Lenny Curry Archives - Page 6 of 123 - Florida Politics

Jake Godbold to Lenny Curry: ‘Take back the Landing’

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry made news this week with his call to take back the Jacksonville Landing.

Curry Tweeted Thursday that “The Jacksonville Landing is owned by the taxpayers of Jacksonville. Sleiman Enterprises leases the landing from the city … Taxpayers deserve better for their investment & their asset.”

This comes on the heels of Curry telling the Florida Times-Union editorial board that he’d already made “soft offers” to buy the buildings.

“I’m prepared to take the Landing… I’m prepared for the city to have it and to begin in a very public way determining what its best and highest use is,” Curry told the board. “We’ve got a plan internally to put the screws and keep pushing this.”

Curry has an ally: former Mayor Jake Godbold, who noted Thursday night that “we built the Landing” and he doesn’t “like it to think it was sold to some guy who built strip malls.”

“Take it back,” Godbold said. “Let’s do something about it.”

Some important people still in City Hall are more restrained about an immediate move to “take the Landing … put the screws and keep pushing this.”

Among them: Council President-Designate Anna Brosche, who takes over the top spot on the Council in six days.

“The Landing is a vital part to downtown’s redevelopment. I am interested in learning more about the Mayor’s plan,” Brosche said, “and also learning more from the Sleimans regarding their plans.”

It seems that an immediate call to action may get some resistance from the Legislative Branch, even if former Mayor Godbold believes that there is call to take immediate action to bring the 30 year old riverfront mall to its former glory, in one form or another.

Lenny Curry clarifies – again – Paris Accord position

Weeks after issuing a Tweet that could reasonably be interpreted to support President Donald Trump‘s decision to break the Paris Accord, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry still fields questions on the subject.

Curry responded to a citizen email this week on the matter, elaborating on statements he made in a presser that was — before his Tweet — focused on the more quotidian topic of summer camp funding.

“As mayor,” Curry noted, “I do not take a specific position on the international Paris Climate Accord. President Trump campaigned on protecting American workers and our nation’s economic interests.”

“As mayor,” Curry added, “I support those goals, to create conditions that are conducive to good jobs and economic growth here in Jacksonville. When the president and his administration act in a way that is in the best interest of working Americans, I am supportive of that.”

Curry cited his administration’s stewardship of natural resources as “an important commitment I make to the future success of our city. That is why I have created budgets that will phase out septic tanks that threaten our river, reduce our energy consumption, and preserve green spaces.”

Curry closed with a capital-R Republican conclusion that would be at home in a Cato Institute web post.

“This commitment here in Jacksonville is made, and will continue, without interference from federal authorities and regardless of international agreements that burden U.S. taxpayers while other nations fail to meet the same standards we do here in our nation. Policies that harm the U.S. economy are not good for the environment, taxpayers, or our long-term success,” Curry concluded.

Curry’s emailed response follows up on his presser comments.

Curry, during a press conference Friday morning discussing summer camp funding, explained his Tweet, which he said “spoke for itself.”

“I didn’t take a specific position,” Curry said about the Paris Accord, saying his Tweet was a “general statement of support” for Trump’s actions.

Rather, Curry supports President Trump’s commitment to “American jobs.” But he did outline qualms with the agreement itself, including no obligation imposed on China until 2030, which means “13 years on the backs of American workers.”

And other European countries, Curry said, are seeing their emissions go up, even as American emission levels decrease.

The Paris Accord, Curry added, “has no teeth to it.”

JTA seeks city support for electric bus grant

Electric buses in Jacksonville? They could be here sooner than one thinks.

Richard Clark of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority contacted Mayor Lenny Curry for support on a federal grant application last week.

“JTA is submitting a Low-No grant application for electric buses that will help serve the Amazon facility on the Northside.  This will be the beginning of JTA’s electric vehicle/bus fleet,” Clark wrote in a Jun. 14 email.

The program, asserted Clark, will use JEA’s “Solar Smart” program, which “ensures the powering of the buses will be from their solar system … 100% renewable.”

Clark helpfully attached a draft letter for the grant application, which we have here in full.

