Monday morning saw Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and City Council President Anna Broscheannounce that $1.071M of new money would be available for after school programs this coming academic year.
With reforms to be announced Wednesday morning at a press conference for the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jacksonville Journey this week, this is another short-term solution to a problem that Curry doesn’t want to see in the long term, with money to pay for it swept out of various accounts — more detail on that will come in the filed legislation.
Curry’s statement spoke to that “Band-Aid” solution reality, ahead of meetings with nine Council members on Monday, more on Tuesday, and a Wednesday press conference to announce comprehensive reforms.
“Council President Brosche and I remain committed to creating a city where children from their earliest age through young adulthood have the tools and resources to thrive,” said Mayor Curry.
“As I’ve stated many times before, our youth are our city’s future, and I believe every child deserves access to programs and initiatives that will build brighter futures, pathways and opportunities for them,” Curry added.
“Although we are pleased to increase the offerings and improve access, we recognize that this is essentially a Band-Aid. It is another stopgap measure to help meet the urgent needs of children this school year, which is why the reforms that I will be introducing are essential to our children,” Curry continued.
Much of Curry’s summer has been occupied with the problem of underfunded summer camps.
The city allocated nearly a million dollars to funding camps for underprivileged youth in June. Despite such an allocation, hiccups remained in the dispersal of money to providers, at least one of which was running the program out of her own pocket.
Curry has promised reforms to the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and Jacksonville Journey frameworks, and one should expect those to be rolled out in the coming days. A significant architect of the Journey vision, we hear, is involved in the schematics.
The reforms, CP Brosche said, would be “structural in nature.” (For an analogue of such structural reforms, one might consider Curry’s reforms of the JEA Board, to which he brought people who shared his vision, who then instituted changes in governance and accointability).
JCC will continue to exist and be independent, per Brosche, a vision that accords with her larger vision for the city’s children.
Council President Brosche added, via statement, the following.
“Back to school is a time when students, families and educators are full of hope about the new school year,” said Brosche. “How the city wraps itself around our children is one of the most important investments we can make in our future. I appreciate and applaud Mayor Curry’s efforts to find and reallocate budget resources to reach more children.”
Council members beyond Brosche are conceptually in favor of reform, but they all have individual concerns — which will come up this week as the Mayor meets with Council members one-on-one, with nine meetings slated for Monday alone.
Southside Republican Scott Wilson notes that some of his neighborhoods struggle like those that are in the ten Jacksonville Journey zip codes, and wants to ensure that his district’s interests are protected.
Councilman Reggie Gaffney, one of the first Council members to meet with the Mayor, noted that reforms would be unveiled in a Wednesday press conference — and that he support Curry’s “vision to restructure” the beleaguered JCC’s changes.
“The program will be totally different,” Gaffney said. “I do support his vision and direction.”
Also supporting Curry’s reforms: Councilwoman Katrina Brown, who took to Facebook Monday afternoon to communicate that commitment
Councilman John Crescimbeni, meanwhile, described his chat with Curry as a “preliminary conversation,” suggesting that details would be in legislation from the Mayor’s Office, expected to drop this week.
Expect that those who appear Wednesday with Curry at the aforementioned press conference share his vision for reform.
And those who don’t, meanwhile, may be hazarding a certain level of risk vis a vis the Mayor’s Office.
If this week’s issue of Bold has a unifying theme, it’s “institutional knowledge.”
What that phrase means, in a political sense: knowing your milieu, learning what you can and can’t do in office. “Passing the torch,” so to speak.
For our area’s congressmen, you will see below how the power of knowing one’s way around Capitol Hill translates into a smoother path to re-election than to the first election.
For Jacksonville’s mayor, it means knowing that whatever blowback might be received in the press for an early-week junket with the city’s leading businessman may be worth the benefit.
And for the folks on Jacksonville’s City Council, the phrase is a double-edged sword.
There are some who believe institutional knowledge is conferred via osmosis … or title. Not the case.
The phrase comes down to being able to manipulate the levers of power — whether one has the title or not.
Institutions, by necessity, function best with stable, merit-based hierarchy. When that hierarchy is subverted, things get interesting.
Al Lawson, John Rutherford pack war chests
First-year Jacksonville-area Congressmen Rutherford and Lawson may have different party labels.
But they both have strong fundraisingin the latest campaign finance report, suggesting that either will be tough outs in primaries.
Rutherford hauled in over $155,000 off 69 total contributions from January to June 2017; Lawson brought in over $158,000 off 118 total contributions, doing even better than Rutherford.
Rutherford’s committee has over $132,000 on hand, a number offset by nearly $96,000 in debts.
Lawson, still without that Jacksonville challenger, has over $148,000 on hand — a number offset by nearly $79,000 in debts and loans.
Most compelling donor? The political committee of House Speaker Paul Ryan, giving to Rutherford.
Lawson talks ‘blue collar’ outreach
The Tallahassee Democrat was on hand for Lawson’s recent comments at the North Florida Democratic Club’s summer picnic.
Lawson, a Democrat representing Congressional District 5, worries that the party has forgotten its core message.
“Fourteen percent of African-American men voted for Donald Trump. Fifty-three percent of white women voted for Donald Trump,” Lawson said.
“This, we can’t let happen anymore in America. We are the ones who have fought for Social Security, fought for equal pay for women, fought for Medicaid. They are the ones who want to cut,” Lawson added.
Lawson cited the party’s enthusiasm gap with the “blue collar worker,” urging those on hand to reach out to groups that help to consolidate the base.
Mike Williams, Melissa Nelson show up for Ashley Moody
Tuesday was not a great day for the campaign of Rep. Jay Fant for Attorney General — as his GOP primary opponent, Ashley Moody, held a fundraiser in his backyard.
Among the significant attendees are two of the biggest names in #jaxpol: Sheriff Williams, who helmed the host committee; and 4th Circuit State Attorney Nelson — who is not endorsing in this one, but is pictured with the candidate below.
On the host committee: Gary Chartrand, the charter school impresario, and Nelson supporter; Hank Coxe, one of the leading defense attorneys in the state, and Nelson supporter; Buddy Schulz, another key Nelson ally.
We weren’t on hand, alas … but we did have eyes in the room, and here’s what those eyes saw.
Attendees comprised a “who’s who of Ortega and Avondale” — the heart of Fant’s House district, and a short walk from where he kicked off his own AG money campaign.
Worth watching: how much money Moody harvests from Jacksonville donors, as reflected on her next campaign finance report.
Already, the money race is uglier than 5 p.m. on the Fuller-Warren bridge.
Lenny Curry flies the friendly skies, Shad Khan style
An early-week trip by Jacksonville Mayor Curry and Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa caught the eye of the Florida Times-UnionTuesday … as it was on Jags’ owner Khan’s corporate jet.
Described as “a two-day trip to St. Louis and Baltimore to take care of official and political work,” T-U scribe Nate Monroe asserted multiple purposes for the trip, including a discussion of “downtown development.”
“What compelled Curry to take the trip, or who he is meeting with to discuss downtown development ideas or his political career, is not clear,” Monroe writes.
Whether clear or not, Curry and Mousa — in an email exchange — extolled the virtues of the trip so far.
Curry to Mousa: “Let’s debrief quickly after today’s St. Louis trip and tomorrow’s Baltimore on downtown development. We need to discuss design, finance, infrastructure.”
“Yes, sir. Interesting and creative matters we learned today.”
Likewise opaque: who is paying for the trip.
As it could be another in a series of Khan-tributions to Curry’s “Build Something That Lasts” political committee, the finance report for the committee will be worth watching to see precise valuations and itemizations of Curry’s junket.
Paul Renner to take over Ways and Means
To the victor goes the spoils. Rep. Rennerof Palm Coast — fresh off winning the Speaker’s race for 2022 — will get some gavel practice by helming the Florida House Ways and Means Committee.
This role will give Renner some practice with the purse strings, and said practice will be during an interesting year — a watershed election on the state level, with all constitutional offices in play.
Renner, though representing Palm Coast, is very much a Jacksonville guy — a local lawyer who came within two votes of representing Jacksonville itself in the Florida House in 2014.
Jason Fischer: Audit the School Board!
On Monday, State Rep. Fischer proposed a state financial audit of the Duval County School Board on which he served until last year.
