Lenny Curry Archives - Page 7 of 111 - Florida Politics

Florida House bill seeks non-partisan elections for state attorneys, public defenders

Northeast Florida Democrats were incensed last year at being disenfranchised in closed GOP primaries for state attorney and public defender.

Now, one of their own — House District 13 Rep. Tracie Davis — has filed a bill in the Florida House to remedy that condition.

And her political mentor, Sen. Audrey Gibson, filed the Senate version.

House Bill 231 seeks to make elections for state attorney and public defender non-partisan, adding the offices to current statute, which includes school board members.

Last summer, the Jacksonville media market saw stories about former State Attorney Angela Corey, whose campaign manager filed paperwork for a write-in candidate with the express purpose of closing a primary that otherwise would have been open.

The primary in the public defender’s race likewise was closed by a write-in candidate, who wasn’t able to articulate a compelling reason for running against incumbent Matt Shirk when asked.

While Corey and Shirk maintained that nothing wrong had been done, voters disagreed, and turned each of them out of office by historic margins in the very GOP primaries they sought to close.

Worth watching: will Davis’ bill get prominent Republican support?

Most area Republicans endorsed Corey for State Attorney, even as it was the political team of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry (an endorser of Corey) that ended her career.

Jacksonville, fire union make conceptual progress in pension reform talks

On Wednesday morning, the city of Jacksonville enhanced its pension/benefits offer to the police union. Wednesday afternoon saw a similar conversation with the fire union.

Just as with the police union negotiations, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was on hand at the fire union.

The tone was more genial, with Curry and Wyse joking about some matters ahead of the negotiations, and with Curry saying he appreciated the “good faith” tone of negotiations during the discussion.

However, the parameters of the fire meeting were similar to that of the police meeting: the union resisted even the generous terms of the defined contribution proposal, saying that a 401K was never meant to replace pensions, and that such a proposal would run counter to the department’s “culture.”

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Fire Union head Randy Wyse, concerned about recruitment and retention, noted that the cost of Florida Retirement System for new hires was comparable to the 401K proposal advanced at the police union meeting.

Palm Coast, Wyse said, has a 401K plan — the only other one in Florida.

Over the last nine years, that department has had 100 percent turnover.

“We just want the same plan everyone else is eligible for,” Wyse said.

Curry reiterated his concerns about losing “local control” via FRS, before going into his administration’s offer: a 20 percent raise over three years, a full restoration of the 8.4 percent DROP rate of return, and a 3 percent COLA.

“It’s a stretch,” said Curry, “but it’s the right thing to do.”

Curry termed this as “restoring what was taken away” via the 2015 accord.

As with the police defined contribution plan, the city contribution would be 25 percent per year of salary for new hires.

“Whether we have a defined contribution or defined benefit plan,” Curry said, “we’re going to have to work together.”

“Wherever we end,” Curry added, “I’m going to stand with public safety.”

CAO Sam Mousa noted that FRS lowered its rate of return from 7.65 to 7.6 percent recently, and that’s “some of the risk” assumed in the FRS plan.

“There’s nothing sacred about the FRS. There are ups, and there are downs,” Mousa said.

Fire union representatives predicted that, with a defined contribution plan, turnover would be likely to happen here with the new hires after about the five year mark, just as it has happened in Palm Coast.

Curry noted that the defined contribution plan will be “very attractive” to new hires, and current employees will be happy with the pay raises.

“Whether it’s DC or DB,” Curry said, the goal is to retain people.

“The plan I put on the table, in good faith I believe, will attract and retain people,” Curry added.

“People aren’t leaving the department right now because of DC,” Curry said, adding that the proposal restores the original pension parameters for current employees.

Randy Wyse of the fire union noted that “the culture of our department is not 401K … our culture doesn’t lead well to your plan … puts citizens and existing fire fighters at great risk.”

Curry stood his ground, pointing out the benefit of the raises, and lauding the sacrifices made by public safety workers.

“While I’m not embedded in that culture, I appreciate it at a distance,” Curry said.

And with that, he departed.

****

Yet negotiations continued.

The city’s written proposal was presented, with the wage increases in 2017 and 2018 being 6.5 percent, and 2019 being 7 percent, along with the “one-time lump sum consideration” of 3 percent of salary upon agreeing to the deal.

The city, as it did with the police union, vowed to restore all existing employee plans to levels preceding the 2015 pension deal.

The proposal would “successfully dissolve the 2015 Retirement Reform Agreement,” said the written proposal.

“However the chapter funds were used before,” Mousa said, “if we void it completely. Whatever was in place before that would be what we use.”

Mousa reiterated the city’s intent to bargain in good faith, also adding that his goal was to have something in place by March,

“We’re concerned,” Mousa said, “that we’re stuck and going to miss the window.”

Mousa added that balancing the budget might not be any easier given the raises proposed.

“As the mayor said this morning, we’re putting a very good faith [effort] … in this stretch proposal,” Mousa said.

****

Despite the good faith voiced, there are still deep concerns on the union side, regarding the material change proposed in these plans of long standing.

“We’ll be two years out of contract by October, 2017,” Wyse said, noting that the police union was out of contract for a year longer.

Meanwhile, preliminary discussions were held about material changes to the 2015 pension deal, with the city asking for a written proposal from the fire union about what should be included from that deal in a potential new deal.

