Jacksonville – Page 4 – Florida Politics

Lenny Curry, Jacksonville officials defend handling of public records requests

The city of Jacksonville’s approach to handling public records has taken criticism from multiple sides in the last week.

Among the charges: that the city is contravening the letter and the spirit of open government by slow-walking requests, by vetting seemingly problematic applications with affected officials before fulfilling them, by claiming exemptions from disclosure, by not providing complete email and text records for public officials, and so on.

On Wednesday, Mayor Lenny Curry denied those assertions, a day before city officials took questions from City Council President Anna Brosche‘s “Task Force on Open Government.”

“I’m proud of our record on transparency,” Curry said. “Me, myself, and my administration, we comply with the Sunshine Laws, which result in transparency and when and how you provide information. And so, yeah, I’m proud of our record.”

“Any public record that the media wants,” Curry added, “[that] is in accordance with the law, when asked, is provided.”

After the media panel wrapped last week, one of his OGC colleagues, per the minutes of the meeting, “expressed doubts about the public records obstacles and delays described by the media panel.”

Thursday saw administration officials drawing a narrative of substantial compliance with requests.

Documentation was provided showing that citizens’ public records requests are substantially fulfilled, even as math didn’t always add up. For example, in FY 16/17, 1527 requests were received, with 1478 closed and 61 cancelled (a total of 1,533). And thus far in FY 17/18, 845 requests have been received, with 783 closed and 29 cancelled.

Of course, the issue for media last week wasn’t substantial compliance with media requests, but elided material, or material presented at a prohibitive cost. Included among that latter category: Florida Times-Union requests for applications for the Kids Hope Alliance CEO position (estimated at $170), and requests for emails regarding two specific search terms that resulted in months of negotiation and an invoiced cost of $130 for 4.5 hours of work.

Marsha Oliver, spokesperson for the Curry administration, and Craig Feiser, records custodian from the Office of General Counsel, addressed what Chair Sherry Magill called a “difference of opinion” regarding the internal process of review of sensitive requests and timeliness of response.

Feiser noted, vis a vis the examples, that by and large requests don’t have those kinds of charges enumerated above.

Feiser, who has been on the job for six months, noted that his role is to process media requests in conjunction with the administration.

“We’ve been reasonably prompt,” Feiser said, saying that he had no request that was currently open, and that he offers “advise and counsel” to the administration regarding the release of sensitive requests.

“I can count on less than one hand the times we’ve had … internal discussion about whether something may or may not be exempt,” Feiser contended. “That has not happened very often. I have provided almost every single thing that was requested of me.”

Feiser also contended that occasions in which charges have been estimated have been few and far between.

“I haven’t had any complaints about that,” Feiser said, noting that “the charge hasn’t been much.”

“Frankly, I’m proud of the way things have gone the last six months,” Feiser said, noting that he himself is a “former journalist” who understands “the importance of open government,” and that he and the administration are “absolutely committed” to transparency.

Oliver, who came to city employ from the School Board, noted that the city has a “very specific process” with someone who “knows the law handling it.”

Broad search terms, such as “The Landing,” brought forth 40,000 emails, which created responsivity issues, Oliver said, requiring refinement.

The “review” process, Oliver added, is intended to ensure accuracy and protect confidentiality.

“We have to review every single email,” Oliver asserted.

Feiser added that the costs, roughly $19 an hour for review via a paralegal, are reasonable.

Oliver noted that the city rarely charges for requests, describing the city’s “practices and procedures” as “quite generous.”

Another city lawyer, John Philips, pushed back harder, noting that the city ultimately decides whether something is confidential or not.

An example of confidential information, said Oliver, would be information regarding cybersecurity, which is privileged in light of the “potential threat” to the city. (An example of that: the request from Reuters from earlier this month).

“It’s rare that we’ve done that,” Feiser added.

A task force member noted that internal emails spotlighted Feiser writing to an administration member that “I don’t have a problem giving this to a reporter unless you do.”

Feiser allowed that an administration member could have a “concern,” noting that he may not have chosen that language “carefully.”

Email accessibility, including a complete record of city emails and calendars, was also spotlighted by the task force.

Feiser said he didn’t know of “incomplete calendars” being available, and said he’d told reporters that information that hadn’t been uploaded could be resolved via request.

Oliver noted that the Mayor’s emails are uploaded up to three times a day, a “tool the city’s implemented to facilitate and make that process easier.”

Oliver contended that all emails to the Mayor are made available, and that many of them are grist for story ideas.

A task force member noted that there were no internal emails for days to the mayor.

“For the most part, the mayor does not use email internally to communicate,” Oliver contended. “I have not emailed the mayor in weeks.”

Oliver allowed that Curry “probably” does use text messages, and said the public can request those messages.

Oliver also defended the administration practice of not allowing department heads to talk to press, saying that she doesn’t “support that type of environment” given the inability to refine messaging.

“The goal is to be able to build collaborative relationships with media professionals … to ensure we are aware of the information and the inquiry,” Oliver contended.

Last week, at least one panelist noted that historically access was provided directly, without the conduit.

“I certainly don’t want to open the newspaper to see a department head [taking a position] on behalf of the administration of which we have no knowledge,” Oliver said.

Lenny Curry not worried about possible challenge from Anna Brosche

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche may be exploring a run for Mayor, however incumbent Lenny Curry isn’t worried, he said Wednesday.

“I have almost a three-year record in office now,” Curry said. “A strong record of action and getting things done. Big things that I’ve communicated to the public as I’ve tried to tackle them, and I have evidence that they’ve supported me in trying to tackle those.”

“I’m going to continue to pursue the priorities that I’ve laid out,” Curry added, “and make the case to the public.”

“I have the resources to make the case to the public,” Curry said, alluding to having raised $1.75 million and counting in the opening months of his re-election bid.

“I’m going to continue to do that,” Curry said, “and I’m confident that the engagement and interaction I have with everyday people will result in Lenny Curry being mayor, not just through this next year, but in the years ahead.”

Speculation has swirled about a Brosche run for Mayor, including this week when JEA Board member Fred Newbill posited, per the Florida Times-Union, that Brosche’s interest in how the utility is functioning was more political than practical.

“I may be out of order, but in my opinion, she’s going to run for Mayor, and is going to continue to find matters that make us look controversial so they can pull down the <ayor,” Newbill said. “So as a board member, I’m saying if you’re going to run for Mayor, announce your candidacy, but leave JEA out of it. We’re an independent authority. We’re not controlled by you or the <ayor. Let us do JEA business.”

Of course, “JEA business” has been a flashpoint of tension between Curry and Brosche.

Curry was open, at least at one point, to exploring a sale of JEA, a proposal first floated by Tom Petway — a leading Curry supporter from when the Republican first got into the mayoral race.

Petway, leaving the JEA board in 2017, said it was time to explore privatization.

Brosche has contended that the Mayor’s Office leaned on her to expedite legislation that would allow the sale to be explored.

Reuters the latest to zing Jacksonville over release of public records

A reporter from Reuters recently had a row with Jacksonville officials regarding claimed exemptions from disclosure of public records related to informational technology.

