Such a perfect day
Tuesday was historic in Jacksonville, the culmination of several story arcs and the beginning of new ones.
Before dawn, the 122-year-old Confederate monument in Hemming Park was hauled away by a city crane.
Activists pressed for that for years. Jacksonville Jaguars players weighed in also, calling for the monuments to come down.
And Mayor Lenny Curry, who resisted the call for five years, said that change would happen and more would come.
Later in the day, the City Council passed, without discussion or drama, a bill tightening up loose ends in Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance, which includes LGBT protections since 2017.
An appeals court found fault with the ratification of that expansion, but the Council moved forward, and Curry said he’d sign the bill into law.
Is Jacksonville changing?
But as those with long historical memories know, no change comes without lots of effort here, and these sudden shifts took years to happen.
RNC to Jax?
The recent announcement by President Donald Trump announced the Republican National Convention would no longer be in Charlotte, North Carolina. Several Florida locations were touted as possibilities. Jacksonville was among those ready, willing and able to fill in.
Media reports now indicate the Jacksonville has been selected to co-host a split convention. The business of the convention is expected to remain in Charlotte.
The most prominent champion in Congress to haul in the event is St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz, who got on the phone with Trump touting the idea of moving the convention. Waltz plugged both Jacksonville and Orlando.
While Curry said he was ready to “welcome the opportunity” to host the convention, Republican Rep. John Rutherford has not been banging the drum to take on the rigors of hosting such an event. Along with the realities of a pandemic, the law enforcement challenges in the current environment are daunting.
That is part of the message spread by the region’s other member of Congress, Democratic Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee. Lawson acknowledged the economic jolt a convention would bring but said public safety must be the top consideration.
“I do understand why mayors would say, ‘We want this convention,’ because it brings in a lot of money and a lot of resources,” Lawson told WJCT’s Charles Griggs. “But with this pandemic and coronavirus that we have, there’s going to have to be limitations wherever the conventions go, whether the Democratic convention or the other convention.”
If the reports are accurate, the city and the region had better be prepared for the influx of out of town visitors with some looking to celebrate and others looking to protest.
Democrats for Curry?
Not quite. But two likely Congressional nominees lauded Jacksonville’s decision to tear down one of its Confederate monuments this week.
Democrat Donna Deegan, running in Florida’s 4th Congressional District to replace incumbent Rutherford, said: The “symbols have caused much pain and suffering for our black community. The presence of these monuments were a daily reminder of slavery and a very dark period in our nation’s history.”
Deegan said the move was “long overdue” and a “goodwill gesture from the city’s leadership.”
“These symbols have caused much pain and suffering for our black community. The presence of these monuments were a daily reminder of slavery and a very dark period in our nation’s history,” Deegan said in the release.
Meanwhile, CD 5 incumbent Democrat Lawson, an ally of the Curry administration, lauded the move and Curry.
“As someone who grew up in the heart of segregation and has firsthand accounts of racial inequality and injustice. It warms my heart to see the city of Jacksonville remove the Confederate monument in Hemming Park and throughout the City. I commend the citizens of Jacksonville for pushing this initiative for the past few years, the elected leaders who dreamed of this moment and the Mayor for having the courage to help erase our troubled past and begin the healing process of our city, state, and nation.”
Sheriff steps up
Jacksonville Democratic legislators discussed issues involving criminal justice reform and law enforcement with the Sheriff on Monday.
Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Tracie Davis talked to Sheriff Mike Williams Monday, with several activists on the call.
The goal: to restart efforts reshaping how police relate to the people in communities.
Williams described room for improvement in law enforcement in the city in the moments he was allowed to talk, which were few and far between.
His comments were bland but supportive, noting that there is the “good, the bad, and where we can improve.”
While the conversation is just a step, Williams heard some pressing concerns, including a citizens’ review board, a concept that historically has been a non-starter with the Fraternal Order of Police but has been a big ask for activists.
Money moves in clerk race.
