Thanksgiving is upon us, offering a coda between the knives-out posture of the national campaign, and state and federal legislative seasons.
Jacksonville has much bounty to be thankful for, from Mayport shrimp to Congaree and Penn rice and grits.
For our purposes, though, a salient question is this: What do Jacksonville politicians have to be thankful for?
A few thoughts on what they might be giving thanks for at their respective Thanksgiving tables.
Mayor Lenny Curry should be thankful for his political and policy shops each running in high gear, without conflicts between the two. Curry could move strategic priorities forward — the Jacksonville Journey, septic tank phase-outs, stadium renovations and pension reform — while his political team has handled the business of marginalizing opposition.
Almost a year and a half into his term, it is hard to find a Jacksonville Democrat who says Curry can be beaten.
U.S. Reps. Al Lawson and John Rutherford should be expressing gratitude for congressional seats drawn in such a way that their elections were assured since August.
Lawson, who is not from Jacksonville, needed the extra two months to get his local bearings (even if he has yet to make it, after all this time, to a meeting of the Duval Democratic Executive Committee).
Rutherford, meanwhile, was the establishment choice in the election in August and used much of the fall to build relationships that will help him on Capitol Hill. Among them: a bond with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who campaigned for him in October.
Council President Lori Boyer has much for which to be thankful. The Council is almost universally well-regarded on her watch, and this despite a decision to make first-term councilmembers committee chairs. Though not as much policy had come out of the “special committees” as she might have anticipated when she planned them out last summer, Boyer set out to make council assert its function as a policy body — and she pulled it off.
Jacksonville’s new state legislators have plenty for which to be thankful.
Republican Rep. Cord Byrd of House District 11, Democratic Rep. Tracie Davis of House District 13, GOP Rep. Clay Yarborough in HD 12, Democratic Rep. Kim Daniels in HD 14, and Republican Rep. Jason Fischer of HD 16 have the luxury of coming into office after Jacksonville accomplished its principal state-level priority — success of its pension reform referendum.
Since the heavy lifting took place before their wins (with pivotal assists from Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings, both of Clay County), they can settle into their jobs, learning the ropes of the House, which under Speaker Richard Corcoran will be different from in the past.
Meanwhile, it goes without saying: political journalists can offer their own thanks.
From the larger-than-life figures currently in office and curiosities in city council public comment, to hot button issues like Human Rights Ordinance expansion, #jaxpol will likely remain compelling in 2017 as it has been in recent years.
One final expression of gratitude in the last pre-Thanksgiving Bold: thank you to the readers, tipsters and other interested parties, all doing their parts to make us part of the local conversation.
***Southern Strategy Group is Florida’s powerhouse lobbying firm with a dedicated Jacksonville office, as well as locations in Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Tallahassee. Our nearly 25 lobbyists work daily to get our clients and their issues in front of key local and state elected officials. Whether in City Hall, the State Capitol or somewhere in between, we’ll work with you to create and execute a strategy that moves your agenda from the starting point through the finish line. Every industry. Every interest. Powerful advocacy begins here. Call us today at 904-425-8765 or visit www.sostrategy.com to learn more.***
“Matt Carlucci to Jacksonville City Council again?” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics – Jacksonville’s Carlucci family is inextricably linked with Jacksonville history. Joe Carlucci was a councilman from the days of consolidation. Matt Carlucci carried on the family’s tradition of public service, serving three terms on the council, including a stint as president. Now Carlucci is the chairman of the Florida Commission on Ethics. Yet his time there is nearing an end. And he’s considering a logical next move: a run for Council in 2019, to replace the termed-out at-large Councilman Greg Anderson. “I’m feeling my way through,” Carlucci said, “but that’s what I’m hoping for.” Carlucci, a Republican, has been getting “lots of encouragement” from Republicans and Democrats alike; should he run, he will have a couple of strong GOP consultants: Bruce Barcelo and Tom Nolan. “If I pull the trigger … and it looks like I will,” Barcelo and Nolan will run the campaign, he said. Carlucci also can count on key support from outside Duval County, such as from former Speaker of the House Will Weatherford, who vowed to be Carlucci’s “first contributor.” Carlucci describes himself as partisan on the national level, but less so in the local realm.
