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Back in the game
The Jacksonville City Council will take up the Lot J measure in a committee of the whole meeting Thursday, and optimists assume that’s a prelude to the entire Council passing the bill next week.
With the Jacksonville Jaguars ready to launch another rebuild (more on that below), the implicit argument is that the tailwinds of a top draft pick, cap room galore and other unique value-adds may be the thing to ease tensions between the city and what the Jaguars’ president has called a “free agent team.”
The votes are, more than likely, there. The Jaguars have built relationships with almost everyone on Council, and the pyrotechnics of public conversations tend to fizzle in quieter rooms where mutual understanding is forged.
Of course, the question is if it’s all enough … whether a sports entertainment district, a blue-chip quarterback (for the first time in franchise history), a marquee name coach can invert the small market paradigm that has defined and hamstrung Jacksonville, which for decades has chosen pro football as the field in which the city needs to be seen as punching above its weight.
These questions will not be resolved in time for the current people in office to either take the blame, a victory lap or some hybrid of both. They are generational inquiries, and just as was the case in the 20th century when leaders of the time chased the NFL dream, they are decisions that will be authorized by one generation with the bills due, as is often the case, to the next.
A Rep. John Rutherford bill became law this month and the third-term Republican from Jacksonville sees it as a potential solution to an issue he encountered as a lawman for decades.
The Crisis Stabilization and Community Reentry Act of 2020 expands mental health services for reformed convicts in the hopes of preventing their return to prison. As many as one in four former convicts face psychological debilitations as they struggle to rejoin society.
“Throughout my time in law enforcement, I saw many individuals reoffend time and time again with the same offenses involving substance abuse and mental health issues,” said Rep. Rutherford.
“Those exiting the prison system face numerous challenges as they go back to their communities, often with little or no support. That’s why I was proud to introduce the Crisis Stabilization and Community Reentry Act, which was just signed into law. Providing inmates mental health and addiction support during and after incarceration will save lives, save money, and reduce crime and recidivism.
Kat staffs up
The newly elected Republican Congresswoman from the sprawling 3rd Congressional District, which includes Orange Park and points south and west to Ocala, maintains many staff members from her former boss’s office.
Rep. Kat Cammack will retain Capitol Hill veteran Larry Calhoun, who was also Rep. Ted Yoho’s chief of staff, in the same role. Calhoun has been on the Hill since early in the Barack Obama administration.
Other staffers will stay on also, with some new faces in the mix.
Cammack also can be expected to be an aggressive fundraiser.
Kevin Hofmann, owner of the Archmann Group, will head up Florida fundraising. He has served as a fundraiser for Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Reps. John Rutherford, Michael Waltz and Mario Diaz-Balart.
On Tuesday, Rep. Clay Yarborough announced he has filed for Senate District 4 in the 2022 cycle.
“After encouragement from family, friends and supporters, I filed to run for the Florida Senate. With so many challenges facing our state, I am committed to the hard work required to safely return our lives to normal throughout our community,” Yarborough said in a prepared statement. “As I’ve done in the Florida House and on the Jacksonville City Council, I’ll always let our shared conservative principles guide me on the critical issues we face on a regular basis.”
The Jacksonville Republican is the first-in candidate for SD 4, an open seat in 2022 due to incumbent Republican Sen. Aaron Bean facing term limits.
SD 4 is a Republican-leaning seat covering all of Nassau and most of Duval counties except for the central portion contained within neighboring SD 6. Yarborough currently represents House District 12, which covers the part of Duval County that overlaps with SD 4.
A former state legislator contends she is exempt from an employment lawsuit filed by an aggrieved former employee because of legal protections while serving in the Legislature.
On Tuesday, House General Counsel Daniel Bell asked a panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal to dismiss a suit against former Rep. Kimberly Daniels because of “qualified immunity” — a legal concept that generally protects government officials from personal liability in cases related to their duties.
Bell said ex-aide Karen Riggien was speaking as an employee when she reported the alleged misconduct and that employment grievances do not provide a basis for such a lawsuit.
The appeal focuses on whether Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat who served two terms in Tallahassee, is entitled to qualified immunity. No decision from the appeals court is imminent, the News Service of Florida reported.
A new bill from Rep. Cyndi Stevenson would safeguard voter privacy.
“House Bill 155 exempts voter registration information from public records to protect our citizens from scams. It is important to protect this information, as it can and has been misused by those seeking to do harm,” Stevenson said.
Today, information can be accessed and exploited by anyone; HB 155 would limit access to election officials, party officials and registered political committees.
Elections supervisors around the state back the bill.
