Garrett Dennis – Florida Politics

Jacksonville City Council smacks down ‘hit-free zone’ bill

On Tuesday evening, the Jacksonville City Council pushed back to committees a resolution making all city property “hit-free zones.”

Resolution 2018-171 would create “areas in which no adult shall hit another adult, no adult shall hit a child, no child shall hit an adult, and no child shall hit another child.”

A noble goal. A seemingly innocuous measure. But there were objections.

Some were along the “spare the rod, spoil the child” lines. Others expressed qualms about a ban on spanking on city property being tantamount to the beginning of a totalitarian nightmare.

Councilman Matt Schellenberg said the bill was “government overreach,” drawing distinctions between a “soft spank” and abuse.

Councilman Danny Becton said the bill put parents in “precarious positions,” wondering if “this was really a problem out in public.”

Council VP Aaron Bowman raised qualms about the financial impact of the bill, and questioned whether signs like this accomplish anything.

Councilman Bill Gulliford seconded Bowman’s play, noting that when government gets involved, there are unintended consequences.

Councilman Al Ferraro noted that this “big government” bill would preclude a parent punishing his or her child if said child was stealing something from a purse, and would be tantamount to “government raising our children.”

Councilman Reggie Brown cautioned that “spanking sometimes is necessary.”

Councilman Sam Newby supported the bill in committee, but doesn’t “see the data for the bill” now.

Councilwoman Joyce Morgan said “there are more questions than answers” on this bill.

From the Mayor’s Office, Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa noted that bill sponsor Garrett Dennis had not “solicited” the administration for input on the bill, and if the bill passes, it would have to be evaluated.

“Who decides what discipline is, compared to what abuse is,” asked Mousa.

Dennis, emotional, claimed the opprobrium from his colleagues was personal.

“There are some people, when they introduce bills, have holes poked into it,” Dennis said, when re-referral to committee was brought up.

This led a smiling Council VP Bowman, pushing for re-referral, to urge Dennis “to read the tea leaves.”

Dennis was adamant, saying that Council should “go on the record.”

However, the re-referral motion was unanimous, including Dennis’ vote.

Costs for this program, which would involve installation of smaller signs or posters, are unknown. Also unknown: the unintended consequences for employees having to referee interactions between consumers of city services and their children.

Both committees of reference passed the measure, but in each panel, votes were not unanimous, and concerns were raised about what was framed as a less-than-fleshed out piece of legislation.

This could have been seen as foreshadowing.

In Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health & Safety, Council members had qualms about impacts ranging from costs to imposing another burden on an overstretched workforce, before a 6-1 vote in favor of the measure.

In Finance, which bill sponsor Dennis chairs, the road was no less rocky toward a 5-2 vote in favor, with Council members discussing how they punished their kids in years gone by.

​Concert ticket kerfuffle creates sour notes in Jacksonville City Hall

Concert tickets became the source of a controversy in Jacksonville City Hall this month, illustrating (again) the distrust between City Councilman Garrett Dennis and Mayor Lenny Curry.

At issue: the distribution of free tickets for concerts by comedian Kevin Hart and country artist Tim McGraw.

On Apr. 3, Dennis’ assistant sent the Mayor’s staff “a public records request on tickets received and distributed, including dates requests were made and number of tickets given to each Council Members” for the celebrities’ gigs.

Apr. 17 saw the request unfulfilled to the satisfaction of Dennis’ office, which sent another email: “Any updates on the public record request? As you know, you are required to provide the Public Record request to Council Member Dennis listed below.”

The information was provided. And Dennis was frozen out of both events.

Dennis requested tickets for McGraw in late August, but was denied passes for the mid-September show. And regarding the Hart show in April, Dennis didn’t get tickets despite requesting in January.

Councilors Sam Newby and Katrina Brown likewise were denied passes requested in that timeframe, though Councilman Reginald Brown got two of the four tickets he requested at the same time.

Late asks by Matt Schellenberg and Reginald Gaffney were fulfilled, with each getting two tickets; Councilwoman Joyce Morgan, however, wasn’t so lucky.

Dennis’ office fired back: “We are not understanding how tickets are distributed when some CM’s clearly requested tickets at a much later date than others and requests were honored. We can’t assume that it is based on the frequency in which the requests are sent or the frequency of tickets that are actually granted. Please clarify the methodology by which tickets are distributed.  We know that certain CM’s receive Multiple tickets for every event.”

