Lenny Curry – Page 4 – Florida Politics

Soft April fundraising in Sam Newby’s Jacksonville City Council re-election bid

Sam Newby (Image via Florida Times-Union)

On a shoestring budget of just over $9,000, Jacksonville City Councilman Sam Newby won his at-large seat on the City Council three years ago, defeating a candidate who raised 15 times what he did in the May 2015 unitary general election.

And, if his first month in the race is any indication, Newby figures he can win re-election without eye-popping fundraising totals.

Newby brought in just $4,600, with a $100 personal loan and $4,500 in external contributions from five donors.

However, those donors are noteworthy.

Among them, a “big three” of sorts: the Orange Park Kennel Club, the Jacksonville Kennel Club, and Jacksonville Greyhound Racing.

All three gambling entities gave the maximum of $1,000, as did Sleiman Holdings, which is currently in a legal imbroglio with the city over busted docks and other issues at the Jacksonville Landing.

These donors suggest that if Newby needs to raise more serious money going forward, he could.

However, he didn’t in April.

Newby has one opponent currently, Democrat Chad McIntyre, who thus far has yet to report fundraising.

Newby is entrenched in the local Republican Party hierarchy and is a close ally of Mayor Lenny Curry, who hired Newby’s council assistant Chiquita Moore to become a City Council liaison beginning later this month.

‘Twisted political game’: Cybersnooping, surveillance charges roil Jacksonville City Hall

On Wednesday’s episode of First Coast Connect on Jacksonville’s WJCT-FM, Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche charged that her meetings were being followed and that someone in city government was snooping on the computer of her Council assistant.

Citing a “trust issue,” Brosche mentioned that she was “not allowed to have meetings with department heads without clearing things with the Mayor’s Office,” that her “meetings with people in the community” were followed up upon by “contact from the Mayor’s Office,” and that her “assistant’s computer is being monitored.”

When asked by host Melissa Ross if she and her staff were “being spied on,” Brosche said it was “difficult not to reach that conclusion.”

On Friday, the Mayor’s Office offered its perspective, one that drew different conclusions entirely and again delineated a toxic dynamic between Jacksonville’s mayor and leader of the City Council.

Brian Hughes, the chief of staff for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, asserted Friday that “once again the Council President and her staff have made false and wholly unfounded claims about the administration.”

“So let’s be clear, no one in the mayor’s administration, at any level, has ‘monitored’ or followed any Councilmember or staff. Similarly there has never been any surreptitious, intentional or unintentional interference or monitoring of any electronic devices of members or their staff,” Hughes asserted.

“The requested data in the email shows that the aide’s computer had three other logins since last Fall. One by the Council President, one by Council Member [Garrett] Dennis, and one by a staff member of ITD who is a professional IT service specialist for the entire COJ,” Hughes added.

The email to which Hughes referred followed from an inquiry from Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, which revealed those three logins, as well as another six dates in which Brosche’s assistant, Jeneen Sanders, had password issues.

Mousa was “very concerned” and opted to “investigate these allegations,” but the inquiry found that the only documented logins beyond Sanders were those of Brosche, Councilman Dennis, and the Council’s “IT guru.”

For Hughes, Brosche’s comments are part of a pattern.

“CP Brosche’s pattern of cryptic charges with zero basis in fact is both irresponsible and absurd. Giving voice to such nonsense demonstrates a willingness by her and her staff to simply lie in order to score points in some twisted political game.”

“Either way,” Hughes added, “casting such charges at the hard working men and women of this administration is inappropriate.”

The sharp differences between Hughes and Brosche on this issue again reveal a larger disconnect.

In mid February, a week before the city’s IT specialist logged onto Sanders’ computer, Hughes and Sanders had a verbal encounter that Sanders reported as Hughes having “accosted” her. However, the city’s general counsel concluded that no laws were violated.

Brosche, as one would expect, stood by her claims despite Hughes’ assertions.

“When my off site meetings and whereabouts are being reported back to those with whom I’m meeting, and when my assistant receives a message when trying to log off her computer that she cannot do so because someone else is on her machine, I stand by my suggestion that her machine is being monitored. When it comes to truth, honesty, and transparency, I’ll let the people decide who they believe,” Brosche said.

Brosche emphasized that her concern was “remote monitoring while [Sanders] is actively using the machine,” a concern elided from Mousa’s inquiry into logins and password issues.

The logins under Brosche’s name were, she said, to give Sanders “access she didn’t have for something [Brosche] needed” and are “not common practice.”

And Dennis told the Daily Record that the login under his name was at the time he was without a Council assistant.

As this continuing drama between the Republican Mayor and the Republican Council President unfolds, there is a real possibility that Brosche may run for Lenny Curry’s job.

As we reported Wednesday (news broken first on WJCT), Brosche is mulling a run for Mayor.

While she is “focused” on her “responsibilities as Council President and some important initiatives launched recently,” Brosche notes that once her term ends, she will have “the opportunity to get clarity on [her] next steps.”

Curry has described Brosche at various times as “disgraceful, irresponsible, ridiculous … slanderous,” suggesting that her communications with the Mayor’s Office and other entities are driven by “public relations” concerns.

Along those lines, Brosche has described “the dynamic of [a] unhealthy relationship” with Curry.

The relationship appears to be unsalvageable.

If Brosche is to run for Mayor (and really, given that Curry’s political machine is gunning for her, she might as well), she will need to cultivate serious financial backing.

In two months as a candidate, Curry has raised $1.75 million between his political committee (and transfers from another committee of his) and his campaign account.

Brosche, who was backed by the Curry-friendly Chamber and other establishment groups as she ran for the City Council in 2015, may need to cultivate backing outside those groups for any 2019 campaign she runs.

Jacksonville Bold for 5.4.18 — Qualifying Week

Congressional candidates finish qualifying this week, setting the stage for a 3+ month sprint to nominations.

Virtually every Congressional incumbent, save John Rutherford, will face a primary. Ted Yoho faces nominal competition for what could be his final term; Al Lawson faces more than a symbolic challenge in the form of Alvin Brown in Congressional District 5.

We are a few weeks out from qualifying for state offices, but what is clear already is that incumbency is less safe locally than it might have been in recent cycles. With redistricting imminent in the next few years, what we are seeing is the beginning of a transition period in the region.

Welcome to qualifying week!

These districts, which came into being in their current conformations in time for 2016, won’t last. And population continues to move into the area, meaning that after 2020, we may see two Jacksonville-majority districts soon enough.

For now, however, the field is set. We get to field questions, such as those about Alvin Brown being able to close the deal with Democrats locally and beyond. And questions about the Democrats opposing Rutherford in Congressional District 4 bear watching also.

Soon enough, it will be November, and the local elections in Jacksonville will come into sharper relief (maybe sooner, with Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche floating a mayoral trial balloon this week in a radio interview).

But this week and this summer, the federal scene necessarily takes center stage … with state elections co-headlining once qualifying ends next month for those offices.