After the meeting, reporters talked to Randy Wyse, who seemed positive about what transpired.

“Questions were answered,” Wyse said, adding that in the case of a 401K, “I never said it wasn’t an option” for new hires.

“It’s all on the table,” Wyse added.

While Wyse still believes that FRS is best for “recruitment and retention,” Wednesday’s meeting suggests that there may be room for a workable compromise between the city and the fire union, though the exact parameters are unclear at this point.

Lenny Curry sweetens pension offer to Jacksonville police, gives 30 days to respond

The city of Jacksonville and its police union resumed collective bargaining for the first time since November on Tuesday, with the sides starting far apart.

The daylight between labor and management was significant as last year closed.

There’s less daylight after the Wednesday session. The city made an improved offer, one which offers a bigger city match on the defined contribution deal for new hires and gives current employees more money and restored benefits.

But there’s a catch: the city gave the police union 30 days to accept it, or the offer is dead.

Fire union negotiations are slated for later this afternoon; a reasonable expectation is that similar terms will be offered.

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To move negotiations into a different posture, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was in attendance with opening remarks at a meeting that saw the parking lot of the Fraternal Order of Police building full even half an hour before the 10 a.m. negotiating session commenced.

Curry offered opening remarks; his chief lieutenants, CFO Mike Weinstein and CAO Sam Mousa, stayed behind, along with the general counsel, Jason Gabriel.

In those opening remarks, Curry outlined a considerably enhanced package of defined contribution benefits for new hires, with a city match of 25 percent approaching the FRS mandated contribution of 29 percent.

The plan would be vested in five years for new hires.

****

Police union head Steve Zona noted that the union worked with the mayor “in the trenches” to sell the pension reform referendum option, with Zona saying the union thought the mayor understood that public safety merited compensation.

“All the time, the Florida Retirement System was on the table,” Zona said, before showing a video with Curry saying “I’m going to honor the agreements we have” and that 401K plans for police forces in the state “would not work for officers.”

“I’ve come to the conclusion that 401Ks will not work,” Curry said in the video from the 2015 campaign endorsement process regarding current employees.

A second video saw Curry say “if you want to attract the best, you have to be competitive” and that “pension plans” are necessary.

“The public doesn’t understand what I’ve said because a mayor has never said it,” Curry said in the video, vowing to “try to educate in meetings and conversations.”

Zona said, then, “you said you’d be willing to stand alone and educate the public, and that hasn’t been done.”

“Put FRS on the table,” Zona said, “and let’s get the deal done.”

Zona then cited Florida Politics quoting the mayor as saying a 401k plan would “set the stage” for 401K discussions beyond Jacksonville.

Curry then offered remarks, noting investments in human and physical capital in his first two budgets.

Then Curry floated a new offer: a 3 percent bonus, a 20 percent pay hike in three years, and full restoration of all benefits taken away from officers in 2015, including an 8.4 percent “return on DROP guaranteed” and a 3 percent COLA.

Curry then noted that his comments in 2015 were intended to address the issues for current officers, not new hires.

“A defined contribution plan that looks like nothing anyone has ever seen for new hires,” Curry said, with a 25 percent city investment from day 1, and a fully vested plan within five years.

That plan would have the same disability and death benefit that the current plan has.

“This is a rich plan that will attract and retain people.”

“Since I’ve been in office,” Curry said, “I’ve put my money where my mouth is.”

Zona endorsed the wage proposal and the benefit restoration pitch, saying though that the “new hires” is a different matter.

“When it’s you mayor, or another mayor attacking the benefits of new hires, you watch the attrition rates go through the roof,” Zona said.

Curry noted that statute requires collective bargaining every three years, and that even a defined benefit plan has attendant risk.

“This is not a 401k as would be defined in the private sector,” Curry reiterated of his plan. “It is rich. It will work.”

Curry noted that FRS would be even more expensive, with a 29 percent city match, and a lack of local control.

“I like local control,” Curry said to media after he left the room for a gaggle.

Notable: Curry’s plan, with restoration of pre-2015 benefits for current employees, would reverse a great deal of the 2015 pension reform.

Nine percent of the FRS hit, Mousa said later, was unfunded liability.

“We’re far exceeding FRS,” Mousa said.

****

Negotiations resumed shortly before 11 a.m.

General Counsel Jason Gabriel, when asked about the 2015 deal, cautioned that it wasn’t a seven-year deal.

“There was provision for a waiver of unilaterally altering benefits for seven years,” Gabriel said, but that didn’t supersede state statute requiring terms not exceeding three years.

“The seven years is something that we need to be careful when we discuss that,” Gabriel said. “The collective bargaining agreement needs to be for a term of three years.”

Police negotiators sought a 20 year guarantee for men and women on the current force.

****

The city presented written proposals for police and corrections, and for judicial officers and bailiffs.

The police proposal was the 3 percent lump sum hike and the 20 percent raise phased in over three years, with DROP return guaranteed at 8.4 percent and a 3 percent COLA bump.

Judicial officers and bailiffs got the same 3 percent lump sum bump, and a 14 percent pay raise phased in over three years for judicial officers, and a 12 percent hike for bailiffs.

All new employee groups would have fully-vested defined contribution plans, via a 25 percent city contribution.

The proposal would supersede all previous agreements, a city negotiator said.

****

Zona noted that a provision of the deal is that, if the sales surtax is overturned, the city won’t have the money to deliver.

