Jax Archives - Page 5 of 312 - Florida Politics

Jacksonville mayor, sheriff’s office prepare for ShotSpotter legislation

Emails between senior staff in the Jacksonville mayor’s and sheriff’s offices offer a unique look at how legislation is nurtured through the process.

The subject of the emails: the ShotSpotter technology that Jacksonville leaders have touted as a possible corrective to the hail of gunshots in high-crime areas.

Ordinance 2016-795 will, among other things, “appropriate $435,001 already allocated in a ShotSpotter reserve account to an equipment purchase account for installation of the test site … acoustic gunshot detection and surveillance technology in a 5 square mile area of Health Zone 1.”

Health Zone 1 encompasses five Jacksonville Journey zip codes, including 32209, which was described by the Florida Times-Union as “Jacksonville’s killing fields.”

Mayor Lenny Curry‘s chief of staff, Kerri Stewart, emailed stakeholders with her expectations as to how the bill might proceed through its three committees of reference: the Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services committee on Tues. Jan. 17; the Public Health and Safety committee on the 18th; and Finance on the 19th.

Stewart’s advice: expect questions relative to the Jacksonville Journey anti-crime initiative, rebooted by Mayor Curry early in his term.

“We are not anticipating any/many specific questions related to ShotSpotter; but the committees are chaired by CM Scott Wilson (NCIS) CM Sam Newby (PHS) and CW Anna Brosche (Finance).  All 3 councilmembers/chairs have specific interest in the Jacksonville Journey and so some questions may inevitably come up,” Stewart noted.

Those questions won’t waylay the legislation, however: “Upon successful passage of the bill in the 3 committees, the entire Council will take up the legislation for final passage on Tuesday, January 24, 2017.”

JSO, meanwhile, feels confident enough to begin the procurement process.

Marines slate January training exercise for Clay County

If Clay County residents see a little more military presence in the Green Cove Springs area later this month, there’s a good reason.

The United States Marine Corps’ 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit will have a Composite Training Unit Exercise in the Green Cove area from Jan. 20 to 23.

This training exercise is a normal pre-deployment activity performed by each US Navy Carrier Strike Group, along with embarked Marines and battle group aircraft.

The expectation is that the event will have minimal impact on residents.

As well, organizers have planned for 911 calls, related to helicopter activity especially.

They have provided the following script to 911 operators.

“Marines and Sailors of the Expeditionary Operations Training Group and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., are conducting COMPTU Exercise at the Avon Park and Green Cove Spings, FL, from January 20-23, 2017.

“The training is essential to the MEU’s preparation for its deployment next year.  It has been coordinated through federal, state, county and city agencies and officials, including the FBI, the FAA and local police departments.”

 

Jacksonville councilwoman’s business slapped with sales tax warrants

KJB Specialties, a Jacksonville company that has Councilwoman Katrina Brown as a managing partner, has been slapped with sales tax warrants recently.

One warrant, totaling $5,236, was issued on Sept. 10, 2016. Brown has asserted previously that said warrant was satisfied.

The second warrant, totaling $5,219, was issued on January 3, 2017.

Brown’s familial business interests have been plagued with bad press of late.

CoWealth LLC, which has been in the news for failing to fulfill job creation goals for a Westside Jacksonville BBQ sauce plant for which the company secured $590,000 in loans and grants from the city, finally paid its 2015 property taxes on December 30.

The company is still technically in default of the agreement with the city’s Office of Economic Development, reports the Florida Times-Union.

The company failed to provide the mandated financial audit statements for 2014 and 2015.

CoWealth also is in trouble with the Small Business Association.

The Times-Union report linked above notes that “CoWealth received a $2.65 million loan from a Louisiana bank. That loan was backed by the Small Business Administration, whose office of inspector general was among the agencies that went to the Commonwealth Avenue building two weeks ago” for a multi-jurisdictional raid involving federal, state, and local authorities.

Brown’s family business enterprises seem to have struggled with revenue problems for a couple of years now.

Even during her successful city council campaign of 2015, delinquent property taxes became an issue.

Thus far, council members have mostly been reluctant to address Brown’s business issues.

We reached out to Councilwoman Brown for comment on the warrants. Check back for updates.

