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Inconsistencies plague Reggie Gaffney’s response to whistleblower lawsuit

On Tuesday, Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney addressed a whistleblower lawsuit regarding his non-profit.

The whistleblower alleged that Gaffney’s Community Rehabilitation Center failed to properly train her when she was re-assigned to deal with HIV-positive people.

Then, when she sought recourse, she alleged to have been rebuffed — including by Gaffney, the executive director of the non-profit.

Allegedly, she was told that Gaffney would tell anyone anything just to get them out of his face before her employment was terminated.

Gaffney addressed the claim Tuesday, saying that he was too busy conducting city business to monitor the non-profit closely.

“The last two years, I spent my time being a City Councilman,” Gaffney related, “and that’s why you hire staff to run the day to day.”

However, a review of CRC’s tax returns reveals that Gaffney — at least according to the documentation — held down a more than full-time job with the non-profit, which suggests he had time for oversight befitting his title of Executive Director.

As Executive Director from the period ranging from July 2015 through June 2016, Gaffney pulled down a $90,000 a year salary from the non-profit for working 50 hours a week, according to a tax filing he signed in Nov. 2016.

The tax filing also asserted that part of the mission of CRC was to provide “HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs,” curious given that the whistleblower lawsuit asserted that CRC had insufficient training to deal with that population, especially given the combination of HIV positivity and mental health challenges among the population served.

When we asked Gaffney about these seeming discrepancies on Tuesday afternoon, specifically how it was that he was able to spend his “time being a City Councilman,” while pulling down $90,000 a year for a 50 hour work week, Gaffney offered a “no comment” before asserting that he works “80 hours a week, 7 days a week.”

Responsibility for training, he said, rested with his HR person and his staff.

“I do know this: last 24 years, I probably hired 500 or 600 [staffers], and we’ve trained them all the same,” Gaffney said earlier on Tuesday.

Is Gaffney accountable for the training or not? That’s the salient question.

____

The alleged failure to train and the alleged insufficiency of training are at the heart of the whistleblower action from former CRC employee Darlene Peoples.

The trainer, alleges Peoples, no-showed the meeting. When Peoples told Human Resources, she allegedly was served up a cryptic response: “Emergencies happen.”

The training was scuttled – including training in AIDS education, via the state-mandated Ryan White program. The employee Peoples was assigned to shadow for two weeks in lieu of training also hadn’t been trained in this pivotal program. Allegedly.

The most Peoples learned from this employee? Billing procedures, asserts the filing. And even regarding how to bill, Peoples alleges that a key component – DCF’s “Functional Assessment Ratings Scales” – was not provided. So, allegedly, CRC got that wrong too.

“Given the mental health conditions of her [HIV-positive] patients,” the filing alleges, the “lack of risk management training from the Defendant was especially concerning and posed an acute threat to patients and herself.”

Despite her alleged objections to this, Peoples alleges that other efforts toward training were unfulfilled and frustrated, culminating in an alleged Aug. 2016 assertion by another CRC employee that “we don’t have a training manual for Ryan White mental health counselors.”

As slipshod as Peoples alleges the training was, the grievance process went no better, as she alleges she was thwarted when seeking the grievance policy.

And a conversation with Gaffney was unproductive, allegedly.

Peoples said she felt unsafe. Gaffney said he would look into it. Nothing happened from there, save another CRC employee telling her that “People need to follow the chain of command. Mr. Gaffney will tell you anything to get you out of his face.”

Soon thereafter, Peoples was terminated.

Peoples asserts that OSHA guarantees her a safe workplace – and that standard was not met, willfully, by the Councilman’s non-profit.

The uncivil war: How Jacksonville City Council committees got ugly this week

The real story in Jacksonville’s City Council on this committee week goes deeper than the bills under consideration, extending to a radical shift coming in both committee leadership and how business will be conducted.

