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Jacksonville Bold — 5.19.17 — It was a very good year?

The ongoing Corrine Brown drama pushed our legislative roundup back a week — but given the drama that ensued this week regarding what the Duval Delegation accomplished, that’s just as well.

Boils down to this: the legislators think they brought home the bacon, and some in City Hall believe that they brought home crumbs.

As you will see below, the drama came to a head Tuesday, when a Jacksonville City Councilman published a letter in the Times-Union dripping with delegation disses … just before doing an event with Gov. Rick Scott with delegation members who contend otherwise … and told us their thoughts on the councilman’s comments.

We have that in here, and more, along with deep-dive interviews with most delegation members and a few other notable stories …

NE FL Delegation finds money for local asks

The indispensable Tia Mitchell went through Northeast Florida Legislative Session asks in the Florida Times-Union and found some success — especially given that most delegation members were new to Tallahassee and The Process.

Of 37 projects with asks of over $1M, locals got some money for 22 of them.

“In my mind, we are just getting started based on the leadership and potential of our delegation,” said Rep. Travis Cummings, a Clay County legislator who carried one Jacksonville bill successfully in 2016 (the state legislation allowing for a pension reform referendum), and got spiked this session on a $15M request for state money for Jacksonville septic tank removal.

Travis Cummings carried a request for septic tank remediation money, but no dice for Duval this session.

There is room for pessimism, even in Mitchell’s breakdown: many of the requests may have gotten some money … but not everything they wanted.

St. Johns River State College Palatka campus renovations, sponsored by Rep. Bobby Payne, got just $4M of a $16.1M ask.

And the North Florida School of Special Education expansion project, sponsored by Cummings, got just a quarter of a $2M ask.

Still … it’s a start.

Matt Schellenberg says Duval Delegation brought home ‘crumbs’

Jacksonville City Councilman Schellenberg went on the record to grouse about the Duval Delegation — a favorite off-record game among some in Jacksonville’s City Hall.

Smart move? The jury is out. Schellenberg — the city’s representative to the Florida League of Cities and Florida Association of Counties — got pilloried by two State Senators (Audrey Gibson and Aaron Bean) that he lobbied in Tallahassee.

Matt Schellenberg said publicly what many say in private, and took his lumps this week.

Mayor Lenny Curry also rejected the premise that the delegation isn’t getting the job done.

And Rep. Jason Fischer — who Schellenberg called out in an interview for leaving the School Board early in 2016 to jump to the state House — likewise pushed back.

Schellenberg wouldn’t rule out a 2018 primary challenge to Fischer when we talked to him, setting the stage for a rare contested primary in NE Florida.

However, Fischer would be the one with every advantage: the mayor’s backing; the mayor’s political team; and money coming in from political committees hither and yon.

With many measures making it to the final budget, the Governor’s veto pen serves as their primary impediment.

Bean pointed to “little bills” with big impact and a “huge pass rate … underneath the radar screen,” such as a push for the shared use of school playgrounds, the ‘keys to independence’ bill helping foster kids drive, the ‘disaster prep tax holiday,’ and others.

A big bill with impact, meanwhile: SB 476, a bill Sen. Bean filed at the request of Gov. Scott, which amends and expands existing statute regarding terrorism.

The bill creates a more expansive definition of “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.”

Session ‘best ever,’ enthuses Aaron Bean

Bean noted that this was, perhaps, the “best ever … one of the most successful” sessions of the 13 he’s been involved.

Aaron Bean was ebullient about the Legislative Session.

Bean pointed to local approps wins, including money for ShotSpotter and the state match on the COPS Grant from the feds, which will allow Jacksonville to hire more police officers.

“We had one of the best sessions in history,” Bean said.

Among Bean’s accomplishments: Neptune Beach can look forward to $400,000 for stormwater culvert improvements on Florida Boulevard: Bean and Rep. Cord Byrd (who seems to be moving into the House Leadership discussion, based on scuttlebutt) put in the work there.

Rob Bradley and ‘political capital’

For Sen. Bradley, the 2017 session was a big one. The budget includes $13.3M for the St. Johns River and the Keystone Lakes — an issue we spotlighted earlier in the Session.

$5M of that is recurring, ensuring that the project to replenish the lakes may happen at long last.

“People have been talking about restoring the Keystone lakes for as long as I can remember, but nothing ever happened. We finally have a plan and the financing to implement it,” Bradley asserted.

