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Mayor’s ‘Kids Hope’ board picks sail through Jacksonville City Council panel

Six November nominees to the Jacksonville Kids Hope Alliance board were up in committee Tuesday.

All of them sailed through with nary a no vote, putting them on the Consent Agenda at next week’s City Council meeting. Most of them were completely uncontroversial.

And the one who was controversial going in wasn’t controversial at all in the end, proving yet again that — in the case of Jacksonville City Hall — what Mayor Lenny Curry says pretty much goes.

Rebekah Davis, a former member of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission board of directors; Kevin Gay, a previous Jacksonville Journey board member; former Jacksonville Sheriff and current Edward Waters College President Nat Glover; Iraq War Bronze Star recipient Joe Peppers; and Tyra Tutor, an senior vice president at The Adecco Group North America.

The controversial (to some) choice: Marvin Wells, the first African-American graduate of the U.F. College of Dentistry. But not for reasons of qualifications.

Wells, who owns an oral surgery practice, lives outside of the Duval County limits.

The ordinance establishing the KHA as the replacement for the Jax Journey and the Jacksonville Children’s Commission required Duval County residency — one of a number of changes City Council negotiated with the administration.

And some Council members, such as Garrett Dennis, made it clear they weren’t happy. The ordinance, passed this fall, was intended to have a binding residency requirement.

They saw the out-of-county pick as an attempt to undermine Council authority and create a “test case” for future appointments that contravened the residency requirement.

Davis, Gay, Glover, Peppers, and Tutor moved through quickly, with convivial Q&As that reflected their unique skill sets.

Wells, a Raines High School graduate who grew up in the Northwest Quadrant, was a different matter, as he has lived outside the county for 11 years.

Councilors — committee members and otherwise — spoke up.

Council President Anna Brosche weighed in as a visitor to the committee, saying she has not decided yet on Wells, and will let her conscience drive her vote Tuesday.

Councilman Garrett Dennis — a frequent sparring partner of the Mayor’s Office, and a visitor to the committee –noted that Council members have to live in the area that they represent.

“We could find sharp, dedicated individuals … out of the 850,000 in the city,” Dennis said, noting that he’d pushed for the “permanent resident” requirement.

“I will not be able to support your appointment,” Dennis said, brandishing a list of dentists in Jacksonville who actually fulfill the residency requirement.

Dennis also worried that Wells was a “test case” for another nominee who lives outside the county.

Councilwoman Joyce Morgan likewise said the felt “uncomfortable with the Mayor’s Office throwing that at us right away to test” the residency requirement.

“We should never have had to have the debate about his residency at all,” Morgan said, depicting that this was “almost a situation of ‘who’s next’ … from St. Johns County.”

“Really, nobody else in Duval County can do this? Nobody?,” Morgan said. “I do not want to open the gate. I don’t think we need to go there. It’s just not necessary.”

Morgan went along with consensus in the end, of course.

Other Council members were eager to work around the residency requirement they voted into being.

Al Ferraro noted that a meeting with Wells overcame his objections to supporting someone who lives “out of town.”

“Talking to you, you talk softly … seem very sincere … with a moral drive,” Ferraro asserted. “Sometimes this place can be a snake pit where people try to get you to do things that you know are wrong.”

Katrina Brown said that, while Duval residency was a “big important key because we didn’t want to have a lot of people who lived outside the community … sometimes there are exceptions.”

“I’d hate to pass up on a person with your caliber of experience,” Brown said.

“He kind of reminds me of myself,” Brown said later in the discussion.

Councilman Reggie Brown told Wells that “the residency issue is bigger than you” and that he would support Wells.

“It was about paid employees,” Brown said, alluding to out-of-county hires during the John Peyton administration.

Councilmen Sam Newby and Scott Wilson likewise backed the Mayor’s pick.

And Wells, like the others, cleared the committee with nary a no vote.

As is so often the case when Mayor Lenny Curry proposes something to the Jacksonville City Council, they may grouse, but fall in line in the end.

No more room at the morgue: Crisis in Jacksonville

The opioid overdose crisis in Jacksonville has taxed city resources on a number of fronts, including those not visible to the public, such as the Medical Examiner’s office.