On Monday, Council President-Designate Anna Brosche announced her new committees starting after this legislative cycle.

The next Finance Chair, Garrett Dennis, had some interesting remarks that same morning in a committee regarding a bill he sponsored, to move $200,000 from general fund monies for swimming lessons.

Dennis kept jabbing at Councilman Bill Gulliford, a veteran Republican who will not be on any standing committees starting in July, saying that as the “student”, Dennis “learned so much” from Gulliford, the teacher.

The changing fortunes of Dennis and Gulliford animated the normally drowsy committee, with Dennis clearly exulting in being in control of the most important committee on Council, while Gulliford will be left out in the cold.

Dennis’ bill got through committee on Monday, and made it to Rules Tuesday afternoon — where a Gulliford bill to earmark $1.5M for opioid treatment also had its second committee stop.

The Dennis/Gulliford show looked poised to dominate committee business on Tuesday going in. However, the conflict went deeper than just those two principals, exposing fissures on the City Council of the sort that have not been seen in years.

Gulliford noted that Dennis would be “excited” about funding coming from a different source than council reserve, and noted that Dennis’ own bill for swimming lessons would come from the same source, so “it’s a win/win.”

Questions emerged as to why the program wasn’t just held over to be part of the budget, but Gulliford noted that the urgency is now and the magnitude of the program is enormous.

The discussion stayed focused and subject-matter oriented for the most part, with deep dives from various panel members about the specifics of the program.

For the most part.

Chatter got chippy at the end, courtesy of Finance Vice Chair in waiting Danny Becton, who referred to the opioid program as “taking dollars and throwing them out at something that is not clearly defined.”

“We’re supposed to just say yes to the bill sponsor, but two weeks ago I was getting schooled [by him] … on doing this through the budget process,” Becton said, referring to his bill putting 15 percent of future budget increases into pension relief that got torched in Finance a fortnight ago.

Becton’s bill was re-referred and deferred until July, when he will be in a better position to get it through committees, despite strenuous opposition from Mayor Lenny Curry.

Gulliford was stunned by Becton’s comments, in light of the gravity and the depth of the overdose crisis, which brings “five times as much [death] as homicides.”

“Becton’s response to this of not being an emergency,” Gulliford said, was ironic given that Becton’s own district contains the Zip Code with the sixth highest rate of overdoses.

Rules Chair Dennis, meanwhile, expressed concerns.

“Are we tracking the source? Once we bring the individual back from the doorstep of death, we need to ask where the drugs are coming from,” Dennis asserted, noting that the Sheriff’s Office needs to be included in this effort.

Gulliford noted that Chinese fentanyl can be bought online, and of course, fentanyl and its derivatives are the death driver.

“I don’t think we can stop the flow when you can buy it over the internet and it gets mailed to you,” Gulliford said.

The bill passed, but not without Becton echoing Dennis yesterday, in making it clear to Gulliford that he and others would be positioned to drive the Council agenda going forward.

Dennis’ swim lessons bill was brought up at the end of the agenda, and questions emerged about the program — which Parks and Recreation would manage.

When asked how parents would find out about this program, which wouldn’t be funded until at least late June, Dennis noted that funding would allow reaching more kids and extending swim season past Labor Day.

“It does us no good if nobody signs up for it,” Greg Anderson remarked.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri (like Gulliford, left out in the cold for the next Council year during the purge of those who supported John Crescimbeni for President) questioned the timing of doing this at the end of a fiscal year as an emergency measure.

“We’re going into general revenue dollars,” Hazouri remarked. “We’re waiting until the last minute to come up with something. I can’t support this. I don’t like the fact that we’re coming up with dollars that exist because of leftover money … as much as we love kids, I’d like to see a plan … This gets old after a while.”

CFO Mike Weinstein said flatly that “we don’t have a plan” and until there is a plan, there would be no way to spend the money.

“The councilman may have a plan,” Weinstein remarked.

