Lenny Curry Archives - Page 2 of 130 - Florida Politics

Poll gives Duval’s political leaders high job approval numbers

Jacksonville’s City Hall has been a cauldron of discontent in recent months; as recently as Tuesday, the Mayor and the City Council President were trading barbs about a priority piece of legislation the Council President opposed.

Despite the fissure between the city’s chief executive and lead legislator, city leaders are polling pretty well, per University of North Florida pollster Michael Binder.

“All of Duval’s political leaders have extremely high job approval numbers,” said Binder. “Contrast this level of satisfaction with what’s happening in Washington right now, and downtown looks like a political paradise.”

Whether Downtown Jacksonville is anyone’s idea of paradise is a matter of interpretation; however, even by the favorable light of UNF polling, it seems that Mayor Lenny Curry, Sheriff Mike Williams, State Attorney Melissa Nelson, and Public Defender Charles Cofer will sail to re-election.

Curry’s numbers, per the poll, are particularly sky-high.

Of the 512 registered Duval voters polled by live dial between Oct. 2 and 4, Curry has 69 percent approval against 13 percent disapproval.

For Democrats who may be looking to run against the Republican Mayor once dissed as a “party boss,” consider this: even among registered Democrats, Curry has a 57 percent approval rating.

Curry does well with all ethnic demographics: 74 percent approval with white voters, 59 percent with African-American voters, and 64 percent with Hispanics.

Sheriff Williams is likewise strongly positioned ahead of his inevitable 2019 run for re-election. The first-term Republican Sheriff has 67 percent approval — and 60 percent approval among Democrats.

Williams also has broad appeal in all ethnic groups; his worst performance in the survey is 54 percent with African-American voters.

Neither Williams nor Curry have filed for re-election, but they both have active political committees (“A Safe Jacksonville” and “Build Something that Lasts” respectively).

Though State Attorney Nelson and Public Defender Cofer don’t face voters until 2020, the two first-term Republicans’ numbers might prove encouraging.

Nelson has a 55 percent approval rating, and 13 percent disapproval; Cofer has a 36 percent approval rating, and 14 percent disapproval.

Moving beyond the executive level, the UNF survey also bodes well for the Jacksonville City Council, yet somewhat less well for the Council Presidency of Brosche.

The Council enjoys 50 percent approval against 26 percent disapproval, per the poll.

Brosche, a first-term at-large Republican Councilwoman, has 29 percent approval and 20 percent disapproval. Her main publicity since assuming the gavel in July: a controversial proposal to remove Confederate monuments from city-owned property.

Brosche, interestingly, is underwater with members of her own party, with 20 percent approval among Republicans, against 24 percent disapproval.

Anna Brosche talks Confederate monuments, censure for Council colleagues

Tuesday night was rough for Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche.

Her attempts to stall out a vote on Mayor Lenny Curry‘s children’s program reform, the Kids Hope Alliance, failed. And her allegations of Curry Administration attempts to keep the bill from public view, by having a Councilman introduce a substitute in committee earned a sharp rebuke from the Mayor.

Brosche didn’t address this Tuesday night. And in the end, Brosche ended up voting for the bill.

Despite what many in City Hall perceive as a political setback, Brosche is still Council President — and in that capacity, she addressed the Southside Business Man’s Club’s weekly luncheon Wednesday.

She was surprisingly upbeat after a marathon Council meeting. Brosche described it as a “long night” and a “challenging process,” but “we made it through.”

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Brosche took questions from the crowd — and the first was about Confederate memorials, along the lines of “where does monument removal stop.”

Brosche noted that she is focused on “monuments and markers on city property.”

“I appreciate the question where it ends — I know where mine ends,” Brosche said, noting that the most prominent local monument is the statue in Hemming Park.

A legal review from the city’s lawyers is being conducted, and Brosche expects a report soon.

Additionally, Brosche noted 500 emails and 93 public comments, as well as 50 letters and phone calls.

The feedback is split, Brosche said, and “the version of history I’ve received in all those communications runs the gamut.” As do suggestions — which include private purchase.

“It’s about what they mean to the entire community, not just one section of the community,” Brosche said, though she doesn’t “personally favor” a referendum.

“I’ve studied what it is we’ve taken to the voters in the past, and I personally have a hard time putting a vote to the majority, to decide [for the minority],” Brosche said, occasioning murmurs from the crowd.

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Brosche was also compelled to discuss the confrontation between Councilors Reggie Gaffney and Katrina Brown and police officers after a Council meeting last month.

Gaffney has issued the expected mea culpa statements for attempting to leverage his power as a Councilman to check the officers who pulled him over. However, Brown — who accused officers of racial profiling — has yet to apologize.

That point was not lost on the Fraternal Order of Police, which saw its national and state presidents in Jacksonville Tuesday night to condemn Councilwoman Brown’s accusations and unwillingness to walk them back.

“The ultimate repercussion is going to be leveled by their districts … if there is any,” Brosche said.

Brosche has requested “options” from the General Counsel, including what authority Council has, and expects them at the next Council meeting.

“The question is around censure — is it an option for Council,” Brosche said.

Mayor wins: After acrimony, Jacksonville City Council passes Kids Hope Alliance bill

Tuesday night saw the Jacksonville City Council pass a bill authorizing the Kids Hope Alliance, a new seven-person board that will replace the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jacksonville Journey.

The bill passed 18-1 , after a chippy discussion that lasted almost four hours, exposing and exacerbating fissures on the Council that have moved from hallway gossip to fodder for mainstream media.

The sole no vote: Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, who had his own competing legislation that now rests in the scrapheap of dead bills.

