Alvin Brown Archives - Page 4 of 42 - Florida Politics

Lenny Curry addresses ICARE, preaches pension tax

Monday night’s JAX ICARE multifaith “Nehemiah Assembly” on the Northside of Jacksonville was intended to serve as a Come to Jesus moment for Jacksonville public officials… especially Mayor Lenny Curry.

However, it turned out to be a Come to Jesus moment for those who showed up to hear the mayor. The subject? The Pension Tax.

Last year at this event, there was a bit of controversy: as a candidate, Curry did not appear, which caused consternation to some. But which didn’t affect his election ultimately.

The burden for an incumbent, of course, is different: Curry received scores and scores of messages imploring him to attend; eventually, he relented.

On tap for Curry: a discussion of whether or not he would implement Alvin Brown’s model for wealth building in Northwest Jacksonville, and whether or not Curry would open a new Homeless Day Resource Center downtown.

He was clearly intended to offer meek assent to both conditions, by way of placating the crowd.

The reality, as it so often is, was different.

A little prologue: a speaker noted that ICARE was not able to meet with Mayor Curry, whose office preferred to receive the questions in writing.

There was an edge to the speaker’s voice, which set the stage for an interesting dialectic to come.

When asked if Curry would support a wealth building model, rooted in this community, along the lines of the one his predecessor agreed to a year prior, the mayor said that “I support the model. We are in Phase II right now, looking at the procurement process.”

His questioner: “I believe that’s a yes.”

From there, Curry had two minutes to address the audience. He spoke of “major issues with economic development in NW Jacksonville,” and discussed getting “real results” from the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund.

“This is the reality we’re facing. Jacksonville’s budget is crippled by unfunded pension liabilities,” Curry said, pitching the pension tax referendum.

“If there is a no vote, there is no money,” Curry said, citing “bad decisions” of the past that are “crippling our city and our city’s financial future.”

Some applause greeted that appeal. Along with some murmurs in the nosebleed seats.

From there, the program moved to the Homeless Day Resource Center, a controversial cut in Curry’s first budget.

However, Curry was not to be moved off his block. On this night, as will be the case until the August referendum, Curry was an evangelist. And the topic of his summer sermon series?

The parable of the pension tax.

ICARE wanted a firm commitment from the mayor himself to bring back the Homeless Day Resource Center.

“Gotta solve the pension,” Curry said, citing “incredibly complicated questions.”

“There is no money,” said Curry, if the pension crisis is not solved.

Crowd members gasped.

Then he was asked if he supported it conceptually.

Curry stood his ground, saying “we do not have the money to do it right now.”

He was then asked if he would include $311,000 for the center in the budget, in what seemed to be an unwillingness by the speaker to accept economic reality.

Again, Curry said that “until the pension is solved, we don’t have the money for new programs.”

The question was asked… again.

“Not in this budget cycle.”

The belief was expressed that a “budget is a moral document,” and that “what we’re talking about is not even one percent of the city budget.”

“This budget cycle is going to be one of the toughest… pension costs are $288 million a year. Someone has to get serious about this, and about our financial future,” Curry said

“Stand with me and support it, and Jacksonville will have brighter days ahead,” Curry added.

The question was asked. Again.

“If you don’t bring it forward, we know the Homeless Day Resource Center doesn’t stand a chance,” the speaker said.

Curry then said that, if the referendum passes, it’s a “whole new conversation” for Council as it reviews the budget.

“I will examine the number. I believe in the resource center,” Curry said, adding that “if the referendum passes… I will be supportive of a discussion.”

“I sign off on things that I believe in that I know speak to budget priorities and are going to get results,” Curry said about “taxpayer dollars.”

The case made, again, for having a center open for five days a week… with an option for three days a week at $240,000.

“It’s the same answer. This pension crisis is the biggest issue and opportunity… we’ve spent years and years kicking the can down the road. This is real,” Curry said, as the microphone went dead.

“This pension crisis is real… you haven’t seen what it means for you because services have been eroded and you just don’t see it.”

“Ladies and gentlemen – the money doesn’t exist…. Someone has to shoot straight with you, and that is what I am doing tonight.”

