Jax Archives - Page 5 of 356 - Florida Politics

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.

Seismic change awaits Jacksonville City Council in Anna Brosche Presidency

Jacksonville City Council President-Designate Anna Brosche announced new committee assignments starting in July, when she takes over. [2017-2018 Council Committee Assignments Letter ]

Some interesting takeaways abound. One of which: veteran Republican Bill Gulliford is not on any standing committees, with Brosche apparently calling a bluff Gulliford made in the pledge process when he vowed not to serve on a standing committee in the Brosche administration.

As we predicted weeks back, Garrett Dennis will assume the chair of the Finance Committee — the first Finance Chair from minority-access districts in many years, and a measure of the unique coalition that pushed Brosche to the Council Presidency.

Also on Finance: the other three of those African-American Democratic swing votes (Katrina BrownReggie Gaffney, and Reggie Brown), which will ensure that priorities of their historically underserved communities will take a prominent place in the budget process, as the city digests its “budget relief” to come. The four members will be a decisive bloc in the process, signaling a shift from previous years.

There is grumbling, of course, from some in City Hall about these picks: off-record comments about “deals” and the like. Whatever the case, though, it worked out in the short term. Brosche got the presidency and African-American Democrats will call the shots on Finance.

We got Brosche’s thoughts on these matters. Gulliford not being on a standing committee, she said, is not a big deal.

“Gulliford has agreed to chair a special committee on the opioid epidemic, and there will be other special committees in which he may choose to serve. CM Gulliford is no stranger to getting things done and I am certain he’ll continue to be effective,” Brosche asserted.

Gulliford seemed to have a different take on the process, noting that he is “conspicuously absent” from committees.

“I offered my services,” Gulliford said, “but I guess she didn’t need me … time for new blood, I guess.”

Gulliford won’t miss the work of Finance, where he has labored in prominent roles for years. It remains to be seen if the process will go more or less smoothly in his absence from that and other standing committees.

As well, Brosche “was surprised to learn CM R. Brown had never served on Finance. A safe and healthy Northwest is a priority for me, and my committee assignments reflect such. CM R. Brown has also agreed to chair a special committee on Northwest Jacksonville.”

Brown noted that his assignments — which also include Rules — are a “big deal” for him. The Army officer, who also has a graduate degree, believes that he “met the standard” for the prestige committee assignments long before now.

Brown had been on Finance when it had nine members, and looks forward to him and colleagues diving down into priorities; he identifies social and senior services and parks as areas ripe for change and improvement.

“We should do more than what we’re doing,” Brown said.

Danny Becton, who seeks to push legislation that earmarks 15 percent of budget increases going forward to pension liability, will be vice-chair of the Finance committee, which will meet on Tuesday mornings going forward.

The Rules Committee will be chaired by Doyle Carter, with Scott Wilson as Vice-Chair. The two Republicans lost the most recent two VP races, but will be well-positioned in Rules in the upcoming year.

Matt Schellenberg will chair Land Use and Zoning, with Lori Boyer as Vice-Chair.

Meanwhile, two current standing committees will be combined into one: Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health and Safety.

Sam Newby will chair that; Greg Anderson will be vice-chair.

Transportation, Energy, and Utilities will be chaired, meanwhile, by Al Ferraro, with Jim Love as Vice-Chair.

What $200K for swim lessons says about Jax fiscal philosophy

In May 2016, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Councilman Garrett Dennis came together to announce a drowning prevention initiative.

Swim lessons for children in poorer areas of town were paid for by private grants, and at the time it was one of those stories that some observers didn’t even think was worthy of coverage.

Over a year later, and swim lessons are back in the news — this time, via a disagreement between Dennis and the Mayor’s Office over funding for more swim lessons.

The Mayor’s Office had its own bill to give 1,500 kids swimming lessons for two weeks, with $35,000 coming out of Council Contingency — that sailed through committee easily.

But that wasn’t the only piece of legislation related to swim lessons on Monday.

