Lenny Curry Archives - Page 4 of 109 - Florida Politics

Opposing sides gear up for Jacksonville HRO public hearing on Tuesday night

Groundhog Day is over a week away, but those who attend Tuesday night’s Jacksonville City Council meeting will feel inevitable deja vu.

Some will think it’s 2016. Others will think it’s 2012.

That’s because the fervent arguments they’ll hear tonight on Jacksonville’s perpetual hot-button issue — expanding the Human Rights Ordinance to LGBT people, via including language protecting sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression — have been rehearsed for close to five years now.

And the meter is still running.

When the issue was last debated a fortnight ago, proponents outnumbered opponents in the council chambers.

That’s something that the Orlando-based Florida Family Action group, which opposes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, wants to avoid Tuesday night.

In an “action alert” email, the group calls for “all hands on deck,” and urges an early arrival.

“We recommend 4:30 pm or earlier to assure a seat and better parking as LGBT supporters of the HRO intend to pack the room.  Wear bright American flag BLUE!   We must show the City Council that Jacksonville does not want this,” reads the missive.

Offering further incentive: free parking in the parking lot of the First Baptist Church preschool garage for opponents.

The Jacksonville Coalition for Equality, meanwhile, is attempting to organize supporters with the same amount of urgency.

“Tomorrow is the big day: At 5pm, the City Council will hold the first and only public hearing on the #JaxHRO—and what happens tomorrow night will help determine the fate of LGBT non-discrimination protections in Jacksonville! Don’t miss out on this watershed moment in our campaign to pass the #JaxHRO,” reads their communications.

This third iteration of the HRO bill is shorter, with more attention paid in presentation for carve out protections for churches and small businesses, which is a constant sticking point for some fence sitters.

As well, there is language ensuring that the HRO can’t be used as protection, on “gender identity” grounds, for someone who may want to exploit the ordinance to enter opposite-sex public accomodations, such as restrooms and changing areas.

Will those changes be enough to get 10 votes?

Will they be enough to get 13, taking the issue off Mayor Lenny Curry‘s desk?

When asked last week whether he would veto an HRO bill, Curry wasn’t showing his cards.

“City Council’s job and role is to legislate,” Curry said, “and I’ve been consistent in saying I respect that. Any issue that they choose to legislate on, I’ll evaluate when it lands on my desk. That includes this issue.”

We noted that Curry had yet to veto a bill during his 18 months in office. Would he veto HRO expansion?

“Look,” Curry said, “there’s been a number of issues that have been discussed [during] the year and a half I’ve been in office. And I’ve not weighed in. When they legislate, that is their job, that is their role, they need to have their debate and do what they think is the right thing as a legislative body. And I need to evaluate that when it lands on my desk at that time … and make a decision from there.”

****

The vote is slated to take place February 14, and much speculation exists about how the vote count will go.

Some supporters (such as certain district council members) are happy to affirm their support off the record or on background, but don’t want to get “out front” on the issue.

Some people who may have been opponents in the past reportedly have been persuaded by prominent advocates of the HRO expansion; most notably, Jacksonville Jaguars (and increasingly, Jacksonville itself) owner Shad Khan, who continues to marvel at it being 2017 and LGBT rights still being debated.

(Perhaps Khan didn’t get the memo that “Jacksonville doesn’t discriminate“?)

Meanwhile,  there is a sort of meta-discourse among certain council members about the debate.

A great example of that was from a recent committee meeting, where Chairman Sam Newby pretended to upbraid HRO bill sponsor Aaron Bowman for not bringing his “book” to the meeting.

The book: a binder with committee issues.

Newby said something along the lines of “well, I was going to support whatever it was you wanted, but I might not now.” [That’s a rough paraphrase, to be clear].

Newby had, until recently, been counted in the “no” column on HRO.

Yet a statement like that sounds more like “call me maybe.”

****

The full HRO vote is on February 14.

Meanwhile, a variety of action items abound on the agenda for Tuesday evening. Expect no resistance on any of the following:

— Resolution 2016-766 would add “code enforcement liens” to the list of claims, bills and judgments that may be settled by the Finance Director, Office of General Counsel or Mayor. Nuisance abatement liens with a principal amount of $1,000 up to $4,999 would be settled by the Director of Finance; liens below $10,000, by the general counsel; and liens up to $99,999 would be settled by the Mayor with the concurrence of the General Counsel and the Finance Director.

— Ordinance 2016-795, authorizing moving money from closed capital project accounts to ShotSpotter and other city priorities, will, among other things, “appropriate $435,001 already allocated in a ShotSpotter reserve account to an equipment purchase account for installation of the test site … acoustic gunshot detection and surveillance technology in a 5 square mile area of Health Zone 1,” an area that historically leads the city in gunplay.

The $435,000 allocation was part of a larger package of $1.356 million of unused capital improvement funds that will be funneled into a variety of projects.

— Ordinance 2016-797, authorizing the disposition of 101 pieces of surplus property in Council Districts 7 through 10 and 14, will also be approved.

The total value of these properties: just over $783,000, ranging from a vacant lot valued at $140 (a great gift idea) to a single family home valued at just under $60,000.

Community housing development organizations get the first crack at developing these properties for single-family, owner-occupied homes as long as the CHDOs don’t have liens; CHDOs are allowed to handle five at a time.

Jacksonville mayor ‘not surprised’ by FRS reform legislation

Earlier on Monday, FloridaPolitics.com reported on bills filed in both chambers of the Florida Legislature that would foreclose the defined benefit plan of the Florida Retirement System to new municipalities.

This bill is especially topical in Northeast Florida because a major sticking point in collective bargaining between the city of Jacksonville and its police and fire unions involves the FRS.

The public safety bargaining units want new hires in the defined benefit plan offered by the FRS. And Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry wants those new hires to be on defined contribution plans.

With another round of collective bargaining between Jacksonville and its police and fire unions pending this week, these FRS reform bills will loom over the negotiations.

Meanwhile, while Mayor Curry asserts that he had nothing to do with these bills filed in the state capital on Monday, he also says the proposed legislation is “not a surprise,” despite the fact that it was filed on the House side by Jason Fischer, a political ally of the mayor’s.

“I’ve been hearing chatter out of Tallahassee,” Curry said, from “a number of folks over there who would not be comfortable with FRS” as a vehicle for defined benefit plans for new hires.

That chatter, Curry said, is from both chambers of the Florida Legislature, who say that “we hear discussion about FRS and we don’t like it” [in terms of including new Jacksonville police or fire hires].

Curry intends to move forward in negotiations “in good faith,” to “try and get a resolution.”

When the city last negotiated with the unions on Jan. 11, the local Fraternal Order of Police and the Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters were given 30 days to accept a defined contribution plan for new hires that Curry called “deservedly rich.”

