Last year, Hurricane Matthew cut a swath of destruction through Duval County, just as it did the rest of the East Coast.
In Northeast Florida alone, the storm caused $1B in property damage, despite the storm having lost strength and having had the eyewall veer east as it approached Duval County, which itself took $50M of damage — much of which is in the process of FEMA reimbursement.
With an active hurricane season expected in 2017, Jacksonville policy makers are again gearing up for the worst.
Though in 2016, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry described Matthew as a “100-year storm,” the reality is that Matthew illustrated a reality for which any city government near the Eastern Seaboard must prepare.
After all, as Hurricane Andrew showed in South Florida a quarter-century ago, all it takes is one storm to cause catastrophic damage.
To that end, Jacksonville officials held a presser Thursday, promoting the need for a hurricane plan, along with the hurricane prep website (JaxReady.com).
Media that was on hand, of course, had questions also.
With talk in Jacksonville City Council months back of increasing the city’s emergency reserve from 5 percent to 6 percent of the city’s general fund budget (roughly a $12M boost of the fund), we asked Mayor Curry if there were plans to recommend that boost.
Curry said that a “management review process” was occurring now, and beyond that, “we don’t want to give any hints what the budget will look like.”
Though the process of post-Matthew recovery was largely a smooth one, with debris being cleared quickly, there were still hiccups in 2016.
JEA’s CEO was out of town as the storm beared down on Jacksonville, which created some consternation as power recovery took up to a week for some Jacksonville residents.
That and other process elements, said Curry, are being reviewed, with the goal of “minimizing” impact.
Questions emerged also about the Jacksonville Beach Pier and other storm-damaged fixtures still in the process of repair.
The city, said Curry, is continuing to work toward reimbursement, ensuring compliance with FEMA guidelines.
“Where we have direct control,” Curry said, “we move.”
“In the event of a state of emergency,” Curry added, “we have funds available in the event we need to move.”
Memorial Day weekend in Jacksonville was brutal for the expected reasons, with at least a dozen people shot and four of them killed over the holiday.
In a city where virtually every politician who ran for office in 2015 messaged on the theme of public safety, what’s clear is that there is still work to do on stopping the violence — especially given that this weekend’s gunplay took place all over the city.
In that context, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams is slated to take one of his regular “crime prevention” walks Tuesday evening, visiting one of Jacksonville’s most violence-plagued neighborhoods.
The walk, slated to take place from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m., will start and end at the intersection of West 45th Street and Dodge Road.
Other local politicians, including Duval County School Board Chair Paula Wright, will be on hand.
Through the first five months of 2017, Jacksonville has seen 56 homicides. This outpaces 2016, which saw 46 homicides through the course of the first six months of the year.
That 46 would nearly triple over the next six months, with waves of summer violence numbingly regular in Jacksonville’s struggling neighborhoods.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, in his 2015 campaign for the city’s top job, laid the blame for such violence at the feet of his predecessor, who he said cut budgets for police and for the Jacksonville Journey.
Curry claimed “murder and crime” spiked during the Brown era, with “kids dying on the street.” These problems, claimed Curry, stemmed from the Incumbent’s “inability to manage a budget”, leading to “fewer cops [and a] spike in crime and the murder rate.”
In Curry’s first two budgets, money has been allocated to hire 80 police officers and 80 more community service officers.
However, the addition of manpower has not led to an abatement in gun play.
With a long hot summer expected, one of the stories people will watch — both on the policy beat and the crime beat — will be the outbreaks in violence and the official response.
The sun rises, as we are told, every day in downtown Jacksonville.
But for the City Council class of 2011, slated for term-limits in 2019, those sunrises are beginning to fade.
Chosen Tuesday, the Council officers — who first took office in 2015 — show that the balance of power has shifted, the baton has been passed, etc.
There are theories as to why John Crescimbeni was denied the presidency.
Those who supported him blame the Chamber. Meanwhile, people on the other side say the Chamber didn’t get involved.
Whatever the case, it is now sunrise for the new class — dismissed in campaign rhetoric as “political neophytes” just two years ago.
It’s sunset for the rest.
This issue of Bold is heavy on City Council content, for good reason; namely, it was the big story this week. And it’s one that will have ramifications going forward.
Anna Brosche takes Jax Council presidency
The big news in Jacksonville this week: Finance Chair Anna Broschewinning an 11-8 Council vote to become the Council President-Designate.
Brosche will take over at the end of June.
The 11-8 vote defied partisan categories, and the decisive margin was with four African-American district Democrats who voted for the Brosche, a Republican, over the Democrat (DINO?) Crescimbeni.
If Sen. Audrey Gibson — the chair of the local Democrats — got involved in the race, it didn’t do much good, as her close political ally and protégé (Councilman Garrett Dennis) gave a speech seconding Brosche’s nomination.
The VP race, meanwhile, was no contest: Aaron Bowman had 14 votes, while opponent Scott Wilson had five … and the most heartbreaking quote.
“If I’d known they felt that way, I would have withdrawn,” Wilson said.
Jax Chamber, African-American Dems among Council Leadership race winners
We’ve assembled a breakdown of the winners and losers emerging from the Council leadership races.
We take the deepest dive you will find anywhere, looking at what really happened behind the scenes, such as the Jax Chamber and former Mayor John Peyton jumping in to bump off Brosche’s opponent, Crescimbeni (a narrative some swear by and others dispute), and the real reasons why African-American Dems jumped party lines and backed Brosche (a narrative no one disputes).
And we also take a look at the future on Council for Crescimbeni and key supporter, Republican Bill Gulliford, who is resigned to a “year in exile” given his anti-Brosche position in the leadership race.
Did they write checks that wouldn’t cash with improvidential statements? Will they smooth over the bad blood?
These existential questions — and so much more — are considered at great length in the “winners and losers” breakdown.
Al Lawson: NO to food stamp cuts
President Donald Trump is looking to achieve budget savings by cutting the food stamps program — probably a politically easier gambit than cutting agricultural subsidies. Rep. Al Lawson — who has been messaging heavily about “food deserts” and related issues — took issue in a statement this week.
“In my district, one in every four Floridians has been on food stamps at some point over the last 12 months. That is twice the national average,” Lawson noted, calling cuts of “nutrition benefits” out as “unconscionable.”
“We put hard working Floridians in the no-win position of having to choose between paying their light bill or affording healthy food. This is unacceptable,” Lawson said, and “does not align with the values of Florida’s 5th Congressional District, and therefore I intend to strongly oppose it.”
Eight ain’t enough
Give credit to Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Schellenberg for consistency. With pension reform out of the way, he is now reviving his call to remove term limits.
“It’s a detriment to the areas we represent,” he said. “When I walk out the door after eight years, I have all the knowledge and contacts …”
Schellenberg, who beat Jack Webb in Webb’s own re-election bid in 2011, doesn’t exactly have rosy things to say about his own elected officials, in whom he’s “very disappointed.”
His bet is that voters clearly don’t share such disappointment.
In the case of Schellenberg, who hasn’t ruled out a run for state House in 2018 against Rep. Jason Fischer, cynics will say he’s just looking for another government gig.
If Schellenberg gets the bill through the council, the referendum would be on the August 2018 ballot.
Reggie Gaffneydelivers for Corrine Brown
As #JaxPol waits to see whether Corrine Brown may get a new trial, a wrinkle has emerged, via an old friend — Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney.
Last week, we had the exclusive interview with Gaffney, in which he speculated that he wasn’t called as a prosecution witness because his narrative wouldn’t have been much help for the government. Days later, Brown’s lawyer — James Smith of Orlando — commented on Gaffney’s quotes.
He told Action News Jax’sJenna Bourne that Gaffney was among prosecution witnesses who were “fearful” to talk to him and that if the prosecution had exculpatory evidence, there was an “obligation” to turn it over.
