Summer is here. Students are at the beach. Teachers are working other jobs.
And questions are still swirling about whether and when Duval County voters will weigh in on a proposed half-cent sales tax for school capital improvements.
As it stands now, the board is still committed to a November 2019 referendum, a stand-alone vote that would require a special election devoted solely to that question.
Mayor Lenny Curry is not a fan of that concept, and neither is the Jacksonville City Council.
While 2020 offers a November general election, and an opportunity to place the ballot question to voters in what undoubtedly will be a high-turnout election (one that also complies with HB 5, a recently passed state law requiring tax referendums to be on general election ballots), the timing is terrible for the school district.
A backlog of deferred maintenance and construction projects has created untenable conditions for students at many schools.
While on its face, the case for a new tax makes itself, the Jacksonville Civic Council (after weeks of sitting on this letter) finally went public with its doubts about the plan.
“1) it is excessively expensive; 2) it fails to anticipate reductions in district-operated public school enrollment; and 3) it does not adequately contemplate the increase in charter school enrollment or the role that charter schools will play in creating the highly effective school system of the future,” read the letter, signed by Gary Chartrand, a man as rooted in the charter school game as anyone in town.
Duval County, uniquely cash-strapped, with a declining population in traditional charter schools, could be a test case for the future of education in the state.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran believes in charters, as does Gov. Ron DeSantis (who has done three events in Jacksonville at charter schools already).
Furthermore, Curry is on board.
2. This is about young folks that have been long left behind. So many folks stop me in public on the issue of school choice. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that parents are with us. Party line will kill political careers on this policy issue. Do the right thing.
— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) May 29, 2019
An assumption made by advocates for the tax is that the case makes itself. However, that fallacy is not new to Jacksonville politics. If a tax hike is pushed without opposition, it can pass.
But what if serious money jumps in to ensure opposition exists?
If that’s the case, things could get ugly (over the next 16 months) for this vote.
Those expecting drama in Rep. Al Lawson’s run for a third term won’t find it, per Florida Daily.
“Headed into the 2020 elections, Al Lawson is in a strange position — he is a heavy favorite to win a congressional election,” writes Kevin Derby.
Lawson hasn’t had a particularly close election in his previous two races.
“In 2016, Lawson challenged scandal-plagued Congresswoman Corrine Brown in the Democratic primary and, after she was indicted on corruption charges, defeated her 48 percent to 39 percent.”
Two years later, Lawson downed Alvin Brown, winning 60 percent to 40 percent.
In the 2020 general, Lawson faces Q-Anon Republican Matthew Lusk, assuming the incumbent first clears the primary against Jacksonville pharmacist Albert Chester.
Let’s work together
Rep. John Rutherford has been a strong supporter of President Donald Trump during his time in Congress.
However, the second-term Jacksonville Republican has become frustrated by partisanship, as he posted to Facebook.
“During my time in Congress, I have been surprised and disheartened to learn how hyperpartisan Washington can be. All too often, ideologues dominate and bipartisanship is neglected. Making things worse, partisan outside organizations focus more on measuring legislators’ conservative or liberal leanings with “scorecards” than on solving problems for the American people,” Rutherford decried.
“Whether it be immigration or health care, time and time again, I see decision-makers let the perfect get in the way of the good. Simply put, there are too many ideologues in Washington,” Rutherford added.
“Through my work on the Bipartisan Policy Working Group, I am committed to reaching across the aisle and finding pragmatic solutions that work for all Americans — regardless of party affiliation. This is what the American people send their elected officials to Washington to do,” Rutherford concluded.
Rutherford, who appears to be running for reelection in 2020, should face no impediments at the ballot box. He has near-universal name identification and represents a deep-red district (Congressional District 4).
Perennial candidate Gary Koniz is running as a Republican, and if he qualifies, there will be a primary of sorts. The winner of that scrum will face Monica DePaul, a Democrat who is the first transgender woman to run for the U.S. Congress.
Standing against prejudice
Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson took to the pages of the Orlando Sentinel to decry two legislative colleagues who have gone way too far in recent rhetoric.
“The first was Sen. Dennis Baxley, a man who can’t seem to shake the fact that the Union actually did win the Civil War, and is doing his best to avenge that defeat. But preserving Confederate monuments that represent oppression and segregationists isn’t enough. Baxley believes that some kind of ‘self-extinguishing’ of European society and Western culture is going on, that can best be prevented by banning abortion here in Florida,” Gibson wrote.