Dennis introduced a piece of emergency legislation (2017-442) in Jacksonville’s Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services Committee on Monday that seemed straightforward enough.

$200,000 — a sum less than that owed to the city of Jacksonville by the businesses of one City Council Finance Committee member — would be shifted from fund balance to the Parks and Recreation Department for swim lessons ($125,000), transportation ($50,000), and “education” ($25,000).

While $200,000 may seem like a trifling sum in a $1.1B budget, Curry’s Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa indicated last week in the Mayor’s Budget Review Committee that the administration did not support the bill — not because of objection to the concept, but objection to moving money out of the general fund.

Before NCIS Monday morning, we asked Dennis for his thoughts.

“If they don’t support my bill,” Dennis said, “they don’t support Bill Gulliford‘s bill.”

That bill, introduced last week via a normal legislative cycle, 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.

“They are both crises … opioid epidemic and the drowning epidemic,” said Dennis, with funds from the “same pot of money.”

Dennis, who will chair the Finance Committee in July, and Gulliford, who won’t be on any committees for the next year, jousted over another bill (a $60K allocation) in committee before Dennis’ emergency legislation came up, with Dennis repeating statements about how much he’d learned from Gulliford — the “teacher”, to Dennis, “the student.”

This parrying suggested larger shifts to come in seemingly established paradigms, and provided a neat prelim bout to the main event.

In committee, Dennis presented the emergency as one of an “epidemic crisis”, with accidental drowning being the second biggest cause of death for children under 14.

The $200,000, Dennis said, will allow for more lessons, and would extend “swim season” past Labor Day.

Councilman Gulliford spoke up.

“Maybe the perceived teacher is being taught by the student, and I’ll just leave it at that,” Gulliford said.

Joey Grieve of the Finance Department from the Lenny Curry Administration spoke up “from a process standpoint,” saying that “an item that could potentially turn into a recurring expense over time” should be “processed in accordance with scoring and ranking … a prioritization process in the budget period” rather than an emergency expense.

Despite $97M in the unassigned general fund balance (8.8 percent of the budget), Grieve reiterated that money not be allocated from a savings account, but through the process.

Dennis pressed Grieve.

“What do you see as the priority? Do you come to Council, the policy making body? Or do you determine inside your silo?”

Grieve came back to process; Dennis noted that his bill is the same as Guilliford’s, in terms of taking money from fund balance, and wanted to ensure the Administration would be consistent regarding the two.

CFO Mike Weinstein backed Grieve up, but made the mistake of saying “ultimately it’s your decision,” which Dennis compelled him to repeat before finishing his remarks.

“The more you take out of fund balance, the less will roll over when we sit down and do the budget in a month or two,” Weinstein said.

Dennis pressed Weinstein to be consistent regarding the opioid bill; Weinstein said his objection was process, not the sentiment itself.

“We are opposed to the process, not the individual priorities you’re setting,” Weinstein said, saying Dennis’ pressing constituted an “unfair question.”

Gulliford noted, regarding his bill, that there would be cost savings from his opioid bill, and that he would not take money out of the fund balance lightly.

Questions emerged over exactly how the money would be used.

“If we are at a point where we cannot use all the dollars, I’d like to know how much we would need,” said Councilwoman Joyce Morgan.

Dennis noted he had questions about the Gulliford bill also in terms of specific allocations of the money.

Regardless of qualms, the bill passed 6-0.

The bill has two more committee stops: Rules on Tuesday, and Finance on Wednesday.

How reform might look for Jacksonville’s children programs

A little over two weeks ago, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and a number of City Council members called a presser to announce a stopgap resolution of a problem months in the making: insufficient funding for summer camps.

The Jacksonville Children’s Commission, which greenlighted the process, was trying to privilege quality over quantity. Yet, as camp sites closed and children were on the verge of being shut out, it was clear there were problems with the approach hammered out by the JCC over a course of months.

The money was found to close a lot of the gap: 24 more sites were funded (bringing the total to 72 citywide, down from 98 previously), $958,000 more being allocated, and 1,700 more kids being served than would have previously been possible.

