Jax – Page 2 – Florida Politics

Jacksonville City Councilman challenges Lenny Curry, seeks JEA board reform

Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis filed a bill this week that is his latest shot across the bow of Mayor Lenny Curry.

The bill, while not likely to pass, will be an interesting litmus test of how much political capital Dennis has with Council in the wake of some difficult news cycles for the Curry administration.

Per media release Wednesday, the bill would amend the JEA Charter to give the City Council four of seven of the JEA board appointments, and would give the council confirmation approval of Curry’s three appointees.

While Curry could remove his appointees to what is currently a shorthanded board with two vacancies, with council approval, the Mayor would have no power to remove appointees.

New JEA Board picks would have to be Duval residents for three years.

The JEA Board, which Curry purged soon after taking the Mayor’s Office in 2015, made news Tuesday by choosing Aaron Zahn, a utility neophyte who was on the JEA Board for a month, to be an interim CEO.

Many have pointed out that Zahn and Curry are political allies, with a gaggle Wednesday seeing Curry answer a question about attending the same church as Zahn.

Zahn wants a pause on the privatization conversation that has roiled City Hall in recent months, though he is indeterminate about how long that pause should take.

Dennis, meanwhile, has already lost one recent board-related battle with Curry; Curry’s favored candidate for Kids Hope Alliance CEO, Joe Peppers, resigned from that board soon after being appointed to successfully pursue the paid position.

Is the JEA privatization push on ‘pause’ … or dead?

Jacksonville’s public utility on Tuesday picked a new interim CEO, Aaron Zahn, who said — along with JEA Board chair Alan Howard — that there needed to be a “pause” in the privatization discussion.

For months, City Hall has been roiled with discussions of a potential sale of JEA. Now, there fmay be a break in the action.

Florida Politics asked Jacksonville public officials what they thought about this proposed armistice. Would it be an enduring peace? Or just a truce before resumption of hostilities?

City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche noted that the idea of the JEA board wanting to pause the discussion was not without irony.

“I find this suggestion somewhat ironic. The ‘JEA Board’ launched this inquiry in 2017 by taking a series of actions never openly discussed or voted upon at a JEA Board meeting until March 2018. I will defer to the Chairman of the Special Committee and my colleagues after appropriate discussion by the body to make important decisions on behalf of the people,” Brosche said.

The JEA Special Committee is chaired by John Crescimbeni, who did not respond when FP asked him his thoughts on the new CEO and proposed pause in the privatization debate that his committee has featured for weeks.

Council VP Aaron Bowman, who likely will be president by the end of June, has supported sunsetting that committee … and he’s still there now.

“We are creating a lot of work and concern with no real goals or objectives,” Bowman said,

Councilman Matt Schellenberg, who is the liaison to JEA, noted that Zahn’s hiring unavoidably created a pause.

Schellenberg expects “substantial changes” and the new administration will need time to get started, he said.

There will also be concerns about questioning Zahn about operations, Schellenberg said, noting that the new CEO might not have answers.

Refraining from comment: the office of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

FP asked if Zahn was the choice of the Mayor’s Office, and regarding the pause in the privatization debate, when resumption would be desirable.

JEA picks Aaron Zahn as interim CEO

On Tuesday, the board of Jacksonville’s public utility JEA picked former board member Aaron Zahn as its new interim CEO to serve for the next year.

Meanwhile, CFO Melissa Dykes was elevated to a role beyond CFO, in a role that the org chart has yet to define. Also undefined: compensation and how the two might work together.

There are those close to the process who believe Dykes’ tenure will be short-lived in this role, with other opportunities opening for her elsewhere.

This was not a move many forecasted before recent weeks, and was presaged with a game of musical chairs, in which Zahn resigned his position to pursue the interim CEO position, one filled by Dykes for the last week, since longtime JEA CEO Paul McElroy stepped down ten days ago.

Dykes and Zahn both lobbied board members for the position in the past week, said chair Alan Howard. And both addressed the room Tuesday.

Dykes stressed her two decades in the utility industry, working in many roles at JEA and elsewhere. Dykes noted that she already was in charge of 215 employees in her CFO role, demonstrating her characteristic encyclopedic knowledge of the utility.

