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Lenny Curry’s third budget: Another year of ‘winning’?

On Monday, the cycle begins anew for the relationship between Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and the City Council.

Curry drops his third budget — and this time, there is more room to maneuver than there had been the previous two years, in which pension obligations choked out most of the room for discretionary spending.

The hit from pension costs, without pension reform, would have been $360M this year; the last public estimate given was that hit this year will be $218M. Effectively, that’s $142M of room in a budget that last year was $1.17B — lots of new capital to work with.

But will that room be enough for Jacksonville City Council members? That’s the tension going into Monday — balancing the priorities of the Mayor’s Office with those of the nineteen people on the Council.

We know some things are definitely happening. [Note: the numbers that follow were derived from, among other sources, the Mayor’s Budget Review Committee meetings, and are subject to change, per the Mayor’s Office Friday.]

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For example, the Mayor’s Office — as part of a commitment to safer and healthy neighborhoods that jibes with the priorities of Council President Anna Brosche — is committing $8.4M to Jacksonville’s Edward Waters College, for dormitory rehab to deal with mold and other habitability issues, and for a community field and track that will provide a place for people in the New Town area to have safe recreation.

We are hearing already that there may be resistance to this proposal, both from community members who think there are more pressing needs, and those on the City Council from other areas who wonder why city money is going to benefit a private college.

We also know that there will be some changes to the way money is handled for the city’s children’s programs, with Mayor Curry having promised reforms to the Jacksonville Children’s Commission — reforms which could include a downshift of JCC in favor of the Jax Journey, an initiative upon which Curry branded his 2015 campaign.

And we also know that the city is allocating $55M of contingency funds for salaries, to be allocated across the city’s departments — in what could be a function of raises, of increased head count, or both.

Big money will also go into the capital improvement budget: $100M, at least.

Movement on a recurrent issue: $3.6M for courthouse remediation and demolition; $4.4M for the same for old city hall, which includes asbestos remediation, with the properties will be returned to greenscape. Mousa speculates that implosion will be the end game for these structures.

The last $8M for Liberty/Coastline rebuild, completing a $31M obligation, is also in the CIP.

Roadway resurfacing is in the CIP at $12M, and ADA curb compliance: another $14M.

ADA compliance for public buildings: a $2.6M hit.

A backlog of sidewalk projects — a risk management concern — is also on the list.

Countywide intersection improvements and bridges: $3M, with another million for rehab.

The St. Johns River Bulkhead assessment and restoration: also in the budget this year for $1M, along with $500K for countywide projects for tributaries with bulkheads.

The River Road bulkhead needs repair to the most degraded segments, with a cost of $1.9M total for these — and $600K this year, which comes at the expense of the Mayport Community Center in FY 18.

$3M for Chaffee Road. $750,000 for Five Points improvements in Riverside, which moves up to this year. Willow Branch Creek bulkhead replacement: $1.5M. $720,000 for Soutel Road’s “road diet,” which will go to design of a “highly needed project for the Northwest,” per Mousa.

Fishweir Creek gets $1.6M for ecological rehab.

Mary Singleton Senior Center: $500,000 for maintenance and upgrades. $944K for the Arlington Senior Center. $600,000 for Southside Senior Center, and $1.5M for Mandarin Senior Center expansion, a facility “bursting at the seams,” per the city’s Chief Administrative Officer, Sam Mousa.

As well, Mayport Community Center — a Bill Gulliford request — was budgeted for $800,000 for design, but ends up with $200,000 in FY 18 given other needs and logistical issues.

McCoy’s Creek pipe removal is in the budget, for $750,000 — the idea is to improve river access, a priority of past Council President Lori Boyer. And $600,000 for the McCoy’s Creek Greenway.

To handle these capital improvements, Public Works wants more staff — it is unknown, at least to us, how many people (if any) will be added. And the local Fire and Rescue Department wants more bodies and equipment refreshes — we’ll see how that goes Monday.

Expect Curry to hit these high points, along with another interesting proposal: one for an ambitious, year-round swimming lessons program that will come in around $1.7M in the budget, after an interesting scrap in June regarding a bill that sought $200,000 in emergency funding for swimming lessons this year.

Meanwhile, there will be one move toward saving for a rainy day also: the Administration will follow through on a Finance Committee recommendation months back to boost the emergency reserve from 6 percent to 5 percent, even as the operating reserve is cut from 8 percent to 7 percent.

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Council members, of course, will ask some big picture questions Monday — but it will be the Mayor’s day, likely with a gaggle and then a sitdown interview or two with an affable TV reporter, with whom Curry can holistically frame the narrative.

However, the budget will soon thereafter move on to consideration by the full City Council, but not before the Finance Committee goes through it in August.

What might that process look like?

With the race for Council President now way back in the rear view mirror, the executive and legislative branches have every reason in the world to find a way to get to yes.

Curry, who has said he looks forward to a “third year of winning,” will find a way to partner with Council President Anna Brosche and Finance Chair Garrett Dennis — and one expects that partnership will come down to clear lines of communication, lines that ideally would be direct and between the principals involved.

Meanwhile, much has been made of the new composition of that Finance Committee — with questions about how big a piece of the budget pie will go to Council Districts 7-10, whose representatives all voted for Brosche for President.

The goal, we hear, is equity — equity across the districts, and equity between the priorities of the Mayor’s Office and the legislators. August budget hearings in Finance will be where the rubber hits the road.

To that end, a day to watch is Aug. 23.

Aug. 23 offers the sole Wednesday meeting on the slate, and deals entirely with the capital improvement plan and debt — for those interested in seeing how this particular Finance Committee deals with these issues, and how the Mayor’s Office deals with its positions, plenty of insight will be gleaned on that day.

Another day to watch: Aug. 12, given Council President Brosche’s commitment to rejuvenating Jacksonville’s park system. There is a three hour hearing then.

Of course, it will be interesting to see how Finance Chair Dennis handles the gavel — as those who followed him as Rules Chair recall, he wasn’t afraid of controversy on that panel.

Recall that Dennis sponsored an ordinance in January designed to ensure that city agencies and independent authorities eliminated the vestiges of discrimination, ensuring that the workforce looked like the city did demographically.

Will questions of equity on demographic grounds come up during Finance hearings this August? It’s very possible.

Jacksonville Bold for 7.14.17 — Playtime is over

As the Jacksonville City Council wraps up its two-week break, Councilmembers will get a first peek at Mayor Lenny Curry’s budget Monday.

They already know at least some of what to expect: a $100 million capital improvement budget and $8.4 million for Edward Waters College.

Now the question is: Will everyone play ball?

A.G. Gancarski has written extensively about the changing dynamics between the Mayor’s Office and Council leadership: Will there be a resolution of schismatic thinking by Monday? Or will it be by August, when the reconfigured Finance Committee mulls that budget?

Open questions — but not the only ones in Northeast Florida politics.

Two incumbent Republican congressmen have drawn Democratic challenges: one, an ambassador; another, a transgender author of vampire novels. Both teach at the University of North Florida — go Ospreys!

Business development continues, with massive interest ramping up for working with a big company in Jacksonville.

And, oh yeah, a City Councilman called the Pope a Communist. In other “What was he smoking?” news, a medical cannabis dispensary finally opened in Jacksonville.

All this (and more) in this week’s Bold.

The moral of the story:  Even in a policy pause, during a week where everyone who mattered was on vacation, Jacksonville and Northeast Florida still manage to bring the news.

CD 6 Shuffle

You may need a scorecard to keep up with the changes in Florida’s Congressional District 6, where Ron DeSantis holds the seat … for now.

Consider that DeSantis’ camp is still floating the narrative that he may run for Florida Governor — setting up an interesting contrast between DeSantis’ clipped cadence and the down-home Old Florida style of Adam Putnam.

DeSantis may not be gone yet — but this week one Democrat with a serious pedigree filed to run.

Bill Clinton nostalgists rejoice! Nancy Soderberg is back in the campaign game.

Ambassador Nancy Soderberg, a University of North Florida professor who earned her bona fides in the Bill Clinton administration, is in.