Numerous city hall conversations this year have spotlighted the pressures created by the unnatural and unbudgeted deaths of the overdose crisis.

WJXT reported on a cry for help email to the entire City Council from Medical Examiner Valerie Rao.

There is no room to perform autopsies, Rao wrote: “We have one body on the ground, which is not an ideal situation. Bodies cannot be autopsied because there are no trays and the bodies are on racks.”

Corpses are being turned away, Rao said.

Jacksonville City Council Finance Chair Garrett Dennis described the situation to us as “bodies piled on top of bodies” ahead of the meeting.

At the end of Rao’s testimony, Dennis suggested moving a new building up in the capital improvement plan, as he has been hearing from people who are outraged at the concept of a loved one’s body laying on the floor.

A new building, to replace the facility built in 1968, will be required down the road. The facility serves 1.6 million people in a five county area, including Duval, Clay, Nassau, Hamilton, and Columbia Counties.

The Finance Committee spoke to Rao on Tuesday, who delineated her concerns, in light of population growth, the drug crisis, and a continuing uptick on homicides.

There have been 2,698 decedent cases this year: up from 2,484 last year.

There were 589 drug cases last year, and Rao says her office is “way over” that pace this year.

“We have no space,” Rao said of the building with a capacity of 50, adding that the administration suggested a “mobile cooler facility.”

“I need a commitment that this is going to be a temporary measure. We need something permanent,” Rao said.

In the next two weeks, they will have an estimate for the cost of that facility, which will replace seven employee parking spaces at the Medical Examiner’s office. They expect to have specifics by early January.

Rao noted that Orlando has a brand-new building that cost $16 million.

“We’ve been asking for a new building for a while now,” Rao said, but she wanted to leave the details to the Lenny Curry administration.

“We need a lot of space. In terms of square footage,” Rao said, “I have no idea.”

Rao wants a “fast-track” solution, given that the population will continue to grow, and given the increase year over year in recent years.

Rao was elusive in terms of specific data, however, saying that she didn’t have the figures with her, and wanted to be “accurate and scientific.”

This lack of specifics irked Councilman Danny Becton, who pressed Rao to outline the case for a new facility in business needs, making projections about what is needed.

“I’m trying to get you as an administrator to understand we need more information to help you solve this problem,” Becton said.

Councilwoman Katrina Brown urged that Rao bring people who were capable of answering specific questions to the next Finance Committee meeting.

Other Council members — including Matt Schellenberg — noted that Rao has failed to offer specific needs and proposals, dating back even to the budget process in August.

Administration members say that a permanent facility build could take two years, and that the Orlando building was built in 2010, which means the $16 million may be a lowball estimate.

“The bigger issue at hand is the opioid crisis,” said one Curry administration member, which is driving the death increase that is taxing the facility.

The lack of room creates issues for medical examinations, including questions of DNA transferring from one body to another because of overcrowding; such close proximity could compromise exams and investigations.

“We have to be careful we don’t lose our accreditation,” Rao said, saying that substandard facilities could compromise that status, before amending her statement, saying that in her 38 years in the business, cross-contamination has never been an issue.

A Curry administration member noted that accreditation was not brought up in meetings between the ME and the Mayor’s Office.

Councilman Reggie Brown suggested “mobile morgue” trailers, such as those being used elsewhere.

“This would suffice in terms of our body count until we build a new facility,” Brown said, urging Council members to “back down on the whole panic” that frothed up in the discussion of this issue.

Councilman Becton also urged caution, saying the discussion of cross-contamination and the like “opened up a Pandora’s Box” that attorneys could exploit in challenging the Medical Examiner’s findings.

Jacksonville Young Democrats to host cocktail mixers with gubernatorial candidates

The Democratic race for Governor is beginning to heat up, and the Jacksonville Young Democrats are offering chances to meet with candidates via cocktail mixers in the coming months.

Democratic candidates thus far have largely concentrated their efforts south of I-4, but Jacksonville’s young Democrats are clearly looking to change that.