That passage ends a two-month political taffy pull that saw Mayor Lenny Curry opposite the Jacksonville City Council President and Finance Chair, with the Council President suffering a setback at the hands of her own legislative body.

In a special meeting Tuesday afternoon to discharge the bill from Finance Committee, Council President Anna Brosche made a number of charges about the way the administration handled the process, charging that the administration made a procedural move to loop the public out of bill discussion.

Curry fired back: “At no time would any one from my office or the Office of General Counsel seek to subvert the legislative process or attempt to prevent the input of the people of Jacksonville. It is both irresponsible and disgraceful for an elected official to make such a slanderous allegation. The Council President should immediately admit that the anecdote is false and should apologize to the two staff members who she attacked.”

Brosche did not apologize. The Mayor likely won’t forget that.

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During public comment before bill deliberation, Councilman Garrett Dennis repeatedly attempted to make an emotional appeal during questions to people who would be losing their jobs during the restructure. Bill sponsor Scott Wilson made his displeasure with that clear after the third round of this, calling it a “disgusting” tactic at one point.

Council VP Aaron Bowman got frustrated after the seventh round of this, saying it was a stall tactic, and Brosche had to remind him to make questions “germane” to the bill.

There were, in total, 26 public commenters — and they got plenty of time to make their points.

Amidst the speeches, some clarification: it was thought that part of the re-org, early learning specialists and the like, who are directly employed by the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, may lose their jobs.

CFO Mike Weinstein noted that everyone employed with JCC serves at the pleasure of the Mayor, adding that it’s “disgraceful”, “disheartening,” and “shameful” that people are being made to feel their “jobs are on the cutting block.”

“Nobody’s going to lose their jobs if you vote for this tonight,” Weinstein said.

Weinstein noted that an amendment offered tonight would offer “flexibility,” adding that “there’s no direction to let anyone go”, that people have “civil service protection,” and that there are other positions in city government.

The succession of public commenters continued, with Jacksonville Children’s Commission Board Chair Matt Kane having his say.

Kane, a six-year member of the board, said the JCC brought “real change to kids in the community.”

“This organization is really something wonderful,” Kane said. “We have spent time and energy making a difference … changing the way that after school works.”

After the public comment ended, the bill discussion began. And former Council Presidents offered up amendments.

An amendment from Councilwoman Lori Boyer tightened up the definition of “in-house services” in the bill, saying that KHA could provide in-house services and training, contingent on Council approval of scope and budget. This amendment would also protect the jobs people worry about.

“We’re looking for outside providers for most things,” Boyer said, but this would make it possible to go “in-house” if that option made sense.

Councilman Greg Anderson then pushed an amendment that required a 2/3 majority of Council for removal or replacement of wayward board members.

Both the Boyer and Anderson amendments were uncontroversial and passed easily.

Another amendment sought to extend the age of eligibility to people up to the age of 21 who are pursuing education, and 22 years old for special needs people. After some floor debate, that came to pass. Another amendment further expanded what one Councilor called “umbrella coverage.” Other technical amendments, nibbling around the edges of bill language, were debated with an etymological zeal as the meeting lurched toward its fifth hour.

Jax Council bucks President, moves Kids Hope Alliance to vote

On one side, there’s the Mayor.

Lenny Curry asserts that his proposed Kids Hope Alliance bill is the “real reform” Jacksonville children’s services need.

On the other side, there’s Council President Anna Brosche, who asserts the process needs to be more deliberate and transparent. And there’s also Council Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, who has his own bill for children’s program reform that is actually favored by members of the city’s non-profit/provider community.

Brosche and Dennis wanted a slower process, with both bills considered side by side; 13 Council co-sponsors on Curry’s bill seemed to want something different.

That was the setup for a Tuesday meeting — a meeting catalyzed by Brosche’s decision to cancel a scheduled Monday meeting, saying that she had too many questions about the Curry bill for that one meeting to answer.

Councilman John Crescimbeni — the man Brosche beat for the presidency — called for the Tuesday meeting. And 13 Councilors backed him up.

If Curry’s bill passes — and with a supermajority co-sponsoring the measure, that seems likely — it means that the Jax Journey and Jacksonville Children’s Commission programs will lapse, to be supervised by a seven-person Kids Hope Alliance board.

What is clear, however; the political turbulence typical to the third year of a Mayor’s term came to a head on a bill that, outside of providers and non-profits, has been off of most media’s radars.

The meta-discourse on the bill included Dennis telling Action News Jax that Council members felt “bullied” by the Mayor.

“Now it’s political football. The budget is now being held over some of my colleagues’ heads. You know, ‘Vote for this Kids Hope Alliance or your project’s going to be taken out of the budget.’ And that’s wrong,” said Councilman Garrett Dennis.

And that was followed by a Mayoral adviser saying that Dennis would have had to have violated the Sunshine Law to get that information.

With all that prologue and drama in play, it’s easy enough to forget what this bill is: an attempt to streamline children and youth programming in the city, taking these boards out of the role of running programs in-house and having them supervise programs.

The debate long since moved beyond that. It is now a political endgame. And the latest battlefield: Tuesday afternoon in City Hall.

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Ahead of the 3:30 p.m. meeting of the full City Council, Mayor Curry, meeting with Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa and former JCC Chair Howard Korman, was in a good mood, joking with this reporter.

Curry’s confidence set into mind an axiom he frequently Tweets: “Plan. Plan all the way to the end.”

Curry had applied this theory throughout his political life, from his run for Mayor to his successful shepherding of pension reform.

