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‘Political football’ between Jax Mayor, Council Prez over kids’ program reform bill

When it comes to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s “Kids Hope Alliance” proposal, City Council President Anna Brosche wanted to put the brakes on.

But it appears that won’t happen. And in a process that one Councilman called “political football,” Mayor Curry — or one of his key allies — is calling the plays in Council Chamber.

Meanwhile, Brosche is saying that if Curry’s bill passes without a longer period of Council and public review, it’s a “loss for open and transparent government.”

Just hours ago, it looked like Brosche had the Mayor and his children’s program reform bill on the ropes.

On Monday, mere hours before a special Committee of the Whole meeting on the bill that would reform the governing structure of Jacksonville children’s services, Brosche cancelled the meeting. She said there were a lot of unanswered questions, and that the public needed to weigh in.

Later on Monday, Councilman John Crescimbeni — who lost a deeply personal race for the Presidency to Brosche — requested a meeting on Tuesday before the regular Council meeting.

And 13 of 19 Councilors signed on, and that meeting will be happening.

And — make no mistake — that meeting is happening against the wishes of Council President Anna Brosche and Finance Chair Garrett Dennis.

On Monday, both Brosche and Dennis talked to Action News Jax about their frustrations with the process.

President Brosche said that she didn’t think the public had had enough time to review the legislation, and she thought the Mayor was rushing it.

Councilman Dennis, as has been the case, went further.

The bill, he said, is a “political football — the budget’s now being held over some of my colleagues’ heads.”

“We have an obligation as the legislative body to be a check to the executive branch. What you see is a potential rubber stamp — and it’s wrong,” Dennis said about the process.

Dennis said that some Councilors felt “bullied” by the Mayor, leading one of Curry’s strategists to wonder on Twitter whether or not Dennis violated the Sunshine Law to glean that insight.

Dennis’ Sunshine compliance notwithstanding, Crescimbeni scored a political victory in this case, aligning Council behind the Mayor — and away from, on this issue, their elected President.

The KHA would phase out the Jax Journey and the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, folding them under a new seven-person board.

The timing of this meeting struck Dennis as apt: the city’s budget needs to be signed Tuesday by 5 p.m. And KHA is a missing piece of a larger puzzle, per an administration spokesperson.

“There are a number of budget uncertainties unrelated to KHA legislation. Some Council members have made statements that would have financial impacts on future budgets,” asserted Marsha Oliver Monday afternoon.

“For example,” Oliver asserted, “it has been proposed to find a dedicated funding source including creating a special taxing district. Also, support for excess pension payments has been presented and agreed to in publicly noticed meetings. It is fiscally responsible for the mayor to consider these impacts prior to signing the budget.  As always, the mayor respects the work of individual council members and looks forward to working with them.”

The question going into Tuesday: does Brosche have a counter for what some are saying was a coup on Crescimbeni’s part?

We asked Brosche if she felt Council overruled her by siding with Crescimbeni and the Mayor, and she took the high road.

“For me, this has always been about the children and how the City of Jacksonville wraps itself around our children is the most important investment we can make. The mayor and I share a strong commitment to serving kids,” Brosche said.

“Ultimately,” the Council President added, “the legislative process is a hallmark of local government that is open and transparent. How we proceed is a reflection of the will of the majority, which is also a foundational element of local government. I’m seeking to honor the legislative process and to proceed in an open and transparent manner. If my colleagues feel differently, they’ll express their will accordingly and I fully accept the will of the body.”

“From the beginning of my term, and reiterated at the beginning of my service as Council President, I conveyed my deep respect for the diversity of perspective and thought of my colleagues. My respect and appreciation for my colleagues is and will remain strong,” Brosche added.

We asked Brosche about the political angle, and she was straightforward.

“As someone who has a long history of serving children, my due diligence over very important and impactful legislation is entirely about the kids. I’m elected to produce legislation that’s right for Jacksonville, and I’m working to fulfill that responsibility. If KHA passes tomorrow, it’s a loss for open and transparent government.

Lenny Curry’s Jax Kids Hope Alliance bill gets 13 Council cosponsors

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has invested a lot of political capital into the Kids Hope Alliance, a proposed reform of Jacksonville children’s services.

The reform bill, which now has 13 of 19 people on City Council as co-sponsors, would replace the Jacksonville Journey and Jacksonville Children’s Commission with the KHA.

While the bill cleared two of three Council committees this week, it was not voted out of Finance, where questions remained.

Those questions will be answered, presumably, at a Committee of the Whole meeting 1 p.m. Monday, one followed by a special finance meeting–one that will allow the committee to clear the bill for the full Council meeting the next day, if the committee votes the bill out.

Odds look favorable: the bill now has thirteen co-sponsors in its current form … a clear suggestion that there would be majority support on a simple up or down vote.

Curry met with many Council members on Thursday and Friday … except for the chair, who is on a collision course with Curry over the Kids Hope Alliance proposal. Those meetings paid off.

Councilman Reggie Gaffney jumped on board Friday afternoon, joining fellow Finance Committee members Lori BoyerAaron BowmanMatt Schellenberg — meaning that even a majority of the Finance Committee was on board.

In Tuesday’s Finance meeting, that wasn’t a given.

Chair Garrett Dennis took the unusual step of allowing unlimited speaking time to public commenters, while Council President Anna Brosche introduced 17 questions she had about the bill right before the committee had to make a hard stop.

On Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, we asked Curry, Brosche and Dennis their thoughts on where the KHA process is, and the path forward. Curry, appearing at a media event at JAXPORT on Wednesday afternoon, was first up — and in a philosophical mode regarding the “process.”

“This is the process,” Curry said. “I think the bill’s on its fifth iteration now. If you add in my first bill, the substitute bill, the amendments that were made in the committees in the last couple of days.”

“So, it’s just the process of making it the best possible bill that it can be,” Curry said, adding that the amendments “absolutely” make the bill a better one.

“We welcome the revisions to the bill. We’re on the fifth iteration, I believe. I expect it will end up in a place with a bill that is exactly where it should be, to serve our kids — the kids of Jacksonville in the best way that they can be served, and to improve the way they’re served today,” Curry added.

“Whatever it takes to get this bill to where it needs to be to get on with the business of serving kids,” Curry said, “in a more focused way and a more outcome-driven way than we’re doing today, I’m on board with.”

Council President Brosche told us Thursday morning that she was “concerned that the public has not had the opportunity to become involved.”

Brosche expanded on these comments Thursday afternoon in a public forum at the Urban League.

Brosche noted that she was trying to understand “what needs fixing” with children’s services, trying to “reconcile why we’re creating a new entity when the work today … is defined as excellent.”

“For me, this is about serving the kids. We’re already not serving enough kids in Jacksonville … I’m trying to understand what is broken,” Brosche said about the Curry plan, which is predicated on a contention that the Jacksonville Children’s Commission is outmoded and ineffective.

FloridaPolitics.com obtained a copy of Council questions and administration-provided answers [KHA Memo to Councilmembers], and Council President Brosche — who is reviewing the current crop of answers — may yet have additional questions for the Curry administration.

A number of the questions and answers bear closer scrutiny in light of committee discussion.

Among the revelations: according to the Curry administration, there is — as of yet — no candidate for the CEO position identified; however, “we anticipate Mayor Curry making the appointment shortly after the enactment of this legislation.”

The Curry administration also addressed criticism from some quarters that there wasn’t sufficient input from subject matter experts: “A multitude of stakeholders were consulted including but not limited to providers, philanthropic partners, elected officials, current and former JCC Board Members, community leaders and citizens. The collective experiences, input and recommendations were considered and to the extent appropriate incorporated in the legislation as proposed. As a result of the actions this week, the current legislation is in its fifth version. All of the changes came from the stakeholders listed above.”

