Even as Jacksonville’s Mayor and City Council President stand shoulder to shoulder during storm prep pressers, they diverge on another storm of a different matter.
That storm is a Category 5, but of a different type: namely, the future of the city’s Confederate monuments.
Council President Anna Brosche was provided an inventory by Jacksonville’s Parks Department last month. Though she sidestepped specific comment when we asked her about the path forward, an email “obtained” by First Coast News delineates Brosche’s position.
To sum: the inventory is incomplete and not “responsive” to her request. Brosche asserts that at least one monument was elided.
“I do not believe the document is responsive to my statement issued on Monday, Aug. 14, or my specific clarification in our meeting on Monday, Aug. 21 in which I requested an inventory of ‘Confederate monuments, memorials, and markers on public property.’” Brosche asserted.
“As such,” Brosche added, “I am asking you to review your list to determine if you believe it is responsive to my request, i.e., Confederate monuments, memorials, and markers on public property. If it is, please change the filename and file title (within) to reflect a response to my request, and for clarity given that many outside parties are requesting a copy of the inventory you provide.”
Brosche wants “updated pictures of the Confederate monuments, memorials, and markers on public property that you were inventorying.”
Citing the Southern Poverty Law Center (an unusual move for a Republican in Northeast Florida), Brosche noted a significant omission.
“In addition to the above clarification request, the Southern Poverty Law Center issued a report in 2016 that includes a monument not on your list: Yellow Bluff Fort Monument. So that I may respond to anyone inquiring as to why such monument is not on your list, but contained on a readily available document inventorying monuments throughout the nation, please let me know your reasoning for not including that monument.”
The Yellow Bluff monument is on state property, leaving the city no recourse to remove it independently, asserted the Parks director.
The inventory provided by the Parks Department revealed three monuments, put in place between 1898 and 1926; and eight historic markers.
The monuments include the Confederate Monument in Hemming Park, the ‘Monument to the Women of the Southland’ in Confederate Park in Springfield, and a Confederate Memorial Services grandstand at the Old City Cemetery.
The historical markers are on the Northbank Riverwalk, Walter Jones Park in Mandarin, the Old City Cemetery, the Prime Osborn Convention Center, Lenox Ave. near Cedar Creek (memorializing a “skirmish”), Confederate Park, and Camp Milton Historic Preserve.
Brosche will be discussing Confederate monuments at a Thursday afternoon “FirstThursday” meeting of the Jacksonville Urban League, one where she should expect a warm reception.
The email promoting the event lauds Brosche’s “fresh, innovative and transparent leadership style as the new President of the Jacksonville City Council.”
“FirstThursday Jacksonville is honored and humbled that Council President, the Honorable Anna Lopez Brosche has agreed to address our members, friends and the community during our post-Labor Day meeting,” said FirstThursday Jacksonville’s Chairman, W. Larry Williams.
“Our community is anxious to hear what the Council President’s thoughts are regarding Jacksonville’s Confederate monuments, urban and inner-city communities and the overall economic disparities that exist in these communities,” Williams added.
Amid all of the policy drama, an indication surfaced overnight Tuesday of resistance to monuments — specifically, the high-profile monument in Hemming Park, which was defaced with red spray paint.
The tarp covered most of the paint.
On Wednesday morning, Curry noted that JSO is investigating the “disgusting” incident, but that public safety workers are more focused on the coming storm, “potentially about to put themselves into harm’s way.”
In this context, one veteran elected official believes that there should be a pause in the debate as a potential public safety crisis looms in the Caribbean.
“There is nothing more important today than preparing our City for the devastating and dangerous Hurricane Irma. We need to stay focused on standing with our Mayor and emergency personnel to keep our City safe. As a former Mayor and now Councilman, I know the hard decisions Mayor Curry is currently facing, and nothing should distract from our attention on the safety and welfare of all of our citizens,” Councilman Tommy Hazouri said.
And another veteran public official, Councilman Bill Gulliford, believes there needs to be a hard stop to debate without a legislative solution at present.
“I think she should stop period. She has unilaterally initiated the discussion so how does she go forward? Introduce legislation?”
“Right now we are debating a phantom bill that doesn’t exist. Whether I agree or not either we need to let it die, or someone needs to do something concrete,” Gulliford added.
Regarding the ongoing debate, meanwhile, Curry said he was focused on doing his job and ensuring the “people of Jacksonville are prepared … and safe” for the storm.
Not even a year ago, the city of Jacksonville was sideswiped by Hurricane Matthew: a mega storm that clipped Florida’s East Coast.
Power was out in some parts of town for close to a week, and even today, Jacksonville still awaits a big chunk of reimbursements from FEMA.
Of $50M in damage from the big storm of 2016, the city is still $26M in negative cash position due to unreimbursed storm damage post-Matthew; to put that number in perspective, it is roughly the cost of the city’s annual contribution to UF Health.
However, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is confident that, even with delayed reimbursements, the city can weather financial impacts from Matthew until federal money comes through … a key factor with Cat 5 Irma looming in the Caribbean, with eventual impact on Northeast Florida unknown at least for now.
Between cash and reserve levels (which, between the operating and emergency reserve, will be somewhere between $135 and $165M at the end of the fiscal year), Curry is confident the city is ready financially for Irma impacts.
And, as Tuesday’s mayoral briefing at the city’s Emergency Operations Center reveals, that readiness will be tested in the days and weeks ahead.
When asked if the city had sufficient resources for a major storm, in its roughly $150 million of reserve monies, Curry’s answer was an interesting one.
The city has “adequate reserves” for an impact created by a storm like Matthew, Curry said. However, a bigger impact — such as this year’s Harvey — would create decisions for policy makers.
“In the event of another Matthew, we have adequate reserves,” Curry said. “In the event of a — of a catastrophic event, we’ve got a budget, we’ve got priorities. Safety comes first, so if we ever had to realign priorities in an emergency situation, we would do just that.”
