Jacksonville Bold for 3.20.24: The whistleblower that wasn’t

Main Street Bridge at Sunset, Jacksonville, Florida.
Issues with a whistleblower have the new administration cutting ties with the past.

Historically, Jacksonville Mayors have cleaned house at the beginning of their administrations, putting key people in posts they want.

Last week’s separation between the current Mayor and a staffer who was a rare holdover from the previous officeholder’s staff illustrated why it’s a good idea just to bring in your people and rip off the Band-Aid.

Last Wednesday, the Donna Deegan administration separated from Chiquita Moore, the former operations director in the Neighborhoods Department who had worked for the Lenny Curry administration, in the latest move by the current Mayor to distance her administration from that of her predecessor.

The Deegan administration cuts ties with Chiquita Moore, a distinctive break with the past.

Another employee was reassigned, meanwhile.

Moore, who worked for former Jacksonville City Council President Sam Newby before moving to Curry’s team as his second term kicked off, was allegedly considering whistleblower status by one Republican on the Jacksonville City Council, a claim that seems less likely to pass.


The Mayor’s Office noted that “termination was being contemplated due to several city policy violations and a management style … unbecoming of an appointed official. The employee was given the option to be terminated for cause or submit her resignation. They chose to resign in lieu of being terminated.”

Moore’s tenure ended in a meeting where at least one contractor for the city (who works for the Langton Consulting lobby shop) and others were around, at which she told a confidant she was excited to be at the meeting for the first time in months. However, she didn’t know the meeting was about her employment, and the Mayor’s Office acknowledged that the protocol was violated during this process.

“Based upon the first employee’s volatile behavior, the Neighborhoods Director thought it was prudent to have security present and he invited two witnesses. While we support security being available, the witnesses were unnecessary and did not follow protocol. We are handling this as a personnel matter so that it never happens again,” the Mayor’s Office said.

Compounding the drama: an emphatically pro-Moore letter sent from a “concerned employee” to Council members saying the Deegan administration wanted to reorganize the Neighborhoods Department and that new chief Thomas Waters was cutting Moore off from meeting with people in city government and marginalizing her role.

Not nice! But is it illegal?

That’s a different matter.

Ultimately, it’s the administration’s prerogative to handle staffing issues as they see fit. All employees serve at the pleasure of the Mayor.

For her part, Moore doesn’t want to make “any comments related to the situation as it would only create more unnecessary dialogue that would not produce any meaningful or constructive conversations that would change my current reality.”

“I am still processing everything and, at the same time, figuring out my next steps. I realize that people will build their own narrative and others will suggest things that are far from the truth, and I am completely comfortable knowing that I did my job to the best of my ability with integrity and always with the best of intentions, even when I was knowingly being ostracized and disrespected,” she adds.

“Please don’t believe everything you read or hear from individuals that oppose me. There are a lot of untruths out there. However, I choose not to respond to things that are wrong. I am not a vengeful person and I stay intentionally away from the pettiness; it’s too draining and more importantly, it’s not who I am.”

Some Republicans who seek to bring down the Mayor’s Office suggested Moore may have whistleblower status last week. But if she is blowing a whistle, it’s pretty quiet.

“I appreciate the opportunity I had to serve as the operations director in the neighborhood’s department and I wish Mayor Deegan and her team nothing but the best now and (in) the years to come,” she said.

The Moore news cycle continues an ongoing cold war between the Deegan administration and Curry alums.

Some draw a line between the firing of Ballard Partners and the brief inclusion of funky language in a House tax bill this Legislative Session that would have seemingly required Jacksonville to have another pension tax referendum in 2026 to reauthorize a sales surtax that still hasn’t kicked in for pension yet.

Curry, of course, vowed to fix that — but the city’s lobbyists at the Fiorentino Group and the Mayor’s Office were already on it and many saw that narrative as an attempt to undermine current leadership and representation. It was ultimately a moot point, given that the language wasn’t in the Senate product, and Speaker Paul Renner said it didn’t affect Jacksonville.

