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Stay of execution for embattled Jacksonville TRUE Commission

Rumors of the Jacksonville TRUE Commission’s demise look to be false, after serious pushback in a Jacksonville City Council panel against a bill that would sunset the body in three years.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri has been unhappy with the Taxation, Revenue Utilization and Expenditures Committee for much of his term – and Hazouri filed a long-awaited bill to reduce the membership of the commission from 18 to 11 before the commission’s sunset in June 2020.

That bill took center stage in the Rules Committee Tuesday afternoon, before it was deferred.

In 2016, Hazouri – vexed over the TRUE Commission’s opposition to expanding the city’s Human Rights Ordinance – told Florida Politics that he didn’t see the point of the appointed body.

Hazouri noted the ongoing review of boards and commissions, started last year, with an eye toward history and effectiveness – with sunset being an option for bodies that have outlived their purpose.

Then, Hazouri pushed to defer the bill for two weeks, setting up some interpersonal conflict.

Councilman Danny Becton noted, by way of opposing deferral, that he had a substitute bill on hand from the TRUE Commission itself.

Hazouri, incensed, said Becton was “disrespectful” for pushing a substitute without consulting the bill sponsor.

“It’s about the history – the recent history,” Hazouri said.

Becton invited Hazouri and others to discuss the merits of the bill in the meeting.

Hazouri’s play got support from Councilman Greg Anderson, who wants to talk to the chair.

Councilman Scott Wilson likewise supported deferral, saying that it would be “difficult” for him to support on a number of grounds.

Council VP John Crescimbeni wanted time to review the substitute, noting that in light of the facts, deferral would be the best way to go.

Councilman Jim Love backed deferral: “the extra two weeks won’t make any difference.”

For his part, Rules Chair Garrett Dennis – a co-sponsor of the Hazouri bill – said he had a “change of heart” regarding the bill.

Deferral was approved via a show of hands.

‘Meek and Mild’ legislators dispute Matt Schellenberg’s Duval Delegation diss

Shots were fired across the bow of the Duval County Legislative Delegation Tuesday by Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Schellenberg.

In the Florida Times-Union, Schellenberg said the “meek and mild” delegation brought home “crumbs … a huge disappointment.”

He also said the delegation kowtowed to House leadership rather than bringing home the bacon, taking specific issue with the expanded Homestead Exemption — which could take $27M out of Jacksonville’s general fund in upcoming budgets.

Schellenberg on Tuesday amplified his comments to us.

“I think they could have done a better job,” Schellenberg said. “They shouldn’t always do what leadership says.”

Schellenberg, who had flirted with a run for State House in 2016, made a dig at the current representative, Jason Fischer in comments also.

“The people of Mandarin deserve someone who is going to finish the job — unlike Jason Fischer,” Schellenberg said.

When asked about rumors that Schellenberg may be looking at a primary challenge against Fischer, the Councilman didn’t completely rule it out though.

At an event Tuesday in Jacksonville, we caught up with two State Senators and Mayor Lenny Curry, each of whom took issue with Schellenberg’s premise.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, calling Schellenberg a “friend,” said his premise was “laughable.”

Gibson noted that Schellenberg came to Tallahassee multiple times during the session, including more than one visit to her office.

Regarding Schellenbergian claims that not enough was brought home. Gibson noted that — perhaps — Schellenberg “wasn’t familiar with the process.”

Sen. Aaron Bean, who noted that he also had met with Schellenberg in Tallahassee during the session, also essentially said the Jacksonville City Councilman was out of his depth.

“We had one of the best sessions in history,” Bean said, suggesting that Schellenberg’s pique was rooted in a pet issue not being addressed.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who has been consistent in advocating for the local and regional delegations, did so again when we asked him.

“My relationship with the delegation is solid,” Curry said, including the regional delegation with the Duval legislators.

“Things we have listed as priorities are real wins,” Curry said, noting “big wins” last cycle also.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jason Fischer had his own comments for Schellenberg.

“Clearly Councilman Schellenberg and I disagree on many issues such as my support for tax cuts while he is in favor of more government spending. I sponsored legislation that was fiscally prudent and he’s sponsored legislation to raise his own pay and extend his own term limit. This lack of respect for taxpayers hard earned money is why people are tired of career politicians.”

And people say letters to the editor don’t get results! Expect Schellenberg to get special attention in whatever his next election might be … in 2018 or beyond.

