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Jacksonville to roll out pilot program with UF Health provider network

A bill introduced to the Jacksonville City Council last week could increase the number of city employees getting health care from UF Health.

In the bargain, it could improve the Northeast Florida safety-net hospital’s paying customer mix.

Ordinance 2017-20 would authorize the city’s employee services department to offer the option to workers and retirees to enroll in the UF Health plan starting on March 31.

The contract would be administered by a third party, “Integra Administrative Services,” via a no-bid contract.

The bill summary refers to this deal as a “network option under the City’s self-insurance plan that consists primarily of UF Health providers.”

For UF Health, a rollout of a program like this could be a game changer.

The city spends $88 million on health claims a year, with only $6 million going to UF Health.

People in both the mayor’s office and on the council have expressed a sincere desire to get more of a paying customer mix at the city’s safety net hospital.

Jacksonville, unlike other Florida cities of its size, lacks an indigent care tax; this surfeit makes UF Health funding especially vulnerable to flux in state and federal funding.

Estimates from the employee services division are that 500 to 600 of the city’s staff and retirees will choose this option, which would move them away from Florida Blue.

The plan is said to be revenue neutral for the city, yet allows a meaningful cushion for funding formulas that may be shaky from Washington or Tallahassee in the coming years.

Bob Graham, Chris Hand pushing new edition of ‘America The Owner’s Manual’

Someone might be forgiven for thinking that maybe Bob Graham and Chris Hand might not want to tell people how to fight city hall and win.

Graham, of course, is Florida’s former U.S. Senator and former governor. Hand is a former aide of his who also served chief of staff – at city hall, in Jacksonville. Fighting city hall, or the governor’s office, or Congress, might have put them in awkward positions at times.

But the pair is pushing a new edition of their book, “America The Owner’s Manual” with the new emphasis and subtitle, “You Can Fight City Hall – And Win.”

The 287-page, 10-chapter book is a how-to guide for citizens to define the problem that’s annoying them and take action to convince the government to take care of it, available on Amaazon.com and other online bookstores. The book is a fully-updated and revised version of the book the first owner’s manual published in 2009, mainly addressing such rapidly changing arenas in media and social media.

Graham said the idea goes back to 1974 when, as a member of the Florida Senate, he was challenged by a Carol City High School civics teacher in Miami Gardens about civics education, and together they worked up a how-to curriculum for the students and helped teach it.

With chapters such as “Just the Facts, Ma’am: Gathering Information to Sway Makers,” “The Buck Stops Where? Identifying who in Government Can Fix Your Problem,” and “All for One, and One for All: Coalitions for Citizen Success,” the book aims, Graham said, at creating and training what he called the “citizen lobbyist.” Hand and Graham said it applies to all levels of government, but probably most important and effective at the local level, where they said most decisions directly affecting people are made.

“Really, what we’re trying to do in this book is, we want the everyday citizen who says that I’m concerned with the Orange County School Board changing the boundaries of my school, or I’m worried that government hasn’t cleaned up a local lake, or I’m worried about that new highway construction they’re talking about through downtown Orlando, that they can pick up this book and work in a step-by-step process to address their concerns with government,” Hand said.

More details emerge on Jacksonville ‘central receiving center’ proposal for mental health

As we reported last week, the city of Jacksonville is working toward creating a “central receiving facility” for mental health issues.

The good news: the city has secured a $15 million grant from the state of Florida.

The bad news: the $7.5 million needed, as a local match has been slow in coming.

All told, the Mental Health Resource Center needs to find $2.385 million of local funding. Much of that will have to originate from the private sector; the city currently receives $810,000 from the city for outpatient services, so if the city were to provide the extra $2.385 million, that would result in a 300 percent increase in the MHRC budget year over year.

While that’s doable given the city’s strong budget year in 2016 — one which saw $11 million added to the city’s emergency reserve — stakeholders are proceeding as if private funds are the mechanism necessary to make this plan a reality.

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FloridaPolitics.com reviewed a copy of January’s “executive summary” of the grant request from the city’s Mental Health Resource Center, and it painted a picture of dire need mixed with tremendous opportunity — if the city can get it together to match the funds.

Jacksonville’s problems are almost uniquely severe.