By Thursday morning, the Federal Elections Commission website listed a Soderberg for Congress campaign committee.

Democrats hoped for the benefits of a wave election, and assuming the White House dumpster fire continues, they may just have one.

The district was reliably GOP in 2016; both Donald Trump and Marco Rubio carried the area by over 15 points.

Al Lawson talks health

Rep. Lawson, in Jacksonville during the Congressional recess, spoke to the Florida Times-Union — and health care was on his mind.

“The Affordable Care Act is not a perfect law and there certainly is a lot of room for improvement,” Lawson asserted. “But let’s work together to figure out ways to bring down health care costs.”

Al Lawson has taken the lead on health care issues of late.

Lawson “doesn’t care whose name” is on health care reform, he said, alluding to the differences between “Obamacare” and the self-styled “Trumpcare.”

Lawson suggests taxing people with so-called “Cadillac” insurance plans.

In an interesting bit of news from the interview, Lawson is working with Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford on a mental health bill. The two first year congressmen held an event Thursday afternoon in D.C., where experts discussed mental health challenges for veterans.

New subcommittee for Rutherford

On Wednesday, Rutherford announced his appointment to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.

John Rutherford’s commitment to ‘rule of law’ precedes his Congressional stint.

“Looking forward to using my background to support the rule of law across our nation,” the Jacksonville Republican and former Sheriff said.

Wisconsin’s Jim Sensenbrenner is chair; Louie Gohmert of Texas serves as vice-chair.

New challenger for Rutherford

Action News Jax introduced Jacksonville viewers to Monica Paige DePaul, a University of North Florida adjunct professor who writes novels, is transgender, and is running to replace Rutherford in CD 4.

DePaul has brought her politics to her vampire novels, she told reporter Jenna Bourne.

Are vampires real? As real as a Dem’s chances in CD 4, most likely.

“So that actually started way back in 2009 when Twilight came out and I was like, this is garbage. And I wanted to write something better,” said DePaul. “In my second book, Blood on the Rocks, there’s pretty obvious jabs at [Florida Governor] Rick Scott.”

DePaul, who was a Bernie Sanders delegate at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, is the sole Democrat in the field. With Rutherford not having filed for re-election yet, the sole Republican in the field is Palatka petition collector Rob Ficker — who we profiled previously.

Is Paul Renner a Jacksonville guy?

Such was the provocative question posed by Tia Mitchell recently in the Florida Times-Union.

Mitchell’s take?

The veteran reporter notes Renner’s local roots run deep: “He grew up in Arlington and graduated from Terry Parker High School … a shareholder at the Milam Howard Nicandri Gillam and Renner law firm in the heart of downtown.”

Paul Renner won, but who was there Day One? And does it actually matter?

Mitchell also points out that The Fiorentino Group and Ambassador John Rood were among the early supporters.

Absent from Mitchell’s piece: Mayor Curry, instrumental in a fundraiser that brought in over $250,000. Curry told us at the time he and his team are “engaged” fully in the fight to get Renner over the hump. Indeed, there are those saying Brian Hughes and Tim Baker brought home four of the 16 pledges Renner needed to win.

The point? Victory, as ever, has many fathers.

Money-Go-Round

Who’s up? Who’s down? In Northeast Florida politics, campaign finance reports tell the tale.

Among those who should be exultant: Curry; Sen. Rob Bradley; Jacksonville City Council President Matt Carlucci.

“Build Something That Lasts,” Curry’s committee, brought in $110,000 in June, and now has $242,456 on hand.

Lenny Curry’s political committee had a strong June.

And “Working for Florida’s Families,” the committee associated with Sen. Rob Bradley, brought in $59,500. That committee now has $390,000 on hand.

Meanwhile, Carlucci brought in $60,000 in his first month as a candidate for a 2019 at-large seat.

Two strong performances in the House came from freshmen Jason Fischer (who had a better than $50,000 month) and Clay Yarborough (over $22,000 in June).

Gasping for air: Rep. Jay Fant, who brought in roughly $70,000 between his committee and campaign account … way below his opponent in the GOP Attorney General primary, Ashley Moody, who brought in $603,000 total.

One of Moody’s donors: the right-hand man of local State Attorney Melissa Nelson.

Moody has the backing of the entire Tampa area legal community, it seems.

Meanwhile, while Fant has lacked that backing until now, the Thursday endorsement of future Speaker Renner — a Jacksonville lawyer himself — may be a positive augury.

Smile, you’re on candid camera

The wait is over — the body camera pilot program for Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office members is finally underway, reports WJXT.

Officers are testing one of three brands of body cameras, with 30 spread out through the city.

The Axon, a TASER product, retails for $399.

The goal — body cameras for all uniformed officers — should be subject to collective bargaining, the local police union contends.

JSO’s budget puts $1.3M to begin the program; however, costs will escalate once the trial programs wrap up, when the cameras become part of the uniform for all field officers.

MMJ in the 904

For those with medical marijuana cards, the drought is over as Trulieve opened its Jacksonville dispensary this week — the eighth in the state.

Robust consumer demand for a one-time contraband product.

And this one represents progress: it was just two years ago that Jacksonville policy makers were paralyzed over the dread specter of Charlotte’s Web.

After two “moratoriums” on growing and dispensing, the city worked out some sensible zoning rules, allowing one dispensary in each zoning district.

Knox Medical will, at some point, open in Mandarin. In the meantime, expect Trulieve — which has a proven model at this point — to reassure local policy makers that medical cannabis is just another business.

Is the Pope communist?

Is Pope Francis a commie? Early Thursday, Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Gulliford said “yes.”

“I am a Catholic and he is a Communist,” Gulliford said of the pontiff.

Commie or Catholic? Bill Gulliford’s opinion shocked our readers Thursday.

What spawned that?

An article in an online publication (M2 Voice) said the Pope asserted that “world government must rule the United States ‘for their own good.’”

“I am afraid there are very dangerous alliances between powers who have a distorted view of the world: America and Russia, China and North Korea, Russia and Assad in the war in Syria,” the Pope observed in the same interview.

Alas, in the M2 Voice article, the “for their own good” line was not given in context, raising questions as to the veracity of the quote — especially given the translation from the original Italian.

Amazin’ queue for Amazon jobs

Economic development often sounds abstract. But for real life examples of what it means, consider the lines that snaked around Northwest Jacksonville’s Legends Center — those lines, with hundreds and hundreds of people, brimmed with job seekers this week.

The Jax Daily Record notes that a year ago, “Amazon announced it would create more than 1,500 jobs in Jacksonville at the first fulfillment center in the city, at 12900 Pecan Park Road in Northwest Jacksonville.”

“I think it’s going to have a really big impact here,” one applicant told the Record’s David Cawton. “You see all the people waiting in line, they’re all looking for work so, I think Amazon found the right place to land.”

Green light for Black Creek

Good news for the folks near the parched Keystone Lakes may be on its way soon, reports WOKV.

“The lakes have left us,” Rob Bradley said this year. Will they be back soon?

The St. Johns River Water Management Board this week approved a “recharge” plan that will route water from Black Creek.

The first design and construction of the plan carried by Sen. Rob Bradley of Orange Park and Rep. Bobby Payne of Palatka: $13M.

The “Black Creek Water Resource Development Plan”: a five-year, $41 million plan to capture excess water from Clay County’s flood-prone Black Creek and pipe it into the Keystone Lakes, via a discharge at Camp Blanding, where a spreader field would disperse the water to Alligator Creek.

Hopes are to wrap the project by 2023, WOKV reported.

Bradley told us in April the project “helps all of Florida” by providing an “aquifer recharge area” for the Suwannee and St. Johns River basins.

Elections matter

Perhaps no politician this century in Northeast Florida did a worse job managing media relationships than Angela Corey.

And, against that dismal backdrop, the Koch-friendly reform agenda of Melissa Nelson looks pretty good … with regular plaudits in the press.

Melissa Nelson loses very few news cycles, and Angela Corey is still a reason why.

The latest accolade: Harvard University’s Fair Punishment Project, written by Florida Times-Union alum Larry Hannan.

