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A year into the reboot, the honeymoon is over for Jax Journey

When running for office in 2015, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry vowed to bring back the Jacksonville Journey.

Under previous mayor Alvin Brown, many Journey programs had been moved to the purview of other organizations, such as the Jacksonville Children’s Commission. Funding levels for the Journey were cut.

Curry’s vows to reinstate the Journey coincided, especially during the later stretches of the campaign, with visits to places like Grand Park — areas that time and infrastructural renewal forgot.

Once elected, Mayor Curry stuck to his word.

His transition committees, in June 2015, looked at ways to revive Journey initiatives.

At that point, former Jacksonville City Councilman Johnny Gaffney gave an interesting quote to WJCT: “[The community] wants to make sure that these dollars are going to what’s going to help their causes or help the community. So we have to get their buy-in or they [will] be pretty frustrated with their council people and call in. The city council person has to advocate for their constituents.”

Curry’s first budget saw an uptick in Journey funding. When introducing it to Council in July, with a more than 100 percent budget increase, the mayor said “all lives matter” and “these are Jacksonville’s children.”

Beyond the budgetary commitment, Curry spent time in 2015 seeing which Journey programs worked and which ones were less successful.

A “Day of Journey” in 2015 saw the mayor visiting various places that received Journey funding, such as an Alternatives to Out of School Suspension center on Jacksonville’s Southside and a day care facility in Arlington.

“It’s one thing to look at programs on a spreadsheet,” Curry said, “another to go out and see what they’re doing.”

Even during that Day of Journey, there were suggestions there may be limitations on how much these programs — funded with around $5 million a year to help kids in 10 of the most troubled zip codes — can do.

The woman running the day care facility in Arlington shined a spotlight on the profound disadvantages that infants and toddlers faced, saying “some of the kids in the neighborhood aren’t up to par” when it comes to being able to achieve learning outcomes. For example, some of the VPK students are “behind in speech,” a function of inadequate socialization … the kind of thing that, if left unchecked, leads to greater issues as these youngsters mature.

After his “Day of Journey,” Curry rebranded the Jacksonville Journey as the “Jax Journey” in December, framing the reboot in aspirational language.

“Arguably, this is the most important thing we’ll be doing in the years ahead,” Curry said.

The Journey, Curry emphasized, is “about making sure that young people know that we love them, we care for them, and they know we’re going to invest in them.”

Curry mentioned the $5 million budget for the Journey as “just a start,” as he expects to ramp up this program in the years ahead.

However, as is often the case, expectations and reality can diverge. And one unanticipated pressure point, in terms of at least one member of the council on budget night, turned out to be the usage of data itself and the program’s ultimate efficacy in the targeted zip codes.

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The fissure started months back, with Councilman Scott Wilson questioning the city’s use of data for economic incentives, which are tailored toward census tracts, not blocks.

There were other issues with the data used: the city limited the data used for incentive calculations to high unemployment and low income, deciding not to factor in other calculations like high school graduation rates and median housing prices.

But even then, Wilson’s assistant mentioned her boss felt the more hardscrabble areas of his district were shorted on Journey funds.

Though that seemingly ephemeral subcommittee meeting came and went, the fissure it spawned in the reflexively pro-Journey consensus grew into a full-scale crack on budget night last Tuesday, when the normally reserved Wilson called for a floor amendment: to remove half of the Journey’s funding, in order to get a more precise data regarding the Journey’s impact on crime rates.

Wilson noted there were areas in zip codes in his inner Southside district that had issues just as glaring as those found in some Journey zip codes.

Wilson’s motion failed. But it did not go unnoticed among those responsible for oversight of the Journey.

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Ahead of Thursday’s joint meeting of the Jacksonville Journey and Jacksonville Children’s Commission, Journey oversight board chair W.C. Gentry expressed his “disappointment” with Councilman Wilson for his attempted floor amendment to take half the funds from the Journey’s FY 16/17 budget.

Wilson’s sticking point was a lack of granular enough crime data for the Journey, which addresses issues in what Gentry calls “the worst-of-the-worst” zip codes.

Wilson contends there are high-crime areas in his district; Gentry told FloridaPolitics.com that while pockets in Wilson’s Southside district have issues, the Journey formula is limited by budget constraints.

Essentially, if the Journey had more money, it could do more than just the 10 zip codes in North and West Jacksonville.

Gentry noted crime data is processed by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and aggregated by a third-party vendor, NLP Logic.

When NLP Logic signed on earlier in the Curry administration, the plan was for a more “data driven” approach.

Gentry also added that, contrary to the assertions of some on the council who seemed to believe Journey initiatives were open to anyone in a zip code, there was a priority on youth who demonstrated poverty and disadvantage.

In other words, kids living in million-dollar homes on the river were not benefiting from the programs designed to uplift people in Section 8 housing.

Clearly, though, the Journey is still a work in progress … and that reality was underscored by the quarterly meeting of the Jax Journey Oversight Committee and the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, which offered an overview of a summer camp program that didn’t go as well as it could have.

At a previous Journey meeting, there were concerns the summer camp program wasn’t meeting literacy goals, in part because needed books were not provided.

