Jacksonville Bold for 7.12.23: Controversy greets the new Mayor

Donna Deegan is greeted with her first controversy.

The new administration in City Hall is starting with a couple of unforced errors from political veterans appointed to high-profile, six-figure salary positions.

One was reported Tuesday night when new Neighborhoods Director Al Ferraro was caught up in a Jake Stofan story, revealing that he owed thousands of dollars of fines to the department he will oversee for illegally placed campaign signs.

Ferraro, who ran for Mayor as a Republican, questioned the legitimacy of the fines before settling the amount owed.

Al Ferraro’s unforced errors may be Donna Deegan’s first controversy. Image via Facebook.

“That’s not the way that politics and elections are supposed to be working in our country. We’re not a banana republic,” said Ferraro. “So, I think what I’m doing is the right thing to do to kind of put this to bed so that people see that we’re moving forward, but it also enlightens people of what we have to go through just running for office.”

Ferraro suggested that the fines were imposed on him because he was “going against the machine,” referring to the Lenny Curry administration that backed Daniel Davis.

Ferraro incurred $2,635 in fines, money to be defrayed by his first paycheck from the city of Jacksonville.

What’s most surprising, and a seeming deviation from previous administrations where department Chairs didn’t freelance in interviews, was that Ferraro could give that many quotes with the Mayor’s comms team seemingly outside the process.

Last week, it was Garrett Dennis’ turn to make amends for campaign mistakes. The new Boards and Commissions chief donated to Property Appraiser Joyce Morgan and City Council member Jimmy Peluso from his campaign account for his failed state House run last year.

Whether that was what donors intended is an open question, but the campaigns will refund the money, and he will donate it to a “charitable organization.” Mayor Donna Deegan’s spox also said the matter wasn’t an issue.

Time will tell if that’s the case.

Both of these stories seemed foreseeable in retrospect, and both could have used a more aggressive curation of messages from the new team in city hall.

Donors for Donna

Deegan’s election is over, but the fundraising continued for the Donna for Duval political committee in June, with more than $65,000 raised last month and donors from outside the coalition that swept the second Democratic mayor in 30 years into office.

Among the surprising names: former Duval GOP chair John Thrasher, who gave $5,000 on June 7.

The race is over, but the donations keep rolling in. Image via Twitter.

Gate Petroleum, the company owned by the family of former Republican Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton, donated $5,000 of its own.

The Southern Group PC gave $2,500, with former Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier giving $1,000; the Ron DeSantis appointee is now with Southern.

The Florida Insurance Council (FIC) Political Committee also donated $5,000.

Chris Hagan, the husband of Rebekah Hagan (the executive council assistant to Council VP Randy White), also chipped in $5,000.

The committee spent a little more than $27,000 last month, with the most significant expenditure ($14,500) being with Al Media of Chicago. Nearly $2,000 was spent on travel and hotels, presumably associated with the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting before Deegan’s inauguration.

Riverfront revs up

The long-anticipated construction on Riverfront Plaza is finally a go — in what is the first capital project to commence under the new Mayor.

When it’s done, expect a cafe and a “destination playground on the roof.”

“I’m excited that construction is beginning for Riverfront Plaza, one of the centerpieces to transforming our riverfront,” Deegan said. “The riverfront park system will bring in people from across the city to the waterfront to live, work and play. It will be a top priority of my administration to invest in public infrastructure and parks to increase Jacksonville’s quality of life and grow our downtown.”

The Riverfront Plaza makeover is Deegan’s first capital project. Image via Downtown Investment Authority.

“This project is a major step forward in creating a series of first-class destination riverfront parks in Downtown Jacksonville,” said Lori Boyer, CEO of the Downtown Investment Authority. “These parks will give people from across the city new activities and programming to enjoy in the heart of the community and will truly make our amazing riverfront accessible to everyone. They’ll also provide a new attraction for visitors.”

Phase I construction is expected to take two years and includes closing and removing part of Independent Drive and routing traffic onto Hogan Street. Additionally, the work includes “rebuilding the bulkhead and river walk along the entire length of the plaza to improve resilience, transforming a portion of Hogan Street into a pedestrian plaza connecting and integrating the Performing Arts Center, and building park attractions such as a multipurpose lawn, a series of curving walkways, native plant gardens, a water play area and the café with roof-mounted playground.”

$25 million has already been appropriated for the first phase of this project. The second phase includes a beer garden and a pedestrian ramp from the Main Street Bridge.

Salaries spike

As the Deegan administration takes shape, indications are she will seek an expansion of the executive branch, with new positions leading to more than a million dollars more in senior-level salaries.