Downtown denizens claim Jax ArtWalk shooting was an anomaly

Before the television news had its first fragmentary reports of Wednesday night’s gunshots fired at Jacksonville’s ArtWalk, social media was lit with Tweets about the subject.

The fascinating thing about the Tweets and Facebook posts, in aggregate: they were first-person accounts of what was going down, in real time, without the framing provided by reporters or the JSO investigation.

More than a few of the Tweets expressed dismay about the future of ArtWalk.

Some folks said they won’t be attending ArtWalk any more. Others speculated that the monthly event might be cancelled altogether.

Still others pointed to changes in the composition of those attending the event.

More kids were in attendance – a function of school being out through yesterday. And yes, the two gunshot victims were teenagers.

As one downtown employee told us, “it was a weird crowd.”

And the weird crowd brought an unprecedented event, that those familiar with ArtWalk on a monthly basis don’t expect to repeat.

As Jeni O’Donnell, the manager of bookstore/café Chamblin’s Uptown, told us, last night’s gunplay was an anomaly – “the first incident in 9 years and 108 ArtWalks” during the time the downtown landmark has been open.

“One in 108 had something happen,” O’Donnell said, attributing the shots to “punk ass kids.”

O’Donnell also offered words of support for Downtown Vision, which runs the ArtWalk events.

“Downtown Vision is doing a bang up job,” O’Donnell said.

Another Chamblin’s employee described her vantage point of the aftermath of the shots fired Wednesday evening, describing “100 people running down the street,” a mass of panic not unlike that one might see in a Godzilla movie.

“Scared kids … in a crowded place,” ran the description.

Everyone we talked to agreed that the shooting was an anomaly – and that it shouldn’t affect future ArtWalk events.

Downtown Vision, meanwhile, offered a statement Wednesday morning.

“We at Downtown Vision are deeply troubled by the shooting that occurred after last night’s Art Walk. We thank Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office for its immediate and expert response to this unfortunate incident. Every month, we work closely with JSO on Art Walk, and they implement a number of detailed measures to keep everyone safe at the event.

“We believe that for the past 13 years since its inception, Art Walk has become a well-loved tradition. It is important to our Downtown and to our community, representing the very best of Jacksonville. Every month, Art Walk continues to bring us together in a positive and meaningful way, while supporting our Downtown and its businesses.

“We will continue to work closely with JSO to ensure the ongoing safety of everyone at Art Walk, and look forward to continuing this great Downtown event supporting creativity, diversity and peaceful expression as we work to create and support a more vibrant Downtown Jacksonville.”

Meanwhile, the office of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, via spokeswoman Marsha Oliver, noted that “ the mayor is strongly committed to public safety and will continue to engage with Sheriff Williams on his team’s efforts to protect citizens and property throughout the city.”

In short: despite the shooting at last night’s ArtWalk, there appears to be no momentum for cancelling or changing the monthly event, which has become pivotal to Jacksonville’s creative class.

Jacksonville Beach pier management deal likely will be suspended pending repairs

Hurricane Matthew washed away a 350 foot swath of the Jacksonville Beach pier. And it’s unknown when that will be repaired.

With that in mind, a council ordinance to suspend the $5,500 monthly lease of the Dania Pier Management Corporation has been making its way through committees.

On Thursday, the measure cleared the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee, the final step before it is approved by the full council next week.

The pier management deal runs through 2020, and the suspension does not mean that the company will have an extended term of the lease.

The city has a contractual obligation to give five days written notice before suspending the agreement.

Repairs to the pier are in the future; a report is still pending as to what caused the structural failure of the pier.

The pier was opened in its current location in late 2004.

The full council will approve this ordinance next week.

Jacksonville City Council Finance committee moves to boost emergency reserve

The Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee mulled reports from the council auditor, Kirk Sherman, in its Thursday morning meeting.

Discussed: the summary for Fiscal Year 2016, a report which led to a move to boost the city’s emergency reserve to 6 percent.

According to the Jacksonville City Council auditor’s report, FY 2016 was a good year for the city of Jacksonville’s budget, highlighted by a $29 million favorable variance in a $1.1 billion budget.

Revenues were $15 million above budgetary expectations, and expenditures were $14 million under projections.

This is a “very good result for the fiscal year,” Sherman said, with the “line held” on expenditures.

