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Jake Godbold to Lenny Curry: ‘Take back the Landing’

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry made news this week with his call to take back the Jacksonville Landing.

Curry Tweeted Thursday that “The Jacksonville Landing is owned by the taxpayers of Jacksonville. Sleiman Enterprises leases the landing from the city … Taxpayers deserve better for their investment & their asset.”

This comes on the heels of Curry telling the Florida Times-Union editorial board that he’d already made “soft offers” to buy the buildings.

“I’m prepared to take the Landing… I’m prepared for the city to have it and to begin in a very public way determining what its best and highest use is,” Curry told the board. “We’ve got a plan internally to put the screws and keep pushing this.”

Curry has an ally: former Mayor Jake Godbold, who noted Thursday night that “we built the Landing” and he doesn’t “like it to think it was sold to some guy who built strip malls.”

“Take it back,” Godbold said. “Let’s do something about it.”

Some important people still in City Hall are more restrained about an immediate move to “take the Landing … put the screws and keep pushing this.”

Among them: Council President-Designate Anna Brosche, who takes over the top spot on the Council in six days.

“The Landing is a vital part to downtown’s redevelopment. I am interested in learning more about the Mayor’s plan,” Brosche said, “and also learning more from the Sleimans regarding their plans.”

It seems that an immediate call to action may get some resistance from the Legislative Branch, even if former Mayor Godbold believes that there is call to take immediate action to bring the 30 year old riverfront mall to its former glory, in one form or another.

Jay Fant touts endorsements from outside Northeast Florida

Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jay Fant scored some important endorsements via State House colleagues from outside his region Thursday.

Seven legislators were named as backing him in a press release from Fant’s campaign for Attorney General: Rep. Mike Miller of Orlando; Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs; Rep. Rene Plasencia of Titusville; Rep. Joe Gruters of Sarasota; Rep. Stan McClain of Belleview; Rep. Colleen Burton of Lakeland; and Rep. Julio Gonzalez of Venice.

Fant hasn’t seen Jacksonville politicians rush to endorse him as of yet, with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and others in a holding pattern.

“I’m honored to have earned the support of these colleagues in the Florida House,” said Fant. “I’ve worked alongside my fellow House members on legislation important to all Floridians, and I hope to continue working with them from the executive branch.”

“We have a vision for Florida consistent with our values,” Fant added, “that freedom comes first and that we have a duty to protect our citizens from too much government.”

These endorsements put wind behind the sails of the Fant campaign, as it prepares to dock at Jacksonville’s tony Florida Yacht Club for a Jun. 29 fundraiser.

U.S. opposes Corrine Brown acquittal motion

To the surprise of no sentient person, the United States doesn’t want to acquit Corrine Brown of her 18 guilty counts in her federal trial over the fraudulent One Door for Education charity.

“The thrust of the motion is that there was no direct evidence presented at trial of the defendant’s criminal intent. The defendant’s motion overlooks (and outright ignores) the extensive proof that the defendant intentionally participated in a three-year scheme to syphon cash from the coffers of the bogus charity One Door for Education,” the government’s memo, released Thursday, reads.

“The defendant fails to acknowledge that her subordinate and co-conspirator, Ronnie Simmons, testified that she directed him to give her cash that she raised for One Door for Education. The defendant also ignores compelling evidence that she knowingly and intentionally lied on her required financial disclosure forms and Form 1040 tax returns in an effort to conceal her systemic fraud,” the memo continues.

Much of the motion questions Brown’s credibility. For example: “Corrine Brown posits that Ronnie Simmons and Carla Wiley conspired and perpetrated such schemes – but she denies being a knowing participant.This argument ignores the bulk of the evidence presented at trial.”

The feds also maintain that Brown, purely by dint of the flow of monies in her direction, was proven to be “an intentional and culpable participant in the One Door for Education fraudulent scheme based solely on the extent of the benefits that she received. It defies logic to believe that Simmons would perpetrate the One Door for Education conspiracy with Wiley, and then provide the lion’s share of the benefits to his boss.”

Also defying logic: the idea that Brown didn’t know One Door was a hustle: “Donor testimony established that the defendant began fundraising for One Door, touting its charitable and educational focus. Corrine Brown did so in the absence of any information that One Door was issuing scholarships or otherwise doing good for disadvantaged children.”

As well, the memo throws some dirt on the China trip canard: “The defendant’s motion makes much of the fact that One Door funds were used to pay for students’ travel to China …  Prior to working on the China Trip, the defendant pocketed tens of thousands of dollars in One Door cash. By then, the defendant was well aware of her ability to raise large sums of money for One Door, and that she would be able to continue to steal money when donor money poured in to fund the China Trip – which is precisely what happened.”

