Lenny Curry Archives - Florida Politics

How Mike Pence wasted Jacksonville’s time

As VP Mike Pence prepared to come to Jacksonville last Saturday to sell the American Health Care Act to Florida, some of the best members of the media dreaded it.

A TV person’s reaction: “Oh, God, I hope I don’t get called in.”

A print guy’s take: “I hate watching these politician events.”

In the end, neither of them were there. Nor were any of the real agenda setters in the local press. The local press turnout was sparse. The national correspondents were no-names. It turned out, a week later, all that was a bad sign.

Also a bad sign: the facility where the event was held — an envelope manufacturing plant — had the virtues and drawbacks of a secure warehouse setting.

The principle virtue: fencing and police at the perimeter of the building and blocks away controlling ingress and egress managed to keep the protesters away — a determined band of Democratic/Progressive activists kept, for the most part, out of the media’s line of sight.

The drawbacks were myriad.

One such drawback: no restrooms for the public. While there were portalets, there was no hand washing station. Politicians and the kind of party volunteers who made the apparently contested invite list love to shake hands. With those grins and grips on Saturday, they shared more than bonhomie.

Another such drawback: security’s key interest was in keeping the media in the pen.

Yes, yes, I know. It’s 2017 and the media are the most dishonest people in the world, except for Infowars and Russia Today and Fox and Friends, of course. But the people tasked with publicizing the event spent the whole time being watched.

We were forbidden to leave the pen after about 12:30. For me, a local guy who knew half the room, that precluded me from the kind of conversations I would have had with certain people in any other milieu.

However, the audience could come in the pen. This led to people approaching more than one female TV reporter and striking up conversations that weren’t of mutual interest.

So, beyond not getting the publicity the VP would have wanted, and beyond the ham-handed logistics of the event, what else went wrong?

The waste of political capital of local and state pols who made the trek.

“President Trump supports the bill 100 percent, and we all do,” Pence said. “A new era for federal/state Medicaid partnership has begun.”

LOL.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry got a warm reception from the same folks who sent him hate mail over not vetoing the HRO, but his words now look pretty hollow given the inaction of the House, which couldn’t get repeal and replace done when given a free kick on goal during what passes for the president’s “honeymoon period.”

Rep. John Rutherford may have enjoyed watching March Madness with the VP on the plane to Jacksonville, but he ended up at the periphery of the debate otherwise.

And Florida Gov. Rick Scott didn’t help himself much either.

How much time did Scott spend conferring with the Trump administration on health care in recent months? How does this Trumpian botch affect his Senate run next year?

Scott, the most prominent Obamacare critic of any state governor, spent his entire administration rejecting the Affordable Care Act.

Pence rewarded the governor’s messaging the day before in a press release and letter to HHS Secretary Tom Price. The VP vowed  to allow “states like Florida” the ability to have a block grant to administer their plans, and a “work requirement” for coverage.

“State solutions,” Pence said, are the best way forward for Florida.

“President Trump supports the bill 100 percent, and we all do,” Pence said. “A new era for federal/state Medicaid partnership has begun.”

So, here’s what happened in Jacksonville. The VP decided to make his stand here, giving Rutherford a platform because neighboring Ted Yoho and Ron DeSantis weren’t feeling this bill. The governor came in and got his moment in the spotlight. And Mayor Curry made the stop before going on Spring Break.

All of them got a news cycle.

But what happens the next time they try to sell a Trump initiative?

Will they be as useful?

After his re-election, George W. Bush said “what good is political capital if you don’t use it.”

Then he wasted it and lost it for a solid decade, until he took up portraiture.

Can Donald Trump paint? And do we have to wait until 2027 to figure it out?

Lenny Curry under pressure to reopen Jacksonville homeless day resource center

Update: Curry will not attend the ICARE event.

In 2015, the city of Jacksonville closed a downtown homeless day resource center opened during the Alvin Brown administration.

As 2016 began, Mayor Lenny Curry was pressed to reopen the center. And after considerable prodding from ICARE organizers, he attended the group’s spring “Nehemiah Assembly.”

The event was intended to serve as a Come to Jesus moment for Jacksonville public officials… especially Curry, who was expected to capitulate and re-fund the center.

However, the meeting turned out to be a Come to Jesus moment for those who showed up to hear the mayor. The subject? Pension reform, an effort which has been the signature push of this mayor (as was the case with every mayor since John Delaney).

Curry told the group that money was not to be available in the then-current budget cycle.

“Ladies and gentlemen – the money doesn’t exist…. Someone has to shoot straight with you, and that is what I am doing tonight,” Curry said, adding that “brighter days” would be “ahead” if his pension reform referendum passed.

“I will examine the number. I believe in the resource center,” Curry said, adding that “if the referendum passes… I will be supportive of a discussion.”

That referendum did pass, of course, allowing an extension of a current half-cent infrastructure tax all the way out to 2060 to pay for the current $2.8B unfunded pension liability — if unions agreed to close their individual plans, a statutory prerequisite to accessing the guaranteed revenue.

So are brighter days ahead, in terms of a homeless day resource center?