“I am writing to express my support for the Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s (JTA) discretionary grant application in response to FTA’s Low or No Emission Vehicle Program,” the draft begins.

“The JTA’s proposal would introduce zero emission battery electric buses in Jacksonville, and provide a service in a geographic area that is primer for this investment. The buses will supplant diesel buses in a new service JTA will be providing from Armsdale Park-n-Ride, built with a federal investment, to a distribution center that will employ thousands of workers,” the letter continues.

“The JTA has a proven record of being the forefront of introducing alternate-fueled engine vehicles in our community. On November 2014, the JTA entered into a Public Private Partnership (P3) with Clean Energy to move forward with the construction of a CNG facility on JTA’s property. By virtue of this P3, the JTA entered into the “alternative-fueled” powered buses, by committing to purchase 100 compressed natural gas (CNG) buses in a period of 5 years. Currently JTA has 46 CNG buses, with an additional 16 scheduled to arrive later this year,” the missive maintains.

“Unique in this concept is that the Armsdale Park-n-Ride serves the JTA’s First Coast Flyer Bus Rapid Transit Green Line, powered by CNG. Riders would be able to ride CNG buses from Downtown Jacksonville to the Park-n-Ride and transfer to a zero emission electric bus to arrive at the employment center. This is especially important since the deployment of zero emission buses is a key contributor to reducing local emissions and the quiet, clean operation serves to enhance the riders’ experience,” the epistle asserts.

“Thank you in advance for your consideration of this project. This project is located in my district, and JTA’s application has my full support in their efforts, and look forward to the deployment of the first zero-emission buses in our community,” reads the conclusion.

JTA made news for a groundbreaking of a regional transit center already this week. That project was the culmination of efforts over decades by stakeholders. For JTA’s sake, one presumes this won’t take quite so long.

Hard choices loom for Lenny Curry’s staff in Jax capital budget

Just months ago, Jacksonville passed its pension reform package, which will give the city approximately $150M of budget relief from costs of its unfunded pension liability in terms of next year’s budget.

While raises for city workers, to be phased in over the next three fiscal years, will consume a lot of that relief, rest assured that everyone in City Hall has a wishlist.

More employees. New equipment. Other incidentals.

That has been one challenge during the budget process for the city’s Chief Administrative Officer (Sam Mousa) and Chief Financial Officer (Mike Weinstein).

A new challenge manifested on Monday, meanwhile, with the selection of the new City Council Finance Committee — a departure from virtually every year, one in which Jacksonville Democrats from the perpetually neglected Districts 7 through 10 will have the numbers to carry every vote.

Of course, Finance can vote to appropriate whatever; the Mayor’s Office executes contracts, and that will serve as a check against any potential profligacy. Arguably a necessary check, given pressures like $26M of city spending in the wake of Hurricane Matthew that has yet to receive FEMA reimbursement.

In this context, Tuesday’s run through of the 5 year Capital Improvement Program was conducted (see last year’s here).

Mayor Lenny Curry will be challenged by Council this term to deliver on his “One City, One Jacksonville” vision, and that challenge will include calls to make real progress on delayed capital projects in North, West, and Northwest Jacksonville.

Mousa, to be sure, knows the score. Last year, he noted that the city could use a $400M capital budget. However, that’s not happening. Not even close. And, as ever, hard choices are inevitable … even though the total CIP this year will be close to $100M, not including money for sports and entertainment facilities.

For context, last year’s CIP had capital projects at $78M last year — most of that pay-go, Mousa said.

Mousa did note as the meeting began that there may be the opportunity to add “a few more capital improvement projects with one-time funding” at the request of the Mayor or a City Councilor, given budget relief.  And some timetables on projects were to be moved up a year. However, he cautioned, Tuesday’s discussion was preliminary.

Meanwhile, Curry is developing his own CIP list, independent of Tuesday’s process, and that will perhaps amend the final product.

With all those caveats, the highlights.

Pay-go money: $23.2M, comprise part of an almost $100M CIP.

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.

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 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 Council President Lori Boyer. And $600,000 for the McCoy’s Creek Greenway.