For the Keystone Lakes, help is on the way … thanks to Rob Bradley.

Bradley carried one of the most important and controversial bills of the session: SB 10, which allowed for the building of reservoirs to shore up Lake Okeechobee. That, of course, was a priority of Senate President Joe Negron.

“It was a year for bold action in the environmental policy arena. The president and I worked together. I managed his audacious Everglades bill, and he supported our audacious plan to fix the Keystone lakes. There’s a reason why both of those projects had never been done: they are expensive and require a ton of political capital. This year, the stars aligned and both happened,” Bradley added.

Clay Yarborough talks rookie year

Yarborough, a former Jacksonville City Council President, appraised the Legislative Session as a win for Jacksonville.

“Glad we could get some things for Jacksonville,” Yarborough said.

Indeed, Yarborough himself brought home the bacon, with two priority projects: $1.1M from the State Transportation Trust Fund is provided for the installation of pedestrian signals, refuge islands, sidewalks and street lighting and $1.231M for Crosswalk Countdown Traffic Signal Heads Installation.

Clay Yarborough brought home money that could save lives.

We asked Yarborough — one of the most concise quotes in local politics — for what he saw as his biggest accomplishment and the biggest surprise of the session.

“Biggest accomplishment: Working with Sen. Travis Hutson to tighten the law on sexual predators (HB 327/SB 336). Biggest surprise: How fast things can move at the end of the session.”

Tracie Davis talks Dozier apology, relationship building

Rep. Davis was the least likely member of the Northeast Florida Delegation to be in Tallahassee. That said, despite Davis’ unlikely arrival in the House, she was characteristically reflective as to the value of the experience that almost didn’t happen.

Davis described her first Legislative Session as being “significant and exciting to be honest … specifically being a freshman in the minority party.”

The bill with the most emotional resonance for Davis “the FL House apology (HR 1335) to the men that suffered at Dozier and Okeechobee reform schools,” which “will always reign supreme for” Davis.

The Dozier School ruined many lives … and ended too many others.

“So honored and grateful to have played a leading role with Sen. [Darryl] Rouson and Speaker [Richard] Corcoran then to have all of my colleagues unanimously support and participate with the apology that day was emotional and phenomenal,” Davis asserted.

Davis, despite being a Democrat in a GOP town, feels she has room to maneuver — and collegiality creates that room.

“I felt that building relationships with my colleagues across the aisle was going to be key for any success. The surprise for me was that those relationships happened easily … The relationship building helped me develop friendships, share perspectives, and get bills moving the House (which is not an easy task).”

Jason Fischer extols ‘balanced budget’

When asked to evaluate the Session, Fischer — who has been talked about as a potential Speaker down the road — had a more holistic read than some.

“We gave our citizens much-deserved property tax relief and a balanced budget,” Fischer told FloridaPolitics.com. “Families work hard for their money; Government should take less and do more!”

Fischer has some specific appropriations accomplishments: $350,000 for the LaSalle Pump Station project.

Jason Fischer is rumored by some to be on a path toward House leadership.

And $250,000 for a driverless shuttle program that will go to Baptist Health.

The money will go for a local deployment of the Olli minibus, a Local Motors vehicle made in part with 3D printing and powered by IBM Watson technology.

Fischer extolled the Duval Delegation, saying the group “worked together really well,” was “very cohesive,” and focused on “doing what’s best for Jacksonville.

Perhaps his biggest accomplishment this session: the passage of a “civil remedies for terrorism” bill.

Ron DeSantis for Governor?

One of the stories worth watching this year: will DeSantis run for Florida Governor?

Conversations DeSantis is having about the race are the kind of stakeholder talks one would expect in the pre-candidacy phase — “open” conversations with local, state and national figures.

Ron DeSantis is getting happy feet to leave the House again, claim those in the know.

Those conversations reveal a “real hesitation about Adam Putnam,” we are told.

DeSantis has a lot of positives: fundraising prowess; a place in the Fox News Channel guest rotation; youth and eloquence.

Despite representing an area to the south of Jacksonville, his roots are deep locally: wife Casey DeSantis has been on-air talent on local television in this market for years now.

Northeast Florida has wanted a House Speaker for a while. But — ironically enough — the Governor’s Office is probably more within reach … should DeSantis decide to run, a campaign that would launch late in the summer.

