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Jacksonville human rights ordinance expansion push begins … again

On Wednesday, Jacksonville City Council members and community leaders met in a packed conference room in city hall.

The subject: expanding Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include members of the city’s LGBT community. The bill is expected to be filed by 3 p.m. January 4, with an eye toward committees and a full council vote on February 14.

The rhetoric of Wednesday’s meeting: familiar. Lots of phrasings about the economic and the moral case for the HRO from its biggest advocates on Council and other prominent community leaders and figures.

Bill co-sponsors Tommy HazouriJim Love, and Aaron Bowman were on hand, along with other council members, such as Al FerraroGreg Anderson, Katrina BrownJoyce Morgan, VP John Crescimbeni and President Lori Boyer.

Bowman noted that President-elect Donald Trump “supported LGBT” at the GOP Convention and got applause, while HB 2 was a “disaster” in North Carolina, suggesting that both were auguries of change.

Jacksonville Chamber Co-Chair Darnell Smith urged council co-sponsorship for what he called a “Jacksonville solution,” which “truly represents who we are as a community.”

“We don’t want anyone in our community to be discriminated against for any reason,” Smith said, adding that the HRO won’t take away anyone’s religious freedoms.

Smith lauded Mayor Curry for his departmental directive protecting LGBT city and vendor employees from discrimination, saying that it’s “time to act” on the HRO, a “comprehensive” bill “written in a tenor and tone of togetherness.”

Smith implored the eight council members on hand to co-introduce the bill.

Others followed with their own pitches.

Steve Halverson of Haskell spoke further of support from the Jacksonville Civic Council and its “strong support for a comprehensive human rights ordinance.”

Hugh Greene of Baptist Health called the lack of an HRO expansion an “embarrassment” and an issue that “clouds our city.”

Pastor John Newman asserted that HRO expansion will “help us clarify that this is a welcoming city.”

“We protect each other. We love each other. That goes for those in the LGBT community as well as those in the religious community,” Newman noted.

The bill, said Jimmy Midyette of the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality, synthesizes the “best bits” of the two previous bills filed in attempts to expand the HRO.

Discussion followed regarding the difficulties of business recruitment, and other issues, with Councilman Hazouri noting that investments in sports facilities and entertainment venues might come to naught because entertainers won’t want to perform in a place without legal protections for LGBT people.

The bill was then presented to the council members and VIPs in attendance, explaining the specific additions of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to ordinance language, and the various carveouts and exceptions that protect small businesses and religious organizations.

“We’re not telling every business in the city that they need to retrofit their bathrooms,” Midyette said.

Then, the call for co-sponsors.

Jim Love reiterated his support and vowed to co-introduce the bill.

Tommy Hazouri likewise said he was still all in.

Councilwoman Katrina Brown had questions about restrooms in small businesses, like her family’s restaurant. She was told that transgender people were advised, via the bill, to use the bathroom they are comfortable with.

“Nothing changes,” Midyette said.

And the bill stood with three co-introducers.

Council President Boyer urged the bill to “go through the committee process deliberately.”

“We have had a long period of time in which to debate and evaluate our positions,” Boyer said, urging a normal committee cycle.

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Will the third time be the charm for attempts to add LGBT protections to Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance?

The bill went down in two versions in 2012. A “compromise” bill, which would have kept the “T” out of the protections rendered, fell 10 to 9 after one committed supporter, Councilman Johnny Gaffney, got “confused” and voted no.

Then, the original fully-inclusive version was defeated 17 to 2.

Gaffney did not ask for a re-vote. Years later, he would say he was pressured to vote no by the administration of former Mayor Alvin Brown.

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After 2012’s down vote, the HRO remained on the backburner as a political issue. That backburner got hot during the 2015 mayoral campaign, contributing to Brown’s defeat.

In later 2015, the HRO resurfaced.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri filed a 14-page bill that sought to add sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to the protected categories.

That bill was preceded by Hazouri’s council colleague, Bill Gulliford, filing his own bill pushing for a referendum on the HRO. Gulliford’s expectation was that the referendum wouldn’t pass.

The Hazouri bill sought to expand equal protections under the law, including housing and employment, as well as public accommodations, to people regardless of sexual orientation (real or perceived), gender identity, or gender expression.

In filing the bill, Hazouri’s office issued a prepared statement decrying the Gulliford bill, saying that a “referendum would lead to months and months of hateful rhetoric that would fully divide our city. Outside groups on both sides would come in with staff, and money would pour in from outside sources.”

Indeed, that’s what happened.

The early weeks of 2016 were fraught with conflict, with Equality Florida and the Human Rights Campaign’s lobbyists facing off with national firepower on the opposing side, such as Roger Gannam of the Liberty Counsel and Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington State florist who was sued for not providing flowers for a same-sex wedding.

As the issue began to dominate the Jacksonville body politic, it began to look like Hazouri and bill co-sponsors Jim Love and Aaron Bowman were outgunned.

Team Hazouri counted the votes. And quietly, the press leaks began one February weekend: his HRO bill was to be withdrawn.

And at a council meeting a few days later, it was pulled.

Since then, the noise has been that the bill would be brought back.

The conventional wisdom: that the bill would be timed more conveniently after the pension reform referendum passed in August.

That came and went, as did the general election, and the Christmas season, and New Year’s fireworks.

However, January rolled around, and advocates of HRO expansion are pushing yet again.

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FloridaPolitics.com reviewed the legislation – one that has seen many different iterations.

But one signature virtue the latest version has is simplicity.

The 14-page monster of a bill was pared down to a more manageable four pages.

Part of that bill details the parts of city code – equal employment opportunity, public accommodations, and fair housing – that would be amended if the bill passes.

“Wherever protected categories are listed,” the text reads, “sexual orientation and gender identity … shall be added to the list.”

The bill attempts to fix the definitions of gender identity as a “consistent and uniform assertion of a particular gender identity, appearance, or expression.”

That “consistent and uniform assertion” language is intended to circumvent an expected legislative loophole: “that gender identity shall not be asserted for any improper, illegal or criminal purpose.”

That language is intended to short-circuit the critiques of HRO expansion as a so-called “bathroom bill,” able to be exploited by lavatory malingerers.

The bill also offers carve out exemptions (as did the 2015/16 bill) for religious institutions, including schools and affiliated non-profits, and small employers in the hiring process. In particular, the bill says that legislators have “carefully considered”

And it allows for employee dress codes, as long as “such dress code shall not be based on sex stereotypes.”

As well, the bill is predicated in recent evolutions of city policy, framing Jacksonville as an “inclusive and welcoming community, wherein no discrimination should occur.”

The bill notes that the Duval County School Board, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, JEA and JTA, and the Jacksonville Port and Aviation Authorities all codify similar protections. Meanwhile, the bill cites Mayor Curry’s “departmental directive” protecting employees of the city and its vendors from discriminatory actions in the workplace.

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Of course, there is a catch. Curry, in issuing that directive almost a year ago, waved a caution flag.

“Based on the extensive community discussion and the actions that I have taken and directed, I have concluded my review, analysis and determination of this issue, and as such, I do not believe any further legislation would be prudent,” Curry observed.

If the bill were to get ten supporters – and an informal vote count by one advocate says that it should have 11 – then that would push it past the threshold for passing.