Councilman Scott Wilson — another Crescimbeni supporter in the Presidential race — also questioned the logistics of the bill.

“Are we able to put $200,000 in the street and make it work? I guess no one here has any answers,” Wilson remarked.

Dennis, bristling at the questions, called drowning an “epidemic,” saying that he’s “disappointed that we’re going down the road of turning our back on kids.”

“You said it was an epidemic? If it was an epidemic, it was six months ago. If you don’t have a plan,” Hazouri said, “I don’t want to continue to fund-fund-fund at the last minute, piling on with new programs and pilot programs because it’s the last day of school.”

Dennis also suggested that there was “interesting” commentary from budget night regarding his budget proposal.

“I hope it’s for the merit and not for the person that’s introducing the bill,” the next Finance chair said about his critics.

Wilson, meanwhile, was “offended” by the implication that criticism was personal rather than policy driven. And Dennis apologized.

But after two days straight of personal attacks on Council members, the damage was done by the Rules Chair, who jabbed at Hazouri once more before adjournment.

“Maybe one day you’ll become chairman,” Dennis said to his fellow Democrat.

For Hazouri and other veterans, who will be sidelined during such as the budget process in August, these are interesting times in City Hall.

For those who are now newly installed in positions of leadership, the story to watch will be how well they handle their new prerogatives and prestige, and whether or not they will function amicably with those on the outside looking in.

If they can’t work it out, it’s going to be interesting coverage — yet questionable policy.

Mayor Lenny Curry‘s team ultimately is in charge of executing contracts. And the Mayor ultimately has the veto. If there are gaps between the will of the Council and the philosophy of the Executive Branch, who wins that fight?

Stay tuned.

Jax City Council again mulls removing two-term limit

Term limits were imposed by voter plebiscite on the Jacksonville City Council decades back, yet Councilman Matt Schellenberg believes that institutional knowledge outweighs voter predilection.

To that end, he introduced — for the second time in just over a year — legislation to repeal two-term limits.

This would be for councilors, School Board members, and Constitutional officers — except for the Mayor.

The legislation cleared committees last February, but was pulled, as the referendum would have competed with the pension reform referendum on the August ballot, and the Best Bet slots referendum on the November ballot.

With those referendums in the rear view mirror, it’s all clear to bring back the bill.

The sub proposes three four-year terms, rather than the abolishment of term limits.

“In four years, do we change it to four, maybe,” Council VP John Crescimbeni quipped.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri wanted an amendment to exempt current office holders, and vowed to introduce it at a time of his choosing.

Councilman Greg Anderson said he’d vote in favor of the sub, but not in favor of the bill.

“We owe [Schellenberg] the opportunity to make his case,” Anderson said.

The committee moved the substitute version of the legislation for re-referral.

Reggie Gaffney disclaims responsibility for non-profit’s alleged training and HR failures

Community Rehabilitation Center – the non-profit of Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney best known for its cameo appearances in the Corrine Brown trial and a Medicaid overbilling scandal – is back in the news.

The subject this time: a late-May whistleblower lawsuit in Florida’s 4th Circuit, filed by an employee who alleges that she was “unlawfully terminated” by the non-profit … after she was allegedly exposed to risk from HIV-positive clients without proper training and licensure. [Complaint against CRC].

We caught up with Gaffney Tuesday, and he noted that he was too busy with Council business the last couple of years to be held responsible.

“The last two years, I spent my time being a City Councilman,” Gaffney related, “and that’s why you hire staff to run the day to day.”

“We’ll see where it goes from here. I do know this: last 24 years, I probably hired 500 or 600 [staffers], and we’ve trained them all the same,” Gaffney said — an interesting revelation, if indeed the whistleblower’s allegations are found to have merit, with regard to not being trained to deal with HIV-positive patients.

“I don’t know the specifics,” Gaffney added, “I want to believe that my management staff knew what they [were] doing.”

