Jacksonville Archives - Florida Politics

Jacksonville police union overwhelmingly approves pension deal

Jacksonville is another step closer to long-term peace with its labor unions, as the Fraternal Order of Police resoundingly voted to accept terms of the tentative pension deal on Thursday.

64.5 percent of officers, sergeants, and bailiffs voted for the deal.

81.4 percent of lieutenants and captains accepted terms.

A deal was agreed to on Feb. 11, bringing to a close months of protracted, theatrical negotiations.

The deal offers long-delayed raises to current employees (a 3 percent lump sum payout immediately, and a 20 percent raise for police and fire over three years) and gives all classes of current employees the same benefits.

As well, all police and fire officers will have DROP eligibility with an 8.4 percent annual rate of return and a 3 percent COLA.

The deal, if approved without modification, will bring labor peace through 2027 — though it can be renegotiated by the city or the unions at 3, 6, 9, and 10 years marks in the agreement.

For new employees, however, the plan is historic — a defined contribution plan that vests three years after the new employee for police and fire is hired.

That is one of the first DC plans for public safety employees in the country, and the trade off for the unions are terms that look rich in the private sector.

The total contribution: 35 percent, with the city ponying up 25 percent of that — and making guarantees that survivors’ benefits and disability benefits would be the same for new hires as the current force of safety officers.

The Police and Fire Pension Fund and the Jacksonville City Council have to approve the deal. The PFPF has qualms about the specifics of the deal, and have balked at a Mar. 15 deadline to accept it.

The mayor’s office has vowed to allay the PFPF’s concerns, and it’s hard to imagine the fund bucking the unions.

The city council, meanwhile, likely will move quickly on ratifying the deal.

That deadline is intended to facilitate budget forecasting for the city, a major concern for district council members with wish lists. And Mayor Curry played ball with them on the HRO issue, by not vetoing the bill and letting it become law immediately after passage — risking antipathy from much of his base in the bargain.

The city had rendered optimistic budget projections for a DC plan for new hires last year, but those were predicated on a 10 percent employer contribution.

Since collective bargaining is still ongoing, the city does not have to produce those projections until it wraps. But questions are being raised as to what the ultimate financial impact of pension reform will be on the city, as it struggles with a $2.8 billion unfunded pension liability.

Jax Chamber: Yes to Enterprise Florida

On Thursday, the Jacksonville Chamber sent a message of sorts to the Duval Legislative Delegation.

That message? Ensure that Enterprise Florida, and its job incentive programs, remains whole and functional.

“Jacksonville economic development leaders have worked closely with Enterprise Florida to bring thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in capital investment to our community.  Regardless of the size of your business, economic growth has a huge impact on our city,” said Daniel Davis, JAX Chamber CEO and President.

“Performance-based economic incentives are critical when we fight to bring new jobs to Jacksonville. We believe protecting hard-working taxpayers and improving the incentive process is critical for our state. We are committed to working with state leaders to reach a solution that allows us to remain competitive,” Davis added.

The Chamber’s position is deliberately timed, at the end of a week when Gov. Rick Scott has aggressively counter-messaged those in the Florida House who would scuttle Enterprise Florida.

It also illustrates unique pressures on conservative legislators from bigger cities.

Do they buck the Speaker? Or the Chamber?

The fight over economic incentives is finally, yet firmly, localized.

For Jacksonville leaders like Mayor Lenny Curry, job creation is central to the narrative — and the key to solving difficult quality of life quandaries.

We’ve reached out to the mayor for his take: does he stand with House Speaker Richard Corcoran? Or with local allies, like the Chamber, and Gov. Rick Scott?

Jacksonville PFPF trustees throw cold water on Lenny Curry’s pension deal

On Friday, the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund held its monthly meeting of trustees.

It was the first such meeting since the city agreed to tentative pension deals with the police and fire unions last weekend.

As part of that deal, the city will no longer be obligated to the terms of the 2015 pension reform agreement, including the extra payments.

Out of the loop in negotiations, it was inevitable that the PFPF Board would raise questions. And they did just that, before and during the meeting.

In sum, the PFPF believes that they had no say in the deal, and that without specifics, they can’t agree to the deal.

They also believe that the deadline to agree to terms by Mar. 15 is unrealistic, given that the deal is still opaque, especially relative to the role of the PFPF board — which was not at the bargaining table.

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Before the meeting, Trustee Bill Scheu was asked about the deal.

He noted that there’s “no financial information yet,” in terms of the specific financial projections as to what it will cost the city.

Board Chair Richard Tuten expressed similar sentiments, noting that there are no numbers yet on paper that have been produced for the board or the media.

Scheu and Tuten expanded on these positions during the first hour of the meeting.

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The position of Mayor Lenny Curry has been that such details are “exempt from disclosure” through the collective bargaining process.

However, it should be noted that the city projected real savings from the plan … when the city contribution was expected to be 10 or 12 percent on the defined contribution plan, not 25 percent.

In that context, the numbers are relevant to the discussion.

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A public commenter kicked the meeting off, saying that he advocated signing the deal immediately, albeit with a waiver to make the 10 percent employee contribution voluntary.

The board disagreed.

Director Tim Johnson noted that the draft agreement cut out those voluntary payments, and advised that there be a workshop to discuss the pension surtax and the supplemental payments from the city, with an eye toward figuring out the board’s rights and role going forward.

Tuten advised that the lawyers be there to review the relevant ordinances, including the extra contributions from the PFPF.

“Until we have long-term numbers from the mayor,” Tuten said, the projections can’t be dealt with.

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Time is of the essence, said a representative from the city’s office of general counsel.

“The agreements themselves provide for a short window. Everything has to be done by the 15th of March,” said Steve Durden of the OGC.

“The bills have to be introduced by Mar. 31,” Durden added.

Durden framed the deadline, meanwhile, as a device to facilitate the next budget.

As well, “parties just want things done,” Durden added.

That didn’t go over well at the table; the PFPF board asserted that they were dealt out of the negotiations.

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Board members noted that the PFPF wasn’t a party to the agreement, yet Durden contended that the time frame was not elastic.

“We have no financial information, no nothing,” an exasperated Scheu said.

