Just months ago, Jacksonville passed its pension reform package, which will give the city approximately $150M of budget relief from costs of its unfunded pension liability in terms of next year’s budget.
While raises for city workers, to be phased in over the next three fiscal years, will consume a lot of that relief, rest assured that everyone in City Hall has a wishlist.
More employees. New equipment. Other incidentals.
That has been one challenge during the budget process for the city’s Chief Administrative Officer (Sam Mousa) and Chief Financial Officer (Mike Weinstein).
A new challenge manifested on Monday, meanwhile, with the selection of the new City Council Finance Committee — a departure from virtually every year, one in which Jacksonville Democrats from the perpetually neglected Districts 7 through 10 will have the numbers to carry every vote.
Of course, Finance can vote to appropriate whatever; the Mayor’s Office executes contracts, and that will serve as a check against any potential profligacy. Arguably a necessary check, given pressures like $26M of city spending in the wake of Hurricane Matthew that has yet to receive FEMA reimbursement.
In this context, Tuesday’s run through of the 5 year Capital Improvement Program was conducted (see last year’s here).
Mayor Lenny Curry will be challenged by Council this term to deliver on his “One City, One Jacksonville” vision, and that challenge will include calls to make real progress on delayed capital projects in North, West, and Northwest Jacksonville.
Mousa, to be sure, knows the score. Last year, he noted that the city could use a $400M capital budget. However, that’s not happening. Not even close. And, as ever, hard choices are inevitable … even though the total CIP this year will be close to $100M, not including money for sports and entertainment facilities.
For context, last year’s CIP had capital projects at $78M last year — most of that pay-go, Mousa said.
Mousa did note as the meeting began that there may be the opportunity to add “a few more capital improvement projects with one-time funding” at the request of the Mayor or a City Councilor, given budget relief. And some timetables on projects were to be moved up a year. However, he cautioned, Tuesday’s discussion was preliminary.
Meanwhile, Curry is developing his own CIP list, independent of Tuesday’s process, and that will perhaps amend the final product.
With all those caveats, the highlights.
Pay-go money: $23.2M, comprise part of an almost $100M CIP.
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.
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 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 Council President Lori Boyer. And $600,000 for the McCoy’s Creek Greenway.
A backlog of sidewalk projects — a risk management concern — is also on the list. Library projects, by and large, are on schedule, largely funded by library fines.
4th Street Brick Rebuild is also on the list for this year; a “desperately needed job,” per Mousa.
Downtown landscape enhancements: $1 million, per Mayor Curry’s request, though he wants to survey the area before a more specific request is made.
Friendship Fountain repairs: in the budget. As is the School Board building kayak launch, and $1M for Southbank Riverwalk renovations.
Moving on to stormwater projects, the Trout River/Moncrief Project will move forward, though with a reduced scope. And the LaSalle Street Lift Station is moving forward, despite the Governor’s untimely veto of the state appropriation carried by Rep. Jason Fischer in Tallahassee.
Solid waste: $4.5M will complete the current Trail Ridge landfill expansion project, setting up the city for future expansion, with property acquisition part of a previous year’s spend. This will buy the city 3-5 years of dumping time.
Jacksonville’s opioid crisis, as is the case around the country, is taking lives and resources from the budget all at once. Is a turning point imminent?
Months back, Councilman Bill Gulliford began sounding the alarm about the increased casualty rate and the increased burden on emergency services from the crisis.
Multiple meetings followed, then a bill was filed in June that would devote almost $1.5M to a pilot opioid program, to stem the tide of overdoses that is wreaking havoc with Jacksonville lives and emergency services budgets.
On Monday, Gulliford held a meeting with other stakeholders (including the Fire and Rescue Department), in which the particulars of the legislation (introduced on an emergency basis, with committee work this week) and the pilot program were discussed.
“I could think of a lot better things we could sit around and talk about spending $1.5M on,” Gulliford said.
However, the crisis is real. And current efforts are not abating it.
Overdoses, at last count, end four times as many lives as homicides in Duval County, with 2016’s count of 464 casualties more than doubling 2015’s count of 201.
Caucasians represent 86 percent of the deaths, and over half of those passing away are in their 30s and 40s
911 calls for ODs to the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department have tripled, with a call every two hours now. Narcan administrations: up 500 percent. JFRD responded to over 3,411 calls in 2016, and the cost of transporting OD victims could near $4.5M this year.
Gulliford noted that the money for this may not come out of fund balance, as the Lenny Curry administration may have another source of money for this.
Also, DCF has advanced a preliminary offer to fund all the Narcan for the pilot program — another potential cost defraying mechanism.
Gateway and River Region would be the in-patient facilities; UF Health was floated as an ER facility, though other hospitals may end up fulfilling that function
The proposal includes the following: residential treatment; outpatient services; medication costs, physician fees; access to medical and psychiatric treatment; and urine fentanyl test strips.
The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department would coordinate with the Florida Department of Health to identify participants; DOH would coordinate reproductive health services and linkage of care for women who are of childbearing age, including work with pregnant women to reduce the risk of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.
“We’re seeing more babies being delivered with addiction. That’s on the uptick,” said Gulliford. “What a horrible way to bring a child into the world.”
Breastfeeding from addicted mothers, meanwhile, presents its own challenge — as do the new fentanyl derivatives, which are increasingly potent and potentially fatal to users.
Monday’s meeting saw a lot of very specific performance data discussed, with deliverables and goals discussed to justify the investment.
“At the end of six months,” one JFRD officer asked, “how do we know it’s working?”
Factors such as reduction of recidivism, relapse, and other indicators would be metrics of success — key, given that one of the pervasive impacts is repeated emergency calls involving the same users, sometimes multiple times in a day.
There are some users who recover via Narcan, only to shoot up again almost immediately after discharge from the ER. And some users require multiple doses of Narcan for recovery.
Drug testing, early and often, would be a hallmark of the program — covering all substances of abuse and analogues thereof, including fentanyl and carfentanil.
