Jacksonville Bold for 4.3.24: Bait and switch
Jacksonville, Florida, USA downtown city skyline at dusk.

Jacksonville, Florida, USA downtown city skyline
Who's to blame for the school closures in Duval County? Depends.

What to make of the Duval County School Board, given radical changes to an infrastructure plan it sold just a few years ago?

If you’re a parent of a public school student, you’re likely outraged right now if you’re paying attention.

The Board, which is limping along with a fill-in Superintendent as it still hasn’t found a permanent replacement for Diana Greene, who sold a halfpenny sales tax based on an ambitious infrastructure plan designed to shore up local schools via a Master Facility Plan, looks poised to reconfigure what voters supported.

The Duval County School Board is limping along the road to a permanent replacement for Diana Greene.

While in the wake of the tax passing, school board officials offered glittering generalities, it appears the sheen has worn off the poetry of the campaign and its promises to rectify $1 billion in “deferred maintenance” and complete projects billed “as the final step in the district master facility planning process.”

“Transparency is key. The community overwhelmingly showed they wanted to invest in students and the future of our schools when they approved the sales tax this past November, and we owe it to them to provide a tool to monitor how we’re using the money,” said an assistant superintendent in 2021.

Now? The plan will be radically revised, in the latest indication that this conservative-leaning board is essentially good with the erosion of traditional public schools in favor of charters and private institutions outside of governmental accountability.

Schools could be consolidated.

Elementary schools could be eliminated in favor of K-8 feeders, and even highly ranked A schools could be axed. Magnet schools could also close or consolidate.

What’s to blame?

Depends on who you ask.

The Florida Times-Union notes in its straight news dispatch that “rising costs” and “more open seats” drive the drastic revision to what voters thought they were voting for, but there is room for a closer reading.

“Rising construction costs are a driver of this, but so are universal vouchers and charter obsession in Tallahassee. That a district must consider shuttering A-rated schools shows how effective this sabotage has been,” remarks T-U columnist Nate Monroe.

Regardless of who is to blame, the problem is profound for parents whose expectations were likely to be dashed.

“The closings could eliminate two high schools — Westside High and A. Philip Randolph Career Academies — and shutter much-loved grade schools … Fishweir, Lone Star and Seabreeze elementaries as well as Anchor Academy and Atlantic Beach and John Stockton,” reports Steve Patterson.

Voters aren’t getting what they voted for, yet they’re still on the hook for the sales tax.

We don’t accept that in the drive-thru line. If we get a Filet-O-Fish instead of the Big Mac we ordered, we might howl and demand a replacement or a refund.

But with the government, we don’t have that latitude. They can put one thing on the billboard and offer an inferior replacement, but little recourse is available.

It’s a shame.

It should also be a cautionary tale for Duval County taxpayers the next time a smooth-talking political class wants to raise their taxes.

Liking Leek

U.S. Reps. Mike Waltz and Cory Mills are backing state Rep. Tom Leek in his bid for state Senate.

Leek is running in Senate District 7 to succeed state Sen. Travis Hutson, who is facing term limits and has already endorsed Leek in the GOP Primary, where he faces Gerry James.

Waltz, the first Green Beret elected to Congress, praised Leek for upholding “conservative values and consistently” delivering “results for the people of Northeast Florida.”

Tom Leek is a hit with congressional endorsements.

“He is a true servant leader who respects and protects our men and women in uniform, as well as their families. There is no question in my mind that he will continue this important work in the state Senate and as a veteran, I am extremely proud to offer him my endorsement,” said Waltz, who represents Florida’s 6th Congressional District on Florida’s east coast which runs from south of Jacksonville to New Smyrna Beach.

Mills, representing Florida’s 7th Congressional District in Central Florida, called his endorsement for Leek “a privilege.”

“I know him as a man of integrity who has worked to improve the lives of his fellow Floridians — especially first responders, military personnel and veterans — and I am confident he will continue to lead with strength and a steadfast conservative vision in this role,” Mills said.

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 currently represents part of Volusia County in House District 28.

Good eats

Tallahassee will soon have something to say about what happens when you order food from popular delivery apps.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed SB 676, which passed the Senate and House without a “no” vote this Session.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Bradley of Clay County, would relegate the regulation of “food delivery platforms” that corral orders from multiple restaurants to the state.

Tallahassee chimes in on delivery apps.

Several influential groups support the legislation, including the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Grubhub, the Associated Industries of Florida, Uber Technologies, the Florida Chamber, TechNet and the James Madison Institute. The Digital Restaurant Association, meanwhile, opposes the bill.

The bill requires delivery platforms to obtain restaurants’ written or electronic consent before picking up orders.

Platforms are required to remove restaurants within 10 days of a request to do so as well.

Delivery platforms also can’t intentionally inflate or deflate restaurant pricing.

Starting in July 2025, delivery platforms will also be required to itemize costs for their customers. Under this legislation, customers would have unlimited rights to appeal disputed orders and transactions.

Squatter squabble

The Governor signed a law last week giving homeowners recourse against squatters, but a Jacksonville lady who inspired that legislation is irked by her exclusion from the news conference.

