Jacksonville Archives - Page 7 of 62 - Florida Politics

Jacksonville Bold for 8.4.17 — Squad goals

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is all about loyalty, and much of this edition comes back to the idea of one’s squad as a result.

For example, there’s Curry’s candidate in the House District 15 race to succeed Jay Fant, who is running for Attorney General instead of pursuing re-election.

And then there’s the push to sell reform of the city’s children’s programs. He worked the Council, asking for support. Fourteen of the 19 were there at the press event. And some of those who did not attend had plausible reasons for not being there. While others’ reasons, including at least one Council leader, occasioned more scrutiny from Curry’s inner circle.

Of course, Curry isn’t the only executive concerned with his squad. Sheriff Mike Williams addressed what happens when a president of your own party jokes about police brutality while getting his own squad together from the donor class.

As ever: teamwork makes the dream work, in politics and policy both.

Al Lawson, Dems file student loan relief bill

For those dealing with student loan debt, there’s some good news: Rep. Lawson filed a bill this week that would allow refinancing at a lower rate and would eliminate the tax penalty for loan forgiveness.

Al Lawson is selling student loan relief, but will the GOP bite?

The bill has a dozen sponsors, all Democrats — a discouraging augury given that the White House has shown no leanings toward student loan forgiveness measures of any type.

“Unfortunately, the cost of college has increased significantly in the last decade, and for many Americans, this avenue to a brighter future has become unaffordable. Reducing student debt will help increase economic activity and provide our nation’s students with the relief and opportunity they deserve,” Lawson said.

The bill, if passed in its current form, would also eliminate origination fees.

New VA Clinic for Jacksonville

First Coast News reports that a House bill passed late last month includes good news for local veterans.

John Rutherford meets with Veterans at a current Jax VA clinic.

“The portion of the bill that directly impacts Jacksonville involves the potential clinic constructed at an undecided location. If the bill is signed into law, the future clinic will replace Jacksonville VA Southpoint and Jacksonville VA University,” FCN reports.

All told, those outmoded facilities encompass 50,000 square feet of space.

Good news: “if the bill is signed into law the plan for the lease includes a facility that encompasses about 164,000 square feet in the Jacksonville area with 1,150 parking spaces.”

Bad news: this could take up to five years to become a reality.

Aaron Bean is Clean

After all that, nothing.

The Florida Ethics Commission cleared Sen. Bean of long-standing allegations by a political opponent.

Aaron Bean’s accuser, Carlos Slay, pushed a story without merit.

The Florida Commission on Ethics found “no probable cause to believe that Senator Bean misused his position to secure an appropriation in the State budget for a business venture in which he was personally involved, and dismissed the allegation,” according to a Wednesday news release.

Bean had vigorously maintained his innocence, but reports out of Naples, Florida — the first tip-off that something was amiss — heated up the story … mostly because the reporter in question knew nothing about the sketchy background of the tipster.

Let’s see when the stories emerge clearing Bean’s name. We’ll wait.

Meanwhile, here’s the book on Carlos Slay.

Kim Daniels dinged for dodgy disclosures

More financial ethics issues have emerged for Rep. Daniels. And they could lead to action in the Florida House against the Jacksonville Democrat.

Issues from Rep. Kim Daniels’ time on Jacksonville City Council remain unresolved.

The Florida Ethics Commission found probable cause to believe that Daniels filed inaccurate Form 6s, representing financial disclosures for 2012, 2013, and 2014. Kim Daniels FEC investigation.

Daniels failed to list properties owned by her churches, which added up to $1,000,000 of undeclared assets. Indeed, her churches had multiple properties — “parsonages” in various cities, time shares and over a dozen cars.

Daniels, at that point, was serving her term on the Jacksonville City Council.

Daniels has faced similar scrutiny related to campaign finance before: the Florida Elections Commission found probable cause that Daniels spent campaign funds advertising one of her religious books, the Demon Dictionary, in a vanity-press publication called Shofar.

Daniels, a traveling evangelist, went through a rocky divorce earlier this decade, one which led to sensational allegations regarding her management of household and church finances.

Her 2016 financial disclosure revealed salary of roughly $200,000 from preaching and a net worth of just under $600,000.

Daniels could settle or could have an administrative hearing regarding these charges.

Daniels is not talking to Florida Politics about these matters. She interviewed with Action News Jax recently, in which she vigorously denied the findings of the state commissions.

Mia Jones backs Gillum for Governor

Tallahassee Mayor Gillum rolled out the most significant Jacksonville endorsement of his campaign for the Democratic nomination for Governor Wednesday, in the form of former State Rep. Jones.

Andrew Gillum has made a play in Jacksonville, but Mia Jones is his only major local backer thus far.

Jones called Gillum a “tireless public servant willing to take on the tough fights … just the kind of leader Floridians need now.”

“He will rebuild our economy, so it creates better-paying jobs at every rung of the income ladder; protect and defend our access to affordable health care; fight for public school students’ education, and confront our climate change crisis,” Jones said, saying that Gillum would “fight for what we believe in.”

Gillum is “thrilled” with Jones’ endorsement, calling her a “fierce fighter for affordable health care and common-sense health care policies,” an advocate for “our most vulnerable seniors in Florida nursing homes,” and “a champion for our historically black universities and all of Florida’s higher education institutions.”

