Jacksonville Archives - Page 5 of 53 - Florida Politics

Ft. Lauderdale massacre caps a miserable week for the military

Last week’s news was overstuffed with upsetting reports about the mental health of military people. And that was before “troubled Army veteran” Esteban Santiago opened fire at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

The armed forces have shrunk by 10 percent in recent years, but child abuse and neglect in military families are up. Way up.

Some of our “heroes” will be spending time in the stockade, but at least they’ll have a roof over their heads.

That’s more than we can say for America’s 40,000 homeless veterans. The nation that set and achieved the goal of putting a man on the moon in a decade has been unable to meet a five-year goal of getting homeless veterans out of the woods and into permanent homes.

Miracle workers like Ju’Coby Pittman, the longtime CEO of Jacksonville’s Clara White Mission, have taken a bite out of the problem. You’d think the job of getting veterans off the streets would be easy in a community where the military is omnipresent and everybody professes to “honor our heroes.”  But when it comes to sharing the block with the disabled and the mentally ill, folks in Duval County can be as NIMBY as folks anyplace else.

In Seminole Heights, Laura Sellinger mourns her husband John, another “troubled veteran” who survived deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, but not the “survivor’s guilt” that “exploded” in a rampage, a struggle with Pasco County deputies, and death.

Our country provides a bottomless book of blank checks to the manufacturers of military hardware. The men and women who bear the weight of war must make do with whatever’s left behind in the petty cash drawer.

Jacksonville stakeholders fret over lack of match money for central receiving facility

One of the major talking points of Jacksonville leaders and stakeholders: the need for a central receiving facility for those with mental issues.

However, thus far there has been more talk than action in terms of getting the $7.5 million needed as a match to the $15 million of state funds.

Stakeholders are worried that a golden opportunity is being squandered.

An email from Amy Crane, the program director of the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida, that found its way to mayoral chief of staff Kerri Stewart (via Gary Chartrand) tells the tale.

Crane notes that “there was, and continues to be, concern about [Mental Health Resource Center]’s ability to raise the funds necessary to match the grant. After the articles appeared, I followed up with Denise.  She indicated that she is going to work directly with MHRC to develop a strategy to try to raise the funding. In short. she believes that if Duval County were to be unsuccessful, MHA’s advocacy efforts in Tallahassee over the past two years would have been for nothing.”

Stakeholders will meet in the mayor’s office later this month to discuss a path forward.

The Fiorentino Group helms Northeast Florida lobbying efforts again in 2017

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran may abhor the influence of lobbyists in Tallahassee. But Jacksonville and its independent agencies have them anyway, as do other regional entities in Northeast Florida.

The calculus is not complicated for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who parlayed $150,000 last year into a sustained and successful lobbying effort helmed by the Fiorentino Group and aided by Ballard Partners and Southern Strategy Group.

“I have and will continue to work with a team of professionals who ensure getting the highest return for the investment of taxpayers. The successes of our team include a solution to the pension crisis and earned us state resources for infrastructure and public safety,” Curry told us in November.

This year, the asks are different. The pension reform referendum pushed through Tallahassee in 2016 passed, setting the stage for increasingly fractious collective bargaining environment to negotiate new plans for new hires.

The Curry administration this year wants $50 million of state money to tear down the current Hart Expressway offramps near the sports complex, replacing them with an exit onto Bay Street.

And to that end, resources are dedicated to the effort. And at least potentially, they add up to more than the 2016 commitment.

The Fiorentino Group has a $60,000 budget for 2017, up from $50,000. The same holds true for Ballard and SSG, we hear. [For its part, Curry’s office says the “contracts are in the process of execution,” and wouldn’t confirm numbers.]

If that uptick in expenditure holds for all three lobbying groups, the city is boosting its investment in lobbyists by 20 percent year over year — a reasonable spend given the unproven nature of the Duval County Legislative Delegation’s newest members, and the lack of pull the local delegation has in the Florida House.

In short, it’s money well-spent.

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Fiorentino is also handling the concerns of many of the city’s independent authorities.

The Fiorentino Group has a $5,000 a month deal with the Jacksonville Aviation Authority that started in October 2016 and runs for three years thereafter, adding up to $180,000.

TFG is still under contract with the Jacksonville Port Authority through January 2017, a deal originally launched in 2014.

And TFG has a $6,000 a month deal with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority. That fee is matched by what the University of North Florida pays Fiorentino.

The Fiorentino Group also has contracts regionally.

Among those: a deal with Green Cove Springs, the seat of Clay County, capped at $15,000 total.

St. Johns County also benefits from the Fiorentino touch. The county itself has had TFG on a $4,500 monthly retainer since 2009. And the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office has a deal for $2,500 with the Fiorentino Group.

Jacksonville human rights ordinance expansion push begins … again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Others followed with their own pitches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, the call for co-sponsors.

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

Tommy Hazouri likewise said he was still all in.

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

“Nothing changes,” Midyette said.

And the bill stood with three co-introducers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In later 2015, the HRO resurfaced.

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

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

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

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

Indeed, that’s what happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But one signature virtue the latest version has is simplicity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The same could hold true for President Lori Boyer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville City Council to mull equal opportunity ordinance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville councilman decries drug overdose ‘epidemic’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former assistant state attorney to become Jacksonville real estate chief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bill moves to the full council on January 11.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bowman told us the board was for the measure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they will be right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there a Plan B?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction 6: Alvin Brown continues to resurface

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

Expect to see more of Brown in 2017.

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

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

Brown is not damaged goods, in other words.

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

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

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

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

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

And that means opportunity for a local Democrat.

Who might that Democrat be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction 10: Political scofflaws skate on charges

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

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

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

But not much will come of any of it.

Will Fullwood serve real prison time?

Will Corrine beat the rap?

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

The pitchfork mob might want it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ingoglia’s bill currently lacks a Senate companion measure.

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