Jacksonville – Page 6 – Florida Politics

Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon to speak in Jacksonville this week

Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon will speak in Jacksonville Monday and Tuesday, under the auspices of the World Affairs Council.

Calderon’s Monday 6:45 pm presentation, preceded by a 6:00 pm cocktail reception at Haskell, will be an exclusive address for World Affairs Council donors, on the theme of  “What Does Mexico Think?.”

Tuesday evening sees Calderon at the University of North Florida’s Adam Herbert University Center for a 7:00 pm speech, entitled  “A Presidential Look at Latin America and Mexico’s Perspective on Hemispheric and Bilateral Relations.”

Calderon has been a fierce critic of President Donald Trump, ensuring that his remarks will be quite lively.

While Trump was running for office, Calderon said that Trump’s “racist” remarks regarding illegal immigrants from Latin America were reminiscent of Adolf Hitler.

Calderon also called President Trump’s proposed border wall “stupid.”

Jacksonville Bold for 4.6.18 — Shiv season

In this week’s Bold, a recurring motif … pitched political speech.

From a senator saying the president could kick off the next Great Depression, to a gubernatorial campaign telling an opponent is DOA, the knives were out.

Shivs went toward Jacksonville’s mayor for exploring the value of JEA. And toward a chair of a local party … for her committeeman husband using a phrase at a party dinner that many on hand saw as objectionable.

Don’t worry, there were shivs for him as well.

Almost five months before primaries, and nearly a year before the first city elections, Northeast Florida politics are like a Ginsu ad.

The knives are out. And Jacksonville Bold is the whetstone.

Nelson: Metal tariffs = Smoot-Hawley Act

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson met with Anheuser-Busch executives in Jacksonville Monday to address business concerns about the Trump administration’s plan for tariffs on foreign products.

Meanwhile, Spuds MacKenzie remains silent on the issue of tariffs.

Beer execs were concerned that an imposed 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum would cost them millions of dollars and slow down investment in growing their business.

For Nelson, the tariffs signal a more significant issue.

“What it portends,” said Nelson, “is the starting of a trade war.”

“We get into a trade war, and the prices of a lot of consumer goods we buy from overseas are going to rocket up,” Nelson said. “A trade war ultimately runs into a recession, which was part of the reason for going into the Depression back in the 1930s.”

Nelson noted the Smoot-Hawley Act, which raised 900 import duties all at once, ultimately was what “plunged us into a Depression.”

“This could be the beginning,” Nelson said, saying 9 million people have jobs that will be affected by this imposition of aluminum and steel tariffs.

WaPo wallops Wiles

The Washington Post delivered a hit on inexperienced political appointees in the Donald Trump White House. Caroline Wiles got fragged.

Brutal hit on Caroline Wiles from The Washington Post.

The Post reminded readers that Wiles “was one of six White House staffers dismissed for failing FBI background checks” then was “made a special assistant to the president, a post that typically pays $115,000.”

Susie Wiles, the mother of Caroline, ran Trump’s Florida campaign as it got momentum. That, asserts the Post, is why she was hired.

“The younger Wiles has an unusual background for a senior White House official. On a résumé she submitted to the state of Florida, she said she had completed coursework at Flagler College … On her LinkedIn page, she simply lists Flagler under education. A Flagler spokesman said she never finished her degree,” the report says.

Another shot of nepotism followed: “Wiles has had a string of political jobs, including work at her mother’s lobbying firm and as a campaign aide for candidates her mother advised, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott  and Trump.”

And then, the rap sheet: “Over the years, she has had multiple encounters with police. In 2005, she had her driver’s license suspended for driving while intoxicated … In 2007, she was arrested for driving while intoxicated and arrested for passing a ‘worthless check.’ She was found guilty of a misdemeanor for driving under the influence. The charge related to the bad check was dropped in a plea agreement.”

Go figure; she didn’t sit for an interview for this piece.

Defense lawyers: Brown jobbed out of fair trial

Per First Coast News“The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is asking for a new trial for Corrine Brown after she was convicted on multiple counts of fraud and corruption and sentenced to five years in federal prison.”

Corrine Brown’s latest appeal enjoyed a tail-wind this week via an amicus brief.

At issue: the dismissal of a juror who claimed to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Brown and her defense have consistently contended that juror was dismissed in error and this group agrees, saying that “seeking guidance from God does not amount to jury misconduct and is not a basis to remove a juror who is otherwise qualified to serve.”

Brown’s attorney filed a 64-page brief last week in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals arguing the Jacksonville Democrat’s conviction should be tossed out because the juror was improperly dismissed from the case due to his religious statements.

“The record in this case supports only one conclusion: that this juror was basing his verdict on his view of the sufficiency of the evidence, after prayerful consideration and as he saw it, in his mind, guidance from the Holy Spirit,” Brown’s attorney, William Mallory Kent, wrote in the brief.

Big Mo for DeSantis

An internal memo from the Ron DeSantis campaign for governor made the rounds this week. And he may be winning the nomination.

The memo notes that DeSantis is winning with little effort against an “establishment candidate … who has spent more than $6 million … and has been running quietly for eight years.”

Ron DeSantis’ campaign says it is ‘winning’ the race with Adam Putnam.

DeSantis has the best name ID, per internal polling, along with strong favorables and the lead in a two-way race against Adam Putnam and a three-way race with a “potential third challenger.”

Also, Trump Twitter came up bigly: “The president’s job approval is strong, and so is his endorsement.”

DeSantis also has good oppo against Putnam’s pre-Tea Party voting record in Congress, and wins the “blind bio” test, per his polling, 55 to 29 percent.

Payne draws challenger in HD 19

A Starke Democrat entered the race for North Central Florida’s House District 19, where they will take on incumbent Republican Bobby Payne, as well as Libertarian Ryan Ramsey.

(Paul) Still waters run deep, but the Dem says Black Creek project is a boondoggle.

Paul Still, an elected Supervisor for the Bradford County Soil and Water Conservation Board, was motivated to run by a water issue Payne supported that he sees as a “boondoggle.”

The issue at hand is the $42 million Black Creek Water Resource Development Project.

While Still won’t face primary opposition, the struggle is real in deep red HD 19 for the former chair of the Bradford County Democrats, as the party is not well-organized throughout much of the district.

Duval DEC committeeman out over ‘colored people’ comment

Lisa King‘s tenure chairing the Democratic Party of Duval County has been marred by the aftermath of her husband, state committeeman John Parker, committing the gaffe of using the term “colored people” during a dinner in January.

John Parker resigns, but will Lisa King hold on to the Dems’ gavel?

In the last week, Parker and King have dealt with some adverse press, related to an ongoing outcry both within and outside the party about her husband, with the offensive comments framed as a cause for both Parker and King to step down.

In a statement Monday, King said she had advised Parker to resign, but he told Florida Politics he “absolutely would not” last week. (King got backup Tuesday from party secretary Daniel Henry).

King notes that she has “told John from the beginning that the most appropriate course of action for him was to resign. Although we disagree on this action, our members are committed to respecting the process to resolve this issue.”

Meanwhile, the chair of the Duval GOP finally, a week after this controversy blew up, issued a call for King and Parker to resign.

