Jax Archives - Page 3 of 322 - Florida Politics

Al Lawson talks HUD reform at Jacksonville’s Eureka Garden

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson visited Eureka Garden in Jacksonville on Presidents’ Day, and expressed optimism for the building’s current ownership, while suggesting that more comprehensive reform of HUD is needed.

Speaking to tenants in the 400-unit Section 8 complex’s community center, Rep. Lawson addressed the need for federal help allowing tenants to “make a different quality of life,” by making “funding available.”

The congressman will have an important ally across the aisle and in the Senate in this regard.

Lawson discussed a “sitdown” with an old friend: Sen. Marco Rubio, who has been an advocate of HUD reform for over a year, in reaction to the dilapidation at Eureka Garden and other properties once owned by Global Ministries Foundation.

Lawson asserted that Rubio, who said on many occasions that GMF had a “slumlord” approach to property ownership, committed to continue working on HUD reform.

“We want to make sure that they take care of residents,” Lawson said, and “make sure HUD has proper oversight” by “working jointly with HUD to make some changes.”

Among those changes: ensuring that federal dollars go into building maintenance, not into the pockets of ownership — something that was not the case in the past with GMF properties.

“It will take time,” Lawson added, “but we have made the commitment.”

Lawson also joins Rubio in believing that GMF should be held accountable for the conditions they allowed to happen at the Jacksonville apartment complex, though the mechanisms for that accountability are unclear.

Lawson also intends to engage the Donald Trump administration in his quest, vowing to get HUD Secretary Ben Carson to “come down and take a look.”

The Congressman’s approach to the residents of Eureka was jovial and joke-filled.

At one point, Lawson quipped that “every time I get a paycheck, I think about you.”

And at a couple of points, Lawson noted that apartments at Eureka were “better than [his] apartment in D.C.,” an endorsement of the ongoing rehab work that the new management company, Millennia Housing Management, is engaged in.

“I can give a good report,” Lawson said, noting that he will meet with senators to discuss HUD issues next week.

Though Millennia took over on Feb. 1, the company is already working through a priority list of repairs, focusing on major issues currently.

If all goes well with the Ohio company’s ownership bid, Millennia will hold the title on this and the rest of the GMF portfolio by the end of the year.

Though tenants groused at the slow pace of repairs, citing issues like missing screen doors, needed burglar bars on doors, and a lack of insulation in the walls, Lawson focused on positives, such as an improved playground and an eventual community garden.

“I feel like you all are going to take pride in the community,” Lawson said, advising those on hand to call police if they see “someone out on the corner selling drugs.”

Though Lawson’s appearance was appreciated by those on hand, he may have missed an opportunity for synergy from local politicians.

Lawson’s visit to Eureka Garden was originally expected to be on Tuesday, and was expected to involve Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Councilman Garrett Dennis – the local catalysts for reform in GMF properties.

Curry was spending Monday with his family.

Dennis noted that, while he couldn’t attend due to the “late notice of the visit,” he looked forward to getting together with Lawson at a future date and discussing “other issues plaguing our community and the City of Jacksonville.”

Lawson has a crowded schedule over the next few days.

He met with a group of preachers earlier on Monday.

On Tuesday, the first-term Tallahassee Democrat will discuss the Affordable Care Act with executives at Florida Blue, and will also discuss federal dredging dollars with the chair of JAXPORT.

Wednesday sees Lawson meeting with another phalanx of pastors.

 

Al Lawson begins week in Jacksonville, will visit Eureka Garden

Democratic Rep. Al Lawson will begin the week in Jacksonville, ascertaining the priorities of the eastern flank of Florida’s far-flung Congressional District 5.

Lawson plans to spend Monday through Wednesday working in town, with the following tentative itinerary.

Monday will see Lawson working out of his new Jacksonville office on N. Davis Street in LaVilla. He will meet with various organizations.

Tuesday sees Lawson at public events.

The morning will find Lawson at Ribault, where he will participate in a roundtable on education, and participate in flight simulation at the school’s aviation academy.

The afternoon finds Lawson at Eureka Garden with Mayor Lenny Curry and (schedule permitting) Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis.

Expect the press gaggle at that event to get interesting, as Lawson (like every other Democrat in Washington) has been critical of President Donald Trump, a Lenny Curry favorite.

Lawson, a regional whip in the House, is well-regarded by leadership and looks impervious to a challenge from his eastern flank in next year’s primary.

With that in mind, he is doing the work of a safe incumbent, building relationships and getting a better understanding of local priorities.

We will be on hand at the Eureka Garden event.

Religious right to Lenny Curry: ‘keep your promise’ on HRO

The phones were lit up Friday morning when FloridaPolitics.com visited the office of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

The subject: Curry allowing the city’s Human Rights Ordinance to become law, albeit without his signature.

