Jax Archives - Page 5 of 340 - Florida Politics

‘Snow job’ for Jacksonville protesters was only a matter of time

Until Friday, most people outside the circles of regular protesters and Duval County Republican Party activists didn’t know the name “Gary Snow.”

Bet they know it now.

Snow, who recently came to Jacksonville by way of Chicago, has a unique shtick.

Under the aegis of supporting President Donald Trump, Snow makes a habit of showing up at protest events of the “Indivisible” sort, waving a giant Trump flag and bellowing into a megaphone.

The effect is of a cartoonish heel, a wrestling character from the 20th Century.

Snow is real performance art: an attempt to lampoon and discredit the energy of left-liberal protests.

Nonetheless, Snow is also a big guy — big enough to appear physically imposing to smaller people, for sure.

Throughout his time in Jacksonville, Snow was able to make it work, with successful provocation outside a Bill Clinton event in Jacksonville in October, effective disruption of a protest of Rep. John Rutherford, as well as other such events.

Ironically, one of his earliest provocations was an August protest put forth by the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition.

Ironic as it may have been, it was a JPC protest that went sideways Friday night, where protesters were physically subjugated then arrested — something now being reported by the London Daily Mail.

What makes this particular protest in Hemming Park notable: the police approach that seemed more akin to the laissez-faire handling of squabbles between regulars convening in the plaza, than simply managing a protest.

Permitted to romp in and through the protest, Snow stood shoulder to shoulder with speakers, waving a Trump flag and provoking them.

At the 1:47 mark of a video posted on the Daily Mail page, it appears Snow nudged a protester into a police officer, seemingly a catalyst for the resulting chaos.

[NOTE: Snow denies having nudged anyone.] 

Snow’s Facebook page indicates that whatever happened (certainly the “Hemming Park 5” will get their days in court, both for these criminal actions and potential civil actions), he accomplished what he set out to do.

“They said I was a ‘lone Trump supporter’ at the beginning. …. They said that my support for our President was irrelevant. …. They said I would never matter. …….. SEEMS I GOT THEIR ATTENTION NOW!!!!!!”

“I don’t have sympathy for somebody when they literally stand up in front of police officers in a public place and scream in a megaphone ‘[Expletive Deleted] THE POLICE.'”

And so forth.

For what it’s worth, this protest is in the books. There will be a number of court hearings that will seem less urgent with every passing news cycle after Friday night’s conflagration.

But the “Snow Effect” will change future protests.

For one thing, the JSO will to have to figure out crowd control — something that has been loose during events which Snow has attended, to the point that many on the left are suspicious as to why.

Another thing, the left needs to begin getting serious about its own security.

A buffer of people around speakers could ensure individuals like Snow couldn’t disrupt proceedings time and again. If they did that, what happened Friday may have been discouraged.

I write this as someone who witnessed a lot of protests, especially of American foreign wars. And as someone with no illusions about how much such protests actually accomplish.

A few dozen people chanting in Hemming Park aren’t in a position to affect American military adventurism — especially when even avatars of the corporate-media left, such as Rachel Maddow, covered those strikes with all the enthusiasm of the opening segment on First Coast Living.

The protest means nothing in terms of changing the minds of anyone in a position to make policy. However, what went on at this protest presages a new era of protest in Jacksonville, one in which law enforcement and State Attorney Melissa Nelson will deal with the chasm between what those on the left want and what a center-right political culture can actually provide.

Politicians in Northeast Florida talk about public safety much more than they do personal liberties, and that will necessarily be the default reaction to this and future protests ending in booking sheets and arrest reports.

____

An irony attendant to all of this: Trump rallies last summer were notable for the inevitable “throw ’em out” riff targeted toward protesters in the crowd.

As he was when he launched his Presidential campaign, Trump was prescient in taking that approach to protest.

He knew that the bare-knuckled politics that he would come to embrace necessarily would find analogues everywhere else.

Thus, he controlled rally spaces as if they were Trump casinos — prioritizing crowd control above other concerns.

William Burroughs famously wrote that “control needs control to control.”

What clearly happened Friday: protesters lost control of their protest, leaving vulnerabilities ready for Snow to exploit.

Again, they will encounter such provocation.

If so, what will their strategy be next time?

