Lenny Curry Archives - Page 4 of 139 - Florida Politics

Showdown at the Soul Food Bistro: Garrett Dennis takes on Lenny Curry

The Soul Food Bistro is the go-to place on Jacksonville’s Westside for soul food. From fried catfish and collard greens to oxtails and cornbread, it has it all.

It is also in the heart of Jacksonville City Council District 9, which is represented by Councilman Garrett Dennis.

Dennis, a Democrat who often is alone in a battle against the Lenny Curry administration and Curry’s political machine (the Venn diagrams of which overlap), was not invited to the lunch event: a celebration of capital projects in Northwest Jacksonville that ranged from a septic tank phaseout to an amphitheater in Lonnie Miller Park to lights in front of Florida State College Jacksonville’s North campus and infrastructure improvement in sidewalks and a new library in Oceanway.

Progress was the overt theme of the day. But conflict, the subtext, became the story — with Dennis hijacking the media event with stories of pressure from the mayor’s office that were disputed strongly by the administration.

The Councilmembers present represented Districts 7 (Reggie Gaffney), 8 (Katrina Brown) and 10 (Reggie Brown). Additionally, at-large Councilman Sam Newby was in attendance.

Dennis, despite not being invited, was the first politician there, setting up a sign outside welcoming people to District 9.

“This is the second time the mayor has come into my district and invited other Council members and not invited me,” Dennis said, “but we all know why.”

“I don’t go along to get along,” Dennis said, a clear reference to those councilors “on the invite list.”

Dennis said his phone had been “ringing off the hook all last night, since six o’clock this morning. People are very concerned — in the district, outside the district.”

Dennis asked, “Is it One City, One Jacksonville, or one city for the people who rubberstamp all his initiatives, don’t ask any questions, and go along to get along?”

We asked Dennis about the anticipated Reggie Brown challenge to Sen. Audrey Gibson, who is his political ally.

Dennis was blunt.

“From what I’ve heard, the mayor’s encouraged him,” Dennis said. “Matter of fact, I hear the mayor’s looking for someone to unseat me in this district.”

“But there’s an old saying: ‘better be careful of the hole you dig because you’re digging your own hole’,” Dennis said. “He’s going to be challenged if he keeps doing things like this to divide our city.”

“But what do we expect from a party boss turned mayor?” Dennis asked.

Dennis said he was willing to be the “lone ranger” if need be, asking questions about what the city’s benefit would be from selling JEA.

“The mayor has made these promises, and now he can’t fulfill these promises. That’s not right,” Dennis said.

While he was unwilling to declare himself to be a candidate for mayor, he noted that “stepping out and sharing all of this doesn’t come without isolation, and that’s what you see happening today.”

“Even if I’m going to be isolated, the only outspoken voice on Council, I’m going to continue to be it,” Dennis said.

Dennis wasn’t finished.

“Let me be honest and clear … standing up is not easy. I’ve been threatened by this administration. I’ve been told that I’m a ‘walking dead man’,” the councilman said.

“It’s unfortunate that I’ve had to go get a concealed weapon permit and carry a gun on me because I’ve been told by this administration that I’m a walking dead man,” Dennis said.

Dennis said “the mayor’s top lieutenant” said that to him on Jan. 11.

“In order for me to stand up, I need y’all with me and need y’all’s support. Some of my family members have encouraged me to file a police report. They’re after me.”

“I don’t want to get into details … but this is another way of isolation and intimidation, and it’s not going to work,” Dennis said. “He’s digging a hole for himself … I’m not going to stand back and be intimidated by anybody.”

Dennis contended that “everything the mayor does is about division, but every great empire came to an end, and every bully has his day.”

“I just have to warn the mayor that eventually you will have your day,” Dennis said.

Dennis contended that there was “major pressure” to vote for Curry’s candidate, John Crescimbeni, in last year’s City Council president race.

“We’ll turn off the spigots in District 7, 8, 9, and 10,” was Dennis’ recounting of the threat.

There will, said Democratic officials on hand, be competition for Curry’s re-election.

The narratives from the mayor’s office and the other Council members at the event were in sharp contrast to Dennis’ bombshells.

Curry’s chief spokesperson, Marsha Oliver, denied that there was any attempt to exclude Dennis from the event.

Curry noted that he was “happy to be here at the invitation of these Council people who advocate for their districts every day. Specific projects, projects that we’ve done, so if the councilman wants to invite me to his district, that’s fine.”

Curry also noted that work has been done in Dennis’ district; specifically, improvements at Edward Waters College.

“I can tell you that these Council members asked me for specific help, projects in their districts. With all due respect,” Curry said, “the councilman has never asked me for projects. I’ve never had a specific ask from that councilperson for a project in his district.”

Curry denied claims that he was looking to run a candidate against Dennis, saying that the purpose of Thursday’s event was not to “play politics.”

Curry denied rumors that promises of a job in the mayor’s office were made to Councilman Reggie Brown, should he lose the Senate race. Curry also added that he’d met with Sen. Gibson this week regarding projects that are “important to Jacksonville.”

Curry’s chief of staff Brian Hughes referred to Dennis’ charges as “nonsensical accusations and gestures.”

Hughes invited Dennis to call him “anytime, any day” to “highlight challenges” and discuss “collaborations” in a “good faith effort.”