When asked Wednesday about not signing the HRO into law, the mayor cited his position that he did “not believe that legislation was necessary” after signing his departmental directive in 2016 to protect LGBT city employees and city contractor employees from workplace discrimination.

“I still hold that view. But the city council is the legislative body. Last night, they took up the issue … and it got a supermajority vote. They demonstrated their will … Republicans and Democrats, council people from all over this city,” Curry continued.

“It’s law without my signature, and we’re moving on,” Curry said. “It’s closed. It’s over.”

****

Though it is over, in the sense that LGBT rights are now codified in Jacksonville law, it’s not over for those on the religious right who supported Curry in 2015 … and are threatening to withhold support in future mayoral runs.

They point to an email from Mar. 9, 2015, in which Curry said he would have vetoed the 2012 version of the HRO expansion — one that ultimately did not pass the city council.

“I thought that 2012-296 was flawed in its assumption of widespread discrimination and in it the remedies it proposed. Based on how this kind of legislation has affected other cities, I came to believe that the regulations contained in the bill could have created more problems than they solved. That’s why I would have vetoed the bill had I been mayor,” Curry wrote.

Of course, there were changes between 2012 and 2017: an increasing societal understanding of the need for LGBT protections, a bill that was drafted to protect small businesses and religious organizations, and so on.

But for a fervent band of commenters, the objection isn’t to granular elements of the legislation — but to the need for it at all.

And, as was the case earlier this week, they continue to let Curry have it.

****

Some sample correspondence: “You have previously stated, ‘[I am] pro-life, and you are a Christian. I was raised in the faith and I am active in my church.’ You also, stated….. I would have VETOED the bill if I was MAYOR!”

“This anti-liberty proposal is the worst possible piece of public policy any elected official could support. It violates the dignity, safety and the security of women and children and disregards religious liberty,” asserted another.

“I thought you had more courage.  I will support someone who will stand up against the tyranny of the Social Justice Warriors,” asserted another correspondent.

****

We contacted Curry’s office Friday afternoon, and were advised to refer to the statement issued Tuesday evening after the supermajority city council vote in favor of HRO expansion.

For Curry, the matter is closed.

The question going forward: when will the matter be closed for his critics on this issue?

Jacksonville PFPF trustees throw cold water on Lenny Curry’s pension deal

On Friday, the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund held its monthly meeting of trustees.

It was the first such meeting since the city agreed to tentative pension deals with the police and fire unions last weekend.

As part of that deal, the city will no longer be obligated to the terms of the 2015 pension reform agreement, including the extra payments.

Out of the loop in negotiations, it was inevitable that the PFPF Board would raise questions. And they did just that, before and during the meeting.

In sum, the PFPF believes that they had no say in the deal, and that without specifics, they can’t agree to the deal.

They also believe that the deadline to agree to terms by Mar. 15 is unrealistic, given that the deal is still opaque, especially relative to the role of the PFPF board — which was not at the bargaining table.

****

Before the meeting, Trustee Bill Scheu was asked about the deal.

He noted that there’s “no financial information yet,” in terms of the specific financial projections as to what it will cost the city.

Board Chair Richard Tuten expressed similar sentiments, noting that there are no numbers yet on paper that have been produced for the board or the media.

Scheu and Tuten expanded on these positions during the first hour of the meeting.

****

The position of Mayor Lenny Curry has been that such details are “exempt from disclosure” through the collective bargaining process.

However, it should be noted that the city projected real savings from the plan … when the city contribution was expected to be 10 or 12 percent on the defined contribution plan, not 25 percent.

In that context, the numbers are relevant to the discussion.

****

A public commenter kicked the meeting off, saying that he advocated signing the deal immediately, albeit with a waiver to make the 10 percent employee contribution voluntary.

The board disagreed.

Director Tim Johnson noted that the draft agreement cut out those voluntary payments, and advised that there be a workshop to discuss the pension surtax and the supplemental payments from the city, with an eye toward figuring out the board’s rights and role going forward.

Tuten advised that the lawyers be there to review the relevant ordinances, including the extra contributions from the PFPF.

“Until we have long-term numbers from the mayor,” Tuten said, the projections can’t be dealt with.

****

Time is of the essence, said a representative from the city’s office of general counsel.

“The agreements themselves provide for a short window. Everything has to be done by the 15th of March,” said Steve Durden of the OGC.

“The bills have to be introduced by Mar. 31,” Durden added.

Durden framed the deadline, meanwhile, as a device to facilitate the next budget.

As well, “parties just want things done,” Durden added.

That didn’t go over well at the table; the PFPF board asserted that they were dealt out of the negotiations.

****

Board members noted that the PFPF wasn’t a party to the agreement, yet Durden contended that the time frame was not elastic.

“We have no financial information, no nothing,” an exasperated Scheu said.