The two are excited to campaign together, both said.

Gillum and Gwen Graham are the only two candidates for the Democratic nomination making a play in Jacksonville.

Graham has endorsements from former Mayors Tommy Hazouri and Jake Godbold, along with City Councilman Garrett Dennis.

Mayor’s man to take HD 15 GOP nod?

With Rep. Fant still gunning for the Republican nod for Attorney General, questions emerged regarding his replacement … but it seems we know who that will be, with local establishment favorite Wyman Duggan poised to enter.

Wyman Duggan has the machine behind him in his bid to replace Jay Fant.

Duggan will have some road-tested names running his operation: Tim Baker as consultant, Brian Hughes on comms. Baker and Hughes — the top talent working this market — will have the resources they need for whatever campaign awaits the candidate.

Expect a top-shelf finance committee behind Duggan, especially given that Duval GOP legend John Falconetti and Jacksonville Mayor Curry have been crucial to urging Duggan to run and getting support from local stakeholders.

Curry and Rep. Jason Fischer have formally endorsed Duggan; more endorsements are coming.

Re-org for children’s programs

Announced this week: Curry will roll the JCC and the Jacksonville Journey into one new structure: the Kids’ Hope Alliance (the Jacksonville Partnership for Children, Youth and Families).

The group will have a seven-person board, comprised of mayoral appointees who must be approved by the City Council; as with Curry’s reformation of the JEA Board earlier in his term, the goal is to move the organization toward linear accountability.

Hizzonor emphatically launches children’s program reforms.

The transition period will take six months: the first three months, starting in October, will allow the Journey and the JCC to finish their business; by January, a board should be seated to carry on the KHA’s mission. If that doesn’t happen, Plan B is to run JCC and Jax Journey out of the Mayor’s Office, until the board is approved by City Council.

The strong indication is that the board will be in place by the end of the year, however.

Curry is prioritizing business-minded people with big picture visions and strong resumes for board inclusion, similar again to his reformation of the JEA Board. Board members will understand finance and organizational structure, Curry said and would understand the necessity of hiring management and staff that understands the mechanics of the services offered.

Fourteen council members have agreed to co-sponsor the measure so far.

Media questions Mayor’s ethics

Jacksonville Mayor Curry took a business development trip with Jaguars owner and mega donor Shad Khan in July, and questions, via First Coast News, are still being raised about the ethics of it all.

The end game for this trip: Shipyards development. But logistical questions have simmered.

The trip to Kansas City, Baltimore and St. Louis was framed by Curry as an endeavor to “know their ideas and their failures to move our downtown forward.”

City Ethics Director Carla Miller is reviewing the trip, though she notes that there is no law against a mayor flying on a private jet.

Miller has up to 90 days to conclude her review.

Jax Sheriff talks Donald Trump’s “paddy wagon” joke.

Jacksonville Sheriff Williams addressed President Donald Trump’s recent “joke” about police brutality this week, making it clear those comments weren’t helpful to local law enforcement.

“I try to stay away from getting involved, trying to justify anything the president says,” Williams noted.

The president’s attempts at support (or humor) can often have unintended consequences.

“Talking about Jacksonville, and what appears to be a joke about police brutality, we take that very seriously,” Williams said.

“We’ve shown in the last two years, when it comes to police brutality and misconduct, that we take it very seriously and act swiftly and appropriately. That’s the lens through which we should look at Jacksonville — how we respond to stuff,” Williams added.

“I’d encourage people to look at what we do in Jacksonville and how we respond,” Williams continued, “instead of broad-brushing us with a joke from D.C.”

Williams is looking to add 100 new officers this year, which will make the department “appropriately-sized” and facilitate the kind of community policing that he would like to see more of.

First in Bold: Williams committee posts strong June numbers

“A Safe Jacksonville,” the political committee for Sheriff Williams, reported strong fundraising in July.

A $60,000+ month has the committee with over $80,000 on hand — and, says our source, that is even with fundraising not having started seriously until July 12.

Among the bigger names of the donors: Toney Sleiman, who ponied up $5,000; Gary Chartrand, at the same level; Travis Cummings, at $5,000 via committees; Ander Crenshaw at $3,500; and John Falconetti at $2,500.

Sauce loss for Jax in worthless default judgment

Last week, the city of Jacksonville won a $222,000 default judgment against businesses belonging to the family of Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown.

How does my default taste?

This judgment was the culmination of a long-standing legal action against CoWealth LLC and Basic Products LLC, two shell companies of the Brown family that — back in 2011 — accepted roughly $600,000 in loans and grants designed to kick-start a BBQ sauce plant that was intended to be a job-creating engine for Northwest Jacksonville.

Alas, the engine stalled — of the 56 jobs that were intended to be created, zero permanent jobs came to pass.

An amended motion for default was filed by the city with the Duval County Court on June 20, with the city pressing two shell companies — “CoWealth LLC” and “Basic Products LLC” — for $210,549.99 in claw-back money and another $10,585.01 for interest, calculated back to June 2016, when the city of Jacksonville began to move toward litigation.

Jax mulls suit of opioid producers

As part of its ongoing fight against opioid overdoses, the city of Jacksonville is mulling a lawsuit against Big Pharma companies, a strategy discussed Thursday afternoon by Councilman Bill Gulliford in Council Chambers.

