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Jacksonville City Council Rules committee backs three local J-bills

The Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee approved resolutions backing three local bills they would like to see the State Legislature consider this session.

Two of them involve drinking. And one involves the school board, which drives people to drink.

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One local bill, “J-2”, asks for “special zones” in older neighborhoods, such as Murray Hill, Springfield, and San Marco, to lower the required seating for a restaurant serving liquor from 150 to 100.

The bill is similar to a resolution the council pushed last year, regarding the Riverside/Avondale Commercial Character areas.

As with that previous iteration, seating requirements for liquor-serving restaurants in affected parts of Springfield, San Marco, and Murray Hill (with more than half of their revenue derived from food sales) are requested to be cut from 150 seats to 100, and space reduced from 2,500 to 1,800 square feet.

A local restaurant owner with shops in Springfield and Murray Hill pushed for this allowance, contending that smaller establishments make sense as part of urban core infill.

San Marco was added via a floor amendment in committee.

House District 13 Rep. Tracie Davis is expected to carry this bill this session.

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“J-3” was added to the agenda on an emergency basis, via Resolution 2016-828.

The bill summary asserts that the measure waives “open container restrictions on alcoholic beverage consumption within the A. Philip Randolph Entertainment District during 15 designated ‘special events’ and any other event designated as ‘special’ by the City Council.”

Legislative bill J-3 would amend the Florida Statute chapters regulating beer and wine sales and consumption to provide that for purposes of the application of the state law, the open container law exemption in Jacksonville’s special events district shall apply to “premises” licensed for “consumption on premises” that are either within or located contiguously to the A. Philip Randolph Entertainment District.

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“J-1” was presented also, affecting the school board.

Resolution 2016-782, sponsored by Councilman Aaron Bowman, would express support for a J-Bill that would amend the Florida statute so that the vote of the Duval County School Board chair would not break a tie. In 2006, the Legislature adopted a measure for Orange County that dictated that, in counties with between 800,000 and 900,000 people, the school board chair’s vote breaks the tie.

Board member Scott Shine noted that an emergency meeting on curriculum had four members, and a 2-2 tie was broken by the chair.

Shine said that was a “pretty lean representation of democracy.”

Duval County may exceed 900,000 people by the next census, a point which concerned committee members.

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All of these bills were unanimously approved, and will undoubtedly be approved next Tuesday by the full council.

 

Jacksonville City Council Rules panel OKs Fred Newbill to JEA Board

A prominent Jacksonville pastor who teamed up with Pastor Ken Adkins to oppose the 2016 version of the Jacksonville Human Rights Ordinance expansion was cleared by the Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee to serve on the JEA Board Wednesday.

Despite two of the HRO co-sponsors, Jim Love and Tommy Hazouri, serving on Rules, no questions were asked of Newbill about the inconsistency of his anti-HRO stance with the anti-discrimination guidelines under which JEA and the city’s other independent authorities operate.

Multiple council members, including Love and Hazouri, lauded Newbill, with Hazouri saying that Newbill has “seen the light on the HRO.”

Rules approved Newbill unanimously, and the council will do likewise next week.

Reporters asked Newbill after his hearing what it meant to have “seen the light” on the HRO, but he and JEA Board Chair Tom Petway refused to offer comment.

Jacksonville councilman decries drug overdose ‘epidemic’

Jacksonville’s homicide rate gets all the press. Yet the rate of deaths via drug overdose exceeds it. And a prominent city councilman wants action.

An email from Duval County’s Medical Examiner’s office laid it out: from the beginning of January until mid-November, Jacksonville experienced 345 drug overdose deaths.

In terms of casualties, whites and males are the most vulnerable, dying in numbers outsized compared to their proportion of the population.

Of the 345 deaths, 214 decedents were male. And 299 — or 86.67 percent — are white.

Almost 30 percent of those who perished during the period of tabulation were in their thirties. People in their fifties comprised another 23 percent of those who passed on.