The city has had its approach to public records disclosure questioned by local media in recent days, via a panel in the city’s “Open Government Task Force” and on Twitter; however, the Reuters reporter (who generally doesn’t deal with local officials) offered his own take independently of that process, claiming that the city was using a statutory protection from exemptions “like a ball peen hammer.”

Reuters reporter Ryan McNeil wanted the last few years of records on IT security audits of city websites and/or computer networks, penetration and vulnerability testing, the city’s cyberinsurance policy, claims made on said policy and payments of ransom demands, as well as documentation of breaches.

McNeil was to find his request substantially frustrated, however, via claims of exemption from inspection of public records pursuant to Florida Statute, Section 119.071 (3).

McNeil let loose with an epic reply to the city’s custodian of public records: “On behalf of myself and Reuters,  I raise strong objection to the city’s interpretation of its requirements under Florida’s broad open government laws. To be clear, there is no way 119.071(3) covers all of the responsive records. I strongly urge you to re-evaluate this denial.”

McNeil notes that “Florida public officials are required to take a narrow approach to exemptions.” And when exemptions apply, the sensitive information should be, per statute, redacted. Not addressed via a blanket denial, which per McNeil “is neither narrow nor does it comply with requirements to produce non-exempt information.”

McNeil contends “the city has attempted to use 119.071(3) like a ball peen hammer,” before drawing conclusions based on elided answers.

“For example, based on your response, apparently the city has made payments and/or communicated with people making a ransom demand as part of a cyber incident. We asked for ‘documentation of payments made to any entity as part of a ransom demand following a cyber incident as well as any correspondence made to or from the entities making the demand.’ These types of records in no way, shape or form relate ‘directly to the physical security of the facility’ nor do they reveal ‘security systems’,” McNeil writes, before posing provocative questions.

“Is the city arguing that it can make secret payments to satisfy ransom demands under Florida law? Additionally, is the city arguing it can have secret communications with those demanding taxpayer monies be used to satisfy a ransom demand?”

Along these lines, McNeil wondered if the city was “arguing that it can have secret contracts with vendors merely because they provide cybersecurity-related services,” based on declared exemption from disclosure.

“The same arguments can be applied to every single one of the blanket denials,” McNeil argued, a “blanket exemption [which] is not appropriate and inconsistent with Florida’s broad sunshine laws.”

This email, dated May 8, came in hours before local reporters offered their own critiques of how records are handled in Jacksonville’s City Hall.

During a “media panel” in Jacksonville’s “Task Force on Open Government,” representatives from The Florida Times-Union, WJCT, and this outlet described a system in which transparency and sunshine are subjective concepts, driven by the whims of the gatekeepers.

From the minutes: “The conversation focused primarily on public records and how they are accessed and received by the media. According to the  panelists, there are often delays and unexpected costs associated with public records requests, which  according to Florida Statute should be provided at a “reasonable” cost in a “reasonable” amount of time … some readily available public records appear to go through political review before  being shared with the media, and the delays sometimes give the impression of being intentionally obstructive.”

Suggested solutions were proferred also: “Legislation could be enacted to clean up the records process – possibly with timelines; make records easier and cheaper to get; incorporate public records sharing as a regular part of government.”

However, the Office of General Counsel’s representative on hand diverged from the concord of the media panel members: “Jon Phillips, Office of General Counsel, expressed doubts about the public records obstacles and delays described by the media panel.”

What is clear: there is a real gap between the way the media interprets the Sunshine Law and the concept of open government and the way city officials interpret it.

Gaps have been identified before, of course, and will continue to be. With informational technology what it is, it is possible for all intragovernmental emails and texts to be online, made available in close to a real time way.

The reality, at least in Jacksonville, is one of selective disclosure. For example, the only publicly available email addresses, of the Mayor and his senior staff, are not updated in a time-sensitive manner. And if Lenny Curry doesn’t have a secondary official business email, well, questions are raised, given that the official inbox is little more than a fruitless farrago of crank correspondence and conspiracy theory.

Likewise, individual emails of Council members are available on no portal. While technology allows for a real-time cataloguing of such, legislative will doesn’t compel such.

And texts? Good luck.

As the Florida Times-Union found when investigating text messages that swayed a line-item during a budget vote, texts were difficult to obtain, with some members of the City Council seemingly unaware that part of the job description was to be a custodian of their public records.

Jacksonville’s latest slogan, “It’s easier here,” simply doesn’t apply to the city and its haphazard commitment to the Sunshine Law and public records disclosures. Local reporters have been acutely aware of that. And Reuters just got its education.

Jacksonville Bold for 5.11.18 — Buy the ticket, take the ride

August primaries are close to three months away. Vote by mail ballots will go out sooner than that.

What that means is the time is now for candidates to show what their operations on the state and federal level really look like. And on the local level, where elections are still farther away, it’s infrastructure-building time.

In federal races, we have already seen pretenders separate themselves from ostensible pretenders. State qualifying is next month; some will take passes on those races, too.

Adding to the intrigue: An opening in the Duval County Tax Collector office. While not a thrilling position, it has four candidates (as of this writing) who have real political resumes. And that election, a special, is on the August/November schedule.

As the saying goes, “buy the ticket, take the ride.” Through next May, it’s all elections, all the time — that’s when Jacksonville’s municipal races finally close out.

Rutherford seeks federal penalties for targeting police

Rep. John Rutherford is a congressional co-introducer of legislation to make it an additional federal crime for criminals to attack law enforcement officers.

John Rutherford, a former Sheriff, has a personal stake in this legislation.

House Resolution 5698, the “Protect and Serve Act of 2018,” would create federal penalties for people who deliberately target local, state, or federal law enforcement officers with violence.

In addition to any sentences they may receive for the standard crimes, the fact that the crime was committed against a law enforcement officer could add 10 years, or a life sentence if the officer dies, or the perpetrator kidnapped the officer during the course of the crime.

“As a career law enforcement officer and sheriff of Jacksonville for 12 years, I know what officers go through every day when they put on their uniform, say goodbye to their families, and go out on the streets doing the important work of protecting our communities,” Rutherford stated in a news release from his office.

“With an uptick in ambush attacks on law enforcement, like we saw last month in Trenton, Florida, we must ensure that there are steep consequences for anyone who targets our law enforcement officers. The Protect and Serve Act will serve as a significant deterrent for anyone who deliberately targets officers with violence. I want to thank my friend, Congresswoman Val Demings [a co-sponsor and former police chief] for her leadership on this bill and for her support of law enforcement officers across the country.”

Hutson makes moves

Sen. Travis Hutson is pursuing the 2022 Senate presidency, and recent activity for his primary political committee (Sunshine State Conservatives) reflects that long-range goal.

The committee brought in $155,000 in April, and much of that money came from other committees.

Travis Hutson’s goal: Senate presidency.

The “Free Speech PAC” and “Citizens First,” both of 5730 Corporate Way Suite 214″ in West Palm Beach ponied up $40,000 each.

“Florida Jobs Alliance” and “Conservative Choice,” each of which share an address with Sunshine State Conservatives, were in for another $25,000.