Adam Putnam brings roadshow to Jax Beach

We were the only outlet in the room when Putnam made his play for Jax Beach voters.

Results were mixed.

Putnam served up the material that had been heard statewide, a pitch of Florida exceptionalism and requisite haranguing of “bureaucrats.”

Ander Crenshaw and Atlantic Beach Mayor Mitch Reeves watch their candidate, Adam Putnam.

But when it came to specifics of local interest, Putnam didn’t offer much, opting instead for shopworn hokum.

He mentioned JAXPORT, Mayport and “the river.” Great.

But for those who might want an actual Northeast Florida candidate, it’s unclear if Putnam delivered — or can deliver — enough to stop some donor class dithering.

On the road, Florida gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam and his son, Hughes, stopped at Dreamette in Jacksonville for shakes and freezes.

Moody’s dings Jax pension reform

Jacksonville got its pension reform package through, yet bond rating agency Moody’s asserts that it’s not all peaches and crème.

The write-up boils down to six words: “buy now, pay later, assume risks.”

Buy now, pay later.

The biggest poison-pen moment: “Jacksonville’s reliance on future revenues, rather than current contributions, to address its pension underfunding will continue to negatively impact our key credit metrics related to its pensions … because we do not consider future revenues as pension assets — while city contributions are going to be reduced.”

Policy makers considered these risks, as the discussion got less heady and more sober as the final vote approached. The defined contribution reforms and the one-half cent sales tax are correctly seen as “tools in the toolbox.” Not panaceas.

Still, it’s reasonable to conclude Jacksonville may already be at its ceiling regarding bond ratings, if Moody’s report is any indication.

Dick Kravitz talks SOE gig

Former Jacksonville City Councilman and State Legislator Kravitz may have gotten spiked in his run last year for State House. However, Kravitz is still on the public payroll, as the Jax Daily Record reports, working for the Duval County Supervisor of Elections under old friend Mike Hogan.

Part of his role: helping with lobbying efforts in Tallahassee.

Dick Kravitz ran for State House as an SOE employee in 2016. Conflict of interest? Or just how the game is played?

“There are some people in the Senate that I served in the House with for eight years. It’s about personal relations, so it’s easy to get appointments, and there’s a lot of trust among us,” Kravitz said. “I tried to add to what the paid lobbyists were doing and help out a little to promote some of the bills.”

With session wrapped, Kravitz is helping run student elections at local schools. No word on whether or not he is debriefing them on the dark arts of robocalls and shadowy consultants.

AppointedDavid “Hunt” Hawkins and Thomas “Mac” McGehee to the Florida State College at Jacksonville District board of trustees.

Questions arise over health of CSX CEO Hunter Harrison

Ahead of next month’s CSX shareholder vote on his compensation, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the 72-year-old Harrison often works from home and occasionally uses oxygen because of an undisclosed health issue

Harrison told reporters that doctors cleared him to work, and he believes he can lead the turnaround he began in March at CSX.

“I’m having a ball, and I’m running on so much adrenaline that no one can stop me,” Harrison told the WSJ. “Don’t judge me by my medical record, judge me by my performance.”

CSX Executive Vice President Frank Lonegro said Harrison remains fully engaged. Lonegro spoke at a Bank of America Merril Lynch conference, and he said using oxygen hasn’t slowed Harrison.

“I’ve gotten a dose of leadership from him while he had supplemental oxygen. I’ve had a dose of leadership from him when he hasn’t had supplemental oxygen and they were equally as blunt and equally as effective,” Lonegro said. “So, no question about who’s in charge and no question about how engaged he is.”

CSX shareholders will vote early next month on whether the Jacksonville-based railroad should pay the $84 million in compensation Harrison forfeited when he left Canadian Pacific railroad earlier than planned. Harrison has said he will resign if the compensation isn’t approved.

Jacksonville Zoo Endangered Species Day

Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens is celebrating the 12th annual Endangered Species Day, free with Zoo admission, including school groups. Events include extra keeper chats with special collector cards. Collect all 10!

Keeper chat times:

— Penguin Feeding/Chat — 11 a.m. & 3 p.m. at the Penguin exhibit in Play Park (African Penguin card).

— Gorilla Chat — 12 p.m. & 3:30 p.m. at the gorilla exhibit in the Great Apes loop (Gorilla card).

— Manatee Chat — 10 a.m. & 12 p.m. at the Manatee Critical Care Center in Wild Florida (Vaquita card).

