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Jacksonville courthouse stage for jazz festival draws heated criticism from pols

Jacksonville held another iteration of its yearly jazz festival over Memorial Day weekend, but a number of local politicians critiqued a scheduling decision for the well-attended event.

City decision makers did not use the Jacksonville Landing as a location for a festival stage; a move not altogether surprising given the continued legal back and forth between the city and Landing tenant Toney Sleiman.

Sleiman, a prominent political donor, set up an oppositional relationship with the Lenny Curry administration even before Curry was elected (by appearing in an ad for Curry’s 2015 opponent, then-incumbent Alvin Brown, concomitant with a Brown/Sleiman proposal to spend nearly $12 million on a teardown and rebuild plan for the declining Landing).

Since Curry’s election, the administration and Sleiman have not been able to agree on terms, and the city currently is moving to take possession of the waterfront mall from Sleiman, with each side claiming breach of contractual obligations.

While the back and forth continues in legal channels, politicians opposed to Lenny Curry used the move of a performance stage from the Landing to the “iconic” backdrop of the Duval County Courthouse as a launchpad for more holistic critiques.

Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis, a frequent Curry critic, took to Twitter to castigate the move, saying that his “community” did not see the courthouse as “iconic or welcoming,” but symbolic of oppression and injustice.

“Not surprising that Mayor Curry is playing politics once again. Last year, one of the Jazz Fest stages was at The Landing. Due to a personal vendetta, the Mayor has relocated the stage from The Landing (on the river) to the front lawn of the “iconic” courthouse,” Dennis tweeted. “In case he doesn’t know, my community doesn’t believe the courthouse is either iconic or welcoming. In fact, it’s a place that symbolizes struggle and injustice. Not to mention, the city will pay to restore the lawn after the Jazz Fest is over. Smooth (jazz) move, Mr. Mayor.”

Connell Crooms, one of a number of candidates vying to replace Curry in 2019, took to Facebook to call Curry a “racist bully” over the move.

“It seems for the sake of professional decorum, the people of color on city council are too afraid to say what black people in Jacksonville have long been saying: Lenny Curry is a racist bully,” Crooms asserted.

Crooms’ support for his claim includes citing the mayor as an “avid and unapologetic Trump supporter” who “brought Trump to Jacksonville not once but TWICE and has never criticized the president’s racist policies.”

“Curry used black entertainment (Jazz Festival) as a pawn in his personal spat with the tenants at the Landing, moving the stage to the courthouse billing it as an ‘iconic’ backdrop,” Crooms charged, saying that the incumbent has “bullied the people of color on city council to pass what he wants often at the expense of black citizens and working people.”

(Worth noting: Sleiman’s Jacksonville Landing staged the city’s first Trump rally in 2015, with Sleiman then serving as victory chairman for Trump’s local campaign, vowing to put Trump signs in “every shopping center” he owned.)

“Curry is a racist bully. In a city that’s over 30 percent black, we’re voting him out next year,” Crooms said. “Celebrate that.”

Diallo-Sekou Seabrooks, running to replace Katrina Brown on the City Council, lauded Dennis for speaking out.

“Glad to one city official mention the stage and courthouse. The rest will sit and say no big deal. Like the most of the public,” Seabrooks observed, adding that “some will excuse the oppressive manner it represents. Ignore the many protest[s] held on its lawn. Ignore the many wrongly accused. [In] my mind there is more wrong than good taking place in there!”

We are reaching out to the Curry administration for comment on these claims. Check back for updates.

Underdog Chris King vows to compete for Northeast Florida votes

Chris King, an entrepreneur from Orlando running for Governort, returned to Jacksonville Thursday, his second straight day in Northeast Florida.

Florida Politics caught up with the Democrat ahead of his closed press visit to a church in the Springfield neighborhood, where the progressive political neophyte pitched his policy positions to faith leaders from the region.

King, who has television ads airing in the area, has been canvassing the state with his “Turning the Tide” tour, a push for criminal justice reform that includes opposition to mass incarceration, the death penalty, and private prisons; advocacy of cannabis legalization; voting rights restoration; and “ending the school-to-prison pipeline.”

His final stop on that 11-day “criminal justice” tour was Thursday evening at Florida Coastal School of Law.

In third or fourth place in most polls, King has concentrated his efforts below the I-4 corridor for most of the campaign.

However, there may be some hope yet. As he notes, a new Florida Atlantic University poll has King in a strong third place, within six points of first.

He sees room to grow, and that room is in Northeast Florida.

“I’m dedicated over the next three months to be here a lot,” King enthused. “In fact, it was one of the first markets where we went up on television. We went up in five markets, and Jacksonville is one of them. We think our message resonates in North Florida and the Jacksonville market.”

FP asked King, who is running in the progressive lane of the field with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, if he had any concern that they were cannibalizing each other’s votes.

He did not.

“I have had the ability to get progressives excited on some of my stances,” King said, “such as criminal justice, mass incarceration, the death penalty, and marijuana legalization. But I also have a real deep-seated economic vision for the state, which is another lane of voters I’m fighting for.”

King noted the “economy is not working for a lot of families,” even as “the wealthy and well-connected” flourish.

King went on to appraise his opponents.

When asked about Gwen Graham, the moderate in the race, King asserted that “voters want fresh ideas and new leadership.”

“Almost 50 percent of the voters are undecided,” King said, “we’ve got three candidates in the race who voters have known for years and years, their families for decades. I’m the only real new candidate in the race … something different” from the pack.

“What makes me different from Andrew Gillum or Gwen Graham or Philip Levine,” King asserted, “is my willingness to be pretty bold and visionary on the big ideas of Florida.”

Jacksonville Bold for 5.25.18 — Game theory

We’ve reached the point in the primary cycle where, by now, campaign groundwork and infrastructure should be well underway.

Bold is offering evidence of that proposition.

Smart candidates are bringing out the big endorsements, and less seasoned candidates making career-killing gaffes.

The operatives are talking. If our Jacksonville correspondent isn’t typing, odds are good he is fielding a call from one or another.

Sometimes, what they say may even be true.