“The Deegan administration added seven new positions to the Mayor’s staff that will make a combined annual $1.08 million. Those include director of strategic initiatives & liaison to the press; director of diversity and inclusion; director of community initiatives; deputy chief of staff; City Council liaison; and executive director of health programs,” reports Mike Mendenhall in the Jacksonville Daily Record.

The executive branch expands, with higher salaries to boot.

The $3.18 million total is a 23% uptick from Curry’s senior-level positions, and the new jobs will be added even as administrative assistant and deputy directors positions will be cut elsewhere as seeming offsets.

Salaries will shift also. While new Chief Administrative Officer Karen Bowling will make $55,975 less than predecessor Brian Hughes, the Chief Financial Officer and Chief of Staff positions will see more significant compensation.

Budget time

By the time the next Bold comes out, we will have a good idea of what is in the first Deegan budget besides more executive branch spending.

Monday at 9 a.m. sees the new Mayor address the City Council, introducing her new budget.

Deegan’s first budget is forthcoming.

If history is any precedent, Deegan may answer a few questions after the presentation, setting the stage for certain reporters poring through the document in the hours and days after the budget release.

Of particular interest is the capital improvement budget, a spending plan close to $500 million in recent years. Deegan has prioritized infrastructure renewal in her remarks, and the capital plan will see what numbers are attached to that rhetoric.

Bold requested a draft CIP, but the administration claims they will be working on it until the Mayor’s remarks Monday, so they did not provide it.

Other issues may emerge, including the expansion of executive branch positions. While the rhetoric has been kumbaya so far between the Mayor’s Office and the supermajority GOP City Council, the real excitement starts next month when the Finance Committee (and its 5-2 GOP advantage) starts going through the document.

Former Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa had a saying about the budget: “The Mayor proposes, the Council disposes.” And we will see soon enough how much the legislative branch sees as trash and how much as treasure.

Duval for DeSantis

New polling from the Florida Atlantic University Mainstreet PolCom Lab tells a familiar story about the GOP Presidential race in the state.

Right now, it’s Donald Trump’s to lose.

The former President leads Gov. Ron DeSantis, 50% to 30%, in a poll of 315 likely voters in next year’s GOP Primary.

In the race for the GOP nom, it’s Donald Trump’s race to lose.

But in one region (this one), it’s a different story.

DeSantis is actually ahead in Duval (37% to 36%) and is competitive in Northwest Florida (down 45% to 41%) as well as Southwest Florida (down 37% to 35%). But DeSantis is down 56% to 31% in the Tampa area. In the Orlando area, DeSantis is down 45% to 29%. And in Miami-Dade, where DeSantis just spoke at the Lincoln Day dinner this weekend, the Governor is down 70% to 11%.

Meanwhile, in a two-way race between Trump and DeSantis, the former President leads 54% to 37%. DeSantis takes 45% to 43% of the Duval region in that scenario.

Libertarian leap

While Rep. Kim Daniels hasn’t yet filed for re-election in House District 14, she looks likely to face a third-party challenger next November in the heavily Democratic area.

Libertarian Ronald Robison has already opened up a campaign account, and he sees this run as a way to continue the “momentum” he started when he ran for City Council in 2023.

Ronald Robison throws his hat in the ring. Image via Facebook.

While his 131 votes in that election were good for just 1% of the vote, he sees the campaign as a way to “bring a choice” to the district and “consider the minority, which is the individual.”

Robison has some interesting policy ideas, including allowing Medicaid recipients to opt out of accepting state money for abortions. It isn’t certain why they would opt out were they faced with that decision, and he didn’t have a clear answer when asked.

Suppose he defeats Daniels, who has lost two elections since 2011 (one citywide for an at-large Jacksonville City Council seat and another a Primary for her former state House seat). In that case, he’s unsure who he would caucus with — as the only Libertarian in the House.

“It may be a challenging thing,” he said, hoping to “build a bridge.”

Expect Robison to begin knocking on doors this fall, as he will need grassroots connections to counter the political veteran who holds the office currently.

Corrine Quit Claim

While some are still discussing another potential Corrine Brown for office, other indications show she’s entering a different phase of life.

On June 20, Brown deeded her home on Appian Way to daughter Shantrel Brown in exchange for the “valuable consideration of $1.”

Brown represented the Jacksonville area from 1992 to 2016 when she became politically vulnerable for two reasons. Her district was mapped west toward Tallahassee after court-ordered redistricting, and she faced fraud charges related to the misuse of charitable funds.

What is Corrine Brown’s next move?

Brown was convicted, served time, but her conviction was ultimately reversed on a technicality. The district was redistricted again since, but those who float the idea of her running again predicate that on the current map being tossed in federal court. That’s something unlikely to happen in time to impact an election next year.