One allegation the complainant made had to do with Gaffney specifically — a claim that Gaffney would “say anything to you to get you out of his face.”

Gaffney was “disturbed … that any person would say that. But I haven’t yet began to look into that,” the Councilman said of the suit filed nearly a month ago, “because I’ve been so focused on city business.”

Gaffney doesn’t expect CRC to settle, saying “there’s no merit to settle,” and he will trust his staff and the decisions they made.

____

Backstory on the filing, in exhaustive detail, below:

The plaintiff, Darlene Peoples, worked for CRC from 2013 to Sept. 2016. Most of her tenure was unremarkable – until the end.

In Jun. 2016, Peoples was “inexplicably” re-assigned to be a “mental health counselor” from her previous position, “substance abuse counselor,” in a move the filing describes as “ill-advised.”

There was a problem with that re-assignment: Peoples allegedly wasn’t trained in this position, which requires licensure and training according to Florida Statute.

No license? No matter, Peoples asserts. Despite her concerns about not being licensed, and other “safety concerns,” the tenured employee was put in a position for which she was not ready. Allegedly.

Meanwhile, Peoples alleges that her replacement as a substance abuse counselor “had no experience in substance abuse counseling, and frequently expressed how overwhelmed and unqualified she felt in her new position.”

Weeks after the re-assignment, CRC set up an appointment to train Peoples in the job to which she was assigned. The trainer, alleges Peoples, no-showed the meeting. When Peoples told Human Resources, she allegedly was served up a cryptic response: “Emergencies happen.”

The training was scuttled – including training in AIDS education, via the state-mandated Ryan White program. The employee Peoples was assigned to shadow for two weeks in lieu of training also hadn’t been trained in this pivotal program. Allegedly.

The most Peoples learned from this employee? Billing procedures, asserts the filing. And even regarding how to bill, Peoples alleges that a key component – DCF’s “Functional Assessment Ratings Scales” – was not provided. So, allegedly, CRC got that wrong too.

“Given the mental health conditions of her [HIV-positive] patients,” the filing alleges, the “lack of risk management training from the Defendant was especially concerning and posed an acute threat to patients and herself.”

Despite her alleged objections to this, Peoples alleges that other efforts toward training were unfulfilled and frustrated, culminating in an alleged Aug. 2016 assertion by another CRC employee that “we don’t have a training manual for Ryan White mental health counselors.”

As slipshod as Peoples alleges the training was, the grievance process went no better, as she alleges she was thwarted when seeking the grievance policy.

And a conversation with Reggie Gaffney, the regional director of CRC, went no better – allegedly.

Peoples said she felt unsafe. Gaffney said he would look into it. Nothing happened from there, save another CRC employee telling her that “People need to follow the chain of command. Mr. Gaffney will tell you anything to get you out of his face.”

Soon thereafter, Peoples was terminated, allegedly for a “bigoted” attitude toward HIV-positive people. This, alleges Peoples, despite the fact that she had worked with HIV-positive inmates for six years as a correctional officer with no incident.

Peoples asserts that OSHA guarantees her a safe workplace – and that standard was not met, willfully, by the Councilman’s non-profit.

____

Councilman Gaffney’s brief career in political life has been characterized by an unusual amount of aspersions cast on his ethics.

On the campaign trail in 2015, Gaffney was hammered by a political opponent in a debate for Medicaid overbilling.

“He was charged with overbilling, worked that deal, and that’s how he stayed out of jail,” the opponent asserted.

It was left to Gaffney’s consultant, disgraced and currently incarcerated Brunswick preacher Ken Adkins, to make peace, walking Gaffney to his car.

As he and Adkins beat a hasty retreat, Gaffney issued a public prayer: “Father, I ask you to remove Satan from this room.”

____

Gaffney was expected to be a witness in the trial of his former political mentor, Corrine Brown, especially after documentation surfaced that money moved from one CRC subsidiary to Brown’s bank account, and after a pattern was established by the state that Brown issued dummy donations to non-profits.

