Jacksonville Bold for 3.2.22 — Tax hike time

Businessman looking at hand drawn chalkboard
On mill shouldn’t hurt too bad, at least in theory. Right?

Tax hike time

Is Jacksonville willing to have property owners pay for better schools?

That’s the question the Duval County School Board kicked off Tuesday night, with a 6-1 vote in favor of raising rates one mill.

This shouldn’t hurt too bad, at least in theory.

As Jacksonville Today noted Wednesday, “The one mill increase would mean, for a Duval County home with a taxable value of $150,000, the owner’s school tax bill would rise from roughly $872 a year to roughly $1,021.”

NBD, right?

Duval County is ready to shell out an extra mill for better schools. Right?

Six of the seven members of the board thought so, an audacious position to take given what is happening now to housing prices in the city. News story after news story hits the theme of renters no longer having recourse to affordable housing, and homebuyers losing out to investors in bidding wars.

In theory, this tax hurts fewer people all the time, as the current era in Jacksonville is one where homeownership is quickly becoming a pipe dream. And the district estimates this will amount to $82 million in the budget.

So, who cares? For one, people with long-term memory.

“You don’t need to raise the millage tax again,” said Casey Jones of Jacksonville, as reported by WJXT. “It’s been 483 days since you all got a half-cent sales tax, and now you’re groveling and trying to get another one?”

Jones’ qualms aside, this is the time to make the play. In the words of George W. Bush after his re-election, what good is political capital if you can’t use it?

For one thing, the school board could go through some changes in the 2022 Election. Would there be six votes for this push after November?

The district has already primed the pump, selling the sales tax for capital needs over the next decade.

And finally, there’s the numbers game: Jacksonville is now a city of renters who will not care much about a tax they likely won’t get to pay.

Other school millage pushes are happening elsewhere in Florida, such as Pasco County. And thus far, they have succeeded in predominantly blue counties: Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Pinellas all passed millage hikes.

Before it gets on the ballot for voters to consider, the City Council has to give it the green light.

While there likely will be the predictable posturing from conservatives against it, this group has gotten more comfortable with the prerogatives of incumbency as a whole.

It’s hard to imagine this failing, even with a GOP-supermajority City Council.

RNC outreach

The Republican National Committee is upping its investment in Jacksonville, launching a Black American Community Center on Normandy Boulevard last weekend.

Terrance Freeman talks of a significant investment to turn out Republicans in Jacksonville. Image via RNC.

RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel was the primary draw for the opening event, and per WJXT, she said that the opening showed the party’s willingness to “listen” and “fight” for votes.

“The very first offices we have opened this year for the RNC have been in Black, Hispanic and Asian communities earlier than ever because this is about us proving and showing that our party is showing up,” McDaniel said. “We are going to listen, and we are going to fight and earn every single vote, and we are going to deliver.”

Jacksonville City Council President Sam Newby said this was a new tactic for Republicans.

“For so long, the Republican Party have never really engaged the Black community here in Jacksonville, the Black community — 30%. And it’s just really crazy not to engage 30% of the population,” Newby said.

What will the ultimate impact of this initiative be? Time will tell, but Republicans clearly see room for improvement.

“The RNC is committed to reaching out to every community, including those that Democrats have abandoned in Florida and beyond,” asserted RNC Spokeswoman Julia Friedland.

All about Al

While we’re not sure all of our readers would be interested in 5,400 words on Congressman Al Lawson and his epic political career, the latest long-form article from analyst and Democratic political consultant Matt Isbell offers a lot of history people in Jacksonville might not know … or might have forgotten.

A (not so) quick history lesson from Matt Isbell.

One example is how patient Lawson could be — when waiting for a goal to come to fruition.

Isbell notes that in 1996 redistricting, Lawson argued for an east/west district much like the current CD 5, and his support was interesting.

“The Republicans and Democrats are just trying to protect their own turf,” Lawson was quoted as saying in the Tallahassee Democrat.

Lawson lost out. But 20 years later, that district would recur amid Corrine Brown’s woes.

“As I write, redistricting is not settled in Florida. I project we are heading for an impasse and a court getting involved. Lawson is in the position that many incumbents have been before, waiting to see if their district will survive the remap. Lawson may be at the end of the road, or he may survive to fight another day. One thing is clear; he has had a remarkable electoral career,” Isbell writes.

Read the article online here.

Veto threat

Gov. Ron DeSantis again was unambiguous regarding his intention to veto a congressional reapportionment map that doesn’t meet his muster.

“I’ve said very clearly that I will veto maps that include some of these unconstitutional districts. And that is a guarantee. They can take that to the bank. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get something good that is positive for the people of Florida.”

DeSantis made his comments in Indian River County Monday, his first since the Florida House Redistricting Committee approved a new “two-map” proposal Friday intended to split the difference between the variations on the baseline maps that had been advancing through House and Senate committees.

Don’t make Ron DeSantis pull out his veto pen.