That wouldn’t make the sale. The board sought a change agent.

Zahn, stressing his own CEO experience and experience with “billion dollar portfolios,” described his pursuit of the position as a “dramatic departure” for him in terms of career path, before discussing the “toxic” discourse around JEA and the need for the JEA Board to take a “leadership position” and “focus on building consensus” rather than the “sell or don’t sell” discussion.

“The public discourse … has instilled fear and confusion,” said Zahn, urging “thoughtful analysis” and “a plan to navigate a changing marketplace.”

“Currently,” Zahn said, “I don’t believe we have one.”

Zahn wanted a halt to the privatization discussion, to “return customers and employees to an environment of stability.” He also offered a plan for the next six to twelve months to engage stakeholder buy in, including from the City Council and the Mayor.

JEA is seeking an executive search firm to look for a permanent CEO, said JEA’s chief human resource officer Angela Hiers. Concerns among executive search firms include getting quality candidates in light of the scrutiny around the privatization debate, and questions about whether the CEO would be a transitional or a long-term figure. The search, said Hiers, could extend for 6 to 8 months.

Board chair Alan Howard wanted a long-term CEO with a “strategic vision,” given the “speculative” debate on privatization.

“I don’t know what kind of quality candidate you can get to drive a ship that we’re going to run into the ground,” Howard remarked.

Board member Husein Cumber alluded to the privatization debate, noting the board hasn’t weighed in on the matter, and related discussions to what the future of JEA will look like.

“Are we rushing into something that we don’t have clarity on? We find ourselves sitting here today because we have rushed into certain discussions,” Cumber said.

JEA Board Chair Alan Howard told reporters after the meeting that there should be a “pause” on the privatization discussion, given “the current political environment.”

“Mr. Zahn publicly stated today that he’d like to take the question off the table at this point,” Howard said. “I support that.”

Whether that pause will extend beyond the City Council Presidency of Anna Brosche, a skeptic on the matter of privatization, remains to be seen.

The privatization discussion has elicited interest from major utilities, which have lobbied up.

Florida Power and Light has engaged Paul Harden, best known locally as the representative for the Jacksonville Jaguars and owner Shad Khan‘s interests.

Emera, a Nova Scotia-based utility company that acquired TECO and otherwise has assets ranging from New Mexico to the Caribbean, has also lobbied up.

Emera has retained principals from Fiorentino Group, Southern Strategy Group, and Rogers Towers.

Estimates vary on what JEA could fetch on the sale market, with the most optimistic one being provided by JEA’s contracted Public Financial Management — a sale that could net the city anywhere from $3 to $6 million. The Jacksonville Council auditor says that $1.7 million to $5.2 million would be the range.

 However, at least for now, those potential revenues are on the shelf.

Jacksonville Chamber’s ‘JAXBIZ’ committee endorses Wyman Duggan in HD 15

On Tuesday, JAXBIZ (the political arm of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce) endorsed Wyman Duggan in House District 15.

“Wyman is an experienced, conservative leader who can make an immediate impact for our community in Tallahassee,” JAXBIZ Chair Dane Grey said. “Wyman understands the importance of growing jobs for hard-working families and attracting investment in our community.”

Duggan faces two Republican opponents in the primary and a lull on the fundraising front. For the second straight month in March, he raised just over $2,000; he has just over $95,000 cash on hand.

Duggan, a land-use attorney with deep connections in Jacksonville, has amassed a phalanx of endorsements since entering the race to succeed Rep. Jay Fant, and the JAXBIZ endorsement confirms his position as the choice of Jacksonville’s political and business establishment.

Jacksonville City Councilmen Danny BectonMatt SchellenbergGreg AndersonAaron BowmanScott WilsonDoyle CarterJim Love and Sam Newby are on board.

So are former Councilmen Jim Overton and Kevin Hyde. And Rep. John Rutherford, state Sens. Rob Bradley and Aaron Bean, state Rep. Jason Fischer, Duval Clerk of Courts Ronnie Fussell, Duval Tax Collector Michael Corrigan also back Duggan.

