Lenny Curry Archives - Page 4 of 106 - Florida Politics

Jacksonville’s place in ‘changing global economy’ discussed at JAXUSA luncheon

Introducing one of three winners of JAXUSA awards at a Tuesday luncheon, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was in civic booster mode.

Curry took stock of a “really busy year … a really good year,” in which “the Chamber, civic and business leaders and the city council … demonstrated to the public what is possible.”

Curry referred to Jacksonville’s “international footprint and brand,” before saying that “the best is yet to come” and urging people to “rest up and buckle up.”

And a panel of economists that spoke soon after the mayor concurred that, given the large amount of unknowns in 2017, buckling up may be good advice.

The economy will grow and change in the near future, in large part due to deregulation and stimulus money to be printed out of the ether.

But it is by no means certain that Jacksonville will be able to fully exploit that.

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The feature event at Tuesday’s JAXUSA quarterly luncheon: bankers and economists discussing Jacksonville’s place in the changing global economy.

Leslie Slover, Regional Head of Deutsche Bank, moderated the discussion between two panelists: Peter Hooper, Deutsche Bank’s Chief U.S. Economist, and Nathaniel Karp, BBVA Compass Bank’s Chief U.S. Economist.

Hooper and Karp concurred in their assessment of Jacksonville’s advantages — and disadvantages.

Hooper noted that in a climate of financial stimulus like most are anticipating from the Donald Trump administration, Jacksonville is an “attractive place to locate,” mostly because of low costs.

However, Hooper cautioned that a paucity of skilled workers may be a concern.

“You don’t want to tell people you’re running out of workers,” the Deutsche Bank economist cautioned.

Karp echoed those concerns, saying that Jacksonville’s labor force is weak in the STEM Sector — a campaign priority of Mayor Curry’s.

In other words, Jacksonville is going to have to figure out how to compete, in terms of STEM jobs, to get to where it needs to be in terms of the larger economy.

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The economists spent a small portion of their program on Jacksonville, touching on a variety of subjects including NAFTA, Fed policy, conditions in Europe, and the Trump effect.

Hooper said that tweaks to NAFTA need to “go light,” lest a “huge can of worms” be opened.

Karp echoed that point, noting that technological improvements, rather than trade deals, are responsible for attrition of jobs from the industrial sector.

Karp also noted that the integration of border states in the U.S. and Mexico is often greater than the integration of states like California to the rest of the U.S., due to trans-border assembly of products.

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Regarding the Fed and Janet Yellen, the chair who served as a pinata for the president-elect before Election Day, Hooper noted that while Trump was critical of low interest rates as a candidate, “President Trump will prefer lower rates.”

Changes at the Fed, Hooper added, would “not be to the benefit of the new president.”

Hooper speculated that Yellen and Trump “could grow to appreciate each other.”

Karp suggested a balance between hawkish and dovish members of the Fed’s board, as Trump works toward a positive outcome (potentially) of enhancing GDP growth without too much inflation.

Both concurred that there will be a real increase in financial liquidity, to drive supply-side growth in the manner of Reaganomics.

Hooper noted that the “markets have good reason to be ebullient,” given expected spending on infrastructure and a rolling back of nettlesome regulations.

GDP, Hooper suggested, could grow by a full point.

That is, if Trump avoids a trade war.

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Before the economists had their say, some hardware was given out, via the JAXUSA Jax Partnership awards.

Mike Butler of J.P. Morgan won the International Leader of the Year award.

The Haskell Company garnered the International Company of the Year Award for mid-size companies.

Fidelity Information Systems Global won the International Company of the Year Award.

Mike Williams wants ‘competitive pay and benefit package’ for new police hires

On Monday afternoon, FloridaPolitics.com caught up with Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams and got his thoughts on an issue of key importance to the rank and file.

Specifically, the pension negotiations currently underway between the city of Jacksonville and the Fraternal Order of Police.

Sheriff Williams and Mayor Lenny Curry have messaged symbiotically on public safety concerns; however, with the city’s position being that defined contribution plans are viable for new hires (a stance the police union rejects), Williams’ take was of interest.

