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Jacksonville Bold for 9.29.17 — Wake me up when September ends

What a month for Jacksonville.

We survived it all.

We survived Hurricane Irma and its floods that turned downtown to a lake and brought the river into some of the finest homes in Avondale and San Marco.

Then, we survived the politicians’ photo ops.

We saw the Jaguars court opprobrium when some knelt for the national anthem, even as they got off to a 2-1 start — first place in the division, for now.

For Jacksonville, it’s all recovery now.

Just weeks back, it felt like recovery was a lifetime away.

Debris is clearing from roads. Power and the cable have long since returned.

There is an upshot, in a sense. We all now know a lot more about the power grid, as well as former esoterica like the politics of FEMA reimbursement.

Adversity has many consequences, with negative ones amply documented.

But if there is one positive out of all this, it’s this: we — as a whole — are more engaged, more politically-aware, and more charitable than we might have been at the end of August.

May we stay that way.

John Rutherford, Al Lawson get grant for eco-friendly buses

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) granted $1M last week to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority for low-emission buses.

Bipartisan consensus and big dollars for JTA buses this week.

Buses, per Sunshine State News, will run from the Armsdale park and ride to the new Amazon distribution center.

Rep. Rutherford worked with Rep. Lawson to make the case.

Rutherford said the federal funds for “battery electric buses … will not only strengthen our world-class transit system but also improve air quality and lower fuel costs.”

“In the long run, this will help to increase fuel standards for the city and improve the air quality for our city’s residents. I am proud to have supported this funding and look forward to working with JTA on ways to further expand Jacksonville’s clean energy initiative,” Lawson added.

Rutherford: ‘Great victory’ on snapper fishing reopen

Area anglers will be seeing red in local waters — and, unlike in previous years, they will be able to reel it in, in the form of red snappers … which can now be fished again.

Rep. Rutherford framed this Wednesday as a “great victory” for local anglers.

Snapper fishermen will be lured into the waters with a change in federal policy.

“In June,” Rutherford asserted, “I wrote a letter to the South Atlantic Fishery Council requesting to open the red snapper fishery in the South Atlantic. There were over one hundred Congressional signatories to that letter.”

“Yesterday,” Rutherford added, “the South Atlantic Council announced they passed a provision to reopen the fishery for short seasons in 2017 and 2018. This is a great victory for fishing in our state … a tremendous step toward growing our First Coast fishing economy, but I will keep fighting in Washington for our South Atlantic anglers until we have a long-term solution to properly managing all of our fishery stocks.”

Melissa Nelson: Same as Angela Corey?

The Florida Star, a Jacksonville paper tailored toward the African-American community, said that State Attorney Melissa Nelson was “the same” as predecessor Angela Corey when it came down to a high-profile murder case.

The honeymoon is over for Melissa Nelson, per The Florida Star.

“State Attorney Melissa Nelson is turning out to be no different from former State Attorney Angela Corey when it comes to prosecuting Officers that kill black citizens. This week, her office determined that the killing of unarmed black man Vernell Bing by officer Tyler Landreville was justified,” the Star wrote.

The Star added that “Tennessee v. Garner” invalidated the action, as it prohibits deadly force to stop a fleeing suspect. Of course, the officer contends the suspect had been endangering lives by driving pell-mell down urban streets at 70+ miles per hour, and that when he shot Bing, Bing was reaching into his waistband.

“This is one case that will haunt Nelson due to the attention that it has received from local activists,” the paper adds, wondering “where are our black local and state legislators on these issues?”

Delegation derby

The Clay, St. Johns and Duval Legislative Delegations have meetings slated for October.

Clay’s delegation convenes Wednesday, Oct. 18, at 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. Location: the Clay County Administration Building, 477 Houston Street, Green Cove Springs.

The Clay Delegation will almost certainly talk Irma impacts next month.

Sen. Rob Bradley works seamlessly with Rep. Bobby Payne and Travis Cummings, allowing Clay to continually punch above its weight. This year will be especially pivotal given post-Irma needs for the growing county.

St. Johns and Duval, meanwhile, both meet that Friday.

The St. Johns County Legislative Delegation Meeting will kick off at 9 a.m. at the St. Johns County Auditorium (500 San Sebastian View, St. Augustine).

Duval’s delegation, chaired by Rep. Jay Fant, meets Friday, Oct. 20, at 1 p.m. in Jacksonville City Council chambers.

The major topic: a local bill that would require Sheriff’s Office crossing guards at certain schools.

As is always the case with delegation meetings, stakeholders and local eccentrics will show up to make their cases for priority projects; they will be allowed to speak as time permits.

Lenny Curry: ‘Stupid’ not to stand for anthem

Jacksonville Mayor Curry got national exposure via The Associated Press for his statement on the national anthem Monday, as this New York Post article shows.

Mayor Lenny Curry, pictured removing storm debris, is done talking anthem protests.

“I stand and cover my heart for the pledge and the anthem. I think it’s stupid to do otherwise,” Curry said. “The U.S. Constitution protects the right for a lot of people to do a lot of stupid things. I am a constitutional conservative, so I respect the wisdom of our Founders.”

The AP dispatch cut out the portion of the quote that had to do with storm recovery.