The primary map (H 8017) passed Friday would effectively eliminate Florida’s 5th Congressional District in its current form, represented now by Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat. It would replace it with a Duval-only district still considered minority access, but with a nearly 10 percentage point drop in the Black voting age population compared to how it’s drawn now.

Eliminating the district follows DeSantis’ lead, as the Governor’s Office labeled the CD 5 an “unconstitutional gerrymander” and submitted two maps that eliminated it. However, the comments suggest that he is not supportive of this proposal.

DeSantis-friendly blogs, such as the conservative RedState, back that read, with a narrative planted that certain Tallahassee Republicans are protecting Lawson over the Governor’s interests.

“One source familiar with the matter told RedState that some of the Republicans on the committee are actually trying to protect Democrat Rep. Al Lawson from losing his seat. He currently holds Florida’s District 5, which is an illegal district in the opinion of many legal scholars. Instead of fixing the problem, the Florida House has largely kept the district intact (it is renamed FL-3 on the new map), drawing it to span over 200 miles to connect two completely unrelated minority populations. In short, these Florida Republicans are supporting a probable illegal gerrymander to boost Democrats.”

Challenge coins

CFO and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis was on hand in Jacksonville late last week, honoring local heroes who helped out during the search and rescue operation in Surfside last year with challenge coins.

“It was an honor to be in Jacksonville today and recognize the brave men and women of Florida’s US&R Task Force 5,” Patronis recounted.

Pledge pin? Jimmy Patronis honors US&R with a challenge coin. Image via CFO Office. 

“I saw the work of God when hundreds of Florida’s Urban Search & Rescue Team members fought, and kept fighting, for any hopes of life. They worked 12-hour shifts in the Miami summer, cutting rebar, cutting concrete, filling 5-gallon buckets of debris, hand-by-hand. These men and women battled fire; they battled rain; they battled the heat. Their boots and gloves were destroyed. On that mound of rubble, I saw hell on Earth. But I also saw God’s presence in the men and women that fought with every ounce of their being to save lives. Surfside was a tragedy on a mass scale, and it’s going to stick with me forever.”

Patronis also spoke to the challenge coins he gave out, saying he hoped they would have a generational impact.

“The challenge coin represents respect, unity and courage, values that Florida firefighters live by. It is my hope that these coins are passed on through generations of their children, and their children, and their children, so that everyone knows that heroes walk amongst us,” Patronis said.

Downtown law

Jacksonville will have a law school downtown soon, in the latest step in the ongoing attempts to bring Downtown back to the glory days of the mid-20th century.

The Jacksonville University College of Law will launch classes in the fall of 2022 with an expected inaugural class of 20-30 students and a projected total enrollment of 150 students in Fall 2024.

The VyStar Tower will host the new school.

Downtown Jacksonville will no longer be the largest city without a law school.

“Jacksonville is currently the largest city in the U.S. that does not have a law school,” said Mayor Lenny Curry. “Too often, our citizens must choose to leave Jacksonville to pursue a legal education. This College of Law will offer a prime opportunity for current residents and serve as a magnet to attract talent back into our city and our downtown.”

“We are proud to partner once again with Mayor Curry and the City of Jacksonville to propel northeast Florida toward a stronger future,” said Jacksonville University President Tim Cost. “We thank them and our partners for their support. We believe this is the role of a responsive and agile university in a city like ours — to move decisively on opportunities that lift the entire community and to forge partnerships that serve the greater good.”

JU is now accepting law student applications and will hold a virtual information session on March 24 at 6 p.m. More information is available at www.ju.edu/law.

Sweeny selection

After considering a field of seven candidates, the St. Augustine Beach Commission selected experienced Beth Sweeny to fill its Seat 1 vacancy Monday night.

Sweeny, the Director of External and Government Relations for Flagler College, will serve in an appointed capacity on the commission until at least November. She has been serving as the chair of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce Public Policy Committee as well, but apparently will step down to focus on the new role.

Before her stint at Flagler, she had served as the director of policy and government relations for the St. Johns County School District.

Beth Sweeny hits the ground running.

She is likely to run for a full term in November.

In making her case, Sweeny stressed local ties to St. Augustine Beach.

“We are all blessed to live and raise our families in this slice of paradise,” she said, stressing that she had the “temperament, experience, and knowledge” to fill the sudden vacancy on the board.

Sweeny’s appointment returns the commission to its total five-person capacity after scandal engulfed the man she replaced.

Ernesto Torres resigned earlier this year to spend more time with his family, per the St. Augustine Record, after a traffic stop involving the Commissioner and his wife went wrong.

Mrs. Torres was driving when a cop pulled the couple over. The Commissioner attempted to use his position to get out of the arrest, reaching out to the St. Johns County Sheriff and the local police chief, who told officers to handle the matter like any other DUI arrest.

Torres’ case will be in the hands of the state Ethics Commission.

Mose money

Good news for Fort Mose, as the Florida State Parks Foundation copped a $933,500 grant from the Florida African American Cultural and Historical Grants Program to build a reconstruction of the 18th-century fort near St. Augustine.