Lenny Curry political committee hauls in $68K in March; Shad Khan among donors

As Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry prepares to sell his package of pension-reform bills to the City Council, his political committee has been busy fundraising in case it is needed to help close the deal.

March saw Curry’s “Build Something That Lasts” raise $68,000, a figure spurred by $25,000 donations from Shad Khan and Florida Blue.

Curry’s committee spent $29,729 in March, with three interesting recipients of $5,000 donations.

“Let’s Get to Work” (the PAC of Gov. Rick Scott) got its $5,000 on Mar. 1 — helping just a little bit with the statewide ad buy in favor of corporate incentives.

Days later, the FRSCC and the Florida Republican Party each got $5,000 each.

The committee has just over $303,000 cash on hand.

Jacksonville Civic Council urges passage of Lenny Curry pension plan

In an unsurprising move, the influential Jacksonville Civic Council gave its seal of approval to Mayor Lenny Curry‘s pension reform package on Friday.

The Jacksonville City Council spent much of Thursday in a workshop, where they had the bills explained to them.

The bills — fourteen in all — would implement collective bargaining agreements, establish defined contribution plans for new city employees while giving raises to all of them, and would allow access to a 1/2 cent sales tax that will extend from the sunset of Better Jacksonville Plan debt payoff to 2060.

All of that is necessary, Curry argues, to close the current defined benefits plans to new hires and to put the city on the road to fiscal stability.

And Civic Council chairman Ed Burr, a Curry backer, concurs.

“Mayor Curry’s defined contribution plan is a crucial step toward addressing Jacksonville’s enormous unfunded pension liability,” said Burr, “and we urge our City Council members to support it. The Mayor’s plan will unlock the sales tax revenue approved by a wide margin by voters last August and provide both immediate and long-term benefits to new employees, including portability and greater control of their retirement assets.”

“Since our initial engagement with this issue,” Burr continued, “the Civic Council has consistently advocated for a solution that addresses the city’s unmanageable pension deficit while providing fair and competitive compensation to our valued first responders.”

“Mayor Curry’s pension reform proposals meet those conditions and we congratulate the Mayor and his team and ask City Council members to support the proposals and put our city on the road to financial sustainability at last,” Burr added.

St. Johns Riverkeeper challenges JaxPort dredge in court

Compounding questions and attendant uncertainty about the dredging of the St. Johns River to deepen the channel for JaxPort was a legal challenge filed Friday in federal court.

The St. Johns Riverkeeper filed for declaratory and injunctive relief against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, attempting to stop the 7 foot deepening of the 13 mile mouth of the St. Johns, and widening of six miles of the span.

At issue: the USACE assertion in 2015 that dredging was “economically justified” and “environmentally acceptable.”

That is not the Riverkeeper’s position, as press release copy asserts.

“St. Johns RIVERKEEPER’s complaint seeks review of the FEIS [channel deepening study] under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) citing the USACE’s 1) failure to take the required “hard look” at the environmental consequences of dredging, 2) failure to provide appropriate in-kind mitigation for the environmental damage that will result from the dredging, 3) failure to provide an adequate comprehensive economic analysis to determine the merits of such a massive expenditure of public funds, 4) failure to comply with public participation requirements, and 5) failure to supplement the FEIS when relevant new information or circumstances arose,” the Riverkeeper asserts.

The extant analysis, claims the Riverkeeper, is incomplete, heedless of numerous impacted species and eliding real demonstration of federal and regional economic interests.

Charlie Cofer panel appearance signals real difference in Jax Public Defender office

For an indication of the seismic change in the office of 4th Circuit Public Defender Charlie Cofer, look no further than his just-announced appearance at a late April panel.

The panel: “Better Justice Florida: A Forum on Criminal Justice Reform.”

Among the focuses of the Apr. 29 event at the Florida Coastal School of Law: Florida’s incarceration rate, which grew by 18 percent between 2005 and 2015 — a period when the national rate grew by just 3 percent.

The groups co-hosting the event: the Florida chapter of the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

One cannot imagine a scenario in which Cofer’s predecessor, Matt Shirk, would have shared space with either of these groups.

Indeed, Shirk messaged in a different way during his campaign against Cofer, serving up the kind of right-wing red meat that one usually doesn’t see in a race for public defender.

Among the most glaring examples of that: Shirk asserting that former President Barack Obama had “deep ties to Islam” and was “comfortable with a certain level of Americans dying at the hands of Islamic terrorists.”