CFO Weinstein noted that “if one piece of the puzzle falls out, we have to revisit” the pension deal.

The surtax is needed to fund the plan; the city sees it as “highly unlikely” that the surtax would be overturned.

The impact would be a re-opening of the wage discussions.

Zona saw the escape clause as an “out for the city,” and the couple of hundred officers in the crowd stirred as the city again tried to reiterate its position.

 “If it’s that unlikely it’s going to occur,” Zona said, the city needs to “shoulder risk” and insert a clause guaranteeing the city commitment to officers for 20 years.

CAO Mousa noted that the city has to redo actuarial studies, among other “significant work,” before Oct. 1 to “take advantage of the process” and access the revenue stream.

“If there are any delays that keep us from getting to council in time, we’ll have to wait a whole another year,” Mousa said, noting that legislation needs to pass.

Zona noted that a 30 day time frame may not be tantamount to “bargaining in good faith.”

“That may be some sort of violation of collective bargaining,” Zona noted.

Mousa pushed back, saying the union knows “exactly what the numbers are and where they lay.”

****

After another caucus, Mousa reiterated the city position: “nothing other than wages” would be required to be re-negotiated if the sales tax fell through.

“It’s our problem to afford it,” Mousa said,

 The city again stressed the urgency of meeting the thirty day time frame.

Zona contended that the cost of the proposed plan is very close to that of FRS, especially with a Social Security contribution added.

“We wouldn’t have made an offer today,” Mousa said, “if we couldn’t afford it … if it wasn’t fair and reasonable … to the taxpayers.”

****

Zona produced another video toward the end of the meeting, where Curry said the media “demonized” the police union as “fat cats.”

Then another video, where Curry said Mayor Brown “has failed to deal with the pension in a serious way.”

Curry, in the video, said that he wouldn’t “tolerate” police being attacked in the press.

“We showed the videos for a reason … our members haven’t seen those videos. The public hasn’t seen those videos,” Zona said.

“Everybody needed to see those videos so people would understand why we’re taking the position we’re taking. We’re told one thing by the mayor,” Zona said, yet “information was not shared with us,” even as the union helped to sell the pension reform referendum of 2016.

“Where’s the data? What’s the reasoning to change your mind?”

Zona’s question was rhetorical.

But the conflict wasn’t.

For his part, Mousa said “it’s going to take a lot more than these videos to embarrass the mayor.”

Mousa reiterated the “time and effort” put in the mayor’s plan, adding that more formal actuarial studies are needed to come up with a shared set of assumptions.

“If we don’t come to an agreement, we won’t have final actuaries,” Mousa added.

Both sides want to “get out of the risk business,” Zona said.

But the problem isn’t the destination, but the conveyance.

Lenny Curry previews 2017 agenda at Meninak meeting

The year 2017 has started off with people trying to pressure Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry into positions he thus far has resisted.

Social liberals want the mayor to offer the kind of full-throated support of expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance that thus far has proven elusive.

And the city’s unions, especially police and fire, want Curry to sign on to putting new hires into the Florida Retirement System — something the mayor has resisted thus far.

Those political forces were in the background as Curry kicked off the Meninak Club‘s slate of meetings at a Monday luncheon.

While Curry avoided making news in his statements, he gave a pretty clear rendering of where Jacksonville’s news might go in the weeks and months ahead.

****

Curry’s prepared remarks eschewed those hot button issues, focusing instead on topics ranging from the book he gave his senior staff for Christmas (“Relentless” by Tim Grover, which distills lessons about how to win consistently) to other governance issues.

Among them: the city’s response to Hurricane Matthew, which Curry said involved a lot of planning on the front end to push effective delivery of storm cleanup and other recovery functions.

Curry then pivoted to the discussion of the unfunded pension liability. He discussed the “bold” approach in Tallahassee and through the referendum, sold without “promising voters a chicken in every pot.”

“Straight talk and solutions” got the referendum through with 65 percent of the vote.

Curry then gave an optimistic spin to collective bargaining, which he framed as part of the process, and a means toward “putting [the issue] to bed so we don’t have to deal with it again.”

Curry then pivoted to public safety, and his administration’s moves to remedy “significant cuts” and a “lack of investment” from the previous mayor in police and the Jacksonville Journey, which “was almost cut to the bone.”

The mayor discussed adding more officers, replacing “archaic” equipment, and “investing in these at-risk youth” via the Jacksonville Journey.

Budgets came up next, with the mayor discussing the “very robust budget review process,” including meetings with senior staff and other safeguards.

Jobs: another talking point.

“Our international brand is real now,” Curry said, noting jobs gains ranging from the relocation of City Refrigeration’s international headquarters to Amazon expansion locally.

“Identifying a prospect and going after it,” Curry said, “gets results.”

The pivot from there to infrastructure, such as moves to fix neglected projects, such as the Liberty Street span — a fix started without a tax hike, Curry said.

Curry then closed his prepared remarks with quoting a song his wife and he love: “the best is yet to come.”

And for those interested in Q&A sessions that gave an insight into the mayor’s agenda for the rest of the term, it was.

****

Questions from the audience came next.

Among them: a question about sluggish downtown recovery.

“Let me go back and remind you how bad things got,” Curry said. “The police force [budget] was basically gutted.”