“Your guys can’t keep taking the emotional pounding from these overdoses,” Gulliford said to JFRD, noting that one station alone had 17 overdose responses.
“How long do they withstand that kind of pressure,” Gulliford said, noting that some derivatives are so potent that physical contact with the substance can incapacitate the officers tasked with treatment.
If the program succeeds, other challenges will present themselves, such as recurring funding and scalability. Gulliford asserts that the public and private sectors would have to combine resources. That could also include helping recovered addicts get job placement.
“It’s not just going to be the city bellying up to the bar,” Gulliford said, citing the importance of a “campaign” to educate the public on the non-negotiable need for this program to address this “pervasive” problem.
But that problem is one that city policy makers would find preferable than rescue units hurtling from overdose to overdose, and bodies piling up in worst case scenarios.
As part of our continuing coverage of the budget process in Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s office, we were on hand for Friday’s consideration of non-departmental expenditures heading into the next fiscal year.
The biggest news? A potential increase of the city’s emergency reserve level, something that was discussed in Jacksonville City Council committees months back.
The city may set the operating reserve at 7 percent, and the emergency reserve at 6 percent — a shift from 8 and 5 percent respectively. Reserves would total 13 percent in each case; however, this would be a meaningful policy shift.
If this holds, that jibes with the City Council Finance Committee’s desire in January to move the emergency reserve to 6 percent, a response to concerns expressed by the Council Auditor when the reserve dipped below the mandatory 5 percent level last year.
Councilman Bill Gulliford urged committee legislation to boost the reserve to 6 percent — which would be about $11 million moved into the emergency reserve.
CFO Mike Weinstein concurred with the “concept,” but resisted moving dollars until “collective bargaining is behind us.”
“Maybe put it in the hopper,” Weinstein said. “The timing is sort of interesting.”
Of course, collective bargaining wrapped soon thereafter between the city and its myriad unions, and from there the City Council approved the deals — which came contingent with raises for all city employees, in exchange for moving new hires from the unsustainable defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan.
This proposal comes at a time when City Council members are wrangling with plans on how to use the “fiscal relief” generated by pension reform.
One proposal, as of earlier this month, looked to be dead in the water.
Councilman Danny Becton filed 2017-348, which would require that 15 percent of all general fund money beyond the baseline FY 16-17 budget go toward defraying the city’s $2.8B unfunded actuarial liability on pension.
Becton’s bill, however, was not backed by the Lenny Curry administration — which seemed to come as a surprise to the first-term Southside Republican Councilman.
Days later, the bill went to its sole committee of reference — Finance — where it seemingly was, to quote Becton, “put out of its misery” with a 4 to 1 vote.
However, in the tradition of an extra life in a video game, Becton’s bill got brought back from the dead, and will enjoy a “Weekend At Bernie’s” moment in Rules and Finance at some future point — though who knows when, as the Finance agenda for Wednesday, June 21, has the bill marked for deferral at Becton’s request.
Budget relief from pension reform, while real, only goes so far. If the Curry Administration seeks to lift the emergency reserve, then there seemingly would be real questions as to where the money would come from for the Becton plan … assuming committees were to receive it favorably in its next go-around.
A Tuesday morning Jacksonville City Council committee saw an update on the city’s ShotSpotter program from Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Homeland Security Chief Robert Connor.
This much-ballyhooed anti-crime tool does what its name suggests: it identifies, via sound, where a bullet’s origin might be.
For law enforcement, this provides an important tool; for those married to old-school concepts of civil libertarianism, the program arguably marks one more step toward perpetual mass surveillance.
Philosophical questions aside, implementation is “moving along well,” with sensor installation already underway, Connor said. Moves are being made to get permission for sensor placement at Duval County Public Schools also.
Jacksonville has reviewed best practices from other major cities, with progress on pace toward a draft policy and a July training class at the police academy – conducted by ShotSpotter.
“They want to do that training closer to the implementation date,” Connor noted.
For Jacksonville, this is the culmination of a journey toward yet another strategy to reduce senseless gunplay in local battle zones.
Earlier this year, the city “appropriate[d] $435,001 already allocated in a ShotSpotter reserve account to an equipment purchase account for installation of the test site … acoustic gunshot detection and surveillance technology in a 5 square mile area of Health Zone 1.”
Health Zone 1 encompasses five Jacksonville Journey zip codes, including 32209, which was described by the Florida Times-Union as “Jacksonville’s killing fields.”
“Although this is less than 1 percent of the land mass, it accounted for 10 percent of the firearm calls and 13 percent of the homicides related to firearms,” Connor said.
Meanwhile, the over 100 installation locations are being kept secret, to prevent malefactors from removing the sensors.
“It’s not exactly noticeable or visible where the sensors are,” Connor said, but the goal is “blanket coverage over the entire five square miles.”
Connor noted that the cloud-based program is “not just a piece of computer software,” and all information is “vetted by a trained person in their review system.”
“Number of shots, position within 25 meters, and number of shooters” are among the types of information available through the program, as is historical data.
Sensors in the area “capture the data,” providing the “when, where, and what” of gunshots, Connor said.
Once a gunshot is confirmed, information will be sent to JSO, with a “flex alerts console” visible on the laptops of officers on patrol.
“That’s really important as we talk about response,” Connor added.
Democratic State Rep. Kim Daniels, a former Jacksonville City Councilwoman who represents part of this area, was successful in getting $325,000 of state funds for the city’s pilot program in the next budget year.
ShotSpotter, a subscription system, has a recurring cost beyond start-up spending.
Connor noted that the system could be expanded in the future, once evidence of effectiveness is provided.
“This is only one piece of the puzzle,” Connor said.
“As we’ve seen in other agencies … the real value comes in the investigation,” Connor added, with “exact detail” helping Jacksonville’s overstretched law enforcement, and with ShotSpotter experts offering friendly testimony in court cases where the technology is used.
