Lenny Curry Archives - Florida Politics

Jacksonville Bold for 9.23.17 — Recovery mode

After a two-week sabbatical, Jacksonville Bold returns this week — with much of the content dealing with a city battling back from well-documented storm impacts (massive flooding in areas, power outages, et al.)

And, like Bold, the city is coming back.

Before the Jaguars kicked off Sunday, power was substantially restored (though it seemed to have come at the expense of efficiency on offense). Debris is piled by curbs, waiting for pickup. Life is moving on — though some of those who suffered most grievously during the storm are still waiting for a helping hand from government.

Charlotte Glaze gives Donna Lamb a teary hug Monday as she floats out some of her belongings in floodwaters from the Ortega River in Jacksonville. Photo via AP.

The question going forward, into next Tuesday’s budget vote and beyond: How will the city shoulder a second straight year of significant storm-related costs?

The capital improvement program was already big-spending and ambitious ($131M). Other adds were equally bold: a proposal for 100 new cops, and a proposal to spend $8M for capital improvements at the private HBCU, Edward Waters College.

As John Lennon said: “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”

But that quote was never intended to apply to municipal budgets; however, Jacksonville City Council members will be compelled to balance what happened this month with long-range planning made before Irma was even conceived.

Paul RyanFlorida delegation talk Irma

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Appropriations Chair Rodney Freylinghausen aren’t usually in Bold, but they are this week — as they visited Jacksonville as part of a three-stop tour with the Florida Delegation to discuss Irma relief.

The national figures didn’t talk to the local press (small market blues?), but Florida U.S. Reps, such as Ron DeSantis, had a consistent message: Northeast Florida cities will get what’s coming to them from FEMA.

Florida Delegation: Help is on the way from D.C.

“One of the things we’ve been impressing on the federal government is these communities are having to spend a lot of resources on things like debris removal. They need to have that money reimbursed in a timely fashion,” DeSantis said.

“You still have a lot of localities that are waiting to be reimbursed for Matthew,” DeSantis added. “That’s a bureaucratic process that’s got to be improved. We’ve been talking to and engaging FEMA about that.”

Rep. John Rutherford also noted that funds are in fact available … good news for budget hawks in City Hall.

Al Lawson fights for Jax FEMA funds

Last week saw politicians coming through Jacksonville for photo ops and to survey the damage. Perhaps the most unheralded visit was that of Rep. Lawson, who dropped into City Hall last week and talked to the Mayor about getting Jacksonville money … from Hurricane Matthew.

Al Lawson visits storm-damaged Ribault area in Jacksonville last week.

“I talked to the Mayor,” Lawson said, “and what I told him is that I know there’s some $26 million that the city hasn’t gotten from FEMA for the last hurricane, Matthew. That’s one of the things that we’re working on to try to make sure they get those funds, because of the devastation in this area.”

“Our goal is to get the resources down here quickly as possible,” Lawson said.

Regarding backlogs with FEMA payouts, which can take years, Lawson noted that “this hurricane affected the whole state, and one of the things we need to do on the federal level is get that money released earlier.”

Lawson has worked, since beating Corrine Brown in the 2016 Democratic Primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, to build up local bona fides and ward off a potential local challenge. As of the end of June, the first-term Democrat had nearly $150,000 cash on hand for his next campaign.

Lawson promised us that Speaker Ryan would come to visit … and he was as good as his word, as you read above.

Rutledge Pearson Post Office?

Pushing for federal funds is one way Lawson is localizing his approach; pushing to name a local post office after one of the most influential civil rights leaders in regional history is another.

Sunshine State News reports that Lawson seeks to rename the Kings Road post office after Rutledge Pearson; this play is backed by most of the Florida Congressional Delegation, with Rep. Ted Yoho the sole Northeast Florida exception.

Fifty years after his suspicious death, Rutledge Pearson is still remembered.

“Rutledge Pearson, a Jacksonville native, was an American history teacher, civil rights leader and distinguished baseball player,” Lawson said last week. “His legacy in Jacksonville, especially in the fight for civil rights, is long-lasting and this is a fitting way to honor his contributions to our community.”

Pearson was a former head of the state NAACP and instrumental in Jacksonville’s struggle toward integration. He died 50 years ago in a car accident in Tennessee.

Hold my mule

The reviews are coming in for Shirley Caesar’s fundraising gig for Corrine Brown — and the Florida Star, closely aligned with Brown throughout her career, gave Caesar high marks this month.