That plan would offer a 25 percent city match to new police and fire hires, along with death and disability benefits comparable to those that current employees have.

The Curry plan also involves raises for police and fire employees (though not as much as the unions want), and a repudiation of the 2015 pension reform benefit that reduced benefits for those hired since June 19, 2015.

‘Tough but fair’ approach guides Melissa Nelson’s reform path

4th Circuit State Attorney Melissa Nelson rode into office wearing a white dress, surfing on a wave of hagiography, balanced on a board constructed on a sturdy narrative of collective anathema toward Angela Corey.

For many of those who voted for her, the job was accomplished when Corey was defeated in August by a blowout margin in the GOP primary. For Nelson, however, the job of reforming the office had just begun.

When FloridaPolitics.com caught up with Nelson on Friday afternoon at the State Attorney’s Office, she said the three weeks since her installation in office had been “busy” and “exciting.”

“I love this job,” Nelson said.

Nelson’s transition into the state attorney has not been helped by cooperation from her immediate predecessor, Angela Corey, who took whatever institutional knowledge she had with her along with the furniture in Nelson’s office and the building’s basement when she left office.

Nonetheless, Nelson is pushing forward.

“The challenge,” said Nelson, is “that this is a big organization and just getting to know the folks who weren’t here before … getting to know them and learning where they are in the office, where they fit … is a time challenge really.”

During the transitional period, Nelson put “a lot of thought and a lot of time … into the organizational structure.”

“I thought that was really important,” Nelson said. “When I first started the transition here, there was no published org chart. Through interviews with people who were here, we figured out what the org chart would have looked like had there been one, and then we put a lot of thought into the structure of it.”

“We didn’t do a lot of wholesale moves,” Nelson said. Rather, the thought was how to allocate human resources into “priorities and initiatives that were important to us.”

The org chart ended up being rolled out on Nelson’s first day in office.

Process documents were a different matter. Nelson says that a lot of processes and procedures existed “for decades before us.”

“There are people here who have spent their careers here. A question we continue to ask is why do we do this this way. We want to make sure that everything we are doing is for a reason that has a commonsensical value,” Nelson said.

The process documents her office is rolling out will accord, as with the org chart, with organizational “priorities.”

“Some of those are in concept form, some of those are in draft form, nothing’s been finalized yet,” Nelson said.

From there, the interview moved to the reality common to all elected officials who beat the establishment candidate, as Nelson discussed working with politicians who backed her opponent.

Working with them has been “fine,” Nelson said, specifically discussing a meeting with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, an Angela Corey endorser of 2016, who burnished his own political capital last week by mentioning a then-upcoming meeting with Nelson to media in the wake of the MLK Day shootings near the Jacksonville Landing.

Nelson described the conclave as a “great … productive … early stage meeting” in which the two brainstormed about strategies to quell the latest wave of visible violent crimes in Jacksonville’s Downtown.

“He made it clear that fighting violent crime is a priority of his. He wanted to support us … our prosecutorial efforts,” said Nelson, “in whatever way he could.”

Nelson’s tack, regarding moving forward and addressing the challenges of the 4th Circuit, differs in some ways from Corey. Initiatives are going to be rolled out, and she shared some of those with Curry. Among them: the “special prosecution” side of the office will have a “human rights” division, which will address hate crimes and human trafficking crimes.

Nelson stresses that the solution to violent crime is police presence; her office, however, will be part of that solution with creative use of prosecutorial techniques – something that is still evolving.

Regarding situations like what happened on MLK Day last week, Nelson believes that showing resolve to the criminal element is needed.

“You don’t let down. And I don’t believe we’re going to,” Nelson said.

“I ran on a platform, ‘tough but fair,’ and I think that is the message we’ve continued to instill … we will be aggressive in investigating and prosecuting violent offenders … and in continuing to support alternative courts and diversion programs for offenders amenable to reform,” Nelson said.

Key to that strategy: “connecting offenders to meaningful diversion,” as “it does nothing for public safety if we check the box ‘diversion’ and get the file off our desk” without “measuring outcomes.”

Beyond that, Nelson will deal with a lot of legacy issues left to her by previous decision makers.

Among them: “the decision to seek the death penalty, a review of officer-involved shootings, and the decision to transfer a juvenile to adult court.”

“We’ve given a lot of thought to how we approach those decisions, in a way that will be different from the predecessor administration. That comes back to communicating how we’re coming to decisions and involving more people around the table in reaching those decisions,” Nelson said.

Going forward, a “single prosecutor will not have the unilateral ability” to seek the death penalty without, Nelson says, a robust review process “in order to make sure that we as an office are consistently approaching those decisions and being fair across the board.”

“We’re going to employ a process that involves multiple people – both review and decision making. I will always be the final arbiter, so it’s not to abdicate responsibility, but really to give me all the information needed to make the final decision” within the confines of the law.

Nelson is primarily focused on policy. But the reality of politics now in Northeast Florida – as everywhere else – is that the next campaign will approach sooner than an incumbent thinks.

Nelson won last time without prominent endorsements; that said, she is able to deal readily with those who backed her opponent.

“Personally,” Nelson said, “I don’t harbor any grudges or any resentment with anybody. I said this during the campaign – I understand why people gave political endorsements. I’m focused on working together with the people who hold office right now, to the extent that our office needs to.”

Nelson does not believe that the office of state attorney “should function politically.” She will not be endorsing candidates; instead, she will “comport [herself] the way the federal attorneys ethically have to” and stand down on endorsements.

However, she does recognize the reality of needing to be able to run for re-election in 2020. Nelson still has a political committee, and impresarios Tim Baker and Brian Hughes are involved.

A salient question: what happens to the political committee?

It “may” be around at least “for a while,” Nelson said.

“I don’t know. I don’t know what the intention is regarding the PAC,” Nelson said.

“The decisions of the office – we will reach in an apolitical way, and not a partisan way. Make no mistake: assuming that we do good work, and would like to continue it, that I would have to run for re-election if four years.”

In short, the committee will be retained as long as she sees fit.

Jacksonville civil rights groups plan to take control of MLK Breakfast

There were rumblings last week that some civil rights leaders in Jacksonville were unhappy with the yearly Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast.

This week, there is written confirmation.

A letter in the mailbox of Mayor Lenny Curry from Jacksonville NAACP President Isaiah Rumlin let it be known that while the NAACP, the SCLC, and the Urban League will not be “pulling out of participation,” they have decided to “take the lead on planning this annual event effective immediately.”

“We believe that by bringing this breakfast back to the civil rights organizations,” Rumlin wrote this week, “it will more accurately reflect the vision and dream of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.”