One prominent council member, Bill Gulliford, wants movement from the legislative body this year on stemming the tide of casualties.

Gulliford noted that “it is a scary number especially when you compare it to homicides which get all the media attention. And, how many of the homicides are drug related? My executive assistant is trying to secure that information from the sheriff’s office. If we combine the two it gets even scarier.”

“We should be shouting these numbers from the rooftops folks. This is an epidemic and yet the attention is limited. I think bringing attention to this should be the number one priority of the Public Safety Committee in 2017. Attention is just the first step. Maybe bringing attention to the numbers alone will help scare some young people to avoid drugs,” Gulliford noted.

Will Jacksonville get a handle on a problem common to all major cities, one becoming more common all the time? Time will tell. But Bill Gulliford will ensure an effort is made.

Former assistant state attorney to become Jacksonville real estate chief

For the second time in ten months, the city of Jacksonville will bring aboard a new chief of real estate.

Renee Hunter, an alumna of the University of Wisconsin’s journalism school and of the Florida Coastal School of Law, will be “official” pending confirmation by the city council.

Hunter is no stranger to work in the public sector. She served as an assistant state attorney from 2007 to 2013, with a tenure spanning the end of the Harry Shorstein era and the bulk of the Angela Corey epoch.

Hunter’s specialty in that capacity: land use and zoning issues and property law.

From there, Hunter moved into the private sector, where she continued her work with property law, including issues with deeds, titles, and other real estate issues.

The previous chief of real estate, Stephanie Burch, was brought on last March, but was promoted to head of the Neighborhoods Department in November.

Hunter, if formally approved by City Council, will be “responsible for the acquisition, appraisal, management, disposal, inventory, utilization assessment and other functions relating to real property,” including fulfillment functions, and execution of purchases of real property with money from federal community development program grants.

Jacksonville HRO expansion foes gear up for 2017 fight

Expansion of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance appears to yet again be a consideration for Jacksonville’s City Council. And opponents have taken notice.

Those opposed to HRO expansion have been emailing Mayor Lenny Curry, with sentiments such as these.

“I am against any HRO resolution that attempts to bestow special rights to any person or group that is not equally guaranteed to all American citizens as is the case with the LGBTQ resolution coming in 2017. There is no such precedence in American history and will not be tolerated in a Constitutional United States. I adhere to the principle that ‘Constitutional Correctness Trumps Political Correctness’ (pun intended). I keep track of your council votes and will work against the re-elections of any politician who votes against the US Constitution,” wrote a John Sauer.

Meanwhile, a familiar opponent from 2016’s truncated council consideration of the expansion measure has vowed to fight it once more.

In a Tuesday press release, Raymond Johnson of Biblical Concepts Ministries vowed to reprise his thus-far successful crusade against ordinance expansion for the third time this decade.

“As expected on this first business day of the new year members of the Jacksonville City Council has for the third time announced meetings and plans to re-introduced the so called Human Rights Ordinance (HRO),” Johnson wrote, referring to Wednesday’s public notice meeting on the subject.

BCM will, said Johnson, “work tirelessly and unrelenting with every other opposing organization possible to alert and mobilize our network of pastors, churches and concerned citizens to voice their opposition and help to again defeat a local Homosexual Superior Rights Ordinance (HSRO) Open bathroom law otherwise known as a Human Rights Ordinance (HRO).”

“We know Equality Florida and the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality has been raising funds, hiring staff and working non stop to build a local supporting coalition to ensure passage of their dangerously radical national homosexual agenda aimed at silencing and criminalizing christians and moral objectors to the LGBT agenda demands,” Johnson added. [SIC]

While the office of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is not taking a public position on this legislation, expect the mayor to get the same pressure he’s gotten on this issue during the first eighteen months of his tenure — from both sides of the issue.

John Rutherford opposed controversial House ethics changes

For those watching to see how Rep. John Rutherford will function in Congress, the Jacksonville freshman congressman may have passed his first test.