“Selling out 2,000 seats at Abyssinia Missionary Baptist Church. Before Shirley Caesar anointed the attendees with her presence. Guest had the pleasure of enjoying the small business Pop-up shop and praising with live entertainment from Phillip Mercer, Abyssinia Choir, Robert Hayes (Classical Mime), and Najee Ward,” the Star reports.

Corrine Brown’s post-prison future may be in concert promotion.

Nothing like the classical mime to warm up the crowd.

Brown faces sentencing in mid-November. One hopes the anointing doesn’t have a shelf life.

Rick Scott: FEMA could offer ‘advance payments’

More good news and clarity on the reimbursement front.

Florida Gov. Scott is also on board — and may be able to help expedite requests.

“I talked to the Administrator of FEMA about this last week,” Scott said. “They can do advance payments.”

Scott noted caveats, such as “still having to go through the process,” and that — if the reimbursement is not approved — cities have to pay the feds back.

“What I’ve told everybody is get it to our office. I’ll get it to FEMA,” Scott added, “and what they’ve told me was they’d work with cities or counties to [make] advance payments.”

Gov. Rick Scott, CFO Jimmy Patronis and Rep. Ted Yoho were in Orange Park Tuesday.

Jacksonville, at last count, has somewhere around $150M between operating and emergency reserve accounts — a good chunk of change in a $1.27B general fund budget, but one with caveats — including statutory minimum levels that must be maintained.

Jacksonville is still awaiting reimbursements from the federal government — 75 percent of an approximate $50 million in storm-related damage. Application technicalities, such as Jacksonville’s local commitments to small and emerging businesses and locational criteria for vendors, apparently are not something the federal government honors.

Duval delegation talks Irma aftermath

“Unprecedented devastation” brought by Hurricane Irma occasioned a special press availability of the Duval Delegation late last week.

Most everyone on hand will go to bat for the district; however, details — beyond a Rep. Jay Fant bill to enhance criminal penalties for looting during states of emergency — were scant.

Jacksonville media members were delighted by a late Thursday afternoon press avail.

Rep. Cord Byrd, who represents Duval and Nassau, has spoken with Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. John Rutherford and Speaker Richard Corcoran about pushing the ball forward.

And Rep. Jason Fischer noted that “we as a state should do everything we can to fill the gaps left by” federal and local governments.

We asked Rep. Fant about the Speaker’s dispensation toward Jacksonville pushing for resources, given the tensions regarding Fant’s positions on Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, incentive programs the Speaker and allied vigorously worked to scuttle.

“Legislators may disagree on legislation,” Fant said, but all are “still teammates,” especially in light of the “catastrophic” Irma.

Notable: the Florida Times-Union had two reporters on hand, but ultimately saw little of reportable value in the event.

Did prophets see Irma coming?

We’re not sure if the Duval Delegation agrees with Rep. Kim Daniels about whether prophets saw Irma coming as a manifestation of God’s will. We didn’t have the heart to ask them.

“Nothing happens except God reveal it to prophets first,” Daniels observed as the death-dealing superstorm enveloped the peninsula.

The “carnally-minded” won’t understand where Rep. Kim Daniels is coming from.

We asked Daniels about these comments. To sum, she stands by the claim.

“I wouldn’t post it on Facebook if I didn’t believe it,” Daniels said, feet away from where a massive relief fund was being rolled out for the storm she said prophets knew would happen.

Her musings are “for spiritually-minded people,” Daniels said, “and you can’t explain spiritual things to carnally-minded people … And I’m sure you won’t understand it.”

We asked Daniels why God would want Irma to hit Florida.

Her response: “You pray and ask God that.”

Fundraising roundup

It was easy to lose track of Northeast Florida political fundraising during Irma’s Hell Week; however, we have you covered.

In fundraising for local 2019 races, Jacksonville City Council candidate Matt Carlucci again outclassed the field; of course, he will be taking a break the next couple of months, dealing with Irma claims in his capacity as a State Farm agent.

Matt Carlucci will have plenty of insurance claims to deal with this fall.

Though not a declared candidate yet for re-election, Sheriff Mike Williams’ committee is now over $100K cash-on-hand … with the bail bonds industry offering an assist.

In other committee news, Currys committee hauled in nearly a quarter-million dollars in August … and in the process, he paid back Jags’ owner Shad Khan for travel to three cities’ sports districts for eco dev ideas for the Shipyards.

And on the state level, committees for Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Paul Renner likewise had strong hauls. Attorney General candidate Fant struggled, while the man who hopes to replace him in HD 15 — lawyer Wyman Duggan — had a respectable first month of fundraising.

Irma may cost Jax more than Matthew did

Jacksonville’s Chief Administrative Officer, Sam Mousa, was the first local official to give even a rough estimate of local budget impacts from Irma.