Duggan, whose campaign is run by Mayor Lenny Curry‘s political advisor Tim Baker, is comfortably ahead of Republican opponents Mark Zeigler (less than $12,000 on hand) and Joseph Hogan (who has yet to report raising any money).

However, Democrat Tracye Polson, the sole Democrat running to replace the Attorney General hopeful, reports a combined March fundraising total of $30,821.00. She’s raised $174,103 between her campaign and political committee accounts, with $113,635 on hand.

‘Excess debt service’ monies to fund improvements to Jacksonville sports complex

The Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee on Tuesday approved moving $1.945 million from the Sports Complex Capital Maintenance Fund to fund improvements at the Sports Complex.

The bill is now ready for the full Council to vote on it next week.

The money was available, per a city representative, because of “excess debt service” funds from FY 17.

Among the projects to be funded: “seating bowl repairs and widening of the front entrance plaza at the Arena, steel painting, lighting upgrades, bleacher repairs, upgrading of video control room equipment and concourse televisions, and turf equipment replacements at the Baseball Grounds, and replacing aging food service equipment, upgrading the phone system, seating bowl repairs, and building system upgrades at the stadium.”

The city has spent big money on the sports complex in recent years.

In recent years, Jacksonville taxpayers have authorized $88 million of city-funded capital improvements to the Jaguars’ stadium: $43 million for the world’s biggest scoreboard, and half of a $90 million buy in that secured a new amphitheater, a covered practice field, and club seat improvements.

While these were splashier spends than the current allocation, the proposed budget transfer suggests that capital improvements never stop at the complex.

The city has worked to revive the sports complex area. One benefit of the Talleyrand Connector project that the city got $12.5 million of state money to start was being able to shift traffic from the Hart Bridge to surface streets passing the sports complex.

On Thursday, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan will unveil development plans for the stadium.

“That [Lot J and the Shipyards project] is very important for us, local revenue, and also really to play a role in Jacksonville development and the potential,” Khan said. “But you have to wait. We have State of the Franchise coming up and we’ll have a lot of information on that.”

Among the concerns: contamination under Lot J at the stadium, an area which is envisioned as an entertainment zone.

Bankruptcy then candidacy for Jacksonville mayoral hopeful Jimmy Hill

Jimmy Hill, an Atlantic Beach Republican challenging incumbent Lenny Curry in the Jacksonville Mayor’s race, confirmed to Florida Politics on Monday that he and his wife had filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy just days before filing for mayor.

The Hills listed assets of $686,412 (including a $635,000 house) and liabilities of $519,251 in the Mar. 29 filing. Income of $5,400 monthly doesn’t match up with expenses of $8,700, per the filing, which showed checking balances of roughly $3,600.

The Hills have a mortgage of roughly $295,000, and $223,000+ of unsecured debts, including to 1010 XL, 904 Happy Hour, Gatehouse Media, and other vendors related to the North Florida Boat Show, which Hill asserts was run out of business by bad practices in City Hall.

“Their actions just destroyed us,” Hill said of his boat show that was capsized in 2017 after a dispute over event dates at Metro Park with the city proved fateful for the production continuing on. “We were targeted.”

Hill noted that, had his imbroglio with the city not happened, he and his wife would “probably just be doing boat shows.”

However, Hill’s experience “opened the door,” with people coming forth to tell their own tales of tangling with City Hall.

“Favoritism” among senior staff begets a “systemic problem” in the building, Hill said, with winners and losers being picked by the Mayor’s Office.

Hill rues backing Curry in 2015, saying “I’ve never been so wrong about someone in my life.”

Hill, in addition to running against the mayor, also says that litigation against the city is “probably pending.”

Also pending: Hill’s refiling of the bankruptcy petition, as he was found to have filed a deficient Chapter 13 plan to make creditors whole.

Duval Democrats courted by congressional candidates

Odds are long for any Democrat running against U.S. Rep. John Rutherford in the Republican sinecure that is Florida’s 4th Congressional District.

Rutherford, a former three-term Jacksonville sheriff, has $300,000 cash on hand and name identification to spare.