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry unveiled his proposal for the Kids Hope Alliance, a board that he wants to replace the Jax Journey and Jacksonville Children’s Commission, as August began.
At the high-profile presser unveiling the concept, this reporter asked the 14 City Councilors on hand if they would co-sponsor the measure.
14 hands went up.
Since then, the vetting of the concept by the legislative branch has seen that early conceptual support erode, with the City Council Finance Committee vowing not to “rubberstamp” the proposal, followed by a piece in the Florida Times-Union that contended that discussions of the program contravened Sunshine Laws, leaving many parties out of the loop.
Going into Tuesday morning, the first of three committees was expected to review the plan … with indications being that the proposal was on the rocks. Whispers abounded about “substitute” legislation … and the chance that one of Curry’s key reform proposals would take a hit.
Any drama along those lines will be at least delayed for two weeks, as the legislation was deferred in the Tuesday committee at the request of the Curry Administration.
There may, as well, be significant changes in the future legislation — including a potential substitute bill.
As was the case with the previous iteration of the bill, presentations from the Curry Administration will have to be made to the entire 19 person City Council, along with meetings including more stakeholders.
It is unclear how long the deferral will be, or whether the new version of the bill will be taken up before the city’s budget bill is later this month.
This last week in Northeast Florida was somewhat quiet for politics.
Federal and state Representatives and Senators are on break. Jacksonville City Council is on its fifth week of a budget negotiation, with a plan all but ready for Council’s vote in September.
A year ago, the political scene was pell-mell: Primaries up and down the ballot were resolved Aug. 30, as was the pension tax referendum.
This year, a quieter August — but not necessarily a quiet September, as this edition of Bold will show.
Among the stories: a look at Jacksonville’s entrant into the Attorney General’s race; items about the city’s budget process; and the return of a bill the mayor’s office didn’t like when it first surfaced months ago.
We also have news on a politician who owes money for crimes committed. And even something about a mosquito control board. And so much more besides.
A quick note: Jacksonville Bold would like to wish you and yours a happy Labor Day weekend. Get some rest and get ready. The fall — and pretty much every other non-holiday week through November 2018 — is going to be wall-to-wall action.
Ron DeSantis wants an end to Robert Mueller investigation
Rep. Ron DeSantis, ahead of what many are expecting to be an entry into the 2018 Florida Governor’s race, is looking to help out President Donald Trump — by putting a time limit onto Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign.
The DeSantis amendment: “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to fund activities pursuant to Department of Justice order 3915-2017, dated May 17, 2017 and relating to the appointment of a special counsel, later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, or for the investigation under that order of matters occurring before June 2015.”
POLITICO notes this is one of hundreds of amendments to an omnibus spending bill to be taken up after recess, and there is no guarantee this makes it through committees into the bill at large.
As well, there is no guarantee that such a measure survives the Senate.
DeSantis, a Republican in his second term whose district runs from St. Johns County south to Volusia, has yet to file for re-election. He is expected to run for Governor.
John Rutherford disses president’s tweet game
Rep. John Rutherford did a sit-down interview with the St. Augustine Record. He’s mostly on the Trump train — but there are things the president could improve. Such as the way he expresses himself on Twitter.
“Sometimes I think in that short burst of words, I don’t think he covers well enough what he intends,” he said. “I think he knows what he means, but he doesn’t always express what he means.”
This is especially true with Trump’s ham-handed handling of the violence in Charlottesville — where, in a change of pace, Trump botched the response in a live mike rather than a live tweet.
“For example, I don’t for one minute think that when the president said there are ‘fine people’ on both sides of this issue, I don’t think he was talking about neo-Nazis … or Antifa, or Black Lives Matter,” he said. “I don’t think that’s what he’s talking about.”
Mitchell interviewed Fant, but only had two usable, original quotes. One addressed his fundraising deficit against Hillsborough County Judge Ashley Moody, in which Fant likened himself to President Donald Trump, taking on the “establishment.”
“Scott Walker would be president if early fundraising mattered or, frankly, Jeb Bush,” Fant said.
Fant, who never served in the military, took to Twitter to defend Trump’s transgender troop ban — and he doubled down on that one with Mitchell.
“I campaigned for Trump,” he said in an interview. “I certainly have a Judeo-Christian world view that the (critics) don’t like. And I vote my conscience and not how I’m told to vote.”
While all of that sounds fine in a vacuum, Fant’s credibility problems in this campaign aren’t because he’s not “Trumpy” enough. Rather, as A.G. Gancarski writes, Fant can’t win because of an “undistinguished record, a lack of buy-in from the donor class, and the blundering sabotage of at least one key relationship” in Jacksonville.
Guess which relationship?
Gancarski notes that his column has gotten praise from the pillars of the donor class that are sitting out the Fant campaign thus far.
Fant serves up red meat re: Aramis Ayala
The most skeptical people about Fant’s bid for Attorney General are many of those reading this space. But for a statewide audience, Fant has room to define himself — and he’s doing so by attempting to get as far right as possible.
Fant’s most recent example: An op-ed on The Capitolist website, in which he backed up Gov. Rick Scott for removing State Attorney Ayala from a cop-killer case.
Those looking for case law and precedent from the AG hopeful weren’t to find it in this piece, which veered toward observations like “an enemy of law enforcement has an enemy in me,” and “drug and gang violence is spiking and the mainstream media aren’t helping things by demonizing law enforcement when they should be elevating it.”
Fant, rebuffed by Pam Bondi in the endorsement sweepstakes weeks back, is now turning his attention to Gov. Scott, who said nice things about Fant backing Enterprise Florida recently. Can Fant parlay that into an endorsement before the race for AG gets more crowded?
Election Commission to Reggie Fullwood: Pay up!
When last we left former state Rep. Fullwood, the charismatic Jacksonville Democrat had pleaded down a mess of campaign finance fraud counts into time served, house arrest, and restitution.
While Fullwood beat the prison rap, the Florida Elections Commission is a different matter. WJXT/News Service of Floridareports that the FEC is suing Fullwood for $17,000. That’s $1,000 for each of 17 violations related to false reporting and failure to report contributions.