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ICARE will renew its push on Monday at this year’s Nehemiah Assembly. Though the mayor will not be there.

The event description from the group: “ICARE will gather over 1750 people at Abyssinia Baptist Church to address community problems with our Sheriff, State Attorney, Mayor and Superintendent. This event will focus on the opening of the Homeless Day Center, increased funding for the Jacksonville Reentry Center, Civil Citations to stop youth arrests and a wealth build strategy that will open a community owned grocery store in Northwest Jacksonville.”

Of course, the Homeless Day Center will be the biggest news coming out of the event — either way.

While a key Curry supporter, Gary Chartrand, emailed the mayor to signal support ahead of a February meeting with ICARE to discuss these issues.

[A typical way of breaking news in Jacksonville: someone sends an email to the mayor or one of his chief staffers, which puts it in public view as media trolls the inboxes for tidbits].

“I support the work of the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation, and Empowerment. I am very encouraged that you are working with them to reopen the Jacksonville Day Resource Center,” Chartrand wrote, adding that the center served 150 people a day when it was open.

“I think Jacksonville will be a stronger city,” Chartrand wrote, “when homeless citizens have one place to go to access services like showering, counseling, and job opportunities.”

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Chartrand can be persuasive. But there are ways to communicate with the mayor, and there are ways that are less successful … as ICARE found out in February.

 The normally friendly Florida Times-Union offered a glimpse of the mayor’s pique after that February meeting.

“In a Feb. 6 meeting at City Hall,” claimed ICARE to the T-U, “Curry launched into a 30-minute tirade regarding who would be allowed to take part in the previously scheduled meeting.”

Described as “hostile, aggressive and adversarial,”  allegations are that Curry “threatened to withdraw his support for the homeless day resource center if ICARE went to the press.”

Of course, the press did find out. And Curry’s spokeswoman, Marsha Oliver. called the account “unequivocally false.”

Despite the fractious relationship between the mayor and ICARE, the reality is this: another summer with Hemming Park brimming with people who have nowhere else to go is bad for the city in terms of optics, and will be interpreted by many in the chattering class as an expression of bad faith … especially in light of his statements last year, which implied that the program would get serious consideration after pension reform passed.

Meanwhile, there is a school of thought in the mayor’s office that a homeless day resource center may not be the best use of scarce capital.

The question, in that context: is a relatively inefficient use of fiscal capital worth burning political capital?

The budget process will ultimately tell the tale.

Failed Eureka Garden HUD inspection: whose fault is it?

The Eureka Garden complex has been a focus of politicians in the last couple of years, with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Sen. Marco Rubio, Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis, and Rep. Al Lawson all demanding rehab of the facility and reform of the HUD process.

A new management group, which is looking to buy the property, promised changes. That group promised to bring capital to the complex pending transfer of title.

But delivery has proven more elusive, with politicians frustrated and hamstrung by the glacial pace of ownership transfer.

As Lynnsey Gardner of News4Jax was first to report Wednesday, Eureka Garden failed its most recent HUD inspection — with a score of 59.

Politicians describe the conditions with the strongest possible language.

And the current ownership, Global Ministries Foundation, asserts that the issue is the fault of “decades of neglect.”

Who is right?

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Rep. Al Lawson offered the strongest statement of the four pols who commented, decrying “atrocities” at the complex.

“Failing inspection is completely unacceptable. Like most Americans, the residents of Eureka Gardens want a clean, affordable, and safe place to raise their families and to call home. It is my firm belief that people who pay rent, regardless of their income, neighborhood, or whether they live in privately owned or public housing, have the right to expect and get routine maintenance. No one should be forced to live under conditions that threaten their health or safety,” Lawson asserted.

“I am renewing my call on federal officials at HUD to launch an investigation into how Global Ministries Foundation was not held accountable sooner for units falling into disrepair and how we plan to work together to do everything in our power to prevent these kind of atrocities in the future. The residents of Eureka Gardens deserve better,” Lawson continued.

Sen. Marco Rubio, so pivotal in starting the reform discussion on the Senate floor, brought a depth of perspective to the ongoing issues at the Jacksonville complex.

“This is more evidence of why I remain deeply concerned about the health and safety of the people living at Eureka Gardens,” Rubio asserted.

“On the one hand, it’s important that the HUD inspections process is no longer handing out passing grades to apartment facilities that clearly don’t deserve them. However, it’s been 18 months since the terrible conditions at Eureka Gardens first came to light, and we’re still not seeing the kind of progress we need to see to ensure all residents are living in a safe environment,” Rubio added, vowing to move forward on reform.

Councilman Garrett Dennis pinned the blame for the current conditions on the still-current owners.

“I’ve consistently said, even though there is an active sales contract with Millenia Corporation, Global Ministries Foundation is still the owner and the responsible party for the living conditions for the residents at Eureka Gardens,” Dennis told News4Jax.

On behalf of Mayor Curry, spokesperson Marsha Oliver had the following to say: “We are aware of the inspection results and maintain our commitment to working with HUD officials on a resolution that addresses the needs of residents.”

“Mayor Curry has been an advocate for improvements to this property,” Oliver added, “leading to a change in management.”