Yoho, Rutherford officially in for re-election

Popular Northeast Florida Republican Congressmen Rutherford and Yoho, heavy favorites for re-election, have qualified for the 2018 ballot.

John Rutherford is back in the game, as is Republican colleague Ted Yoho.

Rutherford, whose district encompasses Nassau, Duval, and northern St. Johns Counties, has $300,000 in the bank for his re-election campaign.

Jacksonville candidates Joceline Berrios and Monica DePaul, as well as Ponte Vedra businessman George Selmont, comprise the three candidates from the Democratic Party. Of the three, Selmont is the only one to report fundraising; he has $6,000 on hand.

Rutherford is guaranteed to face a familiar opponent, however; Gary Koniz, an NPA candidate who is in the habit of sending long, discursive emails to office holders and press outlets, is on the ballot.

Yoho, who represents the 3rd District that runs southwest from Orange Park through Gainesville, is likewise qualified and enjoys a fundraising cushion with $355,000 cash on hand.

That puts him ahead of primary challengers Judson Sapp ($23,915 on hand) and Chuck Callesto (no fundraising).

Brown launches campaign

Former Jacksonville Mayor Brown launched his campaign for Florida’s 5th Congressional District on Saturday morning at the IBEW Hall in Jacksonville — the same place he began his first mayoral campaign eight years ago.

The Comeback Kid? Alvin Brown is in the game.

“They said it wouldn’t happen,” Brown said of that 2011 race. “Let’s do it again.”

The location, where the Duval Democrats hold their monthly meetings, is a metaphor for the Jacksonville vs. Tallahassee dynamic of the Democratic primary race between Brown and incumbent U.S. Rep. Lawson.

Read more here.

Shoar backs Waltz

The Sheriff of St. Johns County is endorsing Michael Waltz in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

Waltz, a former Green Beret and White House staffer, is a current Fox News commentator.

The Sheriff backs the Green Beret to replace Ron DeSantis.. (Image: Facebook)

“Lieutenant Colonel Michael Waltz is a great American and patriot,” said St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar. “He has given a lifetime of selfless service to our nation, state, and community. He is exactly the type of consistent conservative we need leading the fight in Congress to support President [Donald] Trump’s agenda for our community and Florida. I’m proud to endorse Michael Waltz for Congress.”

Currently, there are three candidates on the Republican side of the race to replace Rep. Ron DeSantis.

John Ward, a Ponte Vedra businessman, is the cash leader.

As of the end of March, Ward had raised $912,000 and had $709,340 on hand (with $555,000 of that from his own checkbook).

Waltz, who loaned his campaign $400,000, has $653,354 on hand of the total $706,000 in receipts.

Ward and Waltz thus far have demonstrated the most fundraising ability on the Republican side. Former state Rep. Fred Costello has $15,720 on hand.

The 6th Congressional District runs from St. Johns to Volusia counties.

Per the St. Augustine Record, the candidates raised $3 million as of the end of March.

McMahon visits peanut plant

Per WJCT: “Head of the U.S. Small Business Administration Linda McMahon learned how brothers David and Jeff Turbeville run their Jacksonville peanut butter company, Tuesday. It was the launch of her Southeast small business tour.”

Linda McMahon goes nuts in Jacksonville. (Photo: Lindsey Kilbride — WJCT)

The company processes peanuts for institutions, such as schools and prisons.

The company is in a so-called “HUBZone” on Jacksonville’s Westside, meaning that it has to employ 35 percent of its workers from its struggling neighborhood.

McMahon is touring similarly situated businesses throughout the Southeast this month.

Troutman makes NE Florida hire

Ag Commissioner hopeful Baxter Troutman named Kaley Slattery as the campaign’s new Northeast Florida Regional Director this week.

Kaley Slattery joined Team Baxter Troutman this week.

That role sees the recent University of North Florida graduate handling grassroots, fundraising, and digital operations in the region.

Slattery, a former UNF College Republicans President, is “thrilled to be joining Team Troutman.”

“The addition of Ms. Slattery is another signal to the Tallahassee political elites that Baxter Troutman is serious about this race,” said campaign manager Carlo Fassi, who himself is a UNF alum.

Political comeback for Ray

Lake Ray, a former State Representative, Jacksonville City Councilman, and Congressional candidate, launched his campaign for Duval County Tax Collector Monday.

Lake Ray is making moves again.

“Jacksonville needs someone with a proven record of management, a proven record of trust and a proven record of making sure the government uses its resources correctly,” Ray said. “If entrusted with this office, I will be there to serve you the taxpayer — to make the process as painless as possible.”

Ray will face Jim Overton, who likewise is a former City Councilman, in addition to having served as property appraiser for twelve years.

Both Overton and Ray are Republicans. A Democrat could enter this race before the end.

Mayor’s office shake-up

Jacksonville’s director of intergovernmental affairs, Ali Korman Shelton, sent a letter to Mayor Lenny Curry Monday announcing her departure from city government later in May.

Ali Korman Shelton, a significant force in City Hall, is headed out the door in two weeks. (Image: Jacksonville Business Journal)

“After much contemplation, and despite the positive future I foresee, it is now time for someone else to serve you, your administration, and the city in this important capacity,” Shelton wrote, citing family concerns as a reason for resignation in a letter sent Monday evening.

Shelton’s letter lauds accomplishments, including a positive relationship with the Jacksonville City Council, three healthy budgets, and improving Jacksonville’s visibility publicly.

As well, Shelton handled much of the lobbying push for the pension reform referendum approved in Tallahassee in 2016 and voted up by 65 percent of Duval County residents.

David Cawton of the Jax Daily Record, who broke this story on Twitter, got a comment from Curry, who deemed Shelton’s contributions to be “integral and substantial.”

The last departure of this magnitude was that of former Chief of Staff Kerri Stewart. It took the Curry team months to replace her, a job filled at the beginning of the year by former Curry political adviser Brian Hughes.

Curry raises $250K, as Brosche mulls challenge

Informed sources confirmed that Curry raised over $250,000 in April, his second straight strong month after a $1.5 million March.

Lenny Curry is aggressively fundraising. Probably for a reason.

The breakdown: $46,000 for the campaign (bringing its total raised to just over $300,000) and $206,000 for the “Jacksonville on the Rise” political committee (pushing it over $1.45 million raised or transferred from other committees).

Big donors in April include John Campion ($50,000), and Black Knight Financial Services, Fidelity Information Services, and Borland-Groover Clinic ($25,000 each).

The fundraising haul comes at a time when challengers for Curry, a first-term Republican elected in 2015, are lining up for next year’s ballot.

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche is mulling a run for mayor, with a decision to be made this summer, after her term as Council president wraps in June.

While she is “focused” on her “responsibilities as Council president and some important initiatives launched recently,” Brosche notes that once her term ends, she will have “the opportunity to get clarity on [her] next steps.”

A Brosche/Curry matchup would bristle with drama, were it to happen.

Crooms launches mayoral bid

Curry drew his third challenger for the 2019 unitary election, with Connell Crooms filing Friday to run without party affiliation.

