Jacksonville Bold for 3.27.24: April Carney’s confessional

Main Street Bridge at Sunset, Jacksonville, Florida.
'I'm the mean mom. I'm the drill sergeant. I'm the one that takes the phone at night.'

A Duval County School Board member has very definite feelings about HB 3, a bill signed into law in Jacksonville Monday that bans children under 14 from using social media and allows those under 16 to use it with parental consent.

While the constitutionality of the law is a matter of debate, for April Carney, the need is clear and illustrated by her struggles with her willful daughters and how she’s not “well-liked” by her 13-year-old or 18-year-old because she probes their phone usage.

“So, I’m the mean mom. I’m the drill sergeant. I’m the one that takes the phone at night. I’m the one that says, ‘Put it down, look at me in the eye, put it down, do your school work,’” the first-term Board member and Moms for Liberty member said at a Jacksonville charter school event.

Carney’s fear extends to her daughter, who would be exempt from this law.

“We’re five months away from sending our oldest away to college and I’m absolutely terrified that she’s going to meet somebody on Snapchat that she doesn’t know that she thinks she knows and leave her dorm room and never come back,” Carney related, before spilling her daughter’s business for the benefit of television cameras.

“I have an 18-year-old going away who we have been fighting addiction for the last six or seven years. She’s been cyberbullied. She has lost sleep. She has issues with eating; she has confidence issues. She’s always comparing herself to other girls. And it’s gotten to the point now where, you know, she’s an adult, she’s 18. And my husband and I have to say, ‘OK, well, you’re going to have to learn how to self-regulate. You’re going to have to be able to do this on your own.’”

Carney, accompanied by her 13-year-old at this event, has a pending rule that would affect that daughter.

“I am going to be putting forward policy here in Duval County that we no longer allow cellphones during the day and that will be coming forward this year,” Carney promised.

The Governor endorsed Carney in 2022, at the zenith of his political influence. DeSantis has questioned cellphones in schools, and given the Board’s conservative majority, it appears Duval County will implement his preferred policy.

Unemployment up

According to figures from Florida’s Department of Commerce, the Jacksonville area’s jobless rate ticked up half a percentage point year over year in February, moving from 2.8% to 3.3%.

That is below the national unemployment figure of 3.9%.

Unemployment numbers tick up. Image via AP.

However, private sector employment is also up by 1.8%, with 12,600 jobs created over the last year.

“The industry gaining the most jobs over the year was education and health services, increasing by 5,100 jobs. The Jacksonville area’s labor force increased by 2.2% (+18,597) over the year in February 2024,” Commerce adds.

Union trouble

Jacksonville’s Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) is protesting slow wage negotiations with the Mayor’s Office.

While every labor negotiation involves a back-and-forth between the union and Jacksonville’s government, this one is unique because the city’s police union wonders if the delay in talks amounts to a breach of good faith.

FOP head Randy Reaves emailed members this week, noting that negotiations were expected to continue Wednesday but that the Mayor’s Office hadn’t offered a counter after three months with the union’s wage proposal. Reaves told his members this was “troubling, to say the least.”

Randy Reaves says negotiating with the city is ‘frustrating.’ Image via Facebook.

The local FOP has often complained that Jacksonville’s pay scale leads to officers seeking greener pastures and a Wage Analysis speaks to that reality, noting that Jacksonville officers make 20% below the state average and less than officers in other major metros, surrounding areas like St. Johns County, and members of the Florida Highway Patrol.

Without raises, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO) members would be 34% behind the average by 2027.

To that end, JSO seeks a 17% raise for Fiscal Year 2024-25, with 4% hikes in each of the next two years. The hope is that this will stabilize the force.

Correctional and judicial officers are in even more dire straits, and FOP seeks big raises for both.

The administration is holding its cards close to the vest.

“The City of Jacksonville values the critical and often dangerous work performed by our first responders,” said spokesperson Phil Perry. “In good faith, we have made substantial progress in the current collective bargaining process. Accordingly, we are diligently working on a fair wage proposal that appropriately recognizes employees and competitiveness in the market while balancing city resources.”

