Jacksonville Bold for 4.28.21: Making sprinkles

Vanilla Ice Cream in a Waffle Cone Bowl wiht a Cherry on Top
It's budget sprinkle time!

How to make sprinkles

A session is hurtling toward Sine Die.

The big question in the coming days (weeks?) is: “What does the Governor do with the budget?”

One hint, pay special attention to the so-called “sprinkle list.”

The House Speaker and Senate President each advance a cache of district-level appropriations requests, and from there, it’s up to the Governor whether these spends get through.

Bucks for Beverly Hills? Image via the City of Jacksonville.

A major sprinkle for Duval County is $6 million for septic tank phaseout in Northwest Jacksonville’s Beverly Hills East neighborhood. Rep. Wyman Duggan brought that issue this year.

Septic phaseout is a recurring problem; just to make a dent citywide will carry a price tag of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Should it meet with final approval from Gov. Ron DeSantis, the funding would help the city and its municipal utility get a bit closer to the daunting tasks of phaseout projects promised a half-century ago.

Mayor Lenny Curry lobbied House leadership on this, and we can assume senior city hall staff will press the case to DeSantis staffers, perhaps by the time you read this.

There are $500 million in federal virus relief funds already marked for sewer conversions statewide. Still, Jacksonville leaders will tell you that there’s much more need than that in the city alone, and the fate of this line item is worth watching in the months ahead.

High energy

Sen. Aaron Bean has become a favorite of those watching the Florida Legislature from afar this year, with his crisp auctioneer cadence keeping the Senate moving toward what looks like an on-time Sine Die. In floor Sessions and appropriations committee meetings, the Fernandina Beach Senator brought a light touch to keeping trains of bills moving.

He comes by that high volume approach honestly, as those familiar with the High Energy Auction Company can tell you.

We caught up with Bean between bill calls, where he discussed how the art of the auction translates to running a meeting.

Aaron Bean, auctioneer. Image via Ponte Vedra Recorder/Jon Blauvelt.

“There are similarities and differences in leading a committee meeting and the Senate on the floor. You need a command of Robert’s rules of order, but also the Senate rules. It is important to keep everything in proper posture at all times so that if something comes up unexpectedly, you do not lose control,” Bean reflected.

“On the floor, there is the addition of the electronic voting. It’s not just the voice and cadence; you also have to be aware of what is going on in the room in a fast-paced environment. When you are leading a meeting, or on the floor, you need to make sure that everyone in the public or in the room understands what is happening, so that means talking plainly as well and explaining procedures as often as needed.”

Experience counts, Bean notes.

“It helps that I’ve been watching sessions for years and actually go to the equivalent of a preproduction meeting before floor sessions, so I know what is coming up. I’m energized by being around other people and by the necessity to have to think on your feet. I also like coffee,” he quipped.

Irish eyes

Irish eyes are smiling on the Legislature as the Regular Session nears its end, with a Jacksonville Republican part of an Irish caucus.

And it’s bipartisan. South Florida Democrat Dan Daley reached out to local Rep. Wyman Duggan to start things up.

“Apparently, it existed in the past but fell dormant. Daley wanted to revive it and asked me to co-Chair. He set up a zoom call with the president of the Irish Senate for our first meeting, who invited us to come to Ireland next year for the Republic’s centennial,” Duggan said.

Duggan tells us that it’s “too soon to say” whether any legislation comes out of the caucus next year.

Whatever the case, though, the reemergence of the Irish caucus illustrates how traditions abide and recur even in nontraditional years.

Good cop

Last week, House Speaker Chris Sprowls honored one of Duval County’s finest as the Officer of the Day, Officer Jean Kleber, specifically recognizing moves she made to improve community policing.

Sprowls noted that she’d proposed a 90-day action plan after studying crime trends in her area, a plan to “tackle problems” that “led to stopping a number of burglaries and a significant reduction in crime.”

Rep. Clay Yarborough, who suggested the recognition for Kleber, mentioned that none other than Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams recommended the law enforcement veteran.

“She is 2021 Officer of the Year and was also Office of the Month in June 2020. She has a very impressive resume, including nine years as an FBI agent prior to JSO,” the third-term legislator and current state Senate candidate said.