While Curry believes in helping the homeless, he also sees a ledger sheet flush with red ink, and himself in a race against time against the pension crisis.

“I will work with non-profits… if there are private dollars… I will absolutely be a part of that,” Curry said.

Curry noted, in closing, that when he “ran for mayor,” he “got to travel to parts of this city [he] never experienced.”

Then he went in and made his point: serious services have been cut. Drastically.

Services for at-risk youth. Police officers on the street. Community service officers.

“Our budget is so crippled,” Curry said, noting nearly $300 million a year going to a pension liability… one from which no one in that room derived any tangible benefit.

Walking out of the room, FloridaPolitics.com caught up with Curry, who looked exhilarated, like he’d just been, to borrow a phrase from Teddy Roosevelt, “in the arena.”

“Feels great,” Curry said.

Then, as he exited the church, the crush of cameras from local TV stations. And Curry, as he has done all year, made his case for the necessity of the referendum passing, calling the pension crisis “the biggest risk and the biggest issue” that Jacksonville faces.

A legacy cost that does “nothing for public safety.”

Jacksonville’s budget position, Curry said, was like a “frog in boiling water” thanks to “close to $300 million” that goes to “things that have nothing to do with daily lives.”

And the next budget, Curry reiterated, will reflect those sunk costs. “A very tight budget,” Curry said, that will “conserve as many taxpayer dollars as I can.”

“We’re on a financial cliff,” Curry said. “If we don’t solve it now, we’re going to have some dark days ahead.”

As the press gaggle disbursed, a gentleman leaving the church lauded the mayor for telling it like it is.

Indeed, that play took more courage than certain other politicians show to that body.

Curry knows that for Jacksonville to function as it needs to, the unfunded liability has to be addressed. He will tell harsh truths to make sure it happens.

Jax officials discuss easing racial tensions, building community trust

Placing the blame on everything from “media misinformation” to the tortured legacy of the Jim Crow era, a high-powered panel of Jacksonville officials held forth on racial tensions in the city at a conference sponsored by the Jacksonville Bar Association and Florida Coastal Law School.

Unsurprisingly, the most frank comments came from Edward Waters College president and former Duval County Sheriff Nat Glover (in a bit of poor optics, he was also the only African-American panelist on hand).

“There’s no question as to how bad it was,” said Glover, the first African-American sheriff to be elected in Florida since the Reconstruction era.

And, as is well-known locally, Glover was present in downtown Jacksonville on Ax Handle Saturday, a 1960 riot that broke out during the height of civil rights demonstrations to integrate downtown lunch counters. On that infamous day, a crowd of angry whites brought ax handles to the city center to attack young black demonstrators.

“I struggle with how much of that history we should tell the young generation, because they see things differently and don’t have our baggage. We still have areas in Jacksonville that are challenged in the area of trust.”

Sheriff Mike Williams was also frank about ongoing challenges in gaining community trust, particularly in majority African-American neighborhoods.

“When you go back to the civil rights era, and see photos of how law enforcement treated the young activists, it’s not a good picture. Fast forward to Rodney King, or issues like we’ve seen in Ferguson and Baltimore, that impacts all of law enforcement nationwide. Just one of those incidents undoes all the good work we’ve trying to do in the community.”

State Attorney Angela Corey blamed much of the disconnect on the media. “I worry a lot about media and social media interpretation of complex litigation, and how media outlets explain issues around such things as justifiable use of deadly force,” she said. Corey, of course, has come in for her fair share of media criticism, much of it at the national level, around several highly racially charged cases.

“We’ve got to keep engaging the community to let them know about the good work we’re doing,” she said. “We divert hundreds and hundreds of cases every year.”

“Trust is earned,” said Mayor Lenny Curry (who came in for some criticism of his own around this issue during his campaign against former Mayor Alvin Brown, an African-American.)

“Look at this through a national lens. Americans feel that they’ve been let down, that institutions have failed them. We certainly have our issues here in Jacksonville. To gain trust, you have to start with transparency. I go door-to-door talking with people. And we’ve got to demonstrate a real commitment to invest in neighborhoods and zip codes that didn’t experience the recovery, or who have just been left behind.”

