Jacksonville Archives - Page 6 of 61 - Florida Politics

Jacksonville Bold for 7.22.17 — Shadow play

For those in Jacksonville City Hall, these are halcyon days (somewhat). The mayor proposed the most ambitious budget in nearly a decade, addressing long-deferred needs.

But, as is always the case in a Florida summer, storm clouds are on the horizon — with quiet assaults on the mayor’s vision.

We cover two of them here: A bill to push a referendum to gut term limits for Jacksonville’s elected officials and a push to hike property taxes.

Both are non-starters for the mayor and — as affronts to his vision — will join a bill from earlier this summer to allocate budget increases to the pension debt.

When the TV cameras find them, everyone is all smiles; on the record, there isn’t much daylight between Lenny Curry and leading City Council members.

However, these bills are meaningful, in that the City Council is staking out significant differences in policy vision with the Mayor’s Office, challenging Curry for the first time in over two years.

This is, to be very clear, a Cold War. No one is giving interesting quotes.

When cameras are off? That’s when s**t gets real.

Curry introduces new Jacksonville budget

On Monday morning, Jacksonville Mayor Curry released his first budget since pension reform passed: a $1.27B budget, up from the $1.2B budget the previous year.

Lenny Curry finally got to spend some money in his third budget.

With budget relief available after pension reform, Curry made the decision to invest in long neglected city infrastructure and employees, spending more than in the previous two years and adding 175 new hires total — 100 on the police side, 42 in Fire and Rescue, and — as a measure of the ongoing economic boom in Jacksonville — eight new building inspectors.

According to the Florida Times-Union, the spending increase is the “result of a strong economy, growing property values and far more flexibility stemming from a complex series of reforms to the city’s employee-retirement system.” Pension debt is now at hundreds of millions of dollars each year, but it is a trend that reforms had reversed, for the short term.

Curry also focused on putting money into contingency accounts for salaries and committed to hiking reserve levels in the coming years. As well, a $105M budget for capital improvements includes plans for a near-term demolition of the old Courthouse and City Hall.

Council President Anna Brosche said the budget was “in line with what we’ve seen” in recent years, lauding the proposed increase of the emergency reserve in light of impacts created by Hurricane Matthew last year.

Curry, compassionate conservative

One of the interesting evolutions in local political life has been Curry’s path from “party boss” of the local and state GOP to a mayor focused on equity.

This week saw multiple examples: the budget (discussed above); the release of a book to be given to new mothers at local hospitals to encourage them to read to their children and a Thursday commencement address for graduates of the Mayor’s Summer Jobs Program.

New Jacksonville mothers will get a new book to read to their children.

The remarks were notable as Curry described his own bootstrap narrative, including his career in accounting that he put on hold to launch his own business and then his move into politics.

Curry told the graduates that they would get a lot of advice, from a lot of people, but his one takeaway for the students: “You only get to do this thing called life one time.”

Curry went on to describe a run for Mayor that the smart set attempted to discourage him from. They said Curry couldn’t win: no name ID; no resources, they said.

“The voices were loud and persistent, but I ignored them,” Curry said.

“Want your dreams,” Curry added, “more than you want to breathe.”

Millage hike?

Will Curry break his “no tax hikes” pledge?

He’s not inclined to, but the Jacksonville City Council auditor wants a 0.25 mill raise in property tax, the Jacksonville Daily Record reported this week.

Property tax hikes were not popular in the 2015 elections.

Curry noted that his finance team is 3-for-3 regarding delivering balanced budgets, a deliverable driven by sweeping $60M money from sub-funds in 2015, going lean in 2016, and pulling off pension reform earlier this year.

Finance Chair Garrett Dennis is more open to a millage hike, saying he would “support” it to invest in the city.

The Dennis/Curry dynamic is worth watching this year. In many ways, they are mirror images of each other. Affable, smart politicians who underneath it all play to win. The moments where collaboration falters, as was the case with swimming lessons money this summer, are those that reveal potential fault lines that will occupy city politics for the next generation.

Council to gut term limits?

Pieces on Jacksonville City Council committees are sometimes just inside baseball — bills and concepts that may never come to pass.

And other times, they strike a nerve — such as Tuesday’s pieces on two committees voting to gut term limits via putting a referendum on the ballot.

The Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee doesn’t think eight is enough.

As with the millage hike, this is yet another issue where council members seem more enthusiastic than the mayor: it passed both committees of reference 5-2, with lots of self-congratulatory shtick about “institutional knowledge” as a justification for giving incumbents more time to incumb.

In addition to giving another term to City Council members, the measure would afford constitutional officers and School Board members a three-term limit, pending voter approval in a 2018 referendum.

There isn’t universal buy-in on this one, and one could imagine there being trouble for the bill Tuesday.

Councilman Scott Wilson voted against the bill, saying he believed the community would “overwhelmingly reject” the measure, given that the public doesn’t like elected officials any more than they did in the 1990s.

“I don’t see what we’ve done to change their opinion about a third term,” Wilson said.

Wilson, a pragmatist, did not have his question answered in committee. But it should have been.

Donors give Duval County Schools an ultimatum

Several major donors on major education initiatives – worth over $122 million in the past decade – have given Duval School Board members an ultimatum over plans to reduce funding those projects.

The Florida Times-Union is reporting on one such party, the Quality Education for All Fund (QEA), that sent a letter to all seven members of the Duval School Board, threatening to “cut ties with the district” if it reneges on an “implicit understanding” that the district would continue funding the programs.

Educational initiative donors draw line in the sand for the Duval County School Board.

“We in the private community want to continue to honor our part of the Quality Education for All Fund commitment … but only if we can believe that we can count on the underlying partnership that has existed since we began this journey to improve public education for our most at risk students,” said the letter, signed by QEA chair J. Wayne Weaver, a philanthropist and owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Other names on the letter include Gary Chartrand, Lawrence Dubow, Cindy Edelman, Matt Rapp and David Stein.

“If you are not willing to invest in those programs that have proven successful, we must consider that this bond has been broken and we will have no choice but to step back our part of this arrangement until a new understanding can be established,” the letter continued.

To prove their point, the QEA board froze nearly $5 million in contributions from going to the district, Chartrand told the T-U this week. “We think these investments have proven out,” he said. “We asked the board do their part in funding them. If they don’t, it will send a loud signal to the philanthropic community that it’s a one-way street. I don’t know if we can keep the private community as engaged.”

Gwen Graham snags Duval endorsements, talks MMJ

Gubernatorial candidate Gwenn Graham scooped up two key Jacksonville endorsements this week from Councilman Garrett Dennis and former Mayor Jake Godbold.

Gwen Graham got a key pair of Jacksonville endorsements this week.

Graham, who had already been endorsed by former Mayor Tommy Hazouri, nearly crossed paths with another Democrat in the building for another purpose: Sen. Audrey Gibson, Dennis’ political mentor.

The Duval Democrats chair beat a hasty retreat from the cameras, likely mindful of a chair’s need to be neutral in primaries.

Graham talked to media for over a half-hour, with the big news being a more aggressive position on medical cannabis than some may have expected.

The greatest pyrotechnics came when she discussed medical marijuana, and the state Legislature’s lack of fidelity to the Constitutional Amendment passed in 2016.

“I am so sick and tired of the Florida Legislature not doing what the people of Florida have overwhelmingly said they want done,” Graham said regarding the smoking prohibition, putting MMJ in the same bucket with lottery money and Amendment 1 funds, which did not go to Forever Florida this year.

Graham noted the palliative effects of cannabis, and said that it is a “good replacement for opioids.”

