Jacksonville Human Rights Ordinance Archives - Florida Politics

Jacksonville Civic Council: HRO expansion is ‘essential’

On Tuesday, the Jacksonville Civic Council reiterated a stance made before: support of expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance to the LGBT community.

The HRO is nearly a quarter-century old; activists and community stakeholders want to see sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression added as protected classes.

The civic council chairman, Ed Burr, wrote the city council Tuesday, expressing “the Jacksonville Civic Council’s strong support for a Human Rights Ordinance that protects all residents of our city from discrimination.”

“Passage of this ordinance is a top priority for the Civic Council and the area business community,” Burr wrote of the bill, a “Jacksonville solution to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Burr also deemed the bill “essential to the economic future of our community,” noting that the measure has carve outs for “religious freedom and protecting small business from experiencing an undue burden.”

Burr opined that the “pending legislation addresses concerns voiced by local faith leaders and the small business community.

“We believe that now is the time for Jacksonville to join the majority of Florida and U.S. cities in affirmatively protecting its citizens from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There is no doubt that this Human Rights Ordinance will strengthen our economy, attract people and businesses to Jacksonville, and advance a culture of fairness and respect for all.”

Mayor Lenny Curry will hold a 2:00 p.m. presser with HRO advocates, such as Jax Chamber chair Darnell Smith, present.

Will the HRO come up?

The “long game” of the civil rights struggle looms over Jacksonville MLK breakfast

Friday saw Jacksonville’s stakeholders convene at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday breakfast.

The second of these breakfasts for Mayor Lenny Curry, his prepared remarks were focused on service.

However, the city is working through a number of active civil rights issues.

Among them: expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance to include LGBT people, and a bill moving through the city council related to funding a position to ensure equal opportunity in city employment.

Thus, a tension existed — as it so often does in Jacksonville — between abstract ideals and historical hagiography, and the realities of life in a diverse city with competing interests and narratives.

That tension was reflected in the program, which attempted to stay deliberately big picture and free of contemporary politics.

While the mayor and some speakers kept remarks anodyne and positive, invoking Dr. King in a totemic, symbolic way, other speakers honed in on more specific, hot-button concerns that were reminiscent of the specific calls for social justice he made before his assassination in 1968

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The early parts of the program avoided, as is often the case, a direct address of current civil rights issues, staying on a service theme established by Curry’s letter in the program, quoting King saying “life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others?”

The introduction from a local newscaster lauded Curry for bringing the “accountability that Jacksonville deserves” to the office, which was a curious syntactic choice from an anchorman.

Curry then took the mike.

“I’m so proud of my city this morning,” Curry said, of the “diverse” group of people assembled to honor a man who “did the right thing.”

Among other topics, the mayor discussed the city’s commitment to volunteerism, and pulling together, with a specific section about the recovery effort from Hurricane Matthew, “with hugs and love.”

“We are a resilient people, and we are a resilient city,” Curry said, before encouraging volunteerism with a “heart full of grace, and a soul generated by love.”

Curry then reprised a call from his inauguration: for the crowd to hold hands, chanting “One City, One Jacksonville.”

Curry then introduced Darnell Smith of the Jax Chamber.

Media wondered: would Smith discuss an issue he’s pushing right now, that being HRO expansion?

That wasn’t the case.

Smith, like Curry, said the event was “all about service. About loving one another, and giving our fellow brothers and sisters hope.”

Smith discussed King’s “many sacrifices,” reprising the mayor’s quote of King regarding “what are you doing for others.”

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Though the early part of the program didn’t touch on current issues, keynote speaker Bertice Berry did allude to the linkage between the civil rights struggle for African-Americans and for LGBT people.

Berry noted that she had talked to a gay man, who had told her he had supported civil rights for African-Americans, in the hope they would support rights for him.

Berry called that the “long game.”

The “long game” of civil rights was revisited by a couple of subsequent speakers.

Jacksonville Urban League President Richard Danford urged the city to focus on remedying disparities, via taking a hard look at disparity studies, and the “allocation and distribution of city funds,” including contracts and employment for minorities.

These efforts, said Danford, would “reduce poverty and crime in this community … stir business development and create more jobs in communities of color.”

Danford also alluded to Councilman Garrett Dennis‘ “equal opportunity” bill, saying that the city’s independent authorities, such as JEA and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, “should reflect the diversity in the community.