License plate readers, NIBIN (a federal database that identifies bullets from casings), and ShotSpotter: all parts of a larger JSO strategy to fight old crime patterns with new technology and techniques.
ShotSpotter and NIBIN can be married to video surveillance; the goal is for a holistic, surveillance-based solution.
“Really, the sky’s the limit as far as the technology goes,” Connor said.
“Seems to me that if you’re going to catch people, marrying it to video technology” would be the move, said Councilman Bill Gulliford.
While Gulliford noted that this could be expensive, it’s worth it to save lives, he said.
Councilwoman Katrina Brown, who represents one of the areas served by the program, noted that ShotSpotter would give law enforcement tangible data that they can use to go to homes and buildings from which shots could have been fired and ask occupants questions.
Last year, Hurricane Matthew cut a swath of destruction through Duval County, just as it did the rest of the East Coast.
In Northeast Florida alone, the storm caused $1B in property damage, despite the storm having lost strength and having had the eyewall veer east as it approached Duval County, which itself took $50M of damage — much of which is in the process of FEMA reimbursement.
With an active hurricane season expected in 2017, Jacksonville policy makers are again gearing up for the worst.
Though in 2016, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry described Matthew as a “100-year storm,” the reality is that Matthew illustrated a reality for which any city government near the Eastern Seaboard must prepare.
After all, as Hurricane Andrew showed in South Florida a quarter-century ago, all it takes is one storm to cause catastrophic damage.
To that end, Jacksonville officials held a presser Thursday, promoting the need for a hurricane plan, along with the hurricane prep website (JaxReady.com).
Media that was on hand, of course, had questions also.
With talk in Jacksonville City Council months back of increasing the city’s emergency reserve from 5 percent to 6 percent of the city’s general fund budget (roughly a $12M boost of the fund), we asked Mayor Curry if there were plans to recommend that boost.
Curry said that a “management review process” was occurring now, and beyond that, “we don’t want to give any hints what the budget will look like.”
Though the process of post-Matthew recovery was largely a smooth one, with debris being cleared quickly, there were still hiccups in 2016.
JEA’s CEO was out of town as the storm beared down on Jacksonville, which created some consternation as power recovery took up to a week for some Jacksonville residents.
That and other process elements, said Curry, are being reviewed, with the goal of “minimizing” impact.
Questions emerged also about the Jacksonville Beach Pier and other storm-damaged fixtures still in the process of repair.
The city, said Curry, is continuing to work toward reimbursement, ensuring compliance with FEMA guidelines.
“Where we have direct control,” Curry said, “we move.”
“In the event of a state of emergency,” Curry added, “we have funds available in the event we need to move.”
Memorial Day weekend in Jacksonville was brutal for the expected reasons, with at least a dozen people shot and four of them killed over the holiday.
In a city where virtually every politician who ran for office in 2015 messaged on the theme of public safety, what’s clear is that there is still work to do on stopping the violence — especially given that this weekend’s gunplay took place all over the city.
In that context, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams is slated to take one of his regular “crime prevention” walks Tuesday evening, visiting one of Jacksonville’s most violence-plagued neighborhoods.
The walk, slated to take place from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m., will start and end at the intersection of West 45th Street and Dodge Road.
Other local politicians, including Duval County School Board Chair Paula Wright, will be on hand.
Through the first five months of 2017, Jacksonville has seen 56 homicides. This outpaces 2016, which saw 46 homicides through the course of the first six months of the year.
That 46 would nearly triple over the next six months, with waves of summer violence numbingly regular in Jacksonville’s struggling neighborhoods.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, in his 2015 campaign for the city’s top job, laid the blame for such violence at the feet of his predecessor, who he said cut budgets for police and for the Jacksonville Journey.
Curry claimed “murder and crime” spiked during the Brown era, with “kids dying on the street.” These problems, claimed Curry, stemmed from the Incumbent’s “inability to manage a budget”, leading to “fewer cops [and a] spike in crime and the murder rate.”
In Curry’s first two budgets, money has been allocated to hire 80 police officers and 80 more community service officers.
However, the addition of manpower has not led to an abatement in gun play.
With a long hot summer expected, one of the stories people will watch — both on the policy beat and the crime beat — will be the outbreaks in violence and the official response.
The sun rises, as we are told, every day in downtown Jacksonville.
But for the City Council class of 2011, slated for term-limits in 2019, those sunrises are beginning to fade.
Chosen Tuesday, the Council officers — who first took office in 2015 — show that the balance of power has shifted, the baton has been passed, etc.
There are theories as to why John Crescimbeni was denied the presidency.
Those who supported him blame the Chamber. Meanwhile, people on the other side say the Chamber didn’t get involved.
Whatever the case, it is now sunrise for the new class — dismissed in campaign rhetoric as “political neophytes” just two years ago.
It’s sunset for the rest.
This issue of Bold is heavy on City Council content, for good reason; namely, it was the big story this week. And it’s one that will have ramifications going forward.
Anna Brosche takes Jax Council presidency
The big news in Jacksonville this week: Finance Chair Anna Broschewinning an 11-8 Council vote to become the Council President-Designate.
Brosche will take over at the end of June.
The 11-8 vote defied partisan categories, and the decisive margin was with four African-American district Democrats who voted for the Brosche, a Republican, over the Democrat (DINO?) Crescimbeni.
If Sen. Audrey Gibson — the chair of the local Democrats — got involved in the race, it didn’t do much good, as her close political ally and protégé (Councilman Garrett Dennis) gave a speech seconding Brosche’s nomination.
The VP race, meanwhile, was no contest: Aaron Bowman had 14 votes, while opponent Scott Wilson had five … and the most heartbreaking quote.
“If I’d known they felt that way, I would have withdrawn,” Wilson said.
Jax Chamber, African-American Dems among Council Leadership race winners
We’ve assembled a breakdown of the winners and losers emerging from the Council leadership races.