Perry did not offer a timetable for when that proposal may surface or how close it may be to the union position.


JAXPORT announced Monday that it and Carnival Cruise Line have agreed to continue service from Jacksonville into 2026, with options to extend through 2030.

The Carnival Elation will continue its Bahamas loop for at least two more years and likely more, allowing the 2,697-passenger vessel to continue doing what it’s been doing for years.

Carnival recommits to sailing out of JAXPORT. Image via Carnival.

“The continued growth of our cruise program is another way we create jobs and economic impact for our region and state,” said JAXPORT CEO Eric Green. “JAXPORT has a long-standing partnership with Carnival, and we are grateful for their commitment to serving Jacksonville and providing even more reasons for tourists to visit our great city.”

If you haven’t sailed out of Jacksonville lately, you’ll notice the terminal’s upgrades. Among the recent improvements are a better parking situation and an improved VIP lounge.

Sheriffs like Leek

Rep. Tom Leek’s campaign for Senate District 7 announced endorsements from all sitting Sheriffs in the four-county seat.

The endorsements came from Flagler Sheriff Rick Staly, Putnam Sheriff H.D. “Gator” DeLoach, St. Johns Sheriff Robert Hardwick and Volusia Sheriff Mike Chitwood, each of whom praised the Ormond Beach Republican’s pro-law enforcement record.

“Those of us at the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office live by the words ‘An Honor to Serve, A Duty to Protect.’ After eight years in the Florida House of Representatives, Tom Leek has proven he is a man of integrity who will always do what is necessary to keep his constituents safe, including backing the blue at every opportunity. I am proud to support him in his bid for the Florida Senate,” Staly said in a news release.

Tom Leek’s Senate campaign gets backup from LEOs.

Hardwick, meanwhile, lauded Leek’s work on the law enforcement recruiting package passed during the 2022 Legislation Session. The bill, sponsored by Leek and championed by the Governor, included training reimbursements and signing bonuses to new and veteran law enforcement officers who come to Florida from out of state.

Leek said he was “beyond grateful” for the endorsements, adding, “Our brave law enforcement officers and first responders put themselves on the line to protect and defend the citizens of Florida each and every day, and I will always have their backs in the Florida Legislature.”

Leek was first elected to the state House in 2016 and has risen the ranks in the chamber, including serving as the Chair of the House Redistricting Committee in the 2022 Session and as the House Budget Chief under Speaker Paul Renner.

He represents part of Volusia County in House District 28 and is running to succeed Sen. Travis Hutson in SD 7. Hutson is term-limited and has already endorsed Leek in the Republican Primary, where he faces Gerry James.

Democrat George Hill II and no-party candidate Michael Gist are also running, though SD 7 is a solidly red district where DeSantis won re-election with nearly 70% of the vote two years ago.

Mosquito museum

There’s a big buzz in St. Johns County.

As Jacksonville Today notes, the Anastasia Mosquito Control District’s Disease Vector Education Center and Science Museum opened to the public Tuesday.

St. Johns has a mosquito museum. Who knew?

The $4.5 million project includes “a flight simulator complete with video filmed from one of the agency’s mosquito control helicopters.”

“Interactive games teach kids about diseases. And larger-than-life bugs and hundreds of their real counterparts are pinned up on the walls and ceilings, courtesy of the University of Florida and Florida Department of Agriculture.”

Is it kid-friendly?

More so than mosquitoes themselves, we bet.

“Children can play at our insect-themed outdoor playground, highlighting ways to reduce the mosquito population around your home. The education center will feature games, live insects, real microscopes and models to climb on. Everyone can play with the interactive displays, see examples of real insects, and fly a simulation spray mission in a helicopter,” the district notes.

Visitors also can “lunch in the plaza on the benches and picnic tables near the giant mosquito statue.”

Hey Mambo

A Jacksonville City Council member’s long-running restaurant is about to take over a former Denny’s location, reports the Jacksonville Daily Record.