Fischer’s take: the district is more concerned about potentially suing over the controversial “Schools of Hope” bill he advocated than it is with getting its “financial house in order,” after recent revelations of spending $21M beyond its budget.
Fischer has a backup on the board: fellow Republican Scott Shine, who already has amassed $30,000 for his own re-election bid to the body, “welcomes” such an audit.
In an open letter released Tuesday, Shine wrote that he is “not concerned with the possibility of a Legislative Audit.”
“As I suggested to the board [July 18, we need to institute additional peer review and a Legislative audit can be a part of that review process,” Shine wrote.
Shine also noted that the CFO responsible for the budget imbalance was “removed,” in light of the “considerable mistake” made by the budget office.
Garrett Dennis: More cops, please!
Jacksonville progressives are pushing back against Mayor Curry’s proposal to hire more cops. But City Council Finance Chair Dennis is riding with the Mayor on this one.
Dennis, who attends roughly a dozen community meetings a month, has “yet to hear that we have too many police officers.”
“I understand their concerns,” Dennis said regarding the JPC position, “but I have yet to hear that at any neighborhood association meeting.”
Many in Dennis’ District 9 experience a certain type of more aggressive policing than do those in neighboring District 14.
“Look at the crime stats, and see what crimes are committed” in each district.
Dennis notes that the crimes that predominate in District 9 are of a certain type: “aggravated assault, drugs, violent crime.”
In District 14, meanwhile, the crimes are of a different type, such as “break-ins and auto thefts.”
“The tactics are going to be different based on the crime,” Dennis said.
Term limits bill on ice
When in doubt, defer.
That was the conclusion drawn by the Jacksonville City Council, which opted to defer action on a controversial bill that, if passed, would allow an almost-certain-to-fail referendum to extend term limits for Jacksonville elected officials, allowing three consecutive terms for all offices but the Mayor.
The bill sailed through committees but stalled out in the full Council — with marginalized Council vets John Crescimbeni, Bill Gulliford, andTommy Hazouri (all of whom got shafted in committee assignments, and missed out on the debate) cooling enthusiasm among many colleagues.
While bill sponsor Matt Schellenberg got help from Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown, Tuesday’s exercise was a reminder of political reality.
While it may be possible to shunt Gulliford, Hazouri, and Crescimbeni to the side, if the three of them are aligned, they make a formidable dissident bloc … one that could make budget deliberations in August and September really interesting for a Council President who got installed via a loose coalition that may have only been viable for the leadership vote.
Jags reach out to region
The Jacksonville Jaguars are redoubling (or re-tripling at this point?) its efforts to build a regional fan base, the Florida Times-Union reports.
The problem, as it’s been historically: the bulk of tickets are sold in Duval, Clay and St. Johns counties. Baker and Nassau: negligible factors. And beyond that? Gets perilously close to Bucs/Falcons/Dolphins country.
But they’ve got to keep choppin’ wood, with Gainesville, Tallahassee, Brunswick and even Orlando suburbs in the mix.
People travel to Jacksonville for single games, but as anyone who has been to a Jags game knows, they are often there to cheer the road team on.
The Jags’ goal: to become the Green Bay Packers of the South. Easier to do that with more 11-5 years than 5-11 letdowns.
Northwest Florida continues to attempt a response to the opioid crisis crushing the nation.
Action News Jaxreports that Baker County Commissioner Cathy Rhoden has a daughter addicted to heroin, and Rhoden hopes to parlay that personal experience into community education.
Rhoden’s goal: to start a task force, similar to that already in the county for meth.
Meanwhile, Jacksonville saw a conference of people on the front lines of the battle in the region, and First Coast News was on hand.
Clearly dominating the Canadian market, it would appear Trafalgar wants to move south of the border.
Verklempt over Volstead
There’s a tear in A.G. Gancarski’s absinthe cocktail, as his favorite bar — the Volstead — is set to close next month, reports the Florida Times-Union.
The bar has a “farewell affair to remember” Aug. 18, with the final night of operations Aug. 21.
It’s difficult to overstate what Volstead meant downtown. The speak-easy embodied a prohibition era aesthetic, with great drinks and plenty of space to mill.
However, the real utility of Volstead was its proximity to City Hall, as it became the go-to spot for off-the-record conversations between pols and savvy reporters, where the secrets spilled were every bit as delicious as the liquor swilled.
What Aaron Bean is up to in August
On Wednesday, Aug. 2, the Fernandina Beach Republican will speak to the Rotary Club of West Jacksonville for an overview of the 2017 Legislative Session. Event begins 12:30 p.m. at the Florida Yacht Club, 5210 Yacht Club Road in Jacksonville. Then, on Tuesday, Aug. 15, Sen. Bean will also offer another overview for the Rotary Club of San Jose’s meeting, beginning 6 p.m. at the San Jose Country Club, 7529 San Jose Boulevard in Jacksonville.
Save the date: Flagler County GOP election kickoff barbecue
Flagler County’s Republican Club kicks off the 2018 election season with an afternoon of fun, food and fellowship at the Princess place preserve Aug. 19. Special guest is Republican Party of Florida Chair Blaise Ingoglia, who will cut the ribbon on the season at 2 p.m. State Sen. Travis Hutson and Speaker-to-be Renner will be honored for sponsoring the Republican Club Youth Scholarships for 2017-18. Emceeing the event is retired Flagler County Clerk Gail Wadsworth. To order tickets, click here.
Adam Putnam, Renner featured at Florida Chamber veteran summit
Leaders from Florida’s military and defense industry, economic development experts, policymakers and the business community will be at the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Military, Defense & Veterans Opportunities Summit Aug. 8 at the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld, 6677 Sea Harbor Dr. in Orlando.
The event’s theme is examining challenges facing Florida veterans throughout the next 15-plus years and identify solutions.
Among the featured guests are state Rep. Renner, Agriculture Commissioner Putnam (as keynote) and retired Brig. Gen. Michael Fleming, who serves as Jacksonville University’s senior vice president of University Relations and Development. Fleming and Renner will also host a panel entitled “Making Connections: Eliminating Obstacles for Veteran Entrepreneurs.”
Intuition Ale Works sponsoring cart service for events
Jacksonville Business Journalreports that Intuition Ale Works is one of the sponsors of the passenger cart service EZEventRide, which transports physically impaired people and others who need the service to and from events at Veterans Memorial Arena and EverBank Field.
Founder Bill Guerrant launched EZEventRide in 2014 after noticing an elderly couple struggling to walk nearly a mile from there parking spots to the stadium. Guerrant began in June 2014 after acquiring some golf carts. The company’s 10 carts – which offer free rides – can take people from parking locations throughout the Jacksonville entertainment district, in between the stadium and places like the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Waterfront, the Omni Jacksonville Hotel, Intuition and Manifest Distillery and others.
JTA CEO honored with leadership award
Nathaniel Ford Sr., CEO of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) was honored with the Thomas G. Neusom “Founders Award from the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO). This award is the highest honor bestowed by COMTO.
Ford accepted the award July 18 at the 46th National Meeting and Training Conference in Detroit, Michigan.
The Founders Award honors public and private transportation executives and policymakers responsible for the direction and operation of their agency and who, through their affiliation with COMTO, have made outstanding contributions toward the growth and development of people of color within the transportation industry and have given continued and outstanding service and leadership to the COMTO organization.
“I am honored and grateful to be recognized by COMTO with this prestigious award,” said Ford. “JTA is committed to workplace diversity and it is evident throughout our operation.”
Frontier Airlines adds flights from Jax to Denver, Cincinnati
Flights from Jacksonville International Airport are expanding as Denver-based Frontier Airlines, a low-cost carrier start nonstop flights from Jacksonville to Denver and Cincinnati starting spring 2018, reports First Coast News. Flights will be on Airbus A320 aircraft.
“We are proud to announce the nationwide expansion of our unique brand of Low Fares Done Right which will empower millions more people to afford to fly,” Barry Biffle, president and CEO for Frontier Airlines, said in a statement.
Back in the early 1990s, the people of Jacksonville voted via referendum to limit city officials to two consecutive terms.
Now, almost three decades later, a Jacksonville City Councilman wants another referendum — to amend that two-term limit, making it three terms for every elected office but that of the Mayor.
In addition to giving another term to City Council members, the measure would afford constitutional officers and School Board members a three-term limit, pending voter approval in a 2018 referendum.