From protest to the mayor’s race, Connell Crooms offers a unique alternative for voters.

Crooms became known to Jacksonville residents in the wake of a protest that went awry in Hemming Park last April.

The protest became violent when Gary Snow, a noted provocateur at left-wing and Democratic events in 2016 and 2017, ran through the crowd provoking protesters.

Crooms, who is deaf (and an activist for the deaf), ended up being beaten into unconsciousness by Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officers at that protest as a result of Snow’s actions.

Crooms was one of five protesters arrested; the charges were dropped against Crooms in June, with community sentiment on the side of Crooms and the rest of the Jax 5 protest contingent.

$100,000 pyramid for Holland

Though $80,000 of it came via a personal loan, Duval County Property Appraiser Jerry Holland turned heads in April with $100,000 raised.

Will a serious opponent challenge Jerry Holland? Time will tell.

Holland, a popular Republican in his first term on the job, faces nominal opposition … but, given the potential of more serious opposition getting into the race, he’s not taking chances.

Among the donors: some local development companies; former Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne WeaverPreston Haskell; and the insurance agency of current City Council candidate Matt Carlucci.

Holland’s sole opponent, Democrat Kurt Kraft, is entirely self-financed and has under $700 on hand.

Unless a particular termed-out Democratic Jacksonville City Councilman gets in this race, Holland looks like a safe bet for re-election on the 2019 ballot.

Zahn talks long-term JEA plan

JEA CEO Aaron Zahn is settling into his interim (at least for now) role and to that end a round of media interviews. Wednesday saw this outlet’s turn.

Aaron Zahn is building media relationships this week. (Image: WJCT)

Zahn has faced criticism.

Navigating a tricky political climate, a neophyte to the world of municipal utilities (he was on the board weeks before he made the CEO bid), Zahn has faced a unique pressure.

We discussed this and more with him in a sit-down interview Wednesday morning at the JEA Tower.

“It would be great ten years from now to be looking back with the wonderful team we have, with all the great employees, having added jobs, having driven economic development, and show we can run a utility while lowering rates and lowering emissions. I think that’s possible, but we’ve got to start having bold ideas,” Zahn said.

“The question I’m asking: How does JEA continue to be a trusted partner for the next five, ten, fifty years,” Zahn said.

“I would not have made the position to run for the interim office if I weren’t interested in running for the permanent office,” Zahn said, adding that his qualifications would need to match with a “scorecard” crafted by the JEA Board.

A bill headed to Council would block Zahn from applying. 

Fourth candidate in Council District 14

The race to succeed termed-out Republican Jim Love in Jacksonville City Council District 14 got more crowded Tuesday, with Democrat Jimmy Peluso entering the scrum.

Peluso, a former Naval officer, is now a reservist in the same branch.

Jimmy Peluso is the second Democrat in the race to replace Jim Love.

Peluso will have to make up ground against the two leading fundraisers in the race, Republican Randy DeFoor and Democrat Sunny Gettinger.

Gettinger has over $43,000 on hand. DeFoor has over $91,000 on hand.

The fourth candidate in the race, Republican Earl Testy, is not a factor regarding fundraising.

The first election in this race is in March 2019. The top two vote-getters move on to the general election.

District under fire because of Rummell’s gun views

The District, proposed by developers and political influencers Peter Rummell and Michael Munz, is headed this month to Jacksonville City Council for approval.

Some members have questioned the generous incentives (a $30 million capital improvement plan and a Rev Grant for 75 percent for up to 22 years capped at $56 million).

Could Peter Rummell’s gun position kill the deal? Doubtful, but that’s one group’s hope.

Now, Empower Jacksonville, a religious right organization founded last year in a thus-far unsuccessful challenge to Jacksonville’s LGBT protections, objects to the incentives that City Council will vote on.

The reason? Rummell‘s stated opposition to backing candidates who don’t support an assault weapon ban (an assertion belied by the facts, as Rummell backs Curry and Rep. Rutherford).

“Peter Rummell’s anti-Second Amendment rhetoric is not in line with Empower Jacksonville’s values,” said Harry Lewis, co-chair of Empower Jacksonville. “We cannot support hardworking Jacksonville citizens’ tax dollars lining Mr. Rummell’s pockets through the development of The District. We will engage our supporters to put their councilman or councilwoman on notice that a vote for The District is a vote against the Second Amendment.”

Hit-free zone

For the second straight committee cycle for the Jacksonville City Council, members mulled potential legislation to make city property a “hit-free zone.”

Garrett Dennis’ bill was pummeled in committees this week. (Image: Florida Times-Union)

However, though it cleared committees two weeks ago, problems cropped up for Resolution 2018-171 which would turn all city property into “hit-free zones”: “areas in which no adult shall hit another adult, no adult shall hit a child, no child shall hit an adult, and no child shall hit another child.”

Monday saw the first of three committees — Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health & Safety — mull the bill. Once the proposal was limited to apply just to City Hall, it passed 4-3, even amid concerns about potential overreach.

Tuesday morning saw the Finance Committee, chaired by Garrett Dennis, approve the bill by a 4-3 margin.

By Tuesday afternoon, Rules had the bill. That committee offered considerable headwinds as did the previous panels, with now-typical consternation over the concept of the bill (which some said divested parents of their rights to discipline) and potential overreach.

Rules downed the bill 3-4, with chairman Doyle Carter casting the deciding vote.

Read more here.

Food desert fix

The Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee Tuesday approved a bill that may alleviate food desert conditions in one of the city’s most challenged areas.

Grocery woes spurred Council action.

2018-195 will, if passed by the full Council next week, approve encumbering $3 million from the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Trust Fund to recruit grocers or other “food options” to move into the area, which is about to see two grocery stores close.

The money will pay for a consultant, and will potentially provide up to a 25 percent grant for a vendor. As well, other incentive programs may be presented by said consultant as an alternative.

Discussion in a public notice meeting last week balanced the goal of opening a store with the reality that the reason that the stores are closing to start with is that there wasn’t enough business to make them profitable.

Those concerns resurfaced during the discussion Tuesday, with suggestions including food trucks delivering groceries to the needy. The conversation revealed a fundamental disconnect between Councilors on the bill, with Finance Chair Garrett Dennis noting that a delivery solution may not work for many of those in the affected areas.

As a result of the discussion, the other food options were added, beyond brick and mortar groceries.

Baymeadows bonanza

The former Baymeadows Golf Club saw its last tee shot in 2004, and since then development has dashed the Southside property.

Rendering via The Jacksonville Daily Record.

Now, reports WJCT, a change is going to come.

“A $15 million project to revitalize the defunct Baymeadows Golf Club is supposed to include a hotel and a retail center, though tenants have not been named yet. The project, which will cover close to six acres, will feature a 100-room hotel and 35,000 square feet of retail space.”

Curry asserted that “this sends a message to every neighborhood, where citizens rally and work together and make it their cause, they can change things and make a difference.