Bill Gulliford: ‘Christian Communist’ Pope

Jacksonville City Councilman Gulliford is still sticking to his guns, asserting that Pope Francis indeed is a “Communist,” albeit a “Christian Communist.”

Bill Gulliford, like our own A.G. Gancarski, graduated from Jacksonville’s Bishop Kenny High School.

We reached out to him for further clarification after his take roiled some people last week — and many of his comments came back to schisms in the Church between the conservative American Catholic wing and the “liberation theology” school from which the pontiff hails.

“Liberation theology,” said Gulliford, is a “form of Christian communism,” and one that Francis’ “narratives and pronouncements” still echo.

“All he talks about is social justice,” Gulliford added.

“If he is the head of the Catholic Church, he should put salvation over social justice,” Gulliford continued, adding that “any friend of the United Nations is no friend of mine.”

Murder charges for overdoses?

Murder charges for death-dealing drug dealers? State Attorney Melissa Nelson says yes, but not everyone is on board, the Florida Times-Union reports.

The goal, Nelson told the T-U: “to keep the public safe from those responsible for this deadly crisis” … an appropriate “legal response to the loss of life.”

Melissa Nelson’s latest proposal is not universally-lauded.

However, the T-U notes some issues.

“Beyond the policy questions, there are concerns over the legality of such a prosecution. While Florida’s murder statute allows prosecutors to go after drug dealers in overdose cases, the statute lists what drugs apply, and fentanyl isn’t specifically listed. Just last week Gov. Rick Scott held a ceremony to celebrate the addition of fentanyl to the law, but that addition will only affect cases after Oct. 1 and won’t impact Nelson’s murder prosecution.”

Despite qualms, Nelson commits to exploring this, at least.

“If I’m a drug dealer and I know I’m cutting heroin with fentanyl, and I know I can be prosecuted for murder, I’m just telling you common-sensically, maybe I think otherwise about what I’m doing. If there’s research that shows what I’m saying is off base, I’d like to be able to look at it. I’m telling you something by my gut right now. I can’t point to research that proves what I’m saying.”

Nancy Soderberg hits campaign trail

DeLand is a trek from Northeast Florida, yet that’s where UNF professor and former U.N. Ambassador Soderberg launched her campaign in Florida’s 6th Congressional District this week.

Nancy Soderberg’s rep proceeds her, but does she have the retail politics gear? Open question.

Soderberg has rented an apartment in the district, and her first stump speech as a candidate was — as our Orlando correspondent Scott Powers called it — “moderate Democrat.”

Light on attacks on Republicans, heavy on policy, it’s clear where Soderberg’s base is — old-school ClintonWorld. In a “wave election” year, that might be enough.

Soderberg may need some help with comms though. An email from her campaign, for example, said that when she worked in her DC gig, she “reigned in terrorism” as a negotiator.

Curry boosts Rick Baker

Mayor Curry helped out fellow Republican Rick Baker last month, as the former Mayor of St. Petersburg is running to reclaim his job.

The St. Petersburg mayoral race is arguably the hottest campaign in America right now.

Curry knows that money is oxygen for campaigns. And by helping Baker by raising $25,000, that gives Baker — ahead in most polls — some air.

According to the most recent campaign finance reports, which covered activity from June 24 to July 7, Curry and his political allies from northeast Florida donated $18,000 to Baker’s campaign. That’s more than incumbent Rick Kriseman raised from all sources during the same period.

Feeling generous: Gary Chartrand, the Jacksonville Kennel Club, Tom Petway, Wayne Weaver, and others who opted to max out.

Curry’s political committee will also slide $7,000 to Baker’s, adding up to $25,000 in total.

Scott talks Venezuela with Goldman Sachs

Gov. Scott cut a Jacksonville press event a bit short Wednesday, and media was told the governor had a meeting.

Turned out that meeting was important.

No, Rick Scott didn’t drive a forklift to Goldman Sachs …

A re-released copy of Scott’s Wednesday schedule included a new entry: an 11:30 meeting with Jacksonville’s “Goldman Sachs Asset Management.”

We reached out to Scott’s office for more detail; the meeting had to do with Scott’s policy on companies doing business with Venezuela.

“Goldman Sachs Asset Management requested to meet with the Governor … to discuss his upcoming policy to prohibit Florida from doing business with anyone who supports the brutal Maduro regime,” emailed Kerri Wyland of the Governor’s office.

Wyland added that more “details on his policy will be announced before the Aug. 16 Cabinet meeting.”

Scott foreshadowed this position earlier in July, via a strongly-worded news release.

 “During the next meeting of the Florida Cabinet in August,” Scott asserted, “I will bring forward a proposal that will prohibit the State of Florida from doing business with any organization that supports the oppressive Maduro dictatorship.

“Floridians stand with the people of Venezuela as they fight for their freedom, and as a state,” Scott added, “we must not provide any support for Maduro and his thugs.”

Gov. Rick Scott visits Florida Forklift’s new facility in Jacksonville. Florida Forklift is a dealer of new, used and rental forklifts founded as Tampa Forklift in 1974. The new Jacksonville facility will allow the small business to continue its growth and create additional opportunities in the community.

Appointed

Gov. Scott announced two reappointments to the Clay County Development Authority.

Russell Buck, 56, of Middleburg, is the regional vice president of Vystar Credit Union. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland.

Gregory Clary, 65, of Middleburg, is the president of Clary & Associates. Terms of both reappointments are through July 1, 2021.

Rayonier rebuff

Rayonier, one of the key companies in Nassau County, finds itself encountering pushback in an attempt to acquire Tembec, reports the Jax Daily Record.

Rayonier has been in Nassau County for decades.

“Although we appreciate the strategic rationale of a Rayonier-Tembec combination, we believe Rayonier’s current offer significantly undervalues Tembec. If the offer is not increased, we believe Tembec shareholders would be better off if Tembec remains independent,” reads the letter from Tembec’s largest shareholder.

“The price offered to Tembec shareholders does not fully recognize these benefits, nor does it appropriately compensate Tembec shareholders for the increased risk associated with combining with Rayonier,” it said.

City Hall for sale

You can’t fight City Hall. But in Neptune Beach, the Jax Daily Record reports, you soon may be able to buy it.

Prime real estate may be available soon. Mayor and Council not included in the sale.

City Hall out there is in a prime location, a short walk to the ocean. The facility needs repairs also and is too small to accommodate city staffing needs.

And, at a time when property values are peaking, Neptune Beach’s mayor looks to ride the wave.

“We’re sitting here with both of these buildings off the tax rolls in prime locations,” Mayor Elaine Brown said. “I think there’s an opportunity to bring in some more revenue in the form of property taxes and sales taxes.”

Jax Beach Mayor mulls overdose epidemic

Opioid addiction is fast becoming a story that is numbing in the retelling, but anecdotes like those from Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham reveal how deep the epidemic runs.

Latham saw a fentanyl overdose last weekend, reported Action News Jax.

The opioid crisis knows no borders.

The overdose victim was, said Latham, “very purple.” And it took two medics to revive him from the brink of death.

But, via Narcan, he was revived.

“I was in the hospital right when he came around. He acted like it was another day at the office,” Latham said. “Shortly after that, his parents came in, and it looked like, of course, they were facing the worst possible, (worst) imaginable scenario.”

The overdose crisis is hitting Duval County hard, both regarding time and budgetary demands for EMTs and in body count — which exceeds, by multiples, the county’s homicide rate.

Doggone doped-up dogs

BestBet President Jamie Shelton decried “sensationalized” reports of dogs failing post-race drug tests for cocaine metabolites this week.

‘Independent contractors’ to blame for greyhound nose candy.