For those who have been reading Florida Politics in the Jacksonville market since 2014, what’s clear is that we much of the work — explaining why someone is winning (or losing).

Moments have predictive value. Trends emerge from specific phenomena. And the savvy players, whether donors, consultants, pols or endorsers are making rational transactional decisions.

Some like to sentimentalize politics. But they are soon disappointed when it is revealed (yet again) that the business is a discipline — and well-organized people, and operations, tend to do the best business.

Scott trumpets yet another record low crime rate

Tuesday morning, Gov. Rick Scott was in Jacksonville with what his office called a “major announcement” on “Florida’s safe communities” and the 2017 FDLE Crime Report.

Rick Scott, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, Mayor Lenny Curry talk crime-fighting.

Crime rates have decreased during the Scott era (from a 40 year low to a 46 year low and now, a 47 year low), and his trumpeting of the statistical decreases have become a yearly tradition, which allows the outgoing Governor and current Senate candidate to spotlight budget allocations for public safety measures.

“This year, our budget invested more than $5.2 billion in public safety, a more than $300 million increase over last year,” Scott said. “This investment includes $22.8 million to pay increases for state sworn law enforcement officers, which includes the 5 percent raise I signed last year.”

Scott also trumpeted a 10 percent raise for juvenile probation officers and increased funding for prevention programs for at-risk youth.

“As our economy continues to grow,” Scott said, “we continue to invest more money in law enforcement. These investments are clearly working. Crime in our state is at a 47-year low.”

“The crime rate dropped by 6 percent in 2017, including a reduction in violent crime of 3 percent,” Scott said.

Scott spotlighted several officers who died since mid-April, including Officer Lance Whitaker of Jacksonville, asking for a moment of silence in commemoration.

Scott was accompanied by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams, who spotlighted local efforts, including hiring more police officers and a 36 percent decrease in nonfatal shootings in Q1 2018.

Graham returns to Jacksonville

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Gwen Graham found herself on familiar turf Monday evening, addressing the monthly meeting of the Duval Democratic Party.

Gwen Graham works the crowd in Jacksonville Monday.

In Jacksonville, Graham — once seen as a prohibitive front-runner for the nomination — made at least one “comeback kid” posture, noting that in her 2014 race for Congress, some political reporters bet against her and others said she couldn’t win.

Graham also noted her commitment to progressive ideals in the remarks, including education, public option for health care, and gun control measures, before saying that “these things don’t matter if you can’t win.”

Graham espoused a commitment to the “67 county strategy,” a phrase also used by opponent Philip Levine. While a candidate has to do well in South Florida and the I-4 Corridor, “elections are won or lost north of Orlando.”

And Graham insisted that went beyond just Jacksonville, noting that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton “did well in Duval but got beaten badly west of here,” by way of making the case that the key is to “not get beaten so badly in places where Democrats have lost in the past.”

“Look at the data, and you will see: the reality is you have to do well everywhere,” Graham added. “You can’t write off any part of the state and think there’s a path to victory.”

Curry backs Waltz in CD 6

A major regional endorsement from Mayor Curry went to Mike Waltz Monday in the three-way GOP primary in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

The machine comes through again. [Photo: Jax Daily Record]

Curry and Waltz share some of the same political advisers; judging from the quotes of mutual admiration, there is ideological affinity as well.

“Michael Waltz is a leader and a warrior with a servant’s heart,” Curry said.

“From the battlefield to the halls of power, Mike has already demonstrated a deep reverence for the Constitution and a willingness to fight for the conservative values we share. Washington needs people who instead of saying what they want to do will simply get things done. Florida needs more conservative voices in Congress, and that’s why I am proud to endorse and support Michael Waltz for Congress,” Curry asserted.

“Mayor Lenny Curry is a true leader, visionary and champion for real conservative reform,” said Michael Waltz. “He has worked tirelessly to enact a positive conservative agenda with real results for the people of Northeast Florida. I am humbled by Mayor Curry’s support and look forward to working together in the months ahead.”

The GOP race in CD-6, where candidates vie to replace outgoing Rep. Ron DeSantis, has been an interesting one, with Waltz and John Ward both raising serious money for what will be an expensive primary straddling three media markets (Jacksonville, Daytona and Orlando).

Ward: Puerto Ricans shouldn’t vote here

John Ward, a Republican running to succeed DeSantis in CD 6, looks to have made the biggest gaffe of his political career recently.

John Ward’s comments drew fire from inside and outside his party.

According to Fox News, Ward asserted that displaced Puerto Ricans shouldn’t be allowed to vote in Florida.

“I don’t think they should be allowed to register to vote,” Ward said, given that “the Democrat Party is really hoping that they can change the voting registers in a lot of counties and districts, and I don’t think they should be allowed to do that,” Ward said at an April forum.

Instead, Ward added that Puerto Ricans “belong” in Puerto Rico.

Per the Orlando Sentinel, likely Democratic nominee Nancy Soderberg blasted the comments:

“Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States, plain and simple, and every bit as American as John Ward,” Soderberg said in a statement. “Every American citizen, regardless of where they come from, deserve a vote.”

DeSantis — who took issue with Ward filing for the seat before he was officially running for Governor — blasted his would-be replacement via POLITICO, saying the comments were “beyond the pale.”

Gibson investigates ‘problem spa’

Per Action News Jax, Sen. Audrey Gibson investigated a “problem spa” on Jacksonville’s Southside late last week.

When she walked up to the building, Gibson’s reaction: “Who the hell would want to come here for a massage? It’s seedy!”

Audrey Gibson and reporter Tenikka Hughes (above) investigated a seedy spa late last week.

Gibson and reporter Tenikka Hughes had an interesting dialogue with spa staff, which we include below.

Gibson: “Do you know there’s been illegal activity at this place? Did you know about that?”

Worker: “I don’t know.”

Hughes: “You see, it says sweet, young Asian girls. None of these girls work here?”

Worker: “No, no, no.”

Hughes: “Did you know it was being advertised like this?”

Worker: “I don’t know. That’s the first time I saw.”

Gibson: “Can we come in and see your massage rooms?”

Worker: “No.”

