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?