Our understanding is that the mayor’s office would prefer 13 votes in favor of legislation; that supermajority would remove the question of whether or not Curry would veto it, sign it, or take the middle ground and let the bill become law without his signature.

Before the bill can get to the full council, it has to get to committees, and a lot can happen in those council panels.

In 2012, Johnny Gaffney supported HRO expansion in committee, before changing his position at the council meeting.

The hope among advocates: that the bill only gets heard in Rules.

The reality: there will be a push to have the measure heard in other committees.

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There are reasons that advocates are hopeful for this council to do in 2017 what it wouldn’t do in 2012 or 2016.

There is hope that Council President Lori Boyer, who said that the discussion had barely gotten started in 2016 when Hazouri pulled his bill, will ensure the process is not distracted.

There is hope also that bill advocates, such as JEA’s Mike Hightower, can convince social conservatives like Councilman Sam Newby to go along.

There is also hope that Sen. Audrey Gibson, chair of the local Democratic party, can ensure that all seven Democrats on the council are on board with the legislation.

If seven back it, only three Republicans are needed – and Jim Love and Aaron Bowman are two of those Republicans.

Former Council President Greg Anderson, who took a thoughtful position toward the process during his year in the center chair, could well move from a maybe to a yes.

The same could hold true for President Lori Boyer.

In June, Boyer said that “for some of us,” Boyer said, the sticking points are “all about language,” including reasonable exceptions and accommodations.

As well, the previous discussions never got to issues like how other jurisdictions handle similar legislation.

“The dialogue can hopefully happen before the bill is filed.”

And Anna Brosche, the chair of the Finance Committee, offered conceptual support for legislation on the campaign trail … but she wants the legislation to protect all parties.

“My words were pretty consistent during the entire campaign. I have zero-tolerance for discrimination,” Brosche said, but legislation must “make sure that small business and the faith-based community is considered as part of the process.”

Brosche, during her campaign against the anti-HRO Kim Daniels, was “turned into a champion of the topic.”

“There may be people who expected me to be a champion, a leader. I’m interested to know how people reached that conclusion,” Brosche said, wondering “how much of it was me, and how much was it the nature of that race in particular.”

There is room to get over 10 votes, if all of these variables play out in the right way. The question in 2017 is similar to that of 2016: can the agents of change demonstrate that they have mastered the process of manufacturing consensus?

There are hints of problems in that process. One observer has framed the effort as one of “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Meanwhile, questions remain as to whether there should have been more groundwork laid via backchannels before filing the bill.

At a time when mayors of cities like Orlando and Tampa are telling businesses looking at Jacksonville that the city is “backwards” on this issue, and the NCAA is requiring anti-discrimination legislation as part of its scoring matrix for assigning tournament games, a lot may be riding on the answer to that question.

Jacksonville City Council to mull equal opportunity ordinance

While the introduction of another legislative attempt to expand Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance drew the TV cameras Wednesday, another bill designed to remedy discrimination was introduced the same day.

Councilman Garrett Dennis filed Ordinance 2017-16, “encouraging the City of Jacksonville and its independent agencies and authorities under the code to provide positive steps to correct or eliminate the vestiges of any past discriminatory practices and any current potentially discriminatory conditions, whether purposeful or inadvertent, that may have effectively denied full and equal participation by underrepresented groups in the city’s workforce.”

Jacksonville, of course, has a long history of issues with employment discrimination in the workplace, including governmental entities. And the Equal Opportunity/Equal Access program, set up in 2004, was established to remedy those injustices.

However, what Dennis’ legislation would do is offer some concrete steps toward and resources behind those goals.

Dennis’ bill calls for the following: annual reporting to the Mayor and City Council on the progress and state of the Equal Opportunity/Equal Access Program; budgetary line-item for the position of Equal Opportunity/Equal Access Assistant Director; and an “annual review” of “adherence and commitment” to the ordinance by the CEO’s of the city’s independent authorities.

The bill notes that the position of assistant director of the equal opportunity program has been vacant for a long time for budget reasons, which occludes the council from knowing exactly how entities like JEA and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority address these issues.

That assistant director, were the position funded, could ensure that demographic criteria isn’t the reason for hiring, firing, promotion, or lack thereof.

Positioned to monitor how these agencies address diversity goals, the director would be expected to report to council annually. The agencies would also be expected to offer similar reports.

Jacksonville councilman decries drug overdose ‘epidemic’

Jacksonville’s homicide rate gets all the press. Yet the rate of deaths via drug overdose exceeds it. And a prominent city councilman wants action.

An email from Duval County’s Medical Examiner’s office laid it out: from the beginning of January until mid-November, Jacksonville experienced 345 drug overdose deaths.

In terms of casualties, whites and males are the most vulnerable, dying in numbers outsized compared to their proportion of the population.

Of the 345 deaths, 214 decedents were male. And 299 — or 86.67 percent — are white.

Almost 30 percent of those who perished during the period of tabulation were in their thirties. People in their fifties comprised another 23 percent of those who passed on.

One prominent council member, Bill Gulliford, wants movement from the legislative body this year on stemming the tide of casualties.

Gulliford noted that “it is a scary number especially when you compare it to homicides which get all the media attention. And, how many of the homicides are drug related? My executive assistant is trying to secure that information from the sheriff’s office. If we combine the two it gets even scarier.”

“We should be shouting these numbers from the rooftops folks. This is an epidemic and yet the attention is limited. I think bringing attention to this should be the number one priority of the Public Safety Committee in 2017. Attention is just the first step. Maybe bringing attention to the numbers alone will help scare some young people to avoid drugs,” Gulliford noted.

Will Jacksonville get a handle on a problem common to all major cities, one becoming more common all the time? Time will tell. But Bill Gulliford will ensure an effort is made.

Former assistant state attorney to become Jacksonville real estate chief

For the second time in ten months, the city of Jacksonville will bring aboard a new chief of real estate.

Renee Hunter, an alumna of the University of Wisconsin’s journalism school and of the Florida Coastal School of Law, will be “official” pending confirmation by the city council.

Hunter is no stranger to work in the public sector. She served as an assistant state attorney from 2007 to 2013, with a tenure spanning the end of the Harry Shorstein era and the bulk of the Angela Corey epoch.

Hunter’s specialty in that capacity: land use and zoning issues and property law.

From there, Hunter moved into the private sector, where she continued her work with property law, including issues with deeds, titles, and other real estate issues.

The previous chief of real estate, Stephanie Burch, was brought on last March, but was promoted to head of the Neighborhoods Department in November.

Hunter, if formally approved by City Council, will be “responsible for the acquisition, appraisal, management, disposal, inventory, utilization assessment and other functions relating to real property,” including fulfillment functions, and execution of purchases of real property with money from federal community development program grants.

Ticket surcharge hike, school board governance bills clear Jacksonville council panel

Tuesday morning saw the Jacksonville City Council Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services committee greenlight a bill that frustrated it in December.

The bill would increase city-imposed ticket surcharges for the Veterans Memorial Arena, the Baseball Grounds of Jax, and the Times Union Center for the Performing Arts, while adding surcharges for events at the under construction amphitheater and flex field at the stadium.

