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February trial set for Jacksonville Councilmembers Katrina, Reggie Brown

The cases of suspended Jacksonville City Council members Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown were back in federal court Tuesday afternoon for a status hearing ahead of what is now a February trial, though the defendants were no-shows.

The two Browns, who are unrelated, are accused of a 38-count conspiracy to defraud, say federal prosecutors. The pair is accused of extracting hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal use from a Small Business Administration-backed loan provided for Katrina Brown’s family’s barbecue sauce plant.

The total list of charges: 13 counts of wire fraud, another 13 of mail fraud, five counts of money laundering, and charges of attempted bank fraud for Ms. Brown and failure to file a 1040 from Mr. Brown.

U.S. Attorney A. Tysen Duva noted that the case has “every indication of being a trial case,” with Duva requesting a February trial date.

“If we set it off about six months,” Duva said, there would be a “realistic trial term.”

The longer time frame is required given 28,000 pages of discovery, all requiring the review of the defendants’ court-appointed attorneys.

The longer gap between the current hearing and the trial date, which was originally slated for September, will allow one or both co-defendants to consider their legal position over a length of time.

Reggie Brown’s attorney said that, while he is “anxious to clear his name,” he is prepared to waive his rights to a speedy trial.

The proposed new dates: a motions deadline would be set for Oct. 9, with a response deadline Oct 25, then status conference in November, with a plea deadline Dec. 24 and another status conference on Jan. 7 — the next time the defendants are required to be in court.

Duva expects to make the case in five trial days.

Attorney Duva noted that jury selection may take some days, given the notoriety of the defendants, citing a recent analogous fraud case, that of former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and her former chief-of-staff Elias “Ronnie” Simmons.

If that case offers any insights, the duo of Reggie Brown and Katrina Brown may yet separate.

It’s worth watching whether or not Mr. Brown files a motion to separate, as Simmons did a couple of months before striking a plea deal and cooperating with U.S. Attorneys.

Simmons struck a plea deal with the feds in February, pleading guilty on two counts, with his sentencing contingent on substantial cooperation with the feds.

As part of that cooperation, Simmons had to testify against his old boss.

Simmons’ attorney expected a plea deal well before proceedings began, given that federal indictments are rarely filed without the evidence required to convict.

So, while discovery will be worth watching this week and beyond, so too will whether or not the co-defendants maintain a united front.

In the case of Reggie Brown’s former seat on the City Council, yet more legal action is underway regarding when Terrance Freeman, the Republican who Gov. Rick Scott appointed to fill the vacancy, established residency.

The matter will come down to the judge deciding which of two days Freeman was actually appointed. And deciding that, even if Freeman wasn’t technically a resident, if a potential “cure” of a re-appointment wouldn’t satisfy requirements.

Plaintiff Brenda Priestly-Jackson, a Democrat, says Republican Freeman, who established residency in District 10 by renting rooms in a private home the day he was appointed (July 10), was circumventing residency requirements.

Freeman’s private attorney, as well as lawyers representing the city of Jacksonville and the state of Florida, contend that since Freeman was sworn in July 12, he had established residency before becoming a Council member.

Of course, if Reggie Brown were to plead out and resign, a special election would be required, because Freeman’s appointment was only intended to fill in for the absent Councilman.

However, with Brown maintaining innocence, Councilman Freeman isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

July looks like previous months in Jacksonville City Council fundraising

Fundraising for Jacksonville City Council 2019 races is in full swing, and here’s a look at the landscape. Unmentioned races have no filed candidates at this writing.

In Jacksonville City Council District 1, Democratic incumbent Joyce Morgan filed at the beginning of August, with no appreciable fundraising. Her sole opponent, Republican Bill Bishop, raised $4,400 in July (his best month since launching last October). He has roughly $15,000 on hand.

Incumbent Republican Al Ferraro continues a cakewalk to re-election in District 2. Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan was among the donors that led to a $5,825 July. Ferraro has $46,000 on hand; his only opponent has just over $100 on hand.

In District 4, Council Vice President Scott Wilson kicked off his campaign with $12,000 in July. The Republican has no competition yet.

In District 5, Republican LeAnna Cumber has $176,000 on hand and has paused raising money, given her Democratic opponent has under $500 banked.

District 6 sees two Republicans, Michael Boylan and Rose Conry, battling for an open seat. Neither raised much in July: Boylan, just $475; Conry, $2,100. Conry, with $77,000 on hand, has a 2:1 cash advantage.