Florida is 49th in the nation in per capita mental health funding. And Northeast Florida is bringing up the rear, again, in a woefully underfunded state.

The results: delays in treatment, especially for underserved populations, that can be perilous.

Waiting a few weeks when dealing with acute mental issues, for example, can make them worse.

Those released or diverted from the jail, likewise, can often go without treatment — leading to repeat offenses.

To remedy these issues, a central receiving center is necessary, the MHRC asserts.

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The funding would actually be used to create two centers: one at the MHRC North facility on W. 20th Street, and one at the South facility on Beach Blvd.

Services would include mental health and substance abuse screening and help, as well as assistance applying for government benefits, psychiatric evaluations, and medication management.

Staff would reach out to the mentally ill, including recently discharged inmates, to ensure they are getting the help they need.

The hope: that extra effort will prevent a need for psychiatric hospitalization, for those prone to episodic relapses.

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The proposal outlines a phased-in schedule of services, beginning in March at the North location during business hours, then expanding hours and locations as local match funding materializes.

The locational choice is a pragmatic one: all of the current city funding, and all but $700,000 of the state funding, is allocated toward the North location.

Thus, the North location only needs $116,000 to ramp up, while the one on the Southside needs $2.27 million.

The need for two locations is dictated by the sprawling nature of the consolidated city itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curry then took the mike.

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

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

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

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

Curry then introduced Darnell Smith of the Jax Chamber.

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

That wasn’t the case.

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

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

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

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

Berry called that the “long game.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City of Jacksonville to council woman’s business: pay up the $210K you owe us

A letter from the city of Jacksonville’s Office of Economic Development to the family business of Councilwoman Katrina Brown demanded repayment for economic incentive money that didn’t create jobs.

On Jan. 5, a Certified Letter was sent from OED to CoWealth, LLC, noting that the city received the “required annual surveys” for 2012 to 2015, in which the company was supposed to create jobs at a Northwest Jacksonville barbecue sauce plant.

However, said the city, no jobs were created.

“Therefore,” said the city, “the full balance of the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund grant, $210,549.99, must be repaid.”

OED wants payment in full within 60 days of the letter.

The alternative: setting up a payment schedule within 30 days.

Brown’s family businesses have had other issues as well, including delinquent sales tax remittances and delayed property tax payments.

The barbecue sauce plant, meanwhile, was raided last month by the FBI, state, and local agencies, though the exact reason for that raid is not known to media.

Bad press has plagued Brown’s familial business interests of late.

CoWealth LLC, which has been in the news for failing to fulfill job creation goals for a Westside Jacksonville BBQ sauce plant for which the company secured $590,000 in loans and grants from the city, finally paid its 2015 property taxes on December 30.

CoWealth also is in trouble with the Small Business Association.

The Florida Times-Union reported that “CoWealth received a $2.65 million loan from a Louisiana bank. That loan was backed by the Small Business Administration, whose Office of Inspector General was among the agencies that went to the Commonwealth Avenue building two weeks ago” for a multi-jurisdictional raid involving federal, state, and local authorities.

Brown’s family business enterprises seem to have struggled with revenue problems for a couple of years now.

Even during her successful city council campaign of 2015, delinquent property taxes became an issue.

Lenny Curry sweetens pension offer to Jacksonville police, gives 30 days to respond

The city of Jacksonville and its police union resumed collective bargaining for the first time since November on Tuesday, with the sides starting far apart.

The daylight between labor and management was significant as last year closed.

There’s less daylight after the Wednesday session. The city made an improved offer, one which offers a bigger city match on the defined contribution deal for new hires and gives current employees more money and restored benefits.

But there’s a catch: the city gave the police union 30 days to accept it, or the offer is dead.

Fire union negotiations are slated for later this afternoon; a reasonable expectation is that similar terms will be offered.

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To move negotiations into a different posture, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was in attendance with opening remarks at a meeting that saw the parking lot of the Fraternal Order of Police building full even half an hour before the 10 a.m. negotiating session commenced.

Curry offered opening remarks; his chief lieutenants, CFO Mike Weinstein and CAO Sam Mousa, stayed behind, along with the general counsel, Jason Gabriel.