“New Jacksonville department heads promoted from within” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics – Diane Moser, chief of Talent Management, has been promoted to serve as director of Employee Services. Stephanie Burch, chief of Real Estate, has been promoted to director of Neighborhoods. Curry described these roles as “critically important” to his administration. Moser has almost a quarter-century of experience in city government, with stints managing personnel services, and managing human resources at the Jacksonville Public Library. Previous personnel services director Kelli O’Leary now works for the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, having left City Hall in September. Neighborhoods chief Burch, a former counsel for the Florida Department of Transportation, is a recent addition to city government. She was hired in March 2016 as chief of real estate. However, the position heading the Neighborhoods department is a considerably more high-profile slot, especially in light of Neighborhoods being a major organizational priority for the Curry administration.
“Why are the Koch brothers interested in Jacksonville? Pensions.” via Nate Monroe of the Florida Times-Union – Mayor Curry threw down the gauntlet earlier this month by proposing to eliminate pensions for all future city employees, upending what is widely viewed as a bedrock of government service, particularly for higher-risk employees like cops and firefighters. Voters this summer approved extending a half-cent sales tax that is intended to serve as a source to pay off the already existing pension debt. But the law requires the city to close a pension plan to new hires before any tax money can be applied to that plan’s debt. The bulk of the city’s pension debt stems from police and firefighter retirements. It’s possible Curry and the unions will find a path forward without much acrimony. “We are committed to working with the city for a solution that is good for our members and the city going forward,” said Steve Zona, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, in a statement. But if negotiations break down and both sides dig in, the city might find itself with relatively little leverage.
Under normal circumstances, state law gives cities a big leg up in collective bargaining through an impasse process. The end result of that process gives the City Council the power to unilaterally impose temporary benefits on employees until longer-term agreements are struck. That is a strong incentive for unions to come back to the bargaining table and hear out proposals they might otherwise be strongly opposed to. “We are concerned that the proposed employer match rates are out of sync with the rest of the employment market,” said Andres Malave, communications director for the Florida branch of Americans for Prosperity. “The average employer contribution is only 2.7 percent and only 10 percent of employers have a match rate of over 10 percent.” But labor officials say it’s not just the size of the benefit that is at issue. Pensions provide employees with an essential guarantee that 401(k)-style plans do not, and that could hurt recruitment and retention efforts, they say.
“Reports call for more officers, funding and transparency for Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office” via David Chapman of the Jacksonville Financial News & Daily Record – One of the first things Sheriff Mike Williams did after taking office last year was to establish a series of community-led task forces dealing with key components of policing … Part of the effort can be told in numbers. Four committees, 50 people, nearly 1,000 hours and an 81-page report. The latter was handed off to Williams … on the Southbank Riverwalk, a document more than a year in the making. “This was not a cosmetic undertaking,” said Jacksonville University President Tim Cost, who served as the overall chair to the committees’ efforts. “We looked at law enforcement through a different lens than we ever had before.” The task forces were led by business and civic leaders who reviewed topics of community engagement, transparency, resources and training. And they dealt with myriad issues ranging from suggestions for body cameras and citizen oversight and review boards to millage rates and additional hires.
Led by Susan Towler, Florida Blue Foundation executive director, the largest task force established a lofty vision for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. It said every Duval County citizen should have at least one positive interaction a year with the office, to exceed the community’s expectation of the police agency. The group believes it can be achieved through strengthening existing community programs, developing stronger partnerships, improving measurements and evaluations, and enhancing opportunities for citizen involvement. For example, one of the subject areas was African-American males and males of color. A suggestion is the sheriff’s office should convene meetings twice annually of existing programs that serve and mentor those populations and address questions and concerns. An expanded liaison program for a host of citizen-related boards was consistent throughout the report.
“Under Melissa Nelson, Jacksonville’s prosecutors could search for wrongful convictions” via Benjamin Conarck of the Florida Times-Union – Nelson … will consider assigning a group of prosecutors to seek out and reverse wrongful convictions, signaling an openness to a tenet of criminal justice reform that has grown increasingly popular in other parts of the country. The establishment of a so-called “conviction integrity unit” at the local State Attorney’s Office would make it the first in Florida to join an emerging trend that has taken hold in prosecutors’ offices spanning Houston to New York. “That is something that I’m very, very interested in,” Nelson said during an editorial board meeting with the Times-Union … Rather than rely on defense attorneys to bring forward flawed convictions to argue in court, offices with integrity teams have a formalized process to hear directly from inmates and can also review past cases for mistakes. They can then decide on those cases without having to commit to costly and drawn out court battles.