Perhaps the most interesting descriptive language of this week’s committee meetings was when a member of the Curry administration used the word “rubber stamp” to describe board members, as well as a feeling of “entitlement” from providers.

“Certain service providers expect these taxpayers dollars regardless of their performance, and this will no longer be the tolerated. These words simply emphasize the mayor’s expectations of a results-driven board. Under the Kids’ Hope Alliance, performance will be mandated and measured ensuring better [outcomes] for our children and the taxpayers of Jacksonville,” the response read.

Meanwhile, when asked about the “biggest weakness” of the current JCC/Jax Journey structure, the response was deliberately forward-looking: “Citing specific weaknesses and attempting to assign blame for the past, seems counterproductive.”

While it appears that Brosche’s questions are at least in the process of being answered, a new wrinkle emerged this week, with Finance Chair Dennis filing legislation that he believes merits parallel consideration.

This would necessitate a six-week deferral of the Kids Hope Alliance bill; Dennis believes that Mayor Curry “should welcome a frank public discussion” comparing and contrasting the two proposals.

The Dennis bill would repeal the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and replace it with the Ed Austin Children’s Services Council.

This body, per the bill, would “exist as an autonomous body within the Executive Branch of the consolidated government but shall not be a part of the organizational structure of any executive department.”

Some of this looks the same as the KHA bill — including the seven-person board comprised of Duval County residents, and a requirement of a 2/3 vote of Council for removal of board members.

“Bill 2017-697 is about kids. After listening to my fellow council members and hearing from the community and feeling the need to get this right for the kids of Jacksonville, I am proposing an alternative solution that builds upon the recent improvements to JCC,” Dennis asserted.

“The recent audit shows that JCC is improving outcomes for kids. I also wanted to honor the legacy of the founder of JCC by renaming it the Ed Austin Children’s Services Council and make improvements to existing JCC ordinance that has lasted 25 years and can continue to improve the lives of our kids and ultimately Jacksonville. It’s about our kids,” Dennis asserted.

Meanwhile, Sen. Audrey Gibson expressed her own concerns with the Curry bill this week in the Florida Times-Union.

Gibson, who last battled the Curry Administration ahead of 2016’s pension reform referendum, called the Kids Hope Alliance bill a “proposed fast track of city legislation to offer ‘hope’ to our children in need of opportunity to become the best they can be through after-school programming.”

With thirteen co-sponsors, KHA may already be a done deal. But at the very least, Monday and Tuesday will have drama before the votes.

When told of KHA having 13 cosponsors, Finance Chair Garrett Dennis — who has just filed competing legislation — was unmoved.

“Wait until Monday,” he said.

Jacksonville Bold for 10.6.17 — After the storm

Jacksonville politics are returning to normal after a wild summer that included a newly assertive City Council flexing its muscles over Mayor Lenny Curry’s budget, followed by impacts from Hurricane Irma that are only now receding.

Politicians, as you will read below, are still working to pick up the pieces, as photo ops are now replaced by the more quotidian work of relief and securing federal reimbursements for debris removal.

Local budgets have been approved for a new fiscal year, meaning that the pyrotechnic posturing will — especially as the holiday season approaches — dial down.

That said, we can now turn our attention to approaching storms: those being the 2018 Legislative Session (for which bills are being filed), 2018 campaigns for state office (which will see a lot of pre-primary action on the Republican side), and the 2019 Jacksonville municipal campaigns (for which candidates are filing).

Expect moves (in some cases) to be as quiet as possible — and expect us to listen at the keyholes for the whispers … and tell you the important stuff.

John Rutherford talks Irma recovery

U.S. Rep. Rutherford took to the House floor this week to discuss the response to Hurricane Irma, lauding the first responders and National Guardsmen who are so pivotal in the reaction.

But Rutherford’s comments looked forward as well; namely, to ensure Florida — specifically Northeast Florida — gets what is necessary for recovery.

Rep. John Rutherford was vital in bringing House leadership through Jacksonville last month.

“Mr. Speaker,” Rutherford said, “the Florida delegation in this House is now unified to ensure that Floridians receive the Federal support they need to recover from this horrible natural disaster, Hurricane Irma.”

Rutherford added that “the Port of Jacksonville is ground zero for getting shipments of needed goods to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In fact, the American Maritime Partnership and the entire U.S. maritime industry are, first responders in times of emergency like Irma and Maria when they strike Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.”

Indeed, just this week Gov. Rick Scott visited JAXPORT to see shipments of goods headed to Puerto Rico.

Speaker Paul Ryan should be acutely aware of Jacksonville’s strategic importance in relief efforts; he came through Jacksonville last month as part of his post-Irma tour of the devastation Irma wrought.

Gov. Rick Scott visits JAXPORT to see shipments of goods headed to Puerto Rico.

Al Lawson: ‘Let’s Feed America’

U.S. Rep. Lawson has focused on food scarcity issues in his first term in DC — and with good reason, as his Congressional District 5 has many so-called “food deserts.”

To that end, Lawson is using several creative approaches. The latest, reports WUSF: the launch of the “Let’s Feed America” campaign.

Rep. Al Lawson again is turning attention to regional food security issues.

The goal: “To reduce hunger by expanding eligibility and making it easier for those in need to receive access to food.”

Lawson’s constituents rely heavily on the SNAP program; one in four have used it this year.

President Donald Trump wants to cut this program, an outcome Lawson called “totally unacceptable.”

$100 million for Florida Forever?

The Florida Forever program hasn’t been funded in the way people expected when they voted to appropriate Amendment 1 funds for it in 2014. The biggest amount earmarked for land acquisition thus far: $15.2M.

A new Senate bill from Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley seeks to change that, requiring an at least $100M allocation per year, for protection of Florida’s increasingly fragile wilderness.

Sen. Rob Bradley continues to fight for environmental spending.

“I am filing this bill because the Constitution demands, and the overwhelming majority of Floridians who voted for Amendment One in 2014 demand, that we protect the natural resources of our state,” Bradley said.

Bradley’s bill comes on the heels of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection seeking $50 million for Florida Forever.

Bradley had already filed a measure for 2018 (SB 204) that would lead to the state spending at least $75 million a year on springs projects and $50 million annually on projects related to the restoration of the St. Johns River and its tributaries or the Keystone Heights Lake Region.

Last Session, Bradley pushed a project consistent with the aims of Florida Forever, securing recurring funds of $13.3 million earmarked for water replenishment in the St. Johns River and Keystone Heights Lake Region.

Tracie Davis moves to protect workers’ rights

As Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida, many residents faced evacuation orders — and some felt pressure from employers not to leave … or else they’d lose their jobs.

A new bill from Rep. Tracie Davis, a Jacksonville Democrat, would rectify that, banning such “employment discrimination.”

Tracie Davis calls this bill “common sense legislation. We agree.

HB 225 would protect employees from “retaliatory personnel action” if they evacuated in compliance with an executive branch evacuation order applicable to their residence.

The employee would have 14 days to return to work — unless there is a lesser timespan mutually agreed upon by the employer and employee.

If fired, the employee could take civil action and remedies could include reinstatement of the employee to his or her previous position, compensation for lost wages, and attorney and court costs.

It does not apply to first responders, people working in nursing homes and those involved in the “restoration of vital services.”

If I do say so myself …

Councilman Garrett Dennis was featured in the Florida Times-Union last weekend, via a letter to the editor that extolled the budget delivery/performance of the City Council Finance Committee he chairs.

Finance Committee did great, per Finance Chair.

