The 30-second spot, which employs a child’s voice, includes a plaintive, heart-tugging script.
“Mommy and daddy, they’re saying that Lenny Curry is trying to sell JEA,” says the youth in the spot, a child who is remarkably hip to the mechanics of municipal utilities for his age.
“Don’t let him sell JEA,” the youngster continues. “Don’t let him sell our future.”
The call to action: to call 630-CITY and tell Curry not to sell JEA.
This particular political committee has ties to one of Curry’s chief political rivals. Its registered agent and treasurer, Heather Pullen, has connections to Lisa King, the chair of the Duval Democrats.
King is dealing with some adverse press, related to an ongoing outcry both within and outside the party about her husband, committeeman John Parker, making comments that have been framed as offensive and as a cause for both Parker and King to step down.
“Baseless attacks and lies from a political committee affiliated with and supportive of Democrat Lisa King are not how we will protect the value of taxpayer assets at JEA. The mayor remains committed to ensuring that facts inform all future plans for our utility, and that those plans respect taxpayers and the promises made to JEA employees,” said Curry’s chief of staff, Brian Hughes.
March fundraising numbers have not yet posted; at the end of February, the committee had roughly $1,600 cash on hand.
However, a representative from the group asserts that buy is for $6,000 a week on Clear Channel stations, with digital and print ads to follow.
Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday that Chinese solar panel company JinkoSolar is building a “state-of-the-art” manufacturing facility in Jacksonville.
JinkoSolar’s expansion into the Sunshine State is the result of a deal with utility giant NextEra Energy to supply millions of solar panels to the company over the next four years. NextEra Energy is the parent company of Florida Power & Light.
The facility is expected to come online later this year and bring 200 jobs to the Bold City by the end of 2019.
“Florida’s economy is on a roll. Since 2011, nearly 1.5 million private-sector jobs have been created in our state, and more and more companies are choosing to grow in Florida. Today’s announcement means that 200 more families in Jacksonville will be able to find a great job. We will continue working nonstop to make Florida the number one destination of job creators,” Scott said in a press release.
Jax Mayor Lenny Curry added that the new plant was “a major win for Jacksonville and the community.”
“JinkoSolar’s presence enhances our reputation as a manufacturing city, and I am eager to see the company contribute to the vibrant economy in Jacksonville.”
In their own press release, the two companies said their new supply agreement will see JinkoSolar supply NextEra Energy with up to 2,750 megawatts of high-efficiency solar modules – roughly 7 million solar panels – over approximately four years.
FPL currently operates 14 solar power facilities and is in the process of building several more. The company currently has 930 megawatts of solar capacity in operation and plans to expand to 4,000 megawatts over the next decade.
“As NextEra Energy continues to invest heavily in new solar projects across the country, we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to buy cost-effective, reliable solar panels made here in America. JinkoSolar shares our commitment to delivering affordable clean energy solutions, and we are pleased to welcome them to our home state of Florida,” said Jim Robo, NextEra Energy’s chairman and CEO.
FPL CEO Eric Silagy said it was “exciting to know that solar panels built in Florida will be helping power FPL customers in the not-too-distant future.”
“We are honored to have played a role in making this possible, but it wouldn’t have happened without the dedication and dogged efforts of Governor Scott, Enterprise Florida, Mayor Curry, JAXUSA Partnership, the Jacksonville City Council, JEA and the business community. By working together with open minds and a shared commitment, they made Florida shine in the face of fierce competition from other states,” Silagy said.
NextEra stands to save a considerable amount of money on purchasing American-made panels due to tariffs imposed on imported panels by the DonaldTrump administration.
JinkoSolar is also slated to receive substantial economic incentives for the Florida expansion.
The City of Jacksonville is slated to pay $3.2 million in grants and $200,000 in qualified target industry tax refunds to JinkoSolar as part of an incentives package for building the plant.
The 15-second ad features a Waltz voice-over from the 2016 campaign, saying “look at Donald Trump‘s real record and stop him now,” with graphics proclaiming Trump’s “real record” as being the tax cut package, and appointing Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
The committee has only begun to spend money, per its list of contributions.
John Foley, a business associate of Ward, leads all donors with $100,000 contributed in what thus far is a ~$140,000 nest egg.
DeSantis denies Cambridge Analytica ties
Moving from the CD 6 race to the incumbent in CD 6 … Florida Democrats questioned, per the Daytona Beach News-Journal, whether or not Rep. Ron DeSantis may have used controversial data-mining op Cambridge Analytica for his campaign.
The connection: the PAC of new National Security Adviser John Bolton, which donated to DeSantis, also paid Cambridge.
No dice, says the DeSantis campaign.
“No, we didn’t,” wrote spokesman Brad Herold to the Daytona paper. “And tell the FDP, if they spent more time trying to figure out why their message hasn’t resonated with Florida voters in over two decades and less time playing Inspector Clouseau with finance reports, they’d win more elections.”
Peanut, tomato dumping drives Lawson to back NAFTA revamp
Florida’s 5th Congressional District is far-flung, as Al Lawson’s town hall last weekend shows.
In Tallahassee, it focused on an issue that has nothing to do with the Jacksonville end of the district: peanut and tomato dumping.
“While Central and South Florida are major hubs of citrus and sugar production, North Florida and South Georgia produce peanuts and tomatoes. And those two crops, in addition to dairy, are being squeezed by overproduction from Canada and Mexico, say local farmers. For that reason, Congressman Lawson says he’s in support of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement,” reports WFSU.
“Most farmers here, if you talk to the people who are tomato farmers they’ll tell you they have a big problem. So I think something is going to happen in that regard,” Lawson told the Tallahassee outlet.
Trump wants NAFTA renegotiated, but the movement has been slow.