Meanwhile, Audrey Young, speaking on behalf of the current ownership of Global Ministries Foundation, issued the following statement that suggested a better score may be rendered yet.

“We are working closely with HUD on an appeal and fully trust that HUD will make warranted adjustments based on our appeal,” Young asserted.

Young also blamed Eureka Garden’s evolution into a “problem property” and a “burden” to the city on “decades of neglect by previous owners.”

GMF has put in $3 million since acquiring the properties in 2012, in an effort to remedy “decades of neglect and decay under previous owners.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Marco Rubio summed up in 2016 the profit that GMF ownership made from their 40 property portfolio.

“Where does all the money go? What are they doing with all this money that they make?”

“Well, you can look at their 990 tax forms, which are available for all 501(c)(3) organizations. Let me tell you about the 2014 tax year, which is the most recent one that’s available. In the year 2014, the Reverend Richard Hamlet paid himself $495,000 plus $40,000 in non-taxable benefits,” Rubio said

“Also in 2014, the Reverend Hamlet’s family members were paid an additional $218,000. By the way, he had previously failed to disclose his family members’ compensation on tax forms, which is in violation of IRS rules that require CEO’s to disclose the compensation of all family members who work for an organization,” Rubio added.

“The IRS reports also show that between 2011 and 2013, Global Ministries Foundation, the landlord that owns all of these units in all of these buildings that your taxpayer money is paying for, they shifted $9 million away from the low-income housing not profit to its religious affiliate,” Rubio continued.

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A reality underneath the anticipated sale to Millennia Housing Management: HUD properties are big business.

The subsidies are generous and guaranteed, but the flip side is that capital needs for the buildings recur.

Older apartment complexes have issues — and Eureka Garden has them especially.

From mold issues and poor ventilation to appliances old enough to have midlife crises, some of the units look closer to the Third World than the First.

The city would like to accelerate the transfer of title. Congressional leadership feels the same way. And yet, the process is dragged out.

The payments come through from the Feds. Even as the tenants — the expected beneficiaries — suffer.

Crunchtime for John Crescimbeni in Jax Council President race

February ended with Jacksonville City Council VP John Crescimbeni storming out of the gate in the race for the council presidency.

A group of councilmen — Gulliford, Crescimbeni, Greg AndersonJim Love, and Tommy Hazouri — signed on very quickly, giving Crescimbeni a real leg up.

Rhetoric was pitched in the councilmen’s conclave: lots of talk about “council tradition” dictating that, barring some unforgivable transgression against moral or municipal code, the VP move up to the top slot.

In that meeting, Republican Bill Gulliford — the most outspoken of the men in the meeting — urged Crescimbeni, the most veteran of the seven Democrats on the council, to close the deal quickly on his opponent, Finance Chair Anna Brosche.

However, the deal hasn’t been closed. Not by a long shot.

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Crescimbeni got one pledge since, from Democrat Joyce Morgan, bringing him to seven. Meanwhile, Brosche, who started like the allegorical tortoise, well behind Crescimbeni’s jackrabbit start, is making up ground — big league.

Brosche came into Tuesday with five pledges (Matt SchellenbergSam NewbyAl FerraroAaron Bowman and the candidate herself). And even before the morning rush hour traffic abated downtown, she scored a sixth pledge: Doyle Carter.

Those with memories longer than the most recent news cycle will remember the surprisingly pitched race between Carter, a Westside Republican, and Crescimbeni.

Going into the vote, it appeared that Carter had the edge in pledges … before Reggie Gaffney reneged on his pledge to support Carter.

We asked Carter if the schmozz that was the 2016 vote factored into his decision to support Brosche. That wasn’t the case, he said.

The race is 7-6 now, and the momentum seems to be going the way of Brosche, a candidate preferred by the Chamber and other local stakeholders.

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We understand that Mayor Lenny Curry‘s office is taking an agnostic position on the race, and can figure out a way to work with whoever wins.

The relationship between Crescimbeni and Curry has improved, though there are caveats that may affect the mayor’s office should Crescimbeni win, which would not be the case if Brosche prevails.

For starters, there was tension between Crescimbeni and former Mayor Alvin Brown, with Crescimbeni backing out of an agreement to endorse, one trumpeted by the Brown campaign in Spring 2015.

Meanwhile, for a good illustration of what can go wrong when the council president and the mayor aren’t walking in lockstep, consider the example of Clay Yarborough and Alvin Brown — a fractious dynamic that hurt the mayor in getting his 2015 pension deal through while it still could have helped Brown get re-elected.

Curry has had two council presidents, Greg Anderson and Lori Boyer, who sang from the same page in the hymnal.

Arguably, he needs the next council president to be on that page also.

His pension reform package has yet to be ratified by the council, and aspersions cast by a council president could hurt the effort.

As well, the third year for a Jacksonville mayor often is when the bloom falls off the rose.

Brown’s popularity began to dip midway through his term, and while his approval ratings never went below the high-50s, support was soft enough to make him vulnerable to Curry’s challenge.

Of course, it’s unlikely that any Democratic operatives know how to play the game the way Tim Baker and Brian Hughes do. That said, it’s imperative for whoever emerges in this race to understand council’s role, driving policy in accordance with a mayor’s office that remains on a reform path.