Smith saved up however many objections for his inevitable motion for a new trial. Those who were in the courtroom will recall his languid approach to much of the last trial, however, and will wonder if a new trial with the same old lawyer can lead anywhere but to a conclusion that is foregone to almost everyone not invoicing the former congresswoman.
“Can you stop following me, please?”
Bourne had another interesting story last week, when the Action News Jaxreporter chased a controversial City Councilwoman around Council Chambers, asking why she didn’t show up for work.
Bourne confronted Katrina Brown with evidence of Brown’s haphazard attendance at council conclaves — a running joke among media and those in City Hall that suddenly wasn’t so funny when a determined reporter and TV camera chased Brown into the dais, into the green room, and ultimately out of the room altogether.
Brown claimed to have had another meeting at one point; when confronted again, a visibly agitated Brown turned around and asked Bourne to stop following her.
Bourne, the breakout star of the Corrine Brown trial, brought an energy to the production that others in TV didn’t match. The same holds true for Bourne’s City Hall work, in which she demonstrates the best grasp of policy of anyone on the air.
Daily’s Place on track for Saturday soft open
An amphitheater that was part of a $90M sharedcapital investment between Jacksonville and the NFL Jaguars is expected to open on schedule Saturday, reports WJXT.
Since construction began August, there have been whispers and grumbles that the process was behind schedule. That said, the facility will be substantially finished by Saturday — enough for its first events.
This will represent a turning point for the stadium complex. City officials justified the capital outlay in 2016 as keeping up with other NFL franchises with capital investment — but without the expense of a new stadium.
It’s a midmarket strategy. And while the city financing $45M gave observers heartburn, the end product likely will be easy to swallow … especially if city leaders can message quickly and aggressively about the positive economic impact from the investment.
Fidelity spinoff is Vega$ bound
Looks like not every Fidelity subsidiary/spinoff will be in Jacksonville after all, per the Jax Daily Record.
“When Fidelity spins off investment subsidiary Fidelity National Financial Ventures into a new public company called Cannae Holdings Inc., Cannae will set up shop in Las Vegas,” the Daily Record reports.
Part of that is a proximity deal: Fidelity Chairman Bill Foley owns an expansion hockey team set to lace up the skates in America’s gambling capital.
“Cannae basically will be a deal-making company, an area in which Foley has excelled, so it makes sense for the headquarters to be located in his home city,” the Daily Record report continues.
Jazz and the surveillance state
Going to the Jacksonville Jazz Festival this weekend?
Expect a little extra “vetting,” says the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
“When we ask to stop you, wand you, check your bag,” said JSO’s Leonard Propper Wednesday at a news conference at Jacksonville’s City Hall, “there’s a reason for that.”
The Jazz Festival — an outdoor event sprawling over four evenings and three days starting Thursday evening with a jazz piano competition and running through Sunday — is especially vulnerable to security holes, said Propper, as an “outdoor” event with “porous” boundaries.
“It’s going to be a wonderful experience,” Propper added. “There’s going to be a little bit of vetting going on. There’s going to be people watching, people in places observing, and every interaction that we have with somebody is based on a reason.”
“And that reason is — we engage in that consensual conversation … it’s for your safety,” Propper added, urging people to “report anything suspicious” or “creepy.”
Propper’s comments — with a specific focus on security and the inevitability of police interaction — were the unique portion of a promotional event at Jacksonville City Hall, that otherwise was not much dissimilar than other jazz festival pressers in recent years.
JTA seeks to expand regional transportation options
The Jacksonville Transportation Authority is looking at broadening options throughout the region with an autonomous Skyway monorail system, a multimodal transportation hub, adding bus lines and more.
At the JTA State of Authority luncheon this week, CEO Nathaniel Ford announced plans for improvements to Jacksonville’s public transportation systems, beginning with the Ultimate Urban Circulation project.
WJCT reports that the U2C project goals are to modernize and expand the Skyway monorail system, and include autonomous transit technology. Expansion will expand on both sides of the St. Johns River.
“We envision an east-west connection on the north bank from Five Points to the Sports Complex, a connection to San Marco, the Baptist MD Anderson Complex and the planned district development, the Springfield neighborhood with future connectivity to UF Health and the (Jacksonville Veterans Affairs Hospital),” Ford told the audience.
Upgrades to the Skyway is currently underway, including repairing cars, rebranding vehicles and remodeling stations. Public art will be installed along 17 columns in the Skyway system, as well as plans for a U2C bike and pedestrian bridge.
After that, JTA will begin developing an autonomous vehicle project, which Ford said was “critical” to deliver quickly for the citizens of Jacksonville.
The JTA is also planning a new Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center hub in Lavilla, which can accommodate the First Coast Flyer, JTA buses, Skyway trams, taxis, Uber and Greyhound buses.
“We’re very excited about what this brings in terms of transportation infrastructure to Jacksonville,” Ford added.
JAXPORT deepening project gets $17.5M in federal funding
The Jacksonville Port Authority is one step closer to a project to deepen the shipping channel in the St. Johns River, with a commitment of $17.5 million in federal funds for the upcoming fiscal year.
The Jacksonville Business Journal reports that the Army Corps of Engineers’ civil work program construction work plan includes the money to “initiate construction of the deep draft navigation improvements at Jacksonville Harbor.”
While the announced amount is only a small part of the estimated $700 million price tag on the entire project, the money represents a significant milestone, the first time Washington has committed any funds deepen the port.
“We’ve crossed the goal line on this one,” interim JAXPORT CEO Eric Green told the Journal. “The entire conversation now has changed.”
Florida has committed $238.3 million to the work plan, as well as $3.2 million for beach nourishment in Nassau County and $3.3 million for nourishment in St. Johns County.
Senior side stays within striking distance of NASL crown with Armada’s San Franciscowin
The Jacksonville Armada FC came away with an impressive 3-0 victory and three crucial points in San Francisco against the Deltas Friday, May 19.
“It obviously feels good to get the victory,” said Armada FC head coach Mark Lowry. “San Francisco is a top team. They’re high up in the league for a reason.”
Kartik Krishnaiyer reports that Zach Steinberger scored twice for the Armada and was rewarded for his efforts by being named NASL Player of the Week. It was the third time in the Midfielder’s career he has earned the league’s top weekly honor.
“Zach Steinberger is a top player,” said Lowry. “I’ve said it all along. I think he’s one of the top players in the league and I’ll say it every day. Now you are finally starting to see what he can do.”
In minute 27, the Armada FC took the lead with the first goal by Zach Steinberger and never looked back. Defender Drew Beckie sent Steinberger a cross from the right wing that the Armada man headed past Romuald Peiser the San Francisco goalkeeper. This came after a period to open the match where San Francisco clearly appeared the better side.
A second headed goal from Steinberger, following a cross from Jemal Johnson, came in the 45th minute. The goal coming right before halftime was a devastating blow to the Delta’s hopes for a comeback.
Steinberger’s brace puts him in a tie for the top goal scorer in the NASL.
Second half substitute Derek Gebhard netted the third for the Armada FC in minute 73. Gebhard has checked into the match just one minute earlier after subbing in for Jonathan Glenn. Steinberger had the assist with a through ball.
“I thought we played well,” said Lowry. “We created a lot of chances and we took them at the right times. That made a difference.”
Goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell recorded his fourth clean sheet of the season and had three crucial saves. The win kept Jacksonville in second place in the NASL Spring Season standings.
Armada U-23 win, move with three points of conference leader
The Jacksonville Armada U-23 team moved to within three points of the NPSL Sunshine Conference lead with a 3-0 win in Naples Saturday. The two teams played to the same scoreline a week earlier at Patton Park in Jacksonville. Jesus Coleman opened the scoring in minute 27 for the Armada. The physical encounter saw eight bookings. Naples stayed competitive in the match until an 82nd-minute goal by Jacksonville’s Andrey Rosales. The Armada got a third behind second half substitute Chandler Castleman in stoppage time.