For Curry, not rebuking President Donald Trump on statements that play better with the GOP base than with the diverse body politic of Jacksonville has become a game of political Frogger.

By saying the protests were “stupid,” Curry nodded to the right. But he left no doubt that they were Constitutionally protected.

By Tuesday, Curry was done talking about the anthem and protests. When asked for details as to what the flight back with the team was like, he would only say it was a “nice flight.”

SPOTTED on the Oct. 2 cover of Sports Illustrated: Shad Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, related to a story on the NFL’s ‘take a knee for the anthem’ controversy this past weekend. From the story: “The protests of today are not about the anthem or the flag or the troops, or even about Donald Trump. The protesters are high-profile African-American athletes raising awareness of how lower-profile African-Americans are often mistreated by police officers.”

Shad Khan ‘appalled’ by Donald Trump

Meanwhile, one of Curry’s biggest political supporters — Shad Khan — stood beside his players during a moment of protest Sunday … with Curry in the stadium.

No regrets from Khan, who told a Jaguar that he would remember this for the rest of his life.

The wrath of Khan for Donald Trump? At the very least, a distancing.

Khan, who dropped $1 million on Trump‘s inauguration, has clearly become more comfortable with the concept of buyer’s remorse of late.

“I supported him in the campaign because I loved his economic policies and I thought, you know, politicians do a lot of stuff to get elected,” Khan said.

Khan — like many reporters — expected a pivot “to the middle.” No dice.

“But I was appalled, right after his inauguration, how things started out,” Khan said, “being more divisive and really being more polarizing on religion and immigration.”

For more on Khan, check out this strong Washington Post piece that aggregates the legacy of a wholly unique figure not just in NFL history, but American history.

“We all need to send a thank you card to President Trump,” he added. “He’s united us all in a very powerful way.”

In recent years, Jacksonville taxpayers have authorized $88 million of city-funded capital improvements to the Jaguars’ stadium: $43 million for the world’s biggest scoreboard, and half a $90 million buy-in that secured a new amphitheater, a covered practice field, and club seat improvements.

Gaff gaffe

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.

Local television viewers spent Friday evening watching WJXT’s footage of Jacksonville City Councilmembers Reggie Gaffney and Katrina Brown accusing local cops of racial profiling.

Gaffney had been pulled over for driving on a license plate he reported stolen in early 2016. Brown pulled up behind him to accuse the officers of racially profiling Gaffney.

Councilman Reggie Gaffney’s swearing-in; even in 2015, Katrina Brown was right behind him.

From there, things got no better. The head of the local Fraternal Order of Police urged the Councilors to apologize to the police they had maligned, or resign.

That head of the FOP, Steve Zona, wondered what the Mayor thought of this. Well, here’s the answer.

“I trust that the Sheriff and people over at JSO will do the right thing,” Curry said Tuesday on Jacksonville’s Northside, “and the process will work.”

For those looking for pyrotechnics, they weren’t to be found.

Gaffney apologized profusely at Council, while Councilwoman Brown was adamant that she did nothing wrong by asking the questions her constituents wanted to be asked.

Zona noted the apology was “heartfelt” and that “we all make mistakes.”

However, the Sheriff’s Office will still wonder about Gaffney’s lapsed memory when it came to walking into a police substation and reporting a tag stolen, then driving on the same tag. And to that end, an Integrity Unit investigation continues.

Post-Irma pollution in NW Jax

First Coast News reports on concerning flooding at a Superfund site in Northwest Jacksonville at Fairfax St. Wood Chippers.

A polluted site that has been on media and government radar for years now, the location flooded during Irma.

‘Runoff concerns’ are the latest peril for those in the Fairfax area.

The Environmental Protection Agency notes: “Due to heavy rain, some runoff concerns were identified at an on-site retention point and a washout underneath some site fencing. Samples were collected from the pond to determine whether contamination issues are present …”

A happy ending (sort of): Environmental Protection Agency samples “did not indicate any significant issues at the site from Hurricane Irma.”

The statement continues: “A surface water sample collected after the hurricane showed concentrations lower than or similar to the surface water concentrations for multiple metals measured during the Remedial Investigation.”

The site has been dormant since 2010, and the Environmental Protection Agency will clean it up eventually, FCN reports.

Irma worst ever event for Jax businesses?

The Florida Times-Union is reporting that Hurricane Irma may have been the worst ever event for Jacksonville businesses.

“A member of the board of directors for JAX Chamber said Irma is likely the biggest, single negative event to impact Jacksonville business,” the T-U notes.

Irma wreaked havoc on Jax businesses.

“I have been in Jacksonville for over 25 years working and I do not remember anything having an impact on business operations like this,” Chamber Board member Roy Driver said. “There was just nothing open.

“For 24-plus hours on what would otherwise be a normal workday — for just about the entire business community, with it being a Monday — everything was essentially shut down,” he said.

Clay catastrophe

Duval wasn’t alone in Irma impacts; Clay County may have suffered the greatest natural disaster in its history during Irma, the Florida Times-Union reports.

Gov. Rick Scott surveys damage in Middleburg.

“This was a catastrophic event for Clay County. The most significant impact that Clay County has ever felt …” said the county’s emergency director this week.

“This is going to be a long-term recovery, both the rebuild of infrastructure, the rebuild of residences and the recovery process is going to take time,” he added.