Dennis asserted that the committee allowed the budget to be “reviewed and vetted from a different perspective … ensuring that all communities are served,”

Worth noting: The Mayor advanced a massive (by Jacksonville standards) $131M capital improvement budget well before Finance even took a look at the paper. The philosophy was that the short-term budget relief created by immediate pension reform savings would help with priority projects.

Kids Hope Alliance on the rocks?

Jacksonville City Council committees this week were dominated by a dissection of Curry’s Kids Hope Alliance proposal, which seeks to replace Jacksonville’s children’s services organizations — the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jax Journey — with a seven-person board housed in the executive branch.

Will Council scuttle Mayor Lenny Curry’s kids’ program reforms?

Two of three Council committees passed the bill; deferring the measure, however, the Finance Committee … which looks poised to have a meeting Monday to answer questions from Chairman Garrett Dennis and Council President Anna Brosche.

Curry made a relatively rare trip to Council Chambers to sell the plan to one committee, and given that he’s messaged heavily on this one, he’s invested in the outcome.

Will that outcome be Tuesday … or again deferred?

JEA to PR

Some props for Jacksonville’s utility: they are sending crews to Puerto Rico to help the U.S. territory rebuild a power grid devastated by Hurricane Maria.

JEA CEO Paul McElroy is finally past messaging on Irma.

The 40 worker crews will, reports WJCT, work 30-day tours before rotating out. JEA has committed to three months of restoration work.

For JEA, which took a lot of criticism for messaging in the wake of Irma, news like this should help change the narrative … at least until the discussion of McElroy’s bonus comes up later this year.

Bill Bishop, Rory Diamond launch Council bids

The 2019 campaign season is starting in Jacksonville, as two candidates with name identification launched Council runs this week.

Former district Councilman and Mayoral candidate Bill Bishop filed Tuesday in at-large District 2, where he will oppose an ally of Mayor Curry: Ron Salem.

After months of deliberation (and some Jenga), Bill Bishop is back.

Salem has over $100,000 banked, and the Mayor’s political machine on his side. Meanwhile, Bishop built up a lot of goodwill among the Jacksonville smart set in 2015, as he ran an insurgent campaign before endorsing Alvin Brown for Mayor in the runoff.

The open question: will people support or remember Bishop in 2019, after a couple of years out of the relative spotlight of the Council dais? And will Bishop find donors outside of the Curry machine axis?

Out at the Beaches, Neptune Beach Councilor Rory Diamond — another candidate the Mayor’s political machine is excited about — launched his race to succeed fellow Republican Bill Gulliford, who is termed out and ready to move to Montana.

Diamond, an alumnus of the George W. Bush White House, will be the establishment favorite in that race. That said, Beach politics are essentially cannibalism at the ballot box, and almost certainly one or more of Diamond’s opponents will lay into him for using Neptune as a steppingstone to the big show.

Duval School Board OKs budget

The Duval County School Board approved its budget by a 5-1 vote this week … and three guesses as to who the “1” was.

Board member Scott Shine has been a lonely voice on the board, and budget night was no exception. He voted against the budget and called attention to a priority of former board member and current State Rep. Jason Fischer: an audit of $21M that ended up being spent last fiscal year from reserves.

Scott Shine: in the wilderness.

The audit, said Board Chairwoman Paula Wright, was conducted and will be discussed at an upcoming workshop.

A question left unanswered by the Florida Times-Union article: why the audit wasn’t merely distributed via email to board members, allowing for a more contemporaneous discussion — especially before the budget vote.

Meanwhile, for those who appreciate Shine’s willingness to go against consensus, they can take heart: Shine already has almost $30K banked for his 2018 re-election bid, against two opponents who — as of August numbers — had yet to report fundraising.

Armada falls to Miami, two points out of playoffs

The Jacksonville Armada FC fell 1-0 to the NASL-leading Miami FC on Sunday night in south Florida. Despite the loss, Jacksonville is two points out of a playoff spot. The Armada collected just one point from three games this past week — a busy schedule thanks to making up matches from Hurricane Irma.

“I thought the players played very well today. I honestly think in all three games this week we have been the better team,” head coach Mark Lowry said.

While losing to the NASL-leading Miami FC Sunday night, the Jacksonville Armada is still two points out of a playoff spot.

“We are obviously very disappointed not to collect more points, but the performances lately show that this club is moving in the right direction and has a very bright future ahead.”

The loss to Miami at Riccardo Silva Stadium on the campus of Florida International University with Jacksonville getting their first look at the goal. Tony Taylor found an early opportunity in the second minute of play and fired a shot, but it was a little too high.

Miami then found their first opportunity in the 11th minute with a free kick by former Armada player, Richie Ryan. It found its way through the defenders to bounce off the woodwork straight into the hands of goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell.

It did not take long for Miami to try again, though, and put itself on the scoreboard. Jaime Chávez tapped a ball toward Stéfano Pinho, who was able to head it on the frame and into the back of the net.

Patterson-Sewell had great saves later in the first half to keep Miami from extending their lead. Kwadwo Poku sent a laser from outside the box, and Patterson-Sewell knocked it away. He was there again to save the rebound shot by Dylan Mares, but the play by Mares was called offsides.

Taylor found another opportunity in the 44th minute for the Armada. He connected with a ball from Ciarán Kilduff and blasted a shot from outside the 18-yard box, but Daniel Vega saved it in the middle of the goal.

Taylor’s effort could not get Jacksonville on the board, and the teams left the field for halftime with Miami leading 1-0.

Mares was first with an effort for Miami in the second half. He broke away from the pack in the midfield in the 53rd minute and took a shot on goal, but Patterson-Sewell was again there to knock it away.

Jacksonville had a sequence in the 64th minute to almost record a goal. Taylor and Jack Blake connected on the right wing before finding Aaron Pitchkolan and Kalen Ryden in front of the goal. Ryden played the ball to Jemal Johnson who powered it toward the net. Kilduff had the last tap to try to tuck it away, but Vega made a diving save to knock it out of play.

Zach Steinberger then tried his chance at the goal in the 81st minute. After receiving the ball from Ryden, he fired his shot toward the net, but Vega saved it.

Miami had a few late chances to double the lead. Chavez found some space to run down the field ahead of Ryden to force Patterson-Sewell to get ready for a one-on-one, but his subsequent chip at the goal went wide.

The match ended 1-0 and Miami took the three points.

“The three games in seven days has stretched the roster to its limits,” said Lowry. “At this stage of the season, with a very small roster, it has been a physically challenging week. But rest assured, we will be ready for Edmonton on Friday.”

Jacksonville continues its season with a matchup against FC Edmonton in Alberta. Kickoff is Friday at 9 p.m. ET. The match will be broadcast locally on CW17.

More Shad Khan money for Lenny Curry committee

While Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry may disagree with Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan on national anthem protests, the two align politically.

The most recent piece of evidence: the September finance report for Curry’s political committee, “Build Something That Lasts.”

Khan’s $25,000 contributed in September comprised the majority of the committee’s $38,000 haul last month — which brought the committee over $1.4 million raised in total since its inception (with roughly $410,000 of that on hand).

Khan personally has given Curry’s committee $175,000 since the end of 2015, and the Jacksonville Jaguars have ponied up $35,000 more.

September spending was fairly routine for this committee, with just over $21,000 spent — the bulk of it on consultant fees.

Panel defers Lenny Curry’s ‘Kids Hope Alliance’ proposal

Monday saw a Jacksonville City Council committee move Mayor Lenny Curry‘s children’s program re-orginization — the Kids Hope Alliance (KHA) — through by a 6 to 1 vote.

Discussion of the bill to replace the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and Jacksonville Journey was brutal.