On Wednesday, Parker acquiesced, resigning both leadership positions.

“Today, I accepted the resignation of John Parker as state committeeman and DNC member,” King said in a statement. “I do this with the certainty that it is the right thing for our party. Although he has dedicated over 35 years of service, his statements and actions necessitated his departure.”

Newby, Holland want four more years

Monday saw two incumbent Jacksonville politicians file for re-election.

Sam Newby won a close race in 2015 on a shoestring budget. Expect him to have more help this time.

At-large Group 5 Republican Sam Newby filed for re-election, as did Republican Property Appraiser Jerry Holland.

Newby, who won a narrow race against Democrat Ju’Coby Pittman in 2015, thus far faces no ballot opposition.

Holland, who was a popular Supervisor of Elections for two terms, faced no ballot opposition in 2015 but will face a Democrat next March.

Kurt Kraft has just over $600 on hand. To put that number in context, Holland raised over $154,000 in his unopposed run in 2015.

Committee slams Curry on radio

A political committee (Florida Committee for Infrastructure Investment) designed to stop the exploration of selling Jacksonville’s utility in its tracks rolled out its first radio ad in a mass email to media.

The 30-second spot, which employs a child’s voice, includes a plaintive, heart-tugging script.

To hear the video, click the image below:

“Mommy and daddy, they’re saying that Lenny Curry is trying to sell JEA,” says the youth in the spot, a child who is remarkably hip to the mechanics of municipal utilities for his age.

“Don’t let him sell JEA,” the youngster continues. “Don’t let him sell our future.”

The call to action: to call 630-CITY and tell Curry not to sell JEA.

This particular political committee has ties to one of Curry’s chief political rivals. Its registered agent and treasurer, Heather Pullen, has connections to Lisa King, the chair of the Duval Democrats.

“Baseless attacks and lies from a political committee affiliated with and supportive of Democrat Lisa King are not how we will protect the value of taxpayer assets at JEA. The mayor remains committed to ensuring that facts inform all future plans for our utility, and that those plans respect taxpayers and the promises made to JEA employees,” said Brian Hughes, Curry’s chief of staff.

Meanwhile, Council President Anna Brosche wants more disclosure from the city finance department on JEA. CFO Mike Weinstein stonewalled the Jacksonville City Council requests for financial information, saying in an email last week: “They’re on their own.”

There is, however, one positive JEA augury for the Mayor’s Office. Curry met with linemen Tuesday; per WJXT, it went well.

Hughes noted that the mayor’s “meeting with JEA lineman this morning was part of his continued commitment to having conversations about the future of JEA with all stakeholders. The meeting went well offering him the opportunity to hear feedback and information from the people who put their lives on the line, not only in emergencies, but every day to provide service to the citizens of Jacksonville.”

Council bills teed up

Straw ballot for JEA sale: This bill had some controversy before unanimous passage in Finance Tuesday morning.

The vote would be in November.

2018-141 would set a straw ballot referendum on the November ballot to test the voters’ mood on a JEA sale.

The measure, sponsored by Garrett Dennis and John Crescimbeni (two skeptics of the need to sell), would, in theory, serve as a corrective to an impending sales pitch to sell from many directions.

Crescimbeni pitched the bill to Rules, noting that the straw ballot is nonbinding and merely gives direction on whether to “participate in that process … weigh in and tell us they’re interested, or they’re not interested.”

The bill cleared Rules without a single no vote.

____

Board reform2018-65, also sponsored by Dennis, would bar a member of a board from applying for a paid position with the organization said board controls while serving on that board.

This bill was drafted after Joe Peppers, a member of the Kids Hope Alliance board who has since stepped down, made a play for that organization’s CEO position.

Dennis, one of Council’s most strident opponents of the reforms that brought KHA into being as a replacement for the Children’s Commission and the Jacksonville Journey, sees Peppers as a) unqualified to be CEO and b) parlaying relationships with the board and Mayor Lenny Curry‘s team into a high-paying job.

Dennis said the bill would foster “transparency and fairness.”

Gaffney lawsuit rolls on

A whistleblower action involving Community Rehabilitation Center, the nonprofit of Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, continues to be hashed out in the 4th Judicial Circuit Court; it is now a discrimination suit.

Reggie Gaffney gaffe: Where are the documents, plaintiff lawyer wonders.

Former CRC employee Darlene Peoples contended in a late-May whistleblower lawsuit in Florida’s 4th Circuit that she was “unlawfully terminated” by the nonprofit … after she was allegedly exposed to risk from HIV-positive clients without proper training and licensure. [Complaint against CRC]

Peoples worked for CRC from 2013 to Sept. 2016. In June 2016, Peoples was reassigned to be a “mental health counselor” from her previous position, “substance abuse counselor,” in a move her original filing describes as “ill-advised.” She claimed training deficiencies were rampant in her preparation to deal with HIV positive clients, and when she attempted to get redress (including from CEO Gaffney), she was fired.

The latest motion from Peoples, a “motion to compel,” came Mar. 22. At issue: an alleged inability to comply promptly with plaintiff requests for discovery regarding interrogatories and documents (emails).

Read more here.

Mallot out

From the JAX Chamber: “Jerry Mallot announced today that he will retire from his roles as President of JAXUSA Partnership and Executive Vice President of JAX Chamber. Mallot’s retirement is effective Sept. 1.”

“This is truly the best city and region in the country to live and to do business — and that certainly helps when you’re bringing top companies to the region,” Mallot, who has been with the Chamber since 1994, said.

Jerry Mallot retiring from JAX Chamber Sept. 1.

Mallot helped to broker deals with Fidelity, Deutsche Bank and Amazon, per the Chamber. Those were three big gets.

“The investment he’s helped attract to our city is remarkable,” said JAX Chamber Chair John Peyton, who served as Jacksonville’s mayor from 2003-11 and worked with Mallot on several high-profile projects. “Jerry is so incredibly skilled at finding ways to get a deal done; it’s been a privilege to work with him over the years.”

“It’s amazing to look around at different projects and see how far we’ve come,” Mallot said. “We have so much momentum here, and I look forward to seeing it continue.”

Nassau’s Lincoln Day dinner sells out

Nassau County Republican Executive Committee (REC) announced its 2018 Lincoln Day Dinner has reached capacity with 116 tickets distributed, a first for the annual event.

The 2018 Lincoln Day Dinner is among the various Republican fundraising events to honor Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth U.S. president and first from the Republican Party. The Nassau County event was held Thursday at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island beginning with a cocktail hour and silent auction.

Keynoting the Lincoln Day dinner was Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis; featured guests includedCongressman John Rutherford, state Sens. Aaron Bean and Denise Grimsley, state Reps. Cord Byrd and Matt Caldwell, as well as various local leaders and candidates.

“Although we are still days away from hosting the event, the revenue and enthusiasm for this banquet have exceeded all expectations,” Nassau REC Chair Justin Taylor said. “In fact, we had to add seats to accommodate demand. We are seeing about a 50 percent participation increase from last year’s Lincoln Day, and I think that is a direct reflection of our party’s enthusiasm leading into this year’s election cycle.”

