Jacksonville Bold for 4.26.23: Greene Acres

green lawn yard
Is Diana Greene being run out of town for political reasons?

As the Legislative Session barrels to a close in Tallahassee and the Governor travels the world, it’s almost easy to miss the in-progress coup d’état against Duval County’s School Superintendent.

However, one Senator believes she sees the writing on the wall.

Democrat Tracie Davis believes Dr. Diana Greene is being run out of town for political reasons.

Are Dr. Diana Greene’s days numbered?

“Under the previous Republican Commissioner of Education, Dr. Greene was the statewide Superintendent of the Year. Two years later, the new Republican Commissioner deems her unworthy of due process and a full investigation because dismantling and delegitimizing public education is their end goal. I fully believe this is a partisan witch hunt with a Republican school board and Republican-led Department of Education to target one of the last stronghold Democratic superintendents in the state,” Davis said Monday.

Note the framing: “Democratic superintendents.”

That interpretation was boosted Tuesday when Superintendent Manny Diaz threatened to dock Greene a year’s pay for failure to report incidents starting in 2021. Greene contends her office was unaware and is set to take “appropriate action.”

At least for now, Duval County’s school board is nominally nonpartisan. But with the elections of Charlotte Joyce and April Carney last year, the Board is increasingly leaning Republican.

The School Board is slated to meet Wednesday afternoon, which will probably be going on right about when this hits mailboxes. We’ve been hearing since last Friday from multiple Board members that Greene is in trouble, and the proposition will be tested this Friday.

One moderate member of the Board suggested she should resign. Another not-so-moderate board member is already looking forward to what Greene’s replacement will be like.

The comportment issues at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, where multiple teachers are under investigation, seem likely to drive the School Board to hire third-party counsel. But that’s only the latest hit to the school board’s reputation. Board members also bristle at a grand jury report from 2020 and say Greene didn’t do enough in its wake for their comfort.

In that context, how much political capital does a “Democratic superintendent” have?

One board member notes that with 85 new school board members elected last year, many of them backed overtly by Gov. DeSantis, it’s no surprise that superintendents are on the chopping block.

Sen. Davis’ disillusionment notwithstanding, Greene’s nearly five-year-long tenure is among the lengthiest periods for any superintendent to have served. No, it’s not Herb Sang’s 13 years in the chair. But it isn’t the 20th century anymore, either. Sang got to serve during a period of relative calm in the schools, at least compared to the culture war crucible they are now in the wake of COVID-19, Moms for Liberty, and moves in Tallahassee.

There is life after Duval County schools. Nikolai Vitti is living his best life in Detroit. He was smart enough to find the off-ramp when his time was nearing an end.

It may be time for Dr. Greene to consider her exit strategy. While WJCT notes that she would be owed $75,000 (three months’ severance pay) if fired, that money isn’t worth the stress of a job that seems to have run its course in a district and a state with a far different approach to K-12 than it had when she was hired in 2018.

The appetite among conservative board members appears to be for change, meanwhile, given the long-standing failures of institutional control. So, look for someone from the outside to be Greene’s eventual replacement.

Conservative Cammack

A Northeast Florida legislator is being recognized with the Award for Conservative Excellence.

Rep. Kat Cammack, whose district includes Clay County and other areas west and south of Duval, was rated one of the more reliable right-leaning members of Congress by the Conservative Political Action Coalition this week.

Kat Cammack is honored for her stalwart conservatism.

“The CPAC team is proud of the 52 consecutive years of rating Members of Congress. Getting beyond what a politician says and looking at how they vote is a needed form of transparency. As America is engaged in an internal struggle for survival, talk is cheap. Conservatives are the leaders intellectually and organizationally in the pushback against big corporations, Big Tech, Big Media, Big Unions, and academia, and our ratings help separate the big talkers from the truly courageous.” stated CPAC Chair Matt Schlapp.

Reps. Aaron Bean and John Rutherford did not make the cut this time around.

The report, “considered the ‘gold standard’ on evaluating political ideology, includes an exhaustive compilation of over 20,000 votes cast by all 535 members of Congress across the full spectrum of policy issues.”