Hannan contrasted Corey’s “draconian views” on criminal justice with Nelson having “cleared the low bar set by her predecessor.”

This, said Hannan “offers another clear reminder that the most powerful actor in the justice system — the elected prosecutor — can and should remain accountable to her constituents.”

World Cup to Jacksonville?

FIFA World Cup 2026 action in Jacksonville? Don’t rule it out, as the city was deemed a “strong candidate” and invited to bid.

Canada, Mexico, and the United States will co-host the World Cup that year.

As correspondence from U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati to Mayor Curry reveals, Jacksonville is in the mix to host World Cup action … which will involve a whopping 80 matches over a 30-day period in 2026.

For the game. For the world. For Jacksonville? The city may or may not bid.

“Jacksonville is a strong candidate for participation in this process, given your support of soccer, stadium facilities, and the related tourism infrastructure you already have in place. As such, we will be making informal contact with the stadium and sports commission contacts in your city in the coming days, but we wanted first to make you aware of this significant opportunity, so Jacksonville can best present itself as a participant in this process,” Gulati remarked.

Curry’s office says that no decision has been made on a bid — but it’s hard to imagine him passing up on an opportunity to put Jacksonville on a global stage.

Riverkeeper disses dredging … again

The St. Johns Riverkeeper continues in its efforts to stop the seemingly inevitable JAXPORT dredge, with its latest gambit being a consultant saying that it won’t pay off.

Riverkeeper’s anti-dredge grudge slogs on.

The latest blast Tuesday: a report from New Orleans-based “port and shipping expert” Dr. Asaf Ashar, which deems the deep dredge is economically infeasible.

Ashar contends (contrary to optimistic U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates) that there is a good chance that total costs of the project could outweigh benefits.

As well, Ashar asserts that JAXPORT will likely remain a secondary port compared to Savannah and Charleston, two regional competitors, dredging notwithstanding. Ashar notes both ports have channels that are not even 47 feet deep.

Jacksonville Zoo begins major remodel, adds African Forest

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is beginning a $9 million construction on the African Forest, a major remodeling initiative of the Great Apes Loop to include gorillas, bonobos, mandrills, and lemurs.

African Forest will incorporate “wellness-inspired design” in choices, challenges and variation to stimulate the animals. The new exhibit will replace the current Great Apes Loop, which opened in 1998.

“With The Land of The Tiger and The Range of The Jaguar winning national recognition as being among the best zoo exhibits in the country, the bar has been raised. Our members and visitors now expect everything we do at the Zoo to be at a standard that will make our community proud to say Jacksonville has one of the very best zoos in the country,” said JZG Executive Director Tony Vecchio. “The new African Forest will continue that legacy. Rather than just spruce up what is now one of the Zoo’s oldest exhibits, our board of directors and staff have taken on the challenge of making the Great Apes area an experience that will be special for our visitors, and, for our animals.”

Demolition began July 5, with partial or full closings of the Great Apes Loop until completion in 2018. Because some of the residents may not be within public view, the Zoo recognizes that guests may miss seeing the animals in the Great Apes Loop and plans to take video and share pictures of them playing often. Even though only a few of the animals, such as the lemurs and siamangs will be relocated to other parts of the Zoo where they can be visited, all the primates will still have access to outdoor areas during renovations.

 

June fundraising in Northeast Florida told many stories

As those in the political game are acutely aware, fundraising is the oxygen that sustains campaigns.

June for Northeast Florida legislators and committees was no exception — virtually everyone in the region did some fundraising, and all of that was in a certain context — one that makes it possible to ascertain the success or failure of their efforts.

In that context, here’s how the money is shaping up for Northeast Florida politicians.

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Jay Fant is in trouble: It took Rep. Jay Fant until late Monday — hours before the deadline — to file his numbers. And that’s usually not a great sign, as his campaign for the GOP nomination for Attorney General seems to lack the buy-in from the donor class that opponent Ashley Moody has.

Between her political committee and her campaign account, Moody raised $603,000 in her first month in the race — a number that puts her way ahead of Fant, who brought in just under $70,000 in June.

Just $1,000 of that went to his committee account, yet Fant did a bit better in hard money — bringing in $68,240 of new money in June, giving him just over $145,000 on hand.

All told, Moody holds nearly a 3-to-1 cash on hand advantage, and enjoys quiet support from Northeast Florida heavyweights, none of whom are inclined to come out for Fant.

The question most are asking: when does Fant declare victory, get out, and file for re-election to the Florida House? And if he does this, will he face a challenge anyway?

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Jason Fischer, Clay Yarborough show strength: First-term Jacksonville Republican State Reps. Jason Fischer and Clay Yarborough were best-in-class when it came to fundraising in June.

Between Fischer’s campaign account and the account for his political committee, “Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville,” Fischer brought in almost $55,000 for his 2018 re-election effort.

Of that new money, a full $32,700 went into Fischer’s campaign account — pushing it over $51,000 on hand.

Fischer’s committee, after $22,700 of new money in June, now has just over $29,000 on hand.

He likely won’t face a primary challenge; if he did, however, he’d have whatever resources he needed to hold his seat.

Yarborough, noted for a grassroots approach to campaigning, has continued his successful outreach to the business community and the donor class — which wasn’t a sure thing a year ago.

Yarborough brought in $22,375 in June — by far, his biggest haul since filing for re-election months back.

All told, Yarborough has roughly $35,000 on hand.

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Most Northeast Florida incumbents took it easy: One of the great things about gerrymandering and the Jacksonville area’s State Senate and House seats is that, once you win the invariably cutthroat primary, the hard part is over.

So there weren’t a lot of eyepopping June totals.

Sen. Aaron Bean brought in $9,250 in June, spending more than half of it, and giving himself just under $24,000 on hand.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, slated to face a write-in candidate next November, brought in $7,450, pushing herself over $51,000 on hand.

In HD 11, Rep. Cord Byrd brought in $1,500, bringing cash on hand to just over $17,000. But it won’t matter — he won last November with 98 percent of the vote.

HD 13 Democrat Tracie Davis brought in $4,750 in June, with $3,000 of it coming from Jacksonville dog tracks; the new money pushes Davis over $16,000 on hand.

Davis’ colleague in HD 14, Kim Daniels, seeded her account with $100 — and so far, that’s it for Daniels, who has no real worries, given her charisma, name ID, unique ability to work across party lines, and willingness to self-finance what are largely billboards and grassroots campaigns.

South of Jacksonville, the story was the same. HD 17 Republican Cyndi Stevenson raised $1,000, bringing her total on hand to roughly $34,000. HD 18 Republican Travis Cummings brought in $2,000, giving him $54,000 on hand. And HD 19 Republican Bobby Payne‘s $500 of new money in June gave him nearly $17,000 on hand.

Again: safe seats, all of these, and no real urgency to raise money to defend them.

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Committee action: A look at Northeast Florida committees showed typical strength for two powerhouses.

“Build Something That Lasts,” the committee of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, brought in $110,000 in June.

With less than $9,000 in expenditures over the June period, Curry’s committee now has $242,456 on hand.

And “Working for Florida’s Families,” the committee associated with Sen. Rob Bradley, brought in $59,500 — with the big donor being REI, the Winston-Salem tobacco company, at $25,000. That committee now has $390,000 on hand.

Meanwhile, questions have been raised about what one Jacksonville consultant calls the “weak launch” of Sheriff Mike Williams‘ ” A Safe Jacksonville” committee, after a second lackluster month of fundraising.

The committee raised $9,600 in June, and has roughly $20,000 banked.

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Locals only: Perhaps the most impressive month of any Jacksonville-area candidate came from former Florida Ethics Commission head Matt Carlucci, who kicked off his 2019 campaign for the Jacksonville City Council in June.

Carlucci, a former Jacksonville City Council President who seeks a return to the legislative body, hauled in $60,000 in June.

To put that number in perspective: even the strongest fundraisers in the 2015 races for City Council couldn’t get appreciably past a quarter-million dollars raised.

While it’s unrealistic to expect Carlucci to string together $60,000 months, the bankroll is a warning to anyone who decides to get in the race to replace Greg Anderson  — the incumbent in that seat, who himself cut a check to Carlucci.