“We’re here to work together,” Hughes said, dismissing the allegations of threats as “cryptic hooey.”

Noting that a board nominee accused Dennis of “bullying” a member of Curry’s staff last year in a meeting, Hughes speculated that Dennis “might be transferring some of his aggression onto other people.”

Hughes also dismissed the notion that Reggie Brown was Curry’s handpicked candidate to run against Gibson, calling it “absolutely false.”

“The boogeyman political nonsense season has arrived,” Hughes said. “I am denying that in the strongest possible terms.”

Dennis’ comments, per Hughes, were simply a “good tactic to make us the boogeyman … baseless and unnecessarily divisive.”

Councilman Reggie Brown denied — again — the idea that he would be the mayor’s candidate in the Senate race, and denied rumors that, were he to lose the Senate race, he’d be given a job in Curry’s office, saying that he would probably finish his military career were he to lose.

“I don’t plan on losing,” Reggie Brown said. “No seat or individual is privileged to where they should always have a seat and no one runs against them. We have other incumbents with five or six challengers, and no one’s questioning that … I feel like the time is now.”

Reggie Brown, when asked about the Dennis/Curry dynamic, said, “I don’t get in people’s relationships … but a bridge is built from both ends.”

“It’s amazing that we create this sensation that it’s a fight. We’ve got so much work to do in Jacksonville,” Reggie Brown said. “Today what we’re here to talk about are the accomplishments in Jacksonville.”

Councilman Reggie Gaffney noted, vis-a-vis the Senate race, that Reggie Brown hasn’t filed yet — and until or unless that happens, he will sit out.

“Both of them are friends,” Gaffney said, “but [on the Council], Brown was one of ten votes — and he always supported me.”

Regarding the Dennis/Curry rift, Gaffney urged Dennis to build a relationship with the mayor’s office.

Gaffney has done that, and he points to his record of capital improvements as to why it’s a good idea to be a “peacemaker.”

One wonders, however, if the Dennis/Curry rift is beyond diplomatic solutions.

Dennis seems to think so.

“When Councilman Gaffney a couple weeks ago, we were debating Project Volt, he said the administration has done great work, let’s just vote on it. That’s problematic, when you have a City Council member saying let’s not question the mayor, let’s not debate the mayor’s bill — that’s a rubber stamp and it’s wrong,” Dennis said.

“I can’t say if he’s a real Democrat or not. I think his registration says Democrat. But I do question his politics,” Dennis said.

“Don’t be a rubberstamp. I say that to all my colleagues,” Dennis said.

Jacksonville City Council, Lenny Curry’s office to clash over JEA privatization?

Last year, outgoing JEA board member Tom Petway floated an audacious proposal: privatize Jacksonville’s public utility.

Explorations of that concept apparently have proceeded to the point where Action News Jax reports there are worries of a “mass exodus” from the company. Moreover, an internal letter template suggests pending offers of “continued employment” during possible “acquisition or change of control,” providing “incentive of up to 1 X [their] annual base salary.”

With events taking on a momentum of their own, the Jacksonville City Council will begin to look into the potential sale of the utility.

Councilman Garrett Dennis, who often is more skeptical of initiatives backed by Mayor Lenny Curry than his colleagues, has called for a public meeting on Tuesday to explore “the true implications of a sale.”

Dennis had said last year that “if it results in paying off debt and making true investments in our city in order to grow, then absolutely I would be open to support the concept.” However, he has questions and potential qualms about a potential loss of local control.

“If JEA is privatized,” Dennis said Wednesday, “we will not have that option or leverage to call the private company and hold them accountable” for issues.

Issues came to the fore in 2017, with JEA restoration and communication lagging behind that of Beaches Energy, which vexed at least one Councilman.

As imperfect as that restoration process was, at least the gripes were local. Duke Power and Florida Power and Light wouldn’t afford that.

In addition to a potential loss of local control, previous studies were not convincing to policy makers in terms of the bottom line.

In 2007, the Florida Times-Union reported that JEA could fetch $3.1 billion — which is more than 2.5 times the city’s $1.27 billion current general fund budget. However, rates would have gone up by 39 percent, making the concept a non-starter for Mayor John Peyton, especially in light of the annual JEA contribution to the city’s budget.

The current JEA Agreement applies between the city and the utility through 2021, with the current contribution set at about $114.2 million, with minimum annual increases of 1 percent. It also allocates $30 million of total funding split evenly from JEA and the city for five years for water and sewer projects. And $2 million a year in water quality trading credits, which go to stormwater needs.

In 2012, current City Council liaison to the JEA, Matt Schallenberg, floated a resolution urging the sale of JEA, then pulled it because he didn’t have the votes, according to the Florida Times-Union.

However, he believes that the idea “absolutely” could have traction now, he told Florida Politics last year

Council President Anna Brosche wants to know more, saying she would “need to better understand and fully get what that would mean for the city.”

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry offered a statement that could be construed as conceptual support, framing Petway’s position as “a simple request that citizens and city leaders explore the value of their public assets and how utility customers in our city can be best served. As a reform-minded mayor, I welcome this challenge and will work with City Council leadership to answer these questions.”

Indeed, the ultimate impact of such a move has been the sticking point in previous proposals.

