Jacksonville Bold for 6.14.23: Challenges await

Business concept, Young businessman pushing large stone uphill w
Donna Deegan assembles her A team.

For Mayor-elect Donna Deegan, it’s getting real.

The aspirational messaging of the election is over, and the hard work of governing as a Democrat in a local government dominated by Republicans is about to begin.

Budget issues abound. One such, the local stadium, continues to be a work in progress.

Seemingly taking advantage of the weeks before Deegan takes office, the Jacksonville Jaguars are making their case for roughly a billion dollars in city money, with Jacksonville paying two-thirds of stadium costs and 14% of an entertainment district near the stadium.

And, oh yeah, they also want the new University of Florida campus on-site.

Donna Deegan staffs up her A team. Image via COJ.

Outgoing Mayor Lenny Curry left this negotiation for the new Mayor, seemingly expecting it would be Daniel Davis. Instead, it will be Deegan, a hired team of negotiators, and the reliable Mike Weinstein helping to navigate the process.

The stadium would be a heavy lift on its own, and our Cole Pepper will have more, but there are also competing needs.

Sheriff T.K. Waters, who spent the campaign contending Deegan wanted to “defund” the police, is now asking her to fund them. He wants 80 new cops this year, 200 in the next four years.

Forty of those new hires could be funded by federal grant money.

That would be consistent with the hiring from Curry in his early budgets, and Deegan has said Jacksonville needs more cops on the street. But if you recall the rhetoric from the unions, Jacksonville’s main problem is retention, and these new hires won’t solve the problem allegedly created by a lack of a defined benefit pension.

Meanwhile, incoming City Council President Ron Salem wants a new jail.

“I’ll be setting up a process where we can have that public discussion involving the public defender, the courts, the state attorney, the clerk of the court, bringing all the people together and trying to figure out where we move it, what services are provided, mental health, health care, etc. in order to we can begin the process of hopefully building a new jail at some point in the future,” Salem said on “This Week in Jacksonville.”

Reading between the lines, that new jail doesn’t happen this year. But for years, the need for a new facility has been expressed. That’s not going away either.

Deegan’s first round of hires is promising, including some City Hall veterans: Karen Bowling for CAO and Anna Brosche for CFO. Bowling, a former Rick Scott aide, worked for previous Mayor Alvin Brown.

Brosche was a former Republican City Council President who ran against Curry in 2019. They will have to hit the ground running, attempting to find a way to fulfill competing needs and actualize an administration’s vision that will be dealing with challenges from the outset.

Pat McCollough, Deegan’s campaign manager and a former Marine sergeant, will serve as Chief of Staff.

Melissa Ross will serve as director of strategic initiatives and liaison to the press, leaving a gap to fill at WJCT’s First Coast Connect.

Erica Connor will serve as an executive assistant. She ran Deegan’s campaign for Congress in 2020.

Phil Perry will handle comms after having done so for Deegan’s campaign for Mayor.

Dr. Sunil Joshi will be the chief health officer, a new role and the fulfillment of a Deegan campaign pledge.

Lakesha Burton, a former candidate for Sheriff, will be chief of public safety. She was a 24-year police officer and a public safety analyst for WJXT.

Dr. Parvez Ahmed will be the Director of Diversity and Inclusion, yet another new role for the new administration.

Former General Counsel Jason Gabriel will Chair the qualifications review committee to evaluate new General Counsel candidates. Bob Rhodes will be interim GC until a final pick is made.

Tickets available

Before Deegan deals with those challenges, though, she must be inaugurated. And in anticipation of massive demand to attend her swearing-in, tickets are now available for the ceremony July 1 at 11:30 a.m.

“Get your ticket to the Mayor’s Swearing-In Ceremony before they’re gone. Together, we will unite our city and bring about positive change for good. With open doors at City Hall, we will ensure that every voice is heard as we create a Jacksonville that embraces and uplifts everyone,” asserts an email promoting the event.

Deegan’s inauguration — tickets are available now.

The inauguration is one of three major events that weekend.

On Friday, June 30, Deegan will have the “Mayor’s Inaugural Prayer Breakfast.” That ticketed event, at the Garden Club at 1005 Riverside Ave., begins at 9 a.m.

The River Club at 1 Independent Drive will host the ticketed “Mayor’s Inaugural Ball” event. Festivities begin at 7 p.m.

“The upcoming inaugural events, listed below, will serve as a celebration of Jacksonville’s rich diversity and its collective desire to build bridges, come together and create a city where every citizen thrives,” Deegan’s transition team promises.

Bean challenger

U.S. Rep. Aaron Bean might be facing a Primary challenge.

Robert Alvero of Orange Park has filed with the state of Florida Division of Elections for the 2024 election in the 4th Congressional District.