Curry noted that, with 160 new officers hired (80 of them community service officers), “we are digging our way out.”

Curry noted the RFP for riverfront development, and his desire to see construction begin.

****

Related: a discussion of the Jacksonville Landing.

“The place is a mess,” Curry said, vowing not to “get caught up in the arguments of the past.”

“I’m going to continue to try — to do something with it,” Curry said, but his focus is on “where development can happen.”

“The Landing is embarrassing,” Curry affirmed.

“Embarrassing.”

****

Regarding Hemming Park — a recurrent pressure — Curry noted that he asked to take back control of the plaza.

“I just want results, and somebody’s got to be accountable,” the mayor said, noting a final decision hasn’t been made on who will run the park.

“I’ve looked out my window before and I’ve seen drug use happening in the middle of that park,” Curry said.

“There has to be oversight and a clear statement of goals,” the mayor stated, related to park management.

****

Curry was asked then about how to deliver on his “ambitious” programs without a tax hike.

“We did infrastructure the first two years, we added to public safety and the Jacksonville Journey without raising taxes,” Curry said, before ruling out a tax hike even for unfunded pension liabilities.

“We’re going to solve it … and we’re going to do it without raising taxes,” Curry said.

****

Fixing “inner city crime” (to use the questioner’s memorable phrase) was on tap next.

Would Curry accept a federal solution?

“I will be reaching out both to Congressman Rutherford and the Trump Administration to ask for help. We have an opportunity here and I will take advantage of the opportunity.”

To that end, Curry seeks to “lock up the bad guys and get them off the street,” working both with State Attorney Melissa Nelson and Sheriff Mike Williams to “make this city safe.”

Curry noted that the city actively chases state and federal money, and a new Department of Justice grant applicable to the Jacksonville Journey exemplifies that.

“The shootings and the violence in this city is what keeps me up at night … if I could go out today and arrest a gang member,” Curry said, “I would do it.”

****

The HRO came up next.

Curry noted his extension of “protections to city employees,” before passing on a commitment.

“Council’s job is to legislate,” Curry said, noting that “the results speak for themselves in terms of job creation,” a statement that seemed related to his administration’s performance, rather than to the departmental directive that offered employment protections to LGBT employees of the city and its vendors.

****

Former police pension fund head John Keane came up next, with a questioner discussing stripping Keane’s pension altogether.

“The suit that he filed he filed against the pension fund board; he didn’t file it against me.”

****

Curry was asked about running for re-election.

“Love the job. Love what I’m doing. But if I started thinking about re-election, it wouldn’t be the right thing to do,” Curry said.

After the meeting, Curry stressed that he has had “zero conversations” about running for statewide office, addressing the speculation that might be in the cards for 2018.

****

Deepening the port came up also.

While the port hasn’t made an official ask of the city, Curry said, the governor is “bullish.”

“When it’s time to move, we’ll be able to move,” Curry vowed.

Jacksonville mayor, sheriff’s office prepare for ShotSpotter legislation

Emails between senior staff in the Jacksonville mayor’s and sheriff’s offices offer a unique look at how legislation is nurtured through the process.

The subject of the emails: the ShotSpotter technology that Jacksonville leaders have touted as a possible corrective to the hail of gunshots in high-crime areas.

Ordinance 2016-795 will, among other things, “appropriate $435,001 already allocated in a ShotSpotter reserve account to an equipment purchase account for installation of the test site … acoustic gunshot detection and surveillance technology in a 5 square mile area of Health Zone 1.”

Health Zone 1 encompasses five Jacksonville Journey zip codes, including 32209, which was described by the Florida Times-Union as “Jacksonville’s killing fields.”

Mayor Lenny Curry‘s chief of staff, Kerri Stewart, emailed stakeholders with her expectations as to how the bill might proceed through its three committees of reference: the Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services committee on Tues. Jan. 17; the Public Health and Safety committee on the 18th; and Finance on the 19th.

Stewart’s advice: expect questions relative to the Jacksonville Journey anti-crime initiative, rebooted by Mayor Curry early in his term.

“We are not anticipating any/many specific questions related to ShotSpotter; but the committees are chaired by CM Scott Wilson (NCIS) CM Sam Newby (PHS) and CW Anna Brosche (Finance).  All 3 councilmembers/chairs have specific interest in the Jacksonville Journey and so some questions may inevitably come up,” Stewart noted.

Those questions won’t waylay the legislation, however: “Upon successful passage of the bill in the 3 committees, the entire Council will take up the legislation for final passage on Tuesday, January 24, 2017.”

JSO, meanwhile, feels confident enough to begin the procurement process.

Downtown denizens claim Jax ArtWalk shooting was an anomaly

Before the television news had its first fragmentary reports of Wednesday night’s gunshots fired at Jacksonville’s ArtWalk, social media was lit with Tweets about the subject.

The fascinating thing about the Tweets and Facebook posts, in aggregate: they were first-person accounts of what was going down, in real time, without the framing provided by reporters or the JSO investigation.

More than a few of the Tweets expressed dismay about the future of ArtWalk.

Some folks said they won’t be attending ArtWalk any more. Others speculated that the monthly event might be cancelled altogether.

Still others pointed to changes in the composition of those attending the event.

More kids were in attendance – a function of school being out through yesterday. And yes, the two gunshot victims were teenagers.

As one downtown employee told us, “it was a weird crowd.”

