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.”
Tia Mitchell profiles Jay Fant
Fant finally got a recent profile piece in the Florida Times-Union/St. Augustine Record, although it read like Mitchell’s heart wasn’t in it.
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.
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 Florida reports 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-Union that 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.