This last week in Northeast Florida was somewhat quiet for politics.
Federal and state Representatives and Senators are on break. Jacksonville City Council is on its fifth week of a budget negotiation, with a plan all but ready for Council’s vote in September.
A year ago, the political scene was pell-mell: Primaries up and down the ballot were resolved Aug. 30, as was the pension tax referendum.
This year, a quieter August — but not necessarily a quiet September, as this edition of Bold will show.
Among the stories: a look at Jacksonville’s entrant into the Attorney General’s race; items about the city’s budget process; and the return of a bill the mayor’s office didn’t like when it first surfaced months ago.
We also have news on a politician who owes money for crimes committed. And even something about a mosquito control board. And so much more besides.
A quick note: Jacksonville Bold would like to wish you and yours a happy Labor Day weekend. Get some rest and get ready. The fall — and pretty much every other non-holiday week through November 2018 — is going to be wall-to-wall action.
Ron DeSantis wants an end to Robert Mueller investigation
Rep. Ron DeSantis, ahead of what many are expecting to be an entry into the 2018 Florida Governor’s race, is looking to help out President Donald Trump — by putting a time limit onto Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign.
The DeSantis amendment: “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to fund activities pursuant to Department of Justice order 3915-2017, dated May 17, 2017 and relating to the appointment of a special counsel, later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, or for the investigation under that order of matters occurring before June 2015.”
POLITICO notes this is one of hundreds of amendments to an omnibus spending bill to be taken up after recess, and there is no guarantee this makes it through committees into the bill at large.
As well, there is no guarantee that such a measure survives the Senate.
DeSantis, a Republican in his second term whose district runs from St. Johns County south to Volusia, has yet to file for re-election. He is expected to run for Governor.
John Rutherford disses president’s tweet game
Rep. John Rutherford did a sit-down interview with the St. Augustine Record. He’s mostly on the Trump train — but there are things the president could improve. Such as the way he expresses himself on Twitter.
“Sometimes I think in that short burst of words, I don’t think he covers well enough what he intends,” he said. “I think he knows what he means, but he doesn’t always express what he means.”
This is especially true with Trump’s ham-handed handling of the violence in Charlottesville — where, in a change of pace, Trump botched the response in a live mike rather than a live tweet.
“For example, I don’t for one minute think that when the president said there are ‘fine people’ on both sides of this issue, I don’t think he was talking about neo-Nazis … or Antifa, or Black Lives Matter,” he said. “I don’t think that’s what he’s talking about.”
Mitchell interviewed Fant, but only had two usable, original quotes. One addressed his fundraising deficit against Hillsborough County Judge Ashley Moody, in which Fant likened himself to President Donald Trump, taking on the “establishment.”
“Scott Walker would be president if early fundraising mattered or, frankly, Jeb Bush,” Fant said.
Fant, who never served in the military, took to Twitter to defend Trump’s transgender troop ban — and he doubled down on that one with Mitchell.
“I campaigned for Trump,” he said in an interview. “I certainly have a Judeo-Christian world view that the (critics) don’t like. And I vote my conscience and not how I’m told to vote.”
While all of that sounds fine in a vacuum, Fant’s credibility problems in this campaign aren’t because he’s not “Trumpy” enough. Rather, as A.G. Gancarski writes, Fant can’t win because of an “undistinguished record, a lack of buy-in from the donor class, and the blundering sabotage of at least one key relationship” in Jacksonville.
Guess which relationship?
Gancarski notes that his column has gotten praise from the pillars of the donor class that are sitting out the Fant campaign thus far.
Fant serves up red meat re: Aramis Ayala
The most skeptical people about Fant’s bid for Attorney General are many of those reading this space. But for a statewide audience, Fant has room to define himself — and he’s doing so by attempting to get as far right as possible.
Fant’s most recent example: An op-ed on The Capitolist website, in which he backed up Gov. Rick Scott for removing State Attorney Ayala from a cop-killer case.
Those looking for case law and precedent from the AG hopeful weren’t to find it in this piece, which veered toward observations like “an enemy of law enforcement has an enemy in me,” and “drug and gang violence is spiking and the mainstream media aren’t helping things by demonizing law enforcement when they should be elevating it.”
Fant, rebuffed by Pam Bondi in the endorsement sweepstakes weeks back, is now turning his attention to Gov. Scott, who said nice things about Fant backing Enterprise Florida recently. Can Fant parlay that into an endorsement before the race for AG gets more crowded?
Election Commission to Reggie Fullwood: Pay up!
When last we left former state Rep. Fullwood, the charismatic Jacksonville Democrat had pleaded down a mess of campaign finance fraud counts into time served, house arrest, and restitution.
While Fullwood beat the prison rap, the Florida Elections Commission is a different matter. WJXT/News Service of Floridareports that the FEC is suing Fullwood for $17,000. That’s $1,000 for each of 17 violations related to false reporting and failure to report contributions.
The petition was filed Friday in Leon County Court.
Fullwood currently writes a column for the Jacksonville Free Press, in which capacity he has mused about not caring whether or not O.J. Simpson is freed and that the NFL is “openly discriminating” against Colin Kaepernick.
Lenny Curry’s 0-for-Tuesday
Tuesday wasn’t the best day for Jacksonville Mayor Curry’s political operation.
Candidates the mayor backed (Rick Baker in the St. Petersburg mayoral race and Mitch Reeves in the Atlantic Beach mayoral race) did not prevail.
Baker is in a runoff against an incumbent left-for-dead weeks prior; Reeves, meanwhile, will have more time for his family and private sector pursuits.
Worth watching for locals: the HD 15 race, where Team Curry backs Wyman Duggan, employing a strategy of pocketing endorsements and momentum a year ahead of the primary.
There is some thought that Bert Ralston, who ran Reeves’ campaign, may be working for an opponent of Duggan’s down the road. If that’s the case, we may be in for an interesting and expensive pre-primary bloodletting on the GOP side.
T-U reviews Jax budget bonanza
While Florida Politics certainly covered Jacksonville’s budget process start to finish, other outlets — notably the Florida Times-Union — were also in the mix.