“I can only assume that it relates to my being a Democrat,” Patti Peeples told The Floridian. “He might have felt like my views that the squatter epidemic is not an undocumented immigrant or unhoused person issue doesn’t feed into his mantra.”

Patti Peeples is out to end the ‘squatter scam.’

DeSantis invited a so-called “squatter hunter” from California to illustrate the need for the Florida bill but did not want Peeples there.

“I think that this doesn’t fit into DeSantis’ quest eventually for the presidency,” she said. “I think it’s shameful, I think it’s small-minded, I think it’s shortsighted, and I think that it denigrates the bipartisan nature of this bill that we got passed.”

She had still more to say to reporter Liv Caputo.

“Why else would he have completely cut me out of everything? Why in the world would he have flown someone in from across the country who is using violent tactics when we have a bill that passed that prevents violence?”

New judge

A Ponte Vedra lawyer born and raised in Jacksonville Beach will be the newest 7th Circuit gavel holder.

The Governor selected David Wainer to fill the hole left by Raul Zambrano’s resignation at the end of 2023.

Wainer has been a Partner at Ford, Miller & Wainer P.A. since 2001. He was an associate at the same firm before that. He has specialized in commercial litigation, construction litigation and general legal practice.

Ron DeSantis taps David Wainer for a bench of the 7th Circuit.

He went to college at Florida State University and to the University of Florida for law school.

Married with two children, he finds time for extracurriculars, including being on the Beaches Area Historical Society Board and running the Sunday school for St. John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church.

He likes to comb the beach for sharks’ teeth in his spare time.

Hispanic outreach

Mayor Donna Deegan has selected a Hispanic outreach coordinator who is expected to help bridge “cultural divides” within her community, such as conducting Spanish language interviews.

Per Deegan, Yanira “Yaya” Cardona’s appointment “marks a significant step forward in our efforts to engage Jacksonville’s fast-growing and vibrant Hispanic community.”

“I look forward to watching her work collaboratively to foster meaningful connections, promote inclusivity, and ensure that every resident has access to the resources and support they need to thrive,” Deegan said.

Yanira “Yaya” Cardona is Donna Deegan’s point person for Hispanic outreach. Image via Instagram.

On her LinkedIn account, Cardona offered an extended commentary on her hiring.

“As I step into the role of Hispanic outreach coordinator, I am deeply humbled and honored to represent my fellow ‘Latinos en Jacksonville.’ I am acutely aware of the responsibility entrusted to me and vow to serve my community diligently. I am committed to amplifying the voices of Jacksonville’s Hispanic population and ensuring that their contributions are recognized, valued, and celebrated throughout the 904 area code.”

Cardona, the founder of YaYa Productions, has engaged in several cultural uplift opportunities, such as community events and concert promotions. The Deegan administration will allow her to translate those talents into political capital.

It may also be a savvy political play. Despite occasional efforts, Jacksonville politicians haven’t engaged particularly well with the Hispanic demographic, which is growing in numbers and influence. This could represent a significant change.

Health help

Deegan is taking a victory lap in the wake of a campaign to get more of her city’s residents health insurance.

When the Get Covered Jax campaign began last fall, roughly 120,000 locals lacked coverage. But now that it’s over, 40,726 people who didn’t have coverage do.

“I am thrilled that Get Covered Jax! was so successful,” Deegan said.

“I often say that a confused mind says ‘no,’ and this campaign provided important information for our citizens so they could say ‘yes’ to enrolling in health insurance. I want Jacksonville to be a healthier city because health, both physical and mental, is key to our economic prosperity. And the fact that Get Covered Jax! helped reduce our uninsured rate by 34% is a tremendous first step in helping us get there. I look forward to reducing this rate even further during the next open enrollment period.”

Deegan is taking a victory lap for an insurance win.

Deegan’s choice for the city’s first Chief Health Officer, Sunil Joshi, made similar points.

“More people will now have access to preventative health services, including yearly physical exams, blood work, vaccinations and cancer screening that can help keep people healthy,” Joshi said

“It is very encouraging to see so many people take advantage of signing up for marketplace insurance. This is just the beginning of our road to being one of the healthiest communities in the country.”

Peluso diplomacy

A Democratic member of the Jacksonville City Council is looking to clarify his position regarding the Israel-Hamas war, saying he doesn’t believe he should remain quiet given how “our ally is inappropriately conducting this war.”

Jimmy Peluso of District 7 notes that while he supports “Israel’s right to exist,” he can’t say the same about “the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu” or his “right-wing coalition.”

Peluso worked in the Middle East as a Naval officer and says the Likud Prime Minister’s approach has ensured “stability” won’t be in the region anytime soon.

He argues that it’s time for “diplomacy and statecraft,” calling for a “cease-fire” in Israel and a two-state solution.

While Peluso acknowledges that “foreign policy is not within the bounds of a City Council member,” the Council waded into this conflict last year with a 16-1 vote offering support to Israel in the wake of the Hamas attacks.

Tweet, tweet:

Choo choo choice

A local man has been selected to the Surface Transportation Board’s Passenger Rail Advisory Committee.