There is no fixing the dynamic between the former Mayor’s coterie and the current Mayor’s administration. Curry’s continued heavy involvement in Jacksonville politics after leaving office presents a marked difference from Alvin Brown, John Peyton and John Delaney, who didn’t spend much time on machinations in the St. James Building after their terms ended.

It could be worse, we reckon: Curry isn’t firing social media posts with foul language at the current Mayor. But it’s nonetheless clear the former Mayor has time on his hands, and he’s using some of that time to ensure Deegan is a one-termer.

And the current administration notices.

Star power for Sapp

Judson Sapp is bringing in big guns for his debut fundraiser in his state House race.

The Clay County Republican’s Thursday event will feature three Congress members as special guests: Aaron Bean, Kat Cammack and John Rutherford.

Meanwhile, two statewide officials — Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis — will host.

Senators abound, both past and present. Jennifer Bradley, Travis Hutson, and Joe Gruters are from the current group; Rob Bradley, Mike Haridopoulos, and John Thrasher are from the latter. Reps. Dean Black, Chuck Brannan, and Berny Jacques are also on the host committee.

Dozens of other current and former elected officials are expected to be on hand, seemingly cinching Sapp as the establishment candidate.

According to state records, Sapp, the CEO of the W.J. Sapp Railroad Company, already has $275,000+ banked. He ran for Congress a few years back and while he didn’t win, he clearly has goodwill with the people who still matter. Between that and his personal resources, he’s in good shape.

His opponent in the HD 20 Primary, Jamie Watts, has roughly $16,000 to spend, but that will not be enough this time.

The Sapp event will be at Jim Horne’s “Truly Blessed Farms” in Middleburg.

Beach blast

Shootings rocked Jacksonville Beach Sunday night, and one Democrat representing Duval County in the Legislature has a theory of why.

“Frustrated by what just took place on Jax Beach tonight. Prayers to the family. We left a few hrs. before the shooting occurred. I’m going to keep fighting for programs and opportunities that decrease the wealth gap and address generational trauma. It’s the only way we solve this,” asserted Rep. Angie Nixon.

Angie Nixon hopes to decrease the wealth gap and address generational trauma.

“Overpolicing isn’t helping. Loosening gun laws isn’t helping. Enhancing penalties isn’t deterring. You know what would? Getting folks’ needs met early on, exposure to opportunities and new ways of thinking, as well as making them feel like they can become great will,” Nixon added.

Steve Zona, the head of the Fraternal Order of Police, criticized the HD 13 Democrat’s comments.

“A pre-planned gathering of 250-400 people to take over the beach for a bunch of BS is caused by generational wealth disparities and trauma? Give me a break.”

Though shooting sprees are common in Jacksonville itself, the event was more surprising for some reason in Jacksonville Beach.

Gunplay occurred outside the Best Western, in front of some other businesses, and in front of Sneakers Bar and Grille.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen what “trauma” caused these events.

The legislator representing the area offered words this week.

“I want to extend my deepest condolences to the families impacted by last night’s violence in Jacksonville Beach,” said Rep. Kiyan Michael. “During this difficult time for our community, I will continue to be in communication with Mayor Christine Hoffman, law enforcement, and other local leaders as we learn more about these acts of violence. In the meantime, I hope the district will join me in praying for those affected and the continued strength of our community.”

“I applaud the good work and long hours put in by Jacksonville Beach Police Chief Gene Paul Smith and his incredible officers and staff, especially in the wake of the shootings. With Spring Break and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, they have been working overtime to ensure the community’s continued safety. I am grateful for their commitment to protecting residents and visitors alike and stand behind them in their work to keep our beautiful beaches and neighborhoods safe for everyone to enjoy.”

Homeless help

The city of Jacksonville is ready to incorporate new changes in its strategy to deal with the unhoused population.

As Hanna Holthaus of the Florida Times-Union reports, the Council last week ratified a “new Board dedicated to planning the city’s response to homelessness, bringing almost two years of Special Committee work close to an end as the Legislature puts pressure on municipalities to make changes to its treatment of the unhoused population.”

