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Jacksonville Bold for 7.12.19 — ‘Laugh and bored at the same time’ 

The Duval School tax referendum drama keeps rolling on.

‘Laugh and bored at the same time’ 

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry may have been reacting to the latest agitations for a 2019 tax referendum for Duval County schools’ capital needs on Twitter this week.

This kind of baiting of political opponents predates that, however.

Curry tweeted that hours after his immediate predecessor, Democrat Alvin Brown, told us that “voters should decide” … in 2019.

Curry plans to meet with Duval Schools Superintendent Diana Greene and School Board Chair Lori Hershey Friday. The parties will, hopefully, hash out significant differences between the board stance and the mayoral position.

However, the tweet, along with assurances from his office that the Mayor still sees 2019 as a non-starter for a tax vote, suggests that Curry has not evolved on this issue in the way the Smart Set might hope.

Time may be running out to get movement on this before the bill quietly disappears into a six-week legislative cycle, which would ensure that even the slim chance of a vote in 2019 fades to none.

Word on the street (though unconfirmed at this writing) is that the state OPPAGA process would take six months after Council and Mayor approve the referendum vote. If that’s true, well, it’s 2020 or bust.

Interestingly, Curry continues to throw elbows. A second-term Mayor now with no public plans for another campaign, the process is in favor of the outcome he wants. Clay County’s commission opting to punt its bill back to the School Board for a 2020 vote this week shows what his Council will do.

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But, as we know, Curry can’t help but spike the ball. These battles are personal for this Mayor.

Speaking of spiking the ball, it appears the development plans at Lot J at the Jaguars’ stadium are about to be workshopped by Council. The incentives will lead to some public chest thumping in the committee process, for sure.

Lots of second-term types will be thinking about their next campaigns. And maybe one or two Council rookies also.

However, Curry will get that through. The Finance Committee, with limited exception, benefited from his political operation’s support in this year’s campaigns. The full Council may squawk, but not for long, and not in a way that will be remembered once they break ground.

At the end of this all, in a few years, Bold wouldn’t be surprised to see the Mayor as President … of the Jaguars.

Alabama pride

Former U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw left Congress in 2017, but a homecoming is in the works, per POLITICO Influence.

“Former Rep. Ander Crenshaw, who joined King & Spalding as a senior counsel in 2017 after retiring from Congress, has registered as a lobbyist for the first time. Crenshaw and two other King & Spalding lobbyists will advocate on Medicare reimbursement and other health care issues for the East Alabama Medical Center, according to a disclosure filing.”

Ander Crenshaw is now a lobbyist in Alabama.

Back in 2017, Crenshaw joined the firm as senior counsel, as Florida Politics reported.

“King & Spalding’s roster of former government officials — elected and nonelected, both Democrat and Republican — was a compelling platform as I contemplated life after Congress,” said Crenshaw.

Crenshaw said when he left Congress that he wouldn’t “miss the circus,” but would “miss the clowns.”

Looks like he’ll be back under the big top after all.

Big spender

Maybe it’s just a Northeast Florida thing, or perhaps it’s the broader context of a race for Senate leadership, but a $100,000 check is never a coincidence.

That six-figure slip of paper was the most significant single donation to the political committee of Gov. Ron DeSantis, courtesy of the family business of Sen. Travis Hutson.

“The most significant contribution, $100,000, came from the St. Augustine-based Hutson Companies LLC. Hutson is seeking the GOP caucus’ support in a bid to become Senate President in 2022,” reports News Service of Florida.

The donation highlighted a list of Northeast Florida donors for DeSantis in June.

Lots of action for the Governor’s committee from the 904.

Absent from that list: Vestcor’s John Rood, whose workforce housing project in Jacksonville’s Cathedral District DeSantis had vetoed.

That was an $8 million chop.

Gibson wants referendum

Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson is continuing her push for a referendum in November for a ½ cent sales tax for Duval County schools.

Senator defends Supe in the local paper.

The School Board wants this, as does the Superintendent. However, the Jacksonville City Council looks like it will slow-walk the vote to where a 2020 referendum seems more likely.

