Lenny Curry, Jax City Council hold first lunch meeting

Mayor Jacksonville Curry

Jacksonville City Council is headed for summer break … but not before a lunch meeting with Mayor Lenny Curry and Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa. 

Spox Bill Spann told me, going in, that this would be more of a high-level overview than a deep dive meeting. Time will tell. And so will this blog.

12:00: Council members are filing in, assembled in groups of two or three. Sam Newby and Garrett Dennis are talking, as are Tommy Hazouri and Bill Gulliford, and Jim Love, Greg Anderson, and Anna Brosche.

12:05: Chief of Staff Kerri Stewart is in the house also.

12:06: Media turnout is robust. Curry has entered the room. More meeting and greeting than eating.

12:08: Curry greets Hazouri with a robust “Mayor!” Animated conversation with Dennis. The mayor is all about the relationship building, patting backs and clasping arms.

12:11: The master at this game is Hazouri, though. The rare hands on both shoulders move with Council President  Anderson.

12:12: Meanwhile, a quiet conversation between Mousa and Gulliford is probably the must hear.

12:16: Curry convenes. “This is an exciting day for Jacksonville.” Nice to get together; no agenda; questions back and forth, and updates from Mousa and Stewart. No surprises on the budget, Curry says; balanced budget, and collaboration.

12:18: Doyle Carter leads the prayer. Curry, before the food is served, tells Councilmembers who have said nice things about the inauguration on Wednesday to remember they said them in the future.

12:28: Curry discusses the hand holding moment yesterday.

12:29: Apparently, a door between the Mayor’s Office and City Council that has been closed for “a number of years” is going to be open again. A joke about the mayor “not needing to bring his security with him” when he comes in.

12:30: Mousa on budget: “we’ve been really cranky since we got here.” The previous administration eschewed “significant” budget review, he says. He called in every department, had them justify their moves; developed an enhancement list regarding how much they can afford. Ad Valorem up $25.6M, as of current estimate. May be higher in September. Waiting on state shared revenues. In the “balancing act” now. Developing CIP program and have found “significant dollars” for capital building and maintenance. “I believe you’ll be pleased with the proposed capital improvement program.”

12:33: Some borrowing is necessary for Fleet Replacement; Mousa is not thrilled. There is serious vehicle neglect; hopefully, “the only moneys we will ask to borrow.” Vehicles and equipment.

12:35: Curry: no borrowing for operating costs.

12:36: Mousa advocates short term loans with accelerated repayment schedules. The idea is to build a cash reserve in future years.

12:37: Hazouri wants to know if money borrowed will balance the budget; Mousa says the debt service will be in the operating budget, likens it to a monthly credit card debt. “All borrowing is strictly for capital maintenance or projects.”

12:37: The projection they want going forward for life of police fleet vehicles: 3-4 years.

12:38: “You will receive a balanced budget; it may not be your priorities.”

12:38: Curry wants action on “that damned Liberty Street.” Mousa says things could have been done quicker. “I’m sure if somebody called the Secretary of Transportation,” it would have been done. “You will see proactivity in this government.”

12:39: IT issues will be discussed later, says Mousa. They have a backlog of projects. “We’ve got to get our arms around what’s out there… money’s been thrown at IT and it ain’t been spent.” An $11.8M surplus for IT. “No sense in authorizing $12M when there’s no way in the world you’re going to spend that in the year.” Equipment purchasing, but no new program developments. There will be a meeting Tuesday at 2 p.m. to figure out what’s going on with Information Technology.

12:41: Curry promises “clear priorities.”

12:42: A discussion of “risk management,” which Curry says relates to the bigger picture: a disincentive toward economic growth. Mousa: “It’s called risk management; you manage the risk, and we live within these risks… let’s take a little risk and call it risk management, not risk elimination. Risk elimination is never going to work.”

12:44: “Our budget is not going to be perfect,” Mousa continues. He hopes this summer will be a “mutual relationship,” a “two way street.” Gulliford is All In as Finance Chair.

12:45: On to Stewart. Ali Korman is head of Legislative Services. “We’ve been busy moving into the office.” The biggest concern is on the Communications side; Bill Spann needs staff. Some internal hires from previous administration are in play.

12:47: Mousa will interview some directors, then a week after, the division chief level, then appointed employees. There are some interim choices in the meantime.

12:49: Curry on budget process: “this discipline has not been acted on for years,” and it is an “opportunity” and a chance for evaluation.

12:50: Mario Rubio has been retained, in a council liaison role. Brother of the Senator.

12:51: $150,000 in the budget for Tallahassee lobbyists for the mayor; they expect a 1000 percent ROI. Curry will “leverage relationships” also. Bling bling.

