Alvin Brown – Page 7 – Florida Politics

Jacksonville City Council members consider struggling commercial corridors

On Thursday, Jacksonville City Council members Scott Wilson, John Crescimbeni, and Greg Anderson convened to discuss an issue of interest to Wilson: commercial corridors in need of re-development.

Wilson, elected in 2015, has contended Jacksonville’s economic incentives policy doesn’t accommodate his district on Jacksonville’s Southside, where many neighborhoods have economic issues, but don’t qualify for incentives in the city’s recently formulated policy.

While the idea is to encourage retail development, the short answer is there are no easy answers to problems of disuse and misuse that built over decades.

One option could be Residential Recapture Enhanced Value Grants, or REV Grants, which could defray the cost of some improvements over time, such as facade improvements and landscaping.

An open question is whether that grant would “move the needle” to drive incentive.

For businesses like used car lots and mechanics, these modest grants wouldn’t really drive the kind of commercial redevelopment needed.

Paul Crawford, a representative from the mayor’s office’s economic development department, suggested  a way forward would be to change the use, into a “productive retail space.”

Many properties weren’t designed for their current uses, Crawford said.

Councilman Crescimbeni noted previous zoning decisions “opened the door” for a preponderance of used car lots and the like in Arlington, suggesting that changing the zoning categories may be the move.

“Down zoning” properties would have a gradual effect, with current tenants grandfathered in, Crescimbeni said.

Amortization was also discussed, creating a hard deadline for compliance with zoning criteria, which could change the topography of these “blightscapes” over time.

Another issue with the zoning in some parts of the Southside and Arlington: the fact that commercial zoning can go back a couple of properties into neighborhoods.

A potential solution: a zoning overlay to create larger, albeit gradual, zoning changes.

With overlays in Jacksonville, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, though the zoning issues in once-thriving areas seem to come down to used car dealerships and other businesses not conducive to residential prosperity.

Anderson discussed areas on the Westside, such as Blanding and San Juan, that have become hotbeds of more sordid businesses in recent years.

Hardscaping was discussed as one potential solution. Also discussed were community development block grant dollars, which may be difficult in these areas given that they aren’t quite economically distressed enough.

Crescimbeni laid out a problem: “planning commissioners aren’t accountable to anybody … and right now, we have a planning commission that never met an exception it didn’t like.”

Of course, the planning commission went through some big changes about a year ago, when Alvin Brown appointees were scuttled in favor of Lenny Curry adherents.

Alvin Brown, active surrogate for Hillary Clinton

In the mayor’s office in Jacksonville’s city hall, there was a new addition this week: a portrait of former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown to hang next to the pictures of previous mayors.

Brown, informed sources tell us, was not cooperative with the process: a rite of passage for former Jacksonville mayors, generally involving a painting paid for with private funds.

Brown’s photograph has been blown up and framed on the fourth floor of the St. James Building; however, even if Brown were a regular fixture at Jacksonville’s city hall, he wouldn’t see it between now and the election.

Brown is serving as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail.

This is no surprise, of course. The Democrat did some important work in the first Clinton administration, and has served as an opening speaker for Bill Clinton during the former president’s own visits to Jacksonville.

However, Brown’s current role involves helping to make the sale for the Hillary Clinton ticket in a number of far-flung areas.

In doing so, Brown is doing some of the work in the trenches, with forays into small towns outside of the media glare.


On Sept. 20 and 21, for example, Brown was part of the “Stronger Together” bus tour through Ohio. Part of Brown’s role: the “thank the volunteers” deal, as Brown and other mayors did in Dayton and other Buckeye State burgs.

Brown also serves up talking points that shore up the center-left and theoretically appeal to independent voters.

“She knows the cities are a place of innovation, creativity, the economic engine of our community all across the country,” Brown said of Clinton to the Springfield News. “She wants to put America back to work and that starts by working with everyone.”

Brown also broke ranks with his former political friend, Rick Scott, and cast aspersions toward the GOP presidential candidate to the Sandusky Register““There really isn’t another option. The other candidate has offended every constituent and group in this country. She has a proven track record; she’s qualified; and she has a plan.”