Doubts of Gibson permeate Senate Dem caucus

Two new political committees speak to doubts about the way forward for Senate Democrats, for which Sen. Gibson is Leader-Designate.

Audrey Gibson. (Image via Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

This is the “latest, most indelible sign of a growing rift within the caucus and yet the divide may be improving the minority party’s chances of retaking the chamber.”

“In late April, Friends of Kevin Rader PC was established by David Ramba, a prominent Tallahassee lobbyist who administers dozens of political committees on behalf of a broad range of political clients. Also recently formed was Future Democratic Majority PC and, in addition to Rader, involves Sens. Randolph BracyLauren Book from Plantation, Linda Stewart from Orlando, Bobby Powell from West Palm Beach, and Darryl Rouson from St. Petersburg.”

Per one consultant: “It’s about a crisis of confidence in Audrey (Gibson) and a fear of what the caucus might become if Gary Farmer is eventually given the reins.”

Gibson faces a primary challenge from Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown. What’s clear, however, is that the issues around the state are at least worthy of monitoring for the incumbent.

Expect big money for Hutson committee

Sen. Travis Hutson was this week supported at a fundraising reception for his First Coast Business Foundation, and Curry was the special guest at an event heavy on names of prominent politicos, donors and lobbyists.

Travis Hutson is consolidating regional support, which will allow him to reach out statewide.

Event chairs included Marty Fiorentino, former Congressional candidate Hans Tanzler (endorsed by Hutson in 2016), JEA Board member Husein Cumber, Jaguars’ lobbyist and all-around problem solver Paul Harden, and bestbet’s Jamie Shelton.

Among the standout names on the host committee: charter school impresario Gary Chartrand and the Jax Chamber mainstay Daniel Davis.

A similar group of players came together last year for a fundraiser in support of future House Speaker Paul Renner, whose political committee had a $261,000 month because of it.

Hutson is pursuing the Senate presidency in 2022, and fundraisers like this for his political committees will fuel the work to secure support for his bid.

In April, his Sunshine State Conservatives political committee got a boost reflective of similar support from different players.

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

Firefighters back Polson in HD 15

Democrat Tracye Polson is still waiting to find out which of three Republicans will emerge from the August primary to face her in the House District 15 race.

Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters head Randy Wyse addresses a crowd downtown.

But she doesn’t have to wait any longer for the endorsement of one of Jacksonville’s most influential public-sector unions.

The Jacksonville Association of Firefighters gave its imprimatur to Polson, meaning that no matter what happens in the GOP battle, she can count on union backing.

“I am humbled to have earned the support of the men and women of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters. This endorsement is particularly meaningful to me. As a licensed mental health professional, I’ve spent many years treating victims of trauma and I know the critical impact first responders have when they arrive on the scene of fire and medical emergencies. District 15 continues to battle the opioid epidemic, having two ZIP codes with the highest rate of overdoses in the city,” said Polson.

“Furthermore, because of the stressors first responders are exposed to every day, they have increased rates of PTSD and suicide. And this impacts their loved ones and our entire community, too. I will be a staunch advocate for them and their families,” Polson added.

The local Fraternal Order of Police had previously endorsed Polson, giving her a public safety sweep.

Bowman, Wilson take Jacksonville City Council helm

The top job starting July 1 in the Jacksonville City Council will go to current Vice President Aaron Bowman, elected President-Designate Tuesday.

Aaron Bowman and Scott Wilson will lead the Council starting July 1.

There was little surprise: Weeks prior, Bowman had 13 of the 19 councilors pledging support.

Bowman, a VP for the Jacksonville Chamber‘s business recruitment wing JAXUSA Partnership, will represent a break from the chaotic, parlous dynamic between current President Anna Lopez Brosche and Mayor Curry.

Republican Scott Wilson took the VP spot — notable because he entered Tuesday with no pledges and overcame intense lobbying from the head of the Republican Party of Duval County for his opponent, Danny Becton.

BBQ botch

Earlier this month, the city filed suit against Councilwoman Katrina Brown, a first-term Democratic member of the Council’s Finance Committee, for breach of guaranty, relative to a defaulted loan of $380,000 to the Browns’ family business, CoWealth LLC. [COJ v Katrina Brown]

Questions remain about Katrina Brown’s political future after a city lawsuit was filed against her.

CoWealth defaulted on the loan after Jan. 1, 2017, per the filing, which noted that the city is owed over $346,000 in principal, in addition to interest, late charges and so forth.

The city has retained Burr and Forman LLP to represent its interests.

To recap, the city fronted CoWealth $380,000 of loans from the city of Jacksonville and $220,000 of grants in 2011 to build a BBQ sauce plant in Northwest Jacksonville. The grant money was conditional on the company creating 56 permanent jobs, but none were created.

The city won a default judgment against the businesses, but that was effectively worthless. Brown’s parents, including her mother who ran the businesses, filed for bankruptcy months ago.

This news is ill-timed for Councilwoman Brown, who has drawn no fewer than seven challengers for her District 8 seat.

Brown will stay on the Council, she said Tuesday, and will continue her run for re-election.

Another one bites the dust

Jacksonville’s latest Inspector General, James Hoffman, took all of six sentences in a terse resignation letter late Friday to end his twelve-month tenure.

James Hoffman. (Image via Jacksonville Daily Record)

Hoffman is the second permanent inspector general to leave the role in recent years, and the second one to last a year or less.

“I would like to thank you for the trust placed in me to lead the Office of Inspector General. The last 12 months have been personally and professionally rewarding. I have enjoyed learning and working in the consolidated government. I have been inspired by the professionals within the Office working tirelessly every day to make our government more effective and efficient. However, for personal and professional reasons, I resign as the Inspector General for the City of Jacksonville,” Hoffman wrote.

The resignation will be effective June 8.

Back in 2016, Thomas Cline left the position, after less than a year. Steve Rohan, a former city lawyer, also served on an interim basis in between the two permanent hires.

It took the Inspector General Selection and Retention Committee roughly that long to secure Hoffman as a permanent replacement.

Jacksonville City Council members, including the president of the body and the body’s chief advocate for an IG position, didn’t see the departure coming.