The impacts: over 12 hours of tropical storm force winds, epic creek flooding and 858 houses damaged.

“County infrastructure took a hit. There’s at least $600,000 in damage to county paved roads, about $200,000 to its dirt roads. Damage to county marinas, parks and recreational facilities is about $226,000,” the T-U report adds.

This puts hard numbers to the destruction Orange Park Republican Sen. Rob Bradley described to us in the immediate wake of the storm.

Clay County joins ‘Schools of Hope’ suit

By a 3-2 vote, the Clay County School Board voted this week to approve a lawsuit against the state of Florida — committing $25,000 to an effort joined weeks back by Duval County.

Per the Florida Times-Union: “The lawsuit is expected to question the constitutionality of the massive education bill, in part because it deals with about 70 subjects while the state constitution requires bills to deal with one topic. There are also questions about measures in the bill which are designed to steer millions of dollars from districts to charter schools and will limit school board’s oversight role with charter schools, which are independent public schools.”

Ted Cruz, SJC bound

Some high-powered national talent is headed to St. Johns County in October; U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz will join local Rep. Ron DeSantis for a county GOP fundraiser.

Pictured: Ted Cruz explaining the merits of Texas-style BBQ to Ron DeSantis.

The event: Oct. 6 at Sawgrass Country Club. The two will discuss tax reform.

VIP Meet and Greet tickets are $250; for the conservative on a budget, general admission tickets are just $100.

Expect Texas-style BBQ, a cash bar to wash it down, and a silent auction.

More money, years for FSU President John Thrasher

FSU President John Thrasher will be at FSU through 2020, and will have more money for his trouble.

John Thrasher continues to build his legacy as a university president.

“FSU trustees voted Friday to boost Thrasher’s annual salary by 7 percent to $555,560. Trustees also agreed to give him a $200,000 bonus for his performance. Last year, Thrasher was given a $100,000 bonus. Thrasher later this year will also get a 1.45 percent raise being given to all FSU employees,” reported The Associated Press.

Thrasher will also get a $400,000 bonus should he stay at FSU through 2020.

Seafood Nutrition Healthy Heart Summit

October is National Seafood Month, and the Seafood Nutrition Partnership will host its inaugural Healthy Heart Summit to promote the benefits of eating heart healthy.

October is National Seafood Month!

On Friday, Sept. 29, the half-day program will bring leaders from business, health care, and community together to discuss the importance of a heart-healthy diet for the local community, provide easy to use resources to encourage healthy dietary habits, and identify action items to support the heart health goals of the community. University of North Florida professor Judy Rodriguez will reveal results from the school’s Seafood Consumption in Northeast Florida study. It will also feature a special cooking demonstration by chef Johnny Carino.

Also to appear: Jerome Maples (Sen. Audrey Gibson’s office), Dr. Kelli Wells (Department of Health Duval County), Dr. Pamela Rama (Baptist Health), Mike Tigani (King & Prince Seafood) and Seafood Nutrition Partnership representatives.

The event is from 8 a.m. — 1 p.m. (registration and media check-in begins at 7:30 a.m.) at the Jacksonville Main Public Library, 303 N. Laura St.

JAXPORT names new CEO

Jacksonville Port Authority board members unanimously chose Eric Green as chief executive officer, reports the Florida Times-Union.

Green led the JAXPORT effort in its $484 million dredging project while expanding the port’s cargo lines. It is the third time JAXPORT promoted a person without prior CEO experience.

JAXPORT Board Chairman Jim Citrano (right) congratulates Eric Green on becoming the port authority’s CEO. Photo via WJCT.

Board member Joe York told the T-U that Green’s six months as interim CEO amounted to a successful tryout. Green, who worked at JaxPort since 2005, didn’t play it safe as interim leaders are prone to do, Green added.

Crowley Maritime sends Maria aid to Puerto Rico

Crowley Maritime Corporation is sending 3,000 loads of food, supplies and other cargo to San Juan to help with recovery from Hurricane Irma, reports Kent Justice of News 4 Jax.

Mark Miller, Crowley Maritime vice president of communications, said the company has 300 employees in Puerto Rico. All are known to be safe, he added.

“It’s absolutely heartbreaking. It really is. Good friends down there. It’s really difficult to see. I can only imagine what they’re going through right now. It’s just really difficult,” Miller told WJCT. “We play a vital role in the supply chain for Puerto Rico. So we’re stepping up to work with these agencies to get the cargo where it needs to go [and] when it needs to get there. Our employees are stepping up, too. Our employees are putting together all kinds of packages that are going to go out on a vessel this weekend.”

Photo courtesy Kent Justice, WJXT.

The company is getting aid to St. Croix and St. Thomas; the U.S. Virgin Islands were also hard-hit by hurricanes this season.

Frontier Airlines adds flights to Denver, Cincinnati from Jacksonville

Low-cost airline Frontier Airlines is adding nonstop flights from Jacksonville to Denver and Cincinnati starting this spring, the airline announced this week.

“We are proud to announce the nationwide expansion of our unique brand of Low Fares Done Right which will empower millions more people to afford to fly,” Barry Biffle, president and CEO of Frontier Airlines, said in a statement.

As reported by WTLV, the service will start sometime in spring 2018, according to a Jacksonville International Airport spokesperson. The Denver-based air carrier has not confirmed either start dates or frequency.

