Jacksonville – Page 6 – Florida Politics

Alvin Brown camp blasts ‘privileged Congressman’ Al Lawson

Day one of the nascent CD 5 primary campaign between incumbent Congressman Al Lawson and former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown hasn’t lacked for fireworks.

Late this morning, in response to Brown entering the race, Lawson blasted the Jacksonville Democrat as being a careerist looking for his next gig, after failing as mayor.

“Alvin failed as mayor,” Lawson said bluntly, “and a lot of people in Duval are saying he’s just looking for a job. If he’s looking for a job, this is the wrong place to look.”

“People I speak to weren’t thrilled with [Brown] as Mayor,” Lawson said, adding that he believes Brown is running because “he needs a job.”

“He was trying to be Edward Waters College President,” Lawson said, “but he didn’t make the shortlist.” 

[NOTE: EWC President Nat Glover denies the claim in comments to POLITICO Florida.]

Lawson saw it as ironic that Brown was running against him, given that at multiple points in the past, “he wanted me to help him raise money” for campaigns.

Lawson vowed that his campaign would “retire” Brown

Brown’s campaign fired back Tuesday afternoon, calling Lawson a “privileged Congressman” who’d “gone Washington.”

“After Mayor Brown heard from voters in CD-5, there is a clear sense that Lawson seems generally uninterested in serving the district and has gone Washington,” Brown’s campaign asserted.

“At a time when civil rights, voting rights, immigrant rights and women’s rights are under attack, Lawson seems content to live the life of a privileged Congressman who refuses to fight for the people of his district,” Brown’s camp added.

We have reached out to Lawson’s camp for response to this riposte from the Brown campaign.

Jacksonville takes over a week to respond to complaints about Klan flyers

The city of Jacksonville periodically sees Ku Klux Klan flyers put out in various places, and January offered the latest example.

A man — name withheld here, as the Klan is a terrorist organization — emailed Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on Jan. 14.

“I am visiting Jacksonville, and was disturbed to see these flyers (such as those pictured) rolled up and strewn along Riverside Ave. in Five Points in short intervals.  They are everywhere in the area between the Publix and Bell Riverside Apartments, and beyond.  Regardless of the content of the messages, it is illegal to litter City rights of way and private property like this, per the Florida Litter Law, Section 403.413(4)(a) and (c), Florida Statutes,” he wrote.

The cover described the “Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan” as “fighting for the white race.” The interior text referred to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a “communist alcoholic pervert.”

A woman — name withheld here also for the same reasons — emailed Curry Jan. 16.

“I’m from Jacksonville, and am disturbed to see these (KKK) flyers rolled up and strewn along Riverside Ave, in Five Points in short intervals. They are everywhere in the area. Regardless of the content of the messages, it is illegal to litter City rights of way and private property like this, per the Florida Litter Law, Section 403.413(4)(a) and (c), Florida Statutes, and the Jacksonville Litter Law, Section 380.210(b)(1) and (2), Jacksonville Code of Ordinances,” the complainant said.

“I would have emailed this to your Solid Waste Division, but did not find an email address. Would you please request Solid Waste to issue a citation, or a one-time warning, to the organization that is clearly identified by name and contact information on the attached flyers that were discarded and strewn as litter? Thank you very much for your leadership in keeping Jacksonville beautiful. Have a great day!”

Curry emailed both parties back: the man on Jan. 16; the woman a day later.

“To investigate, I am sharing your message with Bryan Mosier, chief of our Municipal Code Compliance Division (MCCD). I am confident that he will review your message and advise of any findings,” Curry wrote.

The investigation moved slowly.

And revealed, by Jan. 29, that there was little City Hall could (or would) do about Klan flyers.

“Unfortunately, the City’s litter law can only be enforced by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and an officer must witness a person littering.  In this case, I am not aware that any citations were able to be issued for the litter,” wrote Neighborhoods chief Stephanie Burch.

“However, I have asked Dan Durbec, our Environmental Programs Coordinator and Adopt A Road representative to reach out to the neighboring businesses to encourage them to assist in clean-up efforts on their properties and potentially setting up an Adopt A Road program for the area, if one currently doesn’t exist.  Thank you for contacting the City, we appreciate your feedback,” Burch added.

Will official response reassure riverside residents and businesses that, in the face of leaflets from a domestic terrorist organization, they should set up an Adopt A Road program?

Memorably, flyers much like this were distributed in 2015, during the Human Rights Ordinance expansion debate.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry condemned as the “lowest forms of human behavior and bigotry” recent bomb threats and Klan flyers targeting the community conversations about the potential expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance to LGBT people.

The HRO debate is resolved. But the Klan flyers recur.

We have reached out to city spokespeople for reasons that the response was so slow to multiple citizen complaints.

Democrats’ guests to State of the Union include DACA recipient, medical marijuana patient, hurricane evacuees

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is bringing a medical marijuana patient. U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch is bringing the wife of an American held hostage in Iran. U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel is bringing a trailblazing anti-sexual harassment advocate. U.S. Reps. Darren Soto and Stephanie Murphy are bringing Puerto Rico evacuees. U.S. Rep. Val Demings is bringing a police officer who responded to the Pulse nightclub massacre.

As usual, a handful of members of Congress are using their guest tickets to the president’s State Of The Union Address to honor someone from their district they admire — and to maybe make a political statement. On Monday and Tuesday a few of them will be holding press conferences introducing their guests, offering their inspiring story, and promoting the political causes they personify.

Florida Politics surveyed Florida’s 27 members of Congress and two senators and got a handful of advance responses on guests being brought to President Donald Trump‘s first State Of The Union address. Almost all of the responses came from Democrats.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, the Ponte Vedra Beach Republican running for governor, is bringing his wife Casey Black DeSantis, his office said.

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson‘s office said she gave her guest ticket to Frankel.

Frankel is not yet saying exactly whom she’s bringing, but said on Friday it will be “a trailblazing anti-sexual harassment advocate” to be introduced on Monday.

Deutch, a Democrat from Boca Raton, is bringing Christine Levinson, wife of Bob Levinson, of Coral Springs, who has been missing in Iran for nearly 11 years, making him the longest-held hostage in American history.

Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat, is bringing Dani Hall of Clearwater, who was born with a birth defect impacting her lower spine, and who moved from powerful narcotics to medical marijuana, when she finally found relief.

Soto, an Orlando Democrat, will be introducing Claudia Sofía Báez Solá, 18, who was a college student at the University of Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria shut down that institution and most of the island, and who was sent, by her parents, and with her brother and grandmother, to live in Orlando while the parents continued to work to support them, living in a house with limited power.

Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat, is providing her ticket to Emmanuel Ortiz-Nazario, a 30-year-old from Puerto Rico who relocated with his wife and two young children to central Florida after Hurricane Maria.

U.S. Rep. Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat, is bringing Orange County Police Officer Adam Gruler, who was the first on the scene at Pulse the morning of June 16, 2016, and his wife Jaimi Gruler. The couple has just adopted three elementary school-age siblings.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, is providing her pass to Brenda Irizarry, 43, who serves on Castor’s Task Force on Puerto Rico Recovery & Assistance. She was among many Tampa Bay-area Puerto Ricans who took immediate action the day after Hurricane Maria to mobilize relief efforts, collecting supplies to send to the island.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Weston, is bringing a DREAMer from her district, Nicholas Perez, a DACA recipient who is a Broward County businessman.

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat, is bringing Paul Tutwiler, executive director of the Northwest Jacksonville Community Development Corporation, which offers services to 25,000 Jacksonville residents in communities heavily damaged by Hurricane Irma.

Jacksonville Bold for 1.26.18 — Business picking up

Bold is bigger this week, more extensive than any week in recent memory.

And there’s a darned good reason.

More is happening.

More campaigns. More intrigue. More drama.

For those paying attention to what Florida Politics, has done over the past few years, it’s been pretty obvious that 2018 will be the big enchilada.

Northeast Florida has statewide candidates: Ron DeSantis is running to replace Rick Scott, and Jay Fant is making a real-deal bid for Attorney General.

Competitive races — we have them. The race to replace DeSantis is going to be brutal, and even Al Lawson will face a primary challenge. And Audrey Gibson — despite being months from being the Dems’ leader in the Senate — may face a primary opponent backed by Jacksonville’s (very Republican) mayor.

As soon as this all quiets down — November, in theory — the big push begins for city elections in Jacksonville.

There are those stating we cover too much; some of the coverage doesn’t matter to the casual reader, they say.

As a counternarrative, we point to increases in readership and influence. Candidates call our A.G. Gancarski before making moves … and it’s not because they like his phone voice.

In a time when mainstream media continues to contract or embrace frivolous clickbait, we follow the business of politics — a hybrid of marketing, influence and (sometimes) meaningful policy differences.

Waltz joins CD 6 GOP scrum

Green Beret Mike Waltz announced his run in Florida’s 6th Congressional District on turf that is becoming increasingly familiar with Florida voters: Fox News.

Mike Waltz has a platform other candidates in this race lack.

Incumbent Ron DeSantis — now running for Governor — announced on Fox and Friends; Waltz, a frequent Fox News contributor, exercised the same prerogative.

Don’t expect Waltz’s opponents, Ormond Beach’s former State Rep. Fred Costello or businessman John Ward, to have the same leg up.

Waltz cut an ad in opposition to Donald Trump in the 2016 primaries; opponent John Ward has already dissed Waltz as a Never Trumper.

Meanwhile, Waltz looks forward to facing off against likely Democratic nominee Nancy Soderberg.

Waltz “look[s] forward to the day [he] can step up on the debate stage against a former Clinton UN Ambassador,” he said Tuesday on “Fox and Friends.”

Worth noting: Rasmussen Reports sees the seat as competitive.

“The seat is very Republican — Trump won it by 17 points — although Democrats have an interesting challenger who has raised legitimate money, former Clinton administration deputy National Security Adviser Nancy Soderberg (D). We thought about listing this seat as Likely Republican before DeSantis left to run for governor, so it stands to reason we’d list it now that it is an open seat even though the eventual Republican nominee will be clearly favored.”

Lawson won’t walk out of State of the Union

Trump gives the State of the Union address next week; per BuzzFeed, the Congressional Black Caucus plans to act.