Durden advised that the “agreements were not done — the proposed agreements — until early last week. It has not been long. And I don’t know if it was appropriate to bring it to your attention.”

The workshop, said Scheu, is about the PFPF authority — not the terms of the deal, which is a different matter entirely.

“The mayor doesn’t want to pay the extra payments. We’re a little reluctant to give that up, now that it’s been codified by a federal court,” Tuten said.

“If the numbers don’t add up,” Tuten added, “it’s going to be a problem.”

Durden noted the board’s internal schedule conflicts precluded them getting together as a board.

“The mayor wants to get that information to you right away … what exactly’s in the deal,” Durden contended.

****

The deal was framed by PFPF Attorney Bob Sugarman as a “momentous decision … equivalent to a merger and acquisition. The numbers are very large, and you’re going to need legal advice, as well as outside advice.”

Requiring focus: the reliability of revenue streams.

“We’ve made promises with share plans, extra contributions … the contracts are a little hazy on what all this means,” Tuten said.

“Are we going to need the mayor’s complete plan? If he doesn’t spell out his numbers, we’re talking to ourselves,” Tuten added.

Tuten framed “what the mayor wants” as “irrelevant.”

“You don’t come and say — just sign it man, no big deal. Our responsibility is to the members, to make sure it’s fiscally sound … the mayor should be presenting a very convincing case at the moment to us … until we get those things from the mayor, there’s no way we can meet March 15.”

“A lack of planning on your part does not mean an emergency on mine,” Tuten said, eliciting laughter from the table.

“We’re going to need you to show us why this is a good deal,” Tuten said, “because you’re not going to be mayor in eight years.”

“Paying extra now doesn’t necessarily cost the city anything,” Tuten said, given the money will come in later.

“They don’t want to skip one year, they want to skip every year,” Tuten explained.

Tuten said they might need two months to figure out the specifics of the deal.

****

Scheu found it “shocking” that the board was being expected to approve a plan without hard numbers.

He also raised questions about whether the future value of the plan could be considered an asset.

Scheu also advised that “the mayor’s office will demean us” as a PR tactic.

“Now he’s likely to demean us for wanting to take our fidicuiary responsibility seriously. I for one think we need to exercise that,” Scheu said.

“We don’t have the power to sue the city,” Scheu said, “without city council approval.”

“The city is our partner here,” Sugarman said, “but we do have procedures we need to go through.”

This is especially true, Sugarman added, with a half a billion dollars on the line.

“Until we get a proposal, I can’t even tell you,” Sugarman said. “If the March 15 deadline is not realistic, that’s not our fault. We did not establish the Mar. 15 deadline. We need to know what we’re talking about.”

“It’s unlikely we’ll be able to do our due diligence in four weeks,” Sugarman said.

Sugarman noted that “each trustee has skin in the game,” and “you can’t buy enough insurance” to protect against personal indemnification if the pension deal doesn’t work out as advertised.

“All we have here is a deal sheet,” Sugarman said, and the real story is in the amendments and the ordinances

In sum, the PFPF believes that they had no say in the deal, and that without specifics, they can’t agree to the deal. They worry about revenue streams, usurped governance authority, and so forth.

There was also talk of enforcing the 2015 agreement in court, if need be.

On Friday afternoon, Mayor Curry offered a statement attempting to cool the tensions expressed in the PFPF Trustees meeting.

“Last weekend,” Curry said, “the Police and Fire union leadership reached a tentative agreement with us that keeps our promises to public safety workers, respects tax payers and is fiscally responsible. The tentative agreement included a timeline that would ensure that we solve this problem in a timely manner. The PFPF Board will have the financial information they need to make a responsible decision prior to their vote.”

Fire Union head Randy Wyse, in the crowd, understood the board’s position.

“I would not want the trustees to breach their fiduciary duty. They need time to make the right decision,” Wyse said.

Jacksonville Bold for 2.17.17 — Finally

LOVE WINS: The big story of the week — Jacksonville finally, after five years of debate and false starts, ratified an expansion of the city’s Human Rights Ordinance.

The HRO expansion protects the city’s LGBT community in the workplace, the housing market, and regarding public accommodations (read: the right to use the bathroom in a public place).

Council voted it up 12-6. Mayor Lenny Curry didn’t sign the bill but made it clear it was law while celebrations were still ongoing outside of City Hall. And he’s also made it clear that discussion of the issue is “over.”

“The city council is the legislative body. night, they took up the issue … and it got a supermajority vote. They demonstrated their will … Republicans and Democrats, council people from all over this city,” Curry continued.

“It’s law without my signature, and we’re moving on,” Curry said. “It’s closed. It’s over.”

A decisive factor this time around: the very active and vocal role of Jaguars owner Shad Khan, who personally lobbied council members — especially some of those we identified as being swing votes in earlier reporting on the subject.