Robert Alvero is eyeing Aaron Bean’s congressional seat.

Alvero, a first-generation Cuban immigrant who came to the U.S. around 15 years ago, is a firefighter in Jacksonville and a member of the Florida State Guard.

He knows he is a long shot.

“People may think I’m out of my mind,” Alvero told Bold this week. “I might be.”

He’s not running out of any particular animus against Bean, a political veteran from Fernandina Beach, but a belief that “liberals” are creating in the U.S. a “replica of what happened in Cuba.”

The “transgender” movement concerns him particularly.

“I don’t want socialism or communism,” Alvero explained.

The district is drawn to suit Republican interests, with Gov. Ron DeSantis phasing out the old minority-access district that included much of Jacksonville that elected Al Lawson to three terms. This district replaced other maps that elected Corrine Brown for 12 terms of her own.

Bean won his General Election by more than 20 points in November in a district that includes Nassau, Clay and parts of Duval counties. He won a Primary by 42 points to be nominated.

Wrestler’s comeback

Meanwhile, in the race to replace Sen. Travis Hutson, business is picking up with a candidate running again in SD 7.

Gerry James, who got 43% of the vote on a shoestring budget in the August 2022 Primary, is back in the mix, going up against Rep. Tom Leek, who already has more than $300,000 banked. James starts his campaign with $16,700 total.

Gerry James tries again to unseat Travis Hutson. Image via Facebook.

James is a former pro wrestler and bodybuilder whose fundraising was modest throughout the 2022 campaign. He raised and self-funded a little more than $60,000. Yet he was taken seriously by some national Republicans, with an endorsement from Sarah Palin backing his campaign, even as Hutson said, “the outcome of the campaign was never in question.”

The seat is drawn for a Republican winner, but whoever emerges from the August Primary will face a Democrat. George Hill of St. Augustine opened a campaign account in May.

Deployment drama

Jacksonville City Council member Rory Diamond is going to miss some upcoming meetings.

“Heading out on deployment to the Middle East for the next several months. Our Council office will remain open and operational while I am gone. Excited and honored to serve our amazing community and our great nation,” Diamond, re-elected this year with little competition, tweeted this weekend.

Rory Diamond will have some excused absences. Image via Facebook.

This occasioned a rebuke from former Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser.

“Our newly re-elected Beaches Councilman is not around very much. Love our military, but this has been a pretty recent pivot in his life, and this is his third deployment. Maybe six months? I think we all expected more,” Glasser tweeted Monday.

In turn, this earned a clap back from Christian Ziegler, Chair of the Republican Party of Florida.

“Disgusting tweet. If Diamond is willing to risk his life to provide & protect our freedoms overseas via deployment, surely he should be allowed to protect our freedoms back home by serving his community,” Ziegler said, trolling Glasser on her position on “maternity leave” after that.

He wasn’t done.

“How about you focus your efforts on changing meeting policies & laws to accommodate remote voting for members of the military instead of deployment shaming?”

By the end of this, Glasser cried “Uncle,” seemingly ending the combat zone contretemps.

Diamond’s absence may be a loss to the Beaches, but it won’t affect the GOP supermajority on City Council, which will be 13-5 even in his absence.

Hall of fame

A Northeast Florida legend is one of three new picks for the state’s Women’s Hall of Fame.

Audrey Schiebler of Amelia Island was instrumental decades back in forming the state’s Guardian ad Litem program, representing abused, abandoned, and neglected children in legal proceedings.

Audrey Schiebler is NE Florida’s entry into the Women’s Hall of Fame.

“Schiebler went on to serve as the first Director of the 8th Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program and later worked for the University of Florida’s Institute for Child Health Policy. She led the building of the Ronald McDonald House in Gainesville and helped establish the Boggy Creek Camp for children with chronic illnesses,” notes the Governor’s Office in a media release heralding her induction.

Schiebler received the Medal of Honor by the Florida Bar Foundation in 1990, an Honorary Fellowship of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Rhea Chiles Award by then-Governor Lawton Chiles, the Governor’s Office notes.

She is part of a class of inductees that includes Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and fashion trailblazer Lilly Pulitzer.

Cyber guy

A local has been appointed to the state’s Cybersecurity Advisory Council.

Aaron Miri, the senior vice president and Chief Digital and Information Officer for Baptist Health, will take on a vital role at the behest of DeSantis.

He brings a lot of experience to the position.

Aaron Miri is the newest member of the state’s Cybersecurity Advisory Council. Image via UT Austin.

“In 2020, the United States Senate appointed him to the Health Information Technology Advisory Committee, where he currently serves (as co-Chair). Miri earned his bachelor’s degree in management information systems from the University of Texas at Arlington and his master’s degree in business administration from the University of Dallas,” notes a release from the Governor’s Office heralding the pick.