“We contract with kennel operators that acquire or lease dogs from people who raise greyhounds around the country. They are independent contractors. They are licensed by the state of Florida, and they also receive a badge from us so they can come on to our property to race their product at our facility.” Shelton explained at a Rotary Club meeting, as quoted by First Coast News.

“My oversight of the independent contractors other than me being to ensure that the safety and welfare of the greyhounds while they are in my premises in the kennels and they are being cared for they are being turned out, they are being fed, they are air-conditioned kennels,” Shelton added. “All the things you are asking about, that’s my No. 1 concern.”

BestBet is one of the most politically connected companies in Northeast Florida.

The contractor that supplied the dogs in question no longer works with BestBet.

Naps, jobs cut from CSX

Reforms continue at CSX, per the Jacksonville Business Journal!

The latest: no napping by conductors who are on break, said CEO Hunter Harrison.

“We had a rule that said you could take a nap while you worked,” Harrison told The Wall Street Journal. “We don’t have that now.”

Hunter Harrison: Not a fan of naps, but apparently a fan of layoffs.

The goal: “Precision scheduling.”

The reality Jacksonville people experience: Stalled out trains on tracks stymying their commutes.

Speaking of stalled out: CSX equity price momentum, after what the Journal called a “bombshell” announcement on an earnings call this week.

“I’m a short-timer here,” said Harrison. “I’m the interim person that’s going to try to get this company to the next step and good foundation.”

Harrison pledged 700 more layoffs on the call, a strategy which seems to be helping with earnings in the short term, yet raising long-term existential questions.

Chris Hand talks downtown development

Former Alvin Brown chief-of-staff Chris Hand is now in the byline journalism game and his first column in the Florida Times-Union addresses downtown development.

Chris Hand has joined the pundit class. God help him.

“Downtown revitalization needs a constant supply of fuel to keep running. Unfortunately, the city agency charged with overseeing Downtown revival is nearing an empty gas tank,” Hand notes.

Hand adds that “the DIA has little investment funding to prime the pump on additional Downtown development. The City Council should rectify that worrisome deficiency in this year’s budget process.”

The whole column is worth a read.

JIA opens Firehouse Subs location

Jacksonville-based Firehouse Subs opened its first airport kiosk at Jacksonville International Airport, the latest phase in the rise of the fast-casual food chain.

According to the Jax Daily Record, Firehouse Subs expansion plans include more non-traditional locations, such as U.S. airport terminals, college campuses and military bases.

Firehouse Subs opened its first airport location at JIA July 1, the next phase in the fast-casual brand’s expansion.

The JIA location is located in the post-security food court, with a menu that includes the chain’s staples as well as breakfast options geared toward travelers. It incorporates a revised restaurant design to accommodate smaller spaces.

Robert Palmer buys the Armada

The Jacksonville Armada have been sold. Just seven months after the North American Soccer League (NASL) assumed control of the club when original owner Mark Frisch bailed out, Robert Palmer has stepped into the fold. The new ownership assumes control of the club immediately and secures the long-term future of pro soccer in Jacksonville.

Robert Palmer is making a play in Jacksonville, starting with the Armada.

“While sports ownership has been a dream of mine since I was young, the business opportunity with Armada FC and the NASL was simply too good to pass up,” said Palmer. “I care deeply about the Jacksonville market and have both personal and professional interests in the area. My team at Robert Palmer Companies and I look forward to bringing our proven marketing and business strategies to this outstanding organization.”

A native of Lakeland, Palmer and his wife, Jill, have local ties to the Jacksonville area and have maintained a residence in Neptune Beach since 2007. He is the founder and CEO of Robert Palmer Companies, which is based in Central Florida and is involved in the financing, marketing, and escrow of more than $5 billion in residential real estate.

In addition to RP Funding, Palmer has started several other companies including Homevalue.com, which provides personalized reports on homeowners’ property values from a local real estate agent and Listing Power Tools, a company that helps real estate agents craft the perfect listing presentation, among others.

Palmer is bullish about the market and said at the Press Conference unveiling his ownership,  “You’ll have to be under a rock to not know that the Jacksonville Armada will be playing on any given Saturday .” He continued, ” (We will focus on) aggressive, targeted advertising… these guys know soccer, I know advertising.” Palmer also stated RP Funding ads will include Armada pitches within them. He is also committed to growing the fan base not just in terms of attendance for home matches but also other revenue streams including those who watch away matches on television.

The Armada just concluded the NASL Spring Season finishing in the top half of the table. The Fall Season begins on July 30 with a match-up against the San Francisco Deltas at Patton Park.

Equal Opportunity criteria to be part of Jax budget review in August

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry introduced the City Council to his proposed FY 17/18 budget Monday, a $1.27B plan heavy on spending on infrastructure and public safety.

Council Finance Chair Garrett Dennis is arguably the most important person in the process going forward; Finance will review the budget in August, tweaking it before the full City Council gets a vote.

One thing new this year was established by a Dennis memo released Thursday (which we reported on first earlier this week) regarding equal employment practices to Jacksonville’s Independent Authorities, the Mayor, and Constitutional Officers.

That memo reminds all parties of diversity goals set forth in city ordinance: “the Equal Opportunity/  Equal Access program progress and state, as is contemplated in Sections  400.217 and 400.221, Ordinance Code.”

“To the extent that new positions or hiring are being requested in the budget,” the memo asserts, “the Finance committee should be apprised of each departments’ success in this area inclusive of the goals and objectives for each department.  We look forward to working with the Administration over the following months to develop the budget and policies for the City of Jacksonville.”

Dennis introduced equal-opportunity legislation months back; as Finance Chair, he is well positioned to ensure that equal-opportunity legislation has teeth.

____

On Monday afternoon, Dennis discussed the budget presentation and the path forward.

“Very optimistic. I think as usual the Mayor is fiscally responsible,” Dennis said when asked for a holistic evaluation of the presentation.

“He’s given us another fiscally responsible budget,” Dennis said, “and it’s our opportunity to kick the tires come next month.”

One priority project in the budget — $8.4M for Edward Waters College improvements (a new field and dorm renovations) — is in Dennis’ district.

Meanwhile, we are hearing that there may be a quiet rebellion brewing on this particular line item benefiting a private Jacksonville college … one which could include a floor amendment on budget night.

Dennis had not heard of such resistance, he said, before speaking to the rest of the question.

“I’m committed to my district, and EWC’s in my district,” Dennis said. “Then again, we have to look at the entire budget.”

“One of the things that as Finance Chair I’m going to have to do — I’m going to have to look out for the other 13 district council members. Making sure that every district, every council member’s priorities are on the forefront, as well as the entire budget. So we’ll have to see … I want to see the budget in whole, not just bits and pieces,” Dennis said.

Third term for Jacksonville City Council? The bill is back

At a time when some constituents of Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Schellenberg are hopping mad at him over a zoning issue, a bill authorizing a referendum seems like an interesting play.

And yet, that’s what Schellenberg seeks — with a bill in committees on Tuesday (Rules and Finance), a measure which would allow a third term, if approved by referendum, for the city’s constitutional officers, School Board members, and — yes — City Councilors like Schellenberg.

This debate has happened before, but for various logistical reasons, Council never pulled the trigger and authorized the measure.

In 2016, the concept hit Council committees for the first time.

Schellenberg expected “all 19 members” of Council to sell this as they did the 1/2 cent sales tax.

“We are the principal people behind these things. We understand why it’s done,” and “if you extend from two to three, it will actually save the city money” and be more “efficient.”

At that point, Schellenberg wanted to include the current group.

“We have to wait 7 years for a whole new generation of people,” Schellenberg said, if the bill doesn’t include current Council members.