Flights will be on an Airbus A320 aircraft, Frontier spokesman Jim Faulkner told First Coast News.

UberEATS hits Jacksonville; benefits Irma recovery

On Thursday midnight, Uber introduced the popular UberEATS on-demand food delivery service to Jacksonville. Initial coverage areas include downtown, San Marco, Arlington, Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach.

UberEATS gives Jacksonville users access to menus of more than 100 restaurants: Dick’s Wings, Empire City Gastropub, European Street Café, Good Dough Doughnuts, Jersey Mike’s, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Shack Maui, Tijuana Flats, The Southern Grill, Whit’s Frozen Custard and Zaxby’s.

A full list of participating restaurants is on the UberEATS app in Jacksonville.

Hungry? UberEATS is now in Jacksonville!

To celebrate the launch, Uber is donating $25,000 to the “First Coast Relief Fund” to help residents and businesses affected by Hurricane Irma.

“The restaurant scene in Jacksonville has grown over the years, and we’re excited to work with our restaurant partners to expand their reach at the tap of a button,” said Juan Pablo Restrepo, general manager of UberEATS Florida. “When Uber launched in Florida, Jacksonville was the first city for the company to call home. Hurricane Irma’s impact has reverberated throughout this community and we are committed to helping those affected.”

For a limited time, app users can enter an “EATSJAX” promotional code to receive $5 off two UberEATS orders. Delivery is available from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week, with a $4.99 delivery fee. If the restaurant is shown as open and serving on the UberEATS app during that time, customers can place an order. Restaurants interested in joining UberEats can visit www.uber.com/restaurants to learn how to join.


Jacksonville Sheriff, State Attorney talk Reggie Gaffney’s ‘Plategate’

The case of Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney and his troublesome license plate rages on, a full ten days after he was pulled over by police officers for driving with a license plate he had previously reported stolen.

Since then, Gaffney has profusely apologized for his conduct during the stop — first at the front of the Council meeting Tuesday, then on a local newscast the following days.

The mea culpa tour meanders on, but the central question of why an active City Councilman was driving with a tag he’d reported stolen in 2016 still stands. And the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office’s Integrity unit is still investigating the matter.

On Thursday, Sheriff Mike Williams and State Attorney Melissa Nelson both took questions from this outlet regarding Gaffney’s tag trouble — one that some wags are calling “Plategate.”

Williams noted that the JSO is trying to “unpack” and “work through” conflicting accounts, to “try to figure out what happened.”

“We’ll try to get to the bottom of why the tag was reported stolen, if it wasn’t, if it was actually stolen,” Williams said.

We noted that Gaffney walked into a police substation and reported the tag stolen.

“He did. Walked into the substation and reported it stolen. That’s kind of the starting point,” Williams said, expressing hope that the investigation “won’t take too long.”

“It is against the law to file a false police report,” Williams said, and if that indeed is what happened “then he’ll have that challenge.”

Gaffney was not the only Councilor who interacted with police that night; colleague Katrina Brown also had a memorable interaction with the same officers.

Brown pulled up behind the stop and accused officers of racial profiling, which led Fraternal Order of Police head Steve Zona to suggest that Gaffney and Brown apologize to the officers or resign.

Unlike Gaffney, Brown believed she had nothing to apologize for.

We asked Williams if the recent Brown/Zona dynamic was productive.

“No, it’s not productive. I think we’ve shown in the last couple of years that people who have real concerns about issues between law enforcement and the community, we’re more than willing to sit down and talk about those.”

“Barbs, even back and forth, are not productive,” Williams affirmed, expressing hope that a more productive conversation could happen “when emotions simmer down a little bit.”

The Councilwoman’s claim of racial profiling is “not applicable in this case,” Williams said.

“At some point in time, those two should sit down. I think they’re talking about that,” Williams said.

We also asked Melissa Nelson about Gaffney’s case.

“We treat every individual the same across the board. And we adjudge every case based on the facts and circumstances of that case,” Nelson said, “regardless of who that person is.”

Beyond that statement, Nelson didn’t talk specifics of the case.

Gaffney, who has dealt with legal scrapes ranging from Medicaid overbilling to double dipping on homestead exemption claims, has generally been able to talk his way out of serious penalties in these matters.

While to some a false report of a stolen tag is not a major issue, the issue becomes amplified given that Gaffney has a unique position of public trust — as one of 19 people in the city who can vote for something to become law.

Are those who enact laws exempt from the rule of law?

Public safety – and reform – a big focus in Jacksonville’s new budget

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Sheriff Mike Williams, and 4th Circuit State Attorney Melissa Nelson talked to press at City Hall Thursday.

And as such meetings go, this one had myriad purposes.

One such purpose: to discuss public safety spending in the new $1.27B city budget, passed Tuesday unanimously by the City Council.

The other, more holistic purpose: to discuss that spending in the framework of a pragmatically conservative brand of reform, of moving the city into the 21st century on such matters as community policing and juvenile civil citations — “smart justice” style priorities of all three Republican officials on hand.

Key to such reforms seems to be having sufficient resources to implement the strategies.