— Whooping Crane Feeding/Chat — 11 a.m. & 2 p.m. at the Whooping Crane exhibit in Wild Florida (Whooping Crane card).

— Wild Florida Chat — Times TBD at the Wild Florida Pavilion in Wild Florida (Western Pond Turtle, Sea Turtle cards).

— African Plains — 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. at the Africa Boardwalk near Main Camp Train Station (Black Rhino and Cheetah cards).

— Elephant Chat — 12:30 p.m. at Elephant Plaza on the African Boardwalk (Asian Elephant card).

— Stingray Chat — Times TBD at Stingray Bay (Sharks card).

Armada lose to Tampa Bay Rowdies 3-0 in St. Petersburg

The Tampa Bay Rowdies cruised into the Third Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with a 3-0 win over the Jacksonville Armada U23s at Al Lang Stadium Tuesday night.

The Open Cup is a knockout tournament featuring teams from all levels of the American soccer system, including qualifying amateur clubs.

Kyle Porter, Alex Morrell and Martin Paterson scored the goals for Tampa Bay as the Rowdies moved on in the competition.

“I thought it was a really, really professional performance by the team,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “We went out and got the job done, which was to win the game and get into the next round. … The game is done and dusted, and we have games coming up in the league, so we’ll shift our focus to that now.”

Playing an opponent from the fourth-tier NPSL, the Rowdies didn’t have to wait long to claim a lead.

With the ball at his feet on the right sideline, Porter spotted Jacksonville goalkeeper Juan Fajardo off his line and took an audacious shot that Fajardo got a touch to, but couldn’t keep from going over the line for a 1-0 Rowdies lead in just the third minute.

Up a goal, the Rowdies dominated the remainder of the first half but didn’t double their lead until the 43rd minute when Morrell stole the ball off an Armada U23 defender and raced toward goal before beating Fajardo from a sharp angle for a 2-0 lead.

“Luckily, the guy had a bad pass, and I picked it off,” Morrell said. “I made the most out of it and scored on my old keeper from college. That was nice.”

Paterson finished the scoring in the 68th minute, tapping in a low cross from Darwin Jones for his second goal of the season in all competitions.

The result was never really in doubt, particularly after Jacksonville was reduced to 10 men in the 62nd minute when Dener Dos Santos was shown a red card. The Rowdies took six shots on target and didn’t allow one from Jacksonville.

It was Tampa Bay’s seventh clean sheet in 10 matches in all competitions.

Jacksonville University Golf earns 1st NCAA Championship berth thru playoff

Before this season, Jacksonville had never qualified for the NCAA Championship in men’s golf. That changed this week as the Dolphins defeated Northwestern in a playoff to grab the fifth and final NCAA Championship berth out of the NCAA Baton Rouge (Louisiana) Regional.

Golfweek reports that after Jacksonville and Northwestern had finished at 19 over, the Dolphins, which carded the final round of the day (1-over 289), and Wildcats each shot two over using a play-five-count-four format on the par-4 18th hole.

The teams then moved on to the par-4 10th hole. Jacksonville’s first three players combined to go one over while Northwestern’s two players in the first group went one over. In the second group, Jacksonville’s two players shot even par and Northwestern, which had a player hit a drive out of bounds, conceded defeat.

Jacksonville began the day in seventh place and didn’t get off to a fast start on the back nine. However, the Dolphins’ four counting players combined to shoot two under on the front nine. Raul Pereda birdied Nos. 4-7 as part of a 1-over 73. Davis Wicks’ closing 71 led the team.

 

How Jacksonville beat China in the garbage can business

The real impact of Chinese imports on American factories has been discussed to death. But if you look closely, you can find a counter-narrative emerging.

One example of that was demonstrated in Northwest Jacksonville Thursday afternoon, where Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and other local dignitaries came together for the grand opening of a 121,000 square foot stainless steel Hans-Mill garbage can factory.

A vital business in an area of town that needs them; an initiative made possible by Wal-Mart, which has committed to buy $250M of American products over the next ten years.

Garbage cans from Jacksonville — and not China — will be part of that narrative. And at least 50 new jobs will be created. All of that with local incentives. And five of those jobs are to be for Northwest Jacksonville residents.

James Han, the CEO of the manufacturer Hans-Mill, said that Jacksonville was “the right location … the total package” for the manufacturing of these cans.