But the more enduring takeaway, as revealed by Curry’s quotes, was a process that had gone sideways.

Curry was “frustrated” and  “surprised to learn of significant cuts” to per-capita camp allocations.

While the $958,000 was a “band aid,” Curry said that he would introduce reforms to ensure that this doesn’t happen again, including ensuring alignment between the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jax Journey — his administration’s key anti-crime initiative.

When asked if the two overlapping programs could be merged, Curry said “all options are on the table,” depending on the “best interest of kids.”

Last week, Mayor Curry spoke to these themes again, noting the disconnect between intention and realization in these programs, and how that disconnect undermines public safety itself.

“No, I’m not happy with where we are on public safety right now. That’s an across-the-board statement. I’m going to continue to provide the resources that I deem necessary, and work every day to tweak things to where we get the best results.”

And the Jacksonville Journey and the Jacksonville Children’s Commission are headed for “big reforms.” Decisions will be made in a matter of weeks, he said.

“We are beyond tweaking when it comes to these programs we deliver to children, and big reforms are coming,” Curry emphasized.

“We’re working through exactly what those reforms are going to look like. I will have reached a decision inside of two weeks.”

Some have said Curry seeks to roll the Jacksonville Children’s Commission up into Jacksonville Journey, a concept that seemed to be suggested in Thursday’s budget meeting for the Journey.

Curry dismissed that, at least as being more than an option.

“Nobody knows what I’m looking at. I’m working inside a very small group — anything you’re hearing is pure speculation.”

“I’m looking at making sure that we have programs that are very clear and meeting the needs of specific ‘at-hope youth’ that are the solution to prevention and intervention,” Curry said, using a phrase he first used two weeks prior when announcing $988,000 of new money available for youth summer camps.

“We’ve got to be very clear about how we deliver those services and make sure we’re getting results, and make sure that the management team is aggressive in terms of pursuing those goals, and that the whole governance structure is aggressive as well, and hold them accountable,” Curry said.

As was demonstrated Thursday in the Jax Journey budget meeting, plans for the future of the program are in limbo, at least in terms of structural organization, given the looming specter of major reforms.

Thursday saw Journey director Debbie Verges note that Journey and the JCC were increasingly aligned — and that she sees the Journey as a $9M program rather than a $5M program, with the JCC administering “Journey programs.”

Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Children’s Commission budget hearing Friday afternoon had its own opacity, given that any requests were to be theoretical until Curry made his call.

CAO Sam Mousa listened to the proposed enhancements from JCC CEO Jon Heymann, including the $958,000 summer camp money mentioned above that turned into a sum just over $1M after what was called “marathon mathematics” at Tuesday’s shambolic Jacksonville City Council meeting.

The total camp request: just over $2M.

“You made the decision to enhance the program. Why did you not look at other programs,” Mousa asked, and move money over based on adjusted “priorities.”

Short answer: JCC lacked the authority to move funds without Council authority. And the board chose not to shift money from other priorities.

JCC’s Board Chair also critiqued media for not pointing out that some kids would get extra weeks of summer camp based on the formula the board chose to work.

As well, it was pointed out that there was a “political need”, on the part of the City Council, to expand camp availability, with those who lost in rebidding framing it as “the greatest atrocity that ever happened,” according to Board Chair Matt Kane.

“As that boils up into an article in the paper, they talk about the number of kids,” Kane said.

Some camps, it was revealed, hadn’t been rebid for a decade.

“For ten years, the same entities got the monies,” Mousa said. “The commission did nothing for ten years–”

Kane amended it to three years, then another explanation was advanced about “grassroots money pots.”

As the pitches continued, a look of skepticism was unmistakable on Mousa’s face.

Kane noted that JCC is the “child-serving organization,” and that Journey camps were more expensive, per capita, than JCC’s.

“We’re accepting your budget today as information,” Mousa said. “We’re going to wait and see what the mayor wants to do.”