“We could go, we could go and walk out, we could go and hold up fists … or we could not go, or we could hold our own State of the Union,” CBC Chair Cedric Richmond said.

“We don’t really care what [Trump] thinks about us,” Richmond added.

If the CBC plans a protest action, there is no guarantee of universal participation.

Rep. Lawson, a Democrat whose district runs from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, won’t walk out, per his office.

No-go on walkout, Al Lawson tells CBC colleagues.

“Congressman Lawson will be in attendance for the entire State of the Union,” asserted Stephanie Lambert Tuesday.

Lawson, a moderate Democrat who has been able to collaborate with conservative Republican colleagues John Rutherford and Neal Dunn on issues of Florida import, has not walked in lockstep with the CBC — and this deviation from caucus orthodoxy is but the latest example. (Lawson was also one of three Florida Democrats to vote to end the government shutdown, per the Tampa Bay Times, further showing a maverick streak).

The question going into the 2018 primary: will CBC members rally behind Alvin Brown or Rontel Batie, two candidates with CBC bona fides that Lawson hasn’t demonstrated?

Rutherford calls for end of 60-vote Senate cloture

The government shutdown over the weekend led Rep. Rutherford to call — again — for the end of the 60-vote Senate closing debate.

John Rutherford gave exclusive comments Sunday to Florida Politics.

This mirrors Trump’s talking points.

Rutherford was irked with the “Schumer shutdown” and what he sees as politics being played about linking the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program issue with a Continuing Resolution, with “Senate Democrats trying to tie Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program into the budget with an artificial deadline,” as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program doesn’t expire until March 5.

“All over a false deadline,” Rutherford repeated, saying — not for the first time — that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “needs to do away with the 60-vote cloture rule.”

“The American people gave Republicans a majority in the Senate,” Rutherford asserted, and Senate leadership must “exercise [that Republican] majority” and not forfeit their prerogative to Democrats.

The Trump/Brown connection

Corrine Brown is expected to begin five years in prison in the next few days.

The more interesting story, however, may be that one of Trump‘s personal attorneys may be an asset to the former congresswoman’s appeal.

Could Donald Trump’s lawyer help Corrine Brown’s appeal?

Brown, convicted of 18 counts related to the fraudulent One Door for Education charity, is again citing the matter of the discharged “Juror 13” in her appeal.

The judge removed Juror 13 from duty due to insisting that God said Brown was innocent. The appeal will raise the question of amicus briefs from friendly religious organizations who would contend that nothing disqualifies a juror based on divine guidance.

Among those groups: the American Center for Law and Justice, whose chief counsel is Jay Sekulow.

Sekulow is one of Trump‘s personal lawyers.

Ironically, given Brown’s conviction for using a counterfeit charity as a slush fund, Sekulow has been investigated by two state attorneys general, per the Guardian“Following the disclosure that [Sekulow’s Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism and an affiliate] have since 2000 paid more than $60m in compensation and contracts to Sekulow, his relatives, and companies where they hold senior roles.”

Nonprofits are expected to offer “reasonable but not excessive” compensation to executives, and some may contend that $60 million exceeds that threshold.

Sekulow has defended the president against accusations of Russian collusion, among other things.

DeSantis to kick off Governor campaign

Congressman DeSantis, who represents St. Johns, Flagler and Volusia counties, will kick off his gubernatorial campaign next week.

Though the studio team got the scoop first, Florida residents will see Ron DeSantis soon.

And it won’t be anywhere near his district.

The campaign will launch at the Boca Raton Embassy Suites Jan. 29 at 11 a.m.

According to an email to supporters: “The excitement and momentum is squarely behind Ron DeSantis. He has already been endorsed by President Donald Trump, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin — and we haven’t even kicked off the campaign yet!”

DeSantis’ leading primary opponent, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, has over $15 million cash on hand; DeSantis is unfazed.

He bills himself as the “#1 conservative in Florida” on his invite to the Boca Raton event, where he will build on remarks made on Fox and Friends as the year started — when DeSantis confirmed that he would in fact run.

“As a military officer, an Iraq veteran and a proven conservative, with the support of the president, I’m in a position to exercise the leadership that can build on the great work that Gov. Rick Scott has done to advance economic opportunity, reform education, and drain the swamp in Tallahassee that needs to be drained just like Washington,” DeSantis affirmed.

DeSantis — now within five points of Putnam in the most recent poll from the Florida Chamber — has a finance team that can compete with any candidate in the field, should it become fully engaged.

Daniels dodges ethics sanction

Some good news for Kim Daniels, Democrat representing House District 14.

Per the Florida Times-Union, Daniels’ contention that an ethics complaint filed against her in 2015 was too close to the City Council election she lost carried with the Florida Ethics Commission.

Rep. Kim Daniels may face another ethics charge in the end, but she skated last week.

“The complaint was filed based on reporting by The Florida Times-Union that showed Daniels, who pastors a church, shuffled properties and time-shares to her nonprofit ministry and didn’t disclose $1 million in debt owed on a Broward County home.”

The statute of limitations on the complaint is five years; it can be filed again … just not within 30 days of an election.

State to offer marriage advice?

Good news for those thinking about marriage: the State of Florida, where legislators have nothing approaching moral issues whatsoever, is willing to help.

A Florida House committee approved a potential Guide to a Healthy Marriage this week, a prerequisite to consideration by the full House.

The state wants to help married couples stay happy.

The new requirement proposed under HB 1232, sponsored by state Rep. Clay Yarborough, is intended to give couples access to information on conflict resolution and parenting that could prevent them from divorcing in the future.

Under Yarborough’s proposal, a six-member committee would be tasked with writing the “Florida Guide to a Healthy Marriage” pamphlet for “any couple,” regardless of their sexual orientation. The guide would be made available online at courts.

The Senate bill, alas, has yet to have a committee stop.

Primary challenge for Gibson?

Here’s one to watch: Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown may attempt to primary Gibson, the Senate Minority Leader Designate.

“I believe that people ask ‘what’s next’ when you’ve done a great job,” Brown said. “Right now, it’s really about Reggie Brown and what’s next for me.”

Reggie Brown has worked better with Jacksonville’s mayor than has Sen. Audrey Gibson.

Among Brown’s issues with Gibson: she hasn’t brought enough back to the district, regarding infrastructure money.

“I’ve been local for nine years. I’m very in touch with the community. I’m also in touch with Tallahassee, and I know things we aren’t getting done,” Brown said.

Worth noting: the relationship between Gibson and the office of Mayor Lenny Curry has been strained.

Gibson couldn’t get a meeting with Curry to discuss city priorities in November, and the acrimony really started in 2016 when Gibson opposed Curry’s pension reform referendum vote.

There are those who think that Brown is Curry’s candidate. Both Curry’s team and Brown deny any such collaboration though.

Pound sand

Curry couldn’t find a referee to shred after the Patriots stole a victory from the Jaguars. However, unnamed media talking heads seemed to be an easier target.

Lenny Curry’s “pound sand” tweet: A throw into triple coverage.

“Media talking/writing heads that think sports are ‘silly’ because it is ‘only a game’— pound sand. These guys work their tails off, like u tell us you do. And risk All, unlike you. They represent the daily grind of most folks,” Curry tweeted.

As early as Monday morning, reporters who weren’t in a position to publicly opine on this tweet were messaging feverishly and privately, saying that Curry had no clue about the pressures on members of the media.

Indeed, from death threats to sexual harassment and threats, reporters in television, print, and other media deal with risks that Curry’s tweet discounted.

Some media members made their feelings known publicly.

Melissa Ross, the award-winning host of WJCT’s “First Coast Connect,” responded with crispness: “Journalists around the world have died trying to report the news. They work for low pay, in often dangerous conditions, in an unstable industry. Respectfully, this is hurtful and ill-informed.”

Also grinding against the pound sand tweet: NPR commentator Al Letson.

“Look at the journalist[s] in Jacksonville, who they are and what they do. You may not appreciate them because they push you, but for democracy to work, they must do their jobs. And in Jacksonville the journalist who every day grind it out, are losing their jobs with the TU shrinking, smaller presses struggling and wages being low. When you are trying to get it right, to tell the story for citizens to make informed decisions, and worrying about if you’ll have a job, I’d say that’s pretty close to the daily grind of most folks,” Letson tweeted.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Poynter took a hard look at the recent Florida Times-Union layoffs, and reporter Ben Conarck — who was not laid off — gave the best spin possible on the shrinking paper of record’s latest moves.

The T-U will swing for the fences in the wake of staff reductions. Dave Kingman, call your office.

“Mary Kelli’s philosophy is we’re not going to do the small stuff,” Conarck said of editor Mary Kelli Palka.

Per Poynter: “After last week’s cuts, which wiped out the business desk, the newsroom had a meeting and discussed that they’d only be covering critical business stories in the community. (Jacksonville has a business journal.) They’re going after bigger stories, like Conarck’s collaboration with ProPublica on racial profiling.”

Conarck’s story got traction (millions of video views when all was said and done) — and he had months to work on it, a laudable commitment to a deep-dive investigation from the paper.

However, the paper isn’t just shunning the biz beat.

The Legislative Session in Tallahassee is nearing the halfway mark, and GateHouse — the T-U’s parent company — is still trying to hire a reporter to cover state politics … one to serve the entire state rather than concerns of the region.

One by one, columnists have moved toward extinction; the last man standing is Mark Woods, after Tonyaa Weathersbee moved on and Ron Littlepage retired.

The T-U has made a business decision to swing for the fences. But will the result be Mark McGwire/Barry Bonds or Rob Deer/Dave Kingman?

Brown won’t talk re-election

How vulnerable is Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown?

Fourteen months out from the first election, Brown (who hasn’t yet filed for re-election) already has six people lined up to replace her.

On Monday, we asked the councilwoman if she was going to run; Brown refused to comment.

Katrina Brown will face a crowded field … assuming she runs.

Brown has issues other incumbents don’t. She has run afoul of the police union and has gotten tough coverage for a failed economic development deal from her family businesses.

Candidates are queuing up to run against her, and the longer she waits to launch, the harder a re-election bid may be.

Diallo SekouSeabrooks, Michael Sell, Brandon Byers, Tameka Gaines Holly, Albert Wilcox and Joenetta Dixon are all in the race, almost ensuring May’s runoff will decide the contest.