Bill Gulliford is no stranger to moving Council in his direction.

Making a presentation at the meeting: Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, a firm which has specialized in class action consumer protection suits, including a successful action against Enron years ago for billions of dollars.

There is a precedent for such legal action being taken. Reuters reports that Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri are all suing pharmaceutical companies, on the grounds of their aggressive marketing running afoul of consumer protection laws.

Closer to home, Delray Beach is suing opioid manufacturers, claiming that their product spawned the city’s heroin epidemic, with each overdose costing the town $2,000 — a number that Gulliford said didn’t sound unreasonable, given the expenses of transport and treatment for each victim.

The law firm that presented in Jacksonville Thursday is the same one representing Delray Beach in its action.

Wally Lee, RIP

This week, Jacksonville mourned former Jax Chamber President Lee, who saw the organization through a period of local and regional growth and transition.

The Jax Daily Record notes that Lee had a blood infection after emergency surgery for a spinal cyst in late July.

Wally Lee was universally respected in Jacksonville; he will be missed.

Local notables lauded Lee’s legacy.

Jax Chamber President Daniel Davis described Lee as “passionate about growing Jacksonville and pushing our city forward.”

Former Mayor John Delaney, whose eight years in office coincided with part of Lee’s leadership of the Chamber, described the body as “particularly strong” under his presidency.

Save the date: Travis Hutson Deep-Sea Invitational

State Sen. Hutson is hosting his Third Annual Deep-Sea Fishing Invitational at the Casa Monica Hotel in St. Augustine, Wednesday, Aug. 23, and Thursday, Aug. 24. Wednesday highlights include a 4:45 p.m. tour of the St. Augustine Distillery and 6:30 p.m. dinner at Prohibition Kitchen. On Thursday, the day starts with 6:30 a.m. shuttle to the Marina for a 7:15 a.m. departure. The evening finishes with a 6:30 p.m. fish fry at Costa Brava Restaurant.

Casa Monica Hotel is at 95 Cordova St. in St. Augustine. A special hotel group rate is $169 per night. For more information, contact Brianna Jordan at 203-313-4695 or Brianna@frontstreetflorida.com.

John Thrasher among nominees for veterans’ hall

The News Service of Florida reports that Florida State University President Thrasher, a former state House speaker who served in the Vietnam War, is among 20 candidates for spots in the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame. The Florida Veterans Hall of Fame Council gives the maximum number of names to Gov. Scott and the Cabinet to consider for enshrinement in the hall of fame. Scott and the Cabinet — Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis — are expected to vote on the nominees Sept. 26.

Florida State University President John Thrasher, who served in the Vietnam War, is among 20 candidates for spots in the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame.

 

The 2016 class, which featured 11 inductees, included the late Gov. Reubin Askew, the late Gov. LeRoy Collins, the late Gov. and U.S. Sen. Spessard Holland and former state Rep. William Proctor of St. Augustine.

Shuffle off to Amazon

The Florida Times-Union reports that the Jacksonville Transportation Authority is launching a shuttle Aug. 7 to the North Jacksonville Amazon facility. Timed around shift changes, the shuttle will move between JTA’s park-and-ride facility at 3191 Armsdale Road, just south of I-295, and Amazon, 12900 Pecan Park Road

A new shuttle will transport workers to and from the Amazon North Jacksonville fulfillment facility.

While the Armsdale hub offers parking spaces and bike racks but is also part of the First Coast Flyer route, which connects it to the rest of the JTA system.

The initial schedule has buses running 30 minutes before and finishing 30 minutes after each shift change and will arrive every five to seven minutes. Cost is $1.50 each way, or $3 roundtrip. A trip from another hub within the city to Armsdale adds another $1.50 each way.

UNF beer study to examine yeast strain, flavoring

The University of North Florida is investigating the yeast strain Brettanomyces, which has been a traditional flavor component for beer, but one that proves difficult in winemaking.

UNF biology professor Dr. Michael Lentz has study Brettanomyces for about five years, telling the Florida Times-Union: “We can’t taste it or smell it, but once the yeast gets ahold of it, it becomes a flavor component” that is become popular with craft beer brewers.

UNF is studying a certain strain of beer yeast that gives craft beers a distinct flavor.

Found throughout the globe, the yeast strain is common in Florida fields. Lentz is examining how the strain thrives, evolves and interacts with fermented drinks.

Happy birthday

To Jacksonville-based powerbroker Marty Fiorentino, leader of the Fiorentino Group, who celebrates today.

Happy birthday Marty Fiorentino!

Jax Zoo begins work on African Forest great apes exhibit

Work has started on the new Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens exhibit for inhabitants of the Great Apes Loop reports the Florida Times-Union. Construction, which should continue through this time next year, will ultimately feature overhead trails, more true-to-life habitat and will have a 40-foot tropical tree as a centerpiece.

No monkeying around with the new African Forest great apes exhibit at the Jax Zoo

Tony Vecchio, the zoo’s executive director, tells the T-U the $9 million project is worth the wait, for better viewing, “wellness-inspired” design and “transformative” foliage

Now one of the zoo’s oldest exhibits, the Great Apes area first premiered in 1998 and was quickly expanded.