The T-U piece took a big-picture view of the process, summing up the fulmination of the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee feeling “targeted” by a poll backing 100 new cops as “some frustration” among the panel.
Not eliciting frustration: the city’s $131 million capital improvement budget, described more than once by the T-U as part of a “stimulus-style” budget; the T-U write-up observes the panel “eagerly” signed off on it.
The more interesting stories regarding this budget process, of course, won’t be told on record.
There are those who say Finance Chair Garrett Dennis overplayed his hand throughout the process, which included the most powerful people in the city sitting around Council Chambers all day waiting, as Council asked ancillary questions to the budget itself.
And there are those who say that Curry’s chief lieutenant, Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, was overexposed in the process and disrespected by committee members.
Council is on its “fifth week” break this week, and it will be worth watching to see if the post-budget autumn is less fractious than this summer, characterized from start to finish by internecine warfare in the building.
Danny Becton resumes pension savings push
The bill is back — with public notice meetings this week presaging a more emphatic push for Councilman Becton’s bill (2017-348), which the mayor’s office opposed.
That bill would require that 15 percent of all general fund money beyond the baseline budget go toward defraying the city’s $3.2B unfunded actuarial liability on pension.
In June, even as Becton held a public notice meeting with Council colleagues to push the bill, the Southside Republican was already crossways with the mayor’s office on this measure — though he seemed to be the last to know.
Becton said the mayor’s office had a “very favorable” read on the bill; Curry diverged.
“I don’t know where he got that from,” the mayor said.
The bill did not clear Council — rather, it was pulled back by Becton, who reserved the right to bring the bill back at the right moment.
The time apparently is now: public notice meetings this week seem to be laying the groundwork for another push from Becton, a maverick Republican who doesn’t seem too worried about what his mayor thinks about his proposals.
Duval Schools to sue state over ‘Schools of Hope’
A rainy Monday morning saw the often fractious Duval County School Board move forward in a lawsuit against the state of Florida.
At issue: HB 7069, the “Schools of Hope” bill, which would divert capital dollars to charter schools from local schools.
Multiple urban districts — Broward, Miami-Dade, Orange, and Palm Beach — are already in the mix on a joint lawsuit encompassing nine counties and counting.
The Duval County School Board moved toward initiating litigation, with a primary allocation of $25,000 toward the $400,000 estimated costs of the action.
The motion passed 4-2, with board members Scott Shine and Ashley Smith-Juarez in opposition, and 7th board member Cheryl Grymes absent.
Jax Bar Association ‘rethinking everything’
Seismic change awaits the Jacksonville Bar Association, and bringing it will be Board President Tad Delegal and Jim Bailey, the former Jax Daily Record publisher who will be leading the movement for change.
JBA will be “rethinking everything,” Delegal said.
The revamp includes attention to the following: “making more benefits and services available to the more than 2,000 association members; expanding avenues of communication, including redesigning the website, jaxbar.org, and social media; and improving the organization’s engagement with the legal community.”
Four named to Clay County Development Authority
Gov. Scott added four new people to the Clay County Development Authority this week.
The first: Keith R. Ward, who runs an Orange Park construction company. He will serve until 2021. Likewise on board until 2021: a federal law enforcement officer from Green Cove Springs named Bruce Butler. And Middleburg’s Tom Morris, the executive director of Clay County Utility Authority.
Filling a vacant seat: Amy Wells, a staffing company owner in Green Cove. She will serve until July 1, 2019.
Renner, Hutson seek JLAC mosquito control district audit
Sen. Travis Hutson and Rep. Paul Renner teamed up last week, requesting a Joint Legislative Auditing Committee audit of the Flagler County Mosquito Control District.
“Flagler County’s Mosquito Control District recently reported a budget deficit of $1,100,000.00. The district’s total budget is $1,800,000.00, making this deficit very substantial and the subject of significant concern to county taxpayers. The district incurred this deficit while spending $2,100,000.00 to construct a new facility for its fourteen employees, a facility that includes an adjacent helipad,” legislators write.
Apparently, there is a trend of excess spending on these facilities — just last year, St. Johns County had its own version of this situation.
Jacksonville Housing Authority Entrepreneur Fair
Startup entrepreneurs received free advice and guidance this week during an event hosted by the Jacksonville Housing Authority, the Small Business Development Center and the University of North Florida.
A free entrepreneurship and employment fair was available for residents of the Jacksonville’s family self-sufficiency program; it was held Tuesday at the Brentwood Community Center.
Event organizer Alyce Bacon, an administrative assistant for JHA, told the Florida Times-Unionthat there were plenty of jobs experts on hand, as well as entrepreneurs who have been successful in starting their own businesses; they were all there to help underprivileged people without access to either the information or money to start their own small company.
“We’re bringing in entrepreneurs to help them become entrepreneurs,” Bacon said. “We’re doing it with the employment fair because not everyone wants to work for somebody.”
UNF Nursing awarded White Coat Ceremony funds
University of North Florida’s School of Nursing is one of 50 schools nationwide selected by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing to receive funding to host White Coat Ceremonies, which emphasizes the importance of humanistic patient care.
UNF is one of two universities in Florida to receive a $1,000 grant for White Coat Ceremonies this year. Launched in 2013 as a collaboration between APGF and AACN, the award has enabled 260 nursing schools in 48 states to offer ceremonies designed to instill a commitment to providing compassionate care in the next generation of registered nurses.
“We’re honored that the School of Nursing was selected to receive funding to support the White Coat Ceremony, which symbolizes the commitment to providing compassionate care to the patients which we serve,” said Dr. Li Loriz, director of UNF’s School of Nursing. “We’re excited to have the students cite the oath to prepare competent, caring professionals.”
In nursing, a White Coat Ceremony typically consists of the recitation of an oath, an address by an eminent role model, and a reception for students and invited guests. Students also are given a specially designed pin that serves as a visual reminder of their oath and commitment to providing high-quality care.