We take the deepest dive you will find anywhere, looking at what really happened behind the scenes, such as the Jax Chamber and former Mayor John Peyton jumping in to bump off Brosche’s opponent, Crescimbeni (a narrative some swear by and others dispute), and the real reasons why African-American Dems jumped party lines and backed Brosche (a narrative no one disputes).
And we also take a look at the future on Council for Crescimbeni and key supporter, Republican Bill Gulliford, who is resigned to a “year in exile” given his anti-Brosche position in the leadership race.
Did they write checks that wouldn’t cash with improvidential statements? Will they smooth over the bad blood?
These existential questions — and so much more — are considered at great length in the “winners and losers” breakdown.
Al Lawson: NO to food stamp cuts
President Donald Trump is looking to achieve budget savings by cutting the food stamps program — probably a politically easier gambit than cutting agricultural subsidies. Rep. Al Lawson — who has been messaging heavily about “food deserts” and related issues — took issue in a statement this week.
“In my district, one in every four Floridians has been on food stamps at some point over the last 12 months. That is twice the national average,” Lawson noted, calling cuts of “nutrition benefits” out as “unconscionable.”
“We put hard working Floridians in the no-win position of having to choose between paying their light bill or affording healthy food. This is unacceptable,” Lawson said, and “does not align with the values of Florida’s 5th Congressional District, and therefore I intend to strongly oppose it.”
Eight ain’t enough
Give credit to Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Schellenberg for consistency. With pension reform out of the way, he is now reviving his call to remove term limits.
“It’s a detriment to the areas we represent,” he said. “When I walk out the door after eight years, I have all the knowledge and contacts …”
Schellenberg, who beat Jack Webb in Webb’s own re-election bid in 2011, doesn’t exactly have rosy things to say about his own elected officials, in whom he’s “very disappointed.”
His bet is that voters clearly don’t share such disappointment.
In the case of Schellenberg, who hasn’t ruled out a run for state House in 2018 against Rep. Jason Fischer, cynics will say he’s just looking for another government gig.
If Schellenberg gets the bill through the council, the referendum would be on the August 2018 ballot.
Reggie Gaffneydelivers for Corrine Brown
As #JaxPol waits to see whether Corrine Brown may get a new trial, a wrinkle has emerged, via an old friend — Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney.
Last week, we had the exclusive interview with Gaffney, in which he speculated that he wasn’t called as a prosecution witness because his narrative wouldn’t have been much help for the government. Days later, Brown’s lawyer — James Smith of Orlando — commented on Gaffney’s quotes.
He told Action News Jax’sJenna Bourne that Gaffney was among prosecution witnesses who were “fearful” to talk to him and that if the prosecution had exculpatory evidence, there was an “obligation” to turn it over.
Smith saved up however many objections for his inevitable motion for a new trial. Those who were in the courtroom will recall his languid approach to much of the last trial, however, and will wonder if a new trial with the same old lawyer can lead anywhere but to a conclusion that is foregone to almost everyone not invoicing the former congresswoman.
“Can you stop following me, please?”
Bourne had another interesting story last week, when the Action News Jaxreporter chased a controversial City Councilwoman around Council Chambers, asking why she didn’t show up for work.
Bourne confronted Katrina Brown with evidence of Brown’s haphazard attendance at council conclaves — a running joke among media and those in City Hall that suddenly wasn’t so funny when a determined reporter and TV camera chased Brown into the dais, into the green room, and ultimately out of the room altogether.
Brown claimed to have had another meeting at one point; when confronted again, a visibly agitated Brown turned around and asked Bourne to stop following her.
Bourne, the breakout star of the Corrine Brown trial, brought an energy to the production that others in TV didn’t match. The same holds true for Bourne’s City Hall work, in which she demonstrates the best grasp of policy of anyone on the air.
Daily’s Place on track for Saturday soft open
An amphitheater that was part of a $90M sharedcapital investment between Jacksonville and the NFL Jaguars is expected to open on schedule Saturday, reports WJXT.
Since construction began August, there have been whispers and grumbles that the process was behind schedule. That said, the facility will be substantially finished by Saturday — enough for its first events.
This will represent a turning point for the stadium complex. City officials justified the capital outlay in 2016 as keeping up with other NFL franchises with capital investment — but without the expense of a new stadium.
It’s a midmarket strategy. And while the city financing $45M gave observers heartburn, the end product likely will be easy to swallow … especially if city leaders can message quickly and aggressively about the positive economic impact from the investment.
Fidelity spinoff is Vega$ bound
Looks like not every Fidelity subsidiary/spinoff will be in Jacksonville after all, per the Jax Daily Record.
“When Fidelity spins off investment subsidiary Fidelity National Financial Ventures into a new public company called Cannae Holdings Inc., Cannae will set up shop in Las Vegas,” the Daily Record reports.
Part of that is a proximity deal: Fidelity Chairman Bill Foley owns an expansion hockey team set to lace up the skates in America’s gambling capital.
“Cannae basically will be a deal-making company, an area in which Foley has excelled, so it makes sense for the headquarters to be located in his home city,” the Daily Record report continues.
Jazz and the surveillance state
Going to the Jacksonville Jazz Festival this weekend?
Expect a little extra “vetting,” says the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
“When we ask to stop you, wand you, check your bag,” said JSO’s Leonard Propper Wednesday at a news conference at Jacksonville’s City Hall, “there’s a reason for that.”
The Jazz Festival — an outdoor event sprawling over four evenings and three days starting Thursday evening with a jazz piano competition and running through Sunday — is especially vulnerable to security holes, said Propper, as an “outdoor” event with “porous” boundaries.
“It’s going to be a wonderful experience,” Propper added. “There’s going to be a little bit of vetting going on. There’s going to be people watching, people in places observing, and every interaction that we have with somebody is based on a reason.”
“And that reason is — we engage in that consensual conversation … it’s for your safety,” Propper added, urging people to “report anything suspicious” or “creepy.”
Propper’s comments — with a specific focus on security and the inevitability of police interaction — were the unique portion of a promotional event at Jacksonville City Hall, that otherwise was not much dissimilar than other jazz festival pressers in recent years.