They won’t be pretty.

“We’re just beginning the recovery,” Mousa said, noting that damage could be “equal or a bit more than Hurricane Matthew.”

Sam Mousa spent part of his birthday talking Irma expenses this week.

Matthew cost the city $50M in general fund costs, and the city is still out $27M of unreimbursed FEMA costs; Mayor Curry said earlier this summer that the city could handle a Matthew-sized hit to the general fund, though it is uncertain what choices a “bit more” costs would require.

Worth noting: the city estimated, in the wake of Matthew, costs could be up to $100M; that estimate turned out — luckily for the city, given FEMA’s slow reimbursement — to be high.

“We’re still trying to get our arms around infrastructure damage,” Mousa said.

Curry still committed to kids’ program reforms

Of late, Jacksonville’s City Council committees have deferred Curry’s “Kids Hope Alliance” proposal.

But the bill isn’t dead, the mayor says. Rather, it’s being tweaked.

Council awaits the revised version of Lenny Curry’s latest reform proposal.

Curry called the Kids Hope Alliance bill “real reform,” saying “I will see it through to the end.”

“I’m not going weak on this,” he added.

Regarding discussion among some legislators that significant changes are needed to the bill to make it palatable, Curry stood his ground, saying the aftermath of Hurricane Irma led to a temporary pause in the reform push.

“I met with experts,” Curry said, “tweaking it. But the delay right now is storm-related.”

“Once we get through this hurricane stuff,” he added, “you’ll see the final bill and a discussion in city council in the near term.”

We asked if the entire seven-person board would be comprised of Mayoral appointees, as was the case in the originally filed legislation.

“I don’t want to speak to the final product until we get there,” Curry said, “but I think you’ll see that it accomplishes the intent that I said needs to be accomplished.”

Message discipline

Jacksonville got national coverage last week for massive flooding in downtown and beyond; while that had the benefit of getting Curry and various local journos into the national spotlight, that came at the potential expense of Jacksonville’s reputation for resilience.

In the Jax Daily Record, veteran journalist Karen Mathis asserts that “efficient recovery” involves getting the business community back on its feet — and that it needs to happen soon … and be messaged.

“Companies that want to expand and create jobs want to know that when disaster strikes, they will be able to quickly resume business and continue their payrolls, which is what their employees want, too,” Mathis writes.

“While Florida, Jacksonville and other cities are moving to reconnect people with access to their daily routines, media headlines might not relay that message nationally,” Mathis adds.

Curfew kerfuffle

The words “safe at home” had a new meaning in the wake of Hurricane Irma, as one Northwest Jacksonville apartment complex instituted a curfew.

Rep. Kim Daniels stopped by Washington Heights to see the curfew in practice.

Moncrief Road’s Washington Heights dropped a curfew over the weekend; the goal, “safety” in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Per Action News Jax, the curfew is somehow controversial with residents who had aversions to being locked in their houses past 8 p.m. every evening.

Washington Heights is one of a few Jacksonville complexes owned by Millennia Housing Management: the company took over the reins from troubled Global Ministries Foundation, which didn’t commit capital to physical improvements at complexes it owned around town (indeed, throughout the South).

Sewage slosh

In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, JEA faced opprobrium over sewage spills. Despite reinforcing its generator fleet, power failed at some locations in Hurricane Irma — and sludge seeped out onto Jacksonville streets.

Stews of sewage sludge coursed on Jacksonville streets after Irma.

First Coast News reports that “there were 57 known pollution incidents in Jacksonville during Hurricane Irma. More than 1.5 million gallons of sewage and wastewater was released out into the environment.”

FCN visited spills at a couple of locations, describing “a green, glistening stew of waste floating in the water of the creek and nearby roadside ditches” at one place near Fisher Creek on the Westside.

Jacksonville Councilman Bill Gulliford told us that sewage spills were one point of contention he had with the utility during this storm, in a wide-ranging interview that seemed to suggest JEA could use a different CEO.

When given a chance Monday to make critiques to JEA’s CEO at Council, Gulliford avoided this rhetoric; instead, he cast aspersions at an unnamed colleague, who allegedly gave a code for a Council-only conference call that wasn’t intended to be heard by media to a member of the press.

Meanwhile, Curry — when asked — sidestepped the question of whether JEA Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Paul McElroy deserves a bonus this year.

“Now is not the time” for such a discussion, he said.

Curry urges JEA to improve customer communications and to develop a plan to that end.

