Jacksonville Bold for 4.19.19 — Running up that hill
As Jacksonville City Council members prepare to leave, things have gotten interesting.
As we write below, Matt Schellenberg went to the press to complain about Mayor Lenny Curry’s right-hand man, Brian Hughes.
And Anna Brosche, who finished far behind Curry on the March ballot, went to Curry’s general counsel to ask if the Mayor had the right to make Hughes the city’s chief administrative officer.
Spoiler alert: the lawyer sided with Curry.
Hughes will be a change agent for the city of Jacksonville, in a role where he will represent the convergence of political power and policy stroke.
One theory, subscribed to by insiders, is that he will speed up government. Permitting … zoning … legislation.
That can have drawbacks, the critics will note. Consider the aborted deal with the would-be re-developers of the Berkman 2 complex.
Was it vetted properly? It got through Downtown Investment Authority vetting, which Hughes runs on an interim basis. But the deal was dead before the City Council Finance Committee could vote on it … so they quietly pulled it.
The problem critics encounter is not whether they have a point, so much as they have been caught flat-footed as the game locally has changed.
In other words, it doesn’t matter if they have a point.
To displace a generation of pols who thought being Mayor was the culmination of decades of taxpayer jobs, Curry built a machine.
That machine has not let up in five long years.
People may grouse. Curry keeps score of where the leaks come from also. And Curry will tell you he calls the shots: not any donors, even billionaires.
And Curry has not backed down from a challenge, really, since the 2016 vote on the Human Rights Ordinance’s expansion to LGBT protections.
Second terms can be long, with diminishing returns and dwindling political capital. The Curry strategy is to take out any challenges and to avoid being defined as a “lame duck.”
He’s also mindful of politicians with an eye toward the 2023 election, as shown by his sharp rejoinder to Councilman-elect Matt Carlucci proposing more community discussion about the fate of the Jacksonville Landing.
Elected officials afraid to make a decision because they are gunning for a political future has been the bane of our city. No more retreading. https://t.co/BmmXRcrnZC
— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) April 18, 2019
As the week ended, Duval Democrats said Curry-backed candidates were “bought and paid for.” They urge more “independence” on Council.
A laudable goal, in theory.
But for a second-term Mayor, having the right people in place is key to ensure the agenda moves through. And Curry is determined to make sure he has reliable actors on the dais.
Officer honored in House
The name Lance Christian Whitaker was not a household name in Jacksonville, until May 15, 2018.
Responding to a call in treacherous weather early that morning, the 48-year-old Whitaker lost control of his vehicle.
“We believe in service, we believe in each other, and we believe in family,” Rep. Tracie Davis said, regarding a bipartisan bill to name a stretch of I-295 after fallen Jacksonville officer Lance Whitaker.
Davis and Rep. Cord Byrd carried SB 64/HB 43 in the House.
“Lance will never be forgotten,” Davis vowed.
The House was actually second to pass the bill. The Senate passed it last month, in another unanimous bipartisan vote.
Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson and Republican counterpart Aaron Bean carried the legislation.
Rep. Byrd got national attention for his House bill targeting sanctuary cities last weekend.
Fox News gave Byrd a platform.
Byrd framed the bill as a “ban” of sanctuary cities and said it would compel local law enforcement to work with ICE if an immigrant here illegally has been arrested for other reasons.
Fox noted that there are 775,000 immigrants illegally in Florida.
“Florida’s a gateway to Central and South America,” Byrd said. “We want to make sure those who are here are following the Rule of Law.”
“This law should be unnecessary,” Byrd said, though there are no designated sanctuary jurisdictions in Florida.
Not all criminals come from foreign lands. Some are close to home. And some, as a media release from CFO Jimmy Patronis noted, might be working in the home.
Patronis announced Tuesday the arrest of a Jacksonville contractor who scammed homeowners out of $40,000. He and his affiliates at Storm Restoration Specialists forged customer signatures on Assignment of Benefits documents, which allowed them to siphon the money of clients without their knowledge.
Patronis said: “This case is another example of a bad contractor scamming Floridians and pocketing the money without actually making repairs. AOBs were once used to protect Floridians but recently, assigning your benefits over to a contractor has become an abusive practice.
“When they hire a company, consumers should have peace of mind that work is being completed and not have to worry about being left high and dry by a contractor. My detectives work hard every day to find these criminals and stop them from preying on homeowners.”
The winning team
Should Duval Democrats have run a mayoral candidate?
One recently defeated Jacksonville City Council candidate said yes, in an editorial featured in the Florida Times-Union.
Jimmy Peluso, who finished out of the runoff in District 14, wondered why the party abandoned the top of the ticket.