Land Trust honored for fort preservation

The North Florida Land Trust was recognized recently with the 2018 Florida Preservation Organizational Achievement award for the work they did to acquire and preserve the 1898 Spanish-American War Fort.

The property had been purchased at a tax deed sale, and the buyer had considered demolition. However, a combination of $162,500 in city funds, a $100,000 donation from the Delores Barr Weaver fund, and other support combined to meet the $400,000 purchase price.

NFLT brings home the hardware.

Per a media release: “NFLT was chosen for the Florida Trust’s Preservation Award in the organizational achievement category for the capital campaign they led to preserve the 1898 Spanish-American War Fort. NFLT partnered with the National Park Service in 2015 to serve as the acquisition and fundraising partner to save the fort. They negotiated with the landowner who had acquired the property at a tax deed sale and had planned to destroy the fort to build a house. The staff then set out on a yearlong capital campaign to raise the money needed to purchase the property and save the fort.”

“This is an example of what a community can achieve when we work together to save an important part of our state’s history,” said Jim McCarthy, president of NFLT. “When we took this on in 2015, it was the largest capital campaign our organization had ever undertaken in its 16-year history. Our then small staff of six worked very hard to achieve our goal to save the fort. With help from the City of Jacksonville, the Delores Barr Weaver Fund and many in the community who contributed to the campaign, we were able to raise the money needed to purchase this property and save a piece of Jacksonville history.”

The National Park Service will be the ultimate custodians of the fort.

Tim Nolan takes helm of TOTE

Per media release: Tim Nolan has been named the next President and CEO of TOTE Inc., the parent company to TOTE Maritime and TOTE Services.

Tim Nolan, current President of TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, will take over July 16.

“I am honored and excited to step into this new leadership role with TOTE,” commented Nolan. “The TOTE team is an exemplary group of people and I am confident that together we will make this a successful transition. I look forward to working closely with customers, vendors and key stakeholders as well as all of the TOTE companies.”

TOTE’s corporate headquarters is moving to Jacksonville, where both TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico and TOTE Services are currently based.

Nolan will key in on selecting his replacement in his previous role: the next president for TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico.

Art attack

WJCT reports that Jacksonville’s decision to sell “Iva,” a painting by Joan Mitchell that had not been displayed in a decade, will mean big profits for city coffers.

“Leaders in the arts community now have $2.8 million in their pockets, thanks to the auction seller’s fees being waived by Christie’s grant of a 104 percent return.”

“Iva” by Joan Mitchell.

The money will be split 50/50 by the city and its Museum of Contemporary Art.

The city’s share will go toward its Arts in Public Places program, which has $700,000 in unmet maintenance needs.

Black Creek land deals cut

The state has acquired the land needed for a project to pump water out of Black Creek and into aquifers at Keystone Heights, reports the Florida Times-Union.

The Black Creek project is expected to replenish area lakes, such as in Keystone Heights.

“The project calls for using Black Creek — which floods frequently — as an alternative water supply to meet the region’s future water needs by helping replenish the Floridan aquifer, the state’s main water source. It is the first attempt in Northeast Florida to use water from a creek or river to recharge the aquifer.”

There are critics, including HD 19 Democratic candidate Paul Still.

Still got in the race against incumbent Bobby Payne in part because of the “Black Creek boondoggle,” and he still is unmollified.

“It should be clear that the wetlands associated with Black Creek at Penney Farms require frequent high creek levels to keep them functioning and that withdrawing water at the proposed rate for the Black Creek Project would harm those wetlands,” said Still.

Chambers wins eco dev award

Via a news release from the Jax Chamber: “Cathy Chambers, JAXUSA Partnership senior vice president of strategy and business development, was honored with the prestigious Eunice Sullivan Economic Development Professional of the Year Award at the 2018 Florida Economic Development Council (FEDC) Annual Conference on Tuesday.”

“The FEDC recognized Chambers as a leader of business development success and advocacy for the profession, the region and women in the field,” the release continues. “During her tenure at JAXUSA Partnership, Chambers spearheaded efforts to attract more than 10,000 jobs and capital investment to the Northeast Florida region, including significant projects such as Deutsche Bank, Macquarie, Citibank, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Web.com, PNC Mortgage and EverBank, among others.”

“Cathy is a highly respected voice for economic development in the Northeast Florida region and the state,” said Jerry Mallot, president of JAXUSA Partnership and 1997 recipient of the Eunice Sullivan Award. “Many business decision-makers and site consultants have recounted that they are drawn to the region because of Cathy’s professionalism, credibility and knowledge. She consistently impresses our clients resulting in their investment in the region which is good, not only for them but also for our community.”

Jags’ Ramsey makes plans for fatherhood; trolls Bills’ QB

With Father’s Day just three weeks away, Jaguars’ cornerback Jalen Ramsey is looking forward to his first. He is already making plans for the future when it comes to the young Ramsey.

Whether he becomes the father of a boy or girl, he would like for the child to follow in the footsteps of his or her parents. He sees a potential track star in the 2030s.

Jalen Ramsey looks forward to Father’s Day.

Both Ramsey and his girlfriend both ran track in high school back in Tennessee. The former FSU All-American was also a track star in Tallahassee.

“Hopefully he or she will be a little track star,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ramsey is getting ready for training camp by doing something else he does well. One of the league’s best shutdown corners is also one of the league’s most prolific agitators.

The target this time was Buffalo Bills’ rookie quarterback Josh Allen. When the Bills spoke of the impending first pass of Allen’s career during a rookie workout, Ramsey retweeted “that’s a pick waiting to happen.”

Ramsey later deleted the post, but Allen was asked about it later.

Allen said Ramsey’s barb did not bother him at all. “That’s one of the best corners in the league,” he said.

One of the best talkers, too.

Lawsuit won’t push Katrina Brown off Jacksonville City Council

Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown is being sued personally by the city of Jacksonville, the fallout from an economic development deal gone bust.

Earlier this month, the city filed suit against Brown, a first-term Democratic member of the Finance Committee, for breach of guaranty, relative to a defaulted loan of $380,000 to the Browns’ family business, CoWealth LLC. [COJ v Katrina Brown].

