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Jacksonville Bold for 1.30.20 — Domino Dancing

As the dominoes start to fall …

Domino Dancing

Readers of a certain age will remember the pop-ironist Pet Shop Boys, a synth duo that, while still recording, had their most resonance in the late-80s.

Their song “Domino Dancing” was indicative of that period, with the lyrics “all day, all day/watch them all fall down.”

Of late, the situation at JEA, much of which detailed herein, brings to mind those lyrics.

CEO Aaron Zahn: fired, finally, with cause … after some weeks where it was less than certain policymakers wanted to make that case.

Board Chair April Green? Resigned.

Green illustrates the schizophrenia of the process. First, she voted to hire Zahn, favoring him (by more of a margin on a point-total vote) than did other board members. Then she pushed to fire Zahn with cause.

Did Zahn act alone? Doubtful.

The JEA sale effort was a push of the local power structure, and the paradox is that now, no matter what could have been done with the profits, the effort will be framed as a series of invoices and attempts to get a vig off the sale, by executives and others around the process.

Mayor Lenny Curry, seen by most observers as the ultimate puppet master of the push, now faces second-term difficulties, which, when he celebrated his victory in March, seemed avoidable.

Freshly reelected Mayor Lenny Curry.

Dominos are falling, with investigations both public (a City Council inquiry) and private (don’t forget the feds are looking into it, too).

Can Curry recalibrate?

Could the Mayor find a way to make amends for a process that went two years — which, in the end, he couldn’t push through?

He called for the resignation of the board, vowing to work with the City Council to pick new members.

Curry is no longer Teflon, to be sure. This experience could make him a more thoughtful and inclusive Mayor.

Or, perhaps, it could create/reinforce a bunker mentality.

As the next few weeks unfold, it could tell the tale — a spotlight for what the next few years will look like.

Liberty and locks

Count U.S. Rep. Al Lawson in on a federal bill that would end discrimination against certain hairstyles.

Rep. Al Lawson is working to eliminate hair discrimination for persons of color.

Florida Phoenix reports that the Democrat, whose district includes Jacksonville, is backing legislation to “ban discrimination based on hair textures and styles.

“The bill, known as the CROWN Act, would clarify that discrimination based on race or national origin encompasses hair texture and style,” the Phoenix adds.

State legislation has also been filed and is moving through the committee process.

Other Florida Democrats up on the bill include Reps. Frederica Wilson, Alcee Hastings and Val Demings.

While the bill could clear the House, it’s less certain that it would get much traction in the GOP-majority Senate.

‘Jake was Jacksonville’

Everyone with a byline has written about the passing of former Jacksonville Mayor Jake Godbold at this point, but one of the best was from Mark Woods in the Florida Times-Union over the weekend.

Woods’ proposition was simple: “Jake was Jacksonville. Jacksonville was Jake.”

Jake Godbold pitches pension reform, 2016.

“It was impossible to separate the two when he died Thursday at age 86,” Woods added.

“Even when he was leading the city, the mayor told people he wanted to be called Jake. And when his longtime friend and adviser Mike Tolbert wrote a book about him last year,” Woods noted, “it was titled, “Jake!”

“When Jake was first sworn in as mayor,” Woods added, “he said: ‘A lot of people see my life as part of the American dream. They realize if I can be mayor, then their sons or daughters can attain the same goal.’”

Housing discrimination bill moves

The Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee moved a bill Tuesday that would remedy housing discrimination.

HB 175, filed by Jacksonville Rep. Tracie Davis, would align state and federal guidelines.

State Rep. Tracie Davis wants the state to march in step with the feds on housing discrimination. 

The Florida Commission on Human Relations, Broward County Commissioners and others were in support.

The bill has the Judiciary Committee ahead of the House floor.

Priorities

A refiled bill that would require every high school in the state to offer classes in the Bible and Hebrew Scriptures is being withdrawn.