Jacksonville Zoo rehabilitates manatees at nation’s newest Critical Care Center
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, home to America’s newest Manatee Critical Care Center, received two young sea cows from SeaWorld Orlando. Both manatees need a little more human care before Florida Fish & Wildlife considers them ready for release later this year.
Cassie and Buckeye, orphaned in August and September 2015 respectively, are the Zoo’s Manatee Critical Care Center’s inaugural manatees Female Cassie and male Buckeye were both rescued by members of FWC and Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ Marine Mammal Response Team. Both were transported to SeaWorld Orlando where they received careful care and bottle feeding. At the time of rescue, Cassie weighed only 66 pounds. She is now thriving at 775 pounds. Buckeye was 63 pounds when rescued, he now weighs 625 pounds. Fully grown, manatees can reach nearly a ton.
Both manatees will remain at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ Manatee Critical Care Center, under the watch of the Zoo’s Animal Health specialists, for critical weight gain and continued monitoring until they are determined to be ready to be released.
The Manatee Critical Care Center was completed earlier this year. The center features two large tanks, one outfitted with a lift-floor for safer, more effective medical treatment, and the other has a window for guest viewing.
Armada owner: Watch soccer, help hurricane victims
Jacksonville Armada fans have a unique opportunity to enjoy soccer and help out those Texans facing unimaginable struggles from Hurricane Harvey, reports First Coast News.
Jacksonville Armada owner Robert Palmer is donating all ticket proceeds to the relief effort — and he challenges others in the business community to do likewise.
“I challenge other business owners to take similar action to support Texas,” Palmer wrote. “As Floridians, we know too well, the devastation a hurricane (and flooding) of this magnitude can cause.”
Harvey’s unprecedented flooding, most of it after the storm was no longer a hurricane, is a stark reminder — as if we needed one — of the havoc tropical weather wreaks.
Blake hat-trick earns Armada first victory of the fall
The Jacksonville Armada FC gained a vital three points in Indianapolis Saturday night defeating Indy Eleven 3-2. Jack Blake earned the first hat-trick in history for the club and the first win of the Robert Palmer era. Palmer assumed control of the club last month buying the Armada FC from NASL. For his efforts, Blake was named NASL Player of the Week.
“Tonight’s win means three important points. Against a very good team at a traditionally, very hard place to play,” said Armada head coach Mark Lowry.
Both teams pressured each other hard right out of the gate. Indy Eleven had the first opportunity of the match nine minutes in by Ben Speas, but Armada Goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell was there with the save.
Indy’s Éamon Zayed then fired multiple shots toward the net, but each went over or was deflected by Patterson-Sewell.
The Armada broke the deadlock in the 28th minute. Bryam Rebellón sent a nice cross over to Jack Blake in front of the box who fired a shot past two Indy defenders and goalkeeper Jon Busch.
David Goldsmith tried to equalize the match with a shot in the 31st minute. After receiving the ball from Ben Speas, he fired it right into the hands of Patterson-Sewell. Blake stepped up for a free kick in the 40th minute and his shot went into the upper corner of the net to double the lead for the Armada FC.
The halftime whistle blew with Jacksonville in the lead.
Momentum was definitely on the Armada’s side going into the second half. Several close chances were taken, but it was not until the 62nd minute when Blake found the back of the net again. He capitalized on another free kick to bring the score to 3-0.
The goal marked the first hat-trick for both Blake and the Armada.
“Jack deserves a lot of praise,” said Lowry. “Three goals is always an accomplishment. He needs to continue to develop and learn and I am sure there will be many more moments like this for him.”
Indy was quick with an answer. Justin Braun found Speas, who fired a shot into the net to put the Eleven on the board.
Braun went down due to an injury on the field, causing a delay in the match around the 69th minute. He left the field, leaving Indy Eleven with only 10 men after using all three substitutions earlier in the game.
Eight minutes of stoppage time were added to the clock and tired legs were pushed harder. Despite being down a man, Indy Eleven did not go down without a fight.
Two minutes of stoppage time in, Goldsmith found the end of a cross by Speas and headed it into the net. Indy added another goal to the board, but the final whistle blew with the Armada ahead by one.
“The guys deserve to enjoy this,” said Lowry. “This is a month of very hard work. A month of bad luck and bad bounces. Now we need to kick on and progress because there are a lot of games left and points to be won.”
Jacksonville will next travel to New York to take on defending NASL Champions, the Cosmos, on Sunday, Sept. 3, at 7:30 p.m.
In Feb. 2013, Gov. Rick Scott said there would be an eastbound JTB flyover ramp at I-95.
48 months and $78 million later, that project is in place — and is expected to abate traffic at one of the most challenged traffic corridors in Northeast Florida, starting with its Sept. 6 opening to traffic.
One elected leader on hand for the Wednesday ribbon cutting who knew something about Jacksonville traffic — U.S. Rep. John Rutherford — noted that “the number of lives this flyover saves will be substantial.”
Rutherford, a former Jacksonville Sheriff for three terms ending in 2015, knows better than most the public safety impact created by the previous road design.
For Gov. Scott, this project is part of a commitment to infrastructure; he noted that a “million dollars each day in the Jacksonville area” is spent on infrastructural improvements. Moreover, the $6B FDOT budget that was in place when Scott came in is now over $10B per annum.
“I remember being in Jacksonville quite a bit and seeing the backup when you’re going south on 95, trying to go east on JTB. The Sheriff — now Congressman — talked a lot about car accidents that happened on that … this is great. It’s going to get opened next week. Over 112,000 motorists use this on a daily basis, so this is a big deal,” Scott said.
Asked about the four plus years it took to construct this offramp, Scott noted “we’ve got to do it in a safe manner” and one that doesn’t impact traffic.
“A lot of work is done at night,” Scott added.
State Reo. Clay Yarborough noted that Scott was “here in [his] very first term to start this project,” and now he’s “here to finish it.”
In a real sense, this flyover will be one of Scott’s legacies for Jacksonville.
The eyes of the world are on the Gulf Coast right now, as Houston and surrounding areas begin the tortuous process of recovery from Harvey’s torrential rains.
