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Michael Boylan launches Jacksonville City Council run

Michael Boylan, the President and CEO of Jacksonville’s WJCT Public Broadcasting, filed papers Monday to launch his campaign for City Council.

Boylan’s interest in running has been an open secret for some time; he is nearing the end of his tenure at the Jacksonville public broadcasting station.

Boylan is running to replace termed-out Republican Matt Schellenberg in District 6, and is the second candidate to enter the race.

Rose Conry, CEO and co-founder of StaffTime in Jacksonville, filed in October.

Both are Republicans.

Her first month’s fundraising was promising, but not at a level that would scare opposition off. Conry brought in $18,675.

The Kennel Clubs and the Fiorentino Group donated, as did Jax Chamber Chair Darnell Smith.

Word is that at least one more well-known candidate, Geoff Youngblood, is looking at a run.

The “first election” would be in March 2019; if there is no candidate with a majority of the vote, there would be a runoff in May 2019.

Could climate change presage Jacksonville credit downgrade?

Not even three months after Hurricane Irma comes an indication, via Moody’s, that a storm may be brewing in municipal credit markets.

Via Bloomberg: “If cities and states don’t deal with risks from surging seas or intense storms, they are at greater risk of default.”

Moody’s considers six indicators to measure exposure, like how many homes are in a flood plain — an issue for Jacksonville.

During Hurricane Matthew, Jacksonville issued mandatory evacuations in Flood Zones A, B, and C; these encompassed 450,000 people.

During Irma, Jacksonville evacuated zones A and B, which encompassed 256,000 people.

Despite those evacuation orders, life was imperiled: 350 residents had to be rescued in the hours after the storm churned out of the area. Downtown Jacksonville suffered historic flooding, as did neighborhoods on the river, such as Avondale, Riverside and San Marco.

While Moody’s has yet to actually downgrade a city for not addressing climate change, Jacksonville has physical vulnerability.

As well, the city has backed away from nationwide initiatives — such as the Rockefeller Foundation’s “100 Resilient Cities,” which offered $1 million a year to participating municipalities.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry — who created a media kerfuffle earlier this year in backing President Donald Trump‘s intention to leave the Paris Accord, an international agreement to curb emissions and other environmental impacts, is not worried about potential future credit downgrades, he told us Wednesday.

“Sea levels are rising, in Jacksonville and the state. We certainly experience catastrophic storms … and we in Jacksonville are doing everything we can to invest in proper infrastructure on the front end, and [working] to keep our people safe on the back end,” Curry said.

“Our Public Works Department has a comprehensive plan they are currently re-evaluating and have been prior to these storms. So I would say we face the reality in front of us and those rising sea levels and those storms are a reality in front of us, and we will adjust accordingly,” Curry added.

But will that convince the bond ratings agencies?

“Budgets — real budgets and real investments speak to bond rating agencies. Not a bunch of feel-good talk that a lot of elected officials like to do that result in no real investments and no real budgets,” Curry said.

“I stand by my budgets. I stand by my work with City Council. I stand by our investments in neighborhoods and infrastructure,” Curry added.

Jacksonville’s credit ratings have improved in recent years.

However, Moody’s already expressed concern about pension reform, specifically about the deferred payment model on the $3.2 billion unfunded actuarial liability from the city’s defined benefit plans.

“The Aa2 Issuer Rating reflects the city’s high fixed costs, which are elevated by weak pension funding levels. Despite a new pension reform plan, pension payments will continue to constrict the city’s financial operations. The rating also reflects the city’s rebounding, large and diverse economy, coupled with a strengthened balance sheet position, that both help buoy the rating at the current level. Moody’s will closely monitor the city’s ability to control rapidly increasing fixed costs,” the agency asserted in August.

Will money decide the Bill Bishop Vs. Ron Salem race for Jax City Council?

When the Jacksonville media finally begins paying attention to 2019 City Council races, bet that the at-large contest between Bill Bishop and Ron Salem will feature.

It has to.

Though media turnover on the television side necessarily dictates many TV reporters won’t remember Bishop’s audacious play for mayor in 2015 (an underfunded run that nonetheless garnered 17 percent of the vote in a four-way race in the “first election“).