Knives out in Council leadership races

Hot quotes abound already in pledge meetings ahead of the May vote for Jacksonville City Council vice president.

Tommy Hazouri and Bill Gulliford have had better years than the Anna Brosche presidency.

While the race for President is already wrapped (current VP Aaron Bowman will move up), the VP race is where the drama will be. And much of the drama will be frustration over current President Anna Brosche, if the pledge meetings hosted by Tommy Hazouri are any indication.

Hazouri noted, during his meeting with Bowman, that he didn’t see a “close relationship” between Bowman and Brosche.

Hazouri, a former Mayor of Jacksonville, also questioned the incumbent President’s effectiveness.

“I want to see a leader as President,” Hazouri said.

In what had to be construed as a dis to Brosche’s peripatetic approach to hot-button issues like Confederate monument removal — an initiative that stalled out after polling revealed it wasn’t popular — Hazouri said “you can’t just slap stuff on the wall … you have to follow up.”

Bowman remarked that he was going to have a “much different approach and way to do things” compared to certain unnamed predecessors (Read: Brosche).

Hazouri’s meeting with Bill Gulliford revealed both veteran pols’ frustration with being marginalized.

Gulliford quipped that both men, due to backing John Crescimbeni over Brosche unambiguously in 2017’s race for president, were “down at the end of the dais … one more inch and you fall off.”

Project Volt gets greenlight

Project Volt,’ an economic development deal passed Tuesday evening in the Jacksonville City Council, could bring hundreds of jobs into the area, and allow Jacksonville to enter a new industry that will grow in the coming years.

Solar panels made in the Sunshine State. What a concept.

The unnamed company, which makes solar panels at eight locations around the world, is new to America: per the fact sheet, Jacksonville would serve as the company’s American headquarters.

It is no accident that foreign companies are considering American production; Trump has hiked solar panel tariffs, a long-expected move that will lead to onshoring of manufacturing.

And at least 800 jobs would be created and retained for at least four years locally — and those jobs would be on the Northside and Westside, economically challenged areas that could use employment diversification. While 100-150 people would come to get things started, city officials expect that most permanent hires would either move here from elsewhere or be of local origination.

Eight of the top 10 solar panel manufacturers in the world are in Asia, which means chances are very good that this would be the American outpost for a Chinese or Korean company.

CSX claims fix to stalled crossing hex

Finally, embattled railroad company CSX may have a fix underway for blocked railroad crossings, an issue that has caused conflict especially between CSX officials and those of Duval County town of Baldwin.

The little railroad company that could.

If true, this is good news. Late in 2017, there were so many citations written on the “precision railroading” company that the city of Jacksonville and CSX had an “arrangement” to pay a few citations and junk the rest — a salutary legal arrangement that most scofflaws will never enjoy.

“CSX noted that in the past three weeks they have changed their operations using a utility switchman and this should reduce some of the blockage time. The mayor will monitor the complaints and let us know if this changed reduced the amount of time trains block the roadway,” asserted Doreen Joyner-Howard, FDOT’s District Freight, Logistics and Passenger operations manager, in an email to other FDOT officials.

Where no one knows your name

Being a member of the Duval County School Board doesn’t necessarily improve your name ID, per a poll reported in the Florida Times-Union.

No name, no slogan: School board members anonymous, per recent poll.

This poll was floated to underscore the argument that the current School Board lacks the mandate to choose a new Superintendent of Duval County Public Schools.

“Eight months after Superintendent Nikolai Vitti left Jacksonville for Detroit public schools, four in 10 Jacksonville adult residents are unaware that the school district is searching for his replacement … more than 93 percent of Jacksonville adults couldn’t even name a board member, much less their own, when asked who represents them on the board.”

The lede is buried here, as two of the more outspoken members of the board — Paula Wright and Becki Couch — are termed out this year.

The goal among Jacksonville power brokers: to stack the board with people more in line with the interests and goals of the city’s power structure. Often, the Vitti era showed divergence.

Jax Council litter dither

Jacksonville has wrestled with issues of blight for decades; in fact, there is even a department in city government to address the issue.

The consolidated city has ordinances dating back to 1975 on the matter, but the problem remains; trash on the sides of roads and in vacant lots.

On Monday, Jacksonville City Council members met to resolve an issue that the city’s blight efforts are intended to address: litter.

Talking trash: Jacksonville Councilors Katrina Brown, Reggie Brown discuss litter issues.

Councilmembers have tried — and failed — to tackle this issue multiple times in the past, but apparently, the seemingly simple task of keeping debris off city streets have proved daunting.

Councilman Reggie Brown noted that “mental health continues to be a challenge,” as his Northwest Jacksonville district has a lot of mental health institutions, populated by people who walk the streets with shopping carts who add to the litter problem.

“We’ve not been able to regulate human behavior,” Councilman Brown said, “so how do we encourage people to do better?”

Brown suggested inmate work crews clean the affected areas, which would require hiring more supervisors for inmates.

“How do we get more inmates out in our community cleaning up trash?”

Councilman Crescimbeni suggested putting litterers in pink vests, emblazoned with messages like “I’m a litterer, and I’m picking up litter today.”

St. Johns County boom continues

Action News Jax notes that, despite issues with congestion and overcrowding, the boom in St. Johns County permits is still ongoing.

Boom continues in SJC.

Over “5,200 business permits have been issued for new construction in St. Johns in the past 18 months, with the heaviest concentration not only along 207, but also 210 and International Golf Parkway,” per AN Jax.

And more is to come: the county is less than 50 percent developed.

FAMU partners with KIPP Charter Schools to increase college completion

Charter school network KIPP, with three schools in Jacksonville, is entering a new partnership with Florida A&M University (FAMU) to help increase college completion rates for KIPP alumni from educationally underserved communities.

Celebrating the memorandum of understanding at a signing event last week, FAMU leaders, including Interim Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Rodner Wright and Jacksonville resident Kelvin Lawson, who chairs the FAMU board of trustees, joined by KIPP Jacksonville leaders, students, and staff at the KIPP Impact Middle School campus. The FAMU partnership is KIPP’s third college partnership in Florida, joining Florida State College at Jacksonville and the University of North Florida.

KIPP Jacksonville and FAMU leaders celebrate a new partnership to help boost college completion for students from underserved communities.

“At FAMU, we truly believe that the youth are our future and we are proud to partner with KIPP to help cultivate these dynamic students not only into future Rattlers but more importantly successful graduates,” said Wright at the event. “We are confident that this partnership will also yield positive opportunities for our current students preparing to teach the next generation of scholars as education professionals.”

Partnering with KIPP, FAMU is continuing its commitment to developing programs that address challenges students from underserved communities often face on their path to earning college degrees. FAMU and KIPP will develop systems and processes to assist KIPP students with FAMU college applications, recruitment, financial aid paperwork and scholarship identification.

The program hopes to ensure a smooth transition to college, as well as promote pre-college opportunities. KIPP’s Jacksonville campus will also become a resource for FAMU’s teacher preparation program and provide career opportunities for FAMU students studying education.

PGA Tour announces new St. Johns County headquarters

PGA Tour officials announced plans for a new global headquarters, combining staff into one central location in Ponte Vedra Beach.

The 187,000 square-foot facility, plan for completion in 2020, will be located on part of the Tour’s existing property on County Road 210 — the complex will have a freshwater lake, a call back to the iconic TPC Sawgrass ‘Island Green’ 17th hole from The Players Stadium Course.

PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan made the announcement last week joined by Gov. Rick Scott, by noting the PGA Tour’s continuing commitment to northeast Florida and an economic impact on St. Johns County.

The PGA Tour is getting new state-of-the-art digs in Ponte Vedra Beach.

“I am proud to announce the PGA Tour has chosen Ponte Vedra Beach for their new global headquarters and the creation of 300 new jobs,” Scott said. “While this global company could have invested in any other state, they ultimately decided that Florida was the best location to grow their business and create new opportunities for our families. Our work to cut taxes and reduce burdensome regulations is helping Florida compete for these important jobs wins. I look forward to seeing the PGA Tour’s continued success in Florida — the golf capital of the world.”

The Jacksonville Business Journal reports that London-based architectural firm Foster + Partners will design the building, which will house more than 750 employees currently working in 17 separate offices across the area.

The new facilities will be a pair of parallel three-story bays adjoining a joint atrium. Glazed facades and atrium will provide natural light throughout the building, offering views of the surrounding landscape throughout.

Jacksonville Zoo conference raises awareness for wildlife, endangered species

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is hosting a discussion with conservationists from around the globe working to end the exploitation of wildlife and raise awareness for endangered species worldwide.

The Zoos and Aquariums Committing to Conservation Conference (ZACC) continues through Saturday at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville. Highlights for conference attendees include representatives from 71 zoos and aquariums, 41 NGOs, and 11 universities worldwide.

Keynote speakers include Dan Ashe, President and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and Doug Cress, CEO of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Saving endangered species is on the agenda of the Zoos and Aquariums Committing to Conservation Conference.

Conferences like ZACC — and the upcoming Association of Zoos and Aquariums midyear conference in March — looks to generate tourism, awareness and furthers the Zoo’s commitment to our community.

 Zoos and aquariums are among the largest collective partnerships to support wildlife conservation with annual contributions topping $216 million, says Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens executive director Tony Vecchio.

“The ZACC Conference brings wildlife conservationists together to build upon the momentum surrounding the programs and field work supported by zoos and aquariums,” Vecchio said in a statement. It’s an opportunity to learn about the successes of programs making a difference globally. There’s a lot of expertise and knowledge converging in Jacksonville this week and we are excited to host this conference and share our city.”

 The Hyatt Regency is at 225 E Coastline Dr., in Jacksonville. A full schedule is at zaccjax.weebly.com.

 

Kim Daniels bills would mandate K-8 crossing guards, annual student evals in Duval

Rep. Kim Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat, filed a pair of bills Monday that could bring changes for Duval County students.

One mandates more crossing guards. The other orders evaluations for students pre-graduation.

HB 1453 would require that Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office post crossing guards at all schools in Duval that serve students from grades K through 8, superseding previous legislation.

The Jacksonville City Council expressed support for the measure in 2017.

