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HRO expansion looms over Jacksonville job creation presser

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry called a press conference Tuesday to announce “Project Green,” the latest in a series of job creation pressers.

“Project Green”: code for an agreement with Formativ Health, which offers management services for doctors’ offices.

Formativ expects to bring 500 jobs to Jacksonville in 18 months.

Dennis Dowling, the company’s CEO, said that it’s hard to “beat [Jacksonville’s] personality … enthusiasm and excitement,” noting that the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce “put this place over the top,” as Jacksonville beat out Tallahassee for this new patient access service center.

Mayor Curry likewise lauded the Chamber, a source of support for the mayor in the 2015 campaign.

“When the Chamber gets together … goes after a company,” Curry said, “we’re hard to beat.”

The Chamber brings things to Jacksonville — but also imposes expectations. As do other community stakeholders.

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At the presser: Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Chair Darnell Smith, a big backer of the expansion of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include the LGBT community. Also in attendance: Councilman Aaron Bowman, a key part of the local Chamber and a co-sponsor of the latest attempt to expand Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance.

Meanwhile, hours before the presser, Ed Burr — a prominent Curry backer from the 2015 campaign — and the Jacksonville Civic Council reiterated their position in strong support of HRO expansion.

Thus, a functional paradox again resurfaced, with the mayor (according to some critics) lagging behind the business community when it comes to HRO expansion.

After the presser, we asked the mayor about the latest effort to expand the HRO. As has been the case, he has avoided publicly committing to a position on the current legislation.

We noted that Smith was also prominent at Jacksonville’s Martin Luther King Jr. birthday breakfast last week, and in context of that and the latest push from local stakeholders to expand the HRO, we wondered if the mayor’s position had evolved.

Specifically, we wanted to know what the mayor would do if the legislation cleared council with less than a supermajority of 13 votes, making it eligible for veto.

Curry noted that, last year, he had “issued an order extending protections to all employees of the city of Jacksonville, and the independent agencies followed suit.”

“City Council’s job and role is to legislate,” Curry said, “and I’ve been consistent in saying I respect that. Any issue that they choose to legislate on, I’ll evaluate when it lands on my desk. That includes this issue.”

We noted that Curry had yet to veto a bill during his 18 months in office. Would he veto HRO expansion?

“Look,” Curry said, “there’s been a number of issues that have been discussed [during] the year and a half I’ve been in office. And I’ve not weighed in. When they legislate, that is their job, that is their role, they need to have their debate and do what they think is the right thing as a legislative body. And I need to evaluate that when it lands on my desk at that time … and make a decision from there.”

“They’re doing their job right now,” Curry said, adding that he has yet to see the legislation.

The next public hearing for the HRO in Jacksonville’s city council is January 24. Expectations are that a vote will be held at the February 14 meeting of the council.

Affordable housing inventory bill clears first Jacksonville council committee

A bill authorizing the release of 101 properties from Jacksonville’s surplus properties list cleared its first Jacksonville City Council committee Tuesday.

Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services approved the measure that would, if approved by the full council next week, release the properties housed in five different council districts for the development of affordable housing.

The properties, with a value of $780,000, run the gamut from a $140 vacant lot to a $59,000 single family home.

Most of the properties were seized via tax reversion.

Council members raised questions in the agenda meeting before the full meeting about where the properties were located.

Of the 101 properties, all but nine of them were in districts 7, 8, and 9.

All but 18 properties were vacant lots.

Councilman Garrett Dennis noted that “25 percent of the properties on the list” are in his district.

Movement of these properties on the list already has been slow, so the city plans to add some dollars to the RFP to incentivize development.

The cap of dollars offered to community housing and development corporations, and other developers, would be $55,000 of city funds.

Councilman Bill Gulliford noted that some neighborhoods may be “too far gone” for this investment policy, likening Jacksonville’s most at-risk neighborhoods to the enclaves of Detroit.

The committee approved the bill without objection, and it will be considered by the full council after the committee process is complete.

Jacksonville has been trying to find a mechanism to dispose of surplus properties, yet so far results haven’t matched intentions.

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A companion bill of sorts addressed settlement of nuisance abatement liens that were imposed on the properties in question before tax reversion.

Code violations add up, said CFO Mike Weinstein, who noted that charges of hundreds of thousands of dollars often are settled for a couple of thousand dollars by the city.

