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Jacksonville Bold for 4.21.17 — Political capital, boldfaced

Is there a politician in Florida right now on more of a hot streak than Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry?

This issue of Bold tells the tale.

Curry’s pension reform appears to be on a glide path toward ratification — a major accomplishment.

His moves toward downtown revitalization have a major shot in the arm, with Shad Khan getting the green light to go forward with Shipyards redevelopment.

And he is still in the CFO discussion — bigly.

It is a political season where everyone in Tallahassee looks a bit more diminished with each passing news cycle.

Yet, Curry — vilified as a “party boss” during the campaign two years ago — is looking like the embodiment of leadership.

At 70 percent in an internal poll (and above 60 percent of Democrats), the question has to be raised: Is Jacksonville enough for Curry, or is it time for him to make a play for something statewide?

Pension reform a done deal … almost

It appears that the long and winding path toward comprehensive pension reform in Jacksonville has all but completed after the Jacksonville City Council “committee of the whole” voted to recommend 14 pension reform bills to the full Council Monday.

Lenny Curry sells pension reform to the press corps.

What this means: all that’s left for the body to do is vote once more for the bills they approved in committee.

Of the bills, 11 ratify collective bargaining agreements. One authorizes the ½ penny sales tax extension, which provides actuarial certainty that there will be money to pay down and eventually pay off the city’s $2.8B unfunded pension liability. And two more bills reconfigure the city’s retirement plans.

Existing defined benefit pension plans will close to new entrants. Hires after Oct. 1 will enter defined contribution plans.

Done deal — and maybe the biggest accomplishment of Curry’s political career.

Thus far …

Curry visits Tallahassee, not lobbying for CFO

Curry made his way to Tallahassee this week … but not to buck for the CFO slot.

Curry, who is at 70 percent in a recent internal poll conducted by his political committee, was there advocating for a friend and CEO of a Jacksonville company, reports Tia Mitchell.

“Curry introduced APR Energy Chair and Chief Executive John Campion to Scott and explained the company’s issues, which have tied up $44 million and could cost even more. He asked Scott to reach out to President Donald Trump in hopes of that the president can help bring the yearslong case to resolution,” Mitchell writes.

Lenny Curry, always emphatic.

Turbines owned by APR were rented by an Australian company that went bankrupt, frustrating attempts to retrieve the equipment.

Curry, meanwhile, is willing to have a “conversation” about the CFO position, he told Mitchell.

Does Jacksonville need block grants?

Does the city of Jacksonville need Community Development Block Grants? As an urban city with all kinds of legacy problems, one would think the federal money would come in handy.

But getting Curry to take a position on CDBGs has been a slog.

The city kicked off the beginning of a week of events designed to call attention to the utility of CDBGs with a mayoral proclamation — but with no one authorized to deliver it.

Mayor’s Office MIA at CDBG event, raises questions for one councilman.

TV was there — no worries, they didn’t notice. But there is a school of thought that Curry’s reticence is related to the desire of President Trump to zero out these grants — weekend travel to one’s private clubs isn’t cheap.

Curry’s spokesperson, Marsha Oliver, projected agnosticism on the issue on behalf of her boss.

“As long as the program exists and funds are available, we will utilize them,” Oliver said.

Oliver stressed that the mayor was not taking a position on whether the program should or shouldn’t be in existence; however, as budget discussions loom, Curry’s financial team likely will have to factor in the current uncertainty from the White House.

Aaron Bean is lobbying for CFO

Sen Bean — already filed for re-election to the Senate — is in the mix for the CFO opening that will be created soon.

“My name is in the hat for CFO,” Bean said. He has met with Gov. Rick Scott, who said he would announce the process for selection “after Session ends.”

Bean’s high-five game is on fleek, but will that get him CFO?

Bean is part of a crowded field of candidates, which includes Curry and Pat Neal, who has been touted by statewide political media as a strong candidate for the caretaker role.

Trouble for Paul Renner?

Rep. Renner has made no secret of his desire to be House Speaker in 2022 — and that may be a dealbreaker.

A week after POLITICO Florida reported Renner discussed his speaker’s bid with House Republicans — violating prohibitions against campaigning for the slot — new draft rules may knock him out of the running.

Paul Renner’s back may be against the wall in Speaker race.

Peter Schorsch lays it out.

“According to the latest version of the rules, a caucus member would be ineligible to be nominated if the House Speaker declares the member in violation of House Republican Conference Rules,” Schorsch writes.

Adopted last year, those rules state a “candidate for the office of Republican Leader-designate may not have directly or indirectly solicited or accepted a formal or informal pledge of support before June 30 of the year following the general election which the final members of their legislative class were elected.”

Conference rules go on to say a violation would render that candidate “ineligible to stand for election before the House Republican Conference as either the Republican Leader-designate or the Republican Leader.”

Corrine Brown trial boasts witness star power

Federal court awaits Brown next week, and political watchers will appreciate the star power brought forth to testify on the questionable charity graced by Brown’s name.

Shaking the tip jar? Bad visual for a defendant in a fraud trial.

Among the defense witnesses: Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Rep. Bennie Thompson.

Jacksonville luminaries will also testify, including former Mayor John Delaney.

Testifying for the prosecution: Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel, former Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover, current Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, Jacksonville super-donors John Baker and Ed Burr, Jacksonville lawyer, and one-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Steve Pajcic, and former chair of the Donald Trump campaign in Florida, Susie Wiles.

Testifying for the state: the congresswoman’s daughter, Shantrel Brown and her two alleged co-conspirators: Carla Wiley and former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons. Simmons also is on deck for the defense.

Both Wiley and Simmons have pleaded out, and their sentences are contingent on cooperation with the feds.

Brown faces 22 federal counts, with a possible 357 years in prison and $4.8 million fine if all charges are found valid.

Nikolai Vitti, Motown-bound

The Detroit Free Press reported this week that Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is moving on to the Motor City, wrapping up a tenure that saw Vitti with more buy-in from community “stakeholders” than rank and file.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire: Vitti might miss Jacksonville sooner than later.

Going forward, It looks to be a wild ride for Vitti.

The Free Press reported “jeers” from some audience members, with the objection being that Vitti is not African-American.

And there is a lawsuit challenging the openness of the search process also.

And the teacher’s union wants the interim superintendent kept on as an assistant superintendent.

Vitti’s tagline during this process has been a claim that he has Detroit in his DNA.

There’s still time to order a kit from 23AndMe, doctor.

Meanwhile, the Duval County School Board meets Friday to discuss next steps.

Shad Khan gets greenlit for Shipyards development

The “future of the Shipyards” is in the hands of Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan.

No, it’s not kismet. Rather, it’s the result of Khan’s Iguana Investments emerging as the best of three competitive bids for redevelopment of the Shipyards and Metropolitan Park. Indeed, Iguana’s score of 85.5 was well ahead of the other two hopefuls.

Shad Khan always has incredible concept drawings. How will reality look?

Action News Jax reports that “Khan’s vision for Downtown stays true to his prior ‘Live. Work. Stay. Play’ pitch. His aim is to create an atmosphere around the stadium where the City and Jaguars both benefit. In addition to residential and park space, the plan calls for a luxury hotel that connects to the stadium through a pedestrian tunnel and a pedestrian and bicycle bridge park, similar to the High Line in New York.”

City Council will approve this deal later this spring.

Jax Chamber pushes Players economic impact

The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce ascribes $151M of economic impact from May’s PLAYERS Championship for Northeast Florida.

The Chamber hosted a news conference this week that involved representatives from the PLAYERS and US Assure, and as has been the case previously, all parties discussed the unique economic synergy created by the event.

“The tournament has hosting opportunities for businesses of all sizes and the PLAYERS Club is an excellent way to showcase our community, the tournament, and your company. If you have not already, I would highly suggest reaching out to staff of THE PLAYERS to figure out how they can help your company host clients at this amazing event,” US Assure chief operating officer Ryan Schwartz asserted.

Jax Chamber tees up for TPC again. These pressers are a yearly tradition.

“During May 9-14, Northeast Florida is on an international stage thanks to THE PLAYERS Championship,” Jax Chamber Chair Darnell Smith said. “As a community, we must continue to take advantage of this spectacular tournament and venue to showcase how wonderful this city is and to help grow business here in Northeast Florida.”