A request of all ticket distributions going back to October has been made by Dennis’ office.

Dennis, the chair of the Council Finance Committee, has been Curry’s most consistent opposition, with sharp critiques of everything from children’s program reforms to the study of privatization of the local utility.

Former NFL player launches campaign against Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis

It appears that there will be a competitive race after all in Jacksonville City Council District 9 .

Incumbent Garrett Dennis faces a challenge from within his own party by way of Marcellus Holmes.

Holmes, who played professional football for the New England Patriots from 1997 to 2001 as both a practice and active squad member, is about to line up against a council member who has been a serious irritant to Mayor Lenny Curry.

When asked to assess Dennis’ performance, Holmes — reached by phone Monday afternoon — was diplomatic.

“He’s doing the best job he can,” Holmes said. “But I can give the community more of what it needs.”

Dennis, who hasn’t filed yet, insists he’s running for re-election. That was news to Holmes.

“I didn’t know he was running again,” Holmes said, adding that Dennis did a “great job his first term.”

Holmes, who currently is an at-risk case manager with first-time offenders at local nonprofit Daniel Kids, sees his experience as being key to “bringing the community together” to “meet the needs of every community” and “get every issue solved.”

There have been strong suggestions that Curry may have an interest in backing an opponent to Dennis. But, says Holmes, he hasn’t talked to the mayor.

That said, one of Dennis’ Council colleagues — fellow Democrat Reggie Brown, who is running from his seat for Audrey Gibson‘s spot in the Senate — did offer some advice: go in there and be yourself.

Dennis, when asked about facing an opponent for his re-election, was blunt.

“I don’t know who that is,” Dennis said. “Bring it.”

JEA CEO: Board was ‘wholly unprepared’ for Jacksonville utility privatization debate

On Tuesday, the board of Jacksonville’s public utility JEA picked former board member Aaron Zahn as its new interim CEO to serve for the next year.

Meanwhile, CFO Melissa Dykes, passed over the CEO opening, will receive some sort of role change.

Zahn and Dykes appeared at Thursday’s meeting of the Jacksonville City Council special committee on the “future of JEA” (a rechristening of the panel). They presented a united front.

Zahn’s selection nettled certain Councilors who have been skeptical about JEA’s latest moves since the privatization push began months ago.

John Crescimbeni, the chair of the committee, doesn’t see a path clear to re-appointment of the current board given actions in recent months. And Councilman Garrett Dennis introduced a bill to take away the mayor’s absolute control over the nomination process for the JEA Board.

All of that was prologue to a series of mea culpa moments and trust exercises.

Zahn took the mike.

“Discord in any form can be paralyzing,” Zahn said in his first words to the Council. “The public discord of the last four months has felt personal to many of our employees.”

Zahn described JEA’s board as “wholly unprepared” for the discussion of the last four months; however, he added, the discussion “elevated many important questions,” and “created a new lens” to “view the utility of the future for Jacksonville.”

Answering questions from Council members, Zahn continued to balance the tropes of “discord” and “stability.”

Zahn wriggled through answering a question regarding whether he’d want to be a permanent CEO, with Councilman Tommy Hazouri expressing concern about the JEA Board.

“It continues to create a cloud of mistrust,” Hazouri said, regarding the seemingly predetermined selection of Zahn, a board member for a matter of weeks, as interim CEO.

Council President Anna Brosche described a “fierce conversation” between Dykes, Zahn, and her.

“We can’t unring the bell of the last four months,” Brosche said, but prior to that communication was strong, the current “trust challenge” notwithstanding.

“The buck stops here with the CEO,” Zahn said, vowing to take “responsibility and ownership.”

Brosche wanted commitments from Zahn that he would not move forward exploring a sale without explicit JEA Board consent; Zahn replied that he would consult with stakeholders, such as the Council, before moving in that direction.

Brosche thanked Zahn for his admission that the board was “wholly unprepared.”

“You can’t unring the bell,” the Council President added, “and neither can we.”

Later in the discussion, Brosche asked if Zahn sensed an “air of distrust” between JEA and Council; in a long-winded, passive voice construction, Zahn conceded the President’s point.

“Some people will never trust you,” Zahn said, “and I can’t help that.”

Councilman Dennis was next, and trust was an issue for him.

Zahn confirmed that there may be a path to apply for the permanent CEO gig, saying, in response to goading from the Councilman, that if Council wanted to bar him and “disqualify a perfectly good candidate,” that was its prerogative.