Rutherford opposed Monday’s move by House Republicans to eviscerate the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.

That move has already been reversed, vindicating Rutherford’s position.

Rutherford committed to working across the aisle during a primary campaign full of pitched partisan rhetoric, and maintained that position through the November election.

And that commitment to bipartisan solutions animated his opposition to the offensive against OCE, as Rutherford believed that any reform should be a bipartisan effort of the House Ethics Committee.

Rutherford wasn’t the only Florida Republican opposed to the move; as Mitch Perry reported, Rep. Dennis Ross likewise opposed the move … one that was questioned by President-elect Donald Trump on Twitter Tuesday morning.

Florida Democrats urged Republicans to stand and be counted regarding their position on this matter.

“Floridians deserve to know which of their Republican members of Congress voted to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics last night,” said spokesman Max Steele. “If they would like to offer any justification whatsoever for why they feel there should be no ethics oversight for members of Congress, we’re all ears. After turning a blind eye to Trump’s historic corruption and conflicts of interest, it’s no wonder Republicans want a piece of the action.”

While some Florida Republicans did vote to “gut” the office, Rutherford was not one of them.

As Matt Dixon noted on Twitter, OCE oversight factored into Florida politics very recently, with high-profile inquiries from the office into the affairs of Democrats Alan Grayson and Corrine Brown.

For now, at least, the OCE appears safe from “reform.”

County delegation meetings abound for Rob Bradley this week

Sen. Rob Bradley is going to be a road warrior Wednesday and Thursday, with six county delegation meetings slated ahead of committees next week.

Bradley’s district shifted ahead of the last election, and now includes Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette, Levy, Suwannee, Union counties, and part of Marion County.

With that kind of ground to cover, the mechanics of county delegation meetings are more challenging for Bradley than they are for those in more urban districts.

Bradley’s road tour includes three delegation meetings on each day.

Wednesday finds the senator starting off in Suwanee County at 9 a.m. at the Live Oak City Hall, then moving on to a 1:30 engagement in Lake City for the Columbia County Delegation Meeting.

The Columbia County event will be at the Trustees Board Room at Florida Gateway College.

Bradley’s Wednesday itinerary closes in Baker County, with a 4:00 p.m. meeting at the Macclenny City Hall.

Thursday finds Bradley in Mayo at 10:00 a.m., for the Lafayette County Delegation Meeting.

That’s followed up by a 1:30 stop in Trenton, for the Gilchrist County meeting. And then a 4:00 p.m. stop in Cross City in Dixie County.

All Thursday meetings will be held at the courthouses in those municipalities.

Jacksonville HRO expansion bill topic of Wednesday meeting

Will the third time be the charm for expansion of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include the LGBT community?

Wednesday may tell the tale.

Councilman Aaron Bowman, one of the co-sponsors of the 2016 HRO expansion bill, has scheduled a public notice meeting for 11:30 Wednesday morning at Jacksonville’s city hall.

Expected to be in attendance: council members and community leaders, many of whom have been consistently ahead of the council when it comes to LGBT rights.

The bill is expected to be a pared down version of the 14-page 2016 legislation, including carve out protections for churches and associated businesses and small businesses.

Worth watching: Whether the bill has more than three co-sponsors.

Frustration in 2016 for supporters: council members who pledged to support HRO expansion during the campaign, but went mute during council deliberations.

Also worth watching: will all Democrats support HRO expansion this time?

Back in 2012, two Council Democrats — Reggie Brown and Johnny Gaffney — voted against even the compromise version of the bill.

Also worth watching: where will Republicans fall?

Council member Anna BroscheLori Boyer, and Greg Anderson are all thought of as possible supporters of the measure, but have avoided making hard commitments of support up until now.

Mayor Lenny Curry has pledged to stay out of the process; however, if the bill passed with fewer than 13 votes, he will be positioned to have to take a position on the measure.