In 2012, City Council Auditor Kirk Sherman noted that while the city would receive an infusion of cash that could be as high as $50 million in 2012 dollars, it would be offset by variables, such as a loss of jobs, the loss of the JEA contribution, and other factors.

The cleanest distillation of the Curry administration’s case for JEA privatization was made in Sunshine State News weeks back by reporter Allison Nielsen.

The local story, written for unknown reasons by a journalist well outside the local market, asserted that “insiders say there are many compelling pieces of evidence to support the privatization of the JEA, which became an independent authority created by the city and county governments in 1967.”

Among those arguments: debt reduction.

“It’s very real. There will be a serious look at it,” Curry’s chief of staff Brian Hughes told Sunshine State News before Hughes joined the Curry administration. “Lenny is a former accountant who was an entrepreneur. He’s a free market Republican. It’s consistent with his ideology.”

That serious look that Hughes described will not happen without one of the Curry administration’s chief rivals having his say.

Rick Scott, Lenny Curry discuss removing regulatory hurdles for Downtown Jacksonville development

Florida Gov. Rick Scott met with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry Wednesday in Tallahassee.

Scott and Curry align politically, and as the only Republican Mayor of a major city in Florida, Curry’s visits to Tallahassee are always worth noting.

Conversation with the Governor Wednesday, Curry said, was about jobs, economic development, investment in downtown — and removing regulatory hurdles.

Curry described his administration as “aggressively” wanting to make more progress on downtown development, but there is “regulatory stuff to work through.”

Gov. Scott, Curry said, has been “helpful” on issues — and Curry expects that to continue.

Further detail wasn’t forthcoming from Gov. Scott’s office.

“Governor Scott routinely meets with mayors from around the state. The Governor and Mayor Curry met to discuss issues important to Jacksonville,” asserted spokesperson Lauren Schenone.

Curry met with legislators from the region and beyond this week in Tallahassee also.

From the Senate, he met with Aaron Bean, Senate Minority Leader Designate Audrey GibsonTravis Hutson and Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, along with Wilton Simpson.

Curry also met with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, in addition to meeting with regional representatives Travis Cummings, Jason FischerClay Yarborough, and Tracie Davis.

Jacksonville has a number of asks — among them, an appropriation for $15 million for septic tank phaseout that is being carried by Davis in the House and Gibson in the Senate — and as has been typical throughout his term, the city’s mayor is making his case in person to powerbrokers.

With Corrine Brown gone, does Alvin Brown run?

A persistent pitter-pat has dripped from the rumor mill of Jacksonville politics for close to a year now, regarding the inevitable Jacksonville challenge to Al Lawson.

Once Corrine Brown was out of the headlines, former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown would launch his run for Congress to take back Corrine’s seat.

“Word in the halls is that former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown is waiting until Queen Corrine is out of the headlines before launching his Congressional bid.”

That was from a story we did in May of last year.

A variation on the same theme, from November: “Brown has told at least one leading Jacksonville Democrat that his plan was to launch a campaign after Corrine Brown is out of the news.”

Corrine Brown dominated her last news cycle on Monday. She’s now in lockdown downstate, for five years.

So now, for Alvin Brown, it’s go time.

Does he jump into the race for Congress?

Some locals have suggested such — connected Jacksonville and D.C. Democrats, in conversations with this writer, say he’ll get into the race this week.

If not now, when?

Jumping into the race gives him six months until the primary.

While we are still waiting to see Rep. Lawson’s year end financial report, the cash on hand he had at the end of September — $97,768 — won’t scare anyone off.

Jaguars owner Shad Khan routinely writes those kinds of checks for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s political committee.

Fun fact: Alvin Brown was in Shad Khan’s box at the last Jaguars home game. Word is he really wanted to be there. And lest we forget, Brown and Khan did a lot of business together, as a $41 million city investment in EverBank Field scoreboards shows.

And Khan, who has not backed Lawson financially, was a big Brown backer through the 2015 election.

Other Jacksonville donors also can make that action happen very quickly.

Lawson has struggled to connect with Jacksonville — which is not to say he hasn’t tried.

He’s taking a Jacksonville guest, Paul Tutwiler, to the State of the Union Tuesday evening.

And he’s filed the Flood Water Relief Act — which would bring $116 million to Jacksonville to help with storm hardening … but he hasn’t gotten that one through committee.

One wonders how some Jacksonville Republicans would deal with U.S. Rep. Alvin Brown; recall that Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford was at war with the Mayor’s Office for much of Brown’s sole term, before working as a shiv-out surrogate for Curry during the 2015 campaign.

Brown said Rutherford had enough budget to run the Sheriff’s Office. Rutherford said Brown was starving the department.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, when we asked him months back, was noncommittal to any particular advantage that Brown would bring to Jacksonville.

“I have a great working relationship with Al Lawson,” Curry said.

However Republicans feel about Alvin Brown, conditions may be conducive to juicing Duval primary turnout, with a must-see primary shaping up between Senate Minority Leader Designate Audrey Gibson and Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown.

Reggie Brown doesn’t BS.

“I am running [because] I believe I can bring more state $ to North Florida and the time to do it is now!”

Reggie Brown is all in. He knows he has a generational opportunity. He believes he can knock over the person who would otherwise be the most powerful Democrat in the Senate.