This year’s program showed cognitive dissonance at times, between an excerpted version of the King legacy and the realities of Jacksonville’s socioeconomic and cultural divides. For more on that, read last week’s recap of the MLK Breakfast in Jacksonville.

There seems to be dispute among the groups as to whether Rumlin’s letter represents consensus.

As Juan Gray of the local SCLC told WJCT Friday, “I don’t know what [Rumlin] wanted to do [with the letter], but that wasn’t the accurate message to send to a mayor who’s already confused.”

The mayor’s office notes that Curry and Rumlin are going to meet, but that they are waiting to hear from Rumlin regarding an acceptable date and time for the meeting.

The city’s office of special events collaborates with these organizations on the planning of the event, with four planning meetings with the principals.

The Curry administration met with the groups in October, 2015. They had complained of not being included in the planning, and the current administration made sure that they were central, with slots to speak, seats on the dais, and complimentary tables.

Finances, meanwhile, may dictate that the city continue running the event.

2016‘s cost to the office of special events: $133,000.

That number increased in 2017, toward the $150,000 range, but final numbers are not yet available.

Northeast Florida reacts to ‘beautiful day’ of Donald Trump inauguration

With the inauguration of President Donald Trump on Friday morning, it was predictable that Northeast Florida pols would post thoughts on the event.

Some thoughts were sanguine, such as those from Mayor Lenny Curry and former State Rep. Lake Ray.

“It’s a beautiful day,” Curry Tweeted Friday morning.

Ray had more to say.

“The peaceful transition of power is unique to countries that value freedom for its people,” Ray wrote Friday on Facebook

“As we celebrate the inauguration of a new President, Donald J. Trump, may we come together as a people that value fair and free elections and may we wish success on the incoming President, his administration and outgoing President Obama.for wisdom as you lead our nation,” Ray added.

Cindy Graves, who succeeded Ray as chair of the Republican Party of Duval County, is in D.C. for the festivities.

She is wowed.

“It is hard to describe the patriotism, the emotion, the pride as we approach our nation’s Capitol among citizens from across America. I am almost overcome with emotion,” Graves opined.

Others were a bit more subdued, such as Rep. Al Lawson, who felt the need to message about his decision to attend the inauguration to two different reporters in the last few days.

That decision, we hear, was grist for internal debate in Lawson’s office.

On Inauguration Day, Lawson’s thoughts were of the end of the Barack Obama era.

“With the last few hours under the Obama administration, I simply want to say thank you Obama for everything you have done for the American people. You will be missed.”

Former House District 14 Democratic candidate Leslie Jean-Bart had a novel idea regarding protest.

“ACTION: TO BOYCOTT INAUGURATION, DONT TURN OFF TV. Instead, turn tv ON (but not to inauguration channel),” Jean-Bart advised.

Why?

Jean-Bart’s take: “if we turn off the TV entirely, it looks like the vast majority of all people watched Trump. But, if our TVs are tuned to other shows, it takes away from the ‘market share’ and makes the relative inauguration viewing percentage appear much lower.”

UNF Professor Parvez Ahmed, a member of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Commission, issued his own pointed criticism.

“Trump has assembled the Wealthiest, Whitest, and least educated cabinet in modern American history. They are not the only problems. As [a Washington Post article he linked to] makes it clear, “never before has one president assembled such a remarkable collection of individuals who are either unqualified for their jobs, devoted to subverting their agencies, or both, not to mention the ethical questions that will continue to swirl around this administration.” No wonder Kremlin is rejoicing while most Americans are scared,” Ahmed wrote.

This post will be updated as more politicians post their thoughts.

Lenny Curry addresses MLK day shootings, plans to meet with Melissa Nelson

On Tuesday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry addressed the latest downtown shooting at the Jacksonville Landing, which has already seen one gunshot victim declared dead.

Curry, who ran on a public safety platform in 2015, has seen his rhetoric undermined by not only an uptick in gunplay and homicides, but an uptick at high-profile events downtown this month, such as Jacksonville’s ArtWalk and the Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration.

Curry told assembled media that he had planned a meeting with Nelson well in advance of the latest wave of violence; however, the meeting is well-timed in context of the latest shootings on a high-profile downtown street as Monday afternoon commuters prepared to head home.

“Look,” said Curry, “this violence has been happening all over our city since even before I took office.”

Indeed, the final debate between Curry and Alvin Brown happened hours after a shooting on a school bus, a cataclysmic event which led Curry to say Brown is “never in the game. I will be in the game.”

Curry noted on Tuesday his commitment of resources to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office — “80 cops, 80 additional community service officers.”

“I’ve begun restoring the cuts that were made,” Curry said, “investing in equipment, investing in the resources that the experts — that’s law enforcement — tell me that they need.”

“Anytime this happens in any part of our city, I’m not going away on this issue. I’m going to remain vigilant on the issue. Giving law enforcement what they need and ask for,” Curry said.

“In fact,” Curry added, “I have a meeting tomorrow with the new state attorney, Melissa Nelson, that was set long before yesterday.”

“That meeting is to discuss,” Curry said, “creative and innovative ways we can work together to put an end to this madness.”

“Whatever resources are needed to stop this,” the mayor added, “it’s my priority.”

“I’m concerned about our entire city,” Curry continued. “I’m concerned about every neighborhood. Northside, Southside, Eastside, Westside, the Beaches. Crime has touched every part of this city. The entire city matters. Every zip code matters.”

When asked if he was worried about crime being used as an issue in his potential re-election campaign, Curry said no.

“I’m not worried about a 2019 campaign. I get up every day — I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about families that are impacted by crime and I get up every morning thinking about what I can do, executing on the power that I have to have an impact on this and put a stop to it.”

“It’s why I’ve invested resources in law enforcement, and will continue to, which is why I’m meeting with our new state attorney tomorrow to talk about creative and innovative ways to put an end to this,” Curry added.

Curry backed Nelson’s opponent during the 2016 state attorney campaign, even as his political team ended the political career of Nelson’s opponent.

With all the electioneering over for a while from both the mayor and the state attorney, expect people to watch and see how Curry and Nelson collaborate to stem the blood tide on Jacksonville’s streets.

HRO expansion looms over Jacksonville job creation presser

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry called a press conference Tuesday to announce “Project Green,” the latest in a series of job creation pressers.

“Project Green”: code for an agreement with Formativ Health, which offers management services for doctors’ offices.

Formativ expects to bring 500 jobs to Jacksonville in 18 months.

Dennis Dowling, the company’s CEO, said that it’s hard to “beat [Jacksonville’s] personality … enthusiasm and excitement,” noting that the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce “put this place over the top,” as Jacksonville beat out Tallahassee for this new patient access service center.