Jacksonville a ‘strong candidate’ to host 2026 FIFA World Cup action

The history of soccer in Jacksonville is longer than some new arrivals might think. From 1980, when the Jacksonville Tea Men started off in the North American Soccer League, to today, when the Jacksonville Armada play locally, soccer has had a foothold here for decades.

Even in 2016, the U.S. National Team played in Jacksonville — a match against Trinidad and Tobago, with an outcome that was never in doubt, drew nearly 20,000 people.

However, as soccer grows domestically, the stakes — and the expectations — are higher. And both arguably will peak in 2026, when the United States, Canada, and Mexico plan to join forces for a NAFTA version of the iconic event — with 48 teams expected to comprise the sprawling field.

Meanwhile, as correspondence from U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry reveals, Jacksonville is in the mix to host World Cup action … which will involve, in 2026, a whopping 80 matches over a 30 day period.

“Jacksonville is a strong candidate for participation in this process, given your support of soccer, stadium facilities, and the related tourism infrastructure you already have in place. As such, we will be making informal contact with the stadium and sports commission contacts in your city in the coming days, but we wanted first to make you aware of this significant opportunity, so Jacksonville can best present itself as a participant in this process,” Gulati remarked.

The ultimate goal, according to Gulati: “a world class bid that harnesses the immense social, cultural, and economic power of our continent to ensure that North America can deliver a 21st century vision of soccer’s greatest event. It will be a vision the world can share.”

We have reached out to Curry’s office for any comment that the Mayor or staffers may want to offer; if such is provided, this article will be updated.

Lenny Curry committee clears $110K in June fundraising

While May was the month for the Jacksonville donor class to pony up for Paul Renner ahead of his win of the 2022 Speaker slot, June saw a return of a familiar pattern.

That pattern: big-dollar donations to the political committee of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

All told, June saw $110,000 in new money, much of it from familiar names, including Tom Petway and the Petways’ family insurance company “US Assure”, JB Coxwell Contracting, and Greenpointe Holdings of Jacksonville donor class mainstay Ed Burr.

With less than $9,000 in expenditures over the June period, Curry’s committee now has $242,456 on hand.

Curry’s committee spent heavily earlier this year, in an effort to ensure that the City Council did not waver in voting yes on his raft of pension reform bills.

Jacksonville’s pension reform was a big priority for Curry; starting in October, the city’s current defined benefit plans will be closed to new hires, who will be slotted into defined contribution plans.

In exchange for these plan changes for new hires, city unions will all enjoy raises phased in over the next few years, as the city prepares to spend money (outside of the Sports Complex) in a way that it hasn’t been able to since the economic downturn of 2008, an event which slashed ad valorem collections and led to a series of austerity budgets spanning three mayoral administrations.

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Other local leaders’ political committees had quieter Junes.

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams‘ committee, “A Safe Jacksonville,” raised $9,600 in June, and has roughly $20,000 banked.

4th Circuit State Attorney Melissa Nelson‘s “First Coast Values” committee likewise remained dormant, as it has throughout 2017.

Paul Renner wins, and so does ‘Team Northeast Florida’

For Paul Renner, the path to winning Friday’s 2022 Florida House Speaker election in Orlando — with 16 votes in the first round — was not a sure thing.

First of all, he lost his first election for the House — a three-vote defeat to Rep. Jay Fant, a current Attorney General candidate, in House District 15 on Jacksonville’s Westside.

Renner was undeterred; he moved to Palm Coast, took a safe seat there, and then figured out the House very quickly.

Renner was a chief lieutenant of Speaker Richard Corcoran this last term, burnishing his conservative credentials and policy chops, and as time progressed, the Speaker’s race gradually went his way.

And despite the slight re-location, Renner is still a Jacksonville fixture, an attorney with deep roots in the community — and it was the Jacksonville and Northeast Florida establishment that went his way and made a key difference down the stretch.

A major fundraiser earlier this spring saw Renner bring in over $250,000 from everyone who mattered in the Northeast Florida donor class.

That liquidity — whether people want to believe it or not — was also intended as a signal to those voting in the race, including a lot of local freshman legislators: there is a regional priority in this leadership race, a chance to get something that has eluded Jacksonville since John Thrasher in 1999. Before that, in 1969, Democrat Frederick Schultz held the gavel. The city had four speakers between 1913 and 1937.

Local and regional power players see it as Northeast Florida’s time. As Renner’s time.

And Friday’s election ensured that the man who lost a squeaker to Jay Fant will be in a unique position to respond and push forward the region’s priorities.

Smart local politicians were ready to reach out to Renner to offer congratulations; a rising tide lifts all boats.

And by 2022, Jacksonville will have a lot of boats to lift: a dredging project that likely will be midstream; a septic tank phase out, for which state money proved elusive in the just completed session; a desired renovation of the Hart Bridge offramps to route traffic onto Bay Street, by new capital investments such as the amphitheater and whatever Shad Khan has planned otherwise.

Local politicians and “stakeholders” have long agonized about Jacksonville’s identity crisis, and a big part of that crisis in recent years has been the city being relatively ill-positioned to score big wins.

This, to be clear, was a big one.

“It’s been a long time,” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry told us Friday afternoon regarding the Renner victory and its significance for the city and the region.

Efforts in the past were not successful: this one was, Curry said, as the business community was all in for Renner, as well as many of Curry’s key supporters — especially Tom Petway and John Rood, who we are told particularly engaged in driving the effort.

“I engaged,” Curry said, “and my full political operation engaged.”

Central to that engagement: Tim Baker and Brian Hughes, the visionary architects of triumph after triumph in recent years. They parlayed relationships throughout the state to help broaden Renner’s draw.

There was some resistance to coalescence among certain voting members of the Duval Delegation. That was not an option for Curry.

“We expect our team to be aligned — Team Northeast Florida,” Curry said.

Rep. Clay Yarborough, the former Jacksonville City Council President who was one of those 16 Renner votes, noted that the outcome lined up with his count.

Yarborough saw “tremendous positives” for the region and the city both — positives that will be seen before 2022, as in the years leading up to Renner’s Speakership, he will be in “conversations with leadership,” and his “place at the table” will help him advocate for regional priorities.

The region, Yarborough said, can be “lining stuff up” that takes years to make happen — a generational opportunity for Northeast Florida.

Duval Delegation Republicans Yarborough, Cord Byrd, and Jason Fischer are all Renner’s contemporaries; meanwhile, there could be a new person in Rep. Fant’s seat soon also. This means, realistically, that long-range planning is uniquely possible for the GOP delegation locally and regionally.

Yarborough respects Renner’s “steady hand,” how he “weathered the storms of challenging issues during the Legislative Session.”

“Some thought he’d crash and burn,” Yarborough noted. However, Renner responded to the challenges, getting support “well beyond Duval County” and Northeast Florida.

Rep. Fischer was likewise optimistic about the “tremendous opportunity for Northeast Florida … the beginning of great things to come.”

Fischer also noted the importance went beyond the region: “We united as a class,” Fischer said, saying that today’s result is “great for the state.”

Indeed, Renner talked about the state to media Friday.

“I think one of the things I spoke about is that every member of the team is critical. That is something I learned in the military, from the first day of boot camp. You learn that you succeed or fail as a team,” Renner told FloridaPolitics.com’s Scott Powers.

“The focus I would like to have is we have a great class, we can do great things together, and I want to be the facilitator,” Renner said.

Indeed, the class is uniting: Rep. Jamie Grant and Renner were seen joking ahead of the conclave, and the appropriate statements of congratulations are coming from those who didn’t win this one.

“I want to congratulate my friend and colleague Paul Renner on his election as our 2016 Republican class leader. I am confident he will do an outstanding job in the role, and I look forward to working with him. I was honored to be a candidate, and I also congratulate Jamie Grant and Erin Grall on the fine races they ran. Now that this election is behind us, let’s look forward to working together to put conservative policies in place that will create jobs and a brighter future for all Floridians,” Rep. Byron Donalds asserted.

Former State Rep. Lake Ray, a veteran of eight years in the State House, described how that work — and Renner’s influence — would build over time.