But for locals — especially certain activists — the Bishop phenomenon was real.

He carved out a unique role in the race: he was seen as the truth teller candidate. Despite being a relatively conventional conservative Republican in his eight years on City Council, Bishop brought together a unique coalition of Democrats disaffected with Alvin Brown and Republicans that, for reasons that seem esoteric in retrospect, weren’t willing to support Lenny Curry.

That race ended and Bishop vowed to run in 2019 — but not before endorsing Brown’s re-election.

From there, most reading this know what happened next: Curry won the election, and Bishop couldn’t pull the trigger on challenging Curry, opting instead for an at-large run to replace termed-out incumbent John Crescimbeni.

Bishop has moved toward a more doctrinaire Republican stance, appearing at events put on by the Duval County Republican Party (that endorsed Curry over Bishop in 2015), and showing up to a meeting of the Southside Business Men’s Club with conservative radio talk show host Ed Dean as his special guest.

While Bishop is making moves to shore up his GOP bona fides, opponent Salem is widening the gap with the former two-term district Councilman in the money race.

Bishop had a respectable first month in the race in October — bringing in $13,325 off of 24 contributions — though Salem almost matched him, with $11,125 collected in what was Salem’s best month since May.

When it comes to cash on hand, Salem is running away with it: just under $114,000, and that number looks likely to widen on the November report.

A Salem fundraiser on Wednesday night contained a veritable “who’s who” of the Jacksonville Republican power base.

Mayor Curry was special guest, and former Mayor John Peyton was just one name on an impressive host committee that also included Peter RummellMichael MunzJamie SheltonJohn Rood and others who typically back winning candidates.

A source connected to the Salem campaign noted Curry’s presence reflects continued “support,” a proposition questioned by some GOP consultants in recent months.

Curry, we are told, is “for Ron, not against anyone” — a seeming allusion to the bad blood between Curry and Bishop in the wake of Bishop backing Brown in the runoff in 2015.

The total haul is yet to be determined; however, 50 people showed to the event, including Councilman Al Ferraro.

Salem also has a resource that Bishop — as of yet — does not: a political committee: “Moving Jacksonville Forward.”

Bishop has the advantage in name identification; however, one wonders if that will translate by 2019, especially when Salem has the Curry machine behind him, while Bishop is — as he was in his mayoral bid — compelled to go forward without that kind of institutional support and the stability it affords a political operation.

There is, of course, a chance that wildcards — including money from outside Northeast Florida — could come into play in this race. Salem is a candidate of Tim Baker and Brian Hughes; some are suggesting that money from Sen. Jack Latvala‘s political committee could be deployed against their clients.

Even Bishop attending events with Ed Dean could be seen as a jab at the Baker/Hughes machine, as Dean and Hughes are not aligned.

This race may be about much more than a City Council seat in the end.

Bill Bishop photo courtesy of Folio Weekly.

Paul Renner previews 2018 Legislative Session in Jacksonville

Palm Coast Republican Paul Renner has quickly become one of the most powerful members of the Florida House.

He chairs Ways and Means, and he is on the track to be Speaker in 2022.

Although he represents Palm Coast, Renner practices law in — and has roots in — Jacksonville, where he found himself speaking Wednesday to a crowd at the Southside Business Men’s Club.

The remarks Wednesday offered optimism tempered by a sense of Florida’s challenges, both in this Legislative Session and in the years ahead.

While Florida has “the right policies,” is headed in “the right direction” and has a “bright future,” the state nonetheless faces challenges.

Among those challenges: population growth, including a near-term influx from storm-ravaged Puerto Rico and long term expectations that Florida could add six to eight million people in the coming years. And roads and other infrastructural issues.

Despite Florida being “the #1 state for fiscal health,” Renner contends that the state’s budget looks to be a “break even proposition,” with a meager $50 million surplus — even before Irma happened.

“I don’t know where we are,” Renner said, regarding the budget situation.

Another pressure Renner cited: the state’s health care budget, with Medicaid comprising almost a third of budget, with growth in costs outpacing revenues.

Federal financial help in absorbing the influx of people from Puerto Rico, Renner said, is “something we’d like to see.” But he didn’t sound optimistic that’s in the cards.