Gaffney asserted that Brown was doing the “right thing with my money” – an interesting syntactical choice, given that the money was that of the non-profit. And Brown apparently donated to CRC over the years.

Brown’s attorney, James W. Smith III, was concerned by Gaffney’s statements (reported Action News Jax’s Jenna Bourne), yet ultimately chose to file new trial and acquittal motions based on other factors besides Gaffney’s credibility and ability to deliver on the stand.

In fact, the motion for a new trial was predicated almost exclusively on whether or not a juror could be removed for being guided in deliberations by “the Holy Spirit.”

____

Gaffney has told this reporter on numerous occasions that he intends to run for re-election in 2019. He faces, thus far, three opponents — though none have traction with donors as of yet.

John Rutherford: ‘Not concerned’ about Russian collusion with Donald Trump campaign

On Tuesday in Jacksonville, U.S. Rep. John Rutherford — an ally of President Donald Trump — discussed the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the parallel investigations of the Trump Administration.

“I want them to look at Russia’s attempt to interject themselves into our election process through cyberactivity and all that,” Rutherford said, “but I don’t see any collusion, I don’t think they’re going to find any collusion. It’s been almost six months now.”

“If they were going to find collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, I think it would have already been uncovered. So I’m not concerned at all about that. And I’m also not concerned about this idea that somehow … whatever the conversation was with [former FBI Director James] Comey, obstruction of justice,” Rutherford said.

Rutherford believes that much of the maelstrom around this story is politically motivated.

“Not the investigation that’s dealing with the cyberattack. Obviously, that occurred; we know it occurred; we know it’s been occurring. In fact,” said Rutherford, “we have to address not only the Russian hacking and others — China, others — who hacked not only our voting system but also our electrical grids and all sorts of attacks we’re experiencing.”

Rutherford, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, does not expect that panel to take up any of this in the foreseeable future.

“The Intelligence Oversight Committee in the House and the Senate,” Rutherford said, “is doing their job.”

And, contrary to the disquiet some feel about President Trump’s Tweets, Rutherford sees them as a way of communicating with “his constituents.”

“It’s not for me to advise the President … whatever his strategy is is his strategy,” Rutherford said. “I’m not going to give the President advice on how to Tweet.”

Ground broken on JTA Regional Transportation Center

Tuesday saw a big project for Jacksonville’s transportation future break ground: JTA’s Regional Transportation Center.

The JTA center, to be constructed in Jacksonville’s historic LaVilla neighborhood, will accommodate Greyhound, Uber, Megabus, the Skyway, First Coast Flyer and other modes of travel, in what is designed to be a regional focus.

Greyhound will go online in January 2018; construction of the whole 50,000 square foot center will be complete by the fall of 2019, a process abetted by JTA having “$33 million in pocket” for the work on the $50M project, one that is expected to turn LaVilla into a “live, work, and play” center for this part of town.

For local and regional politicians alike who were on hand, the center represents a significant capital and cultural achievement.

Rep. John Rutherford waxed nostalgic about picking up his aunt from Nebraska at the Amtrak station in what is the current Prime Osborn Convention Center in the “50s and 60s,” before noting that the completed center will be an “observable testament” of local, state, and federal collaboration.

State Sen. Audrey Gibson noted that she sponsored a state bill creating the RTC concept, and lauded JTA stakeholders for “picking up the mantel of regionalization.”

Jacksonville City Council VP John Crescimbeni observed that the RTC was a topic of conversation in City Council “since the early ’90s,” noting that other major cities have had facilities like this for some time.”

And District 7 Councilman Reggie Gaffney lauded the jobs created in his district by the project.

All in all, it was a moment in which local, state, and federal politicians could celebrate wins.

Also on hand: State Reps. Tracie DavisKim Daniels, and Jason Fischer.