The bill (2017-358), introduced and carried by Finance Committeeman Matt Schellenberg, has been a priority of his for over a year; Schellenberg’s take is that Jacksonville voters are deprived of “institutional knowledge” if their Council members were restricted only to two four-year terms, as has been the case since the 1990s.
Tuesday night will tell the tale as to whether or not that referendum moves forward, as the full City Council gets to vote on the measure.
Last Tuesday, the bill was voted through two committees, Finance and Rules, each with an identical 5-2 margin in support.
Those who backed the bill hit the institutional knowledge talking points.
Councilman Reggie Brown‘s take? “The problem years back is that people lost confidence. Things are coming back now.”
Councilwoman Katrina Brown is willing to do three terms, she said, saying that those who did not want to do so “just don’t run.”
“I know on the Council we look at things in terms of what are citizens going to think, so we don’t look some kind of way,” Brown said.
However, Brown was willing to “look some kind of way” in support of a prevailing principle as important as this one.
Chairman Garrett Dennis found a way to blame the city’s pension crisis on term limits, stating without real proof that removing the experienced council members led to Jacksonville’s pension peril.
The Rules Committee was more measured, but hit the same notes.
There were some objections, of course, such as from Councilman Scott Wilson, who believed the community would “overwhelmingly reject” the measure, given that the public doesn’t like elected officials anymore than they did in the 1990s.
“I don’t see what we’ve done to change their opinion about a third term,” Wilson said.
One important person yet to vote on the measure — Council President Anna Brosche — is ready to push this to the ballot and let the people decide.
“The increase of term limits was a thoughtful recommendation from the task force on consolidated government,” Brosche said, “and I respect the work of the task force. I can see both sides of this issue, and I am not afraid to put this question in the hands of the voters in the form of a referendum.”
Council business being conducted in the shadow of a referendum to remove term limits almost certainly will make for interesting public comment in the next year.
One key player — Mayor Lenny Curry — is officially agnostic on the matter; he told us last week that, for him, eight years is plenty of time in the Mayor’s Office.
Those close to the Mayor are a bit more voluble, with one noting that, in the nascent days of the Brosche Presidency, Council has discussed raising the millage rate and changing term limits.
Two big stories are worth watching on Tuesday night.
One story: does anyone who voted yes in committee flip their vote Tuesday?
Another story: if the measure passes, will the Mayor dust off the veto pen?
For those in Jacksonville City Hall, these are halcyon days (somewhat). The mayor proposed the most ambitious budget in nearly a decade, addressing long-deferred needs.
But, as is always the case in a Florida summer, storm clouds are on the horizon — with quiet assaults on the mayor’s vision.
We cover two of them here: A bill to push a referendum to gut term limits for Jacksonville’s elected officials and a push to hike property taxes.
Both are non-starters for the mayor and — as affronts to his vision — will join a bill from earlier this summer to allocate budget increases to the pension debt.
When the TV cameras find them, everyone is all smiles; on the record, there isn’t much daylight between Lenny Curry and leading City Council members.
However, these bills are meaningful, in that the City Council is staking out significant differences in policy vision with the Mayor’s Office, challenging Curry for the first time in over two years.
This is, to be very clear, a Cold War. No one is giving interesting quotes.
When cameras are off? That’s when s**t gets real.
Curry introduces new Jacksonville budget
On Monday morning, Jacksonville Mayor Curry released his first budget since pension reform passed: a $1.27B budget, up from the $1.2B budget the previous year.
With budget relief available after pension reform, Curry made the decision to invest in long neglected city infrastructure and employees, spending more than in the previous two years and adding 175 new hires total — 100 on the police side, 42 in Fire and Rescue, and — as a measure of the ongoing economic boom in Jacksonville — eight new building inspectors.
According to the Florida Times-Union, the spending increase is the “result of a strong economy, growing property values and far more flexibility stemming from a complex series of reforms to the city’s employee-retirement system.” Pension debt is now at hundreds of millions of dollars each year, but it is a trend that reforms had reversed, for the short term.
Curry also focused on putting money into contingency accounts for salaries and committed to hiking reserve levels in the coming years. As well, a $105M budget for capital improvements includes plans for a near-term demolition of the old Courthouse and City Hall.
Council President Anna Brosche said the budget was “in line with what we’ve seen” in recent years, lauding the proposed increase of the emergency reserve in light of impacts created by Hurricane Matthew last year.
Curry, compassionate conservative
One of the interesting evolutions in local political life has been Curry’s path from “party boss” of the local and state GOP to a mayor focused on equity.
This week saw multiple examples: the budget (discussed above); the release of a book to be given to new mothers at local hospitals to encourage them to read to their children and a Thursday commencement address for graduates of the Mayor’s Summer Jobs Program.
The remarks were notable as Curry described his own bootstrap narrative, including his career in accounting that he put on hold to launch his own business and then his move into politics.
Curry told the graduates that they would get a lot of advice, from a lot of people, but his one takeaway for the students: “You only get to do this thing called life one time.”
Curry went on to describe a run for Mayor that the smart set attempted to discourage him from. They said Curry couldn’t win: no name ID; no resources, they said.
“The voices were loud and persistent, but I ignored them,” Curry said.
“Want your dreams,” Curry added, “more than you want to breathe.”
Will Curry break his “no tax hikes” pledge?
He’s not inclined to, but the Jacksonville City Council auditor wants a 0.25 mill raise in property tax, the Jacksonville Daily Record reported this week.
Curry noted that his finance team is 3-for-3 regarding delivering balanced budgets, a deliverable driven by sweeping $60M money from sub-funds in 2015, going lean in 2016, and pulling off pension reform earlier this year.
Finance Chair Garrett Dennis is more open to a millage hike, saying he would “support” it to invest in the city.
The Dennis/Curry dynamic is worth watching this year. In many ways, they are mirror images of each other. Affable, smart politicians who underneath it all play to win. The moments where collaboration falters, as was the case with swimming lessons money this summer, are those that reveal potential fault lines that will occupy city politics for the next generation.
Council to gut term limits?
Pieces on Jacksonville City Council committees are sometimes just inside baseball — bills and concepts that may never come to pass.
And other times, they strike a nerve — such as Tuesday’s pieces on two committees voting to gut term limits via putting a referendum on the ballot.
As with the millage hike, this is yet another issue where council members seem more enthusiastic than the mayor: it passed both committees of reference 5-2, with lots of self-congratulatory shtick about “institutional knowledge” as a justification for giving incumbents more time to incumb.
In addition to giving another term to City Council members, the measure would afford constitutional officers and School Board members a three-term limit, pending voter approval in a 2018 referendum.
There isn’t universal buy-in on this one, and one could imagine there being trouble for the bill Tuesday.
Councilman Scott Wilson voted against the bill, saying he believed the community would “overwhelmingly reject” the measure, given that the public doesn’t like elected officials any more than they did in the 1990s.
“I don’t see what we’ve done to change their opinion about a third term,” Wilson said.
Wilson, a pragmatist, did not have his question answered in committee. But it should have been.
Donors give Duval County Schools an ultimatum
Several major donors on major education initiatives – worth over $122 million in the past decade – have given Duval School Board members an ultimatum over plans to reduce funding those projects.
The Florida Times-Union is reporting on one such party, the Quality Education for All Fund (QEA), that sent a letter to all seven members of the Duval School Board, threatening to “cut ties with the district” if it reneges on an “implicit understanding” that the district would continue funding the programs.
“We in the private community want to continue to honor our part of the Quality Education for All Fund commitment … but only if we can believe that we can count on the underlying partnership that has existed since we began this journey to improve public education for our most at risk students,” said the letter, signed by QEA chair J. Wayne Weaver, a philanthropist and owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Other names on the letter include Gary Chartrand, Lawrence Dubow, Cindy Edelman, Matt Rapp and David Stein.
“If you are not willing to invest in those programs that have proven successful, we must consider that this bond has been broken and we will have no choice but to step back our part of this arrangement until a new understanding can be established,” the letter continued.
To prove their point, the QEA board froze nearly $5 million in contributions from going to the district, Chartrand told the T-U this week. “We think these investments have proven out,” he said. “We asked the board do their part in funding them. If they don’t, it will send a loud signal to the philanthropic community that it’s a one-way street. I don’t know if we can keep the private community as engaged.”
