Lenny Curry – Page 2 – Florida Politics

Aaron Zahn sees being JEA CEO as a long-term gig

JEA CEO Aaron Zahn is settling into his interim role.

Florida Politics spoke with Zahn in light of recent criticism of the CEO. Navigating a tricky political climate, a neophyte to the world of municipal utilities (he was on the board weeks before he made the CEO bid), Zahn has faced a unique pressure.

We discussed this and more with him in a sit-down interview Wednesday morning at the JEA Tower.

“It would be great 10 years from now to be looking back with the wonderful team we have, with all the great employees, having added jobs, having driven economic development, and show we can run a utility while lowering rates and lowering emissions. I think that’s possible, but we’ve got to start having bold ideas,” Zahn said.

“The question I’m asking: How does JEA continue to be a trusted partner for the next five, 10, 50 years?” Zahn said.

“I would not have made the position to run for the interim office if I weren’t interested in running for the permanent office,” Zahn said, adding that his qualifications would need to match with a “scorecard” crafted by the JEA Board.

Zahn notes that his vision of the future of JEA includes working with Melissa Dykes, whom he has said previously would have a COO role, a more or less equal counterpart.

Zahn addressed the move from new board member to new interim CEO as something that wasn’t quite as anomalous as local reporting made out.

“In private industry,” Zahn said, “going from a board to an interim CEO role is a very common practice, especially for somebody that has executive experience, industry experience, strategic experience.”

“When you look at the situation JEA was in at the time,” Zahn added, “what was needed was really a strong leader who could start to provide a stable environment for our employees.”

“JEA, the last four or five months, it really became evident that there needed to be a distinction between a conversation with shareholders and shareholder-trustees and as customers/policymakers,” Zahn said. “We all effectively wear those two hats at different times.”

Zahn noted that his ascension to CEO came with “no guarantees,” but he took the risk in the interest of forging a “stable environment.”

“That’s what I’ve done time and time again in my career, so it was just a natural fit,” Zahn asserted.

Zahn addressed the process of his selection by the JEA Board last month, one that seemed opaque and even predetermined to some observers.

His pitch, Zahn asserted, came down to JEA being a “multibillion dollar company that forgot it had shareholders.”

“It was very well run by Paul McElroy,” Zahn noted, especially in terms of providing a financially solid footing.

“Our customer consent levels are at all-time highs,” Zahn added, but the “public uproar” of the privatization discussion starting late last year created challenges.

“When you start to think about strategic shift in a company,” Zahn added, “whether it’s ‘sell versus don’t sell’ or a new business line … you need the consensus of 20 policy makers.”

Flat utility sales, posited Zahn, presented a binary question: “Are we going to watch the future or are we going to be a part of it?”

“We as an organization have the potential to be so much more than we are today. We can drive revenues; there’s a number of different strategies where we can actually start to increase sales,” Zahn said.

Renewables and other technologies, Zahn claimed, are among the “bold ideas” that could allow JEA to be “part of those massive trends that have tailwinds behind them.”

Rate raises are not a consideration, he added, given a “very stable rate environment.”

What is on the table: an array of innovations, and potential restructuring of JEA to “better serve the customer.”

“Business model always precedes capital conversations,” Zahn said, alluding to the privatization debate that burned hot then burned out earlier this year.

Anna Brosche mulls run for Jacksonville Mayor

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche is not ruling out a run for a higher office, such as Jacksonville Mayor, she said on WJCTs First Coast Connect Wednesday.

The field is crowding.

Mayor Lenny Curry has already reported $1.5 million raised, but will face former Atlantic Beach Commissioner Jimmy Hill and activist Connell Crooms in a blanket primary next March.

Brosche would be, by far, the best known of Curry’s opponents. And one with personal reason to run, as anyone who has paid attention to the fractious “unhealthy dynamic” between Brosche and Curry’s office over the last year knows.

We reached out to Brosche, a Republican like Curry and Hill, after the show Wednesday.

While she is “focused” on her “responsibilities as Council President and some important initiatives launched recently,” Brosche notes that once her term ends, she will have “the opportunity to get clarity on [her] next steps.”

Brosche would not present a timetable for that process, even as she has yet to file for Council re-election to her at-large seat.

She also wouldn’t disclose whether she has talked to consultants or potential donors.

However, what’s clear is that Curry’s most high-profile challenger may be a fellow Republican.

Curry and Brosche have clashed on issues even before the recent high-profile contretemps on whether JEA should explore privatization.

Brosche led in calling for the removal of Confederate monuments, an issue on which Curry didn’t take a position.