____

The Curry Administration has not been averse to re-org projects: for a recent example, consider the reconstitution of the Neighborhoods Department.

Even before taking office, Curry’s transition team was mulling over how to bring back a department downshifted during the Alvin Brown administration, as a dubious director lost the confidence of others in city government.

Curry’s first Chief of Staff, Kerri Stewart, ran Neighborhoods previously when John Peyton was Jacksonville Mayor.

Soon enough, the department was re-instituted, with key city processes moved under that umbrella.

There are, to be sure, caveats: it is too early still to point to a real success the Neighborhoods Department has had – it’s more a function of reorganization than something that has shown results that translate into eye-popping headlines.

Ultimately, though, city government functions best when mistakes and errors in judgment and execution are not “in the headlines,” and when departments have clear lines of communication to the public and the legislative and executive branches.

That’s a lesson taught — yet again — by the need to do 11th hour make-up work to restore summer camp funding.

And a lesson that Lenny Curry does not want to deal with again, which means that structural reform is absolutely necessary — and a big story of this budget process.

Jacksonville considers raising emergency reserve level

As part of our continuing coverage of the budget process in Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s office, we were on hand for Friday’s consideration of non-departmental expenditures heading into the next fiscal year.

The biggest news? A potential increase of the city’s emergency reserve level, something that was discussed in Jacksonville City Council committees months back.

The city may set the operating reserve at 7 percent, and the emergency reserve at 6 percent — a shift from 8 and 5 percent respectively. Reserves would total 13 percent in each case; however, this would be a meaningful policy shift.

If this holds, that jibes with the City Council Finance Committee’s desire in January to move the emergency reserve to 6 percent, a response to concerns expressed by the Council Auditor when the reserve dipped below the mandatory 5 percent level last year.

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.”

Of course, collective bargaining wrapped soon thereafter between the city and its myriad unions, and from there the City Council approved the deals — which came contingent with raises for all city employees, in exchange for moving new hires from the unsustainable defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan.

This proposal comes at a time when City Council members are wrangling with plans on how to use the “fiscal relief” generated by pension reform.

One proposal, as of earlier this month, looked to be dead in the water.

Councilman Danny Becton filed 2017-348, which would require that 15 percent of all general fund money beyond the baseline FY 16-17 budget go toward defraying the city’s $2.8B unfunded actuarial liability on pension.

Becton’s bill, however, was not backed by the Lenny Curry administration — which seemed to come as a surprise to the first-term Southside Republican Councilman.

Days later, the bill went to its sole committee of reference — Finance — where it seemingly was, to quote Becton, “put out of its misery” with a 4 to 1 vote.

However, in the tradition of an extra life in a video game, Becton’s bill got brought back from the dead, and will enjoy a “Weekend At Bernie’s” moment in Rules and Finance at some future point — though who knows when, as the Finance agenda for Wednesday, June 21, has the bill marked for deferral at Becton’s request.

Budget relief from pension reform, while real, only goes so far. If the Curry Administration seeks to lift the emergency reserve, then there seemingly would be real questions as to where the money would come from for the Becton plan … assuming committees were to receive it favorably in its next go-around.

 

IT the focus of Melissa Nelson’s first budget as State Attorney

A year ago, when the city of Jacksonville was formulating its budget, there was a different State Attorney in Florida’s 4th Circuit.

Angela Corey was running for her third term, facing a challenge from the woman who destroyed her in the GOP Primary months later: Melissa Nelson.

Nelson ran on a platform of “smart justice,” a reversal in philosophy from the retro atavism of the Corey era. Among the reforms Nelson campaigned on: an increase in civil citations for youth, institution of a conviction integrity unit, and other reforms designed to move beyond a model that eroded Corey’s credibility with even Republican Primary voters.

The hagiography of the campaign has faded, into the more messy narratives of reality, which included firing a former Clay County Sheriff Nelson had hired as an investigator, and dealing with the messy aftermath of a protest in Hemming Park where police and protesters mixed it up.