The arena and T-U center would cost $1 more per person per ticket; a baseball game, meanwhile, would be $.50 more per ticket.

The express purpose of the new money: funding infrastructure repair and improvement. These are salient concerns in light of decisions by the last two mayors to borrow money to fund improvements to the sports complex, then servicing the loans with bed tax money.

The sticking point in December for this committee: hiking fees at the T-U Center in the middle of the symphony’s season.

While it was agreed that the revenue was needed, with $5 million of deferred maintenance for the building, the symphony balked at the timing.

Even with the revenue enhancement, maintenance costs will be daunting; the T-U Center is slated for a mere $255,000 more of yearly revenue from the fee hike, which will go into effect June 15.

Meanwhile, the T-U Center’s subfund is insolvent, pointing to other revenue woes.

The bill moves to the full council on January 11.

Another major measure in front of NCIS: a bill that would change tiebreaker votes of the Duval County School Board.

Resolution 2016-782, sponsored by Councilman Aaron Bowman, expresses support for a J-Bill that would amend the Florida statute so that the vote of the Duval County School Board chair would not break a tie. In 2006, the Legislature adopted a measure for Orange County that dictated that, in counties with between 800,000 and 900,000 people, the school board chair’s vote breaks the tie.

The board was of six members for a period in 2016, and there was talk at that point by the chair of possibly removing Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

Bowman was not in attendance at the committee meeting, which left the bill exposed to questions as to whether or not the school board favored the bill.

Councilman Bill Gulliford wanted a “sense of the school board before we proceed.”

Councilwoman Joyce Morgan affirmed, after calling the school board chair, the board is in favor of the measure.

Bowman told us the board was for the measure.

Rules will be the second and final committee to mull this measure, and that will happen on Wednesday.

A.G. Gancarski’s 10 predictions for Jacksonville politics in 2017

Now that 2017 is all but upon us — after a tumultuous 2016 electorally — what’s next for Northeast Florida politics?

One assurance: unlike in 2016, with a massive electoral turnover in the region’s Washington and Tallahassee delegations, as well as in both the state attorney and public defender offices, 2017 won’t see that.

With that in mind, our crystal ball turns — mostly — to policy.

Though, as you will see, we won’t be able to resist a few purely political prognostications.

In the words of Jay-Z (or was it Lenny Curry?) “you can’t change a player’s game in the ninth inning.”

Prediction 1: Duval Delegation will struggle to bring home the bacon.

The smart people (or at least the old ones) will rehearse their now ritualized laments for another year. They will whisper and mutter about how things used to be, back when titans like Jim King ruled the corridors of power in the state capital.

And they will be right.

The Duval County Legislative Delegation is in for two years, relatively speaking, in the cold. House Districts 11, 12, 13, 14, and 16 all have rookie legislators.

You can see the track toward power — or not — in committee assignments.

The only leadership position will be held by the one returning member from Jacksonville — House District 15 Republican Jay Fant — vice chair of the Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee.

That lack of stroke, coupled with a darkening fiscal forecast for the Sunshine State and the parsimony of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, is going to lead to fewer appropriations projects coming back to Duval County.

While Jacksonville is lobbying up in Tallahassee again in 2017, replicating the 2016 strategy involving the Fiorentino Group, Southern Strategy Group, and Ballard Partners, expectations will have to be tempered given that every major push will have to be made to legislators from outside the area.

Duval’s priorities will be weighed against those of delegations with superior manpower and seniority in the House.

In the Senate, of course, Audrey Gibson and Aaron Bean are seasoned pros. But the House is going to be where Duval’s dreams live or die.

Prediction 2: No money for the Hart Expressway offramp removal this year.

Curry wants $50 million in state money for Hart Expressway ramp modifications, noting at November’s Duval Delegation meeting that the current setup has outmoded designs and creates public safety issues.

“The ramps were originally designed to bypass the industrialized waterfront,” Curry said, a purpose outmoded in the half-century since the original construction.

Indeed, the city strategy is predicated now on utilizing the potential of Bay Street. The goal is to have meaningful tourist attractions at the Shipyards and Metropolitan Park, to augment the latest $90 million capital influx into the Sports Complex.

However, Prediction 1 comes into play: who from outside the area, in a year of dwindling state resources, is going to push for a $50 million road project in Jacksonville’s downtown?

Mayor Curry played any number of hold cards during the last session to get the pension reform bill through Tallahassee and onto the referendum ballot. Does he have enough juice to get this ball into the end zone with a line full of untested rookies blocking for him?

Prediction 3: Collective bargaining will not wrap in time for Jacksonville’s FY 18 budget

Who will blink first in the current negotiating table showdown between city negotiators and the heads of various unions? And when will they cave?

City hopes have been that they could close a deal with one of the bargaining units by the middle of the year, and that unit would be willing to accept defined contribution plans for new hires.

Out of the units — general employees, police, and fire — the expectation is that general employees would be willing to “take a haircut.”

Police and fire risk their lives daily in the field. Meanwhile, there are some general employees whose greatest daily risks is queueing up at food trucks at Hemming Park during lunch.

However, with general employees, there are a lot of moving parts. And even with a bargaining unit as relatively friendly as the Jacksonville Supervisors Association, the city and union are far apart on pay raises.

Throughout the city, many employees took a 2 percent pay cut in 2010, and have yet to see restoration. It means there are a lot of people — and unions — looking to be “made whole.”

Thus, a trend. The city offers pay raises that get them part of the way there; the unions counter by saying the raises aren’t enough.

Meanwhile, a wrinkle affecting public safety: the 2015 pension reform accord signed into law by outgoing Mayor Alvin Brown, which was supposed to hold for seven years.

The idea behind that accord: relative stability, coupled with an increase in city contributions beyond current levels totaling $350 million in 13 years.

The public safety unions interpret that as not having to agree to anything until next decade.

They could, theoretically, cave. But the world is watching. And by the world, we mean the national organizations of the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Prediction 4: Human Rights Ordinance expansion faces another uphill slog.

The “smart set” wants HRO expansion to the LGBT community — and the “T” is non-negotiable.

The arguments for the HRO expansion are familiar by now: other cities accomplished this years ago, and their moral firmaments remain intact. The cities that have gotten protections for people regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression align more closely with the values of corporations looking to relocate to Jacksonville. And it’s the right thing to do.

Also familiar by now: a Jacksonville City Council, which has many members who might have said in 2015 on the campaign trail that they support HRO expansion. But in 2016 and 2017, the concerns are more prosaic, about the “language of the bill” and “unintended consequences” of legislation that could, theoretically, impact churches and small businesses.

Despite the fact that enforcement of the ordinance expansion would be in a gray area, there are real concerns about the nightmare scenarios that happened to Christian conservatives elsewhere in the country when they flouted laws and refused to provide service to LGBT people.

Early indications are that advocates have taken a “divide and conquer” approach with the council, each of them lobbying a handful of members. There may be attendant risks to that strategy. It didn’t seem to drive the votes in 2016.

Word is by early January, HRO proponents are going to know if they have the votes needed to push the bill through. If you don’t see a filing soon after that, you will know there aren’t quite 10.

Is there a Plan B?