Gwen Graham snags Duval endorsements, talks MMJ
Gubernatorial candidate Gwenn Graham scooped up two key Jacksonville endorsements this week from Councilman Garrett Dennis and former Mayor Jake Godbold.
Graham, who had already been endorsed by former Mayor Tommy Hazouri, nearly crossed paths with another Democrat in the building for another purpose: Sen. Audrey Gibson, Dennis’ political mentor.
The Duval Democrats chair beat a hasty retreat from the cameras, likely mindful of a chair’s need to be neutral in primaries.
Graham talked to media for over a half-hour, with the big news being a more aggressive position on medical cannabis than some may have expected.
The greatest pyrotechnics came when she discussed medical marijuana, and the state Legislature’s lack of fidelity to the Constitutional Amendment passed in 2016.
“I am so sick and tired of the Florida Legislature not doing what the people of Florida have overwhelmingly said they want done,” Graham said regarding the smoking prohibition, putting MMJ in the same bucket with lottery money and Amendment 1 funds, which did not go to Forever Florida this year.
Graham noted the palliative effects of cannabis, and said that it is a “good replacement for opioids.”
Bill Gulliford: ‘Christian Communist’ Pope
Jacksonville City Councilman Gulliford is still sticking to his guns, asserting that Pope Francis indeed is a “Communist,” albeit a “Christian Communist.”
We reached out to him for further clarification after his take roiled some people last week — and many of his comments came back to schisms in the Church between the conservative American Catholic wing and the “liberation theology” school from which the pontiff hails.
“Liberation theology,” said Gulliford, is a “form of Christian communism,” and one that Francis’ “narratives and pronouncements” still echo.
“All he talks about is social justice,” Gulliford added.
“If he is the head of the Catholic Church, he should put salvation over social justice,” Gulliford continued, adding that “any friend of the United Nations is no friend of mine.”
Murder charges for overdoses?
Murder charges for death-dealing drug dealers? State Attorney Melissa Nelson says yes, but not everyone is on board, the Florida Times-Union reports.
The goal, Nelson told the T-U: “to keep the public safe from those responsible for this deadly crisis” … an appropriate “legal response to the loss of life.”
However, the T-U notes some issues.
“Beyond the policy questions, there are concerns over the legality of such a prosecution. While Florida’s murder statute allows prosecutors to go after drug dealers in overdose cases, the statute lists what drugs apply, and fentanyl isn’t specifically listed. Just last week Gov. Rick Scott held a ceremony to celebrate the addition of fentanyl to the law, but that addition will only affect cases after Oct. 1 and won’t impact Nelson’s murder prosecution.”
Despite qualms, Nelson commits to exploring this, at least.
“If I’m a drug dealer and I know I’m cutting heroin with fentanyl, and I know I can be prosecuted for murder, I’m just telling you common-sensically, maybe I think otherwise about what I’m doing. If there’s research that shows what I’m saying is off base, I’d like to be able to look at it. I’m telling you something by my gut right now. I can’t point to research that proves what I’m saying.”
Nancy Soderberg hits campaign trail
DeLand is a trek from Northeast Florida, yet that’s where UNF professor and former U.N. Ambassador Soderberglaunched her campaign in Florida’s 6th Congressional District this week.
Soderberg has rented an apartment in the district, and her first stump speech as a candidate was — as our Orlando correspondent Scott Powers called it — “moderate Democrat.”
Light on attacks on Republicans, heavy on policy, it’s clear where Soderberg’s base is — old-school ClintonWorld. In a “wave election” year, that might be enough.
Soderberg may need some help with comms though. An email from her campaign, for example, said that when she worked in her DC gig, she “reigned in terrorism” as a negotiator.
Curry boosts Rick Baker
Mayor Curry helped out fellow Republican Rick Baker last month, as the former Mayor of St. Petersburg is running to reclaim his job.
Curry knows that money is oxygen for campaigns. And by helping Baker by raising $25,000, that gives Baker — ahead in most polls — some air.
According to the most recent campaign finance reports, which covered activity from June 24 to July 7, Curry and his political allies from northeast Florida donated $18,000 to Baker’s campaign. That’s more than incumbent Rick Kriseman raised from all sources during the same period.
Feeling generous: Gary Chartrand, the Jacksonville Kennel Club, Tom Petway, Wayne Weaver, and others who opted to max out.
Curry’s political committee will also slide $7,000 to Baker’s, adding up to $25,000 in total.
Scott talks Venezuela with Goldman Sachs
Gov. Scott cut a Jacksonville press event a bit short Wednesday, and media was told the governor had a meeting.
Turned out that meeting was important.
A re-released copy of Scott’s Wednesday schedule included a new entry: an 11:30 meeting with Jacksonville’s “Goldman Sachs Asset Management.”
We reached out to Scott’s office for more detail; the meeting had to do with Scott’s policy on companies doing business with Venezuela.
“Goldman Sachs Asset Management requested to meet with the Governor … to discuss his upcoming policy to prohibit Florida from doing business with anyone who supports the brutal Maduro regime,” emailed Kerri Wyland of the Governor’s office.
Wyland added that more “details on his policy will be announced before the Aug. 16 Cabinet meeting.”
Scott foreshadowed this position earlier in July, via a strongly-worded news release.
“During the next meeting of the Florida Cabinet in August,” Scott asserted, “I will bring forward a proposal that will prohibit the State of Florida from doing business with any organization that supports the oppressive Maduro dictatorship.
“Floridians stand with the people of Venezuela as they fight for their freedom, and as a state,” Scott added, “we must not provide any support for Maduro and his thugs.”
Gov. Scott announced two reappointments to the Clay County Development Authority.
Russell Buck, 56, of Middleburg, is the regional vice president of Vystar Credit Union. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland.
Gregory Clary, 65, of Middleburg, is the president of Clary & Associates. Terms of both reappointments are through July 1, 2021.
Rayonier, one of the key companies in Nassau County, finds itself encountering pushback in an attempt to acquire Tembec, reports the Jax Daily Record.
“Although we appreciate the strategic rationale of a Rayonier-Tembec combination, we believe Rayonier’s current offer significantly undervalues Tembec. If the offer is not increased, we believe Tembec shareholders would be better off if Tembec remains independent,” reads the letter from Tembec’s largest shareholder.
“The price offered to Tembec shareholders does not fully recognize these benefits, nor does it appropriately compensate Tembec shareholders for the increased risk associated with combining with Rayonier,” it said.
City Hall for sale
You can’t fight City Hall. But in Neptune Beach, the Jax Daily Record reports, you soon may be able to buy it.
City Hall out there is in a prime location, a short walk to the ocean. The facility needs repairs also and is too small to accommodate city staffing needs.
And, at a time when property values are peaking, Neptune Beach’s mayor looks to ride the wave.
“We’re sitting here with both of these buildings off the tax rolls in prime locations,” Mayor Elaine Brown said. “I think there’s an opportunity to bring in some more revenue in the form of property taxes and sales taxes.”
Jax Beach Mayor mulls overdose epidemic
Opioid addiction is fast becoming a story that is numbing in the retelling, but anecdotes like those from Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham reveal how deep the epidemic runs.
The overdose victim was, said Latham, “very purple.” And it took two medics to revive him from the brink of death.
But, via Narcan, he was revived.
“I was in the hospital right when he came around. He acted like it was another day at the office,” Latham said. “Shortly after that, his parents came in, and it looked like, of course, they were facing the worst possible, (worst) imaginable scenario.”
The overdose crisis is hitting Duval County hard, both regarding time and budgetary demands for EMTs and in body count — which exceeds, by multiples, the county’s homicide rate.
Doggone doped-up dogs
BestBet President Jamie Shelton decried “sensationalized” reports of dogs failing post-race drug tests for cocaine metabolites this week.
“We contract with kennel operators that acquire or lease dogs from people who raise greyhounds around the country. They are independent contractors. They are licensed by the state of Florida, and they also receive a badge from us so they can come on to our property to race their product at our facility.” Shelton explained at a Rotary Club meeting, as quoted by First Coast News.
“My oversight of the independent contractors other than me being to ensure that the safety and welfare of the greyhounds while they are in my premises in the kennels and they are being cared for they are being turned out, they are being fed, they are air-conditioned kennels,” Shelton added. “All the things you are asking about, that’s my No. 1 concern.”
BestBet is one of the most politically connected companies in Northeast Florida.
The contractor that supplied the dogs in question no longer works with BestBet.
