Jacksonville Archives - Page 7 of 77 - Florida Politics

Jacksonville Bold for 5.25.18 — Game theory

We’ve reached the point in the primary cycle where, by now, campaign groundwork and infrastructure should be well underway.

Bold is offering evidence of that proposition.

Smart candidates are bringing out the big endorsements, and less seasoned candidates making career-killing gaffes.

The operatives are talking. If our Jacksonville correspondent isn’t typing, odds are good he is fielding a call from one or another.

Sometimes, what they say may even be true.

For those who have been reading Florida Politics in the Jacksonville market since 2014, what’s clear is that we much of the work — explaining why someone is winning (or losing).

Moments have predictive value. Trends emerge from specific phenomena. And the savvy players, whether donors, consultants, pols or endorsers are making rational transactional decisions.

Some like to sentimentalize politics. But they are soon disappointed when it is revealed (yet again) that the business is a discipline — and well-organized people, and operations, tend to do the best business.

Scott trumpets yet another record low crime rate

Tuesday morning, Gov. Rick Scott was in Jacksonville with what his office called a “major announcement” on “Florida’s safe communities” and the 2017 FDLE Crime Report.

Rick Scott, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, Mayor Lenny Curry talk crime-fighting.

Crime rates have decreased during the Scott era (from a 40 year low to a 46 year low and now, a 47 year low), and his trumpeting of the statistical decreases have become a yearly tradition, which allows the outgoing Governor and current Senate candidate to spotlight budget allocations for public safety measures.

“This year, our budget invested more than $5.2 billion in public safety, a more than $300 million increase over last year,” Scott said. “This investment includes $22.8 million to pay increases for state sworn law enforcement officers, which includes the 5 percent raise I signed last year.”

Scott also trumpeted a 10 percent raise for juvenile probation officers and increased funding for prevention programs for at-risk youth.

“As our economy continues to grow,” Scott said, “we continue to invest more money in law enforcement. These investments are clearly working. Crime in our state is at a 47-year low.”

“The crime rate dropped by 6 percent in 2017, including a reduction in violent crime of 3 percent,” Scott said.

Scott spotlighted several officers who died since mid-April, including Officer Lance Whitaker of Jacksonville, asking for a moment of silence in commemoration.

Scott was accompanied by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams, who spotlighted local efforts, including hiring more police officers and a 36 percent decrease in nonfatal shootings in Q1 2018.

Graham returns to Jacksonville

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Gwen Graham found herself on familiar turf Monday evening, addressing the monthly meeting of the Duval Democratic Party.

Gwen Graham works the crowd in Jacksonville Monday.

In Jacksonville, Graham — once seen as a prohibitive front-runner for the nomination — made at least one “comeback kid” posture, noting that in her 2014 race for Congress, some political reporters bet against her and others said she couldn’t win.

Graham also noted her commitment to progressive ideals in the remarks, including education, public option for health care, and gun control measures, before saying that “these things don’t matter if you can’t win.”

Graham espoused a commitment to the “67 county strategy,” a phrase also used by opponent Philip Levine. While a candidate has to do well in South Florida and the I-4 Corridor, “elections are won or lost north of Orlando.”

And Graham insisted that went beyond just Jacksonville, noting that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton “did well in Duval but got beaten badly west of here,” by way of making the case that the key is to “not get beaten so badly in places where Democrats have lost in the past.”

“Look at the data, and you will see: the reality is you have to do well everywhere,” Graham added. “You can’t write off any part of the state and think there’s a path to victory.”

Curry backs Waltz in CD 6

A major regional endorsement from Mayor Curry went to Mike Waltz Monday in the three-way GOP primary in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

The machine comes through again. [Photo: Jax Daily Record]

Curry and Waltz share some of the same political advisers; judging from the quotes of mutual admiration, there is ideological affinity as well.

“Michael Waltz is a leader and a warrior with a servant’s heart,” Curry said.

“From the battlefield to the halls of power, Mike has already demonstrated a deep reverence for the Constitution and a willingness to fight for the conservative values we share. Washington needs people who instead of saying what they want to do will simply get things done. Florida needs more conservative voices in Congress, and that’s why I am proud to endorse and support Michael Waltz for Congress,” Curry asserted.

“Mayor Lenny Curry is a true leader, visionary and champion for real conservative reform,” said Michael Waltz. “He has worked tirelessly to enact a positive conservative agenda with real results for the people of Northeast Florida. I am humbled by Mayor Curry’s support and look forward to working together in the months ahead.”

The GOP race in CD-6, where candidates vie to replace outgoing Rep. Ron DeSantis, has been an interesting one, with Waltz and John Ward both raising serious money for what will be an expensive primary straddling three media markets (Jacksonville, Daytona and Orlando).

Ward: Puerto Ricans shouldn’t vote here

John Ward, a Republican running to succeed DeSantis in CD 6, looks to have made the biggest gaffe of his political career recently.

John Ward’s comments drew fire from inside and outside his party.

According to Fox News, Ward asserted that displaced Puerto Ricans shouldn’t be allowed to vote in Florida.

“I don’t think they should be allowed to register to vote,” Ward said, given that “the Democrat Party is really hoping that they can change the voting registers in a lot of counties and districts, and I don’t think they should be allowed to do that,” Ward said at an April forum.

Instead, Ward added that Puerto Ricans “belong” in Puerto Rico.

Per the Orlando Sentinel, likely Democratic nominee Nancy Soderberg blasted the comments:

“Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States, plain and simple, and every bit as American as John Ward,” Soderberg said in a statement. “Every American citizen, regardless of where they come from, deserve a vote.”

DeSantis — who took issue with Ward filing for the seat before he was officially running for Governor — blasted his would-be replacement via POLITICO, saying the comments were “beyond the pale.”

Gibson investigates ‘problem spa’

Per Action News Jax, Sen. Audrey Gibson investigated a “problem spa” on Jacksonville’s Southside late last week.

When she walked up to the building, Gibson’s reaction: “Who the hell would want to come here for a massage? It’s seedy!”

Audrey Gibson and reporter Tenikka Hughes (above) investigated a seedy spa late last week.

Gibson and reporter Tenikka Hughes had an interesting dialogue with spa staff, which we include below.

Gibson: “Do you know there’s been illegal activity at this place? Did you know about that?”

Worker: “I don’t know.”

Hughes: “You see, it says sweet, young Asian girls. None of these girls work here?”

Worker: “No, no, no.”

Hughes: “Did you know it was being advertised like this?”

Worker: “I don’t know. That’s the first time I saw.”

Gibson: “Can we come in and see your massage rooms?”

Worker: “No.”

Doubts of Gibson permeate Senate Dem caucus

Two new political committees speak to doubts about the way forward for Senate Democrats, for which Sen. Gibson is Leader-Designate.

Audrey Gibson. (Image via Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

This is the “latest, most indelible sign of a growing rift within the caucus and yet the divide may be improving the minority party’s chances of retaking the chamber.”

“In late April, Friends of Kevin Rader PC was established by David Ramba, a prominent Tallahassee lobbyist who administers dozens of political committees on behalf of a broad range of political clients. Also recently formed was Future Democratic Majority PC and, in addition to Rader, involves Sens. Randolph BracyLauren Book from Plantation, Linda Stewart from Orlando, Bobby Powell from West Palm Beach, and Darryl Rouson from St. Petersburg.”

Per one consultant: “It’s about a crisis of confidence in Audrey (Gibson) and a fear of what the caucus might become if Gary Farmer is eventually given the reins.”

Gibson faces a primary challenge from Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown. What’s clear, however, is that the issues around the state are at least worthy of monitoring for the incumbent.

Expect big money for Hutson committee

Sen. Travis Hutson was this week supported at a fundraising reception for his First Coast Business Foundation, and Curry was the special guest at an event heavy on names of prominent politicos, donors and lobbyists.

Travis Hutson is consolidating regional support, which will allow him to reach out statewide.

Event chairs included Marty Fiorentino, former Congressional candidate Hans Tanzler (endorsed by Hutson in 2016), JEA Board member Husein Cumber, Jaguars’ lobbyist and all-around problem solver Paul Harden, and bestbet’s Jamie Shelton.

Among the standout names on the host committee: charter school impresario Gary Chartrand and the Jax Chamber mainstay Daniel Davis.

A similar group of players came together last year for a fundraiser in support of future House Speaker Paul Renner, whose political committee had a $261,000 month because of it.

Hutson is pursuing the Senate presidency in 2022, and fundraisers like this for his political committees will fuel the work to secure support for his bid.

In April, his Sunshine State Conservatives political committee got a boost reflective of similar support from different players.

The committee brought in $155,000 in April, with much of that money coming from other committees.

Firefighters back Polson in HD 15

Democrat Tracye Polson is still waiting to find out which of three Republicans will emerge from the August primary to face her in the House District 15 race.

Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters head Randy Wyse addresses a crowd downtown.

But she doesn’t have to wait any longer for the endorsement of one of Jacksonville’s most influential public-sector unions.

The Jacksonville Association of Firefighters gave its imprimatur to Polson, meaning that no matter what happens in the GOP battle, she can count on union backing.

“I am humbled to have earned the support of the men and women of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters. This endorsement is particularly meaningful to me. As a licensed mental health professional, I’ve spent many years treating victims of trauma and I know the critical impact first responders have when they arrive on the scene of fire and medical emergencies. District 15 continues to battle the opioid epidemic, having two ZIP codes with the highest rate of overdoses in the city,” said Polson.