Marco Rubio pitches business tax cuts in Jacksonville, as federal deficits spike

Sen. Marco Rubio picked a safe market Thursday (Jacksonville) to message on a topic expected to resonate well with the area’s media contingent (the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act).

However, even in what seemed to be invulnerable economic messaging at a business expanding from 6,500 to 47,000 square feet and adding 100 jobs in the next five years because of tax cuts, narrative pitfalls abounded.

Despite these tax cuts, the federal government continues to spend money the American taxpayer doesn’t have. The latest $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill is funded via deficit spending (almost a quarter of a trillion dollars in February), and a concerted policy to weaken the dollar via issuance of short-term debt.

In this context, it was worth asking Rubio if the price of the tax cuts (future obligations and a currency being divested of spending power) was worth it given the increasing spread between revenue and spending.

“I think the rate of spending needs to be controlled,” Rubio said. “Ultimately the thing that drives long-term debt is the structure of very important programs that I support, Medicare and Social Security. I want to save those programs. They need to be reformed for future generations.”

“I would add that the best way to generate more revenue for government is not through more taxes, but more taxpayers. You’re going to have more taxpayers, for the local government, the state government, and the federal government because they’re hiring people, they’re creating work, they’re creating jobs,” Rubio said.

“When a business is able to keep more of the money that they are earning,” Rubio added, “they’re able to reinvest it. That reinvestment creates jobs, not just in that business but in all the businesses that support them. Those jobs become taxpayers.”

“We have to grow the economy,” Rubio said, “but we have to deal long-term with Social Security and Medicare. Those programs … are the driver of U.S. debt.”

Rubio attributed the weakening dollar to “fluctuations in currency” at first, before we pointed out that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said that he welcomes dollar weakness in recent months.

“That fluctuates based on global trends, it also fluctuates based on the administration,” Rubio said.

“What we do know for certain,” Rubio said, “is that we’ve got a historic number of people who are going to retire, they’re going to live longer than they’ve ever lived, in programs that were designed when we had 16 people working for every retiree.”

The ratio is 2:1 now.

“I support those programs. My mom is on Social Security and Medicare,” Rubio said. “I don’t want to see any changes to [those programs] that would harm her or people like her.”

“I’m talking about my generation and people younger than me. We want there to be Social Security and Medicare … that they’re able to exist and provide services long term. We have to address that in Congress,” Rubio added.

Garrett Dennis warns Jacksonville Kids Hope board not to pick Joe Peppers as CEO

Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis, a critic of Jacksonville’s Kids Hope Alliance board that administers the city’s children’s programs, made it known earlier in the week that he would attend Wednesday’s KHA Board meeting.

Dennis’ principal interest: the board’s selection of a new CEO.

In Council committees Tuesday, Dennis peppered employees of the Lenny Curry administration with questions about a “cloud over the process”: why Joe Peppers, a CEO hopeful who first pursued the job while on the board that would select said CEO, was one of four candidates still being considered.

“The one who has given me pause is Joseph Peppers. He turned in his application Feb. 22 and [emerged the next day from] 138 applications,” Dennis said Tuesday.

Dennis urged Peppers to withdraw his name from the search.

Dennis was in attendance at the Kids Hope Alliance meeting Wednesday — a conclave run by city CFO Mike Weinstein, who is also acting CEO of the KHA.

The board will mull the CEO selection process Thursday, and Dennis still worries that Peppers’ selection, should it happen, would put a “cloud” over the body, creating a “doubt in everybody’s mind” as to whether Peppers is a “legit CEO” or a figurehead.

Jacksonville Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, Dennis asserted, “said the Mayor was not going to relinquish picking the first CEO.”

With Peppers, Dennis believes Curry’s been “keeping true to his word.”

Dennis predicts that if Peppers is chosen, “he doesn’t stay there a year and a half,” because Peppers lacks a history of “longevity,” as if he’s “always looking for the next best thing.”

The KHA board reviews CEO candidates on Thursday.

Utility industry giants lobby up in Jacksonville

Lobbyists for two major players in the utility industry have registered with the City of Jacksonville.

Records show Florida Power and Light has engaged Paul Harden, best known locally as the representative for the Jacksonville Jaguars and owner Shad Khan‘s interests.

Harden was also pivotal in persuading the Jacksonville City Council to approve a slots referendum in 2016.

Harden’s pitches will be difficult to resist for politicians concerned about re-election bids in 2019.

Meanwhile, Emera, a Nova Scotia-based utility company that acquired TECO and otherwise has assets ranging from New Mexico to the Caribbean, has also lobbied up.

Emera has retained Marty Fiorentino and The Fiorentino Group colleagues Joe MobleyMark Pinto, and Jason Roth. Other lobbyists for the client include Wyman Duggan, a land use attorney running for the state House, and his Rogers Towers colleague T.R. Hainline, who served on Mayor Lenny Curry‘s transition team.

Southern Strategy Group’s Deno Hicks and Matt Brockelman, are already engaged for Emera.

Fiorentino and Southern Strategy have held city of Jacksonville lobbying contracts in Tallahassee since soon after Curry took office.

Jacksonville is currently involved in the process of exploring the value of local utility JEA.

While it is by no means certain that FPL or Emera have any interest in JEA assets, both companies were involved in acquisitions of municipal utilities.

FPL acquired the Vero Beach utility recently. The $185 million price tag allowed the city to exit utility agreements, secured the city a new power substation, and led to $36 million in city coffers.

Emera’s TECO acquisition was described as “a perfect fit for Emera’s strategy.” The $6.5 billion deal was lauded as facilitating Emera’s diversification of assets, and being “significantly accretive” to shareholder earnings.

A JEA commissioned valuation report of the utility urged exploration of a sale, given a combination of flat electrical revenues and a trend of industry consolidation.

Proceeds, the report said, could be between $2.9 billion and $6.4 billion after the retirement of debt. Values range from $7.5 billion up to $11 billion, based on cash flow, price/earnings ratios, and other metrics, per the JEA commissioned report.

The Jacksonville City Council Auditor subsequently issued his own report.

The 2018 Council Auditor report was more conservative in estimates than the one JEA commissioned.

It contended “the net proceeds to the City from selling JEA could range from a low of $1,702,795,000 to a high of $5,202,795,000.”

Jacksonville Bold for 3.30.18 — And the campaigns begin

Flowers are blooming. The chill of March fades into April and May heat. And just like the cycle of nature, the cycle of campaigns is kicking off anew.

In Congressional races, we are starting to see real action. Political action committees are kicking up, and so is the end of quarter fundraising.

What this means: all the paper tiger campaigns will be tested by the heat of the process, an unforgiving sunlight illumination that offers no quarter.

Who are the contenders? Who are the pretenders?

Soon we shall know the difference.

PAC targets Waltz in CD 6

Fox News viewers in Florida’s 6th Congressional District starting Monday saw the first of many ads in the Republican primary.

The very first ad in the district that includes Volusia, Flagler and southern St. Johns counties, however, was from a political action committee targeting candidate Mike Waltz.

Mike Waltz takes incoming early from well-funded John Ward PAC.

The committee seems to support opponent John Ward.