Revenue outperformed in some areas.  Property tax collections were up, and red light camera money was a “pleasant surprise,” Sherman said, one that should be regarded as a “bonus” rather than a reliable source of income.

“The General Fund’s in a strong position, and that’s one reason I recommended that you consider doing some legislation,” Sherman said, to put money in the emergency reserve — which is below the target level of 5 percent.

Councilman Bill Gulliford urged committee legislation to boost the reserve to 6 percent — which would be about $11 million moved into the emergency reserve.

CFO Mike Weinstein concurred with the “concept,” but resisted moving dollars until “collective bargaining is behind us.”

“Maybe put it in the hopper,” Weinstein said. “The timing is sort of interesting.”

That legislation will be readied for filing in two weeks, which would put it on track to be passed during the February 28 council meeting, assuming no deferrals happen.

Notable: emergency reserves were last used during Operation Safe Streets in a previous administration. Hurricane Matthew recovery has yet to see funds moved from the reserve funds, an allocation which requires council approval.

Beyond the emergency reserve issue, concerns were raised.

Councilman Matt Schellenberg urged the Duval Delegation to find a way to boost the communication services tax, or otherwise make up for the $8 million drop in recent years.

Once a growth sector, the ongoing decrease in land lines has led to a decrease in the tax.

Unrecovered billings for ambulance services were also discussed; a different contractor has apparently gotten better results, though it still is difficult to balance the challenges of emergency triage and the like with getting accurate and timely billing information.

Overtime costs also present a challenge, Sherman said, for public safety workers; this “concern” is a function of manpower shortages in police and fire.

For example, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has a 3 percent vacancy rate.

The committee’s attention then turned to insolvent subfunds.

Among the subfunds with some issues: municipal stadiums and arenas.

The stadium is over $3.5 million in the hole. The arena subfund is almost $1.6 million in the red. And the Performing Arts Center fund? Insolvent.

Venues are aggregated as a subfund for FY 17, so that won’t be an issue.

Regarding JTA’s issues, Sherman said there will be a meeting between his group and JTA to remedy issues he identified in the audit; “the Skyway Division, CTC Division and the General Fund/Engineering Division all overspent their Fiscal Year 2015/2016 amended budgets.”

The council auditor also threw major shade at JTA’s shoddy accounting practices in the report: “It should be noted that while JTA submitted their quarterly report on time, there were numerous errors with JTA’s report. JTA had to submit their quarterly report three separate times before we could properly review the report for reasonableness. JTA should be reviewing their reports for errors and inconsistencies before submitting them to our office to ensure the quarterly reports agree to the supporting documentation.”

JTA is moving to correct these issues.

The Fiorentino Group helms Northeast Florida lobbying efforts again in 2017

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran may abhor the influence of lobbyists in Tallahassee. But Jacksonville and its independent agencies have them anyway, as do other regional entities in Northeast Florida.

The calculus is not complicated for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who parlayed $150,000 last year into a sustained and successful lobbying effort helmed by the Fiorentino Group and aided by Ballard Partners and Southern Strategy Group.

“I have and will continue to work with a team of professionals who ensure getting the highest return for the investment of taxpayers. The successes of our team include a solution to the pension crisis and earned us state resources for infrastructure and public safety,” Curry told us in November.

This year, the asks are different. The pension reform referendum pushed through Tallahassee in 2016 passed, setting the stage for increasingly fractious collective bargaining environment to negotiate new plans for new hires.

The Curry administration this year wants $50 million of state money to tear down the current Hart Expressway offramps near the sports complex, replacing them with an exit onto Bay Street.

And to that end, resources are dedicated to the effort. And at least potentially, they add up to more than the 2016 commitment.

The Fiorentino Group has a $60,000 budget for 2017, up from $50,000. The same holds true for Ballard and SSG, we hear. [For its part, Curry’s office says the “contracts are in the process of execution,” and wouldn’t confirm numbers.]

If that uptick in expenditure holds for all three lobbying groups, the city is boosting its investment in lobbyists by 20 percent year over year — a reasonable spend given the unproven nature of the Duval County Legislative Delegation’s newest members, and the lack of pull the local delegation has in the Florida House.

In short, it’s money well-spent.

***

Fiorentino is also handling the concerns of many of the city’s independent authorities.