This would be Curry’s third straight budget to pass without a no vote, and includes 100 new police officers, which — when combined with 80 new officers and 80 new community service officers in Curry’s first two budgets — rectifies what Curry called “dangerously low levels” of police on the street when he and Williams were elected.

Williams noted that the shortfall in “police staffing” made it hard to provide adequate services in some communities — and a particular pressure is on Jacksonville’s most challenged areas, such as Northwest Jacksonville.

“It’s improving in some parts of town, but there’s still a challenge,” Williams said, “especially on the weekends.”

Moving people and stacking officers at hot spots and using technology as a “force multiplier”: all of these are strategies. But ultimately, adding officers is key to combating crime.

“We had to convince [the Mayor]. We had to convince the Council. There was a lot of vetting to get to this point,” Williams said regarding the force additions for a third straight year.

“People want more police officers,” Curry added, citing his time talking to people in neighborhoods. “They understand that we were at dangerously low levels and they want [officers] in their neighborhoods.”

“People want this city safe,” Curry continued, “and they want the right investment made in law enforcement. They want more presence.”

That presence, Curry added, would lead to relationship building, as officers won’t have to “rush from call to call to call” as they have.

Curry’s budget — which he called a “budget for the people” — also replaced “dated equipment,” allocated $320K to park security, $1M for a crime gun intelligence center to be housed at the State Attorney’s Office, and devoted significant resources to Fire and Rescue as well, including 42 new fire fighters, new equipment, and funding for two new stations.

Williams noted that the investments are “finishing out” a list of needs that dated back.

“The Mayor’s done great for us,” Williams said. “We don’t have a lot of big asks.”

“These investments are real,” Curry said, and “this partnership and collaboration is real” between him, Williams, and Nelson.

“So the question is: what does this budget mean for public safety? A budget is a statement of priorities,” Curry contended.

“These are resources that are given to those in public safety to do their jobs,” Curry added, and resource allocation on the local level helps facilitate the relationship with the State Attorney — termed a “reformer” by the Mayor.

“We solve crimes. Put the bad people away, and if a young person deserves a second chance, we give them a second chance,” Curry said.

Among those second chances: a commitment to civil citations from the State Attorney’s office, one advanced via a memorandum of understanding with Sheriffs and school districts throughout the 4th Circuit.

“In terms of being smarter in how we address crime,” Nelson said, “the use of civil citation allows both the Sheriff’s office and the State Attorney’s office to redeploy resources in a more strategic way.”

“That’s a common theme in everything the city is trying to do, the Sheriff is trying to do, and certainly that we’re trying to do — make sure that we’re using our resources in the most efficient way we can,” Nelson said.

Regarding the sole object of city funding for her state-funded office in the budget — the crime gun intelligence center — Nelson noted that it’s “to allow us to target and strategize on that small amount of people creating the most violence.”

Drawing the distinction between criminals who can be rehabilitated and those who pose an existential threat to citizenry: no easy task.

But in a climate with limited resources, moves in that direction are necessary.

And Jacksonville leaders are making them.

Human Rights Campaign: Jacksonville makes strong gains in LGBT rights

FloridaPolitics.com obtained a confidential copy of a draft version of the Human Rights Campaign’s municipal equality index.

And Jacksonville is better positioned than ever before, scoring a 67 out of a potential 100 — a clear consequence of the city adding LGBT citizens to its Human Rights Ordinance this year.

The leadership gets 4 out of a possible 5 points for its “public position on LGBT equality,” and 3 out of 5 on “pro-equality legislative efforts.”

The city loses points, by and large, in one key area: law enforcement. A total of 22 points are lost because of a lack of the LGBTQ police liaison or task force, and a reported failure to report 2015 hate crime statistics to the FBI.

In the past, there have been improvements from the draft document to the final iteration.

In the Human Rights Campaign’s 2016  Municipal Equality Index, Jacksonville earned a rating of 49 out of 100. FloridaPolitics.com reported a draft version of the MEI had Jacksonville as a 31 that year, pointing out then that key metrics were left out.

Jacksonville’s score of 67 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index — even in draft form — is much better than the city was positioned at the end of the Alvin Brown era, when it had an anemic 25 out of 100 points.

There is an emergent challenge to the HRO expansion mentioned above.

Empower Jacksonville, a group of social conservatives backed by the Liberty Counsel, is advancing a ballot measure that could lead to a challenge of the current law.

Empower Jacksonville seeks to have two ballot items in Aug. 2018. The first: a referendum to change the city’s charter to allow citizens to challenge any law via referendum.

The second measure: a straw ballot on whether or not the HRO should be subject to citizen referendum. The specific area of contention: the additions to the law this February, not the previously extant law.

Fundraising is torpid for the group, which has just $5,000 banked as of August’s finance report.

Lenny Curry’s ‘Kids Hope Alliance’ bill is headed back to Jax City Council

FloridaPolitics.com obtained a copy of what will be a committee substitute for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s previously-filed Kids Hope Alliance bill.

The bill will be introduced by Councilman Scott Wilson on Monday, and will be buoyed with support from four former Jacksonville Children’s Commission chairs.

Former chairs Howard KormanRichard SisiskyToni Crawford, and Michael Munz all affirmed support for the reforms, a priority of the Curry administration.

Korman and Munz are especially politically active members of the donor class.