In those opening remarks, Curry outlined a considerably enhanced package of defined contribution benefits for new hires, with a city match of 25 percent approaching the FRS mandated contribution of 29 percent.

The plan would be vested in five years for new hires.

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Police union head Steve Zona noted that the union worked with the mayor “in the trenches” to sell the pension reform referendum option, with Zona saying the union thought the mayor understood that public safety merited compensation.

“All the time, the Florida Retirement System was on the table,” Zona said, before showing a video with Curry saying “I’m going to honor the agreements we have” and that 401K plans for police forces in the state “would not work for officers.”

“I’ve come to the conclusion that 401Ks will not work,” Curry said in the video from the 2015 campaign endorsement process regarding current employees.

A second video saw Curry say “if you want to attract the best, you have to be competitive” and that “pension plans” are necessary.

“The public doesn’t understand what I’ve said because a mayor has never said it,” Curry said in the video, vowing to “try to educate in meetings and conversations.”

Zona said, then, “you said you’d be willing to stand alone and educate the public, and that hasn’t been done.”

“Put FRS on the table,” Zona said, “and let’s get the deal done.”

Zona then cited Florida Politics quoting the mayor as saying a 401k plan would “set the stage” for 401K discussions beyond Jacksonville.

Curry then offered remarks, noting investments in human and physical capital in his first two budgets.

Then Curry floated a new offer: a 3 percent bonus, a 20 percent pay hike in three years, and full restoration of all benefits taken away from officers in 2015, including an 8.4 percent “return on DROP guaranteed” and a 3 percent COLA.

Curry then noted that his comments in 2015 were intended to address the issues for current officers, not new hires.

“A defined contribution plan that looks like nothing anyone has ever seen for new hires,” Curry said, with a 25 percent city investment from day 1, and a fully vested plan within five years.

That plan would have the same disability and death benefit that the current plan has.

“This is a rich plan that will attract and retain people.”

“Since I’ve been in office,” Curry said, “I’ve put my money where my mouth is.”

Zona endorsed the wage proposal and the benefit restoration pitch, saying though that the “new hires” is a different matter.

“When it’s you mayor, or another mayor attacking the benefits of new hires, you watch the attrition rates go through the roof,” Zona said.

Curry noted that statute requires collective bargaining every three years, and that even a defined benefit plan has attendant risk.

“This is not a 401k as would be defined in the private sector,” Curry reiterated of his plan. “It is rich. It will work.”

Curry noted that FRS would be even more expensive, with a 29 percent city match, and a lack of local control.

“I like local control,” Curry said to media after he left the room for a gaggle.

Notable: Curry’s plan, with restoration of pre-2015 benefits for current employees, would reverse a great deal of the 2015 pension reform.

Nine percent of the FRS hit, Mousa said later, was unfunded liability.

“We’re far exceeding FRS,” Mousa said.

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Negotiations resumed shortly before 11 a.m.

General Counsel Jason Gabriel, when asked about the 2015 deal, cautioned that it wasn’t a seven-year deal.

“There was provision for a waiver of unilaterally altering benefits for seven years,” Gabriel said, but that didn’t supersede state statute requiring terms not exceeding three years.

“The seven years is something that we need to be careful when we discuss that,” Gabriel said. “The collective bargaining agreement needs to be for a term of three years.”

Police negotiators sought a 20 year guarantee for men and women on the current force.

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The city presented written proposals for police and corrections, and for judicial officers and bailiffs.

The police proposal was the 3 percent lump sum hike and the 20 percent raise phased in over three years, with DROP return guaranteed at 8.4 percent and a 3 percent COLA bump.

Judicial officers and bailiffs got the same 3 percent lump sum bump, and a 14 percent pay raise phased in over three years for judicial officers, and a 12 percent hike for bailiffs.

All new employee groups would have fully-vested defined contribution plans, via a 25 percent city contribution.

The proposal would supersede all previous agreements, a city negotiator said.

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Zona noted that a provision of the deal is that, if the sales surtax is overturned, the city won’t have the money to deliver.

CFO Weinstein noted that “if one piece of the puzzle falls out, we have to revisit” the pension deal.

The surtax is needed to fund the plan; the city sees it as “highly unlikely” that the surtax would be overturned.

