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Groundhog Day is Thursday.
But in Jacksonville, the recurrence suggests it’s every day, especially when it comes to local leaders’ feckless response to extremist provocations.
Decades back, the city of Atlanta billed itself as a city too busy to hate. Jacksonville apparently has a less crowded calendar, as hate speech continues to predominate locally with no end in sight.
Just days after the City Council passed legislation banning the projection of images onto buildings without the owners’ permission, a reaction to recurrent neo-Nazi taunts in recent months coinciding with the Florida/Georgia game and the final Jacksonville Jaguars game of the regular season, leaflets were distributed around the city bringing similar hate to people’s doorsteps.
Former Rep. Jason Fischer got one of those nastygrams last weekend.
This hateful flyer was littered in my driveway this morning. We condemn those responsible for this in the strongest terms possible. Hate is not welcome in our city! #flapol #jaxpol 🇺🇸🇮🇱 pic.twitter.com/GN5hs47WPF
— Rep. Jason Fischer (@JasonFischerFL) January 29, 2023
Another trusted source has encountered something similar recently. We will protect their identity here.
“I found a neo-Nazi sign on Friday 1-27 and removed it. It was in the median on Deerwood Park near SE Regional Library. I took a couple of pictures of the location, then picked it up as it was violating the sign ordinance, spray-painted it black and threw it away. I drove around there a couple of times but have not seen one since.”
In Orange Park, where flyers have been found, the local police offer a reassurance: “There is no danger to the community regarding these flyers or those who are distributing them,” reported Action News Jax.
So in the same state where the wrong book in a classroom library is cause for third-degree felony charges, Nazis have a wider berth than teachers. Interesting times to say the least.
What’s the 2023 race for Mayor about?
Thus far there has been a lot of back and forth about ephemera, including who was most compromised by the JEA sale push. But what’s clear is there are more pressing issues and little appetite among city leaders to address them.
Got what he wanted
U.S. Rep. John Rutherford is trumpeting placements on the House Ethics and Appropriations Committees, two highly prized placements for the fourth-term Jacksonville Republican.
“Throughout my time on the Appropriations Committee, I have fought to safeguard taxpayer dollars and eliminate waste. I will continue to work with my colleagues on the Committee, under Chairwoman Kay Granger’s leadership, to find bipartisan solutions that support our nation’s priorities,” Rutherford said. “I am also looking forward to serving alongside my colleagues on the House Ethics Committee to ensure our nation’s government operates with fairness and impartiality on behalf of the American people.”
“Congressman Rutherford is a strong fighter for fiscal responsibility, and he’ll be an asset when finding ways to cut wasteful spending while ensuring the safety and financial security of the American people,” affirmed Granger.
Rutherford will sit on three subcommittees: Homeland Security; Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies; and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies.
The ethics post, meanwhile, will be potent given the House’s expected scrutiny of the Joe Biden administration.
“House Republicans are working to restore integrity, accountability, and transparency to the halls of Congress,” said Speaker Kevin McCarthy. “The Members on the House Ethics Committee will work to build trust among the American people and will ensure Members of Congress are held to a standard worthy of their title. Under new leadership, the House of Representatives will return to truly serving as the People’s House.”
A meeting of the Duval County legislative delegation saw legislators review and approve three local bills making it easier to dine (and wine) where they could not before.
One bill applies to the Beaches, while the others cover the city of Jacksonville.
Local bill JB-1 sets up a new special zone in Jacksonville Beach, the “Downtown Incentive Zone.”
This and the other bills discussed would relax current restrictions on how small a restaurant can be — and still serve hard liquor.
The DIZ is in the heart of the commercial district, inside a rectangle framed by 3rd Street, the Atlantic Ocean, 6th Avenue North and 2nd Avenue South, facilitating hard liquor service in smaller restaurants than currently allowed.
In addition to the Jacksonville Beach request, the delegation also greenlit (by voice vote) two Jacksonville bills that further expand alcohol service.
One was on the Northside and the other in Mixon Town in the urban core.
J1 sets up the North Florida Keys Corridor, asking for similar exceptions for space and seating requirements, as well as reductions for restaurants serving liquor from 100 to 50 seats.
It also reduces the square footage requirement from 1,800 to 1,000 on parcels located along Heckscher Drive from Clapboard Creek on the south/west end (near the entrance to JAXPORT on Blount Island) to Haulover Creek at the north/east end (near the entrance to Huguenot Park).
A third piece of legislation was approved that applies to event centers on the Mid-Westside, ahead of an expected groundbreaking this Spring.
Bill J2 offers exceptions to the Dennis Street Commercial Corridor Area in Mixon Town, west of Interstate 95 and the Prime Osborn Convention Center. The bill would apply to three parcels that have an occupant capacity between 2,100 and 2,900 people, and an overall floor capacity between 22,000 and 35,000 square feet, with more than half the revenue not from alcoholic beverage sales.