His company makes 750 items worldwide, and hopes to bring more production stateside, to decrease the company’s “carbon footprint” and take advantage of local sourcing.

This plays into Wal-Mart’s strategy, which prioritizes local sourcing — and has a time element, said Cindi Marsiglio, VP of U.S. Manufacturing.

“Go fast, go big,” was her summation of Wal-Mart’s rapid-fire ramp-up of domestic production.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, meanwhile, said “Jacksonville continues to roll” and “we’re going to continue to roll.”

“This today is big,” Curry said. “We’ve had a number of local expansions … companies move into Jacksonville for the first time.”

“This has been in process for a period of time. This is a big deal,” Curry said.

Despite uncertainty regarding the future of economic incentives on the state level, JAXUSA — an arm of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce — has brought in 2,000 jobs this year to date.

While Curry noted the importance of state dollars, he said the city is going to fight for jobs regardless.

“Clearly, they’re important. But if it doesn’t go the way we’d like it to go … Jacksonville’s not going to lay down and cry and moan. We’re going to find a way to have a competitive advantage and compete for jobs,” Curry added.

“There’s always incentives available,” Curry said about the city, if they conform with the “scorecard” model Jacksonville uses to determine ROI.

“We can figure out how to get there,” Curry added, “often.”

Of course, it’s not just incentives that make the sale, said Tim Cost, President of the JAXUSA partnership.

Collaboration between political leaders and the “incredibly cooperative” business community help with making the sale to businesses relocating, Cost added.

Reggie Gaffney tells why he didn’t testify in the Corrine Brown trial

Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney was an eagerly-awaited prosecution witness in the trial of Corrine Brown.

Despite being on the witness list, Gaffney — a longtime friend and confidant of Brown — was not called to testify in the trial.

And FloridaPolitics.com has Gaffney’s exclusive take on why that is.

Gaffney’s theory: his narrative was inconsistent with the story the federal prosecutors wanted to tell … which is something they finally realized after two meetings with Gaffney, whose “Community Rehabilitation Center” and “CRC Transportation” were discussed at length during the trial.

Gaffney said his testimony was “consistent,” suggesting “that’s why they didn’t use me.”

Gaffney, whose CRC Transportation gave Brown money, described it as a “gift” to a friend — and said it was used for charitable purposes.

“I knew she was doing the right thing with my money,” Gaffney said. “I knew she was doing the right thing for the community … some of your constituents need things.”

“I gave money as a friend,” Gaffney said.

Gaffney, who said that Brown and “everybody called [him] with needs” ranging from bills to kids’ clothes, didn’t think twice about giving Brown money years ago.

He saw it as a way to “help the community.”

Gaffney also contended that, contrary to the assertions of those from other Jacksonville non-profits, Brown actually gave to his non-profit CRC during the period being investigated.

“Staff saw her bring stuff,” Gaffney said, and sometimes Brown would call CRC for a pick-up.

Was Gaffney scratched from the prosecution witness list because his narrative was inconsistent with the prosecution argument?

If so, expect that Gaffney’s testimony — along with that of jurors who claim the trial was rigged — will fuel the fire of those who claim that the trial was rigged against Corrine Brown.

Lenny Curry shrugs off Moody’s mixed review of pension reform

On Thursday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry took reporters’ questions, and primary among them was one about Moody’s offering mixed reviews of his pension reform package.

Curry’s pension reform, covered exhaustively here, included moving new hires to defined contribution plans, imposing a sales tax extension to deal with legacy defined-benefit costs, and boosting the city’s contribution to 25 percent of payroll on these DC plans.

Moody’s had caveats.

“Jacksonville’s reliance on future revenues, rather than current contributions, to address its pension underfunding will continue to negatively impact our key credit metrics related to its pensions … because we do not consider future revenues as pension assets – while city contributions are going to be reduced … Jacksonville will also provide costly new benefits and salary increases under the plan, which it can only afford because it will defer a significant portion of its legacy pension costs to the 2030s,” reads the report.

On Thursday, Curry addressed the Moody’s report for the first time.

“It also says we got out of the pension business. This has been an almost two-year process — pension reform,” Curry said.

“It’s done now. We’ve solved the problem. There’s no new information here. We meet with the ratings agencies regularly. I’ve met with them a number of times since I’ve been in office,” Curry added.