Ed Burr, double booked

When it comes to the JEA Board, almost-Chair Burr has left the building, reports the Florida Times-Union.

Ed Burr is a busy man.

“Mayor Lenny Curry appointed Burr, along with other business leaders, to the board in 2015 following a shake-up of the board in the wake of controversy over governance at JEA. Curry reappointed Burr for another term this year, but Burr asked for his name to be withdrawn from reappointment because of continued ambiguity in state law about whether he is a dual officeholder,” Sebastian Kitchen writes.

Burr, chairman of the Jacksonville Civic Council and a Lenny Curry ally, also serves on the FSU Board.

Tom Petway will serve as interim chair until a new chair is formally selected.

March Madness comes to Jacksonville in 2019

The NCAA awarded Jacksonville a Division I Men’s Basketball Regional for 2019. The Florida Times-Union reports it is the fourth time since 2006 that the city has been a part of March Madness.

Jacksonville is the Florida site chosen for an NCAA regional for the next two years. Tampa received a regional for 2020.

“We have worked on this for the past year, and I think our track record from hosting in 2006, 2010 and 2015 spoke for itself,” said Alan Verlander, chief operating officer and executive director of the Jacksonville Sports Council. “We’re very excited to welcome March Madness back to Jacksonville.”

University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium will host the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Track and Field Outdoor Championships in May 2019 and May 2021.

Hoop dreams come true for Dirty Duval again.

“We are thrilled to welcome NCAA Championship events back to Jacksonville,” said Curry. “Our community continues to demonstrate that we are a premiere destination for many of the biggest and brightest sporting events. This is another great opportunity to support and celebrate student-athletes who are competing at the highest level.”

Motivational Speaker Doug Dvorak to give Flagler College commencement

Approximately 358 Flagler University students will get a motivational speech from Doug Dvorak when they receive their diplomas at a commencement ceremony next weekend.

Dvorak, an alum who graduated from Flager with a bachelor’s in business administration in 1984, is the CEO of DMG International, an organization that assists clients with sales, productivity and motivational workshops. His background in sales, leadership and management has allowed him to become one of the world’s most sought-after consultants, lecturers and teachers, and in 2014 he was inducted into the Motivational Speakers Hall of Fame.

Miscellany

JAXPORT now offers expanded service to Asia through Hamburg Süd’s new Asia- North America East Coast rotation. JAXPORT’s Blount Island Marine Terminal serves as the last port of call for the new service offered through the 2M Alliance. Ships in the rotation offer direct service from Jacksonville to Busan in South Korea as well as Qingdao, Xingang, Shanghai and Ningbo in China. SSA Marine furnishes stevedoring services at Blount Island.

UF Health Jacksonville neurology patients needing medical imaging are getting scans much quicker after an in-house, multiple-department efforts have reduced turnaround times. The change brings more efficiency, increased throughput, and improved patient satisfaction. Overall, there was a 52 percent decrease in the number of scans that took more than a day to complete. Data for the study were collected through early 2016.

Jacksonville-based Community Hospice of Northeast Florida has a new name — Community Hospice & Palliative Care. The Florida Times-Union reports the change reflects Community Hospice’s growing line of services and programs. Since 1979, Community Hospice has served the end-of-life needs of patients and families in Northeast Florida. In February it received a certificate of need start offering hospice services to an 11-county region of north and north-central Florida.

Armada FC appoints Marshall Happer as chief operating officer

Coming off a 0-0 draw this week with San Francisco that kept the Armada unbeaten, Kartik Krishnaiyer reports the club has promoted Happer to chief operating officer. Happer was appointed by the North American Soccer League (NASL), which took over ownership of Armada FC in early 2017.

A former NFL executive, Happer helped launch Armada FC, previously serving as the club’s senior vice president of club and team operations. He has been with Jacksonville since it kicked off NASL play in front of a crowd of 16,164 at EverBank Field on April 4, 2015, against FC Edmonton. The Armada beat Edmonton twice to start the 2017 campaign and now picked up a draw against San Francisco.

Armada FC COO Marshall Happer, a former NFL executive, who helped launch Armada FC, previously serving as the club’s senior vice president of club and team operations.

Happer will lead the club’s day-to-day business efforts and manage its front office staff. Under the current ownership landscape, all Armada FC assets have been transferred to the NASL. The Jacksonville Armada FC Youth Academy will continue to operate as a separate nonprofit organization.

“It’s an honor to lead this club and continue to bring high-level soccer and quality entertainment to our loyal fans here in Jacksonville,” Happer said. “The team is off to an undefeated start on the field, the front office is eager to connect with the community in new and exciting ways, and the move to Hodges Stadium — a new facility for us — has been extremely well-received by the Armada FC faithful.”

The Armada’s quick start has raised eyebrows throughout the NASL. The club sits in first place with seven points through three games and has yet to concede a goal. Jacksonville travels to New York to face the defending champion Cosmos on Saturday at 7 p.m. The game can be seen live on beIN SPORTS USA nationally.

 

With federal block grants in question, Lenny Curry admin watches and waits

The press releases promoting Jacksonville’s celebration of National Community Development Week are similar between 2015 and 2017.

Both the 2015 and 2017 versions discuss how much money Duval County has derived from federal Community Development Block Grants.

This year’s model says that the city has derived $393M from CDBGs since 1975; the 2015 iteration said it was just $388M.

Both versions also promise a week of events.

However, there’s one key difference between 2015 and 2017: the principals involved, and the political context of CDBGs.

In 2015, Democratic President Barack Obama was cruising toward the end of his second term, and Democratic Mayor Alvin Brown didn’t have to worry about Obama eliminating these grants.

Business as usual.

In 2017, Republican President Donald Trump eliminated CDBGs in his “skinny budget.” And Republican Mayor Lenny Curry, who has bet chunks of his political capital on building a relationship with the Trump White House, signaled his first meaningful break from the Trump Administration by participating in National Community Development Week.

In that Trumpian context, block grants are more of a political hot potato.

And thus this event, anodyne in other years, proved to have a more compelling 2017 narrative.

City employees on hand were surprised when this outlet mentioned that no one from the mayor’s office planned to be in attendance. Others were surprised when the expected proclamation from the mayor’s office wasn’t delivered.

“We do have a proclamation,” a speaker said, “but we don’t have anyone from the mayor’s office.”

[In a phone conversation later on Monday, Curry’s spokeswoman Marsha Oliver noted that other city employees were on hand and that the proclamation could have been delivered.]

LaCree Carswell, the manager of the Housing and Community Development Division, said it bluntly when she said “these funds are on the chopping block.”

Carswell said that the $17M in CDBG money the city gets yearly is “used wisely,” with the annual event in a building on a HBCU that was constructed with CDBG money being an example.

Among the allocations funded with block grants at the so-called “Community of Hope” center: an elder-health literacy program … something essential for those in one of Jacksonville’s most economically-challenged communities.

Politicians were on hand — but they were all Democrats.

Former State Sen. Tony Hill, speaking on behalf of Rep. Al Lawson, noted that Lawson told HUD Secretary Ben Carson not to cut this program.

“We need to have it and we need more of it,” Hill said.

Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis emphasized the importance of the center, as it fulfills three goals of CDBGs: benefiting low and moderate income people; mitigating blight; and promoting health and welfare.

“Whatever I need to do,” was Dennis’ commitment to those on hand.

The City Council “will do what we can to advocate for more funds,” Dennis added.

Dennis, when asked after the event about the absence of representation from the Mayor’s Office, said “maybe it missed someone’s calendar … I’m not sure.”

However, Dennis added, “I plan on following up.”

“Him not being here doesn’t signal good or bad for this project. Why wouldn’t he want federal money coming to Jacksonville,” Dennis continued.

That said, “anytime the mayor uses the bully pulpit on an issue, it helps. Whether it’s pension, CDBG funding, homeless, whenever the mayor comes out, it really makes a statement. In no way do I think he’s avoiding CDBG or is scared to challenge Trump,” Dennis added.

We asked the mayor’s office for a statement. It was brief.

“As long as the program exists and funds are available, we will utilize them,” Oliver said.

Oliver stressed that the mayor was not taking a position on whether the program should or shouldn’t be in existence; however, as budget discussions loom, Curry’s financial team likely will have to factor in the current uncertainty from the White House.