JTA seeks to expand regional transportation options
The Jacksonville Transportation Authority is looking at broadening options throughout the region with an autonomous Skyway monorail system, a multimodal transportation hub, adding bus lines and more.
At the JTA State of Authority luncheon this week, CEO Nathaniel Ford announced plans for improvements to Jacksonville’s public transportation systems, beginning with the Ultimate Urban Circulation project.
WJCT reports that the U2C project goals are to modernize and expand the Skyway monorail system, and include autonomous transit technology. Expansion will expand on both sides of the St. Johns River.
“We envision an east-west connection on the north bank from Five Points to the Sports Complex, a connection to San Marco, the Baptist MD Anderson Complex and the planned district development, the Springfield neighborhood with future connectivity to UF Health and the (Jacksonville Veterans Affairs Hospital),” Ford told the audience.
Upgrades to the Skyway is currently underway, including repairing cars, rebranding vehicles and remodeling stations. Public art will be installed along 17 columns in the Skyway system, as well as plans for a U2C bike and pedestrian bridge.
After that, JTA will begin developing an autonomous vehicle project, which Ford said was “critical” to deliver quickly for the citizens of Jacksonville.
The JTA is also planning a new Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center hub in Lavilla, which can accommodate the First Coast Flyer, JTA buses, Skyway trams, taxis, Uber and Greyhound buses.
“We’re very excited about what this brings in terms of transportation infrastructure to Jacksonville,” Ford added.
JAXPORT deepening project gets $17.5M in federal funding
The Jacksonville Port Authority is one step closer to a project to deepen the shipping channel in the St. Johns River, with a commitment of $17.5 million in federal funds for the upcoming fiscal year.
The Jacksonville Business Journal reports that the Army Corps of Engineers’ civil work program construction work plan includes the money to “initiate construction of the deep draft navigation improvements at Jacksonville Harbor.”
While the announced amount is only a small part of the estimated $700 million price tag on the entire project, the money represents a significant milestone, the first time Washington has committed any funds deepen the port.
“We’ve crossed the goal line on this one,” interim JAXPORT CEO Eric Green told the Journal. “The entire conversation now has changed.”
Florida has committed $238.3 million to the work plan, as well as $3.2 million for beach nourishment in Nassau County and $3.3 million for nourishment in St. Johns County.
Senior side stays within striking distance of NASL crown with Armada’s San Franciscowin
The Jacksonville Armada FC came away with an impressive 3-0 victory and three crucial points in San Francisco against the Deltas Friday, May 19.
“It obviously feels good to get the victory,” said Armada FC head coach Mark Lowry. “San Francisco is a top team. They’re high up in the league for a reason.”
Kartik Krishnaiyer reports that Zach Steinberger scored twice for the Armada and was rewarded for his efforts by being named NASL Player of the Week. It was the third time in the Midfielder’s career he has earned the league’s top weekly honor.
“Zach Steinberger is a top player,” said Lowry. “I’ve said it all along. I think he’s one of the top players in the league and I’ll say it every day. Now you are finally starting to see what he can do.”
In minute 27, the Armada FC took the lead with the first goal by Zach Steinberger and never looked back. Defender Drew Beckie sent Steinberger a cross from the right wing that the Armada man headed past Romuald Peiser the San Francisco goalkeeper. This came after a period to open the match where San Francisco clearly appeared the better side.
A second headed goal from Steinberger, following a cross from Jemal Johnson, came in the 45th minute. The goal coming right before halftime was a devastating blow to the Delta’s hopes for a comeback.
Steinberger’s brace puts him in a tie for the top goal scorer in the NASL.
Second half substitute Derek Gebhard netted the third for the Armada FC in minute 73. Gebhard has checked into the match just one minute earlier after subbing in for Jonathan Glenn. Steinberger had the assist with a through ball.
“I thought we played well,” said Lowry. “We created a lot of chances and we took them at the right times. That made a difference.”
Goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell recorded his fourth clean sheet of the season and had three crucial saves. The win kept Jacksonville in second place in the NASL Spring Season standings.
Armada U-23 win, move with three points of conference leader
The Jacksonville Armada U-23 team moved to within three points of the NPSL Sunshine Conference lead with a 3-0 win in Naples Saturday. The two teams played to the same scoreline a week earlier at Patton Park in Jacksonville. Jesus Coleman opened the scoring in minute 27 for the Armada. The physical encounter saw eight bookings. Naples stayed competitive in the match until an 82nd-minute goal by Jacksonville’s Andrey Rosales. The Armada got a third behind second half substitute Chandler Castleman in stoppage time.
On Tuesday night, the Jacksonville City Council passed a trio of bills designed to close the books on a conflict between neighborhood activists in Springfield, disability rights groups, and ultimately, the federal Department of Justice.
Two Jacksonville City Council bills (2017-68 and 2017-69) closed the book on an issue that first emerged during the Alvin Brown administration.
To recap: in 2014, Ability Housing set out to renovate an apartment building in Springfield to create 12 units of housing for the chronically homeless and disabled.
The planning director balked, likening the proposed use to that of an assisted living facility. Soon thereafter, the Department of Justice, Disability Florida, and Ability Housing sued.
The proposed settlement ensures that the city not discriminate via zoning against those with disabilities, including via so-called zoning “overlays” such as Springfield and other neighborhoods have, and allows Ability Housing to become eligible for Jacksonville Journey funding again.
Ability Housing and Disability Rights Florida will receive $400,000 and $25,000 respectively per the settlement. Jacksonville also will be required to grant $1.5 million for the development of permanent supportive housing for people with disabilities, after a competitive grant process including Ability Housing.
A rewrite of a related zoning bill, 2017-36, passed by a 16-3 margin, along with the two aforementioned bills Tuesday evening.