Fundraising numbers are comparably modest for Jacksonville candidates Joceline Berrios and Monica DePaul, as well as Ponte Vedra businessman George Selmont.

Berrios and DePaul have yet to report any fundraising. Selmont has $6,000 cash on hand, but loaned his own campaign more than that.

And name identification is another area in which these candidates trail behind Rutherford, who won his last race by 40 points.

Despite these challenges, Berrios, DePaul, and Selmont are undeterred — and brought their arguments to Duval Democrats Monday at the party’s monthly meeting.

The three candidates had widely different intros. Berrios, probably the most vivid quote of the three, offered personal narrative that segued into a discussion of gun violence, setting off a recurrent theme of calls for impeachment of the President and Vice President.

DePaul offered a holistic critique of the system, noting at one point that “the rent is too damn high” and another that we need Medicare for all.

Selmont made a quieter pitch by comparison, sounding more like a Clinton Democrat than the other two, hitting bread and butter Democratic issues. He got applause when he said “Social Security is not an entitlement.”

The candidates were asked if they would vote for an abortion ban at 20 weeks; all agreed that they wouldn’t.

“If someone comes to me wanting to ban abortions,” Berrios said, “my response will be S-T-F-U.”

The crowd gasped.

The ability to raise money was the next topic. Selmont noted that this race will be a $2 million race, especially given the action up and down the ballot.

“It will be an extremely expensive race to run. Nobody can fund their own campaign,” Selmont said.

DePaul, whose campaign finance is not showing up on the Federal Elections Commission page, noted that “people power” and “small donations … make a difference.”

Berrios noted that there is an “excitement in the Puerto Rican community” regarding her running for Congress, and that “the money is coming in,” though as of this writing, her money was not on the FEC page either.

“When I saw that mofo throwing paper towels at Puerto Ricans after the earthquake,” Berrios said of President Trump, “I just thanked God that I’m not a violent person.”

Boat show beef begets ballot-box challenge to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry will face a challenger on the 2019 ballot — and it all stems from a beef over a boat show.

Former Atlantic Beach Commissioner Jimmy Hill, a Republican like Curry, took issue with a scheduling snafu over a 2017 boat show that led to him being edged out of promoting boat shows altogether.

Now Hill hopes to have the last laugh … and edge Curry out of the Jacksonville Mayor’s Office

Hill believes his group was pushed out of the boat show because it used Metro Park, and was “the last remaining obstacle to getting rid of Metro Park.”

“The Lenny Curry administration is wholly responsible,” Hill said, for the boat show issues.

And now the ultimate revenge: a challenge on the ballot.

Hill, who worked for Curry’s election, asserts that he “misjudged [Curry’s] character and willingness to do the right thing for people.”

Moreover, the challenger says he’s not alone in his chagrin with the incumbent.

“There’s a groundswell of people disappointed in the Mayor,” Hill said. “Key players in his administration are steering him in the wrong direction.”

“I’m the exact right person at the exact right time to make the necessary corrections. People the last four months are saying we need something done. It’s come to my door,” Hill said.

Curry has banked $1.5 million for his campaign; Hill isn’t worried.

“This election will have nothing to do with money. It’s about the message and the facts,” Hill said. “Curry has shown exactly who he is by the JEA acquisition [SIC],” Hill said.

Moreover, other major issues give Hill pause, such as the District development deal and the “band-aid” that was the city’s 2016 pension reform package.

“Money isn’t going to hide those problems,” Hill predicted.

Hill sees his campaign as “really problematic” for Curry, and promises surprises along the way, including groups and individuals the campaign is working with.

Prior to Hill filing, Curry had one ballot opponent already: Democrat Doreszell Cohen, who has $150 cash on hand.

Jacksonville City Council panel defers cannabis code change, moves ‘hit free zone’ bill

Marijuana changes mulled, 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 single legal strain, and after an extended period of debate, processing and dispensing were allowed in commercial districts, with cultivation permitted in agricultural zones.

That debate was tortuous; so too is this one, with the second deferral of this legislation in Monday’s Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health & Safety committee

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.