In his role at Baptist, Miri emphasizes the importance of team building.

“Just don’t be a jerk. It’s not difficult to treat people fairly and as humans. That’s what resonates with folks,” Miri says. “I also empower my leadership team to make decisions. I give people latitude and the freedom to fail. If they feel passionate that a technology choice is the right route, I’ll support them. I don’t micromanage.”

That empowerment has decreased attrition in the IT staff, Miri notes, reducing it from “one out of every five IT employees” to “about 1 in 10 or 1 in 12.”

Miri also was selected in 2022 for the Florida State College at Jacksonville Board of Trustees.

Military money

A budget boost is coming from the state of Florida for three military-centered programs in Jacksonville, with $1,088,000 in grants Duval-bound from the State of Florida Defense Infrastructure Grant Program, the Defense Reinvestment Grant Program, and the Florida Defense Support Task Force Grant Program.

“Throughout my time as Mayor, my administration has been fully committed to supporting those who safeguard our freedom, and these grants will protect the families and jobs that are linked to local military installations,” Curry said. “I’d like to thank Gov. DeSantis and the State for their support of these important efforts.”

VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena is holding a big bash for military spouses. Image via VyStar.

The Defense Infrastructure Grant Program’s $500,000 and the Florida Defense Support Task Force Grant Program’s $500,000 will allow for what a media release calls “encroachment protection and compatible land use for Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Naval Station Mayport and Outlying Field Whitehouse.”

The additional $88,000 from the Defense Reinvestment Grant Program will help “to provide federal advocacy on Department of Defense budget priorities and decisions that impact Northeast Florida military bases, missions and personnel.”

The city will celebrate military spouses Thursday at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena with Military Spouses Night Out. “Attendees can look forward to an evening of pampering, with access to salon services, massages, free food, fitness demonstrations, cooking classes and more,” per a media release. The event starts at 5:30 p.m.; attendees can park for free in Lot Z.

Master plan

The Port of Fernandina outlines its ten-year strategy in a book-length document that may not qualify as a beach read but as an optimistic narrative of current growth and future opportunity.

Noting that the port had a $73.3 million economic impact in 2021, the document puts forth hopes for improved infrastructure to help in the next decade.

Port of Fernandina looks to the future. Image via Facebook.

“The economic development potential leads to opportunities to improve infrastructure within the Port property as well as throughout Nassau County to allow cargo to move seamlessly around the area. There are several port facility improvements, intermodal facilities, and inland development locations identified to improve connectivity and access to support anticipated growth in the region. Potential expansion of the rail network in Northeast Florida could have significant positive impacts for both the Port and County moving forward.”

The port envisions itself as an economic driver for Nassau County beyond Fernandina Beach, including Hilliard and Callahan. But in addition to driving county goals, there is an increased consciousness that helping to keep contraband out of the country is necessary. To that end, one goal is to create a long-term home at the facility for the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

Meanwhile, the port is subject to more significant trends. One positive for those worried about dredging projects is that ships, which have gotten bigger in recent decades, aren’t expected to grow much in the next decade. One negative one is that global warming may affect trade routes via changes in ocean temperatures.

Read the report here.

Jag cub

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is welcoming its first jaguar cub in nearly 10 years.

The cub, who has yet to be named and whose gender is currently undetermined, was born April 7 to mother Babette and father Harry. Both adult jaguars are first-time parents.

Babette was born in 2016 at Tulsa Zoo, while Harry was born at the Jacksonville Zoo in 2009.

Welcome to the world! Image via Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

The last jaguar cub born at the Jacksonville Zoo was Khan, a male born in July 2013.

“We are ecstatic that Babette is doing an excellent job taking care of her cub, who is active and healthy,” Jacksonville Zoo Chief Life Sciences Officer David Hagan said. “It is not uncommon for first-time mothers to reject their cubs, so we are very pleased that Babette is caring for the cub instinctively. This is an exciting time, and we are thrilled for the community to join us in celebration.”

“It is important for first-time moms to be able to bond with their cubs without outside disturbance,” added Sheryl Staaden, the zoo’s curator of mammals. “The cub reached an important milestone by opening its eyes to reveal a beautiful blue-gray color.”

Jaguars have short pregnancies, lasting just about 14 weeks. Cubs are typically only about 2 pounds when born. They are born blind but develop eyesight after about a week or two following the birth.

In the wild, jaguar mothers teach their cubs to hunt at around six months, and the cub leaves to live independently at about two years of age. Jaguars are solitary creatures who only spend time together to mate.

Jaguars are the largest cat in the Americas and the third largest globally, behind lions and tigers. A full-grown male can weigh 125-250 pounds, while females weigh 100-200 pounds.