Charles Moreland of the Mayor’s Office is expected to be at a Wednesday afternoon event, which runs opposite the Jacksonville City Council discussing his pension reform legislation.

Jacksonville Bold for 4.14.17 — My city was gone

Does Al Lawson ‘get’ Jacksonville?

Questions still remain as to whether Congressman Lawson understands Jacksonville, as his visits to the Jacksonville City Council Tuesday, and town hall Wednesday indicate.

On Tuesday, one could sense among certain council members (specifically, those representing districts that overlap Lawson’s) a grating irritation over Lawson’s constant use of Eureka Garden Apartments as a stand-in for All Things Jacksonville

Councilwoman Katrina Brown (a Corrine Brown ally) asked about community development block grants and pointedly noted that Lawson had yet to visit her district.

Wednesday’s town hall saw had no elected Jacksonville officials in attendance; a point perhaps less meaningful if Lawson demonstrated an understanding of local issues.

Instead, he wasn’t able to.

Discussions of an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site in Fairfax and the city’s participation in the federal National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) program revealed a fundamental ignorance of local issues.

NBD. Only the biggest city in the district.

Lawson, when asked about his Jacksonville disconnect, noted that there are lots of “city commissions” in his district. While true, that is also tone-deaf, especially with a lot of locals looking at Florida’s 5th Congressional District and seeing it as a Jacksonville seat.

Lots of Jacksonville folks wanted to run Corrine Brown out of town on a rail.

“Oh, the corruption,” they said. “She’s such an embarrassment,” they said. “Go Gata,” they quipped — as Corrine Brown served as a punching bag for white liberals and conservatives who didn’t understand how instrumental she was to the local appropriations process.

Lawson, when asked, couldn’t even name a local appropriation he is championing.

CD 5 was a Jacksonville seat. Now it’s a Tallahassee seat.

Lawson is pushing 70 and has been at this for over a year, counting the campaign; he has five minutes worth of talking points for a city of a million people.

Issues Lawson faces … a lack of both seniority and local connections.

2018 will get real. And the Corrine Brown machine will reconfigure, even without her.

Like a Transformer, there is more than meets the eye.

Will the Corrine Brown machine reassemble with a different face? Time will tell.

After a troubled 2016, will the Corrine Brown machine transform? And if so, into what?

The 43-year plan takes center stage

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is, more than likely, less than two weeks away from knowing if his pension reform plan will be approved by the City Council.

The projections look to be finalized after a Wednesday meeting, which incorporated new numbers from a Monday impact statement from the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund.

Its actuaries thought the plan was too optimistic in assumptions regarding both payroll growth and sales tax revenue, speculating that even after the proposed sunset of Jacksonville’s halfpenny tax in 2060, the $2.8B unfunded liability for the defined benefit pension plans that would be closed this year still would not be resolved.

The big news was the downward impact of adjustments to payroll growth projections and COLA calculations after Monday’s meeting of the Police and Fire Pension Fund.

“We still save a lot. But we save less,” was how Jacksonville’s CFO, Mike Weinstein, described the impacts of $13M of tweaks that would hit the process for FY 2018.

Though some council members, especially those in Districts 7-10, seek commitments for allocations funded by the budget relief provided by the pension reform plan, most see the mechanism as a “tool in the toolbox.”

The discretionary sales tax: not a magic bullet, but part of a larger arsenal.

That’s the sales pitch, and the administration can get at least 13 votes with it.

Interesting tweet of the week:

Ben Carson talks HUD reform

In Jacksonville with Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Lawson, HUD Secretary Ben Carson discussed his plans for HUD reform.

Carson’s meandering rhetoric (at one point, he discussed external malefactors wanting to “destroy” America) didn’t always jibe with what one might expect from HUD secretaries of the past.

But his reform proposals are worth noting, including “housing savings accounts,” which would (in theory) allow HUD residents to save money for incidental repairs or for down payments on their own homes.

Carson sent mixed signals about allocations, hinting that a large portion of Trump’s proposed $1T infrastructure infusion would go to HUD projects.

Meanwhile, he also outlined the importance of public-private partnerships in terms of HUD construction and rehab.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson and Sen. Marco Rubio share a laugh during a Jacksonville visit this week.

CBN lauds Kim Daniels for school prayer bill

State Rep. Kim Daniels got Hosannas recently from the Christian Broadcasting Network for her “big win for prayer,” via HB 303 — a measure she introduced to the Florida House to permit religious expression in public schools.

CBN notes that her testimony has been featured previously on the 700 Club.

In a session where the diminished clout of the Duval Delegation has been a depressing leitmotif for local political watchers, Daniels’ bill (poised to become law once signed by Gov. Rick Scott) is a high-profile success.

Kim Daniels, sponsor of HB 303, the religious expression bill that was one of the few successes from the Duval Legislative Delegation in 2017.

Jason Fischer extols Session accomplishments

In an email to constituents, state Rep. Fischer offers a “glimpse of what we’ve accomplished in Tallahassee so far this session.”

Among the accomplishments Fischer cites: “HB-65 Civil Remedies for Terrorism, unanimously passed the House floor … HB-245 Self-Defense Immunity passed the House floor … HB-969 Pregnancy Support and Wellness Services passed the House floor.”

Beyond these measures, Fischer also thanked the Florida Association of Sheriffs for backing his “HJR-721, Selection and Duties of County Sheriff.”

The resolution proposes an amendment to the state constitution that would require the constitutional officer of sheriff be an elected position, Fischer notes.

In a recent email to constituents, State Rep. Jason Fischer gives a brief glimpse of Duval Delegation accomplishments for 2017 Session.

NE Florida legislators roll out March fundraising

Some mild surprises in fundraising reports from members of the First Coast Legislative Delegation emerged in March.

Sens. Keith Perry and Audrey Gibson led the field. Perry was a ham sandwich away from a $30,000 March, and already has $102K to defend his competitive Gainesville seat. Gibson (also chair of the Duval Democrats) broke the $20,000 barrier; she will face no competition for re-election.

Meanwhile, the political committee of Rep. Jay Fant (“Pledge This Day”) raised $54K of establishment Jacksonville money. Fant, described by many as persona non grata in the House after bucking Speaker Richard Corcoran on incentive voters, is still looking at a run for Attorney General.

Those with long-term memories will remember that, in October, Fant ran against a write-in for re-election to the Florida House … and burned through $70K on advertising designed to drive name identification up.

Could he use that money now?

Jay Fant showing off his glad-handing talents.

It will take more than ambidextrous handshaking to get Jay Fant to the next level.

Osteopaths name Aaron Bean Legislator of the Year

The Florida Osteopathic Medical Association announced this week that Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Bean is its 2017 Legislator of the Year.

FOMA said the annual award goes to a lawmaker that has proved their support for osteopathic medicine and the delivery of quality health care to the citizens of Florida.

“I am beyond honored to be FOMA’s 2017 Legislator of the Year,” Bean said. “As a longtime advocate for health care issues and a former chair of the Senate Health Policy Committee, I understand how important it is to be constantly working to improve our health care and adopt treatment, prevention and alleviation advancements that benefit all Floridians.”

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams fingered “activist” Gary Snow as a catalyst for the near-riot at Hemming Park last week.

Jax Sheriff: Gary Snow ‘catalyst’ of Hemming Park melee

What happens when someone working a pro-police gimmick gets tagged, by the sheriff no less, as being a “catalyst” of a riot?

This is what happened to Gary Snow, a Rust Belt transplant who moved to Jacksonville last year and was immediately cradled to the bosom of the local GOP.

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams told us Tuesday that Snow, in fact, was a “catalyst” of the melee in Hemming Park between protesters and police — and the JSO is reviewing video of the event, as well as its procedures.

“That event Friday — he clearly was a catalyst” for the violence that occurred, Williams said.

“We had dozens and dozens of protests in Jacksonville, peacefully. We’ve got a great working relationship with the Progressive Coalition and many other groups in that protest.”

With another protest slated for April 15, it will be interesting to see the short-term and long-term procedural changes with regard to managing protests and the counter-protester, whose actions “catalyzed” what is sure to be numerous lawsuits and news cycles to come.

Curry talks Journey to One

Though Duval County is now down to 55th among Florida’s 67 counties, Curry is still pushing the city toward a “Journey to One.”