And Brosche was not as enthusiastic about pension reform as Curry would have liked.

And Curry’s children’s reform proposal, via the Kids Hope Alliance, likewise was a hard sell for Brosche.

Brosche has been encouraged to run by many people.

But as Bill Bishop can attest, there is a ceiling without the donor class backing a candidate. And her first order of business, whatever her next campaign is, will be to show financial viability.

Ali Korman Shelton stepping down from Lenny Curry administration

Jacksonville’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Ali Korman Shelton, is stepping down from her position in City Hall.

On Monday, Shelton sent a letter to Mayor Lenny Curry explaining her departure effective later this month.

“After much contemplation, and despite the positive future I foresee, it is now time for someone else to serve you, your administration, and the city in this important capacity,” Shelton wrote, citing family concerns as a reason for her resignation.

Shelton’s letter lauds accomplishments, including a positive relationship with the Jacksonville City Council, three strong budgets, and improving the Bold City’s profile.

Shelton handled much of the lobbying push for the pension reform referendum approved in Tallahassee and later approved by 65 percent of Duval County residents.

Curry offered a glowing assessment of Shelton’s tenure.

“Ali Korman Shelton is a friend, colleague and teammate,” the mayor said. “Her contribution to the successes of my first term have been integral and substantial. Although she is leaving City Hall, I know that Ali will continue to be someone I trust for her advice and assistance.

Continued Curry, “The people of Jacksonville have been well-served by her dedication to public policy, and we owe her thanks for the hours spent doing that work.”

The last departure of this magnitude was that of former Chief of Staff Kerri Stewart. It took the Curry team months to replace her, a job filled at the beginning of the year by former Curry political adviser Brian Hughes.

Jacksonville City Council Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, a frequent antagonist of the Curry administration, posited that the power dynamic in the Mayor’s Office led to the departure.

“I can only imagine why she’s leaving … passed over for Chief of Staff,” Dennis said, deeming her “irreplaceable” and another in a series of “huge losses” for the Curry administration.

Dennis advised that Curry hire a strong woman to replace her, as the Mayor’s Office is a “boys’ club” as it stands.

Administration sources refute that narrative, even as other Councilmembers made off-record note of her ability to build consensus on often challenging issues.

Intergovernmental affairs is shorthanded currently, with Jordan Elsbury the sole survivor. There will be moves ahead to fill open slots, which include Shelton’s and that of Jessica Baker, who left last year.

Lenny Curry wants to bring NFL draft to Jacksonville

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is known as an ardent football fan, so it’s really not a surprise he is in Dallas this weekend for the NFL Draft.

What may surprise some is that he’s pitching Jacksonville as a host city for a future draft.

“We believe based on size and scope that Jax will be prepared to host and in a strong position to make that case. We met with production teams and with the Commissioner plus other league [professionals],” Curry told Florida Politics Friday.

Benefits abound for the host city.

“As a televised event it highlights the host city,” Curry said, “and as a large live arena event it is a massive fan experience.”

“In both ways,” the mayor added, “it would be an amazing way to showcase everything from the Beaches to downtown and in between.”

Philadelphia hosted the Draft last year, Curry said. City officials says it received $95 million of local economic impact. Dallas, meanwhile, has 450,000 registrants for tickets, with 30 percent from out of state.

This is, essentially, a potential showcase event for the city. And, as we reported last week, the city is moving to develop its sports complex further, in partnership with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Cordish Companies was announced as the development partner for what a media release called “a $2.5 billion world-class, mixed-use district in the downtown sports complex.”

Back in July, Khan took Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa on a tour of Cordish developments in Baltimore and St. Louis.

The city leaders were wowed.

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

Curry has also done his part to try to redirect the Sports Complex into a destination beyond football games and arena events.

Jacksonville taxpayers have authorized $88 million for city-funded capital improvements to the Jaguars’ stadium: $43 million for the world’s biggest scoreboard during the Alvin Brown administration, and under the Curry administration, half of a $90 million buy-in that secured a new amphitheater, a covered practice field, and club seat improvements.

As plans proceed apace for the Sports Complex, expect traffic to be redirected in that direction soon.

The state allocated in March $12.5 million for Jacksonville’s Talleyrand Connector, an ambitious reconfiguration of Hart Bridge offramps that would route traffic on surface streets by the stadium and toward the port. Jacksonville is also pursuing $25 million in federal money.

This project was originally pitched to the Duval Delegation in 2016 as a way of activating the property near the Sports Complex, a burgeoning entertainment district. Further studies in 2017 found benefits in terms of routing traffic to and from the port.