“Furthermore, because of the stressors first responders are exposed to every day, they have increased rates of PTSD and suicide. And this impacts their loved ones and our entire community, too. I will be a staunch advocate for them and their families,” Polson added.

The local Fraternal Order of Police had previously endorsed Polson, giving her a public safety sweep.

Bowman, Wilson take Jacksonville City Council helm

The top job starting July 1 in the Jacksonville City Council will go to current Vice President Aaron Bowman, elected President-Designate Tuesday.

Aaron Bowman and Scott Wilson will lead the Council starting July 1.

There was little surprise: Weeks prior, Bowman had 13 of the 19 councilors pledging support.

Bowman, a VP for the Jacksonville Chamber‘s business recruitment wing JAXUSA Partnership, will represent a break from the chaotic, parlous dynamic between current President Anna Lopez Brosche and Mayor Curry.

Republican Scott Wilson took the VP spot — notable because he entered Tuesday with no pledges and overcame intense lobbying from the head of the Republican Party of Duval County for his opponent, Danny Becton.

BBQ botch

Earlier this month, the city filed suit against Councilwoman Katrina Brown, a first-term Democratic member of the Council’s Finance Committee, for breach of guaranty, relative to a defaulted loan of $380,000 to the Browns’ family business, CoWealth LLC. [COJ v Katrina Brown]

Questions remain about Katrina Brown’s political future after a city lawsuit was filed against her.

CoWealth defaulted on the loan after Jan. 1, 2017, per the filing, which noted that the city is owed over $346,000 in principal, in addition to interest, late charges and so forth.

The city has retained Burr and Forman LLP to represent its interests.

To recap, the city fronted CoWealth $380,000 of loans from the city of Jacksonville and $220,000 of grants in 2011 to build a BBQ sauce plant in Northwest Jacksonville. The grant money was conditional on the company creating 56 permanent jobs, but none were created.

The city won a default judgment against the businesses, but that was effectively worthless. Brown’s parents, including her mother who ran the businesses, filed for bankruptcy months ago.

This news is ill-timed for Councilwoman Brown, who has drawn no fewer than seven challengers for her District 8 seat.

Brown will stay on the Council, she said Tuesday, and will continue her run for re-election.

Another one bites the dust

Jacksonville’s latest Inspector General, James Hoffman, took all of six sentences in a terse resignation letter late Friday to end his twelve-month tenure.

James Hoffman. (Image via Jacksonville Daily Record)

Hoffman is the second permanent inspector general to leave the role in recent years, and the second one to last a year or less.

“I would like to thank you for the trust placed in me to lead the Office of Inspector General. The last 12 months have been personally and professionally rewarding. I have enjoyed learning and working in the consolidated government. I have been inspired by the professionals within the Office working tirelessly every day to make our government more effective and efficient. However, for personal and professional reasons, I resign as the Inspector General for the City of Jacksonville,” Hoffman wrote.

The resignation will be effective June 8.

Back in 2016, Thomas Cline left the position, after less than a year. Steve Rohan, a former city lawyer, also served on an interim basis in between the two permanent hires.

It took the Inspector General Selection and Retention Committee roughly that long to secure Hoffman as a permanent replacement.

Jacksonville City Council members, including the president of the body and the body’s chief advocate for an IG position, didn’t see the departure coming.

Land Trust honored for fort preservation

The North Florida Land Trust was recognized recently with the 2018 Florida Preservation Organizational Achievement award for the work they did to acquire and preserve the 1898 Spanish-American War Fort.

The property had been purchased at a tax deed sale, and the buyer had considered demolition. However, a combination of $162,500 in city funds, a $100,000 donation from the Delores Barr Weaver fund, and other support combined to meet the $400,000 purchase price.

NFLT brings home the hardware.

Per a media release: “NFLT was chosen for the Florida Trust’s Preservation Award in the organizational achievement category for the capital campaign they led to preserve the 1898 Spanish-American War Fort. NFLT partnered with the National Park Service in 2015 to serve as the acquisition and fundraising partner to save the fort. They negotiated with the landowner who had acquired the property at a tax deed sale and had planned to destroy the fort to build a house. The staff then set out on a yearlong capital campaign to raise the money needed to purchase the property and save the fort.”

“This is an example of what a community can achieve when we work together to save an important part of our state’s history,” said Jim McCarthy, president of NFLT. “When we took this on in 2015, it was the largest capital campaign our organization had ever undertaken in its 16-year history. Our then small staff of six worked very hard to achieve our goal to save the fort. With help from the City of Jacksonville, the Delores Barr Weaver Fund and many in the community who contributed to the campaign, we were able to raise the money needed to purchase this property and save a piece of Jacksonville history.”

The National Park Service will be the ultimate custodians of the fort.

Tim Nolan takes helm of TOTE

Per media release: Tim Nolan has been named the next President and CEO of TOTE Inc., the parent company to TOTE Maritime and TOTE Services.

Tim Nolan, current President of TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, will take over July 16.

“I am honored and excited to step into this new leadership role with TOTE,” commented Nolan. “The TOTE team is an exemplary group of people and I am confident that together we will make this a successful transition. I look forward to working closely with customers, vendors and key stakeholders as well as all of the TOTE companies.”

TOTE’s corporate headquarters is moving to Jacksonville, where both TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico and TOTE Services are currently based.

Nolan will key in on selecting his replacement in his previous role: the next president for TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico.

Art attack

WJCT reports that Jacksonville’s decision to sell “Iva,” a painting by Joan Mitchell that had not been displayed in a decade, will mean big profits for city coffers.

“Leaders in the arts community now have $2.8 million in their pockets, thanks to the auction seller’s fees being waived by Christie’s grant of a 104 percent return.”

“Iva” by Joan Mitchell.

The money will be split 50/50 by the city and its Museum of Contemporary Art.

The city’s share will go toward its Arts in Public Places program, which has $700,000 in unmet maintenance needs.

Black Creek land deals cut

The state has acquired the land needed for a project to pump water out of Black Creek and into aquifers at Keystone Heights, reports the Florida Times-Union.

The Black Creek project is expected to replenish area lakes, such as in Keystone Heights.

“The project calls for using Black Creek — which floods frequently — as an alternative water supply to meet the region’s future water needs by helping replenish the Floridan aquifer, the state’s main water source. It is the first attempt in Northeast Florida to use water from a creek or river to recharge the aquifer.”

There are critics, including HD 19 Democratic candidate Paul Still.

Still got in the race against incumbent Bobby Payne in part because of the “Black Creek boondoggle,” and he still is unmollified.

“It should be clear that the wetlands associated with Black Creek at Penney Farms require frequent high creek levels to keep them functioning and that withdrawing water at the proposed rate for the Black Creek Project would harm those wetlands,” said Still.

Chambers wins eco dev award

Via a news release from the Jax Chamber: “Cathy Chambers, JAXUSA Partnership senior vice president of strategy and business development, was honored with the prestigious Eunice Sullivan Economic Development Professional of the Year Award at the 2018 Florida Economic Development Council (FEDC) Annual Conference on Tuesday.”

“The FEDC recognized Chambers as a leader of business development success and advocacy for the profession, the region and women in the field,” the release continues. “During her tenure at JAXUSA Partnership, Chambers spearheaded efforts to attract more than 10,000 jobs and capital investment to the Northeast Florida region, including significant projects such as Deutsche Bank, Macquarie, Citibank, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Web.com, PNC Mortgage and EverBank, among others.”

“Cathy is a highly respected voice for economic development in the Northeast Florida region and the state,” said Jerry Mallot, president of JAXUSA Partnership and 1997 recipient of the Eunice Sullivan Award. “Many business decision-makers and site consultants have recounted that they are drawn to the region because of Cathy’s professionalism, credibility and knowledge. She consistently impresses our clients resulting in their investment in the region which is good, not only for them but also for our community.”

Jags’ Ramsey makes plans for fatherhood; trolls Bills’ QB

With Father’s Day just three weeks away, Jaguars’ cornerback Jalen Ramsey is looking forward to his first. He is already making plans for the future when it comes to the young Ramsey.

Whether he becomes the father of a boy or girl, he would like for the child to follow in the footsteps of his or her parents. He sees a potential track star in the 2030s.

Jalen Ramsey looks forward to Father’s Day.

Both Ramsey and his girlfriend both ran track in high school back in Tennessee. The former FSU All-American was also a track star in Tallahassee.

“Hopefully he or she will be a little track star,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ramsey is getting ready for training camp by doing something else he does well. One of the league’s best shutdown corners is also one of the league’s most prolific agitators.

The target this time was Buffalo Bills’ rookie quarterback Josh Allen. When the Bills spoke of the impending first pass of Allen’s career during a rookie workout, Ramsey retweeted “that’s a pick waiting to happen.”

Ramsey later deleted the post, but Allen was asked about it later.

Allen said Ramsey’s barb did not bother him at all. “That’s one of the best corners in the league,” he said.

One of the best talkers, too.

Lawsuit won’t push Katrina Brown off Jacksonville City Council

Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown is being sued personally by the city of Jacksonville, the fallout from an economic development deal gone bust.