Renner’s pull will really be significant when he is Speaker-Designate and going forward, Ray said.

As Speaker, Renner will have a number of prerogatives, Ray noted.

One key one: a direct impact on appropriations, especially regarding unencumbered money, which he and the Senate President will figure out how to allocate. Ultimately, Ray said, up to 30 percent of what could be anywhere from $250-$450M could find its way to regional projects.

Renner’s leadership team is also worth watching, in terms of commitments made down the stretch — and especially key, timely commitments. The posts to watch specifically: the chairs of Appropriations and Rules, which can serve a gatekeeper role in terms of killing any bills that may need to die for whatever reason.

An unsung hero of the effort outside of this class and Duval County: Rep. Travis Cummings.

As an extremely reliable source put it, Cummings was instrumental in the push for Renner, helping to steady some members who were prone to wobbling.

Jacksonville Bold for 6.30.17 — City Hall Confidential

Summer doldrums, finally, in Jacksonville City Hall for the next couple of weeks … until the Mayor introduces his budget to Council July 17.

The installation of a new Council President, supplanting old power dynamics with a new hierarchy.

And there are questions.

Will institutional knowledge still be there? Will the budget go as smoothly as it did in Lenny Curry’s first two years?

As you will see below, Curry — at the midpoint of his term — wants a third year of “winning.” But does everyone define victory the same way?

Meanwhile, there are other stories: business development, a Democratic congressman fundraising off the GOP’s botched health care effort, a local State Representative scoring key endorsements in his bid for Attorney General.

You may notice this is a supersized edition of Bold; we will be taking next week off, our Jacksonville correspondent heading to a secure and undisclosed location, with limited access to email.

Happy July 4, in advance.

Below, the biggest stories of a consequential week.

Al Lawson: Trumpcare is mean, give me money

It was only a year ago that candidate Lawson was being introduced to Jacksonville media by Susie Wiles, chair of the Donald Trump Florida campaign.

Lawson was presented as an alternative to the fiercely partisan Corrine Brown, and was lauded as someone willing to work across the aisle.

Al Lawson had GOP help last year, fundraising like a Democrat this year.

However, incumbent Lawson is a different story, as a white-hot Tuesday fundraising email (“Stopping MEAN Health Care”) makes clear.

“During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised America that he would not cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. Now with the help of his friends in Congress, TRUMP IS BREAKING HIS PROMISE,” the email reads.

Noting that Senate Republicans are mulling over whether to vote for health care reform or not, Lawson — whose legislative body has already voted for a version of the “American Health Care Act” — urges prospective donors to “stand with [him] against this bad Republican bill.”

“Trump and his Republican cronies are trying to take away your health care,” the email continues, recycling very familiar boilerplate about the reform package.

Prediction: Susie Wiles won’t be showing Lawson around Jacksonville anytime soon.

Not that it matters: this seat will be decided in the Democratic Primary, and Jacksonville candidates seem reluctant to jump in.

Motion theater for Corrine Brown

Former U.S. Rep. Brown has already seen the government’s response to her motions for acquittal and a new trial in her court case.

Federal prosecutors oppose both the acquittal motion and the motion for a new trial.

Corrine Brown may or may not be calling a new lawyer here.

The feds contend, contra Brown’s contention, that evidence was actually sufficient to convict her of 18 of 22 counts in her fraud trial for phantom educational charity One Door for Education. And the feds still maintain that the juror who was bounced for believing the Holy Spirit told him Brown was innocent had just cause to be bounced.

Brown’s lawyer has a new deadline for response: July 7, at which point memos of no more than 10 pages are due in response to the Feds panning acquittal and new trial motions.

The Strong Mayor model

Jacksonville runs best when using the “strong mayor” model of leadership, say many. If the mayor functions as city manager, there is policy drift. Exhibit A in the “strong mayor” column: former Mayor Jake Godbold, who regaled a packed crowd at a Jacksonville Historical Society meeting.

Jake Godbold doesn’t agree with Lenny Curry on everything. But in the case of the Landing …

Godbold backed Curry’s play to “take back” the Jacksonville Landing from Toney Sleiman, the strip mall developer who is running the cornerstone piece of riverfront property into the ground with crap retail that draws no one in.

Godbold also described his own time in office, including a Curry-esque dedication to public works projects that got Jacksonville moving after entropy in the Hans Tanzler era.

At one point, Godbold issued a salvo at Alvin Brown, whom he endorsed in 2015, saying Brown didn’t even build roads and other projects in neighborhoods that comprised his base.

Curry was criticized by some, ironically, for lacking the vision of Brown to transform downtown. But the reality is that, at least for two years, it has been Curry’s vision that has dominated city discourse in a way Alvin Brown would never have dared.

Family leave for COJ workers?

Curry rolled out a family leave proposal this week, and unions and council members are on board.

“I conceptually agree with the Mayor’s plan to support families and provide a great start for children. The Mayor’s history shows he doesn’t introduce proposals without study and understanding fiscal impact. I look forward to seeing the details and timeline,” Council President Anna Brosche told us Thursday morning.

Finance Chair Garrett Dennis lauded the move: “As usual,” Dennis said Thursday morning, “Mayor Curry puts families first … I can’t wait to see the details, and I will be a partner with the Mayor as he works to improve lives in our city.”

Police Union head Steve Zona — also on board.

“I have always told people that work with me “family first always.” There is nothing more important. I applaud Mayor Curry for his leadership on this issue and willingness to take a bold step in that direction,” Zona said.

Strong Mayor, meet strong Council

Is there a rift between Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Council President Brosche?

No one is doing a news conference discussing this, but an open secret in Council is that Curry wanted John Crescimbeni to become Council President.

Anna Brosche became Council President Thursday.

To that end, extremely credible sources have claimed that a senior staffer in the Mayor’s Office — one who deals with Council regularly — was trying to whip votes for Crescimbeni over Brosche. While that claim was refuted off the record by said staffer, with said staffer asserting that claims of that sort were also made in the past, the narrative is clearly believed in Council.

Other credible sources have argued, meanwhile, that the Mayor’s Office is looking for someone to run against individual Council members who backed Brosche over Crescimbeni.

Such narratives can’t be easily refuted — not in the cauldron of gossip that is Jacksonville’s four-story City Hall, a building that once was a May Cohens department store and still does as brisk a business in insider gossip as that store did in mid-priced consumer goods back in the sepia-tinged olden days.

Our prediction: a rapprochement is in the works … though with the Finance Committee being majority-Democrat (a big reason Brosche won: those pledges from Dems from minority-access districts) and with independent-minded Danny Becton as Finance Vice-Chair, expect that Finance (and by proxy, Council) will present tougher sledding this budget process — unless tangible gains are presented in what could be an ambitious capital improvement budget this year (per Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa).

For what it’s worth, Brosche and Curry met this week. Brosche wouldn’t address the narrative of the Council presidency race, except to say “you can’t make money yesterday.”

For Brosche, a Republican who won a Council race in 2015 with no actual help from the Duval GOP, pragmatism will prevail. But others on the Council — including Finance Committee — aren’t necessarily so pragmatic.

Bye Bye Boyer

No, Lori Boyer is not leaving Council — she is, however, done with the Council presidency … and she told us she’s happy to relinquish the gavel.

Boyer noted that she is glad to be “free of the imposed neutrality” that comes with being Council President.

Lori Boyer and John Crescimbeni discussing issues.

Boyer maintained neutrality in policy discussions, serving as a facilitator of the debate. And that facilitation proved essential on matters like pension reform and the HRO; in each case, her process was that of a “deliberate structure,” with a “beginning, middle and end in sight.”

Boyer also evaluated the State of the Council.

Looking at the Council as it is and as it will be next year, Boyer is encouraged by the development of those first-term members who served as chairs of committees; they “learned the role and understand the process.”

Others, she suggested, can stand to develop “maturity in the relationship aspects” of being on Council.

“The risk is in not knowing how the process works … there’s always another bill, another occasion, another deal where you’ve got to work with somebody.”