That of course, is the perennial challenge in Jacksonville. After Curry’s triumphant journey getting a pension deal for the city passed in Tallahassee, he must now sell a referendum on the issue to local voters. Any economic development initiatives for the long-distressed Northwest Side would presumably depend on that successful second phase.

Meanwhile, a 2013 JCCI study on racism in the 904 found that for the first time, both whites and blacks share about equally in perceptions that race relations are a problem that must be addressed. In a city that’s long had tensions, that’s seen as progress.

Bill Clinton, Alvin Brown serve up comfort food in Jacksonville

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and former President Bill Clinton have an intertwined political history.

Brown had worked in the Clinton administration, and then when Brown was running for re-election, Clinton came to town to work a fundraiser/supporter event before Brown’s narrow loss.

The two men were together again Monday, at a church in Northwest Jacksonville. Clinton, stumping for Hillary; Brown, introducing the 42nd President, and re-introducing himself to a Democratic base who misses him exponentially more with each passing news cycle of the Lenny Curry administration.

Brown, who has been absent from public life in Jacksonville since July, chose an interesting time to make his return.

Corrine Brown is, perhaps, in serious legal trouble that might preclude her running in 2016. And Alvin Brown is the biggest name of the four Jacksonville candidates (others being Audrey Gibson, Mia Jones, and Tony Hill) who could run in her stead to ensure the newly drawn CD 5 remains a Jacksonville seat.

Alvin Brown, when introduced, let out a Hello Jacksonville … and got a whoop of acknowledgement, before thanking the volunteers.

Brown said Clinton “has spent her whole life breaking down barriers,” ensuring that “if you work hard and play by the rules, you can reach your God given potential.”

As well, Brown said Clinton was “the most qualified candidate in the race,” who could “close the education gap” and provide “equal pay for equal work because America needs a pay raise.”

Brown, “truly humbled to be here today,” introduced Bill Clinton as a “true friend for Jacksonville” who “made the tough decisions as President.”

Alvin Brown spoke of the Bill Clinton economic record, of “really putting America back to work,” before introducing a distinctly rapsy-voiced former President Clinton.

And so started the main event.

Clinton acknowledged members of the crowd, including Tony Hill, before going into a bit about how “this is a different type of election” with “stuff you’ve never seen, especially from the other guys,” before pivoting to a reference to the optimism in the Obama SOTU with regards to job creation and strong economic numbers.

“Yet we’ve got all this stuff going on … all this finger-pointing,” Clinton said.

“The picture the president painted is accurate, but most people don’t see themselves in it.”

A lack of pay raises. Children at risk of losing their lives to violence and other problems. “We have to face all that,” Clinton said, before mentioning the death of Aiden McClendon in a drive-by.

“This would have been his second birthday,” Clinton said, sounding like Lenny Curry.

“We don’t have an economy yet that works for everybody, and even if we did, there are so many barriers.”

Clinton said his wife was trying to change all of that.

Then Clinton went in to an anecdote, where his wife said “you know, I’m not a natural politician like President Obama or my husband … but I do like doing the job.”

Clinton then recounted his story of proposing to his wife three times. Eventually, she said yes, and came to Arkansas.

Clinton said of his wife that “she’s always focused on what she can do to make things better.”

“What I think we need is a change maker,” Clinton said. “She has walked the walk for a very long time.”

Much of what Clinton said about his wife was a recounting of her record as a change maker, spanning the period from her work in the Children’s Defense Fund and from the first lady position in Arkansas, as a fighter against the kind of institutionalized injustices that were common in the South back then and today, in different ways.

“There are thousands and thousands of Americans under the age of 40 who have had better lives because of her because she always makes something good happen,” Clinton said.

One of those good things was upgrading education standards in Arkansas.

Then came Washington, a “different world,” where the Clintons fought for health care reform.

“We tried, we failed, we didn’t have 60 votes,” yet they were able to pass the Children’s Health Insurance Program by “sticking it in the balanced budget bill so the Republicans would vote for it.”

As a result, 8 million kids have health insurance who wouldn’t otherwise.

Clinton extolled his wife’s work in the Senate, including bills passed to benefit veterans with bipartisan support.