“The 2018 election was a fluke … the local Democratic Party cannot get their voters out to the polls,” Peluso said. “Many in the party looked to Anna Brosche as close enough to a Democratic candidate.”
Notable: Peluso is from the Tommy Hazouri wing of the local party. His campaign manager was former Hazouri aide Haleigh Hutchison, and the pragmatism of that wing of the party often is at odds with other elements.
Peluso suggested a “deal” with Curry to be “part of the winning team”: no opposition in favor of a dedicated funding source for children’s programs.
Expect that when he runs again, unfriendly Democrats will revive that quote.
Amb. Nancy Soderberg fell to U.S. Rep. Mike Waltz in the 2018 campaign.
However, she’s still in the game, the featured guest at a fundraiser this week for Democratic City Council candidate Lisa King.
The event is Tuesday evening and hosted by Tracye Polson, who herself lost a close race last year, hers for the state House.
Soderberg and Polson both went up against the same consultant in their losses: Tim Baker, who handles all of the work for the Curry machine.
Including, of course, the campaign of King’s opponent, Terrance Freeman.
Freeman had, at last count, a roughly two-to-one cash lead over King.
Expect Curry, who bounced King from the Planning Commission within months after winning in 2015, to engage.
— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) April 16, 2019
The simmering discontent of Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Schellenberg has again boiled over, with a leak to the Florida Times-Union about how mean spirited the Mayor’s staff can be.
Schellenberg, like the Mayor, is a Republican.
Schellenberg was piqued by the Downtown Investment Authority greenlighting a deal with a Mississippi developer who had grand plans to revive the blighted and abandoned Berkman II.
However, after the Florida Times-Union reported on the developer’s history of losing judgments, Schellenberg gave a hot quote, and got a snarky text from Curry chief of staff Brian Hughes that he saw as a “clear threat” to projects in his district.
Schellenberg has butted heads with the Curry operation, at one point teasing a run against Rep. Jason Fischer, whose campaigns are run by Curry’s political operatives.
Perhaps Schellenberg may explore a 2020 primary challenge since he won’t be at City Hall much longer; he’s termed out at the end of June.
Fischer looks forward to the action.
@LennyCurry & Brian have done more for Jacksonville than @MandarinMatt ever did. Only bills Schellenberg will be remembered for is trying to extend his term limits and raising his own pay #nolegacy #jaxpol #flapol
— Rep. Jason Fischer (@JasonFischerFL) April 17, 2019
Vote of confidence
Outgoing Jacksonville CAO Sam Mousa gave incoming CAO Hughes a strong endorsement this week, in rare on-record comments to WJCT.
“Is he going to know everything that I know? No,” Mousa said, matter-of-factly. “No one who’s going to walk into this office is going to know everything that I know. I’ve done it for 20 years.”
“He’s watched me. I’ve counseled. He’s asked questions,” Mousa added. “He did not come in here thinking he knew everything. He did not make that mistake. He knows he needs to learn.”
“Brian is going to do a significantly good job for Mayor Curry,” said Mousa. “I have no concerns about that whatsoever, and no one else should either. He’s a good, smart, quick learner.”
Mousa doubled down on his endorsement of Hughes as a replacement this week, as we reported in Florida Politics.
Sweet, sweet fantasy
The Florida Times-Union’s Nate Monroe did not seem particularly surprised this week by the Berkman 2 redevelopment deal collapsing after revelations that the developers had a history of legal judgments against them.
“Even if everything had been on the up and up with the Mississippi developers who wanted to turn the troubled Berkman II riverfront property into a Dave & Busters on steroids, the project raised — and still raises — so many questions it’s hard to know where to start,” Monroe wrote.
“The Magnolia State moguls pulled their plans last week for a family entertainment center, hotel and Ferris wheel for reasons they insisted had nothing to do with stories by my colleague Christopher Hong detailing unpaid taxes and $11 million in financial judgments connected to the main financier of the Berkman project. It turns out the excuses they gave instead actually help underscore why their plans — and the plans of top city officials to subsidize them — never made much sense in the first place,” Monroe added.
Monroe noted that the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee withdrew the bill without discussion.
“Because if it never happened, then no one lost. And if no one lost, then everyone still wins. And that’s obviously the most important thing.”
Duval County Schools have a nearly $2 billion backlog of deferred capital maintenance. How to pay for it?
The Florida Times-Union says the board has a solution: a tax hike.
“Options for the money include a possible referendum asking Duval County voters to approve a discretionary sales surtax,” Teresa Stepzinski writes.
We’ve been here before, of course.
The board will workshop this concept on Tuesday at 1 p.m.