But victory has many fathers, according to the account of Jacksonville Coalition for Equality’s Jimmy Midyette.

That staunch advocacy, coupled with a disciplined process that Council President Lori Boyer refused to let be derailed, saw a fully-inclusive HRO pass.

The national media didn’t descend on Jacksonville this time. The religious right pulled out its usual tricks, but couldn’t get traction.

Tuesday night might look like a victory for progressives. In fact, it was a win for pragmatists — a piece of real anti-discrimination legislation from a GOP city council, with a conservative mayor not standing in its way.

It is that pragmatism that will carry Jacksonville forward.

LET’S MAKE A DEAL: Saturday afternoon saw a couple of disgruntled print reporters and the skeleton crew on local TV breaking a big story: a potential 10-year pension deal between the city and its police and fire unions.

How much does it cost? Who knows! The city doesn’t have to tell anyone until the deal is ratified.

But how much is peace of mind worth? Police and fire get their benefits restored, after a cut to new hires in 2015. And a 20 percent pay raise over three years. And a defined contribution plan — with a 25 percent city match — that vests in three years.

Jacksonville, assuming the unions and the council ratify this, would be the first — but not the last — city to push defined contribution plans instead of pensions.

The Police and Fire Pension Fund meets Friday. You know this will be a topic.

Meanwhile, the Curry CFO rumor mill continues to churn out product.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: The Jax Daily Record, via a News Service of Florida story, advanced in print a meme that local reporters had discussed on Twitter: Curry as CFO.

Curry’s name was buried in a mix of other potential names to replace Jeff Atwater, who scored a plum gig at Florida Atlantic University, taking him out of the politics game at least for a while.

Curry is definitely qualified for the job. His name has been linked to CFO for a while. But the timing may not be right.

For one thing, the unions and the city council still have to ratify the pension deal. For another thing, Curry ran on a public safety platform — but violent crime has not abated in the city.

Still, Atwater told the Daily Record that Curry “should be in the mix.”

Curry, meanwhile, is holding his cards close to the vest.

“I love this job, and I plan on being Mayor of Jacksonville. I’ve got a lot of work to do,” Curry added.

When asked if he would definitively rule out an appointment to finish Atwater’s term or run for statewide office, the Mayor avoided a firm commitment.

“I don’t deal in hypotheticals. I’m not pursuing anything. I haven’t talked to anyone. I’ve got a job here to do. I don’t deal in hypotheticals, but I’m the mayor of Jacksonville. I love this job, and you’re going to continue to see big issues attacked, problems solved, and opportunities capitalized on in Jacksonville,” Curry said.

Meanwhile, for those keeping track, Curry’s PAC raised $63,000 in local money last month.

SAUCE LOSS: From unfinished business to failed business …

Awkwardness abounded late last week when the city of Jacksonville sued companies run and owned, in part, by Councilwoman Katrina Brown.

The Brown family took $640,000 in city money in 2011 to start up a barbecue sauce factory that was supposed to employ 56 people for two years consecutive. That didn’t happen. And the city wants back $210K, give or take.

The Browns’ companies are delinquent on sales tax and are being sued by other banks. The building itself was raided by the FBI two months ago.

Brown won’t talk to the press to come clean. Instead, she has taken to prattling away on Facebook about unrelated ephemera.

The top topic of conversation in City Hall: what’s happening with Katrina? And how long does she have left?

Brown didn’t help her case in the court of public opinion by no-showing Tuesday’s meeting of the city council, where she was expected to vote yes on LGBT rights.

GUNS OF COWFORD: Hours after letting the HRO become law, Curry moved away from the polarizing issue to discuss something more on-message for him: public safety.

Curry, Sheriff Mike Williams, and State Attorney Melissa Nelson described their shared intent to have Jacksonville participate in the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), which will help identify and target shooters for the purposes of prosecution and getting them off the streets.

NIBIN is a national database of used bullets and shell casings that are either found at crime scenes or test-fired from confiscated weapons.

This program has worked well in Denver. Curry, Williams, and Nelson will travel out west later this year, hoping to see how NIBIN is being used in a city that otherwise is as culturally different from Jacksonville as could be imagined.

Curry sold the program with emotive language, saying at one point that he was “pissed” at the wave of gun violence, and opening and closing with the following quote, intended to strike fear in the hearts of miscreants.

“If you’re stupid enough to commit a crime in this city — especially a crime with a gun — this group of people is coming after you,” the Mayor said.

MATCH GAME: St. Johns County was facing erosion issues before Hurricane Matthew last year. The state has a program to help the county restore its beaches. However, reports the Florida Times-Union, that program requires a 50 percent match.

If the state puts in $30 million of a $60 million project, the other $30 million has to come from somewhere. Local groups seem to believe that the state should go 75/25 with the county.

That’s a mistaken premise.