Augmenting that money is $250,000 in matching funds via the Florida Park Service, the Jacksonville Jaguar Foundation, Florida Blue, The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, St. Johns County and Mark Bailey.

An influx of cash will help Fort Mose return to its former glory. Image via National Park Service.

Fort Mose was significant, notes the foundation: “Fort Mose and Spanish St. Augustine became a sanctuary for Africans seeking liberation from slavery amid a large-scale power struggle between European nations in the New World. The only stipulation for gaining their freedom was that they had to declare their allegiance to the king of Spain and become members of the Catholic Church.”

“This landmark grant opportunity is crucial because it will enable the construction of a representation of Fort Mose, one of the most culturally significant sites in both African American history and the history of the United States itself,” said Foundation CEO Julia Gill Woodward.

Granted

Fort Mose wasn’t the only area project awarded funding through the Florida African American Cultural and Historical Grants Program.

Of the more than 150 applicants, four projects in the St. Augustine area placed in the top third and will receive a combined $2,933,500 in grants.

The largest — $1 million — will help restore the historic Excelsior High School, home of the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center. Another $500,000 will go to Zion Missionary Baptist Church to restore Zion Baptist Church in West St. Augustine.

Excelsior High School restoration gets a massive boost. 

Finally, the St. Johns Cultural Council will receive $500,000 for the St. Augustine Beach Hotel and Beachfront, which was recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places at a level of national significance for the civil rights movement in connection with the 1964 wade-ins to protest segregation.

“St. Augustine is home to more than 450 years of African American history. The Friends of Lincolnville and the Fort Mose Historical Society have worked tirelessly for decades to share that history, often in spite of limited resources,” said Christina Parrish Stone, Executive Director of the St. Johns Cultural Council.

“These grants will allow the organizations to continue their important work, and share that work in a way that’s more accessible to the public. The Cultural Council is honored to also receive funding that will help us recognize and celebrate the brave civil rights activists who fought segregation at St. Augustine Beach.”

The St. Johns Cultural Council said it is committed to working with Fort Mose and the Lincolnville Museum, along with other organizations, including the SEA Community and the ACCORD Civil Rights Museum and Freedom Trail.

“We are dedicated to broadly promoting the African American culture and history of St. Johns County so that our residents, tourists, and prospective visitors will be aware of its tremendous local and national significance,” said Parrish Stone.

Expanded care

Flagler Health+ is expanding its capacity to provide care in the community by opening two new primary care facilities in St. Johns County at Julington Creek, off Racetrack Road, and Greenbriar, off County Road 210.

“The announcement of the opening of these two state-of-the-art facilities in the northern part of St. Johns County continues our commitment to providing lifelong care to our community,” said Jason Barrett, CEO and president of Flagler Health+. “This expansion will help ensure that we can continue to best serve the physical, social and economic needs of our friends and neighbors.”

Flagler Health+ Primary Care at Greenbriar opened on Feb. 14 and is located at 304 Ashourian Ave., Suite 105, just off County Road 210. Flagler Health+ Primary Care at Julington Creek opened the following week, Feb. 22, and is in the Julington Creek area of the county, located at 2570 Race Track Road.

Flagler Health+ expands its community service with two new care centers.

Flagler Health+ board-certified physicians provide complete care — from birth through geriatrics — and are dedicated to convenient, quality health care with these two new community locations.

Additionally, the two new practices feature a pair of Primary Care physicians who have recently joined the Flagler Health+ team. Dr. Mark Michaels will be based at Flagler Health+ Primary Care at Greenbriar, while Dr. Tristan Imhof will practice at the Julington Creek location.

To learn more about Flagler Health+, visit flaglerhealth.org. To learn more about Flagler Health+ Primary Care at Julington Creek, click here, and to learn more about Flagler Health+ Primary Care at Greenbriar, click here.

Culture

Read it and weep: the Jacksonville Jaguars have suspended plans to hire an executive vice president, with owner Shad Khan putting the search on pause because the “culture” is now good at the stadium.

Are we here at Bold surprised? Not really. Khan’s ownership has been characterized by a fitful approach to management, with the owner being occupied with other pursuits for much of the last decade of futility.

There are a couple of ways to look at this. Let’s be positive.

Maybe Tony Khan, who is in town often for All Elite Wrestling duties, can actually keep things on track when the Jags lose a few games in a row this year. GM Trent Baalke hasn’t presided over much on-the-field success, but he clearly is a C-Suite survivor. Jags’ coach Doug Pederson got run after a power struggle in Philadelphia, recall, so there is precedent for things going south.

It could be, of course, that neither the younger nor the elder Khan will be paying close attention through a whole 17-game season.

Ultimately, this will be forgotten if the team comes through and signs some A-list free agents (Davante Adams, please?). But after the worst two years in franchise history, the Khans don’t have a lot of goodwill to squander among the fan base.

Staff Reports



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