Republican Raul Arias plans to open the new Mambo’s Cafe on Beach Boulevard in August after renovations. The timing is purposeful, as it marks 17 years since his first restaurant opened.

“As business owners, we always had the vision of owning our own property, and we worked hard for that,” said Arias. “It’s a big milestone for our family and having the support of the community. That is why we were able to grow.”

Per the Daily Record, Mambo’s is known for “tostones, yuca cheese bites, black bean soup, Cuban sandwiches, cuatro queso ravioli, pan con bistec, steak quesadilla, yellow rice, sweet plantains, black beans, pollo mango, ropa vieja, camarones (shrimp) enchilados, paella and flan.”

Nothing better than a plate of fresh seafood. Image via Mambo’s.

Expect more fresh seafood in the new spot.

Meanwhile, the old Mambo’s will become an Italian restaurant, with Arias continuing to lease that space.

Swoop spox

The University of North Florida is announcing a new VP of Marketing and Communications.

Andrea Jones is moving to Jacksonville from a similar role at Georgia State University.

Welcome to Jacksonville, Andrea Jones.

“Andrea has an impressive background as a leader in higher education marketing, and we are excited to bring her expertise to UNF,” said UNF President Moez Limayem. “She has a proven record implementing strategies to drive enrollment and student success outcomes, and we look forward to her leadership as we continue to share the UNF story.”

“Under President Limayem’s leadership, UNF has set ambitious goals and has a clear vision for its future,” said Jones, a former reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I am so honored and excited to join the team.”

She will “oversee a staff of more than 20 marketing, media relations, social media and web services professionals and will ensure coordinated, strategic marketing and communications throughout the University’s colleges, departments and units,” UNF notes.

Kick out the jams

Spring is here, and so is a popular concert series in Downtown Jacksonville that drew 26,000 music lovers in 2023.

Downtown Vision notes that its “free, four-week, multi-genre concert series — Jax River Jams Presented by VyStar Credit Union — returns (to) Ford on Bay (288 E. Bay Street).”


“I am excited that this fantastic free event, which truly offers something for everyone, is returning to Downtown Jacksonville,” said Mayor Donna Deegan. “My favorite aspect of River Jams is the way it brings people from all over the city together to enjoy four unforgettable evenings of performances by local openers and national headliners. I’m grateful for our sponsors and partners that are making it possible.”

Headliners include country crooner Rodney Atkins, who kicks things off April 4.

Electro-pop musician Bishop Briggs is the April 11 attraction. He will be followed in subsequent weeks by rappers EARTHGANG on April 18 and singer-songwriter Andy Grammer on April 25.

Headliners start at 8:30 each night. Local support acts begin at 5 p.m.

These include Levon, Jackie Stranger, Rambler Kane, Future Joy, Kenzie’s Place with Kale that Raps, Coyboi, L.O.V.E. Culture featuring Ebonique, Wahid & Mr. Al Pete; Jeff Skigh featuring BayBro, Figga Da Kid, King Ca$hes and Twicee; Full Plate Fam, Let’s Ride Brass Band, The Apostle Floyd Encounter and Madison Hughes.

“We’re so excited to bring free outdoor concerts to Downtown Jacksonville’s riverfront again this year! We couldn’t make these shows happen without our partners, the City of Jacksonville, VyStar Credit Union and many others,” said Jake Gordon, CEO of Downtown Vision. “These well-attended live events help us at DVI complete our mission to improve the vibrancy of DTJax. We look forward to the awesome headliners and seeing the crowds again every Thursday in April 2024!”

Tourism glow-up

It’s hard to buy publicity as good as the city got in the most recent issue of Travel and Leisure.

Carrie Honaker writes, “Jacksonville … offers plenty of outdoor adventures, relaxing beaches, and the largest urban park system in the U.S.”

If you’re new to town or you haven’t been out for a while, Honaker offers some great recommendations.

For example. Ponte Vedra Inn & Club offers “access to award-winning golf and a prime beach location.”

Ponte Vedra Inn & Club is a highlight of Jacksonville tourism.

