties … an instructive lesson for Jacksonville as it deals with the ongoing challenge of racial reconciliation.

Blacks and whites worshipping at a single Baptist church — a seemingly unlikely prospect at one time — created a situation where a rising tide lifts all boats, ameliorating the de facto segregated Sundays in many churches.

Candid Camera: Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, fresh off telling the police union to take Curry’s pension deal (extending defined contribution plans to new hires), ticked off the rank and file again in a Jacksonville City Council committee.

The Florida Times-Union reports Williams said body cameras would not be subject to collective bargaining.

The police union, of course, disagrees.

“We are confident PERC will follow the rulings of every other state that has heard this issue and order the sheriff to bargain the policy with the FOP,” said Steve Zona, head of the police union.

Williams may face opposition in 2019 if he keeps undercutting the bargaining positions of the union.

Lucky 13: Will it be Happy Valentine’s Day? Or Valentine’s Day Massacre?

That’s the question to consider when the Jacksonville City Council votes up or down Tuesday night on the expanded Human Rights Ordinance.

The bill cleared three committees, with the closest margin being a 4-3 vote Wednesday in Finance.

Voting against the measure in committees: Bill Gulliford, Sam Newby, Matt Schellenberg, Danny Becton and Doyle Carter.

Expected to oppose it Tuesday when the full council mulls the HRO: Al Ferraro.

The bill needs 13 votes to be veto-proof. If the 13 other members actually show up Tuesday and vote for it, the bill is golden.

Councilman Reggie Brown, who opposed such legislation in 2012, has yet to render a committee vote. Brown is expected to vote yes, but there are no guarantees.

Any attrition from the magic number of 13, and Curry — who last year said the legislation isn’t “prudent” — will be faced with the choice of casting his first veto, or risk someone run from his right against him in 2019.

There are different things he’ll do, depending on who in his orbit you ask.

Meanwhile, Curry is not saying.

Race Mutters: While the HRO drowns out everything else happening in City Council next week, other bills are up for consideration.

One that should pass: Garrett Dennis’ bill to fund a (currently unfunded) director position, instituted in 2008, to ensure the city’s independent authorities and government are taking meaningful steps toward a workforce that looks like Jacksonville.

Discussion in the Finance Committee Wednesday indicated one lonely voice of dissent: Matt Schellenberg, who said — among other things — that the bill ran contrary to the “American way.”

Schellenberg asserted the proposed legislation is “discriminatory on its basis — what you’re dealing with is race and gender.”

Jacksonville, in the early days of consolidation, was slow to address issues of racial reconciliation. The Tommy Hazouri administration tackled issues like minority set-asides. In the quarter century since Hazouri left office, however, the city has pretended as if old divisions have been solved.

Dennis was amicable about Schellenberg, despite the councilman’s attempt to blow up his bill and question his Americanism.

For Schellenberg, who made a play for council leadership last year, incidents like Wednesday’s illustrate why a meaningful role for the second-term Republican is a non-starter.

State of JAXPORT 2017: JAXPORT CEO Brian Taylor delivered the 2017 State of the Port address during a Propeller Club – Port of Jacksonville luncheon at the University of North Florida. Taylor discussed recent business growth, highlighted by the port’s 19 percent growth in Asian container shipments, along with major growth projects completed in 2016. The Propeller Club of the United States is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the maritime industry in the U.S. and abroad. As one of the longest running clubs in the nation, the Port of Jacksonville chapter advocates for the maritime industry in Northeast Florida. Video of the speech is available at JAXPORT.com.

St. Johns River of Lights: To boost Jacksonville’s waterfront, local architects are envisioning columns of lights and lasers placed along the St. Johns River as it flows through downtown. The display will look like a “glittering necklace,” reports the Florida Times-Union. The concept is still in its early stages, with one supporter being City Council President Lori Boyer. The American Institute of Architects Jacksonville chapter imagines a high-voltage display with skyward beacons to connect several attractions downtown.

“The vision is to create this pearl necklace, this string of lights along the river, that are connected and can really showcase our city,” Thomas Duke, chair of the Downtown Visioning Committee for the Jacksonville chapter of AIA, told the T-U.

The waterfront light show would come in good time for downtown, which is about to see new developments like The District and The Shipyards as well as popular attractions The Jacksonville Landing and Friendship Fountain.“This creates the framework that everybody can plug into,”Duke said.

Flagler Hospital wins award for clinical excellence: Health care research firm Healthgrades.com presented Flagler Hospital with a 2017 Distinguished Hospital Award for Clinical Excellence. Flagler was among 258 hospitals out of 4,500 nationwide to receive the recognition, which honors facilities for performing in the top 5 percent based on clinical outcomes for dozens of common procedures and conditions.

Flagler Hospital was one of only four hospitals in Florida to receive the award and also named a Top 100 Hospital for General Surgery, Joint Replacements, and Orthopedic Surgery.

“Delivering safe, high-quality care is our top priority at Flagler Hospital,” said Flagler President and CEO Joe Gordy. “This recognition by Healthgrades reflects our commitment and ongoing investments in training, technology and evidence-based practice to achieve the best possible outcomes for every patient. Our board, our physician partners and our staff truly care our patients, our hospital, and our community and this has been affirmed by our Healthgrades performance year-after-year.”

Jacksonville Historic Preservation Awards open nominations: The Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission has opened nominations for its annual awards ceremony. The award recognizes outstanding projects and services that promote historic preservation in the Jacksonville area. Recipients will be honored by the Historic Preservation Commissioners at an awards ceremony in May, coinciding with the celebration of National Preservation Month.

Nomination forms with information on eligibility, judging and nominating procedures can be found through the Planning and Development Department or at www.coj.net/PreservationAwards.

Jacksonville Manatee Fest: The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens will host the Jacksonville Manatee Festival Saturday, Feb. 18 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event will include live music, arts and crafts demonstrations, parades and conservation to celebrate Florida’s state marine mammal. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will provide tours of its manatee rescue boat and transport truck, and conduct a manatee ‘rescue’ for children. The festival is free with admission. More information at  jacksonvillezoo.org.

UF Health Jax surgeons tackle challenging cancers: If not treated quickly and aggressively, esophageal and pancreatic cancers can be deadly. UF Health profiles Dr. Ziad Awad, medical director of the minimally invasive surgery program at UF Health Jacksonville, who tackles those two cancers on a daily basis. “Both are very complex cancers to manage in the sense that they need a big, multidisciplinary approach,” Awad said. “Because the majority of these cancers are diagnosed at an advanced stage, the patient needs a lot of guidance in terms of lung function, heart health and their nutrition profile before we can do anything surgical.”

Approximately 85 to 90 percent of patients receive upfront treatment, like chemotherapy and radiation, before Awad’s team will perform surgery — some surgeries other physicians are reluctant to do.

“Since it’s a university setting, we take on the complex cases,” Awad said. “We do a lot of advanced cancer removal that is minimally invasive, but sometimes we perform open surgery.”

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