The area is zoned for a mixed-use development, and the bill is modeled after a similar entertainment district allowed in Charlotte County in 2017. Concerts, corporate events, and weddings are among the contemplated uses.
All bills will have to pass the Legislature and survive the gubernatorial veto process before they become law.
Second time around
Democratic Rep. Kimberly Daniels lost her House seat in a 2020 Primary, after a Legislative Session when her socially conservative positions found her out of favor with the caucus.
But in 2023, those bad vibes are in the rearview mirror, she told Jacksonville Bold Monday at a meeting of the Duval County legislative delegation.
“We’re getting along just fine,” Daniels said. “As far as the caucus, no problem.”
Daniels is just one of two Democratic state Representatives in the Duval Delegation. The other one, Rep. Angie Nixon, successfully Primaried her in 2020.
But there are no hard feelings, Daniels said.
“I don’t get into stuff like that. Angie Nixon is doing her job and I’m doing mine. We haven’t had any problems that I know of.”
Teamwork = dream work
State Sen. Tracie Davis and Nixon will take part in a couple of events in the next two days that will allow people to get some help from representatives.
Wednesday evening will find the legislators on Zoom, for a State Funding Virtual Workshop. That event, per Davis, will allow interested parties to “learn how to navigate the state process to get funding” for their organizations. The event kicks off at 6 p.m. and is slated to run for an hour.
Thursday evening will find the same legislators at an in-person event at the Legends Center in Northwest Jacksonville, Nixon said Monday during a meeting of the Duval County legislative delegation.
This “equity workshop,” which also starts at 6 p.m., is intended to help people access state dollars for broadband.
“We just want to make sure that the folks who really need it can actually get it,” she said.
Mitch and more
Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is among the featured speakers at the Fund for American Studies Conference at the Ritz Carlton Amelia Island this weekend.
Daniels will offer a keynote speech on the topic “Higher Ed: Shape Up or Blow Up” Friday night.
His speech will be just one of many for the three-day event, which includes Saturday orations from former Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on “Transforming the Postal Service” and journalist Neal Freeman on “The Enduring Legacy of William F. Buckley.”
Friday and Saturday will be speech-heavy days, but those arriving Thursday will be able to participate in the TFAS Golf Tournament. That optional event is by invitation only.
For more information or to make reservations, contact Special Events Director Jane Mack at [email protected] or 202-986-0384.
Take me to the river
For those interested in roots music and supporting constantly embattled rivers in Northeast Florida, there likely is no better or cheaper synergistic opportunity than Saturday’s “Reunite the Rivers” concert at Jacksonville University.
JU’s amphitheater will host the free concert, featuring local six-piece strummers Snake Blood Remedy. The event runs from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
“Join St. Johns RIVERKEEPER and Jacksonville University’s Marine Science Research Institute for a concert in support of restoring the Ocklawaha River, the largest tributary of the St. Johns. Bring your own chairs, blankets and refreshments and enjoy an afternoon of music. There will be a food truck on-site. Show your support for breaching the Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam and reuniting Silver Springs, the Ocklawaha and St. Johns. Together, we can restore the Great Florida Riverway!”
Snake Blood Remedy is in its second decade as a band, but its roots run deeper, into 20th-century country and folk influences. Though the group is rooted in the traditions of the past, most of its oeuvre consists of originals written by founding vocalist and guitarist J.D. Cole.
While showing up is free, the Riverkeeper does request an RSVP. And yes, there is a form for that.
— St. Johns Riverkeeper (@SJRiverkeeper) January 28, 2023
Nassau County is making moves, working to better compensate the school district’s teachers. A new agreement with the local teachers’ union heads in that direction.
The deal makes starting salaries higher than any of Nassau’s surrounding counties, “as well as our Georgia neighbors,” Superintendent Kathy Burns said.
Salaries are set to increase by 6% over the 2021-2022 level.
“It was quite the incredible turnout,” Nassau Teachers Association (NTA) President Chris Pagel said, regarding NTA membership’s vote on the proposal. He told the Board 78% of the membership turned out, with 98% supporting the new contract.
The Board also signed off on a memorandum of agreement between the Nassau Educational Support Personnel Association (NESPA) and the school district on bus routes. This is the latest plan in Nassau County’s attempt to overcome a lack of people and buses for the number of students needing transportation around the county.
The deal offers added salary to veteran, full-time drivers “for the inconvenience of being removed from their regular/bid-upon route.”
The Board unanimously approved these two agreements along with the memorandum of understanding regarding ESE paraprofessionals. It contains a $350 supplement for prekindergarten ESE classroom paraprofessionals and ESE bus aides.
Overall, 76% of the NESPA membership turned out and voted on the MOUs, with 65% voting to approve.
Fish aren’t the only things red in the snapper debate.
Anglers are upset at statistics they don’t believe and a narrative on red snapper that doesn’t follow their experiences on the water — but they’re not able to do much about it.