Per the bill summary: “As it pertains to the City Zoning Code, language will be revised to provide, among other things, for such reasonable accommodation requests to be considered as a request for an administrative deviation, identify a permanent supportive housing use and define the term ‘supportive services’, and to authorize group care homes and residential treatment facilities by exception in Springfield.”
The ongoing Corrine Brown drama pushed our legislative roundup back a week — but given the drama that ensued this week regarding what the Duval Delegation accomplished, that’s just as well.
Boils down to this: the legislators think they brought home the bacon, and some in City Hall believe that they brought home crumbs.
As you will see below, the drama came to a head Tuesday, when a Jacksonville City Councilman published a letter in the Times-Union dripping with delegation disses … just before doing an event with Gov. Rick Scott with delegation members who contend otherwise … and told us their thoughts on the councilman’s comments.
We have that in here, and more, along with deep-dive interviews with most delegation members and a few other notable stories …
NE FL Delegation finds money for local asks
The indispensable Tia Mitchell went through Northeast Florida Legislative Session asks in the Florida Times-Union and found some success — especially given that most delegation members were new to Tallahassee and The Process.
Of 37 projects with asks of over $1M, locals got some money for 22 of them.
“In my mind, we are just getting started based on the leadership and potential of our delegation,” said Rep. Travis Cummings, a Clay County legislator who carried one Jacksonville bill successfully in 2016 (the state legislation allowing for a pension reform referendum), and got spiked this session on a $15M request for state money for Jacksonville septic tank removal.
There is room for pessimism, even in Mitchell’s breakdown: many of the requests may have gotten some money … but not everything they wanted.
St. Johns River State College Palatka campus renovations, sponsored by Rep. Bobby Payne, got just $4M of a $16.1M ask.
And the North Florida School of Special Education expansion project, sponsored by Cummings, got just a quarter of a $2M ask.
Still … it’s a start.
Matt Schellenberg says Duval Delegation brought home ‘crumbs’
Jacksonville City Councilman Schellenberg went on the record to grouse about the Duval Delegation — a favorite off-record game among some in Jacksonville’s City Hall.
Smart move? The jury is out. Schellenberg — the city’s representative to the Florida League of Cities and Florida Association of Counties — got pilloried by two State Senators (Audrey Gibson and Aaron Bean) that he lobbied in Tallahassee.
Mayor Lenny Curry also rejected the premise that the delegation isn’t getting the job done.
And Rep. Jason Fischer — who Schellenberg called out in an interview for leaving the School Board early in 2016 to jump to the state House — likewise pushed back.
Schellenberg wouldn’t rule out a 2018 primary challenge to Fischer when we talked to him, setting the stage for a rare contested primary in NE Florida.
However, Fischer would be the one with every advantage: the mayor’s backing; the mayor’s political team; and money coming in from political committees hither and yon.
With many measures making it to the final budget, the Governor’s veto pen serves as their primary impediment.
Bean pointed to “little bills” with big impact and a “huge pass rate … underneath the radar screen,” such as a push for the shared use of school playgrounds, the ‘keys to independence’ bill helping foster kids drive, the ‘disaster prep tax holiday,’ and others.
A big bill with impact, meanwhile: SB 476, a bill Sen. Bean filed at the request of Gov. Scott, which amends and expands existing statute regarding terrorism.
The bill creates a more expansive definition of “terrorism” and “terrorist activities” in the wake of the Pulse massacre in June.
Additionally, the measure explicitly prohibits “using, attempting to use or conspiring to use” training from a “designated foreign terrorist organization.”
Session ‘best ever,’ enthuses Aaron Bean
Bean noted that this was, perhaps, the “best ever … one of the most successful” sessions of the 13 he’s been involved.
Bean pointed to local approps wins, including money for ShotSpotter and the state match on the COPS Grant from the feds, which will allow Jacksonville to hire more police officers.
“We had one of the best sessions in history,” Bean said.
Among Bean’s accomplishments: Neptune Beach can look forward to $400,000 for stormwater culvert improvements on Florida Boulevard: Bean and Rep. Cord Byrd (who seems to be moving into the House Leadership discussion, based on scuttlebutt) put in the work there.
$5M of that is recurring, ensuring that the project to replenish the lakes may happen at long last.
“People have been talking about restoring the Keystone lakes for as long as I can remember, but nothing ever happened. We finally have a plan and the financing to implement it,” Bradley asserted.
Bradley carried one of the most important and controversial bills of the session: SB 10, which allowed for the building of reservoirs to shore up Lake Okeechobee. That, of course, was a priority of Senate President Joe Negron.
“It was a year for bold action in the environmental policy arena. The president and I worked together. I managed his audacious Everglades bill, and he supported our audacious plan to fix the Keystone lakes. There’s a reason why both of those projects had never been done: they are expensive and require a ton of political capital. This year, the stars aligned and both happened,” Bradley added.
Clay Yarborough talks rookie year
Yarborough, a former Jacksonville City Council President, appraised the Legislative Session as a win for Jacksonville.
“Glad we could get some things for Jacksonville,” Yarborough said.
Indeed, Yarborough himself brought home the bacon, with two priority projects: $1.1M from the State Transportation Trust Fund is provided for the installation of pedestrian signals, refuge islands, sidewalks and street lighting and $1.231M for Crosswalk Countdown Traffic Signal Heads Installation.
We asked Yarborough — one of the most concise quotes in local politics — for what he saw as his biggest accomplishment and the biggest surprise of the session.
“Biggest accomplishment: Working with Sen. Travis Hutson to tighten the law on sexual predators (HB 327/SB 336). Biggest surprise: How fast things can move at the end of the session.”
Tracie Davis talks Dozier apology, relationship building
Rep. Davis was the least likely member of the Northeast Florida Delegation to be in Tallahassee. That said, despite Davis’ unlikely arrival in the House, she was characteristically reflective as to the value of the experience that almost didn’t happen.
Davis described her first Legislative Session as being “significant and exciting to be honest … specifically being a freshman in the minority party.”