Peanut interests support Lawson strongly as a candidate.
Former Jacksonville Mayor AlvinBrown, a candidate for Florida’s 5th Congressional District, had what he called a “big fundraiser” Wednesday evening.
Accompanying Brown was Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Congressional Black Caucus member who endorsed him over incumbent Democratic Rep. Lawson.
At the end of the last quarter, before Brown declared as a candidate, Lawson had lackluster fundraising.
Lawson, the incumbent in Florida’s CD 5, closed 2017 with $100,531 on hand, off $235,281 raised.
Duval legislators extol Legislative Session … for the most part
With the Legislative Session in the rearview mirror, Northeast Florida legislators are looking back at the 60 days with a sense of accomplishment, tempered in some cases with a sense that there are more battles to fight and win.
While the $12.5 million of state money for the Talleyrand Connector was the most significant win, every legislator Florida Politics talked to mentioned other wins as well.
The most candid comments were from Senate Minority Leader Designate Audrey Gibson, who was very out front about difficulties of the process: “Go figure, it’s life in an unbalanced Legislature which I am on a mission to change! I am so honored to serve and am on the battlefield in and out of Session because Session is not the only measure of success.”
Gibson, of course, will face a primary challenge from Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown.
Patronis in Jax to highlight expansion of PTSD benefits
This week, CFO Jimmy Patronis joined Mayor Lenny Curry, state Sen. Gibson, Reps. Cord Byrd, Tracie Davis and Jason Fischer, as well as Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Chief Kurt Wilson and members of the fire service and law enforcement communities to highlight the signing of Senate Bill 376, expanding mental health benefits for first responders.
Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill this week in Tampa surrounded by hundreds of first responders from across the state. Sen. Lauren Book and Rep. Matt Willhite sponsored SB 376.
Zeigler running against unfair taxation in HD 15
Yacht broker Mark Zeigler entered the GOP primary in House District 15 last month.
Zeigler, alone among the field, is known for his tenure as a drummer in Pretty Boy Freud, the legends of Jacksonville’s club scene decades ago. As a drummer and an entrepreneur, his motivations for running are pretty straightforward and are rooted in unfair taxation.
One of the issues facing businesses like his, Zeigler says, is the estimated tax from the Department of Revenue.
“If you collect $200,000 in sales taxes [in a given year], in January you get a love letter,” Zeigler said.
That epistle contains an estimated tax, an added burden for businesses just as they try to navigate the January doldrums. And that tax affects investment in the business, including but not limited to new hiring and new equipment.
The Jacksonville Daily Record notes that the city of Jacksonville has retained lawyers with a track record for its lawsuit against Big Pharma.
Since 2007, Scott and Scott have brought in more than $1.2 billion in these cases, per the “144-page complaint for damages and injunctive relief filed in the 4th Judicial Circuit by the city against Perdue Pharma LLP and 24 other defendants.”
“The complaint alleges that the defendants engaged in a systematic plan to deceive doctors and patients about the products’ efficacy in the management of chronic pain and the addictive nature of their products,” the Daily Record asserts.
Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche wanted a task force to look at transparency in local government.
She got it.
The bill (2018-133) cleared Tuesday’s Council agenda after having passed the Rules Committee unanimouslylast week.
“The Task Force on Open Government” will “undertake an in-depth review of Jacksonville’s legislative process and the methods by which the public accesses government” and “make recommendations for how the City of Jacksonville can be more open and accessible to the public.”
Brosche originally wanted one-cycle approval of the concept so the task force would have more time to operate, but relented after Mayor Curry‘s office raised concerns that emergency legislation contravened the goal of “open and accessible government.”
The panel wraps by the end of June. As does the Brosche presidency.
JEA special committee not so special anymore
Big news from Jacksonville City Council amounted to a setback for Council President Brosche when her 19 colleagues decided to subvert her five-person “special committee” on the JEA sale by including all 19 members on the panel.
The debate was bruising, elliptical and lasted for hours; all kicked off by a floor motion from Councilman Matt Schellenberg to kill the committee. That didn’t fly. Neither did a move by Councilwoman Lori Boyer to keep the committee at five but kill its subpoena power.
Essentially, this will derail the committee from deep dives into relationships between JEA execs and the Mayor’s Office, moving the discussion to the pros and cons of a sale from “what did _______ know and when did he know it?” style questions.
After the discussion had wrapped, one prominent lobbyist was heard to remark that some of those who fought hardest against changing the committee were guaranteed political opponents in next year’s elections.
The principal opponent of kneecapping the committee structure, Councilman Garrett Dennis, on a Wednesday radio hit described a City Hall that pivots on intimidation tactics, and a Mayor’s Office that will get its way by any means necessary.
“Ray Charles can see who’s behind selling JEA,” Dennis quipped near the program’s end, after describing a “climate” where Curry’s team rules by fear, with “the stick and the stick.”
“If you don’t do this, we’ll do this”: Dennis’ summation of the strategy.
Dennis reiterated claims of “threats” levied on him “in offices,” “comments from the Mayor” in which Curry purportedly said that he would “make sure the money spigot is turned off in [Dennis’] district.”
“Now you see the full staff at Council meetings,” Dennis said, with “all the [Mayor’s] top lieutenants on the first and second row” with an “intimidating” look and “subliminal tactics.”
Kids Hope CEO hopeful feels hopeless, withdraws from search
The Florida Times-Union reports that the field of Kids Hope Alliance CEO hopefuls is a bit narrower after one candidate said the process was unfair and withdrew.
Afira DeVries, who leads the United Way of Roanoke Valley in Virginia, withdrew via email.