District 7 Democrat Reggie Gaffney has $49,000 on hand after a $2,725 July. The field is crowded, yet undercapitalized. His closest competitor, Solomon Olopade, has $12,550 on hand, and most of that is self-funding.

In District 8, Tameka Gaines Holly still leads the field; with $22,000 on hand, she dominates a field where the rest of the candidates are in four figures. The incumbent, appointed Ju’Coby Pittman, has yet to file for election.

District 9 Democrat Marcellus Holmes is the only filed candidate thus far; he has $290 on hand; incumbent Garrett Dennis has yet to file for reelection.

In District 10, where Republican Terrance Freeman was appointed to fill a vacancy created by suspension, fundraising has not been a priority for those running for office. Kevin Monroe, with roughly $1,900 on hand, leads in cash-on-hand.

District 11 Republican incumbent Danny Becton, running unopposed, brought in $17,750 in July, pushing him over $80,000 raised, with over $79,000 on hand.

District 12 Republican Randy White, who was appointed to fill a future vacancy once Doyle Carter‘s resignation takes effect, has no 2019 —opposition  and over $86,000 on hand.

District 13 Republican Rory Diamond has no opposition for an open seat, and $115,000 on hand after July’s $2,650 raised.

In District 14, Democrat Sunny Gettinger, with over $11,000 raised in July, continues to cut into Republican Randy DeFoor‘s cash lead. DeFoor is still up, $117,000 to $90,000, but the margin narrows every month. This will be an open seat, with incumbent Republican Jim Love termed out. Other candidates are farther back in the cash chase.

In at-large races, Republican Chris Whitfield, unopposed in At-large Group 1, has yet to raise money.

In Groups 2-4, Republican Ron Salem, Democrat Tommy Hazouri, and Republican Matt Carlucci look like the best bets. The Republicans have both raised major money against nominal competition. And Hazouri is unopposed.

In Group 5, incumbent Republican Sam Newby has raised just over $18,000 against two opponents. Newby won citywide in 2015 with less than that, however.

Incumbent Tommy Hazouri, unopposed for Jacksonville City Council, wows with $29K July

Former Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Hazouri, a Democrat running for reelection to the City Council, showed strong fundraising from diverse sources for his second straight month, suggesting that any 2019 challenge will be futile.

Hazouri pulled in $29,750 in July, pushing his total fundraising above $85,000, with more than $83,000 of that on hand.

He is running unopposed.

Former Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver joined current owner Shad Khan and his lobbyist, Paul Harden, in making maximum $1,000 donations to Hazouri — just a sample of Republican support for Hazouri, which includes former Jacksonville City Councilman Stephen Joost.

The local police and fire unions also maxed out for Hazouri, as did pillars of the donor class such as Steve Halverson and Sleiman Holdings,

Lobbyists, via the Fiorentino Group, also featured.

The most unexpected name in the 56 contributions? Vito Stellino, a former Florida Times-Union sportswriter.

Hazouri faced opposition from the left and the right in 2015, but this time around, it appears that his base of support is too broad for anyone to even jump into this one.

JEA ‘no-sale’ bill appears to be ‘black flag dead’ in Jacksonville City Council

It is rare that a Jacksonville City Council resolution gets four committee stops, but such is the case with 2018-429, a resolution of disinclination to sell local publicly owned utility JEA.

It is even rarer that a bill can’t get a second to move into consideration.

That was the case in Monday’s Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health and Safety Committee, where the bill could not get a second, and the committee moved to withdraw the bill over the objections of the sponsor.

The final report from the Jacksonville City Council special committee on the future of JEA revealed a consensus to keep the utility local and publicly owned, which seemingly would bode well for the legislation.

However, that wasn’t the case.

Bill sponsor Garrett Dennis, who expended a lot of political capital last year trying to stop what he saw as machinations to sell the utility, asserted late last week his belief that the four committee gauntlet is an attempt to kill the bill.

“Council President (Aaron) Bowman has shown an interest in carrying out this administration’s orders,” Dennis said, “so I wouldn’t be surprised if he is trying to kill the bill.”

Bowman denied that claim when asked.

“It’s time for my colleagues to make a decision. They need to get a backbone and stand up for what is best for our city and not for what Lenny Curry and his cronies want,” Dennis, who is on just one committee currently, said.