“Complicating the issue … sales surtax bills [in Tallahassee].”
These would require referenda during the general election.
The House version would require a ⅔ supermajority to pass.
Another suggestion: Raise the millage rate.
“Duval County Public Schools has received zero dollars for growth since consolidation,” said Chairwoman Lori Hershey.
Wawa to Downtown
Those Jacksonville downtown denizens looking for the Wawa experience won’t have to drive far for very long.
Per the Jacksonville Daily Record, the popular convenience store chain (known for its hoagies) is looking for a location in the Urban Core.
“We’re keying in on a particular site Downtown,” Brian Duke, Wawa regional real estate manager, said.
When pressed by a reporter, Duke said the new spot could be in Springfield or on the Northbank.
If it is Springfield, that would speak volumes about the city’s long-standing attempts to bring the neighborhood back to former glory. 7-11 already has a couple of locations downtown, but otherwise, there is little competition.
CSX stock hits record
Many observers squawked when Jacksonville railroad CSX cut thousands of employees in the pursuit of a “precision railroading” model.
Not so squawky: shareholders.
Bloomberg reported Wednesday that CSX stock hit a record high “after improving its operating ratio, a broad measure of efficiency, by 4.2 percentage points to 59.5 percent on cost reductions and faster-running trains.”
“Of all the railroads, we regard CSX as having the best current combination of excess capacity and strong operations, which is the perfect recipe for translating volume growth into earnings growth,” Rick Paterson, an analyst with Loop Capital, said in a note. “The issue, of course, is where that volume growth is going to come from.”
CSX hopes to take business from commercial trucking, the report adds.
Supplementary reading: The earnings PowerPoint deck, via Seeking Alpha.
Once more with feeling
Back in 2015, the “Liberty Street Crisis” was a talking point for candidate Curry.
His first budget promised efficacious resolution of the span on the Northbank riverfront.
Entering his second term, however, the Liberty Street/Coastline Drive span is still a work in progress, WOKV reports.
“WOKV has now obtained a second change order, which shows the contractor is getting another $199,551.41, as well as another timeline extension. That brings the total contract award to just over $25.9 million, with … January 2020 as a likely new target completion date.”
Various unanticipated issues have caused the delay.
One wonders, of course, why Brosche or Jimmy Hill didn’t bother to message on this issue.
But if we were to start tabulating all of the missed opportunities in those campaigns, we’d be here through Easter.
Racked by increasing levels of nuisance flooding, St. Augustine hopes that a retaining wall helps to minimize impacts in parts of town.
First Coast News reported this week that the city would build “around a marsh south of South Street, just south of Lake Maria Sanchez, which [is] south of downtown St. Augustine.”
St. Augustine Public Works Director Mike Cullum said, “it will be at the same elevation as the bayfront wall, but because the wetland here is at elevation 4-feet-high, it will be a 3-foot wall, to bring it up to 7-feet elevation.”
Some worry that if the wall is higher, floodwaters will displace to other parts of town.
Fournette gives Jags heartburn
Last week’s arrest of Jaguars’ star running back Leonard Fournette for driving with a suspended license was troubling for multiple reasons. It was merely the latest mishap involving Fournette, but it is also a step back after he gave indications he was ready to help the team return to the playoffs.
After speaking with Fournette in January, Jags’ head coach Doug Marrone described the sometimes-troubled third-year back as “in a good place.”
“We had a good meeting,” Marrone said. “I’m not going to speak for Leonard, but when he left that meeting … I think he’s in a really good place. That’s encouraging and I’m excited about that.”
While serving as a workhorse when he’s on the field, Fournette has been bothered by injuries and questionable behavior during his first two seasons. Last year, he earned a suspension after a post-game confrontation with Buffalo defensive lineman Shaq Lawson following a bitter defeat.
He also earned the wrath of the chief of football operations Tom Coughlin for sitting on the bench and appearing disinterested during the team’s 20-3 season-ending loss to Houston. Fournette was inactive for the game, but Coughlin called Fournette’s (along with former running back T.J. Yeldon) actions selfish and “unbecoming that of a professional football player.”
The Jaguars need to know a major component of their offense has his head in the game and his heart with his teammates. Marrone believed in January Leonard was over the hump.
On the bright side, Fournette did not commit a serious crime, but it seems to continue a recent pattern revealing a lack of self-discipline. All the former LSU star had to do to avoid the license suspension and subsequent arrest was pay a speeding ticket he received last July.
The license was suspended in January at about the same time he was having his “in a good place” meeting with Marrone.
As far as the running back position goes, the Jaguars are clearly not in a good place.