Councilman Reggie Brown, who carried the resolution of support in committee discussion, noted that because of changes in school structures, 7th and 8th graders are deprived of crossing guards.

The state mandates K-6, Brown said, and expanding this program would mean more safety and more jobs, Brown said.

“The time to me is right now,” Brown said, noting that the city is well-positioned financially this year compared to the past.

The city will take a financial hit if this bill passes.

The annual cost, per the Council Auditor: $300,000 for 27 public middle schools. Private and charter schools would add to that sum.

HB 1455, also filed Monday, requires annual “individual student evaluations” for students in grades 9-11.

“An Education Forecast of the student’s graduation needs will be examined and an official plan agreed upon. Students will not be promoted to the next grade level without an Individual Student Evaluation approved by a parent or guardian and a guidance counselor,” the bill asserts.

The bill’s fiscal impact is unknown as of this writing.

Jacksonville Bold for 1.19.18 — America’s team?

One of two things could happen this weekend.

The Jacksonville Jaguars can shock the world Sunday and beat the New England Patriots.

Or the convergence of Tom Brady, home-field advantage, and the referees can create a more predictable outcome.

We will see soon enough.

The question that many outside of the 904 may be asking: have we reached Peak Jaguar?

Jalen Ramsey’s prediction of a Super Bowl win has become bulletin board material in New England. (Of course, A.G. Gancarski predicted a Super Bowl win weeks ago).

And Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum bet a case of beer with a Massachusetts politician on the game outcome; both of them running for Governor of their respective states.

And more fuel for the hype machine: Vice calling the Jaguars “America’s Team.”

America’s team?

“When you throw in your lot with the Patriots, you do so with celebrity fans like [Donald] Trump and Mark Wahlberg; when you get behind the Jaguars, you stand with … um … remember the woman that growled into the camera that time? Her. Who represents your ideal America more? Two wannabe tough guys that think they could have prevented 9/11? Or Roberta, a homeless woman who loved the Jaguars unconditionally through their darkest times?”

It’s hard to bet against the Patriots — the talent level, the refs, the coaching.

But it’s easy to cheer against them.

Jacksonville is in a unique position this week — able to shock the world and stymie a dynasty.

Feels good, right?

Two more years for John Rutherford, Al Lawson?

Reps. Rutherford and Lawson confirmed to Florida Politics plans to run for re-election in Florida’s 4th Congressional District.

“It is a tremendous honor to serve my fellow Northeast Floridians in Congress,” Rutherford asserted, “and I am proud of all our hard work over the last year fighting for jobs, veterans, a renewed military and secure borders.”

John Rutherford’s re-election bid is all but a sure thing.

“But a great deal of work remains ahead,” Rutherford added, “and I look forward to seeking re-election to continue this work on behalf of the fine people I am so humbled to serve.”

This confirmation is a prelude to a formal announcement later in the election cycle.

There were those in Northeast Florida Republican circles who speculated that Rutherford would stand down, setting off decision-making for local Republicans — incumbents in other offices and otherwise — who might seek to replicate the costly and occasionally fractious 2016 primary.

However, Rutherford has never given any indication that he wouldn’t run to serve at least one more term. And now it is clear that any shaking of the #jaxpol snow globe will wait until at least 2020.

Rutherford faces a clear path to re-election in what Congressional Quarterly calls a solidly Republican district.

Lawson’s district is solidly Democratic; the most significant challenge he may face — a primary battle from former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.

Lawson defends FISA vote

A controversial national security bill cleared the U.S. House last week, with Lawson joining the Republican majority in affirming governmental surveillance rights.

Al Lawson ensured the Trump administration had the tools it needed for surveillance.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows data monitoring via transnational fiber optic cables. While foreign nationals are the target, Americans are subject to surveillance.

The ACLU called it a “dangerous bill.” Lawson sees it differently.

“With today’s increasing reliance on advanced technology, threats present themselves in forms that have never been encountered and are becoming increasingly harder to detect. It is important that we provide law enforcement and national security agencies with the appropriate tools needed to secure the safety of all Americans,” Lawson asserted.

“While I agree there should be stronger warrant provisions protecting the rights of our citizens,” Lawson continued, “this program equips our agencies to defend the nation against domestic and international terrorism threats.”

“Voting ‘yes’ on this bill does not give a free pass for the National Security Agency, or any law enforcement agency, to spy on Americans, and the actions of NSA under FISA should be reviewed when necessary,” Lawson maintained.

“Though some of my colleagues and I were split on this legislation,” Lawson added, “I voted to provide our law enforcement and intelligence communities with the necessary resources that will ensure the greater safety of our country.”

Airbnb boo-boo

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine made his way to Jacksonville as part of his campaign for Governor. And the story ended up being about Airbnb, per the Miami Herald.

Phil Levine’s Airbnb beef overshadowed his Jacksonville stop.

Levine — who, per the Herald, went hard after Airbnb owners — had his Jacksonville event at an Airbnb property.

When asked about it by Herald reporters, Levine’s response was interesting.

“Maybe that’s what Airbnb wants you to think,” Levine said as his bus headed from Jacksonville to Tallahassee.

Levine’s spokesman clarified his position, saying that Levine’s local opposition to Airbnb was about “local control.”

Ron DeSantis to White House

Rep. DeSantis is Trump’s choice for Florida Governor — nettling Adam Putnam, who has run to the right as much as possible for months in the hopes of keeping the president’s supporters in play.

Trump reminded Florida voters of his choice — however subtly — this week, inviting a DeSantis to the White House for a women’s forum, via the Miami Herald.

Ron DeSantis and his wife, Casey Black DeSantis, were invited to the White House for a women’s forum.

Casey Black DeSantis, the congressman’s wife, was on hand — along with Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Mrs. DeSantis, of course, has been a fixture on Jacksonville television — her current slot is hosting the infotainment-heavy First Coast Living on weekday afternoons.

Modest December fundraising for Northeast Florida Senators

Northeast Florida tate Senators Audrey Gibson, Aaron Bean, and Travis Hutson face no serious opposition; however, fundraising continued apace in December.

An Audrey Gibson primary challenge has yet to manifest.

Gibson, who may face a 2018 primary battle from Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown, brought in $12,750 in December off 16 checks — half of them from consultants and political organizations.

Bean, unopposed this year, topped $90,000 on hand after raising $18,250 in December through 25 checks from industries and lobbyists. He spent over $12,000, much of it on political consultants, which would seem curious given that he is a safe Senator in a safe seat.

Bean brought in $19,000 more via his Florida Conservative Alliance political committee, which now has $115,000 on hand.

Sen. Travis Hutson, who won’t face voters until 2020, raised $2,000 in hard money in December; this gives him $38,000 in hard money.

His Sunshine State Conservatives political committee raised nothing and has $90,000 on hand, after $1,000 contributions to the campaigns of Reps. Keith Perry and Debbie Mayfield, and $6,000 to the Responsible Leadership political committee.

Hutson is locked in a sub rosa race for the 2022 Senate presidency with Dana Young. Young has a sizable financial advantage, which may or may not prove dispositive.

House incumbents keep trucking; HD 15 still a race

In Northeast Florida for state House races, unopposed incumbents kept trucking in December, while the race for HD 15 remained competitive in fundraising.

HD 11: Incumbent Cord Byrd, a Jacksonville Beach Republican, brought in $12,400 to push him to $29,700 cash on hand. Among the donors backing the unopposed lawyer: The Geo Group.

The GEO Group is a frequent donor to Florida Republicans.

HD 12: Incumbent Republican Clay Yarborough was just one more check away from $100,000 cash on hand. A $9,000 December — driven by insurance, CPA, and restaurant and lodging committee checks — brought the Southside Jacksonville conservative over $99,000.

Democrat Tim Yost raised nothing in December and has $1,800 on hand.

HD 13: Unopposed Democratic incumbent Tracie Davis brought in $7,000 in December, with beer wholesalers and firefighter unions standing out. Davis has raised $35,715 and reported no spending thus far in her campaign.

HD 14: Unopposed Democratic incumbent Kim Daniels raised $4,000 in December; $2,000 was from the Fraternal Order of Police, and $1,000 came from beer wholesalers to Daniels, whose day job is as a charismatic evangelist.

HD 15: Republican Wyman Duggan, a Jacksonville lawyer seeking to replace departing Jay Fant in House District 15, scored big in December on two fronts.

Duggan finally hit six figures in fundraising, reporting $10,124 of new December money, which pushed him up to $103,674 raised (and over $92,000 on hand).

Close behind: presumptive Democratic nominee Tracye Polson. Polson closed December with $69,642 cash on hand: she has raised $89,345 in hard money and an additional $15,665 in the account of her political committee, Better Jacksonville.

HD 16: Unopposed Republican incumbent Jason Fischer brought in $4,500 of hard money in December; he closed 2018 with over $76,000 in his campaign account. $5,000 of new money into his Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville committee left that tally near $40,000.

HD 17: Down in St. Johns County, Republican incumbent Cyndi Stevenson brought in $10,481; she closed the year with just over $80,000 on hand.

HD 18: Safe incumbent Travis Cummings, a Clay County Republican, brought in $16,000, closing 2018 with $80,000 on hand.

Money-go-round

December saw some significant numbers for state and local candidates alike.

December fundraising for 2019 Jacksonville City Council candidates saw at-large Group 4 Republican Matt Carlucci leading the pack: $200,000 raised — with nearly $189,000 of that on hand — after $18,374 in December.

Matt Carlucci — and family — appreciate donor generosity.

In City Council District 5, Republican LeAnna Cumber has raised $145,000; $142,000 on hand.

Three other Republicans  — AL-2’s Ron Salem, District 13’s Rory Diamond, and District 14’s Randy DeFoor — are likewise over the $100,000 threshold. Only Salem faces competition as of yet.

Amazon says no

This week, Amazon narrowed down options for its HQ2 site selection to 20 cities. Jacksonville is not among them.

20 likely HQ2 cities; Jacksonville didn’t make the cut.

“We expect sometime before the end of the first quarter, maybe that Amazon will come out and say, ‘OK, we’ve done all our research, and we’ve narrowed it down to X number of cities.’ We don’t know how many those will be,” Bowman told a business group earlier.

Initially, 238 cities were in the running.