A backlog of sidewalk projects — a risk management concern — is also on the list. Library projects, by and large, are on schedule, largely funded by library fines.

4th Street Brick Rebuild is also on the list for this year; a “desperately needed job,” per Mousa.

Downtown landscape enhancements: $1 million, per Mayor Curry’s request, though he wants to survey the area before a more specific request is made.

Friendship Fountain repairs: in the budget. As is the School Board building kayak launch, and $1M for Southbank Riverwalk renovations.

Moving on to stormwater projects, the Trout River/Moncrief Project will move forward, though with a reduced scope. And the LaSalle Street Lift Station is moving forward, despite the Governor’s untimely veto of the state appropriation carried by Rep. Jason Fischer in Tallahassee.

Solid waste: $4.5M will complete the current Trail Ridge landfill expansion project, setting up the city for future expansion, with property acquisition part of a previous year’s spend. This will buy the city 3-5 years of dumping time.

What $200K for swim lessons says about Jax fiscal philosophy

In May 2016, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Councilman Garrett Dennis came together to announce a drowning prevention initiative.

Swim lessons for children in poorer areas of town were paid for by private grants, and at the time it was one of those stories that some observers didn’t even think was worthy of coverage.

Over a year later, and swim lessons are back in the news — this time, via a disagreement between Dennis and the Mayor’s Office over funding for more swim lessons.

The Mayor’s Office had its own bill to give 1,500 kids swimming lessons for two weeks, with $35,000 coming out of Council Contingency — that sailed through committee easily.

But that wasn’t the only piece of legislation related to swim lessons on Monday.

Dennis introduced a piece of emergency legislation (2017-442) in Jacksonville’s Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services Committee on Monday that seemed straightforward enough.

$200,000 — a sum less than that owed to the city of Jacksonville by the businesses of one City Council Finance Committee member — would be shifted from fund balance to the Parks and Recreation Department for swim lessons ($125,000), transportation ($50,000), and “education” ($25,000).

While $200,000 may seem like a trifling sum in a $1.1B budget, Curry’s Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa indicated last week in the Mayor’s Budget Review Committee that the administration did not support the bill — not because of objection to the concept, but objection to moving money out of the general fund.

Before NCIS Monday morning, we asked Dennis for his thoughts.

“If they don’t support my bill,” Dennis said, “they don’t support Bill Gulliford‘s bill.”

That bill, introduced last week via a normal legislative cycle, would devote almost $1.5M to a pilot opioid program, to stem the tide of overdoses that is wreaking havoc with Jacksonville lives and emergency services budgets.

“They are both crises … opioid epidemic and the drowning epidemic,” said Dennis, with funds from the “same pot of money.”

Dennis, who will chair the Finance Committee in July, and Gulliford, who won’t be on any committees for the next year, jousted over another bill (a $60K allocation) in committee before Dennis’ emergency legislation came up, with Dennis repeating statements about how much he’d learned from Gulliford — the “teacher”, to Dennis, “the student.”

This parrying suggested larger shifts to come in seemingly established paradigms, and provided a neat prelim bout to the main event.

In committee, Dennis presented the emergency as one of an “epidemic crisis”, with accidental drowning being the second biggest cause of death for children under 14.

The $200,000, Dennis said, will allow for more lessons, and would extend “swim season” past Labor Day.

Councilman Gulliford spoke up.

“Maybe the perceived teacher is being taught by the student, and I’ll just leave it at that,” Gulliford said.

Joey Grieve of the Finance Department from the Lenny Curry Administration spoke up “from a process standpoint,” saying that “an item that could potentially turn into a recurring expense over time” should be “processed in accordance with scoring and ranking … a prioritization process in the budget period” rather than an emergency expense.

Despite $97M in the unassigned general fund balance (8.8 percent of the budget), Grieve reiterated that money not be allocated from a savings account, but through the process.

Dennis pressed Grieve.

“What do you see as the priority? Do you come to Council, the policy making body? Or do you determine inside your silo?”

Grieve came back to process; Dennis noted that his bill is the same as Guilliford’s, in terms of taking money from fund balance, and wanted to ensure the Administration would be consistent regarding the two.