On Tuesday night, the Jacksonville City Council passed a trio of bills designed to close the books on a conflict between neighborhood activists in Springfield, disability rights groups, and ultimately, the federal Department of Justice.
Two Jacksonville City Council bills (2017-68 and 2017-69) closed the book on an issue that first emerged during the Alvin Brown administration.
To recap: in 2014, Ability Housing set out to renovate an apartment building in Springfield to create 12 units of housing for the chronically homeless and disabled.
The planning director balked, likening the proposed use to that of an assisted living facility. Soon thereafter, the Department of Justice, Disability Florida, and Ability Housing sued.
The proposed settlement ensures that the city not discriminate via zoning against those with disabilities, including via so-called zoning “overlays” such as Springfield and other neighborhoods have, and allows Ability Housing to become eligible for Jacksonville Journey funding again.
Ability Housing and Disability Rights Florida will receive $400,000 and $25,000 respectively per the settlement. Jacksonville also will be required to grant $1.5 million for the development of permanent supportive housing for people with disabilities, after a competitive grant process including Ability Housing.
A rewrite of a related zoning bill, 2017-36, passed by a 16-3 margin, along with the two aforementioned bills Tuesday evening.
Per the bill summary: “As it pertains to the City Zoning Code, language will be revised to provide, among other things, for such reasonable accommodation requests to be considered as a request for an administrative deviation, identify a permanent supportive housing use and define the term ‘supportive services’, and to authorize group care homes and residential treatment facilities by exception in Springfield.”
The ongoing Corrine Brown drama pushed our legislative roundup back a week — but given the drama that ensued this week regarding what the Duval Delegation accomplished, that’s just as well.
Boils down to this: the legislators think they brought home the bacon, and some in City Hall believe that they brought home crumbs.
As you will see below, the drama came to a head Tuesday, when a Jacksonville City Councilman published a letter in the Times-Union dripping with delegation disses … just before doing an event with Gov. Rick Scott with delegation members who contend otherwise … and told us their thoughts on the councilman’s comments.
We have that in here, and more, along with deep-dive interviews with most delegation members and a few other notable stories …
NE FL Delegation finds money for local asks
The indispensable Tia Mitchell went through Northeast Florida Legislative Session asks in the Florida Times-Union and found some success — especially given that most delegation members were new to Tallahassee and The Process.
Of 37 projects with asks of over $1M, locals got some money for 22 of them.
“In my mind, we are just getting started based on the leadership and potential of our delegation,” said Rep. Travis Cummings, a Clay County legislator who carried one Jacksonville bill successfully in 2016 (the state legislation allowing for a pension reform referendum), and got spiked this session on a $15M request for state money for Jacksonville septic tank removal.
There is room for pessimism, even in Mitchell’s breakdown: many of the requests may have gotten some money … but not everything they wanted.
St. Johns River State College Palatka campus renovations, sponsored by Rep. Bobby Payne, got just $4M of a $16.1M ask.
And the North Florida School of Special Education expansion project, sponsored by Cummings, got just a quarter of a $2M ask.
Still … it’s a start.
Matt Schellenberg says Duval Delegation brought home ‘crumbs’
Jacksonville City Councilman Schellenberg went on the record to grouse about the Duval Delegation — a favorite off-record game among some in Jacksonville’s City Hall.
Smart move? The jury is out. Schellenberg — the city’s representative to the Florida League of Cities and Florida Association of Counties — got pilloried by two State Senators (Audrey Gibson and Aaron Bean) that he lobbied in Tallahassee.
Mayor Lenny Curry also rejected the premise that the delegation isn’t getting the job done.
And Rep. Jason Fischer — who Schellenberg called out in an interview for leaving the School Board early in 2016 to jump to the state House — likewise pushed back.
Schellenberg wouldn’t rule out a 2018 primary challenge to Fischer when we talked to him, setting the stage for a rare contested primary in NE Florida.
However, Fischer would be the one with every advantage: the mayor’s backing; the mayor’s political team; and money coming in from political committees hither and yon.
With many measures making it to the final budget, the Governor’s veto pen serves as their primary impediment.
Bean pointed to “little bills” with big impact and a “huge pass rate … underneath the radar screen,” such as a push for the shared use of school playgrounds, the ‘keys to independence’ bill helping foster kids drive, the ‘disaster prep tax holiday,’ and others.
A big bill with impact, meanwhile: SB 476, a bill Sen. Bean filed at the request of Gov. Scott, which amends and expands existing statute regarding terrorism.
The bill creates a more expansive definition of “terrorism” and “terrorist activities” in the wake of the Pulse massacre in June.
Additionally, the measure explicitly prohibits “using, attempting to use or conspiring to use” training from a “designated foreign terrorist organization.”
Session ‘best ever,’ enthuses Aaron Bean
Bean noted that this was, perhaps, the “best ever … one of the most successful” sessions of the 13 he’s been involved.
Bean pointed to local approps wins, including money for ShotSpotter and the state match on the COPS Grant from the feds, which will allow Jacksonville to hire more police officers.
“We had one of the best sessions in history,” Bean said.
Among Bean’s accomplishments: Neptune Beach can look forward to $400,000 for stormwater culvert improvements on Florida Boulevard: Bean and Rep. Cord Byrd (who seems to be moving into the House Leadership discussion, based on scuttlebutt) put in the work there.
$5M of that is recurring, ensuring that the project to replenish the lakes may happen at long last.
“People have been talking about restoring the Keystone lakes for as long as I can remember, but nothing ever happened. We finally have a plan and the financing to implement it,” Bradley asserted.
Bradley carried one of the most important and controversial bills of the session: SB 10, which allowed for the building of reservoirs to shore up Lake Okeechobee. That, of course, was a priority of Senate President Joe Negron.
“It was a year for bold action in the environmental policy arena. The president and I worked together. I managed his audacious Everglades bill, and he supported our audacious plan to fix the Keystone lakes. There’s a reason why both of those projects had never been done: they are expensive and require a ton of political capital. This year, the stars aligned and both happened,” Bradley added.
Clay Yarborough talks rookie year
Yarborough, a former Jacksonville City Council President, appraised the Legislative Session as a win for Jacksonville.
“Glad we could get some things for Jacksonville,” Yarborough said.
Indeed, Yarborough himself brought home the bacon, with two priority projects: $1.1M from the State Transportation Trust Fund is provided for the installation of pedestrian signals, refuge islands, sidewalks and street lighting and $1.231M for Crosswalk Countdown Traffic Signal Heads Installation.
We asked Yarborough — one of the most concise quotes in local politics — for what he saw as his biggest accomplishment and the biggest surprise of the session.
“Biggest accomplishment: Working with Sen. Travis Hutson to tighten the law on sexual predators (HB 327/SB 336). Biggest surprise: How fast things can move at the end of the session.”
Tracie Davis talks Dozier apology, relationship building
Rep. Davis was the least likely member of the Northeast Florida Delegation to be in Tallahassee. That said, despite Davis’ unlikely arrival in the House, she was characteristically reflective as to the value of the experience that almost didn’t happen.
Davis described her first Legislative Session as being “significant and exciting to be honest … specifically being a freshman in the minority party.”
The bill with the most emotional resonance for Davis “the FL House apology (HR 1335) to the men that suffered at Dozier and Okeechobee reform schools,” which “will always reign supreme for” Davis.
“So honored and grateful to have played a leading role with Sen. [Darryl] Rouson and Speaker [Richard] Corcoran then to have all of my colleagues unanimously support and participate with the apology that day was emotional and phenomenal,” Davis asserted.