“After carefully reviewing the qualifications for the position in contrast to the current scoring and ranking outcomes, it seems that inherent relational advantages enjoyed by other candidates impair my chances of being awarded the position,” DeVries wrote. “Although I remain confident that my talents, skills and experience align perfectly to this exciting role, continuing at this point appears to be more of an exercise than a progressive action toward a viable opportunity.”
Among those candidates: former board member Joe Peppers, who launched his run while still on the board.
Councilman Garrett Dennis, a frequent antagonist of the Curry administration, says there is a “cloud” over that candidacy and that Peppers should withdraw his bid.
District pushback dominates ‘lunch and learn’
Jacksonville’s former Southside Generating Station was the subject of a City Council “lunch and learn” Monday.
Specifically, the proposed District redevelopment, which was described as a “labor of love” by the head of the Downtown Investment Authority, but which was not regarded quite so uncritically by Jacksonville City Council members.
Politically connected developers Peter Rummell and Michael Munz have a deal, as of January, to buy the land for $18.6 million from the JEA Board. The city proposes also putting $26 million into infrastructure, though that’s still to be determined.
Councilwoman Lori Boyer, liaison to the Downtown Investment Authority, noted there were “questions and concerns” about the process in January, and that the meeting Monday was to “share where we are, get input, answer questions.”
While some questions were answered, others remain to be addressed.
Jacksonville advanced some proposed “opportunity zones,” and many of them will be in the Urban Core.
The City of Jacksonville last week advanced suggestions to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for Opportunity Zones, each with an urban core focus.
Per Neighborhoods Director Stephanie Burch, five census tracts have been chosen in the downtown area, under the aegis of the Downtown Investment Authority.
The areas chosen have the existing infrastructure, can absorb private capital, and have community redevelopment agencies, Burch wrote in a letter to DEO Director of Strategic Development Michael DiNapoli.
San Marco’s Southbank likewise is on the list, even as metrics show a real upswing, with an unemployment rate of just 2 percent (down from 32 percent in 2000). Curiously, the opportunity zone there overlaps with the District development, which could see $26 million in infrastructure spending and an additional $56 million in REV grants from the city, benefiting political power broker Peter Rummell‘s long-delayed development.
Gov. Scott will nominate these areas by April 20; ultimately, it will be the federal Department of Treasury‘s decision. Areas chosen will be eligible for tax breaks that expect to spur private investment and economic growth.
This week in appointments
Florida State College at Jacksonville District Board of Trustees
Laura DiBella, 39, of Fernandina Beach, is the port director of the Fernandina Ocean Highway and Port Authority and the executive director of the Nassau County Economic Development Board. DiBella succeeds Jimmie Mayo for a term ending May 31, 2019.
The Fiorentino Group looks back on Session
Jacksonville-based The Fiorentino Group takes a comprehensive look back on the 2018 Legislative Session, “one of the most unusual in recent memory.” Session began with calls for the Senate to address sexual harassment claims, and finishing with the Parkland tragedy, which brought “thousands of students and citizens to Tallahassee to push for gun safety regulations.”
Early funding priorities for both Gov. Scott and legislative leaders took a back seat to the aftermath of the February 14 mass shooting At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which left 17 students and adults dead and shifted the focus of lawmakers to passing “comprehensive legislation relating to school safety, the purchase of firearms in Florida, and mental health services.”
But, in the eyes of The Fiorentino Group, Session was mostly successful for leaders, particularly in a “major election year” where politics played a role for Gov. Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron.
The firm’s website offers a detailed breakdownof all the critical issues addressed in 2018, including the budget, public safety and firearms, transportation, environment, gaming, education, health care, hurricane response and preparedness, and economic development, taxes and incentives.
After Thursday’s explosive meeting of the Jacksonville City Council’s special committee on JEA, which saw Council President Anna Brosche and Finance Chair Garrett Dennis pillory CEO Paul McElroy over numerous inconsistencies in his testimony, what’s certain is that, at least for Brosche, the questions have only begun.
In a 20-minute-plus gaggle Thursday evening, Brosche went into great detail about how she saw the process leading up to the introduction of the JEA privatization concept to the City Council. She said other officials of both the Lenny Curry administration and JEA management, such as Chief of Staff Brian Hughes and JEA CFO Melissa Dykes, may be expected to explain their roles in the exploration of privatization.
“That was my understanding,” Brosche said, explaining that she didn’t recognize Curry to speak at that meeting because on the agenda the Mayor’s Office prepared, Curry wasn’t listed as a speaker, and so his speaking would have violated Council rules.
“When they moved into calling the JEA board chair up to speak,” Brosche recounted, “that was already outside of what was requested and posted, and so I had had enough … especially in light of the fact that I didn’t request the meeting.”
Brosche outlined a very detailed timeline of the days leading up to the Feb. 14 meeting.
“We were starting to hear that the [JEA valuation] report would come out. In the last week of January,” Brosche said, a noticed meeting was scheduled by city councilors “to discuss the potential sale of JEA.”
“As soon as that happened,” Brosche continued, “I had gotten an urgent request to meet with Mr. Hughes.”
On Feb. 5, Brosche met with Hughes and Ali Korman Shelton of the Curry administration.
“We had that meeting early afternoon Monday, which was about 30 minutes long, and they were suggesting that the report would be out soon,” Brosche said.
The Curry team asked if Brosche “would be open to having a joint meeting with the JEA Board. I was asking why.”
The case: so the media and the board and the Council could have access to the information in the valuation report at the same time.
“The suggestion was made that, if at the end of that presentation that the 20 of us — the 19-person City Council and the Mayor — were interested in moving forward with next steps of issuing an RFP to request … to really understand the market value,” Brosche said, “we could do so at that meeting.”
“I said that the only way I understand the Council could vote is through legislation,” Brosche said, at which point the Curry administration brought up pension reform legislation “to remind me that the Council had previously passed in and out legislation.”