“What offends me is a president of the United States who spends more time playing golf than addressing the violence and mayhem in this country and around the world that is spiriling [sic] out of control,” Shirk added.

One can’t imagine Cofer wading into the morass of Presidential politics in his current role.

There may be another difference between Cofer and Shirk, who is still dealing with the backwash of his troubled tenure in office.

Shirk has agreed to a $2,500 fine and a reprimand for ethical lapses during his term as public defender.

Those issues boil down to hiring employees from the now-defunct Whisky River bar and partying down with them, including tomfoolery in the office.

That will likely be finalized at the April 21 meeting of the Florida Ethics Commission.

Jacksonville Bold for 4.7.17 — See you at the crossroads

You may notice a running theme with this issue of Bold: much of it deals with crossroads situations (to borrow a phrase from 90s rappers Bone Thugs-N-Harmony).

Will the city dredge JAXPORT? Or will years of deliberation and consternation lead — as they so often do — to nothing?

Will Corrine Brown beat the rap on the One Door charges? Or will we see her in orange — delighting those outside the process, who see her as a caricature, much more than those who got to know and have worked with her over the years?

Will Lenny Curry sell his pension reform deal? If so, what will victory look like? And what happens to the mayor’s messaging, as the Alvin Brown era recedes further into the memory hole with each passing news cycle?

Will the city’s budgets stabilize?

Moving beyond the current issue, questions linger about what happens with Jacksonville in D.C.

Our local lobby presence is strong — but are both members of congress getting in appropriations requests for long-deferred infrastructural upgrades?

Does Curry manage to cash in on stumping for Trump?

Never mind other questions — like who the next city council president will be.

So many questions, and time will resolve them all.

Corrine delivers

Former U.S. Rep. Brown will spend a couple of weeks at the Jacksonville federal courthouse, the last live defendant in the One Door for Education case.

Wednesday’s status conference revealed the contours of the case. Both the state and Brown’s defense team will need about a week each to make their case in the trial starting April 24.

After a two-day jury selection process, the actual trial will start April 26.

Expect a couple of sitting members of Congress to testify on Brown’s behalf.

However, once the trial starts, don’t expect her to talk to the press.

“The one thing she respects is authority,” her lawyer said after the hearing.

An enterprising story

If Jacksonville had a statewide stroke, the fate of Enterprise Florida would not be an issue.

Yet another week saw city leaders preaching the gospel of incentives; this time, at a roundtable event at Florida State College Jacksonville.

Being Scott’s fourth visit to Jacksonville in a month (with a trip to Orange Park thrown in, making five for Northeast Florida), nothing really new was to be said.

Wednesday saw a Jacksonville City Council committee unanimously approve a resolution in support of Enterprise Florida.

While city leaders aren’t always pragmatic, most know full well Jacksonville needs incentives more acutely than other major cities in the state.

Hogan knows best

In 2015, Mike Hogan defeated current Jacksonville State Rep. Tracie Davis to become Duval County Supervisor of Elections. And two years later, Hogan is still throwing salt in Davis’ game.

Exhibit A from Tia Mitchell: Hogan lobbying Sen. Aaron Bean to water down a voting access bill.

In a Senate committee this week, a Bean amendment neatly eviscerated the intent of the bill, by allowing SOEs to opt out.

“Early voting being a project that I literally made my own while I was there, I’m very disappointed that Duval County was the only county today making a request to opt out,” Davis (a former deputy SOE) said.

The House version lacks an opt-out clause.

The waiting game

Jacksonville City Council Rules Chair Garrett Dennis is a Democrat on a majority GOP council. Faced with a loss on a controversial commission appointee, Mike Anania, Dennis had a novel solution Tuesday in Rules.

He ran out the clock.

The vote appeared to be headed toward a 4-3 party line split in favor of moving the abrasive Anania through the committee — his third vote by the body.

However, there is a rule this year by the committee: a 3:15 “hard stop,” to facilitate the special committee.

Anania’s appointment was the last item requiring a vote, and a meandering procedural discussion about whether there could be a truncated, quasi-probationary three-year term ate up some time.

Though the Republicans on council groused, wanting a vote, Dennis noticed the clock — and adjourned the committee, with Anania and the chair of the local GOP in the crowd.