It took over three hours, and it became clear that one primary skeptic of the bill was Council President Anna Brosche.

As the committee lurched through its fourth hour of deliberation, Brosche advanced at least a dozen line-item criticisms of the bill. However, Brosche was not a voting member of the committee.

The lone “no” vote in that committee: Councilman Garrett Dennis, a Democrat who has been willing to buck both the Curry Administration and political team.

Dennis was vocal with criticisms, suggestions of amendments to the bill and other procedural tricks — including an attempted stall to force deferral as the committee reached what had been thought to be a hard stop time of 1:30 p.m.

As luck would have it, Dennis chaired the Tuesday morning meeting of the Finance Committee — and therefore it was widely expected that Finance would be the toughest of the three committees for the KHA bill.

That impression was augmented when an occasional Curry political adversary — Council President Anna Brosche — showed up for bill discussion.

And sure enough, the bill — a priority of the Curry administration — didn’t even get a vote.

For the second straight committee meeting, Sherry Magill, president of the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund, offered critiques of the KHA model. She wanted a dedicated funding source, expressed concerns about KHA becoming political and took issue with the KHA’s reliance on decreased crime stats as a metric.

Council President Anna Brosche honed in on questions about the funding source, noting that in FY 05-06, funding was just over $21 million, but since then had an erosion in funding, while Jacksonville Journey investment was “all over the board.”

Brosche surmised that she thought legislative intent was that funding would keep going up, not that it would be cut — as happened earlier this decade.

Dennis then took issue with Curry’s assertion on Monday that support for the Jacksonville Children’s Commission is tantamount to supporting “special interests,” saying “the only interests are the kids of Jacksonville.”

“That kept me up all night last night, thinking about special interests,” an impassioned Dennis noted.

In response to a provider’s assertion that the KHA would send children’s services “backwards,” another frequent Curry Administration sparring partner — Finance Vice-Chair Danny Becton — said this concerned him, given that the reforms were supposed to represent progress.

“That thought process is certainly contrary to the objective to the bill, where we are trying to enhance and raise the bar for kids,” Becton said.

Dennis addressed another of the provider’s concerns with the bill, calling it “problematic” when small providers had to compete with city agencies for contracts.

“It’s almost like picking and choosing based on the priority of the leadership in the Mayor’s Office,” Dennis said, adding that he is “inclined to defer the bill.”

That didn’t go over well with Ali Korman Shelton, the mayoral liaison to Council, whose father Howard Korman is both a former chair of the Children’s Commission and a very strong proponent of this bill.

In fact, as Mr. Korman began his remarks, Dennis said he intended to defer the measure two weeks.

“The Children’s Commission right now has a lot of uncertainty … the longer it takes to do this, the more uncertainty there is,” Korman said, noting that “good people … have their future up in the air” while the city mulls the re-orginization.

____

Chairman Dennis had more surprises that doubled as absolute non-starters for the Curry Administration.

One amendment that went up in flames: a referendum to set up KHA as an independent taxing district, one which could levy a tax not exceeding .5 mill, which would come out to roughly $26.7 million.

“Let the voters decide the commitment to the children,” Dennis said.

Boyer noted that the Consolidation Task Force had opposed carve-outs like this, and so she “strongly opposed” this proposal.

Councilman Reggie Brown was concerned, meanwhile, that amount wasn’t enough, and “maybe a full mill” is required. Brown ultimately said he wouldn’t support the amendment.

Bill sponsor Scott Wilson said this was a “bad idea” and he’d vote against it if lumped into this bill.

Other amendments were successful, including a Reggie Brown one to ensure that all high school students — including those over the age of 18 — would be eligible for youth services.

____

Near 1 p.m., Dennis urged deferral.

But there were fireworks, with Councilwoman Lori Boyer noting that the version being voted on had three hours of work and multiple amendments, and that there needed to be a vote or a continuance of the meeting at some later time to preserve the work done.

“We’ve shotgunned this, we’ve rushed this,” Dennis said, urging a potential Committee of the Whole to resolve “tons of questions” he had on the bill.

Boyer then motioned on the substitute as amended, and the motion was seconded — wrapped as the Finance substitute.

Some committee members pushed for a vote, but Democrats on the committee — mindful of a deferral of a Reggie Brown bill in a different committee — said that to not defer this bill would be a different standard.

Brown’s bill: a resolution of support for a bill in the Florida Legislature requiring school crossing guards at all schools serving students up until eighth grade. There were questions about funding what would be a state mandate, and other logistical issues.

Council President Brosche added that if her questions on the bill were not answered, she would push for deferral at Council Tuesday.  As of late Tuesday afternoon, her 17 questions had not been answered.

“Hopefully we can do that before Tuesday so we don’t need to defer it on Tuesday,” Brosche said.

Discussion continued, with the Curry Administration vowing to answer any residual questions on Monday, while urging that the committee vote the bill out.

Despite that vow, Chairman Dennis deferred the bill. A special meeting of the committee looks likely for Monday.

____

The Rules Committee took up the measure Tuesday afternoon, with many of the same speakers making increasingly familiar points about the bill.

Howard Korman noted that, while this has been a “difficult process,” Councilors should “move this forward — either up or down” to alleviate uncertainty among current members of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission regarding whether they’d have jobs or not after the re-orginzation goes through.

Amendments from the previous two committee stops occasioned more discussion, with more technical amendments offered before a substitute version was moved through and approved without a no vote.

Reggie Brown rejects conflict of interest charge

Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown has became a point man on Mayor Lenny Curry‘s push to boost after-school program funding this year.

However, Brown’s 2016 financial disclosure form reveals that he has received secondary income of almost $10,000 from one of those organizations tasked with running after-school programs.

Brown says there is no conflict of interest because the money he received from the organization had nothing to do with the $360,000 allocation to “Communities in Schools.”

This assertion was made despite the allocation coming after he took an active role in the process.

____

“Communities in Schools” got $360,000 in an August round of funding from the city of Jacksonville, for three sites serving 80 kids. One of those sites — at Pickett Elementary School — is in Brown’s district.

According to a press release from the mayor, Brown, a member of the Council Finance Committee, was slated to “introduce an amendment at the proper time during the budget process to appropriate the funds,” during the budget process in August.

And the funds were appropriated. However, despite Brown having gotten paid $9,375 from CIS — a fact reported on a disclosure received by the Florida Commission on Ethics on July 21, 2017 — Brown asserts that money or any previous contractual relationship had nothing to do with CIS getting $360,000 that may not have been available otherwise.

“CIS summer and afterschool programs were granted their sites based on rankings from RFP scores,” Brown asserted via text Monday.

There was, said Brown, “absolutely not a conflict.”

“My vote was for all after school providers. I’ve worked for other providers in the past that received funds,” Brown said.

Brown said he would have recused his vote had there been a conflict.

“If I was currently employed with any provider receiving funds,” Brown said, “I know to recuse my vote.”

“Tell the world to keep trying,” Brown added.

Brown had gotten paid from CIS for his participation in the “AmeriCorps Veterans to Success Program,” which was intended to use veterans to “recruit military speakers” and “coordinate activities for miliary students in Duval County.”

____

Brown sought to take an active role in the process of revamping funding formulas for afterschool programs and summer camp programs as early as June, reported the Florida Times-Union.

The second-term Democrat called a special Council meeting to address these issues.

Parents and non-profits, said Brown, were “not calling the [Jacksonville Children’s Commission] board members. They’re calling me. So if they’re calling me, let me be a part of the process.”

At least one of those affected non-profits had a direct line to Brown, per the financial disclosure report.