Kouvaris leaves WJXT

Per the Florida Times-Union, longtime sportscaster Sam Kouvaris is headed out after 37 years.

Sam Kouvaris will be back on local airwaves.

“While the 62-year-old Kouvaris — the longest-tenured, on-air talent in WJXT history after news anchor Tom Wills — wanted to keep working, he couldn’t come to an acceptable resolution with the independent TV station. Kouvaris says he offered WJXT several full-time and part-time proposals at a salary reduction up to 50 percent, but the station had other options in mind, which led to the breakup,” wrote Gene Frenette Wednesday.

Kouvaris would prefer to stay in the Jacksonville market.

With the respect of all of his peers, it’s hard to imagine that won’t happen.

Delaney chats with Fiorentino before joining alliance

Last month, former Jacksonville Mayor and University of North Florida President John Delaney announced he will be joining the strategic alliance between The Fiorentino Group and Rogers Towers.

Before officially starting, Delaney sat down with Fiorentino Group founder Marty Fiorentino for a quick two-and-a-half-minute interview, which can be viewed by clicking the image below:

The alliance, formed five years ago, includes collaboration on business and government affairs issues; business counsel; higher education issues; complex environmental matters and a variety of other government affairs needs at the local, state and federal levels.

“John has been a part of some of Jacksonville’s most successful public policy initiatives,” Fiorentino said in April. “His decades of experience in local, state and federal politics and tenure as president of one of Florida’s leading educational institutions has involved him in many complex issues where his leadership has had a real and positive impact. His addition to our team will provide exceptional added-value services as we develop winning strategies for our clients to influence public policy.”

After quality draft, Jaguars rank fourth in NFL power rankings

It has been a week since the Jaguars selected University of Florida defensive tackle Taven Bryan with their first pick in the NFL draft. They added LSU wide receiver D.J. Clark and Alabama safety Ronnie Harrison with their next two choices.

Grades are in!

Overall, the Jags received good marks for their draft. NFL.com gave them an A, while Bleacher Report bestowed them with a B. Bleacher Report marked them down because key needs of an inside linebacker, offensive guard, and possibly a quarterback went unmet.

In addition, Jacksonville seems intent on sticking with quarterback Blake Bortles for the foreseeable future. Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee did not come until late in the draft.

This had an effect on Jacksonville’s power ranking. With a good, but not spectacular draft, the Jags dropped from third to fourth in the power rankings, according to NFL.com. The Los Angeles Rams jumped to the No. 2 position, moving ahead of Jacksonville and the New England Patriots.

“Ignore the tiny fail,” said NFL.com’s Elliot Harrison. “Faith in Blake Bortles is riding high, apparently — which is fine, provided he can progress off his performance in the playoffs (versus the Steelers and Patriots … not the Bills).

With a solid draft and an already-strong roster, the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles are at the top of the power list, followed by the Rams, Patriots, Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings. Among Jacksonville’s fellow AFC South competitors, the Houston Texans are ranked No. 12, the Tennessee Titans No. 13, and the Indianapolis Colts coming in dead last at No. 32.

Voluntary workouts will take place in May and early June, while the first mandatory minicamp is set for June 12-14.

As Anna Brosche mulls challenge, Lenny Curry hauls in $250K more for re-election bid

Informed sources confirm that Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry raised more than $250,000 in April, his second straight month of strong fundraising after a $1.5 million March.

The breakdown: $46,000 for the campaign (bringing its total raised to just over $300,000) and $206,000 for the “Jacksonville on the Rise” political committee (pushing it over $1.45 million raised or transferred from other committees).

All told, Curry is positioned by the end of May to clear $2 million raised.

Big donors in April include John Campion ($50,000), and Black Knight Financial Services, Fidelity Information Services, and Borland-Groover Clinic ($25,000 each).

The fundraising haul comes at a time when challengers for Curry, a first-term Republican elected in 2015, are lining up for next year’s ballot.

Democrat Doreszell Cohen, former Atlantic Beach Commissioner Jimmy Hill (a Republican, who has $100 of his and his wife’s money on hand after April fundraising) and NPA activist Connell Crooms are already in the race.

Additionally, Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche is mulling a run for mayor, with a decision to be made this summer, after her term as Council President wraps in June.

While she is “focused” on her “responsibilities as Council President and some important initiatives launched recently,” Brosche notes that once her term ends, she will have “the opportunity to get clarity on [her] next steps.”

A Brosche/Curry matchup would bristle with drama, were it to happen.

The dislike between the two leading Republicans in City Hall is palpable, as they have clashed on issue after issue, with each showing a propensity to hurl pejoratives at each other through the media.

If a challenge were to manifest, one could expect Curry to call in every marker possible, with an eye toward as decisive a victory as possible.

A party familiar with the thinking of Curry’s political team asserts that Brosche will lose her next campaign, no matter what she runs for.

Aaron Zahn sees being JEA CEO as a long-term gig

JEA CEO Aaron Zahn is settling into his interim role.

Florida Politics spoke with Zahn in light of recent criticism of the CEO. Navigating a tricky political climate, a neophyte to the world of municipal utilities (he was on the board weeks before he made the CEO bid), Zahn has faced a unique pressure.

We discussed this and more with him in a sit-down interview Wednesday morning at the JEA Tower.

“It would be great 10 years from now to be looking back with the wonderful team we have, with all the great employees, having added jobs, having driven economic development, and show we can run a utility while lowering rates and lowering emissions. I think that’s possible, but we’ve got to start having bold ideas,” Zahn said.

“The question I’m asking: How does JEA continue to be a trusted partner for the next five, 10, 50 years?” Zahn said.

“I would not have made the position to run for the interim office if I weren’t interested in running for the permanent office,” Zahn said, adding that his qualifications would need to match with a “scorecard” crafted by the JEA Board.

Zahn notes that his vision of the future of JEA includes working with Melissa Dykes, whom he has said previously would have a COO role, a more or less equal counterpart.

Zahn addressed the move from new board member to new interim CEO as something that wasn’t quite as anomalous as local reporting made out.

“In private industry,” Zahn said, “going from a board to an interim CEO role is a very common practice, especially for somebody that has executive experience, industry experience, strategic experience.”

“When you look at the situation JEA was in at the time,” Zahn added, “what was needed was really a strong leader who could start to provide a stable environment for our employees.”

“JEA, the last four or five months, it really became evident that there needed to be a distinction between a conversation with shareholders and shareholder-trustees and as customers/policymakers,” Zahn said. “We all effectively wear those two hats at different times.”

Zahn noted that his ascension to CEO came with “no guarantees,” but he took the risk in the interest of forging a “stable environment.”

“That’s what I’ve done time and time again in my career, so it was just a natural fit,” Zahn asserted.

Zahn addressed the process of his selection by the JEA Board last month, one that seemed opaque and even predetermined to some observers.

His pitch, Zahn asserted, came down to JEA being a “multibillion dollar company that forgot it had shareholders.”

“It was very well run by Paul McElroy,” Zahn noted, especially in terms of providing a financially solid footing.