Khan isn’t the only member of Jacksonville’s donor class rolling out an impressive proposal.

Politically connected developers Peter Rummell and Michael Munz are looking to develop The District, pending City Council approval of the terms, which include $25 million in infrastructure spending and up to $56 million in REV Grants.

If this all comes together, it will be a development legacy for the Curry administration, kickstarting areas of the city that have languished for years.

And if the timing is right, the Draft may spotlight an ambitious round of public-private partnerships toward downtown development.

‘Jax 5’ protester Connell Crooms launches run for Jacksonville Mayor

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry drew his third challenger for the 2019 unitary election Friday, with Connell Crooms filing to run without party affiliation.

Crooms became known to Jacksonville residents in the wake of a protest that went awry in Hemming Park last April.

The protest became violent when Gary Snow, a noted provocateur at leftwing and Democratic events in 2016 and 2017, ran through the crowd provoking protesters.

Crooms, who is deaf (and an activist for the deaf), ended up being beaten into unconsciousness by Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officers at that protest as a result of Snow’s actions.

Crooms was one of five protesters who were arrested; the charges were dropped against Crooms in June, with community sentiment on the side of Crooms and the rest of the Jax 5 protest contingent.

Croom joins a growing field of candidates against Curry, who has banked $1.5 million for his campaign, and who is aggressively fundraising again in April.

Former Atlantic Beach commissioner Jimmy Hill is in the race as a Republican, but has yet to report fundraising.

Doreszell Cohen entered the race some months back as a Democrat, and raised $600 at last count.

Jacksonville sees a unitary election in March, a functional blanket primary involving all of the candidates. Unless someone clears 50 percent + 1, the two top finishers move on to a May 2019 election.

Jacksonville Bold for 4.27.18 — Lessons learned

Lately, Jacksonville politics has been fractious. A debate over JEA privatization, a hot-button topic for months, saw the culmination of claims and cross-claims of lies, betrayals, subterfuge and deception before Mayor Lenny Curry pulled the plug Thursday.

As the political season approaches, locals may want to take a cue from gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, who made yet another Jacksonville stop, one where protesters showed up to spotlight his family farm underpaying laborers in 2008.

While the issue was long since resolved, in the heat of the campaign, it has become newly relevant, and chants like “Putnam don’t pay” could be heard through the glass inside the Mandarin diner during Putnam’s “Up & Adam” event.

Our Jacksonville correspondent joked with campaign staff that the candidate should engage protesters after the event.

And Putnam did just that.

To watch what happened next, click the image below:

For those expecting any of the protesters, who were holding signs condemning the candidate, to engage him directly on the issues, they would have left disappointed.

Putnam bantered with the lead protester, as she described working in celery fields “on the mule train.”

What followed was talk of celery grating and “firing the grove” — in an area Putnam called “the celery capital of the world” — with Putnam describing ways of said firing.

“I know about those wages,” the woman told Putnam. “You basically said you took care of that situation.”

Putnam confirmed that, adding: “Our people are the most important part of any business.”

The encounter ended with a high-five.

“That’s my girl, right there,” Putnam said, with protesters saying “have a good day” as he headed to his next stop.

Now, on to the week’s other news …

Lawson slams farm bill

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, writing in the Tallahassee Democrat, slammed the current iteration of the Farm Bill on Congress.

“The bill introduced by House Republicans proposes to cut billions of dollars from federal nutrition assistance programs, including SNAP, and take food away from millions of seniors, veterans, persons with disabilities and vulnerable communities struggling to make ends meet,” Lawson asserted.

Al Lawson has been concerned about ‘food deserts’ in his district; this bill won’t help.

Lawson notes that the bill would “end or cut SNAP benefits for more than 1 million low-income households, add aggressive new work requirements and throw 265,000 school children off the free lunch programs.”

The Democratic incumbent in Florida’s 5th Congressional District laments, in the editorial, the loss of the bipartisan spirit in the committee.

Meanwhile, Lawson’s campaign apparatus has been fairly dormant thus far — and he needs to get it together, as his primary opponent Alvin Brown will host a campaign kickoff Saturday morning at the IBEW hall … the meeting place of the Duval Democrats.

Johns bows out of CD 6 scrum

On Friday, St. Johns County Commissioner Jimmy Johns opted to withdraw rather than stay in the race for Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

The “resign to run” law compelled the choice. And faced with two self-financing Republican opponents in Michael Waltz and John Ward, Johns stood down.