Durden advised that the “agreements were not done — the proposed agreements — until early last week. It has not been long. And I don’t know if it was appropriate to bring it to your attention.”

The workshop, said Scheu, is about the PFPF authority — not the terms of the deal, which is a different matter entirely.

“The mayor doesn’t want to pay the extra payments. We’re a little reluctant to give that up, now that it’s been codified by a federal court,” Tuten said.

“If the numbers don’t add up,” Tuten added, “it’s going to be a problem.”

Durden noted the board’s internal schedule conflicts precluded them getting together as a board.

“The mayor wants to get that information to you right away … what exactly’s in the deal,” Durden contended.

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The deal was framed by PFPF Attorney Bob Sugarman as a “momentous decision … equivalent to a merger and acquisition. The numbers are very large, and you’re going to need legal advice, as well as outside advice.”

Requiring focus: the reliability of revenue streams.

“We’ve made promises with share plans, extra contributions … the contracts are a little hazy on what all this means,” Tuten said.

“Are we going to need the mayor’s complete plan? If he doesn’t spell out his numbers, we’re talking to ourselves,” Tuten added.

Tuten framed “what the mayor wants” as “irrelevant.”

“You don’t come and say — just sign it man, no big deal. Our responsibility is to the members, to make sure it’s fiscally sound … the mayor should be presenting a very convincing case at the moment to us … until we get those things from the mayor, there’s no way we can meet March 15.”

“A lack of planning on your part does not mean an emergency on mine,” Tuten said, eliciting laughter from the table.

“We’re going to need you to show us why this is a good deal,” Tuten said, “because you’re not going to be mayor in eight years.”

“Paying extra now doesn’t necessarily cost the city anything,” Tuten said, given the money will come in later.

“They don’t want to skip one year, they want to skip every year,” Tuten explained.

Tuten said they might need two months to figure out the specifics of the deal.

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Scheu found it “shocking” that the board was being expected to approve a plan without hard numbers.

He also raised questions about whether the future value of the plan could be considered an asset.

Scheu also advised that “the mayor’s office will demean us” as a PR tactic.

“Now he’s likely to demean us for wanting to take our fidicuiary responsibility seriously. I for one think we need to exercise that,” Scheu said.

“We don’t have the power to sue the city,” Scheu said, “without city council approval.”

“The city is our partner here,” Sugarman said, “but we do have procedures we need to go through.”

This is especially true, Sugarman added, with a half a billion dollars on the line.

“Until we get a proposal, I can’t even tell you,” Sugarman said. “If the March 15 deadline is not realistic, that’s not our fault. We did not establish the Mar. 15 deadline. We need to know what we’re talking about.”

“It’s unlikely we’ll be able to do our due diligence in four weeks,” Sugarman said.

Sugarman noted that “each trustee has skin in the game,” and “you can’t buy enough insurance” to protect against personal indemnification if the pension deal doesn’t work out as advertised.

“All we have here is a deal sheet,” Sugarman said, and the real story is in the amendments and the ordinances

In sum, the PFPF believes that they had no say in the deal, and that without specifics, they can’t agree to the deal. They worry about revenue streams, usurped governance authority, and so forth.

There was also talk of enforcing the 2015 agreement in court, if need be.

On Friday afternoon, Mayor Curry offered a statement attempting to cool the tensions expressed in the PFPF Trustees meeting.

“Last weekend,” Curry said, “the Police and Fire union leadership reached a tentative agreement with us that keeps our promises to public safety workers, respects tax payers and is fiscally responsible. The tentative agreement included a timeline that would ensure that we solve this problem in a timely manner. The PFPF Board will have the financial information they need to make a responsible decision prior to their vote.”

Fire Union head Randy Wyse, in the crowd, understood the board’s position.

“I would not want the trustees to breach their fiduciary duty. They need time to make the right decision,” Wyse said.

Jacksonville passes HRO expansion, secures LGBT rights

The skinny: Almost five years after it was first put up for a council vote, Jacksonville’s legislators finally passed an expansion of the city’s Human Rights Ordinance on Tuesday.

The bill passed 12-6, with Councilmen Matt SchellenbergSam Newby, Danny Becton, Bill Gulliford, Doyle Carter, and Al Ferraro in opposition.

The HRO expansion offers long-awaited protections of the city’s LGBT community … if the mayor doesn’t veto it. If the mayor does veto the bill, the council would have to vote to override the measure.

The expansion would add sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to the list of protected categories under the ordinance, which ensures that people aren’t discriminated against in the workplace, the housing market, or public accommodations (restrooms, locker rooms, and so on).

Mayor Lenny Curry returned the bill to the city council without his signature; the bill is now law.

“As your Mayor, I promised to convene community conversations about discrimination. At the conclusion of those conversations, I exercised an executive action to implement a clear policy for City of Jacksonville employees and contractors. I said then and continue to believe additional legislation was unnecessary. But this evening, a supermajority of the City Council decided otherwise. This supermajority, representatives of the people from both parties and every corner of the city, made their will clear,” Curry said in a statement.

“Now, with the issue resolved, I invite City Council and all the people of Jacksonville to join me as we confront serious issues like the final steps of pension reform to bring us financial security and increase our efforts to end the violence and crime hurting innocent people in our city,” Curry added.

Supporters went into the vote confident that the council would pass the bill; however, the amendment process was worth watching, with two amendments (one to remove transgender people from protections, and another to remove the prospect of jail time for those who violate the ordinance).

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Religious Exemption: As discussion began of the ordinance, the first major talking point was the religious exemption.

General Counsel Jason Gabriel discussed what would make an organization a religious organization, allowing it to be exempt from the legislation.

Gabriel, outlining the potential room for interpretation, noted the ultimate arbiter would be the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission.

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No Jail: After that, Scott Wilson advanced an amendment striking jail time as a potential penalty for violating the HRO.

That was a concern in one committee.

The amendment was unanimously approved.

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Referendum redux: Then, a second amendment from Bill Gulliford, to amend the bill and make it effective based on a charter referendum in 2018.

Gulliford had advanced this in committee.

The Beaches Republican noted division in the community on this issue.