The next day, Dennis was ready to outline his case to the Finance Committee — however, Anania withdrew his nomination, in a stunner of a move that, because it happened in committees, won’t go any farther than chatter among the city’s political junkies.

Jacksonville, Liberty Counsel spar over HRO judge

The Liberty Counsel wants Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance expansion (the city has LGBT rights now) thrown out.

They filed a case — and the judge’s mother is a prominent anti-HRO activist, one who was on a corporate board with Roger Gannam, the Liberty Counsel’s lawyer.

For the Office of General Counsel, that’s problematic — impeaching the credibility of Judge Adrian Soud.

The Liberty Counsel, meanwhile, asserts that there is no conflict of interest that would require the judge to be disqualified — and that the city’s claim is specious, desperate and untimely.

The city, meanwhile, thought the judge would recuse himself. But that didn’t happen, and the beat goes on.

Local preacher takes wedding on the road

Tough break for Rev. John Allen Newman. He wanted to marry reality show star/presidential aide Omarosa Manigault in his Jacksonville church — yet threats raised “security concerns.”

So Newman and Manigault are slated to get married in DC this weekend.

There are upsides to that, the Florida Times-Union reports.

For one, a White House rehearsal dinner.

And for another, a special surprise guest walking Manigault down the aisle.

Newman, arguably one of the most professorial Jacksonville pastors, likely never expected a wedding in the White House of the most bombastic occupant since Lyndon Johnson.

But politics makes strange bedfellows. And, by all accounts, the soon-to-be-newlyweds are headed for connubial bliss — with a yuuuge wedding ceremony in the nation’s capital.

Fanatics gets Majestic

Another audacious acquisition this week for sports merchandising colossus Fanatics.

Fanatics bought VF Corp.’s Licensed Sports Group — which includes the Tampa-based Majestic Athletics, the official Major League Baseball uniform provider until 2020.

Fanatics’ model involves acquiring licensing, often in collaboration with major sports leagues and collegiate conferences, and then aggressively promoting the product by dominating SEO and PPC.

Not bad for a company started in the 1990s as a retail store selling “Jagwire” gear in the Orange Park Mall.

JU professor finishes Jeopardy! run after two wins

Jacksonville University English professor Julie Brannon came up short on Final Jeopardy! Thursday, but she said she has no regrets about the way things turned out.

Brannon was the victor in two episodes of the show, with winnings totaling $47,000, but opponents out-wagered her Thursday, even though she had the right answer to the final question.

“I just threw down a number when I should have bet everything, but then I started second-guessing myself and that’s all she wrote,” Brannon said.

Brannon’s had to keep quiet about how her stint on the show went down, but now that her final episode has aired, Brannon is expecting a big check to arrive.

“They send them out after the final air date, so I’m not sure when I’m going to get them. I can’t spend it just yet,” she said.

JAXPORT gets new liquefied natural gas tanks

JAXPORT is now home to a pair of 260-ton cryogenic LNG tanks, thanks to the Crowley Maritime Corporation’s new shore-side fueling facility.

The massive tanks made it to Jacksonville on a vessel from Hamburg, Germany, and it took a special 26-axle trailer to get them to their permanent spot at the Talleyrand Marine Terminal.

The tanks will be used to provide a greener way to fuel up Crowley’s “Commitment Class” ships under construction for the Puerto Rico trade lane.

United Airlines chief talks global aviation at JU

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz will stop by the Jacksonville University business school next week to give a talk on the “Changing Global Dynamic Commercial Aviation.”

Munoz, the former president and chief operating officer of CSX Corp., has served in various financial and strategic positions at major brands such as Coca-Cola and AT&T. The talk is April 13 at noon at the Davis College of Business. It is open to the public.

Jumbo Shrimp look to make a big splash at Home Opener

When team owner Ken Babby decided to explore a new name for Northeast Florida’s Jacksonville Suns minor league baseball franchise, he knew there would be pushback. The decades-old Suns brand was well-known in the community, but Babby’s arrival in Jacksonville and acquisition of the team coincided with a renewed effort to rework and re-energize the city’s Class-AA ball team.

“This is a way for s to differentiate itself,” Babby told Channel 4 News. “We are not trying to be the NFL team in town or any other sports team. We are about affordable family entertainment. And that is what the Jumbo Shrimp are here to do and we are excited about it.”