CFO Mike Weinstein backed Grieve up, but made the mistake of saying “ultimately it’s your decision,” which Dennis compelled him to repeat before finishing his remarks.

“The more you take out of fund balance, the less will roll over when we sit down and do the budget in a month or two,” Weinstein said.

Dennis pressed Weinstein to be consistent regarding the opioid bill; Weinstein said his objection was process, not the sentiment itself.

“We are opposed to the process, not the individual priorities you’re setting,” Weinstein said, saying Dennis’ pressing constituted an “unfair question.”

Gulliford noted, regarding his bill, that there would be cost savings from his opioid bill, and that he would not take money out of the fund balance lightly.

Questions emerged over exactly how the money would be used.

“If we are at a point where we cannot use all the dollars, I’d like to know how much we would need,” said Councilwoman Joyce Morgan.

Dennis noted he had questions about the Gulliford bill also in terms of specific allocations of the money.

Regardless of qualms, the bill passed 6-0.

The bill has two more committee stops: Rules on Tuesday, and Finance on Wednesday.

How reform might look for Jacksonville’s children programs

A little over two weeks ago, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and a number of City Council members called a presser to announce a stopgap resolution of a problem months in the making: insufficient funding for summer camps.

The Jacksonville Children’s Commission, which greenlighted the process, was trying to privilege quality over quantity. Yet, as camp sites closed and children were on the verge of being shut out, it was clear there were problems with the approach hammered out by the JCC over a course of months.

The money was found to close a lot of the gap: 24 more sites were funded (bringing the total to 72 citywide, down from 98 previously), $958,000 more being allocated, and 1,700 more kids being served than would have previously been possible.

But the more enduring takeaway, as revealed by Curry’s quotes, was a process that had gone sideways.

Curry was “frustrated” and  “surprised to learn of significant cuts” to per-capita camp allocations.

While the $958,000 was a “band aid,” Curry said that he would introduce reforms to ensure that this doesn’t happen again, including ensuring alignment between the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jax Journey — his administration’s key anti-crime initiative.

When asked if the two overlapping programs could be merged, Curry said “all options are on the table,” depending on the “best interest of kids.”

Last week, Mayor Curry spoke to these themes again, noting the disconnect between intention and realization in these programs, and how that disconnect undermines public safety itself.

“No, I’m not happy with where we are on public safety right now. That’s an across-the-board statement. I’m going to continue to provide the resources that I deem necessary, and work every day to tweak things to where we get the best results.”

And the Jacksonville Journey and the Jacksonville Children’s Commission are headed for “big reforms.” Decisions will be made in a matter of weeks, he said.

“We are beyond tweaking when it comes to these programs we deliver to children, and big reforms are coming,” Curry emphasized.

“We’re working through exactly what those reforms are going to look like. I will have reached a decision inside of two weeks.”

Some have said Curry seeks to roll the Jacksonville Children’s Commission up into Jacksonville Journey, a concept that seemed to be suggested in Thursday’s budget meeting for the Journey.

Curry dismissed that, at least as being more than an option.

“Nobody knows what I’m looking at. I’m working inside a very small group — anything you’re hearing is pure speculation.”

“I’m looking at making sure that we have programs that are very clear and meeting the needs of specific ‘at-hope youth’ that are the solution to prevention and intervention,” Curry said, using a phrase he first used two weeks prior when announcing $988,000 of new money available for youth summer camps.

“We’ve got to be very clear about how we deliver those services and make sure we’re getting results, and make sure that the management team is aggressive in terms of pursuing those goals, and that the whole governance structure is aggressive as well, and hold them accountable,” Curry said.

As was demonstrated Thursday in the Jax Journey budget meeting, plans for the future of the program are in limbo, at least in terms of structural organization, given the looming specter of major reforms.

Thursday saw Journey director Debbie Verges note that Journey and the JCC were increasingly aligned — and that she sees the Journey as a $9M program rather than a $5M program, with the JCC administering “Journey programs.”

Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Children’s Commission budget hearing Friday afternoon had its own opacity, given that any requests were to be theoretical until Curry made his call.