On Friday, Nelson noted before the budget hearing that the major enhancement request of the budget process this year is in IT, where Nelson seeks upgrades: specifically, a half a million dollar cost for a case management system is also in the budget.

The Mayor’s Office urged Nelson to spread the money out over three years; Nelson’s office didn’t expect to get the money all at once, for the CMS that is expected to have a five-year life.

Nelson said the goal was a “more sophisticated document management system that will allow our office to coordinate better with JSO and the Public Defender’s Office.”

The IT system holistically “can use improvement, and that’s what we’re seeking to do.”

“Enhancements,” said Nelson, “will allow us to extract and report data. That’s important to be able to track and measure what we’re doing to make sure we’re doing things as effectively and efficiently as possible … to manage data in a better way.”

Jax Councilor Katrina Brown town hall: a ‘dog and pony show’?

Though it’s the summer of 2017, things are heating up already in the 2019 race for Jacksonville City Council District 8.

And reaction to a town hall event held by incumbent Councilwoman Katrina Brown won’t cool the temperature.

Diallo Sekou, who filed this week to take on the embattled first-term Democrat, posted to Facebook last night his irritation.

“I just left a so called town hall meeting, the citizens never got a chance to speak!  An audience full of elders … elders and never let them speak,” Sekou posted.

Other attendees, albeit privately, raised their concerns about a Councilor’s town hall where said Councilor wouldn’t deign to take questions from the people who showed up to ask them.

Hardworking taxpayers and loyal Democrats wanted to ask Brown about her recurrent ethical challenges, but “no Q and A was allowed,” with an agenda packed with speakers that took the event to its end time, where Brown wrapped it with “many hands raised” and “lots of grumbling” from those who wanted answers.

One attendee said the event was more like “pecha kucha” than a town hall, which seemed to be a design element to insulate Brown from dialogue with taxpayers and voters.

“A couple of times people stood up and asked if they could ask a question and they got ignored and then [Councilwoman Brown] shut down the last one pretty sharply which elicited grumbles in the room. And of course the aide had to go over there and smooth it over.”

Of course, FloridaPolitics.com readers know full well what was on attendees’ minds — and why Brown apparently structured a two-hour event so that she wouldn’t have to face questions about glaring financial irregularities that have led to the sorry impasse of her companies being sued by the city of Jacksonville.

On Monday, Brown ducked questions about the city of Jacksonville suing two family businesses for which she is title manager. The city’s grievance: the two LLCs received almost $600,000 of city grants and loans to create 56 jobs for a BBQ sauce plant.

Alas, the companies fell 56 jobs short of that goal, and the city seeks a $210K clawback via a default judgement.

Brown, minutes after getting out of her Porsche SUV that is newer in vintage than that 2011 economic development deal, was in no mood to address such quotidian concerns on Monday.

“I continue to tell you no comment. You can ask me a thousand times and I would still say no comment,” Brown said.

When asked if she was worried about the questions coming up from taxpayers at her town hall, Brown said no.

“That’s not going to be the focus,” Brown said of the town hall attendees. “They won’t be able to bring it up.”

Brown and her family businesses may not have been as good as their word when it came to honoring an economic development deal with the city and other parties: CoWealth originally borrowed $2.65 million via an SBA loan from Biz Capital, in addition to $380,000 from the city of Jacksonville and $220,000 of grants, for the sauce plant.

However, she was successful in what seemed to be a primary goal of the town hall: to shut down audience reaction, and to create an impression that the people in her district don’t care about ethical lapses among their representatives.

For Katrina Brown, it’s been an interesting two years. One need only go back to May 2015, in which she ran a radio ad as her campaign ended, to see how her messaging has been compromised by the ethical and legal sinkholes in which her family businesses are stuck.

At that point, Brown pledged to “serve the people” … an ironic phrase, given that she didn’t want to take questions from the people at Thursday’s town hall.

“My daughter Katrina Brown took a small business and turned it into a million dollar entity … that’s why the Congresswoman Corrine Brown endorses her,” Councilwoman Brown’s father said in that ad.

