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Milk means milk
North Florida (and, by extension, Jacksonville) continues to get treated to backhanded compliments from people you think would know better.
The latest was national commentator Buck Sexton, who thought the road to the region’s heart was pointing out its seeming lack of lactose intolerance.
“In northern Florida, when you ask for ‘milk’ in your coffee, they just put in milk. There’s no long discussion about ‘do you mean oat milk?’ or ‘soy’ (come on) or even almond (chalk water),” Sexton tweeted. “Milk means milk. It’s civilized down here.”
Leaving aside whatever traumas Sexton may have had relative to plant-based milk alternatives, his larger point feels familiar. People in North Florida are unspoiled … because they lack sophistication.
In other words — rubes.
We’ve seen this act from Democrats, too.
We’re going to dominate Ron DeSantis in South Florida, but we’re going to do just fine in North Florida, too. pic.twitter.com/7ptxgqh94V
— Nikki Fried (@NikkiFried) December 18, 2021
Leaving aside Fried’s claim of her ability to “dominate” Gov. Ron DeSantis in a General Election — a contention unsupported by polling — the big takeaway is Agriculture Commissioner playing up to a region in a Budweiser cap.
Arguably the most salient critique of this came from a recent Florida transplant, DeSantis spox Christina Pushaw, who summed up the pandering of the approach:
“Budweiser hat, American Flag bikini, hoop earrings, empty beer can … Perfect! The people of North Florida will definitely believe I am just like them and can relate to them! This is not offensive or condescending at all!”
We’re used to getting dumped on, Jacksonville and North Florida both, treated like a punchline or an aside.
It got old a while back.
Savvy politicians and cultural commentators trying to appeal to this region, Jacksonville and beyond, should stop trying to dumb down their appeals and recognize that despite drawls you may still hear from time to time, we belong to the modern world.
And occasionally even drink almond and soy.
Jobs jobs jobs
Unemployment in Northeast Florida simply isn’t a problem, according to the latest jobless numbers in Duval and surrounding counties. Nearly 11,000 jobs were added in February alone, and that availability keeps everyone who wants a job gainfully employed.
The Jacksonville Daily Record notes that the “jobless rate in the Jacksonville metropolitan area (Duval, Baker, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties) fell from a revised 3.2% in January to 2.8% in February … The rate had dropped to 2.6% in December, which was the lowest since it was also 2.6% in December 1998.”
Duval has the highest jobless rate in the region: 3.1%. The bedroom counties are all below 3%, a measure of the continuing juggernaut of the Jacksonville market.
“St. Johns County had the second-lowest rate in the state at 2.3%, trailing only Monroe County’s 2%. Nassau County tied for the third-lowest rate at 2.5%. Baker and Clay counties were both at 2.7%,” writes the Record’s Mark Risch.
More good news: We have written a lot about rents going up, but wages apparently are as well.
“As businesses hire more people, they are also increasing pay with average hourly earnings of $32.97 for Jacksonville area workers in February, compared with an average of $30.41 for all of 2021.”
EVAC at Oscars
Amy Donofrio may not be teaching for what is now called Riverside High School on Jacksonville’s Westside, but her legacy is still making a global impression.
On a night when Florida was memorialized on the Oscars stage over its Parental Rights in Education Bill (the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation you may have heard about), Jacksonville’s EVAC movement, founded by Donofrio years back, was featured in the much-desired “swag bags” at the Academy Awards in T-shirt form.
And there is apparently an EVAC NFT now, Donofrio told First Coast News.
“EVAC’s NFT ‘DreamCrazyJITS’ is being displayed in an exhibit across the meta in West Hollywood,” said Donofrio, emphasizing the message of the group she founded.
“What I want to put out there is directed toward the youth in Jacksonville. They matter, their voices matter, their voices are powerful and their changing our world from the city to the metaverse,” said Donofrio.
For a long time, Donofrio may have been the best-known public schoolteacher in Northeast Florida, with her EVAC movement recognized by former President Barack Obama and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who lifted the “at-hope youth” phrase from the group to replace the phrase “at-risk youth.”
To watch the video, click on the image below:
However, Donofrio irked school officials by flying a Black Lives Matter flag. After that, she was removed from classroom duties, with Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran saying she was “fired” while she was still on the payroll.
Last summer, the Duval County School District settled with Donofrio after not renewing her teaching contract.
Democrats are redoubling efforts in Duval County for elections next year, and political consultant Philip Perry will be at the center via his newly launched On the Line consultancy.