The way to lobby this council is to pick one lobbyist — my pick would be Paul Harden, who is the best lobbyist in the city — to make a unified, cohesive pitch. Such a pitch would ensure the council is on the same page, and understand both the affirmative talking points and how to undermine concerns of the Christian right.

This is a good ol’ boy town. To sell radical change, it has to be through the good ol’ boy system.

Prediction 5: The murder rate won’t abate, and that will become a problem for the mayor’s office.

As I write this (late December), the city of Jacksonville is well over 110 homicides. As of December 21, the numbers was 116.

That’s consistent with the range between 2012 and 2015, which was between 109 and 117. Given the realities of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, it’s likely that Jacksonville could end up with over 120 homicides.

If so, that would be the first time since 2008.

Mayor Curry has been able to message on the need to improve public safety for a year and a half as mayor and for longer than that on the campaign trail.

However, if the blood tide surges in 2017, blaming it on decisions made in 2012-14 by the “previous administration” will be a strategy with diminishing returns.

The corrective strategies that can be used are already being used. Increased enforcement in the hot zones, coupled with new technology (new for Jacksonville, that is) like Shot Spotter, which allows LEOs to identify where a shot may come from.

However, the question is whether law enforcement can solve problems created by a lack of economic opportunity, educational gaps, family structures decimated from said lack of economic opportunity, to the school-to-prison pipeline.

While there may be nuanced and plausible solutions advanced behind closed doors, the question may be more elemental: can government solve this issue through prevention, intervention, and enforcement? Or is there something larger happening — a societal dislocation?

The mayor would be well advised to message aggressively on the issue of public safety in the early spring, getting ahead of the inevitabilities of the summer to come.

Prediction 6: Alvin Brown continues to resurface

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown stopped by the mayor’s office to talk to Lenny Curry in December, offering a long-delayed coda to an acrimonious mayoral campaign.

Expect to see more of Brown in 2017.

He didn’t lose to Curry by much; there was not some populist wave sweeping him out of office, as was the case with State Attorney Angela Corey and Public Defender Matt Shirk.

And much of the reason for Brown’s loss had to do with inept re-election campaign messaging, and an inability to corral a balky city council on pension reform until the end.

Brown is not damaged goods, in other words.

Is he a viable quantity going forward? There may be a platform in which we find out. Sooner than later.

Prediction 7: Democratic demolition derby begins, ahead of local challenge to Al Lawson

Message to Duval Democrats: he’s not that into you.

By “he,” we mean Rep. Al Lawson, the Tallahassee mainstay who came to visit and left with one of Jacksonville’s two congressional seats.

By “into you,” we mean that Lawson will put Tallahassee first. That’s where his base is.

And that means opportunity for a local Democrat.

Who might that Democrat be?

Alvin Brown’s not doing anything major right now; he’s a former mayor who has a natural rapport with Curry and Jacksonville power brokers. That could matter.

With former Rep. Mia Jones termed out of the State House, her credibility and gravitas could take her a long way. Undetermined: does Jones have the brashness needed to make a primary challenge against an establishment-friendly Democrat? And could she stack votes in Duval to make up for an uphill slog the farther west the district goes?

Sen. Audrey Gibson is chair of the Duval Democrats. However, she has already filed for another run for State Senate. And, as Lake Ray can attest, it’s not a great idea to launch a run for Congress from a party chair position.

Former State Sen. Tony Hill: a name to consider also, at least according to some members of the chattering classes. Could Hill convince local power brokers to back his play?

Out of these four, we still believe Brown has the clearest path with the fewest impediments.

Prediction 8: There will be a homeless day resource center in Downtown Jacksonville

The scene outside of Jacksonville’s city hall is like something out of a Hieronymus Bosch hellscape.

The homeless population fills Hemming Park, and on cold days spills into businesses like Chamblin’s Bookmine and the public library, inhibiting patterns of usage that might otherwise lead to downtown becoming the destination that city leaders have wanted, ever since department stores cleared out during the Hans Tanzler and Jake Godbold eras.

The reality is that Jacksonville would like to gentrify its downtown. The parallel reality is that much of the homeless problem can be attributed to the lack of a homeless day resource center, which would allow that population to shower, shave, and assume various accouterments of normalcy.

One of these existed when Alvin Brown was mayor, but the Curry administration cut it in its first budget, and didn’t restore it in its second.

The days of Lenny Curry taking lunchtime runs through Hemming Park seem to have ended, but what he would see if he were out there would be flocks of dispossessed people, who (whether they are ultimately responsible for their own fates or not) run counter to the brand Jacksonville desires.

Policy Director Robin Lumb has suggested a “well-managed day center for the homeless.”

If the mayor were to roll out a proposal for something along these lines, one could expect the timing to be deliberate: perhaps the March ICARE meeting of local socially-conscious church types would be that time.

That would put the proposal — which likely would be in the $1M per year range — out front ahead of the budget season, allowing the mayor to advance other priorities based on a relatively inexpensive gesture that would, in the final analysis, advance public safety.

Prediction 9: The city will reassume control of Hemming Park, but it won’t matter much

Speaking of Hemming Park, another big story to watch is whether Mayor Curry follows through with his stated intention to have the city take back control of “the front door to city hall.”

Policy Director Lumb noted in an internal memo that “the city does not have a compelling interest in creating conditions in the park conducive to attracting any group of persons looking for a place to ‘hang out’ for extended periods of time … people who otherwise have no reason to be downtown other than to receive services from homeless agencies, food kitchens, and shelters.”

His recommendation: the Parks Department should take control of the park back, stepping up enforcement, and RFPing an event promoter for nights, weekends, and park vendors.

Despite the well-documented issues with Friends of Hemming Park, they had — until recently — offered consistency in presence.

Will the city enforce conditions in Hemming Park in a more aggressive way than it does in Main Street Park? The latter, just two blocks away, has a robust homeless population and no enforcement presence, so to speak.

The Hemming Problem: a symptom of a larger social malaise.

Attempts to remedy Hemming appear to be an ornamental solution to create an oasis downtown for business people. And of course, these attempts have been tried, and have mostly failed, for decades now.

In a way, FOHP was a useful foil for city government.

As long as Friends were engaged, there was the idea that things could improve if the city took control.

If the city takes control, and conditions aren’t better next summer than last summer, what happens then?

Prediction 10: Political scofflaws skate on charges

Yes, Reggie Fullwood pleaded guilty to two felony charges in his campaign finance fraud case.

And, yes, Corrine Brown’s trial will be complicated by the drip-drip-drop of serial betrayals from her coterie of cronies and hangers on.

And there may be a city councilwoman whose familial barbecue sauce plant was raided by the Feds in December.

But not much will come of any of it.

Will Fullwood serve real prison time?

Will Corrine beat the rap?

Will there be any real consequences for whatever is going on with Jerome Brown BBQ?

The pitchfork mob might want it.

But the case could be and will be made that Fullwood has paid his price already.

That Corrine Brown wasn’t aware of what was happening in the name of One Door for Education.

And that Katrina Brown is a limited partner in her family business and had little to do with its inability to meet the job creation goals mandated by her company’s $640,000 grants and loans agreement with the city.

While the punitive model of justice exhilarates some, there is a corollary argument.

What’s accomplished by locking up Fullwood until he’s an old man?