“No matter the vehicle, no matter how we get there, there’s got to be a fair benefit and pay package that they get together on,” Williams said.

“Hopefully,” the sheriff added, “negotiations will continue and they’ll come up with something that will work.”

When asked about the union position — that if benefits fall behind the rest of the departments in the state, then retention and recruitment will suffer — Williams had this to say.

“I will say this: that’s my concern really,” Williams said, before reiterating his take.

“As long as it’s a competitive pay and benefit package, I’m not sure the vehicle matters. But again, I’m going to leave the negotiations up to them. and I’m confident they’ll come up with something that will work,” Williams said.

Thus far, Williams has stayed above the fray in what is shaping up to be a classic Labor Vs. Management clash between the fourth floor of City Hall and the Fraternal Order of Police.

With even the Florida Times-Union editorializing that the Florida Retirement System is the best option for new hires, it will be interesting to see how his position might evolve should collective bargaining become more fractious between the police union and the Jacksonville mayor.

Jax Mayor: Nothing to be done about ‘saggy pants’

File this under: “your tax dollars at work.”

(Even as belts apparently fall short.)

Jan Bartell, a greeter at the Cedar Hills branch of the Duval County Tax Collector’s Office, reached out to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry for some help with an issue of community comportment recently.

That issue: an epidemic of “saggy pants” at her Westside Jacksonville workplace.

“How do I go about getting a city ordinance passed or a proposal,  to prevent men wearing their pants below their buttocks,” Bartell wrote.

“I am so tired of seeing this display of indecency. In our office, and around Jacksonville, every day!!!! This has gone on long enough. I feel it is an ignored issue.  A lot of people complain about it,  but no one says anything or does anything about it,” Bartell said.

“It is so disrespectful to their selves, and others, we do not and prefer not  to see their underwear or behind,” Bartell adds.

Bartell deemed her pursuit of sartorial standardization to be a “mission and a quest,” in appealing to the Jacksonville mayor.

Alas, she didn’t get the answer she sought.

“Back in 2014, several Florida cities passed ordinances against saggy pants, but repealed the ban after legal action took place,” Curry wrote, adding that “probably not much … can be done to resolve the matter through an ordinance at this time.”

After a quiet spell, Lenny Curry extols Donald Trump on Twitter

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry broke recent protocol on his Twitter account with a couple of enthusiastic Tweets about President-elect Donald Trump.

The Tweets, issued on Friday evening upon the mayor’s return from the city’s annual bond rating trip, speak to an alignment the Jacksonville mayor has had with Trump going back years.

“President elect .@realDonaldTrump using football metaphor- that’s music to my ears,” Curry Tweeted at 8:03 p.m.

“@realDonaldTrump talking tax cuts-   That’s a focus on hard working folks & famiiies. Mentioning the forgotten man and forgotten woman,” Curry Tweeted at 8:15 p.m.

Curry hosted a Jacksonville rally for Trump in August during his push for the pension reform referendum, though he conspicuously avoided serving up “Lock her up” styled red meat, preferring instead to introduce the speakers in a low-key manner.

Many pundits, including this writer, predicted that Curry co-branding with Trump was going to hurt the pension-tax push.

However, it had the opposite effect, according to polling conducted at the time of the referendum.

Curry’s Trumpian co-brand helped him solidify his base.

Curry has extolled the virtues of Twitter Trump for nearly five years, off and on [H/T: Ben Marcus]

On May 27, 2012, Curry thanked Trump for his “commitment to free enterprise and pursuit of happiness.”

On July 25, 2012, Curry described a Fox News segment with Trump, on the Greta Van Susteren show, as “refreshing” and “telling it like it is.”

On Aug. 7, 2012, Curry was watching Trump on Fox News Channel again: “@realDonaldTrump. Says on FOX he would like to see Obama college records. I agree with @RealDonaldTrump.”

And on Oct. 7, 2012, Curry spoke “To the trolls hitting @RealDonaldTrump. Go back in your holes. You are stinking up Twitter. The stench forced me to respond.”

Curry’s support for Trump was much more measured during the campaign, with the mayor rarely offering comment on the candidate more emphatic than affirming that he stood with the Republican nominee.