The firm’s goal: “To focus on winning the mayoral race, constitutional offices, and City Council seats.”
“The new firm launches with Donna Deegan for Mayor, Joshua Hicks for Jacksonville City Council, Newsroom Jacksonville and Ryan Health as clients. The firm will offer general political consulting, strategic communications counsel and innovative digital strategy,” reads a release.
“I believe we have a historic opportunity to restore competence, integrity, and compassion to Jacksonville’s city government by winning back the Mayor’s Office and seats on the Jacksonville City Council. While the numbers are on our side, it’s going to take smart strategy and out-of-the-box thinking to achieve this goal. I founded On the Line Strategy to offer political, communications, and digital consulting to the candidates and organizations that are putting it all on the line for Jacksonville‘s future,” Perry asserts.
“The time is up on good ol’ boy candidates and consultants who will do and say anything to win elections and maintain power. Jacksonville voters are sick and tired of campaigns that deploy scorched earth tactics, candidates who smear their opponents with blatant and disgusting lies, and corrupt consultants who are subpoenaed in federal grand jury investigations. On the Line Strategy’s clients will win elections the honest way with bold vision, emotive messaging, democratic values, targeted outreach, fact-based communications, and sharp contrast with the status quo’s corruption and incompetence,” Perry adds.
The path is uphill for Democrats, who hold no citywide offices currently and are up against a GOP supermajority on the Jacksonville City Council. But for Perry and others, hope springs eternal.
Familiar names and faces look poised to dominate the 2023 campaign cycle, reports David Bauerlein of the Florida Times-Union.
“Tom Petway remains a wellspring of campaign money and tops the list of local donors so far with $275,000 in contributions by him and his son for the May 2023 contest. Clocking in at the $200,000 contribution level in local races are business and civic leaders Gary Chartrand, David Miller and Michael Ward, along with road-building company J.B. Coxwell Contracting and construction contractor Gunner/Houston Ltd.”
Bauerlein talked to UNF pollster Michael Binder, who noted that the money is flowing in earlier than in previous cycles and that he expects the cash in this current mayoral race to eclipse the $9 million in traceable cash in the 2015 mayoral race between Curry and Alvin Brown.
Indeed, Republicans Daniel Davis and LeAnna Cumber (the former a pre-candidate, the latter an official candidate) have close to $6 million cash on hand as of the most recent campaign finance reports. Cumber is drawing on a national network of support, meanwhile, which Davis’ local supporters will feel ongoing pressure to match.
One donor who hasn’t played seriously yet? Shad Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He gave a $25,000 donation to the political committee of Council member Ron Salem but has steered clear of the mayoral derby. Whether he’s just biding his time or waiting on specific promises from candidates remains to be seen. This will be Khan’s first Jacksonville mayoral election without an incumbent, and in both previous elections, he backed the person in office.
If you haven’t noticed, and it went by our recognition until recently, several Bojangles’ locations around Jacksonville are no longer open on Mondays. For those of us who may have lived and worked in towns of only 20,000 people but three Bojangles locations, that completely buttery and crunchy, yet fluffy, biscuit can be a symbol of solace in a time of chaos.
However, we all have to make adjustments.
Shutting down Mondays made news in August when the company decided to nix two Mondays nationwide as a way of giving its understaffed and overburdened workforce some guaranteed time off.
“We apologize for any inconvenience this creates for our customers,” Bojangles CEO Jose Amario said at the time, “but we hope they’ll stop by Tuesday through Sunday, and all other Mondays to be greeted with the same Southern hospitality and smiles we’re known for — perhaps even bigger after a day off.”
Nassau Terminals’ position toward bringing in cruise ship business to the Port of Fernandina was that asking for forgiveness was better than permission.
It was essentially, “Well, the boat’s coming, so now it’s your move.” WestRock, which owns the dock, repeatedly said cruise activity isn’t allowed there and asked the port to stop.
Right now, there’s a deal in place to continue bringing the Ocean Voyager, of American Queen Voyages, back to Fernandina Beach several times later this year. The port either has to negotiate a deal with WestRock over the summer, which is not a certainty, or continue to have the ship drop anchor in the Amelia River and have Amelia River Cruises ferry them to shore.
The only problem with this arrangement is the Amelia River Cruises proprietor told the Ocean Highway and Port Authority that he’s losing money and business doing this work; it’s not sustainable.
While Jacksonville is best known to professional wrestling fans as the home of Tony Khan’s All Elite Wrestling, it doesn’t mean World Wrestling Entertainment isn’t playing here too.