Alvin Brown doesn’t lack for confidence either.

If not now, when?

Jacksonville takes over a week to respond to complaints about Klan flyers

The city of Jacksonville periodically sees Ku Klux Klan flyers put out in various places, and January offered the latest example.

A man — name withheld here, as the Klan is a terrorist organization — emailed Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on Jan. 14.

“I am visiting Jacksonville, and was disturbed to see these flyers (such as those pictured) rolled up and strewn along Riverside Ave. in Five Points in short intervals.  They are everywhere in the area between the Publix and Bell Riverside Apartments, and beyond.  Regardless of the content of the messages, it is illegal to litter City rights of way and private property like this, per the Florida Litter Law, Section 403.413(4)(a) and (c), Florida Statutes,” he wrote.

The cover described the “Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan” as “fighting for the white race.” The interior text referred to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a “communist alcoholic pervert.”

A woman — name withheld here also for the same reasons — emailed Curry Jan. 16.

“I’m from Jacksonville, and am disturbed to see these (KKK) flyers rolled up and strewn along Riverside Ave, in Five Points in short intervals. They are everywhere in the area. Regardless of the content of the messages, it is illegal to litter City rights of way and private property like this, per the Florida Litter Law, Section 403.413(4)(a) and (c), Florida Statutes, and the Jacksonville Litter Law, Section 380.210(b)(1) and (2), Jacksonville Code of Ordinances,” the complainant said.

“I would have emailed this to your Solid Waste Division, but did not find an email address. Would you please request Solid Waste to issue a citation, or a one-time warning, to the organization that is clearly identified by name and contact information on the attached flyers that were discarded and strewn as litter? Thank you very much for your leadership in keeping Jacksonville beautiful. Have a great day!”

Curry emailed both parties back: the man on Jan. 16; the woman a day later.

“To investigate, I am sharing your message with Bryan Mosier, chief of our Municipal Code Compliance Division (MCCD). I am confident that he will review your message and advise of any findings,” Curry wrote.

The investigation moved slowly.

And revealed, by Jan. 29, that there was little City Hall could (or would) do about Klan flyers.

“Unfortunately, the City’s litter law can only be enforced by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and an officer must witness a person littering.  In this case, I am not aware that any citations were able to be issued for the litter,” wrote Neighborhoods chief Stephanie Burch.

“However, I have asked Dan Durbec, our Environmental Programs Coordinator and Adopt A Road representative to reach out to the neighboring businesses to encourage them to assist in clean-up efforts on their properties and potentially setting up an Adopt A Road program for the area, if one currently doesn’t exist.  Thank you for contacting the City, we appreciate your feedback,” Burch added.

Will official response reassure riverside residents and businesses that, in the face of leaflets from a domestic terrorist organization, they should set up an Adopt A Road program?

Memorably, flyers much like this were distributed in 2015, during the Human Rights Ordinance expansion debate.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry condemned as the “lowest forms of human behavior and bigotry” recent bomb threats and Klan flyers targeting the community conversations about the potential expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance to LGBT people.

The HRO debate is resolved. But the Klan flyers recur.

We have reached out to city spokespeople for reasons that the response was so slow to multiple citizen complaints.

Knives out early in Jacksonville City Council leadership meetings

While the Jacksonville City Council presidency next year is all but served up to the Jacksonville Chamber’s Aaron Bowman, the vice presidency is still in play.

Pledge meetings kicked off, months ahead of May’s vote, for those taking office in July.

All indications show the fight could prove every bit as combative as the fractious presidency race between Anna Brosche and John Crescimbeni in 2017, during which a group of Council members pledged early for Crescimbeni, claiming that Brosche couldn’t get the job done.

Observers know what happened next: Brosche cobbled together a coalition of backbenchers, taking the crown from Crescimbeni.

As Crescimbeni was VP at the time, it was an upset of protocol.

Since all past is prologue, so too is it in City Council leadership races — with Tommy Hazouri, a VP candidate, predicating (at least some) of his appeal to potential pledges who may see it as representing a change from the current dynamic.

Meetings with President-in-Waiting Bowman and former Council President Bill Gulliford Monday underscored that strategy.

During his meeting with Bowman, Hazouri noted that he didn’t see a “close relationship” between Bowman and Brosche.

Hazouri, a former Jacksonville mayor, also questioned the effectiveness of the incumbent president.

“I want to see a leader as President,” he said.

In what could be construed as a dis to Brosche’s peripatetic approach to hot-button issues — like removing Confederate monuments, an initiative that stalled after polling revealed it unpopular — Hazouri said: “You can’t just slap stuff on the wall … you have to follow up.”

Bowman also remarked he would have a “much different approach and way to do things” from certain unnamed predecessors.

While Bowman didn’t pledge to Hazouri — it’s very early in the process, he said — he did note that Hazouri backed Bowman’s VP opponent in 2017.

“You didn’t vote for me last year,” Bowman said. “What changed?”

The Hazouri meeting with Gulliford offered a more inside-baseball meta-critique of how things are done now.

Gulliford quipped that both men, who backed Crescimbeni unambiguously, were “down at the end of the dais … one more inch and you fall off.”

Hazouri and Gulliford haven’t always lined up on issues. For example, the two were at absolute loggerheads during a debate over extending LGBT protections via the city’s Human Rights Ordinance.