Hard choices loom for Lenny Curry’s staff in Jax capital budget

Just months ago, Jacksonville passed its pension reform package, which will give the city approximately $150M of budget relief from costs of its unfunded pension liability in terms of next year’s budget.

While raises for city workers, to be phased in over the next three fiscal years, will consume a lot of that relief, rest assured that everyone in City Hall has a wishlist.

More employees. New equipment. Other incidentals.

That has been one challenge during the budget process for the city’s Chief Administrative Officer (Sam Mousa) and Chief Financial Officer (Mike Weinstein).

A new challenge manifested on Monday, meanwhile, with the selection of the new City Council Finance Committee — a departure from virtually every year, one in which Jacksonville Democrats from the perpetually neglected Districts 7 through 10 will have the numbers to carry every vote.

Of course, Finance can vote to appropriate whatever; the Mayor’s Office executes contracts, and that will serve as a check against any potential profligacy. Arguably a necessary check, given pressures like $26M of city spending in the wake of Hurricane Matthew that has yet to receive FEMA reimbursement.

In this context, Tuesday’s run through of the 5 year Capital Improvement Program was conducted (see last year’s here).

Mayor Lenny Curry will be challenged by Council this term to deliver on his “One City, One Jacksonville” vision, and that challenge will include calls to make real progress on delayed capital projects in North, West, and Northwest Jacksonville.

Mousa, to be sure, knows the score. Last year, he noted that the city could use a $400M capital budget. However, that’s not happening. Not even close. And, as ever, hard choices are inevitable … even though the total CIP this year will be close to $100M, not including money for sports and entertainment facilities.

For context, last year’s CIP had capital projects at $78M last year — most of that pay-go, Mousa said.

Mousa did note as the meeting began that there may be the opportunity to add “a few more capital improvement projects with one-time funding” at the request of the Mayor or a City Councilor, given budget relief.  And some timetables on projects were to be moved up a year. However, he cautioned, Tuesday’s discussion was preliminary.

Meanwhile, Curry is developing his own CIP list, independent of Tuesday’s process, and that will perhaps amend the final product.

With all those caveats, the highlights.

Pay-go money: $23.2M, comprise part of an almost $100M CIP.

Movement on a recurrent issue: $3.6M for courthouse remediation and demolition; $4.4M for the same for old city hall, which includes asbestos remediation, with the properties will be returned to greenscape. Mousa speculates that implosion will be the end game for these structures.

The last $8M for Liberty/Coastline rebuild, completing a $31M obligation, is also in the CIP.

Roadway resurfacing is in the CIP at $12M, and ADA curb compliance: another $14M.

ADA compliance for public buildings: a $2.6M hit.

Countywide intersection improvements and bridges: $3M, with another million for rehab.

The St. Johns River Bulkhead assessment and restoration: also in the budget this year for $1M, along with $500K for countywide projects for tributaries with bulkheads.

The River Road bulkhead needs repair to the most degraded segments, with a cost of $1.9M total for these — and $600K this year, which comes at the expense of the Mayport Community Center in FY 18.

$3M for Chaffee Road. $750,000 for Five Points improvements in Riverside, which moves up to this year. Willow Branch Creek bulkhead replacement: $1.5M. $720,000 for Soutel Road’s “road diet,” which will go to design of a “highly needed project for the Northwest,” per Mousa.

Fishweir Creek gets $1.6M for ecological rehab.

Mary Singleton Senior Center: $500,000 for maintenance and upgrades. $944K for the Arlington Senior Center. $600,000 for Southside Senior Center, and $1.5M for Mandarin Senior Center expansion, a facility “bursting at the seams,” per Mousa.

As well, Mayport Community Center — a Bill Gulliford request — was budgeted for $800,000 for design, but ends up with $200,000 in FY 18 given other needs and logistical issues.