The latest evidence: a deal announced by WWE Monday that rolls out a licensing agreement between the sports entertainment company and Jacksonville-based Fanatics, including “e-commerce and licensed merchandise, as well as physical, digital, and non-fungible token (NFT) trading cards.”
Fanatics will also oversee the WWE Shop platform, continuing a long tradition of taking over pro and college sports marketing from the leagues and organizations.
“Fanatics is the industry leader, and (CEO) Michael Rubin is a visionary,” said Vince McMahon, WWE chair & CEO. “We believe this multiplatform partnership will set a new standard for WWE e-commerce, apparel, and merchandise while providing our fans globally with more ways than ever to engage with WWE and our Superstars.”
“WWE is one of the most widely admired sports and entertainment properties worldwide, and it made perfect sense to activate many parts of our Fanatics global platform to create a first-of-its-kind, all-in fan experience,” said Rubin. “From e-commerce and licensed merchandise to trading cards and more, we’re going to offer up an incredible set of capabilities to help WWE’s passionate fans worldwide celebrate their favorite Superstars, marquee events, and the WWE brand overall.”
Pro wrestling in Jacksonville … it’s come a long way from when Don Curtis was promoting the Florida loop at the Jacksonville Coliseum.
Nights of Lights
The Hilton St Augustine Historic Bayfront had the best holiday lights in St. Augustine last year, according to a vote by Old Town Trolley riders.
Local business owners, residents, and guests riding the trolley voted for the top three hospitality businesses that displayed elaborate holiday lighting during the ninth annual “Light Up the Night!” contest.
The contest is connected to St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights, which saw the buildings along a 20-block stretch of the city decked out with lights from Nov. 27 through Jan. 31. Nights of Lights started nearly 30 years ago and has been acclaimed as one of the top-10 “Best Holiday Lighting Displays in the World” by domestic and international publications and online travel sites.
Old Town Trolley Tours & Attractions general manager Dave Chatterton and executive assistant Heather Quinn announced the award winners during a March 11 excursion featuring trophies, prize presentations, and photoshoots with program sponsors winning business leaders.
In addition to Hilton St Augustine Historic Bayfront, first-place awards went to Jalaram Hotels President and CEO Kanti Patel and general manager Scott Dial.
The second-place winners were Renaissance St. Augustine Historic Downtown Hotel and Jalaram Hotels COO Vik Patel, their management, and engineering teams. Third place went to the Casablanca Inn on The Bay and the Tini Martini Bar, with general manager Victoria and front office manager Margaret Griggs accepting the awards.
“This season was a huge success by all metrics, and it was great to see all the families enjoying their annual tradition. The City of St. Augustine, businesses, and residents did not disappoint. This year’s lighting display was the best I can remember,” Chatterton said.
Flagler Health+ is naming Carlton DeVooght as the new president and CEO of the St. Johns County-based health care facility. DeVooght has served as interim president since former President Jason Barrett left the organization earlier this month. He previously served as senior executive vice president, chief administration officer and general counsel.
The Flagler Health+ Board of Directors decided to forgo an external CEO search and move forward with the permanent appointment during a board session Thursday.
“Carlton is a trusted leader who has played an integral role in setting the organization’s strategic direction and ensuring the highest level of care is delivered to our patients and the broader community throughout his time at Flagler Health+,” said Todd Neville, chair of the Flagler Health+ board of directors. “In addition to Carlton’s impressive career achievements and education, he most importantly embodies the organization’s core values of quality, integrity, innovation and service. Our board is looking forward to seeing Flagler Health+ flourish even more under Carlton’s leadership.”
Before the appointment, DeVooght directed enterprise-wide strategy, operations and administration functions emphasizing growth and partnerships.
“This is a pivotal time in Flagler Health+’s history and I am honored that the Board of Directors has placed their trust in me to lead us through it. I do not take this responsibility lightly,” DeVooght said.
West Coast import
Paige Van Tuyl is the new Director of Development for tag! Children’s Museum of St. Augustine.
The hire was announced this week by tag! Executive Director Kim MacEwan. In her new role, Van Tuyl will oversee the organization’s fundraising, manage relationships with the nonprofit’s stakeholders and financial partners, plan fundraising events and presentations and develop opportunities for financial support through grants and sponsorships.
According to a news release, Van Tuyl “is currently focused on raising funds for the facility to become one of the most unique children’s museums in the U.S. and a critical part of arts and sciences enrichment for students and adults.”
Van Tuyl comes to tag! with more than two decades of experience in nonprofit development and sustainability. She most recently served as the executive director of the Lynda Fairly Carpinteria Arts Center located in Carpinteria, California, where she helped the nonprofit become one of the leading small-town community arts centers in the country.
