Jacksonville Bold for 2.7.24: Money troubles
Jacksonville, Florida, USA downtown city skyline at dusk.

Jacksonville, Florida, USA downtown city skyline
Garrett Dennis wants Jacksonville to know he pays his bills.

Jacksonville’s Director of Boards and Commissions is dealing with IRS liens and legal action for non-payment against his business.

It’s the latest example of his money woes that, apparently, don’t matter to political patrons.

Former City Council member Garrett Dennis had financial issues during his time on the Council.

In 2022, Florida Politics reported that Dennis endured a court-ordered garnishment of $37,500 from the Edward Don Company.

He blamed that snafu on cash flow issues caused by, you guessed it, the pandemic.

“We pay our debts,” Dennis said at the time.

He unsuccessfully ran for the state House later, but with the election of Donna Deegan, whom he endorsed in September 2022 after losing that Primary (and capping off that campaign by illegally donating campaign funds to other campaigns), he found his path back into public service and a $150K salary.

Garrett Dennis wants Jacksonville to know he pays his bills. Image via Deegan campaign.

“From sounding the alarm over the corrupt sale of JEA to his recent call for more scrutiny of taxpayer dollars sent to the JAX Chamber, Council Member Garrett Dennis has been a leading voice fighting for more accountability and transparency in City Hall,” read a YouTube contextualization of the endorsement.

However, Dennis’ call to scrutinize taxpayer dollars is ironic, given his own tax issues spanning years, even after his late 2022 purchase of a House on Jacksonville’s Southside (far away from the former City Council district he represented) for more than $590,000.

Jacksonville Bold obtained evidence of IRS liens from 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 that total more than $125,000. These span his years in elected office, of course. The 2016, 2017 and 2020 lien notices, totaling $60,135, were prepared and signed in June 2023.

The notices for the remaining years were signed a few days before the end of last year.

To put the aggregate weight of those liens in perspective, they amount to enough for a traditional 20% down payment.

Compounding Dennis’ woes is an alleged failure to pay at least one subcontractor via his Shifting Gears construction company, which owes McCurdy-Walden, Inc. $80K for a reroof of the BCBS building at 532 Riverside Avenue.

Here’s language from the plaintiff’s lawyer’s demand letter in the ongoing legal action that alleges the sub has been stiffed for months.

“To date and despite repeated demand. Shifting Gears has failed and refused to pay McCurdy-Walden for the work it performed. To make matters worse, we also understand that Florida Blue has paid Shifting Gears in full for McCurdy-Walden’s work. Please allow this letter to serve as McCurdy-Walden’s demand that the total of $77,624.00 be paid to it within five business days of the date of this letter.”

Dennis — a live quote throughout his time on City Council — has refused to comment on any of this despite multiple efforts to get his take.

Meanwhile, the Deegan administration is standing by him, saying these issues aren’t relevant to his work for the city.

“It has no impact on his ability to perform the duties of his role with the Mayor’s Office. We won’t be commenting further,” spokesperson Phil Perry said.

He wouldn’t say whether these financial issues came up during the vetting and hiring process as discussion points, seemingly contradicting the administration’s declared commitment to transparency.

Regardless of the administration’s disinterest in this story that has developed over nearly a decade now, there is an irony in a Council member who positioned himself as a watchdog on Council not paying his full taxes for the years he was on that legislative panel, and then stiffing subcontractors from his business despite getting paid for the job.

That irony will probably be more attractive to Republicans than Democrats, however.

Talking points

Speaking of interparty friction, we should note a recent Action News Jax report that Chief Administrative Officer Karen Bowling was responsible for some recent nasty talking points about City Council President Ron Salem that surfaced.

Karen Bowling is in the spotlight — for all the wrong reasons. Image via Jacksonville Daily Record.

Bowling, an alum of the Alvin Brown administration, does not enjoy being in the headlines, as she has told people after critical stories ran in the past. Ben Becker’s reporting definitely puts the spotlight on the CAO.

The Deegan administration isn’t bothering with much regarding damage control.

