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Jax mulls future of Hemming Park … again

A 90-minute Wednesday public notice meeting in the Jacksonville City Council offices addressed the perilous future of Friends of Hemming Park.

This tradition is almost as old as Jacksonville itself.

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The nonprofit Friends of Hemming Park, designed to run the park, has enough funds to last until early August, after a $100,000 appropriation during a May meeting of the council.

Even though they got that money, council members expressed grave concerns about the near-term future of the park, located directly across from Jacksonville’s City Hall.

With money to tide them over for some weeks, the assembled representatives from Friends of Hemming Park, Downtown Vision, the Downtown Investment Authority, the Parks and Recreation Department, and the mayor’s office addressed some of the existential questions related to the park’s future.

Among them: What are the expectations for the park? Should it be passive or active? What defines success? How can Hemming Park be improved? At what level should Hemming Park be funded? And is the current management structure the right one for the park?

The goal of the meeting, said Council President Greg Anderson: to create a unified stakeholder vision for the park’s future.

“It’s important that we get this right,” said Anderson, who noted the history of the park and its parallels with Jacksonville history, including a 1977 resolution for redevelopment of Hemming Park.

As well, a resolution for portable toilets in Hemming Park in the 1980s was “killed,” Anderson said.

More currently, in 2o14, the city council appropriated a million dollars toward running the park … which puts it in its current position, even as the group mulls a second appropriation of $150,000 later this summer.

Friends of Hemming Park President Wayne Wood noted that “Hemming Park was a cesspool” three years ago, “overrun … by crime and so forth.”

The idea was activity would move the “ne’er do wells” to the periphery of the “family-friendly park.”

Noting that half of park visitors are female, Wood asserts their plan has paid off, in terms of the requirements of the request for proposal that brought the park under the purview of FOHP.

“We’ve been frugal. We’ve spent our money wisely … and yet, we’ve been beat up a little bit,” Wood said, adding that he’d like some positive words from the city council.

“Our goal is to be self-sustainable. Nobody imagined we could do that in a year and a half,” Wood said.

FOHP CEO Vince Cavin said, “I thought we were meeting the goals” of the RFP.

“You’ve just got to bring more people in, more people in. That’s what it takes,” Cavin added.

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Wood pushed for a “commitment from the city” to validate the importance of the effort, noting that by the end of the five-year contractual term, the park could be self-sustaining.

Cavin, meanwhile, cited the need for “huge corporate support” for capital improvements to “update the park,” including food destinations.

“The event comes and goes, but the impact isn’t felt unless you’re there,” Cavin said.

The city takes care of a number of park functions, including daily cleanup, maintenance of the electrical fixtures, the electric bill itself, fountain maintenance, and tree canopy management, particularly when safety concerns are provided.

As well, two-man sheriff’s office patrols are out during business hours, with a bicycle cop on weekends.

“They are often in the park,” Wood said, but if called away they are not there.

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Councilman John Crescimbeni pressed the FOHP, asking if adverse coverage from the press impacted fundraising.

“By the time we had something good to show for” their efforts, said Wood, “doubt was cast on whether or not we would continue.”

Cavin, meanwhile, said a fundraising effort from the Delores Barr Weaver Foundation was paused. And Wood said friends who planned to contribute were advised to hold off, given the uncertainty.

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Jake Gordon of Downtown Vision said his group “needs the park to work,” and that “the definition of success” mattered.

Gordon expressed concerns about a panoply of issues, including the “personal community” and the “civil liberties” of those in the park.

“It’s going to create a coalition to help,” Gordon said.

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Jim Bailey spoke on behalf of the Downtown Investment Authority.

“Your budget is pretty close to the entire DIA,” Bailey said, remarking that Hemming Park encompasses a city block.

Bailey noted budget anomalies, such as an $850 late fee to a contractor, and a funeral charge that was termed a “gift” by FOHP.

“Those kind of things don’t make a whole lot of sense,” Bailey said, adding “I’m not sure the route we’re going can be successful.