Mayor Curry likewise lauded the Chamber, a source of support for the mayor in the 2015 campaign.

“When the Chamber gets together … goes after a company,” Curry said, “we’re hard to beat.”

The Chamber brings things to Jacksonville — but also imposes expectations. As do other community stakeholders.

****

At the presser: Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Chair Darnell Smith, a big backer of the expansion of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include the LGBT community. Also in attendance: Councilman Aaron Bowman, a key part of the local Chamber and a co-sponsor of the latest attempt to expand Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance.

Meanwhile, hours before the presser, Ed Burr — a prominent Curry backer from the 2015 campaign — and the Jacksonville Civic Council reiterated their position in strong support of HRO expansion.

Thus, a functional paradox again resurfaced, with the mayor (according to some critics) lagging behind the business community when it comes to HRO expansion.

After the presser, we asked the mayor about the latest effort to expand the HRO. As has been the case, he has avoided publicly committing to a position on the current legislation.

We noted that Smith was also prominent at Jacksonville’s Martin Luther King Jr. birthday breakfast last week, and in context of that and the latest push from local stakeholders to expand the HRO, we wondered if the mayor’s position had evolved.

Specifically, we wanted to know what the mayor would do if the legislation cleared council with less than a supermajority of 13 votes, making it eligible for veto.

Curry noted that, last year, he had “issued an order extending protections to all employees of the city of Jacksonville, and the independent agencies followed suit.”

“City Council’s job and role is to legislate,” Curry said, “and I’ve been consistent in saying I respect that. Any issue that they choose to legislate on, I’ll evaluate when it lands on my desk. That includes this issue.”

We noted that Curry had yet to veto a bill during his 18 months in office. Would he veto HRO expansion?

“Look,” Curry said, “there’s been a number of issues that have been discussed [during] the year and a half I’ve been in office. And I’ve not weighed in. When they legislate, that is their job, that is their role, they need to have their debate and do what they think is the right thing as a legislative body. And I need to evaluate that when it lands on my desk at that time … and make a decision from there.”

“They’re doing their job right now,” Curry said, adding that he has yet to see the legislation.

The next public hearing for the HRO in Jacksonville’s city council is January 24. Expectations are that a vote will be held at the February 14 meeting of the council.

The “long game” of the civil rights struggle looms over Jacksonville MLK breakfast

Friday saw Jacksonville’s stakeholders convene at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday breakfast.

The second of these breakfasts for Mayor Lenny Curry, his prepared remarks were focused on service.

However, the city is working through a number of active civil rights issues.

Among them: expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance to include LGBT people, and a bill moving through the city council related to funding a position to ensure equal opportunity in city employment.

Thus, a tension existed — as it so often does in Jacksonville — between abstract ideals and historical hagiography, and the realities of life in a diverse city with competing interests and narratives.

That tension was reflected in the program, which attempted to stay deliberately big picture and free of contemporary politics.

While the mayor and some speakers kept remarks anodyne and positive, invoking Dr. King in a totemic, symbolic way, other speakers honed in on more specific, hot-button concerns that were reminiscent of the specific calls for social justice he made before his assassination in 1968

****

The early parts of the program avoided, as is often the case, a direct address of current civil rights issues, staying on a service theme established by Curry’s letter in the program, quoting King saying “life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others?”

The introduction from a local newscaster lauded Curry for bringing the “accountability that Jacksonville deserves” to the office, which was a curious syntactic choice from an anchorman.

Curry then took the mike.

“I’m so proud of my city this morning,” Curry said, of the “diverse” group of people assembled to honor a man who “did the right thing.”

Among other topics, the mayor discussed the city’s commitment to volunteerism, and pulling together, with a specific section about the recovery effort from Hurricane Matthew, “with hugs and love.”

“We are a resilient people, and we are a resilient city,” Curry said, before encouraging volunteerism with a “heart full of grace, and a soul generated by love.”

Curry then reprised a call from his inauguration: for the crowd to hold hands, chanting “One City, One Jacksonville.”

Curry then introduced Darnell Smith of the Jax Chamber.

Media wondered: would Smith discuss an issue he’s pushing right now, that being HRO expansion?

That wasn’t the case.

Smith, like Curry, said the event was “all about service. About loving one another, and giving our fellow brothers and sisters hope.”

Smith discussed King’s “many sacrifices,” reprising the mayor’s quote of King regarding “what are you doing for others.”

****

Though the early part of the program didn’t touch on current issues, keynote speaker Bertice Berry did allude to the linkage between the civil rights struggle for African-Americans and for LGBT people.

Berry noted that she had talked to a gay man, who had told her he had supported civil rights for African-Americans, in the hope they would support rights for him.

Berry called that the “long game.”

The “long game” of civil rights was revisited by a couple of subsequent speakers.

Jacksonville Urban League President Richard Danford urged the city to focus on remedying disparities, via taking a hard look at disparity studies, and the “allocation and distribution of city funds,” including contracts and employment for minorities.

These efforts, said Danford, would “reduce poverty and crime in this community … stir business development and create more jobs in communities of color.”

Danford also alluded to Councilman Garrett Dennis‘ “equal opportunity” bill, saying that the city’s independent authorities, such as JEA and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, “should reflect the diversity in the community.

The benediction was also rooted in contemporary issues in the city, with Rabbi Richard Shapiro calling for the government to “uphold laws against discrimination,” including for “transgender Americans.”

“The civil rights struggle did not end in the sixties. When minority groups voice discontent,” Shapiro said, “they’re not demanding special treatment.”

Media expected to be able to ask Mayor Curry questions about some of the more progressive statements from the mike; however, we were told that time didn’t permit such an inquiry.

Jacksonville Bold for 1.13.17 — Close call

Close Call: On Wednesday evening, the reports trickled in from Washington, D.C.

Rep. John Rutherford had suffered a medical episode in the U.S. House of Representatives, one which led him to require hospitalization through Thursday.

The fear expressed by many: a massive heart attack.

That speculation went out on Twitter, and the hours between the incident and official response from Rutherford’s office fanned the flames underneath it.

By Wednesday evening, word was emerging from Rutherford World that it was not a heart attack.

By Thursday morning, it was revealed that the medical issue was an “acute digestive flare-up,” and that the Congressman was slated for a quick recovery.

In other words, the best possible outcome to what could have been a horrible situation for the Congressman, his family, his friends, and the City of Jacksonville.

Rutherford, who was Sheriff from 2003 to 2015, has several friends in the Jacksonville media.

It’s hard not to consider the Sheriff — and he will always be the Sheriff to old-timers here — a friend if you’ve gotten to know him.

And when he declared his candidacy last year, Rutherford was defined — for better or worse — by friendship.

Rutherford immediately amassed the kind and quality of support that seemed to ensure that his nomination would be all but a slam dunk.