We covered the pitch weeks back, in which Jacksonville proclaimed itself to be “Amazon-centric,” with an ambitious futuristic vision for a future Amazon campus at the Shipyards property.

Miami is the only Florida city in the running; the Shipyards, meanwhile, will likely find another purpose.

Sheriff Mike Williams draws 2019 opponent

It looks like a competitive-ish 2019 race for Jacksonville Sheriff is imminent; incumbent Republican Williams will be challenged by Tony Cummings, a reform-minded Democrat.

Tony Cummings looks to make Mike Williams a one-termer.

Cummings got just 6 percent in a seven-way vote in 2015, so he definitely has room to increase his turnout.

His platform: stopping violent crime; the murder rate has continued to spike throughout the Williams era, with 148 murders last year.

His most prominent challenge: getting the money right.

After just two months in the race, Williams has amassed $138,800 in hard money and has another $192,000 in his political committee.

There is no way Cummings approaches those numbers anytime soon. And there is plenty more money for the incumbent out there.

Power switch not subject to popular vote

The people don’t have the ability to decide on whether or not Jacksonville’s JEA utility can be sold off, per the city’s general counsel.

General Counsel Jason Gabriel said the decision to sell off JEA is up to elected officials. Photo courtesy Florida Times-Union.

The Florida Times-Union reports that General Counsel Jason Gabriel said: “It’s a process that would result in the City Council and mayor ultimately making that decision.”

Council President Anna Brosche has tasked the City Council auditor with a report detailing what can be gained from privatization.

Two other reports have been done on this front since 2007; thus far, they have not convinced Council to move toward this.

Challengers line up against Katrina Brown

How vulnerable is Jacksonville City Councilwoman Brown, 14 months out from the first election? Six people already filed to replace her (Brown has not filed for re-election yet).

And two of them were in just the last week and a half.

Tameka Gaines Holly added her name to the Jax City Council race.

Last week, community activist Tameka Gaines Holly added her name to the race. A Leadership Jacksonville graduate with an aversion to taking strong positions on issues, she will try to win the seat by taking the high road.

This week, former Soil and Water Commissioner Albert Wilcox filed.

Wilcox, current Teacher of the Year at a local elementary school, cited Brown’s “problems” as creating a “void in leadership.” [Among those problems: a city lawsuit against her family business, which is now on its way to resolution; and a recent beef with the local police union about racial profiling].

Wilcox, a former legislative assistant for Sen. Betty Holzendorf, also has interned for then-Councilman Terry Fields and former Rep. Corrine Brown.

Holly and Wilcox have competition. Diallo SekouSeabrooks, Michael Sell, Brandon Byers, and Joenetta Dixon are all in the race, almost ensuring a May runoff will decide this.

The only other incumbent facing a challenge: Katrina Brown’s ally, District 7 Democrat Reggie Gaffney, who has four opponents.

Beyond those races, the other crowded race — five entrants and counting — is in District 10, where five people are in to face termed-out Reggie Brown.

Project Volt moves forward

Project Volt,’ an economic development deal moved Wednesday through a Jacksonville City Council panel, could potentially juice the local economy — bringing hundreds of solar jobs into the area, and allowing Jacksonville to enter a new industry that will grow in the coming years.

Jacksonville City Council will have to approve the deal Tuesday.

The unnamed company, which makes solar panels at eight locations around the world, is new to America: per the fact sheet, Jacksonville would serve as the company’s American headquarters.

And at least 800 jobs would be created and retained for at least four years locally — and those jobs would be on the Northside and Westside, economically challenged areas that could use employment diversification. While 100-150 people would come to get things started, city officials expect that most permanent hires would either move here from elsewhere or be of local origination.

Eight of the top 10 solar panel manufacturers in the world are in Asia, which means chances are very good that this would be the American outpost for a Chinese or Korean company.

It would occupy two buildings on the Westside: a manufacturing plant at the Cecil Commerce Center and an assembly and distribution facility on Faye Road. And they would put their money where their incentive pitch is, dropping $153 million into real estate upgrades and another $275 million into equipment (imported from Germany) in what is called “project investments.”

District hurdle cleared

Peter Rummell is one of the leaders of Jacksonville’s political donor set, and for the second straight week, he got news from a Jacksonville board regarding his District project.

The news was different from that coming out of last week’s Downtown Investment Authority meeting, which had the city of Jacksonville buying the land from JEA for the private development.

The good news continued for Peter Rummell’s District development, though the city may be spending in the end.

That proved controversial to City Council. The latest changes — a return to earlier expectations and terms — remove that controversy.

On Tuesday, the JEA Board approved a plan for Elements, the development company of Rummell and Michael Munz, to purchase the former Southside Generator Plant from the utility for $18.6 million.

Closing would be in July.

That was the deal before the DIA meeting last week.

The city may also invest over $26 million into infrastructure, though that’s still to be determined.

Munz explained the decision to remove the step that had the city purchase the land from JEA as a practical one, as the city component made the deal “more complicated than it should be.”

There was much acrimony last week from Rummell toward Council members. Apparently, it was only theater.

Corrine Brown clickbait

Tongues wagged in the comment thread set when the Florida Times-Union reported that Brown spoke at a Martin Luther King Jr. event Monday.

Friends … how many of us have them?

But no one should have been surprised.

Dr. King’s son — Martin Luther King III — has been a friend of Brown’s for decades, often appearing with her at political events.

During what passed for her 2016 re-election campaign, Brown brought King in as a special guest.

King showed up for a court hearing in 2017 with Brown, and held another fundraiser for her then.

Notable: King spent the day honoring his father making news of his own, comparing Trump to former to Alabama Gov. George Wallace, a well-known segregationist.

University of North Florida police embracing body cameras

To increase student safety, the University of North Florida police department will equip all officers with body cameras. A $29,000 grant, plus a similar amount from the college, will be used to help pay for the program.

“There’s a lot of measures that go into making me feel safe here on campus,” UNF student Hannah Melendez told Action News Jax.

All UNF police officers will soon have body cameras.

A recent overview of reported campus crimes in 2016 shows 5 rapes, 3 burglaries, 2 aggravated assaults and 5 motor vehicle thefts. UNF officials hope the body cameras will help cut those numbers down.

While the department already has about a half-dozen body cameras, officers say that isn’t enough.

UNF will hold a student feedback session on the body camera policy Friday, March 2, from 11 a.m. to noon.

First Jacksonville Zoo manatee critical care patient released

The Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens’ Manatee Critical Care Center released the first manatee patient into her new Florida home this week, reports News 4 Jax.

Carolina the manatee arrived at the Center Nov. 28, one of more than 10 of the sea mammals relocated from cold waters in South Carolina to warmer waters of Florida. Carolina, rescued from Charleston, South Carolina, was the first critical care patient at the Zoo’s facility. She was part of a larger operation to save those manatees that wandered into the Cooper River as temperatures quickly dropped in November.

Carolina the manatee is released into warm Florida waters after a six-week rehab at the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens’ Manatee Critical Care Center. Photo courtesy SeaWorld.

Showing symptoms of cold stress, rescuers decided to wait before releasing Carolina. She spent six weeks in rehabilitation, before her release with another manatee rescued from Brevard County.

“We helped give her some tube feedings and antibiotics and pain medications and made sure she was eating well and that her systems were working right,” said Zoo veterinarian Meredith Persky. “That’s how we were able to successfully release her.”

Jacksonville strikes back against ‘human tragedy’, picks proven opioid suit lawyers

The opioid crisis has hit Jacksonville hard. And now, via engagement of an international class-action law firm, the city is ready to hit back.

Scott & Scott, headquartered in Connecticut, will help the city pursue tangible remedies from opioid manufacturers. This firm has scored significant eight-figure cash settlements from numerous pharmaceutical companies and is currently handling legal actions in New Jersey and Pennsylvania against the same.

The city’s opioid overdoses have spiked in recent years, with 464 in 2016, and still more than that in 2017.

Councilman Bill Gulliford, who sponsored legislation to get an experimental treatment program for those who come to ERs after overdoses, sees the suit as a way to fight back against a “human tragedy” that has wreaked havoc on city resources ranging from emergency rooms to overstretched public safety personnel.

Florida Politics spoke with Gulliford this week, and he discussed at great length the opioid crisis.

“I walked through the morgue and into the cooler yesterday. That slams life and its realities home to you,” Gulliford said.

The morgue, these days, is full to capacity — and then some.

The local medical examiner’s office sees bodies on top of bodies, with processing of new intake delayed by days often of late.

To counteract this, the City Council authorized money for a temporary storage unit and office space — a stop gap until the city can build a new building. Temporary facilities, to be installed in the next 90 days at a cost of $206,000, will encompass the portable refrigerating unit for 40 additional bodies, and a mobile unit will accommodate six additional staffers to handle the case load.

Hard and soft costs will tax the city’s budget, ranging from extra money and overtime for EMTs to shuttle victims to potential recovery, to a need for more and better physical facilities.

The lawsuit, whose target has yet to be determined, will redress some of those fiscal costs.

But compensation for a human loss is a different matter.

Jacksonville Bold for 1.12.18 — Smells like teal spirit

Here we are now. Entertain us.

EverBank Field was lit Sunday, as the Jacksonville Jaguars laid a smackdown on the Buffalo Bills, in a 10-3 defensive struggle that was best watched live and in the stands.

Jacksonville hadn’t hosted a playoff game this century; the crowd was hyped. And mostly Jaguar fans.

The media derided the win — but for those who saw the end, when Jalen Ramsey picked off the Bills’ QB, it was a moment of triumph.

Jalen Ramsey gives the Jags a moment of triumph.

People stayed in the stadium — a few Bills fans aside — until it was over.

It was Jacksonville’s moment.

As we enter what will be a bruising political year, it’s useful to remember that community is what brings us together.

It’s the teal, yes. But it’s more than that.

It’s the realization that it’s Duval against the world.

There are those who bet on the world.

But Sunday showed that it feels better to bet on Duval.

Especially when the Jags go over.

Doctor, heal thyself

Problems with your marriage?

Is it unhealthy?

The Florida Legislature is willing to help future couples avoid such troubles as they traipse into connubial bliss.

Do as we say … not as we do.

The solution: a “guide to a healthy marriage.”