The legislation cleared committees in 2016, but was pulled, as the referendum would have competed with the pension reform referendum on the August ballot, and the Best Bet slots referendum on the November ballot.

With those referendums in the rear view mirror, it became clear to bring back the bill.

The bill was brought back to committee this summer with a substitute. The sub proposed three four-year terms, rather than the abolishment of term limits.

Not everyone was exactly sold.

“In four years, do we change it to four, maybe,” Council VP John Crescimbeni quipped.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri wanted an amendment to exempt current office holders, and vowed to introduce it at a time of his choosing.

Councilman Greg Anderson said he’d vote in favor of the sub, but not in favor of the bill.

“We owe [Schellenberg] the opportunity to make his case,” Anderson said.

Lenny Curry’s third budget brings more spending, more cops, ‘safer neighborhoods’

On Monday morning, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry released his first budget since pension reform passed: a $1.27B budget, up from the $1.2B budget the previous year.

With budget relief available after pension reform, Curry made the decision to invest in long neglected city infrastructure and employees, spending more than in the previous two years and adding 175 new employees total — 100 of them on the police side, 42 in Fire and Rescue, and — as a measure of the ongoing economic boom in Jacksonville — eight new building inspectors.

Curry also focused on putting money into contingency accounts for salaries, and committed to hiking reserve levels in the coming years.

As we previewed, there were some known knowns going into the budget presentation: over $100M budgeted for capital improvements, and $8.4M for one-time capital needs for Edward Waters College’s community field and dorms, money driven by pension savings amounting to $142M after pension reform hit this year.

That EWC money: part of Curry’s “Safer Neighborhoods” pitch, a rhetorical and thematic extension of the One City, One Jacksonville branding campaign launched when he was inaugurated.

As well, it was known there would be 100 new police officers; as Curry told WJXT, he wants “boots on the ground” to deal with the city’s wave of violent crime. These officers will be added to the 160 in the previous two budgets (80 officers and 80 community service officers).

There were also questions, such as what would happen with the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, which came under fire for a botched summer camp selection process, and the parallel program the Jax Journey, which Curry said in 2016 he had wished he had more funds for.

Beyond that? Every department has needs — and Curry’s team was faced, all Spring, with deciding which needs would prevail.

The mood Monday was different than in 2015, when Curry dropped his first budget amidst media speculation that a new tax was inevitable. And different than in 2016, when Curry dropped a lean budget ahead of the pension tax referendum that followed later that summer.

Now the reform is done. The power center has shifted in Council, away from the Bill Gulliford/John Crescimbeni axis to Council President Anna Brosche and the Democrats who now control the Finance Committee. And in that context came Monday’s presentation.

_____

Curry began his address lauding successes, ranging from removing “gridlock” to solving the “pension crisis.”

“If pension reform had failed, our pension contributions would have increased $69M this year,” Curry said.

“Severe cuts” would have been necessary. Instead, Curry said, the city can unlock the “full potential of every one in every neighborhood.”

Part of that unlocking: the 100 more cops, which Curry said gives JSO 1,780 officers on the street.

This will, Curry said, reduce overtime and overscheduling impacts for officers.

Also in the budget: 42 more fire fighters, and roughly $25M in vehicle replacement for police and fire.

Curry also touted $50M for the Safer Neighborhoods plan, which includes public safety equipment, the aforementioned $8.4M EWC money, $12M for a 911 backup center to be built next to the new fire station at Cecil Field.

Drowning prevention: also in here, with retrofitting five pools for $1M, as a total cost of $1,7M.

Curry also allocated more money for lifeguards, including a force addition and increased wages.

Curry also discussed infrastructure spending, including spending on downtown, because “you can’t be a suburb of nowhere.”

Money for demolition of the old city hall and courthouse, money to finish Liberty Street, and other issues.

Citywide, money will go to road resurfacing, senior centers, and sidewalks, as part of a $105M capital improvement plan — the biggest, by far, of his three years in office.

Curry also said that his reforms for the Jacksonville Children’s Commission were still pending, but in total $36.4M will go to the JCC and Jax Journey.

Curry lauded his administration’s stewardship of city money, discussing pension stability, saying that city’s outstanding debt is down almost $187M since 2015 — saving money on interest, and ultimately to the taxpayers.

Curry also wants a $60M pension reform reserve, for salaries. And a proposed hike of the emergency reserve, leading to 8 percent in both emergency and operating reserves within the next few years.

“We are preparing the city for the future,” Curry said.

____

Curry discussed the budget with the media after the presentation.

Some highlights:

Of the 100 police officers in the budget, not all are expected to be deployed this year, given training schedules.

Curry also discussed the budget as preparing the city for the future, vis a vis the increase in reserve levels and salary contingencies.

Curry also defended the allocation for Edward Waters College, saying that he was moved by what President Nat Glover had done over there, and that EWC represented “the right thing to do” for “neighborhoods left behind.”

Regarding the capital improvement budget, Curry noted that total borrowings are over $100M, but the city has been and will be “consistent in paying debt down.”

As well, capital investment is long overdue, Curry said, citing “dilapidated buildings” as impediments to private investment downtown — a major priority of the mayor.

Much of the increase in the budget, Curry added, is “reserve oriented,” with a focus on “public safety issues that need to be solved.”

And, addressing previous reporting that there may be friction between the Mayor and Council President Anna Brosche and Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, Curry said that there is a “wonderful relationship” there, characterized by the “same focus, same goals,” a reversal from “years of so much dysfunction in city government.”

Lenny Curry’s third budget: Another year of ‘winning’?

On Monday, the cycle begins anew for the relationship between Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and the City Council.

Curry drops his third budget — and this time, there is more room to maneuver than there had been the previous two years, in which pension obligations choked out most of the room for discretionary spending.

The hit from pension costs, without pension reform, would have been $360M this year; the last public estimate given was that hit this year will be $218M. Effectively, that’s $142M of room in a budget that last year was $1.17B — lots of new capital to work with.

But will that room be enough for Jacksonville City Council members? That’s the tension going into Monday — balancing the priorities of the Mayor’s Office with those of the nineteen people on the Council.

We know some things are definitely happening. [Note: the numbers that follow were derived from, among other sources, the Mayor’s Budget Review Committee meetings, and are subject to change, per the Mayor’s Office Friday.]

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For example, the Mayor’s Office — as part of a commitment to safer and healthy neighborhoods that jibes with the priorities of Council President Anna Brosche — is committing $8.4M to Jacksonville’s Edward Waters College, for dormitory rehab to deal with mold and other habitability issues, and for a community field and track that will provide a place for people in the New Town area to have safe recreation.

We are hearing already that there may be resistance to this proposal, both from community members who think there are more pressing needs, and those on the City Council from other areas who wonder why city money is going to benefit a private college.

We also know that there will be some changes to the way money is handled for the city’s children’s programs, with Mayor Curry having promised reforms to the Jacksonville Children’s Commission — reforms which could include a downshift of JCC in favor of the Jax Journey, an initiative upon which Curry branded his 2015 campaign.

And we also know that the city is allocating $55M of contingency funds for salaries, to be allocated across the city’s departments — in what could be a function of raises, of increased head count, or both.

Big money will also go into the capital improvement budget: $100M, at least.

Movement on a recurrent issue: $3.6M for courthouse remediation and demolition; $4.4M for the same for old city hall, which includes asbestos remediation, with the properties will be returned to greenscape. Mousa speculates that implosion will be the end game for these structures.

The last $8M for Liberty/Coastline rebuild, completing a $31M obligation, is also in the CIP.

Roadway resurfacing is in the CIP at $12M, and ADA curb compliance: another $14M.