And the weird crowd brought an unprecedented event, that those familiar with ArtWalk on a monthly basis don’t expect to repeat.

As Jeni O’Donnell, the manager of bookstore/café Chamblin’s Uptown, told us, last night’s gunplay was an anomaly – “the first incident in 9 years and 108 ArtWalks” during the time the downtown landmark has been open.

“One in 108 had something happen,” O’Donnell said, attributing the shots to “punk ass kids.”

O’Donnell also offered words of support for Downtown Vision, which runs the ArtWalk events.

“Downtown Vision is doing a bang up job,” O’Donnell said.

Another Chamblin’s employee described her vantage point of the aftermath of the shots fired Wednesday evening, describing “100 people running down the street,” a mass of panic not unlike that one might see in a Godzilla movie.

“Scared kids … in a crowded place,” ran the description.

Everyone we talked to agreed that the shooting was an anomaly – and that it shouldn’t affect future ArtWalk events.

Downtown Vision, meanwhile, offered a statement Wednesday morning.

“We at Downtown Vision are deeply troubled by the shooting that occurred after last night’s Art Walk. We thank Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office for its immediate and expert response to this unfortunate incident. Every month, we work closely with JSO on Art Walk, and they implement a number of detailed measures to keep everyone safe at the event.

“We believe that for the past 13 years since its inception, Art Walk has become a well-loved tradition. It is important to our Downtown and to our community, representing the very best of Jacksonville. Every month, Art Walk continues to bring us together in a positive and meaningful way, while supporting our Downtown and its businesses.

“We will continue to work closely with JSO to ensure the ongoing safety of everyone at Art Walk, and look forward to continuing this great Downtown event supporting creativity, diversity and peaceful expression as we work to create and support a more vibrant Downtown Jacksonville.”

Meanwhile, the office of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, via spokeswoman Marsha Oliver, noted that “ the mayor is strongly committed to public safety and will continue to engage with Sheriff Williams on his team’s efforts to protect citizens and property throughout the city.”

In short: despite the shooting at last night’s ArtWalk, there appears to be no momentum for cancelling or changing the monthly event, which has become pivotal to Jacksonville’s creative class.

The Fiorentino Group helms Northeast Florida lobbying efforts again in 2017

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran may abhor the influence of lobbyists in Tallahassee. But Jacksonville and its independent agencies have them anyway, as do other regional entities in Northeast Florida.

The calculus is not complicated for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who parlayed $150,000 last year into a sustained and successful lobbying effort helmed by the Fiorentino Group and aided by Ballard Partners and Southern Strategy Group.

“I have and will continue to work with a team of professionals who ensure getting the highest return for the investment of taxpayers. The successes of our team include a solution to the pension crisis and earned us state resources for infrastructure and public safety,” Curry told us in November.

This year, the asks are different. The pension reform referendum pushed through Tallahassee in 2016 passed, setting the stage for increasingly fractious collective bargaining environment to negotiate new plans for new hires.

The Curry administration this year wants $50 million of state money to tear down the current Hart Expressway offramps near the sports complex, replacing them with an exit onto Bay Street.

And to that end, resources are dedicated to the effort. And at least potentially, they add up to more than the 2016 commitment.

The Fiorentino Group has a $60,000 budget for 2017, up from $50,000. The same holds true for Ballard and SSG, we hear. [For its part, Curry’s office says the “contracts are in the process of execution,” and wouldn’t confirm numbers.]

If that uptick in expenditure holds for all three lobbying groups, the city is boosting its investment in lobbyists by 20 percent year over year — a reasonable spend given the unproven nature of the Duval County Legislative Delegation’s newest members, and the lack of pull the local delegation has in the Florida House.

In short, it’s money well-spent.

***

Fiorentino is also handling the concerns of many of the city’s independent authorities.

The Fiorentino Group has a $5,000 a month deal with the Jacksonville Aviation Authority that started in October 2016 and runs for three years thereafter, adding up to $180,000.

TFG is still under contract with the Jacksonville Port Authority through January 2017, a deal originally launched in 2014.

And TFG has a $6,000 a month deal with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority. That fee is matched by what the University of North Florida pays Fiorentino.

The Fiorentino Group also has contracts regionally.

Among those: a deal with Green Cove Springs, the seat of Clay County, capped at $15,000 total.

St. Johns County also benefits from the Fiorentino touch. The county itself has had TFG on a $4,500 monthly retainer since 2009. And the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office has a deal for $2,500 with the Fiorentino Group.

Jacksonville HRO expansion foes gear up for 2017 fight

Expansion of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance appears to yet again be a consideration for Jacksonville’s City Council. And opponents have taken notice.

Those opposed to HRO expansion have been emailing Mayor Lenny Curry, with sentiments such as these.

“I am against any HRO resolution that attempts to bestow special rights to any person or group that is not equally guaranteed to all American citizens as is the case with the LGBTQ resolution coming in 2017. There is no such precedence in American history and will not be tolerated in a Constitutional United States. I adhere to the principle that ‘Constitutional Correctness Trumps Political Correctness’ (pun intended). I keep track of your council votes and will work against the re-elections of any politician who votes against the US Constitution,” wrote a John Sauer.

Meanwhile, a familiar opponent from 2016’s truncated council consideration of the expansion measure has vowed to fight it once more.