The “Cocktails with a Candidate” series kicks off Dec. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at downtown’s Zodiac Bar and Grill, with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who appeared already at a JYD event in February.

Gillum — a pre-candidate at that point — discussed what his campaign would do to reach out to minority voters and young voters, as part of what he called an “18 month view of engagement” that would mobilize voters.

2018 brings — at least tentatively — two of Gillum’s opponents.

Gwen Graham and Chris King are expected to be in Jacksonville talking to this group.

Duval Democrats turn to Lisa King as their next leader

A year after state Sen. Audrey Gibson was elected chair of the Duval County Democrats, the party chose a new chair Monday.

The two opponents: State Committeewoman Lisa King, who took criticism in recent days for being unwilling to pledge an immediate resignation of that post if elected Chair; and Hazel Gillis, current VP of the Duval Democrats’ Black Caucus.

In what was a spirited battle in a room packed with voting members — including elected officials and former electeds such as state Rep. Kim Daniels, Jacksonville City Council members Katrina BrownGarrett DennisReggie Brown and Reggie Gaffney, and former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown — King carried the vote 82-56.

But not until after each candidate made her pitch.

Gillis centered her pitch around inclusivity, stability, and “order,” saying that “with me, you will have a voice.”

King cited a “unique opportunity to do something that’s been hard in this part of America — to elect Democrats.” She also pledged a commitment to “robust fundraising” that includes small and large donors.

“We can’t win elections if we are spending our time fighting each other,” King said, noting that issues like a living wage and health care should be the real priorities of the party.

“No one person here knows how to win every election in Jacksonville,” King said. “We do better when we work together.”

King urged the party to “professionalize” its operation, and to that end, she would ensure activists had the necessary tools and training to maximize effort on the ground.

Both pledged not to use the chair as a platform to run for other elected offices — a question meaningful on the backdrop of Gibson leaving the chair when she moved into party leadership in the Senate.

And both pledged to help candidates throughout the city, with King urging a budget toward boosting the party’s social media budget.

King’s resignation pledge did not come up. Whatever controversy may have preceded the vote didn’t inform the debate.

Jax Council hopeful blames women’s ‘libidos’ for sexual harassment

Earl Testy, a Republican candidate in Jacksonville City Council District 14, took a provocative position on the current tsunami of sexual harassment charges Monday.

Testy took women to task, asserting “they have themselves and their libidos to blame for much of their own abuse by men.”

“Feminists have no more call to be proud of their abuse of sex than men do, albeit seemingly passive,” Testy asserted.

Testy equated the current spate of revelations with “Gay Pride logic.”

“Sin is sin,” Testy asserted, “regardless of male, female, homosexual or heterosexual orientation.”

Testy advanced his insights in reaction to an article on National Review Online by longtime conservative pundit Mona Charen, a woman who has never asserted that the female libido is “to blame.”

Florida Politics attempted to set up an interview with Testy earlier in November. He declined based on this writer’s “political worldview,” saying that he sought “no further contact” with this reporter.

However, Testy did offer a statement.

“If you like (Donald) Trump/(Mike) Pence and despise Kublai Khan, Get Very Testy for City Council District 14!”

The reference to Kublai Khan is not driven by an aversion to Romantic poetry; rather, it is a slam of Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan.

Testy has one Republican opponent in the District 14 race, Randy DeFoor.

DeFoor has raised over $77,000; Testy has yet to raise anything.

Corrine Brown lawyer: ‘This court does not have the last word’

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown was sentenced to five years in prison on Monday, along with three years of supervised release, $62,650 to the IRS, $452,000 of additional restitution and $664,000 of forfeiture.

But she shouldn’t be fitted for an orange jumpsuit just yet, according to Brown’s attorney, James Smith,.

“This court does not have the last word concerning the Congresswoman’s fate,” Smith told reporters in front of the federal courthouse in Jacksonville just minutes after the sentencing.

“I don’t think that a sentence of imprisonment was warranted under the circumstances,” Smith added, noting his disagreement with the “idea that a 71-year-old woman should have to go to prison for a non-violent economic offense.”