The impact would be a re-opening of the wage discussions.

Zona saw the escape clause as an “out for the city,” and the couple of hundred officers in the crowd stirred as the city again tried to reiterate its position.

 “If it’s that unlikely it’s going to occur,” Zona said, the city needs to “shoulder risk” and insert a clause guaranteeing the city commitment to officers for 20 years.

CAO Mousa noted that the city has to redo actuarial studies, among other “significant work,” before Oct. 1 to “take advantage of the process” and access the revenue stream.

“If there are any delays that keep us from getting to council in time, we’ll have to wait a whole another year,” Mousa said, noting that legislation needs to pass.

Zona noted that a 30 day time frame may not be tantamount to “bargaining in good faith.”

“That may be some sort of violation of collective bargaining,” Zona noted.

Mousa pushed back, saying the union knows “exactly what the numbers are and where they lay.”

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After another caucus, Mousa reiterated the city position: “nothing other than wages” would be required to be re-negotiated if the sales tax fell through.

“It’s our problem to afford it,” Mousa said,

 The city again stressed the urgency of meeting the thirty day time frame.

Zona contended that the cost of the proposed plan is very close to that of FRS, especially with a Social Security contribution added.

“We wouldn’t have made an offer today,” Mousa said, “if we couldn’t afford it … if it wasn’t fair and reasonable … to the taxpayers.”

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Zona produced another video toward the end of the meeting, where Curry said the media “demonized” the police union as “fat cats.”

Then another video, where Curry said Mayor Brown “has failed to deal with the pension in a serious way.”

Curry, in the video, said that he wouldn’t “tolerate” police being attacked in the press.

“We showed the videos for a reason … our members haven’t seen those videos. The public hasn’t seen those videos,” Zona said.

“Everybody needed to see those videos so people would understand why we’re taking the position we’re taking. We’re told one thing by the mayor,” Zona said, yet “information was not shared with us,” even as the union helped to sell the pension reform referendum of 2016.

“Where’s the data? What’s the reasoning to change your mind?”

Zona’s question was rhetorical.

But the conflict wasn’t.

For his part, Mousa said “it’s going to take a lot more than these videos to embarrass the mayor.”

Mousa reiterated the “time and effort” put in the mayor’s plan, adding that more formal actuarial studies are needed to come up with a shared set of assumptions.

“If we don’t come to an agreement, we won’t have final actuaries,” Mousa added.

Both sides want to “get out of the risk business,” Zona said.

But the problem isn’t the destination, but the conveyance.

Lenny Curry previews 2017 agenda at Meninak meeting

The year 2017 has started off with people trying to pressure Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry into positions he thus far has resisted.

Social liberals want the mayor to offer the kind of full-throated support of expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance that thus far has proven elusive.

And the city’s unions, especially police and fire, want Curry to sign on to putting new hires into the Florida Retirement System — something the mayor has resisted thus far.

Those political forces were in the background as Curry kicked off the Meninak Club‘s slate of meetings at a Monday luncheon.

While Curry avoided making news in his statements, he gave a pretty clear rendering of where Jacksonville’s news might go in the weeks and months ahead.

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Curry’s prepared remarks eschewed those hot button issues, focusing instead on topics ranging from the book he gave his senior staff for Christmas (“Relentless” by Tim Grover, which distills lessons about how to win consistently) to other governance issues.

Among them: the city’s response to Hurricane Matthew, which Curry said involved a lot of planning on the front end to push effective delivery of storm cleanup and other recovery functions.

Curry then pivoted to the discussion of the unfunded pension liability. He discussed the “bold” approach in Tallahassee and through the referendum, sold without “promising voters a chicken in every pot.”

“Straight talk and solutions” got the referendum through with 65 percent of the vote.

Curry then gave an optimistic spin to collective bargaining, which he framed as part of the process, and a means toward “putting [the issue] to bed so we don’t have to deal with it again.”

Curry then pivoted to public safety, and his administration’s moves to remedy “significant cuts” and a “lack of investment” from the previous mayor in police and the Jacksonville Journey, which “was almost cut to the bone.”

The mayor discussed adding more officers, replacing “archaic” equipment, and “investing in these at-risk youth” via the Jacksonville Journey.

