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Jacksonville Bold for 2.6.20 — Infinite Jest

The JEA kerfuffle brings to mind David Foster Wallace’s epic doorstop — “Infinite Jest.”

Infinite Jest

A couple of decades back, a hot accessory item among the smart set was David Foster Wallace’s doorstop/novel “Infinite Jest.”

David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” is everyone’s favorite book they never finished. Image via NPR.

At over 1,000 pages long, many people bought the book, and a good number of them never finished it.

The book contained the trademark acerbic wit and academic flourishes typical of the DFW oeuvre.

It came to mind recently, when the latest document dumps arrived from the JEA denouement, including interviews with former CEO Aaron Zahn.

The interviews, by and large, reveal an almost plaintive sense of “oh s**t, might as well spill now.”

It’s the type of candor most often found among people who testify under oath.

And while the novelty of all this may be wearing off (the “all JEA, all the time” Jacksonville news cycle comes at the expense of other subjects), this story has only just begun.

This narrative will cast a shadow over Mayor Lenny Curry’s time in office, and that’s a best-case scenario.

Talk to the people: Can Lenny Curry take control of JEA aftermath? Image via First Coast News.

Curry, as we noted last week, said, “heck no, I’m done,” in case anyone was willing to try to push the JEA sale after 2+ years and two vigorous attempts to move the bill through.

However, that’s not going to be enough.

Curry’s critics, many speaking under their breath in recent years, are more voluble now.

A “safety in numbers” scenario? Perhaps.

But perhaps it’s time for Curry to figure out a way to explain why they made the sales push, what it tried to accomplish, and what the city will lose in terms of financial flexibility for not selling the utility.

The Mayor had put his shoulder behind things before, as pension reform made clear.

Here, he has to put his shoulder behind transparency and explaining that while the move to sell JEA failed, it was not the money grab everyone outside the senior leadership team seems to contend at this point.

Run Rattler run

The Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District is Rep. Al Lawson’s to lose, but his opponent brings an interesting resume to the contest also.

Rep. Al Lawson draws a new challenger with an interesting resume.

Jacksonville’s Albert Chester, “a football quarterback at FAMU a dozen years ago, is a pharmacist, entrepreneur and community advocate in Jacksonville who is running to replace Lawson as the next U.S. Rep. for Florida’s 5th District,” reports the FAMUAN.

Lawson, as was the case when former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown challenged him in 2018, is not worried about the challenge.

“Yes, we are both Rattlers and both former student-athletes at FAMU. I welcome the competition, be they Rattler, Gator, Seminole, Panther, or everyday citizen,” Lawson told the FAMU outlet.

Brown delivers?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown wants the full 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rule on whether a juror in her original trial was improperly dismissed after claiming the “Holy Spirit” said Brown wasn’t guilty.

Brown’s team argued the intervention in the divine by U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan in 2017 is grounds for a new trial. Still, a three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled otherwise in a divided opinion.

In a brief filed last week, Brown’s attorneys said the panel’s decision “erred by employing an overly deferential standard of review that, as a result, effectively determines that groups believing in the Holy Spirit’s guidance, such as evangelical Christians, are incapable of serving on a jury.”

Juror beef continues to simmer in Corrine Brown post-conviction filings.

The appeals court ruling ruled the dismissal was in bounds because the juror “was not capable of rendering a verdict based on evidence.”

This controversy animated the former Northeast Florida Congresswoman’s trial a few years back. The jury was stalled on deliberations until bumping the disputed juror, who claimed God said Brown was not guilty of the panoply of fraud charges that ended her political career.

Rutherford reelect

U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, a Republican from Jacksonville, actually faces a competitive election for the first time since his 2016 win.

John Rutherford is up for another round. Image via Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call.

Democrat Donna Deegan, a former TV anchor, outraised him in the fourth quarter of 2019. Florida’s 4th Congressional District skews Republican, but Rutherford is already recalibrating, messaging on things well beyond the Trump Lexicon, as his interview with the St. Augustine Record suggests.

Sea level rise, for example. He wants resilience.