Earlier this month, the city filed suit against Brown, a first-term Democratic member of the Finance Committee, for breach of guaranty, relative to a defaulted loan of $380,000 to the Browns’ family business, CoWealth LLC. [COJ v Katrina Brown].

Brown talked to Jacksonville media on Tuesday, and she insisted that she is not stepping down and will continue her bid for re-election.

“I came here today and wanted to give an explanation, but … my legal team advised me, because it’s in litigation, not to give any details on it,” Brown said regarding the suit.

Brown offered a “no comment” when asked if the suit was politically motivated, 10 months before city elections.

“I’m going to continue to lead,” Brown said.

This suit is ill-timed for Councilwoman Brown, who has drawn no fewer than seven challengers for her District 8 seat.

Six of them were from her own Democratic Party. One of the challengers died soon after filing, leaving five Democrats and one NPA candidate in the mix.

Despite bad news cycles including the business woes described above, and an altercation with local police when a council colleague was pulled over, Brown nonetheless is running for re-election.

In her first month of actual fundraising, Brown raked in $7,000, from $500 and $1,000 checks from outside the district.

Advocates for Business Growth ponied up, as did developers (the Sonoc Company, Leone Development and Nocatee Development, along with Sleiman Holdings), and attorneys interested in development (Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow).

Brown is still in a distant third place in terms of total money raised. The leader, Tameka Gaines Holly, brought in $3,458 in April (much of the money from within the district), leaving her with roughly $19,000 on hand.

Rick Scott trumpets another record low state crime rate

Gov. Rick Scott was in Jacksonville Tuesday morning, with what his office called a “major announcement” regarding “Florida’s safe communities” and the 2017 FDLE Crime Report.

Crime rates have decreased during the Scott era (from a 40 year low to a 46 year low and now, a 47 year low), and his trumpeting of the statistical decreases have become a yearly tradition, which allow the outgoing Governor and current Senate candidate to spotlight budget allocations for public safety measures.

“This year, our budget invested more than $5.2 billion in public safety, a more than $300 million increase over last year,” Scott said. “This investment includes $22.8 million to pay increases for state sworn law enforcement officers, which includes the 5 percent raise I signed last year.”

Scott also trumpeted a 10 percent raise for juvenile probation officers, and increased funding for prevention programs for at-risk youth.

“As our economy continues to grow,” Scott said, “we continue to invest more money in law enforcement. These investments are clearly working. Crime in our state is at a 47 year low.”

“The crime rate dropped by 6 percent in 2017, including a reduction in violent crime of 3 percent,” Scott said.

Scott spotlighted a number of officers who have perished since mid-April, including Officer Lance Whitaker of Jacksonville, asking for a moment of silence in commemoration.

Scott was accompanied by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams, who spotlighted local efforts, including hiring more police officers and a 36 percent decrease in non-fatal shootings in Q1 2018.

Another Jacksonville Inspector General resigns, continued challenge for watchdog role

Jacksonville’s latest Inspector General, James Hoffman, used six sentences in a terse resignation letter submitted late Friday to end his twelve-month tenure.

Hoffman is the second permanent inspector general to leave the role in recent years – and the second one to last a year or less.

“I would like to thank you for the trust placed in me to lead the Office of Inspector General. The last 12 months have been personally and professionally rewarding. I have enjoyed learning and working in the consolidated government. I have been inspired by the professionals within the Office working tirelessly every day to make our government more effective and efficient. However, for personal and professional reasons, I resign as the Inspector General for the City of Jacksonville,” Hoffman wrote.

The resignation will be effective Jun. 8, Hoffman added.

Legislation in October 2014 created the Jacksonville Inspector General position; it was affirmed by referendum the next year.

Finding a steady, long-term presence for the position, however, has been a challenge.

Back in 2016, Thomas Cline left the position, after less than a year. Steve Rohan, a former city lawyer, also served on an interim basis in between the two permanent hires.

It took the Inspector General Selection and Retention Committee roughly that long to secure Hoffman as a permanent replacement.

City Council President Anna Brosche noted: “Mr. Hoffman’s resignation was news to me. I can’t speak to the pattern of individuals serving in the position for a limited duration. The Office of Inspector General is an important function supported by the people of Jacksonville, and I look forward us finding someone to champion efforts to ferret out fraud, waste and abuse in our local government.”

Brosche has a bill currently in Council committees that would allow for a rotating chair position for the again-relevant Inspector General Selection and Retention Committee.

However, she was unaware that he planned to resign, noting that the June 1 meeting of the committee was to review Hoffman’s performance.

Councilman John Crescimbeni, an advocate for the office, likewise was surprised by the resignation.

“I did not know he had resigned and had no indication he was contemplating the same. I am completely surprised and more than perplexed over why we have difficulty hiring and retaining an IG. My last correspondence with Mr. Hoffman was about the proposed legislation to clean up the Ordinance Code as it relates to the Office of the IG. Again, totally surprised,” Crescimbeni said Monday morning.

Per the Jacksonville Daily Record, the OIG budget has ballooned since the office’s most recent inception, approaching a million dollars in the most recent fiscal year (almost a fivefold increase from FY 14/15 levels).

The Record notes that the office received 103 complaints in FY 16/17, closing “69 cases created from those and previous complaints and filed 12 reports comprising two audits, five contract oversight observations and five reports of findings following investigations.”

Among the savings cited by the Daily Record: scrutiny of cellphone contracts for overages, terminated employees, and the like. OIG identified $90,000 in waste; city officials agreed with $41,000 of those findings.

Jacksonville Bold for 5.18.18 — Relationship business

As Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is fond of saying: politics is a “relationship business.”

So, this edition of Bold spotlights the utility of political friendships.

Whether running for Congress or state or local office, you’d better have your friends’ endorsements (well-timed) and the interest of the donor class (early, and often).

In each category, there will be examples of the haves — and have-nots.

File this edition away, come back to it in 100 days or so. You will see a direct correlation (if not causation) between who got the help they needed and who had juice with the voters.

Biden backs Soderberg for Congress

Ambassador Nancy Soderberg rolled out her most high-profile endorsement for her Congressional race yet Monday, with former Vice President Joe Biden backing the Clinton administration alum.

Nancy Soderberg was instrumental in Bill Clinton-era foreign policy.

“I’ve known Nancy for three decades since she first started her work in the Senate,” said Vice President Biden. “She is a lifelong public servant who has served at the highest levels of government. At the White House and as an Ambassador to the United Nations, Nancy brokered international peace deals and helped develop and promote U.S. national security policy. She understands what it’s like to bring both sides to the table and solve complex issues. She’s been tested and she’s delivered.”

Biden is “supporting Nancy because she’s a problem solver, and will fight for the values of the 6th District: growing the middle class, creating jobs you can raise a family on, ensuring every family has access to affordable health care and every child can get an affordable education. She has the knowledge and experience to make a difference and get things done for the people of the 6th District.”

Soderberg, meanwhile, is “honored to have the support of Vice President Biden, who has dedicated his life to standing up for American men, women and children.”

Florida’s 6th Congressional District, currently represented by Rep. Ron DeSantis, extends from St. Johns County south to Volusia on Florida’s east coast.

Dems rally behind Lawson

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson hinted earlier this month about a swath of endorsements from Florida Democratic colleagues in Congress, and Monday he delivered.

Rep. Al Lawson (shown with French President Emmanuel Macron) trumpeted a swath of Congressional endorsements this week.

In total, eight endorsements came his way: Reps. Darren SotoVal DemingsCharlie CristKathy CastorLois FrankelTed DeutchDebbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.

“I am humbled to receive the support of my colleagues as we continue to make our economy stronger, communities safer and produce results that all North Florida families can be proud of,” Lawson said.

These endorsements come at a key time for Lawson. Alvin Brown, the former Jacksonville mayor currently primarying Lawson, enjoyed a two-to-one fundraising advantage during the first quarter of 2018.

And that means that Brown has pulled close to incumbent U.S. Rep. Lawson in terms of cash on hand.

For the quarter, Brown brought in $167, 088, while Lawson hauled in $83,866.

Lawson had $100,000 cash on hand at the end of 2017 before Brown got in the race. Now Lawson has just under $160,000 and Brown has just over $127,000.

A. Brown lauds Ramadan; decries anti-Muslim discrimination

As incumbent Lawson collected endorsements, challenger Brown staked out the high ground.

Former Jacksonville Mayor and current 5th Congressional District Democratic hopeful Brown became the first and so far only North Florida candidate this cycle to laud the beginning of Ramadan.

Alvin Brown made his first public statement in his career on Ramadan this week.

In a statement released this week, Brown lauded the beginning of the annual celebration, while decrying discrimination against American Muslims.

“At sunset, Muslims in my district and across America will begin their monthlong celebration of the holy month of Ramadan. The month is an auspicious time for the Muslim community when the faithful will use the month to not only fast from dawn to dusk each day but also spend time to renew the spirit of their faith,” Brown asserted.

“Our nation is founded on the creed ‘E Pluribus Unum’ and this creed affirms that diversity is our national strength. We celebrate that diversity by recognizing religious pluralism as foundational to our national unity,” Brown added.

“At a time when the American Muslim community is facing unprecedented bigotry and discrimination, I join all Americans of goodwill and conscience to uphold the dignity of all our citizens. May this Ramadan be a source of blessings and joy to all those who choose to celebrate this month. Santhea and I wish all my American Muslim neighbors a very Blessed Ramadan,” Brown concluded.