“At what level can we do it? And can we do it better?”

Bailey wants the “auditors” to look at what’s “wise and frugal” at this point.

Wood pointed out “commingled” budget line items, and said they see the “wisdom” of separating funding more explicitly.

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The question, said Daryl Joseph of Parks and Rec, is one of measuring success.

Is success the amount of events?

Is success a councilman eating barbeque from a food truck?

“At our other 399 parks,” Joseph said, “free programming” is discussed.

“We have to retrack and look back at what’s been done,” Joseph said regarding other cities with active parks.

Crescimbeni wanted to know what Joseph could do with “five or six hundred thousand dollars a year” for programming.

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Questions still remain.

Is the FOHP group overstaffed?

Do FOHP functions overlap with other downtown groups?

Are too many events after hours? Should there be more daytime/weekday programming to make the park inviting to office workers, instead of tailoring events to the millennial crowd?

Should the park be more inviting to children?

“There is a perception that it is not a child and family-friendly location, as much as an adult location,” said Lori Boyer.

Wood noted that “during the day, we have programming all day long,” with live music, magic shows and yoga that “give the park an appearance of safety.”

“Programming the park is what we do most of the time when the park is in operation,” Wood added.

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Speaking on behalf of the mayor’s office, Chief of Staff Kerri Stewart noted she feels safe in the park when she didn’t three years ago.

“These are the growing pains we work through as stakeholders,” Stewart said, “and I think we need to acknowledge that the park’s come a long way in a short time.

“What does the next phase look like? What does success look like?”

Sam Mousa, chief administrative officer, said if the FOHP had said there would be a yearly budget hit, it never would have been approved by the council.

Groups programming city facilities, he added, “keep coming back” for more money, despite their insistence they would become self-sustaining.

The contract, said Mousa, needs to be “much tighter” and “people need to be honest” regarding the contractual terms.

“Just keep in mind, most of our facilities end up this way. This meeting should not be a surprise,” he said.

“We need to be realistic up front. The bleeding is not going to stop,” Mousa thundered.

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Though there is a general consensus Hemming’s initiatives shouldn’t be scuttled, council president Anderson urged “a decision on an interim step.”

Downtown Vision’s Bailey noted an interest in discerning the “synergies” between the organizations.

“We’ve got to have some information. We’ve got to have accurate responses from DVI,” he said.

Councilwoman Boyer, meanwhile, observed a “lack of confidence” in the numbers, wanting to hear more from auditors before supporting the $150,000 disbursement.

As her presidency approaches in July, her concern is the lack of time to process the auditors’ information.

And, if needed, a special council committee may be in order.

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The mayor’s office does not know, said Mousa, what the FOHP budget will be for next year. Indeed, they haven’t even met with the FOHP yet.

The current expectation is a $500,000 city contribution.

Pam Bondi to fundraise for Angela Corey next week

Attorney General Pam Bondi is in the news this week for soliciting a donation from Donald Trump concurrent with a considered, then scuttled, 2013 investigation of Trump University.

Next week, she will be in the news for soliciting donations in a different context — the re-election campaign of Angela Corey, the incumbent Republican State Attorney in Florida’s 4th Circuit.

Bondi is the featured guest at an Epping Forest Yacht Club fundraiser the evening of June 16.

Though the host committee is full of heavy hitters, such as Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, former mayors John Delaney and John Peyton, Civic Council Chairman Ed Burr, Fire Union head Randy Wyse, and FOP head Steve Zona, questions come to mind regarding this particular fundraiser and its timing.

Even as Bondi faces media scrutiny for what some might frame as influence-peddling, Corey also is facing scrutiny for political operations … including having her campaign manager, Alexander Pantinakis, file campaign paperwork for a write-in candidate, Fleming Island “men only” divorce lawyer Kenny Leigh.