ADA compliance for public buildings: a $2.6M hit.

A backlog of sidewalk projects — a risk management concern — is also on the list.

Countywide intersection improvements and bridges: $3M, with another million for rehab.

The St. Johns River Bulkhead assessment and restoration: also in the budget this year for $1M, along with $500K for countywide projects for tributaries with bulkheads.

The River Road bulkhead needs repair to the most degraded segments, with a cost of $1.9M total for these — and $600K this year, which comes at the expense of the Mayport Community Center in FY 18.

$3M for Chaffee Road. $750,000 for Five Points improvements in Riverside, which moves up to this year. Willow Branch Creek bulkhead replacement: $1.5M. $720,000 for Soutel Road’s “road diet,” which will go to design of a “highly needed project for the Northwest,” per Mousa.

Fishweir Creek gets $1.6M for ecological rehab.

Mary Singleton Senior Center: $500,000 for maintenance and upgrades. $944K for the Arlington Senior Center. $600,000 for Southside Senior Center, and $1.5M for Mandarin Senior Center expansion, a facility “bursting at the seams,” per the city’s Chief Administrative Officer, Sam Mousa.

As well, Mayport Community Center — a Bill Gulliford request — was budgeted for $800,000 for design, but ends up with $200,000 in FY 18 given other needs and logistical issues.

McCoy’s Creek pipe removal is in the budget, for $750,000 — the idea is to improve river access, a priority of past Council President Lori Boyer. And $600,000 for the McCoy’s Creek Greenway.

To handle these capital improvements, Public Works wants more staff — it is unknown, at least to us, how many people (if any) will be added. And the local Fire and Rescue Department wants more bodies and equipment refreshes — we’ll see how that goes Monday.

Expect Curry to hit these high points, along with another interesting proposal: one for an ambitious, year-round swimming lessons program that will come in around $1.7M in the budget, after an interesting scrap in June regarding a bill that sought $200,000 in emergency funding for swimming lessons this year.

Meanwhile, there will be one move toward saving for a rainy day also: the Administration will follow through on a Finance Committee recommendation months back to boost the emergency reserve from 6 percent to 5 percent, even as the operating reserve is cut from 8 percent to 7 percent.

_____

Council members, of course, will ask some big picture questions Monday — but it will be the Mayor’s day, likely with a gaggle and then a sitdown interview or two with an affable TV reporter, with whom Curry can holistically frame the narrative.

However, the budget will soon thereafter move on to consideration by the full City Council, but not before the Finance Committee goes through it in August.

What might that process look like?

With the race for Council President now way back in the rear view mirror, the executive and legislative branches have every reason in the world to find a way to get to yes.

Curry, who has said he looks forward to a “third year of winning,” will find a way to partner with Council President Anna Brosche and Finance Chair Garrett Dennis — and one expects that partnership will come down to clear lines of communication, lines that ideally would be direct and between the principals involved.

Meanwhile, much has been made of the new composition of that Finance Committee — with questions about how big a piece of the budget pie will go to Council Districts 7-10, whose representatives all voted for Brosche for President.

The goal, we hear, is equity — equity across the districts, and equity between the priorities of the Mayor’s Office and the legislators. August budget hearings in Finance will be where the rubber hits the road.

To that end, a day to watch is Aug. 23.

Aug. 23 offers the sole Wednesday meeting on the slate, and deals entirely with the capital improvement plan and debt — for those interested in seeing how this particular Finance Committee deals with these issues, and how the Mayor’s Office deals with its positions, plenty of insight will be gleaned on that day.

Another day to watch: Aug. 12, given Council President Brosche’s commitment to rejuvenating Jacksonville’s park system. There is a three hour hearing then.

Of course, it will be interesting to see how Finance Chair Dennis handles the gavel — as those who followed him as Rules Chair recall, he wasn’t afraid of controversy on that panel.

Recall that Dennis sponsored an ordinance in January designed to ensure that city agencies and independent authorities eliminated the vestiges of discrimination, ensuring that the workforce looked like the city did demographically.

Will questions of equity on demographic grounds come up during Finance hearings this August? It’s very possible.

Jacksonville Bold for 7.14.17 — Playtime is over

As the Jacksonville City Council wraps up its two-week break, Councilmembers will get a first peek at Mayor Lenny Curry’s budget Monday.

They already know at least some of what to expect: a $100 million capital improvement budget and $8.4 million for Edward Waters College.

Now the question is: Will everyone play ball?

A.G. Gancarski has written extensively about the changing dynamics between the Mayor’s Office and Council leadership: Will there be a resolution of schismatic thinking by Monday? Or will it be by August, when the reconfigured Finance Committee mulls that budget?

Open questions — but not the only ones in Northeast Florida politics.

Two incumbent Republican congressmen have drawn Democratic challenges: one, an ambassador; another, a transgender author of vampire novels. Both teach at the University of North Florida — go Ospreys!

Business development continues, with massive interest ramping up for working with a big company in Jacksonville.

And, oh yeah, a City Councilman called the Pope a Communist. In other “What was he smoking?” news, a medical cannabis dispensary finally opened in Jacksonville.

All this (and more) in this week’s Bold.

The moral of the story:  Even in a policy pause, during a week where everyone who mattered was on vacation, Jacksonville and Northeast Florida still manage to bring the news.

CD 6 Shuffle

You may need a scorecard to keep up with the changes in Florida’s Congressional District 6, where Ron DeSantis holds the seat … for now.

Consider that DeSantis’ camp is still floating the narrative that he may run for Florida Governor — setting up an interesting contrast between DeSantis’ clipped cadence and the down-home Old Florida style of Adam Putnam.

DeSantis may not be gone yet — but this week one Democrat with a serious pedigree filed to run.

Bill Clinton nostalgists rejoice! Nancy Soderberg is back in the campaign game.

Ambassador Nancy Soderberg, a University of North Florida professor who earned her bona fides in the Bill Clinton administration, is in.

By Thursday morning, the Federal Elections Commission website listed a Soderberg for Congress campaign committee.

Democrats hoped for the benefits of a wave election, and assuming the White House dumpster fire continues, they may just have one.

The district was reliably GOP in 2016; both Donald Trump and Marco Rubio carried the area by over 15 points.

Al Lawson talks health

Rep. Lawson, in Jacksonville during the Congressional recess, spoke to the Florida Times-Union — and health care was on his mind.

“The Affordable Care Act is not a perfect law and there certainly is a lot of room for improvement,” Lawson asserted. “But let’s work together to figure out ways to bring down health care costs.”

Al Lawson has taken the lead on health care issues of late.

Lawson “doesn’t care whose name” is on health care reform, he said, alluding to the differences between “Obamacare” and the self-styled “Trumpcare.”

Lawson suggests taxing people with so-called “Cadillac” insurance plans.

In an interesting bit of news from the interview, Lawson is working with Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford on a mental health bill. The two first year congressmen held an event Thursday afternoon in D.C., where experts discussed mental health challenges for veterans.

New subcommittee for Rutherford

On Wednesday, Rutherford announced his appointment to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.

John Rutherford’s commitment to ‘rule of law’ precedes his Congressional stint.

“Looking forward to using my background to support the rule of law across our nation,” the Jacksonville Republican and former Sheriff said.

Wisconsin’s Jim Sensenbrenner is chair; Louie Gohmert of Texas serves as vice-chair.

New challenger for Rutherford

Action News Jax introduced Jacksonville viewers to Monica Paige DePaul, a University of North Florida adjunct professor who writes novels, is transgender, and is running to replace Rutherford in CD 4.