Armada start Robert Palmer era with draw at home

The Jacksonville Armada started off the NASL Fall Season with a draw against the San Francisco Deltas. This was the team’s first game since announcing the new owner, Robert Palmer, who purchased the club earlier this month.

Kartik Krishnaiyer is reporting that Armada FC goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell began a great defensive effort with an outstanding save in the first minutes of the match. He extended his entire frame to hit the ball over the bar, stopping the promising shot from the Deltas.

Soon after, attacker Jackson of the Deltas sprinted ahead of the pack up the field and kicked the ball right into the box, but it stopped short of the goal. Delta’s Forward Tom Heinemann was in the box, and tried to tap the ball in but missed and the Armada was able to clear what could have given San Francisco an early lead.

The NASL Fall Season is in full swing and the Jacksonville Armada FC is preparing to travel to Puerto Rico this weekend! Photo: Facebook.

Derek Gebhard gave the Armada an opportunity minutes later, as he dueled with defenders and was able to get a good look at the goal. Gebhard kicked the ball just high of the goal but was tackled by Jackson, who subsequently received a yellow card.

J.C. Banks launched a shot on goal during the 32nd minute, the Armada’s first of the match. Charles Eloundou set the midfielder up for a promising kick, but the shot went just high of the goal.

With momentum on their side, Gebhard was able to break away from his defender but was fouled. He was awarded a penalty kick for Jacksonville.

Jack Blake stepped up to take the penalty kick in the 35th minute and nailed the first goal of the Robert Palmer era. The midfielder launched the ball into the right side of the net beating out San Francisco’s goalkeeper, Romuald Peiser, giving the Armada FC a 1-0 lead.

Patterson-Sewell made a clutch save in the 43rd minute as he punched the ball away from the goal. About a minute later he made another save, as he knocked another shot on goal just over the crossbar solidifying the Armada’s 1-0 lead late in the first half.

The Armada FC had two near-misses during first half stoppage time. Gebhard sprinted in front of his defender and created space just outside of the box. He kicked the ball within striking distance, but no one was there to put the ball into the net.

Minutes later Blake tried once more for a goal too and headed the ball, but it went just outside of the net.

The Armada FC went into the halftime break with a 1-0 lead over the Deltas.

Jacksonville came out of the break with the initiative looking to get the elusive second goal. Eloundou and Banks were both able to take nice shots, but Peiser blocked both efforts.

The Deltas did not give up and during the 58th minute, Danny Cruz was able to equalize the score at one.

Patterson-Sewell made another great save after an Armada FC defensive miscommunication almost resulted in a goal. The goalkeeper roared with pride after he made a spectacular and pivotal play during the 67th minute to keep the Deltas from gaining more ground.

“It was a matter of trying [and] … hoping for the best. You train for that kind of stuff when the time is right there is no time to think about it; you just have to [rely] on your training. I was fortunate to keep it out,” said Patterson-Sewell.

Gebhard displayed his speed when he sprinted up the field attempting a shot on goal, but the ball went just wide left leaving the score knotted at one.

Blake continued the Armada FC’s momentum as he took another shot on goal in the 84th minute, but Peiser saved the shot.

Heinemann put the ball into the back of the net during the 90th minute, but the goal was waved off for a foul.

The teams ended the game at 1-1, resulting in a draw.

“It’s not the worst start. We got the draw, but hopefully, we can bounce back and get the win next week,” said Jack Blake. The Armada FC will head south and travel to Puerto Rico. The match will kick off at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 5.

Legislation calls for 7 new VA medical clinics in Florida

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson says lawmakers have authorized seven new medical facilities for veterans in Florida.

Nelson said in a news release Wednesday that the new Veterans Affairs facilities will be located in Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, Ocala, Tampa and Lakeland, with two in Gainesville. A total of 28 around the country were approved. Some are replacements for clinics already operating, while others are new.

By law, Congress must approve any VA leases that would result in an average rental payment of more than $1 million per year.

The legislation authorizing the new Florida facilities was included in a larger veterans’ health care bill. The measure, which was approved by the House last week, heads to the president’s desk to be signed into law.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

More money for Jax after-school programs as Lenny Curry pushes for reform

Monday morning saw Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and City Council President Anna Brosche announce that $1.071M of new money would be available for after school programs this coming academic year.

With reforms to be announced Wednesday morning at a press conference for the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jacksonville Journey this week, this is another short-term solution to a problem that Curry doesn’t want to see in the long term, with money to pay for it swept out of various accounts — more detail on that will come in the filed legislation.

Curry’s statement spoke to that “Band-Aid” solution reality, ahead of meetings with nine Council members on Monday, more on Tuesday, and a Wednesday press conference to announce comprehensive reforms.

“Council President Brosche and I remain committed to creating a city where children from their earliest age through young adulthood have the tools and resources to thrive,” said Mayor Curry.

“As I’ve stated many times before, our youth are our city’s future, and I believe every child deserves access to programs and initiatives that will build brighter futures, pathways and opportunities for them,” Curry added.

“Although we are pleased to increase the offerings and improve access, we recognize that this is essentially a Band-Aid. It is another stopgap measure to help meet the urgent needs of children this school year, which is why the reforms that I will be introducing are essential to our children,” Curry continued.