However, this time was different; he had the opposition of the council president and the finance chair.

And to overcome that, he has had to do an end run around Council leadership.

Curry wasn’t present in chamber; he had another meeting.

He left it to Council allies to make the sale.

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 The 3:30 meeting was delimited to the question of whether or not to take up the KHA bill, with a hard stop at 4 p.m.

Citing a “sense of urgency” from colleagues and “intense urgency” from the Mayor’s Office, Brosche noted her regret for the impact of the cancellation.

Brosche said some answers from the administration for her questions were “unsatisfactory.”

Brosche also pointed out a “dilemma” stemming from the Mayor’s perceived desire to exclude the public from the process, with an administration member saying that the sub from a Councilor was intended to hide the bill from the public.

The third issue: Brosche didn’t understand the “rush” to make this law.

Curry fired back after the meeting with a statement responding to Brosche’s claims: “At no time would any one from my office or the Office of General Counsel seek to subvert the legislative process or attempt to prevent the input of the people of Jacksonville. It is both irresponsible and disgraceful for an elected official to make such a slanderous allegation. The council president should immediately admit that the anecdote is false and should apologize to the two staff members who she attacked.”

Brosche did not address Curry’s statement, either in the opening of the Council meeting or in response to a question texted from this outlet.

Councilman Dennis and Councilman Reggie Brown had point of order questions regarding public comment and when it might occur in the process; these occasioned grousing from some members of the crowd — specifically, members who were ready to get down to business and discharge the bill.

Councilman John Crescimbeni got fiery with a few minutes left before 4 p.m., saying that he thought the stall tactics from the chair were “some sort of game” to delay the bill further.

Crescimbeni finally was able to move to discharge. The seconds came in quickly.

The bill was discharged to 3rd Reading Ordinances — an outcome that wasn’t in doubt.

An 18-1 vote. With Brosche as the 1. And the Council against the president.

And a vote on a bill that has been the subject of two months of back and forth is imminent.

Councilman Dennis called the process on this bill a “travesty,” saying that rushing forward and not hearing constituents was not in the public interest.

But in the end, the vote looks very likely to happen.

And in the process, the council president looks to have been kneecapped by the process — and a very politically-savvy Mayor.

‘Political football’ between Jax Mayor, Council Prez over kids’ program reform bill

When it comes to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s “Kids Hope Alliance” proposal, City Council President Anna Brosche wanted to put the brakes on.

But it appears that won’t happen. And in a process that one Councilman called “political football,” Mayor Curry — or one of his key allies — is calling the plays in Council Chamber.

Meanwhile, Brosche is saying that if Curry’s bill passes without a longer period of Council and public review, it’s a “loss for open and transparent government.”

Just hours ago, it looked like Brosche had the Mayor and his children’s program reform bill on the ropes.

On Monday, mere hours before a special Committee of the Whole meeting on the bill that would reform the governing structure of Jacksonville children’s services, Brosche cancelled the meeting. She said there were a lot of unanswered questions, and that the public needed to weigh in.

Later on Monday, Councilman John Crescimbeni — who lost a deeply personal race for the Presidency to Brosche — requested a meeting on Tuesday before the regular Council meeting.

And 13 of 19 Councilors signed on, and that meeting will be happening.

And — make no mistake — that meeting is happening against the wishes of Council President Anna Brosche and Finance Chair Garrett Dennis.

On Monday, both Brosche and Dennis talked to Action News Jax about their frustrations with the process.

President Brosche said that she didn’t think the public had had enough time to review the legislation, and she thought the Mayor was rushing it.

Councilman Dennis, as has been the case, went further.

The bill, he said, is a “political football — the budget’s now being held over some of my colleagues’ heads.”

“We have an obligation as the legislative body to be a check to the executive branch. What you see is a potential rubber stamp — and it’s wrong,” Dennis said about the process.

Dennis said that some Councilors felt “bullied” by the Mayor, leading one of Curry’s strategists to wonder on Twitter whether or not Dennis violated the Sunshine Law to glean that insight.

Dennis’ Sunshine compliance notwithstanding, Crescimbeni scored a political victory in this case, aligning Council behind the Mayor — and away from, on this issue, their elected President.

The KHA would phase out the Jax Journey and the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, folding them under a new seven-person board.

The timing of this meeting struck Dennis as apt: the city’s budget needs to be signed Tuesday by 5 p.m. And KHA is a missing piece of a larger puzzle, per an administration spokesperson.

“There are a number of budget uncertainties unrelated to KHA legislation. Some Council members have made statements that would have financial impacts on future budgets,” asserted Marsha Oliver Monday afternoon.

“For example,” Oliver asserted, “it has been proposed to find a dedicated funding source including creating a special taxing district. Also, support for excess pension payments has been presented and agreed to in publicly noticed meetings. It is fiscally responsible for the mayor to consider these impacts prior to signing the budget.  As always, the mayor respects the work of individual council members and looks forward to working with them.”

The question going into Tuesday: does Brosche have a counter for what some are saying was a coup on Crescimbeni’s part?

We asked Brosche if she felt Council overruled her by siding with Crescimbeni and the Mayor, and she took the high road.

“For me, this has always been about the children and how the City of Jacksonville wraps itself around our children is the most important investment we can make. The mayor and I share a strong commitment to serving kids,” Brosche said.

“Ultimately,” the Council President added, “the legislative process is a hallmark of local government that is open and transparent. How we proceed is a reflection of the will of the majority, which is also a foundational element of local government. I’m seeking to honor the legislative process and to proceed in an open and transparent manner. If my colleagues feel differently, they’ll express their will accordingly and I fully accept the will of the body.”