The petition was filed Friday in Leon County Court.
Fullwood currently writes a column for the Jacksonville Free Press, in which capacity he has mused about not caring whether or not O.J. Simpson is freed and that the NFL is “openly discriminating” against Colin Kaepernick.
Lenny Curry’s 0-for-Tuesday
Tuesday wasn’t the best day for Jacksonville Mayor Curry’s political operation.
Candidates the mayor backed (Rick Baker in the St. Petersburg mayoral race and Mitch Reeves in the Atlantic Beach mayoral race) did not prevail.
Baker is in a runoff against an incumbent left-for-dead weeks prior; Reeves, meanwhile, will have more time for his family and private sector pursuits.
Worth watching for locals: the HD 15 race, where Team Curry backs Wyman Duggan, employing a strategy of pocketing endorsements and momentum a year ahead of the primary.
There is some thought that Bert Ralston, who ran Reeves’ campaign, may be working for an opponent of Duggan’s down the road. If that’s the case, we may be in for an interesting and expensive pre-primary bloodletting on the GOP side.
T-U reviews Jax budget bonanza
While Florida Politics certainly covered Jacksonville’s budget process start to finish, other outlets — notably the Florida Times-Union — were also in the mix.
The T-U piece took a big-picture view of the process, summing up the fulmination of the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee feeling “targeted” by a poll backing 100 new cops as “some frustration” among the panel.
Not eliciting frustration: the city’s $131 million capital improvement budget, described more than once by the T-U as part of a “stimulus-style” budget; the T-U write-up observes the panel “eagerly” signed off on it.
The more interesting stories regarding this budget process, of course, won’t be told on record.
There are those who say Finance Chair Garrett Dennis overplayed his hand throughout the process, which included the most powerful people in the city sitting around Council Chambers all day waiting, as Council asked ancillary questions to the budget itself.
And there are those who say that Curry’s chief lieutenant, Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, was overexposed in the process and disrespected by committee members.
Council is on its “fifth week” break this week, and it will be worth watching to see if the post-budget autumn is less fractious than this summer, characterized from start to finish by internecine warfare in the building.
Danny Becton resumes pension savings push
The bill is back — with public notice meetings this week presaging a more emphatic push for Councilman Becton’s bill (2017-348), which the mayor’s office opposed.
That bill would require that 15 percent of all general fund money beyond the baseline budget go toward defraying the city’s $3.2B unfunded actuarial liability on pension.
In June, even as Becton held a public notice meeting with Council colleagues to push the bill, the Southside Republican was already crossways with the mayor’s office on this measure — though he seemed to be the last to know.
Becton said the mayor’s office had a “very favorable” read on the bill; Curry diverged.
“I don’t know where he got that from,” the mayor said.
The bill did not clear Council — rather, it was pulled back by Becton, who reserved the right to bring the bill back at the right moment.
The time apparently is now: public notice meetings this week seem to be laying the groundwork for another push from Becton, a maverick Republican who doesn’t seem too worried about what his mayor thinks about his proposals.
Duval Schools to sue state over ‘Schools of Hope’
A rainy Monday morning saw the often fractious Duval County School Board move forward in a lawsuit against the state of Florida.
At issue: HB 7069, the “Schools of Hope” bill, which would divert capital dollars to charter schools from local schools.
Multiple urban districts — Broward, Miami-Dade, Orange, and Palm Beach — are already in the mix on a joint lawsuit encompassing nine counties and counting.
The Duval County School Board moved toward initiating litigation, with a primary allocation of $25,000 toward the $400,000 estimated costs of the action.
The motion passed 4-2, with board members Scott Shine and Ashley Smith-Juarez in opposition, and 7th board member Cheryl Grymes absent.
Jax Bar Association ‘rethinking everything’
Seismic change awaits the Jacksonville Bar Association, and bringing it will be Board President Tad Delegal and Jim Bailey, the former Jax Daily Record publisher who will be leading the movement for change.
JBA will be “rethinking everything,” Delegal said.
The revamp includes attention to the following: “making more benefits and services available to the more than 2,000 association members; expanding avenues of communication, including redesigning the website, jaxbar.org, and social media; and improving the organization’s engagement with the legal community.”
Four named to Clay County Development Authority
Gov. Scott added four new people to the Clay County Development Authority this week.
The first: Keith R. Ward, who runs an Orange Park construction company. He will serve until 2021. Likewise on board until 2021: a federal law enforcement officer from Green Cove Springs named Bruce Butler. And Middleburg’s Tom Morris, the executive director of Clay County Utility Authority.
Filling a vacant seat: Amy Wells, a staffing company owner in Green Cove. She will serve until July 1, 2019.
Renner, Hutson seek JLAC mosquito control district audit
Sen. Travis Hutson and Rep. Paul Renner teamed up last week, requesting a Joint Legislative Auditing Committee audit of the Flagler County Mosquito Control District.
“Flagler County’s Mosquito Control District recently reported a budget deficit of $1,100,000.00. The district’s total budget is $1,800,000.00, making this deficit very substantial and the subject of significant concern to county taxpayers. The district incurred this deficit while spending $2,100,000.00 to construct a new facility for its fourteen employees, a facility that includes an adjacent helipad,” legislators write.
Apparently, there is a trend of excess spending on these facilities — just last year, St. Johns County had its own version of this situation.
Jacksonville Housing Authority Entrepreneur Fair
Startup entrepreneurs received free advice and guidance this week during an event hosted by the Jacksonville Housing Authority, the Small Business Development Center and the University of North Florida.
A free entrepreneurship and employment fair was available for residents of the Jacksonville’s family self-sufficiency program; it was held Tuesday at the Brentwood Community Center.
Event organizer Alyce Bacon, an administrative assistant for JHA, told the Florida Times-Unionthat there were plenty of jobs experts on hand, as well as entrepreneurs who have been successful in starting their own businesses; they were all there to help underprivileged people without access to either the information or money to start their own small company.