DePaul has brought her politics to her vampire novels, she told reporter Jenna Bourne.

Are vampires real? As real as a Dem’s chances in CD 4, most likely.

“So that actually started way back in 2009 when Twilight came out and I was like, this is garbage. And I wanted to write something better,” said DePaul. “In my second book, Blood on the Rocks, there’s pretty obvious jabs at [Florida Governor] Rick Scott.”

DePaul, who was a Bernie Sanders delegate at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, is the sole Democrat in the field. With Rutherford not having filed for re-election yet, the sole Republican in the field is Palatka petition collector Rob Ficker — who we profiled previously.

Is Paul Renner a Jacksonville guy?

Such was the provocative question posed by Tia Mitchell recently in the Florida Times-Union.

Mitchell’s take?

The veteran reporter notes Renner’s local roots run deep: “He grew up in Arlington and graduated from Terry Parker High School … a shareholder at the Milam Howard Nicandri Gillam and Renner law firm in the heart of downtown.”

Paul Renner won, but who was there Day One? And does it actually matter?

Mitchell also points out that The Fiorentino Group and Ambassador John Rood were among the early supporters.

Absent from Mitchell’s piece: Mayor Curry, instrumental in a fundraiser that brought in over $250,000. Curry told us at the time he and his team are “engaged” fully in the fight to get Renner over the hump. Indeed, there are those saying Brian Hughes and Tim Baker brought home four of the 16 pledges Renner needed to win.

The point? Victory, as ever, has many fathers.

Money-Go-Round

Who’s up? Who’s down? In Northeast Florida politics, campaign finance reports tell the tale.

Among those who should be exultant: Curry; Sen. Rob Bradley; Jacksonville City Council President Matt Carlucci.

“Build Something That Lasts,” Curry’s committee, brought in $110,000 in June, and now has $242,456 on hand.

Lenny Curry’s political committee had a strong June.

And “Working for Florida’s Families,” the committee associated with Sen. Rob Bradley, brought in $59,500. That committee now has $390,000 on hand.

Meanwhile, Carlucci brought in $60,000 in his first month as a candidate for a 2019 at-large seat.

Two strong performances in the House came from freshmen Jason Fischer (who had a better than $50,000 month) and Clay Yarborough (over $22,000 in June).

Gasping for air: Rep. Jay Fant, who brought in roughly $70,000 between his committee and campaign account … way below his opponent in the GOP Attorney General primary, Ashley Moody, who brought in $603,000 total.

One of Moody’s donors: the right-hand man of local State Attorney Melissa Nelson.

Moody has the backing of the entire Tampa area legal community, it seems.

Meanwhile, while Fant has lacked that backing until now, the Thursday endorsement of future Speaker Renner — a Jacksonville lawyer himself — may be a positive augury.

Smile, you’re on candid camera

The wait is over — the body camera pilot program for Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office members is finally underway, reports WJXT.

Officers are testing one of three brands of body cameras, with 30 spread out through the city.

The Axon, a TASER product, retails for $399.

The goal — body cameras for all uniformed officers — should be subject to collective bargaining, the local police union contends.

JSO’s budget puts $1.3M to begin the program; however, costs will escalate once the trial programs wrap up, when the cameras become part of the uniform for all field officers.

MMJ in the 904

For those with medical marijuana cards, the drought is over as Trulieve opened its Jacksonville dispensary this week — the eighth in the state.

Robust consumer demand for a one-time contraband product.

And this one represents progress: it was just two years ago that Jacksonville policy makers were paralyzed over the dread specter of Charlotte’s Web.

After two “moratoriums” on growing and dispensing, the city worked out some sensible zoning rules, allowing one dispensary in each zoning district.

Knox Medical will, at some point, open in Mandarin. In the meantime, expect Trulieve — which has a proven model at this point — to reassure local policy makers that medical cannabis is just another business.

Is the Pope communist?

Is Pope Francis a commie? Early Thursday, Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Gulliford said “yes.”

“I am a Catholic and he is a Communist,” Gulliford said of the pontiff.

Commie or Catholic? Bill Gulliford’s opinion shocked our readers Thursday.

What spawned that?

An article in an online publication (M2 Voice) said the Pope asserted that “world government must rule the United States ‘for their own good.’”

“I am afraid there are very dangerous alliances between powers who have a distorted view of the world: America and Russia, China and North Korea, Russia and Assad in the war in Syria,” the Pope observed in the same interview.

Alas, in the M2 Voice article, the “for their own good” line was not given in context, raising questions as to the veracity of the quote — especially given the translation from the original Italian.

Amazin’ queue for Amazon jobs

Economic development often sounds abstract. But for real life examples of what it means, consider the lines that snaked around Northwest Jacksonville’s Legends Center — those lines, with hundreds and hundreds of people, brimmed with job seekers this week.

The Jax Daily Record notes that a year ago, “Amazon announced it would create more than 1,500 jobs in Jacksonville at the first fulfillment center in the city, at 12900 Pecan Park Road in Northwest Jacksonville.”

“I think it’s going to have a really big impact here,” one applicant told the Record’s David Cawton. “You see all the people waiting in line, they’re all looking for work so, I think Amazon found the right place to land.”

Green light for Black Creek

Good news for the folks near the parched Keystone Lakes may be on its way soon, reports WOKV.

“The lakes have left us,” Rob Bradley said this year. Will they be back soon?

The St. Johns River Water Management Board this week approved a “recharge” plan that will route water from Black Creek.

The first design and construction of the plan carried by Sen. Rob Bradley of Orange Park and Rep. Bobby Payne of Palatka: $13M.

The “Black Creek Water Resource Development Plan”: a five-year, $41 million plan to capture excess water from Clay County’s flood-prone Black Creek and pipe it into the Keystone Lakes, via a discharge at Camp Blanding, where a spreader field would disperse the water to Alligator Creek.

Hopes are to wrap the project by 2023, WOKV reported.

Bradley told us in April the project “helps all of Florida” by providing an “aquifer recharge area” for the Suwannee and St. Johns River basins.

Elections matter

Perhaps no politician this century in Northeast Florida did a worse job managing media relationships than Angela Corey.

And, against that dismal backdrop, the Koch-friendly reform agenda of Melissa Nelson looks pretty good … with regular plaudits in the press.

Melissa Nelson loses very few news cycles, and Angela Corey is still a reason why.

The latest accolade: Harvard University’s Fair Punishment Project, written by Florida Times-Union alum Larry Hannan.

Hannan contrasted Corey’s “draconian views” on criminal justice with Nelson having “cleared the low bar set by her predecessor.”

This, said Hannan “offers another clear reminder that the most powerful actor in the justice system — the elected prosecutor — can and should remain accountable to her constituents.”

World Cup to Jacksonville?

FIFA World Cup 2026 action in Jacksonville? Don’t rule it out, as the city was deemed a “strong candidate” and invited to bid.

Canada, Mexico, and the United States will co-host the World Cup that year.

As correspondence from U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati to Mayor Curry reveals, Jacksonville is in the mix to host World Cup action … which will involve a whopping 80 matches over a 30-day period in 2026.

For the game. For the world. For Jacksonville? The city may or may not bid.

“Jacksonville is a strong candidate for participation in this process, given your support of soccer, stadium facilities, and the related tourism infrastructure you already have in place. As such, we will be making informal contact with the stadium and sports commission contacts in your city in the coming days, but we wanted first to make you aware of this significant opportunity, so Jacksonville can best present itself as a participant in this process,” Gulati remarked.

Curry’s office says that no decision has been made on a bid — but it’s hard to imagine him passing up on an opportunity to put Jacksonville on a global stage.