Uncertainty of economic incentives takes center stage at Jax job creation event

Florida Governor Rick Scott returned to Jacksonville Tuesday, for the ribbon-cutting at a beer bottling plant he’d visited more than once in recent years: Anheuser-Busch’s expanded Metal Container Corporation manufacturing facility.

Back in 2015, Scott discussed the need for money for the Quick Action Closing Fund, part of a trend in which the “jobs governor” sought money to drive economic incentives that the Florida Legislature was less enthusiastic about.

The event in Northwest Jacksonville Tuesday was a success, driven out of incentives, including the late, lamented Quick Action Closing Fund. And with 102 new jobs created, the goal of 75 new jobs has already been eclipsed.

However, as Scott’s final term as Governor heads for its end, Scott was able to speak more confidently about the past than the present.

“We’ve had a lot of success here,” Scott said. “We’re fighting. But the Legislature this year did not fund economic development.”

As part of a phalanx of speakers at the event, held outdoors on sun-baked blacktop, Sen. Rob Bradley noted that the Governor’s “jobs, jobs, jobs” message may not have resonated with the media, but was necessary.

Then, in a rare moment for a ribbon cutting, Bradley noted that this year’s budget wasn’t to the Senate’s or the Governor’s liking.

“We didn’t get things with this budget,” Bradley said. “Governor, I wish we could have done better this session.”

Soon enough, Bradley introduced a note of levity — and a reference to Gov. Scott’s veto pen, expected to be active this year in a fit of score-settling.

“Whatever you do, we understand,” the Clay County Senator said. “Just don’t do anything about the Keystone Lakes though.”

That reference: to money that Bradley got for the Northeast Florida chain of lakes, currently subject to water depletion.

In a press gaggle after the event, Scott discussed the need for job creation.

“This doesn’t happen by accident. This happens because we recruit companies, go out and get them to come here,” Scott said, via “incentives.”

With incentives increasingly under siege, there already is serious concern about how much more recruitment can happen going forward.

“We’ve got to keep fighting for these things. We’re competing with 49 other states, foreign countries. This is one of the last projects [where] we had the Quick Action Closing Fund, one of the tools in the toolkit we had to recruit companies,” Scott noted.

“We don’t have those dollars anymore. So we’re going to see fewer and fewer of these job opportunities.”

Audrey Gibson draws 2018 general election opponent

Restive SD 6 voters will have a chance to vote for someone other than Sen. Audrey Gibson in 2018, as a write-in has filed.

As LobbyTools first noted, write-in candidate Lucretia Fordyce has filed to run against the veteran Democratic Senator and chair of the Duval County Democratic Party.

If Gibson survives the 2018 primary, she can look forward to a spirited general election campaign against this political newcomer.

Fordyce, a customer service rep and an Army veteran, bills herself on her Facebook page as a “national recording artist and an author.”

Among her books: Dare to Be a Diva in Bella Mafias.

Fordyce describes this book — all nine pages of it — as follows: “Yeah! Yo! I am the devastater. For the Heps to the Shucks, Mafiyo Heck . . . At Apollo at the Florida Theatre, in Jacksonville, Florida. I danced to Freak Me and Hump with It by 95 South mixed tape. We made Triple Threat (my group). I am my music.”

Fordyce also offers, via Facebook, what apparently are musical stylings, which we include below.

How religious mania changed the Corrine Brown jury

Speculation about what a discharged juror (“Juror 13”) said last week in a closed-court session in the trial of Corrine Brown can now end, as a transcript of the session was released Monday afternoon. [Transcript of Juror 13]

Juror 8, the juror who complained about the comments — relating that the discharged juror spoke of “higher beings” saying that Brown was guilty — kicked off proceedings in closed court by registering concerns.

The discharged juror had made such comments on the first day of deliberations and did not reiterate such comments, according to Juror 8.

However, “Some of the jurors are concerned that that’s affecting his — his decision,” Juror 8 said.

Federal prosecutor A. Tysen Duva was unmollified: “A higher being told me that Corrine Brown was not guilty on all charges and that he trusted the Holy Ghost. That does not resonate whatsoever with the court’s instructions to apply the law to the facts and make a decision,” he said regarding the juror’s mental state and ability to discern guilt from innocence in an evidentiary framework.

The discharged juror, for his part, didn’t reassure the feds.

“I told them that in all of this, in listening to all the information, taking it all down, I listen for the truth, and I know the truth when the truth is spoken. So I expressed that to them, and how I came to that conclusion …. I told — I told them that — that I prayed about this, I have looked at the information, and that I received information as to what I was told to do in relation to what I heard here today — or this past two weeks.”