Ironic. And here’s another irony from the same ad.

Brown also referred to the BBQ sauce business as a “Jacksonville success story” … hilarious, given that the company is dealing with legal actions on every front, and given that the BBQ sauce plant was subject to an FBI raid last year — all of which seems to indicate something less than success.

“Agents from the IRS criminal investigation division, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Office of the Inspector General and the FBI Small Business Administration division were on scene for more than three hours,” reported WJXT at the time.

Lenny Curry: ‘Big reforms are coming’ to Jax children’s programs

A takeaway from a conversation we had with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on Thursday evening: Big changes are coming to children’s programs in Jacksonville, and the Mayor is frustrated with how the city is handling public safety right now.

When Curry was on the campaign trail in the Spring of 2015, he pledged to turn around trends in underfunding public safety resources.

The money has gone into these, as available: new equipment and new officers for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and a revival of the Jacksonville Journey to house prevention and intervention programs.

Two years into the administration, Curry is frustrated with progress on public safety.

“No, I’m not happy with where we are on public safety right now. That’s an across-the-board statement. I’m going to continue to provide the resources that I deem necessary, and work every day to tweak things to where we get the best results.”

And as he told us Thursday evening in New Town, programs such as the Jacksonville Journey and the Jacksonville Children’s Commission are “beyond tweaking” and headed for “big reforms.” Decisions will be made in a matter of weeks, he said.

“We are beyond tweaking when it comes to these programs we deliver to children, and big reforms are coming,” Curry emphasized.

“We’re working through exactly what those reforms are going to look like. I will have reached a decision inside of two weeks.”

When asked if he was looking to roll the Jacksonville Children’s Commission up into Jacksonville Journey, as seemed to be suggested in Thursday’s budget meeting, Curry was blunt — and sought to defray speculation as to what he would eventually decide.

“Nobody knows what I’m looking at. I’m working inside a very small group — anything you’re hearing is pure speculation.”

“I’m looking at making sure that we have programs that are very clear and meeting the needs of specific ‘at-hope youth’ that are the solution to prevention and intervention,” Curry said, using a phrase he first used two weeks prior when announcing $988,000 of new money available for youth summer camps.

“We’ve got to be very clear about how we deliver those services and make sure we’re getting results, and make sure that the management team is aggressive in terms of pursuing those goals, and that the whole governance structure is aggressive as well, and hold them accountable,” Curry said.

As was demonstrated Thursday in the Jax Journey budget meeting, plans for the future of the program are in limbo, as Curry considers how to align its mission with that of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission (which provides an overlap in services with the Journey), and the larger public safety budget itself.

Thursday saw Journey director Debbie Verges note that Journey and the JCC were increasingly aligned — and that she sees the Journey as a $9M program rather than a $5M program, with the JCC administering “Journey programs.”

Verges would like to see more budgeting for analytics to measure the effectiveness of the programs, and more money for “neighborhood accountability boards” — a priority of State Attorney Melissa Nelson.

What is clear: Mayor Curry feels the urgency of getting these programs right as his term nears the halfway mark.

The Jacksonville Children’s Commission, whose CEO Jon Heymann retires at the end of July, is slated for a Friday afternoon budget hearing.

And we are slated to cover it.

Microloans, economic development for Jax New Town small businesses

New Town is one of those Jacksonville neighborhoods where most new development is that of the franchised corporate variety.

That could change soon, as the Jax Chamber, JP Morgan, and the city of Jacksonville are collaborating to let local small business owners know what resources are available.

Among those resources, discussed during a Thursday evening orientation in an overflow room at Edward Waters College: JAX Chamber’s small business development education program, the City of Jacksonville’s façade improvement program, and Accion’s microloan and SBA Advantage programs.

Introducing the event: EWC President Nat Glover, who called the initiative a “big deal,” both for the area and the city at large.

Glover, who has developed a friendship with Mayor Lenny Curry since Curry’s inauguration in 2015, called the Republican “one of the most courageous mayors” for taking pension reform head on.