Riverkeeper disses dredging … again

The St. Johns Riverkeeper continues in its efforts to stop the seemingly inevitable JAXPORT dredge, with its latest gambit being a consultant saying that it won’t pay off.

Riverkeeper’s anti-dredge grudge slogs on.

The latest blast Tuesday: a report from New Orleans-based “port and shipping expert” Dr. Asaf Ashar, which deems the deep dredge is economically infeasible.

Ashar contends (contrary to optimistic U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates) that there is a good chance that total costs of the project could outweigh benefits.

As well, Ashar asserts that JAXPORT will likely remain a secondary port compared to Savannah and Charleston, two regional competitors, dredging notwithstanding. Ashar notes both ports have channels that are not even 47 feet deep.

Jacksonville Zoo begins major remodel, adds African Forest

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is beginning a $9 million construction on the African Forest, a major remodeling initiative of the Great Apes Loop to include gorillas, bonobos, mandrills, and lemurs.

African Forest will incorporate “wellness-inspired design” in choices, challenges and variation to stimulate the animals. The new exhibit will replace the current Great Apes Loop, which opened in 1998.

“With The Land of The Tiger and The Range of The Jaguar winning national recognition as being among the best zoo exhibits in the country, the bar has been raised. Our members and visitors now expect everything we do at the Zoo to be at a standard that will make our community proud to say Jacksonville has one of the very best zoos in the country,” said JZG Executive Director Tony Vecchio. “The new African Forest will continue that legacy. Rather than just spruce up what is now one of the Zoo’s oldest exhibits, our board of directors and staff have taken on the challenge of making the Great Apes area an experience that will be special for our visitors, and, for our animals.”

Demolition began July 5, with partial or full closings of the Great Apes Loop until completion in 2018. Because some of the residents may not be within public view, the Zoo recognizes that guests may miss seeing the animals in the Great Apes Loop and plans to take video and share pictures of them playing often. Even though only a few of the animals, such as the lemurs and siamangs will be relocated to other parts of the Zoo where they can be visited, all the primates will still have access to outdoor areas during renovations.

 

Jacksonville’s first medical marijuana dispensary represents policy progress

Wednesday morning saw Jacksonville open its first medical marijuana dispensary, as Trulieve’s storefront on Beach Boulevard opened for business.

For those following the medical marijuana debate in the city as recently as two years ago, Trulieve’s facility represents real progress, especially in contrast to other cities across the state still wrestling with zoning and other perceived impacts of these facilities.

Back in 2015, when “Charlotte’s Web” — the low-THC form of marijuana, also called “Hippie’s Disappointment” —  was a controversy, Jacksonville wrestled with those very issues. Early June saw an emergency 180-day moratorium from the City Council on the growing, processing and dispensing of “low THC marijuana, a/k/a medical marijuana.”

After public outcry, the moratorium was repealed at the second meeting in June.

A second moratorium was passed soon enough. Then the Planning Commission and the Land Use & Zoning committee worked out some useful rules for the high-CBD/low-THC marijuana … rules that exist today, even as the definition of medical marijuana has become more liberalized after the passage of Amendment 2 in 2016.

Ordinance limits dispensaries to one per city planning district, with a minimum of a mile between them, permissible in non-residential zoning areas. Rules for cultivation were also established at that point.

The difference between 2015 and 2017 was vividly illustrated Wednesday, when Trulieve opened its eighth Florida dispensary. This, said Victoria Walker, who handles community relations for the company, put a storefront within a two hour drive of everyone in Florida.

And in Jacksonville, where the company already has hundreds of patients, this is a gateway to increased access for qualified patients, Walker said, already enjoying what she calls the “largest product line” in the state of capsules, oils, vaporizer kits, and topical creams.

Essentially, everything but smokable marijuana.

Walker told us that the company’s goal was to “develop products using the whole plant,” but the company will “operate under whatever the law says.”

Walker also touched on the process in Jacksonville, which she said was a “little bit of a long process” in terms of permitting.

However, it’s a process that is now complete for the company locally — which can’t be said elsewhere.

“A lot of counties are trying to figure out the rules,” Walker said, and Trulieve has met with them.

Her thinking is that as the Trulieve model expands, residual resistance to cannabis use for therapeutic reasons will abate.

“Perception is reality,” Walker said.

____

For those who remember the Jacksonville debate of 2015, there was much worry about potential decline in property values and community mores related to these dispensaries.

However, the Trulieve facility — freshly renovated, clean, accessible — is light years ahead of most of the rundown commercial properties near it, an indication that commercial cannabis, at least under the dispensary model, doesn’t necessarily have to lead to the kinds of excesses prohibitionists decry in states with full legalization.

Before the doors opened, patients were discussing the therapeutic effects of cannabis, with a thirty year old indie rock kid talking about the benefits of cannabis with a man twice his age in the queue to enter the store.

Meanwhile, there were those who had their own testimonials to the healing power of cannabis, and none was more powerful than that of 36-year-old Rosemary McKinley, a ballroom dance competitor who has been on high-THC cannabis concentrate since 2014.

McKinley’s days once were spent in an opiate haze, a pharmacological hell of Vicodin, muscle relaxers, and fentanyl.

Those days are over, she said. Since she started therapeutic cannabis, she has gained 15 pounds, and the spasms and headaches, as well as the fatigue and nausea, brought on by a tumor have become bad memories rather than recurrent impacts.

_____

With the power of cannabis becoming a less esoteric proposition over time, the future of cannabis is bright, said Donavan Carr, the President of NEFL NORML

“Everything takes time,” Carr said, but “if you look at other states, you get an idea of where we can go.”

Could outright legalization happen?

Carr sounded confident.

“It’s just a matter of time,” he said.

Jacksonville a ‘strong candidate’ to host 2026 FIFA World Cup action

The history of soccer in Jacksonville is longer than some new arrivals might think. From 1980, when the Jacksonville Tea Men started off in the North American Soccer League, to today, when the Jacksonville Armada play locally, soccer has had a foothold here for decades.

Even in 2016, the U.S. National Team played in Jacksonville — a match against Trinidad and Tobago, with an outcome that was never in doubt, drew nearly 20,000 people.

However, as soccer grows domestically, the stakes — and the expectations — are higher. And both arguably will peak in 2026, when the United States, Canada, and Mexico plan to join forces for a NAFTA version of the iconic event — with 48 teams expected to comprise the sprawling field.

Meanwhile, as correspondence from U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry reveals, Jacksonville is in the mix to host World Cup action … which will involve, in 2026, a whopping 80 matches over a 30 day period.

“Jacksonville is a strong candidate for participation in this process, given your support of soccer, stadium facilities, and the related tourism infrastructure you already have in place. As such, we will be making informal contact with the stadium and sports commission contacts in your city in the coming days, but we wanted first to make you aware of this significant opportunity, so Jacksonville can best present itself as a participant in this process,” Gulati remarked.

The ultimate goal, according to Gulati: “a world class bid that harnesses the immense social, cultural, and economic power of our continent to ensure that North America can deliver a 21st century vision of soccer’s greatest event. It will be a vision the world can share.”

We have reached out to Curry’s office for any comment that the Mayor or staffers may want to offer; if such is provided, this article will be updated.

Gwen Graham comes away frustrated with health care policies after ‘workday’ at center

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham spent her recent “workday” event Friday at a community health care center in Jacksonville; she came away even more aware of the health care issues at stake in public policy.

“Community health centers are a vital safety net for working families across our state. In addition to providing care, they lower costs for hospitals and for all Floridians,” Graham stated in a campaign news release issued afterward. “Unfortunately, Rick Scott‘s failure to expand Medicaid has placed even greater stress on community health centers and President Donald Trump‘s proposed cuts to Medicaid could cripple them. This isn’t a partisan issue, every elected official in our state should be speaking up against the plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with TrumpCare.”