McCoy’s Creek pipe removal is in the budget, for $750,000 — the idea is to improve river access, a priority of Council President Lori Boyer. And $600,000 for the McCoy’s Creek Greenway.

A backlog of sidewalk projects — a risk management concern — is also on the list. Library projects, by and large, are on schedule, largely funded by library fines.

4th Street Brick Rebuild is also on the list for this year; a “desperately needed job,” per Mousa.

Downtown landscape enhancements: $1 million, per Mayor Curry’s request, though he wants to survey the area before a more specific request is made.

Friendship Fountain repairs: in the budget. As is the School Board building kayak launch, and $1M for Southbank Riverwalk renovations.

Moving on to stormwater projects, the Trout River/Moncrief Project will move forward, though with a reduced scope. And the LaSalle Street Lift Station is moving forward, despite the Governor’s untimely veto of the state appropriation carried by Rep. Jason Fischer in Tallahassee.

Solid waste: $4.5M will complete the current Trail Ridge landfill expansion project, setting up the city for future expansion, with property acquisition part of a previous year’s spend. This will buy the city 3-5 years of dumping time.

Richard Corcoran to speak to St. Johns County Republicans Thursday

House Speaker Richard Corcoran will be the featured speaker at Thursday night’s St. Johns County Republicans’ Lincoln/Reagan Dinner.

Corcoran, who is reportedly mulling a run for Florida Governor commencing after the 2018 Legislative Session, is uniquely positioned to build relationships with the Jacksonville area donors who will turn out en masse for the event at Sawgrass Country Club.

Corcoran’s remarks will focus on “American Exceptionalism” in schools; the Speaker will be joined by Dr. Peter Wood.

For this speech, “a fabulous Dinner, cocktails and silent auction,” tickets are $75.

Paul Renner headlining major fundraiser for Jason Fischer

As we continue to read the tea leaves in the current Florida House Speaker’s race, we see evidence of how Northeast Florida is folding in behind Paul Renner.

The latest example: an email sent out by Renner on behalf of Rep. Jason Fischer, pitching a big-dollar fundraiser with a deep host committee and an even more interesting roster of special guests: including Rep. Cord Byrd, a figure of interest to those counting votes regionally and beyond. [Jason Fischer Fundraiser Invitation]

If Byrd is still undecided in the Speaker’s race, chances are he may encounter some compelling arguments at the Jun. 26 event, to be held at 6 p.m. at the Acosta Corporate HQ.

“Please join me in supporting Rep. Jason Fischer for his kickoff fundraiser on June 26, 2017.  Jason has quickly established himself as a rising star in the Florida House.  Having served with him this session,” Renner writes, “I can tell you that Jason has the big ideas Florida needs as we plan for the future.”

“He has an amazing work ethic and has provided immediate expertise and leadership to the Florida House in the areas of education reform, appropriations, transportation and technology,” Renner adds.

“This first re-election campaign for him will be the most important, so your support is critical.  Jason’s June 26, 2017 fundraiser is our next opportunity to show the strength of our delegation and the community for those who are fighting for us in Tallahassee.  Without question,” Renner concludes, “Jason deserves our support and I am proud to be on his host committee.  Please do whatever you can to make this event a great success for Jason.  Thank you!”

Renner is one of five co-chairs: the other four are Jim HorneJohn RoodGary Chartrand, and John Baker, the latter three with some of the deepest pockets in the Northeast Florida donor class.

Beyond Byrd, special guests include a phalanx of Northeast Florida politicians: Sens. Aaron BeanRob Bradley, and Travis Hutson, along with Reps. Travis CummingsJay FantBobby PayneCyndi Stevenson, and Clay Yarborough.

Getting top billing on that special guest list: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

The host committee includes Curry’s strategists, Tim Baker and Brian Hughes, along with key Northeast Florida donors, such as Ed BurrMori HosseiniMichael MunzPeter Rummelland Jamie Shelton.