The benediction was also rooted in contemporary issues in the city, with Rabbi Richard Shapiro calling for the government to “uphold laws against discrimination,” including for “transgender Americans.”

“The civil rights struggle did not end in the sixties. When minority groups voice discontent,” Shapiro said, “they’re not demanding special treatment.”

Media expected to be able to ask Mayor Curry questions about some of the more progressive statements from the mike; however, we were told that time didn’t permit such an inquiry.

HRO reboot dominates Jacksonville City Council meeting

After an agenda full of bills that met little opposition in committees, the Jacksonville City Council turned its attention Tuesday evening to a familiar question: the HRO, which was up on first read with a planned vote on Valentine’s Day.

For the third time in five years, Jacksonville legislators heard pros and cons of expanding Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include employment, housing, and public accommodations protections for the city’s LGBT community.

For council regulars, there was a feeling of familiarity: many of those in attendance were the same people making the same points they had in previous years.

The stickers were the same.

The opponents wore “protect first liberties” stickers, as they had previously; the proponents wore Jacksonville Coalition for Equality stickers.

The energy in the air: at once nervous and well-worn.

The turnout: roughly 2 to 1 in favor of HRO expansion.

A measure of the passion: even with five hours to go in the meeting, speakers were allowed just two minutes and fifteen seconds each, to get over 100 people in before the hard stop at midnight.

As before, the arguments were impassioned on both sides.

Early in the program, a transgender woman noted that she and her peers were deprived of “life and human rights,” noting that “being GLBT isn’t a matter of choice” and not a denotation of criminality.

An opponent — an elderly man with a combover and a dated suit — countered with stories of people on the west coast whose businesses were “bankrupted for their consciences.”

Locally, he said that proponents “were collaborators of bullies,” and appeasers of “extortionists.”

Proponents and opponents alike rooted their positions in liberty, with one gentleman saying in opposition that “deplorables make up a large part of your base” and “values voters” are keeping track of the votes of the 12 Republicans on the city council on this issue.

The rhetoric got heated 20 minutes in, with an opponent saying the bill was about “special privileges to a deviant group,” with duped council members “deviously holding the door open … to destruction of our society.”

This re-established a theme from previous considerations of the measure: proponents made plaintive pleas for legislation, making the moral cast against permissible discrimination; opponents painted the bill in lurid tones, casting aspersions on supporters of the measure.

The opponents tended to be more quotable.

Christian right activist Raymond Johnson soon thereafter claimed HRO passage was a public safety issue due to the high incidence of HIV/AIDS in the LGBT community, renaming the bill a “homosexual superiority ordinance.”

Another opponent discussed sexual assault, and the prospect of a “high school football player feeling feminine and taking a shower in the girls’ locker room,” indulging in “perverted pleasures.”

An impassioned gentleman noted that if his three year old son married a man, his blood line would cease to exist.

Opponents continued to press the case, maintaining that expanding the law would infringe on the consciences of opponents, leading to potential legal exposure for not complying with the legislation.

As well, questions were raised as to whether or not member businesses of the Chamber of Commerce, which supports HRO expansion, actually support HRO expansion.

Proponents, meanwhile, discussed the difficulties experienced by those outside binary gender constructs, especially relative to public accommodations, among other issues.

They also depicted the cost of a lack of legislation as being, in part, a loss of the city’s best and brightest to other cities, where the issue of LGBT rights had been resolved years or decades prior.

Darnell Smith of the Jacksonville Chamber brought discussion back to the bill itself, saying that it was a bill of collaboration, with carved out protections for religious institutions and small businesses.

Smith’s comments, unlike many on either side, came back to the substance of the bill, updating code to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Council President Lori Boyer then put a bow on the whole thing, talking about what a great city Jacksonville is, and how during this period of comment, it was established that “people on both sides are passionate, and everyone was respectful of each other.”

That much is debatable.

Not debatable: HRO will drive public comment through February 14, when it will receive a floor vote.

While there was no equivalent to Roy Bay or Kenneth Adkins this time out, it’s a long time until Valentine’s Day.

Jacksonville HRO expansion opponents preview talking points, malign city council president

At Tuesday night’s Jacksonville City Council meeting, expect opponents of LGBT rights to use the following talking points against HRO expansion.

While advocates of expanding the Human Rights Ordinance believe that they have the votes to pass the third version of the bill, opponents see it as more of the same … and intend to tell the council about it.

