After a two-week sabbatical, Jacksonville Bold returns this week — with much of the content dealing with a city battling back from well-documented storm impacts (massive flooding in areas, power outages, et al.)
And, like Bold, the city is coming back.
Before the Jaguars kicked off Sunday, power was substantially restored (though it seemed to have come at the expense of efficiency on offense). Debris is piled by curbs, waiting for pickup. Life is moving on — though some of those who suffered most grievously during the storm are still waiting for a helping hand from government.
The question going forward, into next Tuesday’s budget vote and beyond: How will the city shoulder a second straight year of significant storm-related costs?
The capital improvement program was already big-spending and ambitious ($131M). Other adds were equally bold: a proposal for 100 new cops, and a proposal to spend $8M for capital improvements at the private HBCU, Edward Waters College.
As John Lennon said: “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”
But that quote was never intended to apply to municipal budgets; however, Jacksonville City Council members will be compelled to balance what happened this month with long-range planning made before Irma was even conceived.
Paul Ryan, Florida delegation talk Irma
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Appropriations Chair Rodney Freylinghausen aren’t usually in Bold, but they are this week — as they visited Jacksonville as part of a three-stop tour with the Florida Delegation to discuss Irma relief.
The national figures didn’t talk to the local press (small market blues?), but Florida U.S. Reps, such as Ron DeSantis, had a consistent message: Northeast Florida cities will get what’s coming to them from FEMA.
“One of the things we’ve been impressing on the federal government is these communities are having to spend a lot of resources on things like debris removal. They need to have that money reimbursed in a timely fashion,” DeSantis said.
“You still have a lot of localities that are waiting to be reimbursed for Matthew,” DeSantis added. “That’s a bureaucratic process that’s got to be improved. We’ve been talking to and engaging FEMA about that.”
Rep. John Rutherford also noted that funds are in fact available … good news for budget hawks in City Hall.
Al Lawson fights for Jax FEMA funds
Last week saw politicians coming through Jacksonville for photo ops and to survey the damage. Perhaps the most unheralded visit was that of Rep. Lawson, who dropped into City Hall last week and talked to the Mayor about getting Jacksonville money … from Hurricane Matthew.
“I talked to the Mayor,” Lawson said, “and what I told him is that I know there’s some $26 million that the city hasn’t gotten from FEMA for the last hurricane, Matthew. That’s one of the things that we’re working on to try to make sure they get those funds, because of the devastation in this area.”
“Our goal is to get the resources down here quickly as possible,” Lawson said.
Regarding backlogs with FEMA payouts, which can take years, Lawson noted that “this hurricane affected the whole state, and one of the things we need to do on the federal level is get that money released earlier.”
Lawson has worked, since beating Corrine Brown in the 2016 Democratic Primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, to build up local bona fides and ward off a potential local challenge. As of the end of June, the first-term Democrat had nearly $150,000 cash on hand for his next campaign.
Lawson promised us that Speaker Ryan would come to visit … and he was as good as his word, as you read above.
Rutledge Pearson Post Office?
Pushing for federal funds is one way Lawson is localizing his approach; pushing to name a local post office after one of the most influential civil rights leaders in regional history is another.
Sunshine State News reports that Lawson seeks to rename the Kings Road post office after Rutledge Pearson; this play is backed by most of the Florida Congressional Delegation, with Rep. Ted Yoho the sole Northeast Florida exception.
“Rutledge Pearson, a Jacksonville native, was an American history teacher, civil rights leader and distinguished baseball player,” Lawson said last week. “His legacy in Jacksonville, especially in the fight for civil rights, is long-lasting and this is a fitting way to honor his contributions to our community.”
Pearson was a former head of the state NAACP and instrumental in Jacksonville’s struggle toward integration. He died 50 years ago in a car accident in Tennessee.
Hold my mule
The reviews are coming in for Shirley Caesar’s fundraising gig for Corrine Brown — and the Florida Star, closely aligned with Brown throughout her career, gave Caesar high marks this month.
“Selling out 2,000 seats at Abyssinia Missionary Baptist Church. Before Shirley Caesar anointed the attendees with her presence. Guest had the pleasure of enjoying the small business Pop-up shop and praising with live entertainment from Phillip Mercer, Abyssinia Choir, Robert Hayes (Classical Mime), and Najee Ward,” the Star reports.
Nothing like the classical mime to warm up the crowd.
Brown faces sentencing in mid-November. One hopes the anointing doesn’t have a shelf life.
Rick Scott: FEMA could offer ‘advance payments’
More good news and clarity on the reimbursement front.
Florida Gov. Scott is also on board — and may be able to help expedite requests.