The version filed in the House is a guide that would contain resources addressing “conflict management, communication skills, family expectations, financial responsibilities and management, domestic violence resources and parenting responsibilities.”

Monday saw Jacksonville Republican state Rep. Clay Yarborough file the House version of the legislation (HB 1323).

The Legislature wouldn’t write this guide on its own (probably for the best given that philandering ended the careers of two Senators in recent months, with another former Senator and current state Representative going through a prolonged high-profile and messy divorce).

Instead, the guide would be written by the Marriage Education Committee: a panel of six marriage education and family advocates, two picked by the Governor, two by the Senate President, and two more by the House Speaker.

In other words, the same formula that has led to a smooth-running Constitutional Revision Commission could be brought to bear on Florida marriages.

Private funds would pay for the guide w, and reading it would be a prerequisite for a marriage license.

Jay Fant files monument protection bill

Rep. Fant, a Jacksonville Republican running for Attorney General, presented the latest in a series of base-pleasing bills for the 2018 Legislative Session Monday.

Fant’s HB 1359 (the “Soldiers’ and Heroes’ Monuments and Memorials Protection Act”) contends that any wartime monument erected after 1822 on public property may only be moved for its repair or the repair of the property containing it.

Desecration of monuments would be a felony if passed.

The bill’s primary imports: forestalling removal of Confederate monuments, as happened most recently in Memphis. And establishing criminal penalties for tampering — penalties that would supersede the ordinance code or enforcement inclinations of rogue municipalities.

Fant’s hometown Jacksonville dealt with a Confederate monument removal debate in 2017; Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche took a position in favor of moving monuments to museums, as they divided the community

Fant’s legislative docket is serving up more red meat than the butcher at Avondale’s renowned Pinegrove market.

If enacted, his “Free Enterprise Protection Act” will “ensure that Florida business owners are protected from government sanctions and penalties when they are exercising their First Amendment rights.”

Fant was inspired to file FEPA by the case of a Colorado baker who balked at making a wedding cake for a gay couple, as said baker saw the act of baking as lending sanction to their choice to marry. FEPA would protect the free speech rights of businesses.

Fant also is carrying the House version of a Senate bill that would allow people to carry guns to, from, and during events in Florida’s great outdoors; if it clears the governor’s desk, everyone from crabbers to dog-walkers will be protected while packing heat.

Aaron Bean talks Rob Bradley, sanctuary cities

Sen. Bean spent some time giving his thoughts on the Legislative Session — including the benefits of an appropriations chair from Northeast Florida (Fleming Island Republican Sen. Bradley), and potential pitfalls for a bill he is carrying.

Aaron Bean was typically enthusiastic about 2018.

Bean was voluble on what Bradley means, both for the Senate and the region.

“I have known Sen. Bradley for almost 30 years,” Bean asserted, “and he is going to be outstanding as Appropriations Chair. He makes it look easy, but he is always the most prepared member in the room from his constant reading and research.

“As a sub-chair for the criminal justice and environmental appropriations committees,” Bean added, “members could be sure that Senator Bradley was going to know why funds were being spent, and he would be sure it was a good use of taxpayer dollars.”

“He is going to be great for Florida. It is a bonus that he is from North Florida. North Florida Legislators are still going to have to work for any requests, because Bradley is not going to give anyone a pass just because they are from our area, but he is going to deliver a budget we can all be proud of,” Bean said.

Bean is carrying 23 bills — but the most high-profile measure (a ban on sanctuary cities that should clear the House easily) may not get through the Senate.

“Our Sanctuary City bill faces a tough opening as it has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. We don’t have the votes to get it passed — yet — so we are working hard to get that done,” Bean said.

Big month for Bradley committee

Fleming Island Republican Sen. Bradley saw his political committee raise more money in November than in any other single month.

Rob Bradley is becoming a major power broker in NE Florida.

And in December, Bradley’s Working for Florida’s Families exceeded that sum, setting an internal record level of fundraising for the second straight month.

The committee hauled in $173,000, with significant buy-in from U.S. Sugar, Walmart, Florida Blue, Associated Industries of Florida and the associated Florida Prosperity Fund.

All told, the committee has over $720,000 on hand.

Bradley became the Appropriations Chair after the removal of now-resigned Sen. Jack Latvala, his predecessor in the role.

Northeast Florida legislators expect that he will be in a position to ensure that the oft-neglected region gets its fair share in the budget process.

Bradley backs Wyman Duggan

A key endorsement in the House District 15 race, as Sen. Bradley backs Duggan — thus far, the sole Republican candidate.

Bradley described Duggan as “a respected community leader who will serve with honor, integrity, and commitment to our shared conservative values.”

Wyman Duggan has all the endorsements he could want … and no primary opponents.

Duggan, meanwhile, is “honored to have the support of Sen. Bradley who has served as a conservative leader in the Florida Senate. I look forward to working with Sen. Bradley throughout my campaign and in the Florida legislature fighting for a more prosperous and brighter future for Florida.”

Duggan has scored a swath of endorsements from Republican electeds, setting up the “Your leaders trust Duggan … shouldn’t you?” mailpieces.

Jacksonville City Councilmen Danny Becton, Matt Schellenberg, Greg Anderson, Aaron Bowman, Scott Wilson, Doyle Carter, Jim Love and Sam Newby are on board. So are former Councilmen Jim Overton and Kevin Hyde. And Rep. John Rutherford, State Sen. Aaron Bean, State Rep. Jason Fischer, Duval Clerk of Courts Ronnie Fussell, Duval Tax Collector Michael Corrigan also back Duggan.

$142K haul for Lenny Curry committee

It was a December to remember for Build Something That Lasts, the political committee of Jacksonville Mayor Curry.

Lenny Curry’s fundraising is so strong that gravity has stopped applying to him.

The Curry committee cleaned up to end the year, raking in $142,000, pushing the committee up to $603,000 on hand.

The strong month comes at a pivotal time for the Mayor’s policy and political operations. The Mayor’s Office aligns with a proposal to privatize JEA, a pitch which has floated periodically over the years but returned at the end of last year, via a proposal from a key political supporter and outgoing board member Tom Petway.

Additionally, Curry likely will face at least a nominal opponent for re-election. Whether he does or not, however, his committee likely will play in Jacksonville City Council races — supporting candidates who align with his vision, and working against less cooperative Council incumbents.

Danny Becton, Sam Newby launch Jax Council VP runs

An annual tradition in Jacksonville City Council is beginning anew: the race for Jacksonville City Council VP.

Often — but not always — the VP slot is a springboard to the presidency the next year.

Two Republican Councilmen — Becton and Newby — are in the race already.

Sam Newby may be the early front-runner for Council VP.

Two more — Republican Scott Wilson and Democrat Tommy Hazouri — are giving the race a close look.

All are first-termers.

Wilson finished second in the VP race in 2017; Hazouri, meanwhile, is a former mayor and the only Democrat in the mix.

Read the whole story here.

Reggie Gaffney runs hard for re-election

One Jacksonville City Council member who doesn’t need to wonder about Curry targeting him in 2019: Gaffney.

Democrat Gaffney is a strong supporter of Jacksonville’s Republican Mayor, standing by Curry even when many other Council members cast aspersions, and the Councilman hopes that a record of tangible achievements in his district outweighs negative press.

Corrine Brown is out of the game, but Reggie Gaffney wants 4 more years.

A recent video, cut with an unseen interviewer, reveals more about Gaffney’s platform.

“District 7 is a very large district,” Gaffney said. “I like to think of District 7 as three different communities all with different needs.”

While there are many “priority projects” he could cite, Gaffney says that Amazon — “because it’s about jobs” — is No. 1.

Meanwhile, Gaffney takes credit for fixing the collapsed Liberty Street Bridge, calling it his “first project.”

Gaffney also takes credit for compelling Curry to address drainage issues in the flood-prone Lower Eastside.

Gaffney then asserted his key role in getting money for the stadium improvement projects (amphitheater, covered practice field and club seat renovations) approved in his term.

“The mayor said, ‘I need your help,’” Gaffney said, and he was willing to — as it meant “jobs” for his district.

“I said ‘let’s make it happen,’” Gaffney related.

Honors for HRO sponsors, as theocons challenge bill

Last February, Jacksonville expanded its Human Rights Ordinance, giving protections to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the workplace, public accommodations and housing markets.

It is Feb. 3 at the Florida Yacht Club; Equality Florida will honor the three sponsors of the legislation: City Council VP Aaron Bowman and Councilman Jim Love (two Republicans), and Councilman Tommy Hazouri (a Democrat).

Tommy Hazouri is one of the HRO co-sponsors set to be honored.

Unsurprisingly, Equality Florida gives itself credit for passage.

“After a nearly 10-year campaign, Jacksonville ended its reign as the only major city in Florida without an LGBT-inclusive Human Rights Ordinance. In February 2017, we saw unprecedented leadership and investment in this battle by Equality Florida, the citizens of Jacksonville, and these three elected leaders — resulting in the updated HRO on Valentine’s Day.”

Props for FPL, JEA from environmental groups

St. Johns River Power Park, the largest operating coal power plant in Florida, has been shut down, co-owners Florida Power & Light and JEA announced Tuesday.

Coal may not be the future after all …

The utilities said the historic Jacksonville plant was aging and no longer economical as one of the highest-cost facilities among both FPL’s and JEA’s generating systems.

At nearly the same time, FPL lit up four new solar power plants — some of the largest ever built — and says it is nearing completion on four more new solar farms in a matter of weeks.

The ambitious moves earned kudos from leading environmental groups.

“FPL has a forward-looking strategy of making smart, innovative, long-term investments, including solar, to reduce emissions while providing affordable, clean energy for its customers,” said Julie Wraithmell, Audubon Florida’s interim executive director.

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is critical to addressing climate change,” said Greg Knecht, deputy executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Florida. “Anytime we can replace less-efficient sources of energy with cleaner fuels or solar it’s a benefit for people and nature. Investments such as FPL’s in clean-energy technologies are key to Florida’s future health and prosperity.”

JAXPORT adds direct New Zealand, Australia service

Beginning March, JAXPORT will offer direct service to New Zealand and Australia for roll-on/roll-off (Ro/Ro) cargo through Höegh Autoliners’ new U.S. to Oceania direct express Ro/Ro service.