Japanese jolt

Count JAXPORT as all in on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ trip to Japan this week.

The port’s Twitter account highlighted a media release from the EOG on Day One of the Governor’s international trade mission Monday, which spotlighted Jacksonville’s heavy imports of products from the Land of the Rising Sun.

“In 2022, Japan imported approximately $636 million in goods from Florida seaports and airports. Automobiles and related products account for almost 81% of all exports from Japan to Florida, with the Port of Jacksonville consistently serving as one of the top three ports for unloading Japanese vehicles for the United States. Additionally, auto parts from Japan are shipped through Florida’s distribution centers to part centers throughout the United States,” the Governor’s Office wrote.

Could there be more to come from this trip? The Governor’s international voyage won’t hurt.

Fried action

The chair of the Florida Democrats is again engaging in Jacksonville’s 2023 elections, contrasting to previous party leaders who seemed less present during municipal cycles.

Nikki Fried will be in Jacksonville Saturday for a “day of action,” which includes “canvassing, phone banking, and texting voters to make a plan to vote.”

It all kicks off at noon with the Duval County Democratic Party.

Nikki Fried is holding a ‘day of action’ for Jacksonville’s elections.

Fried was an early endorser of mayoral candidate Donna Deegan, who shares at least one consultant with the former Agriculture Commissioner’s failed 2022 campaign for Governor. Fried endorsed Deegan before she got into the race for state party chair, backing which did not escape the notice of defeated candidate Audrey Gibson.

Endorsement gap

Speaking of endorsements, Gibson has yet to endorse Deegan. And on the Republican side, defeated candidates also seem to be sitting out the General Election.

City Council members LeAnna Gutierrez Cumber and Al Ferraro have seemingly decided not to move toward party unity after a bitter First Election that saw Davis’ political committee hammering the two Council conservatives as profligate, free-spending liberals.

Despite losing in the First Election, LeAnna Gutierrez Cumber seeks to promote party unity.

Cumber, Ferraro, and Gibson have not weighed in on the mayoral race, including last week’s debate between Deegan and Davis. Cumber did not respond to a request for comment, while Ferraro was busy with family matters and Gibson was in Tallahassee.

The lack of endorsements contrasts vividly with 2015 when defeated Republican Bill Bishop memorably endorsed Democratic incumbent Alvin Brown in the General Election against Lenny Curry. The endorsement didn’t matter. While Brown held a five-point advantage in the March election, Republican voters came home anyway, backing Curry and leaving Bishop in the cold.

China Syndrome

The chair of the state Republican Party wonders why Florida cities, including Jacksonville, have sister city relationships with China.

Christian Ziegler listed several cities in Florida in a tweet Sunday night, contending, “Florida Cities with ‘Sister City’ relationships with China should terminate them ASAP.”

Jacksonville not only has a “sister city” relationship with Yingkou, China but also with three “Friendship Cities”: Ningbo, Shaoxing and Suzhou.”

The Yingkou relationship was forged in 1990 when Ed Austin was Mayor. The city has ports and manufacturing and is one of “China’s most productive cities, with a temperate climate and rich soil that creates an abundance of rice, fruit, and all kinds of aquatic foods.”

The relationships with the friendship cities were forged in 2004 and 2007 during the John Peyton era.

We’ve reached out to current Mayor Lenny Curry (who also once chaired the Republican Party of Florida) for a response to Ziegler’s tweet. No response yet.

Space is the place

Interested in Jacksonville down-ballot races? You’re in luck.

On Wednesday night, Chris Hand will host a Twitter space with Andrew Pantazi of the Tributary and Florida Politics’ A.G. Gancarski.

With the mayoral race having been covered recently by Nate Monroe and Mark Woods, Wednesday’s event deals with the race for Duval County Property Appraiser and the City Council races that haven’t been decided.

The property appraiser race between Republican Jason Fischer and Democrat Joyce Morgan is too close to call, according to a recent University of North Florida poll. Fischer is up two points, but that is well within the poll’s margin of error.