“We’re bringing in entrepreneurs to help them become entrepreneurs,” Bacon said. “We’re doing it with the employment fair because not everyone wants to work for somebody.”
UNF Nursing awarded White Coat Ceremony funds
University of North Florida’s School of Nursing is one of 50 schools nationwide selected by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing to receive funding to host White Coat Ceremonies, which emphasizes the importance of humanistic patient care.
UNF is one of two universities in Florida to receive a $1,000 grant for White Coat Ceremonies this year. Launched in 2013 as a collaboration between APGF and AACN, the award has enabled 260 nursing schools in 48 states to offer ceremonies designed to instill a commitment to providing compassionate care in the next generation of registered nurses.
“We’re honored that the School of Nursing was selected to receive funding to support the White Coat Ceremony, which symbolizes the commitment to providing compassionate care to the patients which we serve,” said Dr. Li Loriz, director of UNF’s School of Nursing. “We’re excited to have the students cite the oath to prepare competent, caring professionals.”
In nursing, a White Coat Ceremony typically consists of the recitation of an oath, an address by an eminent role model, and a reception for students and invited guests. Students also are given a specially designed pin that serves as a visual reminder of their oath and commitment to providing high-quality care.
Jacksonville Zoo rehabilitates manatees at nation’s newest Critical Care Center
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, home to America’s newest Manatee Critical Care Center, received two young sea cows from SeaWorld Orlando. Both manatees need a little more human care before Florida Fish & Wildlife considers them ready for release later this year.
Cassie and Buckeye, orphaned in August and September 2015 respectively, are the Zoo’s Manatee Critical Care Center’s inaugural manatees Female Cassie and male Buckeye were both rescued by members of FWC and Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ Marine Mammal Response Team. Both were transported to SeaWorld Orlando where they received careful care and bottle feeding. At the time of rescue, Cassie weighed only 66 pounds. She is now thriving at 775 pounds. Buckeye was 63 pounds when rescued, he now weighs 625 pounds. Fully grown, manatees can reach nearly a ton.
Both manatees will remain at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ Manatee Critical Care Center, under the watch of the Zoo’s Animal Health specialists, for critical weight gain and continued monitoring until they are determined to be ready to be released.
The Manatee Critical Care Center was completed earlier this year. The center features two large tanks, one outfitted with a lift-floor for safer, more effective medical treatment, and the other has a window for guest viewing.
Armada owner: Watch soccer, help hurricane victims
Jacksonville Armada fans have a unique opportunity to enjoy soccer and help out those Texans facing unimaginable struggles from Hurricane Harvey, reports First Coast News.
Jacksonville Armada owner Robert Palmer is donating all ticket proceeds to the relief effort — and he challenges others in the business community to do likewise.
“I challenge other business owners to take similar action to support Texas,” Palmer wrote. “As Floridians, we know too well, the devastation a hurricane (and flooding) of this magnitude can cause.”
Harvey’s unprecedented flooding, most of it after the storm was no longer a hurricane, is a stark reminder — as if we needed one — of the havoc tropical weather wreaks.
Blake hat-trick earns Armada first victory of the fall
The Jacksonville Armada FC gained a vital three points in Indianapolis Saturday night defeating Indy Eleven 3-2. Jack Blake earned the first hat-trick in history for the club and the first win of the Robert Palmer era. Palmer assumed control of the club last month buying the Armada FC from NASL. For his efforts, Blake was named NASL Player of the Week.
“Tonight’s win means three important points. Against a very good team at a traditionally, very hard place to play,” said Armada head coach Mark Lowry.
Both teams pressured each other hard right out of the gate. Indy Eleven had the first opportunity of the match nine minutes in by Ben Speas, but Armada Goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell was there with the save.
Indy’s Éamon Zayed then fired multiple shots toward the net, but each went over or was deflected by Patterson-Sewell.
The Armada broke the deadlock in the 28th minute. Bryam Rebellón sent a nice cross over to Jack Blake in front of the box who fired a shot past two Indy defenders and goalkeeper Jon Busch.
David Goldsmith tried to equalize the match with a shot in the 31st minute. After receiving the ball from Ben Speas, he fired it right into the hands of Patterson-Sewell. Blake stepped up for a free kick in the 40th minute and his shot went into the upper corner of the net to double the lead for the Armada FC.
The halftime whistle blew with Jacksonville in the lead.
Momentum was definitely on the Armada’s side going into the second half. Several close chances were taken, but it was not until the 62nd minute when Blake found the back of the net again. He capitalized on another free kick to bring the score to 3-0.
The goal marked the first hat-trick for both Blake and the Armada.
“Jack deserves a lot of praise,” said Lowry. “Three goals is always an accomplishment. He needs to continue to develop and learn and I am sure there will be many more moments like this for him.”
Indy was quick with an answer. Justin Braun found Speas, who fired a shot into the net to put the Eleven on the board.
Braun went down due to an injury on the field, causing a delay in the match around the 69th minute. He left the field, leaving Indy Eleven with only 10 men after using all three substitutions earlier in the game.
Eight minutes of stoppage time were added to the clock and tired legs were pushed harder. Despite being down a man, Indy Eleven did not go down without a fight.
Two minutes of stoppage time in, Goldsmith found the end of a cross by Speas and headed it into the net. Indy added another goal to the board, but the final whistle blew with the Armada ahead by one.
“The guys deserve to enjoy this,” said Lowry. “This is a month of very hard work. A month of bad luck and bad bounces. Now we need to kick on and progress because there are a lot of games left and points to be won.”
Jacksonville will next travel to New York to take on defending NASL Champions, the Cosmos, on Sunday, Sept. 3, at 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday afternoon saw Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and City Councilman Reggie Brown slated to visit an after-school program.
Brown, in the end, did not go — even as he gave us a quote after the fact as if he had.
Brown and Curry collaborated earlier this month on a measure to boost after-school funding, a measure that undercut an analogous proposal from Finance Committee Chair Garrett Dennis.