____

Amidst all of this drama, City Council is mulling Curry’s proposal for the Kids Hope Alliance, which — ironically enough — would replace the Jacksonville Journey and the Jacksonville Children’s Commission.

The summer camp budgeting of the JCC — which decided to spend more per-pupil for students, despite having a fixed budget, thus ensuring a shortage of openings compared to previous years — was what kicked off the KHA push.

A “frustrated” Curry introduced a measure for summer-camp funding that was framed as a “band-aid” and a prelude to reforms such as those currently under consideration by Councilman Brown and his 18 colleagues.

Despite pushback, ‘Kids Hope Alliance’ bill clears first Jax City Council committee

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s Kids Hope Alliance bill cleared the first of three City Council committees  Monday.

And he was on hand, at least at the outset of a discussion that sprawled for almost three hours, to make sure that happened.

The bill, which seeks to consolidate functions and programs of the Jacksonville Journey and Jacksonville Children’s Commission into one omnibus body, was substantially reworked since its initial introduction, with an aim toward reassuring Council members that the board would be independent.

In the bill’s current iteration, board members can be removed by the Mayor, with a 2/3 vote of Council.  The board would also pick the CEO, and the Mayor would no longer have to concur with their decision.

Both of these changes: framed by advocates as assurance of the board’s independence, despite being housed in the executive branch. However, other questions loomed — including those of whether boards should be comprised of Duval residents.

In opening remarks, Mayor Curry positioned the bill as part of his “commitment to reform” and “challenge to the status quo.”

“There is much room for improvement in how we invest in the kids of our city,” Curry said, noting that despite the investment in afterschool programs and summer camp programs, kids are still killing kids.

KHA would be about “outcomes,” Curry said, not “entitlements” for the provider class. Anyone who contends otherwise, Curry said, is either driven by an agenda or benefiting from the current schematic.

Administration member Ali Korman Shelton qualified “entitlements,” saying that “people get used to that money every year.”

Korman Shelton noted that the current bill — a substitute — incorporated many of the criticisms that had come in from the original.

“This is after 25 years of a process. We are examining the process,” Korman Shelton added, noting that there was no expectation that this would be a “rubber stamp” board.

Despite an attempt to forestall some criticisms, not all were precluded.

Jacksonville Children’s Commission board member Lee Harris expressed concerns about repealing the ordinance that enacted the JCC, including a smaller board removing subject matter experts. Harris also expected that a lack of community input would lead to an erosion in services.

Another JCC board member, Cathie Shimp, noted that the current bill language allowed for people from outside Duval County, such as a “political contributor from St. Johns County,” to be on the board — which wouldn’t be in the interest of the “most vulnerable families.”

Councilman John Crescimbeni, a proponent of local residency for local offices, noted that even in the original JCC language, there were allowances made for people with philanthropic or business interests in Duval County. However, the voting members of the JCC are all residents — a key break from the current bill.

Residency requirements, said Korman Shelton, are the same as other boards in the code.

A representative of the United Way (CEO Michelle Braun) noted, meanwhile, that the independence of the KHS board was a key factor for their organization — and that’s assured in the board’s current iteration. Braun is a non-voting member of the JCC currently.

Councilman Garrett Dennis, who frequently butts heads with Mayor Curry, marveled at the fact that in Jacksonville — with 850,000 people — it’s somehow impossible to find seven actual residents for the board.

“For us to think we can’t find seven people here in Jacksonville out of nearly a million people,” Dennis said, “that’s ludicrous.”

Howard Korman, a former JCC Board Chair, said the JCC and the Journey have deviated from their original administrative mission, and have become too active in hands-on program implementation.

“The role of a board is not to micromanage,” Korman said, but to provide “evaluation” in an advisory framework.

“The purpose of a board is to understand the mission,” Korman said.

Korman likes the combination of the two current entities, a board comprised of experienced people, and provisions in the bill for small providers — which allow disbursements below $65,000 to be handled outside of the city’s procurement code.

“What we’ve failed to do over the years is to look at things as a continuum … we’ve looked at it isolated,” Korman said, echoing Curry’s own concerns about a lack of measurable outcomes in the current model.

Despite Korman and others expressing confidence in the bill, Councilman Dennis pushed for deferral given the preponderance of open questions.

“I feel rushed,” Dennis said.

Korman Shelton noted that all Councilors have been briefed, including with the changes, and that copies were provided Thursday.

“If KHA does pass,” she said, “we want to come back with board appointments. We ask you to let this go forward.”

Just as the vote was about to drop, Dennis dropped an amendment: that members reside in Duval school districts, one member per district, precluding residents of other counties with business or philanthropic interests from serving.

The goal: a “good cross-section” of people throughout this city.

The administration balked at that amendment. An amendment to the amendment, which proposed six members from Duval school districts with another member from the outside, was also a non-starter.

Council President Anna Brosche noted that, despite administration qualms, it’s a priority of hers to have Duval County residents in these roles — and that the ordinance should reflect that.

Dennis offered a revision to his amendment, striking the school district clause, yet maintaining that “these seven members need to be from Duval County.”

“Is there a short list? Have we identified people from outside Duval County?”

Dennis wanted “transparency” on that count. The amendment passed, ensuring that Duval County residency would be a factor in board composition — and allowing Dennis to score a political victory over the administration.

Dennis noted that he had questions also, and suggested — again — that deferral was the best course of action.

Dennis motioned for deferral. The motion died.

The bill was approved 6-1, with Dennis in opposition.

The bill has two committee stops Tuesday — Finance, which is chaired by Councilman Dennis, followed by Rules.

Council President Brosche had at least a dozen detail questions that she put on the record for those committee discussions, so expect those meetings to be lively games of inside baseball.

“There seems to be a throwing out of the baby with the bathwater,” Brosche said in the midst of a lengthy recitation of qualms about the legislation as currently drafted.

How Lenny Curry won the Jacksonville City Council budget vote

To those not looking at the Jacksonville City Council budget process closely, the end result Tuesday night was clean and uncontroversial.

A unanimous vote for the city’s $1.27 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year, one with $131M in capital improvements, and 100 new police positions.

However, a closer look at the budget process reveals that — after a summer in which some City Council members waxed poetic about re-asserting Council’s prerogatives as the legislative body — Mayor Lenny Curry got everything he wanted despite some obstacles in the process.

He got the new police positions that were controversial in some quarters since they were proposed. He got his money for Edward Waters College: $8.5M for dorm and track improvements, under the guise of public safety.

And in doing so, he put some rivals in check … and all of that without being in the room.

Even before the vote, Curry was pretty confident in how it would go. He had no plans to be in City Hall to do a post-vote press gaggle; his plans, instead, were to coach his son’s football game that evening.

And it worked out well enough, as he tweeted Wednesday morning: “Budget passes w/ my public safety priorities including 100 new cops,investment in Edward Waters College , & infrastructure.”

As the Florida Times-Union headline blared: “Priorities intact.”

And in getting there, Curry — or more aptly, his team of senior staffers that worked the Council and the room — ensured that anyone on Council who might challenge him might want to think twice.

Whether coincidentally or not, two of the biggest obstacles to Curry’s agenda in recent months got checked,

Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, ahead of the August budget hearings, promised scrutiny and questions throughout that three week period.

Reviews of the process were mixed: especially nettled were department heads who waited well past their slotted time, as Finance Committee members turned what normally is a linear look into administrative tedium like head counts and part-time hours into philosophical inquiries that seemed a world away from the budget process as it happened in June in the Mayor’s Budget Review Committee.

One major sticking point: the Mayor’s call for 100 new police officers. Finance Committee members felt “targeted” by a poll saying that people wanted them. Yet, though only 80 of the positions were funded due to training class schedules, the Mayor got what he wanted.