Brown talked to Jacksonville media on Tuesday, and she insisted that she is not stepping down and will continue her bid for re-election.

“I came here today and wanted to give an explanation, but … my legal team advised me, because it’s in litigation, not to give any details on it,” Brown said regarding the suit.

Brown offered a “no comment” when asked if the suit was politically motivated, 10 months before city elections.

“I’m going to continue to lead,” Brown said.

This suit is ill-timed for Councilwoman Brown, who has drawn no fewer than seven challengers for her District 8 seat.

Six of them were from her own Democratic Party. One of the challengers died soon after filing, leaving five Democrats and one NPA candidate in the mix.

Despite bad news cycles including the business woes described above, and an altercation with local police when a council colleague was pulled over, Brown nonetheless is running for re-election.

In her first month of actual fundraising, Brown raked in $7,000, from $500 and $1,000 checks from outside the district.

Advocates for Business Growth ponied up, as did developers (the Sonoc Company, Leone Development and Nocatee Development, along with Sleiman Holdings), and attorneys interested in development (Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow).

Brown is still in a distant third place in terms of total money raised. The leader, Tameka Gaines Holly, brought in $3,458 in April (much of the money from within the district), leaving her with roughly $19,000 on hand.

Rick Scott trumpets another record low state crime rate

Gov. Rick Scott was in Jacksonville Tuesday morning, with what his office called a “major announcement” regarding “Florida’s safe communities” and the 2017 FDLE Crime Report.

Crime rates have decreased during the Scott era (from a 40 year low to a 46 year low and now, a 47 year low), and his trumpeting of the statistical decreases have become a yearly tradition, which allow the outgoing Governor and current Senate candidate to spotlight budget allocations for public safety measures.

“This year, our budget invested more than $5.2 billion in public safety, a more than $300 million increase over last year,” Scott said. “This investment includes $22.8 million to pay increases for state sworn law enforcement officers, which includes the 5 percent raise I signed last year.”

Scott also trumpeted a 10 percent raise for juvenile probation officers, and increased funding for prevention programs for at-risk youth.

“As our economy continues to grow,” Scott said, “we continue to invest more money in law enforcement. These investments are clearly working. Crime in our state is at a 47 year low.”

“The crime rate dropped by 6 percent in 2017, including a reduction in violent crime of 3 percent,” Scott said.

Scott spotlighted a number of officers who have perished since mid-April, including Officer Lance Whitaker of Jacksonville, asking for a moment of silence in commemoration.

Scott was accompanied by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams, who spotlighted local efforts, including hiring more police officers and a 36 percent decrease in non-fatal shootings in Q1 2018.

Another Jacksonville Inspector General resigns, continued challenge for watchdog role

Jacksonville’s latest Inspector General, James Hoffman, used six sentences in a terse resignation letter submitted late Friday to end his twelve-month tenure.

Hoffman is the second permanent inspector general to leave the role in recent years – and the second one to last a year or less.

“I would like to thank you for the trust placed in me to lead the Office of Inspector General. The last 12 months have been personally and professionally rewarding. I have enjoyed learning and working in the consolidated government. I have been inspired by the professionals within the Office working tirelessly every day to make our government more effective and efficient. However, for personal and professional reasons, I resign as the Inspector General for the City of Jacksonville,” Hoffman wrote.

The resignation will be effective Jun. 8, Hoffman added.

Legislation in October 2014 created the Jacksonville Inspector General position; it was affirmed by referendum the next year.

Finding a steady, long-term presence for the position, however, has been a challenge.

Back in 2016, Thomas Cline left the position, after less than a year. Steve Rohan, a former city lawyer, also served on an interim basis in between the two permanent hires.

It took the Inspector General Selection and Retention Committee roughly that long to secure Hoffman as a permanent replacement.

City Council President Anna Brosche noted: “Mr. Hoffman’s resignation was news to me. I can’t speak to the pattern of individuals serving in the position for a limited duration. The Office of Inspector General is an important function supported by the people of Jacksonville, and I look forward us finding someone to champion efforts to ferret out fraud, waste and abuse in our local government.”

Brosche has a bill currently in Council committees that would allow for a rotating chair position for the again-relevant Inspector General Selection and Retention Committee.

However, she was unaware that he planned to resign, noting that the June 1 meeting of the committee was to review Hoffman’s performance.

Councilman John Crescimbeni, an advocate for the office, likewise was surprised by the resignation.

“I did not know he had resigned and had no indication he was contemplating the same. I am completely surprised and more than perplexed over why we have difficulty hiring and retaining an IG. My last correspondence with Mr. Hoffman was about the proposed legislation to clean up the Ordinance Code as it relates to the Office of the IG. Again, totally surprised,” Crescimbeni said Monday morning.

Per the Jacksonville Daily Record, the OIG budget has ballooned since the office’s most recent inception, approaching a million dollars in the most recent fiscal year (almost a fivefold increase from FY 14/15 levels).

The Record notes that the office received 103 complaints in FY 16/17, closing “69 cases created from those and previous complaints and filed 12 reports comprising two audits, five contract oversight observations and five reports of findings following investigations.”

Among the savings cited by the Daily Record: scrutiny of cellphone contracts for overages, terminated employees, and the like. OIG identified $90,000 in waste; city officials agreed with $41,000 of those findings.

Jacksonville Bold for 5.18.18 — Relationship business

As Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is fond of saying: politics is a “relationship business.”

So, this edition of Bold spotlights the utility of political friendships.

Whether running for Congress or state or local office, you’d better have your friends’ endorsements (well-timed) and the interest of the donor class (early, and often).

In each category, there will be examples of the haves — and have-nots.

File this edition away, come back to it in 100 days or so. You will see a direct correlation (if not causation) between who got the help they needed and who had juice with the voters.

Biden backs Soderberg for Congress

Ambassador Nancy Soderberg rolled out her most high-profile endorsement for her Congressional race yet Monday, with former Vice President Joe Biden backing the Clinton administration alum.

Nancy Soderberg was instrumental in Bill Clinton-era foreign policy.