Brosche couldn’t support emergency legislation, she told them. And then Hughes told Brosche that he “couldn’t understand why anybody wouldn’t want to know the value, he didn’t understand why we couldn’t move forward in that meeting.”
Hughes told Brosche that there were “resources,” such as “investment bankers, other attorneys, and consultants,” being “pulled by others who are aware of this transaction and didn’t want to leave the city out of the necessary resources to make sure we were appropriately evaluating.”
On Feb. 8, Brosche met with Shelton, who said “let’s talk about my favorite topic … JEA.”
The ask was made again for a joint meeting.
“I was a little more expressive of saying ‘why,'” Brosche said, “we didn’t ask for this.”
Brosche then said she was “open” to a joint meeting, but wouldn’t request it.
The meeting wrapped at 3:30; before the end of the day, there was movement. Shelton told Brosche that McElroy called the Curry administration and “asked for a joint meeting.”
Feb. 9 saw an “urgent” hand-delivered letter from McElroy requesting the meeting.
Brosche, again, wanted to know “why.”
“He went through the same messaging [used by the Curry administration],” Brosche related. “Everybody receives [the information] at the same time.”
Brosche wanted to know if the JEA Board intended to take action at that meeting; McElroy said no.
“Well, we’re not either,” Brosche said, at which point McElroy said: “I think you’re going to want to choose the kind of meeting where you can take action.”
“Paul,” Brosche replied, “let me make things really clear. We have not heard from our Council Auditor. We have not gotten the process from the General Counsel. And I am not going to put my colleagues in the position of having to take action at the end of a meeting in which we’re given a report.”
McElroy said he understood. From there, Brosche said, the Curry administration tried to get seven Council members to call the meeting.
“They had four, but not [the necessary] seven,” Brosche said, forcing the Curry administration to call the meeting.
Brosche, when asked about what she learned Thursday, said that she “learned that McElroy was asked to call [her] about a joint meeting” and that McElroy “had had meetings with the Curry administration about privatization and to call a joint meeting.”
“I just laid out a lot of what was my experience,” the Council president continued, “that has been refuted repeatedly, and so I’ve been living with the fact that this has been happening all along.”
McElroy “said he did not recall … I got a letter [from him] February 9,” Brosche said, saying that she had written a letter to McElroy referencing the very conversation McElroy couldn’t recall.
“Your recommendation comes on the heels of meetings with the Mayor’s staff,” Brosche wrote.
“While he may not remember that he said that, I remember vividly what he said to me on the phone,” Brosche continued, “enough to put it in my communication back to him.”
Brosche also expressed inconsistencies between the Finance Department sending emails that they were staying out of the JEA sale and CFO Mike Weinstein telling subordinates, about the JEA sale, to “work on it at your own risk.”
“If we’re not going to get answers to our questions, it’s a signal that we’re not willing to work together on this particular question,” Brosche said. “If that’s the case, why are we here?”
Brosche said she wants to hear more, in a committee setting, from Dykes, Hughes, and others whose public assertions are at odds with the paper trail.
“Clearly, we don’t have [subpoena] authority. As we continue to move and we don’t get people to come up to the podium, that’s a statement in itself,” Brosche said.
Brosche also advanced the possibility that the committee may end before June, given a stonewalling of information.
“The committee needs to decide whether or not our inquiry is limited in such a fashion that it doesn’t make sense,” Brosche said.
Speaking earlier Thursday in his own extended gaggle, Curry said he wanted a “mature conversation” about the value of the JEA asset and maligned Council critics as “having no ideas.”
What is clear: Curry and Brosche, as this process goes on, are finding less common ground on this issue with each news cycle.
And given what Brosche sees as significant inconsistencies between public assertions from JEA and the administration about the process, and what happened, the possibility of them finding common ground is remote at best.
As Jacksonville wrestles with the question of whether or not to privatize its public utility, the influential Jacksonville Civic Council outlined its plan to weigh in Friday.
“After meeting with several consultants and public utility experts, the committee has developed – and our Executive Committee has approved — a framework for proceeding with the analysis,” wrote Michael Ward and Bobby Stein, co-chairs of that ten-person panel.
“In the weeks ahead, we will be in touch with you to schedule a meeting to present the analytic framework in person. We will also request a time for Mr. Ward to present the framework to the City Council Special Committee on the Potential Sale of JEA and to answer any questions,” the letter to the City Council continued.
Mayor Lenny Curry likewise will get a meeting with Ward.
The committee will explore the question of JEA’s “optimal use and structure,” noting that selling the utility or keeping it is “not a binary question.”
The committee will also explore JEA contributions to the city (including but not limited to the utility’s $116.1 million annual contribution), as well as what would change if JEA were sold.
“The utility would behave like a for-profit company that is owned by an even larger for-profit company. It would be a responsible corporate citizen, and it probably would be effectively run. There are likely to be changes to several factors in the event of a sale, including: rates, customer service, response time, economic investment and
contributions to the City,” the JCC posits.
As well, the JCC panel will mull “other alternatives,” including “[managing the] balance sheet more efficiently to extract ~$1B of capital, hybrid ownership models, service agreements, etc.”
It is unknown why the extraction of $1 billion was chosen as a benchmark.
The panel will also evaluate the effectiveness of JEA’s management, potential changes to the industry (advocates of a sale note that electricity delivery will change in the coming years), and criteria for a sale (“contingent liability analysis, environmental liability, economic development impacts, inclusion of a buy-back clause, rate freezes, and
One thing the committee will not do: make recommendations for the use of sale proceeds, which is “outside the scope” of the study.
On the issue of the potential sale of Jacksonville public utility JEA, a narrative turning point occurred Tuesday.