That #1 spot is held by St. Johns County.

Jacksonville residents, reports WJXT, lost 75,000 pounds last year in response to Curry’s challenge to the city to lose a million pounds; 3,900 locals participated in the mayor’s challenge.

“I am here today to support this, to remain committed to it,” Curry said. “While I am very good at the daily exercise I will tell you, the daily diet continues to be a fight and struggle, but I’m accountable knowing that we are all in this together.

Lenny Curry taking stock in Jacksonville’s physical and fiscal health.

Springfield Overlay controversy grinds on

Springfield residents continue to resist changing their zoning category to allow a 12-unit residential facility for the disabled and the chronically homeless.

There are a number of bills related to zoning changes and to financial settlements with the federal government, Disability Rights Florida, and Ability Housing that keeps getting deferred by the Jacksonville City Council. And a Monday public notice meeting offered little that looked like resolution.

Community activists and advocates won the battle, challenging all manner of zoning changes, with the backup of certain council members who objected to the zoning change legislation.

More meetings will follow, says Land Use and Zoning Chairman Danny Becton. But given the realities of pension reform, they won’t be anytime soon.

Appointed — Sara Gaver to the Florida Rehabilitation Council.

AppointedChristopher Joson as Special Officer of CSX Transportation.

Spotted — Marty Fiorentino at Omarosa Manigault‘s wedding and reception in Washington, D.C. at Trump International Hotel. She married pastor John Allen Newman. Also in attendance were Kent and Ashley Justice, Eric and April Green, and Cantrece Jones. Jacksonville’s Bishop Rudolph McKissick, Jr. and Bishop John E. Guns served in the wedding.

Avalanche coming

More jobs may be coming to Jacksonville, reports WOKV.

“An economic incentives agreement filed for City Council consideration as ‘Project Avalanche’ says a health care information technology services business that already exists in Jacksonville is considering three cities for its expansion. They say the incentives are a ‘material factor’ for whether to choose Jacksonville,” WOKV says.

Jacksonville leaders have sounded the alarm for economic incentives, including passing a City Council resolution in support of Enterprise Florida this week.

The company, located in Southeast Jacksonville, seeks a $1.25M QTI grant. The company, unnamed as a condition of negotiations, has 300 employees — and would add 250 more.

Important, as Jacksonville reels from the massive cuts to the CSX workforce.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao taps Fiorentino as senior ports adviser

Addressing an American Association of Port Authorities event in Washington last week, POLITICO Florida reports that Chao announced Fiorentino, former chairman of the Jacksonville Port Authority, is serving as her senior adviser on ports. “We are less than two months old in this new administration, and I so desperately needed veterans and experts,” Chao told the gathering of port officials. “So please be assured that you have someone, your advocate, in the office of the secretary.”

JAXPORT honored for auto excellence

JAXPORT announced last Thursday that it picked up an award for auto excellence from Automotive Global Awards North America.

The 2017 Terminals and Ports Operator award recognizes the port for its collaboration with auto processors and ocean carriers and was presented at a ceremony in New Orleans.

More than 600,000 vehicles moved through JAXPORT during the 2016 fiscal year, and the port is home to three major auto processors which offer processing facilities as close as 100 yards from ship berths.

Jacksonville Armada FC topped NASL standings after a 1-0 victory against FC Edmonton Saturday night. The second-straight win leaves Armada FC undefeated. (Photo via Armada)

Kartik Krishnaiyer’s Armada recap

The Jacksonville Armada FC are off to a flying start — one that’s caught Armada fans and NASL watchers off guard. The club under Mark Lowery has beaten Edmonton in successive weeks by back-to-back 1-0 scorelines to race out to the top of the NASL table. The surprising start for the Armada puts the club in early contention for the most surprising team in any U.S.-based professional soccer league.

The Armada made quick work of the Eddies in Alberta on Saturday, recording the winning goal in the eighth minute. After an aggressive start, Jacksonville won a corner. Playing a short corner to  Zach Steinberger who was positioned at the corner of the area, resulted in a clean finish from the Armada midfielder into the bottom left corner.

Edmonton appeared shellshocked and didn’t really push the issue with the exception of an 18th-minute chance until the second half. In that second half though the Eddies pushed forward with numbers, creating several chances and half chances. Caleb Patterson-Sewell, the Armada goalkeeper, kept a second successive clean sheet, making four saves in the process.

“They put a lot of pressure on us in the second half,” said head coach Lowry, “but I’m a big believer that you have to stick to your principles. Our principles are trying to play, trying to pass the ball, and trying to build out from the back. Edmonton made it very tough for us to do that tonight but we stuck to it. If you stick to your principles, you get the reward.”

The Armada will test its fast start against the San Francisco Deltas at Hodges Stadium Saturday. Kickoff is 7 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally on beIN Sports.

Jacksonville Bold for 4.7.17 — See you at the crossroads

You may notice a running theme with this issue of Bold: much of it deals with crossroads situations (to borrow a phrase from 90s rappers Bone Thugs-N-Harmony).

Will the city dredge JAXPORT? Or will years of deliberation and consternation lead — as they so often do — to nothing?

Will Corrine Brown beat the rap on the One Door charges? Or will we see her in orange — delighting those outside the process, who see her as a caricature, much more than those who got to know and have worked with her over the years?

Will Lenny Curry sell his pension reform deal? If so, what will victory look like? And what happens to the mayor’s messaging, as the Alvin Brown era recedes further into the memory hole with each passing news cycle?

Will the city’s budgets stabilize?

Moving beyond the current issue, questions linger about what happens with Jacksonville in D.C.

Our local lobby presence is strong — but are both members of congress getting in appropriations requests for long-deferred infrastructural upgrades?

Does Curry manage to cash in on stumping for Trump?

Never mind other questions — like who the next city council president will be.

So many questions, and time will resolve them all.

Corrine delivers

Former U.S. Rep. Brown will spend a couple of weeks at the Jacksonville federal courthouse, the last live defendant in the One Door for Education case.

Wednesday’s status conference revealed the contours of the case. Both the state and Brown’s defense team will need about a week each to make their case in the trial starting April 24.

After a two-day jury selection process, the actual trial will start April 26.

Expect a couple of sitting members of Congress to testify on Brown’s behalf.

However, once the trial starts, don’t expect her to talk to the press.

“The one thing she respects is authority,” her lawyer said after the hearing.

An enterprising story

If Jacksonville had a statewide stroke, the fate of Enterprise Florida would not be an issue.

Yet another week saw city leaders preaching the gospel of incentives; this time, at a roundtable event at Florida State College Jacksonville.

Being Scott’s fourth visit to Jacksonville in a month (with a trip to Orange Park thrown in, making five for Northeast Florida), nothing really new was to be said.

Wednesday saw a Jacksonville City Council committee unanimously approve a resolution in support of Enterprise Florida.

While city leaders aren’t always pragmatic, most know full well Jacksonville needs incentives more acutely than other major cities in the state.

Hogan knows best

In 2015, Mike Hogan defeated current Jacksonville State Rep. Tracie Davis to become Duval County Supervisor of Elections. And two years later, Hogan is still throwing salt in Davis’ game.

Exhibit A from Tia Mitchell: Hogan lobbying Sen. Aaron Bean to water down a voting access bill.

In a Senate committee this week, a Bean amendment neatly eviscerated the intent of the bill, by allowing SOEs to opt out.

“Early voting being a project that I literally made my own while I was there, I’m very disappointed that Duval County was the only county today making a request to opt out,” Davis (a former deputy SOE) said.

The House version lacks an opt-out clause.

The waiting game

Jacksonville City Council Rules Chair Garrett Dennis is a Democrat on a majority GOP council. Faced with a loss on a controversial commission appointee, Mike Anania, Dennis had a novel solution Tuesday in Rules.

He ran out the clock.

The vote appeared to be headed toward a 4-3 party line split in favor of moving the abrasive Anania through the committee — his third vote by the body.

However, there is a rule this year by the committee: a 3:15 “hard stop,” to facilitate the special committee.

Anania’s appointment was the last item requiring a vote, and a meandering procedural discussion about whether there could be a truncated, quasi-probationary three-year term ate up some time.

Though the Republicans on council groused, wanting a vote, Dennis noticed the clock — and adjourned the committee, with Anania and the chair of the local GOP in the crowd.