Renner also discussed the ongoing imbroglio about medical marijuana; though he didn’t support Amendment 2, he respects the mandate of the voters, noting that “70 percent plus” voted in favor of the ballot measure.

Renner does not believe the amendment covers smokeable cannabis, presenting a familiar argument that without dosage controls and with toxins emitted from burning the herb, “it’s not medicine” and it’s hard to regulate “specific potency” in the way one can with pills, lotions, and vaping.

Regarding implementation delays of the program, Renner says it’s “taken too long,” and fault lies with the Department of Health in “getting the process up and running” for “individuals who are entitled to” medical cannabis.

Renner moved on to discuss economic incentives; he doesn’t expect any change in the House policy there.

Meanwhile, when asked about Amazon’s new headquarters — one that many Florida cities have extended bids for, amidst a sea of cities elsewhere in the country offering unprecedented tax breaks to draw in the company — Renner seemed to think that “Florida is a permanent incentive” and that, as such, more tangible incentives aren’t necessary.

“Government picking winners and losers is something I can’t get my arms around,” Renner said, occasioning applause from the crowd.

Lenny Curry frames JEA privatization proposal as an example of thinking big

The big local story this week was on Tuesday, when former JEA Board Chairman Tom Petway said customers of the 50-year-old municipal Jacksonville utility might be better off under a privatized model.

Jacksonville City Council members — such as Matt Schellenberg and Garrett Dennis — were open to the idea, while Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry framed it as a “simple request” to “explore the value” of that public asset.

“As a reform-minded mayor, I welcome this challenge and will work with City Council leadership to answer these questions,” Curry asserted Tuesday.

At a press availability Wednesday, Curry further discussed the audacious proposal by one of his staunchest political supporters.

“[Petway and] I’ve had abstract conversations about challenging the utility to think big,” Curry said. “Numerous times.”

“I’ve been about reform, challenge, changing the status quo,” Curry added. “And he certainly challenged the organization to think big yesterday.”

“What needs to happen is a fair look at that, an independent look at that,” he continued. “He challenged the organization to do just that. That’s what’s fair to taxpayers, fair to ratepayers, and we’ll see where that leads.”

As we noted yesterday, discussions of privatization have happened before. In 2007 and 2012, there wasn’t political appetite for such.

Next year may be a different story. A hallmark of Curry’s first term in office has been reform, including pension reform, as well as reform of the city’s children’s services organizations and reinstitution of the city’s Neighborhoods Department —  All of which were driven by the Curry’s office.

Council members have pushed their own reform measures; the expansion of the city’s Human Rights Ordinance to include LGBT people this year was driven by Council co-sponsors, and in that case the Mayor’s Office demurred from taking an overt position on the legislation.

However, it is clear that in this instance it will be incumbent on Curry’s shop to frame the narrative and build consensus.

The city has dealt with hurricanes and power outages in each of the last two years, and both situations brought scrutiny to JEA. However, much of the state — including areas serviced by Florida Power and Light and Duke Energy — dealt with power outages that lasted weeks.

Mayor Curry noted that Petway was a “successful businessman and a civic servant long before anybody knew who [Curry] was,” adding that Petway “has served this city and community in so many ways,” including “filling the role” at JEA after Curry reconfigured the JEA Board in 2015.

While Curry hasn’t put his official imprimatur on the potential privatization of the local utility, what is clear is that he and his operation are not averse to the dialogue and a review of positives and negatives of such a move.

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams files for re-election

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams filed for re-election Tuesday, opening a campaign account and launching an operation well ahead of the 2019 vote.

Despite the formal filing for re-election, it’s clear that Williams has been working in that direction for months.

Williams’ political committee, “A Safe Jacksonville,” has raised $154,000, and has $131,000 on hand.

The committee’s spending in September and October reflected a nascent re-election campaign, with a $10,000 October spend with Jacksonville consultant Bruce Barcelo on constituent polling, after a September spend of $8,900 with Data Targeting Research for the same.

Williams took heat for the latter poll late this summer from the Jacksonville City Council, some members of which felt “targeted” by a poll showing that Jacksonville residents prioritized more police hires, a survey they saw as pressuring them into approving the sheriff’s ask.