“It’s unfortunate that staff notes were drafted and shared inappropriately with Council President Salem. We look forward to the opportunity to continue working with him over the course of his presidency and throughout his term. We won’t be commenting on this matter further,” a spox told Becker.

The notes suggested that time was running out on Salem’s term, that he was feckless on confederate monuments, that he may have his own “agenda” as City Council President, and that he was trying to “tarnish the reputation of our General Counsel,” which is an interesting slip given that Michael Fackler is the whole consolidated city’s lawyer and not just the Mayor’s henchman.

Bean bucks

A first-term Congressman from Northeast Florida is raising money like a savvy veteran.

Rep. Aaron Bean of Fernandina Beach closed 2023 with nearly $465,000 on hand, a tremendous number, especially given that the only opponent he has, per Federal Election Commission records, is a write-in who hasn’t raised anything.

Aaron Bean is a savvy fundraiser.

Locals of note donating last quarter include state House candidate Judson Sapp, Clay County School Superintendent David Broskie, and Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook.

Bean faced a Primary in 2022 after redistricting carved out a seat for him that included Clay, Nassau and western Duval counties. This time, he has resources but likely no competition of note.

Judges wanted

Chief U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan notes that the Middle District of Florida needs more jurists.

“We should have 20 judges in the Middle District,” Corrigan said to the Jacksonville Federal Court Bar Association last month.

Timothy Corrigan throws up the help wanted sign.

Currently, notes the Jacksonville Daily Record, there are just 12 for a population of 12.5 million — bigger than 44 states, Corrigan notes.

Corrigan has appealed to Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott for new appointees, but movement has been slow, perhaps because of the administration in the White House.

Homeless help?

Good news for Rep. Sam Garrison came from Gov. Ron DeSantis this week.

During a news conference in Miami Beach, DeSantis made the case for the Legislature to take action to curb the rights of the unhoused population.

Ron DeSantis gives Sam Garrison some backup on his plan to deal with homelessness.

The Governor said such a move would prevent Florida from becoming San Francisco.

To that end, he is “confident there will be a product” to “prohibit camping on all city streets and parks,” adding that “most” local governments will back legislation like Garrison’s current bill in the House (HB 1365) and the Senate companion (SB 1630), “carrot and stick” measures that would ban sleeping rough and require localities to set up homeless camps.

Garrison didn’t embrace all provisions of the legislation. But he nonetheless teased state funding for “sheltering” and “things to address some of the mental health problems we’ve seen from people on the street” and the “substance abuse.” While he was vague on that point, he has previously suggested institutionalization should be brought back.

‘Dangerous dogs’

A committee in the House moved forward with a potential legislative solution to the canine conundrum.

Rep. Bobby Payne’s measure (HB 873), advanced unanimously by the Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, would impose new parameters on how the state handles so-called dangerous dogs. He noted Virginia and Pennsylvania already have similar laws.

The bill requires the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to create a statewide Dangerous Dog Registry, which would rely on information provided by local animal control agencies.

Bobby Payne recommends a change in how Florida handles ‘dangerous dogs.’

Owners of potentially dangerous dogs would have to preemptively confine the dog in a fenced yard or a kennel to protect the public.

The legislation would also mandate that the local animal control authority for the probe must hold dogs under investigation for the duration.

The bill would be named after someone who died after a dog attack performing a public service.

Mail carrier Pam Rock, who lived in Putnam County, was fatally attacked by a pack of dogs in August 2022. She was 61 years old. In a measure of her final suffering, doctors amputated Rock’s ravaged arm before her death in a futile attempt to save her.

Payne told the committee he was “horrified” by the “gruesome” attack, which happened in his district.

Family members of the dead woman were also on hand to make the case for the legislation, noting the bill doesn’t call for a breed ban but for regulations on the behavior of dogs.

Payne’s bill moves on to its final stop in Judiciary before heading to the House floor.

Republican Sen. Jay Collins is carrying the Senate version. Two committee stops await that product.

This bill isn’t the only effort to honor Rock.

U.S. Rep. Bean recently led the unanimous passage of a bill in Congress to rename a post office in Melrose in her memory, as we noted last week.