Jacksonville changes its strategy for dealing with homelessness.

Timing is of the essence, given that new state legislation requires municipalities to figure out a way to have homeless camps to curb public sleeping by the unhoused — an initiative made more challenging by a lack of state funding for that policy end.

“The commission is meant to collaborate with local nonprofits and pitch new ideas on how to help the unhoused population. It will ultimately be City Council’s decision to approve the ideas and allocate the spending,” Holthaus adds.

In the zone

Do you have questions about Jacksonville’s zoning process?

You can get some answers this week, courtesy of an event organized by District 9 City Council member Tyrona Clark-Murray.

Zoning questions? Tyrona Clark-Murray may have answers.

The Thursday evening meeting starts at 5:45 p.m. at City Hall in the Lynwood Roberts Room. The Westside Democrat will focus specifically on the Land Use and Zoning Committee and its process, as well as the Planning Commission and the role of the larger City Council.

The Office of General Counsel and the Planning and Development Department will have representatives on hand.

Call 904-255-5209 for more information.

Super search

The Duval County School District is looking for a new Superintendent.

It probably won’t be you, but if you meet the qualifications and want to deal with Board politics in the Ron DeSantis era, the district started taking applications Friday.

Help wanted.

After Dr. Diana Greene’s departure amid political pressure over issues at a Jacksonville magnet school that hasn’t been mentioned much since she left, the Board opted in October to keep Dana Krisner as the interim Superintendent, with an eye toward filling the vacancy on a more permanent basis this summer.

Applications will be accepted until April 15, and the Board plans to meet eight days later to consider semifinalist candidates.

Bye bye bye

Did you miss this?

The Republican Party of Florida removed the St. Johns County GOP Chair.

State Chair Evan Power emailed Blake Paterson last week to inform him that he was removed, effective immediately, as both the St. Johns County Republican Executive Committee Chair and a precinct Committee member. His duties will temporarily be assumed by Jamie Parham, a county GOP Vice Chair the party said Paterson wrongly suspended months ago.

In an email, Blake Paterson gets his walking papers.

Power wrote, “You are prohibited from holding any position within the St. Johns GOP, the RPOF, or any RPOF chartered club in St. Johns County for a period of two (2) years.” “As such, you are also not eligible to be a member of the RPOF State Executive Committee or the RPOF State Executive Board, nor hold any position within an RPOF Congressional District Caucus for two (2) years.”

Paterson has been under fire for disparaging local GOP candidates and officials. A state party’s Grievance Committee report details specific instances where Paterson was accused of using his authority as County Chair for personal grudges.

The report said Paterson allowed the St. Johns GOP’s official social media to “disparage Republican elected officials and promote and support their opponents without an endorsement of the REC,” violating state party rules.

More help for UF Health Jacksonville?

Jacksonville’s Safety Net hospital had its most successful Legislative Session since securing $80 million for the Leon Haley Trauma Center.

Session gives a big win to the Leon Haley Trauma Center.

This year’s wins included $15 million for operational support, $75 million for its share of a $300 million pot set aside for behavioral health teaching hospitals (along with Tampa General, Miami Jackson and UF Health Gainesville), and, perhaps of most consequence, the ability to place a sales surtax question on the ballot for indigent care.

New CEO Patrick Green has a vision and state leaders appear to be buying in.

Caskets & history

Last week, the Jacksonville City Council approved over $2 million to continue restoring the Florida Casket Factory building as the new Jacksonville History Center.

The 14-2 vote demonstrated robust and bipartisan support for the Jacksonville Historical Society to bring new life to the 104-year-old, three-story building at 318 Palmetto Street.

Jacksonville’s history will rise from the casket.

Stay current on the project’s progress and all things Jacksonville history at jaxhistory.org.

The Fiorentino Group represents the Jacksonville Historical Center.

Homeowner forum

Looking to buy a home in Jacksonville?

A local bank and democratically elected leader could help.