Brown stole and tried to cover it up, the Feds maintain, including to Congress: “This evidence of streams of cash that went unreported on tax returns also serves to support the jury’s finding of guilt as to Count 19, which concerned Corrine Brown’s scheme to conceal these sources of income from the House of Representatives and the public.”

The memo also takes time to throw a jab at another politician with ethical challenges, Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, who substantiated fake contributions to his non-profit, via “near annual letters claiming that Brown gave tens of thousands of dollars by cash or check and in-kind contributions (none of which could be substantiated) to the CRC.”

CRC, or Community Rehabilitation Center, is currently being sued by an employee who claims she was fired for insisting upon state-mandated AIDS training when dealing with HIV-positive patients in the field. She never got that training, including after asking Gaffney to intercede.

 

 

Jax to Katrina Brown’s family business: Pay up and tack on the interest

The city of Jacksonville has a message for two shell corporations for which Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown is title manager.

Pay us the $210,549.99 you owe us.

And while you’re at it, tack on another $10,585.01 for interest, calculated back to June 2016, when the city of Jacksonville began to move toward litigation.

An amended motion for default was filed by the city with the Duval County Court on Jun. 20, with the city pressing two shell companies — “CoWealth LLC” and “Basic Products LLC” — for the interest on top of the originally-sought $210,549.99.

The disputed sum is a clawback provision in a 2011 economic development deal, as the BBQ sauce plant the Brown family was starting up was supposed to create 56 jobs in the economically-challenged Northwest side of Jacksonville.

However, after five years plus, the plant created exactly zero permanent jobs, 56 jobs short of the 56 job goal.

CoWealth originally borrowed $2.65 million from Biz Capital, in addition to $380,000 from the city of Jacksonville and $220,000 of grants, for the sauce plant. The city’s interest is subordinate to that of Biz Capital.

Despite the failure of the BBQ sauce plant, the fortunes of the companies’ title manager have only gotten more favorable.

Brown is a first-term Jacksonville City Councilwoman who will spend her second straight year ensconced on the Finance Committee, in which capacity she evaluates economic development deals that, in all likelihood, will work out better in terms of tangible goals than the BBQ sauce swamp in which millions of dollars of incentive money was sunk this decade.

Brown, who drives a Porsche SUV, had shown up last Monday morning at the Jacksonville City Council for an Ethics Meeting, at which point we attempted to ask her the status of this case.

“I continue to tell you no comment. You can ask me a thousand times and I would still say no comment,” Brown said.

Money troubles for Corrine Brown legal defense fund

Two weeks ago, Corrine Brown filed motions for a new trial and for acquittal after being found guilty of 18 counts in federal court.

While there has been no ruling on either motion, there is a suggestion that Brown may have a difficult time funding action even if she gets a positive result on her motions.

The Corrine Brown Legal Expense Trust Fund webpage indicates that, despite a willingness to accept donations of up to $5,000, the account is “0 percent funded.”

There is no indication on the webpage of what 100 percent funded would be, but the lack of traction is a strong indication that her supporters in bygone times have gone without saying bye.

For those who want a quid pro quo from Queen Corrine, there is also a merchandise shop with #AcquitCorrine paraphenalia.

Not pictured: home honey dripper kits, or Strawberry Bellini to make Brown’s erstwhil signature libation.

Lenny Curry clarifies – again – Paris Accord position

Weeks after issuing a Tweet that could reasonably be interpreted to support President Donald Trump‘s decision to break the Paris Accord, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry still fields questions on the subject.

Curry responded to a citizen email this week on the matter, elaborating on statements he made in a presser that was — before his Tweet — focused on the more quotidian topic of summer camp funding.

“As mayor,” Curry noted, “I do not take a specific position on the international Paris Climate Accord. President Trump campaigned on protecting American workers and our nation’s economic interests.”

“As mayor,” Curry added, “I support those goals, to create conditions that are conducive to good jobs and economic growth here in Jacksonville. When the president and his administration act in a way that is in the best interest of working Americans, I am supportive of that.”

Curry cited his administration’s stewardship of natural resources as “an important commitment I make to the future success of our city. That is why I have created budgets that will phase out septic tanks that threaten our river, reduce our energy consumption, and preserve green spaces.”

Curry closed with a capital-R Republican conclusion that would be at home in a Cato Institute web post.

“This commitment here in Jacksonville is made, and will continue, without interference from federal authorities and regardless of international agreements that burden U.S. taxpayers while other nations fail to meet the same standards we do here in our nation. Policies that harm the U.S. economy are not good for the environment, taxpayers, or our long-term success,” Curry concluded.