Gibson stretches lead over hapless primary challenger

Jacksonville political watchers are beginning to wonder about the strategy of City Councilman Reggie Brown, who opted to primary Democratic Senate Minority Leader-Designate Audrey Gibson in August but has not yet actually raised any funds.

Reggie Brown is having problems getting traction against a heavily backed incumbent.

Through April, Gibson was far in the lead fundraising wise with more than $132,000 banked, with Brown far behind, closing the month with just $4 on hand.

Gibson has been quiet about her challenger but has committed to fundraising, with strong April receipts measuring over $17,000, pushing her over $156,000 raised and to the aforementioned $132,000 cash on hand.

Gibson brought in receipts from unions, such as the police and fire locals, as well as racing interests, Crowley Maritime, and traditional Republican donors such as John Rood and John Baker.

FOP crosses party lines in state House races

Jacksonville’s local Fraternal Order of Police went bipartisan with its latest swath of endorsements for state House, including choosing a Democrat over a field of Republicans running to replace Jay Fant.

In House District 15, the FOP endorsed Tracye Polson over Republicans Wyman DugganJoseph Hogan and Mark Zeigler.

The language of the endorsement lauded Polson’s “dedication to her community.”

Trayce Polson continues to build momentum in what has been a disciplined campaign.

Polson is the safest bet of the four candidates in the race, in that she is unopposed for her party’s nomination. Between her campaign account and that of her “Better Jacksonville” political committee, she has raised $211,000, with $135,000 on hand.

The FOP offered two other endorsements in the latest rollout, backing incumbent Republicans over underfunded Democrats.

In HD 11 and 12, the union went with Cord Byrd and Clay Yarborough.

Democratic opponents in both those races are struggling with real fundraising, which augurs poorly for their challenges to safe Republican seats.

Moran backs Polson over Republican field

In 2011, which was a different time in Jacksonville politics, Republican Audrey Moran was a strong candidate for Mayor.

Audrey Moran. (Image via Wave Magazine Online)

Though Moran fell short of the runoff election, her candidacy is still seen by many as an intersection of purpose and politics.

Moran’s days of running for public office appear to be over; however, she is still active in the scene, and crossed party lines to endorse Polson in HD 15.

“Dr. Tracye Polson will bring fresh ideas and strong leadership to Tallahassee,” said Audrey Moran in a statement from the Polson campaign.

“She is smart, collaborative and courageous. Tracye is a first-time candidate for public office and a breast cancer survivor. She knows our community and is ready to fight for what Jacksonville needs. Tracye will represent all of the people in her district and I am proud to endorse her,” Moran added.

“Earning the trust and support of such an influential community presence is an indication our campaign continues to extend its reach, connecting with a wide range of voters including business leaders. Because of her experience and insight, Audrey’s counsel will be invaluable and I am deeply grateful to have her endorsement,” said Polson.

Davis pads coffers, Jackson lags

Duval Democrats are noted for their internal wars, and a good current example of such is the House District 13 Democratic donnybrook between Rep. Tracie Davis and Roshanda Jackson, a former district secretary for state Rep. Kim Daniels.

Tracie Davis wants two more years.

The Davis/Jackson contest is one of two major primary votes awaiting some Jacksonville voters, the other being Davis’ political ally, Sen. Audrey Gibson, being challenged by Daniels’ ally, Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown.

The Gibson/Brown contest is one-sided in terms of cash-on-hand, $132,000 to $4.00 in favor of the incumbent. And at least in the early going, the Davis/Jackson contest is lopsided in favor of the current officeholder.

Davis raised $3,100 in April, pushing her over $40,000 on hand out of $41,815 raised. Her top donors, at the $500 level: AT&T Florida PAC, Florida Dental PAC and Fiorentino Group.

Davis, who had a fundraiser in Springfield Monday evening at Crispy’s on Main Street, looks to have a stronger May than April.

Jackson, meanwhile, has raised $830 in her two months in the race and has $800 of that on hand.

Per LobbyTools, the seat “is safely blue with Democrats outnumbering Republicans 54,686 to 22,554 with another 15,550 registered as independents.”

Developer dosh finds K. Brown

Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown has drawn no fewer than seven challengers for her District 8 seat.

Katrina Brown will have access to capital her many opponents won’t.

Six of them were from her own Democratic Party. One of the challengers died soon after filing, leaving five Democrats and one NPA candidate in the mix.

Brown, who dealt with bad news cycles including issues with her family business defaulting on city-funded economic development loans and grants, and an altercation with local police when a Council colleague was arrested, nonetheless is running for re-election.

And April’s receipts indicate that Brown will have help from developers in her re-election bid.

In her first month of actual fundraising, Brown raked in $7,000, from $500 and $1,000 checks.

Advocates for Business Growth ponied up, as did developers (the Sonoc Company, Leone Development and Nocatee Development, along with Sleiman Holdings), and attorneys interested in development (Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow).

Brown is still in a distant third place in terms of total money raised. The leader, Tameka Gaines Holly, brought in $3,458 in April (much of the money from within the district), leaving her with roughly $19,000 on hand.

Another shot for Daniels

Recent electoral setbacks weren’t the last call for the peripatetic political career of Jacksonville’s Jack Daniels, as he again has filed to run for the Jacksonville City Council.

Daniels, who shares his name with a consumer product, has taken many shots at public office. Yet, despite his efforts, the glass has come up empty time after time.

Still, he continues his efforts. And in 2019, he will get an electoral rematch against District 2 Republican Al Ferraro, the man who beat him three years prior.

Al Ferraro will face Jack Daniels, again.

Daniels, who raised less than $8,000 for his race, had good ROI: he got 27 percent of the vote.

“Since I hadn’t accepted any political money, my campaign for city council consisted of almost nothing but a year of door-to-door visits. In contrast, since my opponent accepted it, his campaign consisted of paid advice from expert political consultants, continuous paid advertisement promoting his candidacy in the media, numerous paid campaigners for him who made thousands of door-to-door visits to frequent voters, a multitude of campaign signs, many mailings to frequent voters promoting his candidacy, etc.,” Daniels contended.

Despite all of this drama, Daniels endorsed Ferraro — the “opponent.” Daniels told The Florida Times-Union that Ferraro is “a really hard worker, and I think he’d be a very good person to be a council person.”

 Daniels begins the race with a considerable financial disadvantage to incumbent Ferraro, who has over $35,000 on hand after raising $7,105 in April.

Sunshine Law charges cloud Council prez race

A public notice meeting Tuesday morning called by Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis addressed “allegations made by Council Vice President Aaron Bowman on the topic of Sunshine Violations for the upcoming Council Leadership vote.”

Anna Brosche and Garrett Dennis were the only two city officials to show up.

The vote comes Tuesday; Bowman has the majority of Council’s support pledged to him as he chases the top job.

However, clarity was not to be provided this week, as Bowman was not at the meeting. And neither was the head of the city’s ethics office, Carla Miller, expected to be at the meeting.

Bowman was “told by multiple sources that Dennis has been [negatively] talking about [Bowman’s] leadership endeavor.”

Dennis called the meeting to confront his “accusers,” but except for Council President Anna Brosche, no one was there.

In remarks to the media after the brief, inconclusive meeting, Dennis would not say directly that Bowman violated the Sunshine Law.

“I’ve been instructed by the General Counsel not to say that,” Dennis said.

Dennis, who chairs the Finance Committee, likely won’t have that prerogative next year. Bowman, per Dennis, is a “staunch supporter of the Mayor” — Dennis’ political enemy.

As well, with re-election campaigns looming ahead of the March 2019 “first election,” Dennis may see his opponent backed by the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce — for which Bowman is a VP for the business recruitment arm, JAXUSA.

Newby drops VP bid, leaves three candidates

The clouded picture in the race for Jacksonville City Council vice president cleared up Tuesday, with Sam Newby dropping out to focus on his re-election bid.

Sam Newby, an ally of Lenny Curry, opted to stand down in the VP race.

Newby, an at-large Councilman, faces one opponent thus far for re-election.

The first-term Republican’s exit from the race leaves three candidates standing: Democrat Tommy Hazouri and Republicans Danny Becton and Scott Wilson. And thus far, none of the candidates have galvanized much support.

Hazouri, a political veteran who has been Jacksonville Mayor as well as a State Representative and School Board member, sees the VP role as the logical next level. However, he hasn’t been put in the spotlight during his time on Council, and pledges have eluded him.

Becton, a fiscal watchdog from the Southside, is a Republican in his first-term. Jim Love is a pledged supporter.

Wilson, likewise a Republican in his first term, sought the VP role last year but was steamrollered in the vote by current VP Aaron Bowman.

Council votes on these offices Tuesday, and pledge meetings will take place throughout the next week.

New officers take control July 1.

Bean, Daniels present check to YMCA

State Sen. Aaron Bean joined state Rep. Daniels this week to present a $250,000 check on behalf of the state of Florida to Eric Mann, president and CEO of YMCA of Florida’s First Coast, the YMCA’s Metropolitan Board of Directors and the YMCA’s Senior Leadership Team.

During the 2018 Legislative Session, Bean and Daniels worked together to help secure state funding for teen programming at the James Weldon Johnson Family YMCA in Northwest Jacksonville.

Aaron Bean, Kimberly Daniels present a $250K check in state funding to the Johnson Family YMCA.

