Jacksonville Bold for 8.23.23: Duval Pride

High aerial photo Jacksonville FL
Donna Deegan is doing something her predecessor wouldn't, serve as Grand Marshal for October’s River City Pride Parade.

Longtime Jacksonville residents will remember the brutal yearslong fight for LGBTQ+ rights.

In the Alvin Brown era, an attempt to expand the Human Rights Ordinance to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity failed. He said that might be a second-term issue — before Brown lost re-election.

Another failed when Lenny Curry won the office, with pension reform taking priority. However, a second attempt to get the law changed passed in Curry’s first term. He let it become law in 2017 without his signature.

In Curry’s second term, the City Council had to pass glitch legislation to fix defects in drafting that bill. The cleanup bill passed 15-4. Curry signed it.

To Curry’s credit, he embraced the zeitgeist and the codification of equal treatment; even though he and the always-majority Republican City Council came around, he was never going to do what Mayor Donna Deegan is doing this year, serving as Grand Marshal for October’s River City Pride Parade.

“I’m excited to be the grand marshal for this year’s River City Pride Parade,” Deegan told First Coast News. “Jacksonville is a diverse and inclusive city that welcomes everyone, no matter who they are or who they love.”

Donna Deegan is prepared to do what Lenny Curry couldn’t. Image via X.

Deegan will lead the parade through the Riverside-Avondale Historical District, which has historically been one of the city’s most welcoming and diverse areas. And just as her election signaled a sea change from a city whose leaders said Jacksonville didn’t need a ban against discrimination because the city doesn’t discriminate, her participation in October’s event sends a signal locally and beyond.

In a state whose national reputation has been pockmarked with the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation (Parental Rights in Education), which has extended so far that it has impacted the teaching of Advanced Placement courses in African American History and Psychology, Deegan’s participation in this parade is a reminder of her administration’s deliberate inclusivity.

It also moves the local Overton Window.

It’s worth noting that arguably the leading opponent of HRO expansion last decade, Republican Al Ferraro, is her pick to head the Neighborhoods Department. Will he be confirmed? Who knows? But many of Ferraro’s enthusiastic supporters have found themselves compelled to back the appointment and, therefore, back the administration.

Even if the City Council bounces Ferraro during the confirmation process, the reality is that Deegan co-opted a lot of his coalition, likely blunting their opposition to her re-election down the road. And with Ferraro being embraced by this administration, it takes him out of the game for a future run for Mayor.

Deegan will face challenges going forward, for sure. But her administration continues to make the right moves in terms of coalition building and privileging inclusivity.

— Mowing moves —

A recent hallmark of Jacksonville living has been seeing grass in medians, public rights of way or parks that look slightly less than manicured.

Deegan is tackling that issue.

As the Florida Times-Union’s Hanna Holthaus notes, Deegan authorized nearly a 95% raise in the city’s landscaping budget.

Deegan is ready to give Jacksonville some curb appeal. Image via X.

“That’s our job,” Deegan said. “Infrastructure, mowing, landscaping, trash pickup, those are things that create pride in our community, and I think we can’t ask our citizens to take pride if we’re not taking pride.”

Holthaus notes that all roads will now be moved and edged 21 times a year, a vast improvement given that some got cut just nine times, which explains how specific stretches looked like a set for a Rambo movie.

The new budget will take effect in October, meaning changes should be visible later this year.

— Jail fail —

Sen. Tracie Davis and Rep. Angie Nixon are calling attention to issues at the Jacksonville jail after a report by The Tributary spotlighted a tripling in deaths after the facility went with a private vendor for health care.

“From people with diabetes not receiving their insulin medication to Mr. Dexter Barry, a heart transplant recipient dying at 54 years old after being denied access to his lifesaving medication in custody over simple assault charges from a Wi-Fi dispute, this cannot continue without serious intervention,” the legislators write.

The Jacksonville Jail has come under scrutiny after several inmate deaths.

“Sadly, private companies see human beings as generators of profit to help their bottom line and nothing more,” Nixon said in a statement to the outlet. “This is wrong, and it must end. JSO has a duty to protect our community — including their officers and the people in their charge who are their responsibility. Anything less is unacceptable.”

“The actions by Armor (Correctional Health Services) warrant investigation and correction,” Davis said. “Regardless of how a person ended up in the penal system, they have basic rights — that should never be forgotten or ignored by the people overseeing them.”

The Jacksonville Democrats are trying to get U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to act with federal criminal and civil investigations.

— School daze —

The Duval County School Board has a Republican majority and a Moms for Liberty tinge, but that doesn’t mean Tallahassee is happy with their work.

Per the Florida Standard, the Department of Education is zeroing in on materials from the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP).

The crime there? Taking a “more trauma-informed, healing-centered and student-focused approach” to discipline issues. The state wants to know more about these potential perils.