St. Johns County has been functioning on the cheap for a long time, aggressively cutting taxes while expanding the tax base. Local politicians have built their reps on that. Now, however, the bills are coming due.

The school system already had to push for a half-cent sales tax last year to deal with infrastructural issues. While that referendum was successful, the need for it points to a larger problem: the county lacks the recurring revenue to deal with increasing costs of infrastructure and, soon enough, legacy costs.

It’s bad business for Tallahassee to go beyond a 50/50 split on these costs. And SJC pols need to think about not just what the county looks like now, but is going to look like after decades of laissez-faire planning and land use management.

WINNERS AND LOSERS: Gov. Rick Scott has a bone to pick with Rep. Paul Renner, the Palm Coast Republican who may or may not be in contention to be House Speaker down the road.

Writing in the Palm Coast Observer, Renner discussed his beef with Enterprise Florida, including sponsoring “a bill that would end these programs, which pick winners and losers among competing businesses through ‘economic incentives,’ in which the state essentially pays companies to come to or stay in Florida.”

“This legislative session, we have the opportunity to end special incentives and promote economic development that benefits every business and every resident in our community. This effort will have bipartisan support, including fiscal conservatives like me, as well as principled liberals who share a distaste for corporate welfare,” Renner added.

Renner doesn’t have much in the way of approps asks this session, beyond sewage projects for Palm Coast and Flagler Beach. And given his opposition to a prized gubernatorial initiative — really, a philosophy — it’s best for all parties that he has modest requests.

As Aaron Bean can attest, Scott knows how to hold a grudge.

BRUSHBACK FOR BEAN: Speaking of Bean, The Capitolist deconstructed an appropriations bill as being a potential “windfall for a local constituent.”

Senate Bill 712, a technical bill, tweaks Medicaid reimbursement rates for nursing homes.

However, the Capitolist discerns the actual purpose: River Garden Hebrew Home would not make as much money under the proposed reimbursement matrix as they could under Bean’s bill.

Under the proposed model, the home would gross an extra $174,000 a year. Under the Bean bill, $580,000.

IN THE NAVY: Jacksonville’s Navy presence is going to increase by 400 sailors (and families) soon, with the East Coast Forward Operating Base of the MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aircraft System (Triton UAS) planned for Mayport.

The drone system offers maritime information, handling both recon and surveillance. From Mayport, it will be deployed over the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

Among those celebrating with news releases: Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. John Rutherford.

“I have long advocated for the Navy to base the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft in Mayport, so I am very pleased it decided to do so. We look forward to welcoming four new aircraft and the more than 400 sailors and their families who will soon call the Jacksonville area home. Florida’s military community plays a vital role in defending our nation, and the Triton system is a key component of the Navy’s maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions,” Rubio said.

Rutherford noted the benefits to both national security and the Jacksonville area, saying that “the Navy’s decision … will not only enhance our national security by helping the Navy carry out its important maritime surveillance missions, but is also a huge victory for the Jacksonville community, further strengthening our partnership with the Navy.”

During the 2016 GOP primary campaign, more than one candidate fretted over the ultimate impact of BRAC closures. With the Trump Administration planning to expand military ships and improve hardware, Wednesday’s decision suggests Jacksonville’s importance in this administration’s nat sec strategy.

INVENTORY CONTROL: The Duval County School Board is considering new and exciting ways to track its students while they are in government custody.

Action News Jax and First Coast News reported on this system favorably, with FCN billing it as a way “to save Jax parents some worry.”

“Nikolai Vitti pitched the BadgePass system from Dowling-Douglas Company to the Board at a workshop Tuesday,” asserted the Action News write-up.

“Students across Duval County would get BadgePass student IDs, which they would swipe when they get on their school buses and in their classrooms. Parents would be notified if their child is not where they’re supposed to be,” Action News continued.

What could go wrong?

Board Chair Paula Wright said that the program was not a “big brother” program, which should allay libertarian concerns.

The program has been used in 49 schools in Duval over the last five years, which has cost the district $2.7 million.

Vitti says the district will save money — $1 million over five years — if the program goes districtwide.

While badges are fantastic, why not take it to the next level? RFID technology is improving every year.

Gov. Scott took to the high seas — or at least near the high seas — to talk about his request for funding for seaport infrastructure projects.

The Naples Republican visited JAXPORT’s Blount Island Marine Terminal this week to discuss plans for investing in state transportation and port projects in the coming year. Scott recently proposed a $10.8 billion transportation plan, which included $176 million for Florida ports.

“Since 2008, job creation supported by JAXPORT has grown tremendously, and today, we are proud to support more than 130,000 jobs throughout Northeast Florida. This incredible growth would not have been possible without the Governor’s commitment to making investments in our port and the area’s transportation system,” said Jim Citrano, chairman of JAXPORT, in a statement. “We are so grateful to the Governor for once again seeking to make important investments in our ports through his ‘Fighting for Florida’s Future’ budget and hope to see this plan fully passed.”   