Jimmy Johns’ withdrawal narrows the race for what will be an expensive nomination.

As of the end of March, Ward had $709,340 on hand, with $555,000 of that from his own checkbook. Waltz, who loaned his campaign $400,000, had $653,354 on hand.

Ward and Waltz thus far have demonstrated the most fundraising ability on the Republican side. Former state Rep. Fred Costello has $15,720 on hand.

Read more here.

Gibson, Davis deliver check to Edward Waters

Rep. Tracie Davis and Sen. Audrey Gibson presented a $356,000 check to Edward Waters College to aid recipients of the College Promise Program. The program is a pathway for low-income, first-time college students beginning their higher education at a four-year institution.

Audrey Gibson and Tracie Davis delivered for EWC.

“As an alum of Edward Waters College and State Representative for this area, I am so excited to have been part of the team with Senator Gibson to secure this funding for such a great program,” stated Davis. “College Promise is the second program in the nation providing a debt-free pathway to higher education for first-time students. This is the future of higher education and funding is critical to its success.”

This money will defray costs for 100 students to attend EWC for a year.

Renner: Beaches are still open

Rep. Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican with deep Jacksonville ties, penned an op-ed intended to quell misinformation about beaches closing to public access.

Beaches are open, says Rep. Paul Renner. (Photo: Florida Times-Union)

“In some cases,” Renner wrote, “private property owners who live on the beach own lots that are platted to include the ‘dry sand’ between the dunes and that high-water mark. Even though this is private property, and even though those owners are taxed on the dry sand portion of the beach, it is not uncommon that many of us use it.”

“The new law simply creates a uniform process for a county to apply to the courts to affirm areas of customary use. Without the courts involved on the front end, individual property owners could and did sue to challenge county ordinances around the state. The taxpayers were on the hook for legal fees to defend every individual case against the county and pay any damages awarded if the county got it wrong,” Renner wrote.

Read more here.

Polson gets Hazouri endorsement in HD 15

On Tuesday, political veteran Tommy Hazouri, currently a Jacksonville City Councilman, endorsed fellow Democrat Tracye Polson in her bid for state House.

Polson is the sole Democrat in the race to succeed outgoing Rep. Jay Fant in House District 15, a Westside Jacksonville seat.

Can Trayce Polson flip HD 15?

“As a former state legislator, having represented this district for 12 years, I know this community needs and deserves a courageous and bold voice to represent our diverse needs, and that person is Dr. Tracye Polson,” Hazouri asserted.

Hazouri went on to laud Polson’s commitment to “real change in public education” and a “fresh, insightful approach that will address the true needs of our city.”

“I am extremely honored to receive the support from Council Member Tommy Hazouri, who has been a public servant to Jacksonville for decades,” Polson said. “His knowledge and experience will be a great asset to our campaign and we are excited to have his counsel and support moving forward.”

Polson, atypically for area Democrats running for Republican-held State House seats, has shown dynamic fundraising. She’s raised $174,103 between her campaign and political committee accounts, with $113,635 on hand, after clearing over $30,000 in March.

There is a competitive Republican primary, and those candidates all trail in cash on hand.

Jacksonville land use attorney Wyman Duggan has just over $95,000 cash on hand. Duggan, notably, is one of a group of lobbyists working on behalf of Nova Scotia-based Emera in hopes that local utility JEA goes on the market.

Other Republicans are farther back.

Yacht broker Mark Zeigler raised $11,795 in March, his first month of significant fundraising. First-time candidate Joseph Hogan, meanwhile, reported no fundraising.

‘New Dawn’ for JEA, says CEO

In a memo to JEA employees Monday, Interim CEO Aaron Zahn hailed “a new dawn” for the Jacksonville utility.

Aaron Zahn vows that he will build trust with his new workforce. (Image: Action News Jax)

The point of the memo was clear. It framed Zahn, a board member for one month who leveled-up into the CEO chair, as an agent of stability for the utility, which has been rocked for months by a parlous privatization debate.

Zahn wrote that he “recognize[d] the emotional and mental toll” of the privatization debate, adding that he is “committed to learn” from the workforce, and that he intends to earn trust.

The language had a fortune cookie feel in spots: “Every day presents an opportunity to start anew. Even mistakes present an opportunity to learn and grow.”

Zahn addressed substance eventually, noting that he had asked the Mayor and City Council to move from a “discourse … of decision-making” to a “discussion” of JEA’s future, allowing the utility to develop a plan to address “opportunities and risk … in our changing market.”