Nelson said she plans to meet with the New York-based Innocence Project, a nonprofit devoted to reversing wrongful convictions, to discuss potentially creating such a unit. She said her main concern is cost. The units have necessitated annual budgets of about $1 million or more in major urban corridors such as Brooklyn and Los Angeles. The philosophy behind such units is to shift emphasis away from winning convictions and toward seeking justice on a fundamental level. Public Defender-elect Charlie Cofer said he first learned of Nelson’s interest in creating such a unit after meeting with her Friday. He called the fact that Nelson is exploring the idea a very good sign. “I hope that she is able to do it,” he said.
“’Early out’ from Matt Shirk’s office raises questions” via Florida Politics – Informed sources confirm people were allowed to leave at 2:45 p.m. Those same sources contend that wasn’t an coincidental time to have been chosen. PD-elect Charles Cofer was set to arrive at the PD’s office at 3 p.m. The third Friday of November is not a public holiday in Jacksonville, and other people working in governmental offices worked normal shifts. We’ve reached out to Shirk, and a representative of his confirmed the early departure, saying it was standard practice ahead of holiday weekends, so “people could get ready for the holidays.” We are told the early departure time was intended to give people a breather after an “all attorneys” meeting earlier in the afternoon. Shirk had this to say in an email: “The employees of this office work tirelessly every day fighting for justice. As a show of appreciation, I have given employees the afternoon off on the Friday before Thanksgiving each of my eight years in office. In past years, I’ve let employees go at 1:00. Today the time was 2:45 because there was an all attorney meeting from 1:30-2:30. The early out today had absolutely no connection to the visit by Charlie Cofer.”
“New Duval delegation members face a learning curve” via Florida Politics – The Duval Delegation lost over three decades of cumulative legislative experience on the state level as of the November election, and an open question among Jacksonville insiders is one of how quickly the new class conquers the learning curve. Republican Rep. Cord Byrd of House District 11 and Democratic Rep. Tracie Davis of House District 13 hit the ground running without legislative experience. However, the other three newbies – GOP Rep. Clay Yarborough in HD 12, Democratic Rep. Kim Daniels in HD 14, and Republican Rep. Jason Fischer of HD 16 – come in with experience on Jacksonville’s City Council in the case of the first two, and school board experience in the case of Fischer. That experience may be helpful in terms of accomplishing meaningful priorities sooner rather than later. In comments earlier this month, Mayor Curry didn’t project concern about a drop off in performance. “I have a very productive relationship with the current Duval delegation, and I will continue to build relationships with the new members of the delegation. 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 said. In short, the city is going to reinforce its own priorities with robust lobbying. It likely won’t be as urgent as it was last year, when the city pushed all of its chips to the center of the table to get authorization for a pension reform referendum. But that probably won’t be so bad, especially given that there was a point last summer when legislators who made the push for the referendum in Tallahassee (Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Mia Jones) essentially politicked against the measure when it was on the August ballot.
“Audrey Gibson announces run for Duval Democratic chair” via Florida Politics – In an email sent out just after midnight to officers and members of the Duval Democratic Executive Committee … Gibsonannounced her candidacy, “a decision made after several months of thought, research and reflection.” … “I believe we are well poised to help elect a Democrat governor, and other local and state officials,” Gibson wrote, “and we must immediately lay the foundation to make it happen.” Updated bylaws are one component of her plan. Recruiting precinct committee members to “work the precinct” is another component. Also integral to Gibson’s platform: a youth movement. “Increasing the number of vice chairs to give multigenerational opportunities for leadership roles and participation in developing standard areas of focus that we don’t have to reinvent every election cycle, like communications, field, social media, data and technology, all of which will help us with continual outreach,” Gibson wrote. Gibson has taken a leadership role in the party in recent months, helping to ensure Tracie Davis got the nomination and got elected to replace Reggie Fullwood in House District 13. Gibson also led an ultimately unsuccessful campaign against the pension reform referendum on the Duval County ballot, contending the regressive taxation unduly penalized lower-income residents.
“Putnam sheriff’s election results to be challenged” via News4Jax – Hours after Democrat Gator DeLoach was officially declared the winner of the Putnam County sheriff’s race, a spokesman for defeated Republican Jon Kinneysaid the results will be challenged. Certified results posted on the supervisor of elections website … after several overseas mail-in ballots were received showed DeLoach won the three-way race by 16 votes out of 32,717 votes cast. That’s a 0.05 percent margin of victory. After 427 extra ballots were that were cast and counted but not added to the results election night were added and two recounts were conducted, DeLoach was named the unofficial winner … With the grace period for overseas ballots to arrive, the election canvassing board made the results official Friday night. Kinney’s campaign manager, Tim Campbell, issued a statement thanking supporters and assuring them this isn’t over: “Let me reiterate that it is not final and we will be contesting the election.” At the end of Nov. 8, Kinney was 18 votes ahead of DeLoach. Under Florida law, a recount is triggered when results are within one-half percent.