Blake Harper, a vocal opponent of the bill, made some points in an email circulating on Jacksonville’s religious right.

Harper calls the bill the “LGBT railroad express,” and compared the process behind it to “Obamacare.”

Council President “Lori Boyer‘s (Pro LGBT, voted for the first LGBT law in 2012) intention [is] to get this done by February 14th, 2017…… [with] the bare minimum number of subcommittee meetings, the least amount of public input and scrutiny,” Harper said, before betraying a misunderstanding of the committee process itself.

“Boyer has established a clear practice of using the sub-committees to do the work.  The Council has rarely overturned the decision of the committees…. even to the point that City Council voted to allow liquor to be sold within previously iron-clad distances from churches,” Harper notes.

Harper then goes on to suggest the committee process itself is intended to be secret: “The committees meet during the work day…when hard-working people most impacted by this bill are not available. Also, they have stacked the Committees in favor of the HRO amendment.”

“IN SHORT………….they are trying to accomplish with this law what Obama tried to accomplish with Obama-care,” Harper writes.

The letter also includes commentary from Roger Gannam of the Liberty Counsel, who was ubiquitous during previous debates on the HRO.

Gannam calls it a “bad bill,” a rehash of the previous efforts.

“There are new words, but no added meaningful exemptions for religious citizens. Business owners who do not want to participate in someone else’s same-sex wedding receive no protection in the new HRO. Women and girls who do not want to share a public bathroom with a man dressed as a woman receive no protection in the new HRO,” Gannam notes.

Jacksonville human rights ordinance expansion push begins … again

On Wednesday, Jacksonville City Council members and community leaders met in a packed conference room in city hall.

The subject: expanding Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include members of the city’s LGBT community. The bill is expected to be filed by 3 p.m. January 4, with an eye toward committees and a full council vote on February 14.

The rhetoric of Wednesday’s meeting: familiar. Lots of phrasings about the economic and the moral case for the HRO from its biggest advocates on Council and other prominent community leaders and figures.

Bill co-sponsors Tommy HazouriJim Love, and Aaron Bowman were on hand, along with other council members, such as Al FerraroGreg Anderson, Katrina BrownJoyce Morgan, VP John Crescimbeni and President Lori Boyer.

Bowman noted that President-elect Donald Trump “supported LGBT” at the GOP Convention and got applause, while HB 2 was a “disaster” in North Carolina, suggesting that both were auguries of change.

Jacksonville Chamber Co-Chair Darnell Smith urged council co-sponsorship for what he called a “Jacksonville solution,” which “truly represents who we are as a community.”

“We don’t want anyone in our community to be discriminated against for any reason,” Smith said, adding that the HRO won’t take away anyone’s religious freedoms.

Smith lauded Mayor Curry for his departmental directive protecting LGBT city and vendor employees from discrimination, saying that it’s “time to act” on the HRO, a “comprehensive” bill “written in a tenor and tone of togetherness.”

Smith implored the eight council members on hand to co-introduce the bill.

Others followed with their own pitches.

Steve Halverson of Haskell spoke further of support from the Jacksonville Civic Council and its “strong support for a comprehensive human rights ordinance.”

Hugh Greene of Baptist Health called the lack of an HRO expansion an “embarrassment” and an issue that “clouds our city.”

Pastor John Newman asserted that HRO expansion will “help us clarify that this is a welcoming city.”

“We protect each other. We love each other. That goes for those in the LGBT community as well as those in the religious community,” Newman noted.

The bill, said Jimmy Midyette of the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality, synthesizes the “best bits” of the two previous bills filed in attempts to expand the HRO.

Discussion followed regarding the difficulties of business recruitment, and other issues, with Councilman Hazouri noting that investments in sports facilities and entertainment venues might come to naught because entertainers won’t want to perform in a place without legal protections for LGBT people.

The bill was then presented to the council members and VIPs in attendance, explaining the specific additions of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to ordinance language, and the various carveouts and exceptions that protect small businesses and religious organizations.

“We’re not telling every business in the city that they need to retrofit their bathrooms,” Midyette said.

Then, the call for co-sponsors.

Jim Love reiterated his support and vowed to co-introduce the bill.

Tommy Hazouri likewise said he was still all in.

Councilwoman Katrina Brown had questions about restrooms in small businesses, like her family’s restaurant. She was told that transgender people were advised, via the bill, to use the bathroom they are comfortable with.