“This may go down in flames … but I submit to you a referendum is the only way this issue will end,” Gulliford said, noting that legislation can always be introduced to tweak the bill after passage.

Gulliford asserted, meanwhile, that the idea that civil rights would not have passed referendum was unprovable.

This got a gasp from the crowd, but Gulliford persisted, insisting that opponents of the referendum may be “afraid to trust the people.”

Councilman Brown took the opposing view from Gulliford, urging that a referendum be a state issue.

“I would not have been confident that in 1864,” a referendum would have been passed “that black people should be free,” Brown said, drawing a burst of applause from the crowd.

“Let’s make the hard decision — and let the chips fall where they may,” Brown added.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri, the leading vote recipient in the May 2015 election, noted that he was elected to pass the HRO.

Councilman Al Ferraro saw a difference between the HRO and civil rights legislation, with people potentially losing “freedom of speech.”

“I’m not against anybody who’s gay or transgender or anything like that,” Ferraro said, adding that a “business will go broke because they’re innocent, just because of the financial burden.”

“This is a bad bill because of the way it’s written,” Ferraro added. “I do believe everybody’s equal … [but] the bill is going to harm people.”

“The Chamber is telling us,” Ferraro added, that there would be consequences if the bill doesn’t pass.

Councilman Danny Becton, another expansion opponent, bemoaned council members talking about emails and cards on the issue.

“All that to sway your vote. What is that? It’s a referendum,” Becton said.

The referendum failed 13-5, with Newby, Becton, Gulliford,  Carter, and Ferraro in opposition.

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Closed Companies = Closed Minds?: Becton floated a second amendment, to exempt “closed” companies from this law.

“Anybody who is 100 percent in ownership of their business,” Becton said.

Councilman Hazouri said the Becton amendment would “emasculate” the bill.

Ferraro told Hazouri he didn’t know what it was like to start a business.

“These small business cannot take and afford — the lawsuits are going to go left and right,” Ferraro added.

Councilman Jim Love, a bill sponsor, noted that such lawsuits are not happening in Tampa and Orlando.

“We need to get this done now,” Love said, noting that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told him that Tampa had an advantage over Jacksonville because of this bill not having passed yet.

The Becton amendment failed 13-5, along the same lines as the previous amendment.

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No-T Time: Bill Gulliford wasn’t done. He sought a reboot of the compromise bill from 2012, which struck “the transgender issue” from the legislation.

“Why not expand it on feelings? I can feel like I’m 23, and ask people to bake me a cake, and if they don’t do that, I can sue them?”

“Feeling but not fact is a bad way to pursue this,” Gulliford said.

Reggie Brown, who voted against the bill in 2012, spoke as a member of the military.

“We need to take a page out of the military,” Brown said. “[Transgender] people will fight for the flag … some will die for the flag … and that’s just the way it is.”

“When I listen to the recommendations to leave out one particular part of the population,” Brown said, “I’m concerned.”

“If they’re willing to die for you … why would we leave any soldier out?”

The amendment failed 13-5, with the same people on the losing end.

Jacksonville police union advances individual pension contract proposal

On Monday, the city of Jacksonville and the local Fraternal Order of Police continued its collective bargaining efforts, in a five-hour-plus afternoon session that spilled over into the  evening.

Going into the session, the main sticking point was a small but meaningful disagreement on raises for current employees, and whether or not new hires would go into a city defined contribution plan with a 25 percent match or into the FRS’ defined benefit plan.

Complicating the process: Sheriff Mike Williams, who had previously said he wanted a “competitive” package, told us last week that the deal on the table from the city was solid and merited real consideration.

Meanwhile — for those interested in the city’s offer, set to expire before Valentine’s Day — time was of the essence.

But what would Monday hold?

Ultimately, some concessions on issues, detailed below.

And the police union advanced a new proposal: the individual pension contract.

This concept, a departure from the FRS proposal, would require the city to set pension contracts with all union members, and would protect them from the city’s historic penchant for unilaterally changing terms.

That’s the short version; the long form version is below.

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The meeting started with the city side responding to questions and proposals from the union, including on contribution levels, ability to withdraw from the plan, whether the council can vote to approve the deal before the union does, and the impact of a successful legal challenge in the 4th Judicial Circuit against the pension tax referendum in 2016.

CAO Sam Mousa noted that the city’s current offer had to be accepted by Feb. 11, and otherwise is retracted.

$54,000 is the maximum contribution allowable to the plan. Meanwhile, for both police and corrections workers, there are allowable markers for withdrawals from the plan.

For police, as soon as 50 years old under certain conditions, such as 20 years of service; for corrections, 55 years old, under certain conditions, such as 25 years of service.

Mousa also noted, regarding body cameras, that the matter is “not an appropriate subject for collective bargaining,” given the fact that the JSO is developing a policy with union input.

Mousa rejected the police union’s proposal for pay raises of 8 percent for three straight years, while agreeing that all people under the current plan would have the same benefits.

And among other rejections, the union’s desire to have all new hires in FRS’ defined benefit plan.

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Mousa then presented revised proposals from the city.

Among them: a clarification that a 3 percent COLA would apply to survivor benefits.

Mousa also reiterated the seven year term of collective bargaining he had proposed previously, noting that was renewable at three, six, and seven years.

CFO Mike Weinstein, meanwhile, struck at the heart of the 2015 agreement with his comments that the city would no longer pay the accelerated payment schedule that agreement mandated, once a new plan is in place.

The reasoning: that plan was a “placeholder” until a “sustainable funding source” was located.

All chapter funds would revert to the custody of the police and fire pension fund.

Meanwhile, those who have DROP’d and retired since 2015 would be “made whole, as if they had never left the plan.”

Mousa also noted that the defined contribution plans for new hires would have a third party manager, and that all bargaining agreements must be approved by the city council.

As well, the baseline contribution for the long-term annuity proposed last time these parties met would be 10 percent.

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Spoiler alert: the union didn’t agree to these terms out of hand.

The union pushed back on the city’s contention that body cameras are not a mandatory subject of collective bargaining; the city contended that cameras are a “management right,” and that these wouldn’t be bargained during this session.