These committees all appear to be pass-through committees, with money coming from other committees, and so on.

Also of interest: The contributions, dated April 27, represent a break from previous contribution trends for the committee, which predominantly (though not exclusively) has been from corporate and industry PACs.

The committee doled out $10,050 in April, including contributions to campaigns of Sen. Kelli Stargel, Rep. Joe Gruters, and a secondary Hutson committee, “First Coast Business Foundation.”

More significant spending could be found in March for the committee, which gave $50,000 to the FRSCC, to help with fundraising efforts.

As the race for the eventual Senate leadership continues to unfold, expect more interesting committee transfers … and, if April receipts for this committee are an indication, they will at least sometimes be hard to track.

Yarborough, Byrd pad cash leads

April told a familiar story in House Districts 11 and 12, where Republican incumbents Cord Byrd and Clay Yarborough expanded leads over Democratic challengers.

In HD 11, Byrd raised $3,470 in April, bringing his cash on hand to $38,500. Among his donors: the Fiorentino Group.

While less than $40,000 cash on hand doesn’t sound like much, thus far his Democratic opponent (Nathcelly Rohrbaugh) has yet to show real fundraising prowess.

Cord Byrd and Clay Yarborough both increased their money leads. 

Rohrbaugh raised $560 in April and has $1,010 on hand.

HD 11 is solidly Republican, with 66,830 of them compared to 30,574 Democrats as of 2016.

Though there are rumors that Byrd may face a primary challenger, thus far they have been all sizzle and no steak.

HD 12 saw a similar scenario: an entrenched incumbent continuing to plug away against a Democratic opponent in a deep-red district.

Though Yarborough brought in just $1,000 (and spent more than that on consulting), he nonetheless has over $103,000 on hand.

Yarborough, who was a two-term Jacksonville City Councilman representing a big swath of his current House district, is also one of the better grassroots candidates in the area.

Even with just $1,000 coming in, Yarborough outraised Democrat Tim Yost, who brought in only $745 off eight contributions.

Yost has nearly $4,000 cash on hand.

Polson continues to bank in HD 15

In Jacksonville’s House District 15, Democrat Tracye Polson continues to stack chips in her campaign account, with the hope of flipping the seat from red to blue.

Trayce Polson may prove the naysayers wrong, flipping a red seat blue.

Between her campaign account and that of her “Better Jacksonville” political committee, she raised $36,983.03 in April. The total raised is over $211,000 now, which is far and away the biggest nest egg for any Jacksonville state House candidate, Republican or Democrat.

However, given that the seat was uncontested by a Democrat in recent campaign cycles, and given that in most other local Republican-held seats Democrats are not well-funded, Polson’s campaign stands out as one with sufficient resources to make the race competitive.

“When I got into this race, we knew people wanted change, improvement over the same politicians and lobbyists who fail to provide results that improve the lives of working families in Jacksonville,” Polson said in a media release.

Democrat fundraises for Fischer challenge

House District 16, on the Southside of Jacksonville, is typically a secure Republican hold.

The district leans Republican with a 55,593 to 35,171 voter registration advantage over Democrats, according to LobbyTools.

Ken Organes’ family is willing to help him overcome a Republican registration advantage in HD 16.

Rep. Jason Fischer faced no Democratic opposition in 2016. And predecessor Charles McBurney had the same luck.

However, 2018 is a different matter, with Ken Organes carrying the Democratic banner.

Organes, buoyed by $7,500 of his own money, tallied $11,743 off 34 total contributions. Aside from the candidate’s stake, the vast majority of donations were $100 and below.

The former CSX employee still has a way to go to catch Fischer, who recorded no April fundraising either for his campaign account or that of his Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville political committee.

The campaign account has $82,000 on hand, and the committee has nearly $35,000.

Elsbury to replace Korman Shelton

Jacksonville’s director of intergovernmental affairs, Ali Korman Shelton, is moving on as of the end of next week.

And Monday, the office of Mayor Lenny Curry revealed the path forward for the team, with one promotion and two internal hires effective May 21.

Jordan Elsbury, a previous “30 under 30” honoree on this site, will replace Shelton going forward.

Leeann Krieg and Jordan Elsbury, pictured here with Councilman Greg Anderson.

Elsbury had already been working with Korman Shelton in intergovernmental affairs. A veteran of the campaign side who moved over to policy when Curry got elected, Elsbury has been a quick study in both the politics and personalities of City Hall.

Additionally, the team will be boosted significantly with two key hires from City Council staff to serve as Council liaisons.

Leeann Krieg, the Council assistant for Greg Anderson, and Chiquita Moore, the assistant for Sam Newby, will be moving over as coequal “Council liaison” positions.

Moore and Krieg will be charged with helping to move the Mayor’s agenda through Council, a process that may get easier at the end of June when Council President Anna Brosche relinquishes the gavel to Curry ally Aaron Bowman.

Tax collector special election

The position of Duval County Tax Collector is poised to open up in the coming weeks.

Incumbent Michael Corrigan is moving on, to become CEO of Visit Jacksonville. His resignation letter suggests that he couldn’t serve his entire term before taking that position.

While Michael Corrigan is moving on, taxes won’t collect themselves; hence, a special election.

Providentially, a group of Republican hopefuls, including Councilman Doyle Carter, former State Rep. and City Councilman Lake Ray, and former Councilman and Property Appraiser Jim Overton (who staked his campaign with $51,000) are already filed to run on the Republican side.

One Democrat has filed, and she is a major one: former Councilor and State Rep. Mia Jones.

There will be a special election.

The first election would be on the August ballot. If no one gets a majority of votes, the general election ballot in November would be decisive.

Qualifying for this race will occur between June 18 and June 22.

White ready to replace Carter on Council

Jacksonville City Councilman Carter was already termed out in 2019 before he threw in for the soon-to-be-vacant Duval County Tax Collector position.

And Carter made it clear that he backed his old friend Randy White for the Westside seat.

Doyle Carter is backing old friend Randy White as his replacement. (Image via Jax Daily Record)

Like Carter, White is a Republican. And despite the absence of any real competition for the seat, White has maintained consistent fundraising of the sort that would discourage any late-breaking challenge for the political newcomer.

White, now in his sixth month as an active candidate, brought in a relatively modest April haul: $3,700, highlighted by donations from Duval Teachers and Nassau County Fire and Rescue employee funds.

The candidate has raised $83,386 and thus far has spent just $1,402 of that sum.

Conry presses advantage over Boylan

April continued what is becoming a familiar narrative in the two-person race in Jacksonville City Council’s District 6.

Rose Conry still holds the money lead over former WJCT CEO Michael Boylan, as the two Republicans vying to succeed termed-out Matt Schellenberg.

Rose Conry continues to build a cash lead over her fellow Republican opponent.

And cash on hand sees Conry with an almost 2-1 advantage.

Conry brought in $8,050 in April, which pushed her over $77,000 raised and $70,000 on hand.

Among notable donors for the first time candidate: Michael Munz and a political committee associated with State Rep. Jason Fischer.