“Nothing changes,” Midyette said.

And the bill stood with three co-introducers.

Council President Boyer urged the bill to “go through the committee process deliberately.”

“We have had a long period of time in which to debate and evaluate our positions,” Boyer said, urging a normal committee cycle.

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Will the third time be the charm for attempts to add LGBT protections to Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance?

The bill went down in two versions in 2012. A “compromise” bill, which would have kept the “T” out of the protections rendered, fell 10 to 9 after one committed supporter, Councilman Johnny Gaffney, got “confused” and voted no.

Then, the original fully-inclusive version was defeated 17 to 2.

Gaffney did not ask for a re-vote. Years later, he would say he was pressured to vote no by the administration of former Mayor Alvin Brown.

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After 2012’s down vote, the HRO remained on the backburner as a political issue. That backburner got hot during the 2015 mayoral campaign, contributing to Brown’s defeat.

In later 2015, the HRO resurfaced.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri filed a 14-page bill that sought to add sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to the protected categories.

That bill was preceded by Hazouri’s council colleague, Bill Gulliford, filing his own bill pushing for a referendum on the HRO. Gulliford’s expectation was that the referendum wouldn’t pass.

The Hazouri bill sought to expand equal protections under the law, including housing and employment, as well as public accommodations, to people regardless of sexual orientation (real or perceived), gender identity, or gender expression.

In filing the bill, Hazouri’s office issued a prepared statement decrying the Gulliford bill, saying that a “referendum would lead to months and months of hateful rhetoric that would fully divide our city. Outside groups on both sides would come in with staff, and money would pour in from outside sources.”

Indeed, that’s what happened.

The early weeks of 2016 were fraught with conflict, with Equality Florida and the Human Rights Campaign’s lobbyists facing off with national firepower on the opposing side, such as Roger Gannam of the Liberty Counsel and Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington State florist who was sued for not providing flowers for a same-sex wedding.

As the issue began to dominate the Jacksonville body politic, it began to look like Hazouri and bill co-sponsors Jim Love and Aaron Bowman were outgunned.

Team Hazouri counted the votes. And quietly, the press leaks began one February weekend: his HRO bill was to be withdrawn.

And at a council meeting a few days later, it was pulled.

Since then, the noise has been that the bill would be brought back.

The conventional wisdom: that the bill would be timed more conveniently after the pension reform referendum passed in August.

That came and went, as did the general election, and the Christmas season, and New Year’s fireworks.

However, January rolled around, and advocates of HRO expansion are pushing yet again.

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FloridaPolitics.com reviewed the legislation – one that has seen many different iterations.

But one signature virtue the latest version has is simplicity.

The 14-page monster of a bill was pared down to a more manageable four pages.

Part of that bill details the parts of city code – equal employment opportunity, public accommodations, and fair housing – that would be amended if the bill passes.

“Wherever protected categories are listed,” the text reads, “sexual orientation and gender identity … shall be added to the list.”

The bill attempts to fix the definitions of gender identity as a “consistent and uniform assertion of a particular gender identity, appearance, or expression.”

That “consistent and uniform assertion” language is intended to circumvent an expected legislative loophole: “that gender identity shall not be asserted for any improper, illegal or criminal purpose.”

That language is intended to short-circuit the critiques of HRO expansion as a so-called “bathroom bill,” able to be exploited by lavatory malingerers.

The bill also offers carve out exemptions (as did the 2015/16 bill) for religious institutions, including schools and affiliated non-profits, and small employers in the hiring process. In particular, the bill says that legislators have “carefully considered”

And it allows for employee dress codes, as long as “such dress code shall not be based on sex stereotypes.”

As well, the bill is predicated in recent evolutions of city policy, framing Jacksonville as an “inclusive and welcoming community, wherein no discrimination should occur.”

The bill notes that the Duval County School Board, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, JEA and JTA, and the Jacksonville Port and Aviation Authorities all codify similar protections. Meanwhile, the bill cites Mayor Curry’s “departmental directive” protecting employees of the city and its vendors from discriminatory actions in the workplace.

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Of course, there is a catch. Curry, in issuing that directive almost a year ago, waved a caution flag.

“Based on the extensive community discussion and the actions that I have taken and directed, I have concluded my review, analysis and determination of this issue, and as such, I do not believe any further legislation would be prudent,” Curry observed.