Regarding Melissa Dykes, who served as interim CEO for a week before the board chose Zahn without any substantial public discussion of his merits compared to Dykes, she has “agreed to take on an expanded role … is committed to JEA and working together as partners to accomplish the vision I’ve set forth.”

Org changes are coming, Zahn says. And so is an updated strategic plan, which will make JEA “a utility for the future of Jacksonville.”

Official positions of Zahn and his chief political ally, Mayor Curry, boil down to advocating a pause of some indeterminate length in a discussion of privatization of the utility.

The memo does not address that timetable, one likely of key concern to stakeholders inside the company and city government alike.

Jacksonville’s Mayor pulled the plug on privatization Thursday though, ending the discussion for the foreseeable future.

Dennis menaced by ballot challenge

It appears that there will be a competitive race in Jacksonville City Council District 9 next year after all.

Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, the Democratic incumbent, faces a challenge from within his own party, from Marcellus Holmes.

Marcellus Holmes tells us he is in the race regardless of Garrett Dennis running again or not.

Holmes, who played professional football for the New England Patriots from 1997 to 2001 as both a practice and active squad member, is about to line up against a Councilman who has been a serious irritant to Curry.

When asked to assess Dennis’ performance, Holmes — reached by phone Monday afternoon — was diplomatic.

“He’s doing the best job he can,” Holmes said. “But I can give the community more of what it needs.”

Dennis, who hasn’t filed yet, insists he’s running for re-election. That was news to Holmes.

“I didn’t know he was running again,” Holmes said, saying that Dennis did a “great job his first term.”

Holmes, who currently is an at-risk case manager with first-time offenders at local nonprofit Daniel Kids, sees his experience as being key to “bringing the community together” to “meet the needs of every community” and “get every issue solved.”

There have been strong suggestions that Curry may have an interest in backing an opponent to Dennis. But, says Holmes, he hasn’t talked to the Mayor.

That said, one of Dennis’ Council colleagues — fellow Democrat Reggie Brown, who is running from his Council seat for Gibson’s spot in the Senate — did offer some advice: to go in there and be himself.

Dennis, when asked about facing an opponent for his re-election, was blunt.

“I don’t know who that is,” Dennis said. “Bring it.”

Supplementary Reading: Dennis irked by unfair concert ticket distro from Mayor’s office.

Sauce loss

A saga that began with a 2011 business development deal for a BBQ sauce plant and saw one of the business principals elected to City Council along the way descended into drama and nonperformance.

The city of Jacksonville was left hanging compared to secured creditors in the BBQ backwash.

An FBI raid and a subsequent series of legal actions and personal and corporate bankruptcy filings led to a reorg, and the city of Jacksonville poised to eventually get pennies on the dollar for the over $600,000 it fronted to the company.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jerry Funk issued a final decree Tuesday morning in the bankruptcy case of K.J.B. Specialties (Jerome Brown Barbecue and Wings), with a repayment plan for all creditors.

Last and least: unsecured creditors, such as the city of Jacksonville, which will get back less than $60,000 of the outstanding $380,000 loan back that it ceded the company seven years ago to open an ill-fated sauce plant in economically troubled Northwest Jacksonville.

A $210,000 grant for job creation was unaddressed by the accord. Fifty-six jobs were intended to be created and sustained over five years, but no jobs fit the criteria.

Read more here.

Shine down

Per WJCT, Duval County School Board member Scott Shine abandoned his re-election bid this year after yet another parlous board meeting.

Scott Shine out. (Photo: Florida Times-Union)

Shine, who often had a reliable ally on the board in former member and current state Rep. Jason Fischer, has been steeped in conflict with his colleagues — most recently about the push to hire a permanent superintendent, which Shine would have preferred to defer until after this year’s elections (which would see some of his rivals termed off the board).

There are no filed candidates in the race; expect that to change.

McCague to be interim JaxPort CFO

One of Jacksonville’s most respected financial hands is moving over to JAXPORT to be CFO on an interim basis.

Beth McCague, shown here with Bill Scheu, is no stranger to interim gigs.

Beth McCague, whose most recent public role was as interim director of the formerly embattled Police and Fire Pension Fund, will serve as CFO for the less embattled JAXPORT.

Per the Jacksonville Daily Record, McCague was already advising CEO Eric Green.

She will handle the port’s capital program and other financial functions, until such time as a permanent CFO is chosen.

Walk talk

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has been bashed of late for a tendency to ticket black pedestrians who cross illegally more than scofflaws from other demographics, and the latest hits were taken this week at a gathering of faith leaders, per Action News Jax.