Worth noting: Fischer and Conry share a political consultant, Tim Baker.

Boylan lost ground during the month in the money race, bringing in $6,250, pushing him over $48,000 raised and $36,000 on hand. Not only is Boylan raising less money than Conry, but he’s also spending more of it.

Boylan is in a more precarious position than he might expect. Conry’s political operation is situated to make attacks down the stretch count. He will want to step up his fundraising, lest he becomes unable to counter them.

Soft April for Newby

Jacksonville City Councilman Sam Newby won his at-large seat on the Jacksonville City Council three years ago on a shoestring budget of just over $9,000, defeating a candidate who raised 15 times what he did in the May 2015 unitary general election.

Fundraising is only part of the formula for Sam Newby’s political career. Connections help also.

And, if his first month in the race is any indication, Newby figures he can win re-election without eye-popping fundraising totals.

Newby brought in just $4,600, with a $100 personal loan and $4,500 in outside contributions from five donors.

Nevertheless, those donors are noteworthy.

Among them, a “big three” of sorts: the Orange Park Kennel Club, the Jacksonville Kennel Club, and Jacksonville Greyhound Racing.

All three gambling entities gave the maximum of $1,000, as did Sleiman Holdings, which is currently in a legal imbroglio with the city of Jacksonville over busted docks and other issues at the Jacksonville Landing.

These donors suggest that if Newby needs to raise more serious money going forward, he could.

However, he didn’t in April.

Newby has one opponent currently, Democrat Chad McIntyre, who thus far has yet to report fundraising.

Another Bishop belly flop

When then-Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Bishop finished a strong third in the 2015 mayor’s race, the Republican vowed that he would run for Mayor again, before endorsing Democrat Alvin Brown over Curry, the eventual Republican winner.

Bill Bishop is struggling in his latest campaign [Photo: WJXT]

Both the early declaration of a mayoral redo and the cross-party endorsement of Brown seemed like a safe bet at the time to many.

Bishop has long since abandoned his dreams for the mayor’s office and settled into a bid for an at-large City Council seat.

But fundraising continues to elude him, as another distressing tally in April suggests.

Bishop brought in just $1,225 during the month … much less than he is spending on campaign management ($3,000), via the RLS Group.

April was the second straight month in which the belly-flopping Bishop campaign spent more on campaign management than it raised.

The leading fundraiser in the race, Republican Ron Salem, continued to bank in April. He added $4,000 to his political committee and an additional $2,850 to his campaign account.

The committee has $11,000 on hand after April receipts; Salem’s campaign account, meanwhile, is over $150,000 cash on hand.

New judges in Duval

Two unopposed judge candidates will move on to the bench in Duval, reports the Florida Times-Union.

Assistant State Attorney Collins Cooper, a former Gators kicker who has faced criticism from supervisors over his perceived incompetence, will be one of Jacksonville’s newest circuit judges … Katie Dearing, a respected business attorney and the daughter-in-law of retiring Probate Judge Peter Dearing, was also unopposed and will assume office next year.”

Duval lawyers are likely to be hangin’ with Judge Collins Cooper next year.

There is one contested election: “Former state Rep. Charles McBurney and former prosecutor Maureen Horkan will face off in an election this fall for circuit judge.”

McBurney, recall, ran afoul of Marion Hammer and the National Rifle Association when he sought a gubernatorial appointment to a judgeship in 2016.

Do they have long memories?

Jacksonville Medical Examiner exits

The “challenging” tenure of “embattled” Duval County Medical Examiner Valerie Rao, per the Florida Times-Union, is at an end.

Rao wrote Gov. Rick Scott last week signaling her intentions.

Valerie Rao dealt with bad press from the start.

Rao’s tenure went from bad news cycle to bad news cycle, with early issues of employee turnover due to what the T-U summed up as “conflicts.”

“Rao, ironically, is retiring before she was ever reappointed to the position. She was up for reappointment in 2012, but Gov. Scott never reappointed her. Instead, he said he wanted more names to consider. Eventually, in 2014, the Medical Examiner’s Commission recommended two more candidates, but both ended up accepting other jobs. Since 2012, Rao has served as interim medical examiner.”

Record tourism for Jacksonville

Per Visit Jacksonville, 2018 is on a record-setting pace for local tourism.

Tourism is booming in Jacksonville, convention traffic a driver.

Behold, the highlights of a news release on the subject.

Total hotel revenue: up 12 percent year over year. Occupancy: up 3.5 percent. And average room rate is also up $5 year over year, to $96.39.

March hotel occupancy: 82.2 percent, with 462,000 rooms sold in the county, leading to $45.7 million in revenue.

Good news for policymakers counting on the bed tax. Convention traffic has been a driver, with 52 meetings through March locally. Targeted marketing and advertising, per Visit Jacksonville, have worked.

UF Health dumping outpatient dialysis

Tourism may be up … but it’s not helping the fiscal picture at Jacksonville’s UF Health.

Money’s tight at UF Health; changes are in the offing.

In a letter to Jacksonville City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche, CEO Leon Haley notes that the hospital is negotiating to sell its outpatient dialysis service to a national, not-for-profit provider by the end of June.

The seeming deciding factor seems to be that the move is made necessary by what Haley calls “significant federal and state funding shortfalls.”

State funding, per Haley, has dropped by $31 million in the last three years. Additionally, $12.7 million in federal cuts will happen this calendar year.

Feds fund ferry

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority announced Tuesday a $3,356,900 Passenger Ferry Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration.

A big win for Jacksonville, courtesy of the Donald Trump administration.

The money is earmarked for improvements for the ferry slips, the vessel and terminal.

JTA took over the ferry’s ownership and operations two years ago, noted its CEO.

“We have made a lot of improvements since JTA assumed ownership and operations of the ferry on March 31, 2016,” said JTA Chief Executive Officer Nat Ford.

“Ridership continues to grow, and improvements to the ferry’s infrastructure will continue thanks to grant awards that the JTA has received from the FTA,” Ford said. “With this recent award, the JTA will continue to strengthen the ferry’s infrastructure, and give our riders a safe and reliable service.”

In a media release, JTA thanked Florida’s Senators and Jacksonville’s two Congressmen, Rutherford and Al Lawson, for their work on behalf of the project.

Homeless rights bill filed

The Jacksonville City Council will consider in the coming weeks a “Homeless Bill of Rights,” legislation that will codify civil rights for the city’s dispossessed populations.

Jacksonville to enter the national conversation about homeless rights.

Ordinance 2018-308, filed by Councilwoman Katrina Brown, contends that “the basic rights all people should enjoy must be guaranteed for homeless individuals and families,” and attempts to “assure that basic human rights are not being trampled simply because someone happens to be homeless.”

The bill would guarantee the right to move freely for homeless people, as well as rights to be “protected by law enforcement,” to prayer, to voting, to quality emergency health services, to “occupy” legally parked cars, and to have a “reasonable expectation of privacy over personal property.”

Undoubtedly, at least some of the enumerated prerogatives will be major talkers in City Council committees.