Curb appeal

A novel solution to some affordable housing issues continues to roll through House panels, with the Transportation & Modals Subcommittee unanimously on board with a measure the sponsor likened to a “duck-billed platypus looking for a place to fit.”

Rep. Cyndi Stevenson’s legislation (HB 557) would establish parameters and a statutory definition for so-called “movable tiny homes,” specifying which “park trailers” would qualify.

Are tiny homes the key to affordable housing?

The St. Johns Republican described the subject as “a relatively new year-round housing product that is increasingly popular and isn’t recognized by the Florida motor vehicle code” that is on wheels and may travel on roads.

“This bill would provide a definition of a movable tiny home and standards for construction and inspection,” she said. “The bill allows for permanent dwelling in a movable tiny home. If it meets residential building standards, per the Florida building code, having a standard will make it easier for local government to consider the movable tiny homes as part of their community and add them to their development plans.”

The bill has one House Committee stop left but no Senate companion. That means that if the House approves it, the Senate must take it up and pass it without committee hearings. Given that it’s Stevenson’s last Session, which may be what it takes to get this through.

New director

R. Brett James, a former director of strategic planning for the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command, is now doing planning for the city of Jacksonville, the Deegan administration announced this week.

“I’m excited to see Brett join our administration as the Director of Planning and Development,” said Deegan. “His successful career brings a fresh perspective and a wealth of knowledge to Jacksonville, both of which will benefit our citizens now and into the future.”

R. Brett James is named chief of Jacksonville’s planning and development.

He’s also done municipal planning work before on the associate level in Oklahoma City, and it will be worth watching to see if any of those local concepts make their way to Jacksonville.

Described as a “long-standing member of the American Planning Association,” the administration notes he “was elected as Chair, Conference Chair, and Vice Chair of its eminent Federal Planning Division.”

Ethical dilemma

Jacksonville’s Ethics Commission has often been an important backstop locally. Still, it — and other such watchdog panels — could be eviscerated if some people in Tallahassee get their way, per Nate Monroe.

The Florida Times-Union columnist is watching a “last-minute amendment to a broader ethics bill, filed last Wednesday by state Sen. Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican, which would strip away the power of local ethics commissions to initiate their own investigations into potential problems, which are often based on anonymous or informal tips as well as information uncovered by local media.”

Danny Burgess’ bill would ravage ethics panels across the state.

“In other words, an ethics official’s mere knowledge of potential lawbreaking would no longer be enough for that official to begin an investigation.”

The Senate unanimously passed the bill with the new language the next day. So, ethics fans will have to rely on the Florida House to be a backstop.

Hail to the Chief

A Jacksonville weather forecaster is getting justified recognition for his yeoman’s work in this market.

The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, Inc. (FLASH) named Mike Buresh, Chief Meteorologist, Action News Jax — WJAX, WFOX, as the 2024 National Weatherperson of the Year (NWP).

“It is with great honor that we recognize Mike for his dedication to his viewers and the advancement of weather awareness and education,” said FLASH President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson. “His tireless efforts to ensure community safety in the face of severe weather are truly commendable.”

Mike Buresh gets his due.

Voters raved about Buresh’s performance over the years.

“As an emergency manager in Mike’s viewing area, he truly goes above and beyond to be a response partner and a genuine part of this community. Mike has augmented my annual pre-Hurricane Season training regimen, been a guest speaker at countless regional conferences, and if all of that wasn’t enough, he is also a staunch champion of the children’s cancer fundraising efforts. Mike is genuine — the real deal. He is fully vested in his community and goes the extra mile to make those around him better!”

Jacksonville has seen no shortage of iconic weather forecasters: George Winterling and John Gaughan at WJXT and Tim Deegan at First Coast News are just a few examples. What’s clear from this award is that Action News Jax also has an A-list talent handling the forecast beat.

New Board members

The Board of Directors for the HCA Florida Orange Park Hospital has three new members.

A big politico in Clay County is among those Board appointees. Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook is among those named to the Board, joined by attorney David King and Dinesh Madhok, vice president of Borland Groover.

Michelle Cook gets a new gig.