The Kids Hope Alliance would, as proposed previously, be a seven-person board appointed by the Mayor’s Office, with approval by Council. The board will replace the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jacksonville Journey with a single executive branch entity that will consolidate efforts for greater efficiency.

However, there will be significant changes in the proposal, Curry said.

“Since our original legislation,” Curry said, “we’ve had an opportunity to continue our work with various community partners and groups to gain valuable input.”

The official tagline will be “Kids Hope Alliance: the Jacksonville Partnership for Children, Youth, and Families.”

The KHA will, per the bill, be responsible for “utilizing and leveraging the intellectual, organizational, and financial capital available throughout the city,” and will “develop, oversee, and manage … an integrated system of essential children’s and youth programs and services to ensure the future success” of the city’s children and youth.

The board will have a CEO, and there will be five Essential Services Categories; Council will be able to amend these with a majority vote.

Those categories: Early Learning, Literacy, and School Readiness; Juvenile Justice Prevention and Intervention; Out-of-school programming; Preteen and Teen Programming; Mental Health, Behavioral Health, Emotional Health, and Physical Disabilities programming.

The last category is new to the current version of the bill.

There will be some substantial changes to the legislation, made in recent weeks in reaction to conversations with Councilors and stakeholders, while the Mayor’s Office also managed the aftermath of Irma.

“Providers” will be limited to public or private non-profits, and “small providers” will provide services at or under $65,000.

Board members will be required to be permanent residents or have “substantial” economic or philanthropic interests in the city. Curry would appoint the initial chair of the program, whose term would end Jun 30, 2019; from there, the board will select its chair.

Board members can be removed by the Mayor, with a 2/3 vote of Council. The board will also be able to request the Sheriff, State Attorney, and Public Defender to offer yearly assessments of strategic policing and public safety initiatives for youth.

The board would also pick the CEO, and the Mayor would no longer have to concur with their decision — a key assurance of the board’s independence, despite being housed in the executive branch.

Curry is prioritizing business-minded people with big picture visions and strong resumes for board inclusion, similar again to his reformation of the JEA Board. Board members will understand finance and org structure, Curry said, and would understand the necessity of hiring management and staff that understands the mechanics of the services offered.

“A board structure with strong oversight that’s empowered to hire management, one with a focused mission — that’s going to work,” Curry said.

There will be an interim executive director appointed for the six-month period, and one can expect him or her to be a truly transitional, yet respected, figure with experience in these matters; from there, the board of directors will hire someone permanent.

Jax Council Rules Chair talks Reggie Gaffney ‘Plategate’

Before Tuesday night’s meeting of the Jacksonville City Council, Rules Committee Chair Doyle Carter spoke briefly with us about the situations involving two of his Council colleagues.

Last week on his way home from a meeting, Councilman Reggie Gaffney was pulled over for using a license plate he reported stolen.

Gaffney denied that he had reported the tag stolen, and colleague Katrina Brown providentially pulled up and accused police officers of racially profiling.

As the meeting began, Gaffney apologized for his behavior during the stop, saying he’s “not a perfect man.”

And Brown said she didn’t do anything wrong; when asking about police racial profiling, she said that she was asking questions constituents wanted asked.

Despite Gaffney’s apology, there is still an open Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Integrity Unit investigation on Gaffney for reporting a tag stolen that wasn’t stolen — and that investigation was filed by the head of the police union.

Even though the police union head, Steve Zona, described the apology as “genuine and heartfelt,” the JSO investigation is a different matter and will continue.

We asked Rules Chair Carter if the committee would look into the matter if JSO’s investigation revealed wrongdoing on Councilman Gaffney’s part.

Carter said he wasn’t “informed enough” on the specifics of the case to answer the question at first, as he was “working until late last night,” but added that if there are legal issues, “everything will be addressed” — presumably in Rules Committee, though he chose to walk away rather than clarify the matter.


Carter and Gaffney have an interesting personal history.

Gaffney decided, despite pledging to support Carter in a public notice meeting lasting all of a minute, to go against that signed pledge and back Crescimbeni, raising questions among seasoned reporters and council observers as to why Gaffney flipped.

Carter’s quote reported in the Florida Times-Union at the time was telling: “If you can’t trust somebody for their word, then what can you trust?”

Issues of probity have dogged Gaffney throughout his political career, as most local Jacksonville outlets have reported in great detail.

Despite Gaffney’s betrayal in 2016’s Council Leadership race, Carter holds no residual ill will.

“I can’t hold grudges,” Carter said.

However, Carter does hold the gavel.

And if Gaffney was found to have lied to law enforcement, the committee will be compelled to either take up the matter, or be seen as effectively gelded in the matter of internal enforcement.

Jacksonville City Council approves $1.27 billion budget

Late Tuesday night, the Jacksonville City Council passed the city’s $1.27 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year, one with $131M in capital improvements, and 100 new police positions.

The $131 million capital improvement budget: a cornucopia of one-time spending designed to take advantage of budget relief created by pension reform, fueled by the confidence created by Jacksonville’s strong position with bond ratings agencies.

The 100 new officers were a big talking point in public hearing and comment. They will cost $4.41M to onboard, and 80 officers will be on the streets by the end of the year, with the balance in training. 40 officers would be budgeted for six months, 40 for three months, and there would be 20 other unfunded positions.

However, there was a lot of subtext.