Now several months beyond the new name — Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp — the energy is expanding far beyond Jacksonville. The team has sold merchandise in all 50 states and internationally to customers in Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, France, Germany, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Babby and fans across the city are eagerly awaiting the Shrimp’s debut April 12 at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. Tickets are available at the Jumbo Shrimp website.

Jacksonville Zoo Conservation Speaker Series

Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens presents its Conservation Speaker Series with Save the Frogs! — a discussion about the amphibian extinction crisis, and current threats facing amphibian populations, and what individuals can do to help. Event is May 11, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. with Michael Starkey, International Campaigns Coordinator and Ecologist, Save the Frogs! Ticket prices: Members, $30; Non-Members, $35; Children, $10. Ticket includes dinner, 1 drink, the presentation and a zoo experience with amphibians.

Jacksonville Zoo Garden and Art Festival

The Zoo’s Annual Garden and Art Festival will be April 22-23 from 10 a.m. — 4 p.m. The two-day event centers around the botanical gardens with a plant, tree, flower and art sale on the Great Lawn. The event is free with Zoo admission and features over 20 garden and art-themed vendors selling their products, plants and consultations. Enjoy live music, and sip on beer and sangria for sale while you shop. The First Coast Plain Art Society artists will also have booths spread out throughout the festival to enjoy. Garden Encounter workshops will occur throughout the day Saturday, and Garden tours will occur throughout the day Sunday.

On Saturday, April 22, Dr. Craig van der Heiden from the Institute for Regional Conservation will be speaking on the importance of native plants and the benefits of restoring gardens with exotics back to native fauna. The program is at 11 a.m. and free with Zoo admission.

Kartik Krishnaiyer’s Armada recap

Coming off a tumultuous offseason where founder Mark Frisch sold the club to the league with the intention of finding a new long-term owner, the Jacksonville Armada opened its 2017 campaign Sunday afternoon. UNF Hodges Stadium is the club’s new home, with a more soccer-friendly atmosphere, albeit one removed from the center of town, compared to the Armada’s former home of the Baseball Grounds.

A crowd of 3,472 fans saw the Armada won its season opener 1-0 against FC Edmonton. J.C. Banks scored the lone goal which gave the club who has finished near the bottom of the table in each of its first two NASL seasons an important victory to open the 2017 NASL campaign. Banks goal which came in the 78th minute was the perfect tonic for the home crowd that was seeing a squad largely made up of new players on a strict budget as the club is being managed by the league.

“I think everybody that got here is pretty hungry,” Banks said. “All the things in the offseason, we know you have to perform to stay in the business.” Neither side had recorded a shot on frame in the first 70 minutes but Banks says that inspired the team and coaching staff to push forward late on. ” Winning games and championships in this league is not always pretty,” Banks said. “With about 30 minutes to go, I turned to our staff and said, ‘There’s three points here. We can win this game.’”

Jacksonville is competing in a largely new-look NASL. Historic rivals Fort Lauderdale and Tampa Bay will not be competing in the league this season with the former taking a year off to reorganize its ownership and the later having shifted to the competing second division USL amid a push to join Orlando City SC in MLS. The Armada, led by Mark Lowery, who is entering his first full season as manager, has had to put together a playing squad in rapid fashion and in an economically efficient manner. The club’s future was uncertain until NASL stepped up and kept the club alive by buying the Armada in January. Lowery and his staff had to put together a squad in a short period — under two months, but the early returns are promising.

The team aspect that Lowery has emphasized was on display late on as repeated Edmonton attacks tested the defensive solidity of the Armada — but Jacksonville held and ran out worthy 1-0 winners.

The Armada play Edmonton again this weekend, in Alberta Saturday. Game time is 9 p.m. ET.

 

Jacksonville progressives plan Friday protest of Syrian military action

Thursday evening saw cable news broadcasts offering Strange New Respect for President Donald Trump after the bombing of a Syrian military base.

The bombing, a response to the Syrian regime’s alleged use this week of Sarin gas in its ongoing civil war, was framed as a humanitarian measure by President Trump.

“Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children,” Trump said Thursday evening from Mar-A-Lago.

Despite his words, there are some who question the motives of President Trump in taking this action.

And a group of them will converge on Jacksonville’s Hemming Park Friday evening at 6:00 p.m.