There is a trial on that front questioning Leigh’s legitimacy as a candidate. Meanwhile, for his troubles, Pantinakis was bounced from the Corey campaign, even as a close friend of the write-in candidate, Matt Justice, is still part of the political operation.

Corey’s fundraising has been slow all year, also. After a strong start, she has not raised more than $15,000 in a month this calendar year.

Corey, as of April numbers, has roughly $200,000 on hand. Meanwhile, opponent Melissa Nelson raised $108,000 for her “First Coast Values” political committee, and it is anticipated she will show strong May numbers on the hard money side later this week.

To sum: it appears that Angela Corey is calling in all of her reinforcements to battle back Nelson’s challenge. Though a Bondi/Corey presser at the country club would be Must See TV as both face torrents of media scrutiny, such should not be expected.

Slow fundraising for Travis Cummings, Jay Fant in May

State Rep. Travis Cummings, who represents northern Clay County, and Jay Fant, who represents much of Jacksonville’s Westside, have some things in common.

Both are Republican incumbents. Neither faces a primary challenge. Both raised little money in May. And both got $500 checks from the “Duke Energy Corporation Florida” PAC.

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Cummings raised just $1,800, with $1,500 of that coming from PACs.

The “Better Florida Education” PAC of Rep. Manny Diaz maxed out for Cummings. The “Duke Energy Corporation Florida” PAC donated $500.

Despite the slow and low May fundraising, Cummings has plenty in the bank. He’s raised north of $190,000 in total, and has over $130,000 cash on hand … plenty of money, in other words, for his general election campaign against Libertarian Ken Willey, who raised $515 through April and has spent $564.

Willey is still in the black though, thanks to a $500 personal loan.

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Fant, meanwhile, will face no challenger in November … Libertarian or otherwise.

The Avondale Republican raised $1,000 in May — the aforementioned $500 from Duke Energy’s PAC, and another $500 from Anheuser-Busch.

Fant, who comes from generational wealth, has raised $70,700 in total, and retains $61,000 cash on hand.

Teamsters Local 385 endorses Val Demings in CD 10 contest

Democrat Val Demings has won the endorsement of Teamsters Local 385 in her quest to be elected in Florida’s 10th Congressional District.

Demings, a former Orlando police chief, received the backing in part because of her long career at the police department.

“As a former union member during her days with the Orlando Police Department, Chief Val Demings knows firsthand the important role a union plays in protecting and fighting for its members,” Teamsters Local 385 President Mike Stapleton stated. “Our diverse membership is made up of police officers, hospitality workers, truck drivers, food service employees and corrections officers. We are proud to support Chief Val Demings and we are confident that as our congresswoman she will fight for the rights and interests of our thousands of Central Florida members.”

She is up against Bob Poe, Fatima Rita Fahmy and state Sen. Geraldine Thompson in an Aug. 30 Democratic primary. The Republican side has Thuy Lowe and Geoff LaGarde.

Maria Sachs confirms she is not running for re-election

Democrat Maria Sachs will not run for another term in the Florida Senate, Sachs confirmed Wednesday after Florida Politics reported that multiple sources, including two of her Senate colleagues, said she had told them she wasn’t running.

Sachs told John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post that she has formed a nonprofit organization called the Coalition Against Human Trafficking, and plans to focus her attention on this work.

“I have the opportunity to do this, and I know I cannot serve two masters,” Sachs said. “This is important work. And I know what it takes to run a good campaign.”

***Our original report***

Two of Sachs’s colleagues in the Senate said that she has personally told them she is not running. Both Senators asked to remain anonymous so that Sachs could announce her plans on her own timeline.

In addition to Sachs’ legislative colleagues, several local Democratic club officers as well as two prominent Democratic political consultants all say that Sachs has told them she does not intent to run.

Speculation about Sachs’ intentions have reached a crescendo in recent days as state Rep. Irv Slosberg told other elected Democrats, reports George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post, that he plans to run in a Democratic primary against state Sen. Joseph Abruzzodespite endorsing Abruzzo for the new District 29 seat in January.