“I’ve known Nancy for three decades since she first started her work in the Senate,” said Vice President Biden. “She is a lifelong public servant who has served at the highest levels of government. At the White House and as an Ambassador to the United Nations, Nancy brokered international peace deals and helped develop and promote U.S. national security policy. She understands what it’s like to bring both sides to the table and solve complex issues. She’s been tested and she’s delivered.”

Biden is “supporting Nancy because she’s a problem solver, and will fight for the values of the 6th District: growing the middle class, creating jobs you can raise a family on, ensuring every family has access to affordable health care and every child can get an affordable education. She has the knowledge and experience to make a difference and get things done for the people of the 6th District.”

Soderberg, meanwhile, is “honored to have the support of Vice President Biden, who has dedicated his life to standing up for American men, women and children.”

Florida’s 6th Congressional District, currently represented by Rep. Ron DeSantis, extends from St. Johns County south to Volusia on Florida’s east coast.

Dems rally behind Lawson

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson hinted earlier this month about a swath of endorsements from Florida Democratic colleagues in Congress, and Monday he delivered.

Rep. Al Lawson (shown with French President Emmanuel Macron) trumpeted a swath of Congressional endorsements this week.

In total, eight endorsements came his way: Reps. Darren SotoVal DemingsCharlie CristKathy CastorLois FrankelTed DeutchDebbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.

“I am humbled to receive the support of my colleagues as we continue to make our economy stronger, communities safer and produce results that all North Florida families can be proud of,” Lawson said.

These endorsements come at a key time for Lawson. Alvin Brown, the former Jacksonville mayor currently primarying Lawson, enjoyed a two-to-one fundraising advantage during the first quarter of 2018.

And that means that Brown has pulled close to incumbent U.S. Rep. Lawson in terms of cash on hand.

For the quarter, Brown brought in $167, 088, while Lawson hauled in $83,866.

Lawson had $100,000 cash on hand at the end of 2017 before Brown got in the race. Now Lawson has just under $160,000 and Brown has just over $127,000.

A. Brown lauds Ramadan; decries anti-Muslim discrimination

As incumbent Lawson collected endorsements, challenger Brown staked out the high ground.

Former Jacksonville Mayor and current 5th Congressional District Democratic hopeful Brown became the first and so far only North Florida candidate this cycle to laud the beginning of Ramadan.

Alvin Brown made his first public statement in his career on Ramadan this week.

In a statement released this week, Brown lauded the beginning of the annual celebration, while decrying discrimination against American Muslims.

“At sunset, Muslims in my district and across America will begin their monthlong celebration of the holy month of Ramadan. The month is an auspicious time for the Muslim community when the faithful will use the month to not only fast from dawn to dusk each day but also spend time to renew the spirit of their faith,” Brown asserted.

“Our nation is founded on the creed ‘E Pluribus Unum’ and this creed affirms that diversity is our national strength. We celebrate that diversity by recognizing religious pluralism as foundational to our national unity,” Brown added.

“At a time when the American Muslim community is facing unprecedented bigotry and discrimination, I join all Americans of goodwill and conscience to uphold the dignity of all our citizens. May this Ramadan be a source of blessings and joy to all those who choose to celebrate this month. Santhea and I wish all my American Muslim neighbors a very Blessed Ramadan,” Brown concluded.

Gibson stretches lead over hapless primary challenger

Jacksonville political watchers are beginning to wonder about the strategy of City Councilman Reggie Brown, who opted to primary Democratic Senate Minority Leader-Designate Audrey Gibson in August but has not yet actually raised any funds.

Reggie Brown is having problems getting traction against a heavily backed incumbent.

Through April, Gibson was far in the lead fundraising wise with more than $132,000 banked, with Brown far behind, closing the month with just $4 on hand.

Gibson has been quiet about her challenger but has committed to fundraising, with strong April receipts measuring over $17,000, pushing her over $156,000 raised and to the aforementioned $132,000 cash on hand.

Gibson brought in receipts from unions, such as the police and fire locals, as well as racing interests, Crowley Maritime, and traditional Republican donors such as John Rood and John Baker.

FOP crosses party lines in state House races

Jacksonville’s local Fraternal Order of Police went bipartisan with its latest swath of endorsements for state House, including choosing a Democrat over a field of Republicans running to replace Jay Fant.

In House District 15, the FOP endorsed Tracye Polson over Republicans Wyman DugganJoseph Hogan and Mark Zeigler.

The language of the endorsement lauded Polson’s “dedication to her community.”

Trayce Polson continues to build momentum in what has been a disciplined campaign.

Polson is the safest bet of the four candidates in the race, in that she is unopposed for her party’s nomination. Between her campaign account and that of her “Better Jacksonville” political committee, she has raised $211,000, with $135,000 on hand.

The FOP offered two other endorsements in the latest rollout, backing incumbent Republicans over underfunded Democrats.

In HD 11 and 12, the union went with Cord Byrd and Clay Yarborough.

Democratic opponents in both those races are struggling with real fundraising, which augurs poorly for their challenges to safe Republican seats.

Moran backs Polson over Republican field

In 2011, which was a different time in Jacksonville politics, Republican Audrey Moran was a strong candidate for Mayor.

Audrey Moran. (Image via Wave Magazine Online)

Though Moran fell short of the runoff election, her candidacy is still seen by many as an intersection of purpose and politics.

Moran’s days of running for public office appear to be over; however, she is still active in the scene, and crossed party lines to endorse Polson in HD 15.

“Dr. Tracye Polson will bring fresh ideas and strong leadership to Tallahassee,” said Audrey Moran in a statement from the Polson campaign.

“She is smart, collaborative and courageous. Tracye is a first-time candidate for public office and a breast cancer survivor. She knows our community and is ready to fight for what Jacksonville needs. Tracye will represent all of the people in her district and I am proud to endorse her,” Moran added.

“Earning the trust and support of such an influential community presence is an indication our campaign continues to extend its reach, connecting with a wide range of voters including business leaders. Because of her experience and insight, Audrey’s counsel will be invaluable and I am deeply grateful to have her endorsement,” said Polson.