“Our customer consent levels are at all-time highs,” Zahn added, but the “public uproar” of the privatization discussion starting late last year created challenges.

“When you start to think about strategic shift in a company,” Zahn added, “whether it’s ‘sell versus don’t sell’ or a new business line … you need the consensus of 20 policy makers.”

Flat utility sales, posited Zahn, presented a binary question: “Are we going to watch the future or are we going to be a part of it?”

“We as an organization have the potential to be so much more than we are today. We can drive revenues; there’s a number of different strategies where we can actually start to increase sales,” Zahn said.

Renewables and other technologies, Zahn claimed, are among the “bold ideas” that could allow JEA to be “part of those massive trends that have tailwinds behind them.”

Rate raises are not a consideration, he added, given a “very stable rate environment.”

What is on the table: an array of innovations, and potential restructuring of JEA to “better serve the customer.”

“Business model always precedes capital conversations,” Zahn said, alluding to the privatization debate that burned hot then burned out earlier this year.

Anna Brosche mulls run for Jacksonville Mayor

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche is not ruling out a run for a higher office, such as Jacksonville Mayor, she said on WJCTs First Coast Connect Wednesday.

The field is crowding.

Mayor Lenny Curry has already reported $1.5 million raised, but will face former Atlantic Beach Commissioner Jimmy Hill and activist Connell Crooms in a blanket primary next March.

Brosche would be, by far, the best known of Curry’s opponents. And one with personal reason to run, as anyone who has paid attention to the fractious “unhealthy dynamic” between Brosche and Curry’s office over the last year knows.

We reached out to Brosche, a Republican like Curry and Hill, after the show Wednesday.

While she is “focused” on her “responsibilities as Council President and some important initiatives launched recently,” Brosche notes that once her term ends, she will have “the opportunity to get clarity on [her] next steps.”

Brosche would not present a timetable for that process, even as she has yet to file for Council re-election to her at-large seat.

She also wouldn’t disclose whether she has talked to consultants or potential donors.

However, what’s clear is that Curry’s most high-profile challenger may be a fellow Republican.

Curry and Brosche have clashed on issues even before the recent high-profile contretemps on whether JEA should explore privatization.

Brosche led in calling for the removal of Confederate monuments, an issue on which Curry didn’t take a position.

And Brosche was not as enthusiastic about pension reform as Curry would have liked.

And Curry’s children’s reform proposal, via the Kids Hope Alliance, likewise was a hard sell for Brosche.

Brosche has been encouraged to run by many people.

But as Bill Bishop can attest, there is a ceiling without the donor class backing a candidate. And her first order of business, whatever her next campaign is, will be to show financial viability.

Ali Korman Shelton stepping down from Lenny Curry administration

Jacksonville’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Ali Korman Shelton, is stepping down from her position in City Hall.

On Monday, Shelton sent a letter to Mayor Lenny Curry explaining her departure effective later this month.

“After much contemplation, and despite the positive future I foresee, it is now time for someone else to serve you, your administration, and the city in this important capacity,” Shelton wrote, citing family concerns as a reason for her resignation.

Shelton’s letter lauds accomplishments, including a positive relationship with the Jacksonville City Council, three strong budgets, and improving the Bold City’s profile.

Shelton handled much of the lobbying push for the pension reform referendum approved in Tallahassee and later approved by 65 percent of Duval County residents.

Curry offered a glowing assessment of Shelton’s tenure.

“Ali Korman Shelton is a friend, colleague and teammate,” the mayor said. “Her contribution to the successes of my first term have been integral and substantial. Although she is leaving City Hall, I know that Ali will continue to be someone I trust for her advice and assistance.

Continued Curry, “The people of Jacksonville have been well-served by her dedication to public policy, and we owe her thanks for the hours spent doing that work.”

The last departure of this magnitude was that of former Chief of Staff Kerri Stewart. It took the Curry team months to replace her, a job filled at the beginning of the year by former Curry political adviser Brian Hughes.

Jacksonville City Council Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, a frequent antagonist of the Curry administration, posited that the power dynamic in the Mayor’s Office led to the departure.

“I can only imagine why she’s leaving … passed over for Chief of Staff,” Dennis said, deeming her “irreplaceable” and another in a series of “huge losses” for the Curry administration.

Dennis advised that Curry hire a strong woman to replace her, as the Mayor’s Office is a “boys’ club” as it stands.

Administration sources refute that narrative, even as other Councilmembers made off-record note of her ability to build consensus on often challenging issues.

Intergovernmental affairs is shorthanded currently, with Jordan Elsbury the sole survivor. There will be moves ahead to fill open slots, which include Shelton’s and that of Jessica Baker, who left last year.

Lenny Curry wants to bring NFL draft to Jacksonville

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is known as an ardent football fan, so it’s really not a surprise he is in Dallas this weekend for the NFL Draft.

What may surprise some is that he’s pitching Jacksonville as a host city for a future draft.

“We believe based on size and scope that Jax will be prepared to host and in a strong position to make that case. We met with production teams and with the Commissioner plus other league [professionals],” Curry told Florida Politics Friday.

Benefits abound for the host city.

“As a televised event it highlights the host city,” Curry said, “and as a large live arena event it is a massive fan experience.”

“In both ways,” the mayor added, “it would be an amazing way to showcase everything from the Beaches to downtown and in between.”

Philadelphia hosted the Draft last year, Curry said. City officials says it received $95 million of local economic impact. Dallas, meanwhile, has 450,000 registrants for tickets, with 30 percent from out of state.

This is, essentially, a potential showcase event for the city. And, as we reported last week, the city is moving to develop its sports complex further, in partnership with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Cordish Companies was announced as the development partner for what a media release called “a $2.5 billion world-class, mixed-use district in the downtown sports complex.”

Back in July, Khan took Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa on a tour of Cordish developments in Baltimore and St. Louis.

The city leaders were wowed.

Curry emailed Mousa while on the trip: “Let’s debrief quickly after today’s St Louis trip and tomorrow’s Baltimore on downtown development. We need to discuss design, finance, infrastructure.”

Curry has also done his part to try to redirect the Sports Complex into a destination beyond football games and arena events.

Jacksonville taxpayers have authorized $88 million for city-funded capital improvements to the Jaguars’ stadium: $43 million for the world’s biggest scoreboard during the Alvin Brown administration, and under the Curry administration, half of a $90 million buy-in that secured a new amphitheater, a covered practice field, and club seat improvements.

As plans proceed apace for the Sports Complex, expect traffic to be redirected in that direction soon.

The state allocated in March $12.5 million for Jacksonville’s Talleyrand Connector, an ambitious reconfiguration of Hart Bridge offramps that would route traffic on surface streets by the stadium and toward the port. Jacksonville is also pursuing $25 million in federal money.

This project was originally pitched to the Duval Delegation in 2016 as a way of activating the property near the Sports Complex, a burgeoning entertainment district. Further studies in 2017 found benefits in terms of routing traffic to and from the port.