The bill with the most emotional resonance for Davis “the FL House apology (HR 1335) to the men that suffered at Dozier and Okeechobee reform schools,” which “will always reign supreme for” Davis.
“So honored and grateful to have played a leading role with Sen. [Darryl] Rouson and Speaker [Richard] Corcoran then to have all of my colleagues unanimously support and participate with the apology that day was emotional and phenomenal,” Davis asserted.
Davis, despite being a Democrat in a GOP town, feels she has room to maneuver — and collegiality creates that room.
“I felt that building relationships with my colleagues across the aisle was going to be key for any success. The surprise for me was that those relationships happened easily … The relationship building helped me develop friendships, share perspectives, and get bills moving the House (which is not an easy task).”
Jason Fischer extols ‘balanced budget’
When asked to evaluate the Session, Fischer — who has been talked about as a potential Speaker down the road — had a more holistic read than some.
“We gave our citizens much-deserved property tax relief and a balanced budget,” Fischer told FloridaPolitics.com. “Families work hard for their money; Government should take less and do more!”
Fischer has some specific appropriations accomplishments: $350,000 for the LaSalle Pump Station project.
And $250,000 for a driverless shuttle program that will go to Baptist Health.
The money will go for a local deployment of the Olli minibus, a Local Motors vehicle made in part with 3D printing and powered by IBM Watson technology.
Fischer extolled the Duval Delegation, saying the group “worked together really well,” was “very cohesive,” and focused on “doing what’s best for Jacksonville.
One of the stories worth watching this year: will DeSantis run for Florida Governor?
Conversations DeSantis is having about the race are the kind of stakeholder talks one would expect in the pre-candidacy phase — “open” conversations with local, state and national figures.
Those conversations reveal a “real hesitation about Adam Putnam,” we are told.
DeSantis has a lot of positives: fundraising prowess; a place in the Fox News Channel guest rotation; youth and eloquence.
Despite representing an area to the south of Jacksonville, his roots are deep locally: wife Casey DeSantis has been on-air talent on local television in this market for years now.
Northeast Florida has wanted a House Speaker for a while. But — ironically enough — the Governor’s Office is probably more within reach … should DeSantis decide to run, a campaign that would launch late in the summer.
Adam Putnam brings roadshow to Jax Beach
We were the only outlet in the room when Putnam made his play for Jax Beach voters.
Results were mixed.
Putnam served up the material that had been heard statewide, a pitch of Florida exceptionalism and requisite haranguing of “bureaucrats.”
But when it came to specifics of local interest, Putnam didn’t offer much, opting instead for shopworn hokum.
He mentioned JAXPORT, Mayport and “the river.” Great.
But for those who might want an actual Northeast Florida candidate, it’s unclear if Putnam delivered — or can deliver — enough to stop some donor class dithering.
Moody’s dings Jax pension reform
Jacksonville got its pension reform package through, yet bond rating agency Moody’sasserts that it’s not all peaches and crème.
The write-up boils down to six words: “buy now, pay later, assume risks.”
The biggest poison-pen moment: “Jacksonville’s reliance on future revenues, rather than current contributions, to address its pension underfunding will continue to negatively impact our key credit metrics related to its pensions … because we do not consider future revenues as pension assets — while city contributions are going to be reduced.”
Policy makers considered these risks, as the discussion got less heady and more sober as the final vote approached. The defined contribution reforms and the one-half cent sales tax are correctly seen as “tools in the toolbox.” Not panaceas.
Still, it’s reasonable to conclude Jacksonville may already be at its ceiling regarding bond ratings, if Moody’s report is any indication.
Dick Kravitztalks SOE gig
Former Jacksonville City Councilman and State Legislator Kravitz may have gotten spiked in his run last year for State House. However, Kravitz is still on the public payroll, as the Jax Daily Record reports, working for the Duval County Supervisor of Elections under old friend Mike Hogan.
Part of his role: helping with lobbying efforts in Tallahassee.
“There are some people in the Senate that I served in the House with for eight years. It’s about personal relations, so it’s easy to get appointments, and there’s a lot of trust among us,” Kravitz said. “I tried to add to what the paid lobbyists were doing and help out a little to promote some of the bills.”
With session wrapped, Kravitz is helping run student elections at local schools. No word on whether or not he is debriefing them on the dark arts of robocalls and shadowy consultants.
Appointed — David “Hunt” Hawkins and Thomas “Mac” McGehee to the Florida State College at Jacksonville District board of trustees.
Questions arise over health of CSX CEO Hunter Harrison
Ahead of next month’s CSX shareholder vote on his compensation, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the 72-year-old Harrison often works from home and occasionally uses oxygen because of an undisclosed health issue
Harrison told reporters that doctors cleared him to work, and he believes he can lead the turnaround he began in March at CSX.
“I’m having a ball, and I’m running on so much adrenaline that no one can stop me,” Harrison told the WSJ. “Don’t judge me by my medical record, judge me by my performance.”
CSX Executive Vice President Frank Lonegro said Harrison remains fully engaged. Lonegro spoke at a Bank of America Merril Lynch conference, and he said using oxygen hasn’t slowed Harrison.
“I’ve gotten a dose of leadership from him while he had supplemental oxygen. I’ve had a dose of leadership from him when he hasn’t had supplemental oxygen and they were equally as blunt and equally as effective,” Lonegro said. “So, no question about who’s in charge and no question about how engaged he is.”
CSX shareholders will vote early next month on whether the Jacksonville-based railroad should pay the $84 million in compensation Harrison forfeited when he left Canadian Pacific railroad earlier than planned. Harrison has said he will resign if the compensation isn’t approved.
Jacksonville Zoo Endangered Species Day
Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens is celebrating the 12th annual Endangered Species Day, free with Zoo admission, including school groups. Events include extra keeper chats with special collector cards. Collect all 10!
Keeper chat times:
— Penguin Feeding/Chat — 11 a.m. & 3 p.m. at the Penguin exhibit in Play Park (African Penguin card).