“‘We think your wife cares about our issues … more than anyone in either party,'” Clinton said a veteran told him.

Former President Clinton, playing to the crowd sometime later, noted that Jacksonville needs an infrastructure program. His implication was President Hillary Clinton would help with that.

“Think how many jobs would be created if we took up every rusty pipe in America,” Clinton said, referencing Flint.

Clinton addressed phenomena like gun violence at Sandy Hook (“this is crazy”) and the Supreme Court vacancy (“sometimes you’ve got to find common ground, and sometimes you’ve got to stand your ground”), in light of the battle over the Court, the future of which seemingly will be decided by the next nominee.

“There’s no question that over a 40-year period she’s the best change maker,” Clinton said.

“Tear the barriers down. Tear them all down.”

The former President’s speech felt like a trip down memory lane for some on hand, but for others, especially the politicos on hand whose rise to prominence happened in the context of the quarter-century-long Clinton era, it was welcome comfort food.

“We need a world-class change-maker,” 42 said, “and she is the best I’ve ever known.”

Bill Clinton to union workers: “America needs a raise”

In a very intimate setting, former President Bill Clinton stumped for his wife Hillary Clinton by rallying dozens of local union members gathered at the Ironworkers Local 597 Hall on Jacksonville’s Northside. It was one of two Jacksonville stops for the HRC campaign’s most high-profile surrogate.

And the message was straight-up economic populism.

“Even though the economy is improving, that’s not the life experience of most Americans,” said the 42nd president. “We know it takes, at least, ten years for incomes to recover after the economy rebounds. That explains a lot of the disorientation, anger and frustration people feel.”

His spouse’s solution? “She thinks the biggest problem we have is that America needs a raise,” Clinton said. “And to do it we’ve got to massively invest in infrastructure, in building roads and bridges. That way we all grow together.”

In a short speech that touched on everything from Flint, Michigan’s water crisis, to a public employee union ruling from a divided Supreme Court, Clinton also managed to work in a Sunshine State reference.

“Florida is the canary in the coal mine of America’s future,” he said, exhorting the crowd to remind their membership to vote.

With a tightly scripted event, there was no opportunity to question “42” about controversies that have impacted Hillary Clinton’s campaign (and there was no mention of her opponents either).

Spotted among the invitation-only crowd, JFRD union president Randy Wyse, and former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown (slated to introduce Clinton later in the day).

Could Person A’s fall mean the return of Alvin Brown?

Corrine Brown looks to be in deep trouble. Or at least “Person A” is.

The Florida Times-Union has been leading on the story of Person A’s latest imbroglio … which could be a career killer.

“Person A,” a public official all but identified as Brown, used her “official position” to “solicit contributions” to the until-very-recently obscure One Door For Education, whose president pleaded guilty and apparently exposed the whole operation.

I took in $800,000 over the years. A lot of that money from Jacksonville power brokers, who like how Corrine delivers more than the rank-and-file Republicans.

“Person B,” an employee of Brown (and those who have paid attention to her local operation can guess that one), is also named in the Times-Union article.

The Feds don’t play. The sharks are circling around Person A.

That would leave her a choice: step down, retire after this term, or push through and fight what appears to be a preponderance of evidence and a confession by her co-conspirator.

She needs to make her move soon.

Of late, we haven’t talked much about the matter of “which district she’ll run in.”

It’s been assumed that she would run in CD 5, if she were to run.

But what if she can’t go forth?

The field, as it stands, is awful for Jacksonville. Lashonda Holloway has no history in elected office, and wouldn’t stand a chance against Al Lawson.

There is a bench in Duval County, of course: Mia Jones, Audrey Gibson, Tony Hill, and Alvin Brown are all plausible names.

Of that four, the last name might make the most sense.

Despite Brown getting the badmouth from the Jacksonville media on a variety of issues since he left City Hall, he still has cachet with Jacksonville Democrats, and still has access to a lot of deep-pocketed donors … including many of the GOP pragmatists who will be sad to see Person A go.

Alvin Brown ran against Corrine Brown in 1994. The 22 years since would make him a better congressman.