“The property could be worth $10,000,” Weinstein said, but the bill would exceed that.

Bills for code violations often are $250 a day, a number that adds up,

The liens, once they exceed the value of the property, make the property unattractive to investors.

The bill summary laid out the mechanism of the legislation: “This bill adds code enforcement liens to the list of items that can be settled administratively. The amendment will allow nuisance abatement liens with a principal amount of $1,000 up to $4,999 to be settled by the Director of Finance; liens with a principal amount of $5,000 to $9,999 to be settled by the General Counsel with the Finance Director’s concurrence; and liens with a principal amount of $10,000 to $99,999 to be settled by the Mayor with the concurrence of the General Counsel and the Finance Director.”

Some concern was expressed in committee regarding the disposition of commercial properties.

The bill passed the committee without a no vote.

Jacksonville will try again to find a permanent inspector general

The city of Jacksonville will try again to hire a new inspector general.

A draft version of the job advertisement was obtained by FloridaPolitics.com, ahead of Thursday’s inspector general selection and retention committee meeting.

City Hall veteran Steve Rohan has been the interim IG for several months, as the city has searched in vain for a permanent replacement for Thomas Cline, who left early in 2016 amidst considerable criticism from the city council.

Among the requirements: working closely with the office of the state attorney on criminal investigations.

The committee seeks someone with 10 years of experience in an auditing or a business administration capacity, a person who can provide satisfactory regular and detailed reports to the city council and the IG selection and retention committee.

Cline’s reports were less than satisfactory during his tenure. The current council president and council VP both excoriated the quality of his output in a fractious committee hearing in Fall 2015.

Salary range: $120,000 to $160,000.

Professional certifications, such as “certified inspector general”, are preferred.

Certification would be required within 24 months after being hired.

Interviews, should this draft advertisement be approved by the committee Thursday, will begin in late March.

 

Jacksonville Civic Council: HRO expansion is ‘essential’

On Tuesday, the Jacksonville Civic Council reiterated a stance made before: support of expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance to the LGBT community.

The HRO is nearly a quarter-century old; activists and community stakeholders want to see sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression added as protected classes.

The civic council chairman, Ed Burr, wrote the city council Tuesday, expressing “the Jacksonville Civic Council’s strong support for a Human Rights Ordinance that protects all residents of our city from discrimination.”

“Passage of this ordinance is a top priority for the Civic Council and the area business community,” Burr wrote of the bill, a “Jacksonville solution to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Burr also deemed the bill “essential to the economic future of our community,” noting that the measure has carve outs for “religious freedom and protecting small business from experiencing an undue burden.”

Burr opined that the “pending legislation addresses concerns voiced by local faith leaders and the small business community.

“We believe that now is the time for Jacksonville to join the majority of Florida and U.S. cities in affirmatively protecting its citizens from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There is no doubt that this Human Rights Ordinance will strengthen our economy, attract people and businesses to Jacksonville, and advance a culture of fairness and respect for all.”

Mayor Lenny Curry will hold a 2:00 p.m. presser with HRO advocates, such as Jax Chamber chair Darnell Smith, present.

Will the HRO come up?

Susie Wiles, architect of Donald Trump’s Florida win, heads to D.C. for inauguration

When Jacksonville political consultant Susie Wiles signed on with the Donald Trump campaign, many locals — who thought it was the year of Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio — wondered what she was doing.

Through March of 2016, Wiles was the sole high-profile Jacksonville Republican on the Trump train.

Her role shifted, and she took control of the Sunshine State operation in September, setting the stage for a Trump surge rooted in Wiles’ instinctive understanding that the Trump message matched the mood of the majority of Floridians.

In November, her position was vindicated with Trump’s victory — one which surprised most media members.

In January, Wiles is headed to Washington D.C., to attend the inauguration of the man she helped put in the White House.

Wiles tells FloridaPolitics.com that she is “headed up to DC again on Wednesday for events Wednesday night [through] the ball on Friday night.  Packed full schedule but all fun. It seems as if it will be nice weather!  Many Florida folks will be at various events and I look forward to celebrating with everyone.”

Wiles, the managing partner of Jacksonville’s Ballard Partners shop, won’t be the only Ballard Partner in attendance.

As we reported this morning, Brian Ballard will be in attendance also, in a culmination of his very prominent support of the president-elect’s rise to power, which included being Trump’s Florida finance chair.