As it turned out, committee members asserted they had made their position clear.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri, a Democrat like Dennis, wondered “how many times we have to do a black flag dead on this issue,” given the JEA Special Committee made that statement.

“I’m not here to watch us get embarrassed. You’ve continued to do this on every issue, to go against the mayor. We have spoken,” Hazouri said, proclaiming the bill meaningless.

Committee chairman Sam Newby wondered “why we bring this back up again. It’s a dead issue,” then motioned to withdraw the bill.

Dennis protested the withdrawal motion, but the other four committee members overruled him.

The bill has three more committee stops, and Dennis is on none of those committees, meaning there is a good chance the bill never gets taken up.

Jacksonville City Council panel approves cannabis code change

Ordinance 2018-75, which would revise existing medical cannabis regulations, moved out of its first of two Jacksonville City Council committees Monday.

The code was first formulated in response to “Charlotte’s Web” low-THC cannabis being the single legal strain, and after an extended period of debate, processing and dispensing were allowed in commercial districts, with cultivation permitted in agricultural zones.

This legislation was moved Monday in the Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health & Safety committee, after deferrals in the spring.

The ordinance would allow dispensaries anywhere in the city, including within 500 feet of a school if the applicant could prove a compelling interest in public safety, health and welfare.

Council would have to consider those waiver requests, which would include a survey of schools similar to that required for obtaining a new liquor licenses under similar circumstances.

However, at least in its current version, churches would not be consulted.

Land Use and Zoning will consider the bill Tuesday evening, its last stop before the Council floor next week.

Jacksonville City Council panel gears up for budget deep dive

August is here, and the annual review of the city of Jacksonville’s budget by the City Council’s Finance Committee is imminent.

The first hearing, Aug. 7, sees the committee poised to approve the property appraiser’s budget — a precursor to a larger review of the Mayor’s proposed budget that begins all-day sessions Aug. 16.

As compared with the $1.19 billion general fund budget in FY 16-17, and the $1.27 billion budget last year, the general fund budget is up this year to $1.31 billion.

The reamortization of what is now over $3 billion of pension debt from Jacksonville’s costly defined benefit plans, closed as of 2016 to new applicants, is allowing city leaders to spend in ways not possible otherwise.

Savings realized from pension reform, $331 million over two fiscal years per Mayor Lenny Curry, are allowing the spending.

“Without pension reform,” Curry said, “millions and millions of dollars would be diverted away from making our city better.”

Public safety spending, boosted again in this budget, will be discussed Aug. 16.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office would get $30 million in new money, facilitating 180 new officers (even as the total employee cap goes down), and a new data center for crime fighting. Fire and Rescue would receive an additional $17 million.

Children’s program spending will be reviewed Aug. 22. The newly formed Kids Hope Alliance would get $41 million, a big boost from previous spending on the Jacksonville Journey and Jacksonville Children’s Commission. Sixty new therapists would be funded for public schools, Curry said, with a 10 percent bump in children accessing KHA services.

A big part of the spend, to be discussed on Aug. 28, capital improvements.

FY 18-19 will see $161.4 million allocated to improvements, with big spends on Hart Bridge off-ramp removal ($12.5 million from the city matching the same sum from the state), a new fire station ($5 million), road resurfacing ($12 million), money for infrastructure at U.F. Health ($15 million, part of a $120 million commitment) and sidewalk projects (many of them delayed for years).

Curry’s budget should have an easier time than it did last year, when a Finance Committee stacked with Democrats (thanks to the previous council president) went beyond the numbers to ask epistemological questions about tactics in local policing.

This year sees Curry allies abound on the committee: Greg AndersonLori Boyer, and Bill Gulliford (all former Council Presidents) will dominate the proceedings.

Anderson and Council President Aaron Bowman both want a focus on the numbers, a more than tacit acknowledgement that the priorities of the Mayor and his allies largely overlap.

After the August deliberations, the full City Council will vote on the budget in September, with the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Defense firms up for Terrance Freeman appointment to Jacksonville City Council

Though controversy has yet to subside over the appointment of Republican Terrance Freeman to a perennially Democratic seat on the Jacksonville City Council, the defense strategy from Freeman and the city of Jacksonville is beginning to coalesce.

Brenda Priestly-Jackson, a Democrat and former Duval County School Board chair who was passed up for the appointment to fill the unexpired term of suspended incumbent Democrat Reggie Brown, charged that Freeman, who established residency in the district by renting two rooms in a private home the day he was appointed last week, was not a legitimate pick because he moved to Northwest Jacksonville solely to serve on the Council.