Sheriff Mike Williams faces no serious electoral threat next year.

“In Jacksonville, African-Americans represent 29 percent of the population, but according to a joint publication by the Florida Times-Union and ProPublica, the black community has received 55 percent of the tickets in recent years. Sheriff Mike Williams has stood by his number of 45 percent, and said this year, after a focus on education rather than enforcement, it’s down to 34 percent,” AN Jax reported.

While there’s “work to do,” Williams maintained that there is not an “epidemic” of overenforcement.

Williams will waltz to re-election. He has raised over $400,000 between hard money and committee cash; his opponent, Tony Cummings, has approximately $200 on hand.

Bean, Byrd present state funding for Fernandina Beach

State Sen. Aaron Bean of Fernandina Beach and state Rep. Cord Byrd of Neptune Beach presented a $450,000 check Tuesday to Fernandina Beach Mayor Johnny Miller and the City Commission. During the 2018 Legislative Session, the two lawmakers secured state funding for crucial shoreline stabilization to the city’s waterfront marina seawall.

Aaron Bean and Cord Byrd present Fernandina Beach officials a $450K check for shoreline stabilization.

“The seawall of Fernandina Beach’s marina sustained extensive damage during Hurricane Irma and has resulted in severe flooding in the downtown area,” Bean said in a statement. “This state funding will help the City of Fernandina Beach replace the deteriorating marina seawall, which will ensure the preservation of our historic downtown for future generations.”

Byrd added: “The Stormwater Shoreline Stabilization project will improve the city’s marina seawall and better serve residents by protecting the historical downtown area from future flooding.”

Fernandina Beach’s Stormwater Shoreline Stabilization project seeks to reduce flooding in the city’s downtown by replacing 270 linear feet of the existing marina seawall. Once installed, the new seawall will be 4 feet taller than its predecessor to better defend downtown Fernandina Beach from storm surges and subsequent damage.

Bean, Daniels present $250K to Jax Sheriff’s Office

Sen. Bean joined state Rep. Daniels of Jacksonville to present a $250K check to Jacksonville Sheriff Williams and Dr. Charles Moreland, attending on behalf of Mayor Curry. During the 2018 Legislative Session, the two Jacksonville-area lawmakers secured state funding for a Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Matching Grant.

Aaron Bean and Kimberly Daniels award $250K to officials from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the City of Jacksonville for an innovative policing program.

COPS Grant funds will be used for 15 sworn officer positions to implement a three-pronged approach in policing: A Blight/Nuisance Squad, Sheriff’s Watch Apartments and the Group Violence Intervention Program. The funding allows the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to continue its goal of reducing firearm-related crime and homicides.

“The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office does an exceptional job protecting our community, and this COPS Matching Grant will allow them to keep more officers on the street to fight crime,” Bean said. “This state funding shows the Florida Legislature’s commitment to the men and women of law enforcement and to protecting every citizen in the City of Jacksonville.”

Daniels continued: “I have chaired the Public Health and Safety Committee for the City of Jacksonville and served on the Florida House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee. Sponsoring the COPS Grant with Senator Bean is an honor, and I am proud to be able to present this state funding for this great cause.”

District discussion continues

Jacksonville City Councilwoman Lori Boyer has been pushing The District development in recent weeks, and another stakeholder meeting occurred Wednesday with fellow Councilman and former Council President Greg Anderson.

The District is a high-risk, high-reward proposal to solve a long-standing development gap.

Anderson had questions for Boyer on the proposed development, four years in the making, with construction proposed to wrap by the end of 2022. Politically connected developers Peter Rummell and Michael Munz have a deal, as of January, to buy the land for $18.6 million from the JEA Board.

While the Downtown Investment Authority backs the proposal that would remedy a long-standing dead zone, there are a number of stumbling blocks to the deal, not the least of which is City Council approval of what amounts to a public-private partnership.

Read more here.

Neighborhood summit draws a crowd

Could Jacksonville’s neighborhood summits become a yearly tradition?

A report from WJXT suggests that may be the case, with hundreds of people at the Prime Osborn last weekend to get direction on Jacksonville’s resources.

The photo (via WJXT) offers a small sample of the action at Prime Osborn.

“The purpose of this is to educate the community as a whole — it doesn’t matter where you live — about the resources that the city provides to its citizens,” said Denise Lee, Jacksonville’s director of Blight Initiatives.

“You meet people all the time and they say, ” Well, I have this problem. ” I say, “Well, we have the city Neighborhoods Department back and they would be more than happy to work with you. We’re having a neighborhood summit. Please come out,” Lee said.

The city brought back its Neighborhoods Department early in Curry’s term.

Jacksonville Zoo ‘African Forest’ expansion continues

A newly installed 40-foot-tall tree will soon become the centerpiece of the Jacksonville Zoo African Forest build-out, which will connect each of the new ape exhibits.

As reported by the Jacksonville Business Journal, the unique central tree will connect overhead trails, similar to those in the Zoo’s Land of the Tiger exhibit. The tree – the crux of the $9 million, 4-acre African Forest project – will also contain an internal spiral staircase that will “allow keepers to interact and provide enrichment for the apes in the mesh-enclosed ‘exhibit.’”

Jacksonville Zoo African Forest exhibit renderings.

Part of the new exhibit – replacing the two-decade-old Great Apes Loop – will feature an “enrichment station” where apes interact with a high-tech touchscreen app.

The Journal also reports that by the end of January, the African Forest project is close to full funding, with $7.3 million out of its $9 million raised. Now, only $400,000 remains to reach its goal.

Save the date: Jacksonville YMCA groundbreaking ceremony

Next month, there will be a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the James Weldon Johnson Family YMCA expansion, which includes a new teen center, swimming pool and other amenities.

Jacksonville YMCA groundbreaking ceremony scheduled for May 14.

Groundbreaking begins 10 a.m. Monday, May 14, at the Johnson Family YMCA, 5700 Cleveland Road RSVP by Friday, May 11, at events@fcymca.org.

According to the invite, the project will provide “necessary resources and new opportunities to help transform the lives of youth and families in Northwest Jacksonville.”

Jaguars draft defensive tackle Taven Bryan from Florida

The Jacksonville Jaguars were in an unfamiliar position going into Thursday night’s NFL draft. Over the past few years, they drafted early in the first round following another losing season.

This year, the team drafted 29th (out of 32) following a turnaround 10-6 season that saw them come within five minutes of reaching the Super Bowl. Going in, they knew an instant starting running back like Leonard Fournette, whom the Jags drafted with the sixth pick last year, was not going be available at 29.

Newly drafted Jaguar Taven Bryan.

Someone like offensive lineman Cam Robinson, Jacksonville’s 2017 early second-round choice out of Alabama, would still be around. Bolstering the right side of the offensive line was still a need, while the defense is among the top units in the NFL.

They also let it be known maintaining their “smash mouth” style they developed under first-year coach Doug Marrone was in their plans.

“Who’s it going to be? Who knows? said Jaguars’ Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin before the draft. “But according to the work that we’ve done, we feel that we will get a good football player at that spot.”

At around 11:20 p.m. Thursday, Jaguars fans found out when they plucked 6-foot, 5-inch and 291-pound defensive tackle Taven Bryan from the Florida Gators. In the end, instead of filling some holes on offense, Jacksonville chose to make an outstanding defensive unit even better.

The Jaguars have two more days of draft work yet to do. On Friday, they have the 61st overall pick in the second round and the 93rd selection in the third round. The draft concludes Saturday with rounds 4-7.

They will have picks toward the end of the fourth round, the sixth round and two picks in the seventh round.

From Dallas, Lenny Curry blasts critics, backs away from JEA privatization

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, in Dallas for the NFL Draft, abandoned what was seen by many as a desire by his administration to privatize the local utility, via a statement Thursday morning.

“I am choosing to state unequivocally that I will not submit any JEA privatization plan to the City Council,” Curry said.

The law is that for privatization to move forward, the Mayor would have to propose the plan, Curry noted.

“I never proposed any privatization plan, nor did I ever suggest or say to anyone that I would propose such a plan,” Curry said, asserting that he “wanted to gather information.”

Curry, as is his wont, offered receipts for council members he is at war with.

“Unfortunately, a clear and reasonable process to discuss these issues was hijacked by a few special interests and politicians with an agenda to put politics above all else. Fixated on the false choice of “sell” vs “don’t sell” they created an environment fostering misinformation and mistrust,” Curry asserted.

​Concert ticket kerfuffle creates sour notes in Jacksonville City Hall

Concert tickets became the source of a controversy in Jacksonville City Hall this month, illustrating (again) the distrust between City Councilman Garrett Dennis and Mayor Lenny Curry.

At issue: the distribution of free tickets for concerts by comedian Kevin Hart and country artist Tim McGraw.

On Apr. 3, Dennis’ assistant sent the Mayor’s staff “a public records request on tickets received and distributed, including dates requests were made and number of tickets given to each Council Members” for the celebrities’ gigs.