The National Coalition for the Homeless has pushed for this legislation, and Brown’s bill aligns with the goals of that organization.

Smackdown for hit-free zone

A solid month of deliberation over a bill that initially intended to make all of Jacksonville’s public spaces “hit-free zones,” then was gradually watered down to just include City Hall and still make spanking permissible, ended with a 9-9 vote and the bill being killed Tuesday.

Big government won’t get in the way of parental spankings in City Hall.

Two weeks ago, the bill was deferred, with concerns about everything from “big government” overreach and inhibiting parental discipline to effects on employees tasked with stopping people from hitting each other in offices like the tax collector and supervisor of elections shops.

Last week, the legislation slogged through committees. Two panels voted the bill up 4-3; the third group downed it 3-4.

On Tuesday, despite the changes, the bill couldn’t get over the hump. As has been the case for a month, Council members defended the use of spanking to discipline children during the discussion, while fretting about unintended consequences of the legislative proposal.

Councilman Garrett Dennis, the bill sponsor who has been at odds with the Mayor’s Office, hasn’t been shy about saying that his bills aren’t getting a fair hearing because of City Hall internal politics.

This was the latest example.

Oddsmakers still unconvinced about Jaguars

The NFL draft is history, the first rookie minicamp is yet to begin. The regular season is still four months away. Many of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ players, coaches and management can’t wait.

After coming within five minutes of heading to the Super Bowl and adding some core skill players, the Jags and coach Doug Marrone believe they can take the next step. Those giving odds believe their chance is average at best.

Oddsmakers still not sold on Doug Marrone and the Jacksonville Jaguars. (Photo via Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

The bookies at Bovada place three AFC teams ahead of the Jaguars and one alongside when it comes to winning the conference championship. The team that kept Jacksonville out of the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots, are again favored to defend their title in the next one.

Bovada has the Patriots as 9-4 favorites to win the AFC, but the Pittsburgh Steelers, whom the Jags defeated twice in Pittsburgh last year, are second at 9-2. The Houston Texans face 10-1 odds followed by Jacksonville and the Los Angeles Chargers at 11-1.

As the season progresses, Jacksonville’s odds will improve if the play of quarterback Blake Bortles resembles the Bortles displayed in the playoffs against the Steelers and Patriots.

With the draft providing Bortles with more help on offense, as well as fortifying an outstanding defensive unit, the Jags know they can now play with anyone. With the talent with the confidence and swagger — exemplified by shutdown cornerback Jalen Ramsey — they have a chance to prove last year was no fluke.

If betting were legal in Florida, the Jaguars might be worth risking a few bucks.

Cash-strapped UF Health looks to sell outpatient dialysis service

For Jacksonville’s safety-net hospital UF Health, money has been tight for a number of years.

And the latest fiscal constraints are driving a change to the business model, per UF Health CEO Leon Haley.

In a letter to Jacksonville City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche, Haley notes that the hospital is negotiating to sell its outpatient dialysis service to a national, not-for-profit provider by the end of June.

The unnamed company, per Haley, already has a contract to handle these services.

Practical considerations govern the move.

One such: that the business model is moving away from hospital settings to free-standing dialysis centers.

Another consideration: the hospital’s current outpatient dialysis center is in need of “significant … expensive … renovation and modernization.”

But the deciding factor seems to be that the move is made necessary by what Haley calls “significant federal and state funding shortfalls.”

State funding, per Haley, has dropped by $31 million in the last three years. Additionally, $12.7 million in federal cuts will happen this calendar year.

This shortfall threatens core services; the sale is framed as a way to make up some of that lost money.

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.

UF Health is the sixth-largest employer in the area, a major training ground for medical professionals throughout the state, and a health care resource and safety net for indigent populations.

The city contribution to the hospital has held steady for years at just over $26 million.

Jacksonville Bold for 5.4.18 — Qualifying Week

Congressional candidates finish qualifying this week, setting the stage for a 3+ month sprint to nominations.

Virtually every Congressional incumbent, save John Rutherford, will face a primary. Ted Yoho faces nominal competition for what could be his final term; Al Lawson faces more than a symbolic challenge in the form of Alvin Brown in Congressional District 5.

We are a few weeks out from qualifying for state offices, but what is clear already is that incumbency is less safe locally than it might have been in recent cycles. With redistricting imminent in the next few years, what we are seeing is the beginning of a transition period in the region.

Welcome to qualifying week!

These districts, which came into being in their current conformations in time for 2016, won’t last. And population continues to move into the area, meaning that after 2020, we may see two Jacksonville-majority districts soon enough.

For now, however, the field is set. We get to field questions, such as those about Alvin Brown being able to close the deal with Democrats locally and beyond. And questions about the Democrats opposing Rutherford in Congressional District 4 bear watching also.

Soon enough, it will be November, and the local elections in Jacksonville will come into sharper relief (maybe sooner, with Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche floating a mayoral trial balloon this week in a radio interview).

But this week and this summer, the federal scene necessarily takes center stage … with state elections co-headlining once qualifying ends next month for those offices.

Yoho, Rutherford officially in for re-election

Popular Northeast Florida Republican Congressmen Rutherford and Yoho, heavy favorites for re-election, have qualified for the 2018 ballot.

John Rutherford is back in the game, as is Republican colleague Ted Yoho.

Rutherford, whose district encompasses Nassau, Duval, and northern St. Johns Counties, has $300,000 in the bank for his re-election campaign.

Jacksonville candidates Joceline Berrios and Monica DePaul, as well as Ponte Vedra businessman George Selmont, comprise the three candidates from the Democratic Party. Of the three, Selmont is the only one to report fundraising; he has $6,000 on hand.

Rutherford is guaranteed to face a familiar opponent, however; Gary Koniz, an NPA candidate who is in the habit of sending long, discursive emails to office holders and press outlets, is on the ballot.

Yoho, who represents the 3rd District that runs southwest from Orange Park through Gainesville, is likewise qualified and enjoys a fundraising cushion with $355,000 cash on hand.

That puts him ahead of primary challengers Judson Sapp ($23,915 on hand) and Chuck Callesto (no fundraising).

Brown launches campaign

Former Jacksonville Mayor Brown launched his campaign for Florida’s 5th Congressional District on Saturday morning at the IBEW Hall in Jacksonville — the same place he began his first mayoral campaign eight years ago.

The Comeback Kid? Alvin Brown is in the game.

“They said it wouldn’t happen,” Brown said of that 2011 race. “Let’s do it again.”

The location, where the Duval Democrats hold their monthly meetings, is a metaphor for the Jacksonville vs. Tallahassee dynamic of the Democratic primary race between Brown and incumbent U.S. Rep. Lawson.

Read more here.

Shoar backs Waltz

The Sheriff of St. Johns County is endorsing Michael Waltz in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

Waltz, a former Green Beret and White House staffer, is a current Fox News commentator.

The Sheriff backs the Green Beret to replace Ron DeSantis.. (Image: Facebook)

“Lieutenant Colonel Michael Waltz is a great American and patriot,” said St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar. “He has given a lifetime of selfless service to our nation, state, and community. He is exactly the type of consistent conservative we need leading the fight in Congress to support President [Donald] Trump’s agenda for our community and Florida. I’m proud to endorse Michael Waltz for Congress.”

