Bring back normal
Can we get back to normalcy now? Please?
For weeks on end, we have documented unprecedented economic turmoil. Lost jobs, lost hope, and a government ill-equipped to do much more beyond triage for those most adversely affected.
We have also seen Jacksonville and Northeast Florida used to make ideological points, with Gov. Ron DeSantis telling news conference after news conference that Jacksonville was right to open its beaches and the “media” (whichever subset he’s attacking any given day) was wrong.
It’s been a heroic time in many ways, and for watchers of government, it’s been an unprecedented time, one that neatly capsizes decades of small-government conservative dogma.
Government is big now. Is it as big as the problems people are having?
These are the questions that will finally need consideration more soberly, as the health threat of COVID-19 fades (say some).
For Jacksonville, 2020 may be the best example of a watershed moment since Consolidation itself. The question to consider is how to meet these new and unprecedented challenges.
Money for colleges
Some good news for the bottom lines of various Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the district of U.S. Rep. Al Lawson came forth this week.
According to Lawson’s office, almost $30 million will go to four North Florida colleges and universities to offset financial impacts from COVID-19 and associated shutdowns.
The funds are part of a $1.4 billion allocation for HBCUs and institutions serving low-income students.
“Colleges have been hit hard by this pandemic and have had to make changes to the way they deliver education,” Rep. Lawson said. “Congress has taken swift action to support the students and institutions to ensure they emerge from this crisis stronger than before.”
The bulk of the $30 million is going to Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, but Edward Waters will be getting over $2.3 million, with Florida State College Jacksonville getting just over $700,000.
China investments stopped?
The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB), which oversees the Thrift Savings Plan providing retirement benefits for federal employees and those in the military, is in the process of increasing investments in Chinese companies. Republican Rep. Michael Waltz of St. Augustine has been a leader in trying to get that decision reversed by asking why taxpayer dollars would go toward companies backed by the Chinese Communist Party.
He recently introduced legislation trying to halt the practice and urged President Donald Trump to step in and reverse the decision of the board members. Trump was described as “incredulous” upon learning of the situation, but apparently unaware all the current board members were still in place despite their terms having expired.
Trump pledged that he would do something about it, prompting Waltz to tell Sinclair Broadcasting he would “leave it to the White House to work through the tactics” but “it needs to happen in the coming weeks” to stop the investments. Trump was true to his word.
Earlier this week, he announced a batch of 30 executive appoints, three of which were for the FRTIB. If confirmed, Trump appointees would make up 60% of the board.
“Glad to see three new nominations for the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board among these nominees,” Waltz tweeted. “I hope one of their first actions is reversing our federal retirement plans funding the #CCP and # China’s military! Thank you @WhiteHouse!”
Among the three poised to be replaced was FRTIB Chairman Michael Kennedy.
At this writing, the state of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance is anyone’s guess.
Last week, the 1st District Court of Appeals struck down the expansion of the law approved in 2017, with concerns about notice and whether the bill was presented correctly, returning the issue to Duval County Court.
That is not to say that the matter will be decided in the courts.
Jacksonville City Council President-designate Tommy Hazouri and General Counsel Jason Gabriel have both said that all options are on the table, including potential cure legislation and a fight in court.
Gabriel notes that the “full text of the rules … was set forth for the Council and the public, both before or after enactment, and was immediately officially published after enactment.”
The Office of General Counsel is “reviewing all opportunities at this point in order to advise City Council appropriately, and that includes all legal, appellate or legislative options.”
Whatever might be happening with the global economy, there is still reason for optimism that development will continue apace in Jacksonville.
That’s the take of Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Davis, as reported by the Jacksonville Daily Record.
His speech to the Downtown Council bustled with optimism.
“We have several properties poised for development, and they’re A-plus properties,” he said. “We’re going to continue seeing cranes in the air.”
“We’ve had unprecedented economic development interest during this time,” he said. “I’m a little surprised that we’ve continued to see so much interest in Northeast Florida and very relieved to think that we’re going to meet our goals this year.”
Close the beaches!
Even as the decision to open beaches or not appears to be heading toward historical footnote territory, WJXT reports that in St. Johns County, the move happened over one key official’s protests.
“Please close the beaches. SJC has a higher rate per 100k than any of the immediate surrounding more populous counties,” wrote Associate Medical Examiner Dr. Deanna Oleske.
Rate, in this case, referred to COVID-19 positive tests. However, Oleske’s argument didn’t move county officials.
“It’s the [associate] medical examiner. She is a doctor, so we value their opinion and advice they give us. I reviewed it along with my assistant county administrator. I also took it to my county health director, as well as our Emergency Management and law enforcement and we began discussing hey we have a little bit of a bigger rate is this something we need to adjust,” explained County Administrator Hunter Conrad.
“Could it have been done better? Could we have done things differently? Sure. There is always room for improvement. If I sat here before you and said we couldn’t have done anything better, I would be lying to you,” he added.
More props came forth this week for one of the flagship colleges in Jacksonville’s most renowned private university.
For what they say is the eighth time in nine years, the Jacksonville University Davis College of Business ranks among the best international schools, recognized for Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) programs.
How exclusive is this? Only 32 schools receive this designation, putting J.U. amid the “premier providers” in a global field.
Other plaudits came in also.