And as budget night moved forward, it was clear that the unique approach to budget hearings from this finance committee may have slowed down the process.

Councilman John Crescimbeni, amidst a series of floor amendments authored by Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, noted with frustration that the vast majority of the 13 budget floor amendments came from Finance Committee members. Leading to the obvious question of why these issues — many of which were minor allocations — had to be worked out on the Council floor.

In part, that was because of the unique drama of that particular round of budget hearings, which didn’t seem able to go an hour without some sniping comments from Dennis toward the city’s chief administrative officer, Sam Mousa.

“You’re the man,” Dennis kept telling Mousa, with unmistakable condescension in his voice.

Finance Vice Chair Danny Becton — who has butted heads with the Curry administration for months, contending that the pension reform plan ratified in the Spring deferred payments to future generations and was little more than making minimum payments on one’s credit card.

Becton dropped three floor amendments.

One of those amendments sought to move $8.5M from projects at Edward Waters College (dorm renovations and a new community track and field) to water and sewer projects.

The other amendment: almost $23 million to be moved to pension from two accounts ($8,638,343 from Pension Reserve for an extra pension payment for 2017-2018, and an additional $14,078,555 from Pension Reserve to bolster the contribution further).

All these amendments died for want of a second.

With Dennis and Becton effectively stiff armed on budget night, what does the future hold?

Monday, Mayor Curry’s administration brings back the Kids Hope Alliance proposal.

The bill was deferred in committees, after meeting resistance in the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee in August budget hearings.

For Curry, this plan to roll up the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and Jax Journey into one omnibus board (appointed by the Mayor’s Office in the current proposal, though that could change) is a major priority.

“I’m not going weak on this,” Curry said regarding the reform legislation.

Lenny Curry built a political machine to get into office, and he did so even with many GOP office holders backing his Democratic opponent’s re-election effort.

In office, he has some of the best operators working the room — and he has become increasingly adept at giving Council members photo opportunities, the kind that allow them to take credit for something tangible happening in their districts.

For those looking to take the temperature of City Hall in October, the deployment of the Kids Hope Alliance bill, the robustness of the debate, and the ultimate vote will be good thermometers.

Jacksonville Bold for 9.29.17 — Wake me up when September ends

What a month for Jacksonville.

We survived it all.

We survived Hurricane Irma and its floods that turned downtown to a lake and brought the river into some of the finest homes in Avondale and San Marco.

Then, we survived the politicians’ photo ops.

We saw the Jaguars court opprobrium when some knelt for the national anthem, even as they got off to a 2-1 start — first place in the division, for now.

For Jacksonville, it’s all recovery now.

Just weeks back, it felt like recovery was a lifetime away.

Debris is clearing from roads. Power and the cable have long since returned.

There is an upshot, in a sense. We all now know a lot more about the power grid, as well as former esoterica like the politics of FEMA reimbursement.

Adversity has many consequences, with negative ones amply documented.

But if there is one positive out of all this, it’s this: we — as a whole — are more engaged, more politically-aware, and more charitable than we might have been at the end of August.

May we stay that way.

John Rutherford, Al Lawson get grant for eco-friendly buses

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) granted $1M last week to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority for low-emission buses.

Bipartisan consensus and big dollars for JTA buses this week.

Buses, per Sunshine State News, will run from the Armsdale park and ride to the new Amazon distribution center.

Rep. Rutherford worked with Rep. Lawson to make the case.

Rutherford said the federal funds for “battery electric buses … will not only strengthen our world-class transit system but also improve air quality and lower fuel costs.”

“In the long run, this will help to increase fuel standards for the city and improve the air quality for our city’s residents. I am proud to have supported this funding and look forward to working with JTA on ways to further expand Jacksonville’s clean energy initiative,” Lawson added.

Rutherford: ‘Great victory’ on snapper fishing reopen

Area anglers will be seeing red in local waters — and, unlike in previous years, they will be able to reel it in, in the form of red snappers … which can now be fished again.

Rep. Rutherford framed this Wednesday as a “great victory” for local anglers.

Snapper fishermen will be lured into the waters with a change in federal policy.

“In June,” Rutherford asserted, “I wrote a letter to the South Atlantic Fishery Council requesting to open the red snapper fishery in the South Atlantic. There were over one hundred Congressional signatories to that letter.”

“Yesterday,” Rutherford added, “the South Atlantic Council announced they passed a provision to reopen the fishery for short seasons in 2017 and 2018. This is a great victory for fishing in our state … a tremendous step toward growing our First Coast fishing economy, but I will keep fighting in Washington for our South Atlantic anglers until we have a long-term solution to properly managing all of our fishery stocks.”

Melissa Nelson: Same as Angela Corey?

The Florida Star, a Jacksonville paper tailored toward the African-American community, said that State Attorney Melissa Nelson was “the same” as predecessor Angela Corey when it came down to a high-profile murder case.

The honeymoon is over for Melissa Nelson, per The Florida Star.

“State Attorney Melissa Nelson is turning out to be no different from former State Attorney Angela Corey when it comes to prosecuting Officers that kill black citizens. This week, her office determined that the killing of unarmed black man Vernell Bing by officer Tyler Landreville was justified,” the Star wrote.

The Star added that “Tennessee v. Garner” invalidated the action, as it prohibits deadly force to stop a fleeing suspect. Of course, the officer contends the suspect had been endangering lives by driving pell-mell down urban streets at 70+ miles per hour, and that when he shot Bing, Bing was reaching into his waistband.

“This is one case that will haunt Nelson due to the attention that it has received from local activists,” the paper adds, wondering “where are our black local and state legislators on these issues?”

Delegation derby

The Clay, St. Johns and Duval Legislative Delegations have meetings slated for October.

Clay’s delegation convenes Wednesday, Oct. 18, at 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. Location: the Clay County Administration Building, 477 Houston Street, Green Cove Springs.

The Clay Delegation will almost certainly talk Irma impacts next month.

Sen. Rob Bradley works seamlessly with Rep. Bobby Payne and Travis Cummings, allowing Clay to continually punch above its weight. This year will be especially pivotal given post-Irma needs for the growing county.

St. Johns and Duval, meanwhile, both meet that Friday.

The St. Johns County Legislative Delegation Meeting will kick off at 9 a.m. at the St. Johns County Auditorium (500 San Sebastian View, St. Augustine).

Duval’s delegation, chaired by Rep. Jay Fant, meets Friday, Oct. 20, at 1 p.m. in Jacksonville City Council chambers.

The major topic: a local bill that would require Sheriff’s Office crossing guards at certain schools.

As is always the case with delegation meetings, stakeholders and local eccentrics will show up to make their cases for priority projects; they will be allowed to speak as time permits.

Lenny Curry: ‘Stupid’ not to stand for anthem

Jacksonville Mayor Curry got national exposure via The Associated Press for his statement on the national anthem Monday, as this New York Post article shows.

Mayor Lenny Curry, pictured removing storm debris, is done talking anthem protests.

“I stand and cover my heart for the pledge and the anthem. I think it’s stupid to do otherwise,” Curry said. “The U.S. Constitution protects the right for a lot of people to do a lot of stupid things. I am a constitutional conservative, so I respect the wisdom of our Founders.”

The AP dispatch cut out the portion of the quote that had to do with storm recovery.

For Curry, not rebuking President Donald Trump on statements that play better with the GOP base than with the diverse body politic of Jacksonville has become a game of political Frogger.

By saying the protests were “stupid,” Curry nodded to the right. But he left no doubt that they were Constitutionally protected.