“Northeast Florida added 25,000 jobs over the year” — Gov. Rick Scott announced Northeast Florida added 25,000 new, private-sector jobs year-over-year in October. The region includes Jacksonville and St. Augustine. The area’s unemployment was 4.7 percent in October, down 0.1 percentage points in the last year. According to the Governor’s Office, the industries with the largest job gains in the Jacksonville area over the year were leisure and hospitality with 5,100 new jobs and professional and business services with 4,500 new jobs. Scott announced the state’s October employment numbers during a stop at Ideal Aluminum, a St. Augustine aluminum manufacturer, Friday. The company manufactures fencing, gates and railing for residential, commercial and industrial uses. “In the last year, 25,000 new jobs were created by businesses like Ideal Aluminum in Northeast Florida, which is great news,” the governor said in a statement. We will continue to do all we can to make Florida the most business-friendly state in the nation so job creators can continue to invest in our state and provide more opportunities for our families.”
“Amazon seeks permit for Cecil Commerce Center” via Karen Mathis of Jax Daily Record – Four months after Amazon.com announced its first fulfillment center in Jacksonville, plans were filed for a second one in Cecil Commerce Center. That will boost its Northeast Florida job base to at least 2,700 employees. Plans were filed for the city to review a proposed 1,016,041-square-foot warehouse fulfillment center on 86 acres at 13333 103rd St. Macgregor Associates Architects of Atlanta is the architect. The site already is being cleared. The Conlan Co. is the contractor for that and is building the first center. The Cecil Commerce Center warehouse is expected to pick, pack and ship larger consumer items, such as kayaks and TVs, while the first center will handle smaller consumer goods. In addition, Amazon.com applied for a permit to build out a 63,000-square-foot delivery station in North Jacksonville at the Alta Lakes Commerce Center at 11084 Cabot Commerce Circle. The second fulfillment center has been expected.
“Jacksonville International Airport opens new, in-terminal space for pets and service animals” — The airport opened an animal relief area post security, located between concourses A and C. The area includes a mock front porch area with seating, a hand-washing sink, and pick up bag dispensers and waste receptacles. The area is made of an artificial K-9 turf product that drains, allowing it to be hosed down. The floor beneath the turf slopes into a sewer drain, and an automatic system flushes the area every 45 minutes. It also has its own dedicated air handling equipment, which helps keep it odor free “We know there are many pets and service animals traveling through our airport, and we’re pleased to offer this amenity to make their experience at JAX even more enjoyable,” said Steve Grossman, CEO of Jacksonville Aviation Authority.
“F-35s to Jax National Guard?” via Joe Daraskevich of Florida Times-Union – Officials at Jacksonville’s Air National Guard have been waiting since April to find out if their facility is a finalist for one of two squadrons of F-35A Lightning II fighters. The list of finalists could come any day. But for now they are still one of 18 bases in consideration, and they’re flying and maintaining a much older aircraft at the 125th Fighter Wing. The current squadron of F-15 Eagles flies on a daily basis from the runways they share with Jacksonville International Airport. The jets have been the superior combat aircraft in the world for decades with the most reliable engines in production, but that won’t be the case for much longer, said Matthew Bates, a spokesman for the military engines department at Pratt & Whitney. He said the future is here. The F-15s have been in service since 1974 and will be obsolete relatively soon, Bates said. Pratt & Whitney is the company that builds the F100 engine for F-15s and F-16s. But they also built the F119 engines for F-22 Raptors and they currently build F135 engines for F-35s — both are more advanced aircraft than the ones at the Jacksonville base. “The F135 is the most powerful fighter engine on the planet,” Bates said.
“New rail terminal now open for business at JAXPORT” — The $30 million Intermodal Container Transfer Facility is officially open for business. The facility provides on-dock rail service to JAXPORT’s North Jacksonville seaport terminals: the Blount Island Marine Terminal and the TraPac Container Terminal at Dames Point. The facility was constructed with $20 million from the state of Florida and $10 million in federal TIGER-grant funds. The ICTF is one of several major capital projects at JAXPORT aimed at serving global cargo customers, increasing efficiency, and contributing to the economic viability of Northeast Florida.