The City Council races include an at-large Group 5 runoff between Republican Chris Miller and Democrat Charles Garrison. The UNF poll shows Miller up seven points; everyone in the city can vote on that one.

District races have their intrigue, meanwhile.

District 2 features a runoff between Republicans Lindsey Brock and Mike Gay. Brock is well known throughout the city, having served on Boards and having done work for the GOP over the years. Gay, a contractor, is running a populist campaign in opposition.

District 7 sees Republican Joseph Hogan up against Democrat Jimmy Peluso, and the seat representing areas from Downtown to Ortega has a Democratic registration advantage. Both men got over 30% in March.

District 8 may be the most bitterly contested battle, with Democrats Tameka Gaines Holly and Reggie Gaffney, Jr. slugging it out. The Gaffneys have been a City Council fixture for decades, but Holly presents a real challenge to the dynasty.

District 9, a traditional minority-access district, sees Republican Mike Muldoon looking to unseat incumbent Democrat Tyrona Clark-Murray. Muldoon surprised some observers by moving his campaign from District 14 after redistricting. Clark Murray has the registration advantage, but Muldoon is the only one with significant money to spend.

District 11 sees Republican Raul Arias up against Democrat Ramon Day. Day has run before, but this time around, defeated Republican Norman Brewer is backing him after brutal attacks from Arias’ camp ahead of last month’s First Election.

District 14 is interesting, with Democrat Rahman Johnson up against non-establishment Republican John Draper. The district borders the Clay County line and is a real swing district, and Democrats could take that one.

The big question is will the GOP come out of the May election retaining a GOP supermajority? To avoid that, Dems need to win in Districts 7, 9, 11, 14 and the at large 5. They are guaranteed to hold Districts 8 and 10, where Ju’Coby Pittman won re-election in March. The best-case scenario is seven Democratic seats against at least 12 Republican holds.

Forum time

A handful of candidates in the May 16 election have agreed to participate in Tuesday’s NAACP forum, to be held at 5:30 p.m. at Florida State College at Jacksonville Downtown Campus.

“We hope all candidates will accept our invitation as it is important for voters to hear from those running for elected office,” NAACP chapter President Isaiah Rumlin said.

So far, not all candidates have agreed to show up.

While Deegan will attend, her mayoral opponent Daniel Davis will not.

Daniel Davis will be a no-show at next week’s NAACP forum.

District 7 candidate Jimmy Peluso will be there, but Joseph Hogan has other plans.

While Tameka Gaines Holly will attend and make her case, District 8 opponent Reggie Gaffney, Jr. won’t make it.

Muldoon will explain why he’s the guy for District 9, but incumbent Clark-Murray is otherwise engaged.

At Large candidate Charles Garrison will be there, but Chris Miller will not.

District 14’s battle between John Draper and Rahman Johnson is the only race that will see both candidates show up.

Plan ‘til the end

Morgan Roberts may have lost her City Council race to Joe Carlucci, but City Hall has a lovely consolation prize, as the game show hosts used to say.

A resolution introduced Tuesday would place her on the city Planning Commission, where she would replace Joshua Garrison.

Morgan Roberts may have lost, but she still comes out on top.

Roberts spotlighted potential legal issues as a candidate relative to her opponent serving on the same Council as his dad, At Large second-termer Matt Carlucci.

Roberts ripped the idea of a father and son serving on the City Council at the same time.

“A father and son serving together on the same city council is bad business and it’s bad for Jacksonville,” Roberts said in an email to supporters. “All of us can understand the special relationship between a parent and their child … Under Florida’s Sunshine Law, all of those interactions would be illegal.”

While Joe won’t be on Council when this is voted on in June, Matt will be. However, the senior Carlucci will not let the campaign attack affect his vote, saying that would be “vindictive.”

His only hope is that she doesn’t reflexively vote “yes” on projects like members of the Planning Commission tend to do.

Baker bucks

Electrifying news has emerged from the early round of budget conferences.

The House and the Senate have agreed to spend $250,000 on a new generator for the Baker County Courthouse, fulfilling a long-needed infrastructural need.