CAO Sam Mousa listened to the proposed enhancements from JCC CEO Jon Heymann, including the $958,000 summer camp money mentioned above that turned into a sum just over $1M after what was called “marathon mathematics” at Tuesday’s shambolic Jacksonville City Council meeting.

The total camp request: just over $2M.

“You made the decision to enhance the program. Why did you not look at other programs,” Mousa asked, and move money over based on adjusted “priorities.”

Short answer: JCC lacked the authority to move funds without Council authority. And the board chose not to shift money from other priorities.

JCC’s Board Chair also critiqued media for not pointing out that some kids would get extra weeks of summer camp based on the formula the board chose to work.

As well, it was pointed out that there was a “political need”, on the part of the City Council, to expand camp availability, with those who lost in rebidding framing it as “the greatest atrocity that ever happened,” according to Board Chair Matt Kane.

“As that boils up into an article in the paper, they talk about the number of kids,” Kane said.

Some camps, it was revealed, hadn’t been rebid for a decade.

“For ten years, the same entities got the monies,” Mousa said. “The commission did nothing for ten years–”

Kane amended it to three years, then another explanation was advanced about “grassroots money pots.”

As the pitches continued, a look of skepticism was unmistakable on Mousa’s face.

Kane noted that JCC is the “child-serving organization,” and that Journey camps were more expensive, per capita, than JCC’s.

“We’re accepting your budget today as information,” Mousa said. “We’re going to wait and see what the mayor wants to do.”

____

The Curry Administration has not been averse to re-org projects: for a recent example, consider the reconstitution of the Neighborhoods Department.

Even before taking office, Curry’s transition team was mulling over how to bring back a department downshifted during the Alvin Brown administration, as a dubious director lost the confidence of others in city government.

Curry’s first Chief of Staff, Kerri Stewart, ran Neighborhoods previously when John Peyton was Jacksonville Mayor.

Soon enough, the department was re-instituted, with key city processes moved under that umbrella.

There are, to be sure, caveats: it is too early still to point to a real success the Neighborhoods Department has had – it’s more a function of reorganization than something that has shown results that translate into eye-popping headlines.

Ultimately, though, city government functions best when mistakes and errors in judgment and execution are not “in the headlines,” and when departments have clear lines of communication to the public and the legislative and executive branches.

That’s a lesson taught — yet again — by the need to do 11th hour make-up work to restore summer camp funding.

And a lesson that Lenny Curry does not want to deal with again, which means that structural reform is absolutely necessary — and a big story of this budget process.

Jacksonville considers raising emergency reserve level

As part of our continuing coverage of the budget process in Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s office, we were on hand for Friday’s consideration of non-departmental expenditures heading into the next fiscal year.

The biggest news? A potential increase of the city’s emergency reserve level, something that was discussed in Jacksonville City Council committees months back.

The city may set the operating reserve at 7 percent, and the emergency reserve at 6 percent — a shift from 8 and 5 percent respectively. Reserves would total 13 percent in each case; however, this would be a meaningful policy shift.

If this holds, that jibes with the City Council Finance Committee’s desire in January to move the emergency reserve to 6 percent, a response to concerns expressed by the Council Auditor when the reserve dipped below the mandatory 5 percent level last year.

Councilman Bill Gulliford urged committee legislation to boost the reserve to 6 percent — which would be about $11 million moved into the emergency reserve.

CFO Mike Weinstein concurred with the “concept,” but resisted moving dollars until “collective bargaining is behind us.”

“Maybe put it in the hopper,” Weinstein said. “The timing is sort of interesting.”

Of course, collective bargaining wrapped soon thereafter between the city and its myriad unions, and from there the City Council approved the deals — which came contingent with raises for all city employees, in exchange for moving new hires from the unsustainable defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan.

This proposal comes at a time when City Council members are wrangling with plans on how to use the “fiscal relief” generated by pension reform.

One proposal, as of earlier this month, looked to be dead in the water.

Councilman Danny Becton filed 2017-348, which would require that 15 percent of all general fund money beyond the baseline FY 16-17 budget go toward defraying the city’s $2.8B unfunded actuarial liability on pension.