The next day, Dennis was ready to outline his case to the Finance Committee — however, Anania withdrew his nomination, in a stunner of a move that, because it happened in committees, won’t go any farther than chatter among the city’s political junkies.

Jacksonville, Liberty Counsel spar over HRO judge

The Liberty Counsel wants Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance expansion (the city has LGBT rights now) thrown out.

They filed a case — and the judge’s mother is a prominent anti-HRO activist, one who was on a corporate board with Roger Gannam, the Liberty Counsel’s lawyer.

For the Office of General Counsel, that’s problematic — impeaching the credibility of Judge Adrian Soud.

The Liberty Counsel, meanwhile, asserts that there is no conflict of interest that would require the judge to be disqualified — and that the city’s claim is specious, desperate and untimely.

The city, meanwhile, thought the judge would recuse himself. But that didn’t happen, and the beat goes on.

Local preacher takes wedding on the road

Tough break for Rev. John Allen Newman. He wanted to marry reality show star/presidential aide Omarosa Manigault in his Jacksonville church — yet threats raised “security concerns.”

So Newman and Manigault are slated to get married in DC this weekend.

There are upsides to that, the Florida Times-Union reports.

For one, a White House rehearsal dinner.

And for another, a special surprise guest walking Manigault down the aisle.

Newman, arguably one of the most professorial Jacksonville pastors, likely never expected a wedding in the White House of the most bombastic occupant since Lyndon Johnson.

But politics makes strange bedfellows. And, by all accounts, the soon-to-be-newlyweds are headed for connubial bliss — with a yuuuge wedding ceremony in the nation’s capital.

Fanatics gets Majestic

Another audacious acquisition this week for sports merchandising colossus Fanatics.

Fanatics bought VF Corp.’s Licensed Sports Group — which includes the Tampa-based Majestic Athletics, the official Major League Baseball uniform provider until 2020.

Fanatics’ model involves acquiring licensing, often in collaboration with major sports leagues and collegiate conferences, and then aggressively promoting the product by dominating SEO and PPC.

Not bad for a company started in the 1990s as a retail store selling “Jagwire” gear in the Orange Park Mall.

JU professor finishes Jeopardy! run after two wins

Jacksonville University English professor Julie Brannon came up short on Final Jeopardy! Thursday, but she said she has no regrets about the way things turned out.

Brannon was the victor in two episodes of the show, with winnings totaling $47,000, but opponents out-wagered her Thursday, even though she had the right answer to the final question.

“I just threw down a number when I should have bet everything, but then I started second-guessing myself and that’s all she wrote,” Brannon said.

Brannon’s had to keep quiet about how her stint on the show went down, but now that her final episode has aired, Brannon is expecting a big check to arrive.

“They send them out after the final air date, so I’m not sure when I’m going to get them. I can’t spend it just yet,” she said.

JAXPORT gets new liquefied natural gas tanks

JAXPORT is now home to a pair of 260-ton cryogenic LNG tanks, thanks to the Crowley Maritime Corporation’s new shore-side fueling facility.

The massive tanks made it to Jacksonville on a vessel from Hamburg, Germany, and it took a special 26-axle trailer to get them to their permanent spot at the Talleyrand Marine Terminal.

The tanks will be used to provide a greener way to fuel up Crowley’s “Commitment Class” ships under construction for the Puerto Rico trade lane.

United Airlines chief talks global aviation at JU

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz will stop by the Jacksonville University business school next week to give a talk on the “Changing Global Dynamic Commercial Aviation.”

Munoz, the former president and chief operating officer of CSX Corp., has served in various financial and strategic positions at major brands such as Coca-Cola and AT&T. The talk is April 13 at noon at the Davis College of Business. It is open to the public.

Jumbo Shrimp look to make a big splash at Home Opener

When team owner Ken Babby decided to explore a new name for Northeast Florida’s Jacksonville Suns minor league baseball franchise, he knew there would be pushback. The decades-old Suns brand was well-known in the community, but Babby’s arrival in Jacksonville and acquisition of the team coincided with a renewed effort to rework and re-energize the city’s Class-AA ball team.

“This is a way for s to differentiate itself,” Babby told Channel 4 News. “We are not trying to be the NFL team in town or any other sports team. We are about affordable family entertainment. And that is what the Jumbo Shrimp are here to do and we are excited about it.”

Now several months beyond the new name — Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp — the energy is expanding far beyond Jacksonville. The team has sold merchandise in all 50 states and internationally to customers in Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, France, Germany, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Babby and fans across the city are eagerly awaiting the Shrimp’s debut April 12 at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. Tickets are available at the Jumbo Shrimp website.

Jacksonville Zoo Conservation Speaker Series

Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens presents its Conservation Speaker Series with Save the Frogs! — a discussion about the amphibian extinction crisis, and current threats facing amphibian populations, and what individuals can do to help. Event is May 11, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. with Michael Starkey, International Campaigns Coordinator and Ecologist, Save the Frogs! Ticket prices: Members, $30; Non-Members, $35; Children, $10. Ticket includes dinner, 1 drink, the presentation and a zoo experience with amphibians.

Jacksonville Zoo Garden and Art Festival

The Zoo’s Annual Garden and Art Festival will be April 22-23 from 10 a.m. — 4 p.m. The two-day event centers around the botanical gardens with a plant, tree, flower and art sale on the Great Lawn. The event is free with Zoo admission and features over 20 garden and art-themed vendors selling their products, plants and consultations. Enjoy live music, and sip on beer and sangria for sale while you shop. The First Coast Plain Art Society artists will also have booths spread out throughout the festival to enjoy. Garden Encounter workshops will occur throughout the day Saturday, and Garden tours will occur throughout the day Sunday.

On Saturday, April 22, Dr. Craig van der Heiden from the Institute for Regional Conservation will be speaking on the importance of native plants and the benefits of restoring gardens with exotics back to native fauna. The program is at 11 a.m. and free with Zoo admission.

Kartik Krishnaiyer’s Armada recap

Coming off a tumultuous offseason where founder Mark Frisch sold the club to the league with the intention of finding a new long-term owner, the Jacksonville Armada opened its 2017 campaign Sunday afternoon. UNF Hodges Stadium is the club’s new home, with a more soccer-friendly atmosphere, albeit one removed from the center of town, compared to the Armada’s former home of the Baseball Grounds.

A crowd of 3,472 fans saw the Armada won its season opener 1-0 against FC Edmonton. J.C. Banks scored the lone goal which gave the club who has finished near the bottom of the table in each of its first two NASL seasons an important victory to open the 2017 NASL campaign. Banks goal which came in the 78th minute was the perfect tonic for the home crowd that was seeing a squad largely made up of new players on a strict budget as the club is being managed by the league.

“I think everybody that got here is pretty hungry,” Banks said. “All the things in the offseason, we know you have to perform to stay in the business.” Neither side had recorded a shot on frame in the first 70 minutes but Banks says that inspired the team and coaching staff to push forward late on. ” Winning games and championships in this league is not always pretty,” Banks said. “With about 30 minutes to go, I turned to our staff and said, ‘There’s three points here. We can win this game.’”

Jacksonville is competing in a largely new-look NASL. Historic rivals Fort Lauderdale and Tampa Bay will not be competing in the league this season with the former taking a year off to reorganize its ownership and the later having shifted to the competing second division USL amid a push to join Orlando City SC in MLS. The Armada, led by Mark Lowery, who is entering his first full season as manager, has had to put together a playing squad in rapid fashion and in an economically efficient manner. The club’s future was uncertain until NASL stepped up and kept the club alive by buying the Armada in January. Lowery and his staff had to put together a squad in a short period — under two months, but the early returns are promising.

The team aspect that Lowery has emphasized was on display late on as repeated Edmonton attacks tested the defensive solidity of the Armada — but Jacksonville held and ran out worthy 1-0 winners.

The Armada play Edmonton again this weekend, in Alberta Saturday. Game time is 9 p.m. ET.

 

FEMA audit of Jacksonville’s post-Matthew spending looms

The city of Jacksonville is girding up for a looming late-April audit of post-Hurricane Matthew spending, much of which could be reimbursed by FEMA.

Reimbursement is contingent on a number of factors, according to a letter from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Jacksonville CAO Sam Mousa.