Jacksonville Against the War in Syria and the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition framed Thursday evening’s bombing as launching a “war on Syria” on their Facebook invite.

“Just like the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and countless other countries, this will not bring freedom or peace to the Syrian people, or anyone else. It will only bring more destruction, death, and suffering,” the group asserts.

“The only people who benefit from this war on Syria are the 1% class of billionaires that Donald Trump and his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon Mobil, represents. We need to fight their agenda, not fight another rich man’s war,” the group adds.

Some of the same people protesting the military incursion into Syria (one that could be augmented with ground troops) have already memorably protested Trump (and his political ally, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry) in Hemming Park in recent weeks.

The issue then: the executive order banning travel from seven majority-Muslim countries.

Jacksonville Councilors embrace, question details in Lenny Curry pension pitch

Jacksonville City Council members, upon hearing the details of the Lenny Curry pension reform plan, seemed optimistic upon first hearing.

However, as they were not at the bargaining table, they questioned the parameters of collective bargaining agreements, and wanted more detail on the actuarial projections.

____

Councilman Bill Gulliford, instrumental in the 2015 pension reform deal, said “this is the very best option we have before us, potentially.”

Despite the “speculative” nature of the numbers, Gulliford noted the city council could “pony up” and bolster the contribution if desired.

“They really did well addressing questions I had in mind,” Gulliford said of the Mike Weinstein/Sam Mousa presentation.

Later, Gulliford noted that in the current deal, the PFPF is not negotiating benefits — a key governance reform of the 2015 deal that carried over.

Mousa also assured that the governance reforms of the 2015 deal would remain intact.

Council VP John Crescimbeni, meanwhile, had some detail questions, noting that “things can get kind of squirrelly sometimes depending on who wants to play with the numbers.”

“In 2030, are we going to be expected to have a conversation with the Beaches,” Crescimbeni said, regarding their current share of the Better Jacksonville Plan tax proceeds.

CAO Sam Mousa noted that the sales tax, post-2030, cannot be shared — but the “potential savings that the general fund might have” could be.

And Councilman Tommy Hazouri, who supports the plan, wondered if the city’s actuarial projections would jibe with those to be delivered by the Police and Fire Pension Fund Monday at 9:00 a.m.

Mousa believes they should be close, given the same input data being used.

Councilman Aaron Bowman questioned payroll growth, with CFO Mike Weinstein noting that “the requirement is for three years,” with raises after that being at the whim of the council.

“I think there’s value in looking at it,” Bowman said. “I would like to see what a real number might look like [regarding the raises].”

Weinstein clarified that there would be “step raises” for police and fire over the next 17 years.

Councilman Garrett Dennis had questions about the defined contribution.

Weinstein noted the current DC has 1,100 people, and it vests in five years. Police, Fire, and Corrections will vest more quickly, Weinstein said — after three years.

Team Curry also noted that the tentative agreements with unions include robust disability, survivor, and death benefits for people in the new plans.

Councilman Jim Love mentioned retention concerns; Mousa was unworried, saying the plan’s generosity would keep people on board.

Councilwoman Joyce Morgan, lauding the “great presentation” and a plan that may “possibly work,” needed help breaking the plan down into layman’s terms.

Mousa’s take: “the program aligns the payments for when the sales tax starts kicking in, which is going to help the general fund do more work in the communities.”

Weinstein, meanwhile, discussed the liquidity ratio, saying the floor was established as a safeguard before the sales tax kicks in.

“There won’t be drastic changes unless we do drastic things, but the adjustments are spread over thirty years,” Weinstein added.

If all goes well, the reforms will be implemented in time for the new budget.

If the reforms kick in, pension costs will be $208M next year.

If not, $349M will be the hit.

Ratings agencies see this as a “positive,” said Mousa.

It seems the City Council is well on its way.

“Until there’s actually a solution, they don’t give us credit for working on it,” Council President Lori Boyer said.

Boyer wants to see people hired for city departments, and Weinstein concurs.

“We do anticipate and expect that growth to happen,” Weinstein said.

Boyer expressed concerns, including the difficulty of council changing the collective bargaining agreements, and millage projections.

“We have seen historically years in which we’ve had good growth, and council reduced the millage,” Boyer said.

Mousa noted that the language was worked out, via a “reasonable, good-faith” process, to ameliorate concerns that old mistakes will be replicated again.