Via Advertising Analytics: “American Jobs and Growth PAC” bought $19,000 in ad time on Fox News Channel. Spots will run from Monday to Friday.

The PAC is opposed to Waltz, per the Federal Elections Commission webpage for the committee.

The 15-second ad features a Waltz voice-over from the 2016 campaign, saying “look at Donald Trump‘s real record and stop him now,” with graphics proclaiming Trump’s “real record” as being the tax cut package, and appointing Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

The committee has only begun to spend money, per its list of contributions.

John Foley, a business associate of Ward, leads all donors with $100,000 contributed in what thus far is a ~$140,000 nest egg.

DeSantis denies Cambridge Analytica ties

Moving from the CD 6 race to the incumbent in CD 6 … Florida Democrats questioned, per the Daytona Beach News-Journal, whether or not Rep. Ron DeSantis may have used controversial data-mining op Cambridge Analytica for his campaign.

Oppo suggests the Dems take Ron DeSantis seriously.

The connection: the PAC of new National Security Adviser John Bolton, which donated to DeSantis, also paid Cambridge.

No dice, says the DeSantis campaign.

“No, we didn’t,” wrote spokesman Brad Herold to the Daytona paper. “And tell the FDP, if they spent more time trying to figure out why their message hasn’t resonated with Florida voters in over two decades and less time playing Inspector Clouseau with finance reports, they’d win more elections.”

Zing.

Peanut, tomato dumping drives Lawson to back NAFTA revamp

Florida’s 5th Congressional District is far-flung, as Al Lawson’s town hall last weekend shows.

In Tallahassee, it focused on an issue that has nothing to do with the Jacksonville end of the district: peanut and tomato dumping.

Nearly 100 North Florida and South Georgia farmers gave Al Lawson their ideas on what should be included in a federal farm bill.

“While Central and South Florida are major hubs of citrus and sugar production, North Florida and South Georgia produce peanuts and tomatoes. And those two crops, in addition to dairy, are being squeezed by overproduction from Canada and Mexico, say local farmers. For that reason, Congressman Lawson says he’s in support of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement,” reports WFSU.

“Most farmers here, if you talk to the people who are tomato farmers they’ll tell you they have a big problem. So I think something is going to happen in that regard,” Lawson told the Tallahassee outlet.

Trump wants NAFTA renegotiated, but the movement has been slow.

Peanut interests support Lawson strongly as a candidate.

Brown fundraises

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, a candidate for Florida’s 5th Congressional District, had what he called a “big fundraiser” Wednesday evening.

Alvin Brown is finally fundraising. Did he wait too long to start?

Accompanying Brown was Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Congressional Black Caucus member who endorsed him over incumbent Democratic Rep. Lawson.

At the end of the last quarter, before Brown declared as a candidate, Lawson had lackluster fundraising.

Lawson, the incumbent in Florida’s CD 5, closed 2017 with $100,531 on hand, off $235,281 raised.

Duval legislators extol Legislative Session … for the most part

With the Legislative Session in the rearview mirror, Northeast Florida legislators are looking back at the 60 days with a sense of accomplishment, tempered in some cases with a sense that there are more battles to fight and win.

While the $12.5 million of state money for the Talleyrand Connector was the most significant win, every legislator Florida Politics talked to mentioned other wins as well.

Audrey Gibson was characteristically blunt on the 2018 Session.

The most candid comments were from Senate Minority Leader Designate Audrey Gibson, who was very out front about difficulties of the process: “Go figure, it’s life in an unbalanced Legislature which I am on a mission to change!  I am so honored to serve and am on the battlefield in and out of Session because Session is not the only measure of success.”

Gibson, of course, will face a primary challenge from Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown.

Read the whole recap here.

Gains in rough year, say St. Johns legislators

The St. Augustine Record was on hand for St. Johns County legislators talking about gains in a rough year.

John Rutherford says his introduction to Congress was ‘informative.’

U.S. Rep. John Rutherford said his introduction to Congress was “quite informative.”

Sen. Travis Hutson discussed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.

“Two words: We delivered,” said Rep. Paul Renner about the budget.

Rep. Cyndi Stevenson said it was a bit of a “rough” year, but not one without “a strong footing to go forward on.”

Full write-up here.

Patronis in Jax to highlight expansion of PTSD benefits

This week, CFO Jimmy Patronis joined Mayor Lenny Curry, state Sen. Gibson, Reps. Cord Byrd, Tracie Davis and Jason Fischer, as well as Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Chief Kurt Wilson and members of the fire service and law enforcement communities to highlight the signing of Senate Bill 376, expanding mental health benefits for first responders.

Stress’ relief: CFO Jimmy Patronis was joined by lawmakers, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Chief Kurt Wilson and fire service and law enforcement members to mark the signing of a bill expanding mental health benefits for first responders.

Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill this week in Tampa surrounded by hundreds of first responders from across the state. Sen. Lauren Book and Rep. Matt Willhite sponsored SB 376.

Zeigler running against unfair taxation in HD 15

Yacht broker Mark Zeigler entered the GOP primary in House District 15 last month.

Incumbent Jay Fant is currently running for Attorney General. Zeigler will face Joseph Hogan and Wyman Duggan.

Zeigler, alone among the field, is known for his tenure as a drummer in Pretty Boy Freud, the legends of Jacksonville’s club scene decades ago. As a drummer and an entrepreneur, his motivations for running are pretty straightforward and are rooted in unfair taxation.

The drumbeat of business taxes drives Mark Zeigler. Is that the rhythm of HD 15?

One of the issues facing businesses like his, Zeigler says, is the estimated tax from the Department of Revenue.

“If you collect $200,000 in sales taxes [in a given year], in January you get a love letter,” Zeigler said.

That epistle contains an estimated tax, an added burden for businesses just as they try to navigate the January doldrums. And that tax affects investment in the business, including but not limited to new hiring and new equipment.

The National Federation of Independent Business is “looking hard at this issue,” Zeigler said. “I think I’m the messenger who can carry it.”

Read more here.

Pill suit moving forward

The Jacksonville Daily Record notes that the city of Jacksonville has retained lawyers with a track record for its lawsuit against Big Pharma.

Purdue brought OxyContin to market and is one of many parties named in the suit.

Since 2007, Scott and Scott have brought in more than $1.2 billion in these cases, per the “144-page complaint for damages and injunctive relief filed in the 4th Judicial Circuit by the city against Perdue Pharma LLP and 24 other defendants.”

“The complaint alleges that the defendants engaged in a systematic plan to deceive doctors and patients about the products’ efficacy in the management of chronic pain and the addictive nature of their products,” the Daily Record asserts.

Read more here.

‘Open government’ task force

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche wanted a task force to look at transparency in local government.

She got it.

Anna Brosche’s year atop Council has been full of conflict with Team Curry.

The bill (2018-133) cleared Tuesday’s Council agenda after having passed the Rules Committee unanimously last week.

“The Task Force on Open Government” will “undertake an in-depth review of Jacksonville’s legislative process and the methods by which the public accesses government” and “make recommendations for how the City of Jacksonville can be more open and accessible to the public.”

Brosche originally wanted one-cycle approval of the concept so the task force would have more time to operate, but relented after Mayor Curry‘s office raised concerns that emergency legislation contravened the goal of “open and accessible government.”