Council greenlights opioid pilot program

A bill that got pilloried while making its way through committees — $1.5M for a six-month opioid treatment program — passed the Jacksonville City Council Tuesday night.

Paybacks aplenty for Bill Gulliford Tuesday night in Council.

The vote: 16-1, with Danny Becton as the no vote … after a lot of noise and drama, documented below.

But as in committees, the discussion was robust at times; surreal at others. And — underneath it all — intensely personal against the sponsor, with a cadre of Councilors pulling out every procedural trick imaginable to kill the bill and to frustrate sponsor Bill Gulliford.

Floor amendments, motions to defer for a cycle, and even some talk of sending the bill back to committees — all were there. Fans of a smooth process will note, meanwhile, that those who made it roughest will be on the Council’s Finance Committee starting in July.

Beach restoration victory lap

Just in time for the Holiday weekend, Curry was able to announce that beach restoration is “done.”

Of the $22 million that went into beach restoration, $7.5M of that came from the Jacksonville City Council, and Councilman Gulliford was key in ensuring those funds came to pass.

Gulliford, who lives just a short walk from the presser, deemed it “incredible” that dunes are getting restored so quickly.

“The Mayor was behind us the whole time,” Gulliford noted.

Mitch Reeves, Lenny Curry, and Bill Gulliford walk across new sand to meet the press.

There’s still work to do, of course, beyond restoration.

The Jacksonville Beach Pier lost 300 feet of span in Hurricane Matthew; Gulliford noted that assessment is underway to determine what can be saved and, perhaps, reused — though there is no fixed timetable for when that may come to pass.

Curry leaves U.S. Conference of Mayors

One significant difference between Curry and former Mayor Alvin Brown: their dispensations to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Brown was a frequent fixture at meetings; Curry never attended an event.

Alvin Brown couldn’t sell Lenny Curry on a USCM membership after all.

Curry’s politics hew closer to the White House than the USCM. And in that context, Curry’s decision to leave the USCM was not surprising — though it went unremarked until this week.

On Monday afternoon, Curry explained the reasons for leaving the group, which happened in late 2016 or early 2017, he said.

Curry wanted to know if the Mayor’s Office had paid the invoice for the current year, and it had not — so given the Conference’s political positions and lack of value add for his office, he didn’t think that membership was a “good use of taxpayer dollars.”

Curry is the most important big city mayor to leave the conference, which though ostensibly bipartisan, has taken an adversarial role to President Trump in recent months.

Props for Melissa Nelson in T-U

It’s a measure of how badly Angela Corey botched the administration of justice in Florida’s 4th Circuit that even a common sense move from Melissa Nelson receives plaudits in the Florida Times-Union.

A tale of two State Attorneys …

The latest: Nelson’s decision to drop charges on a woman who shot her abusive, drunken husband in self-defense, as he pummeled her while driving her car.

Angela Corey was the queen of punitive quasi-justice, and she always seemed to have a special animus for African-American women. Consider the case of Marissa Alexander, who was set up for 60 years in prison because of firing warning shots in self-defense from her abusive ex.

Nelson got back up from one of her earliest endorsers — National Rifle Association lobbyist and gun rights advocate Marion Hammer.

“That’s the kind of flawed logic you get out of a state attorney who is more concerned about convictions than justice,” Hammer said about the Corey charges. “The fact that a new state attorney would investigate it and drop the charges shows the correctness of [that] decision.”

Children or politics?

Curry discussed reforms he intends to roll out regarding the embattled Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jacksonville Journey.

“This wonderful organization — the Children’s Commission — was created at a time for a good purpose and it has served its purpose,” Curry said.

Lenny Curry’s changes won’t be universally lauded here.

One former Commission member told the Florida Times-Union that Curry and City Council members wouldn’t know what that purpose was.

“But everybody used to be a child. And most adults have children. So everybody thinks they’re an expert on children. Well, they’re not,” said Linda Lanier, a former member from 2003 to 2012.

“Our council members and our mayor, when it comes to children, they’re average people. They don’t have any greater depth of knowledge about children than the average guy walking down the street.”

“Please don’t mess with this. Abide by the ordinance. Give the Children’s Commission board whatever it needs,” Lanier added.

Are ordinances Talmudic, the same in perpetuity? Or are they, like most things in the world, subject to change? The answer to that is obvious to anyone who’s intellectually honest.

$11M for Jax from HUD

Jacksonville is in line to receive just over $11M in money from Housing and Urban Development for FY 2017, per a letter from HUD dated June 15.

Over half of that sum — $5.661M — will come in through Community Development Block Grants, a category that the Donald Trump Administration has questioned.

HUD head Ben Carson in Jax, with Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Al Lawson.

This is down significantly from the $17M figure stated by a city employee at a press event promoting CDBGs.

For locals who made a call for CDBGs, such as Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis, this award letter means that — at least for another year — federal money will boost Jacksonville’s budget to deal with populations that need the help.

Given Trump’s position on these grants, the Curry Administration was agnostic on the future of these programs when asked earlier this year.

“As long as the program exists and funds are available, we will utilize them,” spokeswoman Marsha Oliver said.

Florida Sheriffs love Jason Fischer

To quote Whodini: “Friends! How many of us have them?”

State Rep. Jason Fischer can answer that question affirmatively after garnering a “Friend of Sheriff” award from the Florida Sheriff’s Association.

Jason Fischer’s commitment to law and order is noted.

“I would like to thank the Florida Sheriffs Association for the Friend of the Sheriff Award. It’s an honor to work with the Florida Sheriffs Association to keep our state safe. This past session, I sponsored HJR721 which would have ensured sheriffs in all 67 counties of Florida are elected and are only accountable to the voters,” Fischer noted, referencing a bill that addressed an appointed sheriff in South Florida.

“I would also like to thank FSA President and Orange County Sheriff, Jerry Demings, and FSA Legislative Chair and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, for their dedicated service to the protection of Floridians. The great citizens of Florida are forever indebted to the men and women of law enforcement that serve our communities.”

Jay-mentum

State Rep. Jay Fant, now running for Attorney General, got some wind in his sails via Associated Industries of Florida this week.

Jay Fant’s AG campaign is fueling up for takeoff, with big wins this week.

Fant was honored, per the AIF news release, for “finding a solution to Florida’s current unconstitutional workers’ compensation system. Although he did not sponsor the full workers’ compensation legislation, Repre­sentative Fant fought hard for his amendment to the full House bill (HB 7085) that would have moved Flori­da to a claimant paid system. This amendment would have put Florida in line with 32 other states and had the united support of the business community.”

Fant also scored some endorsements this week, via Reps. Chuck ClemonsBobby Payne and Fischer.

Big boat lands in Jaxport

The Jacksonville Business Journal had a story that indicated just a bit of the economic boom that may/can/will come to Jacksonville … once the planned dredge to 47 feet is complete.

“The largest container ship to ever visit a Florida port stopped June 24 at Jaxport and the TraPac Container Terminal at Dames Point. The 10,100 container vessel MOL Bravo came from Asia via the Suez Canal. The cargo ship was not filled to capacity because it would sit too deep in the water,” JBJ reports.

For TraPac and JaxPort, the best is yet to come.

“When our harbor is deepened to 47 feet, a ship like the MOL Bravo will move twice as much cargo in and out of Jaxport,” Dennis Kelly, regional vice president and general manager of TraPac Jacksonville, told JBJ.

This week has been a narrative triumph for Jaxport: Monday, reports Splash247, the Jaxport board gave the green light to the harbor deepening project.

Dredging is slated to begin early in 2018.

Cannabis decriminalization for St. Augustine?

First Coast News reports that the city of St. Augustine is mulling a proposal to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis … and local Sheriff David Shoar is a supporter of said plan.

City Commissioners may be on board — if the local police chief gives the OK at a July 24 meeting.

Stand down for the so-called sticky-icky in SJC? Maybe.

“I think that it’s an excellent idea,” St. Augustine Commissioner Leanna Freeman said. “I would like to have feedback from our chief of police to see if he agrees with that, and if he does I would strongly consider … if you all agree that, [that] we make a show of support.”