Despite reactions like the boisterous meeting held in Jacksonville on the subject, federal regulators are boxed in by federal fisheries law and red snapper catch limits are dropping even further than before.
“There is a really high abundance that’s in this time series,” South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) scientist Mike Schmidtke said at the Jacksonville meeting, referring to a graph of red snapper in the South Atlantic.
“We’ve seen more red snapper in this last part of the time series than we’ve seen in 40-plus years.”
The SAFMC is in the process of approving Amendment 35, part of an effort to reduce dead discards of red snapper, which is causing the fish to be overfished and undergoing overfishing, according to regulatory standards. The amendment is supposed to come up for a vote at the Council’s March meeting.
Everything tracks back to a weight-based metric called maximum sustainable yield, or what the fishery can afford to lose.
Within the amendment, the Council must approve several actions. The SAFMC’s Scientific and Statistical Committee made its recommendation from five alternatives.
In Alternative 2, the acceptable biological catch number drops from 53,000 fish to 28,000. The commercial annual catch limit goes from 124,815 pounds whole weight to 77,016, in one year. The recreational annual catch limit declines from 29,656 fish to 19,119.
Other alternatives included even lower limits.
Many anglers who spoke at the Jacksonville scoping meeting vocally rejected the data presented.
“This Magnuson-Stevens Act, I understand it’s been in play for quite a long time,” said Darrin Willingham, vice president of the Jacksonville Offshore Sport Fishing Club.
“However, I think we need to go back and look for the original garbage-in, garbage-out data that has sent this terrible snowball rolling. If you look at it, the whole reason everybody is considering this to be overfished is because of data that has been shown to be skewed data, inappropriate data, false data.”
If implemented in time, the amendment all but ends any chance of a recreational red snapper season in 2023, as there will be too many dead discards counting against the limit.
It was one hit after another in January for North Atlantic right whales, a species already on the path toward extinction in our lifetime.
The numbers are still not adding up.
There need to be around 50 calves born each calving season to stabilize the population — now at around 340 whales — with fewer than 70 calving females. This season, survey teams have only seen a dozen calves, one of which was discovered alone before it eventually died by a Morehead City, North Carolina pier.
Scientists could not find the calf’s birth mother nearby, so why the calf was alone is still a mystery for the time being. The same week, surveyors found the progeny of Spindle, right whale No. 1204, off St. Catherines Island, Georgia.
Also that week, a Clearwater Marine Aquarium team flying 20 miles off Rodanthe, North Carolina discovered a right whale entangled in heavy rope fishing gear, with “several wraps of line around the mouth and tail, with the added line trailing behind the whale.
“After reviewing documentation of this new entanglement case, NOAA Fisheries biologists have made a preliminary determination that it meets the criteria of a ‘serious injury.’ This means the whale is likely to die from this injury.”
The whale, No. 4904, is a 4-year-old juvenile and one of the offspring of Spindle. Whale No. 4904 was last seen in May 2022 in Massachusetts Bay, without entanglement.
The danger of getting next to whales means efforts at disentangling them are few and far between and planned for the right moment. An opening occurred to cut at least some of the line after a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission team saw an entangled right whale near Jekyll Island, Georgia, on Jan. 20.
“After this entanglement response, only a short segment of rope remained in the whale’s mouth,” according to NOAA Fisheries. “Based on similar incidents, responders are optimistic the remaining rope will dislodge on its own. NOAA Fisheries will examine the removed rope to determine its origin, if possible.”
This whale, Nimbus, is a 15-year-old male. It’s unknown why male North Atlantic right whales swim to the calving grounds off Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia.
If you formed attachments to any of the 2022 Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, sincerest apologies as many of those players are not only not in Jacksonville anymore but scattered to the winds by the Miami Marlins organization.
But lo, while the new season brings fresh players, some coaches that kept the Shrimp near the top of the division for the entire season are coming back for another run. In 2023, the Shrimp bring back manager Daren Brown, who eclipsed 1,300 managerial wins last season. Pitching coach Jeremy Powell and defensive coach Jose Ceballos are returning as well.
Joining them are athletic trainer Eric Reigelsberger, strength and conditioning coach Tim Rodmaker, hitting coach Greg Colbrunn, and video manager Victor Di Diego. Colbrunn played in Jacksonville for the Class AA Expos affiliate in 1989 and 1990.
The Shrimp closed last season in third place in the International League East Division with a record of 80-69, despite a fluctuating lineup that resulted in many players getting called up to the Majors in Miami.
Ultimately, 79 total players cycled through the Shrimp roster at one time or another, with 12 of those players leaving to make their first MLB appearance. The 79 players is a franchise record and the 2022 Shrimp set local records on the number of pitchers rostered with 39, and starting pitchers, with 25.
The Shrimp kick off the season on March 31 at the Gwinnett Stripers and return on April 4 to open their home schedule with the Durham Bulls.