Davis pads coffers, Jackson lags

Duval Democrats are noted for their internal wars, and a good current example of such is the House District 13 Democratic donnybrook between Rep. Tracie Davis and Roshanda Jackson, a former district secretary for state Rep. Kim Daniels.

Tracie Davis wants two more years.

The Davis/Jackson contest is one of two major primary votes awaiting some Jacksonville voters, the other being Davis’ political ally, Sen. Audrey Gibson, being challenged by Daniels’ ally, Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown.

The Gibson/Brown contest is one-sided in terms of cash-on-hand, $132,000 to $4.00 in favor of the incumbent. And at least in the early going, the Davis/Jackson contest is lopsided in favor of the current officeholder.

Davis raised $3,100 in April, pushing her over $40,000 on hand out of $41,815 raised. Her top donors, at the $500 level: AT&T Florida PAC, Florida Dental PAC and Fiorentino Group.

Davis, who had a fundraiser in Springfield Monday evening at Crispy’s on Main Street, looks to have a stronger May than April.

Jackson, meanwhile, has raised $830 in her two months in the race and has $800 of that on hand.

Per LobbyTools, the seat “is safely blue with Democrats outnumbering Republicans 54,686 to 22,554 with another 15,550 registered as independents.”

Developer dosh finds K. Brown

Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown has drawn no fewer than seven challengers for her District 8 seat.

Katrina Brown will have access to capital her many opponents won’t.

Six of them were from her own Democratic Party. One of the challengers died soon after filing, leaving five Democrats and one NPA candidate in the mix.

Brown, who dealt with bad news cycles including issues with her family business defaulting on city-funded economic development loans and grants, and an altercation with local police when a Council colleague was arrested, nonetheless is running for re-election.

And April’s receipts indicate that Brown will have help from developers in her re-election bid.

In her first month of actual fundraising, Brown raked in $7,000, from $500 and $1,000 checks.

Advocates for Business Growth ponied up, as did developers (the Sonoc Company, Leone Development and Nocatee Development, along with Sleiman Holdings), and attorneys interested in development (Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow).

Brown is still in a distant third place in terms of total money raised. The leader, Tameka Gaines Holly, brought in $3,458 in April (much of the money from within the district), leaving her with roughly $19,000 on hand.

Another shot for Daniels

Recent electoral setbacks weren’t the last call for the peripatetic political career of Jacksonville’s Jack Daniels, as he again has filed to run for the Jacksonville City Council.

Daniels, who shares his name with a consumer product, has taken many shots at public office. Yet, despite his efforts, the glass has come up empty time after time.

Still, he continues his efforts. And in 2019, he will get an electoral rematch against District 2 Republican Al Ferraro, the man who beat him three years prior.

Al Ferraro will face Jack Daniels, again.

Daniels, who raised less than $8,000 for his race, had good ROI: he got 27 percent of the vote.

“Since I hadn’t accepted any political money, my campaign for city council consisted of almost nothing but a year of door-to-door visits. In contrast, since my opponent accepted it, his campaign consisted of paid advice from expert political consultants, continuous paid advertisement promoting his candidacy in the media, numerous paid campaigners for him who made thousands of door-to-door visits to frequent voters, a multitude of campaign signs, many mailings to frequent voters promoting his candidacy, etc.,” Daniels contended.

Despite all of this drama, Daniels endorsed Ferraro — the “opponent.” Daniels told The Florida Times-Union that Ferraro is “a really hard worker, and I think he’d be a very good person to be a council person.”

 Daniels begins the race with a considerable financial disadvantage to incumbent Ferraro, who has over $35,000 on hand after raising $7,105 in April.

Sunshine Law charges cloud Council prez race

A public notice meeting Tuesday morning called by Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis addressed “allegations made by Council Vice President Aaron Bowman on the topic of Sunshine Violations for the upcoming Council Leadership vote.”

Anna Brosche and Garrett Dennis were the only two city officials to show up.

The vote comes Tuesday; Bowman has the majority of Council’s support pledged to him as he chases the top job.

However, clarity was not to be provided this week, as Bowman was not at the meeting. And neither was the head of the city’s ethics office, Carla Miller, expected to be at the meeting.

Bowman was “told by multiple sources that Dennis has been [negatively] talking about [Bowman’s] leadership endeavor.”

Dennis called the meeting to confront his “accusers,” but except for Council President Anna Brosche, no one was there.

In remarks to the media after the brief, inconclusive meeting, Dennis would not say directly that Bowman violated the Sunshine Law.

“I’ve been instructed by the General Counsel not to say that,” Dennis said.

Dennis, who chairs the Finance Committee, likely won’t have that prerogative next year. Bowman, per Dennis, is a “staunch supporter of the Mayor” — Dennis’ political enemy.

As well, with re-election campaigns looming ahead of the March 2019 “first election,” Dennis may see his opponent backed by the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce — for which Bowman is a VP for the business recruitment arm, JAXUSA.

Newby drops VP bid, leaves three candidates

The clouded picture in the race for Jacksonville City Council vice president cleared up Tuesday, with Sam Newby dropping out to focus on his re-election bid.

Sam Newby, an ally of Lenny Curry, opted to stand down in the VP race.

Newby, an at-large Councilman, faces one opponent thus far for re-election.

The first-term Republican’s exit from the race leaves three candidates standing: Democrat Tommy Hazouri and Republicans Danny Becton and Scott Wilson. And thus far, none of the candidates have galvanized much support.

Hazouri, a political veteran who has been Jacksonville Mayor as well as a State Representative and School Board member, sees the VP role as the logical next level. However, he hasn’t been put in the spotlight during his time on Council, and pledges have eluded him.

Becton, a fiscal watchdog from the Southside, is a Republican in his first-term. Jim Love is a pledged supporter.

Wilson, likewise a Republican in his first term, sought the VP role last year but was steamrollered in the vote by current VP Aaron Bowman.

Council votes on these offices Tuesday, and pledge meetings will take place throughout the next week.

New officers take control July 1.

Bean, Daniels present check to YMCA

State Sen. Aaron Bean joined state Rep. Daniels this week to present a $250,000 check on behalf of the state of Florida to Eric Mann, president and CEO of YMCA of Florida’s First Coast, the YMCA’s Metropolitan Board of Directors and the YMCA’s Senior Leadership Team.