“But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re not going to talk about it,” Michael Mattimore, the city’s chief negotiator, said.

“Right now, we have no interest in bargaining … but we’re going to make a commitment to bargaining in the future,” Mattimore said.

“We all know the sheriff wants these cameras out in April,” FOP Head Steve Zona said.

Zona’s offer was shot down by Mousa, in terms of collectively bargaining on cameras “today.”

Regarding chapter funds, the union wanted 14 percent of them allocated to a share plan. The accounts, said Zona, potentially contain $90 million currently.

Weinstein suggested that a set date was needed for this, and that should be the date of implementation.

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Zona, two hours into the meeting, noted that Mayor Lenny Curry messages around the theme of “promises made, promises kept.”

Curry hit every roll call of officers recently, and told the force (per First VP Randy Reeves) that “if I could find a legal way to secure your benefits today, I would sign it today.”

Mousa noted that he wasn’t at these roll calls.

When asked if the mayor could be called, Mousa said “we’d rather just look at your proposal, Steve.”

“Makes no damn difference what the mayor said or didn’t say. Makes no difference. Let’s see your proposal,” Mousa said.

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From there, the FOP proposal: defined contribution retirement plans.

While these would be defined contribution, they would not be changeable, and would have an

Voluntary contracts with employees for pensions, which are used in Tampa and Miami Beach, and do not allow for unilateral change of terms.

The vesting schedule was changed, to be 100 percent after three years, with half the vesting in the first year.

The city would also offer meetings between the officers and financial advisers, during the first year of training, and at 10 and 20 year intervals.

Meanwhile, the union would accept the current wage proposal on the table, adding up to 20 percent over three years, with a three percent lump sum.

Mousa questioned the legality of these contracts, relative to the city of Jacksonville.

The research would take time. And legal guidance from the FOP’s attorney.

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The accelerated vesting schedule was a sticking point for Mousa.

“You were worried that a DC plan would have employees take the money and leave. This seems contrary to what you’re saying,” Mousa said.

Mousa then agreed to the vesting schedule, after hearing Zona say that “positions change.”

“This has been in practice for decades,” Zona said, referring to Tampa and Miami Beach, who have these plans.

Mousa’s stated concern: the legality of the plan.

“Until we have ample opportunity to review this proposal,” Mousa said, “this is not on the table today.”

“You have a three year window,” Mousa added, to renegotiate the plan after accepting the city’s terms.

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 The union attorney produced a number of cases that spoke to the legality of these individual pension contracts.

The model the union seeks: a simple, one-page contract, that would tie benefits in for the term of employment.

Mousa bristled against this line of discussion, including fixed benefits for the entire term of employment.

Zona, meanwhile, said “we came here today to get a deal done.”

“We’re the only union in the city with employees in all three funds. Take the time to vet [the deal],” Zona said.

Mousa noted that the city had provided a “decent wage proposal.”

“Whether we make a deal or not, life goes on. We’re going to make our budget. Life is good,” Mousa said.

“The mayor has proposed to make your benefits whole. Your members deserve a wage increase,” Mousa added, noting that it is in the union’s interest not to let this opportunity “slip by.”

General Counsel Jason Gabriel noted that these plans may not fit Jacksonville.

And “even if it were legal, it might be a terrible idea. Last time we had a 30 year contract, it was thrown out by a judge.”

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Corrections officers, and their plight, were also discussed.

There are severe worries about attrition, and other counties are paying their corrections officers more.

The proposed solution: salary parity, to resolve what the union sees as a 20 year problem, with correctional salaries lagging behind patrol.

The disparity can be as much as 36 percent.

To this end, “baby steps” on a “pathway to parity” were proposed.

Among them: a 25 percent raise, phased in over three years.

The city’s offer would cost the city $12.7 million more; the FOP counteroffer would be $2.765 more than the city’s, approaching $15.5 million.

Mousa’s take: to reopen the discussion in the first year of a new agreement.

“We acknowledge the problem. And we’re going to have to fix it,” Mousa said, with a “new compensation package that we would present to corrections.”

The time frame for that: after Oct. 1, 2017, when the new budget will have gone into effect.

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The union advanced another proposal: extending the term of the agreement to 10 years, contingent on an average 2 percent increase in the sales tax collections, and satisfying the “gross amount” of the assumed rate of return.

Zona also noted the city’s tendency to roll back its millage rate, and said that if the city cuts taxes, it “artificially” stunted the growth of the fund.

The city agreed to the 10 year term (renewable at 3, 6, 9, and 10 years).

And the city agreed to the terms on sales tax and rate of return on the pension fund.

Regarding millage, the goal would be 2.5 percent growth on the ad valorem, with a year taken out if a millage reduction kept the revenue stream from hitting its target.

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All of this said, the difference boils down to the city insisting upon its deal, and the union wanting its latest proposal considered.

This discussion will resume in the near future.

One resolved point: the union rejected the annuity proposal out of hand.

Amended HRO expansion bill clears first Jacksonville City Council committee

Monday morning saw the first of three Jacksonville City Council committees approve the latest attempt to expand the Human Rights Ordinance.

The vote was 4-2.

The measure would extend protections in housing, public accommodations, and employment on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

As well, the bill offered in its original form carve out employment protections for businesses with fewer than 15 employees, and for owners of owner-operated rental homes and four unit buildings.

As you will read below, an amendment was passed allowing such protections for businesses with fewer than 50 employees … a measure which speaks to a fragmentation in the process.

The bill also exempts some religious organizations such as churches, synagogues, mosques, religious schools, and affiliated non-profits.

Despite the attempt to produce a clean bill, there were questions even before discussion started.

The agenda for the meeting of the Monday Morning Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services committee noted that the “legislation is brief” and that “thorough discussion” was recommended in committee.

Thorough discussion happened — though the bulk of it dealt with a substitute bill advanced by Councilman Bill Gulliford, drafted in the hours before the meeting.

The substitute ultimately failed, with just two votes in support after a lot of discussion.

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Gulliford’s sub included changes such as “gender identity” to “transgender identity.”

“One of the big problems,” Gulliford said, is “the number of different gender identities out there.”