However, both Hazouri and Gulliford were marginalized since Brosche took the gavel in July of last year. Gulliford famously said he wouldn’t serve on a standing committee of Brosche’s; she took him up on that. And Hazouri (per a source familiar with Brosche’s thinking) campaigned harder for Crescimbeni than even Crescimbeni did for himself.

Gulliford noted that a Council president has to maintain “collegiality,” and in “time past” that has “not been seen.”

“It shouldn’t be antagonistic,” Gulliford added. “It’s a family affair.”

Of course, many families are, in fact, dysfunctional — and the race for Council VP is one in which egos will come to the fore.

In addition to Hazouri, a Democrat, Republicans Sam Newby and Danny Becton are officially in the race. Republican Scott Wilson is eyeing it carefully.

And Democrat Garrett Dennis hasn’t ruled it out.

Of those five candidates, Dennis — a Finance chair who had butt heads with the mayor’s office regularly — gained the most from the Brosche era. Brosche committed African-American Democrats on the Council, giving them control of the Finance Committee. Dennis got the chair … and was undermined by Lenny Curry‘s political and policy shops at every turn.

Much of the action deciding the presidential race last year took place outside the purview of the state’s Sunshine Laws; considerations over that have already been raised.

Lenny Curry tells press to ‘pound sand’, then press pounds Jacksonville Mayor

In the wake of the Jacksonville Jaguars loss to the New England Patriots and referees Sunday, emotions ran high.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry — a major booster of the team — was no exception.

“Media talking/writing heads that think sports are “silly” because it is “only a game”—- pound sand. These guys work their tails off, like u tell us you do. And risk All, unlike you. They represent the daily grind of most folks,” Curry Tweeted.

The statement was remarkable in that most every member of local media was cheerleading the Jags on social media, raising questions as to who was the straw man being attacked in the Tweet.

As early as Monday morning, reporters who weren’t in a position to publicly opine on this Tweet were messaging feverishly and privately, saying that Curry had no clue about the pressures that media members are under.

Indeed, from death threats to sexual harassment and threats, reporters in television, print, and other media deal with risks that Curry’s tweet discounted.

Some media members made their feelings known publicly.

Melissa Ross, the award-winning host of WJCT’s “First Coast Connect,” responded with crispness.

Curry’s Tweet also attracted the attention of journalists in the Duval Diaspora; namely, NPR stalwart Al Letson, who parlayed work on Jacksonville’s late-1990s spoken word scene into a career as one of the most thoughtful commentators of his generation.

Letson let loose with an epic thread.

Letson wasn’t done.

“Look at the journalist in Jacksonville, who they are and what they do. You may not appreciate them because they push you, but for democracy to work, they must do their jobs. And in Jacksonville the journalist who every day grind it out, are loosing their jobs with the TU shrinking, smaller presses struggling, and wages being low. When you are trying to get it right, to tell the story for citizens to make informed decisions, and worrying about if you’ll have a job, I’d say that’s pretty close to the daily grind of most folks,” Letson tweeted.

Letson then launched into a critique of Curry’s priorities, saying that football “is just a game. Funding our kids future is not. Lowering the rate of AIDS infection on the Northside is not. Ppl getting tickets for walking across the street is not.”

“If our identity is only wrapped around a sports team… Then who are we? What we value in a stadium matters less than what we do outside the stadium.”

Numerous local journalists — including many on the City Hall beat — RTd Letson’s words.

Curry has beefed with the media before, of course. He defended Pres. Donald Trump‘s declaration of withdrawal from the Paris Accords, a global agreement designed to mitigate climate change by lowering carbon emissions.

More recently, he offered an omnibus critique of the local paper’s headlines.

District project clears JEA board; developers now to buy land from JEA by July

Peter Rummell is one of the leaders of Jacksonville’s political donor set, and for the second straight week he got  news from a Jacksonville board regarding his District project.

The news was different than that coming out of last week’s Downtown Investment Authority meeting, which had the city of Jacksonville buying the land from JEA for the private development.

That proved controversial to City Council. The latest changes — a return to previous expectations and terms — remove that controversy.

On Tuesday, the JEA Board approved a plan for Elements, the development company of Rummell and Michael Munz, to purchase the former Southside Generator Plant from the utility for $18.6 million.

Closing would be in July.

That was the deal before the DIA meeting last week.

The city may also invest over $26 million into infrastructure, though that’s still to be determined.

Munz explained the decision to remove the step that had the city purchase the land from JEA as a practical one, as the city component made the deal “more complicated than it should be.”

Elements now is charged with “working very quickly” to amass the necessary capital and meet the deadline, after the decision to take out the assignment step with the city.

The development, as proposed, could transform the Southbank.

“Upon completion The District will encompass approximately 200,000 square feet of retail space, 200,000 square feet of office space, 1,170 apartments/condominiums, and a 150-200 key hotel,” per a dedicated website to the project, which touts the District as being beneficial to the “body, mind, and soul.”

There are other steps this week. The DIA was slated to meet Wednesday to discuss the aftermath of the JEA meeting; with the controversial step of removing the city purchasing land for the private development removed, that discussion may be anticlimactic.

Likewise rendered moot: a Jacksonville City Council special committee that was formed by Council President Anna Brosche last week to examine the deal, in light of proposed city spending on the deal.