Smith said that while Brown “maintains her innocence … she expressed remorse for trusting the wrong people.”

An appeal is pending; however, whether Smith represents her has “yet to be decided.” Smith did address rumors that Brown has not been paying him by saying that he has, in fact, been paid through this process.

“If she says she wants me to represent her in appeal,” Smith added, “I’d be more than honored to.”

“The resources [for] an appeal,” Smith continued, “she’ll get them one way or another.”

Brown may be able to be out on bond pending appeal, Smith said, noting that there are “good grounds” on what he considers to be “appealable issues.”

Though Smith didn’t discuss such issues, one issue that factored into the actual trial phase was a removal of a juror who believed, against the consensus of the rest of those empaneled, that Brown was innocent. That belief was rooted in direct communication with God. Once that juror was removed, deliberations went quickly.

Smith said this sentence was on the “heavy side” of public corruption sentences, because of the dollar amount and the tax issues.

“The sentence of imprisonment was imposed to send a signal,” Smith said, not for specific deterrence regarding Brown.

Some counts, Smith added, could be thrown out on appeal — as happened in the case of William Jefferson, a former Louisiana Congressman convicted for soliciting payments to push African business interests in the U.S., as NOLA.com reported.

“One of the options on appeal is that this entire process could be thrown out on appeal — both the conviction and the sentencing,” Smith said.

Corrine Brown sentenced to 5 years in prison, will appeal sentence

The slogan of purported educational charity One Door for Education was “we make your educational dreams a reality.” On Monday, Corrine Brown and her co-conspirators in the years-long scheme got an education of her own about reality.

That reality: a future of incarceration and reimbursement of those defrauded over the course of years on their behalf.

After a legal ordeal lasting the better part of two years, Corrine Brown and her two co-conspirators in the One Door for Education case — former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons and the former CEO of the charity, Carla Wiley — faced sentencing Monday morning in a Jacksonville courthouse.

The sentencing essentially gave voice to the jury’s verdict, with Judge Timothy Corrigan noting that Brown’s comments were “reprehensible” at times, such as when she said the Pulse massacre happened because the FBI was too busy investigating her.

Brown got a sentence that reflected a spirit of “general deterrence,” a sentence “in the mainstream” of public corruption cases in recent years. In other words, the judge did not go easy on her.

“A sentence of probation for a member of Congress convicted of 18 counts would not be sufficient,” Corrigan said.

Brown got 60 months in prison, three years of supervised release, $62,650 to the IRS, and $452,000 of additional restitution, and $664,000 of forfeiture.

Brown will appeal, though attorney James Smith has yet to determine if he will see that appeal through.

Simmons and Wiley, meanwhile, got lesser sentences.

Wiley got 21 months in prison, three years of supervised release, $452,515 in restitution is owed also, along with a $654,000 forfeiture judgment.

Simmons, meanwhile, got 48 months in prison, three years of supervised release, $452,000 of restitution and an additional $91,000 to the House of Representatives for pay for a phony employee of Brown’s staff. An additional $721,000 of forfeiture is due.

Brown, Simmons and Wiley have 14 days to appeal, and will be allowed to voluntarily surrender to the Bureau of Prisons no earlier than Jan. 8 2018.


Brown was found guilty earlier this year, her protestations of innocence notwithstanding, of a laundry list of 18 charges: among them, conspiracy to defraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, tax fraud, and fraudulent financial disclosures.

She has never admitted guilt, except for saying she trusted without “verifying,” in a November plea for “mercy and compassion.”

Judge Timothy Corrigan spent the better part of three weeks evaluating the proper sentence for Brown, Simmons, and Wiley; he noted that he received “hundreds of letters” on Brown’s behalf before and after the November sentencing hearing, and lauded Brown’s defense for making “good arguments on Brown’s behalf.”

That said, Corrigan did not downplay the nature of the “shameless fraud” committed by the One Door 3, nor the gravity of “lining the pockets” of the co-conspirators with over $833,000 in misbegotten funds between 2012 and 2015.