In a Tuesday press release, Raymond Johnson of Biblical Concepts Ministries vowed to reprise his thus-far successful crusade against ordinance expansion for the third time this decade.

“As expected on this first business day of the new year members of the Jacksonville City Council has for the third time announced meetings and plans to re-introduced the so called Human Rights Ordinance (HRO),” Johnson wrote, referring to Wednesday’s public notice meeting on the subject.

BCM will, said Johnson, “work tirelessly and unrelenting with every other opposing organization possible to alert and mobilize our network of pastors, churches and concerned citizens to voice their opposition and help to again defeat a local Homosexual Superior Rights Ordinance (HSRO) Open bathroom law otherwise known as a Human Rights Ordinance (HRO).”

“We know Equality Florida and the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality has been raising funds, hiring staff and working non stop to build a local supporting coalition to ensure passage of their dangerously radical national homosexual agenda aimed at silencing and criminalizing christians and moral objectors to the LGBT agenda demands,” Johnson added. [SIC]

While the office of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is not taking a public position on this legislation, expect the mayor to get the same pressure he’s gotten on this issue during the first eighteen months of his tenure — from both sides of the issue.

Jacksonville HRO expansion bill topic of Wednesday meeting

Will the third time be the charm for expansion of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include the LGBT community?

Wednesday may tell the tale.

Councilman Aaron Bowman, one of the co-sponsors of the 2016 HRO expansion bill, has scheduled a public notice meeting for 11:30 Wednesday morning at Jacksonville’s city hall.

Expected to be in attendance: council members and community leaders, many of whom have been consistently ahead of the council when it comes to LGBT rights.

The bill is expected to be a pared down version of the 14-page 2016 legislation, including carve out protections for churches and associated businesses and small businesses.

Worth watching: Whether the bill has more than three co-sponsors.

Frustration in 2016 for supporters: council members who pledged to support HRO expansion during the campaign, but went mute during council deliberations.

Also worth watching: will all Democrats support HRO expansion this time?

Back in 2012, two Council Democrats — Reggie Brown and Johnny Gaffney — voted against even the compromise version of the bill.

Also worth watching: where will Republicans fall?

Council member Anna BroscheLori Boyer, and Greg Anderson are all thought of as possible supporters of the measure, but have avoided making hard commitments of support up until now.

Mayor Lenny Curry has pledged to stay out of the process; however, if the bill passed with fewer than 13 votes, he will be positioned to have to take a position on the measure.

We reached out to the mayor; his spokesperson, Marsha Oliver, advised that “the mayor does not make it a practice to discuss or comment on proposed legislation. He respects Council members and the legislative process. He evaluates items at the conclusion of the process that are then presented to him.”

We also caught up with Councilman Bill Gulliford, who had introduced a referendum on HRO expansion parallel to the Tommy Hazouri bill in 2016.

“Here we go again,” Gulliford said about the HRO debate.

Gulliford will not be in attendance at the Wednesday meeting.

He has not seen the bill as of yet, so he’s made no determination about his next steps regarding legislation.

Notable: the next ballot opportunity for a referendum would be August 2018.

A.G. Gancarski’s 10 predictions for Jacksonville politics in 2017

Now that 2017 is all but upon us — after a tumultuous 2016 electorally — what’s next for Northeast Florida politics?

One assurance: unlike in 2016, with a massive electoral turnover in the region’s Washington and Tallahassee delegations, as well as in both the state attorney and public defender offices, 2017 won’t see that.

With that in mind, our crystal ball turns — mostly — to policy.

Though, as you will see, we won’t be able to resist a few purely political prognostications.

In the words of Jay-Z (or was it Lenny Curry?) “you can’t change a player’s game in the ninth inning.”

Prediction 1: Duval Delegation will struggle to bring home the bacon.

The smart people (or at least the old ones) will rehearse their now ritualized laments for another year. They will whisper and mutter about how things used to be, back when titans like Jim King ruled the corridors of power in the state capital.

And they will be right.

The Duval County Legislative Delegation is in for two years, relatively speaking, in the cold. House Districts 11, 12, 13, 14, and 16 all have rookie legislators.

You can see the track toward power — or not — in committee assignments.

The only leadership position will be held by the one returning member from Jacksonville — House District 15 Republican Jay Fant — vice chair of the Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee.

That lack of stroke, coupled with a darkening fiscal forecast for the Sunshine State and the parsimony of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, is going to lead to fewer appropriations projects coming back to Duval County.

While Jacksonville is lobbying up in Tallahassee again in 2017, replicating the 2016 strategy involving the Fiorentino Group, Southern Strategy Group, and Ballard Partners, expectations will have to be tempered given that every major push will have to be made to legislators from outside the area.

Duval’s priorities will be weighed against those of delegations with superior manpower and seniority in the House.

In the Senate, of course, Audrey Gibson and Aaron Bean are seasoned pros. But the House is going to be where Duval’s dreams live or die.

Prediction 2: No money for the Hart Expressway offramp removal this year.

Curry wants $50 million in state money for Hart Expressway ramp modifications, noting at November’s Duval Delegation meeting that the current setup has outmoded designs and creates public safety issues.

“The ramps were originally designed to bypass the industrialized waterfront,” Curry said, a purpose outmoded in the half-century since the original construction.

Indeed, the city strategy is predicated now on utilizing the potential of Bay Street. The goal is to have meaningful tourist attractions at the Shipyards and Metropolitan Park, to augment the latest $90 million capital influx into the Sports Complex.