Some of the projects the Florida Orange Park Hospital Board is currently addressing include:

— Modernizing and expanding its Imaging assets.

— Doubling the size of the inpatient rehabilitation unit.

— Increasing its cardiovascular care capabilities.

— Development of a graduate medical education simulation center.

SPARdi Gras

Can’t make it to New Orleans this year? We can’t either. Luckily, there’s a solid backup plan for those missing Mardi Gras via Springfield Preservation and Revitalization.

On Saturday at 5 p.m. in Sesquicentennial Park, SPAR promises to combine “the magic of New Orleans and the spirit of Springfield to create a Mardi Gras experience like no other right here in Jacksonville.”

Springfield shows its Mardi Gras spirit.

This is at the end of the Second Line Parade, which starts an hour before that, at Hyperion Brewing Company, “with the Jacksonville Jaguars D-Line kicking it off before leading us through the streets of beautiful Historic Springfield. The parade will wrap up at SesQ Park, where we’ll party the night away.”

Bands, food vendors, and loads of family fun will be available — though the real Mardi Gras isn’t known for the latter category.

Hall of Fame call?

To say that the Jacksonville Jaguars have been overlooked for most of the franchise’s history is an understatement.

A combination of small market size and relatively few contending teams has made the Jaguars one of the NFL’s least hyped teams.

It took Tony Boselli six tries to be granted a spot in the Hall of Fame. But now that Boselli has broken the seal on Canton, the Jaguars could see another player earn the Gold Jacket.

On Thursday night, when the league holds the annual NFL Honors show (8 p.m. ET, CBS and NFL Network), Fred Taylor could be announced as a new Hall of Famer.

Fred Taylor could be the only Hall of Famer who played most of his career with the Jaguars.

Taylor, who played for the Jaguars from 1998-2008 before ending his career with two seasons in New England, is a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist. Taylor was among the 15 names being considered by the Hall of Fame committee this year. If he were among the final five, he would join Boselli as the only player to make the Hall who played most of his career with the Jaguars.

Taylor’s first coach in Jacksonville, Tom Coughlin, was a semifinalist in the coach/contributor category but did not advance to being a finalist.

Should Taylor be in? The numbers say yes. He ranks 17th in NFL history in rushing yards. Frank Gore is the only running back above him on the list who is not in the Hall of Fame and will become eligible for the Hall next year. Taylor has more rushing yards than Hall of Famers John Riggins and O.J. Simpson. He has more career rushing yards than Derrick Henry, who is still playing but is widely believed to be a future Hall of Famer. Taylor also outrushed Earl Campbell, Larry Csonka and Jim Taylor, all enshrined in Canton.

So, what has held him out?

First, Taylor only made one Pro Bowl. While not a purely subjective honor, the fact that Taylor wasn’t recognized as among the best in the AFC has often hurt his cause. And then there is the Jacksonville factor.

In Taylor’s first two seasons, the Jaguars were an AFC juggernaut. Taylor starred in the playoffs — who can forget his 90-yard touchdown run in the AFC Divisional playoff against the Dolphins? — but after that, the Jaguars only made the playoffs twice in Taylor’s time with the Jaguars.

In 2007, Taylor had a memorable season, running for 1,202 yards and helping lead the Jaguars to the postseason. During that 2007 season, Taylor went over the 10,000-yard mark in his career.

If Taylor gets in, expect the next Jaguars to be in the conversation to be wide receiver Jimmy Smith, who ranks 26th in NFL history in receiving yards and is a five-time Pro Bowl pick. Smith will have a more challenging time with competition in his position as the wide receiver has become a greater focus of offenses since Smith’s retirement in 2005.

Phil Ammann

Phil Ammann is a Tampa Bay-area journalist, editor and writer. With more than three decades of writing, editing, reporting and management experience, Phil produced content for both print and online, in addition to founding several specialty websites, including HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government, entertainment reviews, marketing and an advice column. Phil has served as editor and production manager for Extensive Enterprises Media since 2013 and lives in Tampa with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul. He can be reached on Twitter @PhilAmmann or at [email protected].


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