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Jacksonville Bold for 2.20.20 — Priorities

Of course, different parties have different definitions of “justice.”

Priorities

The initial rush of stories on what promises to be a long-running and multi-forum governmental inquiry into the JEA sale push has faded. Still, justice is never far from headlines in Jacksonville.

Of course, different parties have different definitions of justice, as stories in this week’s Jacksonville Bold will denote.

The pursuit of justice, including financial compensation for decades imprisoned wrongly for two Jacksonville men, continues apace. A claims bill sponsored in the Senate by Democratic Caucus Leader Audrey Gibson and House by Rep. Kim Daniels is moving for one of them.

Despite the best efforts of the Attorney General to deny him recourse, the other one will likely be an appropriations matter in 2021.

If one were following Jacksonville from afar, meanwhile, they may think that the biggest justice issue in Duval in recent weeks was a close-call van attack on a tent full of local Republicans registering people to vote for President Donald Trump’s reelection.

Local Republicans held two pressers this month about it, with the second one last weekend bringing in Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel to paint a picture of people targeting Trumpers nationwide.

Mayor Curry spoke at both events, wearing his political leader hat and mayoral hat simultaneously. 

For Republican voter registration volunteers, that kind of support is critical.

However, in the face of the wave of violence that continues to crash on Jacksonville’s banks, eroding the city’s very conception of community, where are the press conferences?

Enough infants and toddlers have been shot in the city in the last year to fuel a grisly trend piece … where are those pressers?

Nowhere.

Jacksonville is so numbed to that violence, day to day, that there is little to gain for leaders by spotlighting the atrocity of the moment. 

As shocking as a van barreling toward a voter registration booth in a strip mall may have seemed, is it more shocking than a woman being shot through the wall as she lay in bed? Or the 295 people killed by gunfire in Jacksonville in 2019?

Jacksonville is a violent town. And solutions to the systemic causes and catalysts are nowhere to be found. 

Change of heart

Some good news from the weekend, via Andrew Pantazi of the Florida Times-Union, without whose determined pressure this story never would have happened.

Nathan Myers and his uncle Clifford Williams spent nearly 43 years in prison for a murder they didn’t commit. Image via DailyCommercial.com.

“The Florida Attorney General’s office reversed course Saturday, announcing it was wrong to deny reparations to a Jacksonville man wrongfully convicted of murder. Already the Jacksonville State Attorney’s Office, two circuit judges and special masters in the Florida Senate and Florida House had determined substantial evidence showed Nathan Myers and his uncle [Clifford Williams] spent nearly 43 years in prison for a murder they didn’t commit. A judge last summer granted Myers’ petition for reparations for his time in prison, but last month, the Office of Attorney General vetoed that court order. But a letter from the general counsel for the office’s Department of Legal Affairs said the office had no right to veto a court order,” Pantazi wrote.

The move reverses a position that seemed equal parts callous and punitively literalist. As a measure of commitment to this story, editor Mary Kelli Palka noted that Pantazi wrote that piece from the mountains of North Carolina.

Some stories are important enough to drop vacation.

Pantazi, the key to the T-U’s union organization efforts, once again exemplifies work ethic. No surprise there.

Pay the man

A bill that seeks to right some of the wrongs created for a man wrongfully incarcerated for decades continues to move in the House and Senate.

HB 6507, from Jacksonville state Rep. Daniels, seeks to compensate $2.15 million owed to Jacksonville’s Clifford Williams, locked up for 43 years for a crime he did not commit.

Clifford Williams, freed Florida death row inmate, gets an apology and possible compensation.

The measure cleared Appropriations; Judiciary is ahead.

The Senate version, sponsored by Jacksonville’s Sen. Gibson, cleared the Appropriations Subcommittee on Civil and Criminal Justice Tuesday afternoon.

It will head to the full budget committee Thursday.

If the Legislature decides to pay up, it will offer some amelioration for a life derailed by a quick-to-convict local justice system that was still wrestling with Jim Crow philosophies back in 1976, when Williams and the Myers were locked up for murder they did not commit. 

Garrison’s war chest

Orange Park lawyer Sam Garrison is on the fast-track to replace outgoing House appropriations chairman Rep. Travis Cummings in HD 16 next year, and he continues to fundraise even without real competition.

Sam Garrison continues to fundraise, even though he is on the fast track to the House.

In January, Garrison raised $8,650, leaving him with over $158,000 on hand from $196,000+ raised. 

Garrison (law partner of Senate budget chief Rob Bradley) looks likely to face Libertarian Ken Willey, who has raised $35 through 10 months, in the general election.

The district is majority Republican: of the 122,818 registered voters at the time of the last election, 64,709 are members of the GOP.

Is Jax the future?

House Appropriations Chair Rep. Travis Cummings is gearing up for the yearly ritual of budget negotiation with the Senate.