The panel wraps by the end of June. As does the Brosche presidency.

JEA special committee not so special anymore

Big news from Jacksonville City Council amounted to a setback for Council President Brosche when her 19 colleagues decided to subvert her five-person “special committee” on the JEA sale by including all 19 members on the panel.

Committee chairman John Crescimbeni will deal with significant changes going forward.

The debate was bruising, elliptical and lasted for hours; all kicked off by a floor motion from Councilman Matt Schellenberg to kill the committee. That didn’t fly. Neither did a move by Councilwoman Lori Boyer to keep the committee at five but kill its subpoena power.

Essentially, this will derail the committee from deep dives into relationships between JEA execs and the Mayor’s Office, moving the discussion to the pros and cons of a sale from “what did _______ know and when did he know it?” style questions.

After the discussion had wrapped, one prominent lobbyist was heard to remark that some of those who fought hardest against changing the committee were guaranteed political opponents in next year’s elections.

The principal opponent of kneecapping the committee structure, Councilman Garrett Dennis, on a Wednesday radio hit described a City Hall that pivots on intimidation tactics, and a Mayor’s Office that will get its way by any means necessary.

Ray Charles can see who’s behind selling JEA,” Dennis quipped near the program’s end, after describing a “climate” where Curry’s team rules by fear, with “the stick and the stick.”

“If you don’t do this, we’ll do this”: Dennis’ summation of the strategy.

Dennis reiterated claims of “threats” levied on him “in offices,” “comments from the Mayor” in which Curry purportedly said that he would “make sure the money spigot is turned off in [Dennis’] district.”

“Now you see the full staff at Council meetings,” Dennis said, with “all the [Mayor’s] top lieutenants on the first and second row” with an “intimidating” look and “subliminal tactics.”

Kids Hope CEO hopeful feels hopeless, withdraws from search

The Florida Times-Union reports that the field of Kids Hope Alliance CEO hopefuls is a bit narrower after one candidate said the process was unfair and withdrew.

Afira DeVries, who leads the United Way of Roanoke Valley in Virginia, withdrew via email.

Afira DeVries says goodbye to KHA search, citing unfairness in process.

“After carefully reviewing the qualifications for the position in contrast to the current scoring and ranking outcomes, it seems that inherent relational advantages enjoyed by other candidates impair my chances of being awarded the position,” DeVries wrote. “Although I remain confident that my talents, skills and experience align perfectly to this exciting role, continuing at this point appears to be more of an exercise than a progressive action toward a viable opportunity.”

Among those candidates: former board member Joe Peppers, who launched his run while still on the board.

Councilman Garrett Dennis, a frequent antagonist of the Curry administration, says there is a “cloud” over that candidacy and that Peppers should withdraw his bid.

District pushback dominates ‘lunch and learn’

Jacksonville’s former Southside Generating Station was the subject of a City Council “lunch and learn” Monday.

Specifically, the proposed District redevelopment, which was described as a “labor of love” by the head of the Downtown Investment Authority, but which was not regarded quite so uncritically by Jacksonville City Council members.

City Council members remain skeptical about the District proposal.

Politically connected developers Peter Rummell and Michael Munz have a deal, as of January, to buy the land for $18.6 million from the JEA Board. The city proposes also putting $26 million into infrastructure, though that’s still to be determined.

Councilwoman Lori Boyer, liaison to the Downtown Investment Authority, noted there were “questions and concerns” about the process in January, and that the meeting Monday was to “share where we are, get input, answer questions.”

While some questions were answered, others remain to be addressed.

Read more here.

Jax opportunity zones have urban core flavor

Jacksonville advanced some proposed “opportunity zones,” and many of them will be in the Urban Core.

The City of Jacksonville last week advanced suggestions to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for Opportunity Zones, each with an urban core focus.

Per Neighborhoods Director Stephanie Burch, five census tracts have been chosen in the downtown area, under the aegis of the Downtown Investment Authority.

San Marco’s Southbank is on the list of ‘opportunity zones.’

The areas chosen have the existing infrastructure, can absorb private capital, and have community redevelopment agencies, Burch wrote in a letter to DEO Director of Strategic Development Michael DiNapoli.

San Marco’s Southbank likewise is on the list, even as metrics show a real upswing, with an unemployment rate of just 2 percent (down from 32 percent in 2000). Curiously, the opportunity zone there overlaps with the District development, which could see $26 million in infrastructure spending and an additional $56 million in REV grants from the city, benefiting political power broker Peter Rummell‘s long-delayed development.

Gov. Scott will nominate these areas by April 20; ultimately, it will be the federal Department of Treasury‘s decision. Areas chosen will be eligible for tax breaks that expect to spur private investment and economic growth.

This week in appointments

Florida State College at Jacksonville District Board of Trustees

Laura DiBella, 39, of Fernandina Beach, is the port director of the Fernandina Ocean Highway and Port Authority and the executive director of the Nassau County Economic Development Board. DiBella succeeds Jimmie Mayo for a term ending May 31, 2019.

The Fiorentino Group looks back on Session

Jacksonville-based The Fiorentino Group takes a comprehensive look back on the 2018 Legislative Session, “one of the most unusual in recent memory.” Session began with calls for the Senate to address sexual harassment claims, and finishing with the Parkland tragedy, which brought “thousands of students and citizens to Tallahassee to push for gun safety regulations.”

Marty Fiorentino of The Fiorentino Group.

Early funding priorities for both Gov. Scott and legislative leaders took a back seat to the aftermath of the February 14 mass shooting At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which left 17 students and adults dead and shifted the focus of lawmakers to passing “comprehensive legislation relating to school safety, the purchase of firearms in Florida, and mental health services.”

But, in the eyes of The Fiorentino Group, Session was mostly successful for leaders, particularly in a “major election year” where politics played a role for Gov. Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron.

The firm’s website offers a detailed breakdown of all the critical issues addressed in 2018, including the budget, public safety and firearms, transportation, environment, gaming, education, health care, hurricane response and preparedness, and economic development, taxes and incentives.

Marco Rubio to move Miami office

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is having to find another new local office, this time in Miami.

But unlike when the Republican senator had to relocate his Jacksonville and Tampa offices last year, the move is being attributed to the office space, not to landlords getting frustrated with ongoing political protests outside the building.

“This is different from Jacksonville and Tampa. We are in the process of relocating that office, but it was our decision, for a couple of reasons. We were not asked to leave by building management,” Todd Reid, Rubio’s state director, said Thursday.

The current Miami office actually is in Doral, just west of the Miami International Airport, and is owned by the American Welding Society, which also has its headquarters in the building. The society did not respond Thursday to an inquiry from Florida Politics.

Reid said the Rubio team has identified a new location in Miami but is not ready to move, nor announce the new location. However, he said the new location would continue to provide easy public access.

As with the Jacksonville and Tampa offices before Rubio relocated them in early 2017, and as with Rubio’s Orlando office, progressive groups are holding frequent protests outside Rubio’s Miami locale, often with news conferences, and usually with chants, signs and demonstrations. In Orlando protesters even staged a sit-in in the building’s lobby one night, forcing police to arrest 10 of them.