Help for victims

The Florida House passed HB 1189 without a no vote Monday, a bill sponsored by Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Tracie Davis that charges local health departments with setting up sexual assault response teams. Alternatively, those offices can contract with another jurisdiction to set up a joint response team.

The teams include nurses, victim advocates, law enforcement officials and prosecutors. According to the bill’s analysis, those teams would develop a stronger understanding of victimization and the positive effects of trauma-informed training. The team would have oversight and assistance from the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence.

Tracie Davis seeks to tackle sexual assault. Image via Colin Hackley.

The teams would set up uniform procedures and best practices for responding to a reported sexual assault. They would also publish an annual report containing information such as the number of sexual assaults reported and prosecuted and the number of forensic medical examinations performed.

The Senate has passed the bill also. Like the House, the vote was unanimous.

Chamber champions gas tax

Curry’s proposed 6-cent gas tax increase got a boost from the business community this month.

JAX Chamber’s board of directors voted unanimously to back Curry’s plan to double the local gas tax option to pay for an estimated nearly $1 billion in infrastructure projects. The money raised from the proposed hike at the pumps in Jacksonville would help pay for everything from roads, sidewalks, bike paths, removal of septic tanks, and revisions to the downtown Skyway Express people mover.

Even Jacksonville City Council President Tommy Hazouri backs the plan, and the Council is beginning the review of potential legislation at City Hall.

Chamber officials see the “Jobs of Jax” tax increase to help the city get overdue upgrades. A University of North Florida study showed the tax increase could lead to 7,640 new jobs in Jacksonville.

“This investment will not only make needed road and infrastructure improvements, but it will also put people to work and create jobs in our community,” JAX Chamber Chair Henry Brown said. “The time is now. As business leaders, we need to get behind this proposal, and I thank Mayor Curry and JTA CEO Nat Ford for their leadership.”

Henry Brown sees the Jax gas tax as a job creator. Image via JAX Chamber. Image via JAX Chamber.

Curry’s proposal to raise the gas tax falls under the state law and “local option gas tax” of 6 to 12 cents per gallon. Jacksonville and Duval County is one of only a dozen municipalities in the state that has not increased that tax to the whole 12 cents on the gallon.

While many cities remain stuck in controversy over statues and references to the Confederate elements of the U.S. Civil War, Jacksonville is gearing up for a festival marking the emancipation the conflict promised for all in America.

Emancipation celebration

The inaugural “Emancipation Celebration” is set to be held at James Weldon Johnson Park in downtown Jacksonville in May. The event is set for Thursday, May 20. It is designed to be an educational festival to enlighten residents about Florida’s observation of emancipation that followed the Civil War’s conclusion once the Union army defeated Confederate forces.

Jacksonville City Council member Ju’Coby Pittman was vital in organizing the event. She said the festival had been a long time coming in the city.

Ju’Coby Pittman is helping Jacksonville go all-out for the Emancipation Celebration.

“As a community, we are recognizing the past wrongs and injustices with a celebration of unity with a profound purpose. As we continue to celebrate as a community, we still have work to do together,” said Pittman.

Also key to the festival is the location. James Weldon Johns Park, which is across the street from City Hall on West Duval Street, had its name changed in honor of the civil rights activist last year. It used to be called Hemming Park, and Curry ordered the removal of a Confederate soldier statue on top of a column in the park — to the delight of thousands of civil rights supporters in 2020.

“Emancipation was proclaimed in Florida on May 20, 1865, and the City of Jacksonville recognizes the significance that has made for our community,” Curry said. “We’re excited and humbled to support James Weldon Johnson Park as we celebrate this day together with a fun festival for the community.”

Construction Junction

Jacksonville is one of the best markets in the country for the construction industry and the workers employed in it.

Data released this week by Industrial Paint and Protection Magazine shows the construction industry is starting to bounce back after the coronavirus pandemic drew new construction to a near standstill in 2020. As more and more companies are beginning to build again, Jacksonville finds itself in the Top 10 cities in the country for construction work and is one of only two cities in Florida to make the top tier of the list.

Jacksonville is the ninth-best market for construction work in America, just behind Tampa and ahead of Nashville, Tennessee.