Much of Curry’s summer has been occupied with the problem of underfunded summer camps.

The city allocated nearly a million dollars to funding camps for underprivileged youth in June. Despite such an allocation, hiccups remained in the dispersal of money to providers, at least one of which was running the program out of her own pocket.

Curry has promised reforms to the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and Jacksonville Journey frameworks, and one should expect those to be rolled out in the coming days. A significant architect of the Journey vision, we hear, is involved in the schematics.

The reforms, CP Brosche said, would be “structural in nature.” (For an analogue of such structural reforms, one might consider Curry’s reforms of the JEA Board, to which he brought people who shared his vision, who then instituted changes in governance and accointability).

JCC will continue to exist and be independent, per Brosche, a vision that accords with her larger vision for the city’s children.

Council President Brosche added, via statement, the following.

“Back to school is a time when students, families and educators are full of hope about the new school year,” said  Brosche. “How the city wraps itself around our children is one of the most important investments we can make in our future. I appreciate and applaud Mayor Curry’s efforts to find and reallocate budget resources to reach more children.”

Council members beyond Brosche are conceptually in favor of reform, but they all have individual concerns — which will come up this week as the Mayor meets with Council members one-on-one, with nine meetings slated for Monday alone.

Southside Republican Scott Wilson notes that some of his neighborhoods struggle like those that are in the ten Jacksonville Journey zip codes, and wants to ensure that his district’s interests are protected.

Councilman Reggie Gaffney, one of the first Council members to meet with the Mayor, noted that reforms would be unveiled in a Wednesday press conference — and that he support Curry’s “vision to restructure” the beleaguered JCC’s changes.

“The program will be totally different,” Gaffney said. “I do support his vision and direction.”

Also supporting Curry’s reforms: Councilwoman Katrina Brown, who took to Facebook Monday afternoon to communicate that commitment

Councilman John Crescimbeni, meanwhile, described his chat with Curry as a “preliminary conversation,” suggesting that details would be in legislation from the Mayor’s Office, expected to drop this week.

Expect that those who appear Wednesday with Curry at the aforementioned press conference share his vision for reform.

And those who don’t, meanwhile, may be hazarding a certain level of risk vis a vis the Mayor’s Office.

Jacksonville Bold for 7.28.17 — Institutional knowledge

If this week’s issue of Bold has a unifying theme, it’s “institutional knowledge.”

What that phrase means, in a political sense: knowing your milieu, learning what you can and can’t do in office. “Passing the torch,” so to speak.

For our area’s congressmen, you will see below how the power of knowing one’s way around Capitol Hill translates into a smoother path to re-election than to the first election.

For Jacksonville’s mayor, it means knowing that whatever blowback might be received in the press for an early-week junket with the city’s leading businessman may be worth the benefit.

And for the folks on Jacksonville’s City Council, the phrase is a double-edged sword.

There are some who believe institutional knowledge is conferred via osmosis … or title. Not the case.

The phrase comes down to being able to manipulate the levers of power — whether one has the title or not.

Institutions, by necessity, function best with stable, merit-based hierarchy. When that hierarchy is subverted, things get interesting.

Al Lawson, John Rutherford pack war chests

First-year Jacksonville-area Congressmen Rutherford and Lawson may have different party labels.

But they both have strong fundraising in the latest campaign finance report, suggesting that either will be tough outs in primaries.

Speaker Paul Ryan backs Rep. John Rutherford, as proven by the most recent campaign finance filings.

Rutherford hauled in over $155,000 off 69 total contributions from January to June 2017; Lawson brought in over $158,000 off 118 total contributions, doing even better than Rutherford.

Rutherford’s committee has over $132,000 on hand, a number offset by nearly $96,000 in debts.

Lawson, still without that Jacksonville challenger, has over $148,000 on hand — a number offset by nearly $79,000 in debts and loans.

Most compelling donor? The political committee of House Speaker Paul Ryan, giving to Rutherford.

Lawson talks ‘blue collar’ outreach

The Tallahassee Democrat was on hand for Lawson’s recent comments at the North Florida Democratic Club’s summer picnic.

Lawson, a Democrat representing Congressional District 5, worries that the party has forgotten its core message.

Al Lawson’s take on where Dems have gone wrong is worth noting.

“Fourteen percent of African-American men voted for Donald Trump. Fifty-three percent of white women voted for Donald Trump,” Lawson said.

“This, we can’t let happen anymore in America. We are the ones who have fought for Social Security, fought for equal pay for women, fought for Medicaid. They are the ones who want to cut,” Lawson added.

Lawson cited the party’s enthusiasm gap with the “blue collar worker,” urging those on hand to reach out to groups that help to consolidate the base.

Mike Williams, Melissa Nelson show up for Ashley Moody

Tuesday was not a great day for the campaign of Rep. Jay Fant for Attorney General — as his GOP primary opponent, Ashley Moody, held a fundraiser in his backyard.

Among the significant attendees are two of the biggest names in #jaxpol: Sheriff Williams, who helmed the host committee; and 4th Circuit State Attorney Nelson — who is not endorsing in this one, but is pictured with the candidate below.

All smiles with Ashley Moody and Melissa Nelson. Picture from Moody’s campaign page.