That panel was to kick off on Thursday morning. That committee is now cancelled, per chair Republican Matt Schellenberg, the liaison to JEA.

Schellenberg said that “we’re all in favor of doing something with downtown,” but that — as the JEA Board said — if the deal isn’t closed by July, it should be rebid.

Council President Brosche, meanwhile, is “pleased that it appears the project is moving forward.”

Jacksonville Bold for 1.12.18 — Smells like teal spirit

Here we are now. Entertain us.

EverBank Field was lit Sunday, as the Jacksonville Jaguars laid a smackdown on the Buffalo Bills, in a 10-3 defensive struggle that was best watched live and in the stands.

Jacksonville hadn’t hosted a playoff game this century; the crowd was hyped. And mostly Jaguar fans.

The media derided the win — but for those who saw the end, when Jalen Ramsey picked off the Bills’ QB, it was a moment of triumph.

Jalen Ramsey gives the Jags a moment of triumph.

People stayed in the stadium — a few Bills fans aside — until it was over.

It was Jacksonville’s moment.

As we enter what will be a bruising political year, it’s useful to remember that community is what brings us together.

It’s the teal, yes. But it’s more than that.

It’s the realization that it’s Duval against the world.

There are those who bet on the world.

But Sunday showed that it feels better to bet on Duval.

Especially when the Jags go over.

Doctor, heal thyself

Problems with your marriage?

Is it unhealthy?

The Florida Legislature is willing to help future couples avoid such troubles as they traipse into connubial bliss.

Do as we say … not as we do.

The solution: a “guide to a healthy marriage.”

The version filed in the House is a guide that would contain resources addressing “conflict management, communication skills, family expectations, financial responsibilities and management, domestic violence resources and parenting responsibilities.”

Monday saw Jacksonville Republican state Rep. Clay Yarborough file the House version of the legislation (HB 1323).

The Legislature wouldn’t write this guide on its own (probably for the best given that philandering ended the careers of two Senators in recent months, with another former Senator and current state Representative going through a prolonged high-profile and messy divorce).

Instead, the guide would be written by the Marriage Education Committee: a panel of six marriage education and family advocates, two picked by the Governor, two by the Senate President, and two more by the House Speaker.

In other words, the same formula that has led to a smooth-running Constitutional Revision Commission could be brought to bear on Florida marriages.

Private funds would pay for the guide w, and reading it would be a prerequisite for a marriage license.

Jay Fant files monument protection bill

Rep. Fant, a Jacksonville Republican running for Attorney General, presented the latest in a series of base-pleasing bills for the 2018 Legislative Session Monday.

Fant’s HB 1359 (the “Soldiers’ and Heroes’ Monuments and Memorials Protection Act”) contends that any wartime monument erected after 1822 on public property may only be moved for its repair or the repair of the property containing it.

Desecration of monuments would be a felony if passed.

The bill’s primary imports: forestalling removal of Confederate monuments, as happened most recently in Memphis. And establishing criminal penalties for tampering — penalties that would supersede the ordinance code or enforcement inclinations of rogue municipalities.

Fant’s hometown Jacksonville dealt with a Confederate monument removal debate in 2017; Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche took a position in favor of moving monuments to museums, as they divided the community

Fant’s legislative docket is serving up more red meat than the butcher at Avondale’s renowned Pinegrove market.

If enacted, his “Free Enterprise Protection Act” will “ensure that Florida business owners are protected from government sanctions and penalties when they are exercising their First Amendment rights.”

Fant was inspired to file FEPA by the case of a Colorado baker who balked at making a wedding cake for a gay couple, as said baker saw the act of baking as lending sanction to their choice to marry. FEPA would protect the free speech rights of businesses.

Fant also is carrying the House version of a Senate bill that would allow people to carry guns to, from, and during events in Florida’s great outdoors; if it clears the governor’s desk, everyone from crabbers to dog-walkers will be protected while packing heat.

Aaron Bean talks Rob Bradley, sanctuary cities

Sen. Bean spent some time giving his thoughts on the Legislative Session — including the benefits of an appropriations chair from Northeast Florida (Fleming Island Republican Sen. Bradley), and potential pitfalls for a bill he is carrying.

Aaron Bean was typically enthusiastic about 2018.

Bean was voluble on what Bradley means, both for the Senate and the region.

“I have known Sen. Bradley for almost 30 years,” Bean asserted, “and he is going to be outstanding as Appropriations Chair. He makes it look easy, but he is always the most prepared member in the room from his constant reading and research.

“As a sub-chair for the criminal justice and environmental appropriations committees,” Bean added, “members could be sure that Senator Bradley was going to know why funds were being spent, and he would be sure it was a good use of taxpayer dollars.”

“He is going to be great for Florida. It is a bonus that he is from North Florida. North Florida Legislators are still going to have to work for any requests, because Bradley is not going to give anyone a pass just because they are from our area, but he is going to deliver a budget we can all be proud of,” Bean said.

Bean is carrying 23 bills — but the most high-profile measure (a ban on sanctuary cities that should clear the House easily) may not get through the Senate.

“Our Sanctuary City bill faces a tough opening as it has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. We don’t have the votes to get it passed — yet — so we are working hard to get that done,” Bean said.