12:52: Pension issues and unfunded liabilities, says Mousa, will be addressed. “It’s going to take cooperation” from stakeholders, and the plan can get through Tallahassee, says Mousa and Curry, if presented right. $100 million a year of recurring savings are on the table. “Certain qualifications” have to be met. Some hypotheticals are being kicked around; all the municipalities that have the same problem, he says, should show up in Tallahassee. Collective bargaining will be reinstated.

12:53: Council President Anderson has questions about hires. They will happen in waves, but will be done “as expeditiously as possible,” says Stewart. Retaining employees does not require council confirmation.

12:56: The process on bills from the previous administration will involve a recommendation from the Mayor’s office. Privatization of Victim’s Services is one that Mousa wants “to get staff on.”

1:00: John Crescimbeni thinks the 299 resignation letters went “pretty far down.” Mousa says it was “expanded” to find out who’s out there, what they’re doing, and find out if that job needs to be done. In IT, Mousa wants to pay a smaller group more per capita, if possible, to stem against attrition, and use more contractors, as discussed in the budget review. Contractors are a viable solution, in part because they are exempt from civil service benefits.

1:02: Curry: “And they don’t get caught up in the fire drills of the day.”

1:03: Mousa thinks that people sometimes slow down on projects because they get paid every other week.

1:04: A discussion of layoffs. There is a risk of losing good employees, says a councilman, because of the process. Curry says “all employees are going to get a message … saying that we understand that the budget discipline that is happening now” is not their fault. “I’m going to write it in a way that gives them a level of comfort.” Mousa wants to “recognize” the employees with $$$ going forward, though this won’t be in the current budget.

1:05: Curry: “We’ll give raises when the time is right.” Mousa: “We’ve got to be conservative at this stage.”

1:06: Back to IT. Carter mentions that we have systems dating back to the 1970s, that aren’t talking to each other, which precludes 21st century information requests. Curry: “we don’t know that it’s being managed properly.” Mousa says we have to put the brakes on. Pushback from Carter who frets about non-supported systems. Curry quips that “it sounds like Y2K.” Mousa defends the FAMIS system; says it works with a project manager who is competent. “They’re not 1970s systems; they might be 1990s,” Mousa adds. Training is essential.

1:10: Gulliford asks about the Jax Journey budget. Curry says “we’re going to put some money in the Journey as a start,” without replicating current programs. He will have those programs “under the umbrella” of Journey “accountability.”

1:11: Mousa says that “we’ve attempted to get a history” of projects; at some point, the programs separated outside of the Journey framework. “We’ve got to see data … before spending more money.”

1:13: Hazouri warns against duplication also, for measurability and accountability.

1:15: A discussion of pending appointments. Mousa argues they should be Curry’s appointments, not former Mayor Alvin Brown‘s.  Advocates reconfirming appointments.

1:16: A discussion of “trust in the administration” from Mousa leads to a Gulliford quip: “trust but verify.”

1:17: Mousa on the banking fund: “We have wonderful credit; it’s just the monthly payment that we can’t make.”

1:18: Matt Schellenberg talking about fund allocation and “pockets of money.” Moneys, should be “focused on areas where they will do the most good.”

1:20: Anderson discusses Blight removal as a “program that really strengthened our neighborhoods.” Wants to know Mousa’s vision. Curry: “we’re going to stay in our lane and work with you guys.”  Denise Lee will be reporting to Mousa: “I understand she has a blight mobile; she already hit me up for a new blight mobile, and I said no.” The administration will work with council on this issue.

1:21: Gulliford talks Blight also. He is pushing for land bank expansion as a blight mitigation strategy.

1:22: Hazouri: “Y’all need to have really good grant writers.” The previous administration “missed the boat” the last four years.

1:24: Curry is looking at Fire grants that are expiring. Crescimbeni talks about the use of outside grant writers. $30,000 over two years brought in $5 million of grants. Mousa: “contractors have one thing in mind; finish a job and get paid for it.”

1:26: Mousa: “there could be a re-org coming” after the summer. In some areas, too many directors and chiefs. The desire is “to become more vertical than horizontal.”

1:27: Levity! “30 years ago, Mayor Hazouri hired me for the city of Jacksonville. I was the best hire he ever made,” says Mousa.

1:28: Jim Love talking about the commitment to public safety. Lauds the mayor for working with the sheriff. Curry will be working with pastors, “outside of the eye of the media,” “face to face sitdowns with at risk youth” to create “ambassadors for a better way forward.” Council wants to be part of it; Love thinks that “sells it a lot better than a bunch of guys with guns and badges.” There will be walkthroughs in neighborhoods; Curry heard some stuff on the campaign trail that was “life changing.”

1:30: Privatization is discussed. To a point, Mousa likes it, “but you’ve gotta be able to control your people in case something happens.” Curry says everything is on the table.

1:31: More jokes about hand holding. The meeting wraps. Gulliford wants to ensure Lee “won’t have access to Council offices.”

Happy July 4th! End.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Sign up for Sunburn