We asked Jacksonville Mayor Curry if such a move would work for Jacksonville. It is not on the Mayor’s agenda. Likewise, it is anyone’s guess who on City Council would bring up that subject.

Marissa Alexander backs Stand Your Ground changes

Another one from First Coast News this week, which got Alexander to weigh in on this year’s changes to the Stand Your Ground law.

“You [shouldn’t] have to prove yourself in the case when in every other case that burden is on the prosecution,” Alexander said. “I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

Marissa Alexander’s case spotlighted needed tweaks for SYG.

Alexander, who faced 60 years in jail via former State Attorney Angela Corey for firing warning shots when her abusive ex threatened her, presented a test case of holes in the law as it was.

“It perhaps it would have made it where I didn’t have to prove my action, but the state would have to prove that I was wrong and not justified in at least being able to defend myself,” she said.

Peter Schorsch: Why we need a San Marco Avenue transit lane in St. Augustine

Congestion has become increasingly worse in St. Augustine, particularly along San Marco Avenue.

The Visitor Information Center — Historic Downtown Parking Facility is increasingly reaching capacity, and closed for extended periods of time during busy weekends — especially holidays and special events.

Parking in the downtown area has reached its limit.

Over the past couple of decades, growth has exploded in the northern parts of St. Johns County, with many of these new residents becoming regular visitors to St. Augustine, particularly on beautiful weekends.

A majority of visitor traffic flows from the north toward St. Augustine via Downtown via I-95, SR 16, US 1 and A1A.

Upon reaching St. Augustine, traffic funnels downtown via Ponce de Leon Boulevard and San Marco Avenue.

One alternative to easing this congestion — create satellite parking on the north end of St. Augustine. This option has been explored in 2016, and it appears to be gaining traction from residents and business owners.

There are solutions to St. Augustine’s increasingly bad traffic, parking woes.

However, major drawback on satellite parking is the lack of an express lane for the shuttles. When mass transit vehicles our bogged down in traffic congestion, it stunts public participation.

Creating a southbound transit lane along San Marco Avenue — coupled with a northbound transit lane along Ponce de Leon Boulevard — would enable a fluid circulator bus route that would open enormous possibilities for satellite parking facilities.

Furthermore, it would enable easy and time-efficient movement of visitors and residents throughout the northern sector of St. Augustine.

Shuttles, trolleys and other such vehicles would have multiple stops along San Marco, thereby enabling the masses to enjoy businesses along a major gateway of the city.

Growth trends prove that development in northern St. Johns County will continue for many years in the future, which will continue increase traffic along the northern gateway. To ease this expected traffic growth, a satellite parking system, united with an efficient transit route, will provide a fluid system for both visitors and residents.

It is a provable fact: When people see smooth running and dependable mobility, time and again they gravitate toward it.

The opportunity has arrived to have the Florida Department of Transportation realign travel lanes along San Marco in 2018, coming at FDOT expense, thus enabling the beginning of a much-needed “mobility alternative” in St. Augustine.

The City needs to seize this opportunity, and continue to build upon it further developing a transit Lane along Ponce de Leon by the FDOT in 2019.

If acted upon, within two or three years, North City would finally have a cost-effective, dependable mobility alternative. If this opportunity slips by, it would prolong the development of massive mobility alternative — and traffic nightmares could continue for decades to come.

Save the date: Travis Hutson Inaugural Golf Invitational

Palm Coast Sen. Hutson hosts the eponymous 2017 Inaugural Golf Invitational on Thursday, July 27 and Friday, July 28 at World Golf Village, 500 S. Legacy Trl. in St. Augustine.

Thursday events include a putting course challenge, cocktail reception, dinner at the World Golf Hall of Fame Tower. On Friday is breakfast at the resort, golf at the Slammer & Squire Course, lunch at the clubhouse and an optional spa day.

RSVP by July 7 2 Brianna Jordan at (203) 313-4695 or brianna@frontstreetflorida.com.

JAXPORT Board goes full steam ahead on $484M dredging project

JAXPORT Board members, without discussion, unanimously voted to proceed with the first section of the Jacksonville ship channel dredging project, approving its share of about $45 million Florida Times-Union reports. The money is only a fraction of the $484 million overall cost to deepen the ship channel for massive cargo container ships from Asia.

The nonprofit St. Johns Riverkeeper, which promotes the river’s health, warns that JAXPORT is going ahead with the dredging project without giving the public an opportunity to “understand all the pros and cons” in a “transparent community conversation” that considers both environmental and financial ramifications.

JAXPORT approval of the first phase of the dredging project brought cheers from a standing-room-only crowd.

“Let’s have that conversation,” St. Johns Riverkeeper Executive Director Jimmy Orth told the board. “Let’s determine and make sure this project is right for Jacksonville and it is right for the St. Johns River.”

After a nearly hourlong meeting to a standing-room-only crowd, the Board vote was met with applause and cheers.

UF Health Jacksonville leader named “2017 Ultimate CFO”

The Jacksonville Business Journal named UF Health Jacksonville CFO Bill Ryan as “2017 Ultimate CFO.” Ryan joined UF Health Jacksonville in December 2001 as a consultant, and became CFO in 2003. He retired in 2009.

Chill out at the Zoo!

“The Big Chill” is a “brrrrand new” summer event at the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens July 8 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Cool zones will be set up to keep visitors frosty, ice and water play stations for the children, and cool ice-enrichment for the animals.

Visitors can receive a free Dippin’ Dots for children 12 and under with coupon received at Main Camp, while supplies last.

The event is free with Zoo admission.

 

‘Stronger Together,’ says new Jax City Council President Anna Brosche

The question as of Friday morning in Jacksonville: will “stronger together” work better for the new City Council President than for Hillary Clinton?

Anna Brosche was elected Jacksonville City Council President weeks back. On Thursday night she assumed the role officially.

The installation ceremony sprawled out over two hours, and included a selection from an opera about political intrigue and betrayal.

A cynic would say that, given the shambolic, chaotic, and pitched race for Council President, that such was appropriate.

The smooth jazz song? Well, Chris Hong of the Florida Times-Union noted the lyrics: “The things we do to make each other feel bad … taking up time with the silly games we play … sometimes I feel we try to make each other sad.”

As a rule, smooth jazz signals my time to step into the lobby — and so it was in this case. But, as luck had it, I caught enough of the song to know that there was a jarring pathos in the lyrics, an attempt to bridge a gap of disharmony and rediscover a common mission — that ol’ One City One Jacksonville magic.

Outgoing Council President Lori Boyer‘s remarks touched on something each of her colleagues accomplished in the previous year, but really boiled down to one wistful sentiment: “Despite occasional personal conflicts … we accomplished so much together.”

Those conflicts simmered through the first part of Boyer’s year, with a familiar hierarchy of council members on the prime-time committees and what Bill Gulliford candidly dubbed the “lesser committees.” That same Bill Gulliford, it turned out, flipped the script without acknowledging it in January.

First, Gulliford said to John Crescimbeni that he needed to close the deal quickly — which didn’t happen, not at all, as all but two of his pledges were there at the kickoff.

Then, in a spectacular moment of hubris, Gulliford said that he would not serve in a standing committee in the Brosche administration. And that, despite his attempt to walk it back, came to pass.

Gulliford got dealt out. Also moved off the hot stove: another big Crescimbeni backer, Tommy Hazouri. Gulliford got no committee slots; Hazouri got one, and it’s not exactly marquee. That’s the way it goes when you go all in for a losing cause.

The balance of the votes went to Brosche. And though there are those on the fourth floor who maintain — persuasively — that there is a vast difference between cobbling together 11 votes and building real policy consensus, the reality was that the Mayor’s Office wanted one outcome, put its thumb on the scale, and it went the other way.

Whether one believes that the past is prologue, or per William Faulkner, it ain’t even past, it was up to Brosche to provide a unity message during her speech — which was deep into the program, an installation ceremony that ran half an hour longer than did the inauguration of Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams two years prior.

The “stronger together” theme permeated the remarks, with Brosche making the case that the Council’s strength was in its diversity and multiplicity of perspectives. In that, her remarks echoed those made when she won the vote on Council.