Davis, despite being a Democrat in a GOP town, feels she has room to maneuver — and collegiality creates that room.
“I felt that building relationships with my colleagues across the aisle was going to be key for any success. The surprise for me was that those relationships happened easily … The relationship building helped me develop friendships, share perspectives, and get bills moving the House (which is not an easy task).”
Jason Fischer extols ‘balanced budget’
When asked to evaluate the Session, Fischer — who has been talked about as a potential Speaker down the road — had a more holistic read than some.
“We gave our citizens much-deserved property tax relief and a balanced budget,” Fischer told FloridaPolitics.com. “Families work hard for their money; Government should take less and do more!”
Fischer has some specific appropriations accomplishments: $350,000 for the LaSalle Pump Station project.
And $250,000 for a driverless shuttle program that will go to Baptist Health.
The money will go for a local deployment of the Olli minibus, a Local Motors vehicle made in part with 3D printing and powered by IBM Watson technology.
Fischer extolled the Duval Delegation, saying the group “worked together really well,” was “very cohesive,” and focused on “doing what’s best for Jacksonville.
One of the stories worth watching this year: will DeSantis run for Florida Governor?
Conversations DeSantis is having about the race are the kind of stakeholder talks one would expect in the pre-candidacy phase — “open” conversations with local, state and national figures.
Those conversations reveal a “real hesitation about Adam Putnam,” we are told.
DeSantis has a lot of positives: fundraising prowess; a place in the Fox News Channel guest rotation; youth and eloquence.
Despite representing an area to the south of Jacksonville, his roots are deep locally: wife Casey DeSantis has been on-air talent on local television in this market for years now.
Northeast Florida has wanted a House Speaker for a while. But — ironically enough — the Governor’s Office is probably more within reach … should DeSantis decide to run, a campaign that would launch late in the summer.
Adam Putnam brings roadshow to Jax Beach
We were the only outlet in the room when Putnam made his play for Jax Beach voters.
Results were mixed.
Putnam served up the material that had been heard statewide, a pitch of Florida exceptionalism and requisite haranguing of “bureaucrats.”
But when it came to specifics of local interest, Putnam didn’t offer much, opting instead for shopworn hokum.
He mentioned JAXPORT, Mayport and “the river.” Great.
But for those who might want an actual Northeast Florida candidate, it’s unclear if Putnam delivered — or can deliver — enough to stop some donor class dithering.
Moody’s dings Jax pension reform
Jacksonville got its pension reform package through, yet bond rating agency Moody’sasserts that it’s not all peaches and crème.
The write-up boils down to six words: “buy now, pay later, assume risks.”
The biggest poison-pen moment: “Jacksonville’s reliance on future revenues, rather than current contributions, to address its pension underfunding will continue to negatively impact our key credit metrics related to its pensions … because we do not consider future revenues as pension assets — while city contributions are going to be reduced.”
Policy makers considered these risks, as the discussion got less heady and more sober as the final vote approached. The defined contribution reforms and the one-half cent sales tax are correctly seen as “tools in the toolbox.” Not panaceas.
Still, it’s reasonable to conclude Jacksonville may already be at its ceiling regarding bond ratings, if Moody’s report is any indication.
Dick Kravitztalks SOE gig
Former Jacksonville City Councilman and State Legislator Kravitz may have gotten spiked in his run last year for State House. However, Kravitz is still on the public payroll, as the Jax Daily Record reports, working for the Duval County Supervisor of Elections under old friend Mike Hogan.
Part of his role: helping with lobbying efforts in Tallahassee.
“There are some people in the Senate that I served in the House with for eight years. It’s about personal relations, so it’s easy to get appointments, and there’s a lot of trust among us,” Kravitz said. “I tried to add to what the paid lobbyists were doing and help out a little to promote some of the bills.”
With session wrapped, Kravitz is helping run student elections at local schools. No word on whether or not he is debriefing them on the dark arts of robocalls and shadowy consultants.
Appointed — David “Hunt” Hawkins and Thomas “Mac” McGehee to the Florida State College at Jacksonville District board of trustees.
Questions arise over health of CSX CEO Hunter Harrison
Ahead of next month’s CSX shareholder vote on his compensation, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the 72-year-old Harrison often works from home and occasionally uses oxygen because of an undisclosed health issue
Harrison told reporters that doctors cleared him to work, and he believes he can lead the turnaround he began in March at CSX.
“I’m having a ball, and I’m running on so much adrenaline that no one can stop me,” Harrison told the WSJ. “Don’t judge me by my medical record, judge me by my performance.”
CSX Executive Vice President Frank Lonegro said Harrison remains fully engaged. Lonegro spoke at a Bank of America Merril Lynch conference, and he said using oxygen hasn’t slowed Harrison.
“I’ve gotten a dose of leadership from him while he had supplemental oxygen. I’ve had a dose of leadership from him when he hasn’t had supplemental oxygen and they were equally as blunt and equally as effective,” Lonegro said. “So, no question about who’s in charge and no question about how engaged he is.”
CSX shareholders will vote early next month on whether the Jacksonville-based railroad should pay the $84 million in compensation Harrison forfeited when he left Canadian Pacific railroad earlier than planned. Harrison has said he will resign if the compensation isn’t approved.
Jacksonville Zoo Endangered Species Day
Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens is celebrating the 12th annual Endangered Species Day, free with Zoo admission, including school groups. Events include extra keeper chats with special collector cards. Collect all 10!
Keeper chat times:
— Penguin Feeding/Chat — 11 a.m. & 3 p.m. at the Penguin exhibit in Play Park (African Penguin card).
— Gorilla Chat — 12 p.m. & 3:30 p.m. at the gorilla exhibit in the Great Apes loop (Gorilla card).
— Manatee Chat — 10 a.m. & 12 p.m. at the Manatee Critical Care Center in Wild Florida (Vaquita card).
— Whooping Crane Feeding/Chat — 11 a.m. & 2 p.m. at the Whooping Crane exhibit in Wild Florida (Whooping Crane card).
— Wild Florida Chat — Times TBD at the Wild Florida Pavilion in Wild Florida (Western Pond Turtle, Sea Turtle cards).
— African Plains — 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. at the Africa Boardwalk near Main Camp Train Station (Black Rhino and Cheetah cards).
— Elephant Chat — 12:30 p.m. at Elephant Plaza on the African Boardwalk (Asian Elephant card).
— Stingray Chat — Times TBD at Stingray Bay (Sharks card).
Armada lose to Tampa Bay Rowdies 3-0 in St. Petersburg
The Tampa Bay Rowdies cruised into the Third Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with a 3-0 win over the Jacksonville Armada U23s at Al Lang Stadium Tuesday night.
The Open Cup is a knockout tournament featuring teams from all levels of the American soccer system, including qualifying amateur clubs.
Kyle Porter, Alex Morrell and Martin Paterson scored the goals for Tampa Bay as the Rowdies moved on in the competition.
“I thought it was a really, really professional performance by the team,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “We went out and got the job done, which was to win the game and get into the next round. … The game is done and dusted, and we have games coming up in the league, so we’ll shift our focus to that now.”
Playing an opponent from the fourth-tier NPSL, the Rowdies didn’t have to wait long to claim a lead.
With the ball at his feet on the right sideline, Porter spotted Jacksonville goalkeeper Juan Fajardo off his line and took an audacious shot that Fajardo got a touch to, but couldn’t keep from going over the line for a 1-0 Rowdies lead in just the third minute.
Up a goal, the Rowdies dominated the remainder of the first half but didn’t double their lead until the 43rd minute when Morrell stole the ball off an Armada U23 defender and raced toward goal before beating Fajardo from a sharp angle for a 2-0 lead.