Sponsoring Rep. Kim Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat running for her third term, said that the bill wasn’t a “priority” this year, and she wants to focus on other things.

Rep. Kim Daniels is (again) pushing religious education in public schools.

The bill (HB 341) would require — rather than just permit, as is the case now — high schools to offer an “objective study of religion.”

Such courses would have included:

— “A course on the Hebrew Scriptures and Old Testament …”

— “A course on the New Testament…,” and

— “A course on the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament of the Bible, and the New Testament of the Bible.”

If the bill passed, the state’s public schools would have to offer these, but no one student would be required to take them.

Daniels made news last week when she publicly broke with members of her caucus on a bill requiring parental consent for minors having abortions.

The measure (HB 265) would require parental consent before minors could undergo abortion procedures. The bill is headed to the House floor soon, after its sole committee stop, and not every Democrat is in opposition.

Supe push pause

A controversial local bill that would create a pathway for changes in Jacksonville’s school district administration is on pause for a week.

A bill from State Rep. Jason Fischer that would make the (currently appointed) position an elected one was approved by the House Local Administration Subcommittee last week.

The bill was noticed for the Pre K-12 Innovation Subcommittee as of this writing. Still, Fischer had a previous engagement: an invitation to the White House for remarks by President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Jason Fischer among several Florida lawmakers to join Ron DeSantis at the White House for the announcement of a new pro-Israel peace plan.

If the local bill (HB 1079) becomes law, Duval voters in November 2020 would be able to vote on whether they want an elected Superintendent, setting up a potential election in 2024 to select a replacement for a position appointed for decades.

The bill is controversial even in Fischer’s hometown, opposed vociferously by the Duval County School Board … a body Fischer belonged to up until 2016.

That experience as a school board member, often on the losing end of votes, taught him an appointed superintendent (such as Duval has had for decades) is the “tool of politicians.”

What Nat Ford is reading

A professor collaborating with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority explained the independent authority’s strategy on automated vehicles in Forbes earlier this month.

“While there has been a great deal of Autonomous Vehicle (AV) activity in the public eye related to private vehicles, such as robo-taxi tests from companies like Waymo or Uber, the City of Jacksonville has been charting its own course through the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) with the deployment of AVs for public transportation. The JTA’s engagement with the technology provides insight into the challenges and reality of implementing AV technology for public use in a production environment,” writes Rahul Razdan, of Florida Polytechnic University.

JTA had built the “Skyway Express” decades back, an urban circulator that connects parts of downtown, but has never been integrated into the transit system in a way that justified the expense.

What the future looked like in the 1980s.

“With the city’s population projected to continue to increase, the public transportation challenge now included connecting newly developed neighborhood centers, such as the entertainment and hospital districts. With the aging infrastructure and obsolescence of the vehicles, the JTA determined that it was the perfect time to consider AV technology as a compelling upgrade to the system,” Razdan writes.

Read more here.

Taxman cometh

Former Congresswoman Corrine Brown, in prison for a while longer for fraud charges, lost her homestead exemption according to the most recent tax records.

Prison precludes homestead exemptions, apparently.

As a result, her millage hit will go up on a property she clearly doesn’t occupy.

Her 2018 tax bill came in at just under $2,500.

Meanwhile, 2019’s hit was over $4,000.

Brown is current on both assessments, with mortgage companies making payments on each.

Brown, who was in Congress representing the Jacksonville area and other areas mapped into the district at various times, was indicted and convicted in 2016 for a variety of counts related to using donor funds for personal enrichment.

Home rule moment

Timing might be everything, but it takes a certain chutzpah to pass regulations governing short-term rentals just as the House and Senate eyeball bills preempting local regs to the state.

However, that’s what St. Augustine did, reports First Coast News.

“The regulations will require owners to register and get inspections. Rentals will be limited to 12 guests total, with no more than two adults and two children per room.”

St. Augustine has sent city leaders to Tallahassee already this session, in what have been futile attempts thus far to stop legislation that would delegate regulation to the DBPR.