In Jacksonville and Tampa, the buildings’ managers reportedly reached a point where they were concerned the protests were bothering other building tenants too much and had the senator move his offices.

The Tampa and Jacksonville offices were moved into federal courthouses. Technically, they still are fully accessible to the public, but federal buildings have high security, and all the other tenants are federal offices. Rubio also has offices in Pensacola, Tallahassee, and Palm Beach Gardens.

Andrew Gillum slates Thursday fundraiser in Jacksonville

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is back in Northeast Florida, with media hits and fundraising pitches filling his Thursday stop in Jacksonville.

Gillum, who appears on WJCT’s First Coast Connect at 9 a.m., has a number of non-press events slated also.

Not the least of which, in terms of his campaign’s viability, a fundraiser in Downtown Jacksonville Thursday evening.

The latest First Coast Gillum fundraiser kicks off at 6 p.m. at the Jessie Ball DuPont Center downtown.

The event runs until 7:30 p.m., and ranges in contribution levels from a low number of $75 to a host committee slot at $250.

Gillum has engaged a lot of earned media, but as of the end of last month was well behind Democratic primary opponents Gwen Graham and Philip Levine in fundraising and cash on hand.

Proposed Jacksonville ‘opportunity zones’ have urban core focus

The City of Jacksonville last week advanced suggestions to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for Opportunity Zones, each with an urban core focus.

Per Neighborhoods Director Stephanie Burch, five census tracts have been chosen in the downtown area, within the aegis of the Downtown Investment Authority.

The areas chosen have extant infrastructure, can absorb private capital, and have community redevelopment agencies, Burch wrote in a letter to DEO Director of Strategic Development Michael DiNapoli.

The other tracts selected are done so for strategic reasons: two are in the Cecil Commerce Center area; two more are part of the Jacksonville City Council’s focus on “safe and healthy neighborhoods”; others include tracts in the Arlington CRA, Kings/Soutel in Northwest Jacksonville, and beleaguered Mayport.

Regarding the downtown tracts, Burch’s letter promises hiring from economically disadvantaged communities and locals. Among the incentives used to push downtown development: sale of city owned properties and commercial incentives, including a sale/leaseback program and a Commercial Revitalization Program.

The city also cites various investments from the private sector: 200 Riverside, the Cowford Chophouse, Unity Plaza Hotel, and — purportedly — Jacksonville Landing Redevelopment.

Areas like the downtown area that encompasses City Hall and the Riverside area that includes the Five Points commercial district are lauded for their walkability, even as the proposal from the city points out a housing crisis; for example, in largely gentrified Five Points, just 11 percent of two bedroom units are affordable at 50 percent of the area’s median income (just over $45,000).

Other areas, such as the census tract encompassing State and Union Streets from the old city cemetery to Confederate Park, have theoretically affordable housing (with median rents of just $250), but with median household incomes of just over $12,000, the need for economic development is clear.

The Eastside is also primed for opportunity, with a median household income of just over $24,000.

San Marco’s Southbank likewise is on the list, even as metrics show a real upswing, with an unemployment rate of just 2 percent (down from 32 percent in 2000). Curiously, the opportunity zone there overlaps with the District development, which could see $26 million in infrastructure spending and an additional $56 million in REV grants from the city, benefitting political powerbroker Peter Rummell‘s long delayed development.  

Gov. Rick Scott will nominate these areas by Apr. 20; ultimately, it will be the federal Department of Treasury‘s decision. Areas chosen will be eligible for tax breaks that are expected to spur private investment and economic growth

Jacksonville Bold for 3.23.18 — Five months to go

Readers may note a focus on campaigns in Jacksonville Bold this week.

With the Legislative Session over, we are now heading into campaign season.

While Gov. Rick Scott seeks the right time to launch his bid for the U.S. Senate against Bill Nelson, facing no primary competition if he does so, pretty much everyone else is looking to move to the next level.

DeSantis condo conundrum

POLITICO reported recently on a Jacksonville connection to a condo Rep. Ron DeSantis rented in the redrawn Florida’s 6th Congressional District after 2016’s redistricting moved boundaries south.

Condo conundrum for candidate Ron DeSantis: he said the rent was fair.

“As a result, DeSantis — now running for governor — decided to move into a Flagler County condo whose owners include Kent Stermon and Matt Connell, both executives at Total Military Management. That Jacksonville-based company serves as a third-party relocation service for U.S. military personnel,” the POLITICO piece contends.

“Ron DeSantis temporarily moved into the condo of a friend while he looked to buy a home in Flagler County,” DeSantis spox Brad Herold told POLITICO. “He paid upfront and above market value.”

Stermon and Connell have donated $60,000 to DeSantis’ political operations since 2012.

Supplementary reading —As prosecutor, did Ron DeSantis go easy in child porn cases?“ [Spoiler alert: No.]

Gun issues continue playing in CD 5

POLITICO picked up the baton of previous reporting Florida Politics and other outlets did on the gun positions of incumbent U.S. Rep. Al Lawson and challenger Alvin Brown in the Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

Will the gun issue topple Al Lawson in Washington? Alvin Brown hopes so.

The donation from the National Rifle Association that Lawson had previously reported was an error from staff, which got the code wrong, per POLITICO (this is a story the Lawson campaign has been pushing for some weeks now).

“Lawson’s record on guns and Brown’s onslaught against him in Florida’s 5th Congressional District underscores just how toxic guns are as a political issue in Democratic politics, where guns weren’t viewed as such a net negative before the Feb. 14 high school shooting. For instance, in 2005, every Democrat in the Florida Senate — including Lawson — voted for Stand Your Ground, which passed the chamber unanimously,” POLITICO notes.

Brown’s team believes that guns will be a defining issue in this primary, and will continue to work it. This week, they trumpeted an endorsement from “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.”

One wonders if the discussion in this campaign will ever move beyond guns.

Rutherford backs $1 a day wages for detainees

One dollar a day for people working in private prisons? Per the Laredo Morning Times, Florida’s 4th Congressional District Republican John Rutherford is one of 18 congressional defenders of the wage that was originally set in 1978.

$1 a day is A-OK for GEO Group inmates … and John Rutherford concurs.

“Alien detainees should not be able to use immigration detention as a means of obtaining stable employment that will encourage them to pursue frivolous claims to remain in the country and in detention for as long as possible,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, and acting ICE director Thomas Homan.

Washington state is suing GEO Group for the wages, which violate minimum wage in the state; additionally, inmates in Colorado and California are suing GEO separately.

The Congressmen assert that higher wages would “provide an unnecessary windfall to the detainees and drain the federal government of limited taxpayer resources.”

GEO Group has contributed to Rutherford’s political efforts since 2016.

Third Democrat files in CD 4

Though Rutherford won the race in Florida’s 4th Congressional District with 70 percent of the vote and already has $183,000 cash on hand, Democrats are nonetheless lining up to run against him.

A third Democrat in the CD 4 race, Joceline Berrios, filed to run this month.

Joceline Berrios is the latest Democrat to enter the race.

Berrios wants stricter gun laws, Medicare for All, and the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

Berrios will have a competitive primary.