But he would like the opening to pursue his “personal passion” of running a utility, maybe.

When asked to provide an open calendar regarding meetings with lobbyists and other potential suitors for JEA, Zahn vowed to do that, but with caveats

He characterized himself later as an “innovator and an entreprenuer,” and uniquely qualified to examine “the business model and how to position it to take advantage of trends.”

Zahn defended his presentation as an interim CEO candidate, noting that upon his resignation, he had suggested structural changes to the org chart to redefine the role of CEO that was “set up for failure.”

The JEA CEO confirmed that “until ordered otherwise,” the privatization discussion would be held in abeyance in favor of a laid-out strategic plan.

Councilwoman Lori Boyer pressed Zahn further on privatization, with Zahn alluding to “grades of investigation” of the process.

“We all need to look at the business model, and it’s clear the reasons why,” Zahn said, discussing it in the framework of  “capitalization strategy.”

Boyer pressed Zahn on his desire to put a “pause” on privatization, given the discussions of such happening at JEA unbeknownst to Council.

“If we put a pause button on the public conversation, do we have assurance that there is a pause on the private conversation,” Boyer asked.

Zahn contended that the management team is not pursuing such, though “whiteboard discussions” are a different matter. The board, he said, would have to recommend it formally first, at the board level.

Zahn also confirmed that JEA lobbyist Mike Hightower and former CEO Paul McElroy enlisted him for what turned out to be a brief board tenure.

And Zahn, when asked about the value of JEA, said that without bids it was just a hypothetical concept — one that won’t be a priority of his “over the next six to twelve months” as he works through structural revamps.

This didn’t satisfy Councilwoman Joyce Morgan, who battled to get Zahn to be transparent about how privatization might make it onto a JEA Board agenda. Zahn mentioned, in his answer, that he was a philosophy major in college; a fun fact, but not a straight answer.

Council Vice President Aaron Bowman, poised to take over the gavel at the end of June, was much more positive about Zahn than some others.

“We’ve learned a heck of a lot over the last couple of months. We needed to know a lot more than we did,” Bowman said. “When we talked yesterday, we talked about how disruptive these meetings have been to your organization.”

Bowman pitched a pause on JEA special committee meetings altogether.

“Now is probably a pretty good time to stop these meetings … give you the reins and come back in a couple of months,” Bowman said.

“I’m never going to tell shareholders what to do,” Zahn said, saying that pausing the committee is the Council decision before saying he agreed with Bowman.

“If we’re clear that this committee is just a discussion, our employees can sleep easier at night,” Zahn said, adding that the time impact takes a “significant toll” on senior leadership, and an “attacking format” makes it worse.

After the meeting, Zahn clarified some of his comments, including drawing a distinction between privatization, monetization (“returning capital to stakeholders”), and a change in business model.

Whether Zahn is looking to privatize or not, multiple Emera lobbyists were standing in the back of the room, watching with great interest.

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After Zahn’s q&a wrapped, CFO Melissa Dykes handled some technical questions, with Zahn having moved on to another engagement.

Dykes defended the decision to close down the coal burning St. Johns River Power Plant, which compelled JEA to buy power on the market as it waits for nuclear Plant Vogtle to go online in Georgia, by comparing the plant to a “30 year old school bus” and saying that operating the plant came at too high a cost, given transport costs for coal and other contributors.

Councilman Danny Becton said that Council hadn’t paid enough attention to JEA decisions, and that needs to change.

Jordan Pope, JEA’s governmental relations manager, then stepped to the mike, describing what he called an “aggressive” five-year capital plan, “one that is needed” as JEA “has a lot of work to do.”

_____

The meeting, which sprawled over the four hour mark, felt like conversation under the current parameters had been exhausted.

It seemed clear that there was some appetite for the end of the committee also, in light of there being no public push to privatize at this time, and in light of the majority of Council members leaving around the two hour mark.

One public commenter, a JEA employee, expressed disappointment with those members having left, and skepticism with Council members “drinking the Kool-Aid” and taking Zahn at face value.

Time will tell if there is a motion at a future Council meeting to sunset the panel.

 

Jacksonville City Councilman challenges Lenny Curry, seeks JEA board reform

Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis filed a bill this week that is his latest shot across the bow of Mayor Lenny Curry.

The bill, while not likely to pass, will be an interesting litmus test of how much political capital Dennis has with Council in the wake of some difficult news cycles for the Curry administration.