“I talked to the Administrator of FEMA about this last week,” Scott said. “They can do advance payments.”
Scott noted caveats, such as “still having to go through the process,” and that — if the reimbursement is not approved — cities have to pay the feds back.
“What I’ve told everybody is get it to our office. I’ll get it to FEMA,” Scott added, “and what they’ve told me was they’d work with cities or counties to [make] advance payments.”
Jacksonville, at last count, has somewhere around $150M between operating and emergency reserve accounts — a good chunk of change in a $1.27B general fund budget, but one with caveats — including statutory minimum levels that must be maintained.
Jacksonville is still awaiting reimbursements from the federal government — 75 percent of an approximate $50 million in storm-related damage. Application technicalities, such as Jacksonville’s local commitments to small and emerging businesses and locational criteria for vendors, apparently are not something the federal government honors.
Duval delegation talks Irma aftermath
“Unprecedented devastation” brought by Hurricane Irma occasioned a special press availability of the Duval Delegation late last week.
Most everyone on hand will go to bat for the district; however, details — beyond a Rep. Jay Fant bill to enhance criminal penalties for looting during states of emergency — were scant.
Rep. Cord Byrd, who represents Duval and Nassau, has spoken with Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. John Rutherford and Speaker Richard Corcoran about pushing the ball forward.
And Rep. Jason Fischer noted that “we as a state should do everything we can to fill the gaps left by” federal and local governments.
We asked Rep. Fant about the Speaker’s dispensation toward Jacksonville pushing for resources, given the tensions regarding Fant’s positions on Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, incentive programs the Speaker and allied vigorously worked to scuttle.
“Legislators may disagree on legislation,” Fant said, but all are “still teammates,” especially in light of the “catastrophic” Irma.
Notable: the Florida Times-Union had two reporters on hand, but ultimately saw little of reportable value in the event.
Did prophets see Irma coming?
We’re not sure if the Duval Delegation agrees with Rep. Kim Daniels about whether prophets saw Irma coming as a manifestation of God’s will. We didn’t have the heart to ask them.
“Nothing happens except God reveal it to prophets first,” Daniels observed as the death-dealing superstorm enveloped the peninsula.
We asked Daniels about these comments. To sum, she stands by the claim.
“I wouldn’t post it on Facebook if I didn’t believe it,” Daniels said, feet away from where a massive relief fund was being rolled out for the storm she said prophets knew would happen.
Her musings are “for spiritually-minded people,” Daniels said, “and you can’t explain spiritual things to carnally-minded people … And I’m sure you won’t understand it.”
We asked Daniels why God would want Irma to hit Florida.
Her response: “You pray and ask God that.”
It was easy to lose track of Northeast Florida political fundraising during Irma’s Hell Week; however, we have you covered.
In fundraising for local 2019 races, Jacksonville City Council candidate Matt Carlucci again outclassed the field; of course, he will be taking a break the next couple of months, dealing with Irma claims in his capacity as a State Farm agent.
Though not a declared candidate yet for re-election, Sheriff Mike Williams’ committee is now over $100K cash-on-hand … with the bail bonds industry offering an assist.
In other committee news, Curry’s committee hauled in nearly a quarter-million dollars in August … and in the process, he paid back Jags’ owner Shad Khan for travel to three cities’ sports districts for eco dev ideas for the Shipyards.
And on the state level, committees for Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Paul Renner likewise had strong hauls. Attorney General candidate Fant struggled, while the man who hopes to replace him in HD 15 — lawyer Wyman Duggan — had a respectable first month of fundraising.
Irma may cost Jax more than Matthew did
Jacksonville’s Chief Administrative Officer, Sam Mousa, was the first local official to give even a rough estimate of local budget impacts from Irma.
They won’t be pretty.
“We’re just beginning the recovery,” Mousa said, noting that damage could be “equal or a bit more than Hurricane Matthew.”
Matthew cost the city $50M in general fund costs, and the city is still out $27M of unreimbursed FEMA costs; Mayor Curry said earlier this summer that the city could handle a Matthew-sized hit to the general fund, though it is uncertain what choices a “bit more” costs would require.
Worth noting: the city estimated, in the wake of Matthew, costs could be up to $100M; that estimate turned out — luckily for the city, given FEMA’s slow reimbursement — to be high.
“We’re still trying to get our arms around infrastructure damage,” Mousa said.
Curry still committed to kids’ program reforms
Of late, Jacksonville’s City Council committees have deferred Curry’s “Kids Hope Alliance” proposal.
But the bill isn’t dead, the mayor says. Rather, it’s being tweaked.
Curry called the Kids Hope Alliance bill “real reform,” saying “I will see it through to the end.”
“I’m not going weak on this,” he added.
