Lenny Curry Archives - Page 3 of 109 - Florida Politics

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.”

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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.”

Lenny Curry backs Donald Trump’s travel ban from terror-linked Muslim countries

Back in 2015, in the wake of a terror attack in Paris, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry stunned some when he came out in favor of restrictions on allowing Syrian refugees to enter the state of Florida.

Curry noted, in letters to Jacksonville’s U.S. Congress delegation, that “at least one of the eight terrorists who conducted the attacks entered Europe with a special passport as a refugee of Syria. In light of this, I am very concerned about the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.”

He joined Florida Gov. Rick Scott in his request of members of Congress “to take any action available through the powers of the United States Congress to prevent federal allocations toward the relocation of Syrian refugees without extensive examination into how this would affect our homeland security.”

This position had been largely forgotten – until Donald Trump issued an executive order barring travel for 90 days from seven majority Muslim countries, including Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and the Sudan.

Additionally, the Trump order barred refugee admissions for 120 days, and imposed an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees … thus, fulfilling that ask from the Florida Governor and the Jacksonville Mayor.

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Despite the firestorm surrounding the Trump executive order, which continues to blaze on every cable news network and social media feed, Curry supports the administration.

In a conversation Monday morning, Mayor Curry noted that he had joined the governor back in 2015 in demanding “certainty and safeguards” from the federal government on refugee admissions.

“I continue to believe that’s the case,” Curry said. “When the federal government moves to protect [American citizens], that’s the right move. The Trump administration is trying to protect [Americans] from terrorism.”

While Curry believes that some of the early execution of the executive order, such as barring permanent residents and green card holders from entry, is “problematic,” he also is willing to cut the Trump Administration some slack.

“The intent of the administration is mired,” Curry said, “in the bureaucracy of big federal government.”

Some pundits have suggested that a problem with the executive order was that it circumvented the Congress; for his part, Curry is “not going to get in that process.”

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In a related subject, an organization that Curry is a member of – the United States Conference of Mayors – has made news in January by coming out in opposition to President Trump’s positions on sanctuary cities and a massive overhaul of the Affordable Care Act.

In contrast to his immediate predecessor in office, Alvin Brown, Curry hasn’t been a particularly active conference member.

Brown attended fifteen of the group’s conclaves.

Curry?

“I have not attended any of those conferences,” the mayor said.

Mayor Curry hasn’t studied the group’s positions on sanctuary cities or on Obamacare.

Given the gap between the mayor’s politics and that of the group, meanwhile, Curry intends to “look at that investment.”

The current price tag for membership in the group: upwards of $26,000.

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However, there is a salient reason the mayor hasn’t given much thought to what the U.S. Conference of Mayors has to say.

Curry asserts that his day to day focus is on running the city, including victims of violent crime, saying that what he gets up thinking about – indeed, what wakes him up in the middle of the night sometimes – are situations like that of Aiden McClendon.

A year ago, the 22-month-old toddler was gunned down as he sat in a car on Jacksonville’s Eastside.

Stopping that violent crime – ensuring that such situations don’t happen again – is Curry’s focus.

And that focus informs Curry’s support of an executive order that seems draconian to many, but makes sense to a mayor who embraces public safety as his primary mission.

Jacksonville Bold for 01.27.17 – Back in business

Jacksonville Bold is back with a new format.

Here we will offer our take on 10 of Northeast Florida’s biggest stories — beyond the blow-by-blow — explaining, as ever, why something is happening.

And why it’s important.

This edition will take readers inside issues related to the city’s legislative priorities, the Human Rights Ordinance debate, collective bargaining with police and fire unions, and other urgent matters.

1. What Lenny Curry is reading

An online article this week in Bloomberg was probably the most useful piece of publicity the Jacksonville Mayor’s efforts have received this month.

“Wall Street is hiring … in Florida” spotlighted some of the big momentum Jacksonville has gotten in the financial sector over the last couple of years.

Bloomberg notes that Deutsche Bank and MacQuarie have brought some C-suite folks to Duval.

“Also in Jacksonville are more than 19,000 employees of Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo,” Bloomberg notes, describing the “nearshoring” trend that Donald Trump is expected to accelerate.

Why Jacksonville? Office space costs a quarter of what it does in New York. Employees can get paid two-thirds what they make in the Big Apple. And as these companies almost invariably say, the Chamber and the mayor’s office push in ways other cities do not.

Even if, as a Deutsche Bank exec laments, you “can’t get Indian food at 11:30 p.m.,” a company can affect savings that enhance the bottom line, reassure shareholders and perhaps drive corporate bonuses.

2. Seven year itch

The city of Jacksonville negotiated with police and fire unions this week, and it seems like every time the city meets with these groups, negotiators sweeten the offer.

The goal: to move new hires to defined contribution plans, allowing the city to “get out of the pension business” eventually, as Mayor Curry says.

In the month’s previous meetings, the city offered a 25 percent match on DC plans for new hires.

This week, the city extended the possibility of seven-year agreements with each of the public safety unions — renewable within those agreements at three- and six-year intervals.

As well, in response to worries that police and fire hires lack an equivalent to Social Security, the city offered the prospect of a private annuity plan.

Floated during the police union meeting: mandating that, of the 33 percent combined match between the city and the employee, that 14 percent of that sum go into the annuity — effectively offering assurances that there would be a Social Security-style payment.

The city and its unions still have a way to go regarding negotiating raises for current employees, but a resolution of this issue may be in sight.

And, if a Florida House bill filed by Curry ally Jason Fischer that would close FRS’s defined benefit plan to new city plans goes through, then the city may really have the unions over a barrel.

(Speaking of that bill, Councilman Tommy Hazouri, an ally of the unions, believes it will be “dead on arrival.” Time will tell on that.)

Even if this issue were to be worked out immediately, though, the city isn’t done bargaining with the police union.

However, the Fraternal Order of Police also said Wednesday that they want collective bargaining before they put on body cameras. The city expects to roll out a pilot program this year. But before they can do that, the union wants to ensure it protects employees.

3. Exit ramp for Hart off ramp project?

A good get from Sebastian Kitchen in Thursday’s Florida Times-Union: the Curry Administration is hitting the brakes on its ask for $50 million for funds for the Hart Bridge off ramp project.

It’s probably just as well. Multiple members of the Duval County Legislative Delegation had told us, off the record, that they didn’t see the point.

One noted that the ask seemed motivated by Shad Khan and the impending amphitheater, an upgrade to the Sports Complex that should be paid off sometime in the next few decades, as bed tax revenues roll in to pay back money borrowed for the $88 million upgrades greenlighted in the Alvin Brown/Lenny Curry era.

While everyone agrees that the ramp is ugly, they don’t see the public safety argument Curry pushed at the Duval Delegation meeting.

What’s more, they — along with media — saw the case made in a manner not up to the standards of the current administration.

The case was made almost anecdotally, on the fly. And it was done without recognizing the reality that House Speaker Richard Corcoran isn’t just giving away money, and that the Duval House Delegation still needs a GPS to get around Tallahassee.

Kitchen notes that projects being pursued are “focused on public safety and neighborhoods, particularly those that are economically distressed.

“Other likely requests include continuing a grant that assists with funding community policing, pedestrian-safety improvements in areas prone to deadly crashes, a pump station to reduce flooding in San Marco, funding for ShotSpotter gunshot detection technology, and improvements to J. P. Small Memorial Park Stadium, one of the nation’s few remaining Negro League stadiums,” Kitchen notes.

Ambitious? No. But better to take ten easy wins than one hard loss, especially with HRO and collective bargaining looming over this mayor’s office.

4. Medical cannabis dispensary comes to Jacksonville

Jacksonville will have its first medical cannabis dispensary soon, reports First Coast News.

The announced Knox Medical location is 9901 San Jose Blvd., a retail location in the heavily-Republican Mandarin neighborhood, right next to a Smoothie King.

We talked to the Jose Hidalgo, president of Knox Medical last year about his ideas on the direction of the industry.

“I think education is key. My mom is 72 years old. She was completely freaked out … Just showing her how a suffering child is having 70-plus seizures a day and a single drop of CBD non-euphoric oil and the seizures stopped, she was already on board,” Hidalgo said. “This is a new world, when you talk about pharmaceutical. It’s not quite pharmaceutical. It’s not quite like pot. It’s a new space in medicine. And it’s an exciting time.”

For those who were paying attention two years ago, the city pushed one moratorium against dispensaries into law, then repealed it, then imposed another. There was palpable frustration among many activists about why the city had a “reefer madness”-styled discussion over Charlotte’s Web — the only medical strain legalized back in 2015.

Jacksonville used the second moratorium wisely, scheduling meetings with the Land Use and Zoning Committee and the Planning Commission to work out locational criteria for dispensaries to come.

Ordinance limits dispensaries to one per city planning district, with a minimum distance of a mile between them, permissible in non-residential zoning areas. And when we talked last year to Land Use & Zoning Committee (LUZ) Chair Danny Becton, he expressed confidence that this work laid the groundwork for implementation of Amendment 2.

Apparently, that was the case.

5. Liberty, at long last

What ended up being called the “Liberty Street collapse” became a great talking point for Mayor Curry during the 2015 mayoral campaign.

And, if all goes well, a successful fix might be a talking point in his re-election bid (if he runs again, of course).

WJXT reports that Superior Construction has 630 days to complete the reconstruction of the failed structure, on a $31 million contract.

In 2021, the FDOT will reimburse the city $7.5 million of that amount.

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6. Is Liberty just the name of a street?

Highlighting Tuesday’s Jacksonville City Council meeting was an extensive public hearing on the expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance.

Advocates for expansion want housing, job, and public accommodations protections for people on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. The bill language protects small businesses and religious organizations from abiding by this law, though it does not include a carve-out exemption from compliance for those who prefer to discriminate.

Expansion opponents frame this measure as a “bathroom bill,” an elaborate ruse designed primarily to ensure transgendered or those men who “identify” as female have carte blanche access to a women’s bathroom or locker room.

This is the same old debate we’ve been having here since 2012.

This time, advocates feel confident they may be able to get the bill passed. The expectation is that 11 to 13 yes votes may manifest.

Thirteen would be the magic number; a supermajority would take the issue off Curry’s desk. More likely, it will be 11 or 12.

And for Curry, who won’t leave politics anytime soon, it presents the toughest decision of his tenure.

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7. Ability Housing beats the NIMBY brigade

The Springfield neighborhood may not have wanted Ability Housing to develop a 12-unit apartment building to house veterans. And the city, sensitive to the community activists, may have thrown up some roadblocks.

Seemed like a good idea at the time.

But now, WOKV reports, it looks to have been all for naught.

“Federal court records obtained by WOKV show Ability Housing of Northeast Florida, Disability Rights of Florida, and the City of Jacksonville have come to terms over a pending lawsuit dealing with a project that would have housed homeless, disabled veterans in Springfield. A related case with the Department of Justice has also reached a settlement. In all, the City will pay close to $2 million in fines, attorney’s fees and other requirements, while making changed to zoning laws. The settlement comes without any admission of wrongdoing.”

Council must approve these settlements.

Springfield, a “neighborhood in transition” at least since the 1980s, continues to fight its battles between the urban pioneers who want the area to develop in the way that Riverside, Avondale, and San Marco have managed. The neighborhood’s proximity to a variety of social services for the dispossessed, which are antithetical to attempted gentrification, posed problems as well.

8. Local legislative delegations to meet next week.

Two local delegations will meet in their respective county seats next week.

Clay County’s delegation is slated to meet Monday afternoon at 4 p.m. at the county administration building in Green Cove Springs.

The next day, at 2 p.m., the Duval Delegation has a local bill hearing at Jacksonville’s city hall.

There are three local bills that the city council has urged for the upcoming session.

Two of them involve exceptions to liquor laws, with one seeking to lower seating requirements to 100 seats in some urban core neighborhoods, and the other trying to liberalize outdoor drinking rules during “special events” near the Sports Complex.

The third bill is more interesting: legislation to forbid the Duval County School Board chair from breaking a tie with his or her vote.

Those who remember last year’s personal discord between former chair Ashley Smith-Juarez and the current superintendent might note that there was a period when Smith-Juarez was suggesting Superintendent Nikolai Vitti should take his talents elsewhere.

Practically speaking, since the board was down to 6 members at that point, ASJ could have voted to bounce Vitti, and then become the deciding vote as the tie breaker.

9. Council prepares for “fifth week”

A gentle reminder: the Jacksonville City Council will be in its fifth week next week, and not meeting for committees.

Committees will start up again February 6 in a Monday-Wednesday schedule.

Expect council members to spend time reading hysterical emails against the HRO expansion, which for early February will be the major committee week topic.

Perhaps they will fit in some time to learn a phrase beloved by city hall reporters during votes on contentious issues such as the HRO.

“I call the question.”

10. Curry goes partisan.

Much has been said about “One City, One Jacksonville.” Yet in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Jacksonville mayor proved yet again his partisan chops with a series of hot tweets over the weekend.

Saturday afternoon, after a presser by Trump’s comms guy Sean Spicer, saw the following:

“.@seanspicer talking reckless inaccurate “reporting” by some media via Twitter. Sadly, some media believe Twitter = immunity to facts … Subject/political party/issue/aside- some media members, those that put their names on new stories, treat Twitter w disregard for facts … It is reckless & inconsistent w objective, verified info- but as “rules” change we will adapt. That is all.”

Curry was, for reasons that might escape some locals, siding with the Trump administration in pushing back against reports that Trump’s inauguration wasn’t as big a draw as President Barack Obama’s first.

Wading into partisan waters offers both reward and risk.

A Republican mayor needs a good relationship with the Trump White House. However, given the very real possibility that scandal may strike the Trump administration at some point in the next four years (maybe even the next four minutes), it might be advisable to let Team MAGA carry its own water.

To put it another way: what has Spicer ever done for you?

 

Catholic Bishop: No to Jacksonville HRO expansion

Surprising no one who has followed the issue over the years, the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine sent Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry a letter this week opposing expansion of the local Human Rights Ordinance.

Advocates want protections extended to the LGBT community in housing, employment, and public accommodations, such as bathrooms and locker rooms.

The latter condition is a sticking point for many opponents, however, including the aforementioned prelate.

The bishop, Felipe Estevez, recognizes the “spirit” of the proposed legislation as desiring “all persons, regardless of physical or physiological distinctions” to be treated with “justice and dignity” as “human beings made in the image and likeness of God.”

However, he sees the proposed amendment as one that “intrudes into the realm of personal freedom.”

“It would force people to accept … the actions of people which are deeply offensive and objectionable,” the bishop asserted.

The bishop likened objecting to expansion of the HRO to objecting to war on moral grounds, as happened during “the darkest days of World War II.”

Enforcement of the law is, meanwhile, “fraught with peril,” compromising “life and liberty” and the “freedom and livelihood” of people raising their families and functioning in the commercial sphere.

The bill will occupy much of February for the Jacksonville City Council.

There is a public notice meeting on it on Feb. 2, then a week of committee discussion before the Feb. 14 vote of the full panel.

Jacksonville, police union haggle over body cameras, pensions

As with the morning collective bargaining session with the city’s fire union, the city of Jacksonville’s afternoon session with the police union saw a sweetened offer for police and corrections.

But with the sweet comes the sour.

The Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police held firm to the #YesToFRS position for new hires … and opened the door to collective bargaining on body cameras ahead of a pilot program to roll out later this year.

The body camera discussion was brief, but substantial, given that the discussion of body cameras so far has been between the sheriff and the city, with the union kept out of it

The local police union wanted “body worn cameras” to be subject to collective bargaining — a position that accords with that of the national Fraternal Order of Police.

“You need to understand, that’s for both — police and corrections,” local FOP Head Steve Zona said, reiterating a position taken in a previous bargaining session, in which the union said there was something else that needed to be put on the table.

Elsewhere, police unions have asked for compensation for wearing body cameras, which the sheriff’s office wants to begin rolling out in pilot form later this year.

Unions have been known to sue to secure their rights regarding body cameras.

The city was not ready to move forward on this discussion point.

However, Zona discussed the matter during a press gaggle after Tuesday afternoon’s meeting.

Zona noted that, while the FOP — locally, state, or national — did not oppose body cameras, negotiations were needed to develop policies and procedures to ensure the rights of union members were protected in the rollout of the cameras.

****

Likewise, as one would expect: no major movement was made on the question of what a new pension plan would look like.

As with the fire union, a now-familiar sticking point: the city is offering a defined contribution plan instead of a defined benefit pension, and an annuity plan instead of Social Security, for police and corrections new hires.

The city offer, made earlier in January, included 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.

On 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.

“What you have before you is tantamount to a seven year waiver,” Gabriel said, of the city’s ability to change retirement benefits, assuming the “economy isn’t tanking.”

Among the conditions that must be satisfied for police, as with fire: a 7 percent annual rate of return on the fund, and 4 percent annual growth in the local sales tax revenue, and a three percent annual growth rate in the general fund.

“Those three indicators, which are reasonable indicators … would be automatic renewal … for the first three years,” said Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa.

“We think these are what’s needed to be in good shape,” said Mousa, adding that both the current plan and plan for new hires would be eligible for these terms.

Mousa also signaled a willingness, at some future point, to discuss “parity pay” between police and corrections.

Mousa also addressed the question of what happens if the surtax is challenged in court successfully.

“There’s currently a lawsuit that’s pending. If that lawsuit is resolved in favor of the city … that contingency goes away,” Mousa said, expressing confidence that the city would win the suit, and even if it didn’t, “it would be status quo until the appeal is adjudicated, and it will be a while until the appeal is adjudicated.”

“If this first lawsuit comes back negative against us before Oct. 1, everything will unravel,” Mousa said.

After Oct. 1, if the suit comes back negative, future pay raises would be off the table — but the restoration of the defined benefit plan benefits to current employees would stand.

Mousa also vowed that the city would restore all current members of the pension plan to a 3 percent COLA, removing a sticking point from the 2015 pension reform agreement.

Further discussion ensued between the union and city counsel, regarding the need to “modify or eliminate” aspects of the benefits and financing model of that same 2015 pension deal.

The city and the union provisionally agreed that the city council would vote before the union ratified the matter, though there was a divergence involving whether or not the Police and Fire Pension Fund had a vote.

The union lowered its raise proposals from 10 percent for each of the three years from FY 18 to 20 for police, bailiffs, and judicial officers, to 8 percent each year, and a 3 percent retroactive raise going back to Oct. 2014.

Meanwhile, the unions still want the FRS defined benefit plan for new hires in those employee groups. And, as with the fire union, that desire is rooted in an ineluctable context: that being a bill filed by a political ally of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry to close the Florida Retirement System defined benefit plan to new hires.

“FRS is good enough for the bus drivers, we thought it would be good enough for police officers,” Zona said.

From there, Mousa floated the “end-plan annuity plan” that was floated in the fire union meeting, with CFO Mike Weinstein again making the pitch.

Weinstein noted that the unions and the city would decide what company makes the best plan for the city’s needs.

“We can even design it,” Weinstein said, “as a Social Security replacement,” with the city matching a 7 percent employee contribution.

That certainty would allow the employee to make an “educated guess” on what his or her payout might be on a recurrent basis at the end of his or her career, Weinstein added.

Zona and his union wanted to research this scheme further.

Jacksonville offers seven year agreement to firefighters in collective bargaining

On Monday, a political ally of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry filed a bill that would close the Florida Retirement System’s defined benefit plan to new cities.

This is particularly relevant to Jacksonville’s police and fire unions, both of which want to see new hires put in the FRS defined benefit plan as a condition of collective bargaining.

The Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters, which was the first of the two public safety unions to negotiate with the city on Wednesday, began the day by charging that Rep. Jason Fischer, who filed the FRS reform bill, was essentially doing the mayor’s bidding with this bill.

These developments seemed to undermine significant progress in collective bargaining, with the city having extended, earlier in the month, what Curry called a “deservedly rich” offer that had a 30-day window of acceptance.

That deal included 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.

On 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.

However, the JAFF didn’t bite immediately. And Jason Fischer’s bill loomed over the whole event Wednesday.


Wednesday’s meeting started with a vocal disagreement between the city and the fire union about whether a collective bargaining deal can go beyond three years, with the city maintaining the limited term offers “dexterity to negotiate.”

General Counsel Jason Gabriel noted statute and case law prohibited governments from binding future elected officials to deals.

That said, he offered a waiver of benefit changes for seven years, “as long as the economy is of a certain value … it is an automatic renewal” after three years, then a second three years, then a year.

“In the event of some catastrophe, economically, there is some out,” Gabriel said.

Among the conditions that must be satisfied: a 7 percent annual rate of return on the fund, and 4 percent annual growth in the local sales tax revenue, and a three percent annual growth rate in the general fund.

Gabriel also said it was “possible” that after three years, a seven-year extension could be negotiated. Another scenario: after the second three-year term, with a year left in the seven-year deal, a negotiation could be for the next seven years.

“We want it legally defensible and not challenged,” said Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa.


 Other points the city brought up, in response to fire union inquiries.

One important one: the city council “will be open to voting on ratification” before the union’s vote.

Survivor and death benefits would remain unchanged, with all falling under pre-2015 deal benefit levels

One potential negative: the city offer does not include retroactive pay raises.


The fire union agreed on the pension proposal for existing employees but still had an issue with benefits for future hires.

“Our proposal on the table is still FRS. You’ve countered with a 401(k). You still haven’t given us a safety net,” said JAFF head Randy Wyse.

That safety net: Social Security.

“That’s why we think that FRS is the best for future employees, and now we have a [bill] that’s threatening that,” Wyse said, noting the “work done in Tallahassee” was not helped.

“To have people who are not at the table, who keep throwing these haymakers at us … I don’t understand it,” Wyse added.

“Every time we get a good feeling,” Wyse said, a “roadblock” emerges.

Mousa countered that the FRS was a nonstarter for the mayor from “day one,” when Curry floated a DC plan to the city council.

“Notwithstanding what Jason Fischer did,” Mousa said, “it’s got nothing to do with our mayor.”

“I don’t want to waste my time talking about Jason Fischer,” Mousa emphasized, saying Curry is “not controlled by Tallahassee” and “controls his own destiny.”


CFO Mike Weinstein then discussed a plan to provide “security” to new employees that the city had researched.

The plan: “in-plan annuities.”

A certain amount, determined by negotiation, of the 33 percent shared employee/employer contribution would go into the annuity.

“There’s a guarantee that it never goes down,” Weinstein said, “and hopefully it grows.”

The annuity would be disbursed periodically when an officer stops working.

The officer would have two accounts: the annuity account, and a defined contribution account, with levels of annuity “flexible” for the employee.

The plan would be “relatively conservative,” said Weinstein, driven by ROI. And the risk would be hazarded by the insurance company.

The guarantee, Weinstein added, is even better than a defined contribution plan.

“We can look at it as a Social Security replacement,” the CFO added.

Benefits are payable over the lifetime of the employee, or the employee and spouse.


The Fire Union had a proposal of its own regarding current employees.

Among the points: that benefit levels be protected for the life of the fund; the Chapter 175 funds be deposited into each member’s share account; that DROP be returned to a fixed level of 8.4 percent; a 3 percent COLA.

As well, renegotiated terms would be triggered by returns lagging at least 2 percent lower than the accounting rate of return of the fund for three years, or by two consecutive years when returns were at or above the ARR of the fund. (These were a non-starter for the city).

 Raises sought for current employees, meanwhile, are close to the city’s terms.

The union wanted 23 percent in increments from FY 18 to FY 20, comparable to the city’s 20 percent offer with a lump sum restoration, but the deal was rejected out of hand by the city.

“The 20 percent is taking care of your members,” Mousa said.

Also rejected at this time: discussions of incentive pay hikes, sought by the union.


These parties will meet again on Feb. 8 to hash out more details of the deal.

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