JAXPORT’s Blount Island Marine Terminal will serve as the last East Coast port of call in the rotation.

JAXPORT will offer direct service to New Zealand and Australia for roll-on/roll-off (Ro/Ro) cargo through Höegh Autoliners. Photo credit: Lucien van Horn

The monthly service will start with the first vessel, the 6,500-CEU (car capacity) Höegh Jeddah, sailing out of Jacksonville. Vessel rotation will include Auckland in New Zealand as well as Brisbane, Port Kembla, Melbourne and Fremantle in Australia.

Horizon Terminal Services, Höegh Autoliners’ fully owned terminal owning and operating company headquartered in Jacksonville, will provide fumigation and wash down services at Blount Island.

Additional information on Höegh’s trade route to Oceania is available at icptrack.com.

UNF tops in U.S. News & World Report’s ‘Best Online’ bachelor’s programs

The University of North Florida earned a top spot in U.S. News & World Report’s 2018 Best Online Programs rankings.

Released this week, UNF is among the Top 40 colleges and universities in the country for “Best Online Bachelor’s Programs,” ranking included data from nearly 1,500 distance-education degree programs nationwide.

UNF tops in U.S. News & World Report’s ‘Best Online’ bachelor’s programs.

At No. 31, UNF jumped 17 spots from last year’s ranking, and is the only higher education institution from the Jacksonville area listed among the rankings in this category. The University also landed on the “Best Online Education Programs” list, a graduate-level ranking. Only degree-granting programs offering classes entirely online were considered.

“It’s very rewarding to have U.S. News & World Report rank our bachelor’s and our graduate education online programs among the best in the nation,” said UNF President John Delaney. “Faculty in our online programs are committed to this form of program delivery and have developed course materials and teaching methods that are second to none.”

More information on the “Best Online Programs” rankings is at usnews.com/online.

Jacksonville Bold for 1.5.18 — Cold outside, 2018 is hot

The weather report was unprecedented this week. Cold as ice, as the Foreigner classic goes.

But for those needing a warmup, the 2018 political landscape brings the heat.

Right now, it’s hotter than July in the orbit of almost-Jacksonville Rep. Ron DeSantis. He’s got the billionaires backing him, and a robopoll saying he’s more popular than Adam Putnam.

Time will tell there.

The race to replace DeSantis in Congress also is heating up.

We also have Democratic candidates making moves — both in 2018 and 2019.

And if you read down far enough, you will see us predicting a Jaguars Super Bowl win.

Perhaps we are still celebrating the New Year on that last item?

Bold is back (as you can see) and we are ready for whatever 2018 brings.

Billionaires back DeSantis for Governor

Breaking: lots of people who can buy and sell most of those reading this blog post want DeSantis for Governor.

If Ron DeSantis were an 80s pro wrestling group, they’d be called Money Inc.

Team DeSantis rolled out more than 50 Floridians stretching from Miami through the Panhandle and featuring Palm Beach billionaire Thomas Peterffy; and more than two dozen national names, topped by Las Vegas casino mogul and conservative political rainmaker Sheldon Adelson.

DeSantis’ state financial leadership team includes Republican donors and timeshare moguls Jackie and David Siegel of Windermere; Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus; Palm Beach fundraisers Gay and Stanley Gaines; and Art Hudson of Orlando.

In addition to Adelson, the national committee includes David Bossie of Dallas, who is chairman of the Citizens United political activism organization and was a deputy campaign director for Trump; Republican financier Rebekah Mercer of New York; Dick Uihlein of Chicago, a big backer of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Club for Growth; and Christian-conservative cause financier Foster Friess of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The GOP race for Governor is shaking out to be Tallahassee interests backing Putnam versus outside interests backing Richard Corcoran. This raises interesting questions for the House Speaker and undeclared candidate. Can he compete with these machines?

Putnam has on-hand roughly $15 million; DeSantis, no doubt, will be able to catch up.

DeSantis leads in poll … is it real?

The DeSantis campaign pushed out a poll, via POLITICO, that has the congressman leading Putnam — even before declaring his candidacy.

Are friends electric? Are pollsters robotic? Ron DeSantis and Marc Caputo say yes to the latter.

“The automated ‘robopoll,’ which had a sample of 1,423 likely GOP voters, had DeSantis with 28 percent, ahead of Putnam (25 percent), and Corcoran (3 percent),” the POLITICO write-up asserts.

President Donald Trump’s endorsement of DeSantis matters bigly also. 84 percent of Republicans polled view Trump favorably. And 36 percent see themselves as “Trump Republicans.”

Worth noting: A robopoll is generally not something POLITICO Florida embraces. However, in this case, it made an exception … for reasons not disclosed.

Also, worth noting: This is the only poll that has shown DeSantis even within striking distance of Putnam.

Fred Costello in CD 6 GOP derby

State Rep. Fred Costello is joining what appears to be an increasingly crowded field in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

Costello finished a distant second to incumbent DeSantis in the 2016 primary, with 24 percent of the vote; however, with DeSantis essentially running for Governor at this point, Costello will join a field that includes businessman John Ward.

Other candidates — including former Green Beret Michael Waltz, St. Johns County Commissioner Jimmy Johns, and Brandon Patty — are taking hard looks at the race; if that field shakes out with six candidates, a hard 24 percent could be competitive.

Fred Costello’s campaign is classic red state.

Costello plans to roll out his campaign Saturday, Jan. 6, at Rockefeller Park at the Casements in Ormond Beach. Rallies follow throughout the day throughout the district.

Costello was a former Ormond Beach Mayor before moving on to the state Legislature. He intends to brand his campaign with a fealty to Trump, an adherence to so-called “Judeo-Christian values,” and localism.

“I have lived, raised my family, worked, played and prayed in Congressional District 6 for 40 years. As a USAF veteran and business owner who has served you as a dentist, Ormond Beach Mayor & State Representative, I am well prepared to Stand for US!”

Costello’s campaign will roll out prominent backers speaking at the events: among them, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood, Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland, Deltona Mayor John Masiarczyk, state Rep. David Santiago and state Sen. Dennis Baxley will be among the elected officials on hand for regional launches.

Greeting him on the trail, per POLITICO Florida: a complaint that he was campaigning as early as August 2017.

Prediction: DeSantis endorses someone else in this field. DeSantis was irked earlier this year by another candidate, John Ward, jumping in too early.

Al Lawson challenger scores CBC staffer endorsement

Rontel Batie, a Democrat challenging incumbent Al Lawson in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, brought out an endorsement from a former Congressional Black Caucus executive director (Abdul Henderson) this week.

Al Lawson isn’t taking Rontel Batie seriously yet. And Batie is exploiting the situation.

Batie has pointed out previously that Lawson doesn’t line up with the CBC. Batie, a former Corrine Brown staffer who emerged from the CBC’s political operation, is clearly more prepared to line up with the caucus.

“I am pleased to have received an endorsement from Abdul Henderson, who served as the Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus from 2015-2016. Abdul is very familiar with my work ethic and has long believed that we need to make room for young leaders in Congress like myself,” Batie said.

State Reps. preview 2018 Legislative Session

In 2016, Cord Byrd, Clay Yarborough, and Jason Fischer overcame competitive primaries to win nominations — despite powerful interests and strong candidates going against each of the three in the process.

Clay Yarborough is one of three Jacksonville Republicans beginning year 2 next week.

The general elections, in each of their districts, lacked drama: all three beat write-in candidates, garnering over 90 percent of the vote.

We asked the three of them to evaluate the working relationship of the Duval Delegation going into the Legislative Session, their own personal priorities for the 60 days, as well as getting their thoughts on working with City Hall throughout the process this year.

All three of them believe that the delegation is in sync.

Fischer and Byrd messaged specifically on lowering taxes further; Yarborough discussed bills of specific importance to him, including a measure that would repurpose unused medications for those who need them in the state.

As well, all three discussed how the new configuration in the Mayor’s Office — with Chief of Staff Brian Hughes taking an official role — would affect Jacksonville priorities.

None anticipated an adverse effect; Fischer offered the hottest quote.

“The addition of Brian Hughes is a force multiplier for the city. If you want to build something that lasts,” Fischer said, “hire Brian Hughes.”

Of course, “Build Something That Lasts” is the name of Mayor Lenny Curry’s political committee.

Read the entire interview here.

SPLC lauds Melissa Nelson

The Southern Poverty Law Center lauded Melissa Nelson, 4th Circuit State Attorney, for meaningful reforms that have halved Duval’s arrests of children.

The SPLC gave Melissa Nelson props … something that never happened to Angela Corey.

“It is encouraging to see that the number of children prosecuted as adults in Florida has declined, but the fact that we’re sending more than 1,000 children into the adult criminal justice system every year is troubling. Florida prosecutes more children as adults than any other state — often at the sole discretion of prosecutors,” asserted an SPLC representative.

“Some areas of the state with reform-minded state attorneys are keeping their promises to send fewer children to the adult system. In Duval County, there was a nearly 50 percent drop in children going to adult court,” the SPLC continued.

Civil citations were among the reforms that activists thought former State Attorney Angela Corey was too slow to implement. Nelson beat Corey by a more than two to one margin in the 2016 Republican primary, with anecdotal evidence of Democrats and independents crossing over to vote against Corey.

Curry to appear on ESPN Sunday

Jacksonville Mayor Curry is a hard-core NFL fan — and one of his life goals will be completed this weekend on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown.

The reason: the Jaguars are hosting a playoff game, and Curry proclaimed standout defensive end Calais Campbell the Mayor of “Sacksonville.”

An ESPN producer reached out Tuesday via email:

“We are heading down to Jacksonville this week to speak to the Jaguars defensive line, and Calais Campbell, who last month you proclaimed as the ‘Mayor of Sacksonville.'”

“Would you have a window of availability anytime Thursday or Friday to be interviewed on camera about your proclamation? We’d be happy to conduct the interview in your office as it would only take about 15 minutes (we would just need about an hour or so to set up),” the producer wrote.

ESPN could soon feature the ”Mayor of Sacksonville.’

While we haven’t confirmed Curry’s participation in this, sources familiar with his thinking say there is no way he would miss this opportunity.

Campbell, a tenth-year player from Miami, has 14.5 sacks on the season; the big-ticket free agent holds the franchise record.