Ges Selmont, a lawyer making his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, rolled out his campaign for the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 4th Congressional District in recent weeks also.

The third candidate in the race, author Monica DePaul, has been running for several months.

All three campaigns lack a real structure currently, and have yet to report fundraising; with this in mind, the quarterly reports due next month bear watching.

Bax defends MMJ rule-making

Amendment 2 was approved by 71 percent of Florida voters in 2016, yet nearly two years later, the Office of Medical Marijuana Use is still workshopping rules. The road show came to Jacksonville Tuesday afternoon.

Beleaguered Christian Bax believes the MMJ rule-making process is moving apace. Many doubt that.

Christian Bax, the director of the program, noted that the rule-making process would go through the spring and summer. He said that he didn’t think that the department needed further guidance from the Legislature.

The department continues to issue notices and workshop rules at an acceptable pace, with 13 rules noticed last month, he said. That said, he understands why the Legislature would withhold pay for senior staff in DOH next fiscal year. Bax says the “department shares frustration with the timeline.”

Putnam talks opioids in Jacksonville

In a campaign capacity in Jacksonville Wednesday afternoon, Agriculture Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial hopeful Adam Putnam hosted an opioid roundtable.

Adam Putnam is talking opioids throughout the state; Jacksonville was Wednesday’s stop.

Putnam heard about Jacksonville’s own efforts on this front, as the city deals with an overdose crisis that has led to action on the local level.

Fentanyl — and diluted acetyl fentanyl — is the primary local issue, with the diluted analog potentially lowering the user’s tolerance and possibly creating another overdose death crisis down the road.

Another complicating factor that could rear its head in the coming months: the current use of fentanyl to cut cocaine.

Read more here.

Gillum talks black women’s vote

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic primary candidate for Governor, spoke in St. Augustine Saturday about the importance of the black female vote.

Andrew Gillum on the campaign trail in St. Augustine.

Engaged turnout among black women was a contributing factor to the Democrats taking a Senate seat in Alabama last year; to that end, Gillum and other Democrats believe that the model can be replicated even in a campaign not involving Roy Moore as the GOP standard-bearer.

Gillum, who just landed after a red-eye from California, noted that while black women are the pillar of the black community, they “can’t save this republic alone.”

To that end, the full power of the Democratic Party must back them, Gillum said.

Gillum extolled education as a way out of “intergenerational poverty,” describing how even guidance counselors and lunchroom ladies “stood in the gap on behalf of many of us,” helping to “build strong communities.”

Gillum noted that his mother was “doing things to ensure we got by,” a reality that sometimes-precluded thinking about big picture political concepts.

The lines elicited applause.

Gillum’s remarks kicking off a panel moderated by Congressional District 5 Democratic candidate Rontel Batie and House District 13 Democratic hopeful Roshanda Jackson were brief, but crowd-pleasing.

On Monday, Gillum talked to Duval Democrats, hitting many of the same themes and lines.

Cummings/Willey redux

Travis Cummings, the Republican incumbent in HD 18, this month drew a familiar Libertarian challenger, Ken Willey, in his re-election bid.

The odds are with Cummings, who drew over 81 percent of the vote when the two faced off in the general election in 2016.

 

Travis Cummings (left), talking with future Speaker Rep. Jose Oliva.

Cummings has just under $85,000 cash on hand, and will again face no opposition on the primary ballot.

To put that number in perspective, Willey raised just over $2,000 during his 2016 campaign.

The major population center in HD 18, a district by and large in Northern Clay County, is Orange Park, a Jacksonville-area bedroom community.

Cummings was once mayor of Orange Park.

Locals bemoan arts budget cuts

Though there were only $64 million in budget vetoes in Gov. Scott’s final budget, Jacksonville area arts advocates felt the ax, per WJCT.

The cruelest cuts may be in arts funding.

“So while nearly 500 organizations are splitting $2.6 million, the legislature approved more than $4 million in arts and culture projects for just nine organizations. But Scott vetoed six of them Friday, including the largest arts and culture award: $1.6 million toward expanding and renovating the military museum at Camp Blanding.”

“For smaller organizations, it’ll mean less access to their programs, and it will mean fewer programs,” said one arts advocate.

“Compared to this session’s $2.6 million for arts grants, last year the legislature approved nearly $25 million for the 2017-2018 fiscal year. The year before it was $32 million.

Brosche seeks cooperation with Curry

Can Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche and Mayor Lenny Curry get along?

Skeptics say no; per WJCT, however, Brosche says yes.

“We’re both very passionate about the city of Jacksonville and our responsibilities — what we believe is best for Jacksonville. At the end of the day, there’s no reason why we can’t work together. We’ve had meetings,” she said. “We’ve met since the forced meeting on Feb. 14, and we may see things differently.”

Can’t we all just get along?

Brosche also discussed the controversial decision to require oaths at JEA special committee meetings.

“I think we were aware of our options going forward and I do have a hard time connecting with people being afraid to tell the truth. That’s what we were after,” she said. “We were after consistently administering the oath to everyone that came forward, so no one was singled out.”

JEA CEO Paul McElroy will be subpoenaed March 29 after having refused to take the oath. Meanwhile, Curry’s chief administrative officer, Sam Mousa, offered emailed responses to the committee’s questions.

Marijuana changes deferred

Ordinance 2018-75 would revise extant code relative to medical cannabis. However, it has been delayed for two weeks.

Cannabis conundrum will wait two weeks for resolution.

The code was formulated in response to “Charlotte’s Web” low-THC cannabis being the single legal strain, and after an extended period of debate, processing and dispensing were allowed in commercial districts, with permitted cultivation in agricultural regions.

The ordinance would change things, allowing dispensaries anywhere in the city, including within 500 feet of a school. The previous zoning categories would be revoked.

The bill was in the Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health and Safety committee Monday, and there were questions galore.

“This bill puts our code in compliance with Florida statutes,” said a representative from the office of general counsel. “The statute prohibits cultivation and processing facilities within 500 feet of a school” but allows a dispensary given a waiver within 500 feet.

Counties do have the right to ban dispensaries entirely if they have no ordinances on the books. But because there was an existing ordinance, bill sponsor Matt Schellenberg said the county could not ban dispensaries, even as individual cities have done this.

This bill, which only applies to the city of Jacksonville, will be deferred, with multiple Council members having questions about how to bring the local ordinance in line with state law.

JEA Straw Ballot bill pushed back

Ordinance 2018-141 would set a public straw vote referendum on the November 2018 ballot regarding selling more than 10 percent of JEA. The bill is sponsored by two council Democrats who have issues with the process so far on the grounds of transparency and other woes: John Crescimbeni and Garrett Dennis.

No shenanigans, or else, says John Crescimbeni.

Transportation, Energy and Utilities chair Al Ferraro moved to defer one cycle so it can sync up with 2018-142, another referendum bill that would require the approval of a sale of 10 percent or more of JEA.

A bill sponsor was skeptical of Ferraro’s motives.

“If I detect any shenanigans on delaying 141, we’ll have to do it the hard way and get petitions,” vowed Crescimbeni. “I’ll give it another couple of cycles, but we’re on the clock.”

A citizen’s initiative, asserted Crescimbeni, would have a time-prohibitive impact.