We reached out to the mayor; his spokesperson, Marsha Oliver, advised that “the mayor does not make it a practice to discuss or comment on proposed legislation. He respects Council members and the legislative process. He evaluates items at the conclusion of the process that are then presented to him.”

We also caught up with Councilman Bill Gulliford, who had introduced a referendum on HRO expansion parallel to the Tommy Hazouri bill in 2016.

“Here we go again,” Gulliford said about the HRO debate.

Gulliford will not be in attendance at the Wednesday meeting.

He has not seen the bill as of yet, so he’s made no determination about his next steps regarding legislation.

Notable: the next ballot opportunity for a referendum would be August 2018.

Ticket surcharge hike, school board governance bills clear Jacksonville council panel

Tuesday morning saw the Jacksonville City Council Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services committee greenlight a bill that frustrated it in December.

The bill would increase city-imposed ticket surcharges for the Veterans Memorial Arena, the Baseball Grounds of Jax, and the Times Union Center for the Performing Arts, while adding surcharges for events at the under construction amphitheater and flex field at the stadium.

The arena and T-U center would cost $1 more per person per ticket; a baseball game, meanwhile, would be $.50 more per ticket.

The express purpose of the new money: funding infrastructure repair and improvement. These are salient concerns in light of decisions by the last two mayors to borrow money to fund improvements to the sports complex, then servicing the loans with bed tax money.

The sticking point in December for this committee: hiking fees at the T-U Center in the middle of the symphony’s season.

While it was agreed that the revenue was needed, with $5 million of deferred maintenance for the building, the symphony balked at the timing.

Even with the revenue enhancement, maintenance costs will be daunting; the T-U Center is slated for a mere $255,000 more of yearly revenue from the fee hike, which will go into effect June 15.

Meanwhile, the T-U Center’s subfund is insolvent, pointing to other revenue woes.

The bill moves to the full council on January 11.

Another major measure in front of NCIS: a bill that would change tiebreaker votes of the Duval County School Board.

Resolution 2016-782, sponsored by Councilman Aaron Bowman, expresses support for a J-Bill that would amend the Florida statute so that the vote of the Duval County School Board chair would not break a tie. In 2006, the Legislature adopted a measure for Orange County that dictated that, in counties with between 800,000 and 900,000 people, the school board chair’s vote breaks the tie.

The board was of six members for a period in 2016, and there was talk at that point by the chair of possibly removing Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

Bowman was not in attendance at the committee meeting, which left the bill exposed to questions as to whether or not the school board favored the bill.

Councilman Bill Gulliford wanted a “sense of the school board before we proceed.”

Councilwoman Joyce Morgan affirmed, after calling the school board chair, the board is in favor of the measure.

Bowman told us the board was for the measure.

Rules will be the second and final committee to mull this measure, and that will happen on Wednesday.

Katrina Brown’s family business finally pays 2015 property taxes

CoWealth, the family business of Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown, closed out 2016 by paying its delinquent 2015 property taxes.

JoAnn Brown, the Councilwoman’s mother, paid the balance of $22,515.69 in full on Dec. 30.

CoWealth was raided in December, in a multi-jurisdictional effort that included the FBI, the IRS, HUD, the Small Business Administration and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

CoWealth, the parent company of Jerome Brown BBQ, faced a hard deadline of Dec. 31 regarding a city disbursement of $640,000 in loans and grants for job creation that never materialized.

We are reaching out to the City of Jacksonville to see the status of that; however, at least one of the issues related to the family’s barbeque sauce plant has been resolved.

Left to be resolved: payment on the city loan for November and December.

If these issues are resolved to the city’s satisfaction, the terms of the deal between the city and the councilwoman’s company could be adjusted.

That would require council approval.

Councilwoman Brown, a member of the Finance Committee, would likely have to recuse herself from those discussions.

This isn’t the first dalliance with property tax delinquency from the Brown family.

During the 2015 campaign, delinquent property taxes became an issue also, spotlighted in local print reporting and in a debate between Brown and her campaign opponent before Brown paid up.

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