Four years of City Hall experience would position him uniquely to advocate for Jacksonville on the Federal level, especially considering his work in D.C. in the 1990s during the Clinton/Gore administration.

Brown, up in Georgetown teaching for the semester, is likely watching this with interest.

And so are Jacksonville watchers.

There would be a delicious irony in the Lenny Curry administration having to use Mayor Brown as their point man on D.C. projects, especially given the pitched rhetoric of the campaign and the early months of the administration.

It’s not as if they’d get a better deal or a fairer hearing from a political lifer from across the state.

Alvin Brown for Congress sounds unlikely? Maybe. But no one was expecting Person A to go through the wrong door for education either.

Matt Schellenberg talks Uber, John Keane, “Teflon John” Delaney, and Katrina Brown

In a wide-ranging interview Thursday morning, Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Schellenberg talked about Uber and the taxis, the John Keane deal and John Delaney’s role in it, and Katrina Brown.

Schellenberg, the chair of the Vehicles for Hire committee, was lambasted by a cab company executive for pushing back the next committee meeting date until March 22, with the executive calling for Schellenberg’s removal from the board.

Schellenberg told Florida Politics that next week was a no go for the next meeting; his daughter is on Spring Break, and they have a trip planned. And he has no plans to capitulate to the cab company exec’s demands, especially given that the state legislature is still in session and trying to reach an accord on transportation network companies.

Schellenberg asserts that Uber and Lyft are “embracing the free market,” though he understands the position of the taxi companies also.

That said, the issue is that the “dynamics of that industry are changing so fast,” a flux that Schellenberg asserts will have ramifications in the sphere of public transportation also, where “things will be changing so dramatically” regarding more on-demand solutions for people needing transportation.

Schellenberg has never used Uber, but he has talked to a lot of people who have, including in committees, and “almost 100 percent of their experience is positive.”

Regarding the background checks the taxi cab companies pillory the TNCs for not having at a sufficient level, there is a larger issue at play, Schellenberg contends: the insufficiency of the background checks themselves.

Even with an annual background check, something could happen “the next day,” which could reveal a risk factor.

“Things could happen in any industry … Uber, Lyft, teachers … the medical field,” regarding background checks not being current enough to encompass new infractions.

With “hundreds of thousands” of drivers, many of whom aren’t “perfect human beings,” Schellenberg contends that some inevitably will have issues. And if there are enough of them, making the “black mark wide enough,” the free market will take hold, and people would stop using the service.

The cab companies, Schellenberg added, are protecting their own business model, which involves companies leasing cars to drivers for $1,500 per unit … which obviously is much more than even leasing a sedan would be to drive for a TNC.

Regarding the email Schellenberg sent out with what his critic called an “Uber promotional video,” Schellenberg noted that committee members get many emails from the taxi industry about how bad the TNCs are, and that his email was intended as a counterweight.

Schellenberg presumes that “one of the committee people sent it on,” creating the controversy we reported on Wednesday.

Taxis, Schellenberg added, could create their own apps similar to those used by TNCs, which would allow for direct competition in the digital, smartphone space.

The conversation then moved to John Keane and the Police and Fire Pension Fund. In a weekly column, this writer pilloried Schellenberg for “demagoguing” the issue … a claim the Councilman took issue over.

The real question, Schellenberg said, is that the “deal was illegal” and the proposed 2 percent concession is “just embarrassing.”

Even the proposed 10 percent reduction in Keane’s benefits “wouldn’t have made much difference” to Keane’s quality of life, and if that concession were made, Schellenberg would have “walked away” with that settlement.

Schellenberg then laid blame on John Delaney, the former Jacksonville Mayor from 1995 to 2003, for having “caused the problem.”

“John Delaney is the Teflon John. His administration caused this problem, [because it] didn’t negotiate for Jacksonville,” Schellenberg said.

“We never negotiated hard,” Schellenberg said, a problem unremedied by successors until the current mayor.

John Peyton “didn’t take care” of the issue, Schellenberg said, and Alvin Brown “avoided” it.

The case for pursuing legal remedy from Keane and the Police and Fire Pension Fund, to Schellenberg, is clear: even a $2 million charge is nominal compared to the recent hit in portfolio value during the last twelve months for the PFPF. And it sends a message.