Even though a number of candidates emerged to battle him in the GOP primary, Rutherford had the backing of people with whom he’d built relationships for decades.

And he is loyal to a fault, even risking the support of Peter Rummell by extolling the virtues of Angela Corey, an old friend and colleague in the midst of a doomed re-election campaign for state attorney that Rummell opposed.

Rutherford, after his election in November, pledged to work across the aisle; in that context, it’s notable that Rep. Al Lawson, who also represents Jacksonville, and he have been discussing ways to work together for local priorities.

Lawson and Rutherford built their reps long before they ran for Congress, and the odds are good that they will find meaningful collaborative opportunities.

While there certainly will be some people who want to politicize Rutherford’s health scare, for most Jacksonville stakeholders, there are hosannas that it wasn’t anything worse.

Prayers for the Congressman from this quarter.

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Crunchtime for Curry: The holiday break, such as it was, is over for city of Jacksonville policy makers.

And Mayor Lenny Curry — the 2016 “Politician of the Year” according to our sister publication INFLUENCE — will put that title on the line as two back burner issues threaten to boil over on his increasingly hot stove.

The first issue: the City Council’s latest consideration of the Human Rights Ordinance expansion.

The public hue and cry began anew on that issue Tuesday night.

Contrary to what some think, there isn’t going to be some moment of epiphany for any of these council members based on what’s said on the microphone. The sales pitch was made — is being made — behind the scenes. Advocates feel good about the conversations they have, but the worry is — as ever — do some of their yes votes flake out when the evangelicals start snarling at them during the comment period.

They need 13 votes to get the matter through without having to worry about what Mayor Lenny Curry might do. Our Jacksonville correspondent counts 11 votes as likely yes votes. And that is even with Shad Khan and Paul Harden making the calls.

Signing an HRO bill into law for a Republican Mayor of Jacksonville is, in itself, a heavy lift. But doubly so for a politician who may aspire for a statewide run. It would leave Curry open to attacks in primaries from his right.

His office isn’t giving much indication what the mayor wants to do on this bill, but here’s a word of friendly advice: every procedural stumble that comes from the council suite is noticed in the mayor’s office, where memories are not short. It’s up to Council President Lori Boyer to not let this process become a circus, as it did when the council mulled this bill two previous times. Can she do it? It will be the test of her presidency, just as it was for Greg Anderson in 2016.

The Christian right is already accusing Boyer, a close ally of the mayor, of stacking the deck in favor of the LGBT community.

Bill sponsor Aaron Bowman, meanwhile, contends that, of more than 600 emails he’d gotten so far on HRO, over 90 percent favor expansion.

Will the 21st century come to Jacksonville? We’ll find out Feb. 14, when the council votes on the measure.

If the board does vote yes on HRO, look for two subsequent news events: what Mayor Curry will do, and whether or not opponents push for an anti-HRO referendum on the 2018 ballot.

Mayor Curry’s got other issues to deal with in addition to this one.

Key among them: completing the pension reform that he started off last year negotiating.

While the mayor beat the odds in Tallahassee, getting the measure through both houses and a friendly governor’s office, and then beat the odds with a resounding referendum victory in August, the game has changed for 2017.

Lined up against Curry’s posse at the negotiating table: the “union bosses.”

The two most formidable of those: Randy Wyse of the Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters, and Steve Zona of the local Fraternal Order of Police.

Both Wyse and Zona had negotiating sessions Wednesday with the city team. The police union was first, followed directly by the fire union.

And both unions are far apart from where the city sits, with the sticking points being raises and salary restorations for current employees, and whether even a generous defined contribution plan (with a 25 percent city match) is as good for recruitment and retention of new hires as the Florida Retirement System.

Curry sweetened the pot in offers to both public safety unions.

Curry reiterated his concerns about losing “local control” via FRS, before going into his administration’s offer: a 20 percent raise over three years, a full restoration of the 8.4 percent DROP rate of return, and a 3 percent COLA.

“It’s a stretch,” said Curry in the meeting with the fire union, “but it’s the right thing to do.”

There is a certain Kabuki theater to the relationship between the mayor and the union heads. While Zona and Wyse did help sell the pension deal last year, at least Zona hasn’t forgotten that Curry’s political team ended the elected career of a staunch ally of the police union and force — former State Attorney Angela Corey.

A highlight of the police union meeting: FOP Head Steve Zona produced excerpts of videos from the union’s interview with Curry before it endorsed him.

Curry extolled the benefits of pensions and vowed to go to the wall defending them, even to the “media” that “demonized” the unions.

Of course, that was two years ago and one referendum ago … and the distinction between “current employees” and “new hires” hadn’t occurred to anyone.

The Curry administration gave the unions 30 days to consider the current offer. They want the assurance of the sales tax money to be in play as they consider the 2018 budget. While that money can’t be accessed, the guaranteed revenue source (unlocked with the closure and renegotiation of at least one city pension plan) helps with budget projections, assuring the bond markets, and negotiating favorable terms for municipal borrowing

Logrolling begins for equal opportunity bill: Tuesday was a potentially key day for those in Jacksonville who seek equal employment opportunity in city agencies.

Councilman Garrett Dennis, who introduced an ordinance intended to counter employment discrimination in city employ by actually funding an oversight position, held a public notice meeting Tuesday at 1 p.m. in the Lynwood Roberts Room at City Hall.

Jacksonville has a long history of issues with employment discrimination in the workplace, including governmental entities. And the Equal Opportunity/Equal Access program, set up in 2004, was established to remedy those injustices.

Dennis’ legislation offers some concrete steps toward rolling back discriminatory practices.

Dennis’ bill calls for the following: annual reporting to the Mayor and City Council on the progress and state of the Equal Opportunity/Equal Access Program; budgetary line-item for the position of Equal Opportunity/Equal Access assistant director; and an “annual review” of “adherence and commitment” to the ordinance by the CEOs of the city’s independent authorities.

“How the Mayor will sell ShotSpotter to city council” via Florida Politics — Ordinance 2016-795 will, among other things, “appropriate $435,001 already allocated in a ShotSpotter reserve account to an equipment purchase account for installation of the test site … acoustic gunshot detection and surveillance technology in a 5-square mile area of Health Zone 1.” Health Zone 1 encompasses five Jacksonville Journey ZIP codes, including 32209, which was described by the Florida Times-Union as “Jacksonville’s killing fields.” Mayor Curry‘s chief of staff, Kerri Stewart, emailed stakeholders with her expectations as to how the bill might proceed through its three committees of reference: the Neighborhoods, Community Investments and Services committee on Tuesday, Jan. 17; the Public Health and Safety committee on the 18th; and Finance on the 19th. Stewart’s advice: expect questions relative to the Jacksonville Journey anti-crime initiative, rebooted by Mayor Curry early in his term.