Religious organizations would become a “broader” definition, Gulliford said, including such as homeless shelters.

“What I’m attempting to do,” Gulliford said, “is to make it as acceptable to all parties as possible … a serious attempt to try to end up in a place where both sides may feel a little better about it.”

“The big issues are the bathroom issue, the religious liberty issue, and the impact to small businesses,” Gulliford said.

Gulliford also referred to a letter of opposition from the Diocese of St. Augustine, which invoked the principle of “conscientious objection” to laws perceived to be unjust.

Among the features of the bill: a person being exempted from the bill if he or she is acting in accordance with a religious belief, including a belief that marriage is between one man and one woman — a provision that runs counter to federal anti-discrimination laws.

Council VP John Crescimbeni wondered if this substitute conflicted with Florida Statute, federal or state law.

The office of general counsel had no answer.

Council President Lori Boyer noted that the substitute bill would require a re-referral.

Councilman Greg Anderson took issue with Gulliford coining a term “transgender identity,” which Gulliford said was a “way to avoid a lot of argument” and “be more definitive.”

“I’ve done a lot of research on this. I’ve never seen it before,” Anderson noted.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri noted the conflict between Gulliford’s substitute and federal law.

Councilman Jim Love, a bill co-sponsor, noted also that worries of lawsuits and assaults — a specter raised by HRO expansion opponents — did not come to pass in Tampa, a city to which Jacksonville is losing jobs and economic opportunity.

As did many of his colleagues, Love opposed the bill substitute.

Love also noted that 50 percent of the state was protected by legislation barring discrimination on sexual orientation and gender identity grounds.

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Responding to the substitute, bill sponsor Aaron Bowman noted that there were 30,000 service officers in Jacksonville, with 85 percent required to live outside the gates because of a lack of housing.

“A portion” of that group is divested of rights once off their base, Bowman said, especially given the military offering protections to the LGBT community.

Bowman also noted that, out of the emails he’d received on the subject, he found that out of over 3,000 emails, 2,768 support the legislation.

“That’s a 10 to 1 ratio,” Bowman said, adding later that in other cities, “the world hasn’t stopped” because of this legislation.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri, another bill sponsor, noted his contention that the council has a duty to move the bill through committees and vote on it next week.

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Gulliford had his say, of course, and stood by his substitute.

Councilman Garrett Dennis, meanwhile, asserted that the current bill is just “words on paper” because the aggrieved party “has nowhere to go to report, to complain” for relief.

The general counsel’s office described recourse, through the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission, which includes “conciliation” between the parties and a potential cause finding that could assert grounds for actionable grievance.

Among the potential penalties: a $500 fine and a 90 day jail stretch.

Dennis noted that the director position, which would be necessary for enforcement, is currently unfunded; he has a bill (2016-35) to rectify that.

“This bill doesn’t go far enough in protecting who we already have and who we’re trying to add,” Dennis said.

Notable: the vast majority of complaints the JHRC hears are employment complaints related to medium-sized businesses, with 1 percent of them driven by public accommodations such as bathrooms.

Some complaints are filed by “frequent fliers,” described by JHRC Director Charlene Taylor-Hill as people who complain repeatedly.

In other jurisdictions, said the JHRC director, the addition of SOGI protections has not led to the need for additional staff.

Councilman Doyle Carter noted that the extended process of inquiry hurts the “little guy, who does not have the resources” for a lengthy JHRC investigation.

However, that burden exists now.

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Councilman Gulliford, feeling a loss coming on, got fired up.

Gulliford noted that in Houston, legislation was repealed by citizen referendum.

“You have to anticipate the worst of situations that may arise,” Gulliford said, noting that liberties are being granted to one group at the expense of another.

Councilman Hazouri said “this is not a bathroom bill like it was in Houston,” noting that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office agreed with him.

“This bill is voted on on Valentine’s Day. Will it be Happy Valentine’s Day or a Valentine’s Day Massacre?”

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The Gulliford substitute was dispatched, but amendments were offered to chip away at the bill.

One amendment: to increase the number of employees a small business could have for purposes of exemption from the sexual orientation/gender identity provisions to 50, which contravenes federal statute from the EEOCleaving the city exposed to litigation.

That amendment passed 4-2, with Garrett Dennis joining Doyle Carter, Bill Gulliford, and Joyce Morgan in support.

Council VP John Crescimbeni thundered that “this creates a two-tier system,” allowing discrimination against LGBT people that would be otherwise barred by the bill.

“That’s insane,” Crescimbeni said.

Hazouri said “we have to be consistent with what we do, just like we have to be consistent with what our sexuality is.”

****

From there, discussion moved toward the meta-discourse realm, with Councilman Dennis wanting to know how the city can “regulate a private business.”

“How in the world do we regulate it here in this city,” Dennis said.

Gulliford voiced his opposition to the measure again, calling it “onerous” toward those who oppose these “burdens of laws,” with potential for “frivolous enforcement” due to the malleability of the “gray area of proof.”

Despite those caveats, the bill passed 4-2. And Dennis supported it.

****

Speaking after the meeting, Councilman Dennis discussed his thought process on the bill, including backing the amendment that seems to create tiers of permissible discrimination.

“I spoke to a few business owners,” Dennis said, and “their sweet spot is around 50” employees.

Dennis believes that protections should be “consistent across the board,” and suggested that maybe he “misunderstood” the amendment he voted for.

Dennis is also coy about where he stands on the bill.

“No one has gotten a yes or no out of me,” Dennis said. “I still have a couple of days to figure out” a position.

Dennis suggested that one way forward may to be raise the threshold of actionable discrimination to companies with 50 employees across the board, which means that the full human rights ordinance — and not just the proposed addition — would be out of compliance with EEOC guidelines.

However, “the LGBT plight is totally different” from the experience of African-Americans, Dennis added.

The next committee stop for this bill: Rules on Tuesday afternoon.

 The chair: Garrett Dennis.

Jacksonville’s HRO expansion is in sight, but questions loom

With less than a week to go before 2017-15, the latest attempt to expand the Human Rights Ordinance, hits three Jacksonville City Council committees, advocates are rightly optimistic and proud of the progress they’ve made in educating the council.