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Meanwhile, it’s still slow going in the race for VP.

Aaron Bowman leads Scott Wilson 6-3.

Wilson met with Tommy Hazouri on Monday, but couldn’t close the deal.

As of Tuesday morning, no meetings were set up for the rest of the week by any leadership candidates, as many people are taking a “wait and see” attitude

Rick Scott comes to Jacksonville Monday with message for Duval Delegation

The best political theater in this state so far this year: arguably, Gov. Rick Scott‘s “Fighting for Florida Jobs” roundtables.

Jacksonville gets its version of the roadshow Monday morning at Harbinger Signs in Mandarin.

Scott started off March in Rep. Travis Cummings‘ district, where he repeatedly jabbed at Cummings and Rep. Paul Renner for opposing Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.

Cummings was just one of many Republican votes against the Scott agenda, however. In Duval County, a few Republicans voted against Enterprise Florida on the House floor.

Reps. Cord ByrdClay Yarborough, and Jason Fischer all voted against incentives.

They knew they faced a no-win choice. As someone familiar with the thinking of one of the legislators but it, the choice was between Scott’s veto pen and the Speaker’s opprobrium.

The one Jacksonville Republican supporting Enterprise Florida, Jay Fant, filed no appropriations bills this session. And there are strong indications he may not even want to return to the Florida House in 2018.

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Scott typically counts on Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry to be by his side at Jacksonville events, such as the job creation events in the past.

Curry won’t be there in this instance; he is on a spring break trip with his family.

Scott and Curry were together at VP Mike Pence‘s business roundtable and rally Saturday in Jacksonville, where both sang from the same hymn book about the Obamacare “death spiral.”

Though it clearly didn’t move the Duval Delegation, Curry issued an extended endorsement of Enterprise Florida a few weeks back.

“Without the state funding,” Curry said, “we would have had trouble closing some of the big deals that we closed.”

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Curry is far from alone in Jacksonville’s city hall when it comes to enthusiasm for incentives.

Jacksonville OED head Kirk Wendland explained it this way: “Just the discussion of Enterprise Florida not being there, and not having a state economic development agency, has absolutely affected the deal flow that we have seen over the past couple of months.”

Local leaders note that Jacksonville especially needs incentives, with cross-border competition and not having the unique value adds of Tampa, Miami, and Orlando.

Gov. Scott is making a strategic move: a stand in Jacksonville, an attempt to rally support in a place that relies on these programs, the rare big city with a GOP mayor — and one who is a political ally of longstanding.

It will be interesting to see if this helps more than the one in Clay County did.

Mike Pence: ‘Florida can’t afford Obamacare anymore’

Saturday saw United States Vice-President Mike Pence and Florida Governor Rick Scott talking about what Pence called “the Obamacare nightmare” with small business owners in Jacksonville.

Scott, who closed out the news week reprising a familiar call to allow the states to administer Medicaid via block grants, has worked closely with President Donald Trump and his administration on possible alternatives to the Affordable Care Act.

While the GOP line is “repeal and replace Obamacare,” finding bill language that offers comfort to moderate Republicans in the Senate and the Freedom Caucus in the House has proven challenging, making promotional media stops like this one for the vice-president a necessity as the Trump administration sets the stage for a House vote on health care next week.

Though support for the current bill may be shaky elsewhere in Florida, in Northeast Florida “repeal and replace” are the watchwords.

After a roundtable event with selected small-business leaders, the show for cameras and media commenced: the highlight, of course, was VP Pence, who Gov. Scott introduced as having stood with him in the health care battle since 2009.

Pence hyped the crowd for a couple of minutes, thanking the other speakers and extolling the virtues of Florida, pivotal on “the path to make America great again.”

“It was quite a campaign, wasn’t it? And it’s been quite an administration.”

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After discussing Trump’s “broad shoulders” and other crowd-pleasing ephemera, including his first job as a gas station attendant in his family’s store, Pence eventually pivoted to policy

“We know that when small business is strong, America is strong,” Pence said, describing the president’s “roll back of reams of red tape” and his work to “end illegal immigration – once and for all.”

“Businesses are already responding to President Trump’s ‘buy American, hire American’ vision,” Pence said, vowing tax cuts “across the board” and restraint of “unelected bureaucrats” and other talking points.

Pence pivoted from the crowdpopping lines to reference the Pulse attack last year, a function of “radical Islamic terrorism in this country.”

The wall will be built. And illegal immigrant criminals will be “off the streets of this country.” And “we will rebuild our military,” Pence said.

From there, Pence assured the crowd that “the Obamacare nightmare is about to end.”

Obamacare, said Pence, is a minefield of broken promises, and the VP has heard heartrending stories about the “hard choices” small businesses have made.

“It was a heartbreaking conversation,” Pence said.

Premiums: up 25 percent across the country.

A third of the country has one company available from which to choose.

And, said Pence, enrollment is down year over year.

“Florida’s actually a textbook example of what’s wrong with Obamacare,” Pence said, citing premiums up 19 percent year over year.