“A few days later, it was Rep. Mike Hill’s turn on the dark stage, joining in laughter at a public meeting at the idea of executing gay men … Under fierce criticism for his homophobic remarks, Rep. Hill now claims that he is the victim of a “social media lynching.” Really,” Gibson added.
Hill floated an apology by Wednesday morning via a favored media outlet, but not before excoriation from Republicans and Democrats alike, and not before the scandal played out for weeks.
Saft goes sour
Another incentive deal has gone wrong, via the Jax Daily Record.
“Before announcing 63 job cuts in May at its West Jacksonville factory, lithium-ion battery manufacturer Saft America Inc. had been paid $3.67 million of a $4.75 million city-backed incentive package,” the Record reported this week.
There was some clawback: “Florida state officials terminated the remaining $188,650 of Saft’s $474,300 QTI tax refund award.”
The city noted that Saft has paid $5.4 million in ad valorem taxes, which means the city netted over $1.7 million.
Saft, back in 2016, featured a speech from President Barack Obama, who highlighted the company as a success story of the post-2008 recovery.
Curry skipped the President’s speech, as he had promised to take his son fishing, which presented an irresolvable schedule conflict.
Speaking of Curry, he drew some earned media with a hip-hop quote on Twitter this week.
“Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry tweeted at the rapper Drake, who is an avid Toronto Raptors fan, using a curse word and a reference to one of Drake’s songs of being armed with a weapon,” asserted WJXT.
WJXT got a response soon, via a former employee and current Curry spox, Nikki Kimbleton.
“The mayor was simply tweeting about Steph Curry while he was watching the game. That’s who he is referring to. He had four tweets and quoted Drake because Steph Curry is a huge Drake fan. It’s just a sports lover who is tweeting back and forth with people while watching a game,” Kimbleton said.
Curry is vocal about being a major hip-hop fan, but there are those who find quotes of commercial rap to be off-brand and inconsistent with the mayoral persona.
However, for the next 48+ months, they will have to deal with it.
Where’s the grass?
The old Greyhound slogan said, “leave the driving to us.”
However, Jacksonville’s former Greyhound station, to “leave the parking to us,” has run afoul of the city’s Downtown Investment Authority.
The scoop, via the Jax Daily Record:
“Guy Parola, operations manager of the Downtown Investment Authority, sent a letter May 20 to site owner AK Pearl LLC of Miami to say the property ‘is currently functioning as an unpermitted surface parking lot’ [while] the property was supposed to be grassed in accordance with a city ordinance.”
The conflict lies in code: The Downtown Overlay Zone states that “all commercial surface parking lots in the Central Civic Core shall be prohibited.”
Stars and Braille
Per the Florida Times-Union, blind visitors to a Jacksonville veterans cemetery will be able to see the flag.
“The Braille flag is much smaller than a traditional flag, made of bronze instead of cloth and mounted on a post in the ground. The Stars and Stripes design is raised on the bronze so blind individuals can feel it, and the Pledge of Allegiance is written on it in Braille as well.”
“The Braille flag was designed by Randolph Cabral of the Kansas Braille Transcription Institute, whose father was a blind veteran. In 2008, Congress approved the Braille flag as an official American flag and passed a bill authorizing the placement of the flag at Arlington National Cemetery in February 2008.”
For those who will never see the flag with their eyes again, there are, it turns out, ways to see it with their hands … and their hearts.
From WJCT: “JEA and Kimberly-Clark Monday announced a joint campaign aimed at keeping people from flushing wipes, paper towels and other hygiene products. But the focus will be baby wipes, which pose the biggest challenge to the utility’s sewer system.”
Plastic makes it possible. Per a JEA VP, they offer a stronger wipe that wreaks havoc on drains and pipes.
Luckily, JEA’s corporate partner has a solution: “The month-long social media campaign, which is being financed by Kimberly-Clark, will urge residents to use flushable wipes. Kimberly-Clark will also get to advertise the company’s Cottonelle flushable wipes during the campaign.”
UF Health pediatric NICU recognized for big improvement
Pediatrics faculty at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville are being recognized for a significant improvement in patient care in UF Health Jacksonville’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
UF Health’s NICU took the 2019 John Curran Quality Improvement Award for its “measurable and sustained positive change” in a major perinatal quality assessment by implementing several best clinical practices.