Minutes from the July meeting of the Journey revealed “a critical component of this program has not been followed because this vendor did not purchase the read-aloud books, and we are in week five of the program. There cannot be a reading program without books to read, and these children need to have their own books in order to improve their fluency.

“Additional $25 per week per child was paid to a service that has not been provided, and there has been no monitoring or visits by the Children’s Commission; what we have is a program that have children who at this time cannot read and will not receive the benefits of what we were expecting, and we do not get the benefit of the dollars spent for the program,” the minutes continued.

“If we’re going to engage into these programs … we need to build into this program teachers,” said Gentry, who said it was a learning experience.

“We also need to have a clear understanding of our respective goals in these programs,” Gentry added.

“We’re focused on a program … how we best work together,” Gentry continued.

From the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, Jon Heymann addressed ways to work together in order to meet common goals.

Gentry contended “at a macro level, it may make sense,” but there may be divergence elsewhere.

“We need to get out of the box. Stop treating every program the same. Stop letting the vendors do whatever the hell they want to do within certain parameters,” Gentry said, urging “thinking out of the box” and “getting real specific about certain populations of children.”

Gentry and Heyman discussed literacy enrichment, including summer school and after school programs.

Other challenges include funding.

“We are working on faith that the mayor will continue to support this as well as the city council,” Heymann said.

Part of the problem with long-term planning: the budget year begins Oct. 1, well after the school year, which requires assurances that can’t necessarily be provided when the budget is passed in Jacksonville in late-September.

Discussed: a survey conducted after the summer camps.

As the summer went on, the attendance dropped off, suggesting an “engagement problem.”

The focus was to recruit from Section 8 housing, and there seemed to be an advantage in terms of attendance when the locations were close to the housing.

Of the 495 participants, 46 attended every day, while 78 attended less than half of the possible days.

Gentry suggested “more money” from the city council. Heymann noted six of the seven camp sites had no experience running academically oriented camps.

Journey Project Director Debbie Verges suggested tying payment to vendors with measurable, data-driven achievement.

The cost impact of the literacy component: $100 per week per student, versus $75 a week without literacy.

The conversation turned then to the larger mission of each group.

“Some of our city council doesn’t understand what we’re doing … we’re focused on areas with the highest crime and highest poverty,” Gentry said.

Heymann noted the complaining councilman’s district receives over $1.2 million from the Children’s Commission.

Unlike the Journey, the Children’s Commission addresses the entire city, not just high-crime areas.

Conversation also included a memorandum of understanding between the groups, with discussion including avoiding overlap.

Heymann asserted the memorandum should address “what needs oversight by whom.”

Gentry noted that understanding of the Journey programs has become more holistic over time, with a move from dealing with middle school kids’ behavioral problems, to improving literacy among elementary school students so they don’t become the behavioral problems of the future.

There are a number of students, Gentry said, who can’t read at all by the third grade.

“We need an absolute commitment from DCPS,” Gentry said, to put strong “literacy” teachers in high-risk schools, and make those teachers available after school.

“It’s a challenge,” Gentry said, given the school district’s “retention problems.”

In two or three years, Gentry said, there could be a tremendous impact.

But that impact would require a real resource commitment. And collaboration across platforms.

Another issue, identified by Gentry: not every school principal shares the commitment to these programs.

And these programs take time — perhaps three years — to show results.

“It won’t happen the first year,” Gentry said, but by year three “the number of proficient readers could triple.”

“We’re going to have to bring in the very best people in children’s programs,” Gentry said, “to engage the kids” and to “trick them into reading.”

As well, Gentry added, there are discrete missions for the Journey and the Children’s Commission: the Journey’s mandate is to reduce crime, while the Children’s Commission is to help kids more broadly.

“Everyone wants services. Everyone has crime. Everyone has poverty,” Gentry said. “We’re trying to focus on the worst areas.

“People are going to want it all over the community, but it can’t be all over the community without money,” Gentry added.

Also discussed: the two-generation approach used in Jacksonville, which helps parents improve their skills through the Library Expanded Access Program.

Heymann said there is a “huge need” in this area, as there are parents who don’t read proficiently enough to model reading at home.

The takeaway from the meeting: there will be an Memorandum of Understanding between the two groups, and they will develop a meaningful framework so they can work together.

“We need as the Journey to do a better job laying out the scope of the work,” Gentry said, refining “deliverables” and making the RFP better for future literacy programs, and everything else.

The Journey rose a decade ago under John Peyton, fell under Alvin Brown, and is now ascendant again. However, what is clear is that the honeymoon period’s aspirational rhetoric has now faded into the grey slog of operational reality.

The Journey Oversight Committee meets at 4 p.m. Thursday.

Will Marco Rubio and Patrick Murphy debate in Jacksonville?

The Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute, in conjunction with WJXT-TV, has hosted a number of meaningful debates in the last couple of years.

Candidates for mayor and sheriff have debated at the private university, as have candidates for state attorney and the United States Congress.

Now, the non-partisan Public Policy Institute wants the two major party candidates for the United States Senate to debate.