Brown also extolled Clinton’s five-year plan, saying Clinton had a “vision for America … [with] focus on small businesses and entrepreneurs. She knows cities. Her five-year plan, which she will pass in her first 100 days, will focus on rebuilding streets, highways, crumbling schools, and jobs.”

“No matter what zip code you live in, she’s going to be the president for every city in America,” Brown said.


Last Friday, Brown was in Oklahoma City meeting with former colleagues at the fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

On Saturday, Brown issued what were called “strong remarks” at the South Carolina Democratic Party’s Spratt Issues Conference.

The SCDP’s social media person called Brown a “senior adviser” for Hillary Clinton.


Brown’s role with the Clinton campaign has been below the radar, but has been ongoing for months.

Al Sharpton referred to Brown as a “senior adviser” in a July Tweet, regarding Brown’s speech at a meeting of the National Action Network.

When contacted regarding Brown’s role at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Clinton campaign offered no comment.

However, if Hillary Clinton wins, a reasonable expectation is that Brown will secure an administration job of some type.

Ironically, that would tie in with rhetoric put forth from the Lenny Curry campaign last year: that Brown was “dreaming of his next D.C. job.”


A job in Washington would be ideal in some ways for Brown, who (as opposed to most former mayors) has been absent from the public square since his election loss in May 2015.

However, to achieve that goal, he has a job beforehand.

That job: to travel where he’s needed, and to help Hillary Clinton make the sale to groups still unconvinced.

James Clyburn sees enthusiasm and generational gaps plaguing Hillary Clinton campaign

On Monday, South Carolina’s Rep. James Clyburn hosted a “call to action” conversation in Jacksonville with supporters of Hillary Clinton.

Clyburn was last in Jacksonville in 2015, campaigning for a protege — former Mayor Alvin Brown — in a campaign that saw the mayor’s re-election thwarted by an enthusiasm gap in the base.

Clyburn is conscious of similar gaps for Clinton, which he attributes to a bruising primary and to a heavily motivated Donald Trump base.

The South Carolina congressman noted positive auguries for Clinton, such as USA Today’s editorial making the case against Trump, and Republican newspapers endorsing Clinton.

Another positive sign: Trump’s tax issues, which Clyburn likened to Watergate in terms of the magnitude of the scandal.

However, despite the case against Trump being made, the “campaign is too close” because the campaign has “not done a good enough job telling people why they should vote for Hillary Clinton.”

Clyburn compared Clinton to 1988 nominee Michael Dukakis. He, too, came out of the Democratic convention with a two-digit lead but ended up “defined by the Willie Horton ad,” which “came out of the Democratic primary,” where Al Gore used it.

Republican operative Lee Atwater refined and rebooted it, said Clyburn, and “that spelled doom for Dukakis.”

Clyburn noted the generation gap in the Democratic primary, insisting the Clinton campaign “cannot allow this campaign of Hillary Clinton to be defined by the primary.”

“The millennials are crying out for guidance from us,” Clyburn said to a largely over-50 crowd in Jacksonville comprised of elected leaders and party activists.

Clyburn believes that on issues such as criminal justice reform and infrastructure renewal, Clinton’s platform is stronger than Trump’s.

However, engaging the millennials for Clinton is far from a done deal, and is necessary, given that Trump’s support is strong and in hard-to-gauge areas.

Clyburn spoke of driving up U.S. Highway 52 in South Carolina, “seeing Trump signs everywhere … every now and then Confederate flags.”

Trump’s GOTV campaign is, said Clyburn, “on the back roads” in South Carolina and other battleground states, with “field officers” poised to turn the vote out.

Clyburn noted on occasion that Clinton could do a better job choosing her words, including her reference to half of Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables.”

“She should have said a lot of deplorables,” Clyburn said, referencing David Duke and “white nationalists” as filling the bill.

Clyburn noted that when Trump says he’s a “law-and-order guy,” that’s a “code word for deplorables.”

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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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. 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.


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 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 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.

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