Lenny Curry’s team sells big pension savings to Jacksonville City Council

Mayor Lenny Curry offered his presentation of pension legislation on Thursday afternoon, leaving it to the Jacksonville City Council to hash out.

They were helped along by CFO Mike Weinstein and Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, who helped to explain the pension situation to the legislators.

The short version: if pension reform passes, the city could see big savings: $1.4B in the next 14 years.

That will offer budget relief, even with raises factored in.

_____

Mousa noted, vis a vis the half-penny tax, that revenue has grown 4.49 percent per annum over the last seven years. Since the inception, revenue has grown 3.2 percent — including the recession.

Weinstein, meanwhile, discussed recent declines in payroll growth — under 1 percent for all classes of employees.

“We’re putting in fewer and fewer people, and giving fewer and fewer raises,” Weinstein said, with 1,000 fewer employees now compared to 2009.

Weinstein also outlined sales tax growth through 2060, with a 4.25 percent anticipated growth rate per annum.

While a “fluid process,” projections are for that revenue to top $500M by 2060 — with revenue in 2031 adding up to $155M.

“The statute allows it to go to 30 years or 100 percent funded, whichever comes first,” Weinstein noted.

Actuarial assumptions, Weinstein said, include 1.5 percent for general employees, police and fire, and 1.25 percent for corrections. Investment returns, meanwhile, are pegged at 7 percent growth per annum for police and fire, and 7.4 percent for corrections and general employees.

____

Weinstein also offered a distribution of the tax money to pay for unfunded liability costs of $2.861B.

The lion’s share –$1.8B — goes to the police and fire pension fund. The other 37 percent goes to general employees ($900M) and correctional workers ($159M).

Weinstein also outlined the hard costs of pension.

Right now, without reform, city pension costs are 119.6 percent of payroll. That number would go up to 149.7 percent without reform, and 88.2 percent with it.

“With DB programs,” Weinstein said, costs are “unknown.”

“It would be great if we were paying normal costs. But we’re not,” Weinstein said.

____

Weinstein then went on to outline the savings via the previous plans.

With general employees, $25M of savings could be realized next FY.

In FY 31, Weinstein said, “we make a contribution and the cash comes in,” referring to tax proceeds.

Because of the money coming in, the city is insulated from the kind of crippling costs that effect current budgets.

Weinstein showed similar trending for corrections throughout the span of the amortization, before describing the PFPF relief.

“It’s a $250M difference for PFPF,” Weinstein said. “When you compare reform to not doing anything, it’s huge.”

How huge?

The city could save $82M in FY 18 .. pending reform. “A true savings in cash.”

“The difference in cash payout is $1.4B in 14 years,” Weinstein said, with the half-penny helping to absorb costs increases in the 2030s and 2040s.

Savings fluctuate over the years: $82M in FY18, $83M in FY 19, $74M in FY 20.

_____

Pay raises — the factor that sold the deal to the unions — will be substantial, adding up to $120M in costs by FY20.

That includes defined contribution increases.

All told, the city will still save $53M in FY18, $67M in FY 19, but then will come out $29M behind in FY 20.

The three years of raises will be covered with $29M left over, Weinstein said.

Meanwhile, the anticipated city contribution as a part of general fund revenue declines over the term of the scheme.

GF growth has been consumed by pension; with this plan, Weinstein said, reserves could be bolstered and new spending could be justified, via “payroll growth manageable throughout” the term of the plan.

____

From there, Weinstein went to liquidity ratios: offering instant content for the TV reporters on hand.

Weinstein assured that, even if the impossible happened and no one was in the pension fund, the city would have five years of capital to pay off pension obligations.

“It’s a safeguard to lessen the concern people have that the funds won’t be financially sound,” the CFO asserted.

While neither the general employees or corrections funds are in danger of skirting the liquidity floor, the police and fire pension fund may require more capital — which the city would provide.

The city is committed to $180M of contributions no matter what, with $110M of that going to police and fire pensions.

“This minimum is just for the defined benefit plan,” Weinstein noted.

Lenny Curry frames pension-reform push as ‘new beginning for Jacksonville’

After weeks of speculation as to hard costs and real benefits of the Lenny Curry approach to Jacksonville’s pension reform, the first-term Republican Mayor talked it out with the Jacksonville City Council Wednesday afternoon.