Currently, there are three candidates on the Republican side of the race to replace Rep. Ron DeSantis.

John Ward, a Ponte Vedra businessman, is the cash leader.

As of the end of March, Ward had raised $912,000 and had $709,340 on hand (with $555,000 of that from his own checkbook).

Waltz, who loaned his campaign $400,000, has $653,354 on hand of the total $706,000 in receipts.

Ward and Waltz thus far have demonstrated the most fundraising ability on the Republican side. Former state Rep. Fred Costello has $15,720 on hand.

The 6th Congressional District runs from St. Johns to Volusia counties.

Per the St. Augustine Record, the candidates raised $3 million as of the end of March.

McMahon visits peanut plant

Per WJCT: “Head of the U.S. Small Business Administration Linda McMahon learned how brothers David and Jeff Turbeville run their Jacksonville peanut butter company, Tuesday. It was the launch of her Southeast small business tour.”

Linda McMahon goes nuts in Jacksonville. (Photo: Lindsey Kilbride — WJCT)

The company processes peanuts for institutions, such as schools and prisons.

The company is in a so-called “HUBZone” on Jacksonville’s Westside, meaning that it has to employ 35 percent of its workers from its struggling neighborhood.

McMahon is touring similarly situated businesses throughout the Southeast this month.

Troutman makes NE Florida hire

Ag Commissioner hopeful Baxter Troutman named Kaley Slattery as the campaign’s new Northeast Florida Regional Director this week.

Kaley Slattery joined Team Baxter Troutman this week.

That role sees the recent University of North Florida graduate handling grassroots, fundraising, and digital operations in the region.

Slattery, a former UNF College Republicans President, is “thrilled to be joining Team Troutman.”

“The addition of Ms. Slattery is another signal to the Tallahassee political elites that Baxter Troutman is serious about this race,” said campaign manager Carlo Fassi, who himself is a UNF alum.

Political comeback for Ray

Lake Ray, a former State Representative, Jacksonville City Councilman, and Congressional candidate, launched his campaign for Duval County Tax Collector Monday.

Lake Ray is making moves again.

“Jacksonville needs someone with a proven record of management, a proven record of trust and a proven record of making sure the government uses its resources correctly,” Ray said. “If entrusted with this office, I will be there to serve you the taxpayer — to make the process as painless as possible.”

Ray will face Jim Overton, who likewise is a former City Councilman, in addition to having served as property appraiser for twelve years.

Both Overton and Ray are Republicans. A Democrat could enter this race before the end.

Mayor’s office shake-up

Jacksonville’s director of intergovernmental affairs, Ali Korman Shelton, sent a letter to Mayor Lenny Curry Monday announcing her departure from city government later in May.

Ali Korman Shelton, a significant force in City Hall, is headed out the door in two weeks. (Image: Jacksonville Business Journal)

“After much contemplation, and despite the positive future I foresee, it is now time for someone else to serve you, your administration, and the city in this important capacity,” Shelton wrote, citing family concerns as a reason for resignation in a letter sent Monday evening.

Shelton’s letter lauds accomplishments, including a positive relationship with the Jacksonville City Council, three healthy budgets, and improving Jacksonville’s visibility publicly.

As well, Shelton handled much of the lobbying push for the pension reform referendum approved in Tallahassee in 2016 and voted up by 65 percent of Duval County residents.

David Cawton of the Jax Daily Record, who broke this story on Twitter, got a comment from Curry, who deemed Shelton’s contributions to be “integral and substantial.”

The last departure of this magnitude was that of former Chief of Staff Kerri Stewart. It took the Curry team months to replace her, a job filled at the beginning of the year by former Curry political adviser Brian Hughes.

Curry raises $250K, as Brosche mulls challenge

Informed sources confirmed that Curry raised over $250,000 in April, his second straight strong month after a $1.5 million March.

Lenny Curry is aggressively fundraising. Probably for a reason.

The breakdown: $46,000 for the campaign (bringing its total raised to just over $300,000) and $206,000 for the “Jacksonville on the Rise” political committee (pushing it over $1.45 million raised or transferred from other committees).

Big donors in April include John Campion ($50,000), and Black Knight Financial Services, Fidelity Information Services, and Borland-Groover Clinic ($25,000 each).

The fundraising haul comes at a time when challengers for Curry, a first-term Republican elected in 2015, are lining up for next year’s ballot.

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche is mulling a run for mayor, with a decision to be made this summer, after her term as Council president wraps in June.

While she is “focused” on her “responsibilities as Council president and some important initiatives launched recently,” Brosche notes that once her term ends, she will have “the opportunity to get clarity on [her] next steps.”

A Brosche/Curry matchup would bristle with drama, were it to happen.

Crooms launches mayoral bid

Curry drew his third challenger for the 2019 unitary election, with Connell Crooms filing Friday to run without party affiliation.

From protest to the mayor’s race, Connell Crooms offers a unique alternative for voters.

Crooms became known to Jacksonville residents in the wake of a protest that went awry in Hemming Park last April.

The protest became violent when Gary Snow, a noted provocateur at left-wing and Democratic events in 2016 and 2017, ran through the crowd provoking protesters.

Crooms, who is deaf (and an activist for the deaf), ended up being beaten into unconsciousness by Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officers at that protest as a result of Snow’s actions.

Crooms was one of five protesters arrested; the charges were dropped against Crooms in June, with community sentiment on the side of Crooms and the rest of the Jax 5 protest contingent.

$100,000 pyramid for Holland

Though $80,000 of it came via a personal loan, Duval County Property Appraiser Jerry Holland turned heads in April with $100,000 raised.

Will a serious opponent challenge Jerry Holland? Time will tell.

Holland, a popular Republican in his first term on the job, faces nominal opposition … but, given the potential of more serious opposition getting into the race, he’s not taking chances.

Among the donors: some local development companies; former Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne WeaverPreston Haskell; and the insurance agency of current City Council candidate Matt Carlucci.

Holland’s sole opponent, Democrat Kurt Kraft, is entirely self-financed and has under $700 on hand.

Unless a particular termed-out Democratic Jacksonville City Councilman gets in this race, Holland looks like a safe bet for re-election on the 2019 ballot.

Zahn talks long-term JEA plan

JEA CEO Aaron Zahn is settling into his interim (at least for now) role and to that end a round of media interviews. Wednesday saw this outlet’s turn.

Aaron Zahn is building media relationships this week. (Image: WJCT)

Zahn has faced criticism.

Navigating a tricky political climate, a neophyte to the world of municipal utilities (he was on the board weeks before he made the CEO bid), Zahn has faced a unique pressure.

We discussed this and more with him in a sit-down interview Wednesday morning at the JEA Tower.

“It would be great ten years from now to be looking back with the wonderful team we have, with all the great employees, having added jobs, having driven economic development, and show we can run a utility while lowering rates and lowering emissions. I think that’s possible, but we’ve got to start having bold ideas,” Zahn said.