Becton’s bill, however, was not backed by the Lenny Curry administration — which seemed to come as a surprise to the first-term Southside Republican Councilman.

Days later, the bill went to its sole committee of reference — Finance — where it seemingly was, to quote Becton, “put out of its misery” with a 4 to 1 vote.

However, in the tradition of an extra life in a video game, Becton’s bill got brought back from the dead, and will enjoy a “Weekend At Bernie’s” moment in Rules and Finance at some future point — though who knows when, as the Finance agenda for Wednesday, June 21, has the bill marked for deferral at Becton’s request.

Budget relief from pension reform, while real, only goes so far. If the Curry Administration seeks to lift the emergency reserve, then there seemingly would be real questions as to where the money would come from for the Becton plan … assuming committees were to receive it favorably in its next go-around.

 

Lenny Curry: ‘Big reforms are coming’ to Jax children’s programs

A takeaway from a conversation we had with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on Thursday evening: Big changes are coming to children’s programs in Jacksonville, and the Mayor is frustrated with how the city is handling public safety right now.

When Curry was on the campaign trail in the Spring of 2015, he pledged to turn around trends in underfunding public safety resources.

The money has gone into these, as available: new equipment and new officers for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and a revival of the Jacksonville Journey to house prevention and intervention programs.

Two years into the administration, Curry is frustrated with progress on public safety.

“No, I’m not happy with where we are on public safety right now. That’s an across-the-board statement. I’m going to continue to provide the resources that I deem necessary, and work every day to tweak things to where we get the best results.”

And as he told us Thursday evening in New Town, programs such as the Jacksonville Journey and the Jacksonville Children’s Commission are “beyond tweaking” and headed for “big reforms.” Decisions will be made in a matter of weeks, he said.

“We are beyond tweaking when it comes to these programs we deliver to children, and big reforms are coming,” Curry emphasized.

“We’re working through exactly what those reforms are going to look like. I will have reached a decision inside of two weeks.”

When asked if he was looking to roll the Jacksonville Children’s Commission up into Jacksonville Journey, as seemed to be suggested in Thursday’s budget meeting, Curry was blunt — and sought to defray speculation as to what he would eventually decide.

“Nobody knows what I’m looking at. I’m working inside a very small group — anything you’re hearing is pure speculation.”

“I’m looking at making sure that we have programs that are very clear and meeting the needs of specific ‘at-hope youth’ that are the solution to prevention and intervention,” Curry said, using a phrase he first used two weeks prior when announcing $988,000 of new money available for youth summer camps.

“We’ve got to be very clear about how we deliver those services and make sure we’re getting results, and make sure that the management team is aggressive in terms of pursuing those goals, and that the whole governance structure is aggressive as well, and hold them accountable,” Curry said.

As was demonstrated Thursday in the Jax Journey budget meeting, plans for the future of the program are in limbo, as Curry considers how to align its mission with that of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission (which provides an overlap in services with the Journey), and the larger public safety budget itself.

Thursday saw Journey director Debbie Verges note that Journey and the JCC were increasingly aligned — and that she sees the Journey as a $9M program rather than a $5M program, with the JCC administering “Journey programs.”

Verges would like to see more budgeting for analytics to measure the effectiveness of the programs, and more money for “neighborhood accountability boards” — a priority of State Attorney Melissa Nelson.

What is clear: Mayor Curry feels the urgency of getting these programs right as his term nears the halfway mark.

The Jacksonville Children’s Commission, whose CEO Jon Heymann retires at the end of July, is slated for a Friday afternoon budget hearing.

And we are slated to cover it.

Microloans, economic development for Jax New Town small businesses

New Town is one of those Jacksonville neighborhoods where most new development is that of the franchised corporate variety.

That could change soon, as the Jax Chamber, JP Morgan, and the city of Jacksonville are collaborating to let local small business owners know what resources are available.

Among those resources, discussed during a Thursday evening orientation in an overflow room at Edward Waters College: JAX Chamber’s small business development education program, the City of Jacksonville’s façade improvement program, and Accion’s microloan and SBA Advantage programs.

Introducing the event: EWC President Nat Glover, who called the initiative a “big deal,” both for the area and the city at large.