Recent construction on an apartment complex in downtown Jacksonville. Image via Drew Dixon.

The figures released by the trade journal considered several factors while compiling the list, including the number of construction workers employed in the area, pay, the number of building permits and other factors.

Jacksonville has 5,760 construction workers employed in the area at an average annual salary of $35,040. That average salary is higher than Dallas, Texas, which topped the list with an average salary of $34,390. Jacksonville’s average pay topped two other cities in the Top 10, including Tampa’s figure of $31,580.

Orlando and Miami were the other Florida cities that made the Top 50 list of best construction cities at 17th and 30th.

OshKosh B’gosh

Rep. Angie Nixon announced this week that her daughter scored her first modeling assignment with a major national name.

The HD 14 Democrat, in her first term in the Florida House, tells Bold that her daughter will be modeling for the venerable children’s clothier OshKosh B’gosh. People suggested that she model, Nixon said.

The Wisconsin-based company was founded in 1895, at which point it made workwear. The company shifted to children’s wear sometime after that, with occasional brief forays into adult clothes at times.

Nixon has documented the trials and triumphs of juggling new motherhood with a career in the Florida House throughout the 60-day Legislative Session. The Oshkosh moment is definitely in the triumph category.

Fight night

This week, Curry continued to ride the wave of last weekend’s UFC event, trumpeting a Rolling Stone article on his Twitter feed and co-branding with the Governor.

Curry’s pull quote: “Although controversial figures, DeSantis and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry aligned with White’s mentality, and clearly wanted to convey the message that Florida’s a location where the anxieties that exist elsewhere isn’t present.”

Curry picked up on a second pull quote from DeSantis in his tweet thread: “Welcome to Florida. You guys aren’t the only ones looking to come to this oasis of freedom.”

The article itself? Well, it wasn’t exactly Hunter Thompson covering the 1972 Presidential campaign.

Ron DeSantis hypes a news conference crowd. Image via UFC.

“From witnessing the nearly seven-hour fight card from inside the venue, there didn’t seem to be any conflict between those who did wear a mask and those who didn’t. Everyone was there to enjoy the show, which ended up being one of the most memorable events in UFC history,” read one gee-whiz passage in the piece.

“Superspreader” concerns were buried at the bottom of the piece and pooh-poohed.

All in all, positive earned media for Curry and DeSantis, even if Rolling Stone is a long way from its glory days.

Big Shrimp contribution

A social justice fund is expanding thanks to the sizable contribution from the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp AAA Minor League Baseball team.

Team owner Ken Babby and his wife Liz Babby, donated to the Jacksonville Public Education Fund’s Wolfburg Fellowship for Social Justice in Education. The fellowship was established last year in the name of Jake and Brian Wolfburg, CEOs of VyStar Credit Union based in Jacksonville. The fund goes to support a teacher in Duval County focusing on social justice issues.

The Jumbo Shrimp owner makes a big contribution to social justice in Jacksonville.

The Babbys, in a joint statement, said they felt compelled to contribute.

“We are honored to be part of such an important mission that is working to cultivate inclusive learning environments and empower teachers and students to learn about and activate around social justice,” the couple said.

“The Wolfburg Fellowship for Social Justice enables creative, hands-on educational efforts that will have an impact beyond the classroom, and we cannot wait to see the brilliant ideas supported by the Fellowship come to life.”

A news release Monday did not disclose the amount of the financial contribution.

But the Woflburgs were enthused.

“We are grateful and humbled by Liz and Ken’s commitment to furthering a more just, inclusive, and thriving community for everyone who calls Jacksonville home through the Wolfburg Fellowship for Social Justice in Education,” Jake and Brian Wolfburg said.

Praise for Principals

Last Thursday, April 22, Florida TaxWatch kicked off the 2020-21 Principal Leadership Award (PLA) ceremonies in Jacksonville, honoring two local principals and presenting a deserving student from each principal’s school with the Academic A+ Student Scholarship, a two-year college scholarship from the Florida Prepaid College Foundation.

School of Success presentation praising the best in education. Image via Florida TaxWatch.