“Luckily, the guy had a bad pass, and I picked it off,” Morrell said. “I made the most out of it and scored on my old keeper from college. That was nice.”
Paterson finished the scoring in the 68th minute, tapping in a low cross from Darwin Jones for his second goal of the season in all competitions.
The result was never really in doubt, particularly after Jacksonville was reduced to 10 men in the 62nd minute when Dener Dos Santos was shown a red card. The Rowdies took six shots on target and didn’t allow one from Jacksonville.
It was Tampa Bay’s seventh clean sheet in 10 matches in all competitions.
Jacksonville University Golf earns 1st NCAA Championship berth thru playoff
Before this season, Jacksonville had never qualified for the NCAA Championship in men’s golf. That changed this week as the Dolphins defeated Northwestern in a playoff to grab the fifth and final NCAA Championship berth out of the NCAA Baton Rouge (Louisiana) Regional.
Golfweek reports that after Jacksonville and Northwestern had finished at 19 over, the Dolphins, which carded the final round of the day (1-over 289), and Wildcats each shot two over using a play-five-count-four format on the par-4 18th hole.
The teams then moved on to the par-4 10th hole. Jacksonville’s first three players combined to go one over while Northwestern’s two players in the first group went one over. In the second group, Jacksonville’s two players shot even par and Northwestern, which had a player hit a drive out of bounds, conceded defeat.
Jacksonville began the day in seventh place and didn’t get off to a fast start on the back nine. However, the Dolphins’ four counting players combined to shoot two under on the front nine. Raul Pereda birdied Nos. 4-7 as part of a 1-over 73. Davis Wicks’ closing 71 led the team.
The real impact of Chinese imports on American factories has been discussed to death. But if you look closely, you can find a counter-narrative emerging.
One example of that was demonstrated in Northwest Jacksonville Thursday afternoon, where Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and other local dignitaries came together for the grand opening of a 121,000 square foot stainless steel Hans-Mill garbage can factory.
A vital business in an area of town that needs them; an initiative made possible by Wal-Mart, which has committed to buy $250M of American products over the next ten years.
Garbage cans from Jacksonville — and not China — will be part of that narrative. And at least 50 new jobs will be created. All of that with local incentives. And five of those jobs are to be for Northwest Jacksonville residents.
James Han, the CEO of the manufacturer Hans-Mill, said that Jacksonville was “the right location … the total package” for the manufacturing of these cans.
His company makes 750 items worldwide, and hopes to bring more production stateside, to decrease the company’s “carbon footprint” and take advantage of local sourcing.
This plays into Wal-Mart’s strategy, which prioritizes local sourcing — and has a time element, said Cindi Marsiglio, VP of U.S. Manufacturing.
“Go fast, go big,” was her summation of Wal-Mart’s rapid-fire ramp-up of domestic production.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, meanwhile, said “Jacksonville continues to roll” and “we’re going to continue to roll.”
“This today is big,” Curry said. “We’ve had a number of local expansions … companies move into Jacksonville for the first time.”
“This has been in process for a period of time. This is a big deal,” Curry said.
Despite uncertainty regarding the future of economic incentives on the state level, JAXUSA — an arm of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce — has brought in 2,000 jobs this year to date.
While Curry noted the importance of state dollars, he said the city is going to fight for jobs regardless.
“Clearly, they’re important. But if it doesn’t go the way we’d like it to go … Jacksonville’s not going to lay down and cry and moan. We’re going to find a way to have a competitive advantage and compete for jobs,” Curry added.
“There’s always incentives available,” Curry said about the city, if they conform with the “scorecard” model Jacksonville uses to determine ROI.
“We can figure out how to get there,” Curry added, “often.”
Of course, it’s not just incentives that make the sale, said Tim Cost, President of the JAXUSA partnership.
Collaboration between political leaders and the “incredibly cooperative” business community help with making the sale to businesses relocating, Cost added.
Just as films and books have reviews, the municipal bond sector has its own critiques from bond ratings agencies.
In the case of Moody’s, which dropped its report Wednesday on Jacksonville’s status after pension reform, the writeup boils down to six words: “buy now, pay later, assume risks.”
And Moody’s also asserts that there may be a ceiling in terms of how the agency will see Jacksonville’s performance: “Jacksonville’s reliance on future revenues, rather than current contributions, to address its pension underfunding will continue to negatively impact our key credit metrics related to its pensions … because we do not consider future revenues as pension assets – while city contributions are going to be reduced.”
“By eliminating defined-benefit pensions for new employees, the city will shed investment performance risk over time. However, Jacksonville will also provide costly new benefits and salary increases under the plan, which it can only afford because it will defer a significant portion of its legacy pension costs to the 2030s,” reads the report.
“The city’s pension reform efforts come at a cost. While the city will carry no investment performance risk with the defined-contribution benefits for new employees, it will still contribute 25% of payroll for public safety employees. Public safety employees do not participate in Social Security,” the report adds.
Benefits, meanwhile, can be described as a mixed bag: “The longer that the sales tax for pensions must stay in place, the more difficulty the city could face in garnering support for other revenue resources, should the need arise. On the other hand, the city will immediately begin shedding investment performance risk relative to the status quo as new employees with only defined contribution benefits grow as a proportion of the city’s work force.”
Raises for city employees — delayed over a decade — are also factored into the mix.
“By 2020, these raises will increase the city’s salary spending by $120 million annually, which will amount to roughly 10% of the city’s general fund revenues by 2020…. Jacksonville will primarily offset these new costs by lowering its legacy defined benefit pension contributions…. The city will account for the dedicated future sales tax revenues as pension assets, which will reduce reported unfunded liabilities and thus lower its pension contribution requirements. Through this approach, the city will effectively lower its pension costs for the next 12 years, but it must significantly hike contributions once the new sales tax revenues become available.”
This describes the “deferred contribution” approach to pension reform that Mayor Lenny Curry‘s chief lieutenants sold the city on over many months.
“Defending the Constitution and enforcing the rule of law is something that can keep me up at night and get me out of bed in the morning,” Fant said Monday.
“The Legislature has been a wonderful experience, but I’m more of someone who likes to administer public policy for an organization, as opposed to standing on the soapbox and screaming all the time, which is what we have to do in the Legislature,” Fant added.
So Fant is interested in “enforcing the rule of law,” rather than making laws — an important point.
“Culturally, there seems to be a lot of pop culture bent against law enforcement, kind of neo-1960s dismissal of our law enforcement people,” he said. “I think that’s a harmful trend, and I hate to see people go after our guys and girls in the blue.”
Johnson is known for virulent anti-homosexual rhetoric, which has even been an embarrassment to fellow Republicans.
Fant’s campaign asserts that Johnson is “not a hire.” Fine. But why was he the point of contact for the launch for his campaign?
Al Lawson has ‘favorite son’ town hall in Gadsden County
U.S. Rep. Lawson may have a learning curve in “Dirty Duval.” But he is golden, a “favorite son” in Gadsden County, according to the Havana Herald.
Highlights? There was some new info from his town hall last week.
Georgia Rep. John Lewis has been mentoring freshman legislators, Lawson said.
“He is truly there to help us get a chance to congregate as freshmen,” he said.
Lawson also discussed food deserts and nutritional deprivation, noting that some school students are hurting so bad for a decent meal that “kids on Fridays put food in their backpacks because they might have no other food on weekends.”
As you can see below, hunger was also a theme in a Jacksonville appearance.
Lenny Curry committee makes it rain in April
April was a big month for Jacksonville Mayor Curry, as he was making the final sale of his pension reform to the Jacksonville City Council.
To that end, his political committee [“Build Something That Lasts”] spent big: $122,000.
Of that money, $100,000 went to ad buys — which facilitated an effective television ad that drove people to call the Jacksonville City Council and show support.
The ad worked: pension reform passed without a no vote.