So far, one of them (Marco Rubio) has confirmed a willingness to debate. And the Public Policy Institute has indicated a willingness to set a date that works for both campaigns.

PPI director Rick Mullaney extended an invitation to Rubio and Rep. Patrick Murphy to a televised debate before the election.

Mullaney, a veteran of politics himself, understands the nature of political scheduling, and he’s said that the broadcast partners would be “flexible” on the date.

Murphy, thus far, has not responded to the invitation, but Mullaney is “hopeful” that response will come and will be affirmative.

We have reached out to the Murphy campaign for status on this also.

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It is worth noting that, at least in terms of local and regional races, debates held at Jacksonville University have shifted electoral narratives.

The pivotal third debate between Lenny Curry and Alvin Brown certainly contributed to a changing of the guard in Jacksonville’s City Hall.

And the sole televised debate between Corrine Brown and Al Lawson saw the incumbent congresswoman become unhinged, comparing the federal charges against her to unfounded claims of sexual deviance among the media.

Rubio and Murphy, both careful and polished public speakers, undoubtedly would avoid such pyrotechnics.

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That being said, a debate between these candidates would certainly help to educate Northeast Florida voters on these two candidates.

Rubio, who had strong support among Jacksonville’s establishment during his campaign for United States President, is a known quantity regionally.

Murphy has had, thus far, less exposure in Northeast Florida.

This debate could change that.

If it happens.

Check back for updates on this developing story.

Donna Deegan is ready to talk politics. And Jacksonville will listen.

Donna Deegan is very much a Jacksonville institution, legendary for her work in a number of different forums.

Deegan, a Jacksonville native and an alumna of Bishop Kenny High School, anchored for First Coast News from 1992 to 2016, showing in that role a penchant for hard news and a willingness to dive into challenging stories.

While anchoring for First Coast News, Deegan faced challenges of her own: specifically, three bouts of breast cancer. Indomitably, she overcame all three occurrences, documenting her journey in two memoirs and, in 2008, beginning “26.2 with Donna: the National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer.”

Deegan long ago transcended her former role as newscaster. Now, she’s entering a different space — the world of the podcast, which will begin on Oct. 6 at the new downtown Jacksonville hotspot: Intuition Ale Works.

The Political Happy Hour (also branded as #JaxPol: the Live Edition) will be a collaboration with Abel Harding, a veteran of the Alvin Brown administration, and the Florida Times-Union.

Harding and Deegan clearly wanted to get back in the game, and the podcast is a way to do it.

FloridaPolitics.com spoke with Deegan about her reasons for jumping in to a new show at the peak of the election season.

Deegan said Harding suggested it via email; he missed talking about politics, and so did she, noting that “the only thing [she misses] about broadcast journalism” is the ability to do deep dives into political issues.

For Deegan — a cousin of the ever-loquacious Councilman Tommy Hazouri — politics is “bloodsport” in her family.

One can expect that, for both Harding and Deegan, the ability to go in depth and no-holds-barred on political topics will be welcome; though both have copious experiences on the news end, the nature of a podcast allows — even demands — more editorial license.

As does the nature of recording a podcast during Happy Hour at a raucous brew house.

For Deegan, this comes at the right time. She’s noticed that, over the years locally, “political discourse has gotten less civil” and “more inflammatory and ridiculous” with party identification becoming “more entrenched.”

She attributes a certain amount of that to the 24/7 news cycle, and the way social media magnifies the pyrotechnics.

“I have been very critical,” Deegan said, of “how news media has responded” to that.

“There’s room for intelligent discussion,” Deegan adds, “room for a little more depth.”

Part of the problem reporters have — both on the local beat and nationally — is the assembly line nature of media production.

“Back in the day,” Deegan said, “reporters didn’t have to do five stories a day.”

And they had more help doing it, as opposed to the skeleton crews currently in operation on some stories.

Because of the nature of the rapid-fire production model, Deegan believes an unavoidable superficiality has crept into the product.

“Give this side 20 seconds, that side 20 seconds … OK, I’m covered,” is how Deegan aptly characterized that.

Deegan believes there’s room for something better, for “going in and finding truth.”

And if “that means one side ends up looking good, and the other side ends up looking bad,” if that’s the truth, so be it.

Deegan, a veteran of over three decades of broadcast journalism in total, doesn’t blame the people in the field.

“Day-to-day reporters just don’t have the bandwidth to do what needs to be done,” Deegan said, and — perhaps inexorably — they get “played by politicians.”

Ultimately, the reductive nature of the product serves the democratic process poorly.

And the Political Happy Hour should be seen as a corrective to that.

The format likely will be three segments, lasting 20 to 25 minutes each, and two are already planned: a segment on the impending re-introduction of a bill to expand Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance, and a segment on the presidential election.

Despite that national topic on Oct. 6, Deegan said this is “largely a local political show,” and Harding and she are “definitely talking HRO.”

Deegan, with a note of frustration in her voice, noted the prevailing political narrative ahead of the pension-tax referendum Aug. 30 was that “there’s absolutely no room to get anything else done” until the referendum vote passed.

The HRO, Deegan added, “needs to be kept on the front burner.”