Among said subtext: multiple Council members at war with the head of the local police union; and a number of floor amendments, the most interesting of them put forth by Councilman Danny Becton.

One of those amendments sought to move $8.5M from projects at Edward Waters College (dorm renovations and a new community track and field) to water and sewer projects.

The other amendment: almost $23 million to be moved to pension from two accounts ($8,638,343 from Pension Reserve for an extra pension payment for 2017-2018, and an additional $14,078,555 from Pension Reserve to bolster the contribution further).

All these amendments died for want of a second.

And Becton issued complaints — regarding debt being kicked down the road, and regarding his amendments not getting a hearing.

Becton considered voting against the budget; yet, as he did last year when voting for Jaguars’ stadium improvements, he fell in line in the end.

Pay raise pushback: One minor budget request for pay raises got mayoral pushback.

Council salaries: up from $44,100 to $47,000. Council President’s salary: up from $58,800 to 62,600.

This would happen to rectify a salary freeze in 2010-11, and bring salaries in line with state guidelines.

Mayor Lenny Curry, whose salary was to go up also, issued a statement against that.

“It has come to my attention that Council has amended the budget I submitted to now include pay raises for elected officials, which I had not requested. I want to make clear that I do not support pay raises for elected officials. I have asked Council to consider an amendment to the budget tonight that ensures my salary as mayor will not be increased one cent more than it was on the day I took office.”

Councilwoman Lori Boyer issued an amendment waiving an increase to Curry’s salary. The amendment passed.

Councilman Al Ferraro then issued an amendment to keep Council and Constitutional Officer salaries at the levels set in 2010-11, with the extra savings moved to Council Contingency.

Ferraro’s amendment got pushback, via Councilmen Reggie Brown and John Crescimbeni, and it became clear quickly that it would find its place in the amendment graveyard.

So Councilmembers got their raises in the end.

Becton pension push fails: Becton made his case that the future 1/2 cent sales tax proceeds will only pay a fraction of the $3.2B unfunded pension liability, saying that the burden of the debt would be shifted to the next generation to pay out of the general fund.

Becton’s first amendment failed without a second.

Becton’s second amendment, for $14M more in benefit payments out of “excess funds in the pension reserve account,” likewise died without a second.

EWC money stays in budget: Councilman Becton’s objections to the EWC funding came to a head, finally, on budget night. But it was one of those issues where the political will wasn’t there.

The project, said Becton, didn’t serve the public interest compared to infrastructure issues — such as water, roads, and so on — in much of the city. Hence, the desire to move the money to public works.

There was no second to Becton’s motion.

Reggie Gaffney apologizes, Katrina Brown does not: It appears the incidents of last week, in which Councilman Reggie Gaffney was pulled over for using a tag he reported stolen, are now moving toward the rearview mirror.

As the meeting began, Gaffney apologized, saying he’s “not a perfect man.” And Brown said she didn’t do anything wrong; when asking about police racial profiling, that she was asking questions constituents wanted asked.

Police Union head Steve Zona grabbed a public comment speaker’s card, ensuring that the drama would continue.

Before Zona spoke, local activist Ben Frazier said that the “bully of the bully pulpit” now has “two targets,” referring to the “duly elected” Councilors.

Zona “wants to circumvent the electoral process with a click of the mouse and an email” calling for removal for the Councilors, Frazier said.

Zona gave Gaffney credit for a “genuine, heartfelt apology,” but had more to say about Katrina Brown.

“Not one time did I ever call for her resignation,” Zona said.

Zona also alleged that Brown’s claim that new cops are intended to target the African-American community as “repulsive and disgusting.”

Zona also noted that there was “zero facts” to the claim of racial profiling in the “professional traffic stop.”

“It’s embarrassing for the body as a whole,” Zona said, and calls question as to the “decision process” of Councilwoman Brown.

Local progressive activists rallied around Brown and Gaffney.

Lenny Curry is staying out of Reggie Gaffney’s latest gaffe

While Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was in London with the Jaguars, two members of the City Council were making news, via a Only in Jacksonville scandal one might call “Plategate.”

Jacksonville television viewers spent Friday evening watching footage of Jacksonville City Councilmembers Reggie Gaffney and Katrina Brown accusing local cops of racial profiling.

Gaffney had been pulled over for driving on a license plate he reported stolen in early 2016. Brown pulled up behind him to accuse the officers of racially profiling Gaffney.

From there, things got no better. The head of the local Fraternal Order of Police urged the Councilors to apologize to the police they had maligned, or resign.

With this story providing an interesting counterpoint to a budget night vote where the greatest controversy may involve whether or not the city hires 100 new police officers, we asked Curry whether he lined up with the police union or with two council allies who typically are reliable votes.

“I trust that the Sheriff and people over at JSO will do the right thing,” Curry said Tuesday on Jacksonville’s Northside, “and the process will work.”

The process at this point includes a complaint filed to the JSO Integrity Unit by FOP Head Steve Zona.

“The FOP is obviously disappointed in [Gaffney’s] recent behavior and we will await the outcome of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Integrity Unit investigation,” Zona said Monday.

Action News Jax reported Monday that Gaffney’s tag, in addition to mysteriously reappearing on the Councilman’s car after it was reported stolen, had in fact expired.