Budgets came up next, with the mayor discussing the “very robust budget review process,” including meetings with senior staff and other safeguards.

Jobs: another talking point.

“Our international brand is real now,” Curry said, noting jobs gains ranging from the relocation of City Refrigeration’s international headquarters to Amazon expansion locally.

“Identifying a prospect and going after it,” Curry said, “gets results.”

The pivot from there to infrastructure, such as moves to fix neglected projects, such as the Liberty Street span — a fix started without a tax hike, Curry said.

Curry then closed his prepared remarks with quoting a song his wife and he love: “the best is yet to come.”

And for those interested in Q&A sessions that gave an insight into the mayor’s agenda for the rest of the term, it was.

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Questions from the audience came next.

Among them: a question about sluggish downtown recovery.

“Let me go back and remind you how bad things got,” Curry said. “The police force [budget] was basically gutted.”

Curry noted that, with 160 new officers hired (80 of them community service officers), “we are digging our way out.”

Curry noted the RFP for riverfront development, and his desire to see construction begin.

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Related: a discussion of the Jacksonville Landing.

“The place is a mess,” Curry said, vowing not to “get caught up in the arguments of the past.”

“I’m going to continue to try — to do something with it,” Curry said, but his focus is on “where development can happen.”

“The Landing is embarrassing,” Curry affirmed.

“Embarrassing.”

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Regarding Hemming Park — a recurrent pressure — Curry noted that he asked to take back control of the plaza.

“I just want results, and somebody’s got to be accountable,” the mayor said, noting a final decision hasn’t been made on who will run the park.

“I’ve looked out my window before and I’ve seen drug use happening in the middle of that park,” Curry said.

“There has to be oversight and a clear statement of goals,” the mayor stated, related to park management.

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Curry was asked then about how to deliver on his “ambitious” programs without a tax hike.

“We did infrastructure the first two years, we added to public safety and the Jacksonville Journey without raising taxes,” Curry said, before ruling out a tax hike even for unfunded pension liabilities.

“We’re going to solve it … and we’re going to do it without raising taxes,” Curry said.

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Fixing “inner city crime” (to use the questioner’s memorable phrase) was on tap next.

Would Curry accept a federal solution?

“I will be reaching out both to Congressman Rutherford and the Trump Administration to ask for help. We have an opportunity here and I will take advantage of the opportunity.”

To that end, Curry seeks to “lock up the bad guys and get them off the street,” working both with State Attorney Melissa Nelson and Sheriff Mike Williams to “make this city safe.”

Curry noted that the city actively chases state and federal money, and a new Department of Justice grant applicable to the Jacksonville Journey exemplifies that.

“The shootings and the violence in this city is what keeps me up at night … if I could go out today and arrest a gang member,” Curry said, “I would do it.”

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The HRO came up next.

Curry noted his extension of “protections to city employees,” before passing on a commitment.

“Council’s job is to legislate,” Curry said, noting that “the results speak for themselves in terms of job creation,” a statement that seemed related to his administration’s performance, rather than to the departmental directive that offered employment protections to LGBT employees of the city and its vendors.

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Former police pension fund head John Keane came up next, with a questioner discussing stripping Keane’s pension altogether.

“The suit that he filed he filed against the pension fund board; he didn’t file it against me.”

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Curry was asked about running for re-election.

“Love the job. Love what I’m doing. But if I started thinking about re-election, it wouldn’t be the right thing to do,” Curry said.

After the meeting, Curry stressed that he has had “zero conversations” about running for statewide office, addressing the speculation that might be in the cards for 2018.

****

Deepening the port came up also.

While the port hasn’t made an official ask of the city, Curry said, the governor is “bullish.”

“When it’s time to move, we’ll be able to move,” Curry vowed.

Ft. Lauderdale massacre caps a miserable week for the military

Last week’s news was overstuffed with upsetting reports about the mental health of military people. And that was before “troubled Army veteran” Esteban Santiago opened fire at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

The armed forces have shrunk by 10 percent in recent years, but child abuse and neglect in military families are up. Way up.

Some of our “heroes” will be spending time in the stockade, but at least they’ll have a roof over their heads.