“Jax council auditor, ethics director tangle over Kerri Stewart investigation” via Florida Politics — Kerri Stewart, the chief of staff for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, spent much of 2016 under the cloud of an ethics investigation. During a previous stint with the city, Stewart served as chief administrative officer for Mayor John Peyton. While serving in that role, a lobbying group — Infinity Global Solutions, known during the period in question as “Agency Approval and Development” — got a contract in 2007. The agreement with what would eventually become the current IGS started as a purchase order in March 2007 for $85,000, and over the years, expanded to a contract with amendments that grew to $953,000. The deal was for consulting. It was a no-bid contract. And Stewart ended up working for IGS after leaving city employment, before coming back to the mayor’s office. This raised questions for a private citizen, which spurred a report from the council auditor as part of what would become an ethics investigation … ethics director, Carla Miller, cast some doubt as to the integrity of the council auditor process.

“Councilwoman’s sauce plant slapped with sales tax warrant” via Florida Politics — KJB Specialties, a Jacksonville company that has Councilwoman Katrina Brown as a managing partner, has been slapped with sales tax warrants recently. One warrant, totaling $5,236, was issued on Sept. 10, 2016. Brown has asserted previously that said warrant was satisfied. The second warrant, totaling $5,219, was issued January 3, 2017 … CoWealth LLC, which has been in the news for failing to fulfill job creation goals for a Westside Jacksonville barbecue sauce plant for which the company secured $590,000 in loans and grants from the city, finally paid its 2015 property taxes December 30. The company is still technically in default of the agreement with the city’s Office of Economic Development … The company failed to provide the mandated financial audit statements for 2014 and 2015. CoWealth also is in trouble with the Small Business Association.

MLK Breakfast for Curry today: The city’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast will be held Friday morning at the Prime Osborn Center.

Don’t expect hot quotes from the dais.

The event will be hosted by Action News Jax’s Tenikka Hughes and First Coast News personality Anthony Austin is also a featured speaker in some capacity.

The keynote speaker, sociologist Bertice Berry, will offer rousing and engaging remarks that will not offer anything like the real social critique that characterized King’s life.

However, if a recent MLK breakfast — from 2015 — is any indication, the real fireworks might pop off during any media avail after the event.

After Alvin Brown’s last MLK breakfast as mayor, he faced questions about a hot-button issue: Duval Clerk of Court Ronnie Fussell terminating courthouse wedding ceremonies to ensure his employees wouldn’t have to bless same-sex unions.

Stephen Dare of MetroJacksonville.com got the ball rolling, asking Mayor Brown his position on courthouse wedding ceremonies, at which point the mayor reiterated the non-answer he’d been giving local media since the Fussell decision, saying that it’s “very clear that the court has made a decision, and have to respect and follow the law” — an utterly ambiguous bowl of word salad with passive-voice dressing that said precisely nothing.

As the news conference was being concluded, this reporter posed a follow-up question to Dare’s, asking the mayor whether he supported or opposed the Fussell decision, in the hopes of finally getting a clear position stated.

Mayor Brown mentioned that “judges are now having weddings” in chambers and that the American Bar Association had stepped up and filled the void that Duval County left when it decided to deny the long-standing public accommodation of courthouse weddings. And all of that sounded fine. But it was clearly an attempt to mollify supporters on the right while giving nothing to those on the left.

Will history repeat in 2017? With an HRO expansion bill in front of council, will Curry be asked about analogies between the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement of today? Will he be pressed to explain what he meant when he said that legislation expanding the HRO wouldn’t be “prudent”?

Jacksonville’s leaders — like those in many other places — employ a hagiographical depiction of Dr. King by way of punting on more contemporary concerns. It’s the coin of the realm in some ways.

Will the press press Curry on what he means when he says lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender protections citywide aren’t “prudent”? Find out Friday.

D.C. State of Mind: Two former Jacksonville City Council assistants have jobs on Capitol Hill now, we can report.

Jenny Busby moved to the D.C. office of Rep. Al Lawson as a legislative assistant. The well-connected Jacksonville native will serve as a bridge to the eastern part of Congressional District 5.

Busby was recommended to Lawson by a virtual who’s who of Jacksonville politics.

Katie Schoettler, who was sought by a few Republican offices, landed as an assistant to the Majority Staff of the Natural Resources Committee.

Busby and Schoettler, friends since childhood, moved to Washington late last year.

Notable: their offices are five doors apart … continuing their locational synergy.

Busby had the following to say, via a news release from Lawson’s D.C. office.

“As a Jacksonville native, I am thrilled, and honored, to be given the opportunity to support Congressman Lawson as he works on behalf of Duval County and fights for the interests of Northeast Florida.

“I look forward to drawing on my policy expertise working for City Council, and hope that the relationships I’ve built over the years will be an asset to Congressman Lawson as he strives to represent the interests of his constituents,” Busby said.

Busby and Schoettler, in addition to their city council work, also staged an event driving millennial support for the pension reform referendum last summer.

In doing that kind of work, they garnered meaningful recommendations from many Jacksonville stakeholders, which gave them their picks of D.C. jobs weeks after relocating to the nation’s capital.

“Ritz plans celebration of HOF African-American golfers” via Florida Politics — Sports and Entertainment head Dave Herrell noted in an internal email that his department is “working with the World Golf Hall of Fame, SMG and JAXSPORTS on a collaborative Black History Month event at the Ritz Theatre & Museum.” The tentative start time for the “program and light luncheon” is Feb. 1 at noon. The Ritz will host a display of African-American Hall of Fame golfers. 

“Judicial nominations expire; Jacksonville nominee likely out” via Larry Hannan of the Florida Times-Union — With the election of Donald Trump as the new president and Republican control of Congress, Jacksonville U.S. Magistrate Patricia Barksdale appears unlikely to be sworn in to the federal bench anytime soon. Nominated in April by President Barack Obama, that nomination expired in December when the previous Congress adjourned without voting on her. Barksdale would only get on the bench in the unlikely event Trump reappointed her. Barksdale was appointed to fill one of two vacancies in the Middle District of Florida that runs from Jacksonville to Naples. Tampa attorney William Jung got the other nomination and also didn’t get a vote before the previous Congress adjourned. The issue is occurring throughout the country.