Beyond the hot-button HRO, Deegan also expects the format to include deep dives into “district-by-district” material.

“The idea really is to get people more connected to their political environment. People will care more if they understand more,” Deegan said.

And — make no mistake — this project is about synthesizing knowledgeable presentation, via guests who can speak to issues, with audience engagement.

Deegan notes that they will be “sitting very close to the audience,” with the idea of promoting engagement among those on hand.

“Anybody can sit and talk to elected officials,” Deegan notes, but interacting with the audience is key.

Speaking of elected officials, Deegan resoundingly laughed when asked if she planned to run for office.

There is a sad irony to that.

Writing as someone who covers a city council where at least one committee chair routinely has to have bills explained to him, it would be wonderful if engaged, thoughtful, passionate community activists were jumping into the political scrum … instead of, say, people who show up a half hour late for meetings.

However, the ballot’s loss is the political podcast world’s gain. And starting Oct. 6, there will be an instant frontrunner for best podcast in this neck of the woods, when Deegan and Harding kick off the Political Happy Hour at Intuition Ale Works.

Molly Curry features on closing argument ‘Yes for Jacksonville’ mailer

mollyyesaWhen it comes to the “Yes for Jacksonville” campaign, designed to authorize an extension of a current half-cent sales tax pending renegotiation of public pension benefits, the best argument arguably has been saved for last.

That argument: from the first lady of Jacksonville, Molly Curry, who makes the closing pitch in a mailer targeted to female voters.

Female voters, Republicans, Democrats, and NPAs alike will receive 50,000 of these mailers.

“Molly Curry proudly says Yes for Jacksonville,” the flyer proclaims, “and you should too!”

Mrs. Curry notes that her husband, Mayor Lenny Curry, ran to “make Jacksonville even better and ensure that it was a place where our children would want to stay when they are grown.” However, “crippling pension debt” is an impediment to that.

And County Referendum 1 — which would authorize the tax extension and stabilize financing for the $2.8 billion debt — allows the “best for our children and the city.”

A “yes” vote, says Mrs. Curry, will allow the city to “begin reaching its full potential,” and “will solve this serious challenge of our time without passing this burden to our kids.”

It seemed inevitable, when the campaign promoting the referendum was launched, that Mrs. Curry would be the face of the closing argument.

Widely popular and seen as transcending politics, Mrs. Curry is not employed typically to message on political issues.

She did, however, have a powerful ad in the mayoral campaign, in which she introduced herself — and her husband — to Duval County voters.

That personal appeal had a great deal to do with GOP voters, especially those on the Southside and at the Beaches who had supported Alvin Brown four years before, coming home to the Republican Party.

Much of the last-minute argument for “Yes for Jacksonville” has had to do with ensuring a secure future for generations who have yet to become adults.

There has been a mailer to that effect already.

But this mailer is the closer.

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Former Jax Council presidents back pension tax referendum

Though two former Jacksonville City Council presidents, Bill Bishop and Stephen Joost, went to the press in opposition to County Referendum 1, which would authorize the extension of the half-cent sales tax through 2060 to deal with the $2.8 billion unfunded actuarial liability on public pensions, five more came out in support of the measure Thursday.

Former City Council presidents Richard Clark, Daniel Davis, Bill Gulliford, Kevin Hyde and Jack Webb issued an endorsement of the plan Thursday, via the “Yes for Jacksonville” political committee.

“As former presidents of the Jacksonville City Council, we know all too well the financial challenges that the City of Jacksonville has faced over the last decade.  Each of us has faced the challenges presented by this large — and growing — unfunded liability,” the statement reads.

While “there is no perfect solution,” most options are “not viable,” and to solve the unfunded liability, the referendum is the best available solution.

“County Referendum Number 1 provides further reform, closes the funds that got us into this mess and provides a dedicated revenue source to pay down the unfunded liabilities. We have evaluated other options for a “fix” and we are convinced that this plan, ‘Yes for Jacksonville’ is the most equitable and predictable solution. We urge residents of Duval County to vote yes on August 30th and put this issue in our rearview mirror,” the pols assert.

All of them have been assets to Mayor Lenny Curry.

Clark was a useful surrogate during the weeks before Curry’s election.

Davis, in his Jax Chamber role, has been an ally.

Gulliford helped Curry get over with beaches voters, and also has helped make the case for the referendum to skeptics out there, who see the pension issue as one for the other side of the ditch.

Hyde and Webb were both part of the mayoral transition effort.

Curry, when asked Thursday about the comments of Bishop and Joost that the plan was “taxation without representation” and that Alvin Brown never would have let it see the light of day, was dismissive — not just of the comments, but of the men making them.

Curry was emphatic, wondering “where were they” for the last eight months, calling both of them “part of the problem.”

“They ignored it,” Curry said.

When asked if the play of Bishop and Joost was “political payback,” Curry said he didn’t know their motivation.

“My reaction was: who? I don’t have time to psychoanalyze the motivations of two former politicians,” Curry said.

“Their answer is to raise the millage rate. One even said a new sales tax.”

That shows, Curry said, how “uneducated” Bishop and Joost are on the issue.