Staffing up

The Jacksonville Tributary continues to add talented reporters and deepen its nonprofit mission.

Charlie McGee is joining the publication helmed by Andrew Pantazi this week. The Report for America Corps Member will tackle poverty, the safety net and “investigate government agencies, nonprofits and the private sector responsible for lifting people out of poverty.”

Charlie McGee is the latest talent heading to The Tributary.

McGee has written for publications ranging from Rolling Stone to the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, with his most recent stint being in the high desert of Southern California.

“I spent two years investigating untold stories in California’s High Desert. Perhaps the most important centers on a burning “poop farm,” “Erin Brockovich” town and a now-federal lawsuit by 600+ ppl versus Goldman Sachs & a sewage-to-fertilizer corporation,” McGee tweeted last month, as he said goodbye to that leg of his journalistic journey.

Cycle safety

Motorcycle riders looking for safety tips have a unique opportunity this Saturday, courtesy of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

JSO is offering “an exciting way to go from good to great and learn smarter riding techniques. You will get the opportunity to practice turns, clutch control and crash avoidance.”

JSO wants you to be a smart, safe rider.

Lessons kick off bright and early in Northwest Jacksonville at the Police Academy, running from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 4715 Capper Road in the 32218 ZIP code. For those familiar with the area, that’s close to the FSCJ North Campus.

This FREE course is hosted by #JSO‘s highly trained Motor Unit. Anyone attending must have a valid motorcycle endorsement.

Sign up at JaxSheriff.org.

Camping out

On Tuesday, the Jaguars announced the schedule for the 2023 training camp. The first public practice is scheduled for July 26.

The Jaguars expect to win the division after their Cinderella run to the playoffs last season. While the Jaguars have the advantage of the best coach-quarterback combination in the AFC South, they also will face some of the best teams in the NFL due to winning the division last season.

It’s Summer camp time for the Jaguars.

Here are the top five concerns about the team heading into training camp:

Pass Rush — When the Jaguars selected Travon Walker as the first overall draft pick last year, the selection came with expectations. Despite Walker’s modest sack numbers at Georgia, Jaguars’ scouts and coaches felt he could develop into a top-tier pass rusher. While Walker showed flashes as a rookie, he still looked like an unfinished project regarding getting after the quarterback. Walker will have to show he can produce more than the three-and-a-half sacks he recorded in his first year in the NFL. On the other hand, Josh Allen, who led the Jaguars with seven sacks a year ago, will be counted on to add to that total. If he can get to double digits in sacks, the Jaguars defense will benefit greatly.

Defensive backfield depth — The Jaguars should feel confident in Tyson Campbell and Darious Williams at cornerback and safety Andre Cisco appears poised to take a big step forward. Rayshawn Jenkins enjoyed one of the most impactful seasons of his career. Beyond the starting four, there are questions. Can Tre Herndon be counted on as the nickel corner? Can Rookie Antonio Johnson make an impact? Will any other defensive backs step up to provide needed depth? A team that will face Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow and Josh Allen, among others, must rush the passer and defend the pass. That’s why these are the top two concerns heading into camp.

Protecting Trevor Lawrence — The Jaguars’ defense doesn’t have to be dominant, just decent. That’s because Jacksonville finally found the man at quarterback. Trevor Lawrence took a huge step in his second season in the NFL, particularly in the second half of the 2022 season. If he can build on that progress, the Jaguars could have one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. That is if Lawrence isn’t on the ground all game. The Jaguars lost Jawaan Taylor after his best season as a pro, and they will start the year with left tackle Cam Robinson suspended for four games for PED use. That puts Walker Little in the picture to start at left tackle, his natural position, and where he finished last season. Protect Lawrence and the sky is the limit.

Business getting in the way — Most NFL locker rooms deal with the business side of the NFL. As has been said every year, “Business is business.” Most of the time, it doesn’t become a distraction. Last year’s Jaguars’ team was a tight-knit group. This year, tight end Evan Engram has pushed back on being tagged as the franchise player after the team could not agree on a long-term deal. Will this sort of thing derail the locker room chemistry? It is something to keep an eye on.

Second-year players taking the next step — The time between the end of a college season and the NFL draft is filled with a lot of things that don’t make prospects better football players. And by the time a rookie goes to minicamp and training camp and the preseason, regular season and playoffs, he’s basically been in a carousel of football for the better part of 18 months. That’s why rookies are expected to show their biggest improvement from year one to year two. To that point, players like Walker, linebackers Devin Lloyd and Chad Muma and center Luke Fortner will be expected to show an upward trajectory.

If they do, the Jaguars should be able to do more than just win the division. A deep playoff run will be possible.

Staff Reports


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