Zahn canned, with cause

After spending the better part of the winter deciding how to can former CEO Zahn, the JEA Board finally fired him Tuesday with cause.

That allows the city and utility to avoid further compensation that would have been due in Zahn’s contract.

First Coast News notes that “Because he will be fired with cause, Zahn is missing out on his severance package of around $842,000, which his contract called for in the event of termination without cause. This amount would have fallen on taxpayers.”

City lawyers cited willful misconduct as one of 24 reasons to fire Zahn.

Lenny Curry released the following statement: “

“I asked our Office of General Counsel for a thorough review and investigation into this matter so that the JEA board would have all of the facts necessary to make its decision. The JEA Board of Directors consists of dedicated leaders in our community who volunteer their time and expertise. I have always maintained my faith and confidence in the board and stand behind the decision today.

Red Rover

The old children’s game “Red Rover” never included, at least in our childhoods, former JEA CEO Aaron Zahn.

Can Aaron Zahn come over? Say, 170 times?

However, City Hall plays it differently, as WJXT reported.

“The News4Jax I-TEAM found out just how much time ousted JEA CEO Aaron Zahn was spending at City Hall. According to Zahn’s keycard, he has swiped into City Hall at least 170 times in the last year and a half. It’s still not clear what he was doing there.”

Those who believe that Mayor Curry had something to do with the two-year JEA sale push happening just a short walk from the St. James Building likely see those “swipes” as confirmation for their narrative.

Zahn framed it differently.

“City Hall contains the general counsel’s office, 19 City Council members and the Mayor’s Office. During the last two years, JEA negotiated a contribution extension, had substantial legislation on a number of topics, passed two budgets, and was responsive to council inquiries and workshops. The number of times I visited City Hall demonstrates my focus on transparency and communication with all of Jacksonville’s policymakers,” Zahn wrote.

So, in the City Hall game of “Red Rover,” apparently, there were numerous reasons Zahn would “come over.”

Curry’s office, via spox Nikki Kimbleton (an alumna of THE local station) backs Zahn’s narrative energetically.

“For starters, not all of the visits listed were to City Hall. In late August/early September during the hurricane… there were multiple swipes (more than 30) that were at the EOC … “Mayor’s Conference Room” … the private room where we hold the major briefings with the weather service and other pertinent individuals before going into the command center to release that information. All local mayors (and many others— including the Sheriff) were in that room for those meetings to assess how to move forward with the storm,” Kimbleton asserted.

As well, 170 swipes does not equal 170 discrete visits.

“While 170 is an overall number of swipes,” Kimbleton said, “it fails to explain that you swipe multiple times within a single visit to get to certain locations. For example, in some instances, Mr. Zahn swiped three times to get into a certain location of City Hall. (It takes me three swipes to get to my desk each day.)”

“When we crunched the numbers over the time period— even including the dates at the EOC mentioned above as well as other City buildings; Mr. Zahn used his card to access City building 4.2 days each month over a 17 month period,” Kimbleton said.

She added that he had just two one-on-ones with Curry, seven with Hughes. Other City Hall meetings would include Hughes and Council members, Kimbleton said.

However, even allies of Curry’s, such as Councilman Ron Salem (a Tim Baker client in 2019’s campaign season) wonder what Zahn was doing so much in City hall.

New eats at Jax airport

Two new eateries will be coming soon to the Jacksonville International Airport.

The Jacksonville Business Journal reports that Jacksonville-based Southern Grounds will open in Concourse A this fall, while Florida-based BurgerFi will be in a yet-to-be-determined location in Concourse B by late 2020.

According to a release, the pair is part of a new 10-year contract the Jacksonville Aviation Authority awarded to global restaurateur firm HMSHost, a partnership between its Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) and Lee Wesley Group Inc. The deal is worth approximately $60 million, the airport said in a release.