By locking up Corrine Brown for the rest of her life?

These questions seem remote now, but when Fullwood is sentenced in February, and when Corrine Brown’s trial starts later this year, they will seem less so.

 

Future sales tax referendum bills could be restricted to general election ballot

The biggest moment in Jacksonville politics in 2016 was the August passage of a referendum unlocking future local sales tax proceeds to address pension debt, provided collective bargaining closes at least one of the city’s current pension plans.

Considered to be an audacious, high-risk play when the initiative was formally launched early in 2016, former RPOF Chair and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry invested a great deal of local and statewide political capital to shepherd the measure from concept through to a 65 percent popular vote for the tax extension.

However, Curry’s August triumph may not be repeated ever again after Florida’s 2017 Legislative Session.

Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, the current RPOF Chair, introduced a bill in the Florida House on Thursday that would ensure any future sales tax referendum bills would have to be on the general election ballot. The bills covered include transportation and indigent care sales surtax measures.

Ingoglia, a Hernando County Republican, had a similar bill in 2016; it passed the House 95 to 19, but died in committee in the Senate.

H.B. 139 stipulates also that all infrastructure sales taxes, such as the one Jacksonville voters opted to extend past its 2030 sunset date, would have to be approved by referendum.

Ingoglia, in a Friday conversation, stressed that the current bill had nothing to do with Jacksonville, but with bringing back a bill from the previous session that had “overwhelming bipartisan support” and backing from the Florida Association of Counties and Florida League of Cities.

Over the last five years, Ingoglia estimates that a third of all taxation bills filed have been on a special election ballot, with half on the primary ballot.

This bill, Ingoglia sais, “forces local governments to put [taxation] questions on the general election ballot,” so that a simple majority of a small voting universe isn’t making those decisions for everyone.

Notable: in its initial conceptual phase, city of Jacksonville policy makers considered having the tax extension approved by a supermajority of the city’s pliant city council.

Also notable: one of the local debates in Jacksonville, ahead of the referendum passing, was about the political calculus used by the mayor’s office to put the referendum on the August ballot rather than the November version.

The August ballot inclusion was depicted as a better road toward voter education, so that the measure was not drowned out by the inevitable noise of the November election.

Ingoglia rejected such reasoning, saying that having “as many people as possible” decide taxation questions mattered more.

Ingoglia’s bill currently lacks a Senate companion measure.

Subpoenas with a side of sauce: The 10 biggest #JaxPol stories of 2016

Subpoenas with a side of sauce.

That’s one way to sum up the year.

In Jacksonville politics, 2016 started with subpoenas being delivered to Rep. Corrine Brown and her clique at a barbecue place on the Northside.

And it ended with a raid on Councilwoman Katrina Brown’s familial barbecue sauce plant on the Westside.

Katrina Brown’s family, which was granted/loaned over $600K by the city for job creation that never fully happened despite having years to do it, poured real money since that money came through into the campaign apparatuses of the councilwoman herself, along with Corrine Brown and former Mayor Alvin Brown.

As well, shortly after Katrina Brown got the Corrine Brown “Quick Pick,” she gave $500 to Corrine Brown’s former right-hand woman, Von Alexander, for what was called “marketing.”

That, my friends, is what we call a narrative arc. And a story that will have legs in 2017.

Beyond these issues, a heck of a lot happened in #jaxpol in 2016.

Political dynasties: toppled.

Conventional wisdom: shattered.

We are limiting ourselves to looking at the ten biggest stories of 2016 in Jacksonville politics.

In a year as driven by a change dynamic as any since the Consolidation era, this was an easy write.

The biggest difficulty?

Limiting the article to just ten stories.

***

The # 1 story of the year: the passage of the pension reform referendum Aug. 30.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry spent the better part of a year manufacturing consensus for the once unlikely seeming proposal of getting the Better Jacksonville Plan tax extended, and using the revenue secured to stabilize the pension debt.

Curry brought together a coalition that the city hasn’t seen since consolidation, with unions and union bosses; African-American pastors and community leaders; and other unlikely supporters, including every Democrat on the city council, lining up behind the mayor.

The manufacturing of consent went deeper than just influencers:
Also in play was a deep-dive data operation, with specific appeals made to medium-propensity voters, to female homeowners between the ages of 35 and 46, and to other blocs of voters, where support could be firmed up and maximized.

“Campaigns are tough,” Curry said at the victory party at the Hyatt on Aug. 30. “You’ve got to execute and win.”

Execute and win he did.

Curry leveraged support in the Senate and the House from regional power brokers, Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings, driving to and from Tallahassee with everyone from Marty Fiorentino to Randy Wyse, the head of the local fire union to guide and prod the bill through committees in each house, then through a floor vote.

Any resistance that might have manifested was quelled, as Curry had entire days of meetings with everyone in a position to kill the bill in committee.

It was a tour de force political performance; one planned out well before the session.

And while there is a long way to go to secure the future revenue from the current ½ cent sales surtax — a tortuous road through collective bargaining — Curry did the impossible: provided actuarial certainty that Jacksonville had a way to pay down its massive unfunded pension liability.

Story of the year? Absolutely.

But it had competition.

***

# 2: Angela Corey goes down.

While some other Northeast Florida titans drew their last political breath in 2016, the State Attorney from the 4th Circuit is arguably the most significant locally.

Legislators go to Tallahassee and Washington and generally toe the party line. They aren’t going to be outliers on the big issues of the day.

Corey? Very much an outlier.

It was a climate where the Koch Brothers are attempting to push criminal justice reform from the right, and various groups on the left and libertarian sides pushing for similar ends.

Corey’s “lock ‘em up” approach was as much of a throwback as acid-washed jeans, Milli Vanilli cassette singles, and asbestos insulation.

Corey? She stood athwart that trend, seeking more death penalty convictions than almost any district or state attorney in the country, and earning sobriquets like “the cruelest prosecutor in America.”

It all seemed to be going pretty well. Corey stacked regional and state endorsements like Scrooge McDuck stacking greenbacks. Her first declared opponent in the primary, Wes White, attempted to run an insurgent campaign with little money and institutional backing.

White got some traction, as the negation of the case for Corey, but it looked until June like Corey would get her third term.

Then, a funny thing happened.

Melissa Nelson got in the race, getting real money behind her, and the best political machine in the state — Tim Baker and Brian Hughes — doing what so many people wanted to do.

Getting paid to end Angela Corey’s political career (though one suspects that Baker and Hughes might have been willing to take that task on for free).

By July, Corey was cratering in the polls. By August, the scenarios in which Corey — the epitome of a disqualified candidate — would find even a dead cat bounce were winnowed down to nothing.

By September, she was a lame duck.

Melissa Nelson takes office in January, armed with a community and institutional support, a great team (Dave Chapman, handling comms next year, had been probably the best reporter on the Jacksonville city politics beat this century), and a commitment to reform.

Nelson will spend a big part of her first term cleaning up Corey-era messes.

There will be stumbles.

But Melissa Nelson, unlike Corey, is willing to have a dialogue with the media and the community. And she is looking for applications of justice that actually heal rather than divide communities.

As hinted above, Corey’s political obituary wasn’t the only one written this year. In fact, the third-biggest story in Jacksonville this year was a variation on that theme.