If the bill were to get ten supporters – and an informal vote count by one advocate says that it should have 11 – then that would push it past the threshold for passing.

Our understanding is that the mayor’s office would prefer 13 votes in favor of legislation; that supermajority would remove the question of whether or not Curry would veto it, sign it, or take the middle ground and let the bill become law without his signature.

Before the bill can get to the full council, it has to get to committees, and a lot can happen in those council panels.

In 2012, Johnny Gaffney supported HRO expansion in committee, before changing his position at the council meeting.

The hope among advocates: that the bill only gets heard in Rules.

The reality: there will be a push to have the measure heard in other committees.

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There are reasons that advocates are hopeful for this council to do in 2017 what it wouldn’t do in 2012 or 2016.

There is hope that Council President Lori Boyer, who said that the discussion had barely gotten started in 2016 when Hazouri pulled his bill, will ensure the process is not distracted.

There is hope also that bill advocates, such as JEA’s Mike Hightower, can convince social conservatives like Councilman Sam Newby to go along.

There is also hope that Sen. Audrey Gibson, chair of the local Democratic party, can ensure that all seven Democrats on the council are on board with the legislation.

If seven back it, only three Republicans are needed – and Jim Love and Aaron Bowman are two of those Republicans.

Former Council President Greg Anderson, who took a thoughtful position toward the process during his year in the center chair, could well move from a maybe to a yes.

The same could hold true for President Lori Boyer.

In June, Boyer said that “for some of us,” Boyer said, the sticking points are “all about language,” including reasonable exceptions and accommodations.

As well, the previous discussions never got to issues like how other jurisdictions handle similar legislation.

“The dialogue can hopefully happen before the bill is filed.”

And Anna Brosche, the chair of the Finance Committee, offered conceptual support for legislation on the campaign trail … but she wants the legislation to protect all parties.

“My words were pretty consistent during the entire campaign. I have zero-tolerance for discrimination,” Brosche said, but legislation must “make sure that small business and the faith-based community is considered as part of the process.”

Brosche, during her campaign against the anti-HRO Kim Daniels, was “turned into a champion of the topic.”

“There may be people who expected me to be a champion, a leader. I’m interested to know how people reached that conclusion,” Brosche said, wondering “how much of it was me, and how much was it the nature of that race in particular.”

There is room to get over 10 votes, if all of these variables play out in the right way. The question in 2017 is similar to that of 2016: can the agents of change demonstrate that they have mastered the process of manufacturing consensus?

There are hints of problems in that process. One observer has framed the effort as one of “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Meanwhile, questions remain as to whether there should have been more groundwork laid via backchannels before filing the bill.

At a time when mayors of cities like Orlando and Tampa are telling businesses looking at Jacksonville that the city is “backwards” on this issue, and the NCAA is requiring anti-discrimination legislation as part of its scoring matrix for assigning tournament games, a lot may be riding on the answer to that question.

Jacksonville HRO expansion foes gear up for 2017 fight

Expansion of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance appears to yet again be a consideration for Jacksonville’s City Council. And opponents have taken notice.

Those opposed to HRO expansion have been emailing Mayor Lenny Curry, with sentiments such as these.

“I am against any HRO resolution that attempts to bestow special rights to any person or group that is not equally guaranteed to all American citizens as is the case with the LGBTQ resolution coming in 2017. There is no such precedence in American history and will not be tolerated in a Constitutional United States. I adhere to the principle that ‘Constitutional Correctness Trumps Political Correctness’ (pun intended). I keep track of your council votes and will work against the re-elections of any politician who votes against the US Constitution,” wrote a John Sauer.

Meanwhile, a familiar opponent from 2016’s truncated council consideration of the expansion measure has vowed to fight it once more.

In a Tuesday press release, Raymond Johnson of Biblical Concepts Ministries vowed to reprise his thus-far successful crusade against ordinance expansion for the third time this decade.

“As expected on this first business day of the new year members of the Jacksonville City Council has for the third time announced meetings and plans to re-introduced the so called Human Rights Ordinance (HRO),” Johnson wrote, referring to Wednesday’s public notice meeting on the subject.

BCM will, said Johnson, “work tirelessly and unrelenting with every other opposing organization possible to alert and mobilize our network of pastors, churches and concerned citizens to voice their opposition and help to again defeat a local Homosexual Superior Rights Ordinance (HSRO) Open bathroom law otherwise known as a Human Rights Ordinance (HRO).”