Curry secured $55,000 of donations in April, with Tom Petway, Michael Munz and John Rood giving.
The committee has roughly $230,000 cash on hand, and with Curry staying put in Jacksonville after withdrawing from the CFO search, he will have time to replenish the coffers.
Paul Renner delivers big for Flagler, St. Johns dune restoration
When Flagler County commissioners recently workshopped an update on recovery from Hurricane Matthew, concerns arose over money appropriated by the Legislature.
More specifically, what was not being appropriated.
“I’m hearing we might not even come close to the $10 million we were hoping for,” Commission Chair Nate McLaughlin told FlaglerLive.com.
However, Republican state Rep. Renner, whose district includes all of Flagler County, came to the rescue. By the end of the 2017 Session, Renner secured $13.3 million for emergency repairs in his district.
But the money came with the catch, as far as Flagler is concerned: it would have to be shared between Flagler and St. Johns counties, leaving a certain uncertainty over how the Department of Environmental Protection will split the amount. The DEP oversees administering the money and of some of the beach-restoration work for Hurricane Matthew repairs, after the storm sheared off enormous chunks of beach sand and dunes in Flagler County.
“DEP will administer that based upon the county’s needs,” Renner said in an interview. “So, we believe that that in combination, with the possibility of some funds from the main beaches budget, will be adequate to cover the entirety of the local match in Flagler County.”
Laura Street Trio, Barnett Building in play
Good news for those wanting downtown development to continue on the upswing! The Florida Times-Union reports that Curry is committed to the renovation of the properties, and the city is willing to put in $9.8M in incentives to make that happen.
“With a keen focus on increasing economic development throughout the city, building public-private partnerships, and ensuring a return on the city’s investments to taxpayers, my administration has been able to successfully negotiate a redevelopment agreement where others have stalled and failed,” Curry asserted.
“Any redevelopment project I present to City Council will reflect a return to taxpayers,” Curry added. “This one is no exception.”
City incentives are “part of $78 million worth of work to turn the buildings into a mix of apartments, hotel rooms, restaurants, rooftop bar, bank and bodega market,” the T-U report added.
All of this would be done within about three years.
School Board, Nikolai Vitti rail against HB 7069
Newsflash: the Duval County School Board and the state Legislature are sideways on education reform, with board members and outgoing Superintendent Vitti messaging hard against changes Monday before the legislature approved the bill, as WJXT reports.
“Not only are we underfunded for infrastructure, but we will see less funding and an acceleration of funding to charter schools,” Vitti said. “This “reform” is — I call it reform because that’s what the Legislature is calling it — it’s not reform. It’s hijacking of the legislative process to favor charter schools. In other words, to favor the few over the many.”
The controversial bit of the bill: the “Schools of Hope” program, incentivizing charter schools taking on students from failing schools — and upsetting the funding formula.
Police Union 1, ‘F— the Police’ 0
In the wake of a springtime clash between anti-Trump protesters and Jacksonville police officers, a very public clash soon ensued on Facebook between Jacksonville Ethics Commission nominee Leslie Jean-Bart and Fraternal Order of Police head Steve Zona.
That clash — which involved, among other things, Jean-Bart defending protesters using the inflammatory phrase “f — the police” by posting that “Also, F*** the Police is protected free speech. I’m not going to condemn it because there is no reason to do so” — has now reached the denouement.
And it appears Jean-Bart will not be moving toward the Ethics Commission anytime soon, with the City Council withdrawing the bill that would put her on.
The nomination was withdrawn at the request of its sponsor: Public Defender Charles Cofer.
In the words of Ice-T: “Freedom of speech … just watch what you say.”
Save the date: Florida Foundation for Liberty is hosting a fundraising reception for Rep. Renner Thursday, May 25. Reception begins 5:30 p.m. at The River Club, 1 Independent Dr. #3500, in Jacksonville. RSVP to Katie Ballard at (954) 803-3942 or email@example.com.
UF Health North cuts ribbon on new inpatient hospital
The 92-bed tower is connected by walkways to the current medical office complex, the heart of the campus, which has been open since 2015. The new hospital consists of five floors, four for patients with all private rooms.
There is a 20-bed unit dedicated to labor and delivery and other women’s services, a 24-bed floor dedicated to the intensive care, two 24-bed floors devoted to general medical inpatients, and one floor of administrative services, a chapel, a cafeteria and more.
Night at the Zoo
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens will be in a whole new light with Night at the Zoo events from 6:30-10 p.m. Live music, food trucks, cash bars, and visitors will have a chance to see animal exhibits until 8:30 p.m. on June 23, July 14, July 28 and August 11.
There will be animal encounters, keeper talks, bounce houses and more. Tickets for members are $5/adults and $3/children (3-12); nonmembers are $10/adult and $5/children (3-12). Child 2 and under: free (but still require a ticket) Tickets are available by pre-sale, online purchase only.
JAXPORT adds Hans-Mill Corporation
Hans-Mill Corporation, one of the nation’s leading manufacturers of metal and plastic household products, is opening a state-of-the-art manufacturing center near the JAXPORT North Jacksonville marine terminals.
The 121,000-square-foot facility IS for manufacturing, assembling and distributing stainless steel trash cans and plastic household products sold at major retailers around the world.
Hans-Mill will use JAXPORT to import materials used in its manufacturing process from Asia, as well as for the import of finished goods for U.S. distribution. In addition, the company has been granted permission to operate within JAXPORT’s Foreign Trade Zone No. 64. The facility, which already serves as the company’s headquarters, stands for an $11 million investment in Northeast Florida, creating 23 new, direct jobs.
Some good news for fans of minor league baseball in Jacksonville, from First Coast News.
The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp are showing a 73 percent YOY increase in attendance — a validation of the once-controversial and once-derided change of the team’s name from the Suns.
Purists balked. But with new promotions and a new look, baseball is juiced once again at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.
That’s the biggest increase in turnstile traffic in minor league baseball. The second biggest has a local connection as well: the Columbia Fireflies. The South Carolina A club features Tim Tebow at the plate, and casual fans at the gate, with a 43 percent uptick year over year.
Armada remain undefeated thanks to late equalizer
The Jacksonville Armada FC recorded a late comeback to draw with the New York Cosmos Saturday night. In the 95th minute, Zach Steinberger nailed a clutch goal to give the Armada FC (2W-4D-0L) a 1-1 draw with the New York Cosmos (2W-3D-1L) after trailing from the 23rd minute onward.
Kartik Krishnaiyer reports that New York’s early goal came courtesy of Javi Marquez. Jacksonville goalkeeper Caleb Sewell-Patterson had a great game once again making key saves to keep the Armada within striking distance.
“That performance was the best performance I’ve ever seen from the Armada against the New York Cosmos, who are one of the best teams in the NASL over the past few years,” said head coach Mark Lowry. The Cosmos have won 3 of the last 4 NASL Championships.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” said Armada Midfielder Kevan George. “We’re a team. Our chemistry and grind from preseason is what brought us to this point. Are we surprised that we tied the game? No, we knew we had it in us. We just have to keep going and get wins.”
Jacksonville faces North Carolina FC in NASL play Saturday. The Armada will be looking to continue its undefeated run and jump back into first place with a win. Jacksonville has drawn four straight games.
Meanwhile, the Armada FC learned who they’d face in next week’s US Open Second Round. Miami United will be the opposition after a late winner sunk Boca Raton FC. Local playing legend Nacho scored the game-winning goal in the 87th minute for Miami in a game where Boca Raton recorded the majority of chances, particularly in the second half. Miami’s goal against the run of play was impressive and showed the side could counterattack well, something Lowery and the Armada FC will have to account for in next week’s matchup.
The match will take place Tuesday, May 16, at Hialeah’s Ted Hendricks Stadium.