— Gorilla Chat — 12 p.m. & 3:30 p.m. at the gorilla exhibit in the Great Apes loop (Gorilla card).
— Manatee Chat — 10 a.m. & 12 p.m. at the Manatee Critical Care Center in Wild Florida (Vaquita card).
— Whooping Crane Feeding/Chat — 11 a.m. & 2 p.m. at the Whooping Crane exhibit in Wild Florida (Whooping Crane card).
— Wild Florida Chat — Times TBD at the Wild Florida Pavilion in Wild Florida (Western Pond Turtle, Sea Turtle cards).
— African Plains — 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. at the Africa Boardwalk near Main Camp Train Station (Black Rhino and Cheetah cards).
— Elephant Chat — 12:30 p.m. at Elephant Plaza on the African Boardwalk (Asian Elephant card).
— Stingray Chat — Times TBD at Stingray Bay (Sharks card).
Armada lose to Tampa Bay Rowdies 3-0 in St. Petersburg
The Tampa Bay Rowdies cruised into the Third Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with a 3-0 win over the Jacksonville Armada U23s at Al Lang Stadium Tuesday night.
The Open Cup is a knockout tournament featuring teams from all levels of the American soccer system, including qualifying amateur clubs.
Kyle Porter, Alex Morrell and Martin Paterson scored the goals for Tampa Bay as the Rowdies moved on in the competition.
“I thought it was a really, really professional performance by the team,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “We went out and got the job done, which was to win the game and get into the next round. … The game is done and dusted, and we have games coming up in the league, so we’ll shift our focus to that now.”
Playing an opponent from the fourth-tier NPSL, the Rowdies didn’t have to wait long to claim a lead.
With the ball at his feet on the right sideline, Porter spotted Jacksonville goalkeeper Juan Fajardo off his line and took an audacious shot that Fajardo got a touch to, but couldn’t keep from going over the line for a 1-0 Rowdies lead in just the third minute.
Up a goal, the Rowdies dominated the remainder of the first half but didn’t double their lead until the 43rd minute when Morrell stole the ball off an Armada U23 defender and raced toward goal before beating Fajardo from a sharp angle for a 2-0 lead.
“Luckily, the guy had a bad pass, and I picked it off,” Morrell said. “I made the most out of it and scored on my old keeper from college. That was nice.”
Paterson finished the scoring in the 68th minute, tapping in a low cross from Darwin Jones for his second goal of the season in all competitions.
The result was never really in doubt, particularly after Jacksonville was reduced to 10 men in the 62nd minute when Dener Dos Santos was shown a red card. The Rowdies took six shots on target and didn’t allow one from Jacksonville.
It was Tampa Bay’s seventh clean sheet in 10 matches in all competitions.
Jacksonville University Golf earns 1st NCAA Championship berth thru playoff
Before this season, Jacksonville had never qualified for the NCAA Championship in men’s golf. That changed this week as the Dolphins defeated Northwestern in a playoff to grab the fifth and final NCAA Championship berth out of the NCAA Baton Rouge (Louisiana) Regional.
Golfweek reports that after Jacksonville and Northwestern had finished at 19 over, the Dolphins, which carded the final round of the day (1-over 289), and Wildcats each shot two over using a play-five-count-four format on the par-4 18th hole.
The teams then moved on to the par-4 10th hole. Jacksonville’s first three players combined to go one over while Northwestern’s two players in the first group went one over. In the second group, Jacksonville’s two players shot even par and Northwestern, which had a player hit a drive out of bounds, conceded defeat.
Jacksonville began the day in seventh place and didn’t get off to a fast start on the back nine. However, the Dolphins’ four counting players combined to shoot two under on the front nine. Raul Pereda birdied Nos. 4-7 as part of a 1-over 73. Davis Wicks’ closing 71 led the team.
The real impact of Chinese imports on American factories has been discussed to death. But if you look closely, you can find a counter-narrative emerging.
One example of that was demonstrated in Northwest Jacksonville Thursday afternoon, where Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and other local dignitaries came together for the grand opening of a 121,000 square foot stainless steel Hans-Mill garbage can factory.
A vital business in an area of town that needs them; an initiative made possible by Wal-Mart, which has committed to buy $250M of American products over the next ten years.
Garbage cans from Jacksonville — and not China — will be part of that narrative. And at least 50 new jobs will be created. All of that with local incentives. And five of those jobs are to be for Northwest Jacksonville residents.
James Han, the CEO of the manufacturer Hans-Mill, said that Jacksonville was “the right location … the total package” for the manufacturing of these cans.
His company makes 750 items worldwide, and hopes to bring more production stateside, to decrease the company’s “carbon footprint” and take advantage of local sourcing.
This plays into Wal-Mart’s strategy, which prioritizes local sourcing — and has a time element, said Cindi Marsiglio, VP of U.S. Manufacturing.
“Go fast, go big,” was her summation of Wal-Mart’s rapid-fire ramp-up of domestic production.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, meanwhile, said “Jacksonville continues to roll” and “we’re going to continue to roll.”
“This today is big,” Curry said. “We’ve had a number of local expansions … companies move into Jacksonville for the first time.”
“This has been in process for a period of time. This is a big deal,” Curry said.
Despite uncertainty regarding the future of economic incentives on the state level, JAXUSA — an arm of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce — has brought in 2,000 jobs this year to date.
While Curry noted the importance of state dollars, he said the city is going to fight for jobs regardless.
“Clearly, they’re important. But if it doesn’t go the way we’d like it to go … Jacksonville’s not going to lay down and cry and moan. We’re going to find a way to have a competitive advantage and compete for jobs,” Curry added.
“There’s always incentives available,” Curry said about the city, if they conform with the “scorecard” model Jacksonville uses to determine ROI.
“We can figure out how to get there,” Curry added, “often.”
Of course, it’s not just incentives that make the sale, said Tim Cost, President of the JAXUSA partnership.
Collaboration between political leaders and the “incredibly cooperative” business community help with making the sale to businesses relocating, Cost added.