Though the federal government has deployed resources for immediate recovery efforts, long-term resources may — if Jacksonville’s recovery from Hurricane Matthew is any guide — be sometime away.
Jacksonville is still awaiting reimbursements from the federal government — 75 percent of an approximate $50 million in storm related damage. Application technicalities, such as Jacksonville’s local commitments to small and emerging businesses and locational criteria for vendors, apparently are not something the federal government honors.
“We have to front the money for years,” the Jacksonville City Council Auditor said this month. “We are probably $26M negative cash even without doing repairs [with expensive] debris cleanup.”
Despite this delay, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is confident that Jacksonville will get its money — and that until then, the city’s financial situation is stable enough to hazard whatever tropical impacts may come.
“I am in touch with the right people in the White House and around the White House to get our FEMA reimbursements,” Curry said. “We’re going to get what’s owed to us.”
Curry administration members have expressed confidence in Jacksonville’s financial situation, a bullishness bolstered by a big-dollarbond sale earlier this month. Despite a relatively high fixed-cost ratio and a relatively low emergency reserve, Jacksonville maintains a rating in the AA range.
“We’re serious about reserves and responsible budgeting,” Curry stated.
A big reason for Jacksonville’s strong financial footing, Curry said, was the city’s “sound, stable, responsible” budget process. Between cash and reserve levels (which, between the operating and emergency reserve, will be somewhere between $135 and $165M at the end of the fiscal year), Curry is confident the city is ready for any kind of stormy weather.
“We are on top of this and in touch with the right people,” Curry affirmed, “our contacts and resources.”
Another hold card for the Mayor: “the relationship we have with the state of Florida and the Governor.”
Long story short: though the FEMA reimbursement process is a long and winding road, Jacksonville officials can live with the pace.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum may be facing fundraising problems and accountability problems in his bid for the Democratic nomination for Governor, but odds are they won’t be a topic of conversation in Jacksonville this week as he addresses friendly audiences.
Gillum has at least two area appearances this week, on Tuesday and Thursday evening respectively.
At this organizational meeting for the group, Gillum will participate in a question and answer session.
Thursday evening — August 31 — sees Gillum at a reception in the San Marco neighborhood.
One expects that checks from this event will beat the Midnight deadline.
Gillum’s Jacksonville visit likely will be low-profile, with media attention likely to be focused on other things than a major gubernatorial candidate swinging through Duval.
And that low profile may be the best thing for this campaign.
As FloridaPolitics.com reported Monday, Gillum “continues to flounder on the fundraising trail, and unless the specter of his email scandal or the cloud of his tangential connection to a Tallahassee FBI investigation magically disappear his contributions are likely to remain flat.”
Gillum “hasn’t brought in a dime through “Forward Florida” since July 14. That $10,000 contribution came from homemaker Lu-Shawn Thompson and made up the whole of the committee’s income that month.”
In August, Gillum’s committee spent $70,000; $65,000 went to the Florida Democratic Party.
Gillum is being out-raised by Chris King and Gwen Graham on the Democratic side, and there are a number of Republicans with more fundraising capacity as well.
Beyond money woes, the Mayor is getting it from his hometown paper also. Gillum was pilloried recently in a classic “we’d love to help you clear your good name” editorial in the Tallahassee Democrat.
Gillum’s City Hall has been investigated in recent months by the FBI, with the Mayor himself talking to undercover agents as part of the investigation.
The Democrat has been frustrated by answers to its questions regarding “this intersection of personal, professional and political activities … a pileup waiting to happen.” Especially salient to the Democrat, a 2016 Gillum trip to New York City, in which he was photographed with one of those agents and his “good friend and former campaign treasurer.”
“Mayor Gillum can put all this to rest by sitting down with the Democrat for an interview about these and other interactions … We certainly understand these intersections of personal, political and professional can be complicated and would love to be part of clearing the record. If the mayor hasn’t done anything wrong, it should be a relatively easy conversation.”
Indeed, that’s what Curry’s political ascendance has been based on — anticipation, via interactions and polling, of the zeitgeist, and getting to the center-right of it.
He beat Alvin Brown by forcing Brown to tack left down the stretch. He sold pension reform by being flexible depending on his audience. And on HRO? Once he had his pension reform, he got out of the way.
Curry’s statement that “people are predictable” could have applied to one or more political rivals in City Hall (Garrett Dennis?), but it is an axiom we see as a leitmotif in this edition of Bold.
You’ll read of Rep. Al Lawson going up against the alt-right — but it would be news if he weren’t.
You’ll read of Duval Delegation members who, just by playing by the rules of the House, got rewarded with better committee spots — funny how that works.
People, as Curry says, are almost absolutely predictable.
A corollary to that: if you can’t predict outcomes, it’s likely because you need better data.
The people who win consistently in Jacksonville politics are the ones who understand people — competing pols, voters, donors, interest groups — as data sets, to be manipulated for the desired effect.
Al Lawson blasts alt-right
U.S. Rep. Lawson may have been helped into office by President Donald Trump’s Florida campaign chairwoman, but the Tallahassee Democrat has become a reliable critic of the president since he headed to D.C.
“The president should not indulge any of the hate groups. I don’t care if those are the ones that put him into office or not. He is the president of everybody in America, not one particular group,” reports WFSU.
WFSU also reported that “Lawson said Trump is adding insult to injury by failing to call the parents of peace activist Heather Heyer, who was murdered at the rally by a Nazi sympathizer. He toured a community health center in Tallahassee.
Lawson’s district (Florida’s 5th Congressional) runs from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, and most of his media are on the western edge of the area. WFSU also recently ran a deep compare-and-contrast of Lawson and state Rep. Neal Dunn, a Republican who represents a region adjoining the district’s Tallahassee side.
Northeast Florida improves position in state House
The message from House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s 2018 committee assignments: it’s good to play ball with leadership.
Nowhere is this truer than Northeast Florida, where many freshman state Representatives find themselves with more pull than they had in the just completed session, as the Miami Herald reports.
One Democrat who benefited: Tracie Davis was added to the Health and Human Services Committee.