The juror’s tipster? “My Father in Heaven.”

“My religious beliefs are going by the testimonies of people given here, which I believe that’s what we’re supposed to do, and then render a decision on those testimonies, and the evidence presented in the room,” the juror said.

Brown’s attorney attempted to defend this position: “I think the juror has simply said the Holy Spirit told him something. I think based upon what he said — however, he did say that he considered and has looked at the evidence that was presented, and did respond to the court’s questions concerning, first, his ability to follow the instructions given by Judge [James R.] Klindt during jury selection, whether or not there was any moral or religious belief that would prevent him from serving as a juror.”

Juror drama swirls in aftermath of Corrine Brown verdict

Could juror drama and input retroactively affect the verdict of the Corrine Brown trial after all? Could it play into a motion for a new trial?

With drama swirling relative to certain jurors, there is reason to wonder, with Brown’s lawyer voicing oral motions to interview jurors.

While the oral motions were denied, written motions were invited by Judge Timothy Corrigan.

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There are three corporations that control television news in Jacksonville: First Coast News, Cox Media Group, and Graham Media.

They compete for viewership — and compete to be “first” among stories, including how outlets decided to skirt the order and break prohibitions on broadcasting from the courtroom. However, Monday saw these rivals present a united front regarding a matter from the trial of Corrine Brown, which wrapped last week.

Multiple Jacksonville TV stations filed motions over the weekend to unlock a controversial transcript of a bounced juror in the Corrine Brown trial, and to permit contact with discharged jurors – both conditions prohibited by Judge Corrigan.

In this case, the matter of the discharged juror is salient to what happened afterwards.

To recap: a juror expressed concerns about a certain juror discussing what was called “higher beings” in concordance with Corrine Brown, and after a closed emergency hearing Wednesday morning, the juror talking about the spiritual realm was removed.

A day later, Brown was found guilty of 18 of 22 counts, once an alternate replaced the spiked juror.

This sudden evolution in jury mood raised questions, and Judge Timothy Corrigan mulled them Monday, via motions from all three outlets that covered the same ground.

The motions note a lack of “compelling” reason to keep the transcript sealed, especially given that the trial is now concluded, and given that counsel has no objection to the transcript being open.

Corrigan noted, to the delight of media, that the transcript from the discharged juror will be open – leading to a media feeding frenzy once the hearing ends.

“It’s well-established that the media has interest in these matters,” Corrigan said, allowing the television media and the Florida Times-Union to move forward with its reportage.

The court, Corrigan added, lacks a “legal basis” to prohibit press contact with jurors, barring specific claims of harassment.

Less certain: Corrigan’s dispensation on releasing the jurors’ names.

An attorney for one of the media corporations contended that issues, such as jurors being threatened because of their verdict, don’t exist in this case; Corrigan contended that media seems to know who the jurors are.

As well, Corrigan noted that practice is to redact names and identifying information, potentially exposing jurors to scrutiny.

The motion, Corrigan said, will be taken under advisement.

“I’ll follow the law,” Corrigan said, regarding releasing them and the timeframe in which such release is made.

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Meanwhile, a “compelling” reason to open the transcript – and to open up further inquiry into the jury – was offered by Brown’s attorney, James Smith, who suggested that the issues with the jury may come into play in his expected motion for a new trial.

Smith got an email from one of the jurors saying that the juror had “something that might help your appeal” on Saturday evening.

Smith brought it to the attention of the court, he said, as “this particular juror” was “crying” after a recess, which he and Corrine Brown noted.

“The juror reached out with some information,” Smith said, and he would like to talk to the juror and find out what was going on.

Prosecutor A. Tysen Duva said that at this point, the court should do nothing, given court rules barring testifying about jury deliberations afterwards, and given that this retroactive testimony could be “extraneous, prejudicial information” and likely would be inadmissible after the fact – an attempt to undermine an unpopular verdict.

“If we ever get to that point where the court permits such an interview,” Duva said, it would happen in open court.

“At this point, we don’t know what motivated the juror to reach out to Mr. Smith,” the prosecutor added.

Smith wanted to interview the juror nonetheless, as the juror reached out “after the events of previous jurors took place.”

Smith’s theory: the internal juror dynamics could be the issue … as could be “outside interference.”

“At least at a minimum, I should be able to have an interview,” Smith said.

Corrigan noted such exceptions are “rare,” with “well-stated grounds.”

“I am disinclined at the moment to think those legal grounds are present,” Corrigan said, inviting a written motion (“a more detailed brief with case law”) from Smith that could make the argument more salient.