The Fiorentino Group has a $5,000 a month deal with the Jacksonville Aviation Authority that started in October 2016 and runs for three years thereafter, adding up to $180,000.

TFG is still under contract with the Jacksonville Port Authority through January 2017, a deal originally launched in 2014.

And TFG has a $6,000 a month deal with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority. That fee is matched by what the University of North Florida pays Fiorentino.

The Fiorentino Group also has contracts regionally.

Among those: a deal with Green Cove Springs, the seat of Clay County, capped at $15,000 total.

St. Johns County also benefits from the Fiorentino touch. The county itself has had TFG on a $4,500 monthly retainer since 2009. And the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office has a deal for $2,500 with the Fiorentino Group.

Jacksonville human rights ordinance expansion push begins … again

On Wednesday, Jacksonville City Council members and community leaders met in a packed conference room in city hall.

The subject: expanding Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include members of the city’s LGBT community. The bill is expected to be filed by 3 p.m. January 4, with an eye toward committees and a full council vote on February 14.

The rhetoric of Wednesday’s meeting: familiar. Lots of phrasings about the economic and the moral case for the HRO from its biggest advocates on Council and other prominent community leaders and figures.

Bill co-sponsors Tommy HazouriJim Love, and Aaron Bowman were on hand, along with other council members, such as Al FerraroGreg Anderson, Katrina BrownJoyce Morgan, VP John Crescimbeni and President Lori Boyer.

Bowman noted that President-elect Donald Trump “supported LGBT” at the GOP Convention and got applause, while HB 2 was a “disaster” in North Carolina, suggesting that both were auguries of change.

Jacksonville Chamber Co-Chair Darnell Smith urged council co-sponsorship for what he called a “Jacksonville solution,” which “truly represents who we are as a community.”

“We don’t want anyone in our community to be discriminated against for any reason,” Smith said, adding that the HRO won’t take away anyone’s religious freedoms.

Smith lauded Mayor Curry for his departmental directive protecting LGBT city and vendor employees from discrimination, saying that it’s “time to act” on the HRO, a “comprehensive” bill “written in a tenor and tone of togetherness.”

Smith implored the eight council members on hand to co-introduce the bill.

Others followed with their own pitches.

Steve Halverson of Haskell spoke further of support from the Jacksonville Civic Council and its “strong support for a comprehensive human rights ordinance.”

Hugh Greene of Baptist Health called the lack of an HRO expansion an “embarrassment” and an issue that “clouds our city.”

Pastor John Newman asserted that HRO expansion will “help us clarify that this is a welcoming city.”

“We protect each other. We love each other. That goes for those in the LGBT community as well as those in the religious community,” Newman noted.

The bill, said Jimmy Midyette of the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality, synthesizes the “best bits” of the two previous bills filed in attempts to expand the HRO.

Discussion followed regarding the difficulties of business recruitment, and other issues, with Councilman Hazouri noting that investments in sports facilities and entertainment venues might come to naught because entertainers won’t want to perform in a place without legal protections for LGBT people.

The bill was then presented to the council members and VIPs in attendance, explaining the specific additions of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to ordinance language, and the various carveouts and exceptions that protect small businesses and religious organizations.

“We’re not telling every business in the city that they need to retrofit their bathrooms,” Midyette said.

Then, the call for co-sponsors.

Jim Love reiterated his support and vowed to co-introduce the bill.

Tommy Hazouri likewise said he was still all in.

Councilwoman Katrina Brown had questions about restrooms in small businesses, like her family’s restaurant. She was told that transgender people were advised, via the bill, to use the bathroom they are comfortable with.

“Nothing changes,” Midyette said.

And the bill stood with three co-introducers.

Council President Boyer urged the bill to “go through the committee process deliberately.”

“We have had a long period of time in which to debate and evaluate our positions,” Boyer said, urging a normal committee cycle.

****

Will the third time be the charm for attempts to add LGBT protections to Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance?

The bill went down in two versions in 2012. A “compromise” bill, which would have kept the “T” out of the protections rendered, fell 10 to 9 after one committed supporter, Councilman Johnny Gaffney, got “confused” and voted no.

Then, the original fully-inclusive version was defeated 17 to 2.

Gaffney did not ask for a re-vote. Years later, he would say he was pressured to vote no by the administration of former Mayor Alvin Brown.