Denise Lee takes leave from Lenny Curry administration to work for ‘Yes for Jacksonville’

On Monday, Jacksonville’s Director of Blight Initiatives Denise Lee tendered her resignation from the Lenny Curry administration. However, she will be helping to market the pension tax referendum as part of “Yes for Jacksonville,” Lee told FloridaPolitics.com Monday.

Lee, a Democrat on Jacksonville’s City Council until 2015 who notably counter-messaged advertising from Mayor Alvin Brown as “race baiting,” was hired by the Curry administration before the mayor’s inauguration to handle initiatives related to remedying blight.

The resignation is effective Monday, Aug. 1. And it is being described as a “leave” rather than a final separation, as she is expected to return after the vote.

“E. Denise Lee submitted her resignation on Friday, July 29th, and has joined the Community Outreach team for Yes for Jacksonville. The duties and responsibilities she led as Director, Blight Initiatives, will be shared among existing staff, in the interim. Ms. Lee, based on her experiences with political campaigns and community outreach activities, requested a leave to support the pension reform efforts. The mayor accepted her resignation, and appreciates the service and leadership she has and continues to provide the City of Jacksonville,” wrote Marsha Oliver, communications director for the Curry administration.

Lee will take on a new role: working on the “Yes for Jacksonville” campaign during the final stretch of its marketing push ahead of the Aug. 30 primary. Reports are that the mayor was “thrilled” that Lee offered to help market the tax extension.

Given the correlation between a revenue shortfall and the erosion of city services in recent years, Lee is well-positioned to speak to the need for further pension reform and the need for a dedicated revenue source for the $2.7 billion unfunded liability.

And that is a role she embraces.

Lee told FloridaPolitics.com that people kept asking her at community meetings where she fell on the ballot referendum, but in her role she was constrained from advocacy.

“Pension is the number one issue,” Lee said, adding that the obligation keeps impacting the operational budget of the general fund.

“People out here do have legitimate concerns,” Lee added. “There needs to be a little more grassroots,” given that “some people are maybe giving the wrong message.”

On Council, Lee “voted to do something about the pension issue,” she said. In her previous role, she “wanted to say more but was not in position to do it” as she was “not assigned to speak on it.”

Alvin Brown lambasted in Jax Council Committee

During discussion of housing bond issues, former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown was taken to task by the Recreation, Community Development, Public Health and Safety Committee.

The issue, as it was in Monday’s Finance Committee meeting, was Brown’s decision to circumvent the Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority by authorizing irregular financing for Global Ministries Foundation properties.

“In over a decade that I have been doing this, I only know of two instances where this happened,” Laura Stagner, finance director of the JHFA, said.

Committee member Matt Schellenberg called Brown’s arrangement a “dirty” deal. Stagner spoke, very emotionally, about how Brown’s process gave money to a company with shaky financing that had only proposed putting $3,000 per unit into rehab at complexes like Eureka Garden and Cleveland Arms, which “were built around the time [she] was born.”

Though some local media have downplayed the former mayor’s unique role in helping the beleaguered and scandal-ridden Global Ministries Foundation become the gift that keeps on giving for Jacksonville assignment editors, it’s clear irregularities in the process nettled more members of Council than not.

A statement from Brown on Oct. 22, which seemed to surface in response to media inquiry into the potential connection between Brown’s inaction and his extraordinary interest in ensuring the deal went down to facilitate Global Ministries’ acquisition of these and other properties, skirted around these issues, instead advancing the narrative that the process was clean and met with no public objection.

“When this agreement was created in 2012, it was privy to a formal process, including a public hearing and the advice of city staff and attorneys. No objections regarding this project were ever brought to my attention. I encourage Global Ministries Foundation to finish the job it told this community it would do,” Brown said.

Since that statement was released, Brown has offered no further public comment on what has turned out to be a major scandal of his administration.

Housing bond default couldn’t happen in Jacksonville, but concerns still loom in Council

FloridaPolitics.com report on how exposure to Global Ministries Foundation properties tanked the Memphis municipal housing bond market did not escape the notice of Jacksonville City Council President-in-waiting Lori Boyer.

In the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee meeting Monday, Boyer wanted to know if dilapidated properties at places like Washington Heights and Eureka Garden could affect Jacksonville’s municipal housing bonds, if the state took notice and punished those bond issuers. That’s what the state of Tennessee did in Memphis.

Short answer: No, because Global Ministries Foundation never would have passed the level of scrutiny applied to projects by the JHFA.

“The Eureka Garden financing could never have been approved by the Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority, because it didn’t meet the standards of the JHFA,” said the group’s financial advisor, Mark Hendrickson, in Monday’s committee meeting.

“The JHFA became aware of that financing [from the previous mayoral administration and said] ‘no, do not approve it.’”

“While not illegal, it clearly circumvented the process,” he added.

Councilman Bill Gulliford wanted to know if there was a way to “more clearly define the process so that this doesn’t happen in the future.”

“We really need to slam that door shut in the future,” Gulliford added.

Eureka Garden, Hendrickson said, never approached the JHFA, and in fact skirted the process.

“We do a credit underwriter report that’s very thorough. You could just do a Google search to know that there are issues with Global Ministries,” Hendrickson added.