***

#3: Corrine Brown goes down, and Jacksonville loses a congressional seat.

When federal agents served subpoenas up to Rep. Brown and political operatives at the Bono’s on Norwood Avenue, it was the beginning of the end for the congresswoman.

Though she ran a modified version of a re-election campaign for her seat in Congressional District 5, Brown was wounded.

She couldn’t raise real money. She was distracted by the legal fight. And when asked during and after her sole televised debate about the incompatibility of a 23-count federal indictment and a campaign for re-election against a Democrat as connected as Al Lawson, Brown said that the charges against her were as absurd as accusations of pedophilia against news media members.

“The Fifth Amendment says that the prosecutors have to prove their case. Now, what if I said, as we standing up here talking, that you were a pedophile? You would think there would be something wrong with me. So, you would put together a team of lawyers and you would go to court, and duke it out in court. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do. Just because someone accuses you, doesn’t mean that they have the facts. The federal government under these, have a slush fund, and they can do and they can bring charges,” Brown said in August.

She’s not saying that now. Or much of anything. The waiting game of 2017 now involves seeing when and if her inner circle (including/especially Ronnie Simmons, her co-defendant and almost-erstwhile chief of staff) turns against her in the One Door for Education trial.

Meanwhile, Jacksonville is in deep doo-doo regarding its representation, as Al Lawson hasn’t demonstrated a real understanding of local issues compared to those out west.

Jacksonville may produce a real challenge to Lawson in the 2018 primary, but the first two years of the Trump era are going to be challenging for Jacksonville. At a time when the White House is looking to fund ambitious infrastructure projects via expanding the monetary supply, a reliable Jacksonville veteran of the United States Congress will be replaced by a neophyte.

Meanwhile, we hear that the initial staffing process for Lawson is chaotic, with scheduling problems for mid and lower level staff interviews, and a distinct Tallahassee bent to those hired by his office.

***

# 4: Ander Crenshaw out, John Rutherford in.

“I won’t miss the circus, but I will miss the clowns.”

Those words from Rep. Ander Crenshaw, who represented Jacksonville in D.C. for eight terms, say it all.

Crenshaw was ready to step down. And former Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford, on the political sidelines since he was termed out in 2015, was happy enough to step up.

Crenshaw was the type of Republican prominent around Jacksonville in a bygone and better time; cut from the John Thrasher/Mike Hightower cloth, Crenshaw was the kind of conservative who didn’t fit the polemical Tea Party mold.

Because of that declining level of affinity with the grassroots, Crenshaw faced a primary challenge in 2014 from Ryman Shoaf — and it was a closer race than many expected.

Crenshaw’s decision not to run for re-election set up a lively primary campaign, with Rutherford forced to fend off State Rep. Lake Ray and the biggest spender in the race, Hans Tanzler III.

Rutherford, evidently, will attempt to maintain as much continuity as possible. Jackie Smith, a Crenshaw holdover, will run the district office.

That realization of the importance of continuity by their replacements is a major difference — in terms of impact — to the departures of Corrine Brown and Ander Crenshaw.

Of course, there’s more to Jacksonville politics than arrivals and departures. Some issues persist no matter who the incumbent is.

***

#5: The ongoing battles of collective bargaining

When “County Referendum 1” passed Aug. 30, allowing the extension of the one-half cent local sales tax to be devoted to the unfunded liability conditional on closing one of the city’s pension plans to new hires, it represented the fulfillment of one quest and the necessary beginning of another.

Mayor Curry counted fire union head Randy Wyse and police union leader Steve Zona as allies in the run-up to the referendum. However, that was destined to be a short-term accord.

As the days got shorter in 2016, it became apparent that the city and its unions — especially its public-sector unions — were far apart.

The union heads will tell you: getting competent new hires to come in and stick around with a promise of little more than the same 401(k) an office jockey gets is not a sustainable strategy for workforce development and retention.

Cops in their 20s may not see that the future involves them being battered and broken down from the job. But add a wife and 2.5 kids to the equation, and then the future moves from an abstraction to reality.

Thus, the unions want the Florida Retirement System for new hires.

The current sheriff, Mike Williams, is caught between labor and management, and his comments to us a few weeks back reflect that.

While Williams wants a “competitive pay and benefit package,” he contends the “vehicle” doesn’t matter — a position that is news to the union.

Former Sheriff John Rutherford, advocating pensions for officers while in office, has yet to see a defined contribution plan accounting for the real downside risk of a career as an officer.

Expectations are that general employees will be the easier sell on DC plans for new hires. But with six bargaining units to deal with, consensus won’t be quick — and probably won’t be in time for the budget deliberations of June and July.

Amazingly (or not), another pension story makes the top ten.

****

#6: Drama continues between city and Police and Fire Pension Fund

The PFPF continues to serve as a piñata for local politicians; 2016 was no exception.

Things were relatively quiet between city hall and the pension fund in the first quarter, until the city and the fund squabbled over the controversial “senior staff voluntary retirement fund” that served to benefit former executive director John Keane and a few others.

Just as May brought in the summer heat, Jacksonville’s general counsel issued a ruling that — contrary to the PFPF position — the fund was subordinate to the city, and the general counsel was, in fact, the prevailing legal authority.

The PFPF attempted to appeal to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. But it didn’t do any good.

From there, the PFPF cropped up again — a $44 million accounting true-up, for which the fund claimed to have a waiver from the state, allowed Curry to win a November news cycle by excoriating the fund for its sloppy financial practices.

Curry’s ire was undercut in December, however.

The city’s CFO and the executive director of the PFPF appeared together at a Dec. 7 meeting of the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee.

They said the documents regarding the waiver leaked to the media before they had a chance to figure out a collaborative strategy to address it.

They also suggested that the extra $44 million or so of yearly costs — could be phased in over a few years, or even wiped out after collective bargaining with the public safety units wraps.

Whenever that is.

The CFO, Mike Weinstein, also undercut the mayor’s position by saying the $44 million was a “hiccup” compared to the larger unfunded liability.

A goal for the city of Jacksonville: to not have next year’s “stories of the year” piece marred by yet another chapter in the saga between the city and the PFPF.

There’s still a lot of work to do to get there.

***

#7: Municipal bond ratings improve.

In the “if it bleeds, it leads” world of television news, the esoterica of bond ratings doesn’t exactly drive the Nielsen #s.

But in the world of municipal government and finance, bond ratings determine the ability to borrow money, and the favorability of the repayment terms.

With that in mind, a big success of 2016 was rooted in Dec. 2015, when Mayor Curry and an entourage of senior city staffers flew to New York for that year’s annual meeting with the rating agencies.

Successes outnumbered failures.

JEA came out of the event with its first ever AAA rating. Standard & Poor’s Rating Services upgraded the rating on the City of Jacksonville’s sales tax revenue bonds to an “A+” from an “A” the previous year. Other rating upgrades followed.

By October, with the referendum out of the way, Curry’s office was able to trumpet the improved perception of its financial management.