“The YMCA is consistently a leader in advocating for Florida’s youth by providing programs that positively impact their lives and give them the opportunities needed to succeed,” Bean said. “This funding will allow the YMCA to increase programming for at-risk adolescents in the most underserved areas of Jacksonville, which will truly change lives and benefit our entire community.”

Daniels added: “It was an honor working with Senator Bean on the Johnson Family YMCA appropriation … This facility is strategically placed between Cleveland Arms and Washington Heights, which are high crime housing areas. The youth in these neighborhoods will benefit from the program expansion, and I am excited about what is ahead for our community.”

The funding will allow the Johnson Family YMCA to launch new programming and grow programmatic opportunities for teens and pre-teens in Jacksonville’s most disadvantaged areas. The Johnson YMCA will also use the funding to provide life skills training, job and career preparation, health education and summer employment opportunities for teens. These new programs will serve approximately 120 additional youth in the community.

Not so fast on ‘no sale’ bill

On Monday, the Jacksonville City Council’s Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health & Safety committee deferred a bill expressing opposition to selling the local utility, a hot-button issue in recent months.

The bill will be considered in three weeks when committees next convene.

2018-248, a resolution introduced by Councilors Jim LoveJoyce Morgan and Reggie Gaffney, would put the kibosh on moves to potentially sell JEA.

This discussion comes at a time when moves to sell or privatize all or part of the utility find a phalanx of detractors and no public advocates in the present tense.

Though official positions of both JEA Interim CEO Aaron Zahn and Jacksonville Mayor Curry boil down to advocating a pause of some indeterminate length in a discussion of privatization of the utility, many observers of the process do not take those assertions at face value.

The deferral motion from Councilman Love seemed to catch co-sponsor Morgan and Councilman Garrett Dennis by surprise.

Dredge, baby, dredge

The Jacksonville Business Journal reports that “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is soliciting bids for the second phase of the harbor deepening project, estimated to cost between $125 million and $200 million.”

Dredging continues in Jacksonville.

This phase, “Project B,” is expected to cost $187 million and will deepen miles 3-8 of the shipping channel.

Project A, still in progress, is expected to be wrapped next year.

Federal funding, which has been in place, is not assured for this part of the project. Jaxport could front the funds in hopes of eventual federal reimbursement.

The dredge, all told, will go from 11-13 miles, deepening the channel to 47 feet.

C. Brown drama lingers

A year has passed since Corrine Brown was found guilty of various counts of fraud and tax evasion related to her former nonprofit, “One Door for Education.”

Brown is imprisoned, yet the appeal process continues, predicated on whether the removal of a juror who claimed to be guided by a “higher power” was the reason she was found guilty.

Corrine Brown’s defense and appeals have been fruitless thus far.

This week, prosecutors again rejected the proposition that the discharged juror was the difference maker.

“The decision to remove a sitting juror is a significant one that justifiably warrants careful, albeit deferential, review by this (appeals) court,” the document said. “The district court’s decision here handily withstands that review. The court took this issue very seriously and removed the juror only after having carefully considered whether that juror would be able to follow the court’s instructions and decide the case based on the evidence. And the court did so only after having concluded that the juror’s decision — that he had been told by the Holy Spirit before deliberations had even begun, that Brown was not guilty of all 24 charged crimes — was not based on the juror’s evaluation of the sufficiency of the evidence.”

Brown, who was convicted last year on 18 felony counts and sentenced to five years in prison, has focused her appeal on the decision by U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan to dismiss the juror.

Bestbet doubles down

In another gambling case that could reach the state Supreme Court, a Jacksonville casino is appealing the state’s decision to end its quest for a slot machine license.

Bestbet doubles down on slots hopes.

Jacksonville Kennel Club, which does business as bestbet, filed a notice of appeal Tuesday to the 1st District Court of Appeal after the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) turned down its application last month. The department regulates gambling through its Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering.

Any expansion of slots is opposed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which pays the state millions each year for the exclusive right to offer slots at its casinos outside South Florida.

And a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this November would require the statewide approval of voters before any expansion of gambling — and its backers say the measure would have retroactive effect.

The crux of the Jacksonville appeal is last May’s Supreme Court decision denying slots to a track in Gretna, Gadsden County, and in other counties that passed local referendums allowing them. Duval was one such county; bestbet Jacksonville wants to add slots to its poker and simulcast wagering.

Jags’ Bortles plays a little defense

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was in the rare position of playing defense last week. Not on the football field, but in his own home.

News4Jax reported that a young neighbor, Joseph Horton, was able to get into Bortles’ truck parked outside his home while the quarterback was hosting a party. The 18-year-old Horton tried to steal the truck, but was unable to navigate through multiple cars belonging to those attending the party.

Blake Bortles is playing defense at home.

Not satisfied to take Bortles’ wallet, which was in the truck along with the keys, the teenager went into the house full of partygoers and went upstairs. When no one recognized him, police were called.

When they arrived, Bortles and two friends were standing guard over the young man, who claimed to enter the house in search of a girlfriend. No one had heard of her.

In the end, Horton was arrested, where it was later learned that he lived in a multi-million-dollar home with his parents on the Intracoastal Waterway. He was charged with burglary, trespassing, and grand theft and later released on bond.

A Twitter account called Blake Bortles Facts used the incident to take a gratuitous slap at the Cincinnati Bengals tweeting “Blake Bortles has prevented more truck thefts (1) than the @Bengals have Playoff wins since 1991.”

For the record, the Jaguars and Bengals do not play each other this year.

Lenny Curry, Jacksonville officials defend handling of public records requests

The city of Jacksonville’s approach to handling public records has taken criticism from multiple sides in the last week.

Among the charges: that the city is contravening the letter and the spirit of open government by slow-walking requests, by vetting seemingly problematic applications with affected officials before fulfilling them, by claiming exemptions from disclosure, by not providing complete email and text records for public officials, and so on.

On Wednesday, Mayor Lenny Curry denied those assertions, a day before city officials took questions from City Council President Anna Brosche‘s “Task Force on Open Government.”

“I’m proud of our record on transparency,” Curry said. “Me, myself, and my administration, we comply with the Sunshine Laws, which result in transparency and when and how you provide information. And so, yeah, I’m proud of our record.”

“Any public record that the media wants,” Curry added, “[that] is in accordance with the law, when asked, is provided.”

After the media panel wrapped last week, one of his OGC colleagues, per the minutes of the meeting, “expressed doubts about the public records obstacles and delays described by the media panel.”

Thursday saw administration officials drawing a narrative of substantial compliance with requests.

Documentation was provided showing that citizens’ public records requests are substantially fulfilled, even as math didn’t always add up. For example, in FY 16/17, 1527 requests were received, with 1478 closed and 61 cancelled (a total of 1,533). And thus far in FY 17/18, 845 requests have been received, with 783 closed and 29 cancelled.

Of course, the issue for media last week wasn’t substantial compliance with media requests, but elided material, or material presented at a prohibitive cost. Included among that latter category: Florida Times-Union requests for applications for the Kids Hope Alliance CEO position (estimated at $170), and requests for emails regarding two specific search terms that resulted in months of negotiation and an invoiced cost of $130 for 4.5 hours of work.

Marsha Oliver, spokesperson for the Curry administration, and Craig Feiser, records custodian from the Office of General Counsel, addressed what Chair Sherry Magill called a “difference of opinion” regarding the internal process of review of sensitive requests and timeliness of response.

Feiser noted, vis a vis the examples, that by and large requests don’t have those kinds of charges enumerated above.

Feiser, who has been on the job for six months, noted that his role is to process media requests in conjunction with the administration.

“We’ve been reasonably prompt,” Feiser said, saying that he had no request that was currently open, and that he offers “advise and counsel” to the administration regarding the release of sensitive requests.

“I can count on less than one hand the times we’ve had … internal discussion about whether something may or may not be exempt,” Feiser contended. “That has not happened very often. I have provided almost every single thing that was requested of me.”

Feiser also contended that occasions in which charges have been estimated have been few and far between.

“I haven’t had any complaints about that,” Feiser said, noting that “the charge hasn’t been much.”

“Frankly, I’m proud of the way things have gone the last six months,” Feiser said, noting that he himself is a “former journalist” who understands “the importance of open government,” and that he and the administration are “absolutely committed” to transparency.

Oliver, who came to city employ from the School Board, noted that the city has a “very specific process” with someone who “knows the law handling it.”

Broad search terms, such as “The Landing,” brought forth 40,000 emails, which created responsivity issues, Oliver said, requiring refinement.

The “review” process, Oliver added, is intended to ensure accuracy and protect confidentiality.

“We have to review every single email,” Oliver asserted.

Feiser added that the costs, roughly $19 an hour for review via a paralegal, are reasonable.

Oliver noted that the city rarely charges for requests, describing the city’s “practices and procedures” as “quite generous.”

Another city lawyer, John Philips, pushed back harder, noting that the city ultimately decides whether something is confidential or not.

An example of confidential information, said Oliver, would be information regarding cybersecurity, which is privileged in light of the “potential threat” to the city. (An example of that: the request from Reuters from earlier this month).

“It’s rare that we’ve done that,” Feiser added.

A task force member noted that internal emails spotlighted Feiser writing to an administration member that “I don’t have a problem giving this to a reporter unless you do.”