Curry, for his part, lauded Glover — and the corporate partners in the initiative.

“Government can’t do it all,” Curry said.

Citing his “One City, One Jacksonville” theme, Curry noted that initiatives like tonight exemplified the premise, to “get out and act and work together.”

And ultimately, that’s a big part of the story — a collaborative spirit, driven by stakeholders, including the JAX Chamber and others.

J.P. Morgan, for example, is advancing $400,000 of funding, to help Accion help those in these communities who have capital needs that, if fulfilled, could serve as economic turnaround engines.

Councilman Garrett Dennis noted that this “could have happened anywhere in the city, but is happening at EWC, in New Town.”

For those looking to ensure that every neighborhood in the city has a shot at economic vitality, initiatives like this are key drivers.

Looming reforms cast cloud over Jax Journey budget

When Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry ran for office, he pledged to revive the Jacksonville Journey. Once in office, Curry took steps to do just that, reviving and rebranding the John Peyton initiative as Jax Journey, a Version 2.0 of the original.

As Curry nears the halfway mark of his first term, his office deals with the reality of the program, and how it interacts with other city programs.

Two weeks ago, at a presser announcing nearly a million dollars of new money for Jacksonville Children’s Commission summer camps,  Curry said that he would introduce reforms to ensure that this doesn’t happen again, including ensuring alignment between the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jax Journey — his administration’s key anti-crime initiative.

When asked if the two could be merged, Curry said “all options are on the table,” depending on the “best interest of kids.”

CAO Sam Mousa likewise pointed out that Curry was “considering reform” of the two programs on Thursday.

As the saying goes, a budget is a moral statement. Yet it is also a declaration of strategy and priorities, and without a cogent hierarchy of such, a moral statement is an abstraction rather than a reality.

And in this context, the Jacksonville Journey budget hearing held Thursday afternoon would be key in understanding the intent of the Mayor’s Office in how it approaches fulfillment of a key campaign promise.

Coming off a year where the program had a $4.38M budget, as part of a $10M portfolio with the JCC and an ex-offender re-entry program, the real question was how resources would be allocated in a year when pension costs were finally under control.

That $4.38M was more than twice what Alvin Brown allocated to the program, but a fraction of the $31M Mayor John Peyton budgeted in 2008. Meanwhile, Jacksonville City Council members challenged the scope of the program ahead of approving last year’s budget, arguing that pockets of despair and anomie exist throughout the city.

Debbie Verges, representing the Journey, noted the Journey Oversight Committee had approved the budget — with some changes compared to the current year.

Verges wanted a restoration to FY15/16 levels — just over $5M, or $865,021 bigger than the current year.

Mousa reaffirmed Curry’s commitment to “some sort of reform” regarding Journey and JCC.

“We are accepting this report strictly as information,” Mousa said. “Whatever the committee stays here may stay intact, may get modified, may get merged.”

“I do not know where the Mayor’s head’s at,” Mousa added.

Verges noted that the Journey’s commitment to analytics needs more evaluation of the programs, especially for three-year marks of the Summer SAIL Program and summer camps.

Neighborhood accountability boards, a priority of State Attorney Melissa Nelson, are a requested uptick also, with an uptick in citations.

And $63,000 is desired for Legal Aid, to help 195 people with ex-offender rights restoration, Verges said.

Legal Aid approached the Journey committee, Verges said, to push the concept.

Opioids and gangs — also a focus of the committee, a new ask.

Verges also would like to expand Journey programs to libraries outside of the core area of the Journey, in Jacksonville’s Health Zone 1.

Over the last 12 months, Verges said the Journey and the JCC were increasingly aligned — and that she sees the Journey as a $9M program rather than a $5M program, with the JCC administering “Journey programs.”

Grant money has helped the Journey mission: $2.6M currently in place, though the bulk of that is dispersed over multiple years, Verges said.

With Curry mulling the future of the programs, all of this may be hypothetical.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons