Lenny Curry Archives - Page 2 of 108 - Florida Politics
Tom Grady

Jeff Atwater’s surprise departure makes CFO job the hottest in state

Never mind who’s running for Governor in 2018, Floridians want to know which Republicans are in the running for Florida Chief Financial Officer now that CFO Jeff Atwater announced he is leaving this year, with speculation starting with Tom GradyTom Lee, Will Weatherford and Teresa Jacobs and including seven or eight others.

Grady, a securities lawyer who is a former state representative who also has held several positions in state government, is widely reported as a close friend of Gov. Rick Scott, who will select a replacement for Atwater for the nearly two full years left in the term.

Weatherford, a venture capital and business consultant, is a former Speaker of the House who draws praise from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and who recently announced he’s not running for Governor.

Jacobs is the Orange County Mayor and a former banker who always sounds like she’s already someone’s chief financial officer, and who reportedly has been exploring a possible state run for that job in 2018 when she’s term-limited from the mayor’s office.

Names tumbling around Tallahassee  – some with more spin than others – also already have included Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, former Speakers Steve Crisafulli and Dean Cannon, state Sens. Jack LatvalaAaron BeanJeff BrandesLee and Lizbeth Benacquisto, state Rep. Jim Boyd, former state Sen. Pat Neal, and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

Atwater was once a widely-speculated candidate for Governor himself, but that buzz cooled to nothing and on Friday he surprised much of Florida’s political establishment by announcing that he’s planning office to become vice president for strategic initiatives and chief financial officer at Florida Atlantic University after the Florida Legislative Session.

Besides overseeing the states’s financial operations and financial and insurance regulations, as well as the state fire marshal’s office, the job is a full-voting position on the Florida Cabinet. It’s normally filled by statewide vote, for a four-year term, and Atwater was to be term-limited out with the 2018 election.

Atwater’s office’s imminent availability is so fresh almost no one has had time to actually declare interest in it. No one has filed to run in 2018.

Said Brandes in a tweet Friday, “I haven’t talked to the governor yet, but if I was asked, I would carefully consider it.”

Grady, from Scott’s hometown of Naples, has been looking around. He recently was interviewed for the open president’s post at Florida Gulf Coast University, and last cycle talked briefly about running for Congress in Florida’s 19th District. Last year he declined an opportunity to become the state’s insurance commissioner. He’s on the state board of education, is a former commissioner of financial regulations and a former interim president of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. the state-chartered insurer of last resort.

Once this is done there may be another opening on the cabinet, as state Attorney General Pam Bondi remains a widely-speculated prospect to move on to Washington as part of President Donald Trump‘s team.

Former Duval School Board member carries KIPP charter school bill in Tallahassee

On Thursday, an appropriations bill (HB 2787) was filed in the Florida House for the benefit of the “Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP).”

The bill, filed by Jacksonville Republican Jason Fischer (a former member of the Duval County School Board), seeks to continue the $1,224,000 appropriation from the previous budget to benefit Jacksonville’s KIPP school.

HB 2787 is well-positioned to succeed: Jacksonville powerbroker Gary Chartrand, a member of the local KIPP school’s Board of Directors, is close with Gov. Scott and is on the State Board of Education.

“The funds will pay for the incremental costs associated with the extended school day and year for students in the region’s most educationally undeserved community. Extended learning time allows hundreds more hours per year of classroom instruction versus public schools. The extended school day offers more time dedicated to literacy, math, history, and science. As a result, KIPP students achieve at consistently higher levels than their peers in core academic subjects and the arts,” asserts the appropriations request.

In an interesting side note, the official requester on this appropriations request is Tom Majdanics.

Majdanics, the executive director of the Jacksonville KIPP location, made news of a different sort last year when he mounted a determined campaign in opposition to the pension reform referendum that Mayor Lenny Curry was pushing.

The most dramatic confrontation between Curry and Majdanics occurred in August at an unlikely location: the normally sedate Jacksonville Rotary Club.

Just months later, a state representative that got a lot of help in the pivotal August primary from Curry is carrying a bill that benefits someone who tried to scuttle a key Curry initiative.

This is yet another illustration that Jacksonville is a small town.

The lobbyist on this bill: Mark Pinto of The Fiorentino Group.

Cord Byrd sponsors bill for Jacksonville ‘COPS’ grant

A priority of the city of Jacksonville during the Lenny Curry era: increasing police presence on its most dangerous streets.

One vehicle to do just that: COPS Grants.

The city is pursuing state money for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Matching Grant. The vehicle in the 2017 session of the Florida Legislature: HB 2781, filed by Rep. Cord Byrd.

Jacksonville seeks $250,000, a number it has gotten previously, to match $625,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice, and $294,211 in local monies.

The appropriations request speaks to the success of the program, which Jacksonville uses to quell gun violence — a recurrent concern of policy makers as homicide rates have climbed in recent years.

Jacksonville “received seven letters of support from apartment complexes that are receiving services that the COPS program provides. The complexes have seen great progress in a short time: strengthened relations with local housing communities and tenants receive safety inspections to make their homes meet the standards of the Jacksonville Crime Free Multi-Housing Program.”

The lobbyist working on this bill on behalf of the city: Brian Ballard of Ballard Partners.

The city broke with the previous administration by enlisting a three-headed monster of lobbying firms to advocate for its interest.

In addition to Ballard, the Fiorentino Group and Southern Strategies Group carry the city’s water in Tallahassee.

With Mayor Curry in the state capital this week, chances are good that more local appropriations bills may be rolled out by the Duval Delegation.

Lenny Curry administration may re-open a homeless day resource center

In 2016, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry had a fractious meeting with the religious consortium ICARE.

One unresolved topic: a homeless day resource center.

The previous mayoral administration had one in the budget, which offered services three days a week.

Curry cut it. ICARE wanted reinstatement, and voiced its concerns.

The mayor was focused on the pension tax referendum, however, and stood his ground in opposition.

Curry said that “until the pension is solved, we don’t have the money for new programs.”

The question was asked… again.

“Not in this budget cycle.”

However, there is reason to hope that the next budget cycle may be more favorable.

Curry meets with ICARE representatives on Monday, and last week, one of his biggest supporters — Gary Chartrand — sent the mayor a letter of support for the initiative.

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

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

Shad Khan: No to Muslim Ban, Yes to HRO

In Houston for the Superbowl, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan broke with the city’s right wing on two hot-button issues.

Khan, a Muslim immigrant from Pakistan, came out against the controversial Donald Trump immigration/travel ban from seven majority-Muslim countries.

And, for good measure, he expressed — to a national publication — his support for the expansion of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include protection on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression at work, in housing, and in public accommodations in businesses that aren’t churches or small businesses.

That HRO support was known around Jacksonville; however, discussing it nationally should be seen as a signal.

This bill has its first committee stop on Monday morning. And Khan expects the politicians he’s been working to deliver in committee and when the full council votes on the measure on Feb. 14.

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On the Muslim ban, Khan broke with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry in a significant way.

“The bedrock of this country are immigration and really a great separation between church and state,” Khan told the New York Times, describing the ban as “not good” and “sobering” for him personally.

Curry had said, meanwhile, that “when the federal government moves to protect [American citizens], that’s the right move. The Trump administration is trying to protect [Americans] from terrorism.”

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On the HRO, meanwhile, Khan said he had “no remorse over supporting it.”

Indeed, Khan and his lobbyist, Paul Harden, have been making calls on behalf of the legislation — and Khan has been known to say that he can’t believe this issue is unresolved in Jacksonville.

Curry has said previously that expanding the Human Rights Ordinance would not be “prudent,” but has pledged to review legislation if presented to him by the city council.

The mayor, who values his relationship with the Jaguars owner, has not pledged a position on the current bill beyond that.

Lenny Curry, Nikolai Vitti may collaborate against youth gun violence

February started off with a worrying story for parents and guardians of children in Duval County Public Schools.

As News 4 Jax reports, students with guns were found at three Jacksonville schools on Wednesday.

One of those schools: an elementary school.

DCPS Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told “THE Local Station” that parents need to be more involved, and that “it will take a team effort from administration, staff, police and parents to keep guns out of schools” (quote from reporter, not Vitti).

It looks like the “team” may be bigger than that, however.

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FloridaPolitics.com learned on Thursday night and Friday morning that the offices of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti are in the early stages of collaboration against youth violence.

Curry’s spokeswoman, Marsha Oliver, came to the mayor’s office from Vitti’s office. And Oliver has been central in the preliminary stages of this effort.

“I have been meeting with my successor [at DCPS] and the district’s Chief of Staff to discuss how we can collaborate on a citywide campaign to minimize youth violence. We are in the development stages and have not determined any plans. The superintendent has expressed enthusiasm about partnering with the mayor, sheriff and state attorney to address the reported incidents of gang violence. The two are meeting next week,” Oliver told us Friday.

Vitti likewise confirmed that staff members are meeting, and that he is getting together with the mayor to discuss strategies to engage youth.

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The New Year has started off with a number of high-profile public safety challenges for the mayor in Downtown Jacksonville involving juveniles and guns.

The shooting at January’s ArtWalk — which saw two minors shot — was followed up by two more teens shot near the Jacksonville Landing on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

One of those teens shot at the Jacksonville Landing died.

As these incidents indicate, a public safety crisis in the making is driven by teens with guns, and the mayor has an interest in quelling that.

A potential strategy for the mayor could involve going to public schools, as well as churches and community events, and telling young people that they should help by identifying who has guns and other potentially lethal weapons, especially in schools but also churches and community events.

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Time would seem to be of the essence in this rollout for both Vitti and Curry, as soon enough the inevitable violence of spring and summer will wreak its havoc on Jacksonville streets.

For Vitti, who came close to being voted out by the school board last year amidst a mysterious acrimony with the then-current chair of the school board, every incident involving weapons erodes his credibility as superintendent.

For Curry, who ran on a platform of public safety and crime abatement, there is likewise no time like the present to address these issues — the convergence of shaky neighborhoods, shaky home lives, and undirected kids having easier access to guns and munitions than to meaningful supervision and direction.

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Rumbles around city hall — the kind that no one will commit to the record — hold that Curry reached out to Vitti wanting to speak to kids last month, in the wake of the violence.

However, goes the narrative, Curry was waved off, with Vitti saying DCPS didn’t want to “alarm parents.”

Oliver and Vitti robustly deny that accounting of events.

“I’d never deny the mayor a chance to talk to kids in our schools,” Vitti told FloridaPolitics.com

Lenny Curry touts ArtWalk, defends right to City Hall protest

Tuesday night as Jacksonville’s ArtWalk event began, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry called a press conference on the steps of City Hall, where just a day before, a different scene had transpired.

Curry’s press conference on Tuesday night had to do with reassuring Jacksonville that ArtWalk is a safe event to attend.

Such assurance was needed after January’s ArtWalk, at which two people were shot just blocks away from City Hall.

In Tuesday’s press event, Mayor Curry also addressed the peaceful protests that happened in front of city hall Monday night, just as much as he did the events of a month prior at ArtWalk.

Curry irked local progressives when he endorsed Donald Trump‘s refugee moratorium from seven terror-linked countries as a necessary security measure, in line with what Curry himself recommended in later 2015.

Throughout the event Tuesday evening, speakers and signs had messages for Mayor Curry, who even though he’s not in a position to impact federal policy, nonetheless endorsed it.

And indeed, a cool, calm, and collected Curry addressed on Tuesday night both the ArtWalk violence a month before, and the protests aimed at Trump and him a night before.

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Safety First: The mayor noted, regarding Artwalk, that the event had been happening “for many years without a serious incident.”

Despite issues in certain neighborhoods regarding crime and public safety, the mayor had a message.

“We’re on it. The sheriff’s on it. We’re going to focus on every neighborhood, including downtown. An event like this that has happened for years without incident — I encourage people to come out … it’s going to be a good time, and they should not be fearful,” Curry said.

The mayor and the sheriff have been talking about public safety since “before both were sworn in,” Curry said, and “major cuts to public safety” have been a recurrent topic.

“You don’t dig yourself out of that hole overnight,” Curry said. “I’m going to continue to invest. He’s going to continue to work … we’re going to get the city back where it needs to be.”

Curry also sounded bearish on the idea of youth curfews or being barred from the Jacksonville Landing, citing a classically American freedom: “freedom to move around, freedom to associate, freedom to speak.”

“We’re not going to allow a handful of individuals to scare us,” Curry said. “Those rights run from pure joy and entertainment to expressing ourselves on the issues of the day.”

***

Freedom of Speech: That commitment to freedom of expression extended to the hundreds of protesters who visited City Hall the night before.

This was notable, in the context of many on the right, ranging from Sen. Marco Rubio to Sean Hannity, painting protesters as “left-wing radicals” and the like.

“Free speech, man. That’s the beauty of our country — exercised right here in our city. People have the right to express themselves and their views. That’s how we operate in civilized democratic society,” Curry said.

“I don’t know how they organized. I don’t know how they got here. Regardless,” Curry said, “it’s free speech. I always encourage people to exercise their right to express themselves in a peaceful manner.”

Jacksonville protest of Donald Trump sees protesters protesting

There is something comfortingly familiar about a protest in Jacksonville, and Tuesday afternoon’s anti-Donald Trump protest was no exception.

The chants heard at the Duval County Courthouse were, at least many of them, heard before.

At this point, “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA” has been workshopped repeatedly in the Jacksonville DMA, and may have peaked in terms of market saturation.

The chant was a standby on Tuesday, a refrain as familiar as “Whoot, there it is.”

New for this event: “Say it loud, say it clear; refugees are welcome here,” an obvious reference to the banning of travel from seven majority-Muslim countries, of which the majority (Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and the Sudan) could be said to be failed states.

At the very least, none of these countries are models for the 21st century.

The speakers, likewise, were familiar — and very likable.

Perennials, such as Wells ToddChevara Orrin, and Dr. Parvez Ahmed, spoke.

Ahmed gave money to the primary campaign of Rep. John Rutherford ahead of the GOP Primary last year because, he said, Rutherford was a friend, and because the rest of the field was even worse.

The University of North Florida professor spoke of Rutherford and his political ally, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, having given in to a “bully” by offering support for the travel and immigration ban from the White House.

The speakers used a less-than-audible megaphone to address the crowd for over an hour — a group of 200, give or take, who stood in a circle around them.

Many of the crowd members held up signs, creating the inevitable reality of those trying to listen to the message on the mike being distracted by a face full of poster board if they wanted to hear the messages.

The sign holders didn’t mind, of course. Toward the end of the event, when a speaker called for all Muslims to come up to the front, two college-aged women, holding up signs, began jumping up and down like they’d been selected to appear on the Price Is Right.

And cameras? Lord, yes, there were cameras.

Every TV station showed, as did the Florida Times-Union, and the coverage was earnest and respectful.

But in that coverage, something was lost: namely, the quixotic nature of going to a local courthouse to protest a national policy.

The local clerk of courts, the local chief judge, and so on — they had nothing to do with Trump’s travel ban.

As the sun began its descent, the protest began to move.

A quick trip to the federal courthouse; because it was already past 5:00, and because a politician didn’t have a hearing that day, there was no one there to see the crowd move.

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From there, the protest moved to the front steps of Jacksonville’s city hall, also largely bereft of pols and those who work for them at that point in the day.

That backdrop created the most compelling imagery of the whole event, with the protesters voices echoing through the recessed entry way on the front of the St. James Building, as the two or three security guards who normally work the metal detector came out to look at the spectacle.

However, there were missed opportunities.

If the protest, at that point, was targeting the mayor, then why not issue specific grievances toward his agenda?

Certainly, the attendees all had them.

The ineluctable answer: protests in Jacksonville, for the most part, are localized reactions to national actions. And this was no different.

Mayor Curry’s embrace of the Trump travel ban from those seven countries, out of context, is more shocking than it is when considered in context.

The Republican mayor of a resource starved city, and a former party chair who understands his role as building Jacksonville’s relationship with the White House after eight years in which the Jacksonville mayor and the president didn’t interface, Curry has practical reasons for supporting the White House position — which, say many, is not a complete 180 from travel restrictions and moratoriums in previous administrations.

Additionally, Curry has an affinity for Donald Trump himself.

The mayor appreciates the president’s swagger, and when this outlet asked him about the executive order rollout last weekend, Curry said he didn’t want to talk about the process.

Curry actually defended the Trump administration: ““The intent of the administration is mired in the bureaucracy of big federal government.”

An interesting spin, and one that delineates emotional investment in the outcome.

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Protests in this country seem to come and go depending on who is in the White House. In that sense, these outpourings of populist angst are time-sensitive.

There were many protests of American foreign military actions during the Bush 41 and Bush 43 administrations. However, despite the fact that the United States was active militarily on a global level during the Clinton and Obama administrations, the protests mysteriously abated.

In that sense, the protest trend is almost like the comedy of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, each of whom became a lot less funny after Inauguration Day 2009, and never quite recovered.

There is plenty of cause for local action for progressives.

The city’s Democratic Party is about as effective as its public schools.

Many of the Democrats on the city council have more affinity with their district churches and donors than with a progressive platform. Beyond the HRO expansion bill, the only other progressive piece of legislation to be considered lately is Councilman Garrett Dennis filing a bill to fund a position authorized last decade, one which would attempt to ensure equal employment opportunity for underrepresented minority groups.

Meanwhile, the impact of social conservatives is disproportionately felt. And, point of fact, arguably the biggest social conservative in Jacksonville politics is Democratic state representative, Kim Daniels.

On a local level, working through the churches, social conservatives mobilize votes and they scare the hell out of politicians.

Whether one agrees with their viewpoints or not, the folks on the right are formidable opponents, who understand how to leverage their power into legislative action.

The progressive movement in Jacksonville may have been newly “woke” by Donald Trump.

The question the stakeholders will have to consider: is protesting national policies its best use of time, or should the focus be on driving specific, targeted legislative action and pressure to counter the institutional inequities and shortcomings that compelled them to their political positions in the first place?

Jacksonville sheriff backs Lenny Curry’s pension reform proposal

A message from Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams to the Fraternal Order of Police was conveyed Tuesday: take the city’s pension deal.

Jacksonville has been in the process of renegotiating the pension plans of all of its unions, but police and fire have offered the most urgency.

The real sticking point, beyond finding an appropriate level of raises for current employees: benefits for new hires.

The public safety unions want inclusion for new hires in the FRS defined benefit plan, which may be an option foreclosed to them as soon as this legislative session in Tallahassee.

The city’s proposal includes a 25 percent match on defined-contribution plans for new hires, with death and disability benefits comparable to those under the defined benefit plan currently in place, and raises for all current employees.

Last Wednesday, the city sweetened the pot, offering an extended term of a labor agreement — effectively a seven-year deal, with terms revisited at three, six, and seven-year intervals — provided that it meets certain conditions.

As well, in place of Social Security, a mechanism was floated to offer annuity accounts paralleling the DC plans.

Sheriff Williams told us Tuesday that was a good deal.

“The deal that we have on the table here is a good deal.  I am in favor of what the mayor’s putting on the table, and I’m encouraging everybody to take a hard look at it,” Williams said.

Even though the deal is defined contribution, Williams asserted that “there’s plenty in that deal that protects the members.”

“It’s not your normal 401K by any stretch,” the sheriff added, “and I think the mayor has shown his commitment to us by putting a deal on the table.”

The unions and the city negotiate again on Feb. 8.

Pushback emerges against bill closing FRS defined benefit plan to new cities

Jacksonville’s big legislative accomplishment in the 2016 session was getting an unprecedented bill through Tallahassee, one which would allow the city to access the guaranteed revenue from a future sales tax extension, once it closed one of its three pension plans.

As collective bargaining continues between the city and its unions, the 2017 session also looms. And another bill with potential bearing on Jacksonville’s pension perils awaits the Florida Legislature.

That bill, filed by Jeff Brandes in the Florida Senate and Jacksonville’s own Jason Fischer in the Florida House, would close the defined benefit plan of the Florida Retirement System to new cities.

“I believe the best way to start getting a handle on the growing unfunded state pension liability is to tackle the issue at the source. Closing this loophole to enter into the defined benefit pension plan in FRS will help the state of Florida begin the process of reconciling the out of control pension debt and put our state on a path towards fiscal responsibility,” stated Rep, Fischer upon filing the bill.

A question that is emerging, however: does the Fischer/Brandes legislation subvert the intent of the 2016 legislation that set the stage to conditionally close Jacksonville’s faltering defined benefit pension plans?

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The police and fire unions believe so; their position has been to put new hires who are foreclosed from the city’s current DB plan into the FRS defined benefit plan, which was last estimated to be 85 percent funded and one of the healthiest state pension plans in the country.

Meanwhile, the sponsors of the 2016 legislation, Clay County’s Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings, had their own qualms with the FRS reform bills.

“The bill was clear,” Bradley said, “and I made several public statements at the time as the bill moved through the process.”

“The language of the bill was clear – that [new pension plan] is a local decision, what form the pension/retirement plan takes going forward. The only requirement of the bill is that you close existing plans and then you start anew if you want to avail yourself of those dollars,” Bradley added.

“What system is chosen by the city of Jacksonville using those dollars is a choice,” Bradley said, “to be made through collective bargaining.”

When asked if he supported the Fischer/Brandes reforms, Bradley was careful in responding.

“To the extent that those bills take options off the table, then in my mind that’s inconsistent with what we did last year,” Bradley said.

“What we did last year was say this is a local decision. They have a series of options available to them to choose. Then to go the next year, and say ‘we said that, but we don’t mean it. You have fewer options than you had last year,’ to me that would be inconsistent with what we did last year,” Bradley said.

When asked if the Fischer/Brandes bill was a “bait and switch,” Bradley laughed, saying that phrase was something he “would describe as inflammatory language.”

“But yeah, I made my statement on it,” the senator said.

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Sen. Bradley, in what was an audacious play last year, carried the Senate version of the discretionary sales surtax bill through with a 35 to 1 vote of approval.

Bradley and Brandes, already slated to square off on the issue of medical marijuana expansion, look poised to be at odds on the FRS reform bill also.

Sen. Bradley’s concerns were echoed, albeit in abbreviated form, by Rep. Travis Cummings.

Cummings hadn’t seen the Fischer/Brandes bill, but after the terms were described to him, he said the terms were a “big concern.”

“I’d have a hard time supporting it,” Cummings said.

Cummings’ comments are notable in light of what he said to us in January 2016.

“History in the Florida Legislature does prove that there are philosophical differences between the House and Senate regarding traditional pension versus 401k type retirement plans. No doubt such will be a key part of the debate with our Senate partners. The train has left the station in the private sector in that pension plans are now dinosaurs due to insurmountable liabilities,” Cummings observed last year.

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The concerns of legislators who don’t represent Jacksonville may not be such a concern … except for the fact that the Duval County Legislative Delegation didn’t carry the pension reform legislation in 2016.

The reasons for such were pragmatic: Cummings and Bradley had carried similar legislation before, and there wasn’t a sense of overwhelming enthusiasm to carry the bill from the local delegation.

While the local delegation did support the legislation, the lead was taken by the Republicans from Clay County.

As former Rep. Charles Van Zant, a House co-sponsor, said last May, “it was a good neighbor bill for us. Jacksonville turned to us to pass the bill,” and the “three of us spearheaded the initiative.”

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