The port achieved record-setting growth in 2016 in containers, auto imports and breakbulk cargoes. It also completed several major milestone projects last year including the new on-dock rail facility serving the Blount Island and Dames Point Terminals; berth, dock and rail upgrades and three new 100-gauge electric container cranes which entered service in December.

JAXPORT wants to help small businesses.

JAXPORT and Mason Construction Co. hosted a free procurement training seminar for small businesses interested in doing business with the port and other Northeast Florida public agencies. The workshop was held at JAXPORT’s Cruise Terminal and focused on strategies for writing a successful bid proposal. Attendees also got to network and learn about open bid opportunities at JAXPORT, the City of Jacksonville and other area agencies.

“We want to be at the forefront of ensuring that small businesses are included in everything we’re doing at JAXPORT,” said JAXPORT Board member Dr. John Newman. “As cargo volumes continue to grow, the opportunities available to small businesses expands as well, creating jobs and prosperity for our community.”

Perry Blackburn got to say “thank you” to the men and women who saved his sister this week.  

Blackburn, a paramedic and emergency medical services coordinator in Ware County, Georgia, responded to a serious medical vehicle crash involving his sister last year. Emergency personnel had to extricate, Gina, his sister, from the vehicle and she suffered severe injuries. She was transported by air ambulance to TraumaOne at UF Health Jacksonville.

After she had been stabilized, she underwent surgery and a lengthy stay at in the transitional care unit and the rehabilitation center at UF Health Jacksonville.

“All Waycross and Ware County public safety organizations, along with AirEvac 90 and UF Health, did an outstanding job with my sister’s care,” he said. “That is what EMS is all about — reducing disability and saving lives.”

Gina has recovered well and has since returned home to her family.

It’s always “shark week” at Jacksonville University nowadays.

The University has teamed up with a globally known shark conservation and research group, a move the school sees as bolstering its brand. The Jacksonville Business Journal reported Ocearch founder Chris Fischer will join the school as “explorer in residence.”

As part of the deal, the organization’s boat will be docked in Jacksonville and Fischer will have office and research space at the school.

Ocearch has more than 430,000 people following its Facebook page, and its Android app has been downloaded more than 100,000 times. The iPhone version of the app has been downloaded more than 200,000 times.

After HRO expansion passes, opponents vent their rage at Lenny Curry

During the five-year debate ahead of Jacksonville codifying LGBT rights in its Human Rights Ordinance this week, opponents often couched their rhetoric in the Christian gospels.

However, with the bill having passed, the gospel of love has morphed into the rhetoric of hate.

Getting the worst of it: Mayor Lenny Curry, who respected the supermajority of the City Council and did not veto the bill, even as he made it clear Tuesday evening that he believed the 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.”

In other words, Curry was respecting the City Council’s prerogative to set policy, his own position on the bill notwithstanding.

However, some of Curry’s erstwhile supporters seem to believe that he should have usurped the authority of the council and forced a confrontation with the legislative branch over this issue.

Consider a text Curry received Wednesday from Nancy McGowan, who apparently is a Republican activist.

“Why did you run for mayor Lenny?  To implement a blessing on homosexuality and a mental disorder called transgenderism?  What a disgrace you are as a former Republican.  As a former Christian and most importantly the legacy you have left to your own children and those in the community.    You should have never run for office as you have compromised the very person you were and that is so sad.   You lied to all those who supported you and for what gain?”

McGowan’s position is remarkable, as Curry never said he would veto a bill, just that he wasn’t going to push a bill through.

He told media that he would stay out of the process with the City Council, and he did just that.

McGowan’s decision to attempt to read a former Republican Party of Florida chair out of the party is an odd one for her to have made. And her decision to question Curry’s faith goes beyond oddness.

Curry forwarded these texts to his chief of staff, noting that “people should not be texting me stuff about city business. Please get those text messages in my city email account so we are in compliance with public records laws.”

And in that inbox, the text messages became part of an anthology of vitriol, in which character assassinations abounded because he didn’t thwart the will of the council — all 19 members of which were duly elected, just like the mayor.

Another all-star of recent public comment periods, Pastor Wade Mask, also impugned the mayor’s integrity in an email.

“I was encouraged when I was part of a group that met with you last year. You did not commit to anything, but constructed what you said in such a way that I certainly believed that you were with us. Was I ever wrong,” Mask wrote.

Curry, wrote Mask, “could have vetoed it and made them overturn it with the twelve or if Ms. Brown showed up by making her vote one way or the other.”

[Editor’s Note: LOL]

Mask had hoped that one day Curry would be governor. But not now, alas.

“There is an old country saying, ‘Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.’ I will not be fooled again,” Mask added.

Still more feedback greeted the mayor in his email box.