That’s more than we can say for America’s 40,000 homeless veterans. The nation that set and achieved the goal of putting a man on the moon in a decade has been unable to meet a five-year goal of getting homeless veterans out of the woods and into permanent homes.

Miracle workers like Ju’Coby Pittman, the longtime CEO of Jacksonville’s Clara White Mission, have taken a bite out of the problem. You’d think the job of getting veterans off the streets would be easy in a community where the military is omnipresent and everybody professes to “honor our heroes.”  But when it comes to sharing the block with the disabled and the mentally ill, folks in Duval County can be as NIMBY as folks anyplace else.

In Seminole Heights, Laura Sellinger mourns her husband John, another “troubled veteran” who survived deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, but not the “survivor’s guilt” that “exploded” in a rampage, a struggle with Pasco County deputies, and death.

Our country provides a bottomless book of blank checks to the manufacturers of military hardware. The men and women who bear the weight of war must make do with whatever’s left behind in the petty cash drawer.

Jacksonville stakeholders fret over lack of match money for central receiving facility

One of the major talking points of Jacksonville leaders and stakeholders: the need for a central receiving facility for those with mental issues.

However, thus far there has been more talk than action in terms of getting the $7.5 million needed as a match to the $15 million of state funds.

Stakeholders are worried that a golden opportunity is being squandered.

An email from Amy Crane, the program director of the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida, that found its way to mayoral chief of staff Kerri Stewart (via Gary Chartrand) tells the tale.

Crane notes that “there was, and continues to be, concern about [Mental Health Resource Center]’s ability to raise the funds necessary to match the grant. After the articles appeared, I followed up with Denise.  She indicated that she is going to work directly with MHRC to develop a strategy to try to raise the funding. In short. she believes that if Duval County were to be unsuccessful, MHA’s advocacy efforts in Tallahassee over the past two years would have been for nothing.”

Stakeholders will meet in the mayor’s office later this month to discuss a path forward.

The Fiorentino Group helms Northeast Florida lobbying efforts again in 2017

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran may abhor the influence of lobbyists in Tallahassee. But Jacksonville and its independent agencies have them anyway, as do other regional entities in Northeast Florida.

The calculus is not complicated for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who parlayed $150,000 last year into a sustained and successful lobbying effort helmed by the Fiorentino Group and aided by Ballard Partners and Southern Strategy Group.

“I have and will continue to work with a team of professionals who ensure getting the highest return for the investment of taxpayers. The successes of our team include a solution to the pension crisis and earned us state resources for infrastructure and public safety,” Curry told us in November.

This year, the asks are different. The pension reform referendum pushed through Tallahassee in 2016 passed, setting the stage for increasingly fractious collective bargaining environment to negotiate new plans for new hires.

The Curry administration this year wants $50 million of state money to tear down the current Hart Expressway offramps near the sports complex, replacing them with an exit onto Bay Street.

And to that end, resources are dedicated to the effort. And at least potentially, they add up to more than the 2016 commitment.

The Fiorentino Group has a $60,000 budget for 2017, up from $50,000. The same holds true for Ballard and SSG, we hear. [For its part, Curry’s office says the “contracts are in the process of execution,” and wouldn’t confirm numbers.]

If that uptick in expenditure holds for all three lobbying groups, the city is boosting its investment in lobbyists by 20 percent year over year — a reasonable spend given the unproven nature of the Duval County Legislative Delegation’s newest members, and the lack of pull the local delegation has in the Florida House.

In short, it’s money well-spent.

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Fiorentino is also handling the concerns of many of the city’s independent authorities.

The Fiorentino Group has a $5,000 a month deal with the Jacksonville Aviation Authority that started in October 2016 and runs for three years thereafter, adding up to $180,000.

TFG is still under contract with the Jacksonville Port Authority through January 2017, a deal originally launched in 2014.

And TFG has a $6,000 a month deal with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority. That fee is matched by what the University of North Florida pays Fiorentino.

The Fiorentino Group also has contracts regionally.

Among those: a deal with Green Cove Springs, the seat of Clay County, capped at $15,000 total.

St. Johns County also benefits from the Fiorentino touch. The county itself has had TFG on a $4,500 monthly retainer since 2009. And the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office has a deal for $2,500 with the Fiorentino Group.

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