The high point of his August remarks at the Trump rally lacked the rhetorical flourish of a couple of those 2012 Tweets.

“I came in as an outsider and I promised to turn the status quo upside down,” Curry said in August, before pitching the pension tax to scattered, tepid applause — then saying “Trump will flip the status quo upside down.”

And both men are involved in projects that indeed may “flip the status quo.”

Indeed, Curry told us last week that “reform of the system” was a message he intended to convey on the trip to New York to meet with bond ratings agencies.

With Curry’s team involved in tough negotiations with the city’s unions, with the city looking to impose unprecedented 401k plans on new hires (including public safety officers), the timing of Curry’s re-affirmed affinity for Trump bears watching.

The mayor will need support from fiscal conservatives to counter the robust public information campaigns that will be mounted by police and fire unions, especially as the city council tends to go wobbly under concerted pressure.

Trump, meanwhile, has taken the unusual move of issuing a riposte to a CIA report released Friday that asserted Russian involvement in Wikileaks oppo dumps on the Hillary Clinton campaign.

“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again’,” asserted a Friday night email from the transition team.

Rick Scott: Jacksonville public pension debate a ‘local decision’

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry wants new city hires on defined contribution plans. Public safety unions want the Florida Retirement System. And Rick Scott will let the locals figure it out, he said Thursday in Jacksonville.

“That’s clearly a local decision. This community will make a decision on that,” the governor said.

“I think what’s important with regard to any retirement program is it needs to be a program the taxpayers can afford. It needs to be a program that, if you are in the system, you feel comfortable that if you’re going to rely on it, that it’s going to be funded,” Scott said.

When asked if FRS was a program the taxpayers can afford, Scott said “the issue with regards to what happens in this area will clearly be a local issue. I know at the state level, I’ve worked to make sure that the pension plan is fully funded … I’m going to continue to work that way.”

Scott signed off on Mayor Curry’s bill requesting a referendum. But he’s not investing political capital into the Jacksonville mayor’s push for 401K plans for new public safety hires.

Jacksonville CFO: money in $44M pension “waiver” is “hiccup” compared to total liability

[Updated: 6:40 p.m. with commentary from Mike Weinstein, at the bottom of the piece.]

In the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee Wednesday, Mike Weinstein, the city’s CFO, and Tim Johnson, the director of the Police and Fire Pension Fund, discussed a “waiver” in pension cost allocations that had been controversial in recent news cycles.

Their joint appearance was notable for a unified message, in which Weinstein said the city and the PFPF were on a “solution path” and that the money involved in the waiver was a “hiccup” compared to the larger unfunded liability.

However, countermessaging soon followed.

Shortly after this was originally posted on Wednesday afternoon, the city’s Chief Administrative Officer, Sam Mousa, took issue with our description of the unified messaging of Weinstein and Johnson as a “kumbaya moment” between the PFPF and the city.

“There is no kumbaya on this pension issue. We are still livid over the issue and we still are of the position we did not know and the fund did not follow state law.  They misrepresented the fund value for years and we are not happy,” Mousa wrote in a text and said on the phone.

However, the ameliorating tenor of the Weinstein and Johnson messaging in Finance did not reflect Mousa’s concerns primarily.

Weinstein and Johnson agreed on a more calming message: that so-called waiver, once expected to near an extra $45 million budgetary hit in the FY 17-18 budget, likely won’t be as dramatic or sudden a hit as expected … even as the city and the PFPF diverge on the legality of the waiver.

The two outlined potential workarounds for what was feared to be a budget-busting lump sum hit to the city’s general fund, including spreading out the cost over years and absorbing the impact into amortization after collective bargaining.

No matter how the waiver is mitigated, the city will be on the hook for at least $200 million in pension costs in the next fiscal year.

However, this reframing of a narrative that caused toxic confrontation between Curry and one union head seemed well-timed; CFO Weinstein delivered it just before boarding a plane to New York with Curry and other senior staffers, for pivotal meetings with bond ratings agencies that will last for the rest of the week.

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In their comments to the Finance Committee, Weinstein and Johnson both noted that the projections in question were from a “draft actuarial report” not intended for public consumption.