“We know Equality Florida and the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality has been raising funds, hiring staff and working non stop to build a local supporting coalition to ensure passage of their dangerously radical national homosexual agenda aimed at silencing and criminalizing christians and moral objectors to the LGBT agenda demands,” Johnson added. [SIC]

While the office of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is not taking a public position on this legislation, expect the mayor to get the same pressure he’s gotten on this issue during the first eighteen months of his tenure — from both sides of the issue.

Jacksonville HRO expansion bill topic of Wednesday meeting

Will the third time be the charm for expansion of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include the LGBT community?

Wednesday may tell the tale.

Councilman Aaron Bowman, one of the co-sponsors of the 2016 HRO expansion bill, has scheduled a public notice meeting for 11:30 Wednesday morning at Jacksonville’s city hall.

Expected to be in attendance: council members and community leaders, many of whom have been consistently ahead of the council when it comes to LGBT rights.

The bill is expected to be a pared down version of the 14-page 2016 legislation, including carve out protections for churches and associated businesses and small businesses.

Worth watching: Whether the bill has more than three co-sponsors.

Frustration in 2016 for supporters: council members who pledged to support HRO expansion during the campaign, but went mute during council deliberations.

Also worth watching: will all Democrats support HRO expansion this time?

Back in 2012, two Council Democrats — Reggie Brown and Johnny Gaffney — voted against even the compromise version of the bill.

Also worth watching: where will Republicans fall?

Council member Anna BroscheLori Boyer, and Greg Anderson are all thought of as possible supporters of the measure, but have avoided making hard commitments of support up until now.

Mayor Lenny Curry has pledged to stay out of the process; however, if the bill passed with fewer than 13 votes, he will be positioned to have to take a position on the measure.

We reached out to the mayor; his spokesperson, Marsha Oliver, advised that “the mayor does not make it a practice to discuss or comment on proposed legislation. He respects Council members and the legislative process. He evaluates items at the conclusion of the process that are then presented to him.”

We also caught up with Councilman Bill Gulliford, who had introduced a referendum on HRO expansion parallel to the Tommy Hazouri bill in 2016.

“Here we go again,” Gulliford said about the HRO debate.

Gulliford will not be in attendance at the Wednesday meeting.

He has not seen the bill as of yet, so he’s made no determination about his next steps regarding legislation.

Notable: the next ballot opportunity for a referendum would be August 2018.

Anti-HRO pastor Fred Newbill to replace Warren Jones on JEA Board

A pastor who was vocal in his opposition to expanding LGBT rights in Jacksonville is poised to become a member of the JEA Board, via recently filed legislation at the request of the mayor’s office.

And in doing so, that pastor will fill the vacancy of a councilman who introduced a bill for an expanded Human Rights Ordinance in 2012.

Fred Newbill, a Jacksonville pastor who was integral in the transitional period before Mayor Lenny Curry took office in 2015, and who also spoke at the joint inauguration of Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams, is poised to replace Warren Jones, who resigned earlier this year upon his election to the Duval County School Board.

Newbill, who has been politically connected with Republican mayors going back to John Delaney, has been in the news in the last year for political collaborations with Ken Adkins, the formerly politically-connected Brunswick pastor who was indicted on 11 counts of child sex abuse related to his former ministry.

Adkins and Newbill collaborated in opposition to Human Rights Ordinance expansion last December.

Adkins helped to manage a press conference of pastors who wanted to see an HRO referendum (which they expected to sink the bill). But the decision was made to keep the already controversial pastor and fellow HRO opponent Raymond Johnson out of the camera’s eye at that event.

After the push for HRO expansion ended with a withdrawal of both a bill that would do so by ordinance and one that would do so by referendum, Adkins and Newbill continued to collaborate.

The two co-messaged against scandal-ridden Judge Mark Hulsey during Hulsey’s re-election campaign.

Hulsey was re-elected, but is mired in a Judicial Qualifications Commission investigation of racist and sexist remarks he made, as well as a pattern of asking court employees to do work that went beyond their regular duties.

Ironically, when (not if) Newbill is confirmed by council to the JEA Board, his public opposition to HRO expansion will place him at odds with one of the most respected Republicans in Jacksonville history, one who also happens to be in favor of HRO expansion: Mike Hightower.