“From the beginning of my term, and reiterated at the beginning of my service as Council President, I conveyed my deep respect for the diversity of perspective and thought of my colleagues. My respect and appreciation for my colleagues is and will remain strong,” Brosche added.

We asked Brosche about the political angle, and she was straightforward.

“As someone who has a long history of serving children, my due diligence over very important and impactful legislation is entirely about the kids. I’m elected to produce legislation that’s right for Jacksonville, and I’m working to fulfill that responsibility. If KHA passes tomorrow, it’s a loss for open and transparent government.

Lenny Curry’s Jax Kids Hope Alliance bill gets 13 Council cosponsors

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has invested a lot of political capital into the Kids Hope Alliance, a proposed reform of Jacksonville children’s services.

The reform bill, which now has 13 of 19 people on City Council as co-sponsors, would replace the Jacksonville Journey and Jacksonville Children’s Commission with the KHA.

While the bill cleared two of three Council committees this week, it was not voted out of Finance, where questions remained.

Those questions will be answered, presumably, at a Committee of the Whole meeting 1 p.m. Monday, one followed by a special finance meeting–one that will allow the committee to clear the bill for the full Council meeting the next day, if the committee votes the bill out.

Odds look favorable: the bill now has thirteen co-sponsors in its current form … a clear suggestion that there would be majority support on a simple up or down vote.

Curry met with many Council members on Thursday and Friday … except for the chair, who is on a collision course with Curry over the Kids Hope Alliance proposal. Those meetings paid off.

Councilman Reggie Gaffney jumped on board Friday afternoon, joining fellow Finance Committee members Lori BoyerAaron BowmanMatt Schellenberg — meaning that even a majority of the Finance Committee was on board.

In Tuesday’s Finance meeting, that wasn’t a given.

Chair Garrett Dennis took the unusual step of allowing unlimited speaking time to public commenters, while Council President Anna Brosche introduced 17 questions she had about the bill right before the committee had to make a hard stop.

On Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, we asked Curry, Brosche and Dennis their thoughts on where the KHA process is, and the path forward. Curry, appearing at a media event at JAXPORT on Wednesday afternoon, was first up — and in a philosophical mode regarding the “process.”

“This is the process,” Curry said. “I think the bill’s on its fifth iteration now. If you add in my first bill, the substitute bill, the amendments that were made in the committees in the last couple of days.”

“So, it’s just the process of making it the best possible bill that it can be,” Curry said, adding that the amendments “absolutely” make the bill a better one.

“We welcome the revisions to the bill. We’re on the fifth iteration, I believe. I expect it will end up in a place with a bill that is exactly where it should be, to serve our kids — the kids of Jacksonville in the best way that they can be served, and to improve the way they’re served today,” Curry added.

“Whatever it takes to get this bill to where it needs to be to get on with the business of serving kids,” Curry said, “in a more focused way and a more outcome-driven way than we’re doing today, I’m on board with.”

Council President Brosche told us Thursday morning that she was “concerned that the public has not had the opportunity to become involved.”

Brosche expanded on these comments Thursday afternoon in a public forum at the Urban League.

Brosche noted that she was trying to understand “what needs fixing” with children’s services, trying to “reconcile why we’re creating a new entity when the work today … is defined as excellent.”

“For me, this is about serving the kids. We’re already not serving enough kids in Jacksonville … I’m trying to understand what is broken,” Brosche said about the Curry plan, which is predicated on a contention that the Jacksonville Children’s Commission is outmoded and ineffective.

FloridaPolitics.com obtained a copy of Council questions and administration-provided answers [KHA Memo to Councilmembers], and Council President Brosche — who is reviewing the current crop of answers — may yet have additional questions for the Curry administration.

A number of the questions and answers bear closer scrutiny in light of committee discussion.

Among the revelations: according to the Curry administration, there is — as of yet — no candidate for the CEO position identified; however, “we anticipate Mayor Curry making the appointment shortly after the enactment of this legislation.”

The Curry administration also addressed criticism from some quarters that there wasn’t sufficient input from subject matter experts: “A multitude of stakeholders were consulted including but not limited to providers, philanthropic partners, elected officials, current and former JCC Board Members, community leaders and citizens. The collective experiences, input and recommendations were considered and to the extent appropriate incorporated in the legislation as proposed. As a result of the actions this week, the current legislation is in its fifth version. All of the changes came from the stakeholders listed above.”

Perhaps the most interesting descriptive language of this week’s committee meetings was when a member of the Curry administration used the word “rubber stamp” to describe board members, as well as a feeling of “entitlement” from providers.

“Certain service providers expect these taxpayers dollars regardless of their performance, and this will no longer be the tolerated. These words simply emphasize the mayor’s expectations of a results-driven board. Under the Kids’ Hope Alliance, performance will be mandated and measured ensuring better [outcomes] for our children and the taxpayers of Jacksonville,” the response read.

Meanwhile, when asked about the “biggest weakness” of the current JCC/Jax Journey structure, the response was deliberately forward-looking: “Citing specific weaknesses and attempting to assign blame for the past, seems counterproductive.”

While it appears that Brosche’s questions are at least in the process of being answered, a new wrinkle emerged this week, with Finance Chair Dennis filing legislation that he believes merits parallel consideration.

This would necessitate a six-week deferral of the Kids Hope Alliance bill; Dennis believes that Mayor Curry “should welcome a frank public discussion” comparing and contrasting the two proposals.

The Dennis bill would repeal the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and replace it with the Ed Austin Children’s Services Council.