“Florida can’t afford Obamacare anymore,” Pence said to applause.

Referring to the business hosting the event, Pence noted that hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have been spent otherwise have been spent attempting to comply with this “failed” law.

“The core flaw of Obamacare was this notion that you could order every American to buy health insurance whether they need it or not,” Pence said.

The Trump alternative: “individual responsibility” and reform targeted to the state level, including expanded Health Savings Accounts and tax credits to facilitate buying private insurance.

Those with pre-existent conditions and kids under the age of 26, meanwhile, will be protected under the American Health Care Act, Pence said.

Pence spent some time talking about “engagement with Congress” to improve the bill, a seeming acknowledgement of issues.

As well, Pence vowed to allow “states like Florida” the ability to have a block grant to administer their plans, and a “work requirement” for coverage.

“President Trump supports the bill 100 percent, and we all do,” Pence said. “A new era for federal/state Medicaid partnership has begun.”

“State solutions,” Pence said, are the best way forward for Florida.

As well, Pence added that Americans will “have the freedom to buy health insurance across state lines,” via “dynamic marketplace.”

“It won’t be long until you see Flo and that little lizard on TV ads,” Pence quipped.

While “it’s going to be a battle in Washington,” Pence called for “every Republican in Florida” to support the administration’s moves to “repeal and replace Obamacare.”

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The VP had local and state support on hand.

U.S. Congressman John Rutherford, who flew down from D.C. with VP Pence, opined that “the American dream is being damaged by Obamacare … a policy that drives up costs and strangles small businesses.”

“We need a better way … we must repeal and replace Obamacare with a market-based health care policy that will reduce costs and increase consumer access to health care.”

CMS Administrator Seema Verna, introduced by Rutherford, likewise described the “burden of health care costs and overregulation” on “small businesses.”

“With the support of President Trump, we’re going to undo the damage done by Obamacare,” Verna said, also vowing to let states handle administering Medicare and have “freedom from Washington’s one-size-fits-all approach” – echoing Gov. Scott.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, introduced by Verna, said “this is really simple. The President and Vice President told us they’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare and that’s what happens now.”

Gov. Scott, introduced by Curry, noted that “Obamacare was sold on a lie. A complete lie … choices have gone down, prices have gone up.”

“We’re going to change that,” Scott said. “Obamacare’s on a death spiral. Prices have just gone out of control.”

“We had to sue the Obama Administration for our low-income pool because we didn’t expand Medicaid,” Scott noted.

 

Jax PFPF Board Chair: ‘I think the mayor’s plan is terrible’

The slow walk by the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund toward policy marginalization continued apace Friday, as the five-person board of trustees offered “review and discussion” of the city’s latest pension proposal.

The General Counsel contended earlier this week that the PFPF had no role in the pension decision, arguing that the 2015 pension deal removed the pension fund out of a decision making capacity.

The unions decide, according to the OGC, and they ratified the deal … one which the Lenny Curry administration says is essential to unlocking the guaranteed revenue of a future half-cent sales tax, and finally resolving the current $2.7B unfunded pension liability.

The proposed pension deal loomed over the entire meeting. And discussion went beyond whether or not the board could vote on the deal, as the board’s fiduciary duty to the plan requires board input regardless of the need for a vote.

Long story short: the lack of a need for a vote doesn’t eliminate the PFPF board role in the pension reform process.

And the review process looks likely to sprawl into at least April, including a need for a financial analysis, an impact statement, and input from Tallahassee.

Meanwhile, General Counsel Jason Gabriel explained why he decided the board didn’t need to vote after all.

And, by the end of the meeting, board members raised their voices at each other, with the pension board chair being upbraided for a “diatribe” about Gabriel.

All in a day’s work in #jaxpol.

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The pension deal offers raises and uniform benefits for current public safety employees, and a defined contribution plan for new hires. Questions abound about the actuarial projections for the plan, including repurposing the PFPF reserve account for a share plan, and while the Jacksonville City Council will have a vote — and it will be contingent on that projection making sense for the city — those questions were to have no answers on Friday.

That said, something was provided to at least some council members, via a shade meeting this week.

Trustees came into the meeting with questions about the specific proposal, and the general counsel’s position that no board vote was needed.

Bill Scheu, one of four trustees who met with the city, noted that no specific numbers were provided in those meetings.

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 As the meeting progressed, questions were raised about the mayor’s proposed plan even before Gabriel’s portion of the program.

Treasurer Joey Greive noted the city’s projection of 3.75 to 4.25 percent annualized sales tax growth (optimistic in light of past performance), urging that the PFPF actuary review projections be done before the end of March for the benefit of council review.

“That’s going to be tight for us,” the actuary said.

The projection of 1.1 percent payroll growth from the city also got brought up. The PFPF growth rate projection was far more conservative: 0.67 percent a year.

“Now the city’s expecting us to sign off on something that hasn’t been approved anywhere,” Tuten said, calling it a “cart before the horse situation.”

As discussion progressed, there was a movement to refer the specifics to the Financial Investment Advisory Committee, which could provide advice in the coming weeks.

“The city needs this in two weeks, let’s give it a shot, but the FIAC should look at it,” actuary Pete Strong said.