“We each see the world differently and are stronger together,” Brosche said during that portion of her remarks.

Brosche also extended encomium to Mayor Curry, thanking him for showing up (which, well, it would have been news if he and his senior staff hadn’t).  And she lauded Curry’s commitment to downtown development: ““Downtown represents economic vitality … Jacksonville is fortunate to have a mayor who understands importance of downtown development.”

Indeed, Brosche’s boosterism for downtown was another purposeful, Chamber-friendly theme of the speech; downtown’s density, she contended, boosted the tax rolls, and if the impact of that is maximized, a thriving downtown could be the rising tide that lifts all boats — specifically, the neighborhoods of the city, some of which are “safe and healthy” while others experience “distress.”

The root causes of such distress, of course, take many forms — and Brosche, as is the case with every other person in elected office in Jacksonville, didn’t address the disproportionate impact of aggressive policing in certain areas, the gaping maw the prison-police-industrial complex has left in African-American family structures for generations now, or the realities of educational feeder systems that fail in perpetuity.

People don’t vote on those issues anyway. The public discourse is sclerotic; this is, at its heart, a red meat town.

Brosche’s remarks, as are always the case with Jacksonville leaders, had more modest aims — consensus aims that suit everyone from GOP gadfly Danny Becton to the “pack” of African-American Democrats that secured Brosche’s winning margin and will join Becton on Finance next year.

One of those Democrats — Reggie Brown — will chair a special committee on “safe and healthy neighborhoods.” A Republican who supported Crescimbeni, the universally-liked Scott Wilson, will chair a special committee on parks; Jacksonville’s park system, like so many other aspects of its infrastructure, fell into disrepair over years and decades of millage rollbacks designed to secure the political futures of a previous generation’s best and brightest.

Brosche’s vision?

“To make Jacksonville the best city in the world for a child to grow up in,” she said.

As is this writer’s habit, he beat a retreat for the door of the auditorium before the closing benediction. And he wasn’t alone.

Staffers from the Mayor’s Office also found their way to the door, beating the crowd — understandably given that many of them have been mired in the Mayor’s Budget Review Committee all month, which — though not as taxing as the Great Council Office Swap of 2017 — has its own attendant pressures. And it was a school night.

So, “stronger together”?

That formulation blew up in Hillary Clinton’s case, as Donald Trump bet on the obvious reality that once one gets outside the boardrooms and the country clubs, what coalescence might have existed decades back, when unions weren’t just for the government sector, when churches were thriving hubs of community, when Jacksonville’s core neighborhoods had more homes with edged lawns and tidy streets than investment grade properties, simply doesn’t exist anymore.

But that message wasn’t for the people: 30 percent of them, maybe less, will vote — this is a transient town, one in which the supervoters and the 50+ crowd hold disproportionate sway over the renters from elsewhere, the corporate transfers, and the Navy folks who liked the climate and affordable housing and decided to retire here.

The message, ultimately, was for the people on Council who didn’t vote for her. For those “influencers” who may have had those quiet conversations with generally malleable Council members.

For all the strum und drang ahead of the vote, for all the tales told out of school in its aftermath, the “stronger together” message boiled down, as it did for Clinton, to a simple, familiar concept of collaboration: “business as usual.”

The first test of that: July 17, when the Mayor drops his budget on Council.

While some key crowd-pleasing initiatives almost certainly will be leaked to friendly reporters between now and then, the rubber will hit the road during the budget process — especially in August, when a radically reconstituted Finance Committee gets to test the limits of one of the bigger cliches in Jacksonville politics: that “Council is the policy-making body.”

Council can do a lot of things, definitely; but in terms of the game of retail politics, no one on the body has demonstrated the ability to craft the narrative like the political side of the Lenny Curry operation — a big-city shop that has, since its inception, outclassed the parochialism of virtually every political operator it saw as an obstacle.

Union head, Council leaders laud Lenny Curry family leave proposal

In a move that will certainly shore up union support for his likely-uncontested re-election bid, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry rolled out a paid family leave proposal Thursday for all city employees.

Family leave for city workers was an agenda item for Curry, which the administration had to get pension reform resolved to make happen.

This is, we are told, part of a larger commitment to ensuring that city policy facilitates strong, healthy families, a comprehensive vision that will encompass reforms of programs involving what Curry calls “at-hope kids,” and economically-challenged neighborhoods.

“I know first-hand the tremendous value and benefit our family received when Molly was able to stay home with our new babies. I believe all families deserve an environment where parents and newborns get an opportunity to bond without the worry of work demands and stresses of a reduced income,” Curry said.

Sen. Marco Rubio, meanwhile, added the following in the press release.

“I’m excited Mayor Curry is working to provide paid family leave to City of Jacksonville employees,” said Senator Marco Rubio. “From the rising cost of living to the historically high cost of raising children, affordable family formation is one of the great social challenges of our time.”

Conceptually, the proposal aligns with talk from the Donald Trump administration, where Ivanka Trump has spoken out in favor of family leave policies.

Meanwhile, City Council President-Designate Anna Brosche, who will be President later Thursday after an installation ceremony, offered conceptual support — a quote not in the press release.

“I conceptually agree with the Mayor’s plan to support families and provide a great start for children. The Mayor’s history shows he doesn’t introduce proposals without study and understanding fiscal impact. I look forward to seeing the details and timeline,” Brosche told us Thursday morning.

Incoming Finance Chair Garrett Dennis — an important ally as this will have a financial impact — likewise backed the play.

“As usual,” Dennis told us Thursday morning, “Mayor Curry puts families first.  Whether it is promoting safe neighborhoods, creating jobs, or helping kids learn how to swim to prevent drowning, Mayor Curry is always thinking about improving the quality of life of every citizen in Jacksonville.   I can’t wait to see the details and I will be a partner with the Mayor as he works to improve lives in our city.”

And Fraternal Order of Police head Steve Zona likewise lauded the Mayor’s move.

“I have always told people that work with me “family first always”. There is nothing more important. I applaud Mayor Curry for his leadership on this issue and willingness to take a bold step in that direction,” Zona said.

While costs of the plan have not been disclosed, the conceptual support and the obvious need for the initiative, coupled with Curry’s own political machine and capital, mean that any resistance to this proposal likely is futile.

 

Anna Brosche, Lenny Curry discuss the path forward

Jacksonville City Council President-Designate Anna Brosche was not Mayor Lenny Curry‘s first choice for Council President – a term starting later this week — according to some sources.

But the two first-term Republicans are pragmatists, and with Curry a believer in the importance of relationship building, a notable event on the Mayor’s Tuesday schedule was a meeting with Brosche and Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa.

So, how did it go? We asked both Curry and Brosche their thoughts.

On Tuesday afternoon, Brosche said it was a good meeting, but in terms of potential pyrotechnics, there were little to be found.

The goal: “to establish good, open lines of communication,” with the idea of having a “great third year.”

Whether Curry backed Brosche or John Crescimbeni in the Council President race, Brosche said, was ultimately not relevant in the current context.

“You can’t make money yesterday,” Brosche said.

Specifics — such as an expected expansion to the capital improvement program budget — were not discussed.

However, on what Brosche called the “eve of transition” between one Council Presidency and the next, the incoming Council President and the Mayor established a dialogue — an important move for both as they prepare for the year ahead.

On Wednesday, Curry offered his own take on a “standard meeting,” one designed to continue the trend of “two years of winning.”

When asked if he had concerns about a Finance Committee that will be different in both policy and rhetoric than that of the last two years, including a Democrat majority on Finance and frequent GOP gadfly Danny Becton as Vice-Chair, Curry said he wasn’t worried.

“I don’t view Council as groups,” Curry said, “but as individuals.”

Curry noted also that his first two budgets had allocations for the entire city, and his third budget will be no different.

The Capital Improvement Budget, he said. will include “some of what you’ve seen the last two years …. core stuff,” including such as “road resurfacing.”

The holistic goal, as it’s been for two years now: “to keep working together, to keep winning.”

Whatever internal Sturm und Drang there may have been about the Council Leadership race, Curry seems to believe that going forward, it is business as usual.

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