Jacksonville Bold for 3.23.22: Better than ever

Photographer paparazzi at work press media camera. The reporter
Welcome to Bold, now with expanded Jax coverage.

Better than ever

Welcome to yet another jampacked edition of Bold; this one brings even deeper regional coverage than ever before.

With the addition of Nassau County-based reporter Wes Wolfe, Florida Politics now offers expanded coverage of Jacksonville proper, as well as the politics and policy moves of a region facing seismic changes.

As Jacksonville encounters the growing pains felt by many major cities, Nassau, Clay and St. Johns counties all are dealing with adjustment issues as the once-sleepy region wakes up.

Timing is everything; it’s no accident that Florida Politics (and Bold) is adding new talent during a pivotal and fluid election season in Northeast Florida.

As legacy media struggles with resource allocation and corporate decision-making, we are more than pleased to enrich our coverage in a region that needs it most.

Clay payday

On Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis was back in Clay County to highlight teacher pay at the second local market stop of the day.

Teachers stay paid under Ron DeSantis’ administration.

At Fleming Island Elementary School, DeSantis was trumpeting $800 million in teacher salary increases. Earlier in his term, the Governor visited Clay High School to promote a previous round of teacher pay hikes, so it was not his first visit to the county on that subject.

“We’ve come full circle,” DeSantis said Monday, referring to the $800 million “record number” in the budget to boost teacher pay, part of $2 billion in the last three years.

The Governor offered substantially the same remarks made in Palm Beach County earlier that day, an example of local market messaging aptly timed to coincide with the start of the campaign season.

“Part of the reason we’re able to do this is the state is free,” DeSantis said, noting that tourism helped drive strong revenue that allows Florida the breathing room to “address significant priorities.”

DeSantis lauded regional school districts, notably St. Johns, where he lived before becoming Governor.

He said they make a difference when people decide where they want to live.

Outgoing Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, on his “farewell tour,” stayed on-brand, lauding the “education Governor” and “putting students first,” which included holding in-person classes during the pandemic.

Superintendent David Broskie also noted the “nationwide teacher shortage.” He praised the Governor for trying to boost salaries for teachers in the state.

Also on hand: Sen. Jennifer Bradley, Reps. Sam Garrison and Bobby Payne.

Be careful

Duval County policymakers are making the case to raise millage rates to improve public schools, but in Orange Park on Monday, DeSantis urged caution.

Just say … maybe? Ron DeSantis isn’t endorsing tax hikes.

Stressing that he is unfamiliar with the specifics of the Duval County proposal, the Republican Governor pointed to gaps between what is promised and ultimately delivered when tax hikes are proposed generally.

“I’ll let them decide,” DeSantis told reporters in Fleming Island, where he was highlighting $800 million more in teacher pay in the state’s upcoming budget.

“What I can tell you, though, is when they say we’re going to raise taxes for education, then they never end up solving the problems,” DeSantis said. “They raise the tax, and a lot of the time the money goes to things that are different from what they said it would do.”

“So, I would tell voters: Just be very careful when people are putting this out.”

“I don’t know what’s proposed or not proposed, but I’ve seen over the years where people will say they’re going to address these problems, which people would like to see, and then it ends up, you know, the money gets frittered away, then they come back and ask for more tax increases, and that’s bad,” DeSantis said.

Asked for specifics, DeSantis said: “You see it all the time,” without providing a detailed example. “Just be careful about that.”

On March 1, the Duval County School Board cast a 6-1 vote to raise property taxes by one mill. The expectation is that it would add up to $82 million more a year in recurring funding.

The district already primed the pump, selling a half-cent increase in sales tax for capital needs over the next decade, a measure which passed on a referendum in 2020.

This new tax hike would also be subject to voter approval, pending City Council fulfilling its ministerial function to put the matter on a ballot for a vote.

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.

While DeSantis didn’t openly denounce tax hike bids like this in Northeast Florida Monday, he clearly waved the caution flag, potentially giving a signal to Republicans courting his favor ahead of the 2022 and 2023 elections.

New judge

DeSantis on Monday appointed Judge James Kallaher to the 4th Circuit Court, which encompasses Clay, Duval, and Nassau counties.

A Navy Veteran from Fleming Island, Kelleher graduated from Florida Coastal School of Law. He has been in private practice as a partner and shareholder at Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin since 2021. Previously, he served as a Managing Partner at Kallaher, DeLuca & Naughton.

Here comes the judge: James Kallaher.

Kallaher has also interned for the Hon. Ralph Nimmons and the Hon. Timothy Corrigan of the United States District Court, Middle District of Florida. He also worked as an Assistant State Attorney in Duval and Clay counties in Florida, within the 4th JC over which he now presides.