While we don’t have access to the internal polls, the most recent public poll shows that Sheriff Williams is popular.

The first-term Republican Sheriff has 67 percent approval — and 60 percent approval among Democrats.

Williams also has broad appeal in all ethnic groups; his worst performance in the survey is 54 percent with African-American voters.

Exiting JEA Board, Tom Petway renews push to privatize Jax public utility

The big news out of Tuesday’s meeting of Jacksonville’s JEA Board wasn’t on the agenda.

Board member Tom Petway — one of the earliest supporters of the candidacy of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry — announced his intention to leave the board Dec. 31. And he revived a major conceptual proposal on his way out.

Petway suggested that perhaps the time has come for the municipal utility to move into a “private sector marketplace” model.

“The majority of people in Florida are served by a private-sector marketplace,” Petway said, asking the board to consider where JEA “fits” in that emergent paradigm.

“Would the customers of JEA be better served in the private marketplace?” Petway asked, urging a board report on the utility’s value.

Some study was given to the private sector concept in the past.

In 2007, the Florida Times-Union reported that JEA could fetch $3.1 billion — which is more than 2.5 times the city’s $1.27 billion current general fund budget. However, rates would have gone up by 39 percent, making the concept a non-starter for Mayor John Peyton, especially in light of the annual JEA contribution to the city’s budget.

The current JEA Agreement applies between the city and the utility through 2021, with the current contribution set at about $114.2 million, with minimum annual increases of 1 percent. It also allocates $30 million of total funding  split evenly from JEA and the city for five years for water and sewer projects. And $2 million a year in water quality trading credits, which will go to stormwater needs.

In 2012, current City Council liaison to the JEA Matt Schellenberg floated a resolution urging the sale of JEA, then pulled it because he didn’t have the votes, reported the Florida Times-Union.

However, he believes that the idea “absolutely” could have traction now, he told Florida Politics Tuesday after the meeting.

Finance Chair Garrett Dennis — who hasn’t always lined up with the mayor’s office — is also conceptually open to the idea.

“If it results in paying off debt and making true investments in our city in order to grow, then absolutely I would be open to support the concept,” Dennis said.

Council President Anna Brosche wants to know more, saying she would “need to better understand and fully get what that would mean for the city.”

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry offered a statement that could be construed as conceptual support, framing Petway’s position as “a simple request that citizens and city leaders explore the value of their public assets and how utility customers in our city can be best served. As a reform-minded mayor, I welcome this challenge and will work with City Council leadership to answer these questions.”

Indeed, the ultimate impact of such a move has been the sticking point in previous proposals.

In 2012, City Council Auditor Kirk Sherman noted that while the city would receive an infusion of cash that could be as high as $50 million in 2012 dollars, it would be offset by variables, such as a loss of jobs, the loss of the JEA contribution, and other factors.

Would a 2018 report read differently?

Petway’s tenure was marked by successes, including the utility getting its first ever AAA bond rating while he was chair and the successful ratification of the aforementioned JEA Agreement — setting contractual terms between the utility and the city through 2021.

However, his most audacious play may have been the mic drop at the end.

Jax preachers call Senate tax plan ‘economic genocide’

Steps away from Sen. Marco Rubio‘s Jacksonville office, a group of Jacksonville preachers thundered against the “immoral” tax bill in the U.S. Senate Tuesday.

The clergymen, brought together under the aegis of the “Faith in Public Life” group, called for Rubio and Sen. Bill Nelson to vote against the tax bill based on “religious” values.

Nelson has objected for weeks to the plan, saying that it needs “tremendous revisions” because it privileges corporate interests over those of small businesses and working families.

Rubio also has said he wanted to see more done for working families.

“Unless America’s tax code and our broader public policy does not begin to account for the struggles of working Americans who put in eight to 10 hours a day, five days a week, I think our political process will continue to become more raucous and more divisive,” he said earlier this month. “And America will struggle to solve not just its economic problems, but many of its other problems as well.”

The case the preachers made against the tax plan: it could cause 873,000 Floridians to lose health care, could boost the deficit by $1.5 trillion and could cut social programs.

The rhetoric they used was trenchant.

Rev. Linda D. Girouex called the plan “economic genocide.”