Today, there are approximately 200 teacher openings in Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) for the 2016—2017 school year, which ends next month. That means students in 200 classrooms are being managed by a substitute.
The teacher shortage is not surprising, but the Duval County School Board’s consideration to cut Teach for America (TFA) is. If the school board gets its way when it meets Monday, there will be 325 openings soon.
In lieu of funding TFA in Jacksonville, this board is considering using the $400,000 originally earmarked for those 125 teachers to instead pay for marketing — yes, marketing.
More specifically, Chairwoman Paula Wright proposed using the money for DCPS billboards, which to be frank, is a bad idea. While Ms. Wright likes billboards, readers should know what TFA actually does.
TFA is a program that trains, supports, and places many of the nation’s top college students in the country’s lowest-performing Title I schools, where there is the greatest need for teachers.
It infuses racially and economically diverse educators into neighborhood schools and provides successful role models that look or came from households like the students they teach. In 2015, 64 percent of TFA Jacksonville corps members identified as people of color or from a low-income background.
Since TFA opened in Duval County in 2008, more than 30 TFA corps members have won Teacher of the Year in their school, including two finalists for Duval County’s Teacher of the Year.
Not only does TFA help fill critical teaching positions, but it also seeks out schools with the greatest shortages in the most vital subject areas: math, science and language arts. TFA corps members were a considerable share — 14 percent — of new math hires in Duval this year.
In a climate of teacher shortage crises, the decision to cut TFA makes no sense, especially with only three months until teachers report for the 2017-2018 school year. This consideration reeks of politics from an ineffectual school board that recently drove out its superintendent with pettiness.
This is not about students or stewardship of taxpayer dollars. This is about attempting to take out a program that many of the entrenched status quo interests have resented since the day it began in Duval County.
TFA has its shortcomings like any organization and it is not a silver bullet for education reform, but it has a proven track record of creating tangible impacts on student achievement in classrooms across Florida and the nation.
In a state where the average public school teacher comes and goes in 3.5 years, 70 percent of 2014 TFA Jacksonville corps members continue teaching beyond their two-year commitment and remain in the classroom today.
Many former corps members also become school administrators or choose to make Jacksonville their permanent home, no matter their profession, which is a boon for attracting well-educated, high skilled workers and their families to Jacksonville.
Without TFA in Jacksonville, the teacher shortage problems in Duval will just worsen. The number of vacancies could more than double to 400 vacancies or more.
That’s why it’s extremely misguided to think $400,000 worth of billboards and advertising will be the key to filling those 200 vacant teaching positions. Other strategies are needed to fill these roles.
Moving forward, TFA and its impact in Jacksonville should be regularly evaluated with renewed public attention and debate. For right now, the 125 TFA corps members and 95 TFA alumni teaching in Duval County, along with the many other talented administrators and education-focused professionals who are borne from TFA, are sorely and desperately needed in this city.
Anyone who cares for our most vulnerable students should implore their board member to make the right decision. Pettiness and politics from our school board should not get in the way of children’s best interests.
Dave Chauncey is an education, labor and employment attorney in Jacksonville. He was a 2010 TFA Corps Member in Jacksonville. You can tweet him @DaveChauncey.
Is there a politician in Florida right now on more of a hot streak than Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry?
This issue of Bold tells the tale.
Curry’s pension reform appears to be on a glide path toward ratification — a major accomplishment.
His moves toward downtown revitalization have a major shot in the arm, with Shad Khan getting the green light to go forward with Shipyards redevelopment.
And he is still in the CFO discussion — bigly.
It is a political season where everyone in Tallahassee looks a bit more diminished with each passing news cycle.
Yet, Curry — vilified as a “party boss” during the campaign two years ago — is looking like the embodiment of leadership.
At 70 percent in an internal poll (and above 60 percent of Democrats), the question has to be raised: Is Jacksonville enough for Curry, or is it time for him to make a play for something statewide?
Pension reform a done deal … almost
It appears that the long and winding path toward comprehensive pension reform in Jacksonville has all but completed after the Jacksonville City Council “committee of the whole” voted to recommend 14 pension reform bills to the full Council Monday.
What this means: all that’s left for the body to do is vote once more for the bills they approved in committee.
Of the bills, 11 ratify collective bargaining agreements. One authorizes the ½ penny sales tax extension, which provides actuarial certainty that there will be money to pay down and eventually pay off the city’s $2.8B unfunded pension liability. And two more bills reconfigure the city’s retirement plans.
Existing defined benefit pension plans will close to new entrants. Hires after Oct. 1 will enter defined contribution plans.
Done deal — and maybe the biggest accomplishment of Curry’s political career.
Thus far …
Curry visits Tallahassee, not lobbying for CFO
Curry made his way to Tallahassee this week … but not to buck for the CFO slot.
Curry, who is at 70 percent in a recent internal poll conducted by his political committee, was there advocating for a friend and CEO of a Jacksonville company, reports Tia Mitchell.
“Curry introduced APR Energy Chair and Chief Executive John Campion to Scott and explained the company’s issues, which have tied up $44 million and could cost even more. He asked Scott to reach out to President Donald Trump in hopes of that the president can help bring the yearslong case to resolution,” Mitchell writes.
Turbines owned by APR were rented by an Australian company that went bankrupt, frustrating attempts to retrieve the equipment.
Curry, meanwhile, is willing to have a “conversation” about the CFO position, he told Mitchell.
Does Jacksonville need block grants?
Does the city of Jacksonville need Community Development Block Grants? As an urban city with all kinds of legacy problems, one would think the federal money would come in handy.
But getting Curry to take a position on CDBGs has been a slog.
The city kicked off the beginning of a week of events designed to call attention to the utility of CDBGs with a mayoral proclamation — but with no one authorized to deliver it.
TV was there — no worries, they didn’t notice. But there is a school of thought that Curry’s reticence is related to the desire of President Trump to zero out these grants — weekend travel to one’s private clubs isn’t cheap.
Curry’s spokesperson, Marsha Oliver, projected agnosticism on the issue on behalf of her boss.
“As long as the program exists and funds are available, we will utilize them,” Oliver said.
Oliver stressed that the mayor was not taking a position on whether the program should or shouldn’t be in existence; however, as budget discussions loom, Curry’s financial team likely will have to factor in the current uncertainty from the White House.
Aaron Bean is lobbying for CFO
Sen Bean — already filed for re-election to the Senate — is in the mix for the CFO opening that will be created soon.
“My name is in the hat for CFO,” Bean said. He has met with Gov. Rick Scott, who said he would announce the process for selection “after Session ends.”
Bean is part of a crowded field of candidates, which includes Curry and Pat Neal, who has been touted by statewide political media as a strong candidate for the caretaker role.
Trouble for Paul Renner?
Rep. Renner has made no secret of his desire to be House Speaker in 2022 — and that may be a dealbreaker.
A week after POLITICO Florida reported Renner discussed his speaker’s bid with House Republicans — violating prohibitions against campaigning for the slot — new draft rules may knock him out of the running.
Peter Schorsch lays it out.
“According to the latest version of the rules, a caucus member would be ineligible to be nominated if the House Speaker declares the member in violation of House Republican Conference Rules,” Schorsch writes.
Adopted last year, those rules state a “candidate for the office of Republican Leader-designate may not have directly or indirectly solicited or accepted a formal or informal pledge of support before June 30 of the year following the general election which the final members of their legislative class were elected.”
Conference rules go on to say a violation would render that candidate “ineligible to stand for election before the House Republican Conference as either the Republican Leader-designate or the Republican Leader.”
Corrine Brown trial boasts witness star power
Federal court awaits Brown next week, and political watchers will appreciate the star power brought forth to testify on the questionable charity graced by Brown’s name.
Among the defense witnesses: Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Rep. Bennie Thompson.