The Jaguars are favored in Sunday’s tilt against the Buffalo Bills by upward of 7 points, and tickets for the game are sold out and are the hottest ticket among the wild card games on the resale market.

The Jaguars are a 3 seed in the AFC playoffs, meaning that barring a string of upsets in the first two rounds, this will be their only home playoff game.

$490,000 buys a lot of BBQ

WJXT contributed the latest in a depressing and distressing cycle of stories about Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown’s family’s failed business venture — a BBQ sauce plant that couldn’t get off the ground, despite SBA and city loans and grants totaling well over $3 million.

Per WJXT4 THE Local Station”: The bankruptcy judge spelled out a restructuring plan to pay back a portion of what’s owed.

After $3M in loans and grants, Katrina Brown’s sauce biz couldn’t get off the ground.

“The Brown family companies operate two businesses and owe the city a total of $572,000. The city is suing them separately over the $220,000 grant and a $350,000 loan. Of that, the judge ordered the family to pay back the city only $80,000 the next seven years,” a solution which “leaves city taxpayers $490,000 short.”

The Councilwoman’s Porsche likely won’t be seen around City Hall, either.

“Katrina Brown’s debt to pay off her Porsche was also in the settlement. She got an insurance payout enough to cover the outstanding car loan. Documents don’t disclose why, but sometimes you see payouts after an accident.”

Three-way dance in at-large 2

A Democrat might jump into the scrum in Jacksonville City Council’s at-large District 2.

Darren Mason — a member of Duval Democratic Party leadership and an alumnus of the office of current Councilwoman Joyce Morgan — is mulling a run.

Darren Mason is prepared to flex his political muscles and enter the field of play for 2019.

Currently, two Republicans are in the race: well-financed Ron Salem and former Councilman Bill Bishop.

The calculus: Bishop and Salem would cannibalize the Republican vote in this citywide race, clearing a path to the runoff for Mason.

Worth noting: oppo on Bishop was pushed out in 2015 when he ran for Mayor.

Worth asking: Does Mason have Google?

He should be in the race by mid-January, according to an informed source.

Happening Saturday 

State Sen. Travis Hutson and state Rep. Paul Renner, both of Palm Coast, join Farm Share to host a free food distribution at the WE Harris Community Center, 400 Harris St. Distribution begins  9 a.m., and is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

JTA launches test track for self-driving vehicles

Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s new autonomous vehicle (AV) test track opened Wednesday, featuring a self-driving 12-passenger vehicle.

The JTA track — between Intuition and Daily’s Place — will research different AVs over the next two years, writes Will Robinson of the Jacksonville Business Journal. The inaugural ride was with a Transdev vehicle with room for six seated passengers and six standing passengers.

JTA unveiled a new autonomous vehicle test track, open to the public to help users get used to the technology and to provide JTA with feedback.

“In Jacksonville, we clearly continue to stay ahead of the curve in how we provide transportation to our citizens,” CEO Nat Ford told the Journal. “We thought really big with this.”

The track will see a rotation of vehicles — of various sizes — every six months, testing different speeds and functionalities to select the Ultimate Urban Circulator (U2C) as part of the Skyway infrastructure. JTA intends to retrofit the 2.5-mile Skyway infrastructure, with offramps to expand the transit system into Brooklyn, LaVilla, San Marco, to EverBank Field and more.

City Council to review Jacksonville Zoo ‘living shoreline’ project

After six years of talk and planning, an eco-friendly project to stem erosion at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens shoreline may finally be realized — pending City Council approval.

Steve Patterson of the Florida Times-Union reports that the city’s Environmental Protection Board voted in November to fund a “living shoreline” project, using part of a $165,000 trust made up from fines collected from polluters.

In addition to city council approval, legislation to allow the money to be spent must be filed — expected sometime this winter, Patterson writes.

The project showing Jacksonville Zoo’s proposed ‘living shoreline.’

According to city lawyers, an agreement for the new money must be treated like a construction project, one where Public Works Department officials review and approve. Last month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a project permit, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection approved the project.

Usually, a bulkhead would be used to stop the waves, but it would isolate turtles, wading birds, crabs and other creatures in the river from shallower water. Bulkheads can also be affected by the water and storms.

The proposed living shoreline would be a more sustainable way to block waves, applying reef balls in the river adjacent to the shore’s low-tide line. Reef balls, concrete domes with holes, intended to allow shellfish and other creatures grab hold and start new reefs to filter water and slow waves.

Three UF Health Jacksonville leaders to retire

As 2017 ends, three of UF Health Jacksonville senior leaders — Russ Armistead, CEO; Penny Thompson, vice president of Government Affairs; and Bill Ryan, senior vice president and chief financial officer — enter retirement. Each made significant contributions to patients and staff for years to come.

Russ Armistead, Penny Thompson and Bill Ryan.

On Aug. 16, 2004, Armistead was recruited to UF Health in Gainesville as associate vice president of Finance and Planning. In December 2012, amid negotiations to take an administrative position at Augusta University, then known as Georgia Regents University, UF Health President David Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., asked Armistead to become CEO of UF Health Jacksonville and use his financial expertise to lead the hospital into a more profitable future. Armistead began as CEO Jan. 7, 2013.

His legacy includes improving the cultural harmony of hospital staff and physicians through hospitality training, promoting increased employee engagement numbers by addressing issues that matter to staff, and by making himself available through weekly rounds and his “A Few Minutes with Us” biweekly video series.

On Jan. 1, Leon L. Haley Jr., M.D., MHSA, will assume the role of CEO following Armistead’s retirement.

Thompson began her career with UF Health Jacksonville Jan. 20, 1987, as director of communications and marketing. In this role, she fostered important relationships within the media and the community to make UF Health Jacksonville a more well-known resource for patients in its service areas.

Thompson served the past 18 years as vice president of Government Affairs. Her accomplishments include playing a vital role in securing an additional $2 million in city funding for the hospital, which unlocked more than $18 million in federal funding. She also secured funding through the hospital’s Volunteer Services budget to start the Arts in Medicine program, which has transformed the experiences of countless patients in their time of need. Thompson was also key in establishing UF Health Jacksonville as one of two designated Children’s Miracle Network hospitals in the city of Jacksonville.

Ryan joined UF Health Jacksonville as CFO in December 2001, believing he was fully prepared to manage the financial assets of a large academic hospital. Ryan admirably negotiated the internal relations, budgets and debt arrangements to successfully maintain UF Health Jacksonville as a fully functioning and valuable safety-net hospital for the Jacksonville community.

In September 2003, Ryan retired, but would return as CFO in July 2015.

Predictions for 2018

For the third straight year, Florida Politics has advanced predictions for 2018 in Northeast Florida.

Super Bowl Shuffle for Shahid Kahn and the mayor? We predict it!

Last year, we got a whopping 40 percent right.

Could we do worse this year? It’s possible!

Our crystal ball sees Al Lawson and John Rutherford walking to re-election in the House.

We also see a Democrat — perhaps even one with a pulse — emerging to run against Curry.

JEA privatization, we believe, will be a tough sell.

Real candidates will emerge to face City Council incumbents Anna Brosche, Katrina Brown and Garrett Dennis.

And the Jaguars will … GULP … win the Super Bowl.

Read the whole slate here.

Also worth reading: People to watch in 2018 and How botched were last year’s predictions?

Help wanted: GateHouse Media seeks statewide political reporter

Interested in writing about the hurly-burly of Tallahassee politics? GateHouse Media has a job for you.

The Legislative Session is fast approaching; the job, posted Dec. 21, has yet to be filled.

“GateHouse Media’s Florida newspapers are seeking an aggressive, multi-talented Capitol Bureau reporter to enhance the group’s coverage of statewide issues for a range of newspapers whose coverage areas span nearly the entire state, from the Panhandle, to inland agricultural areas to the coasts,” the posting asserts.

Indeed, for those who might expect a local reporter to focus on statewide issues relevant to the local market, that coverage area offers a wide scope.

Panama City, Gainesville, Ocala, Jacksonville, Daytona Beach and Sarasota — all major metros with discrete needs and expectations from their legislative delegations.

“This reporter needs a voracious appetite for all things Florida, a willingness to depart from the herd in story selection and storytelling and an ability to juggle the demands of daily developments during the often chaotic days of the legislative session with the need for deeper dives into investigative pieces and data crunching, political analysis and the issues important to GateHouse’s diverse readership,” the posting adds.

And there is more, of course.

“The position also requires a reporter who can adeptly balance the immediate demands of digital news production with those of print, inform readers about the people who are making the policy decisions that will affect their daily lives and how – particularly those representing the areas covered by GateHouse’s papers – keep track of the special interests that influence decisions and get beyond the mechanics of what’s happening in Tallahassee to telling readers why it matters,” the posting continues.

There’s a lot to unpack in that 76-word sentence. And a lot of seemingly contradictory expectations, as a reader in Panama City and a reader in Jacksonville may have different views on what’s happening and why it matters.

“The beat demands a mix of daily, enterprise and longer-term investigative pieces that complements, rather than duplicates, what’s available from the wires,” the posting concludes.

GateHouse offers a map of Florida markets on its website, yet that map is incomplete, not reflecting recent acquisitions of Morris Publishing properties in Jacksonville, Daytona and St. Augustine.

Until late last year, Jacksonville’s Florida Times-Union had a dedicated Tallahassee “bureau chief”: Tia Mitchell.

Mitchell was to “rebuild the paper’s presence in the state’s capital.”

But she has moved on, covering the DeKalb County beat for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

And the Florida Times-Union and other GateHouse properties will maintain an umbrella presence, one that “complements” the work of the Associated Press and News Service of Florida.

In Jacksonville, there have been some changes in the Florida Times-Union model already.

One such change: the outsourcing of printing operations, which leaves 50 workers contemplating job searches before local print operations are shuttered in February.

That outsourcing of printing could affect distribution of papers and force writers covering late events to offer truncated versions of local stories for the print edition — referring readers to the internet for the full story.

Daily journalism faces myriad challenges. And political journalism clearly is no exception.

In a state where population continues to grow, it is notable that daily newspaper subscribers in GateHouse markets will have to rely on “one size fits all” political coverage, reporting that by its very nature cannot drill into the unique intersection of local and regional players and their statewide representatives.

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