FEMA requires a lot of detail. Among the asks: costs claimed and the precise accounting; payroll records; accounting and contracting procedures; insurance policies; and an itemized list of contracts.

The city had once estimated $100M in damage, though that estimate moved downward as more information was known.

FEMA would offer 90 percent reimbursement.

Jacksonville Bold 3.31.17 — Too much of a good thing

In a sense, Jacksonville is the cradle of Republicanism.

The city has a politically active Republican mayor.

The City Council: majority Republican.

Republican Governor. Republican Legislature.

What could go wrong? How about the imminent end of the economic boom?

Look at what’s happening to CSX.

Hunter Harrison, 72, was brought in to run the operation, imposing a “Logan’s Run” management style, in which those with real experience were shown the door.

Sure, the company was top-heavy. But the reality is a lot of people are losing a lot of good jobs.

Where will they find new ones?

The job creation events, a staple of the early part of Mayor Lenny Curry’s term, have dried up — a function of corporate unease over imperiled Enterprise Florida.

Their attitude: “if you lack the money, honey, we lack the time.”

Pension reform is a big story — and we’re covering it a few stories below the lede.

But there is an irony that in a city and a state where Republicans maintain control over all levers of power that economic development (flawed though it may be) is even up for discussion.

Lenny Curry, Rick Scott tag team for incentive push

In Jacksonville Wednesday for a “military roundtable” messaging on behalf of Enterprise Florida, Gov. Rick Scott and Mayor Curry said all the right things.

Scott lit up local legislators, like Jason Fischer and quasi-local ones, like Palm Coast’s Paul Renner, for voting against incentives.

But Scott didn’t serve up the fiery rhetoric he did when in Jacksonville earlier in the month.

“Along with keeping Enterprise Florida alive, we need to keep the Florida Defense Alliance,” Scott said. “We’ve got some House members who already voted to eliminate the Florida Defense Alliance.”

Scott added that the programs are “fully funded” in the Senate … and worth noting: he has had meetings this week with dozens of Senators, including Rob Bradley and Aaron Bean.

Bean called it a “happy visit.”

Bradley, lauding the governor’s “underrated sense of humor,” said  substantive issues, from EFI and Visit Florida to medical marijuana to water, were discussed — as was the “absurdity of the political process.”

Gov. Scott and Mayor Curry face the Jacksonville media.

Seal of approval

Though Gov. Scott appreciated Mayor Curry stopping in to help sell the doomed “Trumpcare” plan — which didn’t even get a House vote — the fact is the effort failed as we wrote last week.

It wasn’t Curry’s fault, or Scott’s fault: they weren’t buttonholing the Freedom Caucus or the Tuesday group. They featured in a last-minute pitch for the plan — on Curry’s turf — and Team Trump couldn’t sell it.

Curry, of course, is a party guy. Scott is looking toward Bill Nelson’s Senate seat. And sure, Florida voters have the long-term memory of fruit flies.

But this one hurt Florida — and Jacksonville — as a place the administration can sell initiatives.

The VP decided to make his stand here, giving Rutherford a platform because neighboring Ted Yoho and Ron DeSantis weren’t feeling this bill. The governor came in and got his moment in the spotlight. And Mayor Curry made the stop before going on spring break.

And all of it added up to nothing. Even Ted Yoho and Ron DeSantis, who were supposed to be pressured by the Pence push, were unmoved.

In Jacksonville Wednesday, neither Curry nor Scott demonstrated regret over the failed push, despite evidence of a Trump pivot.

“The message was ‘repeal Obamacare.’ The message remains to those Republicans in Washington: ‘repeal Obamacare,’” Curry said.

“I’ve spent a good amount of time with President Trump. I know he listens. And my hope is that we can come up with something that all Americans can embrace,” Scott added.

Water issues, near and far

Coverage over the last week has focused on regional water issues — and with good reason, as Mark Woods and A.G. Gancarski contend.

In the Florida Times-Union, Woods describes how “Old Florida” once looked: “Miles and miles of ‘perfect beauty,’ of a grand forest of cypress robed in moss and mistletoe, of cypress knees looking like champagne bottles set in the current to cool, of palms and palmettos, of gleaming water and grinning alligators.”

Jacksonville, Woods observes, isn’t like that anymore. And neither is much of North Florida, including the Keystone Lakes, as Gancarski reported for FloridaPolitics.com.

“Decades back, Lake Geneva was full — kids swam in the water that used to be underneath the raised pavilion. Out on the lake, water skiing contests and other events supported local businesses and brought tourists from miles around to this corner of Old Florida,” Gancarski wrote.

Sen. Rob Bradley, Rep. Bobby Payne and Travis Cummings with other Clay pols in Keystone Heights

Now the lakes are drying up. Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Bobby Payne are carrying a bill to allocate $35M of Amendment 1 money for North Florida water needs, with the Clay delegation members’ priority being to restore those lakes via pumping in water from flood-prone Black Creek.

It will help to restore the aquifer, the legislators claim.

The bill is further along in the Senate than in the House. But for the sake of the Keystone Lakes, it needs to be signed into law this year.

Pension bills filed in Council

Back in January 2016, Lenny Curry’s pension reform plan (close the current defined benefit plans and cap that $2.8B unfunded liability, extend the ½ cent local sales tax to pay for them, and lock new city hires into defined contribution plans) seemed like the heaviest of lifts.

However, the Curry administration went into Charles Atlas mode, getting Tallahassee’s OK, getting 65 percent on a referendum OKing the tax extension, and negotiating generous DC plans with the unions.

And they stiff-armed their old nemeses at the Police and Fire Pension Fund board in the bargain, saying that the PFPF had no say so in this going forward.

Now? The final step is approval from the Jacksonville City Council.

Three bills to watch

Bill 2017-257 would, if passed by the council, levy the half-cent discretionary sales tax approved by voters via referendum in August.

Bill 2017-258 affects the general employees and correctional worker plans; 2017-259 implements revisions to the Police and Fire & Rescue plans, closing extant defined benefit plans to those hired after Oct. 1, 2017. It commits the city to a 12 percent contribution for those general employees and a 25 percent contribution for correctional and public safety officers hired after October.

Councilman Bill Gulliford, a principal architect of the 2015 pension reform plan, spoke positively.

“The direction we’re going in is the right way to go,” Gulliford said, especially considering that “there are not a lot of alternatives.”

Gulliford has not seen the financial projection, but he believes “the numbers will support the proposal.”

The first date to watch: April 6, when the council will spend four hours hearing about the financial projections for the plan — data which the Curry administration has kept under wraps thus far.

Journey to 55

Here’s to your health, Duval County. You need all the help you can get.

Duval County is down seven points in the state’s yearly health rankings, from 48 to 55.

Bad optics for Mayor Lenny Curry, who put Duval on a “journey to one” last year.

“Duval County ranked 49th in length of life, 54th in quality of life, 36th in health behaviors, 10th in clinical care, 35th in social and economic factors and 58th in physical environment (physical environment looks at air pollution levels, drinking water violations, housing issues and commute times),” reports the Florida Times-Union.

St. Johns County, of course, has that No. 1 spot — and advantages which include a lack of the problems big cities face, a lack of legacy costs and industry, and a wealthier commuter population.

Vitti does Detroit

Detroit is known for many things: techno music, mass production of cars, and Motown.

Soon, the local school district may also be known for poaching Duval County’s School Superintendent, Nikolai Vitti.

Vitti, widely seen as the front-runner in the two-man race, has Detroit “in his DNA.”

The often-controversial super went back to the Motor City Wednesday to interview for that district’s top job.

“I will not lead from my office. I will lead in schools, with the staff and the community,” Vitti said in Detroit — an accurate depiction of his work in Jacksonville.

Vitti speaking at a Jacksonville church in 2016. Odds are good he won’t be back there.

More ironic, though, was his call for continuity.

“I think one of the tragedies, as far as the history of public schools in Detroit, has been an instability of leadership and constant changes so every leader wants to put their own fingerprint on a body of work and that means disrupting the previous leader’s work,” Vitti said.

The same could be said about Duval County — the district he would leave.

Some have suggested Clay County Superintendent Addison Davis replace Vitti.

Davis, Vitti’s former right-hand man, was elected in Clay last year. If he left the job, he’d leave Clay in the lurch.