Kallaher fills the judicial vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Daniel F. Wilensky at the end of 2021. Wilensky was 69 years old when he stepped down.

Too damn high

Jacksonville’s rent crisis is now national news, after Sunday’s episode of 60 Minutes featured the region’s rising prices, demand and shortage of stock.

“60 MINUTES travels to a hot housing market and examines the rental madness affecting millions of Americans. With residential rents nationwide up 15% last year, nearly twice the overall inflation rate, Lesley Stahl looks at the factors behind the jump — led by supply and demand. While millions of people need rental housing, very little rental housing has been built in the last decade. At the same time, big investment firms are buying up rental properties, most of them in “hot” Sun Belt rental markets, and in turn, would-be first-time homebuyers are having to compete against Wall Street giants. The financial impossibility for many keeps people as tenants renting, which keeps rental demand high and can drive rents even higher.”

The segment, hosted by veteran reporter Stahl, interviewed various principles in the market, including the requisite millennial couple frustrated by a lack of options and a Realtor who finds immediate cash offers as soon she lists houses.

Of particular interest to investors: starter homes, priced in the low-300s, which can be flipped into a $2,000 per month rental after a buy and $20,000 or so of rehab work. Meanwhile, it’s not all a loss for renters … the property management company handles maintenance.

Sluggish start

Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis continues to fundraise for his state House campaign, but the pace has been relatively slow.

Slow start for Garrett Dennis’ campaign.

Through February, Dennis raised $31,100 to his primary political committee, Forward Together, with $5,000 donated last month was the first check collected since the account opened in November. That check came from Twin Rivers, a developer out of Charleston, South Carolina.

In February, Dennis also raised $2,550 to his campaign account, more than doubling his January haul of $1,180. Donors include trial lawyer Hank Coxe and lobbyist Deno Hicks. He is shy of $22,000 in hard money on-hand.

Currently, Dennis is in the HD 13 Democratic field, running to succeed Rep. Tracie Davis. Expect that to change. For one thing, Dennis’ home address is HD 12, and the new maps will require HD 14 incumbent Angie Nixon to run in HD 13. Dennis will most likely pick HD 14 if he wants to run in a Democratic district.

Another filed Democrat, Mincy Pollock, likewise lives outside of HD 13 and 14; he’ll have to redesignate and establish a new home address before running. In February, he raised $8,610 to his campaign account, giving him roughly $17,000 on hand. There’s also about $11,000 in Pollock’s associated committee, All Things Common.

Leadership matters

Jacksonville City Council member LeAnna Gutierrez Cumber kicked off a campaign for Mayor with a speech Monday afternoon tying together infrastructure, a rapidly changing city, and her personal narrative as an introduction to voters beyond her Southside district.

LeAnna Cumber makes her campaign personal. Image via First Coast News.

Cumber, a first-term Republican City Council member, telegraphed her run months earlier, raising $2M+ to her JAX First political committee. But on Monday, she gave a preview of how she would message with that money.

With a speech hitting on reformer themes, Cumber’s goal was to make Jacksonville “the greatest Southern city in the country.”

“Leadership matters, and we can and must do better,” she said Monday — exactly one year before the March 2023 First Election.

Stressing the importance of a visible return for people on their local taxes, Cumber kept returning to the logistics theme: making Jacksonville one of the “key transportation hubs on the East Coast” and her desire to “build bridges” to solve community problems.

She drew on her personal narrative as well.

“I grew up alternating summer vacations between my grandparents in the Western New York Finger Lakes region — where my uncle raced stock cars — and then my abuelos in Miami, where the main language spoken is Español. I was raised in urban and rural communities. I’ve lived across our country. And, because I don’t sit still, I’ve had a wide range of life experiences. … Most importantly — (being) a wife and mother. My first job was bagging groceries at Kroger. My second: slinging coffee at the local bakery. Then, working as a bilingual elementary school teacher, a lawyer, a transportation consultant.”

Cumber would refer again to her Cuban roots in the speech, stressing a low-tax and budget-conscious outlook. “I know firsthand from my father’s upbringing in Cuba what happens when government continues to take from its citizens without reason. I also understand, based on my own upbringing, why every penny a family has at the end of the day counts — not only for them but for our society at large.”

She closed by comparing her position with another critical figure in Florida’s history.

“Standing here over 100 years ago was a leader named Henry Flagler who had a vision for Florida. And today we stand here at the same place with a vision for Jacksonville that unifies us all: a city where its future will no longer end in renderings and strategic plans; a city where we will become a destination for those fleeing high-tax, high-regulation states; a city that will be home to new companies that want to leverage our workforce; a city that will be a place where people pull off I-95 to explore the best city in the South,” Cumber said.