This bill comes back, presumably, in two weeks.

Meanwhile, Councilmen Matt Schellenberg and Bill Gulliford met to discuss the pros and cons of a JEA sale Wednesday.

The JEA Board also intends to set up its own select committee to explore what a sale means.

Fentanyl-laced cocaine latest OD trend

A representative of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department noted in a Monday meeting of a City Council panel that ‘fentanyl-laced cocaine’ is a rising overdose trend.

Fentanyl has a new vessel, warns Bill Gulliford and the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue.

Jacksonville currently has a pilot program treating overdose victims, offering them treatment after the case of overdoses.

The program tests for 17 different adulterants, spanning a wide pharmacological range.

Previous concerns have been fentanyl-based heroin, suggesting that street dealers are finding new markets.

Councilman Bill Gulliford, who pushed for this program, notes that the program seems to be working.

However, the new lacing presents a new worry.

“Cocaine laced with fentanyl is prevalent now. In recent toxicology reports, every sample of cocaine had fentanyl in it,” Gulliford said. “The scary part of this is it’s becoming more widespread. There are incidents of this used in counterfeit Xanax.”

Gulliford noted that young people often combine Xanax and alcohol, and urged that parents warn kids about the potentiality of a new, dangerous alteration being marketed to them.

Peppers leaves KHA board, isn’t salty

Joseph Peppers‘ bid for the CEO slot in Jacksonville’s Kids Hope Alliance has been controversial, given he was on the new board.

A resignation tendered Sunday evening should remove some of that controversy.

“After careful prayer and consideration,” Peppers wrote, “I have decided to submit my resignation from the Kids Hope Alliance Board. I am making this decision to ensure the Kids Hope Alliance gets off to a great start and that its integrity and reputation remain completely without blemish.”

Joe Peppers steps back from the Jacksonville’s Kids Hope Alliance.

“I am honored to remain a candidate for the CEO position. If the board and the mayor believe that I am the best person for the job, I will do my best to represent the organization, the board, and the city of Jacksonville in the very best light which it so deserves,” Peppers added.

Peppers’ appointment process to the board was also notable.

Councilman Garrett Dennis had a sharp exchange with a member of Curry’s staff during Dennis’ interview of Peppers.

Dennis thought it was irregular that the Mayor’s Office was “babysitting nominees,” and Dennis and Curry had words after the interview, per Dennis.

The Kids Hope Alliance interviewed candidates Friday for the ongoing search for a permanent CEO and Peppers was among them.

Appointed 

Gov. Scott announced the appointment of J. Palmer Clarkson to the Jacksonville Port Authority.

Clarkson, 61, of Jacksonville, is the president and chief executive officer of Bridgestone HosePower. He succeeds Joseph York for a term through September 30, 2021.

The appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Fiorentino Group moves to Southbank

Government relations firm The Fiorentino Group will be staying in downtown Jacksonville but will soon be operating from the 13th floor of Riverplace Tower, on the Southbank of the St. Johns River.

For more than a decade, the Fiorentino Group has leased space on the Northbank, in The Carling building at 31 W. Adams St.

The Fiorentino Group is pulling the trigger on a move to Southbank.

President Marty Fiorentino told the Jacksonville Daily Record that recent growth requires more space for the firm. Moving close to the Rogers Towers law firm, which runs out of Riverplace Tower, made sense, he said.

“We have a strategic alliance with the Rogers Towers law firm,” Fiorentino said. “We think that will be great synergy.”

The nine-person Fiorentino team will add another person in the next few months, as well as two more staff members in its Tallahassee office.

“We just came off a great legislative session,” Fiorentino said.

Since the Carling lease expired, he expects the move to happen sometime in May.

NE Florida circuit judge fights removal

A Northeast Florida circuit judge accused of inappropriate conduct during a 2016 election campaign and on the bench should not be removed, his attorney argued This week to the state Supreme Court.

As reported by the News Service of Florida, Judge Scott DuPont, who sits on the 7th Judicial Circuit bench, faces removal after a recommendation of a hearing panel of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission. The 7th Judicial Circuit includes Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties.

Circuit Judge Scott DuPont.

DuPont is accused of publishing false allegations online about his 2016 election challenger, Malcolm Anthony, as well as Anthony’s family members. Among the other questionable actions include DuPont changing the times of first-appearance hearings in criminal cases during Memorial Day weekend in 2016 to accommodate his campaign schedule.

In a 40-page document filed with the court, DuPont’s attorney, Rutledge Liles, pointed to character witnesses and other judges supporting DuPont.

Liles recognized DuPont will be “subject to sanctions” but wrote that he should not be removed from the bench. “Judge DuPont has admitted and apologized for the mistakes he made,” Liles wrote. “Given the undisputed fact that the only testimony regarding his present fitness to remain in office has been uniformly and overwhelmingly positive, we request that this Court allow him to continue to serve the 7th Judicial Circuit.”

Dinosaur beef

Per the Jacksonville Business Journal, it’s curtains for “dinosaur” Southeastern Grocers, as marketplace competitors have models that can’t be matched.

Competitors like Trader Joe’s make multiple times the money that Winn Dixie does per square foot, an analyst said.

Winn Dixie: A shopping dinosaur?

Augmenting the problem: the stores are actually too big for single tenants to take over, and often too close to Publix and the like.

Winn Dixie will close more Jacksonville stores in the coming weeks.

WJCT noted that execs for the parent company, Southeastern Grocers, will actually have a harder time finding new gigs than those on the retail side.

Gondola over the river?

According to the Jacksonville Daily Record, an ambitious development proposal may lead to a gondola over the St. Johns River.

“The Jag-Wire could move several thousand people per hour between the station on the Southbank, a proposed station on East Bay Street at the old Duval County Courthouse and City Hall Annex property and a third station near EverBank Field, which will become TIAA Bank Field.”

Developer Mike Balanky is proposing a gondola system in downtown Jacksonville.

Alas, there is a catch: per potential developer Michael Balanky, it would need to be a public-private partnership.

As well, for the numbers to work, a new convention center would need to go up.

Time will tell.

First phase of regional transportation center to open soon

The Jacksonville Intercity Bus Terminal, the first phase of the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center, is about to open on 1111 W. Forsyth St. in the LaVilla community.

The first occupant of the new $58-million, 9,100-square-foot project is Greyhound, moving from its longstanding location at 10 N. Pearl St. Eventually, the facility will hold other providers, like low-fare intercity bus service Megabus, which had been using the Skyway stop across West Bay Street from the Prime Osborn Convention Center, the location of the new JTA regional center.

The first phase of the Jacksonville Intercity Bus Terminal is set to open soon (photo via Florida Times-Union).

In April, USGBC Northeast Florida and AIA Jacksonville will host VIP and media tours of the first phase. The intercity bus terminal will improve Greyhound’s access to highways and other transportation systems with additional passenger services, amenities that include food service.

Officials tell the Florida Times-Union that the West Forsyth Street site will be energy efficient and is expected to receive LEED Silver designation. Among the plans for Phase II will be a pedestrian bridge connecting the bus terminal to a proposed JTA bus transfer station and administration building.

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