“In the draft that came over,” Weinstein said, “there were some changes in the assumptions that were made … that would affect next budget year.”

Among those changes: a “$25 million uptick” in the payroll growth rate.

“We talked about options on how we deal with this,” Weinstein said, “then it sort of got out from under us in the press.”

Since 2008, the actuary had been using a higher growth rate than is actually the case: a 3.25 percent payroll growth, when the real number is 0.67 percent.

“Though statute requires calculation for 10 years,” Weinstein said, “there’s wiggle room [to] adjust [calculations] … but normally not for ten years.”

All parties have believed, said Weinstein, that there was an “indication of state approval.”

“The consequence is that our payments have been a little less than they should have been,” Weinstein added, noting that “this is money we owe” and the payroll component is a mere “$25 million of a $2.5 billion issue.”

Weinstein delineated options to ameliorate the hit.

“One of the options,” asserted the city CFO, is to “get through the union negotiations and everything is redone, and this uptick [becomes] negligible.”

Another option: to ask the state Division of Retirement that the police and fire pension fund take the hit in sequence over years, phasing in the obligation so as not to offer too much of a shock to the general fund budget.

There is, said Weinstein, an “actuarial analysis every year. We have discretion … if local authorities decide to give them waiver … things could be different six months from now.”

PFPF head Johnson sang from the same hymnal as the city’s CFO, stressing that the report was a “draft,” and that actuarial reports on defined benefit plans, such as that of the city of Jacksonville, were “not unusual.”

The report in question, said Johnson: a “draft with the intent to identify size of the liability and how much money needs to be put in the plan this year,” leading to eventual discussion in an open meeting with the board.

As well, Johnson noted potential options to ameliorate the hit, including staggering the payments or, in accordance with the terms of 2016 legislation that authorized Jacksonville’s pension reform referendum, “wash[ing] the increase” when the amortization period is stretched to 30 years.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if board comes up with a recommendation,” Johnson said, “to phase in these payments” and “lower the [city] contribution.”

The changes in the mortality table, a big talking point in a meeting in January between Weinstein and other senior city staffers, will result in $8 million of the $44 million in question.

Meanwhile, $33 million is attributed to payroll growth, Johnson said.

The $25 million in question was identified via an “experience study,” Johnson said, which “replaced the 3.25 percent growth rate with rate that matches inflation: 2.5 percent.

Then, the number was adjusted to the real number of 2.5 less than 1 percent, “based on the 10 year average of payroll growth,” Johnson said.

In other words, the actuarial changes were demystified.

Johnson urged the committee to “look at this in the context of past history … various assumptions that actuaries use to project liability.”

“Very likely, board is going to have to discuss if they are going to accept assumption,” Johnson added.

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Weinstein cosigned the message, affirming the validity of the so-called “waiver,” even if the “terminology may not be exact.”

“The fact that different process is used,” said Weinstein, “was brought up frequently over the years … the city was told there was a waiver … wiggle room.”

Weinstein then addressed the pension reform of 2015, which scheduled $350 million more of city contributions over 13 years.

“The fact that more money has been put in has been helpful,” said Weinstein, but “not to anyway that would drastically change this calculation,” a “little hiccup” that would affect two or three years.

Weinstein has found the state’s Division of Retirement to be “unbelievably helpful.”

“They want to help us get to a solution,” said Weinstein, and have vowed to “return a new actuarial study almost immediately to help us with our budget,” after pension negotiations, which Weinstein hopes will be wrapped in time to “have benefit for next fiscal year.”

“We don’t have to close all of them,” Weinstein said, noting that an accord with general employees would unlock the revenue source.

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The city, of course, wants to “get out of the pension business.”

But that has yet to happen.

And one Finance member, Councilman Bill Gulliford, noted that the city’s expected rates of return, which are between 7 and 8 percent in all pension plans, is “no longer considered a conservative rate of return.”

Weinstein noted that the PFPF had a “9 .5 – 10 percent ROI” this year; however, that is during a bull market, and the flux in rates of return illustrates “why we have to get out of this business.”

“Decisions made over the last two decades that have gotten us to where we are with our pension plans. We are on a solution path,” Weinstein said.