Examples thereof: documentation of Better Jacksonville Plan sales tax revenue upgrades in February to A+ from S&P and Fitch, with a A1 from Moody’s in that category; a March upgrade to AA in excise tax revenue from Moody’s; a July Fitch AA long-term credit rating and an AA issuer credit rating predicated on expectations the city will “continue to demonstrate a prudent level of fiscal management” and “continue to moderate the impact of its pension liability on the annual budget;” similar upgrades in the special revenue rating in August; and an upgraded commercial paper rating in September.

Curry ran as a CEO type with an accounting background, and though his team deserves a lot of the credit regarding the nuts and bolts actions, Curry brought it together.

That wasn’t the only major story of 2016 involving JEA, however.

***

# 8: “JEA Agreement

“It’s important to put this in context,” Curry said in March when signing off on the deal.

When Curry came into office, there was a “narrative” that there “didn’t look like a way forward” for the mayor’s office, the Council, and JEA on an agreement.

Curry pushed Alvin Brown’s appointees out, for the most part, and put in his people, creating a “strong board.”

And that strong board was a mechanism to get an agreement between the city and its utility through 2021.

To recap: the JEA Agreement applies between the city and the utility through 2021, with the current JEA contribution set at about $114.2 million, with minimum annual increases of 1 percent. It also allocates $30 million of total funding, split evenly, from JEA and the city for five years for water and sewer projects. And two million dollars a year in water quality trading credits, which will go to stormwater needs.

The stormwater projects are already under way, and they will help to close a long-standing infrastructure gap between pre-Consolidation communities and the rest of the city.

Curry’s comfort level with JEA is such that even when the CEO was out of town during Hurricane Matthew, the mayor did not take the opportunity that some on the city council did to question his priorities and job performance.

Speaking of Hurricane Matthew, that was a pretty big deal also.

***

# 9: Hurricane Matthew

There was a reasonable chance in October that, if the storm had moved 40 miles west when trucking up the Florida coast, Jacksonville would have been devastated.

In fact, the city did pretty well, considering.

While St. Augustine got hit with higher winds and more devastating flooding, which the city is still recovering from, Jacksonville dodged the catastrophic hit that was feared as the storm approached.

To be clear: there were tens of millions of dollars of damage.

Debris removal from rights of way and parks cost a couple of million dollars.

Streets, drainage, and parks likewise required a real financial commitment.

The road to Huguenot Park still needs repair.

And over half the city lost power, with, in some cases, restoration taking up to a week.

But Mayor Curry, the sheriff’s office, and mayors of the beach communities coordinated evacuations for zones where half the city’s population lives (as well as the entirety of the county east of the Intracoastal), and despite the property damage and inconvenience, Jacksonville got through the storm.

***

#10: Duval GOP dysfunction

While there are probably stories offering more civic import, worth watching is the continuing decline of the Republican Party of Duval County.

This tale of infighting goes back well before 2016 began, of course. But 2016 had enough drama to make up for it.

The year started with Lake Ray as party chair. That lasted until May, when Cindy Graves took control.

All seemed to be going well enough. From the outside at least.

Karyn Morton, who backed Graves at least by the time votes were counted, said in a news release: “Cindy is the leader our party needs right now.”

Note the temporal phrasing.

The election came and went, and despite Trump getting elected, there was still some trouble brewing.

Just like Andrew Ridgely and George Michael in Wham!, the Morton/Graves alliance would turn a different corner soon enough.

By summer, Morton was grousing as Graves spoke at GOP events, saying that “the leader our party needs right now” doesn’t know when to shut up. [Paraphrased, obviously]

Summer turned to fall, leaves turned on and fell off the trees, and quiet dissidence turned into open rebellion.

December was Graves’ undoing.

Morton ran against Graves, and her speech brought the quiet frustrations to light, as it was peppered with descriptions of mistakes from past leadership.

Some of the old guard wasn’t allowed to vote, including Rep. John Rutherford and Mike Hightower.

Meanwhile, some new Republican Executive Committee members were allowed to vote. And they made the difference.

A veteran of party politics says Morton and the other party officials constitutes the “worst leadership since 1980,” predicting “Audrey Gibson will have a field day” as local Democratic chair, as Republicans “decentralize” in the short term … an important factor to look for as the 2018 races ramp up.

Will Morton be able to appease the donor class? That question remains to be answered.

***

And that was the year that was.

Will 2017 have as much barbecue-related drama as 2016?

Probably not.

But it will have drama, personality clashes and, if we’re lucky, some things on the policy front as well.

A.G. Gancarski surveys the wreckage of his 2016 predictions

When 2016 kicked off, the world was different, and our political prognoses reflected those false assurances.

We didn’t imagine President Donald Trump on a national level. We figured Hillary Clinton would end up taking on Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio in the general election. And we expected the rhetoric would sound like the previous two or three campaigns.

Regarding #jaxpol, we had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen also.

We figured that Ander Crenshaw would return to Congress with little opposition. And that Corrine Brown would, perhaps, end up running for Congress again from the Orlando area.

We weren’t actually thinking about the pension reform referendum from Jacksonville’s mayor either. It hadn’t even been announced yet.

In other words: baseline conventional wisdom assumptions going into 2016 were shredded by reality.

My 2016 predictions fared no better than those above.

***

Prediction 1: I guaranteed that the Human Rights Ordinance would go to a referendum unless Mayor Lenny Curry stopped it.

There was lots of talk on the right about Bill Gulliford and his measure to push for a popular plebiscite on expanding protections against discrimination in jobs, housing, and public accommodations to the LGBT community.

Gulliford’s bill was filed as a response to Tommy Hazouri introducing a bill that would add the LGBT community to protected classes under the current ordinance.

It looked like a showdown was imminent. Then a slowdown happened.

Hazouri couldn’t get enough commitments to get the bill through and withdrew the bill.

Some say that he felt pressure to do so because of the pension reform referendum becoming the city’s focus, and no one wanting two confusing referendums on the ballot.

The reality, though; the votes weren’t there.

***

Prediction 2: I said that if the Hazouri version of the HRO passed, Jacksonville politics would be a circus through August.

That was a moot point, of course. Though given the freak show nature of Northeast Florida primaries up and down the ballot, the “circus” part of the prediction held true.

***

Prediction 3 ruled that Florida’s 5th Congressional District race will illustrate the GOP symbiosis with Corrine Brown.

Expect Jacksonville Republicans to work, behind the scenes and otherwise, to ensure that Corrine Brown stays in CD 5 and maintains her seat. Undoubtedly, the converse will be true out west from Tallahassee Republicans. Lawson versus Brown will illustrate the dictum that all politics are local. Again,” I wrote a year ago.

This was written, of course, before Brown’s legal issues took center stage.

What ended up happening: Susie Wiles helped to show Lawson around town, including setting up an interview with the press. Denise Lee, a Democratic stalwart who works for Mayor Curry now, also helped. And even though Lawson wasn’t especially encyclopedic in his knowledge of Jacksonville issues, it didn’t really matter against a wounded incumbent in August.

And it didn’t matter in November, either, as Republican Glo Smith proved completely inept in maximizing any political advantages she might have had as the Jacksonville candidate.

***

Prediction 4 held that the Police and Fire Pension Fund drama would quiet down.

The reasoning: the lightning rod John Keane was no longer going to run the fund. Instead, Beth McCague would serve as a “cooler” as executive director.