Florida’s Department of Education wants a closer look at materials from the International Institute for Restorative Practices.

“We do not believe we received the actual training manuals, instructional materials and descriptions of activities that the International Institute for Restorative Practices intends to use within the district,” the Department of Education wrote.

The letter notes that during the meeting where this grant was accepted, “concern was expressed that training associated with this grant will create additional time constraints on educators and administrators and could lead to inconsistent and inaccurate reporting of discipline incidents.”

— Reading rainbow —

A Northeast Florida county is getting global attention for its approach to literacy, but not necessarily in a welcome way.

The left-leaning British Guardian has dubbed Clay County the “book ban heartland” of the United States, given the zeal in recent years of removing potentially problematic titles from schools.

Clay County has been tagged as the ‘book ban heartland’ of the U.S.

Tia Bess, the national director of outreach for Moms for Liberty, is a local, and she has led the charge against books like “It’s Perfectly Normal” (a primer to the changes brought on by puberty) and the oft-discussed “Gender Queer,” comparing the latter to the hoary skin-mag “Hustler.”

“The biggest issue facing Clay County right now is the backlog of challenges and the huge political divide that’s driving it. No other county is dealing with a similar problem,” says Jen Cousins, co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, to the Guardian. “They’re creating fake outrage over what’s available in libraries.”

More than 700 books have been challenged this year as of the article, the Guardian reports.

— Cumber to Citizens —

A former Jacksonville City Council member and mayoral candidate will tackle the state’s long-festering issues in the property insurance market.

LeAnna Gutierrez Cumber, who ran unsuccessfully for the city’s top job in 2023, will be empaneled on the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation Board of Governors.

LeAnna Gutierrez Cumber has a new gig on the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation Board of Governors.

“As a leader who is focused on tackling the affordability crisis, LeAnna will be a tremendous asset to the Citizens Board,” asserted House Speaker Paul Renner, who made the appointment.

Cumber is “honored and humbled to serve the people of Florida in this capacity,” she says and looks “forward to getting to work!”

Renner did not formally endorse Cumber for Mayor in 2023. But the appointment clarifies that the House Speaker has worked to find her a spot to remain prominent between elected positions.

— Autism outreach —

St. Johns County is working on outreach to those visitors on the autism spectrum.

“The St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce and its Ponte Vedra Visitors Information Center, St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau (VCB), in collaboration with Old Town Trolley Tours® & Attractions of St. Augustine, proudly announce their achievement as Certified Autism Centers™ (CAC). These certifications, granted by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), reflect the commitment of these organizations to welcome and support autistic and sensory-sensitive visitors. The certification program is funded with a matching grant from the St. Johns County Tourist Development Council,” the county notes in a news release.

Old Town Trolley Tours® is among the St. Augustine outreach programs to those on the autism spectrum.

Visitors to Old Town Trolley Tours®, Old Jail, Oldest Store Museum Experience, St. Augustine History Museum, and Potter’s Wax Museum can expect “accommodations and sensory guides,” with employees trained specifically on communicating with visitors who may be on the spectrum.

“The program assures visitors that our certified tourism and hospitality businesses have taken the necessary training and steps to provide a welcoming experience to neurodiverse guests. In addition, the certification is a way to open our tourism community to new markets and be inclusive to all guests and their families,” said Isabelle Renault, the Chamber’s President and CEO. “Our ultimate goal is for our community to become an Autism Certified Destination.”

“St. Johns County is proud to offer funding for this initiative that will increase the accessibility of the resources that make our destination truly unique while expanding and strengthening our tourism base,” said Tera Meeks, St. Johns County Director of Tourism and Cultural Development. “We look forward to continuing this partnership in the coming year as we all work toward becoming a more welcoming destination for autistic and sensory-sensitive visitors.”

— Tech time —

On Thursday, the JAX Chamber IT Council (JITC) will bring its fourth annual Tech Coast Conference to the Adam Herbert Center at the University of North Florida. Doors open at 8 a.m.

“For a decade, The Tech Coast Conference has unified the tech community and showcased the culture of innovation,” said James Lampke, President of Jacksonville IT Council. “The scholarship program continues to inspire Northeast Florida’s young professionals, and we are excited to bring top technology leaders and innovators to learn about emerging challenges in the fast-moving technology world.”

Tech Coast Conference is returning to Jacksonville.

In his keynote speech, Frank Mantz of LG Electronics will discuss LCD Videowalls, while a constellation of local stars will offer their remarks.

Local speakers include Matthew Parks, vice president of Information Technology and Security, Pace Center for Girls; Brian Verkamp, vice president and Chief Information Officer, University of North Florida; Tomas Sjöström, CEO, Truesec Inc.; Wendy Norfleet, CEO, Norfleet Integrated Solutions; Jackie Gustafson, Associate Chief Information Officer, Nemours.