Graham worked at Jacksonville’s Sulzbacher Center, one of 49 federally qualified community health centers in Florida that are required to treat all Floridians, regardless of their ability to pay. The Sulzbacher Center is Northeast Florida’s largest provider of comprehensive services for homeless men, women, and children. It is one of only a few centers in the nation to offer a full range of services for the homeless 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

“It was deeply disappointing and frustrating to hear professionals at the center compare Florida’s lack of services for the homeless to programs provided in other states. We are truly blessed to live in America. No one in this country should have to go without housing, food or health care,” Graham said.

Her release quoted Andy Behrman, president of the Florida Association of Health Care Centers, as saying that Florida’s 49 federally-qualified centers saw more than 1.4 million patients last year, with about 500,000 of them uninsured and another 600,000 covered by Medicaid.

“Medicaid is a huge part of the federally-qualified health center system and represents more than 45 percent of all patient revenues,” Behrman stated in the release. “The changes that are being proposed will have a devastating effect on our health centers’ ability to provide compressive primary care to all Floridians.”

Workdays are Graham’s effort to continue a tradition her father Bob Graham followed as Florida governor and as a U.S. Senator, spending an occasional day working an ordinary job somewhere in Florida. On Friday, Graham spent a shift serving lunches, checking out patients at the clinic, and passing out water, meals and hygiene kits to the homeless on the streets of Jacksonville.

She added, “The men and women at the center are angles. I could feel their compassion and dedication through their work. As governor, I will bring the same compassion for all Floridians to our state’s government.”

Paul Renner wins, and so does ‘Team Northeast Florida’

For Paul Renner, the path to winning Friday’s 2022 Florida House Speaker election in Orlando — with 16 votes in the first round — was not a sure thing.

First of all, he lost his first election for the House — a three-vote defeat to Rep. Jay Fant, a current Attorney General candidate, in House District 15 on Jacksonville’s Westside.

Renner was undeterred; he moved to Palm Coast, took a safe seat there, and then figured out the House very quickly.

Renner was a chief lieutenant of Speaker Richard Corcoran this last term, burnishing his conservative credentials and policy chops, and as time progressed, the Speaker’s race gradually went his way.

And despite the slight re-location, Renner is still a Jacksonville fixture, an attorney with deep roots in the community — and it was the Jacksonville and Northeast Florida establishment that went his way and made a key difference down the stretch.

A major fundraiser earlier this spring saw Renner bring in over $250,000 from everyone who mattered in the Northeast Florida donor class.

That liquidity — whether people want to believe it or not — was also intended as a signal to those voting in the race, including a lot of local freshman legislators: there is a regional priority in this leadership race, a chance to get something that has eluded Jacksonville since John Thrasher in 1999. Before that, in 1969, Democrat Frederick Schultz held the gavel. The city had four speakers between 1913 and 1937.

Local and regional power players see it as Northeast Florida’s time. As Renner’s time.

And Friday’s election ensured that the man who lost a squeaker to Jay Fant will be in a unique position to respond and push forward the region’s priorities.

Smart local politicians were ready to reach out to Renner to offer congratulations; a rising tide lifts all boats.

And by 2022, Jacksonville will have a lot of boats to lift: a dredging project that likely will be midstream; a septic tank phase out, for which state money proved elusive in the just completed session; a desired renovation of the Hart Bridge offramps to route traffic onto Bay Street, by new capital investments such as the amphitheater and whatever Shad Khan has planned otherwise.

Local politicians and “stakeholders” have long agonized about Jacksonville’s identity crisis, and a big part of that crisis in recent years has been the city being relatively ill-positioned to score big wins.

This, to be clear, was a big one.

“It’s been a long time,” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry told us Friday afternoon regarding the Renner victory and its significance for the city and the region.

Efforts in the past were not successful: this one was, Curry said, as the business community was all in for Renner, as well as many of Curry’s key supporters — especially Tom Petway and John Rood, who we are told particularly engaged in driving the effort.

“I engaged,” Curry said, “and my full political operation engaged.”

Central to that engagement: Tim Baker and Brian Hughes, the visionary architects of triumph after triumph in recent years. They parlayed relationships throughout the state to help broaden Renner’s draw.

There was some resistance to coalescence among certain voting members of the Duval Delegation. That was not an option for Curry.

“We expect our team to be aligned — Team Northeast Florida,” Curry said.

Rep. Clay Yarborough, the former Jacksonville City Council President who was one of those 16 Renner votes, noted that the outcome lined up with his count.

Yarborough saw “tremendous positives” for the region and the city both — positives that will be seen before 2022, as in the years leading up to Renner’s Speakership, he will be in “conversations with leadership,” and his “place at the table” will help him advocate for regional priorities.

The region, Yarborough said, can be “lining stuff up” that takes years to make happen — a generational opportunity for Northeast Florida.

Duval Delegation Republicans Yarborough, Cord Byrd, and Jason Fischer are all Renner’s contemporaries; meanwhile, there could be a new person in Rep. Fant’s seat soon also. This means, realistically, that long-range planning is uniquely possible for the GOP delegation locally and regionally.

Yarborough respects Renner’s “steady hand,” how he “weathered the storms of challenging issues during the Legislative Session.”

“Some thought he’d crash and burn,” Yarborough noted. However, Renner responded to the challenges, getting support “well beyond Duval County” and Northeast Florida.

Rep. Fischer was likewise optimistic about the “tremendous opportunity for Northeast Florida … the beginning of great things to come.”

Fischer also noted the importance went beyond the region: “We united as a class,” Fischer said, saying that today’s result is “great for the state.”

Indeed, Renner talked about the state to media Friday.

“I think one of the things I spoke about is that every member of the team is critical. That is something I learned in the military, from the first day of boot camp. You learn that you succeed or fail as a team,” Renner told FloridaPolitics.com’s Scott Powers.

“The focus I would like to have is we have a great class, we can do great things together, and I want to be the facilitator,” Renner said.

Indeed, the class is uniting: Rep. Jamie Grant and Renner were seen joking ahead of the conclave, and the appropriate statements of congratulations are coming from those who didn’t win this one.

“I want to congratulate my friend and colleague Paul Renner on his election as our 2016 Republican class leader. I am confident he will do an outstanding job in the role, and I look forward to working with him. I was honored to be a candidate, and I also congratulate Jamie Grant and Erin Grall on the fine races they ran. Now that this election is behind us, let’s look forward to working together to put conservative policies in place that will create jobs and a brighter future for all Floridians,” Rep. Byron Donalds asserted.

Former State Rep. Lake Ray, a veteran of eight years in the State House, described how that work — and Renner’s influence — would build over time.

Renner’s pull will really be significant when he is Speaker-Designate and going forward, Ray said.

As Speaker, Renner will have a number of prerogatives, Ray noted.

One key one: a direct impact on appropriations, especially regarding unencumbered money, which he and the Senate President will figure out how to allocate. Ultimately, Ray said, up to 30 percent of what could be anywhere from $250-$450M could find its way to regional projects.

Renner’s leadership team is also worth watching, in terms of commitments made down the stretch — and especially key, timely commitments. The posts to watch specifically: the chairs of Appropriations and Rules, which can serve a gatekeeper role in terms of killing any bills that may need to die for whatever reason.

An unsung hero of the effort outside of this class and Duval County: Rep. Travis Cummings.

As an extremely reliable source put it, Cummings was instrumental in the push for Renner, helping to steady some members who were prone to wobbling.

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