The species adapted to live in the tropical rainforest, and now it faces lost habitat. According to a news release from the Jacksonville Zoo, just one male jaguar has been spotted in wild North America in recent years. The species is listed as near threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

Stadium optimism

Mayor-elect Deegan takes office July 1 but said Wednesday at City Hall that she has already talked to Jaguars ownership and management and anticipates “very productive” negotiations.

“I have already had a number of conversations with Shad Khan and with Mark Lamping. (Interim CFO) Mike Weinstein, as I said, has also been in contact with them. We’ve had good conversations, but look, I’m not even in office yet. These negotiations have not yet begun,” Deegan said.

Deegan is ready to negotiate a new Jaguars stadium.

The Mayor-elect expects cordial talks.

“I know that a lot of people are already casting this and looking at this as an adversarial situation, and I understand any time you have negotiations, you’re, you’re going to see that sort of thing. But I want you to understand that these huddles that the Jaguars are having right now, that was something that I asked them to do when I met with Mr. Khan months and months ago.”

The team is meeting with people throughout the city to introduce renovation plans, including a stadium renovation, a sports district, and potentially the University of Florida Graduate Campus on land provided by Khan.

“I think it’s incredibly important to take what their plans are, put those plans in front of the public, and here are the concerns of the public firsthand, and I give them a lot of credit for setting up 22 of those. So, I don’t have any problem with the fact that those are happening. And I’m actually very appreciative of the fact that they included that in the process,” Deegan said.

“So, I’m looking forward to a very productive negotiation season. I think that, frankly, we both really want to get to yes,” Deegan said. “And I think that will be, that will be a process, that will certainly be a process, but I think it’s going to be fine.”

The effort could ultimately include more than a billion dollars of city investment and up to four years of stadium renovation impacts (and potentially five years of construction total) in a “re-imagination of the entire stadium and adjacent property.”

The Jaguars and the Shahid Khan vehicle “Iguana Investments” envision a total investment that could cost as much as $2.068 billion, a number that could include stadium improvements costing between $1.2 and $1.4 billion, as well as between $550 and $668 million for development of a “sports district.” That sports district essentially could be a reboot of the Lot J concept rebuffed by the City Council earlier this decade.

Payment plan

While there is still much to do before the city of Jacksonville approves the public funding piece of the Jaguars’ $1 billion-plus stadium renovation, the biggest question may be how the city will pay for its portion of the major project.

Speaking with individuals with knowledge of city business and funding large projects like the stadium, the consensus is that there are likely to be several funding vehicles utilized by the city.

If nothing else, financing a new Jaguars stadium will be complex.

A restructuring of the stadium. Think of it as refinancing the mortgage on an old house under a down-to-studs renovation. The city owns the stadium. When the last major renovations were made to the stadium in 2014, the city refinanced the debt on the stadium that had existed since the stadium was initially made NFL-ready in 1994. The same approach will likely be implemented, although there may be some regret over the current interest rates.

A second option includes the existing bed tax fund used to maintain the sports complex.

Currently, six cents of every dollar generated by hotel stays goes to a fund used partly to maintain the sports complex. The fund is split between the bond on TIAA Bank Field and sports complex upkeep, with the final third going to fund the Tourist Development Council and Visit Jacksonville.

Could the city’s share of costs for the stadium increase? A tax increase would likely be a political non-starter, so reallocation from this fund is likely the only pathway forward. Still, it could be a difficult sell.

Third, an increase in fees for event tickets at the new stadium. This could be a tough sell to some fans who already complain about ticket prices, despite the Jaguars annually being ranked among the most affordable NFL game day experiences.

If a larger ticket fee is implemented, the opportunity to draw more events to town, as a result, would increase the annual take from those fees. For example, when the new stadium in Minneapolis was built, the city and the Vikings were able to pay off the debt on U.S. Bank Field 23 years early.

The stadium opened in 2016 at approximately $1.1 billion and hosted the Super Bowl in 2018. The source of increased revenue came from the legalization of electronic pull-tab games. Would some gambling tax be an option? Although Minneapolis is the only city in the state with an NFL team. Florida has three, and what benefits the Jaguars could also be demanded from the Buccaneers and Dolphins.

Still, it’s an option that the city and Deegan should consider.

Part of the formula is a lease extension. The Jaguars’ lease runs through 2030, and Team President Lamping said an agreement on the stadium renovations must precede any lease extension. It makes sense for the city to tie the Jaguars to town with clauses that are highly financially penalized if the team breaks the lease.

If the city winds up being on the hook for something about $800 million, a combination of these sources of revenue will have to be bundled together to pay the bill. But if the total debt can be paid off sooner, providing taxpayers with long-term savings, and the deal includes an extension of the stadium lease for the Jaguars, then expect it to happen.

Staff Reports


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Sign up for Sunburn