“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 an existing ordinance, bill sponsor Matt Schellenberg said in a previous meeting the county could not ban dispensaries, even as individual cities have done this.

“Unfortunately, we addressed it [in code]. And because we addressed it, we have to deal with it,” Schellenberg said.

The Council members won’t deal with it for at least a couple weeks, after yet another deferral, with concerns roiling the councilors.

Councilwoman Lori Boyer suggested that all dispensaries be moved to commercial zoning to match up with pharmacies.

Councilman John Crescimbeni flummoxed a city lawyer, meanwhile, noting inconsistencies between proposed language in the legislation that is explicit about the dispensing facilities and the state statute regarding cultivation and processing.

A public notice meeting will be scheduled between Schellenberg, Boyer, and Crescimbeni to hash out concerns about the cannabis code changes.


No hit zones: Resolution 2018-171 would support policy designating city property “hit free zones.” It creates “areas in which no adult shall hit another adult, no adult shall hit a child, no child shall hit an adult, and no child shall hit another child.”

It would include parks and community centers, city buildings, and presumably municipal arenas and stadiums.

To that end, signs would be posted, and city employees trained in best practices regarding “supportive intervention.”

Hit free zones are often called “no hit zones,” In application, they call for employees to interrupt the behavior and get help.

The proposed legislation offers no penalties for violations of the hit free zone policy, as it is a resolution of conceptual support.

Sponsor Garrett Dennis said the bill “supports the culture of safety” in Jacksonville, advising that “discipline … in a public place” is inappropriate.

The bill, per Dennis, is supported by the State Attorney’s Office and other community stakeholders.

Costs for this program, which would involve installation of smaller signs or posters, are unknown. Also unknown: the unintended consequences for employees having to referee interactions between consumers of city services and their children.

“I have some real concerns about that,” said Councilman Scott Wilson. “We’re basically going to ask an employee [to deal with these situations]. My real concern is it’s going to take time away from employees who are already overworked.”

Wilson urged that each constitutional officer formulate his policy.

Council VP Aaron Bowman noted a lack of empirical proof that these programs work, as well as an unrefined scope of the program.

“I don’t know if this is a $10,000 program or a $5 million program,” Bowman said, urging deferral of the bill that would require signs and enforcement in 600 city facilities, parks, etc.

Without hard data, Bowman was a no vote.

Dennis and a Mayor’s Office representative likewise discussed a lack of an identified funding source for the bill, with Dennis saying the administration could come up with something.

Councilman Jim Love noted that there would have to be an exception for “sports play.”

“What we’re talking about here is corporal punishment,” Love said. “It needs to be tailored for corporal punishment. Hit free zone in a football field wouldn’t make for very exciting football.”

Finance, which Dennis chairs, is the next stop for this resolution on Tuesday.

The money chase: John Ward, Mike Waltz gathering cash for CD 6

What’s clear about the race to succeed Ron DeSantis in Florida’s 6th Congressional District: There will be a lot of money spent to get the nomination.

Ponte Vedra businessman John Ward still leads regarding cash-on-hand in the seat that encompasses southern St. Johns, Flagler, and Volusia counties; however, Fox News contributor Mike Waltz is close behind.

As of the end of March, Ward had $709,340 on hand (with $555,000 of that from his own checkbook). Waltz, who loaned his own campaign $400,000, has $653,354 on hand.

Ward and Waltz thus far have demonstrated the most fundraising ability on the Republican side. Former state Rep. Fred Costello has $15,720 on hand. St. Johns County Commissioner Jimmy Johns has yet to report fundraising.

Two Democrats, meanwhile, have demonstrated a talent for fundraising.

Democrat Stephen Sevigny said Friday that his campaign brought in $250,000 in the first quarter. Sevigny’s total includes $50,000 in candidate loans. He finished the quarter with $227,000 on hand.

Nancy Soderberg, a former Ambassador to the United Nations under Bill Clinton, currently leads the primary field with $920,000 in total fundraising after reporting $375,000 raised for the quarter. With $595,000 on hand, she is keeping pace with the Republicans, without spending her own money on the campaign so far.

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