While Susie Wiles herself won’t be in the Trump administration, meanwhile, her daughter Caroline Wiles will serve as Trump’s White House director of scheduling.

Ms. Wiles previously had handled scheduling for the Trump campaign.

ShotSpotter allocation clears first Jacksonville City Council committee

Funds for a pilot “ShotSpotter” program were approved by the Jacksonville City Council’s Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services committee Tuesday.

The allocation will have to be approved by two other committees, Public Health and Safety and Finance, before being considered by the full council next week.

The $435,000 allocation was part of a larger package of $1.356 million of unused capital improvement funds that will be funneled into a variety of projects.

The mayor’s chief of staff, Kerri Stewart, advised stakeholders in an internal email to expect questions in committees related to the Jacksonville Journey. This seemed to be especially salient advice, given the criticisms by NCIS committee chair Scott Wilson of the formula for Jacksonville Journey allocations.

The program, which identifies the source of gunshots, will be rolled out in a 5 square mile area in Health Zone 1, the part of the city that has the most gun violence.

No questions emerged in committee, suggesting a smooth glide path for this through the committees.

Jacksonville to roll out pilot program with UF Health provider network

A bill introduced to the Jacksonville City Council last week could increase the number of city employees getting health care from UF Health.

In the bargain, it could improve the Northeast Florida safety-net hospital’s paying customer mix.

Ordinance 2017-20 would authorize the city’s employee services department to offer the option to workers and retirees to enroll in the UF Health plan starting on March 31.

The contract would be administered by a third party, “Integra Administrative Services,” via a no-bid contract.

The bill summary refers to this deal as a “network option under the City’s self-insurance plan that consists primarily of UF Health providers.”

For UF Health, a rollout of a program like this could be a game changer.

The city spends $88 million on health claims a year, with only $6 million going to UF Health.

People in both the mayor’s office and on the council have expressed a sincere desire to get more of a paying customer mix at the city’s safety net hospital.

Jacksonville, unlike other Florida cities of its size, lacks an indigent care tax; this surfeit makes UF Health funding especially vulnerable to flux in state and federal funding.

Estimates from the employee services division are that 500 to 600 of the city’s staff and retirees will choose this option, which would move them away from Florida Blue.

The plan is said to be revenue neutral for the city, yet allows a meaningful cushion for funding formulas that may be shaky from Washington or Tallahassee in the coming years.

‘First Coast inaugural celebration ball’ set for Friday in Jacksonville

Jacksonville Republicans are preparing to celebrate the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump this Friday evening.

The Republican Party of Duval County plans an event at the Adam Herbert Center at the University of North Florida, scheduled from 7 p.m. to Midnight.

Among the attractions: dinner and dancing with the Chris Thomas Band; a Presidential champagne toast; and an “inaugural-themed silent auction.”

Formal or semi-formal dress is recommended.

Tickets run $65 per single, $125 per couple.

The Facebook page for the event shows 13 people as attending so far, including State Rep. Cord Byrd, a Jacksonville Beach Republican.

More tax troubles for Jacksonville council woman’s family businesses

Yet another business associated with the family of Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown has run afoul of the tax collector.

A warrant for collection of delinquent sales and use taxes was issued on January 9 to “Basic Products, LLC.”

The total hit this time: $4,889.

According to SunBiz, Councilwoman Brown and her mother are the registered titleholders of this business, located on Commonwealth Avenue, which was supposed to become a BBQ sauce plant and a hub of neighborhood job creation.

It is the second such Brown related business to draw a delinquent tax warrant already in 2017.

KJB Specialties” received an order for $5,219 of delinquent sales taxes earlier this month.

Brown’s businesses have been under scrutiny, with the city of Jacksonville sending a Certified Letter from OED to CoWealth, LLC, noting that the city received the “required annual surveys” for 2012 to 2015, in which the company was supposed to create jobs at the Northwest Jacksonville barbecue sauce plant location on Commonwealth Avenue.

However, said the city, they created no jobs.

“Therefore,” said the city, “the full balance of the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund grant, $210,549.99, must be repaid.”

OED wants payment in full within 60 days of the letter.

The alternative: setting up a payment schedule within 30 days.

Attempts to reach the councilwoman were unsuccessful Monday, given that it’s a city holiday.

Also, the cellphone number she gave FloridaPolitics.com was no longer in service.