City Council members voted to expand the five-person special committee of sale skeptics to include the full council while divesting the panel of subpoena powers (such as those imposed on JEA CEO Paul McElroy two weeks prior).
In an eight-minute media availability, Mayor Lenny Curry defended his administration’s moves in the ongoing JEA saga, one that has divided the City Council and the city at large.
“City Council is the legislative body,” Curry said. “We are always advocating for issues that matter to us. But at the end of the day, those Council members make decisions and do what they think is right.”
Of course, a recurrent motif of Tuesday’s meeting and in recent weeks has been that Curry’s team is pushing a sale — by any means necessary.
JEA Special Committee chair John Crescimbeni, seen in a heated conversation before the City Council meeting Tuesday with Jacksonville Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, said at one point the Curry administration was “pulling strings” of council ally Matt Schellenberg, who introduced an ultimately unsuccessful floor motion to do away with the committee altogether.
Curry said Crescimbeni delivered an “insult to council members, suggesting that their strings can be pulled. Those are independent-minded people.”
When asked if that was a yes or no, Curry said he didn’t “know what that conversation was, but in business, in politics, and life, often exchanges happen. What’s most important is that we go about the work of the people.”
On a Wednesday radio hit, Councilman Garrett Dennis repeated the now-familiar allegations of intimidation from Curry’s team. Among them: “subliminal tactics” to whip votes on the floor.
Curry denied such, laughing at the phrase “subliminal tactics” and calling Dennis’ reaction “comical.”
“I’ll let his words speak for themselves,” Curry said. “The public can make their own judgment on [them].”
Past Jacksonville city officials — most notably and recently, former Mayor Alvin Brown — have likewise made the case that JEA should not be sold and should “remain with the people.”
Curry, a frequent critic of the Brown administration, held his fire.
“He’s entitled to his own opinion like anyone is,” Curry said. “I suggested that we have a mature, adult conversation about one of the most valuable assets that taxpayers own in this city. That, unfortunately, turned into a political circus that is not about the issue, not about what’s the value of the asset, how do you preserve the asset, what does that mean for ratepayers and taxpayers.”
“By the way,” Curry continued, “how do we protect the men and women who work at JEA?”
“At this point,” he said, “it’s gotten out of control [with] certain members of Council, we see that. I’m not going to name names. Anybody who’s followed this Council recently knows there are a handful that have no ideas, [which] want to obstruct things.”
“And that’s OK. That’s certainly their right and prerogative. But what’s most important to me is that at some point we have a mature conversation about this.”
Curry went on to describe suggestions that closed-door deals were made as “an outrageous allegation,” noting that it’s his “job” to talk to “board members … and executives … of independent authorities” and representatives of labor alike to discuss issues.
Concerning the consultant the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund has offered to commission for the Jacksonville City Council, Curry suggested that media look into the donors to the fund who might be supportive of this concept.
“Somebody’s paying for a consultant … is there a donor that has an interest in this,” Curry asked.
Curry would not address whether or not fund head Sherry Magill, who has been critical of the administration, had an interest in subverting administration policy by offering a consultant on the fund’s behalf.
Jacksonville’s City Hall has been roiled for weeks with claims and counterclaims about whether or not Mayor Lenny Curry wants to sell the local utility, JEA.
Tuesday evening saw a floor motion to successfully kneecap a five-person special committee that was evaluating whether or not JEA should be sold; the committee now includes everyone on the City Council, and has been divested of subpoena power.
Curry’s predecessor, Alvin Brown, was in Jacksonville for other events Wednesday; however, when Florida Politics caught up with Brown.
He was willing to discuss JEA — as a public asset that should not be for sale.
“I can honestly say that JEA is an asset — a tremendous asset for the city. It gives over $100 million a year to the general fund,” Brown said.
“Making sure that a utility that is owned by a people remains with the people,” said Brown, was reflected in his board appointments (most of which were removed from the board by Mayor Curry months after his election, moves which got intense media coverage at the time).
“At the end of the day, you have members of the City Council and the board and JEA officials and members of the community who are starting to have that conversation, and that’s their focus,” Brown said. “They have a process. I don’t know about the process. It’s their process.”
On WJCT’s “First Coast Connect“, Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis sat for his first interview Wednesday since the Council made the decision to strip the JEA Special Committee of subpoena power and include everyone on council in the committee.
As expected, Dennis (a member of what was a five-person committee and a staunch critic of selling JEA) described a City Hall that pivots on intimidation tactics, and a mayor’s office that will get its way by any means necessary.
“Ray Charles can see who’s behind selling JEA,” Dennis quipped near the program’s end, after describing a “climate” where Mayor Lenny Curry‘s team rules by fear, with “the stick and the stick.”
Dennis’ summation of the administration’s strategy: “If you don’t do this, we’ll do this.”
He reiterated claims of “threats” levied on him “in offices,” “comments from the Mayor” in which Curry purportedly said that he would “make sure the money spigot is turned off in [Dennis’] district.”
“Now you see the full staff at council meetings,” Dennis said, with “all the [Mayor’s] top lieutenants on the first and second row” with an “intimidating” look and “subliminal tactics.”
Councilman Dennis has described a climate of fear before, of course, including after a January press conference the Mayor had with Dennis’ colleagues — and without inviting Dennis — in the councilman’s own district.
“Let me be honest and clear … standing up is not easy. I’ve been threatened by this administration. I’ve been told that I’m a ‘walking dead man’,” the councilman said.
“It’s unfortunate that I’ve had to go get a concealed weapon permit and carry a gun on me because I’ve been told by this administration that I’m a walking dead man,” Dennis said.
The Curry administration has consistently denied Dennis’ accounting of events.
Dennis currently is the Finance Chair; however, with Curry ally Aaron Bowman (who introduced the motion to expand the JEA panel to all 19 councilmembers) poised to take the presidency in July, it remains to be seen how much power Dennis will have after his ally Anna Lopez Brosche gives up the gavel.
Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche got her task force to look at transparency in local government.
The bill (2018-133) passed Tuesday’s Council agenda after having passed the Rules Committee unanimouslylast week, though the vote didn’t reflect issues between one committee member and a controversial nominee.
“The Task Force on Open Government” will “undertake an in-depth review of Jacksonville’s legislative process and the methods by which the public accesses government” and “make recommendations for how the City of Jacksonville can be more open and accessible to the public.”
Brosche originally wanted one-cycle approval of the concept, so the task force would have more time to operate, but relented after Mayor Lenny Curry‘s office raised concerns that emergency legislation contravened the goal of “open and accessible government.”
The exploration of “transparency” comes after the Curry administration has pushed through various reforms, most recently the formation of the “Kids Hope Alliance,” which reconfigured children’s programs, and the controversial exploration of a sale of Jacksonville’s local utility company JEA.
“This task force on a transparent and open government is an essential element of a free and open society,” Brosche said, citing statistics that said a lack of openness led to an uninformed public.
Brosche described the opaqueness of the legislative process at some length.
There was a floor amendment that removed a potentially controversial member Tuesday night.
Brosche met with Councilman Al Ferraro to discuss the task force on open government; Councilman Ferraro had qualms about “the way [the task force] was going about … how it was you were picking people.”
Ferraro was “concerned” about potential task force member Maria Mark, citing that she had “problems” that led to her withdrawing from pursuing a spot on the ethics committee, including “voter intimidation” (when she harassed someone over a political sign while serving on the Atlantic Beach commission).
Brosche, mindful of only having a few months for task force meetings before her presidency ends, cut Mark loose from the proposal.
Task force co-chairs: Jacksonville lawyer Hank Coxe and Sherry Magill, CEO of a local nonprofit and a current critic of the Curry administration.
Readers may note a focus on campaigns in Jacksonville Bold this week.
With the Legislative Session over, we are now heading into campaign season.
While Gov. Rick Scott seeks the right time to launch his bid for the U.S. Senate against Bill Nelson, facing no primary competition if he does so, pretty much everyone else is looking to move to the next level.
DeSantis condo conundrum
POLITICO reported recently on a Jacksonville connection to a condo Rep. Ron DeSantis rented in the redrawn Florida’s 6th Congressional District after 2016’s redistricting moved boundaries south.
“As a result, DeSantis — now running for governor — decided to move into a Flagler County condo whose owners include Kent Stermon and Matt Connell, both executives at Total Military Management. That Jacksonville-based company serves as a third-party relocation service for U.S. military personnel,” the POLITICO piece contends.
“Ron DeSantis temporarily moved into the condo of a friend while he looked to buy a home in Flagler County,” DeSantis spox Brad Herold told POLITICO. “He paid upfront and above market value.”
Stermon and Connell have donated $60,000 to DeSantis’ political operations since 2012.
POLITICO picked up the baton of previous reporting Florida Politics and other outlets did on the gun positions of incumbent U.S. Rep. Al Lawson and challenger Alvin Brown in the Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.
The donation from the National Rifle Association that Lawson had previously reported was an error from staff, which got the code wrong, per POLITICO (this is a story the Lawson campaign has been pushing for some weeks now).
“Lawson’s record on guns and Brown’s onslaught against him in Florida’s 5th Congressional District underscores just how toxic guns are as a political issue in Democratic politics, where guns weren’t viewed as such a net negative before the Feb. 14 high school shooting. For instance, in 2005, every Democrat in the Florida Senate — including Lawson — voted for Stand Your Ground, which passed the chamber unanimously,” POLITICO notes.
Brown’s team believes that guns will be a defining issue in this primary, and will continue to work it. This week, they trumpeted an endorsement from “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.”
One wonders if the discussion in this campaign will ever move beyond guns.
Rutherford backs $1 a day wages for detainees
One dollar a day for people working in private prisons? Per the Laredo Morning Times, Florida’s 4th Congressional District Republican John Rutherford is one of 18 congressional defenders of the wage that was originally set in 1978.
“Alien detainees should not be able to use immigration detention as a means of obtaining stable employment that will encourage them to pursue frivolous claims to remain in the country and in detention for as long as possible,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, and acting ICE director Thomas Homan.
Washington state is suing GEO Group for the wages, which violate minimum wage in the state; additionally, inmates in Colorado and California are suing GEO separately.
The Congressmen assert that higher wages would “provide an unnecessary windfall to the detainees and drain the federal government of limited taxpayer resources.”
Berrios wants stricter gun laws, Medicare for All, and the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
Berrios will have a competitive primary.
Ges Selmont, a lawyer making his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, rolled out his campaign for the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 4th Congressional District in recent weeks also.
The third candidate in the race, author Monica DePaul, has been running for several months.
All three campaigns lack a real structure currently, and have yet to report fundraising; with this in mind, the quarterly reports due next month bear watching.
Bax defends MMJ rule-making
Amendment 2 was approved by 71 percent of Florida voters in 2016, yet nearly two years later, the Office of Medical Marijuana Use is still workshopping rules. The road show came to Jacksonville Tuesday afternoon.
Christian Bax, the director of the program, noted that the rule-making process would go through the spring and summer. He said that he didn’t think that the department needed further guidance from the Legislature.
The department continues to issue notices and workshop rules at an acceptable pace, with 13 rules noticed last month, he said. That said, he understands why the Legislature would withhold pay for senior staff in DOH next fiscal year. Bax says the “department shares frustration with the timeline.”
Putnam talks opioids in Jacksonville
In a campaign capacity in Jacksonville Wednesday afternoon, Agriculture Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial hopeful Adam Putnam hosted an opioid roundtable.