Likewise, surfers and others are urged to “hit TacoLu for margaritas and fish tacos.”

And don’t forget the Zoo and its “walking safari, wildlife encounters and integrated botanical gardens.”

And then there’s the Riverside Arts Market, with art, produce and more.

If you’re drinking, of course, there’s that Downtown classic and a favorite of many politicos: The Volstead, described as “a Prohibition-style lounge for classic craft cocktails and live music.”

One issue may arise for tourists, and that’s a public transportation network that isn’t exactly useful for those looking to cover a lot of ground in a limited time, as Visit Jacksonville’s Michael Corrigan notes.

“You cannot rely on public transportation. We have ride-sharing apps like every community, but not enough. A rental car helps you navigate the 840 square miles of fun available in Jacksonville. There are so many diverse things to do that, to truly enjoy the mystique of the city, you need a rental car.”

Those who have spent some time in town know this already, though.

MOSH money

The Jacksonville Museum of Science & History’s new facility received a significant boost Tuesday after CSX donated $10 million to its fundraising campaign.

As first reported by The Florida Times-Union, the donation makes CSX the new museum’s presenting sponsor. The announcement was held at Lot X, the vacant riverfront property where Hogans Creek meets the St. Johns River, which is the proposed location for the facility.

A new MOSH museum gets a major boost.

MOSH CEO Alistair Dove praised the donation — the largest the museum has received to date — as a major step toward the June 30 deadline for raising $40 million in private funding for the project.

“A gift of this magnitude makes a huge difference,” Dove said. “We have soft commitments that will get us to that number.”

Construction is expected to begin in 2025, with a targeted opening date in 2027.

CSX President and CEO Joe Hinrichs noted that the $10 million was a “landmark” donation. “We’re excited to put a shovel in the ground and bring support to STEM,” he said.

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Pederson: Jags got too comfortable last season

Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson has spent most of the past two and a half months wondering why his team collapsed in the 2023 season.

One of the chief reasons Pederson settled on is a missing component in the locker room. Speaking at the NFL’s annual meeting in Orlando this week, Pederson said the team’s finish was in stark opposition to the standard he tries to instill in his teams.

“It goes against everything we talk about, really,” Pederson said. “We still had opportunities all the way to the 18th week of the regular season. We’re there at the end. We’ve just got to figure out a way to push through that envelope and be there.”

Doug Pederson says the Jags just got ‘too comfortable.’ Image via @Demetrius82 on X/Twitter.

The Jaguars were there at the end of the previous season. They won the final game of the regular season to earn a playoff spot. However, they could not replicate that feat in January. So, to improve the locker room culture, the Jaguars brought in players who had won and been leaders.

“This is the culture that I want to establish in Jacksonville, and this is the reason why you go get guys like (center) Mitch Morse and (defensive lineman) Arik Armstead and the (defensive back) Darnell Savages and guys that have been to the postseason,” Pederson said. “These guys have been captains on their teams, and they’ve been to Super Bowls, they’ve been to AFC championship games. These guys know how to win and that’s the influx of talent that we want to bring onto our young roster. Guys that have been there, done that.”

Injuries certainly affected the team’s finish. After an 8-3 start, Jacksonville lost five of its last six games to miss the playoffs. Trevor Lawrence played through injuries in five of those games. Pederson admitted that the team took for granted its position in the standings — at one point, the Jaguars had the inside track for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs. The injuries and a lack of attention to detail hurt the Jaguars.

“I believe you can definitely get comfortable. You can kind of believe and read into the hype that’s surrounding your football team,” Pederson said. “That’s the one thing that can’t happen. You’ve got to guard against that, obviously, and that’s something that I think our team is going to realize moving forward.”

Pederson said that he expects the new additions will make a difference for the team and that the hard lessons learned in 2023 will make the Jaguars a better team in 2024.

“You hate to live in the past, but I think you can remember the past,” Pederson said. “I think it’s fuel moving forward, it’s kind of our motivation as we go.”

Staff Reports


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