Regarding discussion among some legislators that significant changes are needed to the bill to make it palatable, Curry stood his ground, saying the aftermath of Hurricane Irma led to a temporary pause in the reform push.
“I met with experts,” Curry said, “tweaking it. But the delay right now is storm-related.”
“Once we get through this hurricane stuff,” he added, “you’ll see the final bill and a discussion in city council in the near term.”
We asked if the entire seven-person board would be comprised of Mayoral appointees, as was the case in the originally filed legislation.
“I don’t want to speak to the final product until we get there,” Curry said, “but I think you’ll see that it accomplishes the intent that I said needs to be accomplished.”
Jacksonville got national coverage last week for massive flooding in downtown and beyond; while that had the benefit of getting Curry and various local journos into the national spotlight, that came at the potential expense of Jacksonville’s reputation for resilience.
In the Jax Daily Record, veteran journalist Karen Mathis asserts that “efficient recovery” involves getting the business community back on its feet — and that it needs to happen soon … and be messaged.
“Companies that want to expand and create jobs want to know that when disaster strikes, they will be able to quickly resume business and continue their payrolls, which is what their employees want, too,” Mathis writes.
“While Florida, Jacksonville and other cities are moving to reconnect people with access to their daily routines, media headlines might not relay that message nationally,” Mathis adds.
The words “safe at home” had a new meaning in the wake of Hurricane Irma, as one Northwest Jacksonville apartment complex instituted a curfew.
Moncrief Road’s Washington Heights dropped a curfew over the weekend; the goal, “safety” in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Per Action News Jax, the curfew is somehow controversial with residents who had aversions to being locked in their houses past 8 p.m. every evening.
Washington Heights is one of a few Jacksonville complexes owned by Millennia Housing Management: the company took over the reins from troubled Global Ministries Foundation, which didn’t commit capital to physical improvements at complexes it owned around town (indeed, throughout the South).
In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, JEA faced opprobrium over sewage spills. Despite reinforcing its generator fleet, power failed at some locations in Hurricane Irma — and sludge seeped out onto Jacksonville streets.
First Coast News reports that “there were 57 known pollution incidents in Jacksonville during Hurricane Irma. More than 1.5 million gallons of sewage and wastewater was released out into the environment.”
FCN visited spills at a couple of locations, describing “a green, glistening stew of waste floating in the water of the creek and nearby roadside ditches” at one place near Fisher Creek on the Westside.
Jacksonville Councilman Bill Gulliford told us that sewage spills were one point of contention he had with the utility during this storm, in a wide-ranging interview that seemed to suggest JEA could use a different CEO.
When given a chance Monday to make critiques to JEA’s CEO at Council, Gulliford avoided this rhetoric; instead, he cast aspersions at an unnamed colleague, who allegedly gave a code for a Council-only conference call that wasn’t intended to be heard by media to a member of the press.
Meanwhile, Curry — when asked — sidestepped the question of whether JEA Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Paul McElroy deserves a bonus this year.
“Now is not the time” for such a discussion, he said.
Curry urges JEA to improve customer communications and to develop a plan to that end.
What Aaron Bean is up to next week
On Tuesday, Sept. 26, state Sen. Bean of Fernandina Beach will participate in the Leadership Nassau Youth Opening Day Lunch and speak with participants about the importance of leadership and public service. The event begins 11:30 a.m. at the FSCJ Nassau Center, 76346 William Burgess Boulevard in Yulee.
One Spark flickers out for this year
Hurricane Irma is to blame for One Spark being pushed back until next year, WJCT reports.
The festival will be held at EverBank Field in April.
“We have received dozens of requests from applicants who have been impacted for extensions and help,” said One Spark Ventures President Chris Carter.
“Right now, we want to be respectful and mindful of our community and the hardships they face by allowing people the time they need to focus on their homes and families first,” Carter added.
One Spark has been in a gradual process of being scaled back in recent years; the hope is that in 2018 and beyond, the event will break-even.
No charges for Vernell Bing Jr. killer
Jacksonville activists sought charges in the police-involved shooting of Vernell Bing, Jr. — However, a year and a half after Bing’s death, those charges won’t come to pass, First Coast News reports.
The lawyer representing Bing’s family notes that civil charges are likely, however.
“While I’m sure folks are going to be very disappointed, very frustrated, that there is another criminal case of a police shooting of a young black man on the streets of Jacksonville, I can tell you we intend — if they didn’t criminally — we intend to hold him accountable civilly,” the lawyer said.
Likely, State Attorney Melissa Nelson will get pushback from local activists, but not the kind that will hurt her appreciably in a re-election bid.