General Counsel Jason Gabriel suggested that there would be a 5-6 week legislative cycle, with a “milestone” public hearing in this process after the board reviews the plan, at which point the board can provide an “impact statement” that can guide the council’s thinking, and can also offer guidance to the state of Florida.

The board’s next regular meeting: April 21, which Trustee Scheu framed as an “absolute sort of deadline.”

Tuten noted that “we haven’t even got a green light from the state Division of Retirement Services yet,” which could reset all hastily-rendered calculations.

Scheu noted that “we aren’t being asked to adopt anything,” but to provide actuarial assumptions, including an experience study, for meaningful policy guidance.

Discussion got more heated during the discussion of the need for an actuarial study, with Tuten comparing Gabriel’s urging to push through to a pitch from a “used car salesman.”

“It takes time. We need to get something from the state saying we aren’t wasting our time,” Tuten said.

The board motioned for an actuarial report and to authorize cooperation between lawyers and actuaries.

“It’s going to take us beyond the 31st,” the PFPF actuary said, especially when factoring in a range of hypothetical assumptions.

The board can expect an actuarial impact statement as the next step in the process.

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The board expected in February to have a more extended process, and after a hard break, Executive Director Tim Johnson noted that.

“Jason and his staff have more deeply analyzed these questions … and determined there isn’t an action this board has to take,” Johnson said.

Johnson compelled Gabriel to explain the change in status from February to March regarding the board “role as it applies to accept these agreements” and what happens regarding the surtax as a source of revenue.

Tuten echoed Johnson, noting that “it seems all of a sudden you don’t need the board approval.”

“There’s a whole host of theories as to why you cam out with this opinion when you did … days before we meet,” Tuten said.

Gabriel reiterated his position from a letter this week: that the 2015 pension agreement was intended to remedy “inappropriate” intertwining of the board with pension negotiations.

The relationship was marked by litigation and power struggle since 1990, Gabriel noted.

“2015 culminated with an agreement … right at the end of the Brown administration … a very strong foot forward, putting the parties of the consolidated government back into the traditional and legal roles set forth by law,” Gabriel noted.

That agreement precluded the PFPF involvement in collective bargaining or benefit determination, Gabriel said, a position consistent with Florida law and necessary according to the terms of the pension tax referendum.

“What changed between a month ago and perhaps now? The city and the unions entered into good-faith collective bargaining,” Gabriel said, which had been precluded for decades because of the fund’s outsized role in pension negotiations previous to 2015.

Reserve accounts came into the discussion during the bargaining process, and “there was an agreement regarding the reserve accounts.”

“The board has several roles to play,” Gabriel said, but “action needed to effectuate these bargaining agreements” isn’t one of them.

“A pension board does not intertwine with the constitutionally protected rights of the union and the city to agree on benefits,” Gabriel said.

The Mar. 15 deadline was set by the city in that context, that the board had no “approval” it needed to offer.

“I immediately caucused with my attorneys,” Gabriel said, regarding the disposition of chapter funds and other governance-related concepts, and the analysis revealed that “every dollar in reserve accounts is tied to pension benefits.”

“The action of the board,” said Gabriel, “is inclusive of the actuarial plan reporting … not the collective bargaining agreements.”

As well, the board is expected to offer review and analysis of the implementing ordinance once offered to the city council, Gabriel noted.

Regarding the accelerated payments from the city required as part of the 2015 pension deal, Gabriel noted the potential of a “retreatment of the dollars” and a “change of the disbursement” was in the deal.

“Whether it’s good or bad policy is another debate,” Gabriel said.

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Tuten wondered how an agreement between the city and the unions could loop out the PFPF from a “former contract of the past.”

“This is of some sort of urgency,” Tuten said, “you met with the four trustees then pop up and say ‘hey, we don’t need you anymore’.”

“Nobody knows what he’s proposing. It’s all hush-hush, hurry-hurry … a cynic mght say the mayor’s trying to avoid bad press and controversy,” Tuten thundered, wondering if the mayor thought the vote would go bad for the deal.

Tuten and Gabriel engaged in spirited cross talk as to whether the general counsel was the lawyer for the plan or not, with Tuten saying the plans were taken from the city oversight by the state, and that there was a potential of “conflict of interest.”

“Who hired you? Who fired you? The mayor is the one who tells you what to do,” Tuten said, “not us.”

Tuten wanted input from fund attorney Bob Sugarman.

“This decision is the first one in fourteen years that if we screw it up, we’re held liable,” Tuten said, “frustrated” by the Gabriel presentation that “doesn’t add up.”

Scheu then reminded Tuten that Gabriel was the “legal officer for the whole city — like it or not” and the general counsel gets to decide relative to conflicts in city government, as per the charter.

“The office of General Counsel is the lawyer for the fund,” Scheu said.

Sugarman backed Gabriel up to a point.

“You have no right to vote on the collective bargaining agreement,” Sugarman said, unless the union had offered that approval as a precondition.

“Our work is seeing what your rights and obligations are … on these other things,” Sugarman said, including the board’s rights under the 2015 agreement and the consent decree.