The Florida Perinatal Quality Collaborative recognized “compelling results” of a quality improvement initiative led by neonatologist Dr. Josef Cortez, an assistant professor of pediatrics at UF COMJ and medical director of the NICU at UF Health Jacksonville.
Cortez’s project — “Creating an Antibiotic Stewardship Program in a Tertiary Neonatal Intensive Care Unit: Charge Nurses Taking Charge” — encouraged the entire team to use antibiotics more judiciously, leading to a sharp reduction in infections.
Dr. William Sappenfield, director of the Florida Perinatal Quality Collaborative, complimented the team’s successful use of the Plan-Do-Study-Act, or PDSA, research approach.
“Your write-up was stellar, demonstrating a measurable objective, using PDSA cycles to identify and implement positive change, making multiple necessary changes and clearly demonstrating measurable results,” Sappenfield said. “Congratulations to all.”
Personnel note: Fassi’s big move
Southern Strategy Group announced that Carlo Fassi is joining the firm in its Jacksonville office. A political operative with experience in campaigns across the state, he joins the Jacksonville team after a successful 2019 Jacksonville election cycle.
Fassi crossed party lines in the campaign, running the show for Democrat Tommy Hazouri, one of three winning 2019 campaigns for the operative.
“We’re excited to bring Carlo onboard,” said Deno Hicks, Southern Strategy Group’s Jacksonville managing partner.
“He brings a wealth of experience and relationships to the table and will be a valuable member of the Southern Strategy Group team as we continue growing our Florida practice,” Hicks added.
Fassi will be reunited with Matt Brockleman. Both men emerged from the crucible of the University of North Florida student government, and SSG is well-positioned in the region for the foreseeable future.
For his part, Fassi addressed the move on Facebook.
“Friends, I’m excited to share some professional news! This morning, I’m transitioning out of the full-time political campaign world and starting as an associate with Southern Strategy Group’s Jacksonville office. I’m joining great friends Matt Brockelman & Deno Hicks at one of the most influential lobbying firms in the Southeast, an opportunity that will allow me to continue growing in politics while working with an amazing team of professional advocates. I’m grateful for the countless friends and mentors who have helped me over the years. As they would tell me, the work doesn’t stop. This is only the beginning of a new chapter. Expect big things from us in the future! #SSG”
SJC school safety
As the St. Augustine Record reports, a controversial active shooter video is one and done for the St. Johns County School District.
“An active shooter training video shown to St. Johns County School District students at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year that received blowback from parents and school board members will not be shown to students when school begins again this fall,” the paper reported this week.
This was one decision from the final school board meeting of the year.
“Much of the discussion Tuesday centered around the implementation of Senate Bill 7026, also known as the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act,” legislation that was thrust upon Florida school districts following the mass shooting in Parkland that claimed 17 lives,” the Record reports, using an interesting active verb to do so.
The district has, assert school district officials, followed through on recommendations, including “active shooter drills, facility safety enhancements, mental health training and the installation of armed security guards at every campus.”
Jags make kids’ day
Thousands of Jacksonville-area kids dream of growing up to be NFL football players, especially for their hometown team. The Jaguars, in conjunction with TIAA Bank, gave a pair of young patients the thrill of their young lives recently by welcoming them to the team’s training facility.
Two patients from Community PedsCare were signed to one-day contracts as “Jaguars for a Day” and visited with several of the players while they were there. Most of the team is in town for the scheduled organized team activities (OTAs).
To view a video of “Jaguar for a Day,” click on the image below:
Will Barkoskie and Tylon Richardson took part in a contract signing ceremony before they were each presented with Jaguars jerseys with their names and the number 1 on the back. It was then time to meet several of the Jaguars players whom they watch on television each week during the season.
“When you explain to the other people the experience we are providing, not only for the children but for the families, it really is special and very emotional,” said Curt Cunkle, Florida Banking President for TIAA. “It’s really an opportunity for these families to celebrate and to smile under some pretty trying circumstances.
Defensive tackle Malik Jackson made a thoughtful gesture after meeting the boys by adding a signing bonus to their contract. He said they were going through hard times and he hoped they were able to come out and enjoy themselves.
Will ended his day by expressing high hopes for the Jaguars.
“This time, I hope they can try to make it to the Super Bowl if they can,” he said.