The latest: no napping by conductors who are on break, said CEO Hunter Harrison.
“We had a rule that said you could take a nap while you worked,” Harrison told The Wall Street Journal. “We don’t have that now.”
The goal: “Precision scheduling.”
The reality Jacksonville people experience: Stalled out trains on tracks stymying their commutes.
Speaking of stalled out: CSX equity price momentum, after what the Journal called a “bombshell” announcement on an earnings call this week.
“I’m a short-timer here,” said Harrison. “I’m the interim person that’s going to try to get this company to the next step and good foundation.”
Harrison pledged 700 more layoffs on the call, a strategy which seems to be helping with earnings in the short term, yet raising long-term existential questions.
Chris Hand talks downtown development
Former Alvin Brown chief-of-staff Chris Hand is now in the byline journalism game and his first column in the Florida Times-Union addresses downtown development.
“Downtown revitalization needs a constant supply of fuel to keep running. Unfortunately, the city agency charged with overseeing Downtown revival is nearing an empty gas tank,” Hand notes.
Hand adds that “the DIA has little investment funding to prime the pump on additional Downtown development. The City Council should rectify that worrisome deficiency in this year’s budget process.”
The whole column is worth a read.
JIA opens Firehouse Subs location
Jacksonville-based Firehouse Subs opened its first airport kiosk at Jacksonville International Airport, the latest phase in the rise of the fast-casual food chain.
According to the Jax Daily Record, Firehouse Subs expansion plans include more non-traditional locations, such as U.S. airport terminals, college campuses and military bases.
The JIA location is located in the post-security food court, with a menu that includes the chain’s staples as well as breakfast options geared toward travelers. It incorporates a revised restaurant design to accommodate smaller spaces.
Robert Palmer buys the Armada
The Jacksonville Armada have been sold. Just seven months after the North American Soccer League (NASL) assumed control of the club when original owner Mark Frisch bailed out, Robert Palmer has stepped into the fold. The new ownership assumes control of the club immediately and secures the long-term future of pro soccer in Jacksonville.
“While sports ownership has been a dream of mine since I was young, the business opportunity with Armada FC and the NASL was simply too good to pass up,” said Palmer. “I care deeply about the Jacksonville market and have both personal and professional interests in the area. My team at Robert Palmer Companies and I look forward to bringing our proven marketing and business strategies to this outstanding organization.”
A native of Lakeland, Palmer and his wife, Jill, have local ties to the Jacksonville area and have maintained a residence in Neptune Beach since 2007. He is the founder and CEO of Robert Palmer Companies, which is based in Central Florida and is involved in the financing, marketing, and escrow of more than $5 billion in residential real estate.
In addition to RP Funding, Palmer has started several other companies including Homevalue.com, which provides personalized reports on homeowners’ property values from a local real estate agent and Listing Power Tools, a company that helps real estate agents craft the perfect listing presentation, among others.
Palmer is bullish about the market and said at the Press Conference unveiling his ownership, “You’ll have to be under a rock to not know that the Jacksonville Armada will be playing on any given Saturday .” He continued, ” (We will focus on) aggressive, targeted advertising… these guys know soccer, I know advertising.” Palmer also stated RP Funding ads will include Armada pitches within them. He is also committed to growing the fan base not just in terms of attendance for home matches but also other revenue streams including those who watch away matches on television.
The Armada just concluded the NASL Spring Season finishing in the top half of the table. The Fall Season begins on July 30 with a match-up against the San Francisco Deltas at Patton Park.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curryintroduced the City Council to his proposed FY 17/18 budget Monday, a $1.27B plan heavy on spending on infrastructure and public safety.
Council Finance Chair Garrett Dennis is arguably the most important person in the process going forward; Finance will review the budget in August, tweaking it before the full City Council gets a vote.
One thing new this year was established by a Dennis memo released Thursday (which we reported on first earlier this week) regarding equal employment practices to Jacksonville’s Independent Authorities, the Mayor, and Constitutional Officers.
That memo reminds all parties of diversity goals set forth in city ordinance: “the Equal Opportunity/ Equal Access program progress and state, as is contemplated in Sections 400.217 and 400.221, Ordinance Code.”
“To the extent that new positions or hiring are being requested in the budget,” the memo asserts, “the Finance committee should be apprised of each departments’ success in this area inclusive of the goals and objectives for each department. We look forward to working with the Administration over the following months to develop the budget and policies for the City of Jacksonville.”
Dennis introduced equal-opportunity legislation months back; as Finance Chair, he is well positioned to ensure that equal-opportunity legislation has teeth.
On Monday afternoon, Dennis discussed the budget presentation and the path forward.
“Very optimistic. I think as usual the Mayor is fiscally responsible,” Dennis said when asked for a holistic evaluation of the presentation.
“He’s given us another fiscally responsible budget,” Dennis said, “and it’s our opportunity to kick the tires come next month.”
One priority project in the budget — $8.4M for Edward Waters College improvements (a new field and dorm renovations) — is in Dennis’ district.
Meanwhile, we are hearing that there may be a quiet rebellion brewing on this particular line item benefiting a private Jacksonville college … one which could include a floor amendment on budget night.
Dennis had not heard of such resistance, he said, before speaking to the rest of the question.
“I’m committed to my district, and EWC’s in my district,” Dennis said. “Then again, we have to look at the entire budget.”
“One of the things that as Finance Chair I’m going to have to do — I’m going to have to look out for the other 13 district council members. Making sure that every district, every council member’s priorities are on the forefront, as well as the entire budget. So we’ll have to see … I want to see the budget in whole, not just bits and pieces,” Dennis said.
At a time when some constituents of Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Schellenberg are hopping mad at him over a zoning issue, a bill authorizing a referendum seems like an interesting play.
And yet, that’s what Schellenberg seeks — with a bill in committees on Tuesday (Rules and Finance), a measure which would allow a third term, if approved by referendum, for the city’s constitutional officers, School Board members, and — yes — City Councilors like Schellenberg.
This debate has happened before, but for various logistical reasons, Council never pulled the trigger and authorized the measure.
In 2016, the concept hit Council committees for the first time.
Schellenberg expected “all 19 members” of Council to sell this as they did the 1/2 cent sales tax.
“We are the principal people behind these things. We understand why it’s done,” and “if you extend from two to three, it will actually save the city money” and be more “efficient.”
At that point, Schellenberg wanted to include the current group.
“We have to wait 7 years for a whole new generation of people,” Schellenberg said, if the bill doesn’t include current Council members.
The legislation cleared committees in 2016, but was pulled, as the referendum would have competed with the pension reform referendum on the August ballot, and the Best Bet slots referendum on the November ballot.
With those referendums in the rear view mirror, it became clear to bring back the bill.
The bill was brought back to committee this summer with a substitute. The sub proposed three four-year terms, rather than the abolishment of term limits.
Not everyone was exactly sold.
“In four years, do we change it to four, maybe,” Council VP John Crescimbeni quipped.
Councilman Tommy Hazouri wanted an amendment to exempt current office holders, and vowed to introduce it at a time of his choosing.
Councilman Greg Anderson said he’d vote in favor of the sub, but not in favor of the bill.
“We owe [Schellenberg] the opportunity to make his case,” Anderson said.
On Monday morning, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry released his first budget since pension reform passed: a $1.27B budget, up from the $1.2B budget the previous year.
With budget relief available after pension reform, Curry made the decision to invest in long neglected city infrastructure and employees, spending more than in the previous two years and adding 175 new employees total — 100 of them on the police side, 42 in Fire and Rescue, and — as a measure of the ongoing economic boom in Jacksonville — eight new building inspectors.
Curry also focused on putting money into contingency accounts for salaries, and committed to hiking reserve levels in the coming years.
As we previewed, there were some known knowns going into the budget presentation: over $100M budgeted for capital improvements, and $8.4M for one-time capital needs for Edward Waters College’s community field and dorms, money driven by pension savings amounting to $142M after pension reform hit this year.
That EWC money: part of Curry’s “Safer Neighborhoods” pitch, a rhetorical and thematic extension of the One City, One Jacksonville branding campaign launched when he was inaugurated.
As well, it was known there would be 100 new police officers; as Curry told WJXT, he wants “boots on the ground” to deal with the city’s wave of violent crime. These officers will be added to the 160 in the previous two budgets (80 officers and 80 community service officers).