Per media release Wednesday, the bill would amend the JEA Charter to give the City Council four of seven of the JEA board appointments, and would give the council confirmation approval of Curry’s three appointees.

While Curry could remove his appointees to what is currently a shorthanded board with two vacancies, with council approval, the Mayor would have no power to remove appointees.

New JEA Board picks would have to be Duval residents for three years.

The JEA Board, which Curry purged soon after taking the Mayor’s Office in 2015, made news Tuesday by choosing Aaron Zahn, a utility neophyte who was on the JEA Board for a month, to be an interim CEO.

Many have pointed out that Zahn and Curry are political allies, with a gaggle Wednesday seeing Curry answer a question about attending the same church as Zahn.

Zahn wants a pause on the privatization conversation that has roiled City Hall in recent months, though he is indeterminate about how long that pause should take.

Dennis, meanwhile, has already lost one recent board-related battle with Curry; Curry’s favored candidate for Kids Hope Alliance CEO, Joe Peppers, resigned from that board soon after being appointed to successfully pursue the paid position.

Jacksonville City Council panel defers cannabis code change, moves ‘hit free zone’ bill

Marijuana changes mulled, deferred: Ordinance 2018-75 would revise extant code relative to medical cannabis. The code was formulated in response to “Charlotte’s Web” low-THC cannabis being the single legal strain, and after an extended period of debate, processing and dispensing were allowed in commercial districts, with cultivation permitted in agricultural zones.

That debate was tortuous; so too is this one, with the second deferral of this legislation in Monday’s Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health & Safety committee

The ordinance would change things, allowing dispensaries anywhere in the city, including within 500 feet of a school. The previous zoning categories would be revoked.

“This bill puts our code in compliance with Florida statutes,” said a representative from the Office of General Counsel. “The statute prohibits cultivation and processing facilities within 500 feet of a school” but allows a dispensary given a waiver within 500 feet.

Counties do have the right to ban dispensaries entirely if they have nothing codified. But because there was an existing ordinance, bill sponsor Matt Schellenberg said in a previous meeting the county could not ban dispensaries, even as individual cities have done this.

“Unfortunately, we addressed it [in code]. And because we addressed it, we have to deal with it,” Schellenberg said.

The Council members won’t deal with it for at least a couple weeks, after yet another deferral, with concerns roiling the councilors.

Councilwoman Lori Boyer suggested that all dispensaries be moved to commercial zoning to match up with pharmacies.

Councilman John Crescimbeni flummoxed a city lawyer, meanwhile, noting inconsistencies between proposed language in the legislation that is explicit about the dispensing facilities and the state statute regarding cultivation and processing.

A public notice meeting will be scheduled between Schellenberg, Boyer, and Crescimbeni to hash out concerns about the cannabis code changes.

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No hit zones: Resolution 2018-171 would support policy designating city property “hit free zones.” It creates “areas in which no adult shall hit another adult, no adult shall hit a child, no child shall hit an adult, and no child shall hit another child.”

It would include parks and community centers, city buildings, and presumably municipal arenas and stadiums.

To that end, signs would be posted, and city employees trained in best practices regarding “supportive intervention.”

Hit free zones are often called “no hit zones,” In application, they call for employees to interrupt the behavior and get help.

The proposed legislation offers no penalties for violations of the hit free zone policy, as it is a resolution of conceptual support.

Sponsor Garrett Dennis said the bill “supports the culture of safety” in Jacksonville, advising that “discipline … in a public place” is inappropriate.

The bill, per Dennis, is supported by the State Attorney’s Office and other community stakeholders.

Costs for this program, which would involve installation of smaller signs or posters, are unknown. Also unknown: the unintended consequences for employees having to referee interactions between consumers of city services and their children.

“I have some real concerns about that,” said Councilman Scott Wilson. “We’re basically going to ask an employee [to deal with these situations]. My real concern is it’s going to take time away from employees who are already overworked.”

Wilson urged that each constitutional officer formulate his policy.

Council VP Aaron Bowman noted a lack of empirical proof that these programs work, as well as an unrefined scope of the program.

“I don’t know if this is a $10,000 program or a $5 million program,” Bowman said, urging deferral of the bill that would require signs and enforcement in 600 city facilities, parks, etc.

Without hard data, Bowman was a no vote.