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One union head – Randy Wyse of the Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters – spoke favorably of the commentary on offer in Finance.

Weinstein and Johnson, Wyse said, were “honest and handled questions well.”

Wyse had a different reaction to Mayor Curry’s reaction in the media to the draft documents, however, asserting that showed “his lack of institutional knowledge of how this works.”

It was, said Wyse, a “kneejerk reaction” by Curry “to think something was illegal.”

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Weinstein offered a response to this piece Thursday evening, and it is below in full.

“The chair [of the Finance Committee] asked for the conversation to move us forward not backwards. I mentioned numerous times the PFPF didn’t use the state calculation formula since 08 and each year it gave the city an incorrect result so our contribution was wrong. I also said numerous times when PFPF was asked by the division of retirement council members and administration why aren’t they using the state required formula their response was they have a waiver. I stated no such waivers can be given we find out. I also restated this is why we have to get of the defined benefit business. My opening comment was we have had decades of bad decisions that have brought us to this problem.”

“My position continues to be aligned with the mayor. Not following the state statutes resulted in a misrepresentation of the city’s financial obligation to the PFPF.”

“The hiccup was in reference comparing the 25 million to the 2.5 billion problem.  The hiccup was not in reference to the ongoing misrepresentation,”

‘Reform of the system’ part of the narrative on Jacksonville bond rating trip

Key Jacksonville officials leave for New York Wednesday, on a pivotal trip for meetings with various bond ratings agencies.

2015’s meetings saw a series of upgrades for the city’s position.

Thursday sees meetings with Fitch and Moody’s. Friday offers some time with S&P.

Mayor Lenny Curry, Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, CFO Mike Weinstein, and Treasurer Joey Greive will all be in the Big Apple.

When Curry was asked how one of the year’s big challenges — Hurricane Matthew — will affect the pitch, he said it would be part of the narrative.

“We will tell the story about Hurricane Matthew. It represents our competence in finance and operations. All financial opportunities will be a part of our discussion,” Curry noted.

“I’m a reformer and will continue to do the work that leads to reform of the system,” Curry added.

Among that reform work Curry is doing: renegotiating pension plans with the city’s public unions, and attempting to move at least some unions’ new hires to defined contribution pension plans.

While we didn’t address that with Curry, we expect his plan — an audacious revision of labor/management relations on the municipal level — has gotten the notice of the ratings agencies.

Curry, a CPA by trade, was able in 2015 to make the ratings agencies feel confident about Jacksonville’s outlook, a confidence augmented by the passage of County Referendum 1, which unlocked the possibility of a dedicated sales tax to pay off Jacksonville’s $2.85 billion pension debt.

That revenue is contingent on new plans for new hires. It is expected that general employees will be an easier sell, but that challenge is heightened by the numerous bargaining units involved.

While collective bargaining sessions have been happening when all parties’ schedules permit, deals have not been struck as of yet with any bargaining units.

Jacksonville to tighten controls on academic credentials for city employees

A bill requested by the office of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry proposes to tighten definitions for what is and isn’t an academic degree.

The bill, filed in the wake of a report that found would-be Neighborhoods Department head Derek Igou had a degree from an unaccredited college (thus driving his letter of resignation), seeks to tighten up credential requirements for various city departments.

Ordinance code would be “amended to provide a definition of ‘accredited university or college degree’ to mean a degree from an institution accredited by an accrediting agency or state approval agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.”

The semantic glitch, according to the bill summary, affects “several Code chapters where college degrees are required as credentials for various appointed officials, but the sections do not mention accreditation.”

Among the divisions affected: Planning and Development, Fire and Rescue, Public Works, the Downtown Investment Authority, and the Board of Library Trustees.

Anti-HRO pastor Fred Newbill to replace Warren Jones on JEA Board

A pastor who was vocal in his opposition to expanding LGBT rights in Jacksonville is poised to become a member of the JEA Board, via recently filed legislation at the request of the mayor’s office.

And in doing so, that pastor will fill the vacancy of a councilman who introduced a bill for an expanded Human Rights Ordinance in 2012.