What Aaron Bean is up to next week

On Tuesday, Sept. 26, state Sen. Bean of Fernandina Beach will participate in the Leadership Nassau Youth Opening Day Lunch and speak with participants about the importance of leadership and public service.  The event begins 11:30 a.m. at the FSCJ Nassau Center, 76346 William Burgess Boulevard in Yulee.

One Spark flickers out for this year

Hurricane Irma is to blame for One Spark being pushed back until next year, WJCT reports.

The festival will be held at EverBank Field in April.

“We have received dozens of requests from applicants who have been impacted for extensions and help,” said One Spark Ventures President Chris Carter.

“Right now, we want to be respectful and mindful of our community and the hardships they face by allowing people the time they need to focus on their homes and families first,” Carter added.

One Spark has been in a gradual process of being scaled back in recent years; the hope is that in 2018 and beyond, the event will break-even.

No charges for Vernell Bing Jr. killer

Jacksonville activists sought charges in the police-involved shooting of Vernell Bing, Jr. — However, a year and a half after Bing’s death, those charges won’t come to pass, First Coast News reports.

The lawyer representing Bing’s family notes that civil charges are likely, however.

“While I’m sure folks are going to be very disappointed, very frustrated, that there is another criminal case of a police shooting of a young black man on the streets of Jacksonville, I can tell you we intend — if they didn’t criminally — we intend to hold him accountable civilly,” the lawyer said.

Likely, State Attorney Melissa Nelson will get pushback from local activists, but not the kind that will hurt her appreciably in a re-election bid.

For her part, Nelson noted that “we have conducted a thorough review of this shooting incident and determined the shooting was justified under applicable Florida law. We have established new protocols for both how we review officer-involved shootings and how we report our findings to the public. These new rules include the creation of an officer-involved shooting review team comprising investigators and prosecutors, who collectively, have more than 350 years of experience; the release of a comprehensive report detailing our analyses; and the simultaneous release of all relevant public records. These steps are taken to ensure accuracy in our findings and transparency in our work. This is the type of commitment the public expects and the type this office will maintain for years to come.”

Nelson has developed a pattern of messaging around controversial cases with an exhaustive amount of detail; this is no exception.

Shad Khan makes Forbes list of ‘best business minds’

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan was named one of The World’s 100 Greatest Living Business Minds by Forbes magazine. The magazine compiled the list for a special Centennial issue, which includes Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk.

“My business goals have been consistent with my personal goals, and that’s to be distinctive and not only be unafraid of doing difficult things but commit to doing those things well so they can inspire others and make a difference in the lives of everyone,” Khan is quoted in the piece.

Shad Khan, one of the 100 Best Living Business Minds.

In addition to owning the Jaguars, Khan is CEO of auto-parts supplier Flex-N-Gate Corp., owns London’s Fulham Football Club and the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto.

Khan bought the Jaguars in 2012 for $770 million, and according to Forbes, the club is now worth over $2 billion.

Jax Zoo Manatee Critical-Care Center welcomes first patients

Two manatees became the first patients at the new Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens $2 million Critical Care Center.

Dahlia Ghabor of the Jacksonville Business Journal reports: “Cassie and Buckeye weighed only 66 and 63 pounds when they were rescued. Now, Cassie is at 775 pounds and Buckeye at 625. The manatees will remain at the Jacksonville care center to continue their critical weight gain and monitoring until they are ready to be released in the winter.”

While the Center — one of four in the state — is not an actual zoo exhibit, visitors can view the recovery pool, which is adjacent to the Wild Florida exhibit.

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens $2 million Manatee Critical Care Center accepted its first two patients.

Craig Miller, the Zoo’s curator of mammals and chair of the Manatee Rescue Rehabilitation Partnership and leader of the zoo’s Marine Mammal Response Team, tells the TBJ that the facility will help reduce transport time for injured manatees back to warm water release sites.

“I get the sense from talking to guests that the community is pretty excited about this, because it’s something in their backyard,” Miller said. “We’re pretty excited about being able to help these wild animals. That’s what it’s all about for so many of us in this field.”

Armada suffer historic collapse in 3-3 draw vs New York 

For most of the match in Brooklyn Sunday night, the Jacksonville Armada FC seemed sure of taking home three points Sunday. But the New York Cosmos made a surprising comeback to force a 3-3 draw at MCU Park. It matched the Cosmos biggest comeback in the modern NASL history — New York came back from 3 goals down Aug. 8, 2015, to draw Fort Lauderdale 3-3 in South Florida.

A trio of moves led to the first goal in the 13th minute. Jack Blake launched a corner kick toward the front of the goal and Kalen Ryden headed it straight to Ciarán Kilduff, who gave the Armada FC a 1-0 lead.