Religiously affiliated nonprofits tend to predominate in older facilities.bNew construction deals tend to be for-profit developers, Hendrickson added.

“One of the concerns I had when the whole Eureka Garden deal came out was that because it was a nonprofit … it was not on the tax rolls,” Boyer said.

“It was a dead fish project from the beginning,” concluded Finance Chair Bill Gulliford.

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In 2015, Gulliford’s son, Tripp Gulliford, called to the attention of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry the unusual process Global Ministries Foundation used  to secure financing, with help from former Mayor Alvin Brown, for its inroads Jacksonville’s low-income housing market.

GMF secured tax-free bonds from Santa Rosa County’s Capital Trust Agency (CTA) to buy its Jacksonville complexes.

“CTA will essentially finance anything, with no third-party credit underwriting, lack of ongoing monitoring, and no requirements beyond the minimums in the code …. schemes to earn interest on bond proceeds and to pay fees to financing professionals. CTA has also experienced several defaults on multifamily issues that were poorly structured … [and] have suffered from poor management and lack of capital to properly maintain the physical property,” Tripp Gulliford wrote, quoting internal JHFA documents from 2012.

As well, “… the deals [often] involve acquisition of existing properties with no mechanism in place to ensure that the rehabilitation is adequate.”

Instead, the sham rehab is just a means to a “property flip,” the younger Gulliford added.

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While Boyer’s immediate concerns were relieved, she still sees major issues ahead for Jacksonville and its process related to such properties, and is determined to make sure the city doesn’t face this mess again.

“Prospectively,” Boyer wondered, “how do we prevent entities from approving things within [our] jurisdictional boundaries,” which the city has to “clean up afterwards?”

“I don’t know how or when we’re afforded the opportunity to have input,” Boyer added.

Current ordinance and policy guidance is unclear about whether or not the council can compel entities like Global Ministries Foundation from going ahead without the OK of the JHFA, Boyer said.

While she’s aware that in the case of Memphis the “bondholders are really out the money” and that because the city was involved, “Memphis couldn’t issue more bonds,” Boyer believes there needs to be more active preventive measures taken to avoid these disasters, including, perhaps, Duval and Santa Rosa counties combining forces and appealing to Washington for stronger oversight.

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Another issue in play: the nonprofit status of Global Ministries Foundation, one which strikes Councilwoman Boyer as ironic given the comment of her colleague, Councilman Reggie Brown, that GMF needed to be able to make money.

“Why would it be tax exempt if it’s a for-profit business?,” Boyer asked. “If it’s for-profit, it should be paying taxes.”

Nonprofit entities are a mixed bag, said Boyer. Some are “legitimate and well-run.”

Others, clearly, are not. And those failed actors create burdens for the city, including tax dollars that are needed for what Boyer called “enhanced services,” which the city pays for while absorbing costs because the owners are exempt from millage rates.

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Expect more movement on these issues soon. While the headlines about Global Ministries Foundation are lurid, they are the tip of the iceberg relative to other issues policymakers are compelled to address.

Ben Pollara: Baby got bench: Florida Democrats’ 2018 field

Gwen Graham’s recent semi-surprise, twofer announcement has the Florida chattering classes (temporarily) taking their attention away from 2016 and toward a post-Rick Scott state Capitol.

The year 2018 will mark 20 straight years in which Republicans have monopolized the Governor’s Mansion. Democrats are understandably terrified about that continued dominance, particularly when they consider the judicial appointments the next governor will make.

At the moment, the Florida Supreme Court is the only true check on absolute Republican hegemony in Florida.

But Florida Democrats should take comfort in the knowledge that:

  1. a) their next opponent, while sure to be well funded, is not likely to be anywhere in the ballpark of Rick Scott-monied, and
  2. b) Democrats have a deep bench from which to select their nominee and he or she doesn’t have to be named Graham — though that may well be – and almost certainly won’t be named Charlie Crist.

Let’s take a look at the prospects:

(For the record, with virtually everyone on this list I have either a personal friendship, political connection, or donor relationship. In many cases, I have all of those connections. So take my assessments with the appropriate grains of salt.)

The Bigs

Gwen Graham

The case: Duh. The names Graham and Chiles are legendary among Florida Democrats as a reminder of the bygone days when our party used to win, win, win. Her congressional campaign fund isn’t easily transferable to a state committee, but she’s nevertheless both sitting on some gold and more than capable of raising it.

The fact that she could narrow the traditionally huge margins Republicans rack up in the Jacksonville-to-Panhandle stretch of Florida likewise makes her attractive to Democrats.

The Questions: Does bailing on an almost certainly no-win re-election hurt her? Does she have the experience? And does her moderate record make it difficult for her to fire up the South Florida-heavy base?

Philip Levine

The Case: Re-elected last fall in a landslide, the wealthy, telegenic Mayor of Miami Beach could be the Democrats’ answer to Scott.

Levine made a boatload of money when he sold his company, OnBoard Media, a few years back and hasn’t exactly been in retirement since. He’s invested in real estate and, oh yeah, gotten elected and then re-elected Miami Beach Mayor. He spent over $1 million of his own money in the process.