Khan isn’t the only member of Jacksonville’s donor class rolling out an impressive proposal.

Politically connected developers Peter Rummell and Michael Munz are looking to develop The District, pending City Council approval of the terms, which include $25 million in infrastructure spending and up to $56 million in REV Grants.

If this all comes together, it will be a development legacy for the Curry administration, kickstarting areas of the city that have languished for years.

And if the timing is right, the Draft may spotlight an ambitious round of public-private partnerships toward downtown development.

‘Jax 5’ protester Connell Crooms launches run for Jacksonville Mayor

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry drew his third challenger for the 2019 unitary election Friday, with Connell Crooms filing to run without party affiliation.

Crooms became known to Jacksonville residents in the wake of a protest that went awry in Hemming Park last April.

The protest became violent when Gary Snow, a noted provocateur at leftwing and Democratic events in 2016 and 2017, ran through the crowd provoking protesters.

Crooms, who is deaf (and an activist for the deaf), ended up being beaten into unconsciousness by Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officers at that protest as a result of Snow’s actions.

Crooms was one of five protesters who were arrested; the charges were dropped against Crooms in June, with community sentiment on the side of Crooms and the rest of the Jax 5 protest contingent.

Croom joins a growing field of candidates against Curry, who has banked $1.5 million for his campaign, and who is aggressively fundraising again in April.

Former Atlantic Beach commissioner Jimmy Hill is in the race as a Republican, but has yet to report fundraising.

Doreszell Cohen entered the race some months back as a Democrat, and raised $600 at last count.

Jacksonville sees a unitary election in March, a functional blanket primary involving all of the candidates. Unless someone clears 50 percent + 1, the two top finishers move on to a May 2019 election.

Jacksonville Bold for 4.27.18 — Lessons learned

Lately, Jacksonville politics has been fractious. A debate over JEA privatization, a hot-button topic for months, saw the culmination of claims and cross-claims of lies, betrayals, subterfuge and deception before Mayor Lenny Curry pulled the plug Thursday.

As the political season approaches, locals may want to take a cue from gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, who made yet another Jacksonville stop, one where protesters showed up to spotlight his family farm underpaying laborers in 2008.

While the issue was long since resolved, in the heat of the campaign, it has become newly relevant, and chants like “Putnam don’t pay” could be heard through the glass inside the Mandarin diner during Putnam’s “Up & Adam” event.

Our Jacksonville correspondent joked with campaign staff that the candidate should engage protesters after the event.

And Putnam did just that.

To watch what happened next, click the image below:

For those expecting any of the protesters, who were holding signs condemning the candidate, to engage him directly on the issues, they would have left disappointed.

Putnam bantered with the lead protester, as she described working in celery fields “on the mule train.”

What followed was talk of celery grating and “firing the grove” — in an area Putnam called “the celery capital of the world” — with Putnam describing ways of said firing.

“I know about those wages,” the woman told Putnam. “You basically said you took care of that situation.”

Putnam confirmed that, adding: “Our people are the most important part of any business.”

The encounter ended with a high-five.

“That’s my girl, right there,” Putnam said, with protesters saying “have a good day” as he headed to his next stop.

Now, on to the week’s other news …

Lawson slams farm bill

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, writing in the Tallahassee Democrat, slammed the current iteration of the Farm Bill on Congress.

“The bill introduced by House Republicans proposes to cut billions of dollars from federal nutrition assistance programs, including SNAP, and take food away from millions of seniors, veterans, persons with disabilities and vulnerable communities struggling to make ends meet,” Lawson asserted.

Al Lawson has been concerned about ‘food deserts’ in his district; this bill won’t help.

Lawson notes that the bill would “end or cut SNAP benefits for more than 1 million low-income households, add aggressive new work requirements and throw 265,000 school children off the free lunch programs.”

The Democratic incumbent in Florida’s 5th Congressional District laments, in the editorial, the loss of the bipartisan spirit in the committee.

Meanwhile, Lawson’s campaign apparatus has been fairly dormant thus far — and he needs to get it together, as his primary opponent Alvin Brown will host a campaign kickoff Saturday morning at the IBEW hall … the meeting place of the Duval Democrats.

Johns bows out of CD 6 scrum

On Friday, St. Johns County Commissioner Jimmy Johns opted to withdraw rather than stay in the race for Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

The “resign to run” law compelled the choice. And faced with two self-financing Republican opponents in Michael Waltz and John Ward, Johns stood down.

Jimmy Johns’ withdrawal narrows the race for what will be an expensive nomination.

As of the end of March, Ward had $709,340 on hand, with $555,000 of that from his own checkbook. Waltz, who loaned his campaign $400,000, had $653,354 on hand.

Ward and Waltz thus far have demonstrated the most fundraising ability on the Republican side. Former state Rep. Fred Costello has $15,720 on hand.

Read more here.

Gibson, Davis deliver check to Edward Waters

Rep. Tracie Davis and Sen. Audrey Gibson presented a $356,000 check to Edward Waters College to aid recipients of the College Promise Program. The program is a pathway for low-income, first-time college students beginning their higher education at a four-year institution.

Audrey Gibson and Tracie Davis delivered for EWC.

“As an alum of Edward Waters College and State Representative for this area, I am so excited to have been part of the team with Senator Gibson to secure this funding for such a great program,” stated Davis. “College Promise is the second program in the nation providing a debt-free pathway to higher education for first-time students. This is the future of higher education and funding is critical to its success.”

This money will defray costs for 100 students to attend EWC for a year.

Renner: Beaches are still open

Rep. Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican with deep Jacksonville ties, penned an op-ed intended to quell misinformation about beaches closing to public access.

Beaches are open, says Rep. Paul Renner. (Photo: Florida Times-Union)

“In some cases,” Renner wrote, “private property owners who live on the beach own lots that are platted to include the ‘dry sand’ between the dunes and that high-water mark. Even though this is private property, and even though those owners are taxed on the dry sand portion of the beach, it is not uncommon that many of us use it.”

“The new law simply creates a uniform process for a county to apply to the courts to affirm areas of customary use. Without the courts involved on the front end, individual property owners could and did sue to challenge county ordinances around the state. The taxpayers were on the hook for legal fees to defend every individual case against the county and pay any damages awarded if the county got it wrong,” Renner wrote.

Read more here.

Polson gets Hazouri endorsement in HD 15

On Tuesday, political veteran Tommy Hazouri, currently a Jacksonville City Councilman, endorsed fellow Democrat Tracye Polson in her bid for state House.

Polson is the sole Democrat in the race to succeed outgoing Rep. Jay Fant in House District 15, a Westside Jacksonville seat.

Can Trayce Polson flip HD 15?

“As a former state legislator, having represented this district for 12 years, I know this community needs and deserves a courageous and bold voice to represent our diverse needs, and that person is Dr. Tracye Polson,” Hazouri asserted.

Hazouri went on to laud Polson’s commitment to “real change in public education” and a “fresh, insightful approach that will address the true needs of our city.”