The HRO expansion bill would include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression as categories in the current HRO, protecting people on those grounds from discrimination in the housing market, the workplace, and in terms of public accommodations, such as bathrooms and locker rooms.

The carefully-worded bill includes carve out protections for businesses with under 15 employees, and for religious organizations.

Even as some outside groups, such as the Anti-Defamation League, say that the religious exceptions go too far, advocates of expansion know that they are the price to pay to get a HRO passed that protects people on the grounds of gender identity.

There is some rough consensus on the vote count that will emerge February 14.

Most say there are at least 11 votes in favor; the goal is 13, a number that would remove Mayor Lenny Curry from having to take a position on it either way.

Despite that, there are reasons for caution, on the local, state, and national levels.

****

On the local level, a familiar face returns to City Hall to warn against HRO expansion on Thursday afternoon.

Roger Gannam of the Liberty Council will address members of the panel at 2:00 p.m. Thursday, at the request of Councilman Bill Gulliford (an opponent of expansion of the ordinance).

Gannam asserts that “Jacksonville does not have an LGBT discrimination problem that needs to be solved.”

2017-15, says Gannam, would force “businesses and citizens” to “open their women’s facilities to men.”

The bill would also compel those same parties to “celebrate” same-sex relationships.

Gannam has had plenty of exposure in Jacksonville during the HRO debate. He’s not expected to say anything new regarding the impacts of the HRO expansion.

However, in an attempt to get 13 votes on this measure, it is entirely possible that Gannam could sway a council member toward his moral case.

The margin for error is nil for expansion advocates. And Gannam’s role is to impart reasonable doubt.

****

In addition to local resistance to expanding the HRO, a bill filed in the Florida House this week could impact local ordinances such as this one.

House Bill 17, filed by Republican Randy Fine, would preempt and supersede local regulations governing businesses.

Exceptions include laws adopted before Jan. 1, 2017, though the Fine bill would have those local regulations sunset at the end of 2019.

Another exception: regulations “expressly authorized” by the state.

While Jacksonville’s current HRO, which does not include so-called SOGI protections, would qualify as a pre-existent law, any expansion of the HRO may be argued as being in conflict with the Fine bill.

Our sources in Tallahassee confirm that there will be a Senate sponsor.

While it is theoretically possible that someone in the Duval Delegation might move to have the expanded HRO “expressly authorized” by the state, in practical terms there are only two people, both Democrats, who would push for that: Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Tracie Davis.

The Fine bill may be less than fine for LGBT equality advocates, in its amorphously-worded current form.

One more note of caution: the low number on the bill filed on Jan. 31 suggests a tacit endorsement from House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

****

On the federal level, mixed signals have been sent from the Donald Trump administration regarding LGBT rights.

While he was lauded, albeit cautiously, for continuing the Obama policy of barring workplace discrimination against federal contractors and employees, there is fear that the other shoe will drop in the form of a new executive order.

The Nation, a left-of-center publication, produced language from a so-called “leaked draft” of Trump’s  “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom” executive order.

Trump, once seen as an unlikely exponent of the policy goals of the religious right, embraced its agenda during the GOP primaries.

This draft language, according to The Nation, “covers ‘any organization, including closely held for-profit corporations,’ and protects ‘religious freedom’ in every walk of life: ‘when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with Federal, State or local governments’.”

 “Americans and their religious organizations will not be coerced by the Federal Government into participating in activities that violate their conscience,” the order reads.

While there are serious questions as to what the order would ultimately mean, or even if it would pass legal scrutiny to be released in anything close to its current form, it adds another layer of uncertainty to a potential long-awaited expansion of Jacksonville’s HRO.

Ballard Partners going national, opens D.C. office

Ballard Partners is extending its reach, announcing it is opening an office in Washington, D.C.

Brian Ballard, the firm’s president, announced this week Ballard Partners has opened an office in the nation’s capital. The announcement comes just weeks after President Donald Trump, who Ballard supported, took the oath of office.

“There is great enthusiasm with President Trump’s new administration in Washington. We are thrilled to be part of this excitement with the opening of our new Ballard Partners office in our nation’s capital,” said Ballard in a statement. “We have assembled a first class team to lead our office in Washington, and we look forward to representing our clients on a path to success at the federal level.”

That top-notch team includes Dan McFaul, a 20-year veteran of Capitol Hill. McFaul served as the chief of staff for newly U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, was a staffer on Trump’s transition team, and was the chief of staff and communications director for former Rep. Jeff Miller. He also served as former Rep. Joe Scarborough’s legislative director and deputy press secretary.

With an expansive client list, it isn’t surprising that Ballard has decided to open up an D.C. office. The firm is regularly one of the top earning lobby firms in the state; and in December, it announced a strategic partnership with Chicago-based All-Circo political consulting firm.

But beyond the expanding the firm’s reach, the decision to open up shop just weeks after Trump’s inauguration might not be that astonishing.

Ballard served as the finance chairman for his campaign in Florida, and was selected to serve as one of the finance vice chairs on the Presidential Inaugural Committee. He was a top adviser to the New York Republican during his presidential bid, and there were rumblings he might be nominated for an ambassadorship.

And their relationship goes beyond politics. Ballard served as the Trump Organization’s lobbyist before the Florida Legislature for several years.

Susie Wiles, who ran Trump’s successful Florida campaign, will also be joining the D.C. office. Wiles, a managing partner at Ballard Partners Jacksonville office, will split her time between Washington, D.C. and Jacksonville.

“Ballard Partners’ Washington, D.C. office will help provide clients critical access to the happenings at the federal level,” she said in a statement. “We are excited to hit the ground running with the powerhouse team we’ve assembled.”

The D.C. team will also include Otto Reich, the former ambassador to Venezuela.

Reich also served as the assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, the Special Envoy for the Western Hemisphere under President George W. Bush, and a senior staff member of the National Security Council. Reich was appointed as ambassador to Venezuela by President Ronald Reagan, where he served from 1986 to 1989.

“I am thrilled to join Ballard Partners in the new Washington, D.C. office at a very exciting time in our country’s history,” said Reich in a statement. “I look forward to helping bring the Ballard Partners standard of first-class government relations to Washington.”