Kilduff earned a brace in the 41st minute with his second goal of the night. Kilduff stole the ball from New York’s Danny Szetela and made a mazy run toward the goal, poking the ball past goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck for the second goal of the night.

New York was unable to capitalize on their limited opportunities and left the field trailing by two at halftime.

The second half began with back and forth action, but neither side found a goal until 20 minutes in. Zach Steinberger earned a penalty kick after going down inside the box, and Blake stepped up to the spot. He struck the ball past Zobeck for his eighth goal of the year ­— another new franchise record for the Armada FC.

The 3-0 lead for the Armada was short-lived, however.

The Cosmos’ Javi Márquez was first to chip away at Jacksonville’s lead. He cut the deficit by one for New York in the 79th minute after beating the Armada defense and slotting a shot home for a goal.

Ten minutes later, Ayoze tracked down a ball in the corner to keep it in play. Then he crossed it over to Eugene Starikov who headed it in just barely over goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell’s fingers. Entering second-half stoppage time, the Armada were handing on for dear life and eventually conceded.

In the final minute of the match, Juan Guerra took a shot just inside the 18-yard box to curl it into the back post and equalize the score.

Although leaving New York with a disappointing draw, the Jacksonville Armada remains one point above the Cosmos in the Fall Season and in fourth place in the combined standings, a position for a postseason slot in the Championship.

The Armada will now return home for two matches at Hodges Stadium. First, the team will face the Spring Champions, the Miami FC, Sunday, Sept. 24. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. and the club will also honor First Responders at the match. Then, the rescheduled match with Indy Eleven will take place Wednesday, Sept. 27, at 8 p.m. The Armada have not played a home match this month due to Hurricane Irma’s impact on First Coast.

New names, new money proposed for Jax Section 8 complexes

New names and $90,000,000 look likely for the acqusition, rebranding and rehab of four of Jacksonville’s most troubled low-income housing developments, which contain 768 units total.

Jacksonville City Council resolution 2017-671 would authorize $90,000,000 in Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority bonds to “finance, acquire, rehab & equip four Multifamily Rental Housing Developments.”

With the new money would come a new nomenclature, one that perhaps will help re-brand these properties for media members new to the market.

400-unit Eureka Gardens, 94-unit Moncrief Village, 74-unit Southside Apartments & 200-unit Washington Heights would be known as Valencia Way, Estuary Estates, Oyster Pointe and Charlesfort Commons, respectively.

There is no indication in the bill why these particular names were chosen.

The money could add up to over $117,000 per unit, a number that exceeds the median house price in some of the neighborhoods that contain them.

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This would close the book completely on the troubled tenure of Global Ministries Foundation, which acquired these properties via a bond process that sidestepped the oversight of JHFA.

Mayor Alvin Brown “bypassed the normal approval process through the city council and went directly to the mayor for approval” for financing, asserted Tripp Gulliford of the JHFA.

GMF ended up buying properties that included Washington Heights and Eureka Garden, and did not devote sufficient resources to renovate the mid-20th century multi-unit developments.

In fact, $3,000 a unit was all GMF — a putative nonprofit run by a minister and his family that shifted over nine million dollars from its nonprofit housing arm to its religious affiliate — had allocated for remediation of problems that had accumulated over decades.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry established a comfort level quickly with the new property owners, Millennia Housing Management.

Mayor Curry was impressed particularly by the company’s CEO saying his standard for rental properties was “would I live in properties I own.”

Millennia has pledged significant resources to facility rehabilitation in the past, as a 2014 tax incentive application makes clear.

In acquiring a 160-unit Section 8 complex in upstate New York, the company pledged to spend $8.8 million on the “soft costs” of renovation. Pro-rated, this comes out to $55,000 a unit, as the company vowed to address a “multitude of capital needs” for the apartments, including kitchen and bathroom renovation and installing new windows.

These needs exist at these rundown, mid 20th Century properties, which have also featured threats to public safety — including but by no means limited to faulty air conditioning, mold in units, and gas leaks that have required evacuation.

Lenny Curry is headed to London

Ending what passes for suspense in some quarters, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry announced Thursday that he will be in London this weekend.

The Jacksonville Jaguars — the NFL’s equivalent of an existential crisis — is set to take on the Baltimore Ravens at Wembley Stadium.

The annual London trip offers the city’s business leaders and power elite to showcase the city and what it offers to English businesses, and Curry’s attendance was held in abeyance until the aftermath of Hurricane Irma was under control.