Dennis and a Mayor’s Office representative likewise discussed a lack of an identified funding source for the bill, with Dennis saying the administration could come up with something.

Councilman Jim Love noted that there would have to be an exception for “sports play.”

“What we’re talking about here is corporal punishment,” Love said. “It needs to be tailored for corporal punishment. Hit free zone in a football field wouldn’t make for very exciting football.”

Finance, which Dennis chairs, is the next stop for this resolution on Tuesday.

JEA straw poll, board reform bills clear Jacksonville City Council

Two bills of note passed by the Jacksonville City Council Tuesday evening. 

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Straw ballot for JEA sale: 2018-141 will prime a straw ballot referendum for November to test the voters’ mood on a JEA sale.

The measure, sponsored by Garrett Dennis and John Crescimbeni (two skeptics of the need to sell), would, in theory, serve as a corrective to an impending sales pitch to sell from many directions.

Crescimbeni noted in committee that the straw ballot is nonbinding and merely gives direction on whether to “participate in that process … weigh in and tell us they’re interested, or they’re not interested.”

A rumor the bill would be pulled from Consent ultimately proved unfounded.

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Board reform: 2018-165, also sponsored by Dennis, will bar an active member of a board from applying for a paid position with the organization controlled by the board.

This bill was drafted after Joe Peppers, a member of the Kids Hope Alliance board who has since stepped down, made a successful play for that organization’s CEO position.

Dennis, one of the council’s most strident opponents of the reforms that brought KHA into being as a replacement for the Children’s Commission and the Jacksonville Journey, saw Peppers as unqualified to be CEO and as someone who is parlaying relationships with the board and Mayor Lenny Curry‘s team into a high-paying job.

Dennis said the bill would foster “transparency and fairness.”

A floor amendment led the bill to be pulled off the consent agenda, per Councilman Al Ferraro, adding relatives, including in-laws, to the ban list.

However, the floor amendment met objections. Multiple Council members said the move would have unintended consequences.

Garrett Dennis warns Jacksonville Kids Hope board not to pick Joe Peppers as CEO

Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis, a critic of Jacksonville’s Kids Hope Alliance board that administers the city’s children’s programs, made it known earlier in the week that he would attend Wednesday’s KHA Board meeting.

Dennis’ principal interest: the board’s selection of a new CEO.

In Council committees Tuesday, Dennis peppered employees of the Lenny Curry administration with questions about a “cloud over the process”: why Joe Peppers, a CEO hopeful who first pursued the job while on the board that would select said CEO, was one of four candidates still being considered.

“The one who has given me pause is Joseph Peppers. He turned in his application Feb. 22 and [emerged the next day from] 138 applications,” Dennis said Tuesday.

Dennis urged Peppers to withdraw his name from the search.

Dennis was in attendance at the Kids Hope Alliance meeting Wednesday — a conclave run by city CFO Mike Weinstein, who is also acting CEO of the KHA.

The board will mull the CEO selection process Thursday, and Dennis still worries that Peppers’ selection, should it happen, would put a “cloud” over the body, creating a “doubt in everybody’s mind” as to whether Peppers is a “legit CEO” or a figurehead.

Jacksonville Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, Dennis asserted, “said the Mayor was not going to relinquish picking the first CEO.”

With Peppers, Dennis believes Curry’s been “keeping true to his word.”

Dennis predicts that if Peppers is chosen, “he doesn’t stay there a year and a half,” because Peppers lacks a history of “longevity,” as if he’s “always looking for the next best thing.”

The KHA board reviews CEO candidates on Thursday.

State ethics commission to review Jacksonville City Councilman’s company contracting with school board

On Apr. 20, the Florida Ethics Commission will offer a formal opinion on whether or not the Duval County School Board contracting services with the construction company of Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis amounts to a conflict of interest.

Per Councilman Dennis, this is a simple formality, as he has already been cleared of any potential conflict in this matter.

That position is buttressed by an internal memo from city lawyers clearing Dennis, and a draft formal advisory opinion from the state ethics panel.

The reason: Jacksonville’s form of government, which has an elected countywide school board, does not give the City Council authority over the school board. Thus, there is no conflict.

An informal opinion from the state ethics commission staff asserted that; however, Jacksonville’s Office of General Counsel, in what appears to be an abundance of caution, wanted a formal opinion.

The request for an informal opinion from Jacksonville city lawyers notes that “Mr. Dennis wishes to maintain his anonymity in any opinion issued by the State Ethics Commission.”