Husein Cumber, the chief strategy officer for Florida East Coast Industries, will get three years on the Intercity passenger rail (non-Amtrak) group, according to Trains.com.

At FECI, “Cumber is responsible for guiding major capital projects from initial concept through development,” according to his corporate bio, which denotes impressive experiences throughout his career.

Husein Cumber earns a spot on the Surface Transportation Board’s Passenger Rail Advisory Committee.

“Prior to joining FECI, Mr. Cumber served as Executive vice president of Corporate Development for Florida East Coast Railway (FEC). Previously, Mr. Cumber served as President of H.A. Cumber & Company, a transportation consulting firm specializing in rail, transit and highway projects; Deputy Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT); and Assistant to the Secretary for Policy at the USDOT. In 2008, Mr. Cumber was nominated by President George W. Bush to be a member of the Surface Transportation Board.”

Swoop selection

Jay Demetree is the latest gubernatorial appointment to the University of North Florida Board of Trustees.

“Demetree is the president and Chief Executive Officer of Demetree Brothers, Inc. Active in his community, he serves as a member of the Jacksonville University Board of Advisory, the St. Vincent Hospital Foundation, and the Ronald McDonald House Advisory Board of Jacksonville. Demetree earned his bachelor’s degree in industrial management from the Georgia Institute of Technology,” the Governor’s Office notes in an email announcing the pick.

Jay Demetree is a new face on the University of North Florida Board of Trustees.

His Demetree Brothers, Inc. company handles real estate investment, management and development. He is also the Pentagon Properties, which invests “in commercial real estate, finance, biotech, aviation, mining and new technologies.”

The Senate will have to confirm his appointment during the 2025 Legislative Session.

Party people

Local Republicans and Democrats have some activities planned for the week ahead.

The Jacksonville Young Republicans will host Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland on April 8 at Culhane’s. The event starts at 6 p.m. The political perennial will discuss “elections and turnout,” per the JYR.

Probably not part of the remarks: the $138,000 of mystery spending from the Supervisor of Elections Office reported on by the Florida Times-Union this week. (In the words of Elvis Costello, “Accidents will happen,” right?)

The Jacksonville Young Republicans are hosting Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland, but some topics are off the agenda.

Democrats will be working for their candidates, meanwhile.

Saturday finds them drumming up petitions for Rachel Grage, who is opposing incumbent Rep. Kiyan Michael in HD 16. That effort kicks off at 9:45 a.m. at the Cinemark Jacksonville Atlantic North Parking Lot.

Sunday is a canvassing day in what the Duval Democrats call “Riverside.” Still, the staging location is arguably closer to Avondale: Edgewood Park #1, 1466 Edgewood Ave. S. This effort runs from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

As always, we’re interested in political events — email [email protected] with details.

Free-agent fulmination

One of the Jaguars’ surprising free-agent additions spoke out on his podcast, revealing the back story behind his availability.

Defensive lineman Arik Armstead, speaking on his “Third and Long” podcast, said he felt disrespected by the San Francisco 49ers after he contributed to a team that made a run to the Super Bowl.

Armstead played nine seasons in San Francisco. He missed 13 of 34 regular season games throughout the last two seasons. During the 2023 season, one in which Armstead played through injuries in the playoffs, he said the 49ers brass told him they wanted him to be a Niner for life.

Arik Armstead, felt disrespected by the San Francisco 49ers after he contributed to a team that made a run to the Super Bowl.

When the time came to restructure a contract, Armstead, 30, said the team offered a one-year deal worth $6 million with incentives that could have increased the value to $8 million.

“I did feel extremely disrespected. I don’t feel that level of compensation is nowhere near the type of player that I am,” Armstead said. “Not even just the type of player that I am, what I’ve committed to the game, what I’ve committed to my team, where I’ve committed to the organization in my community, I didn’t feel like it was representative of who I am as a player and a person.”

The offer was low enough that Armstead felt he was not valued by the team that drafted him in 2015.

“I’m a guy who watched the most film, invests the most time on my body preparation. Working on my game working on my craft,” Armstead said. “I have a real passion for this and a true love for this. And I know for a fact I do a lot more than the majority of players; I put a lot more into football than a majority of players and I think that has value as well too. And that’s how I value myself as a player.”

That led to a request to be released and the 49ers complied. Armstead became a free agent on March 13, the first day free agents could sign contracts. Less than 48 hours later, Armstead was a Jaguar after agreeing to a three-year, $43.5 million contract that could be worth up to $51 million in the end.

Armstead said he played hurt and had surgery after the Super Bowl.

What can the Jaguars expect from Armstead? The biggest question is if he can stay healthy. He should bring leadership and a veteran presence to the defensive front if he can. With the Jaguars transitioning to more of a four-man front under new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, Armstead should be able to provide some pass rush from the defensive tackle position and a player who can play some defensive end in some situations.

The Jaguars’ addition of Armstead should not dissuade them from considering a defensive tackle in the draft. After letting Foley Fatukasi walk in free agency, the Jaguars still need a run-stopper.

Staff Reports

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