There were also questions, such as what would happen with the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, which came under fire for a botched summer camp selection process, and the parallel program the Jax Journey, which Curry said in 2016 he had wished he had more funds for.
Beyond that? Every department has needs — and Curry’s team was faced, all Spring, with deciding which needs would prevail.
The mood Monday was different than in 2015, when Curry dropped his first budget amidst media speculation that a new tax was inevitable. And different than in 2016, when Curry dropped a lean budget ahead of the pension tax referendum that followed later that summer.
Now the reform is done. The power center has shifted in Council, away from the Bill Gulliford/John Crescimbeni axis to Council President Anna Brosche and the Democrats who now control the Finance Committee. And in that context came Monday’s presentation.
Curry began his address lauding successes, ranging from removing “gridlock” to solving the “pension crisis.”
“If pension reform had failed, our pension contributions would have increased $69M this year,” Curry said.
“Severe cuts” would have been necessary. Instead, Curry said, the city can unlock the “full potential of every one in every neighborhood.”
Part of that unlocking: the 100 more cops, which Curry said gives JSO 1,780 officers on the street.
This will, Curry said, reduce overtime and overscheduling impacts for officers.
Also in the budget: 42 more fire fighters, and roughly $25M in vehicle replacement for police and fire.
Curry also touted $50M for the Safer Neighborhoods plan, which includes public safety equipment, the aforementioned $8.4M EWC money, $12M for a 911 backup center to be built next to the new fire station at Cecil Field.
Drowning prevention: also in here, with retrofitting five pools for $1M, as a total cost of $1,7M.
Curry also allocated more money for lifeguards, including a force addition and increased wages.
Curry also discussed infrastructure spending, including spending on downtown, because “you can’t be a suburb of nowhere.”
Money for demolition of the old city hall and courthouse, money to finish Liberty Street, and other issues.
Citywide, money will go to road resurfacing, senior centers, and sidewalks, as part of a $105M capital improvement plan — the biggest, by far, of his three years in office.
Curry also said that his reforms for the Jacksonville Children’s Commission were still pending, but in total $36.4M will go to the JCC and Jax Journey.
Curry lauded his administration’s stewardship of city money, discussing pension stability, saying that city’s outstanding debt is down almost $187M since 2015 — saving money on interest, and ultimately to the taxpayers.
Curry also wants a $60M pension reform reserve, for salaries. And a proposed hike of the emergency reserve, leading to 8 percent in both emergency and operating reserves within the next few years.
“We are preparing the city for the future,” Curry said.
Curry discussed the budget with the media after the presentation.
Of the 100 police officers in the budget, not all are expected to be deployed this year, given training schedules.
Curry also discussed the budget as preparing the city for the future, vis a vis the increase in reserve levels and salary contingencies.
Curry also defended the allocation for Edward Waters College, saying that he was moved by what President Nat Glover had done over there, and that EWC represented “the right thing to do” for “neighborhoods left behind.”
Regarding the capital improvement budget, Curry noted that total borrowings are over $100M, but the city has been and will be “consistent in paying debt down.”
As well, capital investment is long overdue, Curry said, citing “dilapidated buildings” as impediments to private investment downtown — a major priority of the mayor.
Much of the increase in the budget, Curry added, is “reserve oriented,” with a focus on “public safety issues that need to be solved.”
And, addressing previous reporting that there may be friction between the Mayor and Council President Anna Brosche and Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, Curry said that there is a “wonderful relationship” there, characterized by the “same focus, same goals,” a reversal from “years of so much dysfunction in city government.”
On Monday, the cycle begins anew for the relationship between Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and the City Council.
Curry drops his third budget — and this time, there is more room to maneuver than there had been the previous two years, in which pension obligations choked out most of the room for discretionary spending.
The hit from pension costs, without pension reform, would have been $360M this year; the last public estimate given was that hit this year will be $218M. Effectively, that’s $142M of room in a budget that last year was $1.17B — lots of new capital to work with.
But will that room be enough for Jacksonville City Council members? That’s the tension going into Monday — balancing the priorities of the Mayor’s Office with those of the nineteen people on the Council.
We know some things are definitely happening. [Note: the numbers that follow were derived from, among other sources, the Mayor’s Budget Review Committee meetings, and are subject to change, per the Mayor’s Office Friday.]
For example, the Mayor’s Office — as part of a commitment to safer and healthy neighborhoods that jibes with the priorities of Council President Anna Brosche — is committing $8.4M to Jacksonville’s Edward Waters College, for dormitory rehab to deal with mold and other habitability issues, and for a community field and track that will provide a place for people in the New Town area to have safe recreation.
We are hearing already that there may be resistance to this proposal, both from community members who think there are more pressing needs, and those on the City Council from other areas who wonder why city money is going to benefit a private college.
We also know that there will be some changes to the way money is handled for the city’s children’s programs, with Mayor Curry having promised reforms to the Jacksonville Children’s Commission — reforms which could include a downshift of JCC in favor of the Jax Journey, an initiative upon which Curry branded his 2015 campaign.
And we also know that the city is allocating $55M of contingency funds for salaries, to be allocated across the city’s departments — in what could be a function of raises, of increased head count, or both.
Movement on a recurrent issue: $3.6M for courthouse remediation and demolition; $4.4M for the same for old city hall, which includes asbestos remediation, with the properties will be returned to greenscape. Mousa speculates that implosion will be the end game for these structures.
The last $8M for Liberty/Coastline rebuild, completing a $31M obligation, is also in the CIP.
Roadway resurfacing is in the CIP at $12M, and ADA curb compliance: another $14M.
ADA compliance for public buildings: a $2.6M hit.
A backlog of sidewalk projects — a risk management concern — is also on the list.
Countywide intersection improvements and bridges: $3M, with another million for rehab.
The St. Johns River Bulkhead assessment and restoration: also in the budget this year for $1M, along with $500K for countywide projects for tributaries with bulkheads.
The River Road bulkhead needs repair to the most degraded segments, with a cost of $1.9M total for these — and $600K this year, which comes at the expense of the Mayport Community Center in FY 18.
$3M for Chaffee Road. $750,000 for Five Points improvements in Riverside, which moves up to this year. Willow Branch Creek bulkhead replacement: $1.5M. $720,000 for Soutel Road’s “road diet,” which will go to design of a “highly needed project for the Northwest,” per Mousa.
Fishweir Creek gets $1.6M for ecological rehab.
Mary Singleton Senior Center: $500,000 for maintenance and upgrades. $944K for the Arlington Senior Center. $600,000 for Southside Senior Center, and $1.5M for Mandarin Senior Center expansion, a facility “bursting at the seams,” per the city’s Chief Administrative Officer, Sam Mousa.
As well, Mayport Community Center — a Bill Gulliford request — was budgeted for $800,000 for design, but ends up with $200,000 in FY 18 given other needs and logistical issues.
McCoy’s Creek pipe removal is in the budget, for $750,000 — the idea is to improve river access, a priority of past Council President Lori Boyer. And $600,000 for the McCoy’s Creek Greenway.
To handle these capital improvements, Public Works wants more staff — it is unknown, at least to us, how many people (if any) will be added. And the local Fire and Rescue Department wants more bodies and equipment refreshes — we’ll see how that goes Monday.
Expect Curry to hit these high points, along with another interesting proposal: one for an ambitious, year-round swimming lessons program that will come in around $1.7M in the budget, after an interesting scrap in June regarding a bill that sought $200,000 in emergency funding for swimming lessons this year.
Meanwhile, there will be one move toward saving for a rainy day also: the Administration will follow through on a Finance Committee recommendation months back to boost the emergency reserve from 6 percent to 5 percent, even as the operating reserve is cut from 8 percent to 7 percent.
Council members, of course, will ask some big picture questions Monday — but it will be the Mayor’s day, likely with a gaggle and then a sitdown interview or two with an affable TV reporter, with whom Curry can holistically frame the narrative.
However, the budget will soon thereafter move on to consideration by the full City Council, but not before the Finance Committee goes through it in August.
What might that process look like?
With the race for Council President now way back in the rear view mirror, the executive and legislative branches have every reason in the world to find a way to get to yes.
Curry, who has said he looks forward to a “third year of winning,” will find a way to partner with Council President Anna Brosche and Finance Chair Garrett Dennis — and one expects that partnership will come down to clear lines of communication, lines that ideally would be direct and between the principals involved.