Feiser allowed that an administration member could have a “concern,” noting that he may not have chosen that language “carefully.”

Email accessibility, including a complete record of city emails and calendars, was also spotlighted by the task force.

Feiser said he didn’t know of “incomplete calendars” being available, and said he’d told reporters that information that hadn’t been uploaded could be resolved via request.

Oliver noted that the Mayor’s emails are uploaded up to three times a day, a “tool the city’s implemented to facilitate and make that process easier.”

Oliver contended that all emails to the Mayor are made available, and that many of them are grist for story ideas.

A task force member noted that there were no internal emails for days to the mayor.

“For the most part, the mayor does not use email internally to communicate,” Oliver contended. “I have not emailed the mayor in weeks.”

Oliver allowed that Curry “probably” does use text messages, and said the public can request those messages.

Oliver also defended the administration practice of not allowing department heads to talk to press, saying that she doesn’t “support that type of environment” given the inability to refine messaging.

“The goal is to be able to build collaborative relationships with media professionals … to ensure we are aware of the information and the inquiry,” Oliver contended.

Last week, at least one panelist noted that historically access was provided directly, without the conduit.

“I certainly don’t want to open the newspaper to see a department head [taking a position] on behalf of the administration of which we have no knowledge,” Oliver said.

Lenny Curry not worried about possible challenge from Anna Brosche

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche may be exploring a run for Mayor, however incumbent Lenny Curry isn’t worried, he said Wednesday.

“I have almost a three-year record in office now,” Curry said. “A strong record of action and getting things done. Big things that I’ve communicated to the public as I’ve tried to tackle them, and I have evidence that they’ve supported me in trying to tackle those.”

“I’m going to continue to pursue the priorities that I’ve laid out,” Curry added, “and make the case to the public.”

“I have the resources to make the case to the public,” Curry said, alluding to having raised $1.75 million and counting in the opening months of his re-election bid.

“I’m going to continue to do that,” Curry said, “and I’m confident that the engagement and interaction I have with everyday people will result in Lenny Curry being mayor, not just through this next year, but in the years ahead.”

Speculation has swirled about a Brosche run for Mayor, including this week when JEA Board member Fred Newbill posited, per the Florida Times-Union, that Brosche’s interest in how the utility is functioning was more political than practical.

“I may be out of order, but in my opinion, she’s going to run for Mayor, and is going to continue to find matters that make us look controversial so they can pull down the <ayor,” Newbill said. “So as a board member, I’m saying if you’re going to run for Mayor, announce your candidacy, but leave JEA out of it. We’re an independent authority. We’re not controlled by you or the <ayor. Let us do JEA business.”

Of course, “JEA business” has been a flashpoint of tension between Curry and Brosche.

Curry was open, at least at one point, to exploring a sale of JEA, a proposal first floated by Tom Petway — a leading Curry supporter from when the Republican first got into the mayoral race.

Petway, leaving the JEA board in 2017, said it was time to explore privatization.

Brosche has contended that the Mayor’s Office leaned on her to expedite legislation that would allow the sale to be explored.

Reuters the latest to zing Jacksonville over release of public records

A reporter from Reuters recently had a row with Jacksonville officials regarding claimed exemptions from disclosure of public records related to informational technology.

The city has had its approach to public records disclosure questioned by local media in recent days, via a panel in the city’s “Open Government Task Force” and on Twitter; however, the Reuters reporter (who generally doesn’t deal with local officials) offered his own take independently of that process, claiming that the city was using a statutory protection from exemptions “like a ball peen hammer.”

Reuters reporter Ryan McNeil wanted the last few years of records on IT security audits of city websites and/or computer networks, penetration and vulnerability testing, the city’s cyberinsurance policy, claims made on said policy and payments of ransom demands, as well as documentation of breaches.

McNeil was to find his request substantially frustrated, however, via claims of exemption from inspection of public records pursuant to Florida Statute, Section 119.071 (3).

McNeil let loose with an epic reply to the city’s custodian of public records: “On behalf of myself and Reuters,  I raise strong objection to the city’s interpretation of its requirements under Florida’s broad open government laws. To be clear, there is no way 119.071(3) covers all of the responsive records. I strongly urge you to re-evaluate this denial.”

McNeil notes that “Florida public officials are required to take a narrow approach to exemptions.” And when exemptions apply, the sensitive information should be, per statute, redacted. Not addressed via a blanket denial, which per McNeil “is neither narrow nor does it comply with requirements to produce non-exempt information.”

McNeil contends “the city has attempted to use 119.071(3) like a ball peen hammer,” before drawing conclusions based on elided answers.

“For example, based on your response, apparently the city has made payments and/or communicated with people making a ransom demand as part of a cyber incident. We asked for ‘documentation of payments made to any entity as part of a ransom demand following a cyber incident as well as any correspondence made to or from the entities making the demand.’ These types of records in no way, shape or form relate ‘directly to the physical security of the facility’ nor do they reveal ‘security systems’,” McNeil writes, before posing provocative questions.

“Is the city arguing that it can make secret payments to satisfy ransom demands under Florida law? Additionally, is the city arguing it can have secret communications with those demanding taxpayer monies be used to satisfy a ransom demand?”

Along these lines, McNeil wondered if the city was “arguing that it can have secret contracts with vendors merely because they provide cybersecurity-related services,” based on declared exemption from disclosure.

“The same arguments can be applied to every single one of the blanket denials,” McNeil argued, a “blanket exemption [which] is not appropriate and inconsistent with Florida’s broad sunshine laws.”

This email, dated May 8, came in hours before local reporters offered their own critiques of how records are handled in Jacksonville’s City Hall.

During a “media panel” in Jacksonville’s “Task Force on Open Government,” representatives from The Florida Times-Union, WJCT, and this outlet described a system in which transparency and sunshine are subjective concepts, driven by the whims of the gatekeepers.

From the minutes: “The conversation focused primarily on public records and how they are accessed and received by the media. According to the  panelists, there are often delays and unexpected costs associated with public records requests, which  according to Florida Statute should be provided at a “reasonable” cost in a “reasonable” amount of time … some readily available public records appear to go through political review before  being shared with the media, and the delays sometimes give the impression of being intentionally obstructive.”

Suggested solutions were proferred also: “Legislation could be enacted to clean up the records process – possibly with timelines; make records easier and cheaper to get; incorporate public records sharing as a regular part of government.”

However, the Office of General Counsel’s representative on hand diverged from the concord of the media panel members: “Jon Phillips, Office of General Counsel, expressed doubts about the public records obstacles and delays described by the media panel.”

What is clear: there is a real gap between the way the media interprets the Sunshine Law and the concept of open government and the way city officials interpret it.

Gaps have been identified before, of course, and will continue to be. With informational technology what it is, it is possible for all intragovernmental emails and texts to be online, made available in close to a real time way.

The reality, at least in Jacksonville, is one of selective disclosure. For example, the only publicly available email addresses, of the Mayor and his senior staff, are not updated in a time-sensitive manner. And if Lenny Curry doesn’t have a secondary official business email, well, questions are raised, given that the official inbox is little more than a fruitless farrago of crank correspondence and conspiracy theory.

Likewise, individual emails of Council members are available on no portal. While technology allows for a real-time cataloguing of such, legislative will doesn’t compel such.

And texts? Good luck.

As the Florida Times-Union found when investigating text messages that swayed a line-item during a budget vote, texts were difficult to obtain, with some members of the City Council seemingly unaware that part of the job description was to be a custodian of their public records.

Jacksonville’s latest slogan, “It’s easier here,” simply doesn’t apply to the city and its haphazard commitment to the Sunshine Law and public records disclosures. Local reporters have been acutely aware of that. And Reuters just got its education.

Jacksonville Bold for 5.11.18 — Buy the ticket, take the ride

August primaries are close to three months away. Vote by mail ballots will go out sooner than that.

What that means is the time is now for candidates to show what their operations on the state and federal level really look like. And on the local level, where elections are still farther away, it’s infrastructure-building time.

In federal races, we have already seen pretenders separate themselves from ostensible pretenders. State qualifying is next month; some will take passes on those races, too.

Adding to the intrigue: An opening in the Duval County Tax Collector office. While not a thrilling position, it has four candidates (as of this writing) who have real political resumes. And that election, a special, is on the August/November schedule.

As the saying goes, “buy the ticket, take the ride.” Through next May, it’s all elections, all the time — that’s when Jacksonville’s municipal races finally close out.

Rutherford seeks federal penalties for targeting police

Rep. John Rutherford is a congressional co-introducer of legislation to make it an additional federal crime for criminals to attack law enforcement officers.

John Rutherford, a former Sheriff, has a personal stake in this legislation.

House Resolution 5698, the “Protect and Serve Act of 2018,” would create federal penalties for people who deliberately target local, state, or federal law enforcement officers with violence.

In addition to any sentences they may receive for the standard crimes, the fact that the crime was committed against a law enforcement officer could add 10 years, or a life sentence if the officer dies, or the perpetrator kidnapped the officer during the course of the crime.

“As a career law enforcement officer and sheriff of Jacksonville for 12 years, I know what officers go through every day when they put on their uniform, say goodbye to their families, and go out on the streets doing the important work of protecting our communities,” Rutherford stated in a news release from his office.