Putnam heard about Jacksonville’s own efforts on this front, as the city deals with an overdose crisis that has led to action on the local level.
Fentanyl — and diluted acetyl fentanyl — is the primary local issue, with the diluted analog potentially lowering the user’s tolerance and possibly creating another overdose death crisis down the road.
Another complicating factor that could rear its head in the coming months: the current use of fentanyl to cut cocaine.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic primary candidate for Governor, spoke in St. Augustine Saturday about the importance of the black female vote.
Engaged turnout among black women was a contributing factor to the Democrats taking a Senate seat in Alabama last year; to that end, Gillum and other Democrats believe that the model can be replicated even in a campaign not involving Roy Moore as the GOP standard-bearer.
Gillum, who just landed after a red-eye from California, noted that while black women are the pillar of the black community, they “can’t save this republic alone.”
To that end, the full power of the Democratic Party must back them, Gillum said.
Gillum extolled education as a way out of “intergenerational poverty,” describing how even guidance counselors and lunchroom ladies “stood in the gap on behalf of many of us,” helping to “build strong communities.”
Gillum noted that his mother was “doing things to ensure we got by,” a reality that sometimes-precluded thinking about big picture political concepts.
The lines elicited applause.
Gillum’s remarks kicking off a panel moderated by Congressional District 5 Democratic candidate Rontel Batie and House District 13 Democratic hopeful Roshanda Jackson were brief, but crowd-pleasing.
On Monday, Gillum talked to Duval Democrats, hitting many of the same themes and lines.
Travis Cummings, the Republican incumbent in HD 18, this month drew a familiar Libertarian challenger, Ken Willey, in his re-election bid.
The odds are with Cummings, who drew over 81 percent of the vote when the two faced off in the general election in 2016.
Cummings has just under $85,000 cash on hand, and will again face no opposition on the primary ballot.
To put that number in perspective, Willey raised just over $2,000 during his 2016 campaign.
The major population center in HD 18, a district by and large in Northern Clay County, is Orange Park, a Jacksonville-area bedroom community.
Cummings was once mayor of Orange Park.
Locals bemoan arts budget cuts
Though there were only $64 million in budget vetoes in Gov. Scott’s final budget, Jacksonville area arts advocates felt the ax, per WJCT.
Can Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche and Mayor Lenny Curry get along?
Skeptics say no; per WJCT, however, Brosche says yes.
“We’re both very passionate about the city of Jacksonville and our responsibilities — what we believe is best for Jacksonville. At the end of the day, there’s no reason why we can’t work together. We’ve had meetings,” she said. “We’ve met since the forced meeting on Feb. 14, and we may see things differently.”
Brosche also discussed the controversial decision to require oaths at JEA special committee meetings.
“I think we were aware of our options going forward and I do have a hard time connecting with people being afraid to tell the truth. That’s what we were after,” she said. “We were after consistently administering the oath to everyone that came forward, so no one was singled out.”
JEA CEO Paul McElroy will be subpoenaed March 29 after having refused to take the oath. Meanwhile, Curry’s chief administrative officer, Sam Mousa, offered emailed responses to the committee’s questions.
Marijuana changes deferred
Ordinance 2018-75 would revise extant code relative to medical cannabis. However, it has been delayed for two weeks.
The code was formulated in response to “Charlotte’s Web” low-THC cannabis being the single legal strain, and after an extended period of debate, processing and dispensing were allowed in commercial districts, with permitted cultivation in agricultural regions.
The ordinance would change things, allowing dispensaries anywhere in the city, including within 500 feet of a school. The previous zoning categories would be revoked.
The bill was in the Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health and Safety committee Monday, and there were questions galore.
“This bill puts our code in compliance with Florida statutes,” said a representative from the office of general counsel. “The statute prohibits cultivation and processing facilities within 500 feet of a school” but allows a dispensary given a waiver within 500 feet.
Counties do have the right to ban dispensaries entirely if they have no ordinances on the books. But because there was an existing ordinance, bill sponsor Matt Schellenberg said the county could not ban dispensaries, even as individual cities have done this.
This bill, which only applies to the city of Jacksonville, will be deferred, with multiple Council members having questions about how to bring the local ordinance in line with state law.
JEA Straw Ballot bill pushed back
Ordinance 2018-141 would set a public straw vote referendum on the November 2018 ballot regarding selling more than 10 percent of JEA. The bill is sponsored by two council Democrats who have issues with the process so far on the grounds of transparency and other woes: John Crescimbeni and Garrett Dennis.
Transportation, Energy and Utilities chair Al Ferraro moved to defer one cycle so it can sync up with 2018-142, another referendum bill that would require the approval of a sale of 10 percent or more of JEA.
A bill sponsor was skeptical of Ferraro’s motives.
“If I detect any shenanigans on delaying 141, we’ll have to do it the hard way and get petitions,” vowed Crescimbeni. “I’ll give it another couple of cycles, but we’re on the clock.”
A citizen’s initiative, asserted Crescimbeni, would have a time-prohibitive impact.
The JEA Board also intends to set up its own select committee to explore what a sale means.
Fentanyl-laced cocaine latest OD trend
A representative of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department noted in a Monday meeting of a City Council panel that ‘fentanyl-laced cocaine’ is a rising overdose trend.
Jacksonville currently has a pilot program treating overdose victims, offering them treatment after the case of overdoses.
The program tests for 17 different adulterants, spanning a wide pharmacological range.
Previous concerns have been fentanyl-based heroin, suggesting that street dealers are finding new markets.
Councilman Bill Gulliford, who pushed for this program, notes that the program seems to be working.
However, the new lacing presents a new worry.