Republicans, meanwhile, emerged with a slew of vice-chairmanships: Cyndi Stevenson of the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee; Jason Fischer of the Pre-K Innovation Subcommittee; Clay Yarborough of the Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee.
The biggest loser, per the Herald?
“Jay Fant not only lost the vice chair of the Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee to Erin Grall, he lost his position on the House Judiciary Committee and the Ways and Means Committee. He was added to the Education Committee and the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.”
Jax to spend big on after-school programs
“With his proposed recommendation to City Council of $2.69 million in added funds, 21 sites throughout Jacksonville could now open, serving approximately 1,720 more children. City Council (District 10) and Finance Committee member Reggie Brown plans to introduce an amendment at the proper time during the budget process to appropriate the funds,” read a release late last week from Mayor Lenny Curry.
“We are making every effort possible to maximize resources to meet the needs of at-hope children in our community,” Curry said. “When kids leave school campuses, they should be able to go to a community center or site to participate in recreational and enrichment activities. Gangs can’t have our kids!”
“As I’ve stated many times before, government has a role to play in making sure at-hope kids do not fall through the cracks. If there are ways for us to improve the lives of children, we’re going to do that responsibly and orderly with proper vetting and appropriate budgeting.”
The money, if included in the FY 2018 budget, would be available Oct. 1 — the beginning of the new fiscal year.
Jax Sheriff plays political hardball
In what has become a tradition in Jacksonville politics, a well-timed poll dropped Monday, just days before the Jacksonville City Council had a big decision to make.
A difference this time: instead of from Curry’s political committee, it had dropped from “A Safe Jacksonville,” the political committee of Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams.
Polling showed positives for the Sheriff and his proposal almost across the board: a 67 percent approval rating for Sheriff Williams; 68 percent favoring the Sheriff’s plan to add 100 new cops, and 50 percent of respondents vowing to vote against Council members who oppose adding new police. A top issue among Duval voters: Reducing crime.
And while the poll emanated from Williams’ committee, the tactic was like that used by Curry in the past — appropriate, as Tim Baker — a key Curry consultant, conducted the poll.
So why now?
Because it was necessary. City Council had to be sent a message — while the legislative branch may be the policymaking body, the Sheriff (and the mayor) ran on a public safety platform. And while it is uncertain whether the new officers will bring that public safety, what is certain is that the current force shortfall won’t get it done.
Bloomberg warns of potential Jax credit market woes
Bloomberg Intelligence strategist Eric Kazatsky offered cautionary words about Jacksonville’s bonds this week, pertinent as the city continues attempts to improve its perception in the eyes of ratings agencies.
“Despite stable fund and cash balances,” Kazatsky writes, “the city has been challenged by a steadily increasing fixed-cost ratio, which could put downward pressure on credit ratings and add to debt risk.”
Here’s another negative: despite pension reform, the $2.8B unfunded actuarial liability draws unwelcome comparisons to Chicago.
“At just under Chicago’s 34 percent fixed-cost ratio, Jacksonville, Florida’s ratio nearly tops the list of major U.S. cities and calls attention to the city’s weak pension-funding levels,” Kazatsky writes.
Pension reform, the Bloomberg analyst holds, looks “very far” into the future, and is dependent on sales tax revenue remaining robust.
The city counters that it recently met with the ratings agencies and its AA rating is safe; but, this is one to watch.
Jax Young Dems’ spending draws scrutiny
Folio Weekly broke a story this week about the president of the Jacksonville Young Democrats, whose spending spurred criticism.
Kristellys Estanga had developed a habit, reports Folio, of requesting JYD funds for travel.
“There are a lot of charges out of town for Lyft and things like that,” said Estanga, the JYD Field Director.
But wait — there’s more: “further questions about how Estanga has been handling JYD’s funds … grumbles that Estanga has been soliciting, receiving and appropriating donations without informing other members of the group or depositing said funds into the JYD account.”
Estanga teased a resignation, then decided to go on the offense against those board members who questioned her probity.
All told, it’s another difficult internecine battle in local Jacksonville politics. Unlike with this week’s solar eclipse, those aren’t quite so rare.
In a three-page statement, the JYD comes director asserted that Estanga was guilty of no wrongdoing.
Duval GOP: A money pit?
Upon hearing of the Dems’ money problems, local Republicans smiled and said, “Hold my beer.”
Documents obtained by Florida Politics reveal a money morass for the party of Lincoln in the Bold New City of the South.
All told, the party had $5,506 on hand at the end of July. That won’t be enough to execute what apparently is a plan for the 2018 election cycle, one that will need $116,260 to accomplish.
Among the interesting spends in that budget: $5,000 for a color laser printer (why lease, after all?) and $6,000 for a Christmas Party.
One interesting tell on strategy: social media gets the short end of the stick, with just $1,000 allocated for the whole cycle.
The party also will forego Lincoln Day, we are told — a jarring omission for a big-city party in a Republican sinecure, especially during a massively important election year.
Jax DMA unemployment ticks upward
Gov. Rick Scott’s Department of Economic Opportunity says that Jacksonville’s unemployment rate is holding steady. But another analysis says the job market is weakening.
The Jax Daily Record reports “a slight increase in the jobless rate from 3.95 percent in June to 4.27 percent in July, according to the University of North Florida’s Local Economic Indicators Project.”
“The Fed increased interest rates in June,” UNF economist Albert Loh told the Record. “That may have slowed down business hiring plans in July.”
A sector suffering: Business and professional services, down 2.6 percent year over year.
Anna Brosche rejects port dredging workshop
Jacksonville City Council President Brosche will not be calling a council workshop on the deepening of the St. Johns River.
The Florida Times-Union reports that Brosche was responding to an ask from Council members John Crescimbeni and Tommy Hazouri to call a council workshop on the JAXPORT proposed funding plan asking the city to pay $47 million to $150 million of the $484 million cost of deepening 11 miles of the river.
JAXPORT has not requested any city funding for the next two years, Brosche said. After conversations with port authority Interim CEO Eric Green, Brosche said JAXPORT may turn to other sources for deepening, and not ask the city for money.