As Bennett outlines in a must-read story about the political musical chairs in play in South Florida, Sachs, Abruzzo, and Sen. Jeff Clemens are all drawn into same district.

“Clemens, in line to become Senate Democratic leader in 2018, says he’s staying put and running in District 31 while Abruzzo plans to move to District 29, which includes many constituents he has represented in the past,” reports Bennett.

The possibility of Sachs not running is briefly mentioned in Bennett’s reporting, only further fueling speculation that Sachs won’t be on the ballot in 2016.

The 67-year-old attorney was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2008, moving to the Senate in 2010 in an unopposed election.

She’s now the Deputy Democratic Whip and vice-chair of the Committee on Higher Education, accoridng to her Florida Senate webpage.

She now represents District 34, a swath of coastal Palm Beach and Broward counties.

Sachs’ bouts at the ballot box were both against Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Republican and now lawyer-lobbyist.

Redistricting drew Sachs and Bogdanoff, both incumbents at the time, into a fight over the same seat in 2012.

Even though Bogdanoff out-fundraised her, Sachs still prevailed in the newly Democratic-leaning district 53 percent-47 percent.

Bogdanoff challenged her in 2014 for the seat, losing 52 percent-48 percent.

Most recently, Sachs was behind legislation to create an independent state gambling commission and to double the fine for texting while driving if done in a school zone. Both bills died.

Her most recent net worth reported to the state was about $2.3 million as of the end of 2013.

Matt Shirk takes hits from state Ethics Commission

The Florida Commission on Ethics this month determined “probable cause” in three incidents related to 4th Circuit Public Defender Matt Shirk, whose hiring of three women from a now-defunct bar called “Whiskey River,” and subsequent entertaining of the women in his office, were matters of media interest a couple of years back.

Two other incidents, meanwhile, didn’t meet the probable cause threshold.

The Ethics Commission found probable cause to believe he “misused his position to hire or direct the hiring of three women, contrary to procedures, policies, qualifications, or normal hiring practices, to engage in workplace or work-related interactions with them that were of personal interest to him and unrelated or marginally related to the function of his office, and to terminate them from their employment for the benefit of himself, his wife, and their marriage.”

Probable cause was also found regarding the charge that Shirk “misused his office by serving or consuming alcoholic beverages in a City building, contrary to a City Code provision.”

Probable cause also “was found to believe that he disclosed or used information not available to the general public for his benefit or the benefit of others when he revealed information relating to the representation of a client, obtained in his public capacity, in an interview he gave to a documentary crew interested in his client’s case.”

Ironically, allegations that he misused his position or public resources to build a shower in his office were dismissed with a finding of no probable cause.

Likewise, “no probable cause was found on an allegation that he misused his position to provide key card access to persons, including his wife and son, and that he had the cards and access information canceled, modified, or deleted from the system.”

Shirk offered a statement.

“Last week I traveled to Tallahassee to meet with the Florida Ethics Commission on matters that happened about three years ago.  I waived my right to have an attorney and simply told the ethics commission that I was sorry for the mistakes I have made and merely put myself at their mercy.  I apologized to them as I have apologized to the grand jury, the employees of the Public Defenders Office, the citizens of Nassau, Duval, and Clay Counties, and most importantly my wife and family.  I don’t claim to be a perfect man, and I thank God that through his grace and love I am a better man today than I was then.  But I pledge to everyone that I have learned from my mistakes. I ask again for your forgiveness and pledge to being a faithful public servant, the best Public Defender I can be, and a man of honor and integrity.”

Matt Shirk charges Angela Corey with ‘violation of public trust’

Last month, the end of a debate between 4th Circuit Public Defender Matt Shirk and State Attorney Angela Corey got ugly.

Shirk brought up a stunning video: that of an inmate, DeAndre Ezell, getting knocked unconscious by an officer while being questioned in the Duval County jail.