By Tuesday, Curry was done talking about the anthem and protests. When asked for details as to what the flight back with the team was like, he would only say it was a “nice flight.”

SPOTTED on the Oct. 2 cover of Sports Illustrated: Shad Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, related to a story on the NFL’s ‘take a knee for the anthem’ controversy this past weekend. From the story: “The protests of today are not about the anthem or the flag or the troops, or even about Donald Trump. The protesters are high-profile African-American athletes raising awareness of how lower-profile African-Americans are often mistreated by police officers.”

Shad Khan ‘appalled’ by Donald Trump

Meanwhile, one of Curry’s biggest political supporters — Shad Khan — stood beside his players during a moment of protest Sunday … with Curry in the stadium.

No regrets from Khan, who told a Jaguar that he would remember this for the rest of his life.

The wrath of Khan for Donald Trump? At the very least, a distancing.

Khan, who dropped $1 million on Trump‘s inauguration, has clearly become more comfortable with the concept of buyer’s remorse of late.

“I supported him in the campaign because I loved his economic policies and I thought, you know, politicians do a lot of stuff to get elected,” Khan said.

Khan — like many reporters — expected a pivot “to the middle.” No dice.

“But I was appalled, right after his inauguration, how things started out,” Khan said, “being more divisive and really being more polarizing on religion and immigration.”

For more on Khan, check out this strong Washington Post piece that aggregates the legacy of a wholly unique figure not just in NFL history, but American history.

“We all need to send a thank you card to President Trump,” he added. “He’s united us all in a very powerful way.”

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

Gaff gaffe

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.

Local television viewers spent Friday evening watching WJXT’s footage of Jacksonville City Councilmembers Reggie Gaffney and Katrina Brown accusing local cops of racial profiling.

Gaffney had been pulled over for driving on a license plate he reported stolen in early 2016. Brown pulled up behind him to accuse the officers of racially profiling Gaffney.

Councilman Reggie Gaffney’s swearing-in; even in 2015, Katrina Brown was right behind him.

From there, things got no better. The head of the local Fraternal Order of Police urged the Councilors to apologize to the police they had maligned, or resign.

That head of the FOP, Steve Zona, wondered what the Mayor thought of this. Well, here’s the answer.

“I trust that the Sheriff and people over at JSO will do the right thing,” Curry said Tuesday on Jacksonville’s Northside, “and the process will work.”

For those looking for pyrotechnics, they weren’t to be found.

Gaffney apologized profusely at Council, while Councilwoman Brown was adamant that she did nothing wrong by asking the questions her constituents wanted to be asked.

Zona noted the apology was “heartfelt” and that “we all make mistakes.”

However, the Sheriff’s Office will still wonder about Gaffney’s lapsed memory when it came to walking into a police substation and reporting a tag stolen, then driving on the same tag. And to that end, an Integrity Unit investigation continues.

Post-Irma pollution in NW Jax

First Coast News reports on concerning flooding at a Superfund site in Northwest Jacksonville at Fairfax St. Wood Chippers.

A polluted site that has been on media and government radar for years now, the location flooded during Irma.

‘Runoff concerns’ are the latest peril for those in the Fairfax area.

The Environmental Protection Agency notes: “Due to heavy rain, some runoff concerns were identified at an on-site retention point and a washout underneath some site fencing. Samples were collected from the pond to determine whether contamination issues are present …”

A happy ending (sort of): Environmental Protection Agency samples “did not indicate any significant issues at the site from Hurricane Irma.”

The statement continues: “A surface water sample collected after the hurricane showed concentrations lower than or similar to the surface water concentrations for multiple metals measured during the Remedial Investigation.”

The site has been dormant since 2010, and the Environmental Protection Agency will clean it up eventually, FCN reports.

Irma worst ever event for Jax businesses?

The Florida Times-Union is reporting that Hurricane Irma may have been the worst ever event for Jacksonville businesses.

“A member of the board of directors for JAX Chamber said Irma is likely the biggest, single negative event to impact Jacksonville business,” the T-U notes.

Irma wreaked havoc on Jax businesses.

“I have been in Jacksonville for over 25 years working and I do not remember anything having an impact on business operations like this,” Chamber Board member Roy Driver said. “There was just nothing open.

“For 24-plus hours on what would otherwise be a normal workday — for just about the entire business community, with it being a Monday — everything was essentially shut down,” he said.

Clay catastrophe

Duval wasn’t alone in Irma impacts; Clay County may have suffered the greatest natural disaster in its history during Irma, the Florida Times-Union reports.

Gov. Rick Scott surveys damage in Middleburg.

“This was a catastrophic event for Clay County. The most significant impact that Clay County has ever felt …” said the county’s emergency director this week.

“This is going to be a long-term recovery, both the rebuild of infrastructure, the rebuild of residences and the recovery process is going to take time,” he added.

The impacts: over 12 hours of tropical storm force winds, epic creek flooding and 858 houses damaged.

“County infrastructure took a hit. There’s at least $600,000 in damage to county paved roads, about $200,000 to its dirt roads. Damage to county marinas, parks and recreational facilities is about $226,000,” the T-U report adds.

This puts hard numbers to the destruction Orange Park Republican Sen. Rob Bradley described to us in the immediate wake of the storm.

Clay County joins ‘Schools of Hope’ suit

By a 3-2 vote, the Clay County School Board voted this week to approve a lawsuit against the state of Florida — committing $25,000 to an effort joined weeks back by Duval County.

Per the Florida Times-Union: “The lawsuit is expected to question the constitutionality of the massive education bill, in part because it deals with about 70 subjects while the state constitution requires bills to deal with one topic. There are also questions about measures in the bill which are designed to steer millions of dollars from districts to charter schools and will limit school board’s oversight role with charter schools, which are independent public schools.”

Ted Cruz, SJC bound

Some high-powered national talent is headed to St. Johns County in October; U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz will join local Rep. Ron DeSantis for a county GOP fundraiser.

Pictured: Ted Cruz explaining the merits of Texas-style BBQ to Ron DeSantis.

The event: Oct. 6 at Sawgrass Country Club. The two will discuss tax reform.

VIP Meet and Greet tickets are $250; for the conservative on a budget, general admission tickets are just $100.

Expect Texas-style BBQ, a cash bar to wash it down, and a silent auction.

More money, years for FSU President John Thrasher

FSU President John Thrasher will be at FSU through 2020, and will have more money for his trouble.

John Thrasher continues to build his legacy as a university president.

“FSU trustees voted Friday to boost Thrasher’s annual salary by 7 percent to $555,560. Trustees also agreed to give him a $200,000 bonus for his performance. Last year, Thrasher was given a $100,000 bonus. Thrasher later this year will also get a 1.45 percent raise being given to all FSU employees,” reported The Associated Press.

Thrasher will also get a $400,000 bonus should he stay at FSU through 2020.

Seafood Nutrition Healthy Heart Summit

October is National Seafood Month, and the Seafood Nutrition Partnership will host its inaugural Healthy Heart Summit to promote the benefits of eating heart healthy.

October is National Seafood Month!

On Friday, Sept. 29, the half-day program will bring leaders from business, health care, and community together to discuss the importance of a heart-healthy diet for the local community, provide easy to use resources to encourage healthy dietary habits, and identify action items to support the heart health goals of the community. University of North Florida professor Judy Rodriguez will reveal results from the school’s Seafood Consumption in Northeast Florida study. It will also feature a special cooking demonstration by chef Johnny Carino.

Also to appear: Jerome Maples (Sen. Audrey Gibson’s office), Dr. Kelli Wells (Department of Health Duval County), Dr. Pamela Rama (Baptist Health), Mike Tigani (King & Prince Seafood) and Seafood Nutrition Partnership representatives.