“I am extremely honored to receive the support from Council Member Tommy Hazouri, who has been a public servant to Jacksonville for decades,” Polson said. “His knowledge and experience will be a great asset to our campaign and we are excited to have his counsel and support moving forward.”

Polson, atypically for area Democrats running for Republican-held State House seats, has shown dynamic fundraising. She’s raised $174,103 between her campaign and political committee accounts, with $113,635 on hand, after clearing over $30,000 in March.

There is a competitive Republican primary, and those candidates all trail in cash on hand.

Jacksonville land use attorney Wyman Duggan has just over $95,000 cash on hand. Duggan, notably, is one of a group of lobbyists working on behalf of Nova Scotia-based Emera in hopes that local utility JEA goes on the market.

Other Republicans are farther back.

Yacht broker Mark Zeigler raised $11,795 in March, his first month of significant fundraising. First-time candidate Joseph Hogan, meanwhile, reported no fundraising.

‘New Dawn’ for JEA, says CEO

In a memo to JEA employees Monday, Interim CEO Aaron Zahn hailed “a new dawn” for the Jacksonville utility.

Aaron Zahn vows that he will build trust with his new workforce. (Image: Action News Jax)

The point of the memo was clear. It framed Zahn, a board member for one month who leveled-up into the CEO chair, as an agent of stability for the utility, which has been rocked for months by a parlous privatization debate.

Zahn wrote that he “recognize[d] the emotional and mental toll” of the privatization debate, adding that he is “committed to learn” from the workforce, and that he intends to earn trust.

The language had a fortune cookie feel in spots: “Every day presents an opportunity to start anew. Even mistakes present an opportunity to learn and grow.”

Zahn addressed substance eventually, noting that he had asked the Mayor and City Council to move from a “discourse … of decision-making” to a “discussion” of JEA’s future, allowing the utility to develop a plan to address “opportunities and risk … in our changing market.”

Regarding Melissa Dykes, who served as interim CEO for a week before the board chose Zahn without any substantial public discussion of his merits compared to Dykes, she has “agreed to take on an expanded role … is committed to JEA and working together as partners to accomplish the vision I’ve set forth.”

Org changes are coming, Zahn says. And so is an updated strategic plan, which will make JEA “a utility for the future of Jacksonville.”

Official positions of Zahn and his chief political ally, Mayor Curry, boil down to advocating a pause of some indeterminate length in a discussion of privatization of the utility.

The memo does not address that timetable, one likely of key concern to stakeholders inside the company and city government alike.

Jacksonville’s Mayor pulled the plug on privatization Thursday though, ending the discussion for the foreseeable future.

Dennis menaced by ballot challenge

It appears that there will be a competitive race in Jacksonville City Council District 9 next year after all.

Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, the Democratic incumbent, faces a challenge from within his own party, from Marcellus Holmes.

Marcellus Holmes tells us he is in the race regardless of Garrett Dennis running again or not.

Holmes, who played professional football for the New England Patriots from 1997 to 2001 as both a practice and active squad member, is about to line up against a Councilman who has been a serious irritant to Curry.

When asked to assess Dennis’ performance, Holmes — reached by phone Monday afternoon — was diplomatic.

“He’s doing the best job he can,” Holmes said. “But I can give the community more of what it needs.”

Dennis, who hasn’t filed yet, insists he’s running for re-election. That was news to Holmes.

“I didn’t know he was running again,” Holmes said, saying that Dennis did a “great job his first term.”

Holmes, who currently is an at-risk case manager with first-time offenders at local nonprofit Daniel Kids, sees his experience as being key to “bringing the community together” to “meet the needs of every community” and “get every issue solved.”

There have been strong suggestions that Curry may have an interest in backing an opponent to Dennis. But, says Holmes, he hasn’t talked to the Mayor.

That said, one of Dennis’ Council colleagues — fellow Democrat Reggie Brown, who is running from his Council seat for Gibson’s spot in the Senate — did offer some advice: to go in there and be himself.

Dennis, when asked about facing an opponent for his re-election, was blunt.

“I don’t know who that is,” Dennis said. “Bring it.”

Supplementary Reading: Dennis irked by unfair concert ticket distro from Mayor’s office.

Sauce loss

A saga that began with a 2011 business development deal for a BBQ sauce plant and saw one of the business principals elected to City Council along the way descended into drama and nonperformance.

The city of Jacksonville was left hanging compared to secured creditors in the BBQ backwash.

An FBI raid and a subsequent series of legal actions and personal and corporate bankruptcy filings led to a reorg, and the city of Jacksonville poised to eventually get pennies on the dollar for the over $600,000 it fronted to the company.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jerry Funk issued a final decree Tuesday morning in the bankruptcy case of K.J.B. Specialties (Jerome Brown Barbecue and Wings), with a repayment plan for all creditors.

Last and least: unsecured creditors, such as the city of Jacksonville, which will get back less than $60,000 of the outstanding $380,000 loan back that it ceded the company seven years ago to open an ill-fated sauce plant in economically troubled Northwest Jacksonville.

A $210,000 grant for job creation was unaddressed by the accord. Fifty-six jobs were intended to be created and sustained over five years, but no jobs fit the criteria.

Read more here.

Shine down

Per WJCT, Duval County School Board member Scott Shine abandoned his re-election bid this year after yet another parlous board meeting.

Scott Shine out. (Photo: Florida Times-Union)

Shine, who often had a reliable ally on the board in former member and current state Rep. Jason Fischer, has been steeped in conflict with his colleagues — most recently about the push to hire a permanent superintendent, which Shine would have preferred to defer until after this year’s elections (which would see some of his rivals termed off the board).

There are no filed candidates in the race; expect that to change.

McCague to be interim JaxPort CFO

One of Jacksonville’s most respected financial hands is moving over to JAXPORT to be CFO on an interim basis.

Beth McCague, shown here with Bill Scheu, is no stranger to interim gigs.

Beth McCague, whose most recent public role was as interim director of the formerly embattled Police and Fire Pension Fund, will serve as CFO for the less embattled JAXPORT.

Per the Jacksonville Daily Record, McCague was already advising CEO Eric Green.

She will handle the port’s capital program and other financial functions, until such time as a permanent CFO is chosen.

Walk talk

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has been bashed of late for a tendency to ticket black pedestrians who cross illegally more than scofflaws from other demographics, and the latest hits were taken this week at a gathering of faith leaders, per Action News Jax.

Sheriff Mike Williams faces no serious electoral threat next year.

“In Jacksonville, African-Americans represent 29 percent of the population, but according to a joint publication by the Florida Times-Union and ProPublica, the black community has received 55 percent of the tickets in recent years. Sheriff Mike Williams has stood by his number of 45 percent, and said this year, after a focus on education rather than enforcement, it’s down to 34 percent,” AN Jax reported.

While there’s “work to do,” Williams maintained that there is not an “epidemic” of overenforcement.

Williams will waltz to re-election. He has raised over $400,000 between hard money and committee cash; his opponent, Tony Cummings, has approximately $200 on hand.