This body, per the bill, would “exist as an autonomous body within the Executive Branch of the consolidated government but shall not be a part of the organizational structure of any executive department.”

Some of this looks the same as the KHA bill — including the seven-person board comprised of Duval County residents, and a requirement of a 2/3 vote of Council for removal of board members.

“Bill 2017-697 is about kids. After listening to my fellow council members and hearing from the community and feeling the need to get this right for the kids of Jacksonville, I am proposing an alternative solution that builds upon the recent improvements to JCC,” Dennis asserted.

“The recent audit shows that JCC is improving outcomes for kids. I also wanted to honor the legacy of the founder of JCC by renaming it the Ed Austin Children’s Services Council and make improvements to existing JCC ordinance that has lasted 25 years and can continue to improve the lives of our kids and ultimately Jacksonville. It’s about our kids,” Dennis asserted.

Meanwhile, Sen. Audrey Gibson expressed her own concerns with the Curry bill this week in the Florida Times-Union.

Gibson, who last battled the Curry Administration ahead of 2016’s pension reform referendum, called the Kids Hope Alliance bill a “proposed fast track of city legislation to offer ‘hope’ to our children in need of opportunity to become the best they can be through after-school programming.”

With thirteen co-sponsors, KHA may already be a done deal. But at the very least, Monday and Tuesday will have drama before the votes.

When told of KHA having 13 cosponsors, Finance Chair Garrett Dennis — who has just filed competing legislation — was unmoved.

“Wait until Monday,” he said.

Jacksonville Bold for 10.6.17 — After the storm

Jacksonville politics are returning to normal after a wild summer that included a newly assertive City Council flexing its muscles over Mayor Lenny Curry’s budget, followed by impacts from Hurricane Irma that are only now receding.

Politicians, as you will read below, are still working to pick up the pieces, as photo ops are now replaced by the more quotidian work of relief and securing federal reimbursements for debris removal.

Local budgets have been approved for a new fiscal year, meaning that the pyrotechnic posturing will — especially as the holiday season approaches — dial down.

That said, we can now turn our attention to approaching storms: those being the 2018 Legislative Session (for which bills are being filed), 2018 campaigns for state office (which will see a lot of pre-primary action on the Republican side), and the 2019 Jacksonville municipal campaigns (for which candidates are filing).

Expect moves (in some cases) to be as quiet as possible — and expect us to listen at the keyholes for the whispers … and tell you the important stuff.

John Rutherford talks Irma recovery

U.S. Rep. Rutherford took to the House floor this week to discuss the response to Hurricane Irma, lauding the first responders and National Guardsmen who are so pivotal in the reaction.

But Rutherford’s comments looked forward as well; namely, to ensure Florida — specifically Northeast Florida — gets what is necessary for recovery.

Rep. John Rutherford was vital in bringing House leadership through Jacksonville last month.

“Mr. Speaker,” Rutherford said, “the Florida delegation in this House is now unified to ensure that Floridians receive the Federal support they need to recover from this horrible natural disaster, Hurricane Irma.”

Rutherford added that “the Port of Jacksonville is ground zero for getting shipments of needed goods to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In fact, the American Maritime Partnership and the entire U.S. maritime industry are, first responders in times of emergency like Irma and Maria when they strike Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.”

Indeed, just this week Gov. Rick Scott visited JAXPORT to see shipments of goods headed to Puerto Rico.

Speaker Paul Ryan should be acutely aware of Jacksonville’s strategic importance in relief efforts; he came through Jacksonville last month as part of his post-Irma tour of the devastation Irma wrought.

Gov. Rick Scott visits JAXPORT to see shipments of goods headed to Puerto Rico.

Al Lawson: ‘Let’s Feed America’

U.S. Rep. Lawson has focused on food scarcity issues in his first term in DC — and with good reason, as his Congressional District 5 has many so-called “food deserts.”

To that end, Lawson is using several creative approaches. The latest, reports WUSF: the launch of the “Let’s Feed America” campaign.

Rep. Al Lawson again is turning attention to regional food security issues.

The goal: “To reduce hunger by expanding eligibility and making it easier for those in need to receive access to food.”

Lawson’s constituents rely heavily on the SNAP program; one in four have used it this year.

President Donald Trump wants to cut this program, an outcome Lawson called “totally unacceptable.”

$100 million for Florida Forever?

The Florida Forever program hasn’t been funded in the way people expected when they voted to appropriate Amendment 1 funds for it in 2014. The biggest amount earmarked for land acquisition thus far: $15.2M.

A new Senate bill from Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley seeks to change that, requiring an at least $100M allocation per year, for protection of Florida’s increasingly fragile wilderness.

Sen. Rob Bradley continues to fight for environmental spending.

“I am filing this bill because the Constitution demands, and the overwhelming majority of Floridians who voted for Amendment One in 2014 demand, that we protect the natural resources of our state,” Bradley said.

Bradley’s bill comes on the heels of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection seeking $50 million for Florida Forever.

Bradley had already filed a measure for 2018 (SB 204) that would lead to the state spending at least $75 million a year on springs projects and $50 million annually on projects related to the restoration of the St. Johns River and its tributaries or the Keystone Heights Lake Region.

Last Session, Bradley pushed a project consistent with the aims of Florida Forever, securing recurring funds of $13.3 million earmarked for water replenishment in the St. Johns River and Keystone Heights Lake Region.

Tracie Davis moves to protect workers’ rights

As Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida, many residents faced evacuation orders — and some felt pressure from employers not to leave … or else they’d lose their jobs.

A new bill from Rep. Tracie Davis, a Jacksonville Democrat, would rectify that, banning such “employment discrimination.”