Angela Strong wrote the following: “This is a very family oriented town with values and morals that we can be proud of. I would think that in light of the results of the Presidential race and the obvious majority voting for American values that you would know in your heart that if you wish to be supported in the future you might want to pay closer attention to what the families of your city want for our children’s future.”

Pastor Jim Wilder mused that “The only problem is that this violates the word of God. May God have mercy on your souls!”

Larry McQueeney contended that “the fact you did not veto that hideous bill makes me sick to my stomach.  That is intellectually dishonest and morally wrong.  You have betrayed the people of your hometown to get what?  A state appointment?  Really?”

Keri Petty, meanwhile, wanted to see Curry primaried should be not veto the bill.

“Lastly, this legislation as w/all LGBT legislation(local, state, & federal)has nothing to do with “equality”, but REDEFINITION! They’re wanting to redefine the normal boundaries of civilization for the last 5,000 to 7,000 years. I voted for you & I’m hoping to vote for you again should you choose to run again. However, if you approve this bill, you will not have my vote & I hope the Republican Party will bring a strong Republican candidate that would consider the issues of the MAJORITY of the population of the city to run against you in the primary,” Petty wrote.

Carol Thomas, likewise, was irked.

“If you think you covered your butt by not signing the HRO 2017-15 Ordinance the council foolishly and despicably passed, I wouldn’t count on it.  We know it came in under your watch and we know what you did to stop it.  Nothing,” Thomas wrote.

“Can’t wait to vote against you.  How long do I have to wait?  If there is a recall effort, I’ll be in on it.  This was not what I voted for.  False advertising!  Family values, my granny! But aren’t you modern!  So was ancient Rome, when it wasn’t ancient.  How spineless can you be? I’ll be looking for your name on ballots for years to come, just for the pleasure of voting against you,” Thomas added.

Karl Klein had this take: “A super-majority on one vote is not the fig leaf you think it is.  You can and should veto the ordinance anyway.  Make the City Council revote and see if they can maintain the super-majority.  You have gone back on your word and betrayed the people who voted you into office.  With Republicans like you, there is no need for Democrats.  I will do everything I can to ensure you are never elected to any position in government.”

And John Green had this measured insight: “This will be your Legacy – ‘One Term Curry let the HBO pass on his watch’.”

Certainly, more communiques like these are on their way to Curry’s inbox. Thus far, though, the vituperation is outstripping the congratulation.

Israel flags U.S.

Jason Fischer co-sponsors bill objecting to UN condemnation of Israeli settlements

While it’s uncertain as to whether or not the United Nations Security Council seeks advice from the Florida House, it’s being provided nonetheless.

Rep. Jason Fischer joined an ever-growing list of sponsors of House Bill 231, a bill filed in January objecting to a 2016 United Nations resolution condemning Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory.

The Florida House bill demands a repeal or an edit of the U.N. Security Council resolution — an unlikely outcome.

That U.N. resolution proved especially controversial stateside, as the United States abstained from the vote — a move widely seen as one last tweak from the Obama White House to Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu.

Samantha Power, on behalf of the U.S., asserted that the American abstention was rooted in the resolution being focused too narrowly on settlements, even as she noted President Ronald Reagan‘s assertion that further settlements were not necessary for Israeli security.

Of course, there has been a sea change in American policy toward Israel since last year. Whereas President Obama was committed, however ineffectually, to a two-state solution, President Trump’s position is more or less inchoate.

“I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like … If Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best,” the American President said Wednesday.

Fischer, not an early sponsor of this Florida House resolution, nonetheless is passionate about this issue.

“With the turmoil in the Middle East,” Fischer said, “I just cannot support blindsiding our most valuable ally in the region. The Israeli government does not deserve to be condemned at the United Nations. Israel should be applauded for maintaining freedom in a region of the world where terrorism and despotism has become the norm.”

“The state of Florida stands with Israel. I stand with Israel,” Fischer added, “and I hope to see the United Nations come to their senses in regards to their policies in relation to Israel. They are a great ally and should be treated as such.”

The House Bill has its first committee stop next Wednesday morning in the Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee.

Could NIBIN stem the tide of gun violence in Jacksonville’s streets?

Wednesday morning saw Jacksonville leadership announce and discuss a new initiative that stakeholders hope will abate the surge in gun violence in the Northeast Florida city.

This initiative, conceived during a conversation between the mayor and the state attorney last month, may prove to be an indispensable investigative tool at a reasonable price.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Sheriff Mike Williams, and State Attorney Melissa Nelson expressed hopes that local participation in the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) will help identify and target shooters for the purposes of prosecution and getting them off of the streets.

NIBIN is a national database of used bullets and shell casings that are either found at crime scenes or test-fired from confiscated weapons.

As Curry explained it, “when a gun fires a bullet, the casings have an imprint like a fingerprint.”