On the host committee: Gary Chartrand, the charter school impresario, and Nelson supporter; Hank Coxe, one of the leading defense attorneys in the state, and Nelson supporter; Buddy Schulz, another key Nelson ally.

We weren’t on hand, alas … but we did have eyes in the room, and here’s what those eyes saw.

Attendees comprised a “who’s who of Ortega and Avondale” — the heart of Fant’s House district, and a short walk from where he kicked off his own AG money campaign.

Worth watching: how much money Moody harvests from Jacksonville donors, as reflected on her next campaign finance report.

Already, the money race is uglier than 5 p.m. on the Fuller-Warren bridge.

Lenny Curry flies the friendly skies, Shad Khan style

An early-week trip by Jacksonville Mayor Curry and Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa caught the eye of the Florida Times-Union Tuesday … as it was on Jags’ owner Khan’s corporate jet.

Lenny Curry finds the skies to be friendly when flying in Shad Khan’s jet

Described as “a two-day trip to St. Louis and Baltimore to take care of official and political work,” T-U scribe Nate Monroe asserted multiple purposes for the trip, including a discussion of “downtown development.”

“What compelled Curry to take the trip, or who he is meeting with to discuss downtown development ideas or his political career, is not clear,” Monroe writes.

Whether clear or not, Curry and Mousa — in an email exchange — extolled the virtues of the trip so far.

Curry to Mousa: “Let’s debrief quickly after today’s St. Louis trip and tomorrow’s Baltimore on downtown development. We need to discuss design, finance, infrastructure.”

Mousa’s reply?

“Yes, sir. Interesting and creative matters we learned today.”

Likewise opaque: who is paying for the trip.

As it could be another in a series of Khan-tributions to Curry’s “Build Something That Lasts” political committee, the finance report for the committee will be worth watching to see precise valuations and itemizations of Curry’s junket.

Paul Renner to take over Ways and Means

To the victor goes the spoils. Rep. Renner of Palm Coast — fresh off winning the Speaker’s race for 2022 — will get some gavel practice by helming the Florida House Ways and Means Committee.

Paul Renner: a rising star in the Florida GOP, and a future House Speaker.

This role will give Renner some practice with the purse strings, and said practice will be during an interesting year — a watershed election on the state level, with all constitutional offices in play.

Renner, though representing Palm Coast, is very much a Jacksonville guy — a local lawyer who came within two votes of representing Jacksonville itself in the Florida House in 2014.

Jason Fischer: Audit the School Board!

On Monday, State Rep. Fischer proposed a state financial audit of the Duval County School Board on which he served until last year.

Fischer’s take: the district is more concerned about potentially suing over the controversial “Schools of Hope” bill he advocated than it is with getting its “financial house in order,” after recent revelations of spending $21M beyond its budget.

Jason Fischer wants a tighter rein on School Board spending.

Fischer has a backup on the board: fellow Republican Scott Shine, who already has amassed $30,000 for his own re-election bid to the body, “welcomes” such an audit.

In an open letter released Tuesday, Shine wrote that he is “not concerned with the possibility of a Legislative Audit.”

“As I suggested to the board [July 18, we need to institute additional peer review and a Legislative audit can be a part of that review process,” Shine wrote.

Shine also noted that the CFO responsible for the budget imbalance was “removed,” in light of the “considerable mistake” made by the budget office.

Garrett Dennis: More cops, please!

Jacksonville progressives are pushing back against Mayor Curry’s proposal to hire more cops. But City Council Finance Chair Dennis is riding with the Mayor on this one.

Garrett Dennis’ positions meet with the approval of the local police union.

Dennis, who attends roughly a dozen community meetings a month, has “yet to hear that we have too many police officers.”

“I understand their concerns,” Dennis said regarding the JPC position, “but I have yet to hear that at any neighborhood association meeting.”

Many in Dennis’ District 9 experience a certain type of more aggressive policing than do those in neighboring District 14.

Dennis’ take?

“Look at the crime stats, and see what crimes are committed” in each district.

Dennis notes that the crimes that predominate in District 9 are of a certain type: “aggravated assault, drugs, violent crime.”

In District 14, meanwhile, the crimes are of a different type, such as “break-ins and auto thefts.”

“The tactics are going to be different based on the crime,” Dennis said.

Term limits bill on ice

When in doubt, defer.

That was the conclusion drawn by the Jacksonville City Council, which opted to defer action on a controversial bill that, if passed, would allow an almost-certain-to-fail referendum to extend term limits for Jacksonville elected officials, allowing three consecutive terms for all offices but the Mayor.

The bill sailed through committees but stalled out in the full Council — with marginalized Council vets John Crescimbeni, Bill Gulliford, and Tommy Hazouri (all of whom got shafted in committee assignments, and missed out on the debate) cooling enthusiasm among many colleagues.

While bill sponsor Matt Schellenberg got help from Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown, Tuesday’s exercise was a reminder of political reality.

While it may be possible to shunt Gulliford, Hazouri, and Crescimbeni to the side, if the three of them are aligned, they make a formidable dissident bloc … one that could make budget deliberations in August and September really interesting for a Council President who got installed via a loose coalition that may have only been viable for the leadership vote.