Jacksonville luminaries will also testify, including former Mayor John Delaney.
Testifying for the prosecution: Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel, former Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover, current Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, Jacksonville super-donors John Baker and Ed Burr, Jacksonville lawyer, and one-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Steve Pajcic, and former chair of the Donald Trump campaign in Florida, Susie Wiles.
Testifying for the state: the congresswoman’s daughter, Shantrel Brown and her two alleged co-conspirators: Carla Wiley and former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons. Simmons also is on deck for the defense.
Both Wiley and Simmons have pleaded out, and their sentences are contingent on cooperation with the feds.
Brown faces 22 federal counts, with a possible 357 years in prison and $4.8 million fine if all charges are found valid.
Nikolai Vitti, Motown-bound
The Detroit Free Pressreported this week that Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is moving on to the Motor City, wrapping up a tenure that saw Vitti with more buy-in from community “stakeholders” than rank and file.
Going forward, It looks to be a wild ride for Vitti.
The Free Press reported “jeers” from some audience members, with the objection being that Vitti is not African-American.
And there is a lawsuit challenging the openness of the search process also.
And the teacher’s union wants the interim superintendent kept on as an assistant superintendent.
Vitti’s tagline during this process has been a claim that he has Detroit in his DNA.
There’s still time to order a kit from 23AndMe, doctor.
Meanwhile, the Duval County School Board meets Friday to discuss next steps.
Shad Khan gets greenlit for Shipyards development
The “future of the Shipyards” is in the hands of Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan.
No, it’s not kismet. Rather, it’s the result of Khan’s Iguana Investments emerging as the best of three competitive bids for redevelopment of the Shipyards and Metropolitan Park. Indeed, Iguana’s score of 85.5 was well ahead of the other two hopefuls.
Action News Jax reports that “Khan’s vision for Downtown stays true to his prior ‘Live. Work. Stay. Play’ pitch. His aim is to create an atmosphere around the stadium where the City and Jaguars both benefit. In addition to residential and park space, the plan calls for a luxury hotel that connects to the stadium through a pedestrian tunnel and a pedestrian and bicycle bridge park, similar to the High Line in New York.”
City Council will approve this deal later this spring.
Jax Chamber pushes Players economic impact
The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce ascribes $151M of economic impact from May’s PLAYERS Championship for Northeast Florida.
The Chamber hosted a news conference this week that involved representatives from the PLAYERS and US Assure, and as has been the case previously, all parties discussed the unique economic synergy created by the event.
“The tournament has hosting opportunities for businesses of all sizes and the PLAYERS Club is an excellent way to showcase our community, the tournament, and your company. If you have not already, I would highly suggest reaching out to staff of THE PLAYERS to figure out how they can help your company host clients at this amazing event,” US Assure chief operating officer Ryan Schwartz asserted.
“During May 9-14, Northeast Florida is on an international stage thanks to THE PLAYERS Championship,” Jax Chamber Chair Darnell Smith said. “As a community, we must continue to take advantage of this spectacular tournament and venue to showcase how wonderful this city is and to help grow business here in Northeast Florida.”
Ed Burr, double booked
When it comes to the JEA Board, almost-Chair Burr has left the building, reports the Florida Times-Union.
“Mayor Lenny Curry appointed Burr, along with other business leaders, to the board in 2015 following a shake-up of the board in the wake of controversy over governance at JEA. Curry reappointed Burr for another term this year, but Burr asked for his name to be withdrawn from reappointment because of continued ambiguity in state law about whether he is a dual officeholder,” Sebastian Kitchen writes.
Burr, chairman of the Jacksonville Civic Council and a Lenny Curry ally, also serves on the FSU Board.
Tom Petway will serve as interim chair until a new chair is formally selected.
March Madness comes to Jacksonville in 2019
The NCAA awarded Jacksonville a Division I Men’s Basketball Regional for 2019. The Florida Times-Union reports it is the fourth time since 2006 that the city has been a part of March Madness.
Jacksonville is the Florida site chosen for an NCAA regional for the next two years. Tampa received a regional for 2020.
“We have worked on this for the past year, and I think our track record from hosting in 2006, 2010 and 2015 spoke for itself,” said Alan Verlander, chief operating officer and executive director of the Jacksonville Sports Council. “We’re very excited to welcome March Madness back to Jacksonville.”
University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium will host the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Track and Field Outdoor Championships in May 2019 and May 2021.
“We are thrilled to welcome NCAA Championship events back to Jacksonville,” said Curry. “Our community continues to demonstrate that we are a premiere destination for many of the biggest and brightest sporting events. This is another great opportunity to support and celebrate student-athletes who are competing at the highest level.”
Motivational Speaker Doug Dvorak to give Flagler College commencement
Approximately 358 Flagler University students will get a motivational speech from Doug Dvorak when they receive their diplomas at a commencement ceremony next weekend.
Dvorak, an alum who graduated from Flager with a bachelor’s in business administration in 1984, is the CEO of DMG International, an organization that assists clients with sales, productivity and motivational workshops. His background in sales, leadership and management has allowed him to become one of the world’s most sought-after consultants, lecturers and teachers, and in 2014 he was inducted into the Motivational Speakers Hall of Fame.
JAXPORT now offers expanded service to Asia through Hamburg Süd’s new Asia- North America East Coast rotation. JAXPORT’s Blount Island Marine Terminalserves as the last port of call for the new service offered through the 2M Alliance. Ships in the rotation offer direct service from Jacksonville to Busan in South Korea as well as Qingdao, Xingang, Shanghai and Ningbo in China. SSA Marine furnishes stevedoring services at Blount Island.
UF Health Jacksonvilleneurology patients needing medical imaging are getting scans much quicker after an in-house, multiple-department efforts have reduced turnaround times. The change brings more efficiency, increased throughput, and improved patient satisfaction. Overall, there was a 52 percent decrease in the number of scans that took more than a day to complete. Data for the study were collected through early 2016.
Jacksonville-based Community Hospice of Northeast Florida has a new name — Community Hospice & Palliative Care. The Florida Times-Union reports the change reflects Community Hospice’s growing line of services and programs. Since 1979, Community Hospice has served the end-of-life needs of patients and families in Northeast Florida. In February it received a certificate of need start offering hospice services to an 11-county region of north and north-central Florida.
Armada FC appoints Marshall Happer as chief operating officer
Coming off a 0-0 draw this week with San Francisco that kept the Armada unbeaten, Kartik Krishnaiyer reports the club has promoted Happer to chief operating officer. Happer was appointed by the North American Soccer League (NASL), which took over ownership of Armada FC in early 2017.
A former NFL executive, Happer helped launch Armada FC, previously serving as the club’s senior vice president of club and team operations. He has been with Jacksonville since it kicked off NASL play in front of a crowd of 16,164 at EverBank Field on April 4, 2015, against FC Edmonton. The Armada beat Edmonton twice to start the 2017 campaign and now picked up a draw against San Francisco.
Happer will lead the club’s day-to-day business efforts and manage its front office staff. Under the current ownership landscape, all Armada FC assets have been transferred to the NASL. The Jacksonville Armada FC Youth Academy will continue to operate as a separate nonprofit organization.
“It’s an honor to lead this club and continue to bring high-level soccer and quality entertainment to our loyal fans here in Jacksonville,” Happer said. “The team is off to an undefeated start on the field, the front office is eager to connect with the community in new and exciting ways, and the move to Hodges Stadium — a new facility for us — has been extremely well-received by the Armada FC faithful.”
The Armada’s quick start has raised eyebrows throughout the NASL. The club sits in first place with seven points through three games and has yet to concede a goal. Jacksonville travels to New York to face the defending champion Cosmos on Saturday at 7 p.m. The game can be seen live on beIN SPORTS USA nationally.