“You’ve got a contract. You’ve got a consent decree. You can’t just throw them under the table and pretend they don’t exist anymore,” Sugarman said.

“Everything that’s happened,” Gabriel added, “fits into the 2015 agreement.”

Worries among the trustees remain about liquidity risk, potential fiduciary liability, and other major issues, but they are going to be worked out — in fact, they’ll have to be.

“For the record, I think the mayor’s plan is terrible,” Tuten said, regarding “putting off a problem now for a problem 20 or 30 years from now.”

“I don’t see them deviating from the plan,” Tuten added, asking “are we going to have to sue them to stop?”

The board would need the state Attorney General’s approval to sue, and that isn’t likely.

The board will hire a financial consultant for guidance in the meantime … a move not precluded by charter.

“We’re just spinning our wheels here,” Tuten opined, before presenting a series of nightmare scenarios about the city not having the revenue to fund pensions for the people on the current plan, and raising questions about not being able to send an accurate bill to the city.

One suggestion emerged to the council: not cutting out the extra supplemental payments to the pension fund, as mandated by the 2015 deal.

Jacksonville leaders’ arguments for state incentives fall on deaf ears in Tallahassee

Jacksonville may be Ground Zero for the debate about economic incentives. Local leaders want them, but the local Florida House delegation does not.

This week, yet another prominent person in Jacksonville’s City Hall sounded the alarm for state incentives via Enterprise Florida.

The Jacksonville Daily Record reports that local OED head Kirk Wendland made the case for Enterprise Florida on Tuesday to local stakeholders.

Wendland’s quotes are so on message with Gov. Rick Scott that they could have come out of his press shop.

“If any of you know any senators and you have any conversations with them, please convey that it’s serious. We are counting on them to save Enterprise Florida,” Wendland said.

To hear him tell it, the merry-go-round of economic development is slowing: “just the discussion of Enterprise Florida not being there, and not having a state economic development agency, has absolutely affected the deal flow that we have seen over the past couple of months.”

Consultants — the kind that handle site visits for companies — aren’t biting, saying “we’ll come talk to you” after the incentive fight wraps.

If Enterprise Florida is cut, it “will have a material impact on us being able to compete for major projects here in Florida, in Jacksonville specifically,” Wendland told the Daily Record.

Wendland’s words echo the positions of two members of the city council, Jim Love and Aaron Bowman (whose day job is with the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce).

Bowman and Love are pushing a resolution to affirm support for Enterprise Florida, which they believe is especially important for Jacksonville compared to other major metros in the state.

The salient numbers for Councilman Love: 5,000 jobs and $650M in private capital investment since July 2015.

Even before the council resolution, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry spoke to our Northeast Florida bureau about the need for incentives.

“We use incentives – local incentives and state incentives through Enterprise Florida – and we use them successfully,” Curry contended.

The city’s scorecard, which ensures ROI for taxpayers when incentives are offered, is designed to ensure an “inflow of tax dollars that exceeds that investment.”

“I would say that incentives are important to us. They’re used in a way that respects the taxpayers. Without the state funding,” Curry said, “we would have had trouble closing some of the big deals that we closed.”

Since the beginning of his mayoral administration in July 2015, Curry has evangelized for Enterprise Florida.

“Funding for Enterprise Florida is critical and important for Northeast Florida,” the mayor said in the summer of 2015. “It’s how we get deals done.”

It’s not just government workers who back Enterprise Florida.

It’s also the donor class, as Shad Khan made clear as early as 2015.

“I want to applaud Governor Scott,” Khan said. “If there is one lesson [to be derived] from Florida, it’s that economic development,” when prioritized, “leads to other things down the road.”

Such development can’t happen without Enterprise Florida, he said, and commented that the funding deficit is “disconcerting” because “the returns on funding are phenomenal.”

He urged the Legislature to “loosen the purse strings,” lest opportunity for corporate recruitment be lost.

Khan said, controversially at the time, that “there’s nothing iconic about Jacksonville.”

In that, he’s right.

Economic incentives have been the rising tide that has lifted at least some boats locally.

Companies like Macquarie, KLS Martin, and Deutsche Bank all expanded Jacksonville operations in the last two years.

All of those deals were incentive driven.

Jacksonville is an acquired taste for corporate types, used to the faster pace of life in New York or other traditional hotbeds.

However, it was just this year that Bloomberg reported that Jacksonville’s efforts, aided and abetted by state economic development, are paying off.

“Global financial companies including Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank and Sydney-based Macquarie Group have been moving executives here and hiring locally, even while paring staff elsewhere.

“It’s part of a Wall Street trend known as nearshoring, in which banks are moving operations away from expensive financial centers like New York to places such as Jacksonville and North Carolina’s Research Triangle. Also in Jacksonville are more than 19,000 employees of Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo,” Bloomberg notes, adding that Jacksonville is Deutsche Bank’s second largest American location.

In addition, the Bloomberg report notes that jobs in Jacksonville, such as those offered by Macquarie, are filled by “people whose jobs might otherwise have been filled in India. It provides a support staff that’s more convenient for its U.S.-based employees, while its Indian operation continues to focus on the Asia business.”