He addressed the House position on several matters in a brief Q&A over the weekend, including affordable housing funding.

The Governor and Senate each want $387 million for the Sadowski Trust Fund; the House, just $144 million.

Rep. Travis Cummings is gearing up for the annual budget process.

Cummings justifies the House position by using Jacksonville as a model, having made “some progress in that regard [with] first-class developers/contractors in our backyard in Jax like Vestcor and Summit.” 

“Touring those properties and speaking to their tenants has provided me a new perspective, especially for workforce housing,” he added.

The Jax “model” may be poised for expansion, in other words. That seems to be the subtext of the House position.

Second time around

The Duval GOP continued what has become a weekly tradition of alarmist news conferences about an attack in a Walmart parking lot earlier in February, and Action News Jax was there for the good quotes.

“We will not be quiet, we will not be deterred,” said Duval County GOP Chairman Dean Black, who has been on Fox News’ Ingraham Angle twice this month making the same points.

GOP chairwoman McDaniel painted a stark vignette.

GOP star power: RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel.

“It is getting dangerous,” she said, with the Jacksonville incident illustrative of a more significant trend.

To recap: “Police say Gregory Timm drove into a voter registration tent earlier this month. According to the police report, he made anti-Trump statements. Timm was arrested hours after the crash and charged with two counts of aggravated assault, one count of criminal mischief and driving with a suspended license.”

Mayor Lenny Curry was on hand also, with some skeptics questioning why he’s done two pressers on an act of violence where no one was physically injured even as Jacksonville’s murder rate trends toward exponential progression.

Tweet, tweet:

500 miles

The Duval GOP presser wasn’t the only event of note for Republicans last weekend.

Curry was on hand with Trump at the Daytona 500.

“Pinching myself that the President of the United States @realDonaldTrump invited us to the Daytona 500. What a special day to see him and the Wonderful 1st Lady,” Curry tweeted.

Predictably, critics caviled.

“Can’t speak to Mayor Curry’s leisure travel, but a trip he should take is to a @usmayors conference. If he did, he’d learn best practices from other mayors about what cities are doing to address gun violence, along w/ other issues Jax is facing. Join us in Austin, Mayor Curry,” tweeted St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman makes a sideways comment about Lenny Curry’s ‘leisure travel.’

Curry, you may recall, backed Kriseman’s Republican challenger, Rick Baker, in the most recent mayoral race there.

Also notable: Curry took the city out of the U.S. Conference of Mayors at some point in his first term.

Curry wanted to know if the Mayor’s Office had paid the invoice, and it had not — so given the Conference’s political positions and lack of value add for his office, he didn’t think that membership was a “good use of taxpayer dollars.”

The mayoral group has criticized the Trump administration on many issues, and that is not anything to be signed off by Curry.

Homeless props

Jacksonville’s approach to its homeless problem has been peripatetic over the years, with the defunding of a homeless day center for much of Curry’s first term irking activists.

However, Curry brought back the homeless day center concept and is now being lauded by at least one columnist outside of the state.

What about finally committing serious money to beefing up daytime resources for homeless adults in the downtown area? That’s how Jacksonville and its mayor, Lenny Curry, have made an impact in addressing that city’s downtown homeless issue. How has it been done? Well, someone call area code 904 and find out,” wrote Roger Brown in Columbia, South Carolina’s The State.

Carolina columnist likes how Lenny Curry handles the homeless situation.

Jacksonville’s issues with the homeless and dispossessed are a matter of public record locally. Hemming Park (the so-called “front door to City Hall”) has been changed in recent years, with places to sit largely eliminated and private security engaged in an attempt to turn the park into a destination.

The homeless do find a place to sit, a block away in another park.

Despite the realities of homelessness in Jacksonville, the rare spot of positive optics for a social services solution in the city has to be seen as a good thing in a time when the news cycles have often curdled on the page. 

Two choices

The Jacksonville Daily Record reports on two disparate candidates for the 4th Judicial Circuit’s Seat 2 on The Florida Bar board of governors.

Ballots are already out to voters. One pick has deep establishment ties. The other takes a more populist skein.

Representing the establishment: W. Braxton Gillam IV, a partner at Milam Howard Nicandri Gillam & Renner.

The firm’s connections are beyond reproach. Alan Howard was former JEA Board Chair, and Rep. Paul Renner is poised to be House Speaker in 2022.

Gillam has chaired the Jacksonville Bar Association and the Jacksonville Ethics Commission.

The dark horse candidate is John Phillips.

“He was selected “Best Lawyer,” “Righteous Crusader” and “One of the 29 Most Influential People in Jacksonville” by the readers of Folio Weekly magazine; “#1 Lawyer” by the readers of Void magazine and “Face of Justice in the 904,” “Top Lawyer” and “Company with a Heart” by 904 Magazine,” the Record notes.

The winner will be known next month.