“Instead of just going in with the National Flood Insurance plan time after time after time where we have serious and repetitive flooding, we need to look at building resiliency into those systems. We need to look at … what Miami’s doing with the living shorelines and those kinds of initiatives,” Rutherford said.

The Congressman burnished his bipartisan bona fides, complete with a working group of which he’s a participant.

“These are not the guys that you’re going to see on television … We’re not, you know, the guys that are going to get on and say crazy things and all that,” he said. “So we’re just grinding it out, you know, every day trying to do good for the American public.”

Two-person race

The significant action in Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, which includes Orange Park and Clay County, will be in the GOP primary, which is a two-person money race as of the end of 2019.

Kat Cammack, a former aide to incumbent Rep. Ted Yoho, is one of two candidates with over $100,000 cash on hand.

Kat Cammack is making some serious money moves.

The other is Judson Sapp, who ran against Yoho and got roughly 30% of the vote, in 2018’s GOP primary.

Amy Pope Wells closed the year with under $14,000 on hand, raising questions as to whether the Clay County hopeful can match the connected Cammack and the self-funding Sapp.

Yet another Clay candidate, Commissioner Gavin Rollins, has yet to report fundraising.

Democratic fundraisers are Dr. Tom Wells, who closed 2019 with $112 on hand, and Philip Dodds, meanwhile, had over $2,200 on hand.

The rural North-Central Florida district has a robust Republican plurality and is not designed to be competitive for Democrats.

Greatest ever

Former JEA lobbyist Mike Hightower left the public utility just as its image was really taking on water over the messed up privatization push, and he is increasingly comfortable publicizing once private concerns.

Mike Hightower left as JEA lobbyist just in the nick of time. Image via Jax Daily Record/Mike Mendenhall.

Consider the latest Jax Daily Record dispatch.

“This will be the greatest scandal in the history of Duval County. But more importantly, if this is where it looks like it could go, this could be the greatest municipal scandal in the United States … By virtue of the money involved, the people involved and the [number] of people [who] were affected,” Hightower said at the Meninak Club meeting earlier this month.

Those comments build on what came from former General Counsel Rick Mullaney.

“This is potentially one of the greatest schemes to defraud the taxpayers in the history of our city,” Mullaney told News4Jax.

Document dump

The city of Jacksonville continues to release a smorgasbord of public records on the JEA denouement.

News4Jax covered the latest.

Among the revelations — former CEO Zahn, a “Bizarro World” version of Michael J. Fox in “The Secret of My Success,” was abusive.

“Our former chief legal officer, Jody Brooks and [Zahn] were in a very heated discussion. I don’t remember what it was about, but we were all in a meeting, and — And Jody pushed back. And Aaron said something along the lines of, why the F can’t you just — I can’t remember if it was ‘relax’ or — I can’t remember exactly what it was. It was very heated in front of the entire team,” Kerri Stewart said.

Kerri Stewart says Aaron Zahn used salty language.

Zahn also disparaged the board chair, April Green, when they bickered about whether JEA should entertain bids in Atlanta last year, saying that she was in a “hysteric moment worried about public perception.”

Speaking of hysterics, the former CFO noted Zahn’s about the press …

“Aaron was concerned about leaks,” Ryan Wannemacher said. “He was concerned that the longer we took, the more likely it was that, you know, somehow, the information would get out about the work we were doing and that, you know, you’d have public records requests and all of that. So, he wanted to act effectively and, you know, pull everything together.”

Call to resign

First Coast News reports the latest salvo from former Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Schellenberg across the Curry’s bow.

The call: Curry should resign.

Matt Schellenberg is unhappy with Lenny Curry.

“I find what’s happening over there is disrespectful to the citizens of Jacksonville, and because of that, he needs to go,” Schellenberg said.

“It’s not winning at all costs,” Schellenberg added: “That mentality is pervasive at City Hall right now, and it’s destructive, and it’s going to take a long time, unfortunately, to get back to civility and common sense.”

“People aren’t speaking up because they’re afraid of retribution,” Schellenberg said.

The breach between Curry and Schellenberg has been years in the making; even when in office, Schellenberg chafed at alleged intimidation from the Mayor’s Office.

Long gone Don

The Kids Hope Alliance’s interim CEO found the exit ramp this week, reports News4Jax.