She was formerly the development officer of Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara, California, event director for the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and development liaison and art director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara.
Van Tuyl is a native of Santa Barbara and attended Santa Barbara High School. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Santa Barbara and was named as one of the Pacific Coast Business Time’s 40 Under 40 and completed Antioch University’s “Women in Leadership” Program.
Northeast Florida residents will soon be able to visit their doctor and pick up groceries at the same place.
Walmart announced this week that it is expanding its “Walmart Health” venture into the Jacksonville and Middleburg areas.
The first locations to offer the expanded services will be set up next to the Walmart Supercenters at 7075 Collins Rd. in Jacksonville and 1580 Branan Field Rd. in Middleburg.
According to a news release, the health care centers will offer “primary and urgent care, labs, X-ray and diagnostics, behavioral health and counseling, dental, optical and hearing services all in one facility using a transparent pricing model.”
The health centers will be open seven days a week, with evening hours to accommodate working families as well as telehealth options on Sundays.
The locations open April 5. Walmart is expected to announce additional regional health centers in the coming weeks.
St. Johns County’s Tourist Development Council Arts, Culture and Heritage Grants program will accept applications later this month.
The grants program is administered by the St. Johns Cultural Council, which announced that the application period would run April 15 through May 31 for the funding year beginning Oct. 1, 2022. There is $400,000 in grant funding available for the year.
St. Johns Cultural Council executive director Christina Parrish Stone said the application guidelines have been modified since the last application period to remove the requirement that applicants submit a letter of intent. Some minor changes to reporting requirements and eligibility for special events were also approved by the St. Johns County Commission.
All applicants must attend a grant workshop before applying, whether repeat or first-time candidates.
This year’s workshops will be held at The Waterworks, 184 San Marco Ave. in St. Augustine, and are scheduled for April 19, April 20 and April 25.
A grant panel will meet to make funding recommendations in July. There are several openings for volunteer panelists and local arts advocates are encouraged to apply.
More information for aspiring applicants is available on the Cultural Council’s website. Those interested in serving on the grant panel can read more online or email [email protected].
Black & blue
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens announced this week that the second healthy blue-eyed black lemur was born at the Zoo.
The new lemur is the second infant born to Hendricks and Hemsworth, a pair that arrived at the Zoo in 2017. The young family and the Zoo’s other blue-eyed black lemurs reside in the African Forest, an award-winning exhibit that opened in August 2018.
Those hoping to see the baby lemur will need to wait a bit as the infant will remain behind the scenes in a quiet area with its parents until it is old enough to join the rest of the group safely. Zoo staff are also giving the young family space — they haven’t had enough time up close to determine the newborn’s gender.
“We have many reasons to celebrate this new infant. He or she will further enrich the social environment and experience of the Zoo’s amazing mixed-species lemur group and strengthen the sustainability of the Blue-eyed black lemur population,” said Tracy Fenn, assistant curator of mammals. “The Madagascar team is elated to see this infant thriving in the care of the mother.”
Besides humans, blue-eyed black lemurs are the only primate species to have blue eyes consistently. Males in the species are black, while the females are a rusty brown color. Infants match their mother’s coloring and become darker over time if they are male.
Like all lemurs, the species is native to Madagascar. Challenges such as habitat loss have made the species critically endangered, and climate change is expected to cause an 88% reduction in the population by 2080.
“We’re fortunate to work in an environment that places great emphasis on education and conservation of wildlife and their habitats,” said Dr. Jeff Ettling, president and CEO of Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. “We help our guests understand the threats these animals face, and the role and potential benefits the species provide to the ecosystems they inhabit. We hope this will inspire action.”
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ offseason revamp continues, with a key player in recent years saying goodbye and offering a look behind the helmet and the jersey.
“After much reflection, I have realized that the man I currently aspire to be no longer aligns with the person I have to become to play this game,” said center Brandon Linder, who announced his retirement Monday after eight seasons in teal.
While it is expected that Linder’s position will be filled by Tyler Shatley, another veteran on the line, he will nonetheless be missed.
Linder battled injuries throughout his 88-game career. He played just one full season, a measure of the trench warfare that is NFL football. But he did what few do, playing his full career in Jacksonville and becoming, in his words, a “lifetime Jaguar.”
The retirement was expected, with Linder facing a cap cut this offseason. His contract off the books frees up $9.53 million of room for the team, which spent a record amount of guaranteed money on new signings this offseason.