Curry’s emailed response follows up on his presser comments.

Curry, during a press conference Friday morning discussing summer camp funding, explained his Tweet, which he said “spoke for itself.”

“I didn’t take a specific position,” Curry said about the Paris Accord, saying his Tweet was a “general statement of support” for Trump’s actions.

Rather, Curry supports President Trump’s commitment to “American jobs.” But he did outline qualms with the agreement itself, including no obligation imposed on China until 2030, which means “13 years on the backs of American workers.”

And other European countries, Curry said, are seeing their emissions go up, even as American emission levels decrease.

The Paris Accord, Curry added, “has no teeth to it.”

St. Johns Riverkeeper rails against ‘deep dredge runaround’

The long-awaited dredging of the St. Johns River to 47 feet near JAXPORT delights most politicians, yet appalls the St. Johns Riverkeeper.

On Thursday, the Riverkeeper decried the “deep dredge runaround” of late from pro-dredging forces in the press.

The press release describes dredging advocates as “frustrated by the lack of funding support” for the project backed by port advocates, an interesting tack to take in light of $17.5M in federal money and support for the project from the state as well.

The frustration, the Riverkeeper says, resulted in a scaling down of the project from 13 to 11 miles.

The Riverkeeper also cites evidence of contravened transparency, including a lack of public hearing, a lack of local funding or a cost estimate meeting the Riverkeeper’s muster, no analysis of the new specs from the Army Corps of Engineers, and an ongoing lawsuit from the Riverkeeper.

Meanwhile, projections of jobs and other economic impacts are deemed to be overblown.

“We cannot afford to kick the can down the road and allow this potential boondoggle in the making to begin before it has been fully vetted,” states St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman in the press release. “We are putting our river at risk, before JAXPORT has demonstrated that the dredging is a wise investment and even necessary.”

Rinaman continues, “The Jacksonville City Council and Mayor Curry must provide an opportunity for a full evaluation of the project before the Deep Dredge is allowed to proceed.  They owe it to this community, our river, and future City Councils.”

Jay Fant slates Jacksonville yacht club fundraiser for late-June

On Jun. 29, Jacksonville’s Florida Yacht Club will be about more than yachts: the exclusive location will hold a fundraiser for one of Duval’s own sons as he mounts a statewide campaign for Attorney General.

State Rep. Jay Fant‘s event, which promises “fellowship” and an opportunity to “hear about the campaign,” runs from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. [Fant Fundraiser Invitation]

The biggest name on the host committee: former Jacksonville City Council President Greg Anderson, who may be double-booked that evening, as the installation of new officers for the Jacksonville City Council will be held at 6:00 p.m. Jun. 29 at the Times-Union Center.

Contributions are to be made at attendees’ “discretion.”

In May, Fant showed some fundraising momentum with the Northeast Florida donor class.

Fant emerged with $79,575 of new money; of that sum, $8,000 came from Fant, and $3,000 came from his political committee, “Pledge This Day,” which raised $9,000 in May.

A number of familiar names in Northeast Florida showed up on the contributor list: Tom PetwayJohn RoodJ.B. Coxwell, and the Fiorentino Group were among them.

Fant also enjoyed PAC support, with the Beer Distributors Committee, PETROPAC, and the Florida Bankers Association contributing.

Contributions mostly came from Northeast Florida.

Fant’s opponent, Ashley Moody, filed at the beginning of June, so she has no activity to show until July’s report.

Sources familiar with the thinking of one local power broker — Mayor Lenny Curry — suggest that the Mayor is piqued over remarks Fant made at a local Republican meeting, in which Fant suggested Curry could have “done more” to stop expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance in the city.

It will be interesting to see if Fant can mend that bridge, which we understand is necessary for Fant to consolidate the Northeast Florida donor class.

‘Evening with Jake Godbold’ in Jacksonville Thursday night

The best quote in Jacksonville politics will hold court Thursday evening on the Eastside.

Former Mayor Jake Godbold will appear at the Jacksonville Historical Society event, “An Evening with Mayor Jake,” from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. in what promises to be an unvarnished look into the glory days of post-Consolidation Jacksonville politics.

The event will be at Old St. Andrews on 317 A Philip Randolph Boulevard in Jacksonville’s historic Eastside.

Godbold served on the City Commission and then City Council as the city went through Consolidation a half-century ago, before replacing Hans Tanzler as Mayor in 1979.

____

Despite his advanced age, Godbold still has a role in public life.