Fred Newbill, a Jacksonville pastor who was integral in the transitional period before Mayor Lenny Curry took office in 2015, and who also spoke at the joint inauguration of Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams, is poised to replace Warren Jones, who resigned earlier this year upon his election to the Duval County School Board.

Newbill, who has been politically connected with Republican mayors going back to John Delaney, has been in the news in the last year for political collaborations with Ken Adkins, the formerly politically-connected Brunswick pastor who was indicted on 11 counts of child sex abuse related to his former ministry.

Adkins and Newbill collaborated in opposition to Human Rights Ordinance expansion last December.

Adkins helped to manage a press conference of pastors who wanted to see an HRO referendum (which they expected to sink the bill). But the decision was made to keep the already controversial pastor and fellow HRO opponent Raymond Johnson out of the camera’s eye at that event.

After the push for HRO expansion ended with a withdrawal of both a bill that would do so by ordinance and one that would do so by referendum, Adkins and Newbill continued to collaborate.

The two co-messaged against scandal-ridden Judge Mark Hulsey during Hulsey’s re-election campaign.

Hulsey was re-elected, but is mired in a Judicial Qualifications Commission investigation of racist and sexist remarks he made, as well as a pattern of asking court employees to do work that went beyond their regular duties.

Ironically, when (not if) Newbill is confirmed by council to the JEA Board, his public opposition to HRO expansion will place him at odds with one of the most respected Republicans in Jacksonville history, one who also happens to be in favor of HRO expansion: Mike Hightower.

In October, Hightower addressed the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality, urging all parties to “stay together and stay focused” to “get the HRO passed.”

Jacksonville FOP fires back against mayor’s office in pension flap

15181638_1808271279454717_2123879213873854336_n“Who knew what when?”

That’s the question posed by Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police head Steve Zona in a two-paragraph open letter regarding the latest in Jacksonville’s police and fire pension fund drama.

On Tuesday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry expressed frustration over problems with calculations of a “waiver” from the Jacksonville PFPF that could result in an additional $45 million of pension obligations per annum.

“I’m frustrated,” Curry said. “This is more nonsense coming from the pension board. It appears that the actuary has not been using the standard [established] under Florida law in calculating our pension obligation. If that’s correct, if what I’ve learned is accurate, that’s going to end up costing the city another $44 to $45 million a year in pension costs.”

“It’s outrageous … I’ve asked my general counsel to look at this. Was it intentional? Is it a mistake or was it intentional? If it was intentional, what was the purpose? Who knew it was being done in an incorrect way? Why was it being done in an incorrect way? Were they trying to conceal how bad the pension crisis really is?”

FOP head Zona, whose organization is embroiled in collective bargaining with the mayor’s office on a new pension plan for new hires, asserts that the mayor is posturing for political purposes.

“There is a very simple question everybody needs to ask themselves after the mayor spoke about the increased payment from the city to the pension fund. Who knew what when? It appears that the city is claiming that it was a surprise and that no one knew the payment was coming,” Zona writes, before contending that the city did know, based on a January meeting of the police and fire pension fund where the matter was discussed with city senior staff.

Zona calls Curry’s positioning an “unwarranted attack” on the PFPF, which “operated in the sunshine for all to see, AND the city was there participating in these decisions.”

Zona went on to assert that this kind of situation is why his union wants to be in the Florida Retirement System, saying that “the city has a very hard time and bad track record running the current funds in Jacksonville.”

“We either have an incompetent city treasurer or this was motivated by political reasons in the middle of contract negotiations,” Zona adds.

The January meeting Zona references, which we covered, was an interesting one.

Notably: Curry’s chief administrative officer, Sam Mousa, left an opening saying that the Florida Retirement System might be an option considered for a new plan for new hires.

Worries were expressed from board members that the “safety net” might be frayed in a defined contribution plan; Weinstein said that “we don’t know if we’re going into defined contribution,” and any speculation is “premature” in light of the process.

Mousa jumped in: “the bills as submitted [in Tallahassee] do not reference defined contribution.”

But what happens at the end of the day may be “a different story” and “currently, we have the most flexibility you can ask for,” which opens the door to FRS, defined contribution, or “some other type of defined benefit plan.”

“It’s a sausage making process,’ Mousa said.

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