Two name brand concessions will be coming to Jacksonville Airport. Image via Jacksonville Airport Authority.

“We’re thrilled to partner with the Jacksonville Aviation Authority to bring local businesses into the airport, especially one like Southern Grounds that has deep local roots and delivers a beloved community gathering place into the concourse,” Stephen Douglas, HMSHost vice president of business development, said in a statement. “With the upcoming opening, we’re sending travelers off with one last bite and sip of a hometown favorite.”

The only other major brand currently in Jacksonville airport is Firehouse Subs. Jacksonville Aviation Authority External Affairs Director Michael Stewart told The Journal that the development of Concourse B would offer opportunities for more local brands.

“It’s an attraction for travelers visiting the area,” he said. “It’s also something that is trending in the airport industry, that airports show some local flavor in their concessions. It’s good for local businesses, to help them grow and shows what Jacksonville has to offer.”

JTA key to Jax growth

In an appearance at the Transportation and Logistics Council luncheon, Jacksonville Transportation Authority CEO Nat Ford talked about the area’s economic growth, which includes development along bus lines, expansion into new counties, and exploration of innovative modes of transportation.

Ford touched on a range of issues: JTA’s Regional Transportation Center in LaVilla, the $200 million in economic activity JTA generates in the region, as well as the $1.6 billion invested in construction to develop residential and commercial properties within a half-mile of First Coast Flyer routes.

Phase 2 of The Intercity Bus Terminal in the heart of LaVilla opens March 30, 2020. Image via JTA/Facebook.

As the Jacksonville Business Journal reports, Ford also talked about JTA successes — especially when compared to other regional transit authorities. He believes taking a comprehensive approach, as opposed to a fractured one, is why JTA has become a leader in public transit and is well prepared to tackle long-term solutions.

One of those solutions is autonomous vehicles.

“We have such a good relationship with the Downtown Investment Authority, we’re on the same page with them,” Ford told the audience. “I think when you talk about some of these other communities, the challenges they have, you have some really siloed organizations, and I think my colleagues and myself around the country, we’re able to deliver better projects from cradle to grave.”

As for the future, several JTA projects are under development. For example, Ford estimates another three years before the Bay Street Corridor up and running, and as much as seven years to convert the Skyway to an elevated roadway for autonomous vehicles. A 10-mile extension of that roadway could take another decade.

Jags star in Pro Bowl

The football season finally concludes on Sunday when the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers square off in Super Bowl LIV. The Jaguars are still hoping to play in that game one day, but for now, some of the players must settle for the Pro Bowl played one week before.

Miami is hosting the Super Bowl for the 11th time, while the Pro Bowl was played last weekend in Orlando for the fourth consecutive year. Jaguars’ players made impressive showings.

Calais Campbell, playing in his third consecutive Pro Bowl, was named the Defensive Most Valuable Player.

Wide receiver D.J. Chark took a short pass from Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill and turned it into a 60-yard touchdown catch-and-run that put his AFC team in the lead late in the third quarter. He was the team’s second-leading receiver with two catches for 67 yards.

The Jaguars had stars on the other side of the ball. The Pro Bowl is not famous for good defense, but defensive ends Calais Campbell and rookie Josh Allen made key plays that helped the AFC hold on for a 38-33 win.

Campbell helped seal the AFC’s victory. After Chark’s go-ahead touchdown, Campbell sacked NFC quarterback Kirk Cousins of the Vikings, causing a fumble that was returned by Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt for an 82-yard touchdown that put the game out of reach.

For that game-breaking play, Campbell, playing in his third consecutive Pro Bowl, was named the Defensive Most Valuable Player. Allen also had a sack, prompting Campbell to tweet “Sacksonville showed up at the Pro Bowl!!!”

Clearly the Jaguars and 30 other teams wish they were playing in Miami on Sunday, but for these three stars, it could not have gone much better. They will get another chance next year as the Super Bowl returns to Tampa for the fifth time.

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