Tracie Davis calls this bill “common sense legislation. We agree.

HB 225 would protect employees from “retaliatory personnel action” if they evacuated in compliance with an executive branch evacuation order applicable to their residence.

The employee would have 14 days to return to work — unless there is a lesser timespan mutually agreed upon by the employer and employee.

If fired, the employee could take civil action and remedies could include reinstatement of the employee to his or her previous position, compensation for lost wages, and attorney and court costs.

It does not apply to first responders, people working in nursing homes and those involved in the “restoration of vital services.”

If I do say so myself …

Councilman Garrett Dennis was featured in the Florida Times-Union last weekend, via a letter to the editor that extolled the budget delivery/performance of the City Council Finance Committee he chairs.

Finance Committee did great, per Finance Chair.

Dennis asserted that the committee allowed the budget to be “reviewed and vetted from a different perspective … ensuring that all communities are served,”

Worth noting: The Mayor advanced a massive (by Jacksonville standards) $131M capital improvement budget well before Finance even took a look at the paper. The philosophy was that the short-term budget relief created by immediate pension reform savings would help with priority projects.

Kids Hope Alliance on the rocks?

Jacksonville City Council committees this week were dominated by a dissection of Curry’s Kids Hope Alliance proposal, which seeks to replace Jacksonville’s children’s services organizations — the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jax Journey — with a seven-person board housed in the executive branch.

Will Council scuttle Mayor Lenny Curry’s kids’ program reforms?

Two of three Council committees passed the bill; deferring the measure, however, the Finance Committee … which looks poised to have a meeting Monday to answer questions from Chairman Garrett Dennis and Council President Anna Brosche.

Curry made a relatively rare trip to Council Chambers to sell the plan to one committee, and given that he’s messaged heavily on this one, he’s invested in the outcome.

Will that outcome be Tuesday … or again deferred?

JEA to PR

Some props for Jacksonville’s utility: they are sending crews to Puerto Rico to help the U.S. territory rebuild a power grid devastated by Hurricane Maria.

JEA CEO Paul McElroy is finally past messaging on Irma.

The 40 worker crews will, reports WJCT, work 30-day tours before rotating out. JEA has committed to three months of restoration work.

For JEA, which took a lot of criticism for messaging in the wake of Irma, news like this should help change the narrative … at least until the discussion of McElroy’s bonus comes up later this year.

Bill Bishop, Rory Diamond launch Council bids

The 2019 campaign season is starting in Jacksonville, as two candidates with name identification launched Council runs this week.

Former district Councilman and Mayoral candidate Bill Bishop filed Tuesday in at-large District 2, where he will oppose an ally of Mayor Curry: Ron Salem.

After months of deliberation (and some Jenga), Bill Bishop is back.

Salem has over $100,000 banked, and the Mayor’s political machine on his side. Meanwhile, Bishop built up a lot of goodwill among the Jacksonville smart set in 2015, as he ran an insurgent campaign before endorsing Alvin Brown for Mayor in the runoff.

The open question: will people support or remember Bishop in 2019, after a couple of years out of the relative spotlight of the Council dais? And will Bishop find donors outside of the Curry machine axis?

Out at the Beaches, Neptune Beach Councilor Rory Diamond — another candidate the Mayor’s political machine is excited about — launched his race to succeed fellow Republican Bill Gulliford, who is termed out and ready to move to Montana.

Diamond, an alumnus of the George W. Bush White House, will be the establishment favorite in that race. That said, Beach politics are essentially cannibalism at the ballot box, and almost certainly one or more of Diamond’s opponents will lay into him for using Neptune as a steppingstone to the big show.

Duval School Board OKs budget

The Duval County School Board approved its budget by a 5-1 vote this week … and three guesses as to who the “1” was.

Board member Scott Shine has been a lonely voice on the board, and budget night was no exception. He voted against the budget and called attention to a priority of former board member and current State Rep. Jason Fischer: an audit of $21M that ended up being spent last fiscal year from reserves.

Scott Shine: in the wilderness.

The audit, said Board Chairwoman Paula Wright, was conducted and will be discussed at an upcoming workshop.

A question left unanswered by the Florida Times-Union article: why the audit wasn’t merely distributed via email to board members, allowing for a more contemporaneous discussion — especially before the budget vote.

Meanwhile, for those who appreciate Shine’s willingness to go against consensus, they can take heart: Shine already has almost $30K banked for his 2018 re-election bid, against two opponents who — as of August numbers — had yet to report fundraising.

Armada falls to Miami, two points out of playoffs

The Jacksonville Armada FC fell 1-0 to the NASL-leading Miami FC on Sunday night in south Florida. Despite the loss, Jacksonville is two points out of a playoff spot. The Armada collected just one point from three games this past week — a busy schedule thanks to making up matches from Hurricane Irma.

“I thought the players played very well today. I honestly think in all three games this week we have been the better team,” head coach Mark Lowry said.

While losing to the NASL-leading Miami FC Sunday night, the Jacksonville Armada is still two points out of a playoff spot.

“We are obviously very disappointed not to collect more points, but the performances lately show that this club is moving in the right direction and has a very bright future ahead.”

The loss to Miami at Riccardo Silva Stadium on the campus of Florida International University with Jacksonville getting their first look at the goal. Tony Taylor found an early opportunity in the second minute of play and fired a shot, but it was a little too high.

Miami then found their first opportunity in the 11th minute with a free kick by former Armada player, Richie Ryan. It found its way through the defenders to bounce off the woodwork straight into the hands of goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell.