His tenure as mayor has been marked by his commitment to put Miami Beach on the forefront of combatting sea-level rise. That has gotten him national attention. What other Florida mayor has gotten interviews in Vanity Fair?

Levine also has stepped up as a big time surrogate for his longtime friend, Hillary Clinton, working local and national cable news non-stop on her behalf.

The Questions: How much of his own money is he prepared to spend? Is Florida prepared to elect a Jewish lifelong bachelor as its governor?

Will the sausage-making of local government tarnish a potential run? Where are all the Democratic heavies in his political orbit?

Buddy Dyer

The Case: Dyer has the title of Orlando’s “Mayor for Life” if he wants it. He’s on his 12th year in the job and has overseen a transformational era of redevelopment and revitalization of his city. He’s got a smart, loyal, political team, informally led by the brilliant Kelly Cohen, and a reservoir of goodwill that, if tapped, could raise big dollars for a statewide run.

He also heroically saved a woman and her dog from a pit bull attack in an episode straight out of Hollywood.

The Questions: Does Dyer want any other title than Orlando’s “Mayor for Life”? Can he parlay Orlando’s economic growth into a statewide war chest?

Bob Buckhorn

The Case: Buckhorn, like Dyer and Levine, recently sailed into re-election and has been openly musing about a run for governor since 2014. Buckhorn is likewise overseeing a relative boom in his city’s redevelopment, capped by the arrival of a billionaire who’s cut a deal to build out a huge chunk of downtown Tampa.

He’s a broadly popular, charming guy, and an all-Democratic city council has allowed him to govern effectively.

The Questions: Does Buckhorn have the fire in his belly to do this? Can he raise the money to make a statewide run viable? What compelling rationale would drive his candidacy?

Everyone Else

Jeremy Ring

The Case: Served a dozen years in the Legislature, was an early employee at Yahoo and has some money in the bank as a result. He’s moderate. Ring recently announced he was considering a run.

The Questions: Why him? Seriously, why?

Alvin Brown

The Case: Brown was Jacksonville’s first Democratic mayor in years and first black mayor ever. He lost his re-election last year in a race where he was outspent dramatically.

The Questions: Can he put together the money and the coalition to pull off a race like this? Can he salvage a relationship with the LGBT community and liberal base that suffered as a result of the fight over Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance?

Alex Sink

The Case: Never count out Alex Sink. She may be one for three after losing the special election that put David Jolly in Congress, but her one win was statewide and she’s the only Democrat not named Nelson or Obama to win statewide since the turn of the century.

She has stayed politically involved and has a vast network of business people and pro-choice women who remain loyal to her.

The Question: Does she have any interest at all? Not in the job, but in the campaign it would require? What would Emily’s List do in a Sink v. Graham primary?

Oscar Braynon

The Case: Braynon is young, handsome, charismatic and universally recognized as an effective and well-liked senator by members of both parties. He scored a big win this session passing his longtime priority, a needle-exchange program in Miami-Dade. He scored an even bigger victory over Scott, almost singlehandedly torpedoing his nominee for Surgeon General.

Braynon is likely to pick up some seats this fall and become the most powerful Democratic leader the Florida Senate has seen for a long time.

The Questions: Does he have any interest in the job? And if he does, would he be willing to give up leading the Democrats in a Florida Senate where he already wields real power?

Lauren Book

The Case: Super lobbyist Ron Book’s daughter is almost certainly in the next class of the Florida Senate. She’s already demonstrated her capacity to raise gigantic dollars and she’s got a national profile from her work on behalf of victims of sexual abuse with her charity, Lauren’s Kids.

She’s also built a Walkin’ Lawton-like profile through those efforts, walking the state on behalf of abused children.

The Questions: Too soon? That’s really it. Her candidacy for statewide office is a question of when, not if.

***

Ben Pollara is a political consultant and a founding partner of LSN Partners, a Miami Beach-based government and public affairs firm. He runs United for Care, the Florida medical marijuana campaign and is a self-described “hyper-partisan” Democrat. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Ben Pollara: Baby got bench — Florida Democrat’s 2018 field

Gwen Graham‘s recent semi-surprise, twofer announcement has the Florida chattering classes (temporarily) taking their attention away from 2016 and toward the prospect of a post-Rick Scott state Capitol. 2018 will mark 20 straight years in which Republicans have monopolized the Governor’s mansion in Tallahassee. The existential terror Democrats face over a continuation of that dominance is amplified by the judicial appointments the next Governor will make, the Florida Supreme Court being the last true check on absolute Republican hegemony in Florida government.

But Florida Democrats should take a deep breath in the knowledge that a) their next opponent, while sure to be well funded, is not likely to be anywhere in the ballpark of Rick Scott-monied, and b) Democrats have a deep and diverse bench from which to select their nominee and he or she doesn’t have to be named Graham – though may well be – and almost certainly won’t be named Crist.

Let’s take a look at the prospects*:

*I have either a personal friendship, political relationship, have given money to, or, in many cases, have all of the above, with virtually everyone on this list. So take that with the appropriate grains of salt.