“It was a very public campaign with taxpayers — 65 percent of them said yes. City Council ratified it numerous times. We’ve solved the problem. All the information’s been laid out for two years. And we’re trucking on,” Curry said.

Curry added that his team has a “great relationship” with the ratings agencies, which understand how the city is managing its budgets.

“It’s over. And we’ll continue to work with them on what’s best for Jacksonville, and managing our credit ratings,” Curry said.

Expect more reports from the ratings agencies in the near future, Curry said.

More downtown drinking to come to Jacksonville?

Jacksonville is flush with first-rate local breweries, and at least one world-class local distillery. And if a new bill passes the Jacksonville City Council, the local liquor scene downtown will flourish even further.

Ordinance 2017-399, filed by Council President Lori Boyer at the request of the Downtown Investment Authority, would permit distilleries and breweries throughout the entire downtown overlay zoning district.

This would cover, per the bill language, an “establishment or facility in which beer, wine, or other alcoholic beverages are produced for on-site consumption where production does not exceed 10,000 barrels (310,000 gallons) per year and off-site sales to a state licensed wholesaler do not exceed 75% of production.”

Off-site consumption would be permitted, as would restricted outside sales and service.

Those following the latest rounds of gentrification in Jacksonville likely have noticed the parallels between craft breweries and distilleries and an infusion of populations that revitalize neighborhoods.

This legislation would permit that kickstart throughout the downtown overlay area, which would play in to a larger strategy of turning the area near the stadium into an entertainment district.

 

Adam Putnam pitches ‘Florida exceptionalism’ in Jax Beach

Republican Gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam continued barnstorming the state Wednesday evening, with a stop in Jacksonville Beach.

Putnam — the first serious declared candidate on the GOP side — expected and got a warm reception from locals in Duval County, with 158 politicians and GOP insiders out in force.

The sepia-tinged speech, revolving around themes of “Florida exceptionalism” rooted in an era that is arguably either bygone or never actually happened, is more or less unchanged stop to stop. However, Putnam will need a strong showing in Northeast Florida, and with that in mind, this report focuses on that specific play.

Putnam was introduced by a political legend in these parts: former Rep. Ander Crenshaw, who vowed to “spend the next year” working for the Agriculture Commissioner.

Crenshaw, the last major candidate to run for Governor from these parts, spoke in general terms before passing the mike to Putnam … who himself spoke in general terms, about his appeal to “all of Florida … every corner of Florida.”

Putnam mixed it up, just a bit, saying Florida “needs a CEO who knows the difference between Callahan and Clewiston,” before going broad again, saying the race was “not North Florida versus South Florida … interior versus coasts.”

Rather, it’s about all of Florida — the “launch pad for the American dream,” and the “wonderment” people feel when they experience the Sunshine State for the first time. That trope was interestingly negated just minutes later, when Putnam spoke of the need to “rebuild the middle class, rebuild Main Street,” as if mere “wonderment” alone won’t get the job done.

Putnam spoke in broad terms about his philosophy of education, which includes “eliminating stupid laws and stupid rules” and not letting any “bureaucrat” stand between parents and students.

As well, the candidate took a position in favor of “hard work,” which we’ve “stigmatized … somewhere along the way.”

Putnam did namecheck, in broad terms, the importance of Mayport and JAXPORT. But those were footnotes in a road tested speech — the stump equivalent of nostalgia mayonnaise on a saltine cracker. It was filling — the crowd, including many elected politicians, liked the speech.

But in terms of nutrition, of specifics … there wasn’t a lot of there there.

The interview time, after the remarks and the handshakes wrapped, didn’t offer much more either.

We asked Putnam about his advice to Governor Rick Scott to be aggressive with the veto pen, which many took as an aggressiveness targeted toward Florida House members who voted against economic incentives.

Of members of the Duval Delegation in the House, only one voted for incentives — and he wasn’t carrying any appropriations bills.

Putnam didn’t mean it that way, he said.

“What I said was that if I was the governor, I would use the line item veto aggressively, and that would be a better approach than vetoing the entire budget, which would require the entire Legislature to come back into session,” Putnam said.

Rejecting the characterization of that advice as punitive, Putnam said he was simply advising Scott to “exercise his executive authority.”

We then asked about some potential opponents: House Speaker Richard Corcoran and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis from the right, State Sen. Jack Latvala from somewhere closer to the center.