Dennis’ proposal was panned by the Mayor’s spokesperson as one in a collection of “knee-jerk reactions of appropriating funding on an emergency basis,” underscoring recurrent tensions between Dennis and Curry over the summer, regarding spending on swimming lessons, summer camp , and the aforementioned after-school programs.
The squabbles have been about funding sources in some cases, including general fund spending at the end of the fiscal year. In other cases, Dennis and Curry’s conflict has gotten more personal: by now, the story of Curry’s political operation running a poll in Dennis’ district to gauge how opposition would do against the Councilman is widely known.
The schism between the Mayor and the Finance Chair is such that even the Curry/Brown visit to an after-school program Wednesday had political overtones; the elementary school (Pinedale Elementary) was in Dennis’ district, not Brown’s.
We asked Councilman Brown about the visit Wednesday; he noted that Dennis had filed a memo requesting an excused absence for the week.
“I was informed that Dennis said he was out of pocket and would not be available for Council business. The Mayor just told me that Dennis has an open invitation if he’s available today,” Brown said before the visit Wednesday.
Dennis did not make the trip, and he said the Mayor did not reach out and invite him to the event.
Brown, after the event, described it as an “exciting day for kids.” However, he didn’t make it to the event, informed sources say … raising questions as to why he gave a quote on the event.
Curry, on Facebook, noted that it “made [him] smile when [he] saw the important work being done at an after-school program at Pinedale Elementary.”
The district Councilman, however, wasn’t there to see it.
Jacksonville City Council committees are on break this week; however, it’s clear that the political drama never ceases in City Hall.
One wonders if any hurt feelings and miscommunications from Wednesday’s event will resurface after Labor Day weekend, when committees resume — including Dennis’ Finance Committee, a panel of which Brown is a member.
In Feb. 2013, Gov. Rick Scott said there would be an eastbound JTB flyover ramp at I-95.
48 months and $78 million later, that project is in place — and is expected to abate traffic at one of the most challenged traffic corridors in Northeast Florida, starting with its Sept. 6 opening to traffic.
One elected leader on hand for the Wednesday ribbon cutting who knew something about Jacksonville traffic — U.S. Rep. John Rutherford — noted that “the number of lives this flyover saves will be substantial.”
Rutherford, a former Jacksonville Sheriff for three terms ending in 2015, knows better than most the public safety impact created by the previous road design.
For Gov. Scott, this project is part of a commitment to infrastructure; he noted that a “million dollars each day in the Jacksonville area” is spent on infrastructural improvements. Moreover, the $6B FDOT budget that was in place when Scott came in is now over $10B per annum.
“I remember being in Jacksonville quite a bit and seeing the backup when you’re going south on 95, trying to go east on JTB. The Sheriff — now Congressman — talked a lot about car accidents that happened on that … this is great. It’s going to get opened next week. Over 112,000 motorists use this on a daily basis, so this is a big deal,” Scott said.
Asked about the four plus years it took to construct this offramp, Scott noted “we’ve got to do it in a safe manner” and one that doesn’t impact traffic.
“A lot of work is done at night,” Scott added.
State Reo. Clay Yarborough noted that Scott was “here in [his] very first term to start this project,” and now he’s “here to finish it.”
In a real sense, this flyover will be one of Scott’s legacies for Jacksonville.
The eyes of the world are on the Gulf Coast right now, as Houston and surrounding areas begin the tortuous process of recovery from Harvey’s torrential rains.
Though the federal government has deployed resources for immediate recovery efforts, long-term resources may — if Jacksonville’s recovery from Hurricane Matthew is any guide — be sometime away.
Jacksonville is still awaiting reimbursements from the federal government — 75 percent of an approximate $50 million in storm related damage. Application technicalities, such as Jacksonville’s local commitments to small and emerging businesses and locational criteria for vendors, apparently are not something the federal government honors.
“We have to front the money for years,” the Jacksonville City Council Auditor said this month. “We are probably $26M negative cash even without doing repairs [with expensive] debris cleanup.”
Despite this delay, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is confident that Jacksonville will get its money — and that until then, the city’s financial situation is stable enough to hazard whatever tropical impacts may come.
“I am in touch with the right people in the White House and around the White House to get our FEMA reimbursements,” Curry said. “We’re going to get what’s owed to us.”
Curry administration members have expressed confidence in Jacksonville’s financial situation, a bullishness bolstered by a big-dollarbond sale earlier this month. Despite a relatively high fixed-cost ratio and a relatively low emergency reserve, Jacksonville maintains a rating in the AA range.
“We’re serious about reserves and responsible budgeting,” Curry stated.
A big reason for Jacksonville’s strong financial footing, Curry said, was the city’s “sound, stable, responsible” budget process. Between cash and reserve levels (which, between the operating and emergency reserve, will be somewhere between $135 and $165M at the end of the fiscal year), Curry is confident the city is ready for any kind of stormy weather.
“We are on top of this and in touch with the right people,” Curry affirmed, “our contacts and resources.”
Another hold card for the Mayor: “the relationship we have with the state of Florida and the Governor.”
Long story short: though the FEMA reimbursement process is a long and winding road, Jacksonville officials can live with the pace.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry hasn’t suffered many political setbacks during his two years occupying the fourth floor of City Hall.
But on Tuesday — for the first time since Sen. Marco Rubio‘s presidential dreams were incinerated at Florida ballot boxes almost 18 months prior — Curry’s allies suffered losses (mayoral races in Atlantic Beach and St. Petersburg) where Curry invested political capital.
Informed sources knew this wasn’t a bet that would pay off: when the mailpiece dropped, Reeves was down by 20 in one poll. Curry’s endorsement helped Reeves close some of the gap, yet the Atlantic Beach Mayor still lost by 11.
Reeves was dogged by recurrent conflict of interest allegations (the kind that don’t play well in a small-town sandbox), and the final nail in the political coffin may have been how he handled those allegations, as best embodied by a statement released late last week that essentially boiled down to a self-exoneration.