School of Success Academy Principal Genell Mills and Fort Caroline Elementary School Principal Violet Stovall are among the nine winners across the state who are being recognized for the transformational work they’re doing in high-risk K-12 public schools.

Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro said, “The data speak volumes about these principals. Despite their schools’ high-risk designations, student performance continually improves, giving thousands of children — Florida’s next generation — the opportunity to become confident young adults and ultimately reach their full potential. Florida TaxWatch is honored to join the Florida Prepaid College Foundation and our many generous partners to recognize these outstanding educational leaders through the Principal Leadership Awards program.”

Puerto Rico MOU

This week JAXPORT CEO Eric Green and Puerto Rico Ports Authority (PRPA) Executive Director Joel A. Pizá Batiz and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to grow the maritime trade between Jacksonville and Puerto Rico.

“This Memorandum of Understanding between the Jacksonville Port Authority and the Puerto Rico Ports Authority is great news for Northeast Florida and our entire state,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis. “This new agreement will build on the special relationship between the Sunshine State and our island neighbor.”

“This MOU highlights the strong connection between Jacksonville and Puerto Rico and strengthens our efforts to collaborate when and where both communities can benefit,” Curry added. “With our friends and colleagues in Puerto Rico, we’ll continue to see greater job growth and economic development for our communities in the years ahead.”

Port leaders, local electeds and others celebrate the Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen the relationship between JAXPORT and Puerto Rico.

Jacksonville is the leading U.S. port in trade with Puerto Rico, handling nearly 90% of all sea trade between the island territory and the U.S. mainland. By annual cargo volume, Puerto Rico is also Jacksonville’s number one trading partner by, moving nearly 800,000 container units and thousands of automobiles annually.

Key issues in the MOU include business development and marketing, relationship building with current and potential ocean carriers and shippers, and best practices in environmental protection, operations and security.

“Today’s signing ceremony solidifies the great partnership between JAXPORT and the Puerto Rico Ports Authority,” said Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault. “The investments being made by the state of Florida and JAXPORT will have multigenerational benefits and continue to support this important relationship for decades to come.”

Attending the signing event were U.S. Customs and Border Protection Jacksonville Area Port Director Jennifer Bradshaw — who led CBP’s response in Puerto Rico following hurricanes Irma and Maria — as well as U.S. Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville Captain of the Port Mark Vlaun, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District Commander Colonel Andrew Kelly, Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of Jacksonville President Nancy Quinones, JAXUSA Partnership President Aundra Wallace, TOTE Inc. President and CEO Tim Nolan, Crowley Maritime Chairman and CEO Tom Crowley, and Trailer Bridge CEO and President Mitch Luciano.

JAXPORT is home to three Puerto Rican ocean carriers, all headquartered in Jacksonville: Tote Maritime Puerto Rico, Crowley Maritime and Trailer Bridge.

San Juan, Puerto Rico is one of Jacksonville’s eight Sister Cities through Sister Cities International.

Duval truths

The Florida Times-Union welcomed Trevor Lawrence, the expected top pick for the Jaguars Thursday night in the NFL Draft, with some “Duval Truths” Monday.

While the advice to “shop ‘til you drop” at the Town Center has its place, we expect that Lawrence, should he have the 20-year Hall of Fame career in Jacksonville that everyone expects at this point, will need to know some other things also.

Artist’s rendering via Big Cat Country.

For starters, Land Use and Zoning issues. There are a couple of people you probably will want to go with when you need a lawyer. There are more you’ll want to avoid.

Thank us later after you get that zoning variance for [redacted].

Also, they will give you a City Council proclamation. Maybe for good hair, maybe for good teeth, maybe for some other invention of one Council President or another.

Trevor: don’t sleep on this. Feed the meter. Once they get going on the speeches, especially during an already-begun 2022 campaign, you might not be able to get out there in time to avoid a parking ticket. It’s happened before.

Finally, and most seriously, these fans can turn on you.

As much as they love you because you represent Hope now, they can flip on you as quickly as they did any other QB.

Minshew mania? Lose a few games, turn on the sports radio, and hear what the armchair heroes say about your mechanics or will to win or whatever.

This is Jacksonville, and it may be new to you, but it’s been here a long time.

Staff Reports



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