“Tallahassee pol appeals to Al Lawson for help with mental health ‘emergency’” via Karl Etters of Tallahassee Democrat — Citing a mental health emergency in Leon County, Commissioner Bill Proctor is urging newly-elected Congressman Lawson to help promote efforts to provide intermediate care for mentally ill residents. Proctor, in a letter … pointed out in North Florida, mental health efforts focus on either long-term or temporary care. “There are no midlevel facilities that would serve the medical community for persons who need intermediate care,” Proctor wrote. “As you are aware, this has been a sore need for North Florida residents for a number of years.” Proctor’s letter comes on the heels of the arrest of his son, Jordan Proctor, last week in connection with a bank robbery. He is being held without bond. Over the past few years, the 21-year-old has faced armed robbery and drug possession charges but has avoided trial because of his mental state.

Lawson to target food deserts on Ag committee” via Florida Politics – Lawson announced his appointment to the Agriculture Committee, a key assignment for his largely rural North Florida district. For Lawson, whose biggest outreach issue during the 2016 campaign was to Jacksonville, the Ag appointment allows him to make inroads into solving issues seen in the Jacksonville part of his district — specifically, food deserts in the Urban Core and Northwest Jacksonville. Lawson, who already has been appointed regional whip by House whip Steny Hoyer, is establishing himself as a candidate for re-election who will have an easier path in 2018 than he did in 2016, when he dismantled the Corrine Brown machine in the Democratic primary.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn lobbies Rick Scott over vacant Flagler County commission post” via POLITICO Florida — The Texas Republican penned a handwritten letter to Scott in August recommending Greg Hansen, his brother-in-law, for the open commission seat. “Gov. Scott, you couldn’t do better than my brother-in-law, Greg Hansen, as Flagler County Commissioner, District 2. All the best,” read the note, which was sent on his Senate letterhead. Hansen, who got a total of five letters in support, is a U.S. Navy veteran and involved in local Republicans politics, according to local media reports.

Aaron Bean gears up for busy week” — Sen. Bean is gearing up for a busy few weeks, according to his office. Bean is scheduled to take part in the Duval County legislative delegation meeting at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Jacksonville Council Chambers, 117 West Duval Street in Jacksonville. He’ll then be presented with a proclamation recognizing his support for state funding for Nassau County stormwater projects at 6 p.m. in Fernandina Beach City Commission Chambers, 204 Ash Street in Fernandina Beach. On Wednesday, he’s scheduled to attend the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Northeast Florida Regional Meeting at 8 a.m. at The River Club, 1 Independent Drive in Jacksonville. He is scheduled to hold an open house at his new district office, 13453 North Main Street, Suite 301 in Jacksonville at 4 p.m. on Thursday. He’ll cap off the week with a tour of the PACE Center for Girls, 2933 University Boulevard North in Jacksonville, at 10 a.m.; before heading over to the Metro Diner, 1534 3rd Street North in Jacksonville Beach, at 11:30 a.m. to host his annual luncheon with the mayors and city managers of Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach. Looking ahead to Jan. 30, Bean will receive the Boys & Girls Club’s Legislative Champion Award at 5 p.m. at the Boys & Girls Club of Northeast Florida, 555 West 25th Street in Jacksonville.

“Travis Hutson seeks help for hurricane-damaged homes” via Florida Politics — Florida bore the brunt of Hurricane Matthew … For homeowners who suffered damage, a particular burden was imposed, via property appraisals that fit the period before the storm wrecked their houses … Hutson filed a bill that would compel property appraisers to reduce the assessment of properties “damaged or destroyed” by natural disaster. Natural disasters are defined in Senate Bill 272 as including earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricanes, sinkholes or tornadoes. Residential properties, in Hutson’s bill, are restricted to the actual living quarters; toolsheds, swimming pools, and such would not qualify for relief. The legislative threshold for relief: properties rendered “uninhabitable” by the damage. The deadline for filing for relief: March 1 in the year after the natural disaster.

“Cord Byrd takes on ‘breach of the peace’ statute” via Florida Politics — Florida Statute defines “breach of the peace” with language from a bygone era, describing it as “acts … of a nature to corrupt the public morals, or outrage the sense of public decency, or affect the peace and quiet of persons who may witness them.” Rep. Cord Byrd … filed a bill to amend relevant statute to remove that dated term … and to offer recourse for gun owners who had weapons seized by law enforcement and have been frustrated in recovering their property because statutory language allows law enforcement to keep weapons seized in an investigation unless a court order is issued. House Bill 6013 excises the “breach of the peace” language in statute, reframing offenses like brawling and fighting as “disorderly conduct.” Byrd asserted that “breach of the peace is used as a mechanism to deny people their firearms.”

Save the date:

Ethics hammer for Charles and Katherine Van Zant” via Florida Politics –The ethics complaints against the former state representative and his wife involve failure to disclose ownership of a condo in Orange Park. The income and co-ownership of the condo with Mrs. Van Zant was disclosed in an amended form in 2012, but was excised in 2013 through 2015. Interestingly, one of the complainants in the Charles Van Zant case: former Republican Party of Florida chair Leslie Dougher. Dougher and Mrs. Van Zant ran an aggressive race to replace Mr. Van Zant in Tallahassee; both lost in the GOP primary to Rep. Bobby Payne. Dougher and another complainant, Chip Laibl, essentially filed the same complaint; the hearing will combine the two separately filed complaints into one. Mr. Van Zant contends that his attorney and he thought the property in question was “conveyed” to a property company in 2007.

First Coast sees busiest year for home construction in a decade” via Roger Bull of the Florida Times-Union — According to the Northeast Florida Builders Association, 7,906 permits for new homes were issued in the four-county area. That’s almost 1,200 more than in 2015 and more than twice the number issued in 2009, 2010 or 2011 when less than 3,300 were issued each year. But it’s still less than half the 17,753 that came in the peak of the building boom in 2005. St. Johns continues to lead the counties with 3,307 permits, followed by Duval at 2,709, Clay at 960 and Nassau at 930. Figures for December were exactly the same as November but slightly down from December 2015. The 188 permits issued in St. Johns County last month was the lowest there since May 2015.

Land swap proposal dead, St. Johns River district spokeswoman says” via Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida – The possibility of swapping land at the Bull Creek Wildlife Management Area with Kempfer Cattle Co. of St. Cloud had generated opposition among some environmentalists and some hunters who used the land … district spokeswoman Tiffany Cowie said the agency and Kempfer family were unable to reach agreement on a deal … the Jan. 31 meeting has been canceled because there is no agreement.

“City awaits riverfront development pitches” via Dave Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — A two-month countdown has started for developers to submit proposals for 70 acres of city-owned, riverfront land comprising both The Shipyards and Metropolitan Park in downtown … Jacksonville Jaguars and owner Shad Khan have already expressed interest in the property. Met Park is across the street from Daily’s Place, which is the amphitheater and indoor flex field the Jaguars and the city are building beside EverBank Field. Based on the notice issued this week for the property, the city will know by a March 8 deadline whether any other developers are interested in putting their mark on the parcel, which is the largest tract of riverfront land in downtown.