Per Dennis, that’s standard practice whenever the state commission is weighing in on the activity of city council members.

Since neither Dennis nor his company (“Shifting Gears, LLC”) have a direct contractual relationship with the school board or district, there almost certainly will be no news out of the ethics meeting.

Jacksonville City Council panel chair skirmishes with Lenny Curry lieutenants

The scene was set for Tuesday morning’s Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee the day before in a different committee.

Finance Chair Garrett Dennis attempted to pepper city CFO Mike Weinstein with questions about the Kids Hope Alliance, the children’s program reforms of which Dennis has been a staunch critic.

Dennis was shut down by that committee chair as his questions were not on bill 2018-168, but vowed that his questions about board management, especially during a CEO search that some say has gone sideways, would recur in Finance when an appropriations bill was discussed.

So they did.

The bill appropriates $5.919 million for children’s services, summer learning, and youth summer job programs.

But that wasn’t the drama. The drama, per Dennis, was Thursday’s selection of the first CEO of the Kids Hope Alliance by the KHA board.

“I’ve been following this quite closely because a lot of the kids who will be served are from my district,” Dennis said, posing questions about “the whole selection process” to Diane Moser of Employee Services.

Four candidates are slated for consideration, Moser said.

“The one who has given me pause is Joseph Peppers. [The former board member, who was still on the board at that point] turned in his application Feb. 22 and [emerged the next day from] 138 applications,” Dennis said, with Peppers getting through.

Dennis continued to pepper Moser with questions and veiled criticisms of Peppers, noting that on criterion after criterion, “he checked no on the major questions and still made the short list [of four].”

Moser said that the “application as a whole” was approved.

“That’s a preferred qualification of working with children,” Moser said, in response to Dennis’ questions about Peppers’ alleged lack of qualifications.

Dennis also noted that of all the candidates, Peppers wanted the most money: $185,000.

“I’m having a little heartburn about this process,” Dennis said.

Dennis then called Jacksonville CFO Mike Weinstein to the stand, heedless of a point of order objection from Matt Schellenberg, a stout ally of the Mayor’s Office.

Dennis noted that the board was not able to discuss the applicants during a KHA meeting involving Skype interviews of candidates.

“There’s been a cloud over the process … it appears it’s not transparent,” Dennis said, noting that “public discussion” is restricted to “an hour of vetting” on Thursday.

Weinstein said the board was “very very capable and strong,” and it’s their “process and decision.”

Dennis pressed Weinstein on how the pool of 130 candidates was vetted; Weinstein said it was a scoring matrix. Dennis wasn’t happy with that answer.

“The employee services department,” said Weinstein, “did their process to get down to the 13.”

Dennis held to his “concerns about the appearance over the selection of the CEO … Peppers needs to step away and remove himself from consideration … clearly, he’s not the most qualified.”

“The thing that really bothered me was when he spoke against Ribault and Raines and perpetuated stereotypes … I encourage our Mayor and Mr. Peppers to step aside,” Dennis said.

Schellenberg said he was “impressed” with Peppers.

“You can meet the bare minimum and still be an effective leader of an organization,” Schellenberg said, citing Peppers’ “dynamism.”

“If he gets picked,” Schellenberg said, “he will make this organization better … He is wonderful, [with] great passion.”

Dennis will be in attendance Wednesday at a meeting of the Kids Hope Alliance, where CEO selection is one of a number of topics.

That would have been enough drama.

But add to that a bill (2018-141) that would set a straw ballot referendum on the November ballot to test the voters’ mood on a JEA sale, a bill sponsored by Dennis and JEA Special Committee Chair John Crescimbeni, and what was clear was that drama would rule the day in Jacksonville’s keystone council committee.

Councilman Matt Schellenberg, an ally of the Mayor’s Office, said citizens have heard a “one-sided” narrative against it, saying that “citizens don’t have all the information available to them” to make an informed decision.

“I think it’s unreasonable,” Schellenberg said, to put this up to a vote — even one in November. “I’m not willing to vote for this at this point in time [and] allow the citizens to vote on something they know nothing about.”

Crescimbeni noted that the straw ballot would simply call for a referendum to vote on the sale, and that such a vote doesn’t require esoteric knowledge.

In the end, Schellenberg voted for it.

The bill now has cleared two committees without a no vote; once it clears Rules, it is headed for the full City Council’s consent agenda, which means it almost certainly will become ordinance.

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