Smith also pressed to allow Corrine Brown to talk to the media, which led Corrigan to note that any restrictions no longer exist.

“There is no legal restriction on you talking to the media,” Corrigan said to the former Congresswoman.

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Beyond these issues, even more juror drama exists in this case.

FCN ran a leaked letter asserting that Brown’s attorney, James Smith, disputed the “higher beings” phrasing ascribed to the discharged juror, asserting rather that the juror claimed that “God” asserted Brown’s innocence to him, and that assertion was not contradicted by the evidence.

“Despite what you may have heard in the news reports he did not make any references to ‘higher beings,’” Smith wrote.

“He said that prior to the trial God had told him that the Congresswoman was not guilty and that after listening to the evidence and hearing closing arguments he still believed that she was not guilty,” Smith added.

“Despite the fact that there was no evidence that the juror was interfering with deliberations and stated that he was ultimately basing his vote on the evidence and the instructions, the judge decided to kick him off,” Smith was quoted as saying by FCN.

As Smith prepares a motion for a new trial, it will be interesting to see how all this juror drama plays in. He told us that this issue, and the court’s handling of it, merit closer investigation.

Drama is still swirling, in fact, regarding the discharged juror: a claim “on the news” that the discharged juror didn’t vote guilty “because the Holy Spirit told [him] so.”

This claim was made via text to a court officer, Judge Corrigan said.

Smith noted that the drama could speak to other issues, “providing the basis for some other post-trial motions I could file,” especially in light of “ambiguity” and the potential of outside influences.

If the original claim of the discharged juror’s religious mania is “not true,” Smith said, that raises other questions.

Corrigan countered that the dismissed juror admitted to making the statements that proved to change the entire narrative of the trial itself.

“The basis of the court’s decision to dismiss the juror ultimately is what the juror told me,” Corrigan added.

Corrigan, referring to the transcript, noted the juror’s alleged position that a “higher being” said that Brown was innocent on all charges.

“No, I said the Holy Spirit told me that,” the juror said, according to the transcript. “I mentioned that in the very beginning when we were on the first charge.”

Corrigan advised a written motion to firm up Smith’s argument to guide his decision.

“My decision now is to not do anything about this juror communication,” Corrigan said.

Florida/Georgia football game extension clears first Jacksonville City Council panel

Those who might worry that the Florida/Georgia football game will leave Jacksonville anytime soon can rest a bit easier, as the City Council is about to approve an extension of the agreement for the city to host the Florida/Georgia football game until 2021.

The legislation (2017-322) cleared Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services on Monday morning, its second committee stop before Finance on Wednesday morning.

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

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

In NCIS, some questions were raised for Dave Herrell, the head of Sports and Entertainment.

The city is committed to buy $1,000 tickets according to the deal, Herrell confirmed.

A $500,000 base payment, Herrell said, was required to keep the schools happy — and this is part of the package of neutral-site games.

While terms on the renewal sound sweet to those on the outside, Herrell called the game an “incredible branding opportunity … a win/win.”

“The Georgia/Florida game is in our DNA,” Herrell said, with “branding exposure” and “good ROI” galore.

“Other communities covet events like this,” Herrell said, noting that places like Atlanta pose threats with new stadiums.

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

After the 2018 game, Herrell said work would begin on the extension.

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Beyond direct recovery of the investment, there also are more holistic benefits to the larger economy: $35M of them, according to a post-game analysis.

The 2016 iteration of the game saw a diverse array of programming options around the event: a number of University of Florida basketball games, the Florida/Georgia Hall of Fame Ceremony, and even a concert by the Avett Brothers put on — events designed to appeal to the kind of people willing to camp out in Jacksonville’s “RV City” for days on end.

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Back in 2016, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry discussed the importance of re-upping the deal, a negotiations process he said was rooted in “relationships 101.

Curry added that on his second day of office, after the inauguration festivities, “one of the first calls [he] made” was to the schools’ athletic directors.

“Our team got to work on it,” Curry said. “We are about solving problems and getting things done.”

“The biggest obstacle,” said Curry, was that there “hadn’t been activity in recent years.”

The Curry administration had to “demonstrate how much we care,” the mayor said, “spending time and showing commitment.”

“Blocking and tackling … that’s Relationships 101.”

For Curry, the kind of football fan whose television is as likely to be turned to the NFL Network as a news program, there simply was no room for error — the deal had to be done.

And if this deal clears the full Jacksonville City Council, the game is on lock throughout the rest of the decade.