The race for Duval County Clerk of Court saw a sea change in May, with the donor class breaking toward the current second-in-command, and the Sheriff endorsing the clerk.
“Jody Phillips is a man of honor, integrity and character,” Sheriff Williams said. “In addition to being a strong conservative and a true leader, Jody has all the experience and qualifications needed to lead the Clerk’s office. Jody Phillips has my full support, and I look forward to helping his campaign as best I can.”
Phillips, one of three Republicans in the race, showed strength last month, raising over $23,000 total.
Ponying up: Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan, former Jacksonville Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa and Tom Petway, a key donor for Curry.
Phillips has raised over $109,000 and has over $95,000 of that on hand.
His opponents, meanwhile, are somewhat farther back.
Republican Scott Wilson, the current President of the Jacksonville City Council, has banked $44,000 in two months in the race.
Republican Leon Jackson has roughly $40,000 banked, though his May numbers are not in as of this writing.
Democrat Jimmy Midyette has just over $22,000 raised.
Redman in trouble
A controversial former Jacksonville City Councilperson is encountering resistance in his attempt to return to the legislative body.
Republican Don Redman is up against Kevin Carrico, a Republican whose campaign was redesignated from a school board race recently.
The GOP donor class is siding with Carrico, who raised over $23,000 in May, giving him over $65,000 raised … a five-to-one edge over Redman, who has raised just over $15,000.
Redman has spent nearly half what he has raised, a significant burn rate.
For Redman, this could be yet another loss.
He has been a non-factor in his last two races: the 2016 GOP race in HD 12, ultimately won by Clay Yarborough, and the 2019 race for City Council, in which Matt Carlucci got over 70% citywide against Redman and another opponent.
The University of North Florida is preparing to return to on-campus classes for the fall semester with an extensive 23-page draft plan for dealing with the coronavirus.
The “Blueprint for returning to campus” approved by the UNF Board of Trustees Monday has been distributed via email. It is extensive for students, faculty and staff in preparation for the start of class on Aug. 19 in a world that includes the threat of COVID-19.
“UNF’s current recommendations include a mix of remote and in-person classes, as well as courses that include a combination of the two formats,” the plan said. “The university will prioritize experiential courses for face-to-face instruction and will develop remote contingency plans for all courses in the event a second wave of the pandemic emerges.”
Capacity limits will be implemented in all classrooms, and some courses will be moved to larger classrooms to promote social distancing at UNF. The new measures will also require all students, faculty, and staff to wear masks or face coverings “in common indoor areas as well as outdoors when social distancing is not possible.”
Safety training will also be mandatory for everyone in the UNF community on campus, and a mobile application will be available and required for on-campus screening. Hand sanitizer will be widely available across the UNF campus.
Social events will remain largely restricted at UNF, and all study abroad programs have been canceled.
One of the biggest Jacksonville-based retailers took a big hit in the first quarter of business this year.
Stein Mart, an apparel and home décor retailer, saw a 57% decrease in sales from January through March, according to a company report. March, of course, is when the coronavirus outbreak took hold, and Stein Mart stores, along with most other retailers, began to close.
Stein Mart has 44 stores in Florida and 281 across 31 states. Stein Mart began store closures March 19 and was one of the first major retailers in Florida to reopen its stores in early May. But the financial damage had been done.
No figures were provided for April, but Stein Mart’s first quarter revenue analysis showed the impacts from the pandemic walloped the retailer. Net sales for Stein Mart in the first three months of this year amounted to $134.3 million. That’s dramatically off from the same time frame in 2019 when net sales were $314.2 million in the first quarter of business.
Beyond plunging revenue, Stein Mart’s debt increased substantially. The company reported its debt was $153.8 million for the first quarter of 2019. That jumped to $197.8 for the first quarter of this year.
“We are diligently working to recover from the loss of revenue while stores were closed and significantly lower year-over-year sales since reopening and are taking actions to preserve liquidity and improve our financial position,” said Hunt Hawkins, Stein Mart CEO.