However, Prediction 1 comes into play: who from outside the area, in a year of dwindling state resources, is going to push for a $50 million road project in Jacksonville’s downtown?

Mayor Curry played any number of hold cards during the last session to get the pension reform bill through Tallahassee and onto the referendum ballot. Does he have enough juice to get this ball into the end zone with a line full of untested rookies blocking for him?

Prediction 3: Collective bargaining will not wrap in time for Jacksonville’s FY 18 budget

Who will blink first in the current negotiating table showdown between city negotiators and the heads of various unions? And when will they cave?

City hopes have been that they could close a deal with one of the bargaining units by the middle of the year, and that unit would be willing to accept defined contribution plans for new hires.

Out of the units — general employees, police, and fire — the expectation is that general employees would be willing to “take a haircut.”

Police and fire risk their lives daily in the field. Meanwhile, there are some general employees whose greatest daily risks is queueing up at food trucks at Hemming Park during lunch.

However, with general employees, there are a lot of moving parts. And even with a bargaining unit as relatively friendly as the Jacksonville Supervisors Association, the city and union are far apart on pay raises.

Throughout the city, many employees took a 2 percent pay cut in 2010, and have yet to see restoration. It means there are a lot of people — and unions — looking to be “made whole.”

Thus, a trend. The city offers pay raises that get them part of the way there; the unions counter by saying the raises aren’t enough.

Meanwhile, a wrinkle affecting public safety: the 2015 pension reform accord signed into law by outgoing Mayor Alvin Brown, which was supposed to hold for seven years.

The idea behind that accord: relative stability, coupled with an increase in city contributions beyond current levels totaling $350 million in 13 years.

The public safety unions interpret that as not having to agree to anything until next decade.

They could, theoretically, cave. But the world is watching. And by the world, we mean the national organizations of the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Prediction 4: Human Rights Ordinance expansion faces another uphill slog.

The “smart set” wants HRO expansion to the LGBT community — and the “T” is non-negotiable.

The arguments for the HRO expansion are familiar by now: other cities accomplished this years ago, and their moral firmaments remain intact. The cities that have gotten protections for people regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression align more closely with the values of corporations looking to relocate to Jacksonville. And it’s the right thing to do.

Also familiar by now: a Jacksonville City Council, which has many members who might have said in 2015 on the campaign trail that they support HRO expansion. But in 2016 and 2017, the concerns are more prosaic, about the “language of the bill” and “unintended consequences” of legislation that could, theoretically, impact churches and small businesses.

Despite the fact that enforcement of the ordinance expansion would be in a gray area, there are real concerns about the nightmare scenarios that happened to Christian conservatives elsewhere in the country when they flouted laws and refused to provide service to LGBT people.

Early indications are that advocates have taken a “divide and conquer” approach with the council, each of them lobbying a handful of members. There may be attendant risks to that strategy. It didn’t seem to drive the votes in 2016.

Word is by early January, HRO proponents are going to know if they have the votes needed to push the bill through. If you don’t see a filing soon after that, you will know there aren’t quite 10.

Is there a Plan B?

The way to lobby this council is to pick one lobbyist — my pick would be Paul Harden, who is the best lobbyist in the city — to make a unified, cohesive pitch. Such a pitch would ensure the council is on the same page, and understand both the affirmative talking points and how to undermine concerns of the Christian right.

This is a good ol’ boy town. To sell radical change, it has to be through the good ol’ boy system.

Prediction 5: The murder rate won’t abate, and that will become a problem for the mayor’s office.

As I write this (late December), the city of Jacksonville is well over 110 homicides. As of December 21, the numbers was 116.

That’s consistent with the range between 2012 and 2015, which was between 109 and 117. Given the realities of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, it’s likely that Jacksonville could end up with over 120 homicides.

If so, that would be the first time since 2008.

Mayor Curry has been able to message on the need to improve public safety for a year and a half as mayor and for longer than that on the campaign trail.

However, if the blood tide surges in 2017, blaming it on decisions made in 2012-14 by the “previous administration” will be a strategy with diminishing returns.

The corrective strategies that can be used are already being used. Increased enforcement in the hot zones, coupled with new technology (new for Jacksonville, that is) like Shot Spotter, which allows LEOs to identify where a shot may come from.

However, the question is whether law enforcement can solve problems created by a lack of economic opportunity, educational gaps, family structures decimated from said lack of economic opportunity, to the school-to-prison pipeline.

While there may be nuanced and plausible solutions advanced behind closed doors, the question may be more elemental: can government solve this issue through prevention, intervention, and enforcement? Or is there something larger happening — a societal dislocation?

The mayor would be well advised to message aggressively on the issue of public safety in the early spring, getting ahead of the inevitabilities of the summer to come.

Prediction 6: Alvin Brown continues to resurface

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown stopped by the mayor’s office to talk to Lenny Curry in December, offering a long-delayed coda to an acrimonious mayoral campaign.

Expect to see more of Brown in 2017.

He didn’t lose to Curry by much; there was not some populist wave sweeping him out of office, as was the case with State Attorney Angela Corey and Public Defender Matt Shirk.

And much of the reason for Brown’s loss had to do with inept re-election campaign messaging, and an inability to corral a balky city council on pension reform until the end.