Gibson had some thoughts in the Florida Times-Union. She defended appointed Superintendent Diana Greene, who has “graciously and professionally answered the same questions over and over about the plan for safe and secure schools for our children with data-based answers.”

“Let’s be clear, Greene did not fall off the proverbial turnip truck and land in Jacksonville, she deliberately applied for the role of superintendent and was hired by our elected School Board,” Gibson notes.

“Competent and credible,” Gibson says of Greene’s involvement in “two successful referendums for public school capital projects … a picture of collaboration.”

“The real issue surrounding the noise about the current referendum has nothing to do with a plan at all, nor collaboration. Unfortunately, Greene is caught in a shakedown. The needs of our children and schools are being held hostage,” Gibson adds.

Performance review

State Rep. Kim Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat representing District 14, faces a lawsuit from a former legislative aide she discharged.

Was Kim Daniels justified in firing a former employee?

Karen Riggien was an assistant to Daniels from September 2017 to February 2018. She filed suit in Leon County Circuit Civil court.

Riggien contends that “despite her stellar work performance,” Daniels mistreated her, forcing her to help Daniels’ son get into Florida State and do some work on the plaintiffs’ “home insurance” policy.

Riggien reported Daniels’ alleged misuse of state resources, such as her time for these onerous tasks, in early 2018 to Director of House Administration Steve Godwin. Soon after that, she was fired.

Riggien is represented by Tallahassee employment-law attorney Marie Mattox, who specializes in representing plaintiffs in discrimination and retaliation cases against the state. The case was assigned to Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll.

Read the complaint here.

What’s next for Deutsche?

Staff cuts abound for the increasingly-troubled Deutsche Bank, and as Bloomberg notes, Jacksonville may be on the ax list.

Deutsche Bank in Jacksonville may be next to go.

“For the past several years, Deutsche Bank has been persuading harried Wall Streeters to move to Jacksonville, Florida, where it was building out operations to handle more of the firm’s business at a lower cost. Veterans who accepted the posts said that even as the bank reined in pay, they felt richer in those suburbs than they had in Manhattan,” Bloomberg reports.

Despite the real prospect of job losses, the Bloomberg report is fairly bullish on Jacksonville’s prospects.

“Even if the firm does cut local staff, Jacksonville has persuaded a variety of other companies since the financial crisis to build out their presence, taking advantage of the cheaper labor market, lower rents, desirable weather and nonexistent state income taxes.”

Several other financial services companies have robust operations in town.

“No matter what happens to Deutsche Bank, Jacksonville is going to be able to handle whatever changes occur,” said one Jacksonville University economist.

Deno dishes

The Jacksonville Business Journal caught up with Southern Strategy Group managing partner Deno Hicks this week.

SSG’s Northeast Florida contingent.

Some highlights from behind the paywall …

Hicks noted that often, lobbyists are there to make sense of “contentious, high-profile issues … simply educating the public.”

“We try and be on the right side of issues — although I know that can be subjective. But at some point, you need to look at the numbers and science and accept a fact is a fact. From there, we try to educate the public. It’s one of the more expensive services we offer as well, especially if there are competing interests,” Hicks noted.

Hicks also noted the importance of outside capital to the city, “a game changer for development in Jacksonville.”

“We’re doing a lot of work right now connecting developers with sources of outside investments. We’re trying to put Jacksonville’s projects on investors’ radar.”

Hicks noted in the article some of the more interesting regulatory spaces, including cannabis and the environment.

Read it all here.

First and goal

It appears that Jacksonville is nearing a rollout and City Council consideration of what will happen at Lot J by the stadium.

First and goal: Lot J plans soon to be rolled out to the City Council.

USA Today cited the Jacksonville Daily Record, reporting that the incentive proposal will include “a comprehensive plan of what Lot J will look like.”

Expected: a “Live! arena venue, which is for dining during games, a hotel (likely by Live! too or Loews), a residential building, an office building and a parking garage.”

The hope: “By turning Lot J into a place where people can occupy 24/7, the hope is that it will spearhead the growth of downtown Jacksonville, which ultimately will bring attention to the Jags.”