Another personnel shake-up in St. Johns County, as the economic development chief, is out the door.
The Jacksonville Daily Record reports that Melissa Glasgow either resigned or was terminated, depending on who is talking.
“A handwritten note on Glasgow’s resignation form says she “accepted her resignation over the phone” May 13 … In a May 20 letter to County Administrator Hunter Conrad, Glasgow wrote said she was “very surprised” to hear of her’ abrupt termination’ May 13.
“It puzzles me to think that St. Johns County would want to do that during a time that city and county governments all over the country are implementing COVID-19 Economic Recovery programs to support critically impacted local businesses,” Glasgow wrote Conrad.
Personnel shuffles have been all the rage in SJC: Conrad was the former clerk of court before moving over to run the county. Brandon Patty was appointed to replace him by the Governor.
JTA, FSCJ strike AV deal
The Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) and Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) have agreed to expand the JTA autonomous vehicle program through new testing and educational initiatives on FSCJ campuses.
Last month, the JTA Board of Directors approved a memorandum of understanding with FSCJ that includes:
— The expansion of the Ultimate Urban Circulator (U2C) Test & Learn Program to FSCJ’s Commercial Driver’s License Test Track on the school’s Cecil Center Campus;
— The development of an autonomous vehicle deployment or “Agile Plan” on an FSCJ campus.
— And the development of curriculum and educational initiatives related to autonomous vehicles and related technology.
“As we continue to develop our autonomous vehicle program, it is vital that higher education and the workforce of tomorrow is included in that conversation,” said JTA Chief Executive Officer Nathaniel Ford. “Being able to access FSCJ’s test track and other facilities will also allow us to expand our testing program, as we push forward with the U2C project.”
The JTA is currently developing the U2C program, an autonomous vehicle network planned for Downtown Jacksonville and eventually expanding to other critical areas in Northeast Florida. Through four initial phases, the U2C will leverage the existing Skyway infrastructure and expand that network through ground-level connections and convert those structures to support autonomous vehicles. The first phase, the Bay Street Innovation Corridor, is fully funded.
The MOU sets the groundwork for the JTA to expand its current U2C Test & Learn Program to FSCJ’s Cecil Center, which houses the school’s Aviation and Commercial Vehicle Driving programs.
Marching for equality
Many parts of the nation are in turmoil as riots often drowned out the message of those peacefully protesting inequality in general and the killing of George Floyd in particular. Several athletes took center stage to share their feelings and commitment to improving the lives of those who are on the receiving end of racism, whether it be overt or institutional.
Jaguars’ running back Leonard Fournette was among those taking a strong stand and playing a lead role in calling out injustice. Joining him in a protest march this week was linebacker Myles Jack, running back Ryquell Armstead, safety Ronnie Harrison, and receivers Keelan Cole and Chris Conley, along with Jacksonville Mayor Curry.
The recent events moved Fournette to take the lead in something of this magnitude for the first time.
“Held my first protest today; I loved it, I’m really a general at heart!” he tweeted. He soon recognized that organizing such an event is a daunting task, adding in another tweet that “If it was easy, everybody would do it.”
The role of law enforcement is front and center over the numerous protests. In another march conducted before Fournette’s, former Jaguars’ tight end Ernest Wilford joined to offer encouragement for those seeking to make things better for African Americans. Wilford is a Duval Deputy Sheriff and can provide a unique perspective in addressing today’s issues.
“The murder of George Floyd was unbearable, and it hurts,” Wilford told WJXT. “I want to make sure that I show my solidarity and let everyone know that I hear the voices, and I want change. In order for change to be made, I have to show my support, so I will be that voice.”
Laying the foundation for today’s problems was Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan. In an op-ed published on the Jaguars website, he summed up the destruction caused by racism.
“Racism, in all its forms, will kill. It kills people, it kills communities, it kills dreams, it kills hope,” he wrote. “For many Americans, now is the moment. Never has that been clearer. I don’t want to waste this moment.”