The former Democratic Mayor was instrumental in marketing pension reform with current Mayor Lenny Curry, and his quotes were piquant.

Regarding the cause of the city’s pension debt, Godbold was blunt.

“It’s time to forget all of that,” Godbold said to media. “That’s a bunch of shit.”

It’s that bluntness, that piquant “old Jacksonville” turn of phrase, that makes Godbold’s remarks must-see for those who want to understand how the city works, from someone who was there since the beginning of the current governance structure.

Jax Council bad blood spills over into fractious Finance Committee meeting

After committee stops for the legislation that seemed, at times, like outtakes from an Edward Albee script with all the personal attacks, Councilman Bill Gulliford‘s bill to slot $1.5M into a 6 month pilot program to treat opioid addiction cleared its final committee Wednesday.

Less successful: Councilman Garrett Dennis’ bill to allocate $200,000 for swim lessons for underprivileged youth, despite it being the middle of summer, the end of the budget year, and no clear plan to deploy the funds.

He withdrew the measure, after acrimonious discussion.

In both cases, the road to outcome was rocky and showed further fissures on the council. As if more evidence were needed.

____

In the Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services committee, Garrett Dennis — who will be Finance Chair starting next month — mocked Gulliford through a hearing dominated by snarky invective on Dennis’ part. And in the Rules Committee, Danny Becton — the next Finance Vice-Chair, defeated in a 2011 election by Gulliford — likewise put Gulliford through the ringer.

Dennis’ bill had a similarly interesting track, with discussion in Rules becoming very heated, leading to Dennis questioning the motivations of certain critics.

The question going into Wednesday’s Finance meeting was whether or not the third committee would be more tranquil.

By the end of the agenda meeting, it was clear that the bad blood from previous days had gotten worse.

____

In agenda meeting, Councilman Reggie Brown brought up unanswered questions regarding Gulliford’s bill, saying that no rehab agency has been asked how they are addressing the problem, their goals, grant applications, and so on.

Brown asserted that federal money, via a state pass through, could be available.

“There’s no record that we’ve applied for any grants through Duval County,” Brown said, noting that Gov. Rick Scott is just a phone call away, and that Pres. Donald Trump has put forth a plan to deal with these issues.

Regarding Dennis’ bill, while “drowning is a real issue,” there should be no last-minute pressure on Parks to fulfill the ordinance.

“We should align ourselves with the state, align ourselves with the federal government,” Brown said.

Gulliford snapped back with a point of order, saying agenda meeting was not the venue for debate, but Brown wasn’t finished.

After agenda wrapped, Brown spoke to us, very animated about the failure of locals to pursue moneys and techniques already advanced in Washington and Tallahassee.

He noted that out of $27M in federal grant dollars for the opioid crisis, Jacksonville should be positioned to get one million at least — and the failure to do so was troubling, given that Trump came through on the federal end, but some would rather spend out of the general fund instead of pursuing the grants available.

____

With agenda meeting as heated as possible, the committee moved into the actual meat of the meeting.

A separate swim lesson bill, allocating $25,000 that had been earmarked last September in budget to swim lessons (with $10,000 of grant money) for roughly 1,500 youth, brought up heated discussion before passing without objection — an appetizer before the surf and turf special at the end of the meeting.

Councilman Matt Schellenberg peppered the Parks and Rec director with questions about how youth would be taught to swim, including questions about background checks and training for teachers.

Unlike with the Dennis bill, which was ad hoc in introduction, Parks and Rec Director Daryl Joseph actually has a plan and programming in place for the $35,000, he said.

Schellenberg said the classes were too big and the 45 minute lessons were too long.

“Break up the classes because you have seven people in there and they get antsies in their pantsies,” Schellenberg counseled.

Councilwoman Katrina Brown advised that the program could be scaled up with more money, such as the Dennis bill (which would serve 6,000 children) suggested.

However, said Parks and Rec director Daryl Joseph, there would not be staff to accommodate the expenditure.

Councilman Reggie Brown said the $10,000 grant component was a “drop in the bucket,” and the goal should be year-round instruction. Jacksonville CFO Mike Weinstein said there would be year-round swim instruction as a “major piece in the budget” this summer.

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Gulliford’s opioid treatment bill came up soon thereafter.

Gulliford noted the 51 percent increase in overdose deaths in Duval added up to two deaths a day — compared to four drowning deaths over the last year.

Transport costs: up $1.4M for rescue since 2014, with taxpayers bearing the burden for multiple ER trips for the same overdose patient even in the same day.

“Is there an emergency? You bet there is,” Gulliford said, exhausted from having to explain the bill for days against such personal resistance.