“Beach cities begin talks on medical marijuana regulations” via Tiffanie Reynolds of the Florida Times-Union – Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach are all in the process of drafting moratoriums for medical marijuana distribution within their city limits in the wake of passage of Amendment 2. The moratorium will block the establishment of businesses able to distribute medical marijuana for a temporary period. That will give each city government enough time to determine what regulations on distribution businesses the state will pass during its legislative session, and work out zoning regulations within city limits for businesses distributing medical marijuana. “Until we as a city see what the state comes up with in terms of enabling legislation, we can’t draft our own policies as to how we’re going to regulate them,” said Jacksonville Beach Planning and Development Director Bill Mann. Jacksonville Beach’s moratorium will last for a year after it’s passed. During that time Mann said he will research cities that already have medical marijuana treatment centers and dispensing organizations and will establish zoning regulations for those businesses. The first reading of the moratorium will be Monday and the second reading will be Dec. 5. Neptune Beach’s moratorium on medical marijuana is proposed to last three years. Neptune Beach City Manager Andrew Hyatt said City Attorney Patrick Krechowski recommended that period just in case it takes longer than one City Council term to pass state regulations. “We just wanted to make sure to have it out there to give time for the state Legislature to review it,” said Hyatt. “We wouldn’t have to go back and renew it [moratorium] every year.”
“Florida sees record tourism in third quarter; St. Johns County activity has picked up since slow October” via Stuart Korfhage of the St. Augustine Record – Gov. Scott was in Jacksonville Monday to announce that Florida set another record in tourism by seeing the highest number of visitors of any nine months in the state’s history at 85 million. The figure represents a 5.5-percent increase year-to-date over the previous year. In the third quarter of 2016 (July-September), 26.9 million visitors came to the state, an increase over last year’s total of 25.6 million over the same period. It was the state’s largest third quarter for visitation. St. Johns County’s visitors and convention bureau did not report the estimated number of the visitors in the third quarter of the year, but it did share information from Smith Travel that showed the county sold more hotel rooms in July, August and September than it did in each of those months in 2015. Through September, the county’s short-term lodgings showed an improvement year-to-date over 2015 in occupancy rate (3.6 percent), demand (5.8 percent) and revenue (9.1 percent). Richard Goldman, the CEO and president of the VCB, said the fiscal year ended Sept. 30 and that the year was a record one for the county. However, it’s no secret the county tourism industry took a hit in October because of Hurricane Matthew and the aftermath. Those losses are starting to be erased in November, though. Goldman said his preliminary reports for the month are very strong as far as lodging is concerned. He said the first 12 days of November saw an increase of 23 percent in the county’s occupancy rate compared to 2015.
Spotted: Abel Harding at Southern Strategy Group’s Convergence gathering in Orlando.
“No turnaround for Jaguars this season” via Gary Shelton — After their fifth consecutive loss of the season, there will be no turnaround in Jacksonville this season.
The Jags fell to 2-9 with a 26-19 loss to the Detroit Lions Sunday. The Jags fell to 2-8 on the season, with five of the losses coming by a touchdown or less.
Coach Gus Bradley, however, still believes his team can rebound.
“They have showed it before,” Bradley said. “I think these things that are showing up, they feel those things too. They’ll come in and go to work Wednesday and we’ve had good weeks of practice. You see it. I think when you watch this team going through a couple losses like we have you wonder how they’re going to show up. The effort and how hard we play is not an issue with this team. It’s more making some decisions, critical decision, at the right time.”
Rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey seemed to take the loss especially hard.
“I think it bothers everyone in that locker room,” Bradley said. “I don’t know if there’s a scale for (losing) bothering some people more than others based on if they are emotional on the sideline. I think it bothers all of them. I know it does.”
Bradley said it was disappointing that his team will not have a winning season.
“Someone asked that question last night too,” Bradley said. “Obviously, you have objectives and you have certain goals and you write them down and put them away and then you go to work. I think for us, we’ll evaluate at the very end and see what took place, but now our focus is on getting this team healthy and addressing the issues that we had in the game and getting ready for Buffalo.”
The Jags have begun to make the mistakes that losing teams do. They jumped offsides on a fourth-and-three late in the game. Quarterback Blake Bortles threw two more interceptions, bringing his total to 13 on the season. That’s tied for the most in NFL.
“We’re not making enough plays at critical times,” Bradley said. “I think you analyze every game and you see it and then you try to attack certain areas. Turnovers. That’s the common denominator that keeps popping up. Is it penalties? We knocked that down from double digits to single digits. I know we had that conversation before. It is penalties. It is penalties. Not all the time. You can be high in penalties and still win games and you can be low in penalties and still lose games. Turnovers are the big factor.”
Jacksonville is at Buffalo Sunday.