****

After 2012’s down vote, the HRO remained on the backburner as a political issue. That backburner got hot during the 2015 mayoral campaign, contributing to Brown’s defeat.

In later 2015, the HRO resurfaced.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri filed a 14-page bill that sought to add sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to the protected categories.

That bill was preceded by Hazouri’s council colleague, Bill Gulliford, filing his own bill pushing for a referendum on the HRO. Gulliford’s expectation was that the referendum wouldn’t pass.

The Hazouri bill sought to expand equal protections under the law, including housing and employment, as well as public accommodations, to people regardless of sexual orientation (real or perceived), gender identity, or gender expression.

In filing the bill, Hazouri’s office issued a prepared statement decrying the Gulliford bill, saying that a “referendum would lead to months and months of hateful rhetoric that would fully divide our city. Outside groups on both sides would come in with staff, and money would pour in from outside sources.”

Indeed, that’s what happened.

The early weeks of 2016 were fraught with conflict, with Equality Florida and the Human Rights Campaign’s lobbyists facing off with national firepower on the opposing side, such as Roger Gannam of the Liberty Counsel and Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington State florist who was sued for not providing flowers for a same-sex wedding.

As the issue began to dominate the Jacksonville body politic, it began to look like Hazouri and bill co-sponsors Jim Love and Aaron Bowman were outgunned.

Team Hazouri counted the votes. And quietly, the press leaks began one February weekend: his HRO bill was to be withdrawn.

And at a council meeting a few days later, it was pulled.

Since then, the noise has been that the bill would be brought back.

The conventional wisdom: that the bill would be timed more conveniently after the pension reform referendum passed in August.

That came and went, as did the general election, and the Christmas season, and New Year’s fireworks.

However, January rolled around, and advocates of HRO expansion are pushing yet again.

****

FloridaPolitics.com reviewed the legislation – one that has seen many different iterations.

But one signature virtue the latest version has is simplicity.

The 14-page monster of a bill was pared down to a more manageable four pages.

Part of that bill details the parts of city code – equal employment opportunity, public accommodations, and fair housing – that would be amended if the bill passes.

“Wherever protected categories are listed,” the text reads, “sexual orientation and gender identity … shall be added to the list.”

The bill attempts to fix the definitions of gender identity as a “consistent and uniform assertion of a particular gender identity, appearance, or expression.”

That “consistent and uniform assertion” language is intended to circumvent an expected legislative loophole: “that gender identity shall not be asserted for any improper, illegal or criminal purpose.”

That language is intended to short-circuit the critiques of HRO expansion as a so-called “bathroom bill,” able to be exploited by lavatory malingerers.

The bill also offers carve out exemptions (as did the 2015/16 bill) for religious institutions, including schools and affiliated non-profits, and small employers in the hiring process. In particular, the bill says that legislators have “carefully considered”

And it allows for employee dress codes, as long as “such dress code shall not be based on sex stereotypes.”

As well, the bill is predicated in recent evolutions of city policy, framing Jacksonville as an “inclusive and welcoming community, wherein no discrimination should occur.”

The bill notes that the Duval County School Board, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, JEA and JTA, and the Jacksonville Port and Aviation Authorities all codify similar protections. Meanwhile, the bill cites Mayor Curry’s “departmental directive” protecting employees of the city and its vendors from discriminatory actions in the workplace.

****

Of course, there is a catch. Curry, in issuing that directive almost a year ago, waved a caution flag.

“Based on the extensive community discussion and the actions that I have taken and directed, I have concluded my review, analysis and determination of this issue, and as such, I do not believe any further legislation would be prudent,” Curry observed.

If the bill were to get ten supporters – and an informal vote count by one advocate says that it should have 11 – then that would push it past the threshold for passing.

Our understanding is that the mayor’s office would prefer 13 votes in favor of legislation; that supermajority would remove the question of whether or not Curry would veto it, sign it, or take the middle ground and let the bill become law without his signature.

Before the bill can get to the full council, it has to get to committees, and a lot can happen in those council panels.

In 2012, Johnny Gaffney supported HRO expansion in committee, before changing his position at the council meeting.

The hope among advocates: that the bill only gets heard in Rules.

The reality: there will be a push to have the measure heard in other committees.