This is the Jaguars’ fifth season going to London. They have two of their 16 wins in that period as the “home” team in the U.K. — an arrangement team leaders credit with helping to bolster the kind of sagging revenue a team might have when it wins once a month.

“This has been a long and challenging couple of weeks for the people of Jacksonville,” said Mayor Curry. “Recovering from a massive storm less than a year after Hurricane Matthew has taken its toll on many, but Jacksonville is a resilient city full of resilient people. We’re open for business, ready to build a stronger and more vibrant city. Part of this effort includes demonstrating to the world that Jacksonville is a prime destination for international business expansion. I welcome the opportunity to do that over the next three days.”

Lenny Curry: JEA crisis comms issues ‘need to be fixed’

Almost 11 months ago to the day, the JEA Board gave the utility high marks for its performance during and after Hurricane Matthew.

On Tuesday, it was time for an encore performance — as the JEA Board met, with Hurricane Irma on its mind.

After a week in which the Mayor had “stern words” for JEA CEO Paul McElroy about the pace of power restoration, words followed by criticisms from City Council members, one might have expected fireworks.

But as was the case in 2016, tensions that might have existed earlier in the recovery process had been spackled over before the board meeting. The mood on the 8th floor of the JEA Tower was one of bonhomie, with McElroy giving a thumbs up as he entered the room minutes before the meeting, and local politicians all smiles as they entered the space.

Mayor Curry lauded “the effort and the results” of JEA as being “commendable.”

“The organization, the men on the ground — they got that done … that said, we can do better,” Curry said, wanting a “plan” from management for better interaction with customers in the next “crisis” situation.

Curry referred to numerous stories where customers were led to expect they had power on, only to get home and see that wasn’t the case.

“Information that was coming in that wasn’t accurate” and “feedback that wasn’t accurate” concerned Curry.

Curry noted, in a gaggle after his remarks, that while results were overall favorable (250,000 customers restored in less than a week), that communications with storm-impacted customers needed to be stronger “to ensure information is accurate.”

“If you were one of those customers,” Curry said about those who were led to believe by corporate communications that they had power, “you’re likely still upset.”

The problem, added Curry, “needs to be fixed.”

Curry, who handpicked the current board months after his election, stands by the “oversight body” that he “picked based on expertise.”

That same board gave CEO Paul McElroy a $65,000 bonus last year after Matthew; we asked if McElroy merited a similar consideration this year.

This is, said Curry, not “the time to be talking about a bonus.”

Rather, it’s time to “finish the job.”

Jax Irma costs: ‘Equal or a bit more’ than Matthew

Monday’s Jacksonville City Council meeting saw local officials address the body regarding Hurricane Irma. Expect a big budgetary hit from this year’s storm, with infrastructural damage that is still being tallied.

That cost was buried in the mix of a few speakers on Monday, but will be the long-range policy impact of the storm.

The city’s Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa spoke about the progress of cut and toss crews and debris removal: the city’s sites are almost ready, Mousa said, to “accept debris.”

Up to a million cubic yards of debris is expected, more than Hurricane Matthew’s tally, Mousa said, before going into details of damage caused by the storm.

The city is dealing with roof and window leaks from the storm, as well as septic tank and lift station repairs, and “various infrastructure damage around the county.”

“We estimate that 33 to 50 percent of the sand we placed during Matthew has been eroded,” Mousa said.

“We’re just beginning the recovery,” Mousa said, noting that damage could be “equal or a bit more than Hurricane Matthew.”

Matthew cost the city $50M in general fund costs, and the city is still out $27M of unreimbursed FEMA costs; Mayor Curry said earlier this summer that the city could handle a Matthew-sized hit to the the general fund, though it is uncertain what choices a “bit more” costs would require.

Worth noting: the city estimated, in the wake of Matthew, that costs could be up to $100M; that estimate turned out — luckily for the city, given FEMA’s slow reimbursement, to be high.

“We’re still trying to get our arms around infrastructure damage,” Mousa said.

FEMA is in contact with the city, Mousa said, with a visit to the Emergency Operations Center Monday.

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Sheriff Mike Williams was next up, extolling cooperation among first-responders.

Williams noted there was some infrastructural damage at JSO facilities, but nothing major — some minor structural damage, yet no damaged vehicles.

Williams noted, in response to worries about looting, that residential and commercial burglaries were a bit up — and that State Attorney Melissa Nelson was handling special prosecutorial detail for those burglaries.

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Also addressing the legislators: JEA CEO Paul McElroy, whose performance was criticized roundly in the days after the storm by the Mayor and by City Council members, with Councilman Bill Gulliford offering the staunchest criticism.