Shakedown in Nassau

The lowlights continue for Nassau County’s government, which continues to have nothing but a bad look in its ongoing quarrels with one of the county’s biggest landowners.

“Public documents in a lawsuit Raydient Places + Properties (Raydient) filed against Nassau County all point toward one conclusion: Some in Nassau County government have been extorting one of its largest community partners,” Florida Politics reported this week.

A seemingly simple staffing change was the catalyst for deterioration of a once-smooth relationship: a small, but significant staffing change: Mike Mullin, the attorney who represented Raydient and Rayonier during the creation of the ENCPA, took a job as Nassau County Attorney.

Hiring Mike Mullin is giving headaches in Nassau County. Image via NCFL Independent.

Mullin played hardball with his former employer.

“The dispute unfolded in the spring and summer of 2017, culminating in a formal written demand from Mullin on behalf of Nassau County in November 2017 that falsely claimed Raydient had agreed to fund construction and maintenance for all civil facilities at the penalty of losing further development rights within the ENCPA — including in Wildlight Village, where development was already underway.”

Read Part 1 of the investigative series. More is coming. 

Grace, grit

The Fiorentino Group, one of Florida’s largest lobbying firms, is promoting two of its principal members to partnerships. 

Joe Mobley and Mark Pinto Jr. earned the honor through considerable brainpower, ingenuity and heart, said Marty Fiorentino, the firm’s president.

Both are longtime principles in a company that prides itself on helping clients strategize, network, and get their best ideas before local, state and federal authorities. The Fiorentino Group’s clients run a gamut from cities to technology, hospitals, shipping and aviation authorities, and the Super Bowl. 

Congratulations: Marty Fiorentino with new partners Joe Mobley and Mark Pinto Jr.

Mobley and Pinto came to the firm 12 and 10 years ago, respectively, each bringing an understanding of politics and expertise in a host of other fields.

“They’re not just terrific lobbyists and advocates for our clients,” Fiorentino said. “They’re terrific people, and that makes everything else easy.”

In a tight-knit 10-person firm he likens to a family, Mobley and Pinto “have continued to distinguish themselves,” Fiorentino said.

“They are a big part of the firm’s success,” he said. “I just think the world of them. And I’m looking forward to working side by side with them for years to come.”

Jax Housing gets cash influx

The Jacksonville Housing Authority is one of nine organizations to receive a new grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

The $2.3 million grant would go to support employment and income for public housing residents. JHA said the money would be used for job-training work at Southwind Villas.

The Jacksonville Housing Authority has received a major grant to support residents in the public housing system.

The goal of the Jobs Plus program was it help develop locally-based, job-driven approaches to increase income and employment for public housing. The program helps residents improve earnings and employability through training, incentives, and services like technical skills training, financial literacy courses, job placement assistance and income disregards for working families.

“We are thrilled to be able to provide support for our Jacksonville public housing residents thanks to the vision and generosity of the Department of Housing and Urban Development,” said JHA Interim President & CEO Dwayne Alexander. “The JHA team worked hard to show why the Jacksonville community was ready to take on this initiative and I couldn’t be prouder to celebrate their success.”

Searching for new talent

The NFL Scouting Combine is less than a week away, giving the Jaguars player personnel team just a few more days to finalize their needs analysis and positions they might wish to closely monitor. The combine takes place in Indianapolis.

The NFL Scouting Combine is less than a week away. Image via Joe Robbins/Getty Images.

Jacksonville will be paying close attention to the talent available because they will have two first-round selections in the 2020 NFL draft only two months away. The Jaguars will have the 9th pick and the 20th pick, which comes as part of the trade with the Los Angeles Rams for Jalen Ramsey.

The combine presents the first opportunity for new Director of Player Personnel Trent Baalke to analyze available talent after spending his first two weeks looking at holes needing to be filled or areas to be fortified.

Head Coach Doug Marrone and General Manager Dave Caldwell will join with Baalke to make those important decisions, but the latter two know that real progress must come if they are to be around in 2021.

“(Owner) Shad (Khan) has made it very clear to both of us that the results of the past two seasons are nothing short of disappointing and expectations are high going forward,” Marrone said at a recent media availability.

Khan concurred by saying, in effect, that a playoff appearance in 2020 is expected and jobs are on the line. Among the three, only Baalke should have any sense of job security.

“Goals have been established,” Khan said. “Accountability will be paramount.”

So far, around 340 prospects are slated to attend the combine. There is something for everyone.

With the offensive backfield in good shape, help for the offensive line, the secondary and at wide receiver might be points of focus for Jacksonville. At the same time, the combine traditionally reveals breakout players in non-targeted positions that can change attitudes heading into the draft.

With the 9th pick, the Jaguars cannot make a mistake. Unfortunately, they have made a few in the past. Jacksonville will be making its 18th top-ten pick since coming into the league in 1995, three more than any other team.

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