“We thank Rep. Stevenson for helping to address the No. 1 complaint we hear from our voters; that misinformation or excessive texts and calls come from the data that a voter has on file with us on issues completely unrelated to their right to vote. It is an open opportunity for personal information to be abused,” said Craig Latimer, President of the Florida Supervisors of Elections.
Run it back
At least one state Representative from Duval County is seeking reelection in 2022.
Rep. Wyman Duggan of HD 15 on Jacksonville’s Westside filed this week for another term.
Duggan was first elected in 2018 and reelected in 2020, holding onto a D+3 seat despite well-financed Democratic opposition in each case.
Other legislators from the region have thrown in for reelections next year, including Reps. Cyndi Stevenson, Sam Garrison and Bobby Payne. And at least one incumbent is stepping up to Senate.
On Sunday afternoon, while much of the city was watching NFL football, city officials got involved in some unnecessary roughness, bandying explosive claims at each other.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, City Councilman Garrett Dennis, and Fraternal Order of Police head Steve Zona all engaged, with Curry and Dennis swiping at each other with accusations of marital infidelities, as First Coast News reported.
I still can not believe a head of the police union, a city council member and the Mayor of Jacksonville aired out dirty laundry on here.
— The MC Wale is On the Clock. (@theMCwale) January 4, 2021
Dennis has squabbled with Curry for the better part of each man’s five and a half years in office, with the Democratic Councilman and the Mayor clashing for what are personal reasons.
The feud has been a backdrop for a generation of political decisions, with Dennis often serving as a lone voice of opposition. And what’s clear is that, with the 2023 campaign positioning in play for the termed-out Council Democrat, there is no reason for him not to continue to bait Curry.
And Curry is unfettered in his Twitter presence. While these days are replete with fire pit footage, football commentary, religious musings and motivational video clips, there’s always room for a post or three shivving an enemy.
In that context, expect quasi-libelous tweet wars to continue to become the rule, not the exception, in #jaxpol, with Curry and Dennis leading the genre’s evolution.
The Jacksonville City Council’s select committee on JEA took a look at the short-circuited attempt to privatize the utility. What rolled out this week was a report offering 138 pages of criticism of the initiative.
The report contends the Curry administration was pushing to sell the public power and water company as early as 2017. A write-up via First Coast News indicates that it looked like it could move for much of the time between the beginning and the end of the sale push in 2019.
“By early 2019, the Mayor’s plan appeared to many to be on a path to success,” the report said. “The plan ran afoul through Aaron Zahn’s greed, coupling the JEA sale effort to the PUP (bonus plan) — designed to have senior JEA employees benefit exorbitantly from a JEA sale.
Those looking for new smoking guns in the report are likely to be disappointed. However, the release closes a chapter on what was not the first attempt to consider selling the utility, but what is likely the most memorable one.
Two former Jacksonville City Councilmembers whose careers ended in scandal will finally head to prison.
Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown, convicted of fraud charges related to misuse of economic development funds, are slated to report to Coleman Correctional Institution in Sumter County.
They had sought a release pending appeal.
Federal judge Marcia Morales Howard ruled that the Browns “failed to meet their burden of establishing the statutory factors for release pending appeal, and it is appropriate that they begin serving their sentences as directed.”
The two Democrats were serving on the City Council in 2018 when suspended by then-Gov. Rick Scott and never returned to that legislative body. Katrina Brown did run for reelection under indictment but lost in the “first election” in March 2019.
Duval County continues to deal with the challenges of administering COVID-19 vaccines, and Jacksonville city officials signaled this week the possibility of repurposing testing sites.
Eyed as vaccination stations: the Legends Center in Northwest Jacksonville and the mega-location at Regency Mall in Arlington.
While Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes couldn’t guarantee a City Council committee that this plan will become a reality, given variables beyond city officials’ control, Mayor Lenny Curry knows that people are frustrated by the process thus far.
“People are very interested in getting this vaccine, and I’m glad to hear that,” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said, as reported by WJXT. “I understand that residents had trouble getting through on the appointment line that the Department of Health set up for this purpose. Please know that I understand the frustration.”
St. Johns vaccinations
St. Johns County is about to open the second round of appointment-only availability for COVID-19 vaccinations.
St. Johns County officials announced this week they received 800 additional coronavirus vaccines from the state of Florida. The county will begin accepting appointments online and by mobile phone calls and text beginning at 9 a.m. Thursday.
Those St. Johns County residents wanting to make appointments can call the vaccination hotline at (904) 295-3711, and residents must dial all 10 numbers. Residents can also text “SJCVACCINE” to 888777 or visit the county’s vaccine online program at www.sjcfl.us/coronavirusvaccinations, and a specific registration link will be made available.