$330,000 went to events held in Brown’s honor, Corrigan said, events that had “nothing to do” with One Door or charity for children. $93,000+ went to ATM withdrawals, and other monies were dispersed to Brown and her co-conspirators, Corrigan noted, for pleasure trips and incidental expenses.

“The public had a right to expect,” Judge Corrigan said, that Brown and Simmons would not “abuse their positions of public trust and responsibility … this was a crime borne of entitlement and greed … bad business.”

Corrigan also noted that none of the donors — millionaires and billionaires — were “ruined” by their donations, adding that many of them were effectively transactional and driven by “mixed motives.”

Brown was dinged for “abuse of position of trust,” which facilitated victims placing a “special trust” in the defendant.

“Brown traded on her status as a member of Congress to facilitate donations to One Door,” Corrigan said.

As well, “obstruction of justice” did not apply to Brown, per Corrigan’s calculation. Despite there being “incredible … untruthful testimony” that was “hedging, non-committal, off-topic,” that didn’t amount to perjury.

That was the sole bit of good news, as Corrigan said that “brazen doesn’t begin to describe” the scheme.

Sentencing looms for Corrine Brown, but will justice be served?

Sentencing looms Monday morning for Corrine Brown and her two co-conspirators in the One Door for Education case.

Brown, her former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons and the former CEO of the charity, Carla Wiley, almost certainly face prison time and restitution.

Brown is looking at $1,179,459.25 in restitution and fines; she also could face up to nine years in prison, although prosecutors were willing to settle for five during her sentencing hearing last month.

The feds are willing to give Wiley as few as 21 months and $452,515.87 in restitution/fines, and Simmons as few as 33 months and $544,137.25 in restitution/fines; both sentences were granted a sentence reduction due to “substantial assistance” in the case against the former U.S. Representative.

Of course, prison time isn’t actually required in this case. Judge Timothy Corrigan will ultimately make the decision, having mulled it over since the mid-November sentencing hearings.

Assuming that Brown (and Simmons and Wiley) get prison time and get put on the hook for restitution, it’s pretty easy to anticipate what comes next.

Many of the same folks who have flooded comment threads with “lock her up” messages will flood the block again with memes, perhaps even with clever wordplay about “Chlorine Brown” or “Go Gata,” or maybe an iconic meme (Kermit the Frog sipping tea?).

And for what? The prospect of a 70+ year old woman, one who has trouble climbing stairs, one who clearly is of diminished mental and physical capacity, going to prison.

People yearn for the ritual destruction. There are those reading this who have imagined Brown in an orange jumpsuit so much that it qualifies as a fetish.

That says more about the critics than it does about Brown.

There has always been a certain air of corruption around the Brown operation.

Consider the Lexus that an “associate” of a West African millionaire bought her daughter in 1998, after Brown lobbied Attorney General Janet Reno to keep him out of prison. The House Ethics Committee found no evidence of explicit wrongdoing, yet contended that the gift “created substantial concerns regarding both the appearance of impropriety and the reputation of the House of Representatives.”

The car was sold once the media took interest in the matter.

Consider the case of her travel agency. In the early 1990s, Brown’s State House employees double dipped working at Brown’s travel agency. It may or may not have been on state time.

The Orlando Sentinel quoted the settlement: Brown ”recognizes that she should have been more diligent in the handling of the business affairs of her travel agency and regrets any inadvertent violation of the law that may have resulted.”

These matters skirted the boundary line between apparent impropriety and legal culpability.

The current case, according to a jury of Brown’s peers, crossed that line.

Brown, during her hearing last month, made the case for “mercy and compassion.” And — as was the case when she got dinged for travel agency issues — castigated herself for “trusting without verifying.”

“I have always strived to protect my name and my reputation … I never would have put anyone intentionally in this situation,” Brown added, saying that “these charges … run contrary to everything I am and everything I’ve done in my life.”

Is that for real? If it’s not for real, is it real to Brown?

While the supporters of Brown that assembled for TV cameras during the trial were a rather motley lot (including some paid supporters), the reality is that there are very important people in the Jacksonville political sphere who believe that Brown is not guilty.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, who will lead the Senate Democrats after the 2018 elections, said Brown “says she is innocent and that is that!”