The ethics complaint that the winning candidate filed, Reeves asserted, was a fabrication of “her paid advisers and their misguided delusions of political glory.”
“Finally, during this campaign,” Reeves continued, “Ms. [Ellen] Glasser has told us all, time and time again, that she is ‘The Ethics Candidate’. We all should now wonder about the ethics of filing a desperate, last minute, unfounded and politically motivated complaint, based upon speculation instead of evidence, with no regard for the cost to the tax paying people of Atlantic Beach. The people of Atlantic Beach should ask themselves whether Ms. Glasser was sincerely trying to protect them or seeking to protect her failing campaign.”
Curry’s committee didn’t run Reeves’ campaign, of course; that operation was run by Bert Ralston. Does one imagine Team Curry was pleased by burning an endorsement in a GOP sinecure on an 11 point loss though? Especially one characterized by a last-minute suttee via prepared statement?
As luck would have it, there may (some say) be a near-term battle to watch between Ralston and Curry’s political ops, Tim Baker and Brian Hughes. There are rumors that Ralston would run Cathleen Murphy‘s GOP primary campaign in House District 15, going up against Team Curry’s Wyman Duggan. The winner would fill Rep. Jay Fant‘s shoes in Tallahassee.
In that battle, the war between the operatives likely will be more interesting than any formal debate between the candidates. Ralston and Curry’s operatives have been on a collision course for a while, and the Westside Jacksonville district may be the battlefield where they work out their differences.
Ralston is not involved in HD 15 at this time, he said, and he has never met Murphy. But this level of discussion and intrigue suggests a very competitive race is inevitable.
Another fun fact to mull: Murphy ran comms for the death throes of former State Attorney Angela Corey‘s re-election bid, one lost to a Baker/Hughes candidate (Melissa Nelson) by 38 points.
Rick Baker’s inability to win outright in the St. Petersburg Mayor’s race’s primary election was the farthest thing from a foregone conclusion even weeks ago.
Baker was buoyed by strong polls, an incumbent on the ropes, and candidates attacking that incumbent from the left — and he was confident, asserting that he expected to draw 60 percent of the black vote as a Republican candidate.
This was, of course, before former President Barack Obama waded into the race, endorsing incumbent Rick Kriseman … who went on to win by 69 votes.
Going forward, there is a case that Kriseman took Baker’s best shot and is still standing. One can expect President Obama to surface again, with ubiquitous radio ads and the like during early voting.
Given that Baker is not positioned to get help from the current President — a political poison pill in St. Petersburg — it’s easy to imagine the Obama factor being dispositive down the stretch for the incumbent’s re-election.
Curry loses approximately nothing in all of this. He will find a way to do business with Mayor-elect Glasser in Atlantic Beach, and he will survive no matter who is the mayor of St. Petersburg.
And, beyond readers of this website, few locals will notice the setbacks.
But in each case, political capital was invested. And ultimately there was no direct ROI.
Jacksonville City Councilman Danny Becton ran afoul of Mayor Lenny Curry this summer, by filing a bill (2017-348) that the Mayor’s Office opposed.
That bill would require that 15 percent of all general fund money beyond the baseline budget go toward defraying the city’s $3.2B unfunded actuarial liability on pension.
Back in June, even as Becton held a public notice meeting with Council colleagues to push the bill, the Southside Republican was already crossways with the Mayor’s Office on this measure — though he seemed to be the last to know.
Becton said the Mayor’s Office had a “very favorable” read on the bill; Curry diverged.
“I don’t know where he got that from,” the Mayor said.
The bill did not clear Council — rather, it was pulled back by Becton, who reserved the right to bring the bill back at the right moment.
With budget deliberations having wrapped this week, the time apparently is now — as Becton has public notice meetings scheduled Thursday: one in the morning with the most recent past Council President Lori Boyer (seen by some in the Mayor’s orbit as still being Council President), followed by a 4 PM meeting with other Council members.
The timing on the bill’s resuscitation seems purposeful: Becton is the Vice-Chair of the City Council Finance Committee now; he and other supporters of the election of Council President Anna Brosche hold six of seven spots on that committee.
Becton has not been averse to iconoclasm since his election in 2015.
He, more than anyone else on Council, balked in committees on the city spending $45M on stadium improvements, going halfsies with Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan on a new “flex-field,” an amphitheater, and other stadium improvements.
However, he did vote for these in the end.
Becton also vowed to consider voting against Mayor Curry’s full budget, based on $8.4M the Mayor wanted allocated to build a community field and for dorms at Edward Waters College — projects considered vital to helping with crime abatement in the New Town neighborhood.
Becton also was more concerned than most on Finance this month about a report from Bloomberg that suggested that Jacksonville’s high fixed-costs and pension obligations could exert “downward pressure” on the city’s credit rating.
We reached out to Becton and Curry for fresh comments on this bill; as of Tuesday morning, we haven’t heard back. When we do, we will update.
Indeed, that’s what Curry’s political ascendance has been based on — anticipation, via interactions and polling, of the zeitgeist, and getting to the center-right of it.
He beat Alvin Brown by forcing Brown to tack left down the stretch. He sold pension reform by being flexible depending on his audience. And on HRO? Once he had his pension reform, he got out of the way.
Curry’s statement that “people are predictable” could have applied to one or more political rivals in City Hall (Garrett Dennis?), but it is an axiom we see as a leitmotif in this edition of Bold.
You’ll read of Rep. Al Lawson going up against the alt-right — but it would be news if he weren’t.
You’ll read of Duval Delegation members who, just by playing by the rules of the House, got rewarded with better committee spots — funny how that works.
People, as Curry says, are almost absolutely predictable.
A corollary to that: if you can’t predict outcomes, it’s likely because you need better data.
The people who win consistently in Jacksonville politics are the ones who understand people — competing pols, voters, donors, interest groups — as data sets, to be manipulated for the desired effect.