Both the online and executive MBA programs are considered “tier one,” with online deemed the 68th best in the world and the executive program ranking 79th. The MBA program, meanwhile, is a tier below.
Jacksonville International Airport will participate in an online musical concert Wednesday night designed to heighten the culture of the areas around multiple airports as part of an effort to increase musical awareness during the COVID-19 outbreak.
JIA and Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport are the only two Florida airline hubs to take part in the JetStream Musical Festival. There are 20 airports in North America participating in the cultural event.
The JetStream Musical Festival intends to highlight local musicians from various cities that play home to the airports. The festival begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday on the JIA Facebook site, facebook.com/flyjacksonville/.
Hosting the free event is Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Austin, Texas. But the online concert will rotate to the 19 other airports participating and will hand off to Jacksonville where the city and airport’s cultural representative will be Eddy Fabrizio Castellanos.
Castellanos is a violinist who often performs at terminal locations within JIA. He will be featured on the live feed as he plays from Jacksonville. Castellanos is also a violinist for the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra in Georgia and is a student at Valdosta State University.
“We are thrilled for the opportunity to continue our arts and culture outreach during COVID-19. For 25 years, the JIA Arts Commission has highlighted Jacksonville’s working artists, historical displays, and Northeast Florida’s outstanding cultural organizations,” Jacksonville Aviation Authority CEO Mark VanLoh said. “Live music is an integral part of the travel experience for numerous airports throughout North America, and we look forward to sharing an artist whose musical talents are well-known to our passengers.”
Frances Bartlett Kinne turns 103 this month, and in a conversation with the Florida Times-Union, she recalls a purpose-driven life in remarkable detail — from vague memories of the Spanish flu through two World Wars as well as much happiness and some harrowing experiences.
Isolated due to the coronavirus pandemic, the former Jacksonville University president relates the current situation with her usual relentless optimism. But despite seeing quite a bit over the century of her life, Kinne says nothing quite compares to what is happening right now.
Kinne also wishes she could be more helpful to those affected by coronavirus.
“It’s a gift for me to live right now. I want to be able to help people,” she tells the T-U. “The only difference from the past is I haven’t been able to be physically involved.”
Kinne served a decade as Jacksonville University president (1979-89) and had a 36-year career there as an educator. Now, she is staying busy despite going into isolation alone a month ago in her 2,500-square foot house.
“I can’t go out, and nobody can come in, so [playing the piano] is great,” she says. “I’m not doing everything I want to do, but enough to make me happy. I’m on the phone so much now, I’ve lost a little bit of my singing voice.”
The coronavirus outbreak is forcing the Jacksonville Jaguars to change their game plan when it comes to ticket packages for the NFL franchise’s games in the upcoming season, which begins with preseason games in August, at least as of now.
But the NFL already scrapped any plans for international games by any franchise for games scheduled for the fall. For Jacksonville, that means two games that were supposed to be played in London, U.K., have now been reset for two additional home games for the Jaguars for eight regular-season games at TIAA Bank Field.
The NFL will announce specific game schedule dates and times Thursday night. But the Jaguars are already advising fans of some changes in purchasing tickets.
The “Back to Football Flex Plan,” as the Jaguars called it in a news release, allows for an extension to June 5 for season ticket holders to renew their seats. The franchise also announced due to the uncertain impact the COVID-19 pandemic might have, they’re willing to provide full refunds for season ticket holders before the beginning of the 2020 NFL season.
There were several other detailed stipulations concerning tickets for the upcoming season in the Jaguars news release.
“Our ticket sales and service team members, along with others in the organization, have spent the last few weeks checking in with all of our season ticket members,” said Jaguars President Mark Lamping. “ … We hope these new options give our fans both flexibility and peace of mind that the Jaguars family is here for them now and always.”
London not calling
Many uncertainties surround the 2020 NFL season, but as the league prepared to announce the regular-season schedule, there were a few things the Jaguars already knew. Known factors included who and where they would be playing if the NFL can open on time and play the entire schedule.
Due to a long-standing NFL formula, teams know the next season’s opponents on the day following the current season. That formula assigns opponents based on where they finished in the standings and the interconference division their team’s division is scheduled to play.
The first six games on the Jaguars schedule will be home-and-home matchups with division rivals Indianapolis, Houston, and Tennessee. They will also play at Baltimore, Cincinnati, and in Los Angeles against the Chargers, along with road games against NFC Central foes Green Bay and Minnesota.
The remaining five home games will include Cleveland, Miami, and Pittsburgh from the AFC. NFC Central opponents visiting Jacksonville are Chicago and Detroit.
Another known part of the schedule is, contrary to plans, all eight designated Jaguars’ home games will be at TIAA Bank Field. Their scheduled two “home” games in London for 2020 have moved back to Jacksonville due to uncertainties involving the COVID-19 virus.
“After considerable analysis, we believe the decision to play all our games domestically this season is the right one for our players, our clubs, and all our fans in the U.S., Mexico and U.K.,” said NFL Executive Vice President, Chief Strategy and Growth Officer Christopher Halpin.
Not only will the Jaguars not play two games in London, but it also marks the first time since 2013 they will not be making a trip across the pond. They are 3-4 all-time in London, including a miserable 26-3 drubbing at the hands of the Houston Texans last year.
Teams are working out on their own. Minicamps and training camps will not open until all 32 teams are not under restrictions by their respective states.