“Jacksonville City Council Member Reggie Gaffney Jr.’s Empowering Homeownership Forum on March 14” will help attendees “learn how Ameris Bank makes homeownership more affordable and accessible.”

Reggie Gaffney Jr. wants to help you find a home.

The event at Somerset Academy Eagle Campus on Dunn Avenue starts at 6 p.m. Thursday and Gaffney will appear with Ameris Bank’s Director of Community Lending Clyde Anderson to “discuss qualifying for a home, accessing down payment assistance, and taking the next steps to homeownership.”

Gaffney says homeownership is “about empowering our community to take confident steps toward their dreams.”

RSVP here.

Hastings happening

Need something to do in St. Johns County?

Sure, there’s always St. Augustine and its beaches. They’re great, but they’re always there. So why not consider Hastings this week?

From the inbox: “The St. Johns County Parks Foundation is thrilled to announce the return of ‘Friday Night Live’ to the town of Hastings, Florida. Scheduled for March 22, 2024, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., at Al Wilke Park located at 6150 S. Main St., this event promises an evening of family-friendly fun, food and live music.”

Time for some family-friendly fun.

Expect food trucks, local vendors, and the inimitable sounds of Jacksonville’s “Groove Coalition” to greet you if you’re there.

“This is the second time we’ve brought ‘Friday Night Live’ to the town of Hastings within the past six months, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. Not only is this event designed to serve as a fundraiser for the foundation, but it also provides an invaluable opportunity for residents to interact with county officials and elected officials, allowing their voices to be heard,” said Michael F. Payne, Sr., Executive Director of the St. Johns County Parks Foundation.

Jaguars’ next steps

After the first volley of free agency, the Jaguars have done more than they did in the entire offseason last year.

They have bolstered every starting position, unlike last year, when they went into the draft and needed to find a starting right tackle. They drafted Anton Harrison in the first round.

This year, there are no glaring holes more than a month before the draft, but there are areas that still must be addressed.

The signing of defensive tackle Arik Armstead from the San Francisco 49ers helped to bolster the defensive line, but there is still room to improve that unit.

The Jaguars sign Arik Armstead as a key piece of the defensive line.

The same can be said for the wide receivers. The Jaguars signed Gabe Davis from the Buffalo Bills, but they also wanted to bring back Calvin Ridley, who jumped to the Tennessee Titans instead. An early draft pick seems destined for a wide receiver. The front office knows they need to give quarterback Trevor Lawrence more help. That includes the skill positions and the offensive line.

The Jaguars are likely done adding to the offensive line. After inking center Mitch Morse to a free-agent deal, they seem set to move forward with the same guards and tackles as last year. Harrison, Cam Robinson, Ezra Cleveland (re-signed to a two-year deal), and Brandon Scherff will be on the front line, with Walker Little as the top reserve. Former starting center Luke Fortner and last year’s seventh-round draft pick Cooper Hodges will be on the top reserve.

The offensive line room can be improved, but it doesn’t appear likely the Jaguars will add to the room until the draft, if at all.

There is also a need at cornerback. If the season started now, Tyson Campbell and Ronald Darby would be the starters. The nickel situation bears more attention. Second-year man Antonio Johnson could potentially help out there. Buster Brown and Gregory Junior, a pair of young players, may be pressed into service. Expect the Jaguars to spend some draft capital at cornerback.

Then there is the question about the pass rush. Josh Allen is currently on the franchise tag. Will he be able to duplicate his 17.5 sack season? Will Travon Walker build off his 10-sack season? Where will the other sacks come from? Trevis Gipson had seven sacks in 2021 in Chicago. Maybe he can recapture his former production. This year’s draft isn’t strong with edge players. Three pass rushers are likely to be taken in the first round and less than a handful are expected to be selected in the top 50.

The Jaguars have improved their roster a bit. But there is still more work to be done. The NFL draft begins on April 25.

Staff Reports

One comment

  • the Truth

    March 20, 2024 at 4:59 pm

    Mayor Deegan’s administration is a Cluster F ck, using Army jargon.

Comments are closed.


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