Al Lawson blasts alt-right
U.S. Rep. Lawson may have been helped into office by President Donald Trump’s Florida campaign chairwoman, but the Tallahassee Democrat has become a reliable critic of the president since he headed to D.C.
“The president should not indulge any of the hate groups. I don’t care if those are the ones that put him into office or not. He is the president of everybody in America, not one particular group,” reports WFSU.
WFSU also reported that “Lawson said Trump is adding insult to injury by failing to call the parents of peace activist Heather Heyer, who was murdered at the rally by a Nazi sympathizer. He toured a community health center in Tallahassee.
Lawson’s district (Florida’s 5th Congressional) runs from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, and most of his media are on the western edge of the area. WFSU also recently ran a deep compare-and-contrast of Lawson and state Rep. Neal Dunn, a Republican who represents a region adjoining the district’s Tallahassee side.
Northeast Florida improves position in state House
The message from House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s 2018 committee assignments: it’s good to play ball with leadership.
Nowhere is this truer than Northeast Florida, where many freshman state Representatives find themselves with more pull than they had in the just completed session, as the Miami Herald reports.
One Democrat who benefited: Tracie Davis was added to the Health and Human Services Committee.
Republicans, meanwhile, emerged with a slew of vice-chairmanships: Cyndi Stevenson of the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee; Jason Fischer of the Pre-K Innovation Subcommittee; Clay Yarborough of the Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee.
The biggest loser, per the Herald?
“Jay Fant not only lost the vice chair of the Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee to Erin Grall, he lost his position on the House Judiciary Committee and the Ways and Means Committee. He was added to the Education Committee and the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.”
Jax to spend big on after-school programs
“With his proposed recommendation to City Council of $2.69 million in added funds, 21 sites throughout Jacksonville could now open, serving approximately 1,720 more children. City Council (District 10) and Finance Committee member Reggie Brown plans to introduce an amendment at the proper time during the budget process to appropriate the funds,” read a release late last week from Mayor Lenny Curry.
“We are making every effort possible to maximize resources to meet the needs of at-hope children in our community,” Curry said. “When kids leave school campuses, they should be able to go to a community center or site to participate in recreational and enrichment activities. Gangs can’t have our kids!”
“As I’ve stated many times before, government has a role to play in making sure at-hope kids do not fall through the cracks. If there are ways for us to improve the lives of children, we’re going to do that responsibly and orderly with proper vetting and appropriate budgeting.”
The money, if included in the FY 2018 budget, would be available Oct. 1 — the beginning of the new fiscal year.
Jax Sheriff plays political hardball
In what has become a tradition in Jacksonville politics, a well-timed poll dropped Monday, just days before the Jacksonville City Council had a big decision to make.
A difference this time: instead of from Curry’s political committee, it had dropped from “A Safe Jacksonville,” the political committee of Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams.
Polling showed positives for the Sheriff and his proposal almost across the board: a 67 percent approval rating for Sheriff Williams; 68 percent favoring the Sheriff’s plan to add 100 new cops, and 50 percent of respondents vowing to vote against Council members who oppose adding new police. A top issue among Duval voters: Reducing crime.
And while the poll emanated from Williams’ committee, the tactic was like that used by Curry in the past — appropriate, as Tim Baker — a key Curry consultant, conducted the poll.
So why now?
Because it was necessary. City Council had to be sent a message — while the legislative branch may be the policymaking body, the Sheriff (and the mayor) ran on a public safety platform. And while it is uncertain whether the new officers will bring that public safety, what is certain is that the current force shortfall won’t get it done.
Bloomberg warns of potential Jax credit market woes
Bloomberg Intelligence strategist Eric Kazatsky offered cautionary words about Jacksonville’s bonds this week, pertinent as the city continues attempts to improve its perception in the eyes of ratings agencies.
“Despite stable fund and cash balances,” Kazatsky writes, “the city has been challenged by a steadily increasing fixed-cost ratio, which could put downward pressure on credit ratings and add to debt risk.”
Here’s another negative: despite pension reform, the $2.8B unfunded actuarial liability draws unwelcome comparisons to Chicago.
“At just under Chicago’s 34 percent fixed-cost ratio, Jacksonville, Florida’s ratio nearly tops the list of major U.S. cities and calls attention to the city’s weak pension-funding levels,” Kazatsky writes.
Pension reform, the Bloomberg analyst holds, looks “very far” into the future, and is dependent on sales tax revenue remaining robust.
The city counters that it recently met with the ratings agencies and its AA rating is safe; but, this is one to watch.
Jax Young Dems’ spending draws scrutiny
Folio Weekly broke a story this week about the president of the Jacksonville Young Democrats, whose spending spurred criticism.
Kristellys Estanga had developed a habit, reports Folio, of requesting JYD funds for travel.
“There are a lot of charges out of town for Lyft and things like that,” said Estanga, the JYD Field Director.
But wait — there’s more: “further questions about how Estanga has been handling JYD’s funds … grumbles that Estanga has been soliciting, receiving and appropriating donations without informing other members of the group or depositing said funds into the JYD account.”
Estanga teased a resignation, then decided to go on the offense against those board members who questioned her probity.
All told, it’s another difficult internecine battle in local Jacksonville politics. Unlike with this week’s solar eclipse, those aren’t quite so rare.
In a three-page statement, the JYD comes director asserted that Estanga was guilty of no wrongdoing.
Duval GOP: A money pit?
Upon hearing of the Dems’ money problems, local Republicans smiled and said, “Hold my beer.”
Documents obtained by Florida Politics reveal a money morass for the party of Lincoln in the Bold New City of the South.
All told, the party had $5,506 on hand at the end of July. That won’t be enough to execute what apparently is a plan for the 2018 election cycle, one that will need $116,260 to accomplish.
Among the interesting spends in that budget: $5,000 for a color laser printer (why lease, after all?) and $6,000 for a Christmas Party.
One interesting tell on strategy: social media gets the short end of the stick, with just $1,000 allocated for the whole cycle.