But that would be Clay’s problem. Not Vitti’s, or Duval’s.

Spies Like Us

Jacksonville is a neighborly town, where someone is always watching over you. It is especially true if you were a protester of recent vintage, WJXT reported this week (piggybacking on a Times-Union report).

The issue: a JSO contract with “Geofeedia,” a company which keyword tracked social media phrases like #BlackLivesMatter … though, in what had to have been an oversight, not #AllLivesMatter.

Who’s looking out for you? Until recently, these guys and gals.

Geofeedia was cut off from social media platforms this year after the American Civil Liberties Union balked at the data-harvesting.

JSO’s Geofeedia deal lapsed; however, those at protest events had better be ready for the spotlight, as rallies are recorded.

“You never know what is going to happen,” is the rationale for that.

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Unconventional convention center

Jacksonville’s Prime Osborn Convention Center is heavily booked these days, reports the Florida Times-Union.

For trade shows, though, rather than conventions.

And for those advocating that Jacksonville build a new convention center — a contention made by many stakeholders over the years, one crystallized in Mayor Curry’s transition team recommendations in 2015 — millions of dollars are at stake.

Prime Osborn Convention Center at work. [Photo: VisitJacksonville.com]

Council President Lori Boyer contends “in terms of the size of the facility and of the amenities offered in the facility compared to what larger and newer convention centers elsewhere offer, we’re certainly at a disadvantage.”

However, Boyer and others agree that a convention center has to come with other upgrades: more hotels, being closer to the action, a revitalized entertainment district.

Can Jacksonville make up for decades lost to places like Orlando and San Diego regarding chasing conventioneers? That very much is an open question.

JIA CRA sunset

Community Redevelopment Agencies, or CRAs, are under fire in Tallahassee and Jacksonville both, as we reported Wednesday.

On the state level, a bill is moving through the House to end them … but appears to be stalled out in the Senate.

Locally, one CRA — that of the Jacksonville International Airport — has been recommended for sunset in 2019 by its trustees.

While they claim that the CRA accomplished its goals of blight reduction, councilors are pushing back, saying that there is plenty of real blight in the area that was not addressed

In fact, the “blight” the JIA CRA addressed mainly involved replacing trees with the River City Marketplace, a shopping center which has helped to put Dunn Avenue and Gateway Mall on life support.

The disconnect between the CRA board and the councilors speaks to a fundamental lack of communication as to what the CRA was supposed to do.

Ironically, that only helps to make the case that thus far has been more persuasive in the House than in the Senate.

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Down with LNG?

Liquefied Natural Gas, or LNG, is a big part of the region’s energy strategy — with evidence of that surfacing last week by two 260-ton storage tanks housed at JAXPORT.

“The tanks — each one-half the length of a football field — are each able to hold 100 million liters of LNG fuel, which means enough for 14 days of travel — two round trips to Puerto Rico,” reports WJXT.

Crowley Maritime has dropped $500M into the technology, about which one corporate rep said Jacksonville was “leading the world.”

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Flagler residents tell Paul Renner they want home rule on vacation rentals

A standing-room-only crowd packed into the Hammock Community Center last weekend to tell Republican Rep. Renner that they don’t like the vacation rental bills moving through the Florida Legislature this year.

Hammock residents said they don’t like companies such as Airbnb coming into their neighborhoods to rent single-family homes to vacationers, and they say the argument that vacation rental companies are keeping cash-strapped homeowners from facing foreclosure is baloney.

“There’s really absolutely no truth in the fact that these are struggling people trying to keep their house. These are investors who are preying on us, ruining our community,” one homeowner said to applause.

Renner seemed responsive to his constituents’ pleas at the town hall, whereas the area’s senator, Travis Hutson, hasn’t been.

Renner said he’d vote no on HB 425 when it comes up in committee this week, and that he’ll vote against it if it reaches the floor. Hutson, who was not at the town hall, hasn’t made his opinion known on the bill, which would curb local control measures on vacation rentals that he pushed through the Legislature in 2014.

A word with Marty Fiorentino

The president of The Fiorentino Group in Jacksonville, spent the past few weeks shuttling back-and-forth to Washington, D.C. to help Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, a longtime friend, get things up and running at the federal agency. A transportation expert in his own regard, we caught up with Fiorentino to talk about his relationship with Chao and transportation issues on the horizon.

FP: Tell me a little bit about your history with Secretary Chao.

MF: During the administration of President George H.W. Bush, I served as counselor to the Deputy Secretary of Transportation, who was Elaine Chao. After moving back to Florida, we remained friends over the years. She later became head of the Peace Corps, President of the United Way and Secretary of Labor for eight years under President George W. Bush. She was named Secretary of Transportation by President Trump. She asked me to come up to Washington to assist her as things got up and running at the Department of Transportation and I was honored to help.

FP: From an outsider’s perspective, the Cabinet confirmation process seemed to be tumultuous. As someone on the inside, what was it like working with Secretary Chao through the transition?

MF: Actually, Secretary Chao’s confirmation process was relatively uneventful. She is well-known by the Senate and has had a distinguished career of public service. In fact, she was one of the first cabinet members confirmed by the Senate.

Marty Fiorentino

FP: How do you think the Secretary will work to implement the president’s campaign promise for massive infrastructure spending?

MF: The president has made infrastructure funding one of his highest priorities. An interagency group has been established at the White House led by the National Economic Council to develop a national infrastructure plan. Transportation issues cut across numerous departments and involve everything from pipelines and broadband to the energy grid, roads, bridges, ports, airports, permitting and public-private partnerships and finance. It involves Treasury, Energy, EPA, DOD, OMB, Interior, Commerce and, of course, USDOT. The Secretary has a working group that meets internally and weekly with the White House to develop this plan and DOT will have a big part in implementing it.

FP: As a Floridian, what infrastructure projects do you think should be a top priority for Secretary Chao and President Trump?

MF: Florida of course! Actually, the time it takes to permit transportation projects is a terrible economic burden and job killer. If we can shorten that process it will unlock a lot of economic prosperity and expedite long needed transportation projects that are under design and development. Governor Scott has been to Washington and Secretary Chao and I had lunch with him. He was a strong advocate for Florida’s highway, rail, port and airport projects. Personally, I think the Governor has been spot on with his early support of Florida’s seaports and willingness to put the state’s money behind them.

Jacksonville Zoo LEGO-themed Safari EGGscursion

Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens hosts Eggscursion, its annual spring event, April 15 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The theme of this year’s hunt will be a LEGO Egg Scavenger Hunt. Guests will crisscross the Zoo searching for hidden LEGO eggs throughout the park. Participants that register guesses with the correct number of eggs found will be eligible to win a Grand Prize! Also included are bounce houses, photo ops, games and crafts and goody bags on the Great Lawn. Eggscursion is free with Zoo admission.

Trailer Bridge boosts service from JAXPORT to Dominican Republic

Trailer Bridge, Inc., is now offering added service to the Dominican Republic from JAXPORT’s Blount Island Marine Terminal. The company will offer two sailings per week to Santo Domingo, in addition to its longtime weekly call from JAXPORT to Puerto Plata. The vessels also call San Juan, Puerto Rico during the twice-weekly rotation to Santo Domingo.

Trailer Bridge serves the Dominican Republic trade lane with larger, 53-foot containers which the company says significantly reduces per-unit cost over traditional 40-foot containers. Trailer Bridge has been serving the Caribbean market through JAXPORT for more than 25 years.

Fiesta forever: Block party moratorium bill withdrawn from Jacksonville City Council

A bill to impose a 90 day moratorium on block parties in Jacksonville was withdrawn from the city council Tuesday evening by NW Jacksonville Democrat Reggie Brown,

The legislation (2017-196) posited “a legitimate public purpose in imposing a temporary moratorium on permitting recreational street closings … ‘block parties’ within the City, to allow the City time to create appropriate local regulations and standards.”

Brown’s legislation had ben slated for an emergency vote.

However, he believes the looming threat of a moratorium led to moves toward a change in the process, with cooperation from Public Works and the Office of General Counsel.

Brown expects revision of ordinance code going forward.

With that, a long and winding committee process, which included a public notice meeting, is wrapped.

Though no legislation resulted, Brown clearly was satisfied enough with the evolution of the process to pull the bill.