Jags reach out to region

The Jacksonville Jaguars are redoubling (or re-tripling at this point?) its efforts to build a regional fan base, the Florida Times-Union reports.

The problem, as it’s been historically: the bulk of tickets are sold in Duval, Clay and St. Johns counties. Baker and Nassau: negligible factors. And beyond that? Gets perilously close to Bucs/Falcons/Dolphins country.

Some say only winning will fill the oft-empty seats at EverBank Field.

But they’ve got to keep choppin’ wood, with Gainesville, Tallahassee, Brunswick and even Orlando suburbs in the mix.

People travel to Jacksonville for single games, but as anyone who has been to a Jags game knows, they are often there to cheer the road team on.

The Jags’ goal: to become the Green Bay Packers of the South. Easier to do that with more 11-5 years than 5-11 letdowns.

Opioid Watch

Northwest Florida continues to attempt a response to the opioid crisis crushing the nation.

Action News Jax reports that Baker County Commissioner Cathy Rhoden has a daughter addicted to heroin, and Rhoden hopes to parlay that personal experience into community education.

The addiction crisis knows no borders.

Rhoden’s goal: to start a task force, similar to that already in the county for meth.

Meanwhile, Jacksonville saw a conference of people on the front lines of the battle in the region, and First Coast News was on hand.

The seminar was put on by a Canadian rehab company, Trafalgar Residence.

Clearly dominating the Canadian market, it would appear Trafalgar wants to move south of the border.

Verklempt over Volstead

There’s a tear in A.G. Gancarski’s absinthe cocktail, as his favorite bar — the Volstead — is set to close next month, reports the Florida Times-Union.

The best bar in Jacksonville is about to close, yet another night life casualty Downtown.

The bar has a “farewell affair to remember” Aug. 18, with the final night of operations Aug. 21.

It’s difficult to overstate what Volstead meant downtown. The speak-easy embodied a prohibition era aesthetic, with great drinks and plenty of space to mill.

However, the real utility of Volstead was its proximity to City Hall, as it became the go-to spot for off-the-record conversations between pols and savvy reporters, where the secrets spilled were every bit as delicious as the liquor swilled.

What Aaron Bean is up to in August

On Wednesday, Aug. 2, the Fernandina Beach Republican will speak to the Rotary Club of West Jacksonville for an overview of the 2017 Legislative Session. Event begins 12:30 p.m. at the Florida Yacht Club, 5210 Yacht Club Road in Jacksonville. Then, on Tuesday, Aug. 15, Sen. Bean will also offer another overview for the Rotary Club of San Jose’s meeting, beginning 6 p.m. at the San Jose Country Club, 7529 San Jose Boulevard in Jacksonville.

Save the date: Flagler County GOP election kickoff barbecue

Flagler County’s Republican Club kicks off the 2018 election season with an afternoon of fun, food and fellowship at the Princess place preserve Aug. 19. Special guest is Republican Party of Florida Chair Blaise Ingoglia, who will cut the ribbon on the season at 2 p.m. State Sen. Travis Hutson and Speaker-to-be Renner will be honored for sponsoring the Republican Club Youth Scholarships for 2017-18. Emceeing the event is retired Flagler County Clerk Gail Wadsworth. To order tickets, click here.

Adam Putnam, Renner featured at Florida Chamber veteran summit

Leaders from Florida’s military and defense industry, economic development experts, policymakers and the business community will be at the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Military, Defense & Veterans Opportunities Summit Aug. 8 at the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld, 6677 Sea Harbor Dr. in Orlando.

The event’s theme is examining challenges facing Florida veterans throughout the next 15-plus years and identify solutions.

Adam Putnam, Paul Renner will be featured at the Florida Chamber veteran summit Aug. 8.

Among the featured guests are state Rep. Renner, Agriculture Commissioner Putnam (as keynote) and retired Brig. Gen. Michael Fleming, who serves as Jacksonville University’s senior vice president of University Relations and Development. Fleming and Renner will also host a panel entitled “Making Connections: Eliminating Obstacles for Veteran Entrepreneurs.”

More information and reservations are at the Florida Chamber website.

Intuition Ale Works sponsoring cart service for events

Jacksonville Business Journal reports that Intuition Ale Works is one of the sponsors of the passenger cart service EZEventRide, which transports physically impaired people and others who need the service to and from events at Veterans Memorial Arena and EverBank Field.

EZEventRide’s 10 carts – which offer free rides – can take people from parking locations throughout the Jacksonville entertainment district.

Founder Bill Guerrant launched EZEventRide in 2014 after noticing an elderly couple struggling to walk nearly a mile from there parking spots to the stadium. Guerrant began in June 2014 after acquiring some golf carts. The company’s 10 carts – which offer free rides – can take people from parking locations throughout the Jacksonville entertainment district, in between the stadium and places like the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Waterfront, the Omni Jacksonville Hotel, Intuition and Manifest Distillery and others.

JTA CEO honored with leadership award

Nathaniel Ford Sr., CEO of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) was honored with the Thomas G. Neusom “Founders Award from the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO). This award is the highest honor bestowed by COMTO.

Ford accepted the award July 18 at the 46th National Meeting and Training Conference in Detroit, Michigan.

Nathaniel Ford Sr., CEO of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA).