It did not take long for Miami to try again, though, and put itself on the scoreboard. Jaime Chávez tapped a ball toward Stéfano Pinho, who was able to head it on the frame and into the back of the net.

Patterson-Sewell had great saves later in the first half to keep Miami from extending their lead. Kwadwo Poku sent a laser from outside the box, and Patterson-Sewell knocked it away. He was there again to save the rebound shot by Dylan Mares, but the play by Mares was called offsides.

Taylor found another opportunity in the 44th minute for the Armada. He connected with a ball from Ciarán Kilduff and blasted a shot from outside the 18-yard box, but Daniel Vega saved it in the middle of the goal.

Taylor’s effort could not get Jacksonville on the board, and the teams left the field for halftime with Miami leading 1-0.

Mares was first with an effort for Miami in the second half. He broke away from the pack in the midfield in the 53rd minute and took a shot on goal, but Patterson-Sewell was again there to knock it away.

Jacksonville had a sequence in the 64th minute to almost record a goal. Taylor and Jack Blake connected on the right wing before finding Aaron Pitchkolan and Kalen Ryden in front of the goal. Ryden played the ball to Jemal Johnson who powered it toward the net. Kilduff had the last tap to try to tuck it away, but Vega made a diving save to knock it out of play.

Zach Steinberger then tried his chance at the goal in the 81st minute. After receiving the ball from Ryden, he fired his shot toward the net, but Vega saved it.

Miami had a few late chances to double the lead. Chavez found some space to run down the field ahead of Ryden to force Patterson-Sewell to get ready for a one-on-one, but his subsequent chip at the goal went wide.

The match ended 1-0 and Miami took the three points.

“The three games in seven days has stretched the roster to its limits,” said Lowry. “At this stage of the season, with a very small roster, it has been a physically challenging week. But rest assured, we will be ready for Edmonton on Friday.”

Jacksonville continues its season with a matchup against FC Edmonton in Alberta. Kickoff is Friday at 9 p.m. ET. The match will be broadcast locally on CW17.

More Shad Khan money for Lenny Curry committee

While Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry may disagree with Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan on national anthem protests, the two align politically.

The most recent piece of evidence: the September finance report for Curry’s political committee, “Build Something That Lasts.”

Khan’s $25,000 contributed in September comprised the majority of the committee’s $38,000 haul last month — which brought the committee over $1.4 million raised in total since its inception (with roughly $410,000 of that on hand).

Khan personally has given Curry’s committee $175,000 since the end of 2015, and the Jacksonville Jaguars have ponied up $35,000 more.

September spending was fairly routine for this committee, with just over $21,000 spent — the bulk of it on consultant fees.

Panel defers Lenny Curry’s ‘Kids Hope Alliance’ proposal

Monday saw a Jacksonville City Council committee move Mayor Lenny Curry‘s children’s program re-orginization — the Kids Hope Alliance (KHA) — through by a 6 to 1 vote.

Discussion of the bill to replace the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and Jacksonville Journey was brutal.

It took over three hours, and it became clear that one primary skeptic of the bill was Council President Anna Brosche.

As the committee lurched through its fourth hour of deliberation, Brosche advanced at least a dozen line-item criticisms of the bill. However, Brosche was not a voting member of the committee.

The lone “no” vote in that committee: Councilman Garrett Dennis, a Democrat who has been willing to buck both the Curry Administration and political team.

Dennis was vocal with criticisms, suggestions of amendments to the bill and other procedural tricks — including an attempted stall to force deferral as the committee reached what had been thought to be a hard stop time of 1:30 p.m.

As luck would have it, Dennis chaired the Tuesday morning meeting of the Finance Committee — and therefore it was widely expected that Finance would be the toughest of the three committees for the KHA bill.

That impression was augmented when an occasional Curry political adversary — Council President Anna Brosche — showed up for bill discussion.

And sure enough, the bill — a priority of the Curry administration — didn’t even get a vote.

For the second straight committee meeting, Sherry Magill, president of the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund, offered critiques of the KHA model. She wanted a dedicated funding source, expressed concerns about KHA becoming political and took issue with the KHA’s reliance on decreased crime stats as a metric.

Council President Anna Brosche honed in on questions about the funding source, noting that in FY 05-06, funding was just over $21 million, but since then had an erosion in funding, while Jacksonville Journey investment was “all over the board.”

Brosche surmised that she thought legislative intent was that funding would keep going up, not that it would be cut — as happened earlier this decade.

Dennis then took issue with Curry’s assertion on Monday that support for the Jacksonville Children’s Commission is tantamount to supporting “special interests,” saying “the only interests are the kids of Jacksonville.”

“That kept me up all night last night, thinking about special interests,” an impassioned Dennis noted.

In response to a provider’s assertion that the KHA would send children’s services “backwards,” another frequent Curry Administration sparring partner — Finance Vice-Chair Danny Becton — said this concerned him, given that the reforms were supposed to represent progress.

“That thought process is certainly contrary to the objective to the bill, where we are trying to enhance and raise the bar for kids,” Becton said.

Dennis addressed another of the provider’s concerns with the bill, calling it “problematic” when small providers had to compete with city agencies for contracts.

“It’s almost like picking and choosing based on the priority of the leadership in the Mayor’s Office,” Dennis said, adding that he is “inclined to defer the bill.”

That didn’t go over well with Ali Korman Shelton, the mayoral liaison to Council, whose father Howard Korman is both a former chair of the Children’s Commission and a very strong proponent of this bill.

In fact, as Mr. Korman began his remarks, Dennis said he intended to defer the measure two weeks.