For her part, Nelson noted that “we have conducted a thorough review of this shooting incident and determined the shooting was justified under applicable Florida law. We have established new protocols for both how we review officer-involved shootings and how we report our findings to the public. These new rules include the creation of an officer-involved shooting review team comprising investigators and prosecutors, who collectively, have more than 350 years of experience; the release of a comprehensive report detailing our analyses; and the simultaneous release of all relevant public records. These steps are taken to ensure accuracy in our findings and transparency in our work. This is the type of commitment the public expects and the type this office will maintain for years to come.”
Nelson has developed a pattern of messaging around controversial cases with an exhaustive amount of detail; this is no exception.
Shad Khan makes Forbes list of ‘best business minds’
Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan was named one of The World’s 100 Greatest Living Business Minds by Forbes magazine. The magazine compiled the list for a special Centennial issue, which includes Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk.
“My business goals have been consistent with my personal goals, and that’s to be distinctive and not only be unafraid of doing difficult things but commit to doing those things well so they can inspire others and make a difference in the lives of everyone,” Khan is quoted in the piece.
In addition to owning the Jaguars, Khan is CEO of auto-parts supplier Flex-N-Gate Corp., owns London’s Fulham Football Club and the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto.
Khan bought the Jaguars in 2012 for $770 million, and according to Forbes, the club is now worth over $2 billion.
Jax Zoo Manatee Critical-Care Center welcomes first patients
Two manatees became the first patients at the new Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens $2 million Critical Care Center.
Dahlia Ghabor of the Jacksonville Business Journal reports: “Cassie and Buckeye weighed only 66 and 63 pounds when they were rescued. Now, Cassie is at 775 pounds and Buckeye at 625. The manatees will remain at the Jacksonville care center to continue their critical weight gain and monitoring until they are ready to be released in the winter.”
While the Center — one of four in the state — is not an actual zoo exhibit, visitors can view the recovery pool, which is adjacent to the Wild Florida exhibit.
Craig Miller, the Zoo’s curator of mammals and chair of the Manatee Rescue Rehabilitation Partnership and leader of the zoo’s Marine Mammal Response Team, tells the TBJ that the facility will help reduce transport time for injured manatees back to warm water release sites.
“I get the sense from talking to guests that the community is pretty excited about this, because it’s something in their backyard,” Miller said. “We’re pretty excited about being able to help these wild animals. That’s what it’s all about for so many of us in this field.”
Armada suffer historic collapse in 3-3 draw vs New York
For most of the match in Brooklyn Sunday night, the Jacksonville Armada FC seemed sure of taking home three points Sunday. But the New York Cosmos made a surprising comeback to force a 3-3 draw at MCU Park. It matched the Cosmos biggest comeback in the modern NASL history — New York came back from 3 goals down Aug. 8, 2015, to draw Fort Lauderdale 3-3 in South Florida.
A trio of moves led to the first goal in the 13th minute. Jack Blake launched a corner kick toward the front of the goal and Kalen Ryden headed it straight to Ciarán Kilduff, who gave the Armada FC a 1-0 lead.
Kilduff earned a brace in the 41st minute with his second goal of the night. Kilduff stole the ball from New York’s Danny Szetela and made a mazy run toward the goal, poking the ball past goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck for the second goal of the night.
New York was unable to capitalize on their limited opportunities and left the field trailing by two at halftime.
The second half began with back and forth action, but neither side found a goal until 20 minutes in. Zach Steinberger earned a penalty kick after going down inside the box, and Blake stepped up to the spot. He struck the ball past Zobeck for his eighth goal of the year — another new franchise record for the Armada FC.
The 3-0 lead for the Armada was short-lived, however.
The Cosmos’ Javi Márquez was first to chip away at Jacksonville’s lead. He cut the deficit by one for New York in the 79th minute after beating the Armada defense and slotting a shot home for a goal.
Ten minutes later, Ayoze tracked down a ball in the corner to keep it in play. Then he crossed it over to Eugene Starikov who headed it in just barely over goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell’s fingers. Entering second-half stoppage time, the Armada were handing on for dear life and eventually conceded.
In the final minute of the match, Juan Guerra took a shot just inside the 18-yard box to curl it into the back post and equalize the score.
Although leaving New York with a disappointing draw, the Jacksonville Armada remains one point above the Cosmos in the Fall Season and in fourth place in the combined standings, a position for a postseason slot in the Championship.
The Armada will now return home for two matches at Hodges Stadium. First, the team will face the Spring Champions, the Miami FC, Sunday, Sept. 24. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. and the club will also honor First Responders at the match. Then, the rescheduled match with Indy Eleven will take place Wednesday, Sept. 27, at 8 p.m. The Armada have not played a home match this month due to Hurricane Irma’s impact on First Coast.