The Bigs:

Gwen Graham

The case: Duh. The names Graham and Chiles are like a mythical legend among Florida Democrats as a reminder of the bygone days when our party used to win win win. Her congressional campaign fund isn’t easily transferable to a state committee but she’s nevertheless both sitting on some gold and more than capable of raising it. The fact that she could potentially narrow the traditionally huge margins Republicans rack up in the Jacksonville-to-Panhandle stretch of Florida likewise makes her attractive to Democrats desperate for a victory.

The Questions: Does bailing on an almost certainly no-win re-election hurt her? Does she have the experience? And does her moderate record make it difficult for her to fire up the (South Florida-heavy) base?

Philip Levine

The Case: Re-elected last fall in a landslide, the wealthy, telegenic, Mayor of Miami Beach could be the Democrats’ answer to Scott. Levine made a boatload of money when he sold his company OnBoard Media a few years back and hadn’t exactly been in retirement since then, investing in real estate and, oh yeah, getting elected and then re-elected Miami Beach Mayor (and spending over a million of his own money in the process). His tenure as Mayor has been marked by his commitment to placing Miami Beach on the forefront of combating sea level rise, an effort that has gotten him national attention (what other Florida Mayors have gotten interviews in Vanity Fair?). Levine has also stepped up as a big time surrogate for his longtime friend, Hillary Clinton, working local and national cable news nonstop on her behalf.

The Questions: How much of his own money is he prepared to spend? Is Florida prepared to elect a Jewish lifelong bachelor as its governor? Will the sausage making of local government tarnish a potential run? Where are all the Democratic heavies in his political orbit?

Buddy Dyer

The Case: Buddy Dyer has the title of Orlando’s “Mayor for Life” if he wants it. He’s on his twelfth year in the job and has overseen, and received the credit for, a transformational era of redevelopment and revitalization of his city. He’s got a smart, loyal, political team, informally led by the brilliant Kelly Cohen, and a reservoir of goodwill that, if tapped, could raise big dollars for a statewide run. He also heroically saved a woman and her dog from a pit bull attack in an episode straight out of Hollywood.

The Questions: Buddy Dyer has the title of Orlando’s “Mayor for Life” if he wants it, does he want a different title? Can he effectively parlay the economic growth he’s heralded into Orlando into the growth of a statewide war chest?

Bob Buckhorn

The Case: Buckhorn, like Dyer and Levine, recently sailed into re-election and had been openly musing about a run for governor since 2014. Buckhorn is likewise overseeing a relative boom in his city’s redevelopment, capped with the arrival of a billionaire who’s cut a deal to build out a huge chunk of undeveloped and underdeveloped downtown Tampa. He’s a broadly popular, charming, guy and an all-Democratic city council has allowed him to govern effectively without especially virulent opposition.

The Questions: Does Bob have the fire in his belly to do this? Can he marshal the money to make a real statewide run viable? What singular, compelling rationale would drive his candidacy?

Everyone Else:

Jeremy Ring

The Case: Served a dozen years in the legislature, was an early employee at Yahoo and has some money in the bank as a result, moderate. Ring recently announced he was considering a run.

The Questions: Why him? Seriously, why?

Alvin Brown

The Case: Brown was Jacksonville’s first Democratic mayor in years and first black mayor ever. He lost his re-election last year in a race where he was outspent dramatically but one that was less a referendum on his term than a realignment of the city back to where it’s most comfortable: white, male and Republican.

The Questions: Can he put together the money and the electoral coalition to pull off a race like this? Can he salvage a relationship with the LGBT community and liberal base that suffered as a result of the fight over Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance?

Alex Sink

The Case: Never count out Alex Sink. She may be one for three after losing the special election that put David Jolly in Congress but her one win was statewide, and she’s the only Democrat not named Nelson or Obama to win statewide since the turn of the century. Alex has stayed politically involved and has a vast network of business people and pro-choice women that remain loyal to her.

The Question: Does she have any interest at all? Not in the job, that’s a given, but in the campaign, it would be a requirement. What would Emily’s List do in a Sink versus Graham primary?

Oscar Braynon

The Case: Braynon is young, handsome, charismatic and universally recognized as an effective and well-liked senator by members of both parties. He scored a big win this session passing his longtime priority, a needle exchange program in Miami-Dade; and he delivered an even greater loss to Scott, almost single-handedly torpedoing his nominee for Surgeon General. Oscar is likely to pick up some seats this fall and become the most powerful Democratic leader the Florida Senate has seen for a long time.

The Questions: Does he have any interest in the job? And if he does, would he be willing to give up leading the Democrats in a Florida Senate where he already wields real power?

Lauren Book

The Case: Superlobbyist Ron Book‘s daughter is almost certainly in the next class of the Florida Senate, she’s already demonstrated her capacity to raise gigantic dollars, and she’s got a national profile from her work on behalf of victims of sexual abuse with her charity, Lauren’s Kids. She’s also built a Walkin’ Lawton-like profile through those efforts, literally walking the state on behalf of abused children.

The Questions: Too soon? That’s really it. Lauren’s candidacy for statewide office is a question of when — not if.

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