The program — a “unique” one — may be a new model, Gulliford said, and could be scalable to every emergency room in the city if it works (though with private-sector philanthropy).

It appears that St. Vincent’s Hospital would be the ER venue for the pilot, with UF Health declining the opportunity to be the ER — though UF Health would collect data.

____

Things got messy soon enough.

Councilman Brown asked about flakka, wondering how first responders knew the difference between a flakka overdose and a fentanyl overdose.

“I’m not familiar,” said a rep from JFRD.

Brown said that lack of familiarity indicated an absence of “true data” from responders, before asking the doctor supporting Gulliford’s bill.

The doctor supporting the bill (Dr. Raymond Pomm, medical director at Gateway Community Services and River Region Human Services) said “not much” usage of flakka was in Jacksonville; Brown countered that flakka was big in LaVilla.

Brown continued on this vein, asking how many grants have been applied to. The response was that grants weren’t available until recently, save $100,000 from the state.

Brown also pilloried the doctor for not asking for support from state legislators or DCF.

“There’s truly an emergency here. But I don’t think … we’ve applied all efforts,” Brown said, adding that those who don’t want help can’t be helped.

Councilman Garrett Dennis had questions about the funding source (collective bargaining contingency), before calling the UF Health CEO (Russ Armistead) to the stand to discuss the plan in which UF Health is listed.

Armistead noted UF Health’s support of the initiative, but that the safety-net hospital’s ER lacks capacity.

“We can’t do it alone,” Armistead said, “this is a capacity issue.”

Gulliford noted the $27M of federal money (“that some people are talking about like manna from heaven”) was dispersed to Lutheran Social Services on the state level, which has not been putting money in to programs like Jacksonville’s.

Dennis suggested scaling the program down to three months; Pomm urged that experts say six months should be the minimum.

“This drug is killing people today,” Pomm said, noting that “100 percent of the heroin use today [has] fentanyl in it.”

Gulliford, in wrapping, said he wouldn’t “beat this dead horse,” but reiterated the death of two people a day to this epidemic, adding that some may be committing suicide from these drugs.

“This stuff is so addictive that it’s not their choice anymore,” Gulliford said.

Councilman Brown wasn’t completely sold, deeming this a “crisis, not an emergency,” and saying that Gulliford is “wrong” about the $27M, while pointing out his belief that “false data” could result from the methodology of ER treatment at one hospital and data collection at another.

“You talk about slippery slopes,” Brown — a visitor to the committee — said using a Gulliford phrase.

The bill carried 5-1, with Katrina Brown as the no vote, saying that she wanted to be “consistent” with her voting process.

___

Dennis’ $200,000 allocation for Swim Lessons was next, and CFO Weinstein wanted it to drown.

“We’re opposed to the process, we’re opposed to the bill,” Weinstein said, saying the bill was a “surprise” to the mayor’s office and the process was “not the right way to do things.”

“People drown all the time doing goofy things,” added CM Schellenberg, casting doubts on the emergency and the plan to spend money, which could lead to a “tremendous amount of waste.”

Councilman Dennis had a reaction: a compare and contrast with Gulliford’s bill.

“The bills come from the same funding source; the administration found $2M of additional money … my bill will run 15 months, Councilman Gulliford’s bill was only 6 months … we don’t know the outcome [for Gulliford’s bill], but we do know the outcome of drowning prevention….”

Dennis also deemed Gulliford’s bill to “not be well thought out,” given the lack of stakeholder contact. And that outside money may not come in for opioid treatment, but would come in for drowning prevention.

“We’re so stuck in the process and do not want to help with the crisis,” Dennis lamented.

Councilman Anderson urged withdrawal, noting the previous swim lesson bill expands the program from last year, and the Mayor’s proposal would expand the program further.

Councilwoman Brown also balked, in light of the budget process in the mayor’s office, urging collaboration between Dennis and Mayor Lenny Curry to fine-tune the program.

Dennis wasn’t ready to pull the bill, saying saving lives is more important.

“The money is carryover,” Dennis said, “so the mayor doesn’t have to use that money July 17 when he brings out the budget … one less thing the administration needs to do.”

Dennis also said that a “slippery slope” would be created if the mayor had to approve of things “near and dear” to the hearts of council members.

Dennis proposed that his and Gulliford’s bill both be removed from emergency.

Gulliford gave Dennis an “absolute no.”

“I’ve been trying to find a way to support your bill,” Gulliford said, “but you keep throwing up roadblocks.”

“I don’t see the parallel between the two,” Gulliford added.

Dennis lost the battle. But as Finance Chair starting next month, he won the war.

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