The Thursday registration availability is for appointments on Friday. They advise residents to make sure to register for appointments at the available registration times on Thursday because the first round of vaccinations went quickly. The Department of Health will compile the registration for appointments.
St. Johns County initially offered the first availability of vaccination appointments on Jan. 2; by the next day, they were filled.
St. Johns County officials are determined not to repeat scenes in some other Florida counties where residents lined up for hours — sometimes overnight — waiting in lines for the possibility of getting a COVID-19 vaccine shot in first-come, first-serve conditions. St. Johns will only provide vaccines by appointment.
Flagler Health+ laid out expansion plans for Care Connect+, the social health organization that connects area residents with a single point for health care services throughout the community. Care Connect+ has helped improve circumstances such as housing, income, education, food adequacy and other factors in social determinants of health.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on the important role that Care Connect+ continues to play in building healthier communities across Northeast Florida,” said Flagler Health+ President and Chief Executive Officer Jason Barrett. “With an emphasis on collaboration, innovation and seamless care navigation, the team at Care Connect+ is closing the gap in health care disparities and helping area residents and communities thrive. This would not be possible without our growing base of community partners.”
In 2020, Care Connect+ played a role in decreasing the homeless population by 39% and increasing access to youth behavioral health resources by 20%. This includes programs such as BRAVE, a partnership with St. Johns County School District that connects students across 39 schools with behavioral health providers, with a 160% increase in the number of students proactively working with providers. The alliance also helped more than 1,300 residents affected by COVID-19 secure housing and utility payment assistance, food and other critical needs.
Flagler Health+ released an infographic of the 2020 impact of Care Connect+ in addressing homelessness/affordable housing, adolescent mental health and COVID-19-related social needs.
“The collective effort of our partners and supporters helped individuals and families navigate some of life’s most challenging circumstances,” said Care Connect+ Executive Director John Eaton. “As we work to increase coordination and access to the resources people need to keep their families safe and healthy, we are working toward realizing our vision to advance physical, social and economic health in Northeast Florida.”
Pace trustees elected
The Pace Center for Girls in Florida and Georgia has elected four new board of trustees members.
The chair of the organization for 2021 is Gordon Bailey. He comes to the Pace Center’s top slot with a wealth of community service and organizational experience.
Bailey is currently the vice president of public affairs and community engagement for Florida Blue, oversees federal and state government relations, and handles corporate social responsibility for the Florida Blue Foundation and Center for Health Policy. Bailey previously held the post of chair of the board of directors for Pace.
The vice-chair of the Pace Center for Girls board of trustees for the next year is Brittany Perkins Castillo. She’s currently the CEO of AshBritt, a logistics company specializing in disaster response in the United States. Perkins Castillo also provides pro bono work for victims of domestic violence and refugees.
The treasurer’s post for Pace was allotted to Mark Barnes. He’s a partner at the law firm of at DiBartolomeo, McBee, Hartley & Barnes. He’s already on the board of directors for Pace in Port St. Lucie.
Greg Haile was elected to the secretary’s post for the Pace board of trustees. He’s currently the president of Broward College.
The Pace Center for Girls was founded in 1985 in Jacksonville and helps about 3,000 at-risk girls and women in Florida and Georgia each year.
It turns out that a 15-game losing streak can get a coach fired, even in the most forgiving market in America.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan made the firing of head man Doug Marrone official Monday morning in a prepared statement that is not unlike other prepared remarks, from firings at the ends of other years like this one for the squad.
“I am committed and determined to deliver winning football to the City of Jacksonville. Realizing that goal requires a fresh start throughout our football operations, and with that in mind, I spoke this morning with Doug Marrone to express my gratitude for his hard work over the past four seasons as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. I’ll always appreciate Doug’s passion, grit and class, and I’m confident he will enjoy success in the next chapter of his career. As the search for our new general manager continues, now the quest begins to find a head coach who shares my ambition for the Jacksonville Jaguars and our fans, whose loyalty and faith are overdue to be rewarded.”
The word is that former Gators and Ohio State Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer could be the pick. However, at least up to this writing, everyone is playing coy about whether real talks have happened. But Meyer could command well upward of $10 million a year … big money for someone who has left high profile college gigs in the lurch before, but for a franchise desperate for identity and city subsidies for the Lot J deal, it’s a necessary spend.
In any case, as Adam Schefter noted this week, hope springs. “Jacksonville has more to offer than any team hiring a new HC and or GM. Jaguars have the No. 1 overall pick, 11 total picks, over $100 million in salary-cap space and strong ownership. NFL execs and coaches find the Jacksonville situation highly appealing,” Schefter tweeted.
Khan is expected to be more of an active owner in his latest attempt to rebuild a franchise that has struggled mightily since he bought it.