“Don’t mess with the city anymore.”

The “go along to get along” approach is “not acceptable,” Schellenberg added, and that hard line approach would “filter through vendors.

“Sometimes you have to stand up and say enough is enough,” Schellenberg added.

John Keane isn’t the only person that Schellenberg believes merits further scrutiny. Schellenberg’s colleague Katrina Brown, whose family’s barbecue sauce company, KJB Specialties, got city and federal money for plant expansion, is being sued for defaulting on a $50,000 loan from a private bank.

Schellenberg intends to “ask the Council Auditor to look into” the situation regarding KJB Specialties, which got city money via the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund.

A recurrent issue in the almost five years since the Councilwoman’s company got $640,000 in city money has been the glacial ramp up of production.

One of the conditions of the funding: providing 56 jobs by the end of April. That seems to be behind target; the Florida Times-Union reporter who made multiple trips to the location saw an empty parking lot during normal business hours on three straight days this week.

Hung jury in Zakee Furqan voter fraud case requires March retrial

Jacksonville’s Zakee Furqan achieved prominence during the 2015 Jacksonville mayoral campaign when he was part of a group of “business leaders” endorsing Alvin Brown.

That endorsement became a liability when news of his felony rap sheet, including a murder conviction, was reported.

The Brown campaign quickly repudiated that endorsement, and donated Furqan’s campaign contribution to charity, yet the Furqan affair became symbolic of the chaotic nature of that re-election campaign.

Furqan now has renewed his battle with the judicial system, fighting three counts of voter fraud charges for voting in three elections, one in 2014 and two in 2015, without his voting rights restored.

However, so far the most recent battle is a stalemate. A hung jury was declared during Wednesday’s proceedings, and the state is moving toward a retrial of Furqan on voting fraud charges March 28, according to a letter from Clerk of Court Ronnie Fussell to Furqan’s bondsman, Big Nate Bail Bond.

Katrina Brown: “HRO was not my campaign”

Of late, Jacksonville media has been trying to reconcile what seemed to be a pro-HRO expansion position during the 2015 campaign with more muted support by candidates this time around.

Councilwoman Katrina Brown was one candidate identified as pro-HRO expansion, according to comments she made to The Florida Times-Union last year, that were given a new life this week by columnist Ron Littlepage.

“Yes. I believe no person or group should be excluded or discriminated, and all citizens shall be protected class,” Councilwoman Brown said in response to the HRO question posed to all candidates by the Times-Union.

Brown, on Facebook Thursday morning, seemed to put distance between herself and what was interpreted as an endorsement of a fully inclusive HRO.

“I stated I didn’t believe in discrimination against anyone.. I also stated that I would wait until I got elected to see what the bill stated before I voted. I wanted to hear from the community … HRO was not my campaign,” Brown said.

She then reminded people on the Facebook thread that two weeks prior, she “voted to continue the conversation.”

“If the bill sponsor decide to pull the bill,” Brown added, “that has nothing to do with me.”

Then, in case anyone missed her point: “Stop blaming other council people because the bill sponsor decide to withdrawn the bill.. I didn’t sponsor the bill. I voted the last council meeting to continue conversation.”

Brown, along with Councilmembers Reggie BrownAnna Brosche, and Garrett Dennis, were taken to task this week in Folio Weekly for being influenced “possibly” through a mayoral “proxy” to “agree to vote to withdraw” the bill, in exchange for capital commitments to projects in their districts.

Folio Weekly reported that “Katrina Brown further said via email that she hadn’t taken a position supporting HRO; when FWM asked in a follow-up if the T-U incorrectly quoted her as saying ‘yes’ when asked whether she supported HRO expansion in its Meet the Candidates feature last year, she gave the sort of sputtering, non-answer typical of politicians.”

Those with long memories will recall that in 2012, a narrative festered regarding District 7 Councilman Johnny Gaffney voting against HRO expansion, saying that he got “confused,” which certainly can happen when choosing between a red button and a green button.

Gaffney was the deciding vote; rumors swirled that he flipped because of pressure from the Alvin Brown administration

Gaffney, in endorsing Lenny Curry for Mayor in May, addressed the HRO question.