Neither Councilman Gaffney or Councilwoman Brown have offered comment in recent days on this matter, but it will be harder for them to shake the press at Council Tuesday night.

As we’ve reported all too frequently, Gaffney and Brown seem to face the most ethical challenges of anyone on Council.

Before his election, Gaffney was dogged by a Medicaid overbilling scandal. After his election, he was popped for double-dipping on his homestead exemption. Meanwhile, his non-profit (Community Rehabilitation Center) is being sued by a former employee who charges she was assigned to work with HIV+ patients without state mandated Ryan White training.

Brown, meanwhile, faces issues ranging from the worst attendance record on the Council to an ongoing lawsuit against her family business from the city of Jacksonville.

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.

The city already got a default judgement of $220,000 for part of the money, and has since requested detailed records, facilitating forensic accounting to determine where the rest of the money went.

Lenny Curry is done talking about National Anthem protests

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry galvanized the community Monday with a brief statement on National Anthem protests at NFL games, such as the Jaguars’ tilt in London.

“I stand and cover my heart for the pledge and the anthem. I think it’s stupid to do otherwise. The US Constitution protects the right for a lot of people to do a lot of stupid things,” was the part that people focused on.

Curry, who has co-branded with the Jaguars both individually and collectively, was asked for more detail Tuesday.

“I said what I have to say. You saw my statement yesterday,” Curry said, adding that he is focused on “storm recovery.”

Curry did fly back with the team from London after Sunday’s game, but it doesn’t appear the Mayor debated with players about the decision to kneel or not.

“We had a nice flight back,” Curry said. “I said all I have to say.”

For Curry, this issue is a political minefield, created after a President of his party whipped up the base at an Alabama political rally by imploring NFL owners to fire protesting players.

As a Republican Mayor who has co-branded with the team and owner Shad Khan early and often, the chasm between the position taken by Khan and the vast majority of NFL ownership and that of President Trump and his adherents is a no man’s land.

Curry has dealt with local blowback after various Trump blasts from the past.

The Mayor spent weeks defending his defense of President Trump declaring that he wanted the U.S. out of the Paris Accord on climate change.

And in 2016, Curry courted controversy by emceeing a Trump rally in Jacksonville; though his portion of the program was early in the evening, Curry took a lot of heat in the media and social media for participating.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars are taking a lot of hits from disgruntled fans in the wake of the protest, despite the biggest win of the Blake Bortles era; it will be interesting to see how anthem aggravation affects the box office when the Jaguars play at home again.

Cops vs. Councilors: Will Jacksonville budget night vote get wild?

Jacksonville television viewers spent Friday evening watching footage of Jacksonville City Councilmenbers accusing local cops of racial profiling.

On Tuesday evening, those Councilors — Reggie Gaffney, who was pulled over for driving with a tag he’d reported stolen; and Katrina Brown, driving behind Gaffney, who accused the officers of racially-profiling her Council colleague — will be two of 19 votes on the new $1.27B budget, one with $131M in capital improvements proposed.

The budget’s highlight: a vote on authorizing 100 new police positions, one which led to a fractious discussion in the Finance Committee budget hearing — with Councilwoman Brown saying that she felt “targeted” by a poll commissioned by the Sheriff’s political committee, a poll that contended people wanted more cops on the street.

The head of the local Fraternal Order of Police wants the Councilors to apologize to the police they had maligned, or resign.

So far, it is unknown what they will do. But this pitched drama will inform an exciting Jacksonville City Council meeting Tuesday night, one in which a budget will be voted up … if drama doesn’t preclude the “push the green button” moment.

Budget night will be enlivened by floor amendments as well, such as pension debt hawk Danny Becton calling to move almost $23 million:  $8,638,343 from Pension Reserve for an extra pension payment for 2017-2018, and an additional $14,078,555 from Pension Reserve to contribute the greater of % or $ method.

Becton has sought to increase the city’s pension contribution, saying that pension reform has done little more than pass a bigger bill to Jacksonville residents of the 2030s and beyond, who will be responsible for the deferred obligation that now amounts to $3.2T in unfunded liability.

Becton described pension reform as “kind of almost like going through a Chapter 11” that “got the creditors off our back” – an “extra contribution” like paying beyond the minimum payment on a credit card to bring down the balance.

As it stands, Becton said that paying the minimum alone would make future borrowing more expensive, akin to the predicament faced by someone with a credit rating of “500 or 600.”

The Mayor’s Office had not supported Becton’s attempts to augment payments in the past. If Becton. the Vice Chair of the Finance Committee, is able to overcome resistance from the Mayor’s Office and push these amendments through, it certainly will be a big win for him, raising questions as to what his next political move might be.

“Any amendments that pass tonight, I’ll evaluate when they land on my desk,” Curry said Tuesday morning.

The budget vote clearly will be the highlight of the evening, especially in light of intra-Council drama in recent months.

However, one can expect commentary in the ever-delightful public comment portion of the evening to include meditations on Confederate statues and, perhaps, even the decision of some Jacksonville Jaguars to kneel for the anthem.

While Mayor Lenny Curry called such protests “stupid,” Jaguars owner Shad Khan has done nothing but support his players … and in doing so, went against Curry and President Donald Trump, whose descriptions of protesters struck a nerve with players throughout the NFL.

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