As the only person in the race, Putnam is the default front runner; however, what happens when opponents and political committees start gunning for him?

Putnam was not concerned.

“I’ve been a conservative my whole life. That’s not changing. And I’ve been an optimist my whole life. You have to be when you’re a farmer, so if they want to pack a lunch, sharpen their knives, come on, let’s go.”

When asked specifics about Northeast Florida, and what he would bring to the region, Putnam took a high-level view.

“Northeast Florida,” said Putnam, “is a critically important part of the state’s economy. And the state’s political base. Northeast Florida has a unified business community, and they send hardworking men and women to Tallahassee and Washington.”

“So whether it’s the jobs that Northeast Florida continues to attract, the importance of the port, the importance of the river, Northeast Florida is and will always be an important part of the state’s political conversation, and most importantly, the state’s economy,” Putnam added.

John Rutherford. Al Lawson diverge on Donald Trump’s woes

In the week since President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, politicians have been grappling with an investigation that routinely is being compared to Watergate.

President Trump is even seeing GOP support for him wane, with House and Senate Republicans calling for a special prosecutor.

Despite the rocky road ahead for Trump, Jacksonville Republican Rep. John Rutherford stands by the President in his decision to dump Comey and replace him with someone.

“The FBI is our premier law enforcement agency, and it is the President’s prerogative to have a director who can faithfully execute the FBI’s critical missions. It was necessary for the president to take this step, new leadership will restore confidence in the FBI and their hardworking agents who continue to investigate the possibility of Russian efforts to interfere in our elections. These are important allegations and I believe we need to gather the facts,” Rutherford said in a statement.

Rutherford’s position is diametrically opposed to that of Rep. Al Lawson, a Democrat representing North Florida (including Jacksonville).

Lawson spox Mara Sloan noted that Lawson has called for a special prosecutor on both May 9 and May 16.

“Reports of President Trump sharing highly sensitive information with Russian officials is extremely concerning. This underscores the need for a Special Prosecutor to investigate this administration’s ties to Russia,” Lawson posted to Facebook on May 16.

Lawson, thus far, has not called for Impeachment — and we asked him about it on Wednesday.

Moody’s on Jax pension reform: Buy now, pay later, assume risks

Just as films and books have reviews, the municipal bond sector has its own critiques from bond ratings agencies.

In the case of Moody’s, which dropped its report Wednesday on Jacksonville’s status after pension reform, the writeup boils down to six words: “buy now, pay later, assume risks.”

And Moody’s also asserts that there may be a ceiling in terms of how the agency will see Jacksonville’s performance: “Jacksonville’s reliance on future revenues, rather than current contributions, to address its pension underfunding will continue to negatively impact our key credit metrics related to its pensions … because we do not consider future revenues as pension assets – while city contributions are going to be reduced.”

“By eliminating defined-benefit pensions for new employees, the city will shed investment performance risk over time. However, Jacksonville will also provide costly new benefits and salary increases under the plan, which it can only afford because it will defer a significant portion of its legacy pension costs to the 2030s,” reads the report.

“The city’s pension reform efforts come at a cost. While the city will carry no investment performance risk with the defined-contribution benefits for new employees, it will still contribute 25% of payroll for public safety employees. Public safety employees do not participate in Social Security,” the report adds.

Benefits, meanwhile, can be described as a mixed bag: “The longer that the sales tax for pensions must stay in place, the more difficulty the city could face in garnering support for other revenue resources, should the need arise. On the other hand, the city will immediately begin shedding investment performance risk relative to the status quo as new employees with only defined contribution benefits grow as a proportion of the city’s work force.”

Raises for city employees — delayed over a decade — are also factored into the mix.

“By 2020, these raises will increase the city’s salary spending by $120 million annually, which will amount to roughly 10% of the city’s general fund revenues by 2020…. Jacksonville will primarily offset these new costs by lowering its legacy defined benefit pension contributions…. The city will account for the dedicated future sales tax revenues as pension assets, which will reduce reported unfunded liabilities and thus lower its pension contribution requirements. Through this approach, the city will effectively lower its pension costs for the next 12 years, but it must significantly hike contributions once the new sales tax revenues become available.”

This describes the “deferred contribution” approach to pension reform that Mayor Lenny Curry‘s chief lieutenants sold the city on over many months.

 

Florida/Georgia game extension ready for full Jacksonville City Council vote

The Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee moved a number of key bills ahead of Tuesday’s meeting of the full legislative body.