The Jaguars have been around for a quarter century, and attendance has surged at times but has often troughed with the team’s on-field fortunes.

Lot J considerations will be among the first major acts of the new City Council, which starts committees next week.

Veteran presence

Action News Jax has the scoop on new parking spaces in Clay County intended to honor veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.

“Two “Veterans Parking Only” spots in front of the Clay County Administration Building on 477 Houston Street in Green Cove Springs [were] unveiled Tuesday,” ANJ reported.

Thank you for your service: Mike Cella hopes private companies follow suit.

“We can’t say thank you enough to our veterans for their service,” Commissioner Mike Cella said during the unveiling ceremony.

Cella wants private companies to do the same, providing preferential parking for veterans of the armed forces.

One could imagine a similar scenario in Duval County, where parking around City Hall is at a premium. Though it’s impractical to reserve meter spots, parking passes may be a proposal to accommodate veterans dealing with city government.

Hemp and shrimp

You may see hemp farms soon in Northeast Florida — if this First Coast News report is predictive.

The industrial hemp program may mean opportunity in NE FL.

“Now that it’s legal for farmers to grow hemp in the Sunshine State, Jean Sebastian Gros wants to be one of the first farmers to grow it in Palatka,” FCN reports.

Gros has a 30-acre farm in Palatka, where he planned to grow lettuce, “but when hemp became available, we shifted our plan to also accommodate hemp,” he said.

Florida greenlighted an industrial hemp program this year, a priority of Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Gros’ own Sen., Rob Bradley.

But it caught Gros by surprise: “Nobody expected Florida to pass a hemp bill so quickly.”

Despite the surprise, Gros will farm hemp and shrimp together.

“We’ll take the waste from the shrimp we’ll be growing, and we’ll convert that through aquaponics into mineral nutrients that will feed both lettuce and hemp in our greenhouses,” Gros said.

Baby zebra born

Visitors to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens can expect to see a new arrival: a zebra foal.

Image via Mark Steppe, courtesy of Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

The Zoo’s fourth zebra foal was born to 5-year-old Makena (F) and 19-year-old Mosi (M) and is already on exhibit along the Africa Loop.

“The birth went well and was unassisted by staff,” said Dan Maloney, Deputy Zoo Director. “Guests have been excited to view the new foal, and we are proud to welcome another Grevy’s zebra to our zoo family, and help raise awareness and support for this rare species.”

The Grevy zebra is endangered. Its traditional habitat, in African grasslands, is threatened by human encroachment — an all too familiar story. The zoo supports the Grevy’s Zebra Trust in its conservation efforts.

Allen ready to roll

In the NFL there are defensive ends and there are outside linebackers. In some cases, there is a hybrid of the two called an “edge” player.

That player is known to have the skills to be an effective pass rusher and one who can also stop the run. The top edge player in the league is Chicago’s All-Pro Khalil Mack.

The Jaguars really wanted Josh Allen – the University of Kentucky edge defender they selected as the No. 7 overall selection of the 2019 NFL Draft.

The Jaguars believe, or hope, they have the next Mack in Josh Allen, who was taken in April’s draft as the 7th overall pick. The former star from Kentucky is now ready to start training camp after signing his rookie contract, which will bring him more than $22 million over four years.

“The journey began when I got drafted here, but now it’s official,” said Allen shortly after signing. “Now, I get to put my head down, get to work and continue to try and be the best player I can.”

Allen brings unquestioned talent and energy to a defense with plenty of quality parts, but in need of invigoration after a disappointing 2018 season. Allen wants to be part of that return to glory.

“Hopefully, we’ll bring Sacksonville 2.0 here,” Allen said shortly after the draft.

Even if the rookie is half as good as Mack this year, opposing quarterbacks will have something to think about between him and the defensive line led by defensive ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue (if he gets a new contract), along with tackle Marcell Dareus. All three have played in Pro Bowls.

“We’ll get him on the field and put him in the best position to give us the best opportunity to stop the run and get after the quarterback,” said Head Coach Doug Marrone.

Allen and fellow rookies report to training camp on July 22.

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