Brosche said: “The funding requirements of the project and related implications on Jacksonville taxpayers are not certain or known, are continuing to evolve, and may never materialize.”
Jacksonville University, The District to prove benefits of ‘healthy town’ concept
An academic partnership between The District and Jacksonville University to prove the benefits of entrepreneur Peter Rummell’s “healthy town” concept, which has become the foundation of a development plan for the Jacksonville Riverfront.
Jacksonville Business Journal reports that over the past two years, Rummell and Dalton Agency’s Michael Munz have been promoting a multiphase 30-acre development on property owned by the JEA.
The site has been under an $18.5 million contract with the Elements Development of Jacksonville LLC since 2015, with closing expected late 2017.
While it’s logical to think a “healthy living” strategy will produce health benefits, Jacksonville University is officially partnering with The District to “measure the effectiveness of [the] healthy town concept.”
“We intentionally designed The District to offer residents every element they need to live the healthiest of lives, and we want to be able to empirically and qualitatively prove that having access to and utilizing all of these resources in one place does, in fact, help make people healthier,” Rummell said in the news release.
The JU Brooks Rehabilitation College of Healthcare Sciences will lead the research project “using both quantitative and qualitative research approaches.”
Florida Theater to hold October TEDxJacksonville
“We, The People” is the theme of the sixth annual TEDxJacksonville, set for Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Florida Theatre. The daylong event, scheduled for 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., will feature 13 speakers and musical performances. All-day general admission tickets are $100; tickets for Session 3 only – with four speakers – is $49. All tickets include admission to Afterglow, the conference’s post-event street party.
According to the Florida Times-Union, scheduled speakers include Cynthia Barnett of Gainesville, talking about climate issues; Brenda Bradley of Accokeek, Maryland, to discuss new eating research; Jacksonville educator and youth advocate Amy Donofrio; K9s for Warriors founder Shari Duval of Jacksonville; Manal Fakhoury of Ocala to discuss strategies for tackling the nation’s opioid epidemic; Melanie Flores of Atlanta talking about storytelling, imagination and design for children; Ellen Freidin of Miami will discuss gerrymandering and Jacksonville attorney Chris Hand will explain how to fight City Hall and win.
Armada attendance sinking – can Robert Palmer fix?
It might be riptide for new Jacksonville Armada owner Robert Palmer, as local soccer fans aren’t finding the on-field product irresistible, reports the Florida Times-Union.
“Jacksonville drew 780 fans for Wednesday’s loss to Puerto Rico FC, lowest in club history and lowest in the North American Soccer League this year,” the T-U reports.
Part of the issue, Palmer said, was a flawed attendance calculation.
“I want to give a more accurate picture to fans, to sponsors about how much engagement we really have,” Palmer said. “The idea for me that we could print out 1,000 tickets, and those 1,000 tickets were free, but they could land in a desk drawer or land in a trash can somewhere, and then report that as attendance – that just didn’t sit well. So, we’re going to have a more transparent method for calculating attendance going forward.”
Palmer intends to use local Armada telecasts to create stars, he said.
Armada play well but fall 1-0 to Miami
The Jacksonville Armada FC faced the NASL Spring Season Champion Sunday night at Hodges Stadium on the University of North Florida campus. Despite an attacking prowess which netted 13 total shots including four on goal, the Armada FC fell 1-0 to the Miami FC. The lone goal was recorded by Miami attacker Jaime Chavez in Minute 41. Defender Rhett Bernstein sparked the attack with an excellent pass to midfielder Ariel Martínez, who used a dummy run to evade two Armada defenders. Martínez then sprinted towards the Jacksonville box before threading a ball to a wide-open Chávez, who blasted home the chance and put Miami ahead 1-0.
Although the team was unable to collect three points, Armada head coach Mark Lowry remains positive.
“We dominated. That performance was superb against the best team in the league. It shows how good we are,” said Lowry. “That performance was almost perfect, we just lacked two or three goals. We keep doing that and we’ll start winning games.”
After the goal, the Armada attacked often in the second half. Goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell made a great save early in the half, as he extended his entire frame to deflect a Miami attempt on goal. Mechack Jérôme also showed off his defensive presence, breaking up a potential Miami FC breakaway. Derek Gebhard brought a much-needed spark off the bench, recording four shots in the second half. His best attempt came in the 87th minute as he tried to equalize the score, but Vega was there with the save.
“If one or two of those would have [found the back of the net], it would have been a different game. But I’d like to see us getting back to clean sheets and defending. I think we defended better than the last few nights, but again, we just need to make sure we close down more. There are positive signs,” said Patterson-Sewell.
Next the Armada hit the road as they travel to face Indy Eleven. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Indianapolis. The team will return home Saturday, Sept. 9, for First Responders Night at Hodges Stadium.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry prioritized improving the city’s financial picture as a candidate in 2015, and in 2017 there was strong evidence that happened.
The city has strong bond ratings — AA- — and the market’s confidence was reflected in $388 million of offers on $145M worth of bonds this week.
Curry noted Wednesday that “demand far exceeded the offering,” showing the “strength of ratings” and “confirming what the ratings agencies” have been saying.
“We’re on good financial ground right now,” Curry said, setting up a theme of the day: a budget hearing in which the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee mulled the city’s capital improvement budget.
Before jumping into Jacksonville’s capital improvement budget Wednesday, the Curry administration presented a debt affordability study.
Debt levels have been coming down, and revenues have been increasing, said city treasurer Joey Greive.
The CIP includes $122M of authorized borrowing over the next five years, Greive said, recommending that debt be assumed following guidance from bond ratings agencies.
“Fiscally responsible budgets” and “strong operating performance” have helped, Greive said, allowing the city to bolster reserves.
Greive noted that the $145M bond deal brought in $388M of orders, showing “strong demand.”
“The city of Jacksonville’s still in favor in the marketplace,” Greive noted, pointing out the continued AA rating.