The Local Funding Infrastructure Request notes, “this building is not serviced by a generator” currently. With “thousands of users accessing online data every single day,” it is expected to help people throughout the area.

Baker County Courthouse gets some much-needed juice.

“During loss of power, all County Offices, except the Sheriff’s Office, cannot function due to the Courthouse being the main IT hub for Baker County. Installing a generator will allow resiliency to all County offices during inclement weather, increasing our efficiency to the citizens of Baker County.”

Baker County received $2.8 million in pandemic funding for a “countywide 911 Communications system update, including dispatch center and all
new radio equipment, construction of a new fire station, roof replacement to the library, and recreation improvements,” so this money will continue a state investment in the Jacksonville-adjacent county.

The generator is expected to be installed no later than December of this year, and the project is expected to include “minimal rewiring.”

The generator has been a long-dormant wish list item for years.

Back in 2018, Baker County released an invitation to bid on the project, looking to keep costs under $120,000, less than half the agreed-upon allocation.

Road warriors

Expect smoother rides on a stretch of road in Nassau County soon.

House and Senate committees have agreed to slot $285,000 for a road resurfacing project in Hilliard.

“The funding should be used to enhance infrastructure needs that are tied to economic development activities in and around 6th Street in the Town of Hilliard. The funding is to be used to pave 370 feet of 6th Street in the Town of Hilliard … in the next 18 months from the date of appropriation … to complete engineering and paving,” reads the Local Funding Initiative Request from Sen. Clay Yarborough.

Hillard is getting a smoother ride.

The road connects the Hilliard Elementary School to U.S. 301, and if the anticipated completion date of July 2024 is met, then students and parents will have a less bumpy ride in the 2024-25 school year.

The project will include sidewalks, allowing for easier pedestrian access for young learners in and out of the “targeted economic development zone for housing.” Affordable housing will be a priority in the area served, the funding request notes.

In addition to benefiting students, “Elderly persons, persons with poor mental health, economically disadvantaged persons” are all expected to be helped by the project.

Palatka plans

Speaking of homes for those in need, help is on the way to Putnam County.

House and Senate budget negotiators have agreed on a $2 million appropriation for affordable housing in Palatka, a city that deals with poverty issues most Florida towns can’t imagine.

“One in 10 Palatka residents live in public housing and 43.2% of the residents live in poverty. Jobs are scarce. Property values and tax revenues are too low to adequately support renewal and enhancement to the infrastructure to improve the quality of life,” the funding request notes.

Help is on the way for people experiencing homelessness in Palatka.

The city would use the money to buy and ready land for housing development to alleviate housing insecurity for its roughly 10,000 residents. The Department of Economic Opportunity would administer this nonrecurring funding, which would address land buys, utility extension and necessary engineering.

The project is in planning right now, with the goal of starting construction in July and finishing a year later. The hope is to leverage existing resources and partner with nonprofits to develop workforce-friendly housing.

Help Wanted

Approximately 14 companies operating at Cecil Airport on Jacksonville’s west side will take part in a job fair Saturday, May 6. Members of the public interested in a position at one of these sponsoring businesses are welcome to attend.

“Since its transition from the Navy, Cecil has become an economic engine for the region with world-renowned businesses operating here,” Cecil Airport Director Matt Bocchino said. “This is a great opportunity for individuals looking to work for reputable companies with well-paying jobs to get hired.”

Looking for a high-flying career? Cecil Airport wants you.

The event is Saturday, May 6, from 9 a.m. — noon at the Cecil Conference Center Theater, Building 333, 13561 Lake Newman St., Jacksonville. Companies hiring include Boeing, Northrop Grumman, FlightStar, LSI, ManTech, Million Air, FSCJ Air National Guard, Customs Border Patrol, Dept of Homeland Security, Florida Dept. Of Agriculture Forest Services, FRCSE-Navy, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department and Tactical Air Support.

These businesses are hiring for a wide range of positions at Cecil. These jobs run the gamut, from aviation maintenance mechanics and electricians, flight tech and maintenance instructors, welders, metal inspectors, composite fabricators, project managers, 911-Dispatchers and HR staff.

Staff Reports


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