Brown is not damaged goods, in other words.

Is he a viable quantity going forward? There may be a platform in which we find out. Sooner than later.

Prediction 7: Democratic demolition derby begins, ahead of local challenge to Al Lawson

Message to Duval Democrats: he’s not that into you.

By “he,” we mean Rep. Al Lawson, the Tallahassee mainstay who came to visit and left with one of Jacksonville’s two congressional seats.

By “into you,” we mean that Lawson will put Tallahassee first. That’s where his base is.

And that means opportunity for a local Democrat.

Who might that Democrat be?

Alvin Brown’s not doing anything major right now; he’s a former mayor who has a natural rapport with Curry and Jacksonville power brokers. That could matter.

With former Rep. Mia Jones termed out of the State House, her credibility and gravitas could take her a long way. Undetermined: does Jones have the brashness needed to make a primary challenge against an establishment-friendly Democrat? And could she stack votes in Duval to make up for an uphill slog the farther west the district goes?

Sen. Audrey Gibson is chair of the Duval Democrats. However, she has already filed for another run for State Senate. And, as Lake Ray can attest, it’s not a great idea to launch a run for Congress from a party chair position.

Former State Sen. Tony Hill: a name to consider also, at least according to some members of the chattering classes. Could Hill convince local power brokers to back his play?

Out of these four, we still believe Brown has the clearest path with the fewest impediments.

Prediction 8: There will be a homeless day resource center in Downtown Jacksonville

The scene outside of Jacksonville’s city hall is like something out of a Hieronymus Bosch hellscape.

The homeless population fills Hemming Park, and on cold days spills into businesses like Chamblin’s Bookmine and the public library, inhibiting patterns of usage that might otherwise lead to downtown becoming the destination that city leaders have wanted, ever since department stores cleared out during the Hans Tanzler and Jake Godbold eras.

The reality is that Jacksonville would like to gentrify its downtown. The parallel reality is that much of the homeless problem can be attributed to the lack of a homeless day resource center, which would allow that population to shower, shave, and assume various accouterments of normalcy.

One of these existed when Alvin Brown was mayor, but the Curry administration cut it in its first budget, and didn’t restore it in its second.

The days of Lenny Curry taking lunchtime runs through Hemming Park seem to have ended, but what he would see if he were out there would be flocks of dispossessed people, who (whether they are ultimately responsible for their own fates or not) run counter to the brand Jacksonville desires.

Policy Director Robin Lumb has suggested a “well-managed day center for the homeless.”

If the mayor were to roll out a proposal for something along these lines, one could expect the timing to be deliberate: perhaps the March ICARE meeting of local socially-conscious church types would be that time.

That would put the proposal — which likely would be in the $1M per year range — out front ahead of the budget season, allowing the mayor to advance other priorities based on a relatively inexpensive gesture that would, in the final analysis, advance public safety.

Prediction 9: The city will reassume control of Hemming Park, but it won’t matter much

Speaking of Hemming Park, another big story to watch is whether Mayor Curry follows through with his stated intention to have the city take back control of “the front door to city hall.”

Policy Director Lumb noted in an internal memo that “the city does not have a compelling interest in creating conditions in the park conducive to attracting any group of persons looking for a place to ‘hang out’ for extended periods of time … people who otherwise have no reason to be downtown other than to receive services from homeless agencies, food kitchens, and shelters.”

His recommendation: the Parks Department should take control of the park back, stepping up enforcement, and RFPing an event promoter for nights, weekends, and park vendors.

Despite the well-documented issues with Friends of Hemming Park, they had — until recently — offered consistency in presence.

Will the city enforce conditions in Hemming Park in a more aggressive way than it does in Main Street Park? The latter, just two blocks away, has a robust homeless population and no enforcement presence, so to speak.

The Hemming Problem: a symptom of a larger social malaise.

Attempts to remedy Hemming appear to be an ornamental solution to create an oasis downtown for business people. And of course, these attempts have been tried, and have mostly failed, for decades now.

In a way, FOHP was a useful foil for city government.

As long as Friends were engaged, there was the idea that things could improve if the city took control.

If the city takes control, and conditions aren’t better next summer than last summer, what happens then?

Prediction 10: Political scofflaws skate on charges

Yes, Reggie Fullwood pleaded guilty to two felony charges in his campaign finance fraud case.

And, yes, Corrine Brown’s trial will be complicated by the drip-drip-drop of serial betrayals from her coterie of cronies and hangers on.

And there may be a city councilwoman whose familial barbecue sauce plant was raided by the Feds in December.

But not much will come of any of it.

Will Fullwood serve real prison time?

Will Corrine beat the rap?

Will there be any real consequences for whatever is going on with Jerome Brown BBQ?

The pitchfork mob might want it.

But the case could be and will be made that Fullwood has paid his price already.

That Corrine Brown wasn’t aware of what was happening in the name of One Door for Education.

And that Katrina Brown is a limited partner in her family business and had little to do with its inability to meet the job creation goals mandated by her company’s $640,000 grants and loans agreement with the city.

While the punitive model of justice exhilarates some, there is a corollary argument.

What’s accomplished by locking up Fullwood until he’s an old man?

By locking up Corrine Brown for the rest of her life?

These questions seem remote now, but when Fullwood is sentenced in February, and when Corrine Brown’s trial starts later this year, they will seem less so.

 

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