The event is from 8 a.m. — 1 p.m. (registration and media check-in begins at 7:30 a.m.) at the Jacksonville Main Public Library, 303 N. Laura St.

JAXPORT names new CEO

Jacksonville Port Authority board members unanimously chose Eric Green as chief executive officer, reports the Florida Times-Union.

Green led the JAXPORT effort in its $484 million dredging project while expanding the port’s cargo lines. It is the third time JAXPORT promoted a person without prior CEO experience.

JAXPORT Board Chairman Jim Citrano (right) congratulates Eric Green on becoming the port authority’s CEO. Photo via WJCT.

Board member Joe York told the T-U that Green’s six months as interim CEO amounted to a successful tryout. Green, who worked at JaxPort since 2005, didn’t play it safe as interim leaders are prone to do, Green added.

Crowley Maritime sends Maria aid to Puerto Rico

Crowley Maritime Corporation is sending 3,000 loads of food, supplies and other cargo to San Juan to help with recovery from Hurricane Irma, reports Kent Justice of News 4 Jax.

Mark Miller, Crowley Maritime vice president of communications, said the company has 300 employees in Puerto Rico. All are known to be safe, he added.

“It’s absolutely heartbreaking. It really is. Good friends down there. It’s really difficult to see. I can only imagine what they’re going through right now. It’s just really difficult,” Miller told WJCT. “We play a vital role in the supply chain for Puerto Rico. So we’re stepping up to work with these agencies to get the cargo where it needs to go [and] when it needs to get there. Our employees are stepping up, too. Our employees are putting together all kinds of packages that are going to go out on a vessel this weekend.”

Photo courtesy Kent Justice, WJXT.

The company is getting aid to St. Croix and St. Thomas; the U.S. Virgin Islands were also hard-hit by hurricanes this season.

Frontier Airlines adds flights to Denver, Cincinnati from Jacksonville

Low-cost airline Frontier Airlines is adding nonstop flights from Jacksonville to Denver and Cincinnati starting this spring, the airline announced this week.

“We are proud to announce the nationwide expansion of our unique brand of Low Fares Done Right which will empower millions more people to afford to fly,” Barry Biffle, president and CEO of Frontier Airlines, said in a statement.

As reported by WTLV, the service will start sometime in spring 2018, according to a Jacksonville International Airport spokesperson. The Denver-based air carrier has not confirmed either start dates or frequency.

Flights will be on an Airbus A320 aircraft, Frontier spokesman Jim Faulkner told First Coast News.

UberEATS hits Jacksonville; benefits Irma recovery

On Thursday midnight, Uber introduced the popular UberEATS on-demand food delivery service to Jacksonville. Initial coverage areas include downtown, San Marco, Arlington, Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach.

UberEATS gives Jacksonville users access to menus of more than 100 restaurants: Dick’s Wings, Empire City Gastropub, European Street Café, Good Dough Doughnuts, Jersey Mike’s, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Shack Maui, Tijuana Flats, The Southern Grill, Whit’s Frozen Custard and Zaxby’s.

A full list of participating restaurants is on the UberEATS app in Jacksonville.

Hungry? UberEATS is now in Jacksonville!

To celebrate the launch, Uber is donating $25,000 to the “First Coast Relief Fund” to help residents and businesses affected by Hurricane Irma.

“The restaurant scene in Jacksonville has grown over the years, and we’re excited to work with our restaurant partners to expand their reach at the tap of a button,” said Juan Pablo Restrepo, general manager of UberEATS Florida. “When Uber launched in Florida, Jacksonville was the first city for the company to call home. Hurricane Irma’s impact has reverberated throughout this community and we are committed to helping those affected.”

For a limited time, app users can enter an “EATSJAX” promotional code to receive $5 off two UberEATS orders. Delivery is available from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week, with a $4.99 delivery fee. If the restaurant is shown as open and serving on the UberEATS app during that time, customers can place an order. Restaurants interested in joining UberEats can visit www.uber.com/restaurants to learn how to join.

 

Public safety – and reform – a big focus in Jacksonville’s new budget

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Sheriff Mike Williams, and 4th Circuit State Attorney Melissa Nelson talked to press at City Hall Thursday.

And as such meetings go, this one had myriad purposes.

One such purpose: to discuss public safety spending in the new $1.27B city budget, passed Tuesday unanimously by the City Council.

The other, more holistic purpose: to discuss that spending in the framework of a pragmatically conservative brand of reform, of moving the city into the 21st century on such matters as community policing and juvenile civil citations — “smart justice” style priorities of all three Republican officials on hand.

Key to such reforms seems to be having sufficient resources to implement the strategies.

This would be Curry’s third straight budget to pass without a no vote, and includes 100 new police officers, which — when combined with 80 new officers and 80 new community service officers in Curry’s first two budgets — rectifies what Curry called “dangerously low levels” of police on the street when he and Williams were elected.

Williams noted that the shortfall in “police staffing” made it hard to provide adequate services in some communities — and a particular pressure is on Jacksonville’s most challenged areas, such as Northwest Jacksonville.

“It’s improving in some parts of town, but there’s still a challenge,” Williams said, “especially on the weekends.”

Moving people and stacking officers at hot spots and using technology as a “force multiplier”: all of these are strategies. But ultimately, adding officers is key to combating crime.

“We had to convince [the Mayor]. We had to convince the Council. There was a lot of vetting to get to this point,” Williams said regarding the force additions for a third straight year.

“People want more police officers,” Curry added, citing his time talking to people in neighborhoods. “They understand that we were at dangerously low levels and they want [officers] in their neighborhoods.”

“People want this city safe,” Curry continued, “and they want the right investment made in law enforcement. They want more presence.”

That presence, Curry added, would lead to relationship building, as officers won’t have to “rush from call to call to call” as they have.

Curry’s budget — which he called a “budget for the people” — also replaced “dated equipment,” allocated $320K to park security, $1M for a crime gun intelligence center to be housed at the State Attorney’s Office, and devoted significant resources to Fire and Rescue as well, including 42 new fire fighters, new equipment, and funding for two new stations.

Williams noted that the investments are “finishing out” a list of needs that dated back.

“The Mayor’s done great for us,” Williams said. “We don’t have a lot of big asks.”

“These investments are real,” Curry said, and “this partnership and collaboration is real” between him, Williams, and Nelson.

“So the question is: what does this budget mean for public safety? A budget is a statement of priorities,” Curry contended.

“These are resources that are given to those in public safety to do their jobs,” Curry added, and resource allocation on the local level helps facilitate the relationship with the State Attorney — termed a “reformer” by the Mayor.

“We solve crimes. Put the bad people away, and if a young person deserves a second chance, we give them a second chance,” Curry said.

Among those second chances: a commitment to civil citations from the State Attorney’s office, one advanced via a memorandum of understanding with Sheriffs and school districts throughout the 4th Circuit.

“In terms of being smarter in how we address crime,” Nelson said, “the use of civil citation allows both the Sheriff’s office and the State Attorney’s office to redeploy resources in a more strategic way.”

“That’s a common theme in everything the city is trying to do, the Sheriff is trying to do, and certainly that we’re trying to do — make sure that we’re using our resources in the most efficient way we can,” Nelson said.

Regarding the sole object of city funding for her state-funded office in the budget — the crime gun intelligence center — Nelson noted that it’s “to allow us to target and strategize on that small amount of people creating the most violence.”

Drawing the distinction between criminals who can be rehabilitated and those who pose an existential threat to citizenry: no easy task.

But in a climate with limited resources, moves in that direction are necessary.

And Jacksonville leaders are making them.

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