Former Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney — who was a defense witness at the trial, and who has spoken positively of her throughout this process — observed last week that “The swift and complete condemnation came before the facts were even understood. And to be honest, to this minute I don’t think she was guilty—I really don’t think she knew.”

Delaney believes that, in terms of the charges, Brown is innocent.

Want to dismiss him? Good luck.

Delaney, currently the president of the University of North Florida, was once Jacksonville’s general counsel. Before that he was an assistant state attorney, where he handled plenty of prosecutions.

Did Brown know what she was doing? Or what was being done in her name?

During the one-woman show that was her defense during the trial, Brown asserted that prosecutors were “trying to destroy [her] life,” by continually contending that she knew that money was being taken from donors, that her tax returns had fraudulent omissions and additions, and that she was the mastermind of the scheme.

She couldn’t convince anyone in the courtroom otherwise. At least, anyone but those who came in convinced that she wasn’t guilty, and that the whole sorry affair was a frame job.

Monday brings a resolution of sorts. We will learn Brown’s final sentence.

But will that sentence be justice in the real sense?

Residency not an issue in Rose Conry bid for Jax City Council

There are fifteen months until the election, yet mud has already begun to fly in a Jacksonville City Council race.

In Council District 6, where Republicans Michael Boylan and Rose Conry are vying to replace termed-out Republican Matt Schellenberg, questions have emerged about Conry’s recent move to Mandarin.

While that is technically true, a spokesman for the Conry campaign explained the very real caveats.

She had moved from Jacksonville to Orange Park to care for her dying mother, the spokesman said, and she moved back to Mandarin several months ago, after helping her mother through her final days.

Conry is and has been a JaxChamber board member throughout the whole period and also has maintained her StaffTime business.

Worth noting: the narrative emerged not from a supporter of Boylan, who filed his papers this week, but from a Republican with connections to the district.

This is the first — but definitely not the last — bit of narrative that will emerge about this race.

Expect that Boylan’s tenure at WJCT, where he has served as president and CEO for years, will come under scrutiny before it’s all over.

Also expect that at least one other serious Republican candidate will run for this seat.

Conry, who filed in October, had $18,675 cash on hand on the most recent campaign finance report.

Boylan’s first report will be available in December.

Lisa King will resign FDP committeewoman post if elected Duval Dems chair

A bit of late-breaking controversy has emerged between Hazel Gillis and Lisa King in the race for Duval Democratic Party Chairwoman.

Some members of the local party have raised issue with King running for the chair while serving as a committeewoman in the Florida Democratic Party.

Florida Politics talked to King about it Friday, and she says that if she is elected chair on Monday evening, she will resign the state post — but not immediately.

She doesn’t have to resign at all, she notes; bylaws permit serving in both roles, and that happens elsewhere in the state.

But she has a salient reason to stay as committeewoman for a couple of months, she says.

“I feel a responsibility to get through the new state party chair’s first meeting,” King said, to “ensure the issue of sexual harassment is addressed.”

“I want an opportunity to be there and say my piece,” King said, describing herself as a “leader of the conversation” on the issue of sexual harassment, which she wants to “bring in for a landing.”

King doesn’t expect the issue, which she sees as “more important than personal political considerations,” to be addressed at the Dec. vote.

Stephen Bittel left the chair of the Florida Democratic Party after multiple allegations of being  “creepy” and “demeaning” toward women in the workplace. King ran unsuccessfully against Bittel for that position, and she was motivated to run in part because Bittel’s reputation preceded him.

The state party chair election is Dec. 9, and the first meeting under new leadership is in February.

King “doubts” she would stay after the first meeting of the state party under that new chair, as there would be “so much work as [county] chair” that she would have “no time to serve in both roles.”

King isn’t worried about the dual roles she would have, if elected chair, through at least February. She notes that the “major funders in Jacksonville were also funders in [her] state party race.”

If King loses the chair vote Monday, and Gillis wins, King will stay on as committeewoman.

King and Gillis are running in a special election because Sen. Audrey Gibson resigned the chair, after being chosen as Leader Designate of the Senate Democrat Caucus.

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