Jacksonville judge receives pro bono service award” via Larry Hannan of The Florida Times-Union —  Jacksonville Circuit Judge Virginia Baker Norton has been awarded the 2017 Distinguished Judicial Service Award that honors outstanding and sustained service to the public as it relates to support of pro bono legal services. Norton will be presented the award Jan. 19 in Tallahassee at a ceremony at the Florida Supreme Court building. Norton is credited for her role with the Developing Adults with Necessary Skills, or DAWN, program at the Duval County jail. The program gives inmates vocational training and life skills and helps them earn a high school equivalency diploma.

UNF sees big jump in online program in U.S. News rankings” via Timothy Gibbons of the Jacksonville Business Journal — The University of North Florida has the 48th best online bachelor’s degree program in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking. Two colleges down the road a bit south fared even better: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University topped the list with a perfect 100 and Daytona State College tied for 15th place with a score of 87. The University of Florida’s program came in at No. 20 with a score of 86 and Florida State at No. 36 with a score of 82. Both schools also ranked highly in online MBAs, with UF tying for fifth place with a score of 89 and Florida State coming in at 16th with a score of 78. … “It’s very rewarding to have U.S. News & World Report rank our bachelor’s and graduate education online programs among the best in the nation,” UNF President John Delaney said in a statement. “Faculty in our online programs are committed to this form of program delivery and have developed course materials and teaching methods that are second to none.”

Report: UNF to use border collier to ward off Canada geese” via Erik Avanier of News4Jax — The University of North Florida has found a solution to its Canada geese problem on campus. Complaints about the Canada geese and the birds’ noticeable amount of droppings everywhere prompted school officials to take action. UNF is now relying on border collies to keep the geese away. Border collies have long been used to herd animals. … The university decided to use a company called Goose Masters, a company that specializes in goose control by using dogs to chase off geese. School officials used the company over the winter break to minimize disruption to the campus community. The method of geese control makes geese think their habitat is threatened even though they aren’t really in any danger.

MBF Champions for Child Safety tournament raises $136,000” via the Ponte Vedra Recorder — More than $136,000 was raised at the recent Monique Burr Foundation for Children’s annual Pro Am Golf Tournament. The 19th annual event, now known as the MBF Champions for Child Safety Pro Am, was held at the Palencia Club. This year’s tournament produced a hole-in-one from amateur golfer Tom Young. In addition to honorary chairs Fred Funk, Jim Furyk and Mark McCumber, 18 more pros participated in the tournament, paired with amateur teams at the Heritage Capital Group Pairings Party the evening before the tournament. “We are very grateful to all the sponsors, participants and honorary chairs,” Executive Director Lynn Layton said. “Their support means that children across our state will have access to MBF Child Safety Matters, an educational program designed to prevent bullying and child abuse.”

“Symphony in 60 builds audience” via Fran Ruchalski of Jacksonville Financial News & Daily Record — The symphony began the Thursday night events last season, shortly after music director Courtney Lewis arrived … The target audience isn’t necessarily youngsters … It’s Downtown workers and others who don’t typically attend a full performance of the symphony. Based on last season’s success, the symphony increased the hourlong Thursday night performances to four this season. The evening has a more casual air, starting off with a happy hour where the attendees enjoy beverages and hors d’oeuvres at 5:30 p.m. The hourlong performance follows at 6:30 p.m. The evening concludes with an after-party where members of the audience can meet and talk with the musicians. Tickets are $25. And audiences are responding. More than 600 were sold for Thursday’s event.

Tom Coughlin: Jags fans deserve a team they can be proud of” via Kristen Dressel of Action News Jax –Jaguars owner Shad Khan introduced the newest members of the team, Executive vice president of Football Operations Coughlin and Head Coach Doug Marrone. “Any football organization that has Tom Coughlin is going to be a good one, and you don’t have to Google that,” Khan said. Coughlin said that he has a vested interest in the organization. “I intend to put my heart and soul into being a great support to Dave and for Doug,” Coughlin said. “I embrace this opportunity.”

Relationship between Tom Coughlin, Doug Marrone decades in the making” via Brian Jackson of WJXT – On Thursday, Marrone was introduced as the Jaguars head coach and Coughlin as the Executive VP of football operations. Nearly 25 years ago, Marrone called Coughlin, who was then the head coach at Boston College, to ask him if he could have a graduate assistant position. Throughout the years, the two stayed in touch and Marrone called getting a chance to work under Coughlin “the perfect situation.” “He’s been a mentor to me,” said Marrone. “At the end of the day that’s what he’s been. He’s been someone that if I had an issue in Buffalo in dealing with something. Or if I had an issue at Syracuse, he’s the gentleman that I would call.”

North American Soccer League taking over Armada” via Matt Soergel of the Florida Times-Union — The North American Soccer League will take over ownership and operation of the Jacksonville Armada FC, one of its teams, as the league tries to maintain a presence in the second tier of professional soccer. Armada FC owner Mark Frisch said the owners of the other teams in the league will buy the franchise from him, while looking for a new owner for Jacksonville. He did not reveal the price. His announcement came … a day after a crucial, long-awaited decision by the U.S. Soccer Federation that allowed the NASL to remain a second-division league for 2017, slotted under Major League Soccer. The current third-division league, the United Soccer League, had been pushing hard to move up to the higher-profile second division. The federation decided to give both leagues second-division status on a provisional basis, giving them each a year to meet standards set by U.S. Soccer such as stadium size (5,000 seats) and a minimum number of teams (12).

Florida House bill seeks non-partisan elections for state attorneys, public defenders

Northeast Florida Democrats were incensed last year at being disenfranchised in closed GOP primaries for state attorney and public defender.

Now, one of their own — House District 13 Rep. Tracie Davis — has filed a bill in the Florida House to remedy that condition.

And her political mentor, Sen. Audrey Gibson, filed the Senate version.

House Bill 231 seeks to make elections for state attorney and public defender non-partisan, adding the offices to current statute, which includes school board members.

Last summer, the Jacksonville media market saw stories about former State Attorney Angela Corey, whose campaign manager filed paperwork for a write-in candidate with the express purpose of closing a primary that otherwise would have been open.

The primary in the public defender’s race likewise was closed by a write-in candidate, who wasn’t able to articulate a compelling reason for running against incumbent Matt Shirk when asked.

While Corey and Shirk maintained that nothing wrong had been done, voters disagreed, and turned each of them out of office by historic margins in the very GOP primaries they sought to close.

Worth watching: will Davis’ bill get prominent Republican support?

Most area Republicans endorsed Corey for State Attorney, even as it was the political team of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry (an endorser of Corey) that ended her career.

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