“The question I’m asking: How does JEA continue to be a trusted partner for the next five, ten, fifty years,” Zahn said.

“I would not have made the position to run for the interim office if I weren’t interested in running for the permanent office,” Zahn said, adding that his qualifications would need to match with a “scorecard” crafted by the JEA Board.

A bill headed to Council would block Zahn from applying. 

Fourth candidate in Council District 14

The race to succeed termed-out Republican Jim Love in Jacksonville City Council District 14 got more crowded Tuesday, with Democrat Jimmy Peluso entering the scrum.

Peluso, a former Naval officer, is now a reservist in the same branch.

Jimmy Peluso is the second Democrat in the race to replace Jim Love.

Peluso will have to make up ground against the two leading fundraisers in the race, Republican Randy DeFoor and Democrat Sunny Gettinger.

Gettinger has over $43,000 on hand. DeFoor has over $91,000 on hand.

The fourth candidate in the race, Republican Earl Testy, is not a factor regarding fundraising.

The first election in this race is in March 2019. The top two vote-getters move on to the general election.

District under fire because of Rummell’s gun views

The District, proposed by developers and political influencers Peter Rummell and Michael Munz, is headed this month to Jacksonville City Council for approval.

Some members have questioned the generous incentives (a $30 million capital improvement plan and a Rev Grant for 75 percent for up to 22 years capped at $56 million).

Could Peter Rummell’s gun position kill the deal? Doubtful, but that’s one group’s hope.

Now, Empower Jacksonville, a religious right organization founded last year in a thus-far unsuccessful challenge to Jacksonville’s LGBT protections, objects to the incentives that City Council will vote on.

The reason? Rummell‘s stated opposition to backing candidates who don’t support an assault weapon ban (an assertion belied by the facts, as Rummell backs Curry and Rep. Rutherford).

“Peter Rummell’s anti-Second Amendment rhetoric is not in line with Empower Jacksonville’s values,” said Harry Lewis, co-chair of Empower Jacksonville. “We cannot support hardworking Jacksonville citizens’ tax dollars lining Mr. Rummell’s pockets through the development of The District. We will engage our supporters to put their councilman or councilwoman on notice that a vote for The District is a vote against the Second Amendment.”

Hit-free zone

For the second straight committee cycle for the Jacksonville City Council, members mulled potential legislation to make city property a “hit-free zone.”

Garrett Dennis’ bill was pummeled in committees this week. (Image: Florida Times-Union)

However, though it cleared committees two weeks ago, problems cropped up for Resolution 2018-171 which would turn all city property into “hit-free zones”: “areas in which no adult shall hit another adult, no adult shall hit a child, no child shall hit an adult, and no child shall hit another child.”

Monday saw the first of three committees — Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health & Safety — mull the bill. Once the proposal was limited to apply just to City Hall, it passed 4-3, even amid concerns about potential overreach.

Tuesday morning saw the Finance Committee, chaired by Garrett Dennis, approve the bill by a 4-3 margin.

By Tuesday afternoon, Rules had the bill. That committee offered considerable headwinds as did the previous panels, with now-typical consternation over the concept of the bill (which some said divested parents of their rights to discipline) and potential overreach.

Rules downed the bill 3-4, with chairman Doyle Carter casting the deciding vote.

Read more here.

Food desert fix

The Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee Tuesday approved a bill that may alleviate food desert conditions in one of the city’s most challenged areas.

Grocery woes spurred Council action.

2018-195 will, if passed by the full Council next week, approve encumbering $3 million from the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Trust Fund to recruit grocers or other “food options” to move into the area, which is about to see two grocery stores close.

The money will pay for a consultant, and will potentially provide up to a 25 percent grant for a vendor. As well, other incentive programs may be presented by said consultant as an alternative.

Discussion in a public notice meeting last week balanced the goal of opening a store with the reality that the reason that the stores are closing to start with is that there wasn’t enough business to make them profitable.

Those concerns resurfaced during the discussion Tuesday, with suggestions including food trucks delivering groceries to the needy. The conversation revealed a fundamental disconnect between Councilors on the bill, with Finance Chair Garrett Dennis noting that a delivery solution may not work for many of those in the affected areas.

As a result of the discussion, the other food options were added, beyond brick and mortar groceries.

Baymeadows bonanza

The former Baymeadows Golf Club saw its last tee shot in 2004, and since then development has dashed the Southside property.

Rendering via The Jacksonville Daily Record.

Now, reports WJCT, a change is going to come.

“A $15 million project to revitalize the defunct Baymeadows Golf Club is supposed to include a hotel and a retail center, though tenants have not been named yet. The project, which will cover close to six acres, will feature a 100-room hotel and 35,000 square feet of retail space.”

Curry asserted that “this sends a message to every neighborhood, where citizens rally and work together and make it their cause, they can change things and make a difference.

Kouvaris leaves WJXT

Per the Florida Times-Union, longtime sportscaster Sam Kouvaris is headed out after 37 years.

Sam Kouvaris will be back on local airwaves.

“While the 62-year-old Kouvaris — the longest-tenured, on-air talent in WJXT history after news anchor Tom Wills — wanted to keep working, he couldn’t come to an acceptable resolution with the independent TV station. Kouvaris says he offered WJXT several full-time and part-time proposals at a salary reduction up to 50 percent, but the station had other options in mind, which led to the breakup,” wrote Gene Frenette Wednesday.

Kouvaris would prefer to stay in the Jacksonville market.

With the respect of all of his peers, it’s hard to imagine that won’t happen.

Delaney chats with Fiorentino before joining alliance

Last month, former Jacksonville Mayor and University of North Florida President John Delaney announced he will be joining the strategic alliance between The Fiorentino Group and Rogers Towers.

Before officially starting, Delaney sat down with Fiorentino Group founder Marty Fiorentino for a quick two-and-a-half-minute interview, which can be viewed by clicking the image below:

The alliance, formed five years ago, includes collaboration on business and government affairs issues; business counsel; higher education issues; complex environmental matters and a variety of other government affairs needs at the local, state and federal levels.

“John has been a part of some of Jacksonville’s most successful public policy initiatives,” Fiorentino said in April. “His decades of experience in local, state and federal politics and tenure as president of one of Florida’s leading educational institutions has involved him in many complex issues where his leadership has had a real and positive impact. His addition to our team will provide exceptional added-value services as we develop winning strategies for our clients to influence public policy.”

After quality draft, Jaguars rank fourth in NFL power rankings

It has been a week since the Jaguars selected University of Florida defensive tackle Taven Bryan with their first pick in the NFL draft. They added LSU wide receiver D.J. Clark and Alabama safety Ronnie Harrison with their next two choices.

Grades are in!

Overall, the Jags received good marks for their draft. NFL.com gave them an A, while Bleacher Report bestowed them with a B. Bleacher Report marked them down because key needs of an inside linebacker, offensive guard, and possibly a quarterback went unmet.

In addition, Jacksonville seems intent on sticking with quarterback Blake Bortles for the foreseeable future. Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee did not come until late in the draft.