“With an uptick in ambush attacks on law enforcement, like we saw last month in Trenton, Florida, we must ensure that there are steep consequences for anyone who targets our law enforcement officers. The Protect and Serve Act will serve as a significant deterrent for anyone who deliberately targets officers with violence. I want to thank my friend, Congresswoman Val Demings [a co-sponsor and former police chief] for her leadership on this bill and for her support of law enforcement officers across the country.”

Hutson makes moves

Sen. Travis Hutson is pursuing the 2022 Senate presidency, and recent activity for his primary political committee (Sunshine State Conservatives) reflects that long-range goal.

The committee brought in $155,000 in April, and much of that money came from other committees.

Travis Hutson’s goal: Senate presidency.

The “Free Speech PAC” and “Citizens First,” both of 5730 Corporate Way Suite 214″ in West Palm Beach ponied up $40,000 each.

“Florida Jobs Alliance” and “Conservative Choice,” each of which share an address with Sunshine State Conservatives, were in for another $25,000.

These committees all appear to be pass-through committees, with money coming from other committees, and so on.

Also of interest: The contributions, dated April 27, represent a break from previous contribution trends for the committee, which predominantly (though not exclusively) has been from corporate and industry PACs.

The committee doled out $10,050 in April, including contributions to campaigns of Sen. Kelli Stargel, Rep. Joe Gruters, and a secondary Hutson committee, “First Coast Business Foundation.”

More significant spending could be found in March for the committee, which gave $50,000 to the FRSCC, to help with fundraising efforts.

As the race for the eventual Senate leadership continues to unfold, expect more interesting committee transfers … and, if April receipts for this committee are an indication, they will at least sometimes be hard to track.

Yarborough, Byrd pad cash leads

April told a familiar story in House Districts 11 and 12, where Republican incumbents Cord Byrd and Clay Yarborough expanded leads over Democratic challengers.

In HD 11, Byrd raised $3,470 in April, bringing his cash on hand to $38,500. Among his donors: the Fiorentino Group.

While less than $40,000 cash on hand doesn’t sound like much, thus far his Democratic opponent (Nathcelly Rohrbaugh) has yet to show real fundraising prowess.

Cord Byrd and Clay Yarborough both increased their money leads. 

Rohrbaugh raised $560 in April and has $1,010 on hand.

HD 11 is solidly Republican, with 66,830 of them compared to 30,574 Democrats as of 2016.

Though there are rumors that Byrd may face a primary challenger, thus far they have been all sizzle and no steak.

HD 12 saw a similar scenario: an entrenched incumbent continuing to plug away against a Democratic opponent in a deep-red district.

Though Yarborough brought in just $1,000 (and spent more than that on consulting), he nonetheless has over $103,000 on hand.

Yarborough, who was a two-term Jacksonville City Councilman representing a big swath of his current House district, is also one of the better grassroots candidates in the area.

Even with just $1,000 coming in, Yarborough outraised Democrat Tim Yost, who brought in only $745 off eight contributions.

Yost has nearly $4,000 cash on hand.

Polson continues to bank in HD 15

In Jacksonville’s House District 15, Democrat Tracye Polson continues to stack chips in her campaign account, with the hope of flipping the seat from red to blue.

Trayce Polson may prove the naysayers wrong, flipping a red seat blue.

Between her campaign account and that of her “Better Jacksonville” political committee, she raised $36,983.03 in April. The total raised is over $211,000 now, which is far and away the biggest nest egg for any Jacksonville state House candidate, Republican or Democrat.

However, given that the seat was uncontested by a Democrat in recent campaign cycles, and given that in most other local Republican-held seats Democrats are not well-funded, Polson’s campaign stands out as one with sufficient resources to make the race competitive.

“When I got into this race, we knew people wanted change, improvement over the same politicians and lobbyists who fail to provide results that improve the lives of working families in Jacksonville,” Polson said in a media release.

Democrat fundraises for Fischer challenge

House District 16, on the Southside of Jacksonville, is typically a secure Republican hold.

The district leans Republican with a 55,593 to 35,171 voter registration advantage over Democrats, according to LobbyTools.

Ken Organes’ family is willing to help him overcome a Republican registration advantage in HD 16.

Rep. Jason Fischer faced no Democratic opposition in 2016. And predecessor Charles McBurney had the same luck.

However, 2018 is a different matter, with Ken Organes carrying the Democratic banner.

Organes, buoyed by $7,500 of his own money, tallied $11,743 off 34 total contributions. Aside from the candidate’s stake, the vast majority of donations were $100 and below.

The former CSX employee still has a way to go to catch Fischer, who recorded no April fundraising either for his campaign account or that of his Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville political committee.

The campaign account has $82,000 on hand, and the committee has nearly $35,000.

Elsbury to replace Korman Shelton

Jacksonville’s director of intergovernmental affairs, Ali Korman Shelton, is moving on as of the end of next week.

And Monday, the office of Mayor Lenny Curry revealed the path forward for the team, with one promotion and two internal hires effective May 21.

Jordan Elsbury, a previous “30 under 30” honoree on this site, will replace Shelton going forward.

Leeann Krieg and Jordan Elsbury, pictured here with Councilman Greg Anderson.

Elsbury had already been working with Korman Shelton in intergovernmental affairs. A veteran of the campaign side who moved over to policy when Curry got elected, Elsbury has been a quick study in both the politics and personalities of City Hall.

Additionally, the team will be boosted significantly with two key hires from City Council staff to serve as Council liaisons.

Leeann Krieg, the Council assistant for Greg Anderson, and Chiquita Moore, the assistant for Sam Newby, will be moving over as coequal “Council liaison” positions.

Moore and Krieg will be charged with helping to move the Mayor’s agenda through Council, a process that may get easier at the end of June when Council President Anna Brosche relinquishes the gavel to Curry ally Aaron Bowman.

Tax collector special election

The position of Duval County Tax Collector is poised to open up in the coming weeks.

Incumbent Michael Corrigan is moving on, to become CEO of Visit Jacksonville. His resignation letter suggests that he couldn’t serve his entire term before taking that position.

While Michael Corrigan is moving on, taxes won’t collect themselves; hence, a special election.

Providentially, a group of Republican hopefuls, including Councilman Doyle Carter, former State Rep. and City Councilman Lake Ray, and former Councilman and Property Appraiser Jim Overton (who staked his campaign with $51,000) are already filed to run on the Republican side.

One Democrat has filed, and she is a major one: former Councilor and State Rep. Mia Jones.

There will be a special election.

The first election would be on the August ballot. If no one gets a majority of votes, the general election ballot in November would be decisive.

Qualifying for this race will occur between June 18 and June 22.

White ready to replace Carter on Council

Jacksonville City Councilman Carter was already termed out in 2019 before he threw in for the soon-to-be-vacant Duval County Tax Collector position.

And Carter made it clear that he backed his old friend Randy White for the Westside seat.

Doyle Carter is backing old friend Randy White as his replacement. (Image via Jax Daily Record)

Like Carter, White is a Republican. And despite the absence of any real competition for the seat, White has maintained consistent fundraising of the sort that would discourage any late-breaking challenge for the political newcomer.

White, now in his sixth month as an active candidate, brought in a relatively modest April haul: $3,700, highlighted by donations from Duval Teachers and Nassau County Fire and Rescue employee funds.

The candidate has raised $83,386 and thus far has spent just $1,402 of that sum.

Conry presses advantage over Boylan

April continued what is becoming a familiar narrative in the two-person race in Jacksonville City Council’s District 6.

Rose Conry still holds the money lead over former WJCT CEO Michael Boylan, as the two Republicans vying to succeed termed-out Matt Schellenberg.

Rose Conry continues to build a cash lead over her fellow Republican opponent.

And cash on hand sees Conry with an almost 2-1 advantage.

Conry brought in $8,050 in April, which pushed her over $77,000 raised and $70,000 on hand.

Among notable donors for the first time candidate: Michael Munz and a political committee associated with State Rep. Jason Fischer.

Worth noting: Fischer and Conry share a political consultant, Tim Baker.

Boylan lost ground during the month in the money race, bringing in $6,250, pushing him over $48,000 raised and $36,000 on hand. Not only is Boylan raising less money than Conry, but he’s also spending more of it.

Boylan is in a more precarious position than he might expect. Conry’s political operation is situated to make attacks down the stretch count. He will want to step up his fundraising, lest he becomes unable to counter them.

Soft April for Newby

Jacksonville City Councilman Sam Newby won his at-large seat on the Jacksonville City Council three years ago on a shoestring budget of just over $9,000, defeating a candidate who raised 15 times what he did in the May 2015 unitary general election.

Fundraising is only part of the formula for Sam Newby’s political career. Connections help also.

And, if his first month in the race is any indication, Newby figures he can win re-election without eye-popping fundraising totals.

Newby brought in just $4,600, with a $100 personal loan and $4,500 in outside contributions from five donors.

Nevertheless, those donors are noteworthy.

Among them, a “big three” of sorts: the Orange Park Kennel Club, the Jacksonville Kennel Club, and Jacksonville Greyhound Racing.

All three gambling entities gave the maximum of $1,000, as did Sleiman Holdings, which is currently in a legal imbroglio with the city of Jacksonville over busted docks and other issues at the Jacksonville Landing.

These donors suggest that if Newby needs to raise more serious money going forward, he could.

However, he didn’t in April.

Newby has one opponent currently, Democrat Chad McIntyre, who thus far has yet to report fundraising.