Lobbyists are also well-represented: Marty Fiorentino and Deno Hicks.

And once-and-maybe-future politicians feature also: Lake Ray and John Delaney offer fine examples of that category.

 

 

Is a turning point imminent for Jacksonville’s opioid crisis?

Jacksonville’s opioid crisis, as is the case around the country, is taking lives and resources from the budget all at once. Is a turning point imminent?

Months back, Councilman Bill Gulliford began sounding the alarm about the increased casualty rate and the increased burden on emergency services from the crisis.

Multiple meetings followed, then a bill was filed in June that would devote almost $1.5M to a pilot opioid program, to stem the tide of overdoses that is wreaking havoc with Jacksonville lives and emergency services budgets.

On Monday, Gulliford held a meeting with other stakeholders (including the Fire and Rescue Department), in which the particulars of the legislation (introduced on an emergency basis, with committee work this week) and the pilot program were discussed.

“I could think of a lot better things we could sit around and talk about spending $1.5M on,” Gulliford said.

However, the crisis is real. And current efforts are not abating it.

Overdoses, at last count, end four times as many lives as homicides in Duval County, with 2016’s count of 464 casualties more than doubling 2015’s count of 201.

Caucasians represent 86 percent of the deaths, and over half of those passing away are in their 30s and 40s

911 calls for ODs to the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department have tripled, with a call every two hours now. Narcan administrations: up 500 percent. JFRD responded to over 3,411 calls in 2016, and the cost of transporting OD victims could near $4.5M this year.

Gulliford noted that the money for this may not come out of fund balance, as the Lenny Curry administration may have another source of money for this.

Also, DCF has advanced a preliminary offer to fund all the Narcan for the pilot program — another potential cost defraying mechanism.

Gateway and River Region would be the in-patient facilities; UF Health was floated as an ER facility, though other hospitals may end up fulfilling that function

The proposal includes the following: residential treatment; outpatient services; medication costs, physician fees; access to medical and psychiatric treatment; and urine fentanyl test strips.

The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department would coordinate with the Florida Department of Health to identify participants; DOH would coordinate reproductive health services and linkage of care for women who are of childbearing age, including work with pregnant women to reduce the risk of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.

“We’re seeing more babies being delivered with addiction. That’s on the uptick,” said Gulliford. “What a horrible way to bring a child into the world.”

Breastfeeding from addicted mothers, meanwhile, presents its own challenge — as do the new fentanyl derivatives, which are increasingly potent and potentially fatal to users.

Monday’s meeting saw a lot of very specific performance data discussed, with deliverables and goals discussed to justify the investment.

“At the end of six months,” one JFRD officer asked, “how do we know it’s working?”

Factors such as reduction of recidivism, relapse, and other indicators would be metrics of success — key, given that one of the pervasive impacts is repeated emergency calls involving the same users, sometimes multiple times in a day.

There are some users who recover via Narcan, only to shoot up again almost immediately after discharge from the ER. And some users require multiple doses of Narcan for recovery.

Drug testing, early and often, would be a hallmark of the program — covering all substances of abuse and analogues thereof, including fentanyl and carfentanil.

“Your guys can’t keep taking the emotional pounding from these overdoses,” Gulliford said to JFRD, noting that one station alone had 17 overdose responses.

“How long do they withstand that kind of pressure,” Gulliford said, noting that some derivatives are so potent that physical contact with the substance can incapacitate the officers tasked with treatment.

If the program succeeds, other challenges will present themselves, such as recurring funding and scalability. Gulliford asserts that the public and private sectors would have to combine resources. That could also include helping recovered addicts get job placement.

“It’s not just going to be the city bellying up to the bar,” Gulliford said, citing the importance of a “campaign” to educate the public on the non-negotiable need for this program to address this “pervasive” problem.

But that problem is one that city policy makers would find preferable than rescue units hurtling from overdose to overdose, and bodies piling up in worst case scenarios.

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