The city has $1.1B of outstanding general fund debt, and $1.2B in Better Jacksonville Plan debt; Greive suggested that the BJP debt may be paid off before 2030, allowing relief for the city’s pension obligation.
As well, 95 percent of the city’s debt is fixed-rate.
“We have some positives, but also some challenges the ratings agencies mentioned,” Greive said.
Councilwoman Lori Boyer described an “important story” to be told, with Jacksonville having waived criteria during the previous Mayoral administration that is now followed.
“In the last few years, we have substantially paid down debt … we have improved all of our ratios … in compliance and within the range on every ratio where we were not previously,” Boyer said, noting even this ambitious CIP is affordable.
CFO Mike Weinstein noted that much of the borrowing for the CIP could be years down the road, and the Curry administration’s first bond issue was just this week.
“We are in a very good position,” Weinstein said.
One caveat: the study doesn’t include pension debt, which concerned Councilman Danny Becton.
Also concerning Becton: Moody’s and Bloomberg comments regarding potential fixed-cost issues.
Greive dismissed the Bloombergarticle, saying the “bond results speak for themselves,” though later he conceded that “fixed-costs” were an issue for future concern — a contention of the article.
Weinstein also noted the article said Jacksonville was “moving toward AA standards … moving in the right direction.”
“We’ve had three ratings done on the city since pension, and each of the ratings agencies rated us AA- and stable,” Weinstein said. “We are in good stead.”
While Jacksonville has “liability,” the city is “better positioned today because of the pension reform.”
And, said Weinstein, the ratings agencies fold pension into the mix.
Councilman Bill Gulliford wanted guidance into Jacksonville reserve levels, which Weinstein said were “adequate but could be better,” and “barely over what Moody’s looks for in AA.”
“We are definitely solid and stable,” Weinstein said, but nowhere near a AAA rating due to scanty reserves.
CAO Sam Mousa said “people were scrambling to buy” Jacksonville bonds, “a great indication of how great those bonds are.”
“The ratings agencies did well in looking at our history, stability, willingness to pay … these are good, stable bonds to invest in,” Mousa said.
“Eventually, in another year — maybe sooner, maybe later — we will come back to the Council and say ‘it’s now time to borrow additional moneys,” Mousa said.
Pension reform, Mousa added, created confidence in a robust CIP, to handle neglected “projects that had been on the books for a long time.”
Boyer also noted the city’s debt management policy, mandating level debt.
“We can’t do ‘max out the charge card,'” she said, requiring the city to maintain a “stable picture” that “continues to improve.”
Bloomberg Intelligence strategist Eric Kazatsky offered some cautionary words about Jacksonville’s bonds this week, relevant as the city continues to attempt to improve its perception in the eyes of ratings agencies.
“Despite stable fund and cash balances,” Kazatsky writes, “the city has been challenged by a steadily increasing fixed-cost ratio, which could put downward pressure on credit ratings and add to debt risk.”
Despite these warnings from the Bloomberg analyst, Jacksonville had a very successful bond sale just this week, according to an informed source, who asserted that $388M of orders brought in on $145M of bonds.
A remarkable condition, given the balance of the Bloomberg analysis, which asserted that despite pension reform, the $2.8B unfunded actuarial liability on the city’s defined benefit plans are still a burden … one that draws unwelcome comparisons to Chicago.
“At just under Chicago’s 34% fixed-cost ratio, Jacksonville, Florida’s ratio nearly tops the list of major U.S. cities
and calls attention to the city’s weak pension-funding levels. Between 2000 and today, the Police and Fire
Pension Fund, the city’s largest, had its funding ratio decline from 87% to 49%. The other Jacksonville pensions —
one for general employees and another for corrections officers — are funded at 64% and 45%, respectively,” Kazatsky writes.
Kazatsky also suggests that there may be better values in the muni bond market — including one that just had its own pension reform: “other AA credits that have passed recent pension reform, such as Dallas, appear much cheaper. The differential in yields between Dallas and Jacksonville is notable given that Jacksonville debt is appropriation backed (special revenue) vs. a general obligation pledge for Dallas.”
Kazatsky is somewhat bearish on Jacksonville’s pension reform, saying it “looks far in the future, very far.”
This gradualist reform, the Bloomberg analyst notes, “will cost Jacksonville almost $5 billion through 2049, via a longer reamortization of plan payments.”
Pay raises, including the 20 percent cumulative hikes for police and fire, will add to the “fixed costs” mentioned elsewhere.
Additionally, the Bloomberg analyst notes that new money probably isn’t going to pension paydown.
“While growth in the past few years has exceeded this rate, sales-tax revenue has only just returned to pre-crisis levels. While the sales-tax assumption will be evaluated annually by officials, any downward revision would lengthen the amortization of pension payments throughout the life of the sales tax,” Kazatsky writes.
“Suggestions by officials have included using any excess sales-tax growth to pay down pension debt earlier. Given
the rush of capital-improvement projects and increased hiring after passage of the pension reforms, the ability to
use future excess payments solely for debt reduction is doubtful,” Kazatsky adds.
Despite this bearish read, Jacksonville retains optimism about the present, noting that the ratings agencies reaffirmed the city’s AA rating recently.
“All three of the rating agencies affirmed our AA stable rating within the last two weeks. These agencies, – Moody’s, S& P, and Fitch – are the recognized authorities who all of the markets look to for financial assessment of the City,” asserted Marsha Oliver on behalf of the Mayor’s office on Monday evening.
These warnings from credit markets (whether taken seriously by policymakers or not) put this month’s Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee’s consideration of Mayor Lenny Curry‘s budget into sharp relief — specifically, last week’s contretemps about emergency reserve levels.
Curry’s team proposes a bump up to 6 percent this year, and the hope is to eventually boost that number to 8 percent. To that end, a proposal was made to transfer over $10M from the general fund to boost the reserve.
The measure was ultimately postponed until the end of the budget process this week, potentially striking a blow at the fiscal policy of the Lenny Curry administration.
CFO Mike Weinstein “recommend[ed] greatly to put more money” in the emergency reserve.
Weinstein noted that AA- bond ratings are predicated on strong reserves, and Jacksonville is currently below AA levels in reserves.