Ezell was charged in November 2014 for non-violently resisting arrest and, after standing up for whatever reason when being asked questions by an officer at the Duval County jail intake facility, had his head smashed into a concrete wall by an interrogating officer.

Shirk wanted to know why Corey didn’t press charges against the officer.

“I want to know why your office continues to protect Correctional Officer David Stevens,” Shirk said, “refusing to prosecute this officer for blatant crimes.”

Corey said she wasn’t prepared to discuss the case at the debate, and then called a press conference later, to which this outlet was not invited.

However, her point came through in a Florida Times-Union article. Corey contended Shirk had not brought the case up previously.

“Matt Shirk has had 16 months, 72 weeks, 505 days, 12,000-plus hours and 43 million seconds if you want to talk about the amount of time Matt Shirk has had to bring what he considers to be such an important case to my attention,” Corey said. “Not once has he come to this building, made a phone call, sent an email, nor has he had any of his underlings request the same review.”

Shirk asserts he had, in fact, brought the case to Corey’s attention.

“As the Public Defender for Nassau, Duval and Clay counties it is my job to protect our clients’ constitutional rights and see that justice is served on a daily basis. This is why I continue to fight for DeAndre Ezell who was brutally assaulted by a Jacksonville corrections officer while handcuffed. The video that we have all seen speaks for itself and the fact that Angela Corey refuses to prosecute this obvious criminal act is reflective of Ms. Corey’s selective definition of justice,” Shirk asserted in a written statement.

Shirk goes on to undermine Corey’s veracity.

“For Ms. Corey to claim that her office had not seen this video until the other week is false. These documents prove that her office was provided with not one BUT TWO copies of this video within a month of the incident taking place.  Assistant Public Defender Josh Beard provided a copy of this video to the Assistant State Attorney assigned to this case, Jason Kelly. Upon seeing the video Assistant State Attorney Kelly informed his superiors and the case was reassigned to Richard Mantei and the State Attorney’s integrity unit,” Shirk continued.

“In addition to our office providing a copy of the video to the state attorney, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office provided a copy of the video pursuant to their office policy as outlined in these documents,” Shirk added, saying the JSO “did the right thing” and the officer is no longer part of the force.

Shirk asserts Angela Corey “holds the responsibility to prosecute this officer for this crime and it is she who not only refuses to do so, but went on television and lied to the citizens she serves. I call on Ms. Corey to apologize to her constituents for this violation of public trust and to finally bring charges against this corrections officer.”

The State Attorney’s office disagrees with Shirk’s take.

Spokeswoman Jackelyn Barnard asserts Shirk is attempting to deflect from his own issues and “misinform” the public with this latest ploy.

Barnard noted Mantei reviewed the video, and there was “no criminal act in the video by the officer then, and there is no criminal act in the video by the officer now.”

Corey, said Barnard, had not seen the video, as it was “not brought to us as an integrity case.”

“The office was aware,” said Barnard, but the video “was not brought to her [personal] attention.”

The video was handled “by the appropriate people,” Barnard added.

HD 60 candidate Rebecca Smith announces raising nearly $200K in May — most of it from herself

The campaign for Tampa businesswoman Rebecca Smith, running as a Republican for the House District 60 seat being vacated by Dana Young, announced on Wednesday that it will report $199,428 collected in the month of May in the coming days. That includes contributions from supporters totaling $33,900, along with a contribution by Smith of $165,528 to her own campaign.

The new report now brings her total cash raised since announcing her candidacy in March to over $312,000, with $287,000 cash on hand.

Smith is running against Tampa civil engineer Jackie Toledo in the GOP primary on Aug. 30. Toledo has yet to announce her fundraising totals for May.

Last month, Smith defeated Toledo 72-28 in a straw poll of that race at the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee.

“After receiving strong support and encouragement from many throughout our community to run for office more than 90 days ago, I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of so many, both of their financial resources, and by the tremendous contribution of their time, to our campaign,” said Smith. “I am committed to working tirelessly every day on behalf of the residents of District 60. I am humbled by the trust and confidence of so many thus far and look forward to redoubling our campaign efforts in the days ahead as we press forward to the primary election.”