ShotSpotter gets its shot in Jacksonville council panels

For the second straight cycle, the Jacksonville City Council is running its committees on a Tuesday — Thursday cycle — a consequence of Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

The council mulls a series of bills ahead of next week’s meeting, starting bright and early Tuesday morning in the Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services Committee.

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ShotSpotter gets its shot: Ordinance 2016-795 will, among other things, “appropriate $435,001 already allocated in a ShotSpotter reserve account to an equipment purchase account for installation of the test site … acoustic gunshot detection and surveillance technology in a 5 square mile area of Health Zone 1.”

Why is this significant? Because that 5 square mile area of the area is the one most ravaged by gun violence and the associated social maladies that accompany it.

Mayor Lenny Curry‘s chief of staff, Kerri Stewart, emailed stakeholders with her expectations as to how the bill might proceed through its three committees of reference: the Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services Committee on Tues. Jan. 17; the Public Health and Safety Committee on the 18th; and Finance on the 19th.

Stewart’s advice: expect questions about the Jacksonville Journey anti-crime initiative, rebooted by Mayor Curry early in his term.

“We are not anticipating any/many specific questions related to ShotSpotter; but the committees are chaired by CM Scott Wilson (NCIS), CM Sam Newby (PHS), and CW Anna Brosche (Finance).  All three council members/chairs have specific interest in the Jacksonville Journey and so some questions may inevitably come up,” Stewart noted.

Wilson, the chair of NCIS, has raised questions about the Jacksonville Journey allocations, noting that the breakdown of funds by ZIP code obscures pockets of real need for the program in his Southside Jacksonville district.

ShotSpotter allocations will be the highlight of a light agenda in NCIS.

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Affordable housing parcels: Jacksonville, like many cities, faces a two-pronged problem: a surplus of vacant or abandoned homes, and a shortage of affordable housing.

A bill considered Tuesday in NCIS and Thursday in Finance seeks to resolve that — to a point — as 101 parcels of surplus property in Council Districts 7 — 10 and 14 are to be made available to developers for the purpose of producing affordable housing.

The total value of these properties: just over $783,000, ranging from a vacant lot valued at $140 (a great gift idea) to a single family home valued at just under $60,000.

Community housing development organizations get the first crack at these properties as long as the CHDOs don’t have liens; CHDOs are allowed to handle five at a time.

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Resolution to honor Richard Danford: The Rules Committee on Wednesday afternoon will consider a resolution to honor Danford, the head of the Jacksonville Urban League.

The timing is interesting; Danford, when speaking at Friday’s MLK Breakfast, did what some speakers wouldn’t due and addressed policy outcomes rather than the importance of volunteering.

Danford urged the city to focus on remedying disparities, via taking a hard look at disparity studies, and the “allocation and distribution of city funds,” including contracts and employment for minorities.

These efforts, said Danford, would “reduce poverty and crime in this community … stir business development and create more jobs in communities of color.”

Danford also alluded to Rules Chairman Garrett Dennis‘ “equal opportunity” bill, saying that the city’s independent authorities, such as JEA and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, “should reflect the diversity in the community.”

Dennis’ bill — which he stresses is not a “quota” or “affirmative action” proposal — requires the city to actually fund a position that has gone unfunded for several years now.

That position would offer oversight for city agencies to ensure that certain ethnic groups — a category which varies not just from agency to agency, but department to department — are represented in department demographics.

Dennis’ bill requires annual reporting to the Mayor and City Council on the progress and state of the Equal Opportunity/Equal Access Program; budgetary line-item for the position of Equal Opportunity/Equal Access Assistant Director; and an “annual review” of “adherence and commitment” to the ordinance.

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Foreign Direct Investment strategy discussed: On Thursday, the Finance Committee considers a memorandum of understanding between the city and JAXUSA (a partnership of the local Chamber of Commerce) to devise a foreign direct investment strategy and to manage an “export enhancement plan initiative.”

The export plan is part of a process that began in 2013, when Jacksonville was one of just eight cities in the Brookings Institution’s global cities initiative, and comes after years of study.

“The MOU calls for JAXUSA to establish a “one-stop shop” to provide interested businesses with information, research and assistance in developing export activities; to create a Global Cities Advocacy Team to lead the implementation effort; to conduct outreach activities to at least 25 potential export businesses,” reads the bill summary.

It is a $60,000 deal for one year, with provisions for renewal.

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