Those criticisms faded, apparently, sometime over the weekend.

McElroy put forth familiar talking points, including noting that Jacksonville’s restoration started later than the rest of the state, noting that the local utility had resources from across the country.

McElroy said JEA “restored very well … in the top decile of the state.”

“During the process, we were at or ahead of the pack,” McElroy noted, an especially laudatory detail given the city’s tree canopy and large land mass.

McElroy noted that water service held up well countywide, while wastewater service was a bit dodgier — 700 of them lost power during the peak, and “most of them” had backup power.

“We lost about two million gallons,” McElroy said, adding that’s a “heck of a lot better than last year,” and that most of the failings were attributable to “double or triple contingency failure.”

Northeast Florida jobs numbers strong again in August

As Northeast Florida continues the recovery phase after Hurricane Irma’s storm surge inundated large swathes of the city, the DEO offered good news on the jobs front Friday.

Unemployment in the six-county Northeast Florida region stands at 4.2 percent, down from 5.1 percent last August, and in line with state numbers. And there are 2.5 percent more jobs in the region year over year; compared to the 2 percent population growth, that’s another encouraging indicator.

County by county, unemployment numbers are mostly trending better than the state average.

“St. Johns County had the lowest unemployment rate (3.2 percent) in the CareerSource Northeast Florida region followed by Clay County (3.8 percent), Baker County (3.9 percent), Nassau County (3.9 percent), Duval County (4.4 percent), and Putnam County (5.5 percent),” asserts the Department of Economic Opportunity.

Job growth, year over year, has been especially strong in education and health services (up 4,500 jobs), and n trade, transportation, and utilities (up 5,000 jobs) and professional and business services (+4,400 jobs).

The only sector with year over year declines: leisure and hospitality, down 900 jobs year over year.

Al Lawson is fighting for Jax FEMA funds

Rep. Al Lawson has been in Jacksonville this week, helping out with post-Irma relief efforts, and meeting with local political leaders, such as the Mayor and the City Council President.

And though he shares Mayor Lenny Curry‘s confidence that Jacksonville is financially positioned to shoulder the recovery burden until FEMA reimbursement comes through, the first-term Democrat from Tallahassee believes that FEMA needs to pay out more expeditiously — specifically regarding $26M in expected reimbursement from 2016’s Matthew.

“I talked to the Mayor,” Lawson said, “and what I told him is that I know there’s some $26 million that the city hasn’t gotten from FEMA for the last hurricane, Matthew. That’s one of the things that we’re working on to try to make sure they get those funds, because of the devastation in this area.”

Matthew’s impact was brutal on Jacksonville, with winds and rain causing $50M of direct costs to the city government.

Lawson also believes Duval suffered almost as much as anywhere else from Irma.

“In my opinion,” Lawson said, “there was more devastation in Key West and Duval than any other place. I told him I would work with Congressman John Rutherford and Vern Buchanan,” Lawson said about getting those funds.

Lawson has toured some of the most devastated areas in Jacksonville this week, such as the area near the Ribault River, and in his visits to shelters such as the Legends Center, he has spoken to people there about how FEMA can offer residential help for those who suffered damage to their homes during the storm.

“Our goal is to get the resources down here quickly as possible,” Lawson said, noting that House Speaker Paul Ryan may be in Northeast Florida next week to help that along.

Regarding backlogs with FEMA payouts, which can take years, Lawson noted that “this hurricane affected the whole state, and one of the things we need to do on the federal level is get that money released earlier.”

Conversations with Sen. Marco Rubio and others give Lawson confidence there may be the legislative will for that, a measure which would help, among others, storm-ravaged families and businesses in Florida and Texas.

Even for a city like Jacksonville, which can shoulder its burden of recovery during the years-long reimbursement process, Lawson described having to float costs while waiting for FEMA reimbursement as a “band-aid approach.”

“They really need the federal dollars because [without them] it’s going to put a tremendous strain on the budget,” Lawson said.

Lenny Curry political committee raises $239K in August, pays for travel with Shad Khan

August 2017 was the biggest fundraising month since 2015 for “Build Something That Lasts,” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s political committee.

$239,050 of new money was brought in last month, compared to almost $69,000 spent; all told, the committee has $376,820 on hand.

The total is especially notable since Curry faces no political opposition to speak of in his inevitable 2019 reelection bid. Yet fundraising seems to be in campaign season overdrive.

The biggest single donation: $40,000 from the “Making a Better Tomorrow” committee, one that — like Curry’s committee and so many others — is based in Venice under the stewardship of Eric Robinson.