Donnie Horner III, who was appointed to replace the fired Joe Peppers, moved on to a position with Jacksonville City Councilman Rory Diamond’s K9s for Warriors.

Gone to the dogs: Donnie Horner leaves city gig.

Peppers was terminated in August with an Inspector General investigation that was supposed to reveal the reasons for said termination.

However, six months have passed, and the IG has writer’s block.

Curry began the KHA to “streamline” children’s services, previously shared between the Jacksonville Journey and Jacksonville Children’s Commission.

KHA will be seeking its fourth CEO now. Horner was the second interim fill-in.

Housing boom continues

The Jacksonville Daily Record reports no slowing down for the Northeast Florida housing market as 2019 comes to a close.

Jacksonville’s housing boom keeps chugging along. Image via Jax Daily Record.

“Despite low inventory being a constant, significant factor in the housing market the past several years, buyer demand has not waned, resulting in a record-breaking 31,881 home sales in Northeast Florida in 2019,” said Ron Harris, 2020 NEFAR president.

The Record notes that “NEFAR sees continued optimism in the residential real estate market, strengthened by a healthy economy, record low unemployment, wage growth, and low mortgage interest rates.”

Green Cove Springs, the seat of Clay County, is the hottest market.

Four of five counties saw hotter markets in 2019 than the year before. The exception: Baker, which saw a 17% drop, an indication that they aren’t benefitting as much as could be hoped from the buoyant NE Florida economy.

Part-time team

Read it and weep, football fans.

“The Jacksonville Jaguars today announced that the Jaguars would play two of their home games at Wembley Stadium, connected by EE, over consecutive Sundays in London in 2020, making them the first team in NFL history to play two home games outside of the United States in the same regular season,” the Jaguars asserted this week.

The Steelers and Bears games will be in Jacksonville.

The Jaguars are playing a couple of home games in London during the 2020 season.

In exchange, one-half off pre-season games for season ticket holders and “variable pricing” for the other games.

And yes, they still want city money.

“The timing of this announcement is strategically aligned with the team’s ambitious and big-picture plans for Jacksonville and, specifically, the planned Lot J development. When completed, Phase One of the proposed $500 million Lot J project in partnership with Cordish Companies would feature an entertainment district, a 200-room hotel, residential buildings offering 405 units, and additional parking.

Jags hire personnel director

The Jaguars had a busy week that included two significant announcements. One was the hiring of former San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke as director player personnel. Baalke will join with general manager Dave Caldwell to keep some of their free agents, look to sign others and prepare for the April NFL draft.

Baalke was the 49ers’ general manager from 2011-2016 and honored as NFL Executive of the Year in 2011. He hired Jim Harbaugh as head coach, who led San Francisco to the Super Bowl following the 2012 season.

Trent Baalke is replacing Chris Polian, who was fired last month after seven seasons in Jacksonville.

“(Baalke) had a lot of success during his time in San Francisco and has proven that he has a great eye for talent and constructing a team, so we’re excited for him to be a part of the organization,” Caldwell said in a statement. ” … We expect him to get involved immediately as we make decisions on our current roster and approach free agency.”

Among the player personnel decisions needing Baalke’s immediate attention is star defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who is now a free agent. The Jaguars were criticized for not signing Ngakoue to a long-term contract before the season began, and many fear it is now too late.

Those on the Jaguars roster in 2020 will spend a bit of extra time in London. The team announced they would play two games overseas on consecutive Sundays.

Owner Shad Khan said the extra game would provide additional revenue as they focus on success as well as the long-term plan for downtown Jacksonville.

“There is no better time than now to capitalize on the opportunity to play two home games in London, where we will continue to develop our loyal and growing fan base there and throughout the UK, during a period in which I will be focused heavily on creating a new downtown experience that we want, need and must-have here,” Khan said.

For the loss of two home games, Jaguars’ fans will receive a 50 percent discount on pre-season games and an average ticket price reduction of five percent for the regular-season games.

Jaguars’ management assured fans the two marquee home games featuring the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Chicago Bears would be at TIAA Bank Field. The full NFL schedule will be released in April shortly before the draft.

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