The Curry administration feels the fierce urgency of now. With pension costs, already $290M in the current fiscal year, slated to be $345M next FY if reforms aren’t implemented, the model of reamortizing the old debt and opening new plans for new hires is a matter of existential importance.

____

Three of the 14 filed bills, which could be voted on later this month, are probably the most important: 2017-257 creates a new ordinance section:  Chapter 776 (Pension Liability Surtax).

Bill 2017-258 affects the general employees and correctional worker plans, closing the extant defined benefit plans to those hired after Oct. 1, 2017, and committing the city to a 12 percent contribution for those general employees and a 25 percent contribution for correctional officers hired after October.

Bill 2017-259 implements revisions to the Police and Fire & Rescue plans.

258 and 259 both offer fixed costs via a defined contribution plan for new hires, while offering generous contributions from the city to those hires, and raises for all current employees.

The best deals are for public safety: long-delayed raises to current employees (a 3 percent lump sum payout immediately, and a 20 percent raise for police and fire over three years) and gives all classes of current employees the same benefits.

As well, all police and fire officers will have DROP eligibility with an 8.4 percent annual rate of return and a 3 percent COLA.

The deal, if approved without modification, will bring labor peace through 2027 — though it can be renegotiated by the city or the unions at 3, 6, 9, and 10 years marks in the agreement.

For new employees, however, the plan is historic — a defined contribution plan that vests three years after the new employee for police and fire is hired.

The total contribution: 35 percent, with the city ponying up 25 percent of that — with guarantees that survivors’ benefits and disability benefits would be the same for new hires as the current force of safety officers.

The Curry model, rooted in a deferred contribution approach that increases a re-amortized liability and spreads out costs to hit hardest when the sales tax extension money starts coming in after 2030, is intended to provide fixed costs and certainty for budgets.

However, with questions raised over costs over time (and Curry’s response to those critics being to “let them chirp“), Thursday’s presentation would end up being notable.

Would the mayor sell the City Council on the deal, giving them relief for local priorities in exchange for a longer-term amortization? And what about the press corps?

Those questions loomed Thursday.

______

Curry kicked off the four-hour session with some opening remarks, noting that he would be distributing slides, one at a time, throughout his remarks.

The mayor noted that, when sworn in, he discussed the finite nature of time, and that he committed to a “sense of urgency” on key issues.

“We are poised to solve one of our city’s biggest challenges … a challenge that my predecessor handed off to a task force .. with a solution that would barely make a dent,” Curry said, also calling out critics of the current plan, whose plans would “make things worse.”

Curry vowed that his solution would free up resources for public safety, zeroing out the $2.8B liability with a dedicated income source.

“The legislation and policy before you … mark a new beginning for the financial health of Jacksonville,” Curry said.

____

The “locked-in revenue source,” Curry said, is explicitly earmarked for pension relief, ending the “legacy pensions … bankrupting cities throughout the united states.”

“There are costs associated with paying off $3B of debt we didn’t create,” Curry said, but previous generations created the issue that he has to fix with “sound financial principles.”

Those costs include long-delayed pay raises for current employees.

_____

Among the benefits of the Curry plans: liquidity floors and contribution floors, which establish meaningful parameters for debt paydown.

“Future revenue growth will now be able to fund public safety,” Curry said.

The mayor also addressed tax growth, saying — as he told us — that the mechanism was based on averages in the current market, and would be subject to review yearly.

“The risk does not exist,” Curry said.

Curry outlined pension costs increasing: next year would be $59M over $290M this year, which is “eating our revenue alive.”

“Without pension reform, a $40,000 annual salary will costs $87,000. With it, it will cost $57,000,” Curry said, with pension costs thrown in.

____

Curry discussed the path forward with local media after his remarks.

He stressed that, while costs are associated with retiring the $3B debt that his team “inherited,” this is ultimately a path to solving a problem previously neglected.

As well, the half-penny tax, though it doesn’t kick in on this obligation until next decade, is a future asset — offering actuarial certainty that frees up finite general fund resources.

Curry revised a previous actuarial assumption that the obligation could be paid off by 2045, noting that 2049-2051 was more likely.

“I know it will work. I’ve been fighting for this since the day I got into office,” the mayor said.

When asked to predict the vote count, he didn’t offer a number — but an assurance.

“We’re going to get this done,” Curry said.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons