Lenny Curry Archives - Page 3 of 133 - Florida Politics

Disconnect between Duval delegation, Jacksonville leadership raises questions

Jacksonville’s mayor, City Council president, and City Council vice president are part of a 141-person delegation from the city to Toronto on Wednesday.

Their absence raised questions in Jacksonville City Hall about why the Duval County legislative delegation would meet without them, and even the day before the Wednesday meeting, there apparently was encouragement from the mayor’s office to postpone the meeting.

Chairman Jay Fant — a current statewide candidate for attorney general — pushed forward, however, raising more questions for some observers about how in sync the delegation’s priorities are with the city’s.

In a sidebar interview with Florida Politics, Fant noted that he hadn’t heard of any push to change the meeting date, saying he was “notified not to be offended” by people being on the trip to Toronto and missing the meeting.

Meanwhile, on city issues, Fant observed that “the city’s going to have to lobby us individually” on its priorities.

One of those priorities has recurred year over year.

In 2016, Mayor Lenny Curry made a big ask for the delegation to bring home $50 million to tear down the current Hart Bridge offramps and reroute traffic onto Bay Street.

Fant noted that he was going to carry the bill last year based on the public safety argument the mayor’s office advanced at the time.

This year, Fant says the bill would be the prototypical “heavy lift,” saying it was “up to the city to make its case,” and that case “needs to be really good.”

The mayor’s office’s two big asks are unchanged from last year: money for the Hart Bridge project, for which the city is now funding a design criteria study; and money for septic tank remediation, a project that Jacksonville sought $15 million for last year … and got none of it.

Beyond that?

“I’ve been advised that we are still in the process of determining our City of Jacksonville legislative priorities,” wrote a city spokesperson this week.

With appropriations bills having been filed for weeks, and bill slots filling up for some legislators, time is of the essence given 2018’s early Legislative Session.

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Despite the disconnect between the delegation and the local government, the meeting was conducted.

New leadership was chosen: Republican state Sen. Aaron Bean took the chair, stressing the importance of “coming together for Northeast Florida,” especially given Duval is outnumbered by other regions of the state.

Bean lauded outgoing Chairman Jay Fant for doing an “outstanding job” carrying Duval’s priorities forward.

Fant lauded the delegation for being singularly “polished and prepared” in advancing priorities.

Rep. Jason Fischer and Rep. Tracie Davis were both nominated for vice-chair.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, advocating for Davis, noted that the leadership positions should reflect “diversity” among the delegation, comprised of four Republican white men and three African-American Democratic women.

With Rep. Kim Daniels excused, Fischer carried the vote 4-2.

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Stakeholders advanced priorities.

On behalf of the Duval County School Board, Warren Jones called special attention to hurricane funding needs, exacerbated by Irma demands, coupled with delayed reimbursements from 2016’s Hurricane Matthew.

Jacksonville City Councilman Jim Love was the sole city elected official on hand, and he bemoaned the lack of local representation on the Constitutional Revision Commission.

Love also decried the possibility of appointed constitutional officers as a subversion of local control.

On behalf of UF Health, CEO Russ Armistead — who Chairman Bean works for — noted a reduction in state funding to hospitals, which led to a $21 million loss in revenue.

UF Health didn’t expect LIP funding to be decreased, but it has been.

“Miraculously, we’re staying open,” Armistead said, despite razor-thin profit margins.

Florida State College at Jacksonville wants $12 million of PECO money to renovate downtown buildings dedicated to STEM programs.

The University of North Florida likewise has needs, articulated by President John Delaney — a former Jacksonville mayor who will be leaving the university in the next year.

Delaney wants $10 million of recurring money for UNF and other regional universities; he also had PECO asks, including $4 million to renovate Lassiter Hall, built in 1994, and money for  an enclosed courtyard between two buildings on campus.

Sens. Bean and Gibson bemoaned the current funding formula as punitive toward UNF, and not accounting for the unique differences between student populations between schools — such as working students.

“Compared to peers,” Delaney said, “UNF would be among the top universities.”

Marco Rubio backs Jacksonville Hart Bridge project

Jacksonville wants to revamp the offramps to the Hart Bridge downtown, routing regular traffic onto Bay Street and freight traffic on surface streets.

October saw the City Council approve $1.5 million for a design criteria study — a prerequisite to getting a federal grant that would help the city accomplish an infrastructure process that will cost at least $50 million.

October also saw U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio craft a letter of support for the project, which would hopefully see $25 million in federal funds via the Department of Transportation’s Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program.

“The city’s proposal will make needed improvement to the Hart Bridge Expressway in order to relieve congestion, improve traffic flow, and enhance access to the Talleyrand Port Authority,” Rubio wrote.

The project would allow “efficient movement of people and freight throughout the region,” catalyzing “economic and job growth,” Rubio wrote.

The project is deemed necessary by the Curry administration, which has invested in capital projects for the Sports Complex, and which anticipates a ramp-up for the Shipyards rehab project from Jaguars owner Shad Khan.

The city is pursuing a federal infrastructure grant of $25 million, with $12.5 million from the state of Florida in matching money and $12.5 million from the city.

Stakes are high: if the federal money falls through, so does the matching money from the state.

 

Lenny Curry’s ‘Kids Hope’ vision begins to take shape

One of the signature legislative pushes of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s administration — the Kids Hope Alliance (KHA) — was passed by the City Council this month.

The KHA, a new seven-person board that will replace the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jacksonville Journey, will command a roughly $35 million budget for services the mayor calls “at-hope kids,”  handling oversight of various programs.

Curry’s vision is beginning to take shape in important ways. The first nominees for the board will be advanced in November, Curry said.

And — perhaps more importantly — Curry is leaning on a group of young men at a local high school called the EVAC Movement, a group that he has repeatedly credited with opening his eyes about the potential of what the mayor now calls “at-hope youth.”

At Jacksonville’s Lee High School Tuesday, Curry showed up with suite passes for the young men to upcoming Jaguars home games — appropriate, given that more than a few of them play high school football.

But he had an ask as well — and that ask was tied into his comprehensive reform of children’s programs locally.

Curry asked the young men to address the future board members, once they are finally in place.

“Come and talk to them,” Curry said. “Be real with them and tell it like it is.”

What it is, of course, is an everyday struggle: one of trying to walk a path toward success that requires sidestepping myriad hazards, the kind seen in many Jacksonville communities.

“We are going to invest money into young people,” Curry said, and the mayor wanted the young men to provide insight into how those investments are to be programmed.

He sees EVAC as one model.

“You guys are getting it right with little to no resources,” Curry said.

“These young men are the example of what works,” Curry told media. “This is the model … they’ve lived it and are living it, they are pursuing their dreams. They are the reason in this city that we are going to use at-hope instead of at-risk.”

As the Florida Times-Union (which has offered the most detailed coverage of the program) reported, there have been year-to-year changes in the program.

What hasn’t changed: the need for a program like this, one that provides structure and guidance to ensure that people who could fall into traps that are all-too-easy to fall into avoid them.

Curry found his voice on the subject of “at-hope” youth during the 2015 campaign, especially when he started engaging more heavily with neighborhoods like Grand Park.

Discussing kids getting shot, Curry posed a question those on hand at one campaign stop didn’t expect to hear.

“How many more kids have to die?”

Fast forward to Oct. 2017.

Curry was asked about more shootings in Jacksonville in recent days as well on Tuesday — even with the high school students flanking him.

Law enforcement, said Curry, had been “gutted” by the previous administration — and Curry noted that his administration had worked to add 180 new police officers and 80 community service officers.

“It’s going to take us time to get those boots back on the ground,” Curry said. “I’ve been in office for two years. Close to 150 cops have been cut by those before me.”

“We’re digging our way out of the hole,” Curry said.

The Kids Hope Alliance, which brings together the prevention and intervention pieces, is intended to work with a more robust law enforcement presence.

Will it work?

That’s the hope.

Is Jacksonville hamstrung by fixed costs? City disagrees with Bloomberg analysis

An analysis from Bloomberg released Friday asserts that Jacksonville has the highest fixed cost ratio (31.6 percent) of any city with over 250,000 residents.

This analysis is sharply disputed by the administration of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, however, which claims that Bloomberg is using old data that doesn’t take into account pension reform.

“When you measure those fixed costs against a city’s operating budget, no major city is as embattled as Jacksonville, Florida. In the city of 881,000 people, fixed costs are 31.4 percent of expenses, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s driven by pensions, which made up almost 18 percent of expenses in fiscal 2016,” the report says.

Curry Administration spox Marsha Oliver has a different take, however, saying Bloomberg’s figures are “inaccurate and overstate our employer pension contributions. It appears that they have included JEA’s pension expenses in our figure. This is flawed and does not provide an accurate comparison to other cities.”

“JEA is an independent authority who pays separately into the pension system and their share is not an obligation on our general City revenues. They represent roughly half of the employer pension contributions to the General Employees Plan. If you included the local utility’s pension costs in each of the other city’s figures, very different results would occur,” Oliver notes.

“To adjust for this discrepancy,” Oliver adds, “they must back out JEA’s share and also our enterprise and grant funded positions as those are outside of our general revenues. The corrected ratio is approximately 27.3% which puts us midway through the chart they reference.”

“This is old news,” Oliver adds, saying the analysis cites “pre-reform figures from 2016.”

“Through our successful pension reform efforts which closed the pensions to new employees, replaced them with defined contribution plans, and identified a dedicated revenue source for pension costs, these figures have now been reduced for our FY 18 budget year to approximately 25.3%, which places Jacksonville toward the bottom of the chart.”

Pension has been the major issue for the city in the 21st century. While the defined-benefit plans that created the problem have been closed to new entrants since October, the unfunded liability continues to spiral.

Currently, the unfunded liability on city pension plans, not including JEA, is $3.2 billion — more than double the city’s $1.27 billion general fund budget.

Bond markets seem unconcerned; Oliver notes that the city boasts a strong AA rating, and that downgrade watches have been withdrawn by ratings agencies since pension reform happened earlier this year.

This summer’s successful sale of $147 million worth of bonds was described by Jacksonville’s chief administrative officer, Sam Mousa, in August as people “scrambling to buy” Jacksonville bonds, “a great indication of how great those bonds are.”

“The ratings agencies did well in looking at our history, stability, willingness to pay… these are good, stable bonds to invest in,” Mousa said.

Treasurer Joey Greive said in August the “bond results speak for themselves,” though later he conceded that “fixed-costs” were an issue for future concern.

And that jibes with the take of Bloomberg analyst Eric Kazatsky.

“Despite stable fund and cash balances,” Kazatsky told us Friday, “the city has been challenged by a steadily increasing fixed-cost ratio, which could put downward pressure on credit ratings and add to debt risk.”

Kazatsky adds that “the ratio, while very important, should ideally be used in conjunction with other FA data sets such as general fund balance and liquidity, as well as trends in wealth and assessed valuations.”

Curry administration members have thrown cold water on reports from Bloomberg in the past, and there is little appetite either in the mayor’s office or the City Council for being more aggressive in paying down the unfunded liability.

Councilman Danny Becton spent the better part of this year pushing a bill that would take year-over-year portions of increases in general fund revenue and apply them to the unfunded liability, with that portion eventually capping out at 15 percent of yearly revenue hikes.

Becton’s bill was shot down by two Council committees, but he didn’t pull it before the floor vote Tuesday, saying that the money put aside would be “very little … a rounding error” at first, with the set aside being expanded to $60 million by the end of next decade — at which point the 1/2 cent sales tax currently earmarked for infrastructure will be shifted toward unfunded liability.

Becton is concerned that the unfunded liability could be $10 billion with interest by 2030 — the year the tax is expected to kick in.

The bill had five of 19 votes in favor — including the council president, who was also a bill sponsor. But the Curry administration was adamantly opposed.

“We’re done with pension reform,” said more than one official.

Jacksonville Bold for 10.27.17 — Looking toward 2018

When it comes to statewide races in 2018, does Northeast Florida have a dog in the hunt?

That’s a matter of interpretation.

One of our big scoops this week — Congressman Ron DeSantis (insiders affirm) is ramping up for a possible run for Florida governor.

DeSantis’ wife is on local television; he represents a district a few miles south of the Duval County line.

Is DeSantis “local”? Depends on your definition.

Geographically, sure. But regarding actually appearing responsive to Jacksonville concerns, that’s an open question. There are few local Republicans who sing his praises.

Meanwhile, down the ballot, local state Rep. Jay Fant is running for Attorney General.

While Fant is positioning himself as the local candidate, regional endorsements have been split between him and his two primary opponents, Ashley Moody and Frank White — who got Reps. Cord Byrd and Cyndi Stevenson to back him right after entering the race.

Northeast Florida punches above its weight in Republican primary turnout, but there are very much open questions as to whether local pols can compete statewide this cycle.

DeSantis for governor? It’s happening

The race for the 2018 Republican gubernatorial nomination could soon pick up even more star power, this time in the form of Congressman DeSantis.

Obviously, that would open DeSantis’ congressional seat just south of Jacksonville, meaning the end of a somewhat anticipated general election battle against former Clinton Administration U.N. Ambassador Nancy Soderberg.

Ron DeSantis looks poised to leap into the governor’s race. Finally.

For one thing, DeSantis spent the summer meeting with conservative donors discussing the governor’s race.

There has also been a shift in online presence: DeSantis2016.com is now being redirected to RonDeSantis.com.

Likewise, the tagline on the new website speaks to a new emphasis: “Ron DeSantis for Florida.” As is a change in imagery, with lifeguard towers replacing Capitol Hill-style graphics.

All of this points to a pivot in focus — perhaps to a statewide run many anticipated back in the 2016 cycle when DeSantis dominated fundraising in the U.S. Senate race until Marco Rubio reconsidered his presidential bid and ran for re-election.

Time is of the essence for DeSantis’ launch, which looks likely to be in November; on the Republican Party side of the ledger, fundraising is already fast and furious. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is still the clubhouse leader, with $19.19M raised thus far between committee cash and money in the campaign account.

DeSantis’ entry could prove most damaging to Putnam, who is attempting to stake out the right flank in the primary.

Corrine Brown wants sentencing delay

There may be a chance that the Brown saga sprawls out into 2018, as her team wants to postpone her November sentencing at least four months.

A brief motion from her legal team contends that Hurricane Irma “caused extensive damage to her home and destroyed many of her personal papers and effects … severely affected her and others in their ability to assist defense counsel in preparing for sentencing.”

No word on whether this hat and jacket survived the floods.

“In addition, she was recently informed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that her home is inhabitable,” the motion reads, adding malapropism to the miscarriage of justice.

The feds don’t support this motion, and a full response is expected later in the week.

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown asserted in the past that he would launch a race against Rep. Al Lawson once Corrine Brown was out of the news.

More recently, he told local Democrats at the Duval Democratic Executive Committee that he will be on a ballot soon and to expect an announcement.

Cord Byrd ramps up re-election bid

Next month, Byrd begins ramping up his House District 11 re-election campaign in earnest, with few worries about a primary challenge as the Fernandina Beach Republican looks to defend a deep-red seat.

2018 is in Cord Byrd’s (and other state House members) sights.

Byrd is slated for a Nov. 3 event at Ed Malin‘s Angie’s Subs in Jacksonville Beach, a usual stop for Republican candidates.

Nov. 13 finds Byrd making his Nassau County launch at the Fernandina Beach Diner.

Both events have 5:30 p.m. start times.

Thus far, Byrd’s fundraising this cycle has been in low gear: he raised $400 in September, against $2,549 spent, bringing his total cash on hand to just under $16,000.

Byrd’s fundraising started slower than some candidates in 2016’s Republican Party primary election, yet it didn’t matter in the end. Expect the first-term Republican’s fundraising to fall into place in the coming months.

NE FL House members buck Jay Fant in AG race

Questions about Rep. Fant’s bid for the Republican Party nomination for Attorney General weren’t abated late last week when two of his Florida House colleagues endorsed a primary opponent.

Frank White took two key NE Florida endorsements recently. More to come?

Reps. Byrd and Cyndi Stevenson went with Rep. Frank White, a Pensacola Republican who is targeting NE FL as a hotbed for votes in next year’s primary.

Stevenson called White a “principled conservative who will stand up and fight for our shared values while always upholding the rule of law.”

Byrd called White a “consistent conservative and strong defender of the Second Amendment … an effective advocate for Florida and a man of principle and integrity.”

For his part, White included Byrd and Stevenson in his “statewide network of leaders who agree that we need a proven conservative as the next Attorney General.”

The case for White: Ashley Moody can be hit from the right, Fant can’t even lock down his home base. Expect more endorsements to go White’s way from this region.

Charles Cofer: PD office broke

In the Jacksonville Daily Record, 4th Circuit Public Defender Cofer made a startling claim.

When Cofer took office at the start of the year, its budget was in tatters.

Sheriff Mike Williams backed candidate Charles Cofer in 2016.

“It was projecting out very poorly. We had six months to make adjustments,” Cofer said.

Cofer trimmed staff, including a $70,000 public information officer position, early on.

“That got us caught up on the salary and benefits side. It gave us a little breathing room,” Cofer said.

Lower unemployment in September

Last week saw Gov. Rick Scott‘s Department of Economic Opportunity release September job numbers for Northeast Florida, a mixed bag in the wake of Irma.

NE FL’s hospitality industry is losing jobs year over year.

The good news, via the DEO: the Jacksonville area’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.4 percent in September, down 1.4 points from September 2016.

Unemployment rates ranged from 2.7 percent in St. Johns County to 4.5 percent in rural Putnam County.

The governor’s office prefers year-over-year comparisons, and to that end, some interesting results.

Two industries that have lost jobs over the year augur a potential economic slowdown: leisure and hospitality (-3,800 jobs) and mining, logging and construction (‐500 jobs).

All told, nonagricultural employment in the Jacksonville MSA was 677,000, an increase of 2,900 jobs (+0.4 percent) over the year.

Room for improvement

A new study reported by WJXT reveals room for improvement for Duval County State Attorney’s office at the end of the Angela Corey era.

Using 2016 numbers, the Caruthers Institute noted that 469 Duval youth were arrested for minor offenses and that 72 percent were eligible for civil citations.

Duval’s Sheriff’s Office and School District were given an “F” for their use of civil citations. Clay County got a similar score. Both counties are in the 4th Judicial Circuit.

Melissa Nelson and other local leaders: all smiles before issuing a May MOU.

Melissa Nelson took over the SAO in January, and in May issued a memorandum of understanding with local sheriff’s offices and other authorities to use civil citations wherever practicable.

“This new agreement for pre-arrest diversion will expand and enhance the juvenile civil citation program uniformly throughout the circuit,” read a release from Nelson’s office.

No censure for cop-conflict Councilors

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche mulled censure against political allies Katrina Brown and Reggie Gaffney after they bickered with cops last month — but decided to leave punitive action to “other entities.”

Council protects its own, offering Duval’s equivalent to diplomatic immunity.

Potential censure was floated two weeks ago, in the wake of a highly publicized and highly charged confrontation between Gaffney and Brown and police officers after a Council meeting last month.

Weeks ago, Gaffney walked back an attempt to leverage his power as a Councilman to check the officers who pulled him over for driving around on a tag he reported stolen.

However, Brown — who accused officers of racial profiling when she arrived at the scene — has yet to apologize. And has no plans to.

Ethics commissions — local or state — may be one recourse.

Another possibility: local Fraternal Order of Police head Steve Zona encouraging an ally on Council to file a censure resolution.

Things could get very real very quickly if that happened. But this Council prizes collegiality over most other considerations.

Opioid suit, Hart Bridge study, Section 8 rehab

The Jacksonville City Council passed a few bills of note ahead of next week’s timely “fifth week” break from committee hearings.

— $1.5M for Hart Bridge study: Jacksonville is looking at a way to get federal money to reconfigure the offramps from the Hart, with the current justification being to improve freight traffic headed to Talleyrand. In 2016, the argument was routing people to the Sports Complex; however, that wouldn’t get a federal grant.

Shifting rationales have emerged for the Hart Bridge project.

Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa pushed in committees last week for $1.5 million for a “design criteria project.” Tuesday saw the full Council green light it.

This $1.5 million is important, said Mousa, because the city is pursuing a federal infrastructure grant of $25 million, with $12.5 million from Florida in matching money and $12.5 million from the city.

— Opioid lawsuit moves forward: Resolution (2017-674) will allow the city’s general counsel to “investigate and pursue” a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, and choose outside representation. Each firm’s financial capability to pursue the matter is among criteria considered.

— Big-ticket rehab for Section 8 properties: Jacksonville City Council resolution 2017-671, which would authorize $90,000,000 in Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority bonds for Millennia Housing Management (MHM) to “finance, acquire, rehab & equip four Multifamily Rental Housing Developments,” was approved by Council committees of reference last week. It sailed through Council at large.

Rose Conry to CareerSource Board

This week, Gov. Scott announced five reappointments and three appointments to the CareerSource Florida board of directors.

One of them is a Jacksonville City Council candidate.

Rose Conry will be the Chamber’s Choice in the Jacksonville District 6 race.

Conry, of Jacksonville, is the CEO of Stafftime. She is reappointed for a term ending July 6, 2019.

Conry is running to replace termed-out Matt Schellenberg in City Council District 6.

Council VP Aaron Bowman, who also has a gig with the Jacksonville Chamber’s JaxUSA business development wing, tweeted affirmation, saying he “could not think of a better board member.”

Justice for Keegan movement soldiers on

It looks as if State Attorney Nelson is no closer to filing charges against Michael Centanni IV for shooting and killing Keegan Von Roberts in a neighborhood dispute.

Vigils for Keegan Von Roberts thus far have not changed Melissa Nelson’s mind.

However, First Coast News reports that advocates for Von Roberts’ side are continuing to keep the pressure on, with a vigil/press event over the weekend.

Protesters/mourners want a “police accountability council” — the latest in a series of proposals by Jacksonville activists to provide more oversight from civilians to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

Charter can’t impose a citizen’s review board; Jacksonville’s sheriff is an elected, not appointed, official.

Von Roberts’ mother vows to continue the fight for justice.

“I told Melissa Nelson, you get to go home to your kids. Mine laid there and died. I had to carry mine on my shoulders and my granddaughter I buried. So it is not a joke to me, it may be a joke to them,” First Coast News said.

Amari Harley death points to Jax infrastructure crisis

On Sunday night, 3-year-old Amari Harley went missing from a birthday party in a Jacksonville park.

The city of Jacksonville is still fact-finding in the death of 3-year-old Amari Harley.

His body was found in that park the next day in an underground septic storage tank usually topped by a “heavy rubber lid screwed down,” as Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry put it Tuesday.

Harley’s death, it will be argued soon enough, might have been avoided if he’d lived near a park where holes in the ground were adequately secured and fenced off.

During remarks to the press Tuesday, Curry spoke of “neglected infrastructure all over the city,” adding that Tuesday was “not the time to point fingers” at past administrations.

“Major infrastructure issues,” such as road resurfacing and public safety vehicle problems, “have been festering for years.”

Jacksonville’s Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa noted in a budget hearing last summer that the city could use a $400M capital improvement budget.

“I would ensure our roads and infrastructure are up to the standards that the residents of Jacksonville both expect and deserve,” Curry vowed in 2015 after the Liberty Street Collapse — which called attention to previous administrations neglecting infrastructure.

Clearly, there’s still a way to go.

Duval drone company gets DoD deal

Good news for a Jacksonville drone company.

Per WJCT, Drone Aviation Company got $800,000 from the Department of Defense for its Winch Aerostat Small Platform.

Why?

Drone Aviation builds high-end UAVs for a variety of different applications.

“With its multimission capabilities operating at the edge, the WASP delivers persistence in a mobile, small footprint tactical solution, one that enables our military to see and do more, without the high costs and significant support requirements of larger existing aerostat solutions,” asserted a company rep.

The WASP system also works at night and can be operated by two or more soldiers.

Orange Park goes green

A rollicking column from Folio Weekly takes a look at the Orange Park town commission’s 3-2 vote earlier this month to extend medical cannabis dispensaries to Orange Park.

“The new rules stipulate that dispensaries cannot be within 500 feet of a school, or of each other, and cannot have advertising signs that can be seen from the street. The city’s first dispensary has already gotten around that by having a delivery vehicle, which I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about soon,” per Folio writer Shelton Hull.

Orange Park gives the OK for medical marijuana dispensaries.

Folio notes that, regarding MMJ, policy lags behind the body politic.

“If there’s one thing that election cycle taught us, it’s that the will of the voters really means diddly-squat, in terms of the political endgame, which is why OP (where 67 percent of voters assented to the referendum) remains the only city in the county to actually do it, so far. The response from neighboring burgs, including Green Cove Springs, has been a resounding ‘Meh,’” Folio’s writer observes.

Scott names Victor Raymos to St. Augustine- St. Johns County Airport Authority

This week, Gov. Scott announced the appointment of Victor Raymos to the St. Augustine — St. Johns County Airport Authority.

Raymos, of St. Augustine, is the Association Executive and Chief Executive Officer of the St. Augustine — St. Johns County Board of Realtors and the former Chief Executive Officer of Sellers Choice, LLC. He is a U.S. Army Veteran and previously served as the chairman of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce.

Raymos is appointed to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Mark Miner, for a term ending January 2, 2018.

Jax nonprofit gets $4.8M Walmart grant for retail career advancement

Generation, a global youth employment nonprofit, announced a $4.8 million grant from Walmart to launch a new Retail Career Advancement program. The program will support career advancement within retail and adjacent sectors in Jacksonville.

The grant was announced during a symposium this week at the downtown Hyatt Regency Riverfront to connect retail employers and local agencies including CareerSource Northeast Florida, the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund, the Chamber of Commerce and Firehouse Subs, on how to retain and support high-performing retail employees.

In 2016, Jacksonville’s retail sector had nearly 1,700 job openings for supervisors.

Generation celebrates its $4.8 million grant from Walmart to launch a new Retail Career Advancement program.

With a goal to reach 1,200 Jacksonville workers, Retail Career Advancement is a six-week, free-of-charge program for training on decision-making and ethics on the job, sales tactics, theft prevention and handling escalated customer concerns. Students will prepare to earn a nationally-recognized certificate from the National Retail Federation.

In addition, trainees can get individual mentors for personal and professional support, from mock interviews to coordinating child care services to transportation issues. Since 2015, nearly 200 students have graduated from Generation’s two existing Jacksonville programs — Technology and Hospitality. This new program will expand to the retail sector.

To date, 14,000 individuals have graduated from the Generation program, which prepares individuals for careers in 50 cities and 120-plus locations across five countries, in the technology, health care, retail/sales, and skilled trades industries.

Interested students and employers can email jacksonville@generation.org for more information.  Admissions and enrollment are now open.

JAXPORT cargo moving sets record

Jacksonville Port Authority set a record for the number of automobiles and cargo containers moved in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

The Florida Times-Union reports that the Port Authority’s terminals passed the 1 million benchmark for cargo containers, a 7 percent increase. As for automobile shipments, JAXPORT saw a 9 percent gain, with 693,241 vehicles.

JAXPORT sets records for auto, container shipping.

“We’re challenged with space, and we’re trying to work through that,” JAXPORT CEO Eric Green told the port’s board at a meeting Monday.

Part of the growth came from Crowley Maritime, which shifted its Jacksonville-based shipping from privately owned land over to the JAXPORT Talleyrand Terminal near downtown. Crowley is among the top shippers to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

The T-U noted that Asian-based cargo grew to almost 400,000 container units, a jump of 19 percent.

“It continues to be our strongest trade lane,” said Chief Financial Officer Michael Poole.

Aviation Authority launches JAX Hall of Fame

Jacksonville Aviation Authority (JAA) begins celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) which happens in 2018. The kickoff event at Jacksonville International Airport included a special unveiling of the first Hall of Fame honorees at the Aviation Gallery.

Bessie Coleman, Ruth Law, Laurie Yonge, Charles Lindbergh, and Thomas Cole Imeson are the inaugural Hall of Fame inductees of the Gallery’s permanent exhibit.

“I believe Jacksonville International Airport to be an excellent venue to honor Jacksonville aviators,” said JAA CEO Steve Grossman. “With the amount of traffic, we have through our terminals, millions of people will be able to witness the important contributions these individuals made to aviation history.”

A display of the first Hall of Fame honorees at the Aviation Gallery. Photo by Adam Madrid

Bessie Coleman, 1892 — 1926, was the first black woman to earn a pilot’s license. Because flying schools in the United States denied her entry, she taught herself French and moved to France, earning her license in just seven months from France’s well-known Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation. Coleman specialized in stunt flying and parachuting, earning a living barnstorming and performing aerial tricks. She remains a pioneer of women in the field of aviation. She tragically died in Jacksonville April 30, 1926, when she was thrown from her aircraft while preparing for a flight demonstration.

Ruth Law, 1887-1970, who lived and trained in Jacksonville, enjoyed one of the longest and most colorful careers of early female aviators. She bought her first aircraft from Orville Wright in 1912 in which she became the first woman to fly at night. In 1916, Law broke the American cross-country and nonstop record on a flight from Chicago to New York, and had the honor of carrying the first official airmail to the Philippine Islands in 1919. In 1917, she was the first woman authorized to wear a military uniform, but was denied permission to fly in combat. After the war, she formed “Ruth Law’s Flying Circus,” a three-plane troupe that amazed spectators at state and county fairs by racing against cars, flying through fireworks, and setting altitude and distance records.

Original JAX cornerstone from 1968. Photo by Adam Madrid

In 1923, a local pilot named Laurie Yonge (1896-1985) offered airplane rides from the beaches. Rates were $5 for short hops, $10 for long rides, and $25 for aerobatics. His transport pilot license was the first issued in Florida, and his National Aeronautics Association card was signed by Orville Wright. In 1929, Yonge set the world’s lightplane endurance record in a 90 hp. Curtiss Robin. He flew continuously for 25 hours and 10 minutes, a record that stood until 1939. For many years, Yonge was Jacksonville’s official Santa Claus, arriving by amphibious aircraft for the downtown Christmas parade. No other aviator has brought such fame and success to Jacksonville both as a visionary pioneer and instructor pilot.

Jacksonville Municipal Airport No. 1 opened Oct. 11, 1927. Charles Lindbergh, who flew to Jacksonville in the “Spirit of St. Louis,” attended the dedication ceremony to promote the new airport, Jacksonville’s aviation industry and assure city leaders that passenger air service would span the nation. In the 1950s, the facility was renamed after Thomas Cole Imeson, 1880-1948, city councilman and later longtime commissioner in charge of airports and highways. Imeson’s work led to the creation of Jacksonville Municipal Airport, as well as improvements to its runways, hangars and terminal buildings. This facility was the city’s main airport for 42 years.

The Aviation Gallery and Aviation Hall of Fame are in the Jacksonville International Airport terminal lobby.

In Armada-Cosmos draw, Jack Blake excites

Jacksonville Armada FC midfielder Jack Blake continues to show why he’s one of the most exciting young players in the North American Soccer League (NASL).

The Englishman played a direct role in three goals during Jacksonville’s 4-4 draw Sunday against the New York Cosmos. The performance was good enough to earn Blake this week’s NASL Player of the Week honors.

The result also kept Jacksonville within touching distance of New York for the fourth and final NASL playoff spot.

Armada’s captain of the night, Jack Blake, was voted by fans as the Man of the Match.

The 23-year-old Blake has made a name for himself as a dead ball specialist this year. In a span of four minutes midway through the first half Sunday against New York, he whipped in a pair of free kicks that led directly to Armada goals.

In the 22nd minute, Kalen Ryden met Blake’s free-kick and headed it off the post, giving way to Drew Beckie to clean up the rebound.

Just four minutes later, another Blake free-kick found its way to Ryden, who was able to convert the second time around.

After relinquishing a 3-1 lead, Jacksonville trailed, 4-3, late in the game, but Blake came to the rescue again. In the 79th minute, the Nottingham native played a through ball to Charles Eloundou, who buried the equalizing goal. When it was all said and done, Blake left the field with a pair of assists in the 4-4 draw.

The performance capped off an already strong week for Blake, who fired home Jacksonville’s lone goal against FC Edmonton in a 1-1 draw Wednesday night.

The midfielder has been quite the find for Armada coach Mark Lowry. Blake was quiet in his first NASL season with Minnesota in 2016, but he has since blossomed into one of the league’s top midfielders. Going into the final weekend of the Fall Season, Blake has nine goals and four assists on his ledger in league play.

Sunday’s result kept Jacksonville’s postseason hopes alive, but Blake and his teammates surely left the field disappointed after watching their 3-1 halftime lead evaporate. Now, Armada needs a win over the second-place San Francisco Deltas Saturday, coupled with a New York Cosmos loss against Puerto Rico FC in a match that will be contested the same night.

Jacksonville and San Francisco kick off at 8 p.m. ET Saturday at historic Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park.

 

Lenny Curry on Amari Harley investigation: ‘The facts will lead us to the truth’

On Thursday morning, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry addressed local media on a number of subjects, including the shocking death of three-year-old Amari Harley in a Jacksonville park Sunday evening

Days after Amari Harley was found in an uncovered underground septic storage tank in Jacksonville’s Bruce Park, a tank normally topped by a “heavy rubber lid screwed down,” there are no ready answers.

A “complete review of the parks [and] processes” is underway, Curry said, with an active investigation happening.

“If the facts lead us to anywhere we need accountability in the city, there will be accountability,” Curry said. “The investigation has to happen, and we have to follow the facts … I will follow the facts, and where those facts lead, if mistakes were made, folks will be held accountable, processes will be strengthened, and this city will move forward.”

When given an opportunity to give a vote of confidence to Public Works Director John Pappas and Parks and Recreation Director Daryl Joseph, Curry redirected the question.

“We have to finish our review,” Curry said, “and the facts will lead us to the truth.”

When asked if the city had lost control of the narrative, Curry said that wasn’t the issue.

“Here’s what I care about. The idea that a family has lost a child. I’ve got three children,” Curry said, “and I can’t even imagine what they’re experiencing.”

“This city continues to mourn, and send out our prayers and thoughts to that family,” Curry added.

 

Opioid lawsuit, Hart Bridge study await Jacksonville City Council Tuesday

Among Jacksonville City Council agenda items this week: moving forward on a lawsuit against Big Pharma for opioids and a study of the future of the Hart Bridge’s off ramps.

(Not on the agenda, but worth watching: whether a move to censure two Councilmembers happens or not.)

____

Opioid action: Resolution (2017-674) would allow the city’s general counsel to “investigate and pursue” a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.

The bill allows the city’s general counsel to consider outside representation. Each firm’s financial capability to pursue the matter is among criteria considered.

The bill is on the consent agenda; barring someone deciding to pull it, there likely will be no discussion of the matter.

____

Total eclipse of the Hart: No, they don’t want to tear down the Hart Bridge. But they are looking at a way to get federal money to reconfigure the offramps from the Hart, with the current justification being to improve freight traffic headed to Talleyrand.

Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa pushed in committees last week for $1.5 million for a “design criteria project,” a prerequisite for moving forward on this “shovel-ready project.”

This design criteria project could be done in as few as four months, or as many as eight.

This would include a survey of the current conditions, preliminary design alignments (such as lane location and speed rates), and other such basic criteria.

This $1.5 million is important, said Mousa, because the city is pursuing a federal infrastructure grant of $25 million, with $12.5 million from Florida in matching money and $12.5 million from the city.

The bill cleared committees, and won’t get meaningful pushback Tuesday night.

____

Eureka, they’ll fund it: Jacksonville City Council resolution 2017-671, which would authorize $90,000,000 in Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority bonds for  Millennia Housing Management (MHM) to “finance, acquire, rehab & equip four Multifamily Rental Housing Developments,” was approved by Council committees of reference last week.

Along with the new money was supposed to come new names; 400-unit Eureka Gardens, 94-unit Moncrief Village, 74-unit Southside Apartments & 200-unit Washington Heights would be known as Valencia Way, Estuary Estates, Oyster Pointe and Charlesfort Commons, respectively.

However, three Finance Committee members with one of these properties in their districts balked at the renaming, saying (correctly) there wasn’t any local connection to the names chosen by Millennia. This led to a floor amendment to strike the new names from the bill.

The Finance substitute will be on the table.

____

Pension tension: The full Jacksonville City Council likely will get a chance to do what two committees did last week — reject a bill that would allocate portions of increased general fund revenue in future years to defraying the city’s $3.2 billion unfunded pension liability.

Pension reform restructured the debt on the city’s defined benefit pensions, allowing for payment to kick in, in earnest, in 2030, when a current half-cent sales surtax will be shifted to the defined-benefit debt burden.

However, Councilman Danny Becton has advocated for more money to be spent on the obligation ahead of 2030, and — despite no enthusiasm for the concept from Mayor Lenny Curry, a fellow Republican, the councilman has pushed forward.

The bill was bounced from Finance and Rules last week, with Council President Anna Brosche — a co-sponsor of the measure — sitting in committees as the bill was voted down.

Will the bill come up Tuesday night? It’s still on the agenda. Becton declined opportunity to pull the bill and workshop it further, despite suggestions to do just that in Finance.

Jax Jaguars President punts when questioned about Shad Khan controversy

Friday saw Mayor Lenny Curry join Jacksonville Jaguars President Mark Lamping, to announce the 2017 recipients of the Jacksonville Veterans Resource and Reintegration Center community grants.

Ordinarily, the main interest would be in the organizations, and the Jaguars’ tangible multi-year commitment to military and veterans’ organizations.

This year, there was gaggle interest in the comments of Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan, who has lambasted President Donald Trump in the wake of Trump’s criticism of national anthem protests.

“You have to give Trump credit, people are confused on the First Amendment versus patriotism, that if you exercise your First Amendment, you’re not a patriot, which is crazy … People are confused on it, (Trump) knew he could hit on it and take advantage. I think what we’re seeing is the great divider overcoming the great uniter.” Khan said earlier this month.

Khan also lambasted Trump’s response to the death of a serviceman,  Army Sgt. La David Johnson, recently.

“It’s so bad,” said Khan to USA Today. “It’s below the lowest of the lowest expectations. It doesn’t sound rational. It’s bizarre.”

Khan then said that the President was more offensive than NFL protests of the national anthem.

“Let’s get real,” Khan said. “The attacks on Muslims, the attacks on minorities, the attacks on Jews. I think the NFL doesn’t even come close to that on the level of being offensive. Here, it’s about money, or messing with — trying to soil a league or a brand that he’s jealous of.”

In that context, the response of the Jaguars President — who issued a formal apology letter for the Jaguars kneeling in London, a letter that has seen its veracity questioned — and Mayor Curry, a political ally of Trump, were of interest.

To sum: Lamping showed an elusiveness the Jaguars haven’t seen since the Fred Taylor years, while Mayor Curry gave a direct enough answer, one that reconciled the incompatibility of views between his biggest donor and his party’s President.

Lamping attempted to avoid discussing the comments, instead discussing the Jaguars as “the sports franchise that does the most to honor the military … a model franchise.”

“What we control is what we do here in Jacksonville,” Lamping said, as if the comments of the team’s owner are somehow separate from that.

“I don’t think there’s anything inconsistent with what the Jaguars do in this community to support the military,” Lamping said, dodging yet another direct question about Khan ethering Trump and his adviser, Steve Bannon, as intentionally dividing people and playing to the right-wing base.

“I’m not sure if it really matters what I say,” Lamping continued, saying that what mattered was that “Shad, Tom Coughlin, and I got together with a group of military leaders representing current and retired military members and their families.”

“We had a wonderful discussion,” Lamping asserted. “We talked about things that are important to them, what our experience was, and we left that meeting with a very clear path.”

That path, said Lamping, was illustrated at the Jaguars’ last home game, where the players asked “everyone to join them in a prayer, a moment of reflection, for those that are serving and have served our country, for first responders … for people that suffered through Hurricane Irma … for the tragedy in Las Vegas.”

Lamping contined in that vein for a while longer, clearly deciding that — despite multiple opportunities to address the Jags’ owner becoming the sports world’s leading critic of the President — it was better to spin and move on.

Curry was more direct.

“You know where I stand. I’m a Republican. The President’s position — he’s a businessman, his position on job creation, economic development … as inartfully as it is expressed at times….”

Curry then pivoted to a description of a policy dinner recently, in which the speaker was asked to sum up much of what comes out of the Trump administration.

“If I’m a passenger on the plane,” Curry said, “I’m pulling for the pilot … Right now, we’re all passengers on the plane. Last time I looked, we’re still in the air. And I’m rooting for the pilot. The President’s the pilot.”

“As inartfully as the policies are expressed at times, we’re all passengers on the plane right now. I’m pulling for the pilot,” Curry said.

We then asked Curry if he thought Khan was still “pulling for the pilot.”

“I don’t comment on other people — look, I have my positions. I am aligned with the Jaguars organization in terms of support for the military. We are aligned on economic development, jobs, trying to do things to make this a better city,” Curry said.

“I have been very clear on my position with the [Trump] administration,” Curry said. “And my support in the past, and I remain where I was yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that.”

We asked Curry to evaluate Khan’s acidic comments about Steve Bannon; the mayor pivoted.

“I have been crystal clear in the campaign and since the election that as inartfully sometimes as the policies have been expressed,” Curry said, “I’m a passenger on the plane, I’m rooting for the pilot, and we’re still in the air.”

Jacksonville area sees lower unemployment in September

Friday saw Gov. Rick Scott‘s Department of Economic Opportunity release September job numbers for Northeast Florida, a mixed bag in the wake of Irma.

The good news, via the DEO: the Jacksonville area’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.4 percent in September, down 1.4 points from September 2016.

Unemployment rates ranged from 2.7 percent in St. Johns County to 4.5 percent in rural Putnam County.

The governor’s office prefers year-over-year comparisons, and to that end some results are interesting.

Two industries that have lost jobs over the year augur a potential economic slowdown: leisure and hospitality (-3,800 jobs) and mining, logging, and construction (‐500 jobs).

All told, non-agricultural employment in the Jacksonville MSA was 677,000, an increase of 2,900 jobs (+0.4 percent) over the year.

Jacksonville Bold for 10.20.17 — Winning is everything

Politics in Northeast Florida — except when hot-button social issues like lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights or Confederate monuments are in play — is often a matter of mechanics.

Much of what we see in this week’s Bold: a matter of fundamentals, blocking and tackling.

We see it with our region’s two congressmen, raising money for the re-election and working together on a veterans’ bill.

We see it with a House Speaker of the future, who looks to use state law to take on “rogue” liberal cities run by “Bernie Sanders” types.

And we see it in City Hall, where the Mayor essentially is Ric Flair, his team The Four Horsemen, and everyone who gets in their way is grist for the mill.

While chaos and drama are typically what get the TV cameras to City Hall, the real action is far more quotidian and subtle: behind-the-scenes conversations, allegations and counter-allegations, and a well-timed forearm shiver for a pol who may have gotten ambitious at the expense of a larger agenda.

And just outside of City Hall, what bears watching is a rapidly developing 2019 field of Council candidates — men and women who could prove to be a dispositive, influential bloc of voters after those elections.

The idea behind Jacksonville Bold: to provide actionable, meaningful insight into the process.

Anyone can tell you who wins after the fact. We generally tell you before a lot of observers even know a game is being played.

House incumbents bank cash during third quarter

Republican John Rutherford of Congressional District 4 and Democrat Al Lawson of CD 5 continue to sock money away for 2018 re-election bids.

Of the two, Rutherford had the more active third quarter of 2017.

Northeast Florida’s Congressmen are prepping for re-election bids. Via WJCT

Rutherford’s total receipts are now up to $241,484, with $146,044 cash on hand.

Rutherford hauled in over $155,000 of that $241,000 total from January to June 2017, meaning he raised over $85,000 during the last three months.

Lawson has $190,126 raised (all but $51,000 of that from committees), with $97,876 cash on hand.

As of the last quarterly report filed in July, Lawson had brought in over $158,000, doing even better than Rutherford. However, it’s clear that fundraising momentum slowed down, with roughly $32,000 delivered in this quarter.

Rutherford, Lawson collaborate on veterans’ bill

Rutherford and Lawson, meanwhile, have joined forces for a new piece of veteran-friendly legislation.

HR 3965 — the “Veterans Armed for Success Act” — would appropriate $5M for job-related training and “transition assistance” for military veterans.

John Rutherford addressed media about his latest vet-friendly bill.

That $5M would go to eligible organizations in the form of federal matching funds, defraying up to 50 percent of costs.

In Jacksonville Tuesday afternoon at “Operation New Uniform,” Rutherford — who introduced the legislation —  addressed local media, explaining how the bill would work in helping military veterans with “transitioning into stable-long term employment.”

“Veterans get the job done and get the job done right,” Rutherford said, adding that his bill would help “set up veterans for success.”

Paul Renner takes on ‘rogue’ local governments

Rep. Renner foreshadowed some of what his speakership may look like in a recent interview noticed by Flagler Live.

Paul Renner takes aim at ‘Bernie Sanders’ type rogues in liberal local governments.

Urban values — more “liberal” than the rest of the state — look likely to be challenged.

“Part of this, to be real blunt about it,” Renner said, “what you’re seeing and this is part of a larger conversation could have is the concentration of support for a more center-left or left-wing viewpoint, and this is again not Flagler County, but our major cities, San Francisco, New York.”

“The Democrat Party has really become a party of dense urban areas, and the rest of the country tends to be more conservative, more Republican,” Renner added.

He continued: “So part of the fight, part of the sub-context of this whole discussion, is the reason we think they’re going rogue is because it’s Bernie Sanders in charge of your local city government or county government in some cases, and doing things that really are sharp departures from the way the country has become so prosperous, so strong and so free, and so states are stepping in to say, look, we’re not going to let you destroy all the good work that we’re doing and all the economic growth we’re creating in the state for people by trying to ban or shut down particular industries that you don’t like.”

“So there is that ideological struggle that I think may become more and more prevalent,” Renner added, “where you see battles nationwide, more battles between states as a whole that tend to be more as a whole, center-right and cities, again as a whole more big cities than Palm Coast, tend to be more to the left.”

Sanctuary cities were an example spotlighted in the article. But some fear an expansion of discussion parameters to matters like Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance as well, expanded in 2016 to include protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in public accommodations, housing and employment areas.

Business as usual

Florida Times-Union writer David Bauerlein has been routinely frustrated in his attempts to get an interview with Councilwoman Katrina Brown regarding $590,000 of city money that went to her family business for a BBQ sauce plant that ended up flatlining.

Sauce loss: Councilwoman Katrina Brown’s company has ‘jerked’ the city around.

Fifty-six jobs were supposed to be created in the 2011 deal, but none were.

Bauerlein’s piece amply documents a slipshod review and oversight process that spanned two mayoral administrations, while avoiding editorial comments.

It would be interesting if city officials were willing to review the incongruity of Brown sitting on the Council’s Finance Committee even as she deals with these issues. However, the reality is that is not going to happen. There will never be moves to remove Brown from Finance.

The Council lacks a willingness to police its members. And the head of the Ethics Commission is subject to Council approval in an upcoming legislative cycle.

Opioid lawsuit from Jax seems inevitable

On Monday and Tuesday, Jacksonville City Council panels OK’d a resolution (2017-674) to allow the city’s general counsel to “investigate and pursue” a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.

Will Big Pharma make a big payout to Jacksonville? Council seems to want it.

Full Council approval will be a formality and will almost certainly be conferred next week.

The resolution calls out “pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors” as potential lawsuit targets, yet does not rule out other targets.

The bill allows for general counsel to consider outside representation. Each firm’s financial capability to pursue the matter is among criteria reviewed by general counsel, and no out-of-pocket costs would be absorbed by the city.

The city would need its own legal action to secure its own potential recovery. This would not be a class action suit, as each city has its individual impacts.

Jax poised to move forward on Hart Bridge study

$1.5M looks poised to be earmarked for a “design criteria study” or changes to the Hart Bridge in Jacksonville — a priority of the Lenny Curry administration, albeit one with shifting rationales.

Curry first floated the project last year, telling the Duval Legislative Delegation that the idea was to route traffic onto Bay Street to drive traffic toward the Sports Complex and related attractions.

Now the rationale is different: the goal is to help semi-trucks drive freight.

Will Jacksonville get a federal grant to change traffic flow on the Eastside? Time will tell.

The project, supported by FDOT, would provide for “free-flowing truck traffic,” with a T intersection at Gator Bowl Boulevard to route traffic onto Talleyrand Avenue, to help improve freight transport.

This $1.5 million is important because the city is pursuing a federal infrastructure grant of $25 million, with $12.5 million from the state of Florida in matching money and $12.5 million from the city.

Stakes are high: if the federal money falls through, so does matching money from the state.

Jacksonville has one of three similar grant applications pending with the federal government, currently, though there is no timetable on when a grant may be approved.

Curry wins another pension argument

To the surprise of few, Councilman Danny Becton’s latest attempt to sock away more money for pension liability went bust in Council.

Becton sought increases in general fund revenue earmarked toward pension obligations. The Mayor’s Office doesn’t support the bill, yet it has been around for months.

It was killed again this week in Finance Committee, where Becton is a Vice-Chair, and co-sponsor Garrett Dennis is the Chair.

Another co-sponsor — Council President Anna Brosche — was in committee but didn’t speak up.

Danny Becton-nomics: a “no sale” to Council colleagues, despite leadership backing.

CFO Mike Weinstein threw cold water on the bill early on, saying “we thought pension was basically finished,” noting that changes to the bill haven’t changed the Mayor’s Office’s position on the bill.

Weinstein also noted that, even when growth abates, the compounding of interest hikes will demand higher payments regardless — creating a potential unfunded mandate.

“If we’re neutral one year, we still have to make a compound increase to the pension fund,” Weinstein said.

Another win for Curry. Another political lesson for those who stand in the way of the machine. In the words of Rocky Horror Picture Show, let’s do the time warp again.

Ron Salem gears up for race against Bill Bishop

A Jacksonville City Council race worth watching in 2019 features two Republicans: former Councilman Bill Bishop against Ron Salem, a well-connected 61-year-old making his first run for office.

Ron Salem finally has competition in the 2019 Jax Council derby.

Salem had the same reaction as many did when Bishop announced he was running for Council.

Given that Bishop declared his intentions to run again for mayor after the 2015 race, Salem wondered why Bishop had deviated from his confident declaration.

“[Bishop] decided to run for Council for reasons that were unclear to me,” Salem said.

In what has to be seen as an irony, Bishop may not be running for mayor again — but he will get a second chance at Curry’s political team, as Tim Baker and Brian Hughes are running Salem’s campaign also.

Currently, Salem has banked $101K.

In 2015’s mayoral race, Bishop garnered roughly 17 percent of the vote. He endorsed then-incumbent Mayor Alvin Brown, a Democrat, after his loss in the “First Election.”

LeAnna Cumber, Rose Conry launch Council runs

In the last week, LeAnna Cumber and Rose Conry each filed paperwork to launch long-expected campaigns for Jacksonville City Council.

Cumber, a well-connected Republican, will be running to replace termed-out Lori Boyer in District 5. Conry, a likewise well-connected Republican who will be a Jax Chamber favorite, is running to replace Matt Schellenberg in District 6.

LeAnna Cumber is well-suited to continue the Lori Boyer tradition in the district.

These campaigns — like those of District 13 candidate Rory Diamond, District 14 hopeful Randy DeFoor, and at-large candidate Ron Salem — will be run by Tim Baker and Brian Hughes, Curry’s political advisers who seem to be cornering the market on pragmatic Republican candidates.

There are those who wonder how Baker and Hughes are able to shape narratives. Spoiler alert: they outwork their competitors in this market, as insiders and those who cover the game know better than those who watch from a safe remove.

RIP, Jim Tullis

Jacksonville lost a former City Councilman this week; Jim Tullis died at the age of 75.

Former Council colleague Eric Smith was quoted remembering Tullis in the Florida Times-Union.

Jim Tullis was an insurance agent by trade.

“He was all about what was best for his constituents and the city of Jacksonville,” Smith told the T-U. “He was a very fair council president, fair with the public and worked very well with his colleagues.

“Jim always embraced the tough assignments and relished a hard task,” Smith said.

“ … He spent months on working out the comprehensive plan, which included zoning and other issues.”

So sorry, I said

Just as the Jacksonville Jaguars roll over on the field, their president did so in a grovel-by-numbers letter to Jacksonville City officials, apologizing for team members protesting in London during the U.S. national anthem.

Jaguars’ apology for national anthem protest — will it help with restive fans?

The team “was remiss in not fully comprehending the effect of the national anthem demonstration on foreign soil has had on the men and women who have or continue to serve our country.”

“Similarly, we today can better appreciate how standing for God Save The Queen may have been viewed negatively by our armed forces here in Jacksonville and beyond …  today we can understand how the events in London on Sept. 24 could have been viewed or misinterpreted. We owe you an apology and hope you will accept it.”

One meeting attendee has already come out saying the apology was bunk.

April Green to JEA Board

Jacksonville’s JEA Board will have a new member soon — pending City Council approval.

April Green has been selected to fill a vacancy left by Ed Burr, who stepped down from the board earlier this year.

Ed Burr’s spot on the board took some months to fill, raising questions for some media.

Legislation will be introduced by Curry this week, and City Council approval will be necessary for Green to join the utility’s board.

Green, an Air Force Veteran who served in Desert Storm, brings to the table extensive experience in business and marketing, along with a deep-seated connection with the community through religious faith and philanthropy.

Currently, Green is the chief operating officer for Baxter Technology, in addition to being the CFO/chief operating officer for Bethel Baptist Institutional Church in Jacksonville.

Previously, Green served as corporate tourism director for the Jacksonville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

A member of the Board of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, Green also is a 2015 Leadership Florida graduate.

Buc-ee’s to SJC; 120 gas pumps

In the world of convenience stores, bigger is better, apparently. And Texas chain Buc-ee’s will test that theorem as it brings one of its supersized one-stop-shops to St. Johns County.

This will be, reports the Jax Daily Record, a 52.6K square foot facility at the World Golf Village exit on I-95.

Expect these billboards up and down I-95 next year.

The board of county commissioners will mull the proposal within the next three months and could greenlight it from there.

If variances are needed, the process could take another three months, the Daily Record adds.

St. Augustine’s monumental decision

All those people gassing up in St. Johns County will need something to look at afterward. So why not Confederate monuments in St. Augustine?

First Coast News reports that the city manager is poised to recommend that the city keep its monuments — but with added verbiage offering “contextualization.”

‘Contextualization’ of monuments should solve everything.

“There are two options not being recommended by staff. First would be to do nothing, and miss an opportunity to tell the city’s complete history. The other would be to relocate it which raises a number of challenges including how to move it without physically destroying it, the cost and who would pay, and identifying a place for relocation,” a news release from St. Augustine city government said.

Staff recommendations will be discussed Monday at a city government meeting.

Debbie Buckland Chair-elect of Jax Chamber

The Jacksonville Daily Record reports that Debbie Buckland is the chair-elect of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

“The chamber is on the forefront of what is happening in our city and leads on important issues,” Buckland said in a news release.

Buckland is the fifth female chair since 1901.

She will be the chair in 2019 after former Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton wraps his tenure.

Jacksonville University highlights new downtown campus

JU is showing off its new downtown Jacksonville campus this week, a return to the neighborhood helped by a $274,000 renovation loan from the Downtown Investment Authority.

“It’s a proud moment for us,” JU President Tim Cost said in remarks reported by the Florida Times-Union. “It’s a red-letter day for Jacksonville University to re-engage its presence downtown.”

JU is showing off its new downtown Jacksonville campus at the SunTrust tower this week.

Three days a week, around 100 students will attend classes in the SunTrust Tower, which will be staffed by 30 faculty and support members full-time. With the planned executive MBA program this spring, more students, including some who will fly into the region, will be taking classes on the 18th floor.

According to the T-U: “The downtown campus is oriented to older students who don’t care as much about the traditional trappings of college life. They are more interested in being in an urban setting, and the SunTrust Tower fits that bill, university officials said.”

Burrito Gallery to open near St Johns Town Center

Local casual food chain Burrito Gallery is opening in the growing Southside area, nearby the St Johns Town Center.

Metro Jacksonville notes the restaurant’s fourth location will be at the southwest corner of Gate Parkway and Deerwood Park Boulevard, roughly between St Johns Town Center and the 335,000-square foot Ikea set to open in November at the corner of Gate Parkway and the I-295/9A East Beltway.

Burrito Gallery will be located in Gateway Village at Town Center, an 18.5-acre mixed-use development owned and developed by Cantrell & Morgan. Metro Jacksonville also reports that long-term plans for the $75 million Gateway Village at Town Center include “a 289-unit luxury apartment complex, a RaceTrac gas station/convenience store, an urgent care facility and over 38,000 square feet of retail uses.”

The proposed Gateway Village at Town Center site at Gate Parkway and Deerwood Park Boulevard. Image: Cantrell & Morgan.

Launched in 2005, Burrito Gallery was part of a wave of new businesses opening ahead of Super Bowl XXXIX. It soon expanded to Jacksonville Beach and Jacksonville’s Brooklyn neighborhood.

Specializing in handmade tacos, burritos, quesadillas and salads, Burrito Gallery was a local leader in the ‘Jax Mex’ concept, named ‘best burrito’ by Folio Weekly as “Best of Jax” and “#1 in the 904” poll every year by Void Magazine.

Jacksonville Zoo 30th anniversary ‘Spooktacular’

In October, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens celebrates the 30th year of “Spooktacular” Halloween.

The popular fall event will be three weekends:

— Oct. 13-15

— Oct. 20-22

— Oct. 27-31

Visitors of all ages are encouraged to take part by wearing family-friendly costumes for trick-or-treating, music, dancing and special scare zones.

Jacksonville Zoo celebrates 30 years of “Spooktacular” Halloween.

This year’s features include Sweet Pete’s Candy Trail, an all-new scare zone, zombies, pumpkin sculptures, and a two-way guest path.

“This is such an exciting time of year here at the zoo,” Zoo executive director Tony Vecchio tells News 4 Jax. “The entire staff pulls together to put on what has become Jacksonville’s premier Halloween event. We have been thrilling Jacksonville for 30 years and this year will be better than ever.”

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens will open each night from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Ticket sales end at 9 p.m. nightly.

‘Tons of fun’ at ZOOLights

Welcome the holiday season among sparkling lights and brilliant hues at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ Fifth Annual ZOOLights. Thousands of LED lights will transform the Zoo into a luminous winter wonderland filled with “moving sculptures, forests of lighted trees and animal silhouettes.”

The event will feature sculptures and performances by local artists — including some from UNF — a fairy village in the Range of the Jaguar courtesy of Rockaway Garden Center, and votives created by students of JU’s ceramics program. Along with thousands of lights and holiday music, guests can enjoy a unique view of ZOOLights by boarding the Zoo’s lighted train (the train only runs from the back of the Zoo to the front).

Guests can also enjoy carousel rides, the 4-D Theater featuring the Polar Express, marshmallow roasting, warm weather “ice” skating and more for an extra charge.

ZOOLights will be Dec. 9 -11 and Dec. 16 — Jan. 7. Closed Christmas Day.

— 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday — Thursday

— 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday & Saturday

The Zoo closes at 5 p.m. and will reopen for ZOOLights at 6 p.m.

Tickets are $10/Non-Members; $8/Zoo Members; save $1 when you order online. Special activities are an extra cost.

New this year: ZOOLights Value Tickets! Adults: $15/Non-Members; $12/Zoo Members.

Includes train, 4D Theater, Stingray Bay and Carousel (Children 12 and under).

Armada playoff hopes dented, tied for fourth in NASL

North Carolina FC earned a valuable point on the road Friday night at Hodges Stadium with a 1-1 draw against Jacksonville Armada FC. The draw keeps NCFC five points ahead of Jacksonville in third place and puts a dent in the Armada’s playoff hopes. The top four teams in the NASL table qualify for the playoffs and Jacksonville currently sits in a fourth-place tie.

In the 21st minute, Jacksonville broke open the game with a goal from Zach Steinberger. The Jacksonville midfielder found an opening in the NCFC defense and converted a chance that ended a 380-minute shutout streak for NCFC.

North Carolina FC dented the Jacksonville Armada playoff hopes at Hodges Stadium with a 1-1 draw.

NCFC responded just before the halftime whistle in the 36th minute, as Renan Gorne slotted home his sixth goal of the year. Combination play from Nazmi Albadawi and Steven Miller freed up Albadawi behind the Armada defense. The Raleigh native fed Gorne who converted the chance at the back post.

Following the break, the sides played an end-to-end game, but neither could find the back of the net in the second half and the game ended in a stalemate.  The Armada had several half chances but didn’t find a breakthrough.

“That was a really high-level game of football. You could tell by the speed of the game from start to finish,” head coach Mark Lowry said. “We did enough to win. I thought the guys were fantastic, we showed tonight that we can beat anybody and play with anybody.”

The result leaves the Armada out of the final playoff position on a tiebreaker with three matches remaining. The most critical of these three matches will come Sunday at Hodges Stadium against the New York Cosmos. The teams are currently deadlocked in the NASL table in the fourth and final postseason position. First, the Armada must contend with FC Edmonton who visits Hodges Stadium Wednesday night.

Jacksonville concludes its NASL season Saturday, Oct. 28, in San Francisco against the Deltas.

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