This had an effect on Jacksonville’s power ranking. With a good, but not spectacular draft, the Jags dropped from third to fourth in the power rankings, according to NFL.com. The Los Angeles Rams jumped to the No. 2 position, moving ahead of Jacksonville and the New England Patriots.

“Ignore the tiny fail,” said NFL.com’s Elliot Harrison. “Faith in Blake Bortles is riding high, apparently — which is fine, provided he can progress off his performance in the playoffs (versus the Steelers and Patriots … not the Bills).

With a solid draft and an already-strong roster, the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles are at the top of the power list, followed by the Rams, Patriots, Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings. Among Jacksonville’s fellow AFC South competitors, the Houston Texans are ranked No. 12, the Tennessee Titans No. 13, and the Indianapolis Colts coming in dead last at No. 32.

Voluntary workouts will take place in May and early June, while the first mandatory minicamp is set for June 12-14.

Special election awaits Duval tax collector hopefuls, as incumbent moves to Visit Jacksonville

Current Duval County tax collector Michael Corrigan will become CEO of Visit Jacksonville June 1.

Per Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche, there will be a special election to fill the spot, with the first election in August and the second in November, consistent with the primary and general election slots.

Meanwhile, the race to replace Corrigan got more crowded Thursday, with Jacksonville City Councilman Doyle Carter becoming the third candidate in the race.

Carter joins two other political veterans, Lake Ray and Jim Overton, in the field; all three are Republicans.

Ray is a former State Representative, Jacksonville City Councilman, and Congressional candidate. Overton is a former Councilman and three-term Duval County Property Appraiser.

Carter is in his third term as a Jacksonville City Councilman, representing the Westside. Termed out next year, the move seems obvious for him.

And perhaps other termed out Councilors as well.


As Anna Brosche mulls challenge, Lenny Curry hauls in $250K more for re-election bid

Informed sources confirm that Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry raised more than $250,000 in April, his second straight month of strong fundraising after a $1.5 million March.

The breakdown: $46,000 for the campaign (bringing its total raised to just over $300,000) and $206,000 for the “Jacksonville on the Rise” political committee (pushing it over $1.45 million raised or transferred from other committees).

All told, Curry is positioned by the end of May to clear $2 million raised.

Big donors in April include John Campion ($50,000), and Black Knight Financial Services, Fidelity Information Services, and Borland-Groover Clinic ($25,000 each).

The fundraising haul comes at a time when challengers for Curry, a first-term Republican elected in 2015, are lining up for next year’s ballot.

Democrat Doreszell Cohen, former Atlantic Beach Commissioner Jimmy Hill (a Republican, who has $100 of his and his wife’s money on hand after April fundraising) and NPA activist Connell Crooms are already in the race.

Additionally, Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche is mulling a run for mayor, with a decision to be made this summer, after her term as Council President wraps in June.

While she is “focused” on her “responsibilities as Council President and some important initiatives launched recently,” Brosche notes that once her term ends, she will have “the opportunity to get clarity on [her] next steps.”

A Brosche/Curry matchup would bristle with drama, were it to happen.

The dislike between the two leading Republicans in City Hall is palpable, as they have clashed on issue after issue, with each showing a propensity to hurl pejoratives at each other through the media.

If a challenge were to manifest, one could expect Curry to call in every marker possible, with an eye toward as decisive a victory as possible.

A party familiar with the thinking of Curry’s political team asserts that Brosche will lose her next campaign, no matter what she runs for.

Anna Brosche mulls run for Jacksonville Mayor

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche is not ruling out a run for a higher office, such as Jacksonville Mayor, she said on WJCTs First Coast Connect Wednesday.

The field is crowding.

Mayor Lenny Curry has already reported $1.5 million raised, but will face former Atlantic Beach Commissioner Jimmy Hill and activist Connell Crooms in a blanket primary next March.

Brosche would be, by far, the best known of Curry’s opponents. And one with personal reason to run, as anyone who has paid attention to the fractious “unhealthy dynamic” between Brosche and Curry’s office over the last year knows.

We reached out to Brosche, a Republican like Curry and Hill, after the show Wednesday.

While she is “focused” on her “responsibilities as Council President and some important initiatives launched recently,” Brosche notes that once her term ends, she will have “the opportunity to get clarity on [her] next steps.”

Brosche would not present a timetable for that process, even as she has yet to file for Council re-election to her at-large seat.

She also wouldn’t disclose whether she has talked to consultants or potential donors.

However, what’s clear is that Curry’s most high-profile challenger may be a fellow Republican.

Curry and Brosche have clashed on issues even before the recent high-profile contretemps on whether JEA should explore privatization.

Brosche led in calling for the removal of Confederate monuments, an issue on which Curry didn’t take a position.

And Brosche was not as enthusiastic about pension reform as Curry would have liked.

And Curry’s children’s reform proposal, via the Kids Hope Alliance, likewise was a hard sell for Brosche.

Brosche has been encouraged to run by many people.

But as Bill Bishop can attest, there is a ceiling without the donor class backing a candidate. And her first order of business, whatever her next campaign is, will be to show financial viability.

Ali Korman Shelton stepping down from Lenny Curry administration

Jacksonville’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Ali Korman Shelton, is stepping down from her position in City Hall.

On Monday, Shelton sent a letter to Mayor Lenny Curry explaining her departure effective later this month.

“After much contemplation, and despite the positive future I foresee, it is now time for someone else to serve you, your administration, and the city in this important capacity,” Shelton wrote, citing family concerns as a reason for her resignation.

Shelton’s letter lauds accomplishments, including a positive relationship with the Jacksonville City Council, three strong budgets, and improving the Bold City’s profile.

Shelton handled much of the lobbying push for the pension reform referendum approved in Tallahassee and later approved by 65 percent of Duval County residents.

Curry offered a glowing assessment of Shelton’s tenure.

“Ali Korman Shelton is a friend, colleague and teammate,” the mayor said. “Her contribution to the successes of my first term have been integral and substantial. Although she is leaving City Hall, I know that Ali will continue to be someone I trust for her advice and assistance.

Continued Curry, “The people of Jacksonville have been well-served by her dedication to public policy, and we owe her thanks for the hours spent doing that work.”

The last departure of this magnitude was that of former Chief of Staff Kerri Stewart. It took the Curry team months to replace her, a job filled at the beginning of the year by former Curry political adviser Brian Hughes.

Jacksonville City Council Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, a frequent antagonist of the Curry administration, posited that the power dynamic in the Mayor’s Office led to the departure.

“I can only imagine why she’s leaving … passed over for Chief of Staff,” Dennis said, deeming her “irreplaceable” and another in a series of “huge losses” for the Curry administration.

Dennis advised that Curry hire a strong woman to replace her, as the Mayor’s Office is a “boys’ club” as it stands.

Administration sources refute that narrative, even as other Councilmembers made off-record note of her ability to build consensus on often challenging issues.

Intergovernmental affairs is shorthanded currently, with Jordan Elsbury the sole survivor. There will be moves ahead to fill open slots, which include Shelton’s and that of Jessica Baker, who left last year.

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