“There was pressure to not vote for it,” Gaffney said, echoing allegations made by Denise Lee to this reporter that rumors were that Mayor Alvin Brown pushed Gaffney not to vote for it, that rumors were that “Johnny Gaffney was pressured to change his mind”, and that rumors said that he would veto it if it passed (an echo of persistent rumors since 2012).

“Whether you’re for it or not for it, be transparent,” Gaffney said. “Was the administration transparent?”

What is clear on the HRO issue: Many politicians seem more malleable than outside observers expect. And the reasons for such malleability often take years to come out.

Of note: Johnny Gaffney and Denise Lee now work in the mayor’s office.

Jax Journey 2.0 to look at jobs for at-risk kids: “our teenagers haven’t had enough focus”

She was appointed in the fall of 2008 to lead former Mayor John Peyton‘s ambitious attempt to dethrone Jacksonville as Florida’s murder capital.

She left the job during the tenure of former Mayor Alvin Brown, when the Jacksonville Journey changed focus, and lost funding (the recession also played a role in that, it’s been pointed out.)

But under new Mayor Lenny Curry, Journey Project Director Debbie Verges is back in her old post, as the reinvigorated initiative looks at the best way to apportion public funds around what’s known as the “PIE” of crime reduction (prevention, intervention, and enforcement).

“It’s really exciting to be back. The mayor believes that the way we solve Jacksonville’s problems is through our children. And the way we do that is we reach them early, and make sure they stay on the right track,” Verges told WJCT.  

Curry has allocated about $3 million dollars in the current city budget to bolster Journey programs, while also adding money to pay for 40 additional police officers.

“We’ll have $1.7 million for new initiatives. It’s never enough, but given the economic climate, that’s new dollars. Most agencies are not seeing any increases. So we’re fortunate we’ll at least have that amount of money to try to make a difference.”

The Journey’s initial focus in 2008 looked at early intervention and after-school programs for kids. Verges says this time around, teenagers will get more attention. And the approach taken in the last decade may be tweaked for 2016.

“This time we want to look at what’s different? Jacksonville is different than it was in 2008. We really want to hear from the providers. How would they address reaching out to teenagers in their neighborhoods? It won’t be quite as prescribed. We want to hear from the community.”

One point of feedback that’s already registered loud and clear, says Verges, is jobs. Or rather, the lack of them, particularly for young people in the city’s disadvantaged North and Northwest quadrants.

“Teenagers and young adults aged 18-24 need jobs. So we’ll probably see more in that area of economic development.”

The Journey Oversight Committee meets Thursday. Once it issues its recommendations, they’ll be forwarded to the City Council so that funds can be brought out of reserves and implemented, says Verges.

 

 

Sam Mousa drops another amusing Alvin Brown administration anecdote

In an email, Jacksonville’s CAOSam Mousa, told one of those A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Next Level stories about the Alvin Brown administration.

This one affects the Bob Hayes Track Meet.

“It came to our attention via the Council Auditor this week that the Brown administration did not have a contract executed before the funds for the 2015 Bob Hayes track meet were distributed.  The Brown administration simply issued a check request attached to the appropriating ordinance and paid the money, notwithstanding the ordinance stating a contract was required to be executed (the contract was attached to the ordinance),” Mousa wrote.

The funds, apparently, were “not spent in accordance with the budget which was presented to the City.  The expenses did not over-run the total amount provided by the City, but the funds were not spent per the approved categorical elements as presented in the budget. Accordingly, the Auditor is now holding up the city contribution for the 2016 event until the prior expenditure of funds is ratified by the City Council. This will require a ratification ordinance approved by City Council.”

To borrow a phrase from Britney Spears: Oops, they did it again. Between this and the fun story about Ronnie Belton‘s pension benefits, it’s been an interesting weekend of tidbits and trivia.

Happily for Bob Hayes fans, “Staff is working feverishly to help have an ordinance drafted and ratified thru City Council on an emergency basis…. this is a very important event and we will do what we need thru appropriate actions to help get the 2016 event funds released as soon as possible.”

Never a dull moment!

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