With two years of successful economic development under the current structure, it’s noteworthy that the Duval Delegation is unmoved by the results on the ground.

During this week’s vote on Enterprise Florida in the House, a grand total of one representative — Jay Fant — represented the position preferred by local policy makers.

Paul Renner, seen as an adjunct local legislator, is key to the battle against incentives.

Meanwhile, other Republicans (Cord ByrdJason FischerClay Yarborough) and both local Democrats (Tracie Davis and Kim Daniels) went with the Speaker and away from the constant drumbeat from locals that Jacksonville’s economic boom will lean toward bust without state incentives.

This has been a session of recalibrated expectations in Jacksonville’s city hall relative to this delegation: consider the aborted Hart Bridge offramp changes as a prime example.

The argument could be made, meanwhile, that the most effective lobbying on any measure by a local legislator has been by Rep. Daniels, on her bill expanding protections of “religious expression” in public schools.

Daniels took the bill over to the Senate, where she got Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley to carry it through committees to the Senate floor.

On the House side, meanwhile, the bill has had one committee hearing.

It was approved unanimously, with applause after the vote.

One can argue the merits of school prayer and other demonstrations of “religious expression” in schools.

What can’t be argued: no amount of “religious expression” in schools will bring a single job to Jacksonville.

Joe Gruters says he’s a long shot for CFO position, but appreciates the mention

Sarasota GOP Chair and state Rep. Joe Gruters said he is a “long-shot” to be Gov. Rick Scott‘s choice to succeed Jeff Atwater as Chief Financial Officer once Atwater leaves the office in May.

On Wednesday afternoon, Gruters appeared on Tampa Bay area radio station News Talk 820 WWBA with guest host David Jolly, who formerly represented Florida’s 13th Congressional District.Gruters had shown loyalty to Scott and President

Jolly said Gruters had shown loyalty to Scott and President Donald Trump when he backed both candidates when they were considered outliers within the GOP, and Scott would reward such loyalty by picking Gruters to succeed Atwater later this year, Jolly said.

“Well, Congressman, that’s so nice of you to say,” Gruters responded, as Jolly laughed.

“Even to be mentioned with some of these other names that are being popped up is an incredible honor,” Gruters continued. “I don’t know who it’s going to be. My guess is that I’m a long shot candidate, there’s other great candidates like (Jacksonville Mayor) Lenny Curry, Pat Neal, who’s a great friend of mine in Manatee County who would be a strong 2018 contender.

“But here’s the deal: you never know. Listen, I’m going to continue to fight for jobs and economic development no matter what the position I’m in, whether it’s state House or anything else.”

“Joe, you’re a winner in Florida politics,” replied Jolly, who was guest-hosting for Dan Maduri. “It wouldn’t surprise me if either now or in the future, we’re talking about Joe Gruters in a Cabinet position.”

Atwater announced he will leave the CFO position after the regular Legislative Session ends in May. Scott has given no indication about who he will select to replace him.

Jacksonville PFPF expected to vote on pension deal Friday

In February, the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund Board of Trustees balked at a Mar. 15 deadline to vote on the city’s latest pension plan.

The board had worried that there would not be enough time to review the data of the new plan, which offers raises and uniformity of benefits for current employees, while providing a new defined contribution plan for future hires — offering a 25 percent city match and assurances that death and disability benefits would substantially be the same as they are for current employees.

Since then, the Fraternal Order of Police and the corrections officers had approved the deal, with the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters voting on it this week.

And now, after a prolonged period of negotiations, which included candid emails between PFPF Trustee Board Chair Richard Tuten and the city’s chief administrative officer, Sam Mousa, the board and the city have struck a compromise.

The board is expected to vote on the deal two days after the city’s unilaterally imposed deadline: Friday, March 17, at its regular 9 a.m. board meeting, according to emails between Mousa and the heads of the police and fire unions.

Facilitating the compromise to extend the deadline two days — cooperation of the members of the board not named Richard Tuten, as Mousa wrote to PFPF Plan Administrator Tim Johnson.

“The Mayor has asked me to ask you to please extend his thanks and gratitude to the four (4) PFPF Board Members (Scheu, Brown, Payne and Patsy) who took time out of their busy schedule to meet individually with me and Mike Weinstein concerning pension reform. Mike and I are furthermore appreciative of those members as we believe the meetings were very productive,” Mousa wrote.

If this vote is successful (and if it actually happens, the pension deal will move on to the Jacksonville City Council, whose own members have serious questions about the actual hard numbers in the deal — numbers that have yet to be produced for public review by the Lenny Curry administration.

Curry contends that the deal will save the city money, saying that the 25 percent city match is far short of what the city pays for pension costs for current employees.

“Right now we’re spending 119 percent of for [pension costs] for every JSO employee and fireman,” Curry said. “If we hired you today, we would take your salary and put 119 percent of that in the pension fund. That’s not sustainable …. 25 percent is a fraction of 119 percent. It works. It will attract and retain people.”

“As to when the numbers will be made available,” Curry said, “City Council will have to vote on this, and all of these numbers will be laid out before them, which is how the budget process works.”

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