Meanwhile, much has been made of the new composition of that Finance Committee — with questions about how big a piece of the budget pie will go to Council Districts 7-10, whose representatives all voted for Brosche for President.
The goal, we hear, is equity — equity across the districts, and equity between the priorities of the Mayor’s Office and the legislators. August budget hearings in Finance will be where the rubber hits the road.
To that end, a day to watch is Aug. 23.
Aug. 23 offers the sole Wednesday meeting on the slate, and deals entirely with the capital improvement plan and debt — for those interested in seeing how this particular Finance Committee deals with these issues, and how the Mayor’s Office deals with its positions, plenty of insight will be gleaned on that day.
Another day to watch: Aug. 12, given Council President Brosche’s commitment to rejuvenating Jacksonville’s park system. There is a three hour hearing then.
Of course, it will be interesting to see how Finance Chair Dennis handles the gavel — as those who followed him as Rules Chair recall, he wasn’t afraid of controversy on that panel.
Recall that Dennis sponsored an ordinance in January designed to ensure that city agencies and independent authorities eliminated the vestiges of discrimination, ensuring that the workforce looked like the city did demographically.
Will questions of equity on demographic grounds come up during Finance hearings this August? It’s very possible.
As the Jacksonville City Council wraps up its two-week break, Councilmembers will get a first peek at Mayor Lenny Curry’s budget Monday.
They already know at least some of what to expect: a $100 million capital improvement budget and $8.4 million for Edward Waters College.
Now the question is: Will everyone play ball?
A.G. Gancarskihas written extensively about the changing dynamics between the Mayor’s Office and Council leadership: Will there be a resolution of schismatic thinking by Monday? Or will it be by August, when the reconfigured Finance Committee mulls that budget?
Open questions — but not the only ones in Northeast Florida politics.
Two incumbent Republican congressmen have drawn Democratic challenges: one, an ambassador; another, a transgender author of vampire novels. Both teach at the University of North Florida — go Ospreys!
Business development continues, with massive interest ramping up for working with a big company in Jacksonville.
And, oh yeah, a City Councilman called the Pope a Communist. In other “What was he smoking?” news, a medical cannabis dispensary finally opened in Jacksonville.
All this (and more) in this week’s Bold.
The moral of the story: Even in a policy pause, during a week where everyone who mattered was on vacation, Jacksonville and Northeast Florida still manage to bring the news.
CD 6 Shuffle
You may need a scorecard to keep up with the changes in Florida’s Congressional District 6, where Ron DeSantis holds the seat … for now.
Consider that DeSantis’ camp is still floating the narrative that he may run for Florida Governor — setting up an interesting contrast between DeSantis’ clipped cadence and the down-home Old Florida style of Adam Putnam.
DeSantis may not be gone yet — but this week one Democrat with a serious pedigree filed to run.
Ambassador Nancy Soderberg, a University of North Florida professor who earned her bona fides in the Bill Clinton administration, is in.
By Thursday morning, the Federal Elections Commission website listed a Soderberg for Congress campaign committee.
Democrats hoped for the benefits of a wave election, and assuming the White House dumpster fire continues, they may just have one.
The district was reliably GOP in 2016; both Donald Trump and Marco Rubio carried the area by over 15 points.
Al Lawson talks health
Rep. Lawson, in Jacksonville during the Congressional recess, spoke to the Florida Times-Union — and health care was on his mind.
“The Affordable Care Act is not a perfect law and there certainly is a lot of room for improvement,” Lawson asserted. “But let’s work together to figure out ways to bring down health care costs.”
Lawson “doesn’t care whose name” is on health care reform, he said, alluding to the differences between “Obamacare” and the self-styled “Trumpcare.”
Lawson suggests taxing people with so-called “Cadillac” insurance plans.
In an interesting bit of news from the interview, Lawson is working with Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford on a mental health bill. The two first year congressmen held an event Thursday afternoon in D.C., where experts discussed mental health challenges for veterans.
New subcommittee for Rutherford
On Wednesday, Rutherford announced his appointment to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.
“Looking forward to using my background to support the rule of law across our nation,” the Jacksonville Republican and former Sheriff said.
Wisconsin’s Jim Sensenbrenner is chair; Louie Gohmert of Texas serves as vice-chair.
New challenger for Rutherford
Action News Jaxintroduced Jacksonville viewers to Monica Paige DePaul, a University of North Florida adjunct professor who writes novels, is transgender, and is running to replace Rutherford in CD 4.
DePaul has brought her politics to her vampire novels, she told reporter Jenna Bourne.
“So that actually started way back in 2009 when Twilight came out and I was like, this is garbage. And I wanted to write something better,” said DePaul. “In my second book, Blood on the Rocks, there’s pretty obvious jabs at [Florida Governor] Rick Scott.”
DePaul, who was a Bernie Sanders delegate at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, is the sole Democrat in the field. With Rutherford not having filed for re-election yet, the sole Republican in the field is Palatka petition collector Rob Ficker — who we profiled previously.
The veteran reporter notes Renner’s local roots run deep: “He grew up in Arlington and graduated from Terry Parker High School … a shareholder at the Milam Howard Nicandri Gillam and Renner law firm in the heart of downtown.”
Mitchell also points out that The Fiorentino Group and Ambassador John Rood were among the early supporters.
Absent from Mitchell’s piece: Mayor Curry, instrumental in a fundraiser that brought in over $250,000. Curry told us at the time he and his team are “engaged” fully in the fight to get Renner over the hump. Indeed, there are those saying Brian Hughes and Tim Baker brought home four of the 16 pledges Renner needed to win.
The point? Victory, as ever, has many fathers.
Who’s up? Who’s down? In Northeast Florida politics, campaign finance reports tell the tale.
Among those who should be exultant: Curry; Sen. Rob Bradley; Jacksonville City Council President Matt Carlucci.
“Build Something That Lasts,” Curry’s committee, brought in $110,000 in June, and now has $242,456 on hand.
And “Working for Florida’s Families,” the committee associated with Sen. Rob Bradley, brought in $59,500. That committee now has $390,000 on hand.
Meanwhile, Carlucci brought in $60,000 in his first month as a candidate for a 2019 at-large seat.
Two strong performances in the House came from freshmen Jason Fischer (who had a better than $50,000 month) and Clay Yarborough (over $22,000 in June).
Gasping for air: Rep. Jay Fant, who brought in roughly $70,000 between his committee and campaign account … way below his opponent in the GOP Attorney General primary, Ashley Moody, who brought in $603,000 total.
One of Moody’s donors: the right-hand man of local State Attorney Melissa Nelson.
Moody has the backing of the entire Tampa area legal community, it seems.
Meanwhile, while Fant has lacked that backing until now, the Thursday endorsement of future Speaker Renner — a Jacksonville lawyer himself — may be a positive augury.
Smile, you’re on candid camera
The wait is over — the body camera pilot program for Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office members is finally underway, reports WJXT.
Officers are testing one of three brands of body cameras, with 30 spread out through the city.
The goal — body cameras for all uniformed officers — should be subject to collective bargaining, the local police union contends.
JSO’s budget puts $1.3M to begin the program; however, costs will escalate once the trial programs wrap up, when the cameras become part of the uniform for all field officers.
MMJ in the 904
For those with medical marijuana cards, the drought is over as Trulieveopened its Jacksonville dispensary this week — the eighth in the state.
And this one represents progress: it was just two years ago that Jacksonville policy makers were paralyzed over the dread specter of Charlotte’s Web.
After two “moratoriums” on growing and dispensing, the city worked out some sensible zoning rules, allowing one dispensary in each zoning district.
Knox Medical will, at some point, open in Mandarin. In the meantime, expect Trulieve — which has a proven model at this point — to reassure local policy makers that medical cannabis is just another business.
Is the Pope communist?
Is Pope Francis a commie? Early Thursday, Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Gulliford said “yes.”
“I am a Catholic and he is a Communist,” Gulliford said of the pontiff.
What spawned that?
An article in an online publication (M2 Voice) said the Pope asserted that “world government must rule the United States ‘for their own good.’”
“I am afraid there are very dangerous alliances between powers who have a distorted view of the world: America and Russia, China and North Korea, Russia and Assad in the war in Syria,” the Pope observed in the same interview.
Alas, in the M2 Voice article, the “for their own good” line was not given in context, raising questions as to the veracity of the quote — especially given the translation from the original Italian.