Sylvester “Syl” Lukis has been tapped to lead the D.C. office. Lukis, a senior partner in Ballard Partners, brings more than 40 years of experience in government and representing clients Florida and Washington, D.C. to the position.

Anti-Defamation League backs expanded Jacksonville Human Rights Ordinance

Though some religious organizations, such as the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine, liken expanding Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to the “darkest days of World War II,” other groups have different takes.

On Jan. 26, the Anti-Defamation League sent Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry a letter, urging Jacksonville to take a “leadership role by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the HRO.

In fact, the ADL claims the proposed ordinance — 2017-15 — doesn’t go far enough.

The “exemption for religious institutions and non-profit affiliated organizations appears to go well beyond the religious exemption found in analogous federal employment discrimination, public accommodations, and fair housing laws,” the ADL asserts.

The “religious exemption as currently written is overly broad,” the ADL adds.

The ADL also calls the allegations that the bill’s public accommodations requirement pose a threat to public safety “completely unfounded,” especially in light of extant state laws prohibiting assault, molestation, et al.

The controversy over the proposed expansion of the HRO continues this week, with a press conference in Jacksonville’s city hall opposing expansion Tuesday afternoon, followed up by a Thursday “public notice” meeting on the topic.

Jacksonville Bold for 01.27.17 – Back in business

Jacksonville Bold is back with a new format.

Here we will offer our take on 10 of Northeast Florida’s biggest stories — beyond the blow-by-blow — explaining, as ever, why something is happening.

And why it’s important.

This edition will take readers inside issues related to the city’s legislative priorities, the Human Rights Ordinance debate, collective bargaining with police and fire unions, and other urgent matters.

1. What Lenny Curry is reading

An online article this week in Bloomberg was probably the most useful piece of publicity the Jacksonville Mayor’s efforts have received this month.

“Wall Street is hiring … in Florida” spotlighted some of the big momentum Jacksonville has gotten in the financial sector over the last couple of years.

Bloomberg notes that Deutsche Bank and MacQuarie have brought some C-suite folks to Duval.

“Also in Jacksonville are more than 19,000 employees of Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo,” Bloomberg notes, describing the “nearshoring” trend that Donald Trump is expected to accelerate.

Why Jacksonville? Office space costs a quarter of what it does in New York. Employees can get paid two-thirds what they make in the Big Apple. And as these companies almost invariably say, the Chamber and the mayor’s office push in ways other cities do not.

Even if, as a Deutsche Bank exec laments, you “can’t get Indian food at 11:30 p.m.,” a company can affect savings that enhance the bottom line, reassure shareholders and perhaps drive corporate bonuses.

2. Seven year itch

The city of Jacksonville negotiated with police and fire unions this week, and it seems like every time the city meets with these groups, negotiators sweeten the offer.

The goal: to move new hires to defined contribution plans, allowing the city to “get out of the pension business” eventually, as Mayor Curry says.

In the month’s previous meetings, the city offered a 25 percent match on DC plans for new hires.

This week, the city extended the possibility of seven-year agreements with each of the public safety unions — renewable within those agreements at three- and six-year intervals.

As well, in response to worries that police and fire hires lack an equivalent to Social Security, the city offered the prospect of a private annuity plan.

Floated during the police union meeting: mandating that, of the 33 percent combined match between the city and the employee, that 14 percent of that sum go into the annuity — effectively offering assurances that there would be a Social Security-style payment.

The city and its unions still have a way to go regarding negotiating raises for current employees, but a resolution of this issue may be in sight.

And, if a Florida House bill filed by Curry ally Jason Fischer that would close FRS’s defined benefit plan to new city plans goes through, then the city may really have the unions over a barrel.

(Speaking of that bill, Councilman Tommy Hazouri, an ally of the unions, believes it will be “dead on arrival.” Time will tell on that.)

Even if this issue were to be worked out immediately, though, the city isn’t done bargaining with the police union.

However, the Fraternal Order of Police also said Wednesday that they want collective bargaining before they put on body cameras. The city expects to roll out a pilot program this year. But before they can do that, the union wants to ensure it protects employees.

3. Exit ramp for Hart off ramp project?

A good get from Sebastian Kitchen in Thursday’s Florida Times-Union: the Curry Administration is hitting the brakes on its ask for $50 million for funds for the Hart Bridge off ramp project.

It’s probably just as well. Multiple members of the Duval County Legislative Delegation had told us, off the record, that they didn’t see the point.

One noted that the ask seemed motivated by Shad Khan and the impending amphitheater, an upgrade to the Sports Complex that should be paid off sometime in the next few decades, as bed tax revenues roll in to pay back money borrowed for the $88 million upgrades greenlighted in the Alvin Brown/Lenny Curry era.

While everyone agrees that the ramp is ugly, they don’t see the public safety argument Curry pushed at the Duval Delegation meeting.

What’s more, they — along with media — saw the case made in a manner not up to the standards of the current administration.

The case was made almost anecdotally, on the fly. And it was done without recognizing the reality that House Speaker Richard Corcoran isn’t just giving away money, and that the Duval House Delegation still needs a GPS to get around Tallahassee.

Kitchen notes that projects being pursued are “focused on public safety and neighborhoods, particularly those that are economically distressed.

“Other likely requests include continuing a grant that assists with funding community policing, pedestrian-safety improvements in areas prone to deadly crashes, a pump station to reduce flooding in San Marco, funding for ShotSpotter gunshot detection technology, and improvements to J. P. Small Memorial Park Stadium, one of the nation’s few remaining Negro League stadiums,” Kitchen notes.

Ambitious? No. But better to take ten easy wins than one hard loss, especially with HRO and collective bargaining looming over this mayor’s office.

4. Medical cannabis dispensary comes to Jacksonville

Jacksonville will have its first medical cannabis dispensary soon, reports First Coast News.

The announced Knox Medical location is 9901 San Jose Blvd., a retail location in the heavily-Republican Mandarin neighborhood, right next to a Smoothie King.

We talked to the Jose Hidalgo, president of Knox Medical last year about his ideas on the direction of the industry.