Apr. 17 saw the request unfulfilled to the satisfaction of Dennis’ office, which sent another email: “Any updates on the public record request? As you know, you are required to provide the Public Record request to Council Member Dennis listed below.”

The information was provided. And Dennis was frozen out of both events.

Dennis requested tickets for McGraw in late August, but was denied passes for the mid-September show. And regarding the Hart show in April, Dennis didn’t get tickets despite requesting in January.

Councilors Sam Newby and Katrina Brown likewise were denied passes requested in that timeframe, though Councilman Reginald Brown got two of the four tickets he requested at the same time.

Late asks by Matt Schellenberg and Reginald Gaffney were fulfilled, with each getting two tickets; Councilwoman Joyce Morgan, however, wasn’t so lucky.

Dennis’ office fired back: “We are not understanding how tickets are distributed when some CM’s clearly requested tickets at a much later date than others and requests were honored. We can’t assume that it is based on the frequency in which the requests are sent or the frequency of tickets that are actually granted. Please clarify the methodology by which tickets are distributed.  We know that certain CM’s receive Multiple tickets for every event.”

A request of all ticket distributions going back to October has been made by Dennis’ office.

Dennis, the chair of the Council Finance Committee, has been Curry’s most consistent opposition, with sharp critiques of everything from children’s program reforms to the study of privatization of the local utility.

Former NFL player launches campaign against Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis

It appears that there will be a competitive race after all in Jacksonville City Council District 9 .

Incumbent Garrett Dennis faces a challenge from within his own party by way of Marcellus Holmes.

Holmes, who played professional football for the New England Patriots from 1997 to 2001 as both a practice and active squad member, is about to line up against a council member who has been a serious irritant to Mayor Lenny Curry.

When asked to assess Dennis’ performance, Holmes — reached by phone Monday afternoon — was diplomatic.

“He’s doing the best job he can,” Holmes said. “But I can give the community more of what it needs.”

Dennis, who hasn’t filed yet, insists he’s running for re-election. That was news to Holmes.

“I didn’t know he was running again,” Holmes said, adding that Dennis did a “great job his first term.”

Holmes, who currently is an at-risk case manager with first-time offenders at local nonprofit Daniel Kids, sees his experience as being key to “bringing the community together” to “meet the needs of every community” and “get every issue solved.”

There have been strong suggestions that Curry may have an interest in backing an opponent to Dennis. But, says Holmes, he hasn’t talked to the mayor.

That said, one of Dennis’ Council colleagues — fellow Democrat Reggie Brown, who is running from his seat for Audrey Gibson‘s spot in the Senate — did offer some advice: go in there and be yourself.

Dennis, when asked about facing an opponent for his re-election, was blunt.

“I don’t know who that is,” Dennis said. “Bring it.”

JEA privatization focus group not funded by Lenny Curry’s political operation

On Friday, WJCT broke the news that “Data Targeting, Inc., a Gainesville firm that worked to elect Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, conducted a focus group study in late February asking participants whether they support selling municipal utility JEA.”

The claim was that “a private group of investors” who are “nonpartisan” were paying for the focus group, which saw participants get $100 a person.

Data Targeting’s Tim Baker, who serves as Curry’s political adviser (among a variety of other clients in the region and throughout Florida), told Florida Politics on Friday afternoon that neither Curry nor his political operation funded the research.

“I couldn’t confirm as a course of doing business if we did a focus group or who it was for,” Baker said, “but I can tell you that I’ve never done a focus group for any Curry entity or Curry funded entity since the pension campaign, and we did not conduct a group for any such Curry aligned entities on JEA privatization.”

Baker adds that the “public opinion research firm” is “active all over the state and nation for public, private, and campaign clients,” with a long history of “public opinion studies on a wide variety of topics all over the country.”

The privatization debate has proved a tough sell in Jacksonville, with locals including former Mayor Jake Godbold and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan sounding notes of apprehension.

“I’m following the interim CEO’s position, and that is they should not be pursuing this right now,” Curry said Thursday. “They need to get back to serving the customers and the core businesses and developing a strategic plan so they can adjust to the market forces for the future.”

Some are skeptical as to Curry’s real dispensation on the matter, given that the concept of exploring privatization was broached by former JEA Board member Tom Petway, a key Curry backer, as he exited the board late last year.

However, what’s clear: the focus group’s funding came from an operation not directly aligned with Curry.

Data Targeting does not divulge its clients or work done for them, so the ultimate source of funding for the research remains a mystery.

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