The Founders Award honors public and private transportation executives and policymakers responsible for the direction and operation of their agency and who, through their affiliation with COMTO, have made outstanding contributions toward the growth and development of people of color within the transportation industry and have given continued and outstanding service and leadership to the COMTO organization.

“I am honored and grateful to be recognized by COMTO with this prestigious award,” said Ford. “JTA is committed to workplace diversity and it is evident throughout our operation.”

Frontier Airlines adds flights from Jax to Denver, Cincinnati

Flights from Jacksonville International Airport are expanding as Denver-based Frontier Airlines, a low-cost carrier start nonstop flights from Jacksonville to Denver and Cincinnati starting spring 2018, reports First Coast News. Flights will be on Airbus A320 aircraft.

Up, up and away … from Jax to Denver and Cincinnati.

“We are proud to announce the nationwide expansion of our unique brand of Low Fares Done Right which will empower millions more people to afford to fly,” Barry Biffle, president and CEO for Frontier Airlines, said in a statement.

Are two terms enough for Jacksonville’s public officials?

Back in the early 1990s, the people of Jacksonville voted via referendum to limit city officials to two consecutive terms.

Now, almost three decades later, a Jacksonville City Councilman wants another referendum — to amend that two-term limit, making it three terms for every elected office but that of the Mayor.

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

The bill (2017-358), introduced and carried by Finance Committeeman Matt Schellenberg, has been a priority of his for over a year; Schellenberg’s take is that Jacksonville voters are deprived of “institutional knowledge” if their Council members were restricted only to two four-year terms, as has been the case since the 1990s.

Tuesday night will tell the tale as to whether or not that referendum moves forward, as the full City Council gets to vote on the measure.

Last Tuesday, the bill was voted through two committees, Finance and Rules, each with an identical 5-2 margin in support.

Those who backed the bill hit the institutional knowledge talking points.

Councilman Reggie Brown‘s take? “The problem years back is that people lost confidence. Things are coming back now.”

Councilwoman Katrina Brown is willing to do three terms, she said, saying that those who did not want to do so “just don’t run.”

“I know on the Council we look at things in terms of what are citizens going to think, so we don’t look some kind of way,” Brown said.

However, Brown was willing to “look some kind of way” in support of a prevailing principle as important as this one.

Chairman Garrett Dennis found a way to blame the city’s pension crisis on term limits, stating without real proof that removing the experienced council members led to Jacksonville’s pension peril.

The Rules Committee was more measured, but hit the same notes.

There were some objections, of course, such as from Councilman Scott Wilson, who believed the community would “overwhelmingly reject” the measure, given that the public doesn’t like elected officials anymore than they did in the 1990s.

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

One important person yet to vote on the measure — Council President Anna Brosche — is ready to push this to the ballot and let the people decide.

“The increase of term limits was a thoughtful recommendation from the task force on consolidated government,” Brosche said, “and I respect the work of the task force. I can see both sides of this issue, and I am not afraid to put this question in the hands of the voters in the form of a referendum.”

Council business being conducted in the shadow of a referendum to remove term limits almost certainly will make for interesting public comment in the next year.

One key player — Mayor Lenny Curry — is officially agnostic on the matter; he told us last week that, for him, eight years is plenty of time in the Mayor’s Office.

Those close to the Mayor are a bit more voluble, with one noting that, in the nascent days of the Brosche Presidency, Council has discussed raising the millage rate and changing term limits.

Two big stories are worth watching on Tuesday night.

One story: does anyone who voted yes in committee flip their vote Tuesday?

Another story: if the measure passes, will the Mayor dust off the veto pen?

Jacksonville Bold for 7.22.17 — Shadow play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curry introduces new Jacksonville budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curry, compassionate conservative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Millage hike?

Will Curry break his “no tax hikes” pledge?

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

Property tax hikes were not popular in the 2015 elections.

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

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

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

Council to gut term limits?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donors give Duval County Schools an ultimatum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gwen Graham snags Duval endorsements, talks MMJ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Gulliford: ‘Christian Communist’ Pope

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murder charges for overdoses?

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

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

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

However, the T-U notes some issues.

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

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

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

Nancy Soderberg hits campaign trail

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

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

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

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

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

Curry boosts Rick Baker

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott talks Venezuela with Goldman Sachs

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

Turned out that meeting was important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appointed

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

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

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

Rayonier rebuff

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

Rayonier has been in Nassau County for decades.

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

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

City Hall for sale

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

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

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

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

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

Jax Beach Mayor mulls overdose epidemic

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

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

The opioid crisis knows no borders.

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

But, via Narcan, he was revived.

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

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

Doggone doped-up dogs

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

‘Independent contractors’ to blame for greyhound nose candy.

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

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

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

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

Naps, jobs cut from CSX

Reforms continue at CSX, per the Jacksonville Business Journal!

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

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

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

The goal: “Precision scheduling.”

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

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

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

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

Chris Hand talks downtown development

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

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

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

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

The whole column is worth a read.

JIA opens Firehouse Subs location

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

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

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

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

Robert Palmer buys the Armada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third term for Jacksonville City Council? The bill is back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not everyone was exactly sold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Curry discussed the budget with the media after the presentation.

Some highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fishweir Creek gets $1.6M for ecological rehab.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What might that process look like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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