There are those who find it ironic that Priestly Jackson is questioning residency, given her own issues with that during her political career.

Broadly speaking, the point argued by the defense side is that issues regarding Freeman’s residency prior to his swearing in on July 12 are moot. And that the filing by the plaintiffs is out of line, with the court lacking “subject matter jurisdiction.”

Freeman’s lawyers, Rep. Paul Renner and Lindsey Brock, filed a motion to dismiss last week, charging that plaintiff Jackson was conflating the date of appointment with the date of swearing in (two days after Scott’s appointment email went out).

The motion to dismiss notes that the filing seeks to remove a sitting councilor from office, which contravenes the Charter’s assertion that the Council is the arbiter of qualifications to serve, an assertion backed up by similar language in the Florida Constitution.

The Renner/Brock filing also asserts that there is no “advance residency requirement” for service. As well, the motion to dismiss asserts an inextricable linkage between Councilman Freeman and the city of Jacksonville — a linkage asserted by the city itself in its motion to intervene in a case in which it was not a defendant.

“While Plaintiff purports to bring her allegations against Councilmember Freeman in his individual capacity, by alleging that he assumed his mantle as an active member of the City Council immediately upon appointment, Plaintiff has actually sued Councilmember Freeman as an active, sitting member of the City Council in his official capacity,” the filing adds.

Jacksonville has, per the filing, an “important governmental interest in participating in discussions, analysis and arguments over the application of its own laws.”

Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis, a Democrat who has been more vocal than anyone about what he perceives to be overstep from the Mayor’s Office, wrote the general counsel wanting a public clarification of the city’s decision to intervene.

“After multiple inquiries, you admitted that your client for this matter is the administration.  Please identify who in the administration is your client,” Dennis wrote.

General Counsel Jason Gabriel responded Friday.

“I do recall saying that I did not think the City would get involved by representing Council Member Freeman in his individual capacity, but I do not believe I said, and certainly did not mean to imply, that the City would not get involved at all if the best interests of the City  were to dictate otherwise.  In fact, because of the erroneous interpretations of the City Charter alleged by outside third parties in this lawsuit, it would have been completely irresponsible for the City to sit idle,” Gabriel wrote.

The city authority added that “it is the authority—and more importantly the duty—of the executive branch to be briefed on matters of litigation, in addition to all the other executive branch responsibilities. The legislative branch is likewise briefed and consulted at the proper time and setting.”

“I hoped to make clear that while this Office might not represent Council Member Freeman directly in the case (even though it could), that because the case involved outside third parties making interpretations about our City laws as they relate to a sitting City official, that we as a City would have an imperative to participate in such a debate,” Gabriel added.

Matt Carlucci defends Terrance Freeman appointment to Jacksonville City Council

Former Jacksonville City Councilman — and current candidate — Matt Carlucci knows something about the gubernatorial appointment process.

Carlucci was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to head the Florida Commission on Ethics, a position he resigned shortly before launching his 2019 campaign for Council.

We caught up with Carlucci Friday, where he gave us a peek at that appointment process, and defended the appointment of Jacksonville’s newest Councilman, Terrance Freeman, controversial as a Republican who moved to NW Jacksonville solely because of being the governor’s choice.

Carlucci defends the city’s position.

“My years on the Council, I always leaned heavily on the General Counsel’s office.”

The general counsel’s position is that Freeman satisfied residency requirements, having established a district address before being sworn in last Thursday.

“If the general counsel’s correct, and I’m thinking he probably is, then Terrance is the councilman for that area, and given the chance, I think he’ll do a very good job,” Carlucci said.

“Sometimes great things get off to tough starts,” Carlucci added. “Perhaps a choice from that district might have made some other parts of that district happy. I get that. I’m not tone deaf to that. But also I believe in giving people a chance.”

“They’ll find that Terrance will be a hard worker and dedicated to doing what he can in that district,” Carlucci predicted.

Carlucci talked about his own process.

“I had to drive to Tallahassee to interview, and it was a tough interview. I didn’t have people calling on my behalf. He’s not a backslapper,” Carlucci related.

“He did allow me to have my picture taken with him, which I did,” Carlucci said. “It was an honor.”

“I knew one thing: he was dedicated to good government,” Carlucci said, stressing that his appointment process may have been different from Freeman’s.