Amazin’ queue for Amazon jobs
Economic development often sounds abstract. But for real life examples of what it means, consider the lines that snaked around Northwest Jacksonville’s Legends Center — those lines, with hundreds and hundreds of people, brimmed with job seekers this week.
The Jax Daily Record notes that a year ago, “Amazon announced it would create more than 1,500 jobs in Jacksonville at the first fulfillment center in the city, at 12900 Pecan Park Road in Northwest Jacksonville.”
“I think it’s going to have a really big impact here,” one applicant told the Record’s David Cawton. “You see all the people waiting in line, they’re all looking for work so, I think Amazon found the right place to land.”
Green light for Black Creek
Good news for the folks near the parched Keystone Lakes may be on its way soon, reports WOKV.
The St. Johns River Water Management Board this week approved a “recharge” plan that will route water from Black Creek.
The first design and construction of the plan carried by Sen. Rob Bradley of Orange Park and Rep. Bobby Payne of Palatka: $13M.
The “Black Creek Water Resource Development Plan”: a five-year, $41 million plan to capture excess water from Clay County’s flood-prone Black Creek and pipe it into the Keystone Lakes, via a discharge at Camp Blanding, where a spreader field would disperse the water to Alligator Creek.
Hopes are to wrap the project by 2023, WOKV reported.
Bradley told us in April the project “helps all of Florida” by providing an “aquifer recharge area” for the Suwannee and St. Johns River basins.
Perhaps no politician this century in Northeast Florida did a worse job managing media relationships than Angela Corey.
And, against that dismal backdrop, the Koch-friendly reform agenda of Melissa Nelson looks pretty good … with regular plaudits in the press.
The latest accolade: Harvard University’s Fair Punishment Project, written by Florida Times-Union alum Larry Hannan.
Hannan contrasted Corey’s “draconian views” on criminal justice with Nelson having “cleared the low bar set by her predecessor.”
This, said Hannan “offers another clear reminder that the most powerful actor in the justice system — the elected prosecutor — can and should remain accountable to her constituents.”
World Cup to Jacksonville?
FIFA World Cup 2026 action in Jacksonville? Don’t rule it out, as the city was deemed a “strong candidate” and invited to bid.
Canada, Mexico, and the United States will co-host the World Cup that year.
As correspondence from U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati to Mayor Curry reveals, Jacksonville is in the mix to host World Cup action … which will involve a whopping 80 matches over a 30-day period in 2026.
“Jacksonville is a strong candidate for participation in this process, given your support of soccer, stadium facilities, and the related tourism infrastructure you already have in place. As such, we will be making informal contact with the stadium and sports commission contacts in your city in the coming days, but we wanted first to make you aware of this significant opportunity, so Jacksonville can best present itself as a participant in this process,” Gulati remarked.
Curry’s office says that no decision has been made on a bid — but it’s hard to imagine him passing up on an opportunity to put Jacksonville on a global stage.
Riverkeeper disses dredging … again
The St. Johns Riverkeeper continues in its efforts to stop the seemingly inevitable JAXPORTdredge, with its latest gambit being a consultant saying that it won’t pay off.
The latest blast Tuesday: a report from New Orleans-based “port and shipping expert” Dr. Asaf Ashar, which deems the deep dredge is economically infeasible.
Ashar contends (contrary to optimistic U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates) that there is a good chance that total costs of the project could outweigh benefits.
As well, Ashar asserts that JAXPORT will likely remain a secondary port compared to Savannah and Charleston, two regional competitors, dredging notwithstanding. Ashar notes both ports have channels that are not even 47 feet deep.
Jacksonville Zoo begins major remodel, adds African Forest
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is beginning a $9 million construction on the African Forest, a major remodeling initiative of the Great Apes Loop to include gorillas, bonobos, mandrills, and lemurs.
African Forest will incorporate “wellness-inspired design” in choices, challenges and variation to stimulate the animals. The new exhibit will replace the current Great Apes Loop, which opened in 1998.
“With The Land of The Tiger and The Range of The Jaguar winning national recognition as being among the best zoo exhibits in the country, the bar has been raised. Our members and visitors now expect everything we do at the Zoo to be at a standard that will make our community proud to say Jacksonville has one of the very best zoos in the country,” said JZG Executive Director Tony Vecchio. “The new African Forest will continue that legacy. Rather than just spruce up what is now one of the Zoo’s oldest exhibits, our board of directors and staff have taken on the challenge of making the Great Apes area an experience that will be special for our visitors, and, for our animals.”
Demolition began July 5, with partial or full closings of the Great Apes Loop until completion in 2018. Because some of the residents may not be within public view, the Zoo recognizes that guests may miss seeing the animals in the Great Apes Loop and plans to take video and share pictures of them playing often. Even though only a few of the animals, such as the lemurs and siamangs will be relocated to other parts of the Zoo where they can be visited, all the primates will still have access to outdoor areas during renovations.
Wednesday morning saw Jacksonville open its first medical marijuana dispensary, as Trulieve’s storefront on Beach Boulevard opened for business.
For those following the medical marijuana debate in the city as recently as two years ago, Trulieve’s facility represents real progress, especially in contrast to other cities across the state still wrestling with zoning and other perceived impacts of these facilities.
Back in 2015, when “Charlotte’s Web” — the low-THC form of marijuana, also called “Hippie’s Disappointment” — was a controversy, Jacksonville wrestled with those very issues. Early June saw an emergency 180-day moratorium from the City Council on the growing, processing and dispensing of “low THC marijuana, a/k/a medical marijuana.”
After public outcry, the moratorium was repealed at the second meeting in June.
A second moratorium was passed soon enough. Then the Planning Commission and the Land Use & Zoning committee worked out some useful rules for the high-CBD/low-THC marijuana … rules that exist today, even as the definition of medical marijuana has become more liberalized after the passage of Amendment 2 in 2016.
Ordinance limits dispensaries to one per city planning district, with a minimum of a mile between them, permissible in non-residential zoning areas. Rules for cultivation were also established at that point.
The difference between 2015 and 2017 was vividly illustrated Wednesday, when Trulieve opened its eighth Florida dispensary. This, said Victoria Walker, who handles community relations for the company, put a storefront within a two hour drive of everyone in Florida.
And in Jacksonville, where the company already has hundreds of patients, this is a gateway to increased access for qualified patients, Walker said, already enjoying what she calls the “largest product line” in the state of capsules, oils, vaporizer kits, and topical creams.
Essentially, everything but smokable marijuana.
Walker told us that the company’s goal was to “develop products using the whole plant,” but the company will “operate under whatever the law says.”
Walker also touched on the process in Jacksonville, which she said was a “little bit of a long process” in terms of permitting.
However, it’s a process that is now complete for the company locally — which can’t be said elsewhere.
“A lot of counties are trying to figure out the rules,” Walker said, and Trulieve has met with them.
Her thinking is that as the Trulieve model expands, residual resistance to cannabis use for therapeutic reasons will abate.
“Perception is reality,” Walker said.
For those who remember the Jacksonville debate of 2015, there was much worry about potential decline in property values and community mores related to these dispensaries.
However, the Trulieve facility — freshly renovated, clean, accessible — is light years ahead of most of the rundown commercial properties near it, an indication that commercial cannabis, at least under the dispensary model, doesn’t necessarily have to lead to the kinds of excesses prohibitionists decry in states with full legalization.
Before the doors opened, patients were discussing the therapeutic effects of cannabis, with a thirty year old indie rock kid talking about the benefits of cannabis with a man twice his age in the queue to enter the store.
Meanwhile, there were those who had their own testimonials to the healing power of cannabis, and none was more powerful than that of 36-year-old Rosemary McKinley, a ballroom dance competitor who has been on high-THC cannabis concentrate since 2014.
McKinley’s days once were spent in an opiate haze, a pharmacological hell of Vicodin, muscle relaxers, and fentanyl.
Those days are over, she said. Since she started therapeutic cannabis, she has gained 15 pounds, and the spasms and headaches, as well as the fatigue and nausea, brought on by a tumor have become bad memories rather than recurrent impacts.
With the power of cannabis becoming a less esoteric proposition over time, the future of cannabis is bright, said Donavan Carr, the President of NEFL NORML
“Everything takes time,” Carr said, but “if you look at other states, you get an idea of where we can go.”