Big month for Bradley committee

Fleming Island Republican Sen. Bradley saw his political committee raise more money in November than in any other single month.

Rob Bradley is becoming a major power broker in NE Florida.

And in December, Bradley’s Working for Florida’s Families exceeded that sum, setting an internal record level of fundraising for the second straight month.

The committee hauled in $173,000, with significant buy-in from U.S. Sugar, Walmart, Florida Blue, Associated Industries of Florida and the associated Florida Prosperity Fund.

All told, the committee has over $720,000 on hand.

Bradley became the Appropriations Chair after the removal of now-resigned Sen. Jack Latvala, his predecessor in the role.

Northeast Florida legislators expect that he will be in a position to ensure that the oft-neglected region gets its fair share in the budget process.

Bradley backs Wyman Duggan

A key endorsement in the House District 15 race, as Sen. Bradley backs Duggan — thus far, the sole Republican candidate.

Bradley described Duggan as “a respected community leader who will serve with honor, integrity, and commitment to our shared conservative values.”

Wyman Duggan has all the endorsements he could want … and no primary opponents.

Duggan, meanwhile, is “honored to have the support of Sen. Bradley who has served as a conservative leader in the Florida Senate. I look forward to working with Sen. Bradley throughout my campaign and in the Florida legislature fighting for a more prosperous and brighter future for Florida.”

Duggan has scored a swath of endorsements from Republican electeds, setting up the “Your leaders trust Duggan … shouldn’t you?” mailpieces.

Jacksonville City Councilmen Danny Becton, Matt Schellenberg, Greg Anderson, Aaron Bowman, Scott Wilson, Doyle Carter, Jim Love and Sam Newby are on board. So are former Councilmen Jim Overton and Kevin Hyde. And Rep. John Rutherford, State Sen. Aaron Bean, State Rep. Jason Fischer, Duval Clerk of Courts Ronnie Fussell, Duval Tax Collector Michael Corrigan also back Duggan.

$142K haul for Lenny Curry committee

It was a December to remember for Build Something That Lasts, the political committee of Jacksonville Mayor Curry.

Lenny Curry’s fundraising is so strong that gravity has stopped applying to him.

The Curry committee cleaned up to end the year, raking in $142,000, pushing the committee up to $603,000 on hand.

The strong month comes at a pivotal time for the Mayor’s policy and political operations. The Mayor’s Office aligns with a proposal to privatize JEA, a pitch which has floated periodically over the years but returned at the end of last year, via a proposal from a key political supporter and outgoing board member Tom Petway.

Additionally, Curry likely will face at least a nominal opponent for re-election. Whether he does or not, however, his committee likely will play in Jacksonville City Council races — supporting candidates who align with his vision, and working against less cooperative Council incumbents.

Danny Becton, Sam Newby launch Jax Council VP runs

An annual tradition in Jacksonville City Council is beginning anew: the race for Jacksonville City Council VP.

Often — but not always — the VP slot is a springboard to the presidency the next year.

Two Republican Councilmen — Becton and Newby — are in the race already.

Sam Newby may be the early front-runner for Council VP.

Two more — Republican Scott Wilson and Democrat Tommy Hazouri — are giving the race a close look.

All are first-termers.

Wilson finished second in the VP race in 2017; Hazouri, meanwhile, is a former mayor and the only Democrat in the mix.

Read the whole story here.

Reggie Gaffney runs hard for re-election

One Jacksonville City Council member who doesn’t need to wonder about Curry targeting him in 2019: Gaffney.

Democrat Gaffney is a strong supporter of Jacksonville’s Republican Mayor, standing by Curry even when many other Council members cast aspersions, and the Councilman hopes that a record of tangible achievements in his district outweighs negative press.

Corrine Brown is out of the game, but Reggie Gaffney wants 4 more years.

A recent video, cut with an unseen interviewer, reveals more about Gaffney’s platform.

“District 7 is a very large district,” Gaffney said. “I like to think of District 7 as three different communities all with different needs.”

While there are many “priority projects” he could cite, Gaffney says that Amazon — “because it’s about jobs” — is No. 1.

Meanwhile, Gaffney takes credit for fixing the collapsed Liberty Street Bridge, calling it his “first project.”

Gaffney also takes credit for compelling Curry to address drainage issues in the flood-prone Lower Eastside.

Gaffney then asserted his key role in getting money for the stadium improvement projects (amphitheater, covered practice field and club seat renovations) approved in his term.

“The mayor said, ‘I need your help,’” Gaffney said, and he was willing to — as it meant “jobs” for his district.

“I said ‘let’s make it happen,’” Gaffney related.

Honors for HRO sponsors, as theocons challenge bill

Last February, Jacksonville expanded its Human Rights Ordinance, giving protections to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the workplace, public accommodations and housing markets.

It is Feb. 3 at the Florida Yacht Club; Equality Florida will honor the three sponsors of the legislation: City Council VP Aaron Bowman and Councilman Jim Love (two Republicans), and Councilman Tommy Hazouri (a Democrat).

Tommy Hazouri is one of the HRO co-sponsors set to be honored.

Unsurprisingly, Equality Florida gives itself credit for passage.