In October, Hightower addressed the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality, urging all parties to “stay together and stay focused” to “get the HRO passed.”

John Peyton selected as 2018 Chair of Jax Chamber

Former Jacksonville Mayor and current GATE Petroleum President John Peyton has been selected as the 2018 Jax Chamber chairman.

The selection of the chair typically happens more than a year in advance, and Peyton will spend 2017 as the chairman-elect.

Peyton, mayor from 2003 to 2011, knows the impacts the good times and the bad times have on Jacksonville, as he presided over the city during the 2008 economic crash and the slow recovery locally.

“In the ever-expanding global marketplace, we must continue to aggressively tell Jacksonville’s story around the world,” Peyton said. “With business-friendly governments, low tax burden, a great quality of life and top-notch transportation infrastructure, Jacksonville continues to be a prime location for companies to relocate and grow. I look forward to being a part of the continued economic growth in our city and working with businesses to expand and invest in Jacksonville.”

Indeed, Jacksonville continues aggressively recruiting companies for relocation and expansion purposes, with success in recent years ranging from the financial sector to corporate stalwarts, such as IKEA and Amazon.

Darnell Smith, North Florida market president for Florida Blue, is the current chair-elect and will precede Peyton as chairman in 2017.

As one would expect, he offered a positive quote in the press release.

“Our community is fortunate to have passionate leaders like John Peyton who have dedicated their time and energy to serving our city and who continue to answer the call,” Smith said. “John knows what it takes to help build a great city and is an excellent choice to lead our Chamber. I look forward to working with John next year and in his year as chair in 2018.”

In addition to business recruitment, the Chamber is expected to take a role in advocating for yet another introduction of efforts to expand Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include the LGBT community.

It will be worth watching to see if Peyton is aggressive in lobbying city leaders, including Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, to move on this issue that so far has exposed a large gap between the business community and social conservatives.

Ken Adkins, outspoken critic of Jacksonville’s human rights ordinance, arrested for child molestation

Pastor Ken Adkins, perhaps best known in Jacksonville for representing the “Bible-based” opposition on expert panels during mayoral “community conversations” about the expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance to LGBT people, was arrested for child molestation and aggravated child molestation Friday.

First reports suggest at least one of the incidents happened at his Brunswick church, with others were in his vehicle and other locations.

The victim was a male.

“Local pastor and conservative political activist Ken Adkins of St. Simons Island was arrested Friday morning charges of child molestation and aggravated child molestation,” said Stacy Carson, special agent in charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Kingsland office.

“Adkins was booked into the county jail and is being held without bond, said Ron Corbett, undersheriff for Glynn County. Adkins was arrested at his St. Simons Island residence by GBI agents, who were assisted by Brunswick police and the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office, the report adds.

Adkins has been in the news for increasingly erratic, bizarre behavior in recent months.

Earlier this summer, he was accused of perjury by a judge in Georgia, for lying during his filing for bankruptcy.

Also, Adkins tweeted in the wake of the Pulse massacre, that “homosexuals got what they deserved.”

This led to a rebuke from Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who was appalled by Adkins’ comments in the wake of Pulse, even as he claimed not to have been aware of the months of vitriol Adkins spewed beforehand, including on Twitter, where Adkins often tagged Curry.

Among that vitriol: pornographic and libelous depictions of Councilman Tommy Hazouri, an ardent supporter of HRO expansion, who now is a key proponent of the “Yes for Jacksonville” referendum.

Hazouri, contacted by phone Friday, noted that “if this is true, he’d better be concerned about his lifestyle” and not that of the LGBT community.

Hazouri also noted that the real danger to public safety is not posed by LGBT people, as Adkins mendaciously claimed, but by sexual predators.

Adkins had pledged, after his rebuke by Curry, to step back from Jacksonville’s HRO debate.

Curry had this to say in a statement about Friday’s revelations.

“I know nothing more about the allegations than what has been reported in the news, but it sickens me. If he is found to have done what he stands accused of, he deserves the fullest punishment the law allows,” Curry wrote.

“The community conversations we hosted had a broad representation of interested parties. My staff met and talked with numerous advocates and leaders who identified and recommended panelists. The specific panelist you reference is no exception and was a recommendation presented to my team. In light of subsequent behavior, financial issues and reports including this new heinous accusation, he will never be included in any of our programs, efforts, or initiatives,” Curry added.

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