Local support included former state Rep. Jay Fant, former Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Schellenberg, and former Jacksonville general counsel Jason Gabriel.

Help Ukraine

Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Carlucci is still looking for donations for Ukraine, where the Russian invasion is in its fourth week with no end in sight.

Carlucci collects donations at his Southside insurance agency, as WJXT reported, and he plans to get the goods to Ukraine. A local church is providing a container to ship the goods.

While charitable causes are nothing new to Carlucci, it’s clear this one is particularly close to his heart.

Matt Carlucci goes the extra mile for Ukraine. Image via Facebook.

“This will be two weeks I’ll never forget in my whole life,” he said. “Just the spirit of kindness and decency and people wanting to help, and it’s just amazing.”

One consideration when giving: Goods could take a couple of months to get to Ukraine. Nonperishable foods are preferred (canned items, dried goods, and the like) along with new clothing and personal hygiene items.

Ready to donate? Stop by Carlucci’s State Farm office: 3707 Hendricks Avenue from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Amaro ascendant

Former Jacksonville newscaster Ken Amaro opened a campaign account in City Council District 1, but the newly minted Republican contender is clearing the field before his first fundraising report.

Out of the race: Democrat Darren Mason, who was a former aide to termed-out incumbent Joyce Morgan before attempting his own City Council run in 2019.

Ken Amaro clears a path. Image via FCN.

Mason raised $120 during several months as a candidate, so it’s unclear how serious this campaign was, but his exit from the race makes Amaro the presumptive front-runner. It puts him in a position to flip one of the remaining five Democratic seats on the City Council.

Mason’s exit also means that Amaro’s only opponent is another Democrat, Alton McGriff. McGriff raised $100 as a candidate so far.

Moving on

The Nassau County Board of County Commissioners quickly moved Monday afternoon to make Interim County Attorney Denise May’s role permanent, with a search process to find a new assistant County Attorney.

Former County Attorney Mike Mullin’s departure last week followed months of allegations by Rayonier that he used his position representing the company and his knowledge of plans for what had become the Wildlight development against the company when he left and took the county attorney job.

Denise May can soon ditch the ‘interim.’

Those allegations resulted in one lawsuit, and accusations that he broke public records laws to cover his tracks, spawning another lawsuit and an investigation by the local State Attorney’s Office. Last week, the SAO issued a memo detailing how it believes Mullin broke the law. He agreed to resign instead of facing prosecution, but moved the resignation date from March 31 to March 15 because of the immediate public fallout.

“Didn’t expect that, but, when we hired Ms. May, we hired her with the expectation that she would take the position as county attorney when Mr. Mullin retired,” said Commissioner Aaron Bell, the board chair, on Monday. “Maybe the timing was not what we expected, but certainly, I think the expectation was that Ms. May would move into that role.”

See you in court

It’s no stretch to say you need a reference document in Nassau County to keep up with the lawsuits ensnaring the Ocean Highway and Port Authority, Nassau Terminals (which runs the port), Chris Ragucci (owner of Nassau Terminals), and Worldwide Terminals, the entity Ragucci used to take control of the port.

The latest action against the OHPA comes from Nassau County Property Appraiser Michael Hickox. The port’s not paying its share of millions in property taxes; since it’s run by a for-profit entity, that entity must pay.

Ocean Highway and Port Authority is dragged back into court.

A magistrate court ruled against Hickox in December. However, a recent ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal against the city of Gulf Breeze regarding its for-profit run golf course encouraged him to take another shot at obtaining that revenue.

Property taxes at the port are estimated at around $26.2 million for 2021.

Worldwide Terminals was in Zoom court Tuesday afternoon for a hearing in the lawsuit brought against it by ASM Capital. Ragucci worked on behalf of ASM Capital to acquire the port when they allege he misled them and took the port for himself.

“Unbeknownst to ASM … Ragucci and Four Wood (Capital Partners) had secretly acquired Fernandina on their own, stealing the valuable opportunity for themselves,” according to the complaint.

Distinction

Next month, the Girl Scouts of Gateway Council hosts the annual Jacksonville Women of Distinction, to honor outstanding regional female leaders.

Honorees personify the Girl Scout mission as women of courage, confidence, and character, working to make the world a better place.

Save the date.

Supporting the Girl Scouts helps give young women a clear road map for success that focuses on four pillars: STEM education, the outdoors, life skills, and entrepreneurship.

Presenting sponsors include Publix, UF Health and Miller Electric Company.

The Council invites everyone to participate in the event at 11 a.m. Thursday, April 14, at Adam W. Herbert University Center, 1200 Alumni Drive in Jacksonville. You can reserve a table here.

Staff Reports



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