Glover, who has developed a friendship with Mayor Lenny Curry since Curry’s inauguration in 2015, called the Republican “one of the most courageous mayors” for taking pension reform head on.

Curry, for his part, lauded Glover — and the corporate partners in the initiative.

“Government can’t do it all,” Curry said.

Citing his “One City, One Jacksonville” theme, Curry noted that initiatives like tonight exemplified the premise, to “get out and act and work together.”

And ultimately, that’s a big part of the story — a collaborative spirit, driven by stakeholders, including the JAX Chamber and others.

J.P. Morgan, for example, is advancing $400,000 of funding, to help Accion help those in these communities who have capital needs that, if fulfilled, could serve as economic turnaround engines.

Councilman Garrett Dennis noted that this “could have happened anywhere in the city, but is happening at EWC, in New Town.”

For those looking to ensure that every neighborhood in the city has a shot at economic vitality, initiatives like this are key drivers.

Looming reforms cast cloud over Jax Journey budget

When Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry ran for office, he pledged to revive the Jacksonville Journey. Once in office, Curry took steps to do just that, reviving and rebranding the John Peyton initiative as Jax Journey, a Version 2.0 of the original.

As Curry nears the halfway mark of his first term, his office deals with the reality of the program, and how it interacts with other city programs.

Two weeks ago, at a presser announcing nearly a million dollars of new money for Jacksonville Children’s Commission summer camps,  Curry said that he would introduce reforms to ensure that this doesn’t happen again, including ensuring alignment between the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jax Journey — his administration’s key anti-crime initiative.

When asked if the two could be merged, Curry said “all options are on the table,” depending on the “best interest of kids.”

CAO Sam Mousa likewise pointed out that Curry was “considering reform” of the two programs on Thursday.

As the saying goes, a budget is a moral statement. Yet it is also a declaration of strategy and priorities, and without a cogent hierarchy of such, a moral statement is an abstraction rather than a reality.

And in this context, the Jacksonville Journey budget hearing held Thursday afternoon would be key in understanding the intent of the Mayor’s Office in how it approaches fulfillment of a key campaign promise.

Coming off a year where the program had a $4.38M budget, as part of a $10M portfolio with the JCC and an ex-offender re-entry program, the real question was how resources would be allocated in a year when pension costs were finally under control.

That $4.38M was more than twice what Alvin Brown allocated to the program, but a fraction of the $31M Mayor John Peyton budgeted in 2008. Meanwhile, Jacksonville City Council members challenged the scope of the program ahead of approving last year’s budget, arguing that pockets of despair and anomie exist throughout the city.

Debbie Verges, representing the Journey, noted the Journey Oversight Committee had approved the budget — with some changes compared to the current year.

Verges wanted a restoration to FY15/16 levels — just over $5M, or $865,021 bigger than the current year.

Mousa reaffirmed Curry’s commitment to “some sort of reform” regarding Journey and JCC.

“We are accepting this report strictly as information,” Mousa said. “Whatever the committee stays here may stay intact, may get modified, may get merged.”

“I do not know where the Mayor’s head’s at,” Mousa added.

Verges noted that the Journey’s commitment to analytics needs more evaluation of the programs, especially for three-year marks of the Summer SAIL Program and summer camps.

Neighborhood accountability boards, a priority of State Attorney Melissa Nelson, are a requested uptick also, with an uptick in citations.

And $63,000 is desired for Legal Aid, to help 195 people with ex-offender rights restoration, Verges said.

Legal Aid approached the Journey committee, Verges said, to push the concept.

Opioids and gangs — also a focus of the committee, a new ask.

Verges also would like to expand Journey programs to libraries outside of the core area of the Journey, in Jacksonville’s Health Zone 1.

Over the last 12 months, Verges said the Journey and the JCC were increasingly aligned — and that she sees the Journey as a $9M program rather than a $5M program, with the JCC administering “Journey programs.”

Grant money has helped the Journey mission: $2.6M currently in place, though the bulk of that is dispersed over multiple years, Verges said.

With Curry mulling the future of the programs, all of this may be hypothetical.

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