“I think education is key. My mom is 72 years old. She was completely freaked out … Just showing her how a suffering child is having 70-plus seizures a day and a single drop of CBD non-euphoric oil and the seizures stopped, she was already on board,” Hidalgo said. “This is a new world, when you talk about pharmaceutical. It’s not quite pharmaceutical. It’s not quite like pot. It’s a new space in medicine. And it’s an exciting time.”

For those who were paying attention two years ago, the city pushed one moratorium against dispensaries into law, then repealed it, then imposed another. There was palpable frustration among many activists about why the city had a “reefer madness”-styled discussion over Charlotte’s Web — the only medical strain legalized back in 2015.

Jacksonville used the second moratorium wisely, scheduling meetings with the Land Use and Zoning Committee and the Planning Commission to work out locational criteria for dispensaries to come.

Ordinance limits dispensaries to one per city planning district, with a minimum distance of a mile between them, permissible in non-residential zoning areas. And when we talked last year to Land Use & Zoning Committee (LUZ) Chair Danny Becton, he expressed confidence that this work laid the groundwork for implementation of Amendment 2.

Apparently, that was the case.

5. Liberty, at long last

What ended up being called the “Liberty Street collapse” became a great talking point for Mayor Curry during the 2015 mayoral campaign.

And, if all goes well, a successful fix might be a talking point in his re-election bid (if he runs again, of course).

WJXT reports that Superior Construction has 630 days to complete the reconstruction of the failed structure, on a $31 million contract.

In 2021, the FDOT will reimburse the city $7.5 million of that amount.

****

6. Is Liberty just the name of a street?

Highlighting Tuesday’s Jacksonville City Council meeting was an extensive public hearing on the expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance.

Advocates for expansion want housing, job, and public accommodations protections for people on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. The bill language protects small businesses and religious organizations from abiding by this law, though it does not include a carve-out exemption from compliance for those who prefer to discriminate.

Expansion opponents frame this measure as a “bathroom bill,” an elaborate ruse designed primarily to ensure transgendered or those men who “identify” as female have carte blanche access to a women’s bathroom or locker room.

This is the same old debate we’ve been having here since 2012.

This time, advocates feel confident they may be able to get the bill passed. The expectation is that 11 to 13 yes votes may manifest.

Thirteen would be the magic number; a supermajority would take the issue off Curry’s desk. More likely, it will be 11 or 12.

And for Curry, who won’t leave politics anytime soon, it presents the toughest decision of his tenure.

 ****

7. Ability Housing beats the NIMBY brigade

The Springfield neighborhood may not have wanted Ability Housing to develop a 12-unit apartment building to house veterans. And the city, sensitive to the community activists, may have thrown up some roadblocks.

Seemed like a good idea at the time.

But now, WOKV reports, it looks to have been all for naught.

“Federal court records obtained by WOKV show Ability Housing of Northeast Florida, Disability Rights of Florida, and the City of Jacksonville have come to terms over a pending lawsuit dealing with a project that would have housed homeless, disabled veterans in Springfield. A related case with the Department of Justice has also reached a settlement. In all, the City will pay close to $2 million in fines, attorney’s fees and other requirements, while making changed to zoning laws. The settlement comes without any admission of wrongdoing.”

Council must approve these settlements.

Springfield, a “neighborhood in transition” at least since the 1980s, continues to fight its battles between the urban pioneers who want the area to develop in the way that Riverside, Avondale, and San Marco have managed. The neighborhood’s proximity to a variety of social services for the dispossessed, which are antithetical to attempted gentrification, posed problems as well.

8. Local legislative delegations to meet next week.

Two local delegations will meet in their respective county seats next week.

Clay County’s delegation is slated to meet Monday afternoon at 4 p.m. at the county administration building in Green Cove Springs.

The next day, at 2 p.m., the Duval Delegation has a local bill hearing at Jacksonville’s city hall.

There are three local bills that the city council has urged for the upcoming session.

Two of them involve exceptions to liquor laws, with one seeking to lower seating requirements to 100 seats in some urban core neighborhoods, and the other trying to liberalize outdoor drinking rules during “special events” near the Sports Complex.

The third bill is more interesting: legislation to forbid the Duval County School Board chair from breaking a tie with his or her vote.

Those who remember last year’s personal discord between former chair Ashley Smith-Juarez and the current superintendent might note that there was a period when Smith-Juarez was suggesting Superintendent Nikolai Vitti should take his talents elsewhere.

Practically speaking, since the board was down to 6 members at that point, ASJ could have voted to bounce Vitti, and then become the deciding vote as the tie breaker.

9. Council prepares for “fifth week”

A gentle reminder: the Jacksonville City Council will be in its fifth week next week, and not meeting for committees.

Committees will start up again February 6 in a Monday-Wednesday schedule.

Expect council members to spend time reading hysterical emails against the HRO expansion, which for early February will be the major committee week topic.

Perhaps they will fit in some time to learn a phrase beloved by city hall reporters during votes on contentious issues such as the HRO.

“I call the question.”

10. Curry goes partisan.

Much has been said about “One City, One Jacksonville.” Yet in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Jacksonville mayor proved yet again his partisan chops with a series of hot tweets over the weekend.

Saturday afternoon, after a presser by Trump’s comms guy Sean Spicer, saw the following:

“.@seanspicer talking reckless inaccurate “reporting” by some media via Twitter. Sadly, some media believe Twitter = immunity to facts … Subject/political party/issue/aside- some media members, those that put their names on new stories, treat Twitter w disregard for facts … It is reckless & inconsistent w objective, verified info- but as “rules” change we will adapt. That is all.”

Curry was, for reasons that might escape some locals, siding with the Trump administration in pushing back against reports that Trump’s inauguration wasn’t as big a draw as President Barack Obama’s first.

Wading into partisan waters offers both reward and risk.

A Republican mayor needs a good relationship with the Trump White House. However, given the very real possibility that scandal may strike the Trump administration at some point in the next four years (maybe even the next four minutes), it might be advisable to let Team MAGA carry its own water.

To put it another way: what has Spicer ever done for you?

 

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