****

There are reasons that advocates are hopeful for this council to do in 2017 what it wouldn’t do in 2012 or 2016.

There is hope that Council President Lori Boyer, who said that the discussion had barely gotten started in 2016 when Hazouri pulled his bill, will ensure the process is not distracted.

There is hope also that bill advocates, such as JEA’s Mike Hightower, can convince social conservatives like Councilman Sam Newby to go along.

There is also hope that Sen. Audrey Gibson, chair of the local Democratic party, can ensure that all seven Democrats on the council are on board with the legislation.

If seven back it, only three Republicans are needed – and Jim Love and Aaron Bowman are two of those Republicans.

Former Council President Greg Anderson, who took a thoughtful position toward the process during his year in the center chair, could well move from a maybe to a yes.

The same could hold true for President Lori Boyer.

In June, Boyer said that “for some of us,” Boyer said, the sticking points are “all about language,” including reasonable exceptions and accommodations.

As well, the previous discussions never got to issues like how other jurisdictions handle similar legislation.

“The dialogue can hopefully happen before the bill is filed.”

And Anna Brosche, the chair of the Finance Committee, offered conceptual support for legislation on the campaign trail … but she wants the legislation to protect all parties.

“My words were pretty consistent during the entire campaign. I have zero-tolerance for discrimination,” Brosche said, but legislation must “make sure that small business and the faith-based community is considered as part of the process.”

Brosche, during her campaign against the anti-HRO Kim Daniels, was “turned into a champion of the topic.”

“There may be people who expected me to be a champion, a leader. I’m interested to know how people reached that conclusion,” Brosche said, wondering “how much of it was me, and how much was it the nature of that race in particular.”

There is room to get over 10 votes, if all of these variables play out in the right way. The question in 2017 is similar to that of 2016: can the agents of change demonstrate that they have mastered the process of manufacturing consensus?

There are hints of problems in that process. One observer has framed the effort as one of “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Meanwhile, questions remain as to whether there should have been more groundwork laid via backchannels before filing the bill.

At a time when mayors of cities like Orlando and Tampa are telling businesses looking at Jacksonville that the city is “backwards” on this issue, and the NCAA is requiring anti-discrimination legislation as part of its scoring matrix for assigning tournament games, a lot may be riding on the answer to that question.

Jacksonville City Council to mull equal opportunity ordinance

While the introduction of another legislative attempt to expand Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance drew the TV cameras Wednesday, another bill designed to remedy discrimination was introduced the same day.

Councilman Garrett Dennis filed Ordinance 2017-16, “encouraging the City of Jacksonville and its independent agencies and authorities under the code to provide positive steps to correct or eliminate the vestiges of any past discriminatory practices and any current potentially discriminatory conditions, whether purposeful or inadvertent, that may have effectively denied full and equal participation by underrepresented groups in the city’s workforce.”

Jacksonville, of course, has a long history of issues with employment discrimination in the workplace, including governmental entities. And the Equal Opportunity/Equal Access program, set up in 2004, was established to remedy those injustices.

However, what Dennis’ legislation would do is offer some concrete steps toward and resources behind those goals.

Dennis’ bill calls for the following: annual reporting to the Mayor and City Council on the progress and state of the Equal Opportunity/Equal Access Program; budgetary line-item for the position of Equal Opportunity/Equal Access Assistant Director; and an “annual review” of “adherence and commitment” to the ordinance by the CEO’s of the city’s independent authorities.

The bill notes that the position of assistant director of the equal opportunity program has been vacant for a long time for budget reasons, which occludes the council from knowing exactly how entities like JEA and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority address these issues.

That assistant director, were the position funded, could ensure that demographic criteria isn’t the reason for hiring, firing, promotion, or lack thereof.

Positioned to monitor how these agencies address diversity goals, the director would be expected to report to council annually. The agencies would also be expected to offer similar reports.

Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels pledges transparency at impassioned swearing in

Outside the Thrasher-Horne Center for the Arts, protesters gathered. Inside, hundreds of people packed into the lobby, where the public swearing-in of Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels was held Monday evening.

Organizers delayed the start of the ceremony for 40 minutes while they figured out where to put all the supporters, colleagues and curious citizens as the county’s first black sheriff prepared to take office.