Curry’s committee also scored four $25,000 donations, including one from former Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver. As well, $14,500 was brought in by JAXBIZ  — the political arm of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

Of the $68,000+ spent, $30,000 went to Data Targeting Research, $25,000 to Meteoric Media Strategies, $5,000 to the political committee of Sheriff Mike Williams (“A Safe Jacksonville”).

As well, travel expenses totaling $1,416.29 went to Iguana Investments.

The Shad Khan company here is being reimbursed for a three city trip Curry took on Khan’s jet this summer, looking at sports-entertainment districts in different cities, exploring ideas for future development in Jacksonville.

Bucket list: Lenny Curry talks power restoration

The visual for television cameras was vivid: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry up in a bucket truck, on the scene of a JEA restoration.

But what can’t be seen is worth noting as well: crews from all over the country, many of them responding to Jacksonville’s plight as seen on television news, coursing in to help with power restoration and vegetation removal.

That latter detail is worth noting: multiple crews in the field have described Irma restoration as more complicated than Matthew, with more time intensive jobs such as the one Curry visited in Arlington Thursday because of trees impacting lines, transformers, and other equipment.

JEA’s Mike Hightower said that some resources were on standby as an insurance policy; but with this unusual storm, JEA took some days to get up to its current level: 1,050 in the field, and 100 more coming.

Hightower noted that Gov. Rick Scott has been calling, asking what resources are needed; this is a scene seen throughout the Florida peninsula.

Meanwhile, restoration is moving along. All mainline feeders have been restored, allowing for work down the line. A foreman’s analogy: those feeders are the source, feeding smaller tributaries.

Power restoration is exacting and time-intensive, especially with men and women — many from other states, such as the mutual aide crews from South Carolina on this job — pulling 17 hour shifts.

“Crews are working their butts off,” Curry said once safely on the ground.

Curry “never questioned” their dedication to the job, he added, and was in Arlington to show “support” for the work they are doing.

Curry is still concerned about the lack of communication to customers regarding restoration.

“Customers need to know,” he said.

However, the press shop — a smaller operation than Florida Power and Light and others have — has been increasingly responsive to pressure from City Council and the Mayor, holding multiple briefings on Wednesday and Thursday to ensure that the surprisingly esoteric narrative of power restoration is told as experienced by those in the industry.

Curry was not interested in addressing his thoughts on CEO Paul McElroy, telling assembled press that he’d rather “stick where we are” and discuss restoration on the ground rather than the c-suite.

And on the ground, restoration is going well.

One worker from South Carolina — a veteran of this kind of work — said that this power restoration is “about as organized as it gets.”

Numbers as of 11:40 a.m.: 73,000 customers are out of power, down from 316,000 at peak.

Lenny Curry ‘frustrated’ with lack of clarity on power restoration timetable

FloridaPolitics.com patched into a call Tuesday involving the Jacksonville City Council and a representative of the Mayor’s Office; the hot topic was JEA power restoration.

A representative of the Mayor’s Office noted that Curry had been “stern” with JEA CEO Paul McElroy, whose storm restoration efforts seemed to be moving slowly Tuesday. More than 163,000 customers remain in the dark.

Numbers have been trending down since: 108,000 were without power as of Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.. But the question remained: why was Curry “stern” with McElroy and was he satisfied with forward movement in the restoration process?

Curry noted that “power restoration and water” were pressing priorities for sweltering Jacksonville residents, before addressing the substance of a call only FloridaPolitics.com had access to on Tuesday.

“Anytime you are in a situation where you need results, those internal conversations happen. That’s just what teams do. You push each other. I’m going to continue to push,” Curry said.

The mayor described himself as “frustrated” even as he acknowledged the “men and women out working very hard to restore power … cutting trees and removing them. These folks are putting their own lives at risk to get our power up and running.”

“They’ve made great progress, there’s no doubt about that. But if you are without power,” Curry said, “you want to understand with great clarity what the expectations are.”

“So I’m frustrated that there’s not been as much clarity as I would like,” Curry said, letting customers know “what to expect” from power restoration timetables.

“If it’s going to be today, tell them it’s going to be today. If it’s not, they may not be happy about it, but tell them it’s not going to be today.”

Curry has wrestled with JEA issues since he became mayor in 2015, including making then-controversial moves to replace JEA Board members appointed by his predecessor.

Among the problems at the time: talking points prepared ahead of a board meeting, which would greenlight a pay hike for JEA CEO Paul McElroy, whose performance has been under scrutiny in the wake of Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Irma each knocking more than half the city out of power.

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