Bean, Byrd present state funding for Fernandina Beach

State Sen. Aaron Bean of Fernandina Beach and state Rep. Cord Byrd of Neptune Beach presented a $450,000 check Tuesday to Fernandina Beach Mayor Johnny Miller and the City Commission. During the 2018 Legislative Session, the two lawmakers secured state funding for crucial shoreline stabilization to the city’s waterfront marina seawall.

Aaron Bean and Cord Byrd present Fernandina Beach officials a $450K check for shoreline stabilization.

“The seawall of Fernandina Beach’s marina sustained extensive damage during Hurricane Irma and has resulted in severe flooding in the downtown area,” Bean said in a statement. “This state funding will help the City of Fernandina Beach replace the deteriorating marina seawall, which will ensure the preservation of our historic downtown for future generations.”

Byrd added: “The Stormwater Shoreline Stabilization project will improve the city’s marina seawall and better serve residents by protecting the historical downtown area from future flooding.”

Fernandina Beach’s Stormwater Shoreline Stabilization project seeks to reduce flooding in the city’s downtown by replacing 270 linear feet of the existing marina seawall. Once installed, the new seawall will be 4 feet taller than its predecessor to better defend downtown Fernandina Beach from storm surges and subsequent damage.

Bean, Daniels present $250K to Jax Sheriff’s Office

Sen. Bean joined state Rep. Daniels of Jacksonville to present a $250K check to Jacksonville Sheriff Williams and Dr. Charles Moreland, attending on behalf of Mayor Curry. During the 2018 Legislative Session, the two Jacksonville-area lawmakers secured state funding for a Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Matching Grant.

Aaron Bean and Kimberly Daniels award $250K to officials from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the City of Jacksonville for an innovative policing program.

COPS Grant funds will be used for 15 sworn officer positions to implement a three-pronged approach in policing: A Blight/Nuisance Squad, Sheriff’s Watch Apartments and the Group Violence Intervention Program. The funding allows the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to continue its goal of reducing firearm-related crime and homicides.

“The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office does an exceptional job protecting our community, and this COPS Matching Grant will allow them to keep more officers on the street to fight crime,” Bean said. “This state funding shows the Florida Legislature’s commitment to the men and women of law enforcement and to protecting every citizen in the City of Jacksonville.”

Daniels continued: “I have chaired the Public Health and Safety Committee for the City of Jacksonville and served on the Florida House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee. Sponsoring the COPS Grant with Senator Bean is an honor, and I am proud to be able to present this state funding for this great cause.”

District discussion continues

Jacksonville City Councilwoman Lori Boyer has been pushing The District development in recent weeks, and another stakeholder meeting occurred Wednesday with fellow Councilman and former Council President Greg Anderson.

The District is a high-risk, high-reward proposal to solve a long-standing development gap.

Anderson had questions for Boyer on the proposed development, four years in the making, with construction proposed to wrap by the end of 2022. Politically connected developers Peter Rummell and Michael Munz have a deal, as of January, to buy the land for $18.6 million from the JEA Board.

While the Downtown Investment Authority backs the proposal that would remedy a long-standing dead zone, there are a number of stumbling blocks to the deal, not the least of which is City Council approval of what amounts to a public-private partnership.

Read more here.

Neighborhood summit draws a crowd

Could Jacksonville’s neighborhood summits become a yearly tradition?

A report from WJXT suggests that may be the case, with hundreds of people at the Prime Osborn last weekend to get direction on Jacksonville’s resources.

The photo (via WJXT) offers a small sample of the action at Prime Osborn.

“The purpose of this is to educate the community as a whole — it doesn’t matter where you live — about the resources that the city provides to its citizens,” said Denise Lee, Jacksonville’s director of Blight Initiatives.

“You meet people all the time and they say, ” Well, I have this problem. ” I say, “Well, we have the city Neighborhoods Department back and they would be more than happy to work with you. We’re having a neighborhood summit. Please come out,” Lee said.

The city brought back its Neighborhoods Department early in Curry’s term.

Jacksonville Zoo ‘African Forest’ expansion continues

A newly installed 40-foot-tall tree will soon become the centerpiece of the Jacksonville Zoo African Forest build-out, which will connect each of the new ape exhibits.

As reported by the Jacksonville Business Journal, the unique central tree will connect overhead trails, similar to those in the Zoo’s Land of the Tiger exhibit. The tree – the crux of the $9 million, 4-acre African Forest project – will also contain an internal spiral staircase that will “allow keepers to interact and provide enrichment for the apes in the mesh-enclosed ‘exhibit.’”

Jacksonville Zoo African Forest exhibit renderings.

Part of the new exhibit – replacing the two-decade-old Great Apes Loop – will feature an “enrichment station” where apes interact with a high-tech touchscreen app.

The Journal also reports that by the end of January, the African Forest project is close to full funding, with $7.3 million out of its $9 million raised. Now, only $400,000 remains to reach its goal.

Save the date: Jacksonville YMCA groundbreaking ceremony

Next month, there will be a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the James Weldon Johnson Family YMCA expansion, which includes a new teen center, swimming pool and other amenities.

Jacksonville YMCA groundbreaking ceremony scheduled for May 14.

Groundbreaking begins 10 a.m. Monday, May 14, at the Johnson Family YMCA, 5700 Cleveland Road RSVP by Friday, May 11, at events@fcymca.org.

According to the invite, the project will provide “necessary resources and new opportunities to help transform the lives of youth and families in Northwest Jacksonville.”

Jaguars draft defensive tackle Taven Bryan from Florida

The Jacksonville Jaguars were in an unfamiliar position going into Thursday night’s NFL draft. Over the past few years, they drafted early in the first round following another losing season.

This year, the team drafted 29th (out of 32) following a turnaround 10-6 season that saw them come within five minutes of reaching the Super Bowl. Going in, they knew an instant starting running back like Leonard Fournette, whom the Jags drafted with the sixth pick last year, was not going be available at 29.

Newly drafted Jaguar Taven Bryan.

Someone like offensive lineman Cam Robinson, Jacksonville’s 2017 early second-round choice out of Alabama, would still be around. Bolstering the right side of the offensive line was still a need, while the defense is among the top units in the NFL.

They also let it be known maintaining their “smash mouth” style they developed under first-year coach Doug Marrone was in their plans.

“Who’s it going to be? Who knows? said Jaguars’ Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin before the draft. “But according to the work that we’ve done, we feel that we will get a good football player at that spot.”

At around 11:20 p.m. Thursday, Jaguars fans found out when they plucked 6-foot, 5-inch and 291-pound defensive tackle Taven Bryan from the Florida Gators. In the end, instead of filling some holes on offense, Jacksonville chose to make an outstanding defensive unit even better.

The Jaguars have two more days of draft work yet to do. On Friday, they have the 61st overall pick in the second round and the 93rd selection in the third round. The draft concludes Saturday with rounds 4-7.

They will have picks toward the end of the fourth round, the sixth round and two picks in the seventh round.

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