Carlucci is well-positioned to return to Council, boasting a $240,000 nest egg against two fellow Republicans who each have roughly $10,000 on hand.

“We have contributions coming in still from friends and people interested in the race,” Carlucci said, noting that he has already reached his goal of $250,000.

“There are so many people asking for money right now,” Carlucci said. “It pays to get in early.”

He would not offer his take on how internal polls read.

Duval Dems move to remove Terrance Freeman from Jacksonville City Council

On Monday morning, as District 10 Republican Jacksonville City Councilman Terrance Freeman settled in for his first committee meeting after being named last week to the board, a group of Duval County Democrats is asking for emergency relief from Gov. Rick Scott‘s appointment.

If granted, that relief would stop Freeman from taking action as a councilman until legal proceedings wrapped regarding his residency.

The presser at the Duval County Courthouse was in support of a petition (16-2018-CA-004630-XXXX-MA) by Brenda Priestly Jackson, a Democrat and former Duval County School Board chair who was passed up for the appointment to fill the unexpired term of suspended incumbent Democrat Reggie Brown.

Priestly Jackson and other Democrats charge that Freeman, who established residency in the district by renting two rooms in a private home the day he was appointed last week, was not a legitimate pick because he moved to Northwest Jacksonville solely to serve on the Council.

The Governor signaled his thoughts on this challenge even before Monday by opting to host a Senate campaign event in Freeman’s district on Monday afternoon. However, a united group of Democrats pushed back on what they believe was an illegitimate selection.

Duval Democratic Chairwoman Lisa King slammed Scott for having “chose to pick someone who lives 20 miles away” to represent 10. Vice Chair Daniel Henry blasted Freeman for “just show[ing] up, trying to rent two rooms” to establish residency. City Councilman Garrett Dennis bemoaned the “cronyism City Hall has been plagued with the last three years.” And State Sen. Audrey Gibson blasted a “tainted process” that led to a “blatantly wrong appointment,” noting that she could “write the script” on what Scott would say.

Priestly Jackson noted that of “over 50 applicants, approximately 15 to 20 lived in District 10.”

Both Priestly Jackson and her attorney, Leslie Jean Bart, noted that their preference would have been for a special election. However, Councilman Reggie Brown (the suspended indictee) maintains his innocence, and this put the fill-in slots in the Governor’s court.

The legal filing contends that at the time the Governor’s appointment became official, Freeman still homesteaded and was registered to vote in Mandarin. The city’s position is that Freeman was not a Councilman until his swearing-in ceremony, maintaining what could be called a Councilman-select status.

Democrats, while up in arms over what they see as the Lenny Curry administration stealing a seat from their party, nonetheless lack a credible, well-funded challenger to Curry on the 2019 ballot.

Help may not be on the way. When we asked about that lack of real challenge, we were told the presser was not the place for that question.

Meanwhile, Duval Republicans blasted the Democrats for objecting to Freeman, with Chair Karyn Morton suggesting that “We urge Democrat Party Chairman Lisa King to end her partisan attacks on Councilman Freeman and instead focus on keeping her own elected officials from becoming felons.”

King responded that the pushback isn’t about whether Freeman is Republican, but it’s about his “residency” — something attorney Jean-Bart isn’t prepared to say has been established even now, with Freeman leasing two rooms in the district.

Jacksonville City Council special committee to mull ‘historical remembrance’

Almost a year after the events in Charlottesville led former Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche to urge an inventory and potential relocation of Jacksonville’s Confederate monuments and markers. a seven-person committee on that body will mull “historical remembrance.”

“As we continue to have a dialogue about long-term planning for our city’s future, it is essential that we also take the time to reflect on our past,” reads the memo from current Council President Aaron Bowman.

“We must contemplate all that brought Jacksonville to this moment in time,” the memo continues, “and that should include recognition of a history that considers our diversity and the challenges we’ve overcome.”

The committee will look at how to acknowledge said history, in public parks and events, as well as legislation to that end.

One bill is on pause: 2018-420, a Brosche bill that would “claim its Duval County Memorial Monument from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama and to install the monument in Hemming Park to commemorate the county’s lynching victims.”

The monument to lynching victims would have proved to be a controversial addition to Hemming Park; this bill buys some time.

The committee, chaired by Council VP Scott Wilson, will include Brosche along with Greg AndersonSam Newby, Reggie GaffneyTommy Hazouri, and the newest Councilman, Terrance Freeman.

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