Extra annual pension payment for Jacksonville? One councilman wants it

For those of you who thought Jacksonville was done with pension legislation, hold the phone.

Jacksonville City Councilman Danny Becton introduced a bill last week that would mandate 15 percent of budgeted money over a baseline budget would go to the city’s $2.8B unfunded pension liability.

“An amount equal to 15% of the General Fund/ General Services District aggregate increase in budgeted revenues (net of transfers from Fund Balance) over the baseline amount of $1,088,466,862 in FY16-17 [would] be used to make additional payments to reduce unfunded accumulated actuarial liability on the City’s three defined benefit pension plans,” reads the bill summary.

“The additional payments will continue until either the FY29-30 fiscal year or the commencement of the pension liability surtax established in Ordinance Code Chapter 776, whichever is earlier,” the bill summary adds.

The expectation is that budgets will increase: raises, mandated as part of the pension reform deal of 2017, would add up to a $120M hit on the general fund by FY 2020. Of course, 15 percent of $120M is $18M — serious money, and a commitment that hearkens back to the 2015 pension reform legislation that was largely revised by the latest deal.

The pension reform bill put forth at the end of Alvin Brown’s administration committed the city to increased pension payments over a twelve year period, with the number for most of that period being an extra $32 million.

Even in 2015, when the accord was being finalized, there was an unspoken consensus that things would get really interesting once that $32 million extra hit kicked in.

electricity generation

Sunset for TRUE Commission? Committee week for Jax City Council

Committee week for the Jacksonville City Council kicks off Monday, and a number of bills are ready for up or down votes.

Among the fun ones: a sunset date for a certain commission … an extension of the Florida/Georgia game … and clarification of builder guidelines for bicycle parking.

­­­___

Sunset for TRUE Commission: Councilman Tommy Hazouri has been unhappy with the Taxation, Revenue Utilization and Expenditures Committee for much of his term – and Hazouri filed a long awaited bill to reduce the membership of the commission from 18 to 11 before the commission’s sunset in June 2020.

In 2016, Hazouri – vexed over the TRUE Commission’s opposition to expanding the city’s Human Rights Ordinance – told Florida Politics that he didn’t see the point of the appointed body.

More recently, TRUE was in the news because of the bizarre behavior of a nominee, Mike Anania, who attempted to “bully” Rules Chair Garrett Dennis … according to Dennis.

Rules hears this bill Tuesday; Finance on Wednesday. If it clears committees, the full Council takes a whack at the piñata.

_

Florida/Georgia extension: For those who like having the “World’s Largest Cocktail Party” in Jacksonville, take heart – the City Council is about to approve an extension of the agreement for the city to host the Florida/Georgia football game until 2021.

The two committees set to approve the legislation (2017-322): Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services on Monday morning, and Finance on Wednesday morning.

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

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

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Bicycle parking: Ordinance 2017-245 is intended to make Jacksonville more bicycle-friendly, by replacing “outdated … difficult” ordinance with clearer language directing commercial property developers to set aside parking for bicycles.

Dorms, convents, mobile home parks, and so on will have clarified parking set-asides for bicycles.

This bill will be heard by Transportation, Energy and Utilities Monday, and Land Use and Zoning Tuesday evening.

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Political committee set up for Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams

Get to know “A Safe Jacksonville.”

That’s a new political committee set up in Tallahassee on behalf of Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, who only has to think back two years for a reminder of how competitive and expensive the race for Jacksonville Sheriff is.

Williams plowed through six opponents in the first election before narrowly defeating Democrat Ken Jeffersonwho may be looking at a rematch (and, say some, may be looking at a City Council run). Whatever the case, Williams and his team are clearly taking no chances.

Chairing the committee: Kent Stermon, the COO/CFO for “Total Military Management,” a Williams friend and confidant who was finance director for Williams’ 2015 campaign, in which he raised $541,000.

Williams, the choice of former Sheriff John Rutherford, had no issue fundraising. But the state committee allows Williams to get a head start on any opposition, with the latitude to undermine any competition that might emerge.

This is especially essential in a sheriff’s race like 2015 was, where oppo dumps flew from each side daily. Williams, handling law enforcement in the city, won’t have to do any of the dirty work — that can and will be done on the committee level, allowing Williams to co-brand with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

Curry, whose political committee (“Build Something That Lasts”) is very active, won’t face serious competition. And neither will Williams.

Even if Jefferson runs against Williams, reliable sources point out that there is plenty of oppo dump material that wasn’t even used in 2015 — which was a brutal campaign by most measures.

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