The PFPF drama was quelled for much of the year. The unity push of Mayor Curry and the heads of the police and fire unions, vis-à-vis an extended push to sell the pension reform referendum bill in Tallahassee, and then with locals ahead of the referendum vote.

While things did get more interesting toward the end of the year, with a news cycle devoted to a $44 million “waiver” in pension costs, even that was muted by the city’s CFO saying that, given the larger scale of the $2.8 billion unfunded liability, the $44 million was a “hiccup.”

This prediction was less wrong than the previous three. For what that’s worth.

***

Unfortunately, Prediction 5 was also more right than it should have been.

We held that “UF Health’s funding woes” would still be “largely unaddressed” by year’s end.

And that, sadly, is true.

At the First Coast Legislative Delegation meeting at the end of November, CEO Russ Armistead urged the legislators not to be “embarrassed” to take federal money.

Armistead’s safety net hospital has been hamstrung both by the Obama/Rick Scott standoff on the Affordable Care Act, with Washington starving the Low-Income Pool — on which UF Health relies — of funds.

Armistead urged legislators to consider the continuation of the Low-Income Pool funding for uninsured patients, noting that the bulk of that money comes from intergovernmental transfers.

As well, he urged them to “support any federal program that will bring federal funds to Florida for health care,” saying that Florida has been “dramatically underfunded” for the last decade.

Armistead now has a new problem: the profitability of trauma centers.

UF Health’s unique value add as the only regional Level I trauma center has been challenged. And with that, adds Armistead, UF Health’s viability.

“Trauma was a losing business” years ago, Armistead said, but now “trauma is profitable.”

“I have 50 days of cash. So what will happen to us … I’ll be back in the newspaper saying we have to have additional funds,” Armistead added, “or drop to a Level 2.”

“If we don’t bring this trauma center expansion under control, I’ll be in financial trouble … and the quality won’t be as good as it was,” Armistead added.

Hopefully, President Trump can come through for UF Health. President Obama’s model did not.

***

Prediction 6 was a botch; “the right wing will turn on Lenny Curry” was the call.

That didn’t happen. Curry said HRO expansion wouldn’t be “prudent.” And that’s really all the social conservatives wanted him to say.

***

Prediction 7 was correct.

I posited that “Nikolai Vitti would have another tough year.”

And given the subtle attempt to get him to take his talents elsewhere by former Duval County School Board Chair Ashley Smith-Juarez, that prediction was on the nose.

***

Prediction 8 held that Jacksonville would explore privatizing some city services.

While those explorations may be happening, that didn’t quite come to pass as predicted.

Yet.

***

Prediction 9 involved races for the state House getting interesting.

If only all the predictions were such slam dunks.

The internecine GOP warfare in House District 11 — when Donnie Horner turned his budget in the end toward knocking Sheri Treadwell out of the race — was interesting.

The same was true in HD 12, where the race between Clay Yarborough and Terrance Freeman became a proxy battle between outside groups and their mailers, with even the Florida Times-Union weighing in — twice — on the propriety of the mailpieces.

And in HD 13, where Tracie Davis lost the primary, but won the seat when Reggie Fullwood pleaded guilty to two felony counts and left his race for re-election in the ultimate October Surprise.

HD 14? That one saw Kim Daniels dismantle the best-laid plans of Leslie Jean-Bart and her activist young Democrat supporters. Like no other candidate this cycle, Daniels made distinctly local appeals in Northwest Jacksonville and won despite the kind of stories that would have sunk other campaigns.

And in HD 16, Jason Fischer dismantled Dick Kravitz, a political lifer whose last ride was squashed by Fischer, with assists from Tim Baker and Brian Hughes.

Prediction 9? On the nose.

***

Meanwhile, Prediction 10 — “Jax lobbyists will bear fruit” — was also on point.

They brought home 90 percent of the city’s appropriations asks and got the pension reform referendum through both houses and the governor in Tallahassee.

Not a bad ROI for $150,000. But when that money gets invested in Fiorentino Group, Southern Strategy Group, and Ballard Partners, you can expect that.

Prediction 10 was on point.

***

Meanwhile, Predictions 11 and 12 pointed to the perils of predicting primary elections eight months before they happened.

Prediction 11 was validated: “the Public Defender’s race would be one to watch.”

To win, “Shirk will have to go negative, somehow, but there are inherent risks in going negative against someone as respected as Cofer, especially when Cofer has an attack dog, in the form of John Daigle, who is always ready to counter-message.”

Shirk did go negative — calling Cofer a liberal Democrat or whatever.

It didn’t take.

The oppo dumps came in, time and again, against the hapless Shirk. In fact, even after the election, reporters were still fed stories about irregularities in the public defender’s office.

So far, so good.

Prediction 12, meanwhile, posited that the State Attorney’s race would be a snoozer.

At that point in late December, it was the Punch and Judy act from Angela Corey and Wes White. If Melissa Nelson was listening to “Fight Song,” it was on her morning run.

But still! We got it wrong — bigly.

We wrote that “in Jacksonville, the political reality is that Corey is one of the most powerful and respected people in public service, able to work symbiotically with law enforcement and City Hall.”

We didn’t count on Nelson getting in the race, raising over a million dollars in the space of a couple of months, bringing on Brian Hughes and Tim Baker.

We didn’t count on Corey collapsing under the weight of her own hubris, symbolized by one of her henchmen driving to Tallahassee to file an opponent’s paperwork to close the primary, even as issues with staff donations and her retirement nest egg became campaign issues.

So, how did the 2016 predictions go?

We got six right. We got six wrong.

A 6-6 record is good enough for a college football bowl appearance.

But there’s definitely room for improvement.

The 2017 predictions surface later this week; we will see if that record improves … or gets even worse.

Jacksonville City Hall renovations done, but $80K over budget

The front entrance to Jacksonville’s City Hall is substantially renovated, and is open ahead of the anticipated January 2017 date of completion.

The schedule was “purposely accelerated to have the project complete before the holidays,” even as “minor grouting and cleanup work remain.”

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the project, budgeted at $549,000 earlier this year, came in $80,000 above that number.

The city’s public works department explained the cost escalators.

“There was one change order issued earlier this month that addressed some conditions found during construction and accelerated the completion date.  That change order was valued at $70,058.25, making the current contract value $619,058.25.  There will be a second change order valued at approximately $10,500 to cover extra work not in the original bid scope, including pressure washing and sealing the stone (steps, landing, columns) and landscaping. Final contract value is expected to be approximately $629,550.”

The project, handled by Jacksonville’s KBT Contracting, was dedicated to addressing issues of non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and included “new sidewalks, entrance landings, walks, steps, ramps, railing, planters, modification of the existing store front system at the east entrance to add new entrance doors, and related construction of cast stone brick pavers, concrete, retaining wall, concrete masonry foundation walls, concrete and steel structural framing and foundations, precast stones, landscaping improvements, tree grates, bollard relocation, electrical work, irrigation work, plumbing work, and all other related work not specified herein but which is necessary to complete the project.”

The four-story brick building was designed a century ago by Henry Klutho, and boasts a skylight as one of its key design elements.

The post-Consolidation exodus of meaningful retail from downtown left the building vacant until Mayor Ed Austin revived the structure in his River City Renaissance initiative.

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