“A 5 to 7 range [the current standard] puts us below what would normally be a AA rating,” Weinstein said, noting that an AAA rating would be predicated on 12 to 15 percent.
Sam Mousa, the city’s chief administrative officer, likewise pushed to keep “raising the reserves.”
Jacksonville’s reserves, according to the latest analysis from the City Council Auditor’s Office, have room for expansion.
The projected operating reserve: $74.1M, or 6.47 percent of the general fund budget.
The projected emergency reserve is less: 5.69 percent of the general fund budget, $65.2M.
These projections are adjusted downward in part because of $7.5M of Q4 FY 17 spending, including $1.92M for after-school sites, $1.46M for the city’s opioid-addiction pilot program, and $1.1M in matching funds for SAFER Grants.
A police officer in Florida died from his injuries Saturday, a day after his colleague was killed when a suspect fired at them during a scuffle while they were on patrol. The suspect was later arrested at a bar.
Sgt. Sam Howard died Saturday afternoon at a hospital where he had been taken following Friday night’s attack in Kissimmee, Florida, located south of the theme park hub of Orlando.
Officer Matthew Baxter died Friday night, a short time after authorities say he was shot by 45-year-old Everett Miller.
Miller faces a charge of first-degree murder for the killing of Baxter. Authorities hadn’t yet said what charges he could face for Howard’s death.
During a patrol late Friday of a neighborhood with a history of drug activity, Baxter was “checking out” three people, including Miller, when the officer got into a scuffle with Miller. Howard, his sergeant, responded as backup, said Kissimmee Police Chief Jeff O’Dell.
The officers didn’t have an opportunity to return fire. They weren’t wearing body cameras.
Sheriff’s deputies with a neighboring law enforcement agency later tracked Miller down to a bar and approached him. Miller started reaching toward his waistband when the deputies tackled and subdued him, O’Dell said.
They found a handgun and revolver on him.
“They were extremely brave and heroic actions taken by the deputies,” O’Dell said.
The police chief said Miller was taken to jail wearing Baxter’s handcuffs.
Authorities originally said they believed there were four suspects, but the chief said Saturday that no other arrests are anticipated.
Miller, 45, was a Marine veteran and was recently involuntarily committed for a mental evaluation by the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office. The early stages of the investigation shows that Miller had made threats to law enforcement on Facebook, O’Dell said.
Baxter, 27, had been with the Kissimmee Police Department for three years. He was married to another Kissimmee police officer and they have four children.
Howard, 36, has served with the Kissimmee Police Department for 10 years. He and his wife have one child, O’Dell said.
“They are two wonderful men, family men,” O’Dell said. “They are two committed to doing it the right way.”
Separately, two other officers were injured late Friday in Jacksonville, Florida, after police responded to reports of an attempted suicide at a home where the mother of the man’s child, their 19-month-old toddler, the woman’s mother and a family friend were thought to be in danger. One of the officers was shot in both hands and the other was shot in the stomach.
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said Saturday that officers Michael Fox and Kevin Jarrell are in stable condition following Friday night’s confrontation with an armed Derrick Brabham, who was killed by the officers.
In Pennsylvania, two state troopers were shot and a suspect killed outside a small-town store south of Pittsburgh on Friday night.
President Trump tweeted early Saturday that his thoughts and prayers were with the Kissimmee Police Department. “We are with you!” he said.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted he was “heartbroken” by the attacks on the officers.
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.
The slogan d’jour: One City, One Jacksonville. But the city’s boards and commissions are largely white and male. And it will take time and work to change that imbalance.
Of 332 people currently serving, 65 percent are male — a number not substantially different between City Council appointees (64 percent male) and appointees from other parties, such as the Mayor (66 percent).
70 percent of all appointees: Caucasian. The percentage of Council appointees is even higher: 80 percent, per the most recent Boards and Commissions diversity report.
This ratio holds true, more or less, no matter who is in office.
And some would contend that needs to change.
On Wednesday morning, Council President Anna Brosche convened a public notice meeting “to increase awareness of opportunities to serve in hopes of broadening the pool of candidates that apply.”
Members of boards and commissions attended, along with former Council President Lori Boyer, and representatives from the Mayor’s Office.
Brosche’s goal with the meeting: to broaden the exposure of openings and make the “pool of applicants for consideration larger than one.”
Boards and commissions have codified requirements, including residency and experience requirements, which can make filling these positions even more challenging.
Councilwoman Boyer noted some techniques she used to get recommendations, including reaching out to industry groups.
Feedback was sparse, and recommendations lacked diversity components as well as elemental competence in many cases, Boyer said.
“It’s both subject-matter expertise trade organizations that need to engage, and groups in the community [including] people of various ethnic backgrounds and trying to get women involved,” Boyer said.
Boyer noted the difficulty of filling certain diversity components required her to “cold-call them,” which she described as a “ridiculous” amount of time.
“A challenge is how to reach the right group,” Boyer said, especially relative to specialist positions like architects and arborists.
“When you get so constrained, it’s like you have to have a purple person living in these four blocks, it’s hard to find them,” Boyer said.
One meeting attendee noted that she promoted a board opening on her Facebook page to women, and they were surprised that such things were open to the public.
“There’s just a barrier to access,” she said.
There are dozens of open positions on boards and commissions, with elapsed terms presenting even more.
Brosche’s position on boards and commissions is an augury of some strong moves toward social justice from Brosche and from council leadership.
Monday saw Brosche take control of the news cycle when she declared that Jacksonville needs to find an endgame for its increasingly divisive Confederate monuments.
Brosche intends to “propose legislation to move Confederate monuments, memorials, and markers from public property to museums and educational institutions where they can be respectfully preserved and historically contextualized.”
In the wake of that proposal, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office reports “chatter” from white-pride/domestic terrorist types, and there is nothing approaching consensus in City Hall regarding the monument movement.
More broadly, the Jacksonville City Council likewise is prioritizing diversity in this month’s budget hearings, with departmental hiring practices being asked about by Finance Committee members.