That imprint allows for pattern recognition for those investigating crimes.

State Attorney Nelson pointed out the unique utility of this “crime fighting tool,” which would be an asset to her team in the prosecution stage.

Saying NIBIN would “alleviate the heavy burden” on the state lab, which can take 12-18 months to return results, Nelson noted that results from NIBIN may be returned as soon as 24 to 48 hours.

There is, added Nelson, a “value in timeliness,” which allows authorities to “prioritize cases.”

“Every bullet, every casing, every gun tells a story,” said Nelson. “We often wait months for results. With this tool, we won’t have to do that any longer.

Sheriff Williams described the use of the database as a “force multiplier,” allowing local authorities to tap into a national database to enhance crime-fighting capabilities.

Williams noted that his department collaborates with multiple arms of federal law enforcement, including the ATF, the DEA, the FBI, and other units.

NIBIN would be one more facet of that collaboration.

“Our federal partners are all key,” Williams said, citing a “strong partnership” between local and national authorities on issues ranging from murders to transnational drug trafficking.

Curry is requesting an appropriation of $250,000 from the Jacksonville City Council for the program.

Meanwhile, Curry, Williams, and Nelson will embark on a fact finding trip early this year to Denver, Colorado, where this program is being used in what the mayor calls a “cutting edge” way.

Williams believes NIBIN is the missing piece that JSO needs for its investigations.

Meanwhile, Curry had a pointed message for those shooters and would-be shooters on Jacksonville’s streets.

“If you’re stupid enough to commit a crime in this city — especially a crime with a gun — this group of people is coming after you.”

Lenny Curry talks CFO, HRO, and pension deal

This week, the Jax Daily Record, via a News Service of Florida story, advanced in print a meme that local reporters had discussed on Twitter: Lenny Curry as CFO.

The Daily Record then moved the story forward, abetted by Atwater’s aide discouraging this outlet from asking him about the prospects of Curry as CFO on Monday when he was in town.

Atwater told the Daily Record that Curry “should be in the mix.” 

Curry’s political consultant, Brian Hughes, told the Daily Record what he told other media: Curry “is enjoying and 100 percent committed to being mayor of Jacksonville.”

With Curry having an interesting week of narrative (a tentative pension deal with public safety unions on Saturday, and a resolution of the HRO issue on Tuesday), would the mayor make news for a third time this week by officially throwing in for the CFO gig?

Or would he commit to serving his full term, taking him out of the discussion to replace Atwater, either as a gubernatorial appointment or as an active candidate in 2018?

Curry, as is his wont when asked such questions, refused to “deal in hypotheticals.”

“This rumor started — I assume it started because of the success that I’ve had — frankly, that my team has had — over the last year and a half. When we set goals, we strive to achieve them and we get them done.

Being in the CFO discussion, said Curry, is a “compliment not only to me but to my team.”

“I love this job and I plan on being Mayor of Jacksonville. I’ve got a lot of work to do,” Curry added.

When asked if he would definitively rule out an appointment to finish Atwater’s term, or a run for statewide office, the mayor avoided a firm commitment.

“I don’t deal in hypotheticals. I’m not pursuing anything. I haven’t talked to anyone. I’ve got a job here to do. I don’t deal in hypotheticals, but I’m the mayor of Jacksonville. I love this job and you’re going to continue to see big issues attacked, problems solved, and opportunities capitalized on in Jacksonville,” Curry said.

****

When asked about not signing the HRO into law, the mayor cited his position that he did “not believe that legislation was necessary” after signing his departmental directive in 2016 to protect LGBT city employees and city contractor employees from workplace discrimination.

“I still hold that view. But the city council is the legislative body. Last night, they took up the issue … and it got a supermajority vote. They demonstrated their will … Republicans and Democrats, council people from all over this city,” Curry continued.

“It’s law without my signature, and we’re moving on,” Curry said. “It’s closed. It’s over.”

Notable: the mayor spent the evening of Valentine’s Day eating fondue with his wife. While he saw part of the meeting, his viewing stopped when dinner was ready. However, his team was ready to move — and did.

****

Regarding the pension deal struck Saturday, Curry noted that his team knew it was a “one step at a time process.”

“The next steps are membership and city council,” the mayor said, billing the deal a “victory for taxpayers and a victory for public safety employees.”

It offers security, said Curry, regarding “the promises that were made” to public safety employees, while “[putting] our city on a future of financial stability versus the debt that was incurred long before we got here.”

Curry described his pension reform as unique, in that it’s the only reform advanced with a dedicated source of revenue (the promise of a future half-cent sales tax).

“It’s the only reform that solves this problem with finality,” Curry said, noting that “previous reforms … didn’t solve [that] problem” of revenue surfeit.

“The days of task forces on these issues and not solving big problems and big issues are over,” the mayor added.

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.

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