The party also will forego Lincoln Day, we are told — a jarring omission for a big-city party in a Republican sinecure, especially during a massively important election year.
Jax DMA unemployment ticks upward
Gov. Rick Scott’s Department of Economic Opportunity says that Jacksonville’s unemployment rate is holding steady. But another analysis says the job market is weakening.
The Jax Daily Record reports “a slight increase in the jobless rate from 3.95 percent in June to 4.27 percent in July, according to the University of North Florida’s Local Economic Indicators Project.”
“The Fed increased interest rates in June,” UNF economist Albert Loh told the Record. “That may have slowed down business hiring plans in July.”
A sector suffering: Business and professional services, down 2.6 percent year over year.
Anna Brosche rejects port dredging workshop
Jacksonville City Council President Brosche will not be calling a council workshop on the deepening of the St. Johns River.
The Florida Times-Union reports that Brosche was responding to an ask from Council members John Crescimbeni and Tommy Hazouri to call a council workshop on the JAXPORT proposed funding plan asking the city to pay $47 million to $150 million of the $484 million cost of deepening 11 miles of the river.
JAXPORT has not requested any city funding for the next two years, Brosche said. After conversations with port authority Interim CEO Eric Green, Brosche said JAXPORT may turn to other sources for deepening, and not ask the city for money.
Brosche said: “The funding requirements of the project and related implications on Jacksonville taxpayers are not certain or known, are continuing to evolve, and may never materialize.”
Jacksonville University, The District to prove benefits of ‘healthy town’ concept
An academic partnership between The District and Jacksonville University to prove the benefits of entrepreneur Peter Rummell’s “healthy town” concept, which has become the foundation of a development plan for the Jacksonville Riverfront.
Jacksonville Business Journal reports that over the past two years, Rummell and Dalton Agency’s Michael Munz have been promoting a multiphase 30-acre development on property owned by the JEA.
The site has been under an $18.5 million contract with the Elements Development of Jacksonville LLC since 2015, with closing expected late 2017.
While it’s logical to think a “healthy living” strategy will produce health benefits, Jacksonville University is officially partnering with The District to “measure the effectiveness of [the] healthy town concept.”
“We intentionally designed The District to offer residents every element they need to live the healthiest of lives, and we want to be able to empirically and qualitatively prove that having access to and utilizing all of these resources in one place does, in fact, help make people healthier,” Rummell said in the news release.
The JU Brooks Rehabilitation College of Healthcare Sciences will lead the research project “using both quantitative and qualitative research approaches.”
Florida Theater to hold October TEDxJacksonville
“We, The People” is the theme of the sixth annual TEDxJacksonville, set for Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Florida Theatre. The daylong event, scheduled for 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., will feature 13 speakers and musical performances. All-day general admission tickets are $100; tickets for Session 3 only – with four speakers – is $49. All tickets include admission to Afterglow, the conference’s post-event street party.
According to the Florida Times-Union, scheduled speakers include Cynthia Barnett of Gainesville, talking about climate issues; Brenda Bradley of Accokeek, Maryland, to discuss new eating research; Jacksonville educator and youth advocate Amy Donofrio; K9s for Warriors founder Shari Duval of Jacksonville; Manal Fakhoury of Ocala to discuss strategies for tackling the nation’s opioid epidemic; Melanie Flores of Atlanta talking about storytelling, imagination and design for children; Ellen Freidin of Miami will discuss gerrymandering and Jacksonville attorney Chris Hand will explain how to fight City Hall and win.
Armada attendance sinking – can Robert Palmer fix?
It might be riptide for new Jacksonville Armada owner Robert Palmer, as local soccer fans aren’t finding the on-field product irresistible, reports the Florida Times-Union.
“Jacksonville drew 780 fans for Wednesday’s loss to Puerto Rico FC, lowest in club history and lowest in the North American Soccer League this year,” the T-U reports.
Part of the issue, Palmer said, was a flawed attendance calculation.
“I want to give a more accurate picture to fans, to sponsors about how much engagement we really have,” Palmer said. “The idea for me that we could print out 1,000 tickets, and those 1,000 tickets were free, but they could land in a desk drawer or land in a trash can somewhere, and then report that as attendance – that just didn’t sit well. So, we’re going to have a more transparent method for calculating attendance going forward.”
Palmer intends to use local Armada telecasts to create stars, he said.
Armada play well but fall 1-0 to Miami
The Jacksonville Armada FC faced the NASL Spring Season Champion Sunday night at Hodges Stadium on the University of North Florida campus. Despite an attacking prowess which netted 13 total shots including four on goal, the Armada FC fell 1-0 to the Miami FC. The lone goal was recorded by Miami attacker Jaime Chavez in Minute 41. Defender Rhett Bernstein sparked the attack with an excellent pass to midfielder Ariel Martínez, who used a dummy run to evade two Armada defenders. Martínez then sprinted towards the Jacksonville box before threading a ball to a wide-open Chávez, who blasted home the chance and put Miami ahead 1-0.
Although the team was unable to collect three points, Armada head coach Mark Lowry remains positive.
“We dominated. That performance was superb against the best team in the league. It shows how good we are,” said Lowry. “That performance was almost perfect, we just lacked two or three goals. We keep doing that and we’ll start winning games.”
After the goal, the Armada attacked often in the second half. Goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell made a great save early in the half, as he extended his entire frame to deflect a Miami attempt on goal. Mechack Jérôme also showed off his defensive presence, breaking up a potential Miami FC breakaway. Derek Gebhard brought a much-needed spark off the bench, recording four shots in the second half. His best attempt came in the 87th minute as he tried to equalize the score, but Vega was there with the save.
“If one or two of those would have [found the back of the net], it would have been a different game. But I’d like to see us getting back to clean sheets and defending. I think we defended better than the last few nights, but again, we just need to make sure we close down more. There are positive signs,” said Patterson-Sewell.
Next the Armada hit the road as they travel to face Indy Eleven. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Indianapolis. The team will return home Saturday, Sept. 9, for First Responders Night at Hodges Stadium.