During the 2018 Legislative Session, Bean and Daniels worked together to help secure state funding for teen programming at the James Weldon Johnson Family YMCA in Northwest Jacksonville.

Aaron Bean, Kimberly Daniels present a $250K check in state funding to the Johnson Family YMCA.

“The YMCA is consistently a leader in advocating for Florida’s youth by providing programs that positively impact their lives and give them the opportunities needed to succeed,” Bean said. “This funding will allow the YMCA to increase programming for at-risk adolescents in the most underserved areas of Jacksonville, which will truly change lives and benefit our entire community.”

Daniels added: “It was an honor working with Senator Bean on the Johnson Family YMCA appropriation … This facility is strategically placed between Cleveland Arms and Washington Heights, which are high crime housing areas. The youth in these neighborhoods will benefit from the program expansion, and I am excited about what is ahead for our community.”

The funding will allow the Johnson Family YMCA to launch new programming and grow programmatic opportunities for teens and pre-teens in Jacksonville’s most disadvantaged areas. The Johnson YMCA will also use the funding to provide life skills training, job and career preparation, health education and summer employment opportunities for teens. These new programs will serve approximately 120 additional youth in the community.

Not so fast on ‘no sale’ bill

On Monday, the Jacksonville City Council’s Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health & Safety committee deferred a bill expressing opposition to selling the local utility, a hot-button issue in recent months.

The bill will be considered in three weeks when committees next convene.

2018-248, a resolution introduced by Councilors Jim LoveJoyce Morgan and Reggie Gaffney, would put the kibosh on moves to potentially sell JEA.

This discussion comes at a time when moves to sell or privatize all or part of the utility find a phalanx of detractors and no public advocates in the present tense.

Though official positions of both JEA Interim CEO Aaron Zahn and Jacksonville Mayor Curry boil down to advocating a pause of some indeterminate length in a discussion of privatization of the utility, many observers of the process do not take those assertions at face value.

The deferral motion from Councilman Love seemed to catch co-sponsor Morgan and Councilman Garrett Dennis by surprise.

Dredge, baby, dredge

The Jacksonville Business Journal reports that “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is soliciting bids for the second phase of the harbor deepening project, estimated to cost between $125 million and $200 million.”

Dredging continues in Jacksonville.

This phase, “Project B,” is expected to cost $187 million and will deepen miles 3-8 of the shipping channel.

Project A, still in progress, is expected to be wrapped next year.

Federal funding, which has been in place, is not assured for this part of the project. Jaxport could front the funds in hopes of eventual federal reimbursement.

The dredge, all told, will go from 11-13 miles, deepening the channel to 47 feet.

C. Brown drama lingers

A year has passed since Corrine Brown was found guilty of various counts of fraud and tax evasion related to her former nonprofit, “One Door for Education.”

Brown is imprisoned, yet the appeal process continues, predicated on whether the removal of a juror who claimed to be guided by a “higher power” was the reason she was found guilty.

Corrine Brown’s defense and appeals have been fruitless thus far.

This week, prosecutors again rejected the proposition that the discharged juror was the difference maker.

“The decision to remove a sitting juror is a significant one that justifiably warrants careful, albeit deferential, review by this (appeals) court,” the document said. “The district court’s decision here handily withstands that review. The court took this issue very seriously and removed the juror only after having carefully considered whether that juror would be able to follow the court’s instructions and decide the case based on the evidence. And the court did so only after having concluded that the juror’s decision — that he had been told by the Holy Spirit before deliberations had even begun, that Brown was not guilty of all 24 charged crimes — was not based on the juror’s evaluation of the sufficiency of the evidence.”

Brown, who was convicted last year on 18 felony counts and sentenced to five years in prison, has focused her appeal on the decision by U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan to dismiss the juror.

Bestbet doubles down

In another gambling case that could reach the state Supreme Court, a Jacksonville casino is appealing the state’s decision to end its quest for a slot machine license.

Bestbet doubles down on slots hopes.

Jacksonville Kennel Club, which does business as bestbet, filed a notice of appeal Tuesday to the 1st District Court of Appeal after the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) turned down its application last month. The department regulates gambling through its Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering.

Any expansion of slots is opposed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which pays the state millions each year for the exclusive right to offer slots at its casinos outside South Florida.

And a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this November would require the statewide approval of voters before any expansion of gambling — and its backers say the measure would have retroactive effect.

The crux of the Jacksonville appeal is last May’s Supreme Court decision denying slots to a track in Gretna, Gadsden County, and in other counties that passed local referendums allowing them. Duval was one such county; bestbet Jacksonville wants to add slots to its poker and simulcast wagering.

Jags’ Bortles plays a little defense

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was in the rare position of playing defense last week. Not on the football field, but in his own home.

News4Jax reported that a young neighbor, Joseph Horton, was able to get into Bortles’ truck parked outside his home while the quarterback was hosting a party. The 18-year-old Horton tried to steal the truck, but was unable to navigate through multiple cars belonging to those attending the party.

Blake Bortles is playing defense at home.

Not satisfied to take Bortles’ wallet, which was in the truck along with the keys, the teenager went into the house full of partygoers and went upstairs. When no one recognized him, police were called.

When they arrived, Bortles and two friends were standing guard over the young man, who claimed to enter the house in search of a girlfriend. No one had heard of her.

In the end, Horton was arrested, where it was later learned that he lived in a multi-million-dollar home with his parents on the Intracoastal Waterway. He was charged with burglary, trespassing, and grand theft and later released on bond.

A Twitter account called Blake Bortles Facts used the incident to take a gratuitous slap at the Cincinnati Bengals tweeting “Blake Bortles has prevented more truck thefts (1) than the @Bengals have Playoff wins since 1991.”

For the record, the Jaguars and Bengals do not play each other this year.

Lenny Curry, Jacksonville officials defend handling of public records requests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lenny Curry not worried about possible challenge from Anna Brosche

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reuters the latest to zing Jacksonville over release of public records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And texts? Good luck.

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

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

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