Smith heads AD Morgan Construction, a construction management firm located in Tampa. She most recently served as chair of the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority, before resigning her position to run for state House.

The winner of the GOP primary will take on Democrat David Singer in November.

Tropical Storm Colin claims hundreds of sea turtle nests on Gulf Coast

Besides the toll taken on the humans of Florida, Tropical Storm Colin claimed what may be hundreds of sea turtle nests buried beneath the sands along the state’s Gulf Coast, wildlife advocates say.

“There was damage,” said Joe Widlansky, sea turtle biologist with Sea Turtle Trackers, a group in Pinellas County that monitors the marine reptiles and their nesting habits in the region.

The nesting season just started last month, he said, and about 14 nests have been identified and marked with wooden sticks and ribbon in Widlansky’s district along the South Pinellas shoreline. Half of those were lost, he said, and between 25 and 50 percent loss may hold true along the Gulf coast from Pasco to Charlotte County.

Nests around Clearwater, he said, appeared to have suffered losses of between 40 and 50 percent.

“Everybody on the west coast,” he said, “took a good hit.”

State wildlife officials also are beginning to assess the damage to the nests, saying high tides and storm surge flooded nests in the Gulf of Mexico from the Panhandle to Southwest Florida.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Nick Wiley toured St. George Island near Apalachicola Bay Wednesday, an area where sea turtle nests were said to have sustained the most damage.

“This is a top priority for the agency,” Wiley said in a statement released Wednesday morning. “We want Florida’s sea turtles to have another successful nesting season and we will continue to work with FWC’s marine turtle permit holders to help make that happen.”

At least 79 nests in Charlotte County were destroyed by the storm, representing one in every four, according to a story in Wednesday’s Naples Daily News. Turtle nest monitors there told the newspaper that another 58 nests were flooded, but it appears the nestlings there have survived the storm.

Though the numbers seem dire, sea turtles nest several times before the end of the summer, providing a natural way to propagate even if some nests are destroyed, said Widlansky.

“It’s unfortunate this happened,” he said. “It’s nature.”

But nature also protects the turtles, he said, by allowing them to lay eggs throughout the summer. So, if an early storm hits, like Tropical Storm Colin, there still is time for turtles to go on with their business of making baby turtles.

Nesting season officially begins May 1, but, the month of June typically is the busiest month for turtles laying eggs along the Gulf of Mexico beaches, he said.

The eggs more recently produced, he said, have a better chance of surviving flooded nests. In some cases, eggs can survive being submerged five or six hours. Older eggs, in which the embryos are more developed and use more oxygen, are more susceptible to drowning.

Job recruiting tech firm randrr to add 200 jobs, $9 million investment in Jacksonville

Gov. Rick Scott announced Wednesday that an online job recruiting company will add 200 jobs and make $9 million in investments in Jacksonville.

“We are excited to welcome randrr to Jacksonville and celebrate the company’s creation of 200 new jobs,” Scott said. “randrr chose to establish its new offices in Florida over several other locations across the country, including Silicon Valley and New York, because of our talented workforce and focus on STEM education.”

The tech company already employs 15 Floridians and plans to add at least 50 of the 200 new hires by the end of 2016. Currently, the company is asking those interested in working for the company to send CEO Terry Terhark a message through their website or via text message.

“Our team at randrr is working very hard to create a platform that will change the way people and companies connect and we’re thrilled to be recognized today,” Terhark said. “I want to thank Gov. Rick Scott and Jacksonville leaders for their commitment to creating a world-class technology environment where companies like randrr can find the talent we need.”

Terhark, a former executive at payroll company ADP, said he founded randrr after his daughter had trouble finding a job after college. The company is developing a website and mobile app focusing on job seekers, rather than employers.

The deal with randrr was helped along by incentives money from state and local governments, though exact details on what the company will receive were not released.

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