Among those bills: an extension of the Florida/Georgia football game contract, which would keep the game in Jacksonville until 2021; legislation impacting public service grants; and a long-mulled settlement of a city zoning decision that was successfully countered by disability rights activists and the Federal Department of Justice.

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What it was was football: The World’s Largest Cocktail Party is one step closer to five more years in the Bold New City of the South, fulfilling a priority of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who prioritized the extension of the contract just days after taking office.

Approved by Finance Wednesday, City Council Ordinance 2017-322 will keep the Georgia/Florida football game in Jacksonville through the 2021 event … pending a formal vote by the full City Council on Tuesday night.

Each team gets a guarantee payment of $250,000 per year, plus a one-time signing bonus of $125,000 upon contract execution, and $60,000 annually for travel and lodging.

Jacksonville can recoup that money by programming events at the amphitheater and the flex field; the schools don’t get a piece of that action.

Also obligatory: maintaining a minimum seat capacity of 82,917, which requires the installation of temporary seats — a hard cost of $2.1M in 2016.

After the 2018 game, work will begin on the extension.

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Public Service Grants: Bill 2017-317 looks to refine the public service grants process, one that has been fraught with difficulty, including claims of subjective evaluation, in recent years.

“This legislation allows for applicants who do not have the required Charitable Solicitation Permit to instead submit a state letter of exemption. Additionally, the eligibility requirement to submit the last three tax years of federal tax returns will be adjusted to allow applicants who are exempt from filing federal tax returns to instead submit an IRS certification of exemption and copies of audit reports for the last three years, or financial information reasonably acceptable to the Department of Administration and Finance,” reads the bill summary.

The bill passed committee by a 5-0 margin.

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Ability Housing bills move forward: Two Jacksonville City Council bills (2017-68 and 2017-69) approved by Finance may close the book on an issue that first emerged during the Alvin Brown administration.

To recap: in 2014, Ability Housing set out to renovate an apartment building in Springfield to create 12 units of housing for the chronically homeless and disabled.

The planning director balked, likening the proposed use to that of an assisted living facility. Soon thereafter, the Department of Justice, Disability Florida, and Ability Housing sued.

The proposed settlement ensures that the city not discriminate via zoning against those with disabilities, including via so-called zoning “overlays” such as Springfield and other neighborhoods have, and allows Ability Housing to become eligible for Jacksonville Journey funding again.

Ability Housing and Disability Rights Florida would receive $400,000 and $25,000 respectively per the settlement. Jacksonville also would be required to grant $1.5 million for the development of permanent supportive housing for people with disabilities, after a competitive grant process including Ability Housing.

A rewrite of a related zoning bill, 2017-36, passed the Land Use and Zoning Committee along with the two aforementioned bills Tuesday evening.

All bills move to a full Council vote Tuesday evening.

Anna Brosche is ‘concerned’ about potential homestead exemption impacts to Jacksonville budget

On Tuesday, Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Schellenberg laid out some grievances about the “meek and mild” Duval County Legislative Delegation in the Florida Times-Union.

The most alarming and damaging issue is the additional Homestead Exemption. If passed by the citizens of Florida in the August 2018 election cycle, it would chop off about $27 million annually from our city’s general fund,” Schellenberg noted.

“The last time the Legislators increased the homestead exemption by $25,000 dollars, Jacksonville introduced a franchise fee, a garbage fee and a stormwater fee. In fact these fees are substantially more regressive than the ad valorem tax,” Schellenberg added.

While Schellenberg took issue specifically with the “crumbs” brought home for Jacksonville, and got spirited pushback from three members of the Duval Delegation, there is serious concern in Jacksonville City Hall about the impact of raising homestead exemption.

One concerned party: Councilwoman Anna Brosche, chair of the Finance Committee and one of two current candidates for the Council Presidency (to be decided by a vote of councilors on Tuesday afternoon).

“I’m concerned about such large impacts on the budget,” Brosche said Wednesday morning, adding that she is “trying to understand the changes.”

When asked if a millage rate hike might be a fix, preserving the tax base from property taxes, Brosche was non-committal, saying “when we get to that bridge, we’ll figure out how to cross it.”

Brosche very well could be the next Council President; she trails current VP John Crescimbeni 7-6 in the pledge count, with six councilors holding out for reasons only they know.

 

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