Cuppa Jax

Democrat Jimmy Peluso will be the featured speaker at the next Cuppa Jax on Wednesday, Aug. 30.

Peluso represents Jacksonville City Council District 7, a new district incorporating almost all downtown Urban Core. The district came about after the Council lost a racial gerrymandering lawsuit; a federal court ordered new maps drawn by civil-rights plaintiffs, including the Jacksonville Branch of the NAACP.

Jimmy Peluso is the featured speaker at the upcoming Cuppa Jax.

The district contains several distinctive neighborhoods, including Downtown, Eastside, College Gardens, New Town, Brooklyn, Mixon Town, Riverside, Avondale, Murray Hill, Ortega, Venetia, Fairfax, the Mid-Westside, Sugar Hill, Phoenix and Fairfield.

On the campaign trail, Peluso said he is drawn to the “nerdiest” topics — land-use zoning, a tenants’ bill of rights, more funding for parks and recreation, better sidewalks, curbs and bicycle infrastructure.

Cupp Jax begins at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 30; the location is Skyline Room, Riverplace Tower, 1301 Riverplace Boulevard, Jacksonville. Tickets are $15, with breakfast provided by Village Bread Café.

For more info or to purchase tickets, please visit the event’s Eventbrite page.

— Shrimp caucus —

The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp are taking a giant stance in favor of voter registration.

The AAA baseball team is teaming up with the Jacksonville Icemen, Jacksonville Sharks, and the Duval County Supervisor of Elections Office to promote National Poll Worker Recruitment Day on Wednesday, Aug. 23.

“Poll workers are essential to ensuring fair, accurate and accessible elections,” said Jumbo Shrimp Executive Vice President/general manager Harold Craw. “We look forward to continuing our partnership with the Duval County Supervisor of Elections Office, as well as the Icemen and Sharks, to drive registered Duval County voters to become the poll workers who are the critical essence of our elections.”

The Jumbo Shrimp shows its commitment to poll workers.

“The partnership includes a social media initiative fans can follow via the @JaxShrimp social media feeds. The club will unveil a branded social media postcard directing fans to the Duval County Supervisor of Elections website, where they can find information on how to serve and earn and also fill out an online poll worker application form,” the team notes.

In the trenches

Nothing is more important in the preseason for an NFL team than staying healthy. The injury bug, however, has shown up in the Jaguars locker room.

The offensive line has been the hardest-hit group. Rookie right tackle Anton Harrison has been dealing with a shoulder injury. He was held out of Saturday’s game against the Lions along with most of the Jaguars’ starters but is expected to play this Saturday in the preseason finale against the Miami Dolphins.

Harrison’s backup, veteran Josh Wells, will “miss a little time,” according to head coach Doug Pederson.

Rookie Cooper Hodges, who was in line to back up Brandon Scherff at right guard, has a patella injury and will miss at least the rest of the preseason.

Left tackle Cam Robinson, suspended for the first four games of the season, played poorly in his time against the Lions.

It has not been a good stretch for the big fellas. There is a bit of light in the darkness, however.

The Jaguars leave the postseason with many on the injured list. Image via AP.

Tyler Shatley, who finished the season as the Jaguars starter at left guard, is set to return to noncontact action this week after an irregular heartbeat sidelined him earlier in camp.

According to Pederson, Ben Bartch, who began last season as the starter at left guard, will have a chance to play this week. Bartch saw his 2023 season end after five games because of a knee injury.

So, what will the offensive line look like on Saturday against the Dolphins? There are decisions to be made by Pederson and his staff.

My best guess is that Walker Little will start at left tackle, where he’ll be playing for at least the first four games of the season during Robinson’s suspension. Bartch will likely get some time at left guard with Luke Fortner at center, Scherff at right guard, and Harrison at right tackle if the shoulder doesn’t create any more issues.

However, Cole Van Lanen could see a lot of time at right tackle since he is the only fully healthy right tackle on the depth chart. Once Robinson returns, Little can play right tackle. He also worked as a left guard against the Lions. It’s a game of musical chairs on the Jaguars’ offensive line.

The men tasked with protecting Trevor Lawrence must play well for the Jaguars to reach their potential. The best news is that after Saturday, the Jaguars will have more than two weeks to rest before the season kicks off on Sept. 10 in Indianapolis against the Colts.

The Jaguars are also dealing with questions on the defensive line. DaVon Hamilton, who has been one of the stars of camp, is out indefinitely with a “non-football related medical issue with his back,” and there is no timetable for his return. Nose tackle Foley Fatukasi was in a boot after the game in Detroit with a heel injury. He won’t play on Saturday. And the Jaguars top pass rushers, Josh Allen and Travon Walker, each played only nine snaps in the preseason opener.

Very little has changed since the start of training camp for the Jaguars. The two biggest questions, the offensive and defensive fronts, remain the biggest as the regular season approaches.

Staff Reports


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