Elder Lee Harris of the of the African-American Ministers Leadership Conference expressed similar sentiments, saying the plan “will destroy certain people,” including poor people and people of color.

Calling the plan “neo-slavery” and saying it amounted to “ethnic cleansing of people of color,” Harris likened it to “chattel slavery … Jim Crow … mass incarceration” in its impact, which would include cuts to Medicaid and food stamps, while removing the ability to deduct student loan interest payments.

“Plantations grow bigger, and only the plantation owners reap the benefits,” Harris said.

Pastor Avery Garner described the “unholy contract” as an “attack on American families,” before making a direct appeal to Sen. Rubio.

“I have seen that you have your own doubts about this legislation,” Garner said. “You can vote no.”

Paul Renner to speak in Jacksonville Wednesday

Rep. Paul Renner, a Republican representing Palm Coast, will speak in Jacksonville Wednesday afternoon at the Southside Business Men’s Club.

Renner, a Jacksonville lawyer, is in line to become House Speaker in 2022 — a long-awaited return to power in Tallahassee for the Jacksonville political class, which still yearns for the days of Jim King and John Thrasher.

Renner, a close ally of current House Speaker Richard Corcoran and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is starting to demonstrate big-league fundraising ability.

October saw $108,000 course into Renner’s political committees, “Florida Foundation for Liberty” and “Conservatives for Principled Leadership.” Defending a safe seat in a deep red district, that money isn’t needed for Renner’s own re-election; he can dole it out to allies and causes with which he accords.

Some of those causes may conflict with those of Jacksonville.

Flagler Live reported last month about a “startling avowal” from Renner, in favor of pre-emption of local ordinances over “home rule” — a concept cherished by local legislators, such as those on the Jacksonville City Council.

“Part of this, to be real blunt about it,” Renner said, “what you’re seeing and this is part of a larger conversation could have is the concentration of support for a more center-left or left-wing viewpoint, and this is again not Flagler County, but our major cities, San Francisco, New York. The Democrat Party has really become a party of dense urban areas and the rest of the country tends to be more conservative, more Republican.

“So part of the fight, part of the sub-context of this whole discussion, is the reason we think they’re going rogue is because it’s Bernie Sanders in charge of your local city government or county government in some cases, and doing things that really are sharp departures from the way the country has become so prosperous, so strong and so free, and so states are stepping in to say, look, we’re not going to let you destroy all the good work that we’re doing and all the economic growth we’re creating in the state for people by trying to ban or shut down particular industries that you don’t like,” Renner added.

Some have interpreted Renner’s rhetorical broadside against “rogue” cities as a potential assault on ordinances such as Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance, recently expanded to protect the rights of LGBT people to employment, housing, and public accommodations.

There has also been narrative divergence about how timely the support of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was for Renner as the jockeying for leadership progressed in the spring and early summer.

Curry was instrumental in a fundraiser that raised $250,000 for Renner’s committees.

“I engaged,” Curry said, “and my political operation engaged.”

Others have groused, quietly but persistently, that ‘Team Curry’ didn’t engage quickly enough.

Expect audience questions at the Southside Business Men’s Club Wednesday on these and related topics.

The meeting is members-only and takes place starting with lunch service at 11:30 a.m. at the San Jose Country Club.

Adam Putnam BBQ bash in Jacksonville Thursday

Gubernatorial hopeful Adam Putnam is serving up the BBQ and the equally slow-roasted Florida exceptionalism stump speech Thursday in Jacksonville.

The meet-and-greet — not “meat and greet” — event with the Agriculture Commissioner kicks off at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, and promises Putnam will “discuss his vision for Florida’s future and how he’ll always put Florida First.”

Putnam has campaigned on a monthly basis in Jacksonville’s media market, but has avoided the city limits until this event, which is at the Diamond-D Ranch near U.S. 301 on the western edge of the county.

Putnam holds a fundraising advantage over every other declared candidate in the race. Between his committee and campaign accounts, he had over $14.5 million cash on hand at the end of October.

This event will serve as a gauge of Putnam’s support.

If Putnam packs the ranch at rush hour on a Thursday, it may mean he has a lock on Northeast Florida.

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