“After a nearly 10-year campaign, Jacksonville ended its reign as the only major city in Florida without an LGBT-inclusive Human Rights Ordinance. In February 2017, we saw unprecedented leadership and investment in this battle by Equality Florida, the citizens of Jacksonville, and these three elected leaders — resulting in the updated HRO on Valentine’s Day.”

Props for FPL, JEA from environmental groups

St. Johns River Power Park, the largest operating coal power plant in Florida, has been shut down, co-owners Florida Power & Light and JEA announced Tuesday.

Coal may not be the future after all …

The utilities said the historic Jacksonville plant was aging and no longer economical as one of the highest-cost facilities among both FPL’s and JEA’s generating systems.

At nearly the same time, FPL lit up four new solar power plants — some of the largest ever built — and says it is nearing completion on four more new solar farms in a matter of weeks.

The ambitious moves earned kudos from leading environmental groups.

“FPL has a forward-looking strategy of making smart, innovative, long-term investments, including solar, to reduce emissions while providing affordable, clean energy for its customers,” said Julie Wraithmell, Audubon Florida’s interim executive director.

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is critical to addressing climate change,” said Greg Knecht, deputy executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Florida. “Anytime we can replace less-efficient sources of energy with cleaner fuels or solar it’s a benefit for people and nature. Investments such as FPL’s in clean-energy technologies are key to Florida’s future health and prosperity.”

JAXPORT adds direct New Zealand, Australia service

Beginning March, JAXPORT will offer direct service to New Zealand and Australia for roll-on/roll-off (Ro/Ro) cargo through Höegh Autoliners’ new U.S. to Oceania direct express Ro/Ro service.

JAXPORT’s Blount Island Marine Terminal will serve as the last East Coast port of call in the rotation.

JAXPORT will offer direct service to New Zealand and Australia for roll-on/roll-off (Ro/Ro) cargo through Höegh Autoliners. Photo credit: Lucien van Horn

The monthly service will start with the first vessel, the 6,500-CEU (car capacity) Höegh Jeddah, sailing out of Jacksonville. Vessel rotation will include Auckland in New Zealand as well as Brisbane, Port Kembla, Melbourne and Fremantle in Australia.

Horizon Terminal Services, Höegh Autoliners’ fully owned terminal owning and operating company headquartered in Jacksonville, will provide fumigation and wash down services at Blount Island.

Additional information on Höegh’s trade route to Oceania is available at icptrack.com.

UNF tops in U.S. News & World Report’s ‘Best Online’ bachelor’s programs

The University of North Florida earned a top spot in U.S. News & World Report’s 2018 Best Online Programs rankings.

Released this week, UNF is among the Top 40 colleges and universities in the country for “Best Online Bachelor’s Programs,” ranking included data from nearly 1,500 distance-education degree programs nationwide.

UNF tops in U.S. News & World Report’s ‘Best Online’ bachelor’s programs.

At No. 31, UNF jumped 17 spots from last year’s ranking, and is the only higher education institution from the Jacksonville area listed among the rankings in this category. The University also landed on the “Best Online Education Programs” list, a graduate-level ranking. Only degree-granting programs offering classes entirely online were considered.

“It’s very rewarding to have U.S. News & World Report rank our bachelor’s and our graduate education online programs among the best in the nation,” said UNF President John Delaney. “Faculty in our online programs are committed to this form of program delivery and have developed course materials and teaching methods that are second to none.”

More information on the “Best Online Programs” rankings is at usnews.com/online.

Jacksonville City Council mulls morgue money Tuesday

2017 ended with bodies piling up in Jacksonville’s morgue.

2018 brings something approaching a solution via Ordinance 2018-005.

A bill slated to be introduced at Tuesday’s City Council meeting on an emergency basis will offer what Medical Examiner Valerie Rao called last week a “proposed space solution,” which includes “office and refrigerator space”: a walk-in cooler that would give 40 spaces, and a “modular office on site.”

$206,000: the cost of the complete proposal.

Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa described the temporary facilities as getting the ME “over the hump” to mitigate the current crisis, with a building in a future capital improvement budget.

There will be an “in and out” bill Tuesday in Jacksonville City Council, Mousa said last week, to encompass the portable refrigerating unit for 40 additional bodies, and a mobile unit for six additional staffers to handle the case load.

Equipment is also needed, Mousa said, “for stacking the bodies in the cooler. They’re referred to as racks, I believe.”

“This will give her sufficient capacity for today,” Mousa said, adding that a new facility may be moved up in the CIP.

The “programming phase” — an antecedent to moving the facility up in the capital improvement plan — would take six or seven months, which would allow the administration to mull hard costs of the facility.

Mousa noted that, though a new facility was originally outside the five-year plan, reports of bodies on the floor spurred the Mayor’s Office into “immediate action.”

The next budget would allow for the programming phase, and before the summer budget hearings, a funding source would likely be identified for this capital need.

Councilman Danny Becton expressed hope for a deep dive into decedent data, so that the Council would have a better understanding of the corpse inflow and output into the extant facility.

“The programmer of the facility will definitely look at all the statistics that are available — trends, capacity, future needs,” Mousa said.

Administration members said in December that a permanent facility build could take two years; a building in Orlando cost $16 million in 2010, and given increases in commodity costs and the ever-weakening dollar, that may be an optimistic estimate for a cost.

Duval’s medical examiner serves 1.3 million people in six counties.

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