“Darryl Daniels was elected because of the content of his character, not the color of his skin,” Clay County Commissioner Diane Hutchings, paraphrasing Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said to the crowd as she emceed the event.

Daniels, a former Duval County jails chief and Naval officer, garnered 35 percent of the vote to win a four-candidate Republican primary in August. He replaces Rick Beseler, who retired after 12 years as sheriff.

“I’ve been this color my whole life,” Daniels said to the crowd. “The color of my skin isn’t relevant.

“You only have a few moments in life to achieve greatness, and I want to try as sheriff to achieve greatness,” he continued during an impassioned speech. “I’m talking about eating away at the blight that’s around Clay County, and eating away at some of the crime I’ve seen in Clay County, and eating away at things I don’t like seeing in Clay County. I want to mend broken fences and be a bridge between the community and the sheriff’s office.

“There is no more ‘us versus them.’ We’re all ‘us.’”

The ceremony, which took place on the lobby stairs, included speeches by two pastors and multiple prayers, with Daniels’ Christian faith as a theme. Daniels promised a transparent administration as sheriff. He said that he and his officers will walk through neighborhoods each month and hold monthly town hall meetings.

“I think it’s important, especially in this day and time, to earn the trust of the people in the community,” Daniels told Clay Today after the festivities.

Daniels has expressed an openness to the use of body cameras for officers, which is an idea Beseler was not especially fond of during his tenure.

“I’m not committed yet to moving in that direction, but we’re going to explore it,” Daniels said. “I know the budget can’t support it right now, but in the spirit of transparency and accountability, I think we need to explore every avenue.”

Estimates to start a body-camera program range between $3 million and $5 million, with a $3 million annual cost to sustain it.

The protesters showed up outside the swearing-in, which was performed by Jacksonville Judge Virginia B. Norton, because of Daniels’ controversial decision to name former State Attorney Angela Corey as his general counsel. She was voted out of office – defeated by former colleague Melissa Nelson – after two terms. She became unpopular for what many voters saw as routinely over-charging defendants for political reasons as well as for giving raises to her staff and herself that were perceived as questionable.

Her hiring was one of his first moves before Daniels’ assuming office, and it caused immediate political blowback.

“I’m leveraging her experience,” he said. “If you trusted me enough to vote for me, then trust me in bringing her on board.”

He has said Corey will only serve as counsel through April, and she will set up legal guidelines for his staff to follow.

For those four months, according to multiple reports, Corey will increase her retirement payout by approximately $35,000 – from $448,200 to $483.272. She will also make around $34,000 in salary from now through April.

“I’ve known Angela Corey for 25 years,” Daniels has said. “I didn’t hire her to be attorney general.”

Steve Johnson, who had initially supported Daniels, recently started a change.org petition demanding the removal of Corey as general counsel. Johnson, who has said he feels betrayed by Daniels, had gathered more than 200 signatures as of Wednesday morning.

“The county voted to remove Angela Corey from office,” wrote Cecilia Nippe, who signed the petition. “Why would I want her back again?”

Mike Lewis, who also signed the petition, wrote of the Corey hiring: “This is a travesty. Darryl Daniels, stop wasting our tax money or you will be run out of town.”

Desiree Allen, founder of Orange Park-based Community Impact – an organization focusing on issues of justice, neighborhood involvement and public service – didn’t support Daniels’ campaign and is also unhappy with his decision to hire Corey.

“I’ve met him and don’t trust him,” she said of Daniels. “I think he deceived the voters of Clay County. Some of the initiatives he has promised sound very positive, but I’ll believe it when I see it. He never showed his face in some of the black neighborhoods in our county when he was running for election, and I just don’t feel honesty coming from him.

“We have a bunch of bright African-American kids, bright Asian kids, who will never get out of jail because of Angela Corey.”

Allen added that after initially meeting and talking with Daniels, she saw him at several other events and was rebuffed because she didn’t get behind his campaign.

“I went up to him and said hello, and he wouldn’t speak to me,” she said. “He simply turned his body away from me and looked the other way. So I guess if I didn’t support your campaign, you’re not going to protect me as sheriff?

“We want to work with the sheriff’s office, so I’ll give him a chance,” she said. “But we’ll see what he does.”

Email Christiaan DeFranco at chris@opcfla.com. Follow him on Twitter @cdefranco.

 

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