Jacksonville leaders observe sexual assault awareness month

The national observation of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is in April, yet Jacksonville kicked off the month days early on Tuesday, with city leaders convening in the atrium of the city hall.

Jacksonville’s Sexual Assault Advisory Council was created in 1998, intending to bring awareness to the issue and to let victims know they have recourse.

And in Mayor Lenny Curry, Sheriff Mike Williams, and State Attorney Melissa Nelson, those dealing with these issues have three powerful and committed allies and advocates.

“I stand her with the people behind me, who signed up every day to protect you,” Curry said. “I stand with them in my budgets [and in] my heart.”

Curry read a proclamation, denoting the widespread nature of sexual violence, which he said impacts every person — as a review of the statistics made clear.

One in five women, and one in 71 men will be raped. One in six boys and one in four girls: sexually-assaulted before they turn 18.

And college campuses are no safer, with one in five women and one in 16 men likely to suffer sexual assault.

Curry urged those in attendance to “use our voices to change the culture.”

“Prevention is possible when everyone gets involved,” Curry said.

Melissa Nelson, the region’s state attorney, noted that “these crimes are often some of the most underreported,” urging the community as a whole to “step up and speak out.”

Survivors and loved ones, as well as bystanders, were urged by Nelson to say something if they see something.

Sheriff Williams noted that the JSO participates every year in this awareness raising, and this year asked local students, including fraternities and sororities, to increase awareness.

Williams noted Jacksonville has worked very hard on this front, but there is still a ways to go.

Of 405 sexual battery cases in 2016 locally, there has been a 48 percent clearance rate.

That rate, low as it sounds, compares favorably to the 36 percent rate of clearance nationally.

After the event, Curry summed up the impact.

“Sexual assault is underreported. Victims often feel shame they should not feel. There are resources available to them,” Curry said.

“Today is about letting victims know that we see them, we hear them,” Curry added.

Florida’s unemployment rate holds steady at 5%

Florida’s unemployment rate held steady at 5 percent in February.

This marks the second month in a row the state’s unemployment rate has been at 5 percent, and mirrors the unemployment rate the state experienced in the first two months of 2016, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

The state added 239,800 jobs private sector jobs year-over-year in February. According to the DEO, the professional and business services industry added the most jobs — 43,000, or 3.4 percent increase — during the one-year period.

“I am proud to announce that Florida’s private-sector businesses have created nearly 54,000 new jobs in 2017,” said Gov. Rick Scott in a statement Friday. “Over the past six years, we have been relentless in our efforts to make Florida the most business-friendly state in the nation because a job is the most important thing to a family.”

The agency reported trade, transportation, and utilities added 42,000 jobs, or a 2.5 percent increase; education and health services added 40,500 jobs, or a 3.3 percent increase; and the leisure and hospitality industry added 40,300 jobs, or a 3.5 percent increase, during the same one- year period.

The Orlando region continued to lead the state in year-over-year job gains, adding 50,900 jobs between February 2016 and February 2017. The Tampa Bay region added 36,100 jobs during the one-year period, followed by Jacksonville with 25,900 jobs.

Jacksonville leaders’ arguments for state incentives fall on deaf ears in Tallahassee

Jacksonville may be Ground Zero for the debate about economic incentives. Local leaders want them, but the local Florida House delegation does not.

This week, yet another prominent person in Jacksonville’s City Hall sounded the alarm for state incentives via Enterprise Florida.

The Jacksonville Daily Record reports that local OED head Kirk Wendland made the case for Enterprise Florida on Tuesday to local stakeholders.

Wendland’s quotes are so on message with Gov. Rick Scott that they could have come out of his press shop.

“If any of you know any senators and you have any conversations with them, please convey that it’s serious. We are counting on them to save Enterprise Florida,” Wendland said.

To hear him tell it, the merry-go-round of economic development is slowing: “just the discussion of Enterprise Florida not being there, and not having a state economic development agency, has absolutely affected the deal flow that we have seen over the past couple of months.”

Consultants — the kind that handle site visits for companies — aren’t biting, saying “we’ll come talk to you” after the incentive fight wraps.

If Enterprise Florida is cut, it “will have a material impact on us being able to compete for major projects here in Florida, in Jacksonville specifically,” Wendland told the Daily Record.

Wendland’s words echo the positions of two members of the city council, Jim Love and Aaron Bowman (whose day job is with the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce).

Bowman and Love are pushing a resolution to affirm support for Enterprise Florida, which they believe is especially important for Jacksonville compared to other major metros in the state.

The salient numbers for Councilman Love: 5,000 jobs and $650M in private capital investment since July 2015.

Even before the council resolution, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry spoke to our Northeast Florida bureau about the need for incentives.

“We use incentives – local incentives and state incentives through Enterprise Florida – and we use them successfully,” Curry contended.

The city’s scorecard, which ensures ROI for taxpayers when incentives are offered, is designed to ensure an “inflow of tax dollars that exceeds that investment.”

“I would say that incentives are important to us. They’re used in a way that respects the taxpayers. Without the state funding,” Curry said, “we would have had trouble closing some of the big deals that we closed.”

Since the beginning of his mayoral administration in July 2015, Curry has evangelized for Enterprise Florida.

“Funding for Enterprise Florida is critical and important for Northeast Florida,” the mayor said in the summer of 2015. “It’s how we get deals done.”

It’s not just government workers who back Enterprise Florida.

It’s also the donor class, as Shad Khan made clear as early as 2015.

“I want to applaud Governor Scott,” Khan said. “If there is one lesson [to be derived] from Florida, it’s that economic development,” when prioritized, “leads to other things down the road.”

Such development can’t happen without Enterprise Florida, he said, and commented that the funding deficit is “disconcerting” because “the returns on funding are phenomenal.”

He urged the Legislature to “loosen the purse strings,” lest opportunity for corporate recruitment be lost.

Khan said, controversially at the time, that “there’s nothing iconic about Jacksonville.”

In that, he’s right.

Economic incentives have been the rising tide that has lifted at least some boats locally.

Companies like Macquarie, KLS Martin, and Deutsche Bank all expanded Jacksonville operations in the last two years.

All of those deals were incentive driven.

Jacksonville is an acquired taste for corporate types, used to the faster pace of life in New York or other traditional hotbeds.

However, it was just this year that Bloomberg reported that Jacksonville’s efforts, aided and abetted by state economic development, are paying off.

“Global financial companies including Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank and Sydney-based Macquarie Group have been moving executives here and hiring locally, even while paring staff elsewhere.

“It’s part of a Wall Street trend known as nearshoring, in which banks are moving operations away from expensive financial centers like New York to places such as Jacksonville and North Carolina’s Research Triangle. Also in Jacksonville are more than 19,000 employees of Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo,” Bloomberg notes, adding that Jacksonville is Deutsche Bank’s second largest American location.

In addition, the Bloomberg report notes that jobs in Jacksonville, such as those offered by Macquarie, are filled by “people whose jobs might otherwise have been filled in India. It provides a support staff that’s more convenient for its U.S.-based employees, while its Indian operation continues to focus on the Asia business.”

With two years of successful economic development under the current structure, it’s noteworthy that the Duval Delegation is unmoved by the results on the ground.

During this week’s vote on Enterprise Florida in the House, a grand total of one representative — Jay Fant — represented the position preferred by local policy makers.

Paul Renner, seen as an adjunct local legislator, is key to the battle against incentives.

Meanwhile, other Republicans (Cord ByrdJason FischerClay Yarborough) and both local Democrats (Tracie Davis and Kim Daniels) went with the Speaker and away from the constant drumbeat from locals that Jacksonville’s economic boom will lean toward bust without state incentives.

This has been a session of recalibrated expectations in Jacksonville’s city hall relative to this delegation: consider the aborted Hart Bridge offramp changes as a prime example.

The argument could be made, meanwhile, that the most effective lobbying on any measure by a local legislator has been by Rep. Daniels, on her bill expanding protections of “religious expression” in public schools.

Daniels took the bill over to the Senate, where she got Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley to carry it through committees to the Senate floor.

On the House side, meanwhile, the bill has had one committee hearing.

It was approved unanimously, with applause after the vote.

One can argue the merits of school prayer and other demonstrations of “religious expression” in schools.

What can’t be argued: no amount of “religious expression” in schools will bring a single job to Jacksonville.

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