Another Bishop belly flop

When then-Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Bishop finished a strong third in the 2015 mayor’s race, the Republican vowed that he would run for Mayor again, before endorsing Democrat Alvin Brown over Curry, the eventual Republican winner.

Bill Bishop is struggling in his latest campaign [Photo: WJXT]

Both the early declaration of a mayoral redo and the cross-party endorsement of Brown seemed like a safe bet at the time to many.

Bishop has long since abandoned his dreams for the mayor’s office and settled into a bid for an at-large City Council seat.

But fundraising continues to elude him, as another distressing tally in April suggests.

Bishop brought in just $1,225 during the month … much less than he is spending on campaign management ($3,000), via the RLS Group.

April was the second straight month in which the belly-flopping Bishop campaign spent more on campaign management than it raised.

The leading fundraiser in the race, Republican Ron Salem, continued to bank in April. He added $4,000 to his political committee and an additional $2,850 to his campaign account.

The committee has $11,000 on hand after April receipts; Salem’s campaign account, meanwhile, is over $150,000 cash on hand.

New judges in Duval

Two unopposed judge candidates will move on to the bench in Duval, reports the Florida Times-Union.

Assistant State Attorney Collins Cooper, a former Gators kicker who has faced criticism from supervisors over his perceived incompetence, will be one of Jacksonville’s newest circuit judges … Katie Dearing, a respected business attorney and the daughter-in-law of retiring Probate Judge Peter Dearing, was also unopposed and will assume office next year.”

Duval lawyers are likely to be hangin’ with Judge Collins Cooper next year.

There is one contested election: “Former state Rep. Charles McBurney and former prosecutor Maureen Horkan will face off in an election this fall for circuit judge.”

McBurney, recall, ran afoul of Marion Hammer and the National Rifle Association when he sought a gubernatorial appointment to a judgeship in 2016.

Do they have long memories?

Jacksonville Medical Examiner exits

The “challenging” tenure of “embattled” Duval County Medical Examiner Valerie Rao, per the Florida Times-Union, is at an end.

Rao wrote Gov. Rick Scott last week signaling her intentions.

Valerie Rao dealt with bad press from the start.

Rao’s tenure went from bad news cycle to bad news cycle, with early issues of employee turnover due to what the T-U summed up as “conflicts.”

“Rao, ironically, is retiring before she was ever reappointed to the position. She was up for reappointment in 2012, but Gov. Scott never reappointed her. Instead, he said he wanted more names to consider. Eventually, in 2014, the Medical Examiner’s Commission recommended two more candidates, but both ended up accepting other jobs. Since 2012, Rao has served as interim medical examiner.”

Record tourism for Jacksonville

Per Visit Jacksonville, 2018 is on a record-setting pace for local tourism.

Tourism is booming in Jacksonville, convention traffic a driver.

Behold, the highlights of a news release on the subject.

Total hotel revenue: up 12 percent year over year. Occupancy: up 3.5 percent. And average room rate is also up $5 year over year, to $96.39.

March hotel occupancy: 82.2 percent, with 462,000 rooms sold in the county, leading to $45.7 million in revenue.

Good news for policymakers counting on the bed tax. Convention traffic has been a driver, with 52 meetings through March locally. Targeted marketing and advertising, per Visit Jacksonville, have worked.

UF Health dumping outpatient dialysis

Tourism may be up … but it’s not helping the fiscal picture at Jacksonville’s UF Health.

Money’s tight at UF Health; changes are in the offing.

In a letter to Jacksonville City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche, CEO Leon Haley notes that the hospital is negotiating to sell its outpatient dialysis service to a national, not-for-profit provider by the end of June.

The seeming deciding factor seems to be that the move is made necessary by what Haley calls “significant federal and state funding shortfalls.”

State funding, per Haley, has dropped by $31 million in the last three years. Additionally, $12.7 million in federal cuts will happen this calendar year.

Feds fund ferry

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority announced Tuesday a $3,356,900 Passenger Ferry Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration.

A big win for Jacksonville, courtesy of the Donald Trump administration.

The money is earmarked for improvements for the ferry slips, the vessel and terminal.

JTA took over the ferry’s ownership and operations two years ago, noted its CEO.

“We have made a lot of improvements since JTA assumed ownership and operations of the ferry on March 31, 2016,” said JTA Chief Executive Officer Nat Ford.

“Ridership continues to grow, and improvements to the ferry’s infrastructure will continue thanks to grant awards that the JTA has received from the FTA,” Ford said. “With this recent award, the JTA will continue to strengthen the ferry’s infrastructure, and give our riders a safe and reliable service.”

In a media release, JTA thanked Florida’s Senators and Jacksonville’s two Congressmen, Rutherford and Al Lawson, for their work on behalf of the project.

Homeless rights bill filed

The Jacksonville City Council will consider in the coming weeks a “Homeless Bill of Rights,” legislation that will codify civil rights for the city’s dispossessed populations.

Jacksonville to enter the national conversation about homeless rights.

Ordinance 2018-308, filed by Councilwoman Katrina Brown, contends that “the basic rights all people should enjoy must be guaranteed for homeless individuals and families,” and attempts to “assure that basic human rights are not being trampled simply because someone happens to be homeless.”

The bill would guarantee the right to move freely for homeless people, as well as rights to be “protected by law enforcement,” to prayer, to voting, to quality emergency health services, to “occupy” legally parked cars, and to have a “reasonable expectation of privacy over personal property.”

Undoubtedly, at least some of the enumerated prerogatives will be major talkers in City Council committees.

The National Coalition for the Homeless has pushed for this legislation, and Brown’s bill aligns with the goals of that organization.

Smackdown for hit-free zone

A solid month of deliberation over a bill that initially intended to make all of Jacksonville’s public spaces “hit-free zones,” then was gradually watered down to just include City Hall and still make spanking permissible, ended with a 9-9 vote and the bill being killed Tuesday.

Big government won’t get in the way of parental spankings in City Hall.

Two weeks ago, the bill was deferred, with concerns about everything from “big government” overreach and inhibiting parental discipline to effects on employees tasked with stopping people from hitting each other in offices like the tax collector and supervisor of elections shops.

Last week, the legislation slogged through committees. Two panels voted the bill up 4-3; the third group downed it 3-4.

On Tuesday, despite the changes, the bill couldn’t get over the hump. As has been the case for a month, Council members defended the use of spanking to discipline children during the discussion, while fretting about unintended consequences of the legislative proposal.

Councilman Garrett Dennis, the bill sponsor who has been at odds with the Mayor’s Office, hasn’t been shy about saying that his bills aren’t getting a fair hearing because of City Hall internal politics.

This was the latest example.

Oddsmakers still unconvinced about Jaguars

The NFL draft is history, the first rookie minicamp is yet to begin. The regular season is still four months away. Many of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ players, coaches and management can’t wait.

After coming within five minutes of heading to the Super Bowl and adding some core skill players, the Jags and coach Doug Marrone believe they can take the next step. Those giving odds believe their chance is average at best.

Oddsmakers still not sold on Doug Marrone and the Jacksonville Jaguars. (Photo via Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

The bookies at Bovada place three AFC teams ahead of the Jaguars and one alongside when it comes to winning the conference championship. The team that kept Jacksonville out of the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots, are again favored to defend their title in the next one.

Bovada has the Patriots as 9-4 favorites to win the AFC, but the Pittsburgh Steelers, whom the Jags defeated twice in Pittsburgh last year, are second at 9-2. The Houston Texans face 10-1 odds followed by Jacksonville and the Los Angeles Chargers at 11-1.

As the season progresses, Jacksonville’s odds will improve if the play of quarterback Blake Bortles resembles the Bortles displayed in the playoffs against the Steelers and Patriots.

With the draft providing Bortles with more help on offense, as well as fortifying an outstanding defensive unit, the Jags know they can now play with anyone. With the talent with the confidence and swagger — exemplified by shutdown cornerback Jalen Ramsey — they have a chance to prove last year was no fluke.

If betting were legal in Florida, the Jaguars might be worth risking a few bucks.

Cash-strapped UF Health looks to sell outpatient dialysis service

For Jacksonville’s safety-net hospital UF Health, money has been tight for a number of years.

And the latest fiscal constraints are driving a change to the business model, per UF Health CEO Leon Haley.

In a letter to Jacksonville City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche, Haley notes that the hospital is negotiating to sell its outpatient dialysis service to a national, not-for-profit provider by the end of June.

The unnamed company, per Haley, already has a contract to handle these services.

Practical considerations govern the move.

One such: that the business model is moving away from hospital settings to free-standing dialysis centers.

Another consideration: the hospital’s current outpatient dialysis center is in need of “significant … expensive … renovation and modernization.”

But the deciding factor seems to be that the move is made necessary by what Haley calls “significant federal and state funding shortfalls.”

State funding, per Haley, has dropped by $31 million in the last three years. Additionally, $12.7 million in federal cuts will happen this calendar year.

This shortfall threatens core services; the sale is framed as a way to make up some of that lost money.

Jacksonville, unlike other Florida cities of its size, lacks an indigent care tax; this surfeit makes UF Health funding especially vulnerable to flux in state and federal funding.

UF Health is the sixth-largest employer in the area, a major training ground for medical professionals throughout the state, and a health care resource and safety net for indigent populations.

The city contribution to the hospital has held steady for years at just over $26 million.

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