“Cocaine laced with fentanyl is prevalent now. In recent toxicology reports, every sample of cocaine had fentanyl in it,” Gulliford said. “The scary part of this is it’s becoming more widespread. There are incidents of this used in counterfeit Xanax.”
Gulliford noted that young people often combine Xanax and alcohol, and urged that parents warn kids about the potentiality of a new, dangerous alteration being marketed to them.
Peppers leaves KHA board, isn’t salty
Joseph Peppers‘ bid for the CEO slot in Jacksonville’s Kids Hope Alliance has been controversial, given he was on the new board.
A resignation tendered Sunday evening should remove some of that controversy.
“After careful prayer and consideration,” Peppers wrote, “I have decided to submit my resignation from the Kids Hope Alliance Board. I am making this decision to ensure the Kids Hope Alliance gets off to a great start and that its integrity and reputation remain completely without blemish.”
“I am honored to remain a candidate for the CEO position. If the board and the mayor believe that I am the best person for the job, I will do my best to represent the organization, the board, and the city of Jacksonville in the very best light which it so deserves,” Peppers added.
Peppers’ appointment process to the board was also notable.
Councilman Garrett Dennis had a sharp exchange with a member of Curry’s staff during Dennis’ interview of Peppers.
Dennis thought it was irregular that the Mayor’s Office was “babysitting nominees,” and Dennis and Curry had words after the interview, per Dennis.
The Kids Hope Alliance interviewed candidates Friday for the ongoing search for a permanent CEO and Peppers was among them.
Gov. Scott announced the appointment of J. Palmer Clarkson to the Jacksonville Port Authority.
Clarkson, 61, of Jacksonville, is the president and chief executive officer of Bridgestone HosePower. He succeeds Joseph York for a term through September 30, 2021.
The appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.
Fiorentino Group moves to Southbank
Government relations firm The Fiorentino Group will be staying in downtown Jacksonville but will soon be operating from the 13th floor of Riverplace Tower, on the Southbank of the St. Johns River.
For more than a decade, the Fiorentino Group has leased space on the Northbank, in The Carling building at 31 W. Adams St.
President Marty Fiorentinotold the Jacksonville Daily Recordthat recent growth requires more space for the firm. Moving close to the Rogers Towers law firm, which runs out of Riverplace Tower, made sense, he said.
“We have a strategic alliance with the Rogers Towers law firm,” Fiorentino said. “We think that will be great synergy.”
The nine-person Fiorentino team will add another person in the next few months, as well as two more staff members in its Tallahassee office.
“We just came off a great legislative session,” Fiorentino said.
Since the Carling lease expired, he expects the move to happen sometime in May.
NE Florida circuit judge fights removal
A Northeast Florida circuit judge accused of inappropriate conduct during a 2016 election campaign and on the bench should not be removed, his attorney argued This week to the state Supreme Court.
As reported by the News Service of Florida, Judge Scott DuPont, who sits on the 7th Judicial Circuit bench, faces removal after a recommendation of a hearing panel of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission. The 7th Judicial Circuit includes Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties.
DuPont is accused of publishing false allegations online about his 2016 election challenger, Malcolm Anthony, as well as Anthony’s family members. Among the other questionable actions include DuPont changing the times of first-appearance hearings in criminal cases during Memorial Day weekend in 2016 to accommodate his campaign schedule.
In a 40-page document filed with the court, DuPont’s attorney, Rutledge Liles, pointed to character witnesses and other judges supporting DuPont.
Liles recognized DuPont will be “subject to sanctions” but wrote that he should not be removed from the bench. “Judge DuPont has admitted and apologized for the mistakes he made,” Liles wrote. “Given the undisputed fact that the only testimony regarding his present fitness to remain in office has been uniformly and overwhelmingly positive, we request that this Court allow him to continue to serve the 7th Judicial Circuit.”
Per the Jacksonville Business Journal, it’s curtains for “dinosaur” Southeastern Grocers, as marketplace competitors have models that can’t be matched.
Competitors like Trader Joe’s make multiple times the money that Winn Dixie does per square foot, an analyst said.
Augmenting the problem: the stores are actually too big for single tenants to take over, and often too close to Publix and the like.
Winn Dixie will close more Jacksonville stores in the coming weeks.
WJCT noted that execs for the parent company, Southeastern Grocers, will actually have a harder time finding new gigs than those on the retail side.
Gondola over the river?
According to the Jacksonville Daily Record, an ambitious development proposal may lead to a gondola over the St. Johns River.
“The Jag-Wire could move several thousand people per hour between the station on the Southbank, a proposed station on East Bay Street at the old Duval County Courthouse and City Hall Annex property and a third station near EverBank Field, which will become TIAA Bank Field.”
Alas, there is a catch: per potential developer Michael Balanky, it would need to be a public-private partnership.
As well, for the numbers to work, a new convention center would need to go up.
Time will tell.
First phase of regional transportation center to open soon
The Jacksonville Intercity Bus Terminal, the first phase of the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center, is about to open on 1111 W. Forsyth St. in the LaVilla community.
The first occupant of the new $58-million, 9,100-square-foot project is Greyhound, moving from its longstanding location at 10 N. Pearl St. Eventually, the facility will hold other providers, like low-fare intercity bus service Megabus, which had been using the Skyway stop across West Bay Street from the Prime Osborn Convention Center, the location of the new JTA regional center.
In April, USGBC Northeast Florida and AIA Jacksonville will host VIP and media tours of the first phase. The intercity bus terminal will improve Greyhound’s access to highways and other transportation systems with additional passenger services, amenities that include food service.
Officials tell the Florida Times-Union that the West Forsyth Street site will be energy efficient and is expected to receive LEED Silver designation. Among the plans for Phase II will be a pedestrian bridge connecting the bus terminal to a proposed JTA bus transfer station and administration building.