“The Children’s Commission right now has a lot of uncertainty … the longer it takes to do this, the more uncertainty there is,” Korman said, noting that “good people … have their future up in the air” while the city mulls the re-orginization.

____

Chairman Dennis had more surprises that doubled as absolute non-starters for the Curry Administration.

One amendment that went up in flames: a referendum to set up KHA as an independent taxing district, one which could levy a tax not exceeding .5 mill, which would come out to roughly $26.7 million.

“Let the voters decide the commitment to the children,” Dennis said.

Boyer noted that the Consolidation Task Force had opposed carve-outs like this, and so she “strongly opposed” this proposal.

Councilman Reggie Brown was concerned, meanwhile, that amount wasn’t enough, and “maybe a full mill” is required. Brown ultimately said he wouldn’t support the amendment.

Bill sponsor Scott Wilson said this was a “bad idea” and he’d vote against it if lumped into this bill.

Other amendments were successful, including a Reggie Brown one to ensure that all high school students — including those over the age of 18 — would be eligible for youth services.

____

Near 1 p.m., Dennis urged deferral.

But there were fireworks, with Councilwoman Lori Boyer noting that the version being voted on had three hours of work and multiple amendments, and that there needed to be a vote or a continuance of the meeting at some later time to preserve the work done.

“We’ve shotgunned this, we’ve rushed this,” Dennis said, urging a potential Committee of the Whole to resolve “tons of questions” he had on the bill.

Boyer then motioned on the substitute as amended, and the motion was seconded — wrapped as the Finance substitute.

Some committee members pushed for a vote, but Democrats on the committee — mindful of a deferral of a Reggie Brown bill in a different committee — said that to not defer this bill would be a different standard.

Brown’s bill: a resolution of support for a bill in the Florida Legislature requiring school crossing guards at all schools serving students up until eighth grade. There were questions about funding what would be a state mandate, and other logistical issues.

Council President Brosche added that if her questions on the bill were not answered, she would push for deferral at Council Tuesday.  As of late Tuesday afternoon, her 17 questions had not been answered.

“Hopefully we can do that before Tuesday so we don’t need to defer it on Tuesday,” Brosche said.

Discussion continued, with the Curry Administration vowing to answer any residual questions on Monday, while urging that the committee vote the bill out.

Despite that vow, Chairman Dennis deferred the bill. A special meeting of the committee looks likely for Monday.

____

The Rules Committee took up the measure Tuesday afternoon, with many of the same speakers making increasingly familiar points about the bill.

Howard Korman noted that, while this has been a “difficult process,” Councilors should “move this forward — either up or down” to alleviate uncertainty among current members of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission regarding whether they’d have jobs or not after the re-orginzation goes through.

Amendments from the previous two committee stops occasioned more discussion, with more technical amendments offered before a substitute version was moved through and approved without a no vote.

Reggie Brown rejects conflict of interest charge

Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown has became a point man on Mayor Lenny Curry‘s push to boost after-school program funding this year.

However, Brown’s 2016 financial disclosure form reveals that he has received secondary income of almost $10,000 from one of those organizations tasked with running after-school programs.

Brown says there is no conflict of interest because the money he received from the organization had nothing to do with the $360,000 allocation to “Communities in Schools.”

This assertion was made despite the allocation coming after he took an active role in the process.

____

“Communities in Schools” got $360,000 in an August round of funding from the city of Jacksonville, for three sites serving 80 kids. One of those sites — at Pickett Elementary School — is in Brown’s district.

According to a press release from the mayor, Brown, a member of the Council Finance Committee, was slated to “introduce an amendment at the proper time during the budget process to appropriate the funds,” during the budget process in August.

And the funds were appropriated. However, despite Brown having gotten paid $9,375 from CIS — a fact reported on a disclosure received by the Florida Commission on Ethics on July 21, 2017 — Brown asserts that money or any previous contractual relationship had nothing to do with CIS getting $360,000 that may not have been available otherwise.

“CIS summer and afterschool programs were granted their sites based on rankings from RFP scores,” Brown asserted via text Monday.

There was, said Brown, “absolutely not a conflict.”

“My vote was for all after school providers. I’ve worked for other providers in the past that received funds,” Brown said.

Brown said he would have recused his vote had there been a conflict.

“If I was currently employed with any provider receiving funds,” Brown said, “I know to recuse my vote.”

“Tell the world to keep trying,” Brown added.

Brown had gotten paid from CIS for his participation in the “AmeriCorps Veterans to Success Program,” which was intended to use veterans to “recruit military speakers” and “coordinate activities for miliary students in Duval County.”

____

Brown sought to take an active role in the process of revamping funding formulas for afterschool programs and summer camp programs as early as June, reported the Florida Times-Union.

The second-term Democrat called a special Council meeting to address these issues.

Parents and non-profits, said Brown, were “not calling the [Jacksonville Children’s Commission] board members. They’re calling me. So if they’re calling me, let me be a part of the process.”

At least one of those affected non-profits had a direct line to Brown, per the financial disclosure report.

____

Amidst all of this drama, City Council is mulling Curry’s proposal for the Kids Hope Alliance, which — ironically enough — would replace the Jacksonville Journey and the Jacksonville Children’s Commission.

The summer camp budgeting of the JCC — which decided to spend more per-pupil for students, despite having a fixed budget, thus ensuring a shortage of openings compared to previous years — was what kicked off the KHA push.